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News in Brief

Nepal Crisis

The political crisis in Nepal’s faltering peace process continues to stagger on. On 3 March, Nepal’s Maoists, the largest party in parliament, agreed to join the new government headed by Jhalanath Khanal of the United Marxist-Leninists (UML).
Khanal is locked in a battle with his own party after winning the premiership on 3 February by secretly promising the Maoists that they would hold the home ministry in a new coalition government. It was reported on 17 February that Khanal had threatened to resign if his party did not accept his decision to award the ministry of home affairs to the “Maobadhi”.
It appears that the Maoists will only gain the security portfolio after a special demobilisation committee agrees a timetable, a process and a target number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ex-guerrillas for integration and rehabilitation. UML hardliners are demanding that all 19,000 PLA members be disarmed, and Maoist leaders stripped of their PLA security details, before the appointment of a Maoist home minister.
Infighting among the Maoists, meanwhile, has prevented the party nominating more than four of the 11 ministerial positions they have secured. There is no prospect of agreeing a new constitution by the deadline of 28 May.

Topics: Nepal

Western Sahara

A conference in Spain concluded on 12 March that the EU–Morocco fisheries agreement was illegal and immoral because it includes fishing in waters belonging to Western Sahara, a country illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.
Juan Soroeta, an expert in international law, argued that the accord was illegal, because the natural resources of Western Sahara “can’t be exploited to the detriment of the population and without the approval of the legitimate representatives” of Western Sahara, in this case the Polisario Front, which rejects the accord.
Pressure is now being applied to members of the European Parliament to reject a new “accord of association”, which aims to liberalise commerce and agriculture with Morocco. The current wave of protests in the Middle East began in Western Sahara in November with a 12,000-strong tent city near the city of Laayoune, a protest against oppressive living conditions that was brutally broken up by Moroccan security forces.
On 5 March, a much smaller protest took place within Western Sahara. 200 demonstrators demanded higher salaries for the Sahrawi army, more support for victims of the war against Morocco and families of martyrs, as well as an end to corruption and nepotism.

Topics: Western Sahara

Obama turning

When US president Obama came into office in January 2009 he promised to shut the Guantanamo detention centre within 12 months and to end military trials of detainees there. On 7 March, Obama finally abandoned these pledges when he announced the resumption of military trials at Guantanamo (after a two-year freeze), and set out rules for holding some of the detainees inside the camp indefinitely. The US congress has blocked attempts to house some of the detainees on US soil or bring them to trial in US courthouses, and foreign countries have been reluctant to take any Guantanamo detainees off US hands.

Topics: Human rights

No big state!

On 7 March, Birkenhead County Court was invaded by hundreds of anti-tax demonstrators intent on arresting judge Michael Peake. Peake was presiding over the bankruptcy hearing of Roger Hayes, one of the leaders of the right-wing British Constitution Group (BCG). Hayes had refused to pay his council tax (which he regards as illegal) as part of the BCG's “lawful rebellion” campaign. 600 chanting demonstrators reportedly blocked the roads outside the court for an hour after the disruption of the bankruptcy hearing. Some sat down in front of police vehicles. Six were arrested.

Bradley 0-22

On 2 March, the US army filed 22 new charges against suspected WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. The charges include the death penalty charge of aiding the enemy, as well as theft of public property or records, computer fraud, transmitting defence information and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy. Bradley is being made to sleep naked each night and stand naked outside his cell each morning to receive his clothes. His lawyer claims this is to punish him for his response to warders suggesting that he was a possible suicide risk. He was reported as saying that if he wanted to harm himself he could do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops. Yet Bradley is not on suicide watch.
www.bradleymanning.org

MoD £1bn error

On 2 March, defence secretary Liam Fox announced that troops now in Afghanistan could be among 11,000 military personnel who will be sacked as part of the cuts. Fox admitted he may have to cut more than planned under last year's strategic defence and security review (SDSR). Ministry of Defence sources said the department had identified a gap of “several hundreds of millions of pounds” between the MoD’s financial commitments and its allocated budget for 2011-12. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the gap for this year may be £1bn. Cutting Reaper and Predator drones in Afghanistan would save an estimated £100m.

Topics: Cuts

Poppy burning

On 7 March, Emdadur Choudhury, a member of “Muslims Against Crusades” (MAC), was fined £50 after being convicted of committing public disorder during the two-minute silence last Remembrance Day. Choudhury burned two large plastic orange poppies at an MAC demonstration in west London on 11 November. Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim Labour MP, described the fine as inadequate, saying: “We don't take it seriously enough, he hurt a lot of people. I really don't think it is acceptable to protest against people who have died for their country.” Choudhury said: “I did it for Allah. I did it to raise awareness that these so-called soldiers are the criminals. They are the ones who should be tried for war crimes.” During the two-minute silence, the Muslims Against Crusade demonstrators chanted: “British soldiers burn in hell”. Section 5 of the Public Order Act covers “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour”.

Topics: Religion | Remembrance

Barclays £6.6bn error

We apologise to Barclays bank for wrongly reporting last month that in 2010 the bank paid a mere £113m in corporation tax to the government, on global profits of more than £5bn. In fact, it was in 2009 that Barclays paid a mere £113m in corporation tax to the government, on global profits not of £5bn, but of £11.6bn – a tax rate of 1%. On 7 March, Barclays announced that it handed nine senior bankers £88m in share awards in 2010 and chief executive Bob Diamond received a total package worth £23m. The latter award, in the eyes of the Barclays board, demonstrated the bank's “restraint”. The two heads of Barclays Capital, Barclays’ investment bank, received £90m between them in share awards from previous years (£30m plus each), salary and bonuses (£10m plus each) and a long-term incentive plan (£3m plus each).

Topics: Cuts

No big banks!

On 5 March, the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, warned that there could be another major financial crisis and accused major banks of being keen “to make money out of gullible or unsuspecting customers”. He called for major reforms.

Topics: Economics

Bil'in 6-0

On 14 March, Israel released nonviolent Palestinian activist Abdullah Abu Rahma, one of the chief organisers of weekly demonstrations against the Israeli separation wall near the West Bank village of Bil’in. A schoolteacher, Abdullah was arrested in December 2009 and subsequently convicted of “incitement” and organising illegal demonstrations. After being sentenced to 16 months in prison, he was recognised as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Abu Rahma’s lawyer, Gaby Laskey, said: “I believe that the charges against Abu Rahma and his sentence were of a political nature to try and put an end to the nonviolent demonstrations in Bil’in.” In February, Bil’in marked six years of protests. www.popularstruggle.org

Hashman 1-0

Animal rights activist Joe Hashman made legal history on 8 March by establishing that employers should not discriminate against people for holding anti-hunting beliefs. Joe was sacked from Orchard Park Garden Centre in Dorset in September 2009, just as celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright was convicted of attending an illegal hare coursing event – as the result of Joe’s covert filming.
The owners of Orchard Park Garden Centre, Sheila and Ron Clarke, keen supporters of the South and West Wiltshire Hunt, claim that his dismissal had nothing to do with his anti-hunting activism. Judge Lawrence Guyer said at the employment tribunal that Joe’s belief in the sanctity of life extended to his “fervent anti-foxhunting belief (and also anti-hare-coursing belief)” and that such beliefs “constitute a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.” Joe’s case for unfair dismissal will now proceed at a later date.

Topics: Animal Rights

BAE learning

In early March, it became apparent that BAE Systems, Britain's biggest military manufacturer, was about to be punished by the US state department after the arms company's admission last year that it conspired to defraud the US and made false statements about its anti-bribery compliance programme. The guilty pleas, made to a US court, came as part of legal settlement with the US justice department on corruption-related allegations.
The admissions resolved conflicts with the justice department, but much to BAE's surprise they also triggered action by the state department, which is charged with ensuring that the US does not grant export licences to companies involved in corrupt or illegal practices.
BAE expects another fine and some form of debarment from the US military marketplace. In February, BAE warned that its income would fall by about 5% in 2011 as Western nations cut military spending.

Topics: Arms trade