The Guardian 7 September, 2005

Global briefs

FRANCE: In the second fire in four months to sweep through temporary housing facilities for immigrants, 14 children and three adults died on August 26. fire. Another 23 people were hospitalised with injuries as fire gutted their building in south eastern Paris. Over 200 firefighters struggled for hours to control the blaze. Four days later, a third blaze killed seven more immigrants and injured 14 others. In the August 26 fire, residents and neighbours said about 100 children and 30 adults, mostly from the West African countries of Senegal and Mