The U.S. government has paraded as a peace seeker in the region, including calling for Tel Aviv to make some pullouts as was agreed to in the Oslo treaty. Washington, however, pumps $3 billion dollars a year into Israel for military and economic aid. The pressure from the tens thousands of Palestinian fighters for self-determination in the streets resisting settlements is shaking the ruling coalition government in Israel apart. On January 15 Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai threatened to resign if Tel Aviv does not carry out a partial withdrawal from the West Bank in three months. The day before, some 20,000 rightists rallied on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv opposing any troop or settlement withdrawals.
Turkey gov't bans Welfare party
The constitutional court in Turkey announce January 16 its 9 - 2 vote to dissolve the Welfare Party and ban its leader, former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, from political office for five years. The decision was based on charges filed last May that the Welfare Party, which won the largest number of seats in the last parliamentary elections, was "undermining Turkey's secular regime and bringing the country to the brink of civil war." Five other officials from that party got five- year bans as well, and the party's property is to be transferred to the government treasury. This is the third time in nearly three decades that a party formed by Erbakan has been shut down. The Welfare Party's remaining 147 members of parliament will hold their seats as independents.
Zimbabweans: `lower food costs'
On January 13 hundreds of people filled the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, demanding that the government act to provide subsidies and lower the prices of basic commodities. Demonstrators forced stores -some of which had raised prices by as much as 42 percent - to shut down. Zimbabwe's information minister Chen Chimutengwende accused business owners, most of whom are white, of raising prices as retaliation against government plans to seize 74.7 million acres of farm land, also owned largely by whites.
Croatian gov't reclaims Slavonia
On January 15, more than six years after the Croatian regime seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, UN forces handed over eastern Slavonia back to Zagreb. It was the first region seized from Croatia by the chauvinist Serb forces led by Radovan Karadzic and backed by the Yugoslav army. Some 80,000 Croatians fled Slavonia after 1991. For the past two years, that region was run by the United Nations under jurisdiction of the 1995 Dayton "peace" accord, under which tens of thousands of NATO troops are occupying Bosnia with the aim of paving the way to restoring capitalist rule there.
The Croatian government expects the return of eastern Slavonia to boost its chances of getting inducted into the European Union . U.S. and European government officials say that will not happen at this point, stating that Croatia supposedly is not "democratic" enough to join.
Ecuadorans: `No U.S. sanctions'
About 100 protesters in Ecuador demonstrated before the U.S. embassy there January 15 against the economic sanction proposals floated by U.S. ambassador Leslie Alexander. Participants chanted anti-U.S. government slogans and called for Alexander's removal. "We are here to show that American threats do not scare us," said María Eugenia Castro, one of the protesters. Washington has accused Quito of inadequately protecting foreign "intellectual" property, such as copyrights, and put the country on a "priority observation" list.
Drop in oil prices further threatens economy in Venezuela
In mid-January Venezuelan oil prices fell to well below $13 a barrel, an historic low. They recovered slightly January 13 to $12.85, still far short of the $15.50 projected for the 1998 budget. Oil accounts for 70 percent of Venezuela's export income, and each dollar lost from the per barrel price translates into $1 billion in gross revenue lost. Caracas was already in the midst of preparing an austerity package that includes $1.3 billion in budget cuts, and is considering further reductions that will hit working people. An unnamed analyst in a Financial Times news article said this crisis makes investors nervous "that the currency will not hold up." The central bank raised interest rates January 13.
Brazil gov't bank begins sell-off
Banco do Brasil plans to sell off BB DTVM - the biggest mutual fund company in Brazil - to foreign investors. The move opens the door for the buyer to sell its products in 3,000 retail branches throughout the country. It is also hanging the "for sale" sign over BB Securities, based in London. The bank was one of the few government-run companies supposedly not on the auction block for the next two years. Bank president Paulo César Ximenes swore this was not the first step to privatizing Banco do Brasil itself. The U.S. companies Fidelity, Citibank, HSBC, and Chase Manhattan Bank are considering the deal. The British firm Schroders also set up offices in Brazil.
Last year the U.S.-based Whirlpool bought up 66 percent of Brasmotor, which controls some of Latin America's leading appliance producing companies. Now Whirlpool is preparing to lay off 3,200 workers as part of downsizing its own plants in Brazil. Meanwhile, the Brazilian government is pressing an austerity drive against working people, with proposals to "reform" the social security system there, forcing workers to turn to private pension companies.
Clinton bolsters New York cops
During a January 15 press event at Kennedy International Airport, President William Clinton, standing with New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, made a $120 million dollar grant to hire 1,600 more cops in New York, and a similar sum to employ 1,700 more at 620 police agencies across the United States. This will bring the total cop force in New York City to 40,000. Clinton and Giuliani attributed a drop in crime statistics to so-called community policing, and "smarter and tougher punishment."
`Get KKKer name off school'
One of two Blacks on a seven-member school board members in Gadsden, Alabama, is calling for the renaming of General Forrest Middle School. Gen. Nathan Forrest was a Confederate officer who later became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Superintendent Fred Taylor responded by describing Forrest as a "war hero" and saying, "He had a right to be in the [KKK] organization as much as these folks [Blacks] have a right to be in the NAACP. That doesn't mean he wasn't a hero."
- BRIAN TAYLOR
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