News in brief

Guns outs

People close to Batasuna, the political wing of ETA, the Basque separatist guerrilla group, launched a new nonviolent political party on 7 February. The separatists hope that the new party, Sortu, will be recognised and allowed to stand in elections – Batasuna itself is banned. ETA declared a ceasefire in September and made the ceasefire permanent in January. The Spanish government has refused to reciprocate in any way.

Cut cut cut

While many major military projects continue (including the interventionary Astute submarine, cost: £3.9bn for three subs), there is a pleasing roll call of military cutbacks, including the sale of HMS Invincible, the aircraft carrier involved in the Falklands war, which was sold to a Turkish scrap dealer in early February. Sale price: over £2m.
Military cuts mean that Britain is to finally halt its warship patrols of the Caribbean, operating since the Second World War, it was announced in February. (A supply ship with a Lynx helicopter will remain in the region.)
Twelve Chinook helicopters promised to British troops in Afghanistan are now “subject to negotiation”, defence procurement minister Peter Luff announced on 1 February – indicating possible delays in deployment and/or reductions to the number ordered. (These 12 helicopters were in addition to the 10 already due to deploy in 2012-13.) MoD officials are also reported to be looking to reduce the number of Tornado bombers from 134 to 60 (saving £300m a year), and to abandon 50 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft bought three years ago (purchase cost: £4.5bn).
On 13 February, the RAF sacked a quarter of its trainee pilots. (£300m has been paid in training the 100 pilots to be cut.) NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen plaintively warned on 7 February that the European members of NATO had cut their military spending by $45bn over the past two years, a figure equivalent to Germany’s entire military budget.

Kettle off

Internet protest service Sukey, which helps demonstrators to avoid being “kettled” or penned in for long periods by police, will be rolled out for the anti-cuts demo in London on 26 March. Sukey displays real-time police and protest behaviour via an app for smartphones and texting for other mobiles.

Western Sahara

At the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in February, hundreds of Moroccans forcibly prevented the holding of a conference of solidarity with the Sahrawi people. About 500 Moroccans stormed the room with Moroccan flags, shouting insults, snatching the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the podium. Western Sahara was invaded and occupied by Morocco in 1975.
Speakers Pierre Galand, Belgian senator and Willy Meyer, Spanish MEP, were among those beaten and shoved during the incident. The meeting, “Western Sahara: Africa’s last colony”, was held the next day, 9 February, in the same location.
As PN goes to press, the EU is planning to extend for one year a fisheries agreement with Morocco that includes Western Sahara’s waters, which generates over 70% of fish caught under the agreement, it has been estimated.
Western Sahara Resource Watch said: “The commission has shown complete disregard for international law by not consulting with the people of Western Sahara as the United Nations demands.” In cultural news, there is a new French arthouse documentary about the Sahrawis (Lost Land/Territoire Perdu), and Irish photographer Andrew McConnell’s Western Sahara portrait series “The Last Colony” won first prize in that category in this year’s World Press Photo contest.

Who, me?

It has been reported that George W Bush called off a Swiss trip, his first abroad since the publication of his biography, Decision Points, where he admitted that he authorised “waterboarding” for Guantánamo detainees. The cancellation seems to have been prompted by the threat of an arrest warrant being issued (and planned protests) over US treatment of Guantánamo Bay detainees. Seemingly without irony, a Bush’s spokesperson announced: “We regret that the speech has been cancelled. President Bush was looking forward to speaking about freedom….” In Britain, Bush faces no such legal risk: under the police reform and social responsibility bill, the consent of the director of public prosecutions would be required for arrest warrants being issued for war crimes and human rights abuses committed abroad.

Nepal Crisis

After a long period of drifting, Nepal’s peace process is now in a dizzying tailspin. After seven months without a government, Jhalanath Khanal, the head of the (conservative) communists of the United Marxist -Leninists (UML), was voted prime minister on 3 February with the backing of the former guerrillas, the Maoist communist party. This support came after Khanal reached a secret seven-point agreement with the Maoist leader-ship, which he kept from his own party.
Once sworn into power, Khanal revealed the terms of the agreement, which his party then forced him to renege on. This then led the Maoists to refuse to enter the government, triggering a new crisis. One crucial broken promise was Khanal’s agreement to allow the Maoists to take the position of home affairs minister, in charge of internal security.
A key issue in the peace process is the fate of the Maoists’ 19,000 former guerrillas, who were originally promised integration into the Nepali army as a condition of ending the Nepali civil war. Khanal had agreed that the former fighters would form a new separate security force. This compromise has been withdrawn.