Thousands of Greeks rally in anti-austerity strike
(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday as part of a nationwide strike against austerity that confined ferries to ports, shut schools and left hospitals with only emergency staff. Beating drums, blowing whistles and chanting “Robbers, robbers!” more than 60,000 people angry at wage cuts and tax rises marched to parliament in the biggest protest for months over austerity policies required by international lenders. In the capital, riot police fired tear gas at hooded youths hurling rocks and bottles during a demonstration, mostly of students and pensioners, which ended peacefully.
The two biggest labor unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill with a 24-hour protest strike against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country’s worst peacetime downturn. Representing 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since a debt crisis erupted in late 2009, testing the government’s will to impose the painful conditions of an international bailout in the face of growing public anger.
“Today’s strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery,” said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union, which organized the walkout along with private sector union GSEE. “A social explosion is very near,” he told Reuters from a rally in a central Athens square as police helicopters clattered overhead. The eight-month-old coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has been eager to show it will implement reforms promised to the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which have bailed Athens out twice with over 200 billion euros.
Trade union strike adds to India’s economic woes
NEW DELHI — Factories were attacked, vehicles were burned and a man was crushed to death by a bus in India on Wednesday at the start of a two-day trade union strike to protest price increases, low wages, unemployment and the government’s economic reform measures.
The man killed by the bus was a trade union leader in the northern city of Ambala. Authorities said he squatted on the ground in the path of a bus in an attempt to keep the buses from moving, then was hit and fatally injured. Across many parts of India, millions of workers from banks, factories and the transportation industry did not report to their jobs because of the strike, which is likely to cause an economic loss up to $4 billion over two days, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
The strike — called by 11 national trade unions, including one affiliated with the ruling Congress party — is the latest in a series of anti-government protests that have dogged the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the past two years. Protesters have attacked Singh’s coalition government for high inflation, corruption scandals and a lack of safety for women. Analysts say the political unrest may trigger a national election earlier than the scheduled date of May 2014.
“The national economy, battling slowdown, can ill-afford this situation,” said Rajkumar Dhoot, the president of the industries association. “In fact, the strike would aggravate the price situation because of disruption in the supply line of essential commodities.” Earlier this month, the government released data to show that India’s economy grew 5 percent over the past year, the lowest in the past decade.
The trade unions are also demanding effective enforcement of labor protection laws and an end to privatization of state-owned companies. In the past six months, the government has allowed foreign investors such as Wal-Mart to set up supermarket retail stores in India and announced policies to expand private investment in government-owned banks and insurance companies. Outside New Delhi, protesters smashed the windows of factories, vandalized warehouses and burned vehicles to enforce the work shutdown.
Fears for health of 30 jailed Oman hunger strikers
A member of Oman’s consultative council voiced concern Wednesday for the health of 30 jailed activists who have been on hunger strike for the past 12 days, as activists said some of them were in hospital. “We are concerned, as are their families, about the deterioration of the health conditions of the detainees after 12 days on hunger strike,” said Malek al-Abri, a member of Oman’s elected Majlis al-Shura (consultative council).
The council “is in contact, at all levels” with the government to allow a delegation to visit Samayl central prison, 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of Muscat, to “inquire about the situation of the hunger strikers,” Abri told AFP. The hunger strike was first launched by 17 cyber activists in protest at delays in their appeals after they were jailed for between six to 18 months for “unlawful assembly and violating the Cyber Law.”
They were later joined by 13 other prisoners protesting their conditions of detentions, according to activists. Their appeals will be considered by the Supreme Court on February 25 and a final decision will be made on March 4, according to Abri. An activist, who requested anonymity, said that “some of the hunger strikers were hospitalised after they lost consciousness”. Two of them Saeed al-Hashmi and Abdullah al-Arimi — were still in hospital, the activist said. Several groups of activists are on trial on charges of defaming or using Internet social media networks to insult Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled the Gulf sultanate for 42 years. The appeals court has upheld the jail terms of many already sentenced.
Greek Gold Mine Arson Fuels Political Feud
Greece’s government and major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) are battling over blame after an arson attack on a gold mine in northern Greece that officials said could trigger fear by foreign companies to invest in the country. A 54-year-old man has been charged in the aftermath of the fire on equipment at the Skouries mine in Halkidi, a project being developed by the Canadian company Eldorado Gold. Residents are divided between those who want the jobs it will bring and environmentalists who fear it will harm the environment and ruin tourism.
The man arrested was said to be the “moral instigator” and a local resident, while authorities said as many as 50 people may have been involved in the raid, which destroyed a number of vehicles. Two guards were also tied up and doused with a flammable liquid, police said. Four security guards were injured and a number of containers, vehicles and earth-moving machinery were destroyed. The assailants are also alleged to have been carrying guns, which they fired into the air.
