News in brief

Maya Mk II

PN columnist Maya Evans has launched a legal challenge to force an investigation into the killing of civilians by British forces in Afghanistan, following the publication of thousands of secret US military documents by Wikileaks in July.
The documents contain accounts of at least 21 separate incidents in which British troops are alleged to have shot or bombed civilians, killing at least 26 people, including two unusual clusters of shootings: in Kabul in October 2007; and in Helmand in 2008.
Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) have written to the Ministry of Defence on Maya’s behalf, and a court case is anticipated.

Drill hugging

On 12 August, environmental protesters stopped the giant oil company Shell from drilling a borehole in the sea near Rosslare in south-east Ireland. A bagpiper and drummer led local people and Shell to Sea campers in a low-tide march to one of the drilling rigs where they danced around the drill casing, then huddled round in a group hug, effectively shutting down the drill until late in the afternoon when security guards forcibly removed the remaining huggers.
Meanwhile Shell to Sea campaigner Neil Harnett has been released after serving 118 days for putting his hand on a Garda who was dragging a protester caught up in fencing.

Greenpeace rigged

At dawn on 31 August, four Greenpeace protesters in speed boats evaded a flotilla of armed Danish navy and police boats in Baffin Bay, and climbed an oil rig owned by Cairn Energy, to demand that the company end its dangerous drilling in the Arctic. After 40 hours' occupation, shutting down the rig, harsh weather forced the activists to descend from the hanging tents they had erected under the platform. They were then arrested.

Iraq con

On 1 September, US vice-president Joe Biden announced the end of US combat operations in Iraq at a ceremony at Saddam Hussein’s palace in al-Fao, outside Baghdad. The official withdrawal of all US combat troops somehow leaves behind 50,000 US troops officially “assisting” the Iraqi army. These 50,000 soldiers are scheduled to withdraw entirely by the end of 2011, unless the Iraqi government (not yet formed) requests otherwise.

Bil'in verdict

On 24 August, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, co-ordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee in Palestine, was convicted of incitement and organising illegal marches by an Israeli military court. The conviction concluded an eight-month trial, during which he remained in prison. Sentencing was postponed. Abdallah had been arrested at home in Ramallah at 2am on 10 December.
Abdallah has played a key role in organising the successful grassroots campaign against the Israeli separation wall that cuts off more than half of Bil'in's land.

Flotilla news

As PN went to press, the Lebanese women’s aid ship Mariam was still anchored in the port of Tripoli. The women-only ship cannot sail directly from Tripoli to Gaza, as Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war.
Cyprus had agreed to be a staging post, but on 21 August withdrew permission for the use of its ports for vessels departing to Gaza. Greece has been approached. In July, the Libyan aid ship Amalthea attempted to break the Israeli siege of Gaza but was forced to divert to Egypt by Israeli warships. The Free Gaza Movement and its sister organisations continue to plan Freedom Flotilla 2.

Vanunu swims

On 16 August, Mordechai Vanunu swam in the sea for the first time in 25 years – since he went on the run from Israel in 1985. The swim took place in Tel Aviv where he has now moved. Vanunu lived in East Jerusalem for six years after his release from 18 years of solitary confinement for exposing Israel's secret nuclear weapons programme.

Nepal crisis

On 14 September, Nepal’s tortuous peace process entered a new phase as the Maoists and the other main parties agreed to extend the peace process, pledging to “take up the remaining tasks of the peace process” and complete them by 14 January 2011 (they were meant to have been concluded by May 2010).
The breakthrough came with concessions by both the Maoists and the establishment parties. In a rebuff to the Nepali army, which had been campaigning to restrict the mandate of the UN mission in Nepal, UNMIN was given an unconditional four-month extension with no reduction in its mandate. It still monitors the army as well as the Maoist forces.
In return, those Maoist forces, which have been confined to UN-monitored camps with their weapons under a UN seal, were officially transferred to a government authority on 16 September, with the cantonments shortly to be run according to a new depoliticised regime.
The six-party “special committee” charged with overseeing the integration and demobilisation of the former guerrillas is being boosted by the addition of representatives from the army, police, armed police force and the Maoist people’s liberation army (PLA).
It is unclear whether these changes will overcome the impasse between the army, which refuses to accept PLA members in any numbers, and the Maoists, who ended the civil war because they were promised in the 2006 “comprehensive peace agreement” that PLA fighters would be integrated into the army.
Also on 17 September, the Maoists (who hold the largest number of seats in parliament) ended their attempt to have their leader, Prachanda, elected prime minister, opting for a national unity government, if one can be achieved.

Hinkley blockade

As part of an action weekend, protesters blocked the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant's main gates for almost an hour at lunchtime on 12 September. The protest was at the planned destruction of some 435 acres of open land and wildlife habitats before two giant reactors proposed by EdF are given the go-ahead.

Bombing Yemen

It is “extremely likely” that the Saudi air force deployed UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers” to bomb “scores of Yemeni civilians” last autumn, according to an Amnesty International report issued at the end of August.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has documented Britain’s role in supplying and maintaining a range of military aircraft for the Saudi Arabian air force, including Tornado and Typhoon fighter-bombers, together with associated support services, equipment, weapons, ammunition and electronic warfare systems.
Amnesty believes that “hundreds - possibly thousands - of civilians” were killed in last year’s joint Saudi-Yemeni bombing.

Sahrawi flotilla

On 2 September, activists from Western Sahara, and solidarity activists from Spain announced their decision to launch a flotilla for the independence of Western Sahara. The plan is to set off from the Canary Islands and dock in Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco since 1975. The fleet, which has been named “Mahfoud Ali Beiba”, will set off in the first quarter of 2011 with the aim to breaking the “information blockade suffered by the Sahrawi people.” A Moroccan government spokesperson said: “It was a ridiculous act, illegal and provocative to the extent that the authors have hurt the feeling of Moroccans.”
For other campaigning news about Western Sahara: