News in brief

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.

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.

Time out

According to official figures, nine members of the armed forces have applied for discharge as conscientious objectors since the Afghanistan war started in 2001, it was disclosed at the end of January. In the previous 10 years, 13 navy personnel and one soldier applied for CO status. In February 2010, based on a Freedom of Information Act request, the Independent revealed that British soldiers have gone AWOL on more than 17,000 occasions since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Walk out

On 8 February, Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG) handed in a 10,000-name petition against a nuclear power station at Bradwell, Essex, to energy minister Charles Hendry. BANNG chair Andy Blowers expressed particular concern about the dangers of high-level wastes on a site at sea-level liable to serious flooding and coastal damage over the next 100 years.

Cut cut cut?

In its defence review in October, the British government announced that it would postpone the crucial “main gate” decision to replace Trident until 2016 – after the next general election. However, through a freedom of information request Greenpeace learned in mid-January that in the “assessment phase” over the next four years the ministry of defence plan to place orders for several items ahead of the main gate decision.
These “long lead” items for the first submarine include elements of the hull, propulsion systems, power plant, combat and life support systems, raising the question for Greenpeace: “what’s left to buy and how much is all of this going to cost?”
Long lead items also include the nuclear reactor cores for the first three submarines. CND estimates these costs at £2.1bn.
Greenpeace observe: “It sounds like if we don’t watch out we’ll get to the 2016 vote only to find out that we’ve already bought a large part of the first submarine, we’re already tied into various contracts, and the familiar voices will be saying to us that it’s cheaper to go ahead with business as usual than scrap Trident.”

Who, us?

Good police news. Only 27 police officers (out of 13,157 tested) were positive for drugs in the past two years. Drugs detected included cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines. Surprise, surprise: the force with the largest number of detected drug users was the Metropolitan police.
Bad police news. Over the last two years, police officers in just two areas (Staffordshire and Cheshire) have caused more than £100,000 worth of accidents and car crashes – in their own car parks.
A report to Staffordshire police authority said: “Accidents within police stations remain an issue.” Good police news. For safety reasons, Cambridgeshire police have been banned from patrolling a children’s play park after 8pm because it has no lights and is too dark.
More good news. As many as 13 of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales will this year refuse to pay their dues to the association of chief police officers (ACPO), because of its lack of accountability and its bloated size (when the rest of the police force is being cut). ACPO is currently running a deficit of £423,000.

You, that's who

The British national public order intelligence unit (NPOIU) was set up in 1999 under the control of the association of chief police officers to meet the perceived threat from “domestic extremism” and “protest”. After the recent unwelcome “outing” of undercover officers including PC Mark Kennedy (see PN 2530), on 28 January, the NPOIU was put under the control of John Yates, assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police – Britain’s most senior officer in charge of counter-terrorism. Infiltrating protest movements is now officially part of the anti-terrorist effort.

All in this together

We discovered in mid-February that bail-out bank Royal Bank of Scotland is set to pay taxpayer-backed bonuses worth up to £1.1bn to its staff. Bail-out bank Lloyds Banking Group is paying its outgoing chief executive Eric Daniels a £1.45m bonus in shares. As PN went to press, major banks were expected to offer their staff bonuses of around £6bn. On 18 February, it emerged that Barclays bank paid a mere £113m in corporation tax to the government in 2010, on global profits of more than £5 billion. Over the same period, Barclays paid £1.5bn in cash bonuses to top staff, and a further £1.2bn of longer-term awards.
The New Economics Foundation reported in mid-February that taxpayers are subsidising British banks by more than £30bn a year on top of the bail-out package that prevented their collapse. The main subsidy comes with the government’s implicit guarantee to rescue banks seen as “too-big-to-fail”. Such banks can borrow money more cheaply than companies at commercial risk. Investment bank Goldman Sachs enjoyed a bumper year for pay and bonuses in 2010, despite a 38% drop in profits, with chief executive Lloyd Blankfein receiving a 233% increase in his basic pay from $600,000 to $2m in 2011.
Staff overall enjoyed $15.3bn in pay and bonuses. Elsewhere, £160m in taxpayers’ money is to be used to underwrite a loan to a Caribbean tax haven that is struggling to pay the salaries of its teachers, nurses, doctors and police. The Turks & Caicos islands, seized by Britain in 2009, charges no income tax or capital gains tax, and is used by rich Britons to avoid paying taxes in the UK. Meanwhile, the world’s super-rich spent 53% more at Christie’s auction house in 2010 than they did in 2009, a rise to £3.3bn. Sotheby’s auction total rose by $2bn to $4.3bn (not counting private sales). Porsche sales in 2010 were up 25%. Rolls Royce sales rose 171%. At the beginning of February, the world’s largest luxury goods group, LVMH, reported record revenues for 2010: £12.5bn, up from £10.5bn in 2009.
LVMH wines and spirits experienced a 19% rise in revenues. Recovery was particularly strong for prestige cuvees such as Dom Perignon and Krug. Champagne consumption in the UK is back to pre-recession levels.
The general secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said: “Bankers are toasting their telephone-digit bonuses while the rest of the country reels from more than a fifth of young people being out of work.”
Thousands of services for the disabled, the mentally ill and the elderly, and hundreds of libraries and sports centres, are to close this year as a result of cuts imposed after the financial crisis.

Wash out

150 students at a Catholic school in Colchester, Essex, walked out of lessons in protest after two girls were reprimanded for walking into a lesson hand-in-hand. After news of the protest spread on Facebook, over 100 teenagers staged a sit-down in the playing fields, carrying placards and singing: “We shall not be moved”.

Books out

On 5 February, protests against the closure of 450 library services took place all round the country, ranging from a “shhh-in” in Sheffield to a flashmob in Cambridge. Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire saw the first protest march in the town’s history on Saturday, followed by an occupation of the library on Wednesday. North Yorkshire plans to cut 24 of its 42 libraries.