A total of 33 people were detained, prompting residents of the nearby village of Ierissos to hold a public rally to protest what they saw as being random detentions by the police said. Lazaros Toskas, a member of main leftist opposition SYRIZA’s prefectural committee in Halkidiki, was detained by police after he commented on his blog that he opposes the Halkidiki project and his alleged participation in protests opposing the mine. A prosecutor returned his file to police, describing it as “incomplete,” according to sources, the newspaper Kathimerini said.
Toskas and three of the security staff injured legal suits against each other – the staff against Toskas for allegedly being one of their attackers and Toskas against the guards for slander. SYRIZA, which has backed opposition by local residents to the Halkidiki mining project, condemned the arson attack as “unacceptable” but expressed anger at the arrest of Toskas, referring to a “general attempt to stigmatize social struggles.” The government has accused SYRIZA of fostering political violence.
Sources told the newspaper Kathimerini that police collected evidence attack and are expecting the results of forensic tests. Officers have apparently gathered droplets of blood, a ski mask, cigarette butts, a torch and a surgical mask. Hellenic Gold, which is 95-percent owned by Canadian Eldorado Gold, insists that the mine is legal and has all the necessary environmental permits. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias stressed that authorities would do everything possible to protect crucial investments. “Greece is a European state of law and order,” he said. “We have a duty to safeguard the foreign investments taking place in the country. Investments are the only way we can confront the huge problem of unemployment.”
China reportedly helping Zambia with eavesdropping technology
China is facing allegations that it is helping the Zambian government with deep packet inspection technology to eavesdrop, mine data, censor and intercept communications.
The allegations come less than two years after the Chinese government was accused of helping the Ethiopian government block news websites in Ethiopia and jam Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and other broadcasters including the Voice of America and Germany’s Deutsche Welle Amharic service. Deep packet inspection technology (DPI) allows monitoring of traffic from a specific IP address and enables the ability to spy on email even as it is being typed out by the user.
The Zambian government reportedly intends to introduce the monitoring mechanism to vet Internet services coming in and out of the country. Zambian and Chinese security officials have reportedly been traveling between the two countries for the project, expected to cost the Zambian government over $5 million. Officials from the country’s three mobile operators — MTN, Airtel and Zamtel — and some ISPs have confirmed on condition of anonymity that in the past week, members of the Office of the President (OP) have been visiting them in an attempt to facilitate monitoring of e-mail and voice communications.
Strike closes Malawi airport, pressure builds on govt
(Reuters) – Striking state workers in Malawi on Wednesday closed the main international airport in the capital Lilongwe over demands for better pay, piling pressure on President Joyce Banda who took office last year pledging painful economic reforms.
Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines cancelled flights to Lilongwe. More than 100,000 public sector workers went on strike last week demanding a 65 percent wage increase – about double the inflation rate – to counter a rising cost of living triggered by a devaluation of the kwacha currency. The strike has closed schools and paralysed major hospitals, which are already short of health workers and medicine.
Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said on Tuesday that the government could not afford to increase wages and was negotiating with the striking workers. Banda has instituted painful economic reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund and donors since winning office last year. Aid traditionally accounts for about 40 percent of the budget.
Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails declare hunger strike
Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails declared a one-day fast on Tuesday in solidarity with four inmates whose hunger strike has fueled anti-Israel protests in the occupied West Bank. Samer al-Issawi, one of the four Palestinians who have been on hunger strike, has been refusing food, intermittently, for more than 200 days. His family says his health has deteriorated sharply.
The prisoners’ campaign for better conditions and against detention without trial has touched off violent protests over the past several weeks outside an Israeli military prison and in West Bank towns. In the Gaza Strip, the Islamic Jihad group said a truce with Israel that ended eight days of fighting in November could unravel if any hunger striker died. The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which looks after the welfare of inmates and their families, said 800 prisoners were taking part in the day-long fast.
Second night of rioting on French Indian Ocean island, Réunion
Youths battled police for the second night running on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion on Tuesday. The violence started after protests over unemployment and calls for more jobs creation schemes. After a night of rioting on Monday, Tuesday was relatively calm, despite youths setting up one roadblock to demand 200 jobs on government-aided schemes, until nightfall. But then violence erupted again. Youths fought riot police, who responded with teargas, a municipal building was set on fire and a service station vandalised. When a motorist tried to force a roadblock set up by protesters, he was dragged from his vehicle, which was set on fire.
At least three people were arrested and the Port area, the deprived area where the riot broke out, flooded with police. Overseas Territories Minister Victorin Lurel told local television that the government had provided partial funding for 17,000 contracts on two different kinds of job-creation scheme. But local politicians say that they do not have the funds to make up the difference and that lengthening them from six to 10 months has reduced the number of people who can be taken on. Riots broke out in February last year over unemployment and poverty on the island.