News in brief

DU site entered

On 13 March, civilian “weapons inspectors” entered Dundrennan test range, in south-west Scotland, during five days of test-firing of depleted uranium (DU) shells, something that has not happened for five years.
The inspectors reported that red flags were flying but there was no evidence of testing. During 90 minutes exploring inside they were observed by two patrol vans which made no attempt to intervene.
They found a bombed-out tank, new observation posts, a bomb crater, some debris and MoD signs saying: “Avoid picking up any debris as it may explode and kill you”.
No inspector was detained or questioned.

Galloway vs Tatchell

On 13 March, Respect Renewal MP George Galloway commented in relation to the now-halted deportation of a gay Iranian man, Mehdi Kazemi: “All the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That's not true.”
Kazemi's boyfriend was hung by the Iranian regime but Galloway maintained this was “not for being gay”, but for “committing sex crimes against young men.” He offered no evidence for this allegation.
The MP's comments were denounced by gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who accused Galloway of “mouthing the propaganda of the homophobic dictatorship in Tehran.”

People's Navy halted

On 11 March, British human rights protesters Peter Bouquet and Jon Castle, both former Greenpeace captains, were intercepted at sea off the island base of Diego Garcia by a British warship. They were detained for allegedly “entering waters illegally” on board their vessel, Musichana.

The two men are part of a group called the People's Navy and were demonstrating against the removal of the Chagos Islanders from their homes on Diego Garcia nearly 40 years ago to make way for a military base, and against the admitted use of the base by the US for bombing of Iraq and rendition flights.

Gaza truce offered

Israel continues to lay siege to Gaza, collapsing the Gazan economy and causing a rising death toll.
On 12 March Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, set out conditions for a truce. “There must be a commitment by Israel to end all its aggression against our people, assassinations, killings and raids, and lift the siege,” he said, stipulating that a ceasefire deal must be “reciprocal, comprehensive and simultaneous”, and apply to both Gaza and the West Bank.
A delegation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials is set to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss a possible truce with Israel. Israel is yet to reply.

Elections in peril

Nepal's hopes of a successful peace process depend on constituent assembly elections scheduled for 10 April. These are in doubt as the result of violence and intimidation. The Maoists have been accused of such activities.
More seriously, on 16 March, nonMaoist armed groups from the lowland Terai region threatened bombings and attacks on candidates should the government not agree to talks. Two days later Kamal Prasad Adhikari of the communist National People's Front Nepal was shot dead. The Terai armed groups are planning a three-day strike in the region from 7 April, and have threatened to prevent people leaving their homes on the day of the vote.

One in, one out

On 18 March, Catholic Worker Fr. Martin Newell was sentenced by Stratford Magistrates Court to five days jail for refusal to pay £440 in fine, costs, compensation and victim support.

The penalty was imposed on him for “criminal damage” during a “Rivers of Blood” demonstration at the DSEi arms fair in East London in September 2007.

Fellow Catholic Worker Zelda Jeffries, appearing on the same charge for the same action, also refused to pay the £240 penalty. However she was not immediately imprisoned: the court gave her a week to tell them her bank details so they could take the fine out of her bank account.

Talk to al–Qa'eda

On 15 March, Tony Blair's most influential adviser for over a decade, Jonathan Powell, revealed that he believes that “at some stage you're going to have to come to a political solution as well as a security solution” to the threat from al-Qa'eda. Powell added: “And that means you need the ability to talk.” Lines of communication should be kept open - as in Northern Ireland, where Powell had a leading role in the peace process.