Malaysia to help out Indonesia
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday Malaysia would provide Indonesia with a $250 million bridging loan despite deadly riots in Jakarta.
Mahathir, on returning from the non aligned G-15 summit in Egypt also criticised the International Monetary Fund's rigorous aid programme, which included withdrawing subsidies on Indonesians' fuel, electricity and transport. Asked if the IMF was to be blamed for riots in Indonesia, Mahathir said the agency should not have insisted on pulling away subsidies to Indonesians drastically.
``I think the IMF can see on CNN also what happened when we pull subsidies too quickly on a people who depended on subsidies,'' he said. ``When people become poorer and you pull back the subsidies then of course you are deliberately agitating the people, almost wanting them to revolt.''
Malaysian officials said earlier this month the country was extending the bridging loan because the IMF was slow to disburse its rescue package. Mahathir has said previously that the loan is in addition to a $1 billion aid package extended last year.
In Jakarta the Indonesian government on Friday said it was cutting fuel prices and that electricity tariff for August will be reduced by two percent as of 00:00 hours, local time Saturday (May 16). But protesters, bitter at IMF-mandated price rises for fuel and transport, have called also for reform and an end to the 32-year rule of President Suharto.
The Antara news agency on Friday further clarified earlier statements made by Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas on the student reform movement quoting ministry spokesman, Abdul Irsan ,"The Foreign Ministry denies news stories quoted from foreign press about a statement of Foreign Minister Ali Alatas which could give an impression that he was against reform".
Fifty prominent political figures including former Cabinet ministers have called on Mr Suharto to step down with dignity in the interest of the nation. The new umbrella organisation , the Council to Convey the People's Messsage (MAR), was established in response to the recent social unrest which, the council's founder, Amien Rais, said Friday. "MAR is intended to serve as a vehicle to fight for democracy or an umbrella covering those who want to fight for it," Rais said.
But hardline interior minister Hartono was quoted by Antara on Friday as saying he did not believe those who had urged President Suharto's resignation, be they community figures or mass organization leaders, acted on behalf of the people.
Hartono blamed the banned Indonesian Communist Party and other organizations. "You know who has created the condition. They are remnants of the banned communist party and other organzations," he said. He declined to mention names saying that the analysis was the result of the intelligence operations which could not be made public.
The damage bill from the three-day rampage is set to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars with protesters targeting the obscene wealth of the ruling family. Branches of the Bank Central Asia (BCA), owned by the Salim group and two of President Suharto's children, were broken into and ransacked, as were car dealerships, owned by the President's son Tommy. President Suharto family is among the 12 richest in the world, with a fortune estimated at $50 billion by Forbes magazine.
By contrast in Malaysia leading by example the economically modest Prime Minister Mahathir and his wife have donated 125,000 ringgit ($33,000) worth of foreign currencies and jewellery to a fund to shore up the Malaysia battered foreign reserves.
A senior Finance Ministry official, Danial Syed Ahmad, told the Bernama news agency on Friday that Dr. M had offered foreign currencies from various countries worth 15,000 ringgit. His wife gave currencies and jewellery valued at 40,000 ringgit, and diamonds worth 70,000 ringgit, he said. The items will be auctioned, and the buyer of the prime minister's contributions will be given a special certificate with the leader's signature.
The fund, set up on March 6, has so far taken in currencies and jewellery worth 2.6 million ringgit which will go to shore up reserves, Syed Danial said. The fund was established to blunt the effects of a regional economic crisis that has driven down the value of the ringgit against the U.S. dollar and undercut share prices.
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Palestinians demonstrate, 50 years of Nakba
Gaza Strip: Hundreds of Thousand Palestinians commemorated "al Nakba" , the catastrophe, of Israel's founding and their own uprooting a half-century ago in the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in 20 months this week.
Yasser Arafat declared a national day of mourning on Thursday that turned into a day of rage, with at least five Palestinians killed and nearly 200 injured in clashes with Israeli troops. Pitched battles between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli troops raged from the town of Jenin in the northern West Bank to the southernmost Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
For five decades the Palestine refugees have endured great injustices and hardships after having been uprooted from their homes and forced to live in diaspora, deprived of minimum human and national rights. Their plight is on the agenda of the peace process, as one of the issues of the final status negotiations, and is considered to be one of the most difficult and complex issues.
In a speech broadcast on Palestinian television, Arafat promised that a Palestinian state would become a reality. "We are not guests in this world. We are partners in it, and this partnership cannot be fulfilled without the establishment of a state," he declared.
In every major city of the West Bank and Gaza, marchers, children holding hands, old men in robes and headdresses and veiled women, turned out for the anniversary. While most of the marchers, 1 million by official Palestinian estimates, were peaceful, thousands of young men broke away and headed toward Israeli army outposts. In clash after clash, they hurled stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
Debt protesters surround G-8 summit
Birmingham: Blowing whistles and banging drums, 70,000 protesters gathered in Birmingham on Saturday to form a huge human chain to press home a call for rich nations to cancel Third World debt.
As the Group of Eight summit, the leaders of the United States, Russia, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada debated relieving poverty in Africa, thousands of protesters poured into the central English city to stage a noisy protest demanding that the rich nations write off the debt mountain of the world's poorest countries for the millennium.
The chain started to form at 2pm, and soon made a 10 km continuous circle chain, four people deep, around the International Convention Centre - the venue for the G8 summit.At 2:30pm, a town crier led eight children from Ladywood School with boxes of petitions around the chain route. The signatures - a total of 1.5 million - were handed over at the Convention Centre, to a roar from an 8,000-strong crowd in St Phillips Square.
At the end of more than six minutes of noise, the cheering crowd was addressed by the International Development Minister, Clare Short, who gave a brief speech congratulating the protesters. She praised the seven-mile human chain for putting pressure on the G8 leaders, and added: "This is a declaration of the end of the selfishness and the greed of the eighties."
In what organisers of the chain said was a last-minute climbdown, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to meet campaigners for debt relief on his return from the country house retreat.
``I am delighted that the chair of the G8 has finally acknowledged the extraordinary worldwide movement present in Birmingham today. We said all along that 70,000 people in the streets of Birmingham were as important as eight men in a country house,'' said Ann Pettifer, director of Jubilee 2000 Coalition. of charities and non-governmental organisations. She spoke of putting pressure on the "hard-faced men of money" who she said failed to understand the problems of world debt.
Blair said in a response to the Jubilee 2000 petition: ``I can assure you that all leaders here fully share your concern over the debt burden faced by many poor countries.''
In the morning at the ``people's summit'' running parallel to the G-8 there were meetings in venues around the city. Among the speakers was Kofi Mawuli Klu, from Ghana, who said, "The Jubilee 2000 campaign has the potential to unite people around the world and offer impoverished people in Africa the possibility of the freedom they sought at independence. The poor struggle against the debt - often with their lives. I am moved that ordinary people in Britain have come out today in solidarity with us."
The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday also asked the Group of Eight industrial nations to speed up the pace of debt relief, reverse the decline of international aid and make sure assistance to Africa gets spent in Africa itself.
In a letter addressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, host of the weekend G8 meeting in Birmingham, England, Annan also said the poor, the young and women should not carry the burden of world financial upheavals.
In a separate statement, Carol Bellamy, the executive director of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), slammed international programs for debt relief as being too slow to bring real benefits to more than a tiny number of countries.
While waiting for relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), she said, Uganda spent $184 million on debt servicing, about 10 times more than on public health and around seven times the cost of primary education.
"So despite all the fanfare, the HIPC initiative seems just as slow
and frustrating and inadequate as the litany of debt reduction schemes
that preceded it," she said. "We didn't expect this. We hoped for much
G-15 want reform of world trade
Cairo: Leaders of the G15 group of developing nations Wednesday demanded a greater say in the world economy and trade talks.
The plight of Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries dominated talk among G15 leaders anxious to prevent similar crises erupting in their own countries or elsewhere. The group of emerging countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America stressed the disruptive impact of currency speculation and the social costs it could inflict on fragile economies
``It is possible to impoverish a country merely by reducing the value of their currency,'' Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the news conference. ``What we have grown is still there but the value of our wealth has diminished 50 percent.''
Developing countries say they are happy to embrace the principles of
free trade which now dominate the global economic order -- but they make
two demands of the rich world in return.
The G15 summit communique expressed confidence that Asian countries would eventually overcome their financial problems. ``We believe ... the prolonged and repeated pressures against their currencies and the social costs, including massive unemployment, necessitate immediate action to be taken to curb the destabilising effects of currency speculation,'' it said.
Mahathir said an actual mechanism for achieving this had not yet been established. ``But there has been a great deal of interest to ensure short-term currency flows should be regulated in order to minimise the damage to our economies,'' he added.
The global south statement issued on Wednesday after the G-15 summit , which groups Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and 16th member Kenya, accused the "North" of hypocrisy, foisting on the world an image of free trade which forces poorer nations to open their borders to foreign goods and services while keeping their own barriers firmly up.
The barriers may be overtly financial, such as the high tariff barriers still imposed by many developed countries on certain goods from the "South". India, for example, argues that the North is failing to open its markets to Asian clothing and textile exports.
Calling for increased South-South trade Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed said his country's trade with Latin America had tripled since the G-15 was set up in 1989.
``We believe in continuing our interests and our relations with the North because they have the market and the money and the know-how,'' he told reporters. ``At the same time we realise that the North has always been interested in investing and using the markets of the South. It follows that the South too can make use of their own markets in order to develop their own economies.''
Like the rest of the world, G15 leaders were stunned by India's detonation of five nuclear devices this week, but, as a primarily economic forum, voiced no collective opinion.
India's Vice-President Krishna Kant defended the tests and but said New Delhi remained committed to disarmament. ``India has conducted these three tests after a great deal of deliberation and thought because of our endangered nuclear security environment,'' he told the G15 news conference.
U.S. hands off Iraq!
By Deirdre Griswold, Workers World News service
Baghdad:The 100 people with the Iraq Sanctions Challenge delegation wanted the world to know that they weren't just delivering humanitarian aid--as needed as that is. They had traveled from all parts of the United States to Iraq in order to defy the brutal sanctions that have caused such an enormous toll in human life and health.
They went to the U.S. Interests Section to register their anger because Washington has lobbied hard and long to keep the sanctions in place. The chants were the same they have used at many demonstrations inside the United States: "1-2-3-4, we don't want your racist war!" they yelled, and, "U.S. hands off Iraq!"
In an interview with Pacifica Radio, Sara Flounders of the International Action Center described the demonstration as one "full of anger and deep emotion. It came after several days of visits to hospitals where the human misery would be hard to express. Visits to schools where you see young children so alive, singing, chanting, happy, and yet they have no books, no pencils--nothing."
Monica Moorehead of Workers World Party, a member of the delegation, said the trip was "an act of civil disobedience to show that sanctions are nothing more than genocide."
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton were among the notables who delivered medicines to Iraq and registered their protest over U.S. policies. The Iraq Sanctions Challenge delegation had left the United States May 6 with six tons of medicine. The $4 million worth of medicine had been collected all over the United States in a grassroots campaign.
The anti-war activists, religious leaders, health-care professionals, labor unionists and students reached Baghdad May 8. They had traveled in two separate groups from Jordan and Syria. Those who had flown from New York's JFK airport to Amman, Jordan, spent 28 hours crossing the desert by bus--because almost all flights to Iraq are banned under the sanctions.
Their trucks and buses were draped with banners reading "End the racist sanctions now!" and "Let Iraq live" in English and Arabic. They defied U.S. law and United Nations sanctions--which continue to be imposed seven years after the Gulf War, and have killed 1.5 million Iraqis.
Moorehead reports that when the main group arrived in Amman it was met by high-level representatives of the Jordanian Bar Association, the National Engineers Association and the Arab Medical Union. The sanctions are enormously unpopular throughout the Middle East.
Sanctions have become a preferred weapon of U.S. imperialism in its war to force oppressed countries to follow the economic dictates of Wall Street and the International Monetary Fund. These policies enrich transnational corporations and banks but leave the resources-rich countries of the Third World poor and underdeveloped.
At a May 9 Baghdad news conference, Ramsey Clark explained the purpose of the trip. "Our commitment is to stimulate the flow of medicine from the United States and other countries, in defiance of our government," he said. "We do not feel any people can be forced to ask permission of a genocidal power."
A week before the Iraq Sanctions Challenge trip, an "authorized" shipment of medicines was sent to Iraq by AmeriCares with the blessings of the White House and National Security Council. The move appeared timed to divert attention from the struggle against the sanctions themselves and give the impression that the U.S. government cares about the Iraqi people.
However, even as it feigns concern, Washington continues to insist on the sanctions. The sanctions have created hellish conditions in what was once a prosperous country by denying Iraq the right to sell much oil or import needed spare parts and materials.
Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit told reporters in Baghdad that he will continue to help build a movement to "force our government to end the sanctions policies." After delivering the medicines, the delegation split up and visited several different sites.
One team went to the Al-Ameriyah bomb shelter site, which the Pentagon deliberately targeted during the 1991 war. Two missiles incinerated over a tho usand people, most of them children.The team met with a woman whose nine children had died in the raid.
Another team visited the Al-Monsour School in Baghdad. They saw the poor sanitation conditions caused by the sanctions' ban on disinfectant chemicals and spare parts.
Teams visited other sites in Baghdad and in Fallujah, Kerbala, Basra and Mosul. Mike Miles, a teacher from Wisconsin, reports that "the atmosphere was absolutely electric" when a dozen U.S. students and teachers went to Baghdad University.
The excitement built when "it was discovered by the students there that several of us had participated in the demonstrations at Ohio State where Madeleine Albright was challenged, and at the University of Minnesota, where [UN Ambassador] Bill Richardson was literally chased out of a talk where he was trying to justify possible air strikes against Iraq."
Miles says the Sanctions Challenge delegates met with the Iraqi Student Federation to discuss the possibility of future exchanges between U.S. and Iraqi students.
Website : Iraq Sanctions Challenge
Aussie PM named in secret waterfront reports
Melbourne: Prime Minister John Howard was at the apex of a chain of command on the Federal Government's secret docks strategy, according to an Australian Financial Review article published on Friday.
The Prime Minister featured at the top of a flow chart on the reporting strategy for waterfront reform prepared by Dr Stephen Webster and David Trebeck. They name, not only the Prime Minister, but also senior departmental heads and advisors. Dr Webster, a former naval historian, is now a senior advisor to Peter Reith.
The 26-page contracts to produce reports on a waterfront strategy were drawn up between the Government and consulting firm ACIL, headed by Mr Trebeck, in 1996 and 1997, and Dr Webster's private company, Tucumcari Pty Ltd, in 1997. The contracts state that the matters to be dealt with were highly sensitive and had to be handled on a "strict need to know basis".
According to Australian Securities Commission documents, Tucumcari was a shelf company until June 6 last year when it became a consultancy, with the Ohio-born Dr Stephen Dewitt Webster and his wife Glenyse Jean Webster as the sole directors and shareholders.
Dr Webster is now the senior waterfront consultant on the staff of Workplace Minister, Peter Reith, and is at the centre of controversy about the Government's knowledge of the Dubai scheme to train non-union stevedores.
Dr Webster's report on waterfront reform was delivered to the Government in October last year. It canvassed in detail the need to establish a new non-union workforce on the docks in the event of a major strike. Mr Trebeck's earlier report canvassed a similar strategy.
The Government has consistently blocked all efforts by the Opposition to gain access to the consultants' reports. The ACTU is attempting to subpoena copies of these reports to use in the forthcoming conspiracy action it has mounted against the Government and Mr Corrigan's Patrick Stevedores.
Although Dr Webster was officially a consultant to Mr Sharp, with the Department of Transport paying the bills for his consultancy, he reported mainly to Mr Reith. Dr Webster subsequently joined Mr Reith's staff
Both reports detailed the need to provoke industrial unrest on the waterfront for a major strike so that a non-union workforce could be established on the docks.The ACTU is seeking to subpoena these reports for the Conspiracy case against Reith, Patrick and the National Farmers Federation.