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Gandhi watch

On 8 November, US president Barack Obama paid tribute to the Indian pacifist: “I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji.”

Obama referred to Gandhi’s impact on the US civil rights movement, saying: “I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.”

In the week the commander-in-chief spoke, US drones rained missiles on houses and vehicles in Pakistan, US-led death squads roamed Afghanistan, and the Pentagon indicated US military forces may remain in Iraq after the president’s December 2011 deadline.

Late news: the luxury limited-edition Mont Blanc Gandhi pen, costing £16,000 (see PN 2515), was banned by the Indian supreme court on 3 May.

Cuts watch

A new anti-cuts direct action network has sprung up targeting Vodafone as the unacceptable face of corporate tax avoidance.

A Private Eye investigation uncovered a deal whereby the tax authorities agreed to allow Vodafone to use a loophole to avoid paying £6bn in taxes.

Protesters closed at least 21 Vodafone stores in cities across the country on 30 October. The national UKuncut day of action was organised extremely quickly through social networks on the internet.

The next day of action is 4 December. A fast-growing network, UKuncut is becoming a hub for grassroots anti-cuts action: www.ukuncut.org.uk

Topics: Cuts

NATO watch

Thousands of anti-war activists protested in Lisbon in late November against the NATO summit. Activists carried out a flashmob die-in in front of the Estacao do Rossio train station and 20 were arrested blocking a road leading to the summit venue.

Police had barred at least 200 people from entering Portugal during the run-up to the summit. As many as 10,000 people marched against NATO in Lisbon on 20 November, while in London around 5,000 marched against the NATO war in Afghanistan.

We will have more coverage of the anti-NATO protests next issue.

Topics: Anti-war action

Nepal crisis

At the end of November Nepal’s political parties marked the fourth anniversary of the end of the civil war with an undignified scuffle in parliament and continued political deadlock.

Just days before the anniversary of the signing of the comprehensive peace accord which brought Maoist guerrilla leaders into parliament, Maoist MPs physically blocked the caretaker finance minister in the parliament building and seized a briefcase containing his proposed budget.

An interim budget ran out on 15 November, and some new law was required to keep government functioning and civil servants being paid. The current government resigned in June, and the Maoists insist that an interim budget from a caretaker government should be minimal, without any new government policies.

The Maoists claim that the proposed budget violated an all-party agreement earlier this month that there would be no new spending; they also objected to the fast-track procedure used by the government to bypass parliament.

Hence the tussle in parliament, which the Maoist leader Prachanda described as unfortunate, but a normal part of parliamentary practice in democratic countries.

There has been no significant progress on integrating Maoist guerrillas into the Nepali security forces or on drafting a new constitution (two key elements of the comprehensive peace accord).

Topics: Nepal

Western Sahara

A protest camp in the desert in Western Sahara was closed down brutally by Moroccan security forces on 11 November. At least eight people were killed. Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975.

The Gadaym Izik tent city, set up in October, was home to 12,000 Sahrawis protesting against unemployment and poor living conditions in nearby Western Saharan capital Laayoune.

Moroccan troops used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon to shut down the camp, according to the Sahrawi independence movement Polisario. (Polisario, a guerrilla movement, has observed a ceasefire for over 10 years.)

The Moroccan government expelled foreign activists and barred foreign journalists from the region. One of the few independent observers in the territory, Peter Bouckaert, of Human Rights Watch, interviewed people who had been arrested and severely beaten. Bouckaert reported in mid-November that 100 Sahrawi activists had been arrested and charged and at least six major activists had been transferred to military courts in Rabat, Morocco.

On 13 November, thousands demonstrated in Madrid, Spain, against the Moroccan repression. www.wsahara.org

Topics: Western Sahara

Bike-in

On 30 October, Alternativa Antimilitarista-MOC activists breached security at the Bétera NATO base in Valencia. Wearing white coats and umbrellas with anti-war symbols, 15 activists took scooters and bicycles under the security fencing and rode around inside while others played football and other games.

The activists were detained for an hour and then released. The organisers said that this was the first of a series of international anti-militarist actions against the Afghanistan occupation and calling for NATO’s abolition.

Bill-in

On 4 November, sentences were handed down to the remaining two defendants who took part in actions in Sweden in October 2008, disarming 12 grenade launchers and parts to nine howitzers at arms factories in two different locations.

Anna Andersson and Martin Smedjeback were ordered to pay damages totalling nearly £7,000 to the arms manufacturer Saab AB. They had both previously been sentenced to four months for their action. Co-activists Catherine Laska and Pelle Strindlund had previously been sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs. All say they will refuse to pay the damages on principle.

Convoy-in

Late news: the latest Viva Palestina convoy, consisting of 43 vehicles with aid for Gaza and 100 internationals, entered Gaza at the end of October, having set off from the Embankment in London on 18 September.

The convoy was joined by vehicles along the way, and in Turkey met families of those killed in May on the Gaza aid flotilla. In Syria, vehicles carrying aid from North African and Gulf states joined them, swelling the numbers to 400 people in 143 vehicles.

Egypt barred 17 members of the convoy, including former MP George Galloway, but everyone else entered Gaza from Egypt on 21 October.

Heckle-in

On 8 November, the day the Israeli government announced hundreds of new Jewish-only housing units in East Jerusalem, young Jews interrupted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he addressed the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans.

Five members of the Young Leadership Institute of Jewish Voice for Peace stood up to hold placards and shout protests denouncing the occupation, settlements and the new Israeli oath of allegiance as betraying Jewish values.

The activists were later released without charge.

Fitwatch

Police shut down the website of Fitwatch – a group that resists police harassment and surveillance of activists – after it published advice for student protestors worried about being arrested following the trashing of the Tories’ Millbank HQ.

On 15 November the site’s US-based host received an email from British police alleging that it was being used for “criminal activity”. The site was removed and Fitwatch prevented from accessing its files.

The advice was instantly reposted hundreds of times on the internet, and Fitwatch is now back online with a new host: www.fitwatch.org.uk

Topics: Police

Dubya Watch

On 10 November, Amnesty International urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US president George W Bush and other officials in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. In his memoirs, Bush confirmed his personal involvement in authorizing “water-boarding” and other techniques against “high value detainees”.

“Under international law, the former president’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough to trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,” said Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International.

Topics: Human rights

Drones watch

Five suspected militants were killed in drone attack in North Waziristan by US drones on 10 November, 2010, writes Jim Wright. Fifteen were killed on 18 November and five more on 21 November. Although the US never acknowledges carrying drone attacks within Pakistan, “unnamed security sources” are generally on hand to confirm that the dead were insurgents, and provide a reason for the killing.

The US has unofficially asked Pakistan for permission to expand its drone attacks into Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan.

Deaths from drone attacks has trebled since Barrack Obama took office. The reported death toll increased to 700 this year under Obama, compared to 200 per year under George W Bush. An independent researcher, Christopher Rogers of the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict, found that in nine drone attacks in Pakistan since 2009,

30 civilians had been killed, including 14 women and children.

According to Der Spiegel, the US has 20 drones on constant deployment in Afghanistan, double the number deployed in 2009.

With a limited market for military drones, the industry is promoting domestic police surveillance to keep profits up, with a focus (in the UK) on the 2012 Olympics.

Topics: Robotic Warfare