The Guardian 9 February, 2005

Global briefs

HAITI: After last month's meeting in Pretoria between South African President Thabo Mbeki and exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, African Union (AU) Commission chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare said the AU was ready to help facilitate the return of peace and the holding of elections in Haiti. The Haitian news service AHP quoted Aristide as saying he is committed to working with the AU to restore peace and constitutional order in his country. Aristide added, "The Haitian people would have very much liked to be present to thank Mr Mbeki and Mr Konare for their efforts to help resolve the crisis."

CANADA: Canada has announced it is cancelling Madagascar's entire $21 million debt. Paul Boothe, Canada's representative to the G8 group of the world's eight wealthiest countries, said Canada is forgiving the debts of countries that are working to modernise and reform. "African nations that have shown real progress in improving government accountability and strengthening their economies must be allowed the opportunity to invest in their citizens, rather than being compelled to divert their financial resources to interest payments", Boothe said. Since last September, Canada has also forgiven the debts of Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal.

FRANCE: Hundreds of thousands of government workers teachers, civil servants and health care workers joined rolling strikes initiated in January by postal and rail workers. Strikers were protesting against government plans to curb hiring and to weaken the law mandating a 35-hour working week, and are demanding wage increases. The Education Ministry said over 40 percent of the country's nearly 900,000 teachers joined the industrial action which also halted many domestic flights, closed museums and halted traffic. Protests were held in Paris and in dozens of other cities and towns throughout France. An opinion poll showed 65 percent of the French people supported the labour actions. Another Day of Action was set down for February 5.

PAKISTAN: Workers organised by the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) have rallied in front of the Lahore Press Club to protest against the illegal dismissals of union officers and activists from textile and printing firms. The APTUF rallied in different industrial areas of Lahore against rising prices and government repression of trade union activities. The union federation said the demonstrations were successful despite the efforts of a special police force that patrols industrial areas to keep workers from organising and protesting. APTUF Secretary General Gulzar Ahmed Chaudhary said workers are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in the face of cost of living increases. Poverty, unemployment and child labour were growing rapidly, he said, adding that over half the population lived below the poverty line, while the government is doing nothing to ease the economic suffering of ordinary people.

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