News in brief

30 pieces of silver

Pope Francis said after the Brussels terror attacks: ‘Behind that gesture, there are manufacturers, arms dealers who want blood, not peace; they want war, not brotherhood.’

He compared the arms dealers to the people who paid Judas to betray Jesus: ‘behind that gesture, just as behind Judas, there were others. Behind Judas, there were those who gave the money so that Jesus would be handed over.’

The Catholic leader was speaking on 24 February at a reception centre for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, Italy, after washing and kissing the feet of 12 refugees included three Muslims and one Hindu.

Four of the refugees were women, eight were men.

20 letters of black

Arms trade protester Vyara Glysen saw charges against her dropped at the end of January.

Last September, Vyara had used a dry wipe marker pen to write ‘Arms tested on children’ on a military vehicle entering the ExCeL centre in East London to be part of the DSEI arms fair.

She was arrested and charged with criminal damage.

Vyara suggested that the decision to drop charges might have come from a desire to avoid scrutiny of Britain’s role in arming Israel: ‘The Israeli government is violating international law, while using UK weapons to maintain an apartheid-like regime against Palestinians.’

World of women

Natalie Shanklin writes: From Santiago to Istanbul to Manila, thousands of women’s rights activists celebrated International Women’s Day by protesting against the oppression of women.

Around 1,800 women were murdered because of their gender between 2008 and 2014 in Argentina alone, according to La Casa del Encuentro, a women's rights groups in Buenos Aires. The women’s movement gained serious momentum with a 300,000-strong march on congress last June, and demonstrated against femicide again on IWD this year.

Hundreds of demonstrators in Bogota, Colombia, held a ‘March of Whores’ in protest against gender-based discrimination and violence. In Chile, more than 10,000 marched on downtown Santiago, demanding among other things the decriminalisation of abortion. Police used tear gas and water cannon.

When hundreds of women ignored a ban on their IWD demonstration in Istanbul, Turkish police fired rubber bullets and detained at least one woman.

In Warsaw, Poland, women marched against religious oppression, carrying signs such as: ‘My priest ordered me to give birth’, and ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.’ Protesters demanded better access to abortion, improved work conditions and more support in raising children.

In Egypt, female relatives demanded the release of women prisoners by demonstrating in front of the press syndicate in Cairo, chanting against the military and the interior ministry.

In Pakistan, female labourers rallied for improved rights. Women working in brick-making kilns often do not possess a national ID card, in which case employers pay male relatives who do have the card, meaning the women might not receive any wages.

Women in Pakistan’s conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party also demonstrated in Lahore to fight for their rights, opposing honour-killing and acid attacks against women.

IWD rallies took place throughout India in cities such as Kolkata, Ahmedabad, and Bhopal. In New Delhi, activists demanded that parliament pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, which holds legislative seats for women.

In Manila, in the Philippines, presidential candidate Grace Poe spoke at an IWD demo just hours after the supreme court voted to allow her to run in the national elections.

On 6 March, in China, Li Tingting, one of five feminists arrested on IWD last year for organizing a protest against sexual harassment, spoke out in a YouTube video to express her gratitude to the Chinese government. ‘What happened to us had an enormous impact in China and overseas,’ Li said. ‘It was actually the first time that the international community knew that there are real feminists in China.’

Nepal peace process

Nepal is seeing a return to repression.

Last September, after nearly nine years, the Nepali peace process finally yielded a new constitution and a new federal system of government – sparking over four months of protests by the lowland Madhesi people.

The Madhesis felt large parts of ‘their people’ had been assigned to states dominated by other ethnic groups.

The Indian government imposed a harsh trade blockade to support the Madhesis, but then opened the key border post of Birganj on 5 February after the Nepali government announced it would proportionally include Madhesis in government – not what the protesters had been demanding.

It took Madhesi leaders until 8 February to follow suit and officially lift the blockade that India had already ended.

Since then, the Nepali government has cracked down on Madhesi protest leaders (arresting over a dozen without due process) rather than engage in negotiations.

On 6 March, the Nepali army threatened to take unilateral action to suppress the Madhesi movement.

On 15 March, the government formed an expert commission to finalise the structures of the sevel provinces. Madhesi leaders were threatening to resume protests as PN went to press.

Western Sahara

Polisario, the armed liberation movement of Western Sahara, declared in late March that its 15-year ceasefire was at risk after Morocco expelled 73 internationals who staff a UN monitoring mission in Western Sahara, and suspended funding for MINURSO.

Morocco’s action was sparked by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s use of the term ‘occupation’ during a visit to Saharawi refugee camps.

Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975.


As PN went to press, there was a pause in the Turkish government’s brutal war against Turkey’s Kurdish minority, a war that began last summer when the government terminated a two-year peace process with the main Kurdish insurgent group, the PKK.

In March, the government lifted most city curfews, including a three-month curfew that turned the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir into a warzone.

According to the International Crisis Group, 344 Turkish security forces, at least 298 PKK militants and as many as 259 civilians have been killed in south-east Turkey since last July.

The spring is predicted to bring more war, boosted by an influx of PKK fighters able to cross into the country after the winter

Both the government and the PKK are feeling emboldened by their strategic importance to the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition in Syria.