Pope calls for end to US embargo of Cuba
Havana: The Pope John Paul II has called on the United States to reconsider its economic embargo on Cuba at the start of his first visit to Cuba on Wednesday.
In his welcome speech the Pope referred to the 35-year-long economic standoff and said: "May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba." Vatican policy condemns the placing of economic sanctions on any country, and the Pope has criticised the US embargo on Cuba in the past.
On Thursday on the first full day of his historic visit, the Pope celebrated a Mass in the old colonial city of Santa Clara, final resting place of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Che's guerrilla forces took control of the city on December 31, 1958, forcing former dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee the country about 12 hours later. A huge statue of the revolutionary, rifle in hand and dressed in military fatigues with a beret, dominates the city's largest square and his remains were buried there last October, on the 30th anniversary of his death in an abortive guerrilla uprising in Bolivia.
The Pontiff said,"The social situation experienced in this beloved country has created not a few difficulties for family stability: for example, material scarcities -- as when wages are not sufficient or have a very limited buying power -- dissatisfaction for ideological reasons, the attraction of the consumer society. These and other measures involving labor and other matters have helped to intensify a problem which has existed in Cuba for years: people being obliged to be away from the family within the country, and emigration, which has torn apart whole families and caused suffering for a large part of the population."
"The family, the school and the church must form an educational community in which the children of Cuba can ``grow in humanity.'' Do not be afraid; open your families and schools to the values of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which are never a threat to any social projec," his holiness added. Cuban flags and yellow-and-white banners adorned the Mass site.
But the Pope Friday launched his most outspoken attack on the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, calling such measures deplorable. In a letter to Cuban youth, the pontiff said: "Economic embargoes ...are always deplorable because they hurt the most needy."
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Friday the pope would speak out clearly against the embargo again before the end of his five-day tour. Speaking on the plane bringing him to Cuba Wednesday, the pontiff said he wanted Washington to "change" the embargo. His words brought a swift response from the U.S. government, which said it would not be eased until there was significant political change in Cuba.
The United Nations General Assembly, last November by a record majority, called for an end to Washington's economic embargo against Cuba. It was the sixth year in a row that the call was approved by the General Assembly. The vote has been growing in Cuba's favor each year since 1992,
Baghdad: UNSCOM biological weapons inspectors made unannounced stops at university campuses in Baghdad, drawing Iraqi criticism that they were disrupting students' examinations INA said on Wednesday.
The Iraqi News Agency said the inspections came during mid-year exams. It quoted an unidentified ``responsible source'' with Iraq's monitoring committee for the U.N. inspections as saying the experts were guilty of ``unjustified pressure'' because of their timing.
The news agency did not say how many teams were in the field or which university campuses they visited. Weapons inspectors in Baghdad refused to comment on Iraq's allegation that they interfered with exams. The unannounced spot searches follow provocative comments by the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. On a visit to Hong Kong on Tuesday, Cook, said,``With every passing day Saddam Hussein continues to expand his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons.. every week Saddam is creating enough anthrax to fill two missile warheads.''
On Dec 8 UN weapons inspectors made an unexpected visit to a kindergarten . "The Americans disrupted everything," kindergarten teacher Naima Fakher Hammudi told reporters as she described the visit by U.N. experts the previous day. "I don't know what they were looking for. All we have is cardboard boxes containing food," Hammudi said. But a spokesman for Iraq's information ministry said it was , " to assure themselves about the number of long-range missiles hidden under the desks and the atomic bombs and chemical warheads in the children's bags,"
The UN Security Council was divided Thursday in assessing Iraq's nuclear potential with the United States and Britain blocking an attempt by Russia, China and France to declare Iraq free of nuclear weapons.
After IAEA official Garry Dillon briefed the council about his agency's
inspection program in Iraq, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said Dillon's
remarks ``confirmed our conviction that the file is closed for all practical
Russia at the end of last month circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members, proposing that the verification of Iraq's nuclear disarmament should in the future be transferred onto long-term monitoring -- effectively closing the file.
French envoy Alain Dejammet, whose country supports the Russian and Chinese position, stressed Thursday that the "transition to this ongoing long-term monitoring system" would not preclude the resumption of IAEA investigations if needed.
The agency, based in Vienna, Austria, inspects suspected Iraqi nuclear facilities. The U.N. Special Commission, headed by Australian Richard Butler, is responsible for missiles, chemical and biological arsenals.
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Wednesday that he had asked Butler to ``postpone discussion of this matter until next April.'' That would follow meetings of technical committees that are to review the work of the inspectors to date.
The two sides agreed Tuesday that experts from the five permament Security Council members and Germany will take part next month in the first technical evaluation meeting (TEM) on missile warheads and VX chemical agents.
"I expressed my very serious doubt that the TEMs could have the outcome that he foresaw," as Iraq was not offering any new information, Richard Butler said later in New York.
Indonesian currency sink despite IMF
Jakarta: Indonesia's fragile currency slipped again Thursday as the government unveiled a revised budget that falls in line with economic reforms pushed by the International Monetary Fund.
However this gave little hope of immediate recovery for the battered rupiah, which was trading at the currency's harrowing plunge to a record low of 16,500 on Thursday. The currency has lost about 80 percent of its value since Asia's financial crisis erupted in July.
The new budget predicts no growth in 1998 as US Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Defense Secretary William Cohen and IMF President Michel Camdessus were all in Indonesia last week to force President Suharto to break up his family-owned businesses so they could be swallowed up by the multinationals. But having attained this assurance they still fail to offer any practical solution how hundreds of Indonesian corporations are going to repay $133 billion loans from western banks.
Deputy Australian Prime Minister and Trades Minister Tim Fischer has warned many Australian agricultural exports to Indonesia will suffer following the collapse of the Indonesian Ruppiah. Mr Fischer said he had discussed the International Monetary Fund reform package with his Indonesian counterpart, Tungky Arribowo. Mr Fischer said while market access for staples like wheat and sugar will imporve, the top end of exports, like wine and fish, will suffer.
One worker said, "Things were bad in 1974 and 1975, but this is the worst I can remember. It's like we're heading back to the Dutch times when we had to learn to live on just one meal a day."
The currency turmoil sweeping south-east Asia is making itself felt in many different ways. Across the region, corporate bankruptcies, job losses and rising prices have become the order of the day.Malaysian Finance Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has urged people to grow their own vegetables to try and cut the burden on the budget of imported food.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, has given his backing to appeals to Malaysian women to sell their gold jewellery and buy government bonds with the proceeds, thus helping the authorities service their overseas debt.
American Catholics campaign against Iraq sanctions
Arab American Father Labib Kobti on Wednesday called on US Catholics to gather 22 millions signatures to lift UN Sanctions against Iraq and support an appeal for the Pope to visit Iraq.
He said,"Children are dying. People are starving. Enough is enough". "The petition should aim for the number of the inhabitants of Iraq. A signature of each of our innocent friends," he said. He called on the faithful to "contact their priests, bishops, Cardinals from differnt confessions and countries and sign a paper to be sent to the Nuntius of the Pope in Washington and to the Vatican."
On Tuesday, Bishop Tom Gumbleton announced that 54 Catholic US bishops have signed a statement calling for an end to UN sanctions on Iraq at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Three bishops will join Bishop Gumbleton for three days of fasting and prayer.
Asserting that U.N. sanctions over the past seven years have caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, 54 U.S. Catholic bishops urged President Clinton on Tuesday to work for the ``immediate cessation'' of the embargo.
``For us this is a moral question,'' said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit. ``We are killing people and it has to stop.''
Gumbleton said that he and two other bishops were beginning a fast Tuesday to show their solidarity with the people of Iraq. During the fast, he said, they would take only liquids or eat the meager daily rations that Iraqis receive.
In a letter to Clinton, the bishops said that whatever the purpose of the U.N.sanctions, they ``are not only in violation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but they violate the human rights of the Iraqi people because they deprive innocent people from food and medicine.''
Last month, UNICEF reported that 960,000 Iraqi children are suffering from malnutrition. In 1996, the organization estimated that 4,500 children under the age of 5 were dying each month.
The Vatican has repeatedly called for the lifting of the sanctions. Earlier this month, Pope John Paul II said, ``Our brothers and sisters in Iraq (are) living under a pitiless embargo.''
``The weak and the innocent cannot pay for mistakes for which they are not responsible,'' the Pope John Paul II said used his annual state of the world address on January 10, 1998.
Gumbleton said vigils, religious services and call-in days to the White House and Congress will be organized to put pressure on the administration to end the embargo.
In Baghdad Tuesday, Iraqi mourners held a funeral procession for 70 children who died because of the UN/US embargo. The coffins, wrapped in white linen and bearing pictures of the dead children with their names and ages, were carried on top of taxis. Relatives of the children wept as they sat in the taxis carrying the coffins.
Related website: Al-Bushra. http://www.al-bushra.org
Australia to mourn lost treaty
Sydney: A decade after the bicentenary, as white Australia prepares to celebrate Australia Day, relations between the Federal Government and Aboriginal Australia are at a 60-year low.
On January 26, 1938, more than 100 Aboriginal people from communities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland gathered in Sydney to mark the “Day of Mourning” -- the 150th anniversary of the invasion by British colonists at Sydney Cove.
The assembled Aboriginal representatives met in the Australia Hall -- now the Mandolin Cinema -- to draw up a manifesto for civil rights for Aborigines. Those who could not afford to make the trip sent messages of solidarity.
To mark that historic gathering, the National Aboriginal History and Heritage Council is organising a gathering in the same place on the same date, 60 years later. The meeting will celebrate and honour those courageous people by re-enacting and reaffirming the decisions made in 1938. There will speeches by original participants. The meeting will assess what progress has been made in the past 60 years and discuss “Our Ten Points”, a list of demands for major changes to Aboriginal policy.
However today cuts to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and new controls on its funding; the Government's 10-point native title plan that may end up as the trigger for the next election; the emergence of the Hanson movement and the refusal to apologise to the stolen children - these have combined to produce this outcome.
In 1988 Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the chairman of the Northern Land Council and other Aboriginal tribesmen sat with Bob Hawke and talked of a treaty. "I believe we got a practical commitment from Bob Hawke and his Government in 1988. It marked the turning point towards better relations, to unite this nation as one and to kill off discrimination."
A decade on, Yunupingu sees a dramatic change in the way the national government is approaching his people. Since the election of the Howard Government, he talks about a lack of commitment and an absence of real leadership. "We have lost faith in the false promises, bad faith and discriminatory law of a Government which acts against indigenous rights," he says.
A decade ago, Tasmanian Aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell was giving new meaning to the word activist, enjoyed notoriety for leading Aboriginal delegations to Libya. Today Mansell argues there is a need for a return to black radicalism, and particularly looks towards the 2000 Sydney Olympics on the issue of native title.
"If the same old tactics of going in and using flowery language doesn't work, then you've got to do things that focus on issues that strike a raw nerve with the Government."
The commemoration will begin with a silent procession from Sydney Town Hall, beginning at 10am, Monday, January 26. The procession will follow the original route of the 1938 procession. The re-enactment will begin at 11.15am at Australia Hall (Mandolin Cinema), 150 Elizabeth St, Sydney.
Egyptian intellectuals defend Garaudy
Cairo : Egyptian intellectuals gathered, last Wednesday, at the gates of the French Embassy in Cairo, to express their opposition and anger at the trial of French philosopher and intellectual Roger Garaudy. The French courts decided, under pressure from Zionist organizations, to try him for an important tract he wrote about "The Founding Myths of the State of Israel" which French printing houses were banned from publishing.
Among the protesters figured Prof. Ibrahim Shukri, the CEO of El-Shaab and head of the Labor Party, Dr. Nimaat Ahmad-Fouad, Dr. Galal Amin and Prof. Muhammad Sayyid Ahmad who expressed [a`rabu] their protest when they met with an official from the French Embassy.
Their main contention was that the "Garaudy Affair" had negative repercussions on French relations with the Arab and Muslim world in general and Egypt in particular. They said that the affair had political ramifications as well because there is both human rights abuse and muzzling of free speech.
Garaudy is presently facing a trial in France under the Gayssaud Law which bans any material that casts a shadow of a doubt on the Holocaust. In 1982, Garaudy and another French priest faced a trial for writing an article published in the French leading newspaper Le Monde when they criticized the Israeli aggression on Lebanon considering it as an implementation of Zionist ideology of expansion. The court found them not guilty, as their article does not constitute 'anti-semitism'.
Other eminent professors were also at the protest: Jamal al-Banna, Talaat Muslim, Muhammad Abu al-Futuh, Dr. Magdi Qarqar, Abu al-Ala Madhi, Sayyid Gadban, Mrs. Ismahan Shukri, Ms. Nagla Qalyubi, Ms. Huda al-Mallah, Kamal Abu `Ita and the two artists Hamdi Ahmad and Abdel Aziz Maykhun.
The participants delegated Professor Ibrahim Shukri, the head of the Labor Party, and writer Muhammad Sayyid Ahmed to give a protest letter to the Secretary of the Embassy after they were banned from entering and told that the Ambassador was not around, at the time, to receive them.
The participants then held a press conference at the gates of the Embassy and told reporters that they protested the trial of Garaudy. Dr Ali Ghayth, a renowned Egyptian expert in International and Comparative Law flew to France to help defend Garaudy.