The Guardian 9 March, 2005

Global briefs

COLOMBIA: Opponents of the proposed "free trade treaty" between the US, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador held a national day of protest last month against the latest round of talks held in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena. Thousands of workers, peasants, indigenous people and students marched in Cartagena. At least a thousand students and unionists braved riot police to march in Bogota, and other protests were held in Cali, Pereira, Medellin and other cities. Meanwhile, the nearly 1500 trade negotiators had problems of their own; by the final day, no agreement had been reached on any of the 23 areas discussed. The biggest sticking points were agricultural policy, Andean farmers would be competing against heavily subsidised US agribusiness, and intellectual property, since the Andean countries would lose their ability to produce generic medicines.

CANADA: Wal-Mart's chief executive is seeking to defend the company's decision to close its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, after workers had voted to form a union. H Lee Scott Jr said the union's demands would have forced an already unprofitable store to hire 30 more people and follow inefficient work rules. Scott said the company saw no advantage from the higher labour costs, and would not give in to the union to be "altruistic". United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) National Director Michael Fraser responded with a pledge of continuing support to the Jonquiere workers. "Wal-Mart, which now controls the working lives of 70,000 Canadians, made a business decision that the cost of disposing of 200 men and women in Jonquiere was a good long-term investment in creating fear in the rest of their employees across Canada and the US", Fraser said. "We will continue to be there for you as long as it takes until the wrong that Wal-Mart has done to you is made right."

MOZAMBIQUE: The Mozambican government has begun issuing identification cards to refugees and asylum seekers. Rosa Chissique, director of the National Institute for Assistance to Refugees (INAR), said the cards will allow refugees to look for work, go to school, open bank accounts, and rent housing. INAR estimates there are about 8500 refugees in the country, mostly from the Great Lakes region including Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "I am happy", Rwandan refugee Feliciano Nyaminani told reporters. "I came to Mozambique in 2002, but during all this time I could not work or open a bank account or send money to my country." Nyaminani, who reached Mozambique after travelling through Congo and Malawi, said his six brothers were killed by the rebels in Rwanda, while his wife and two daughters were kidnapped. He said he hopes to return home some day.

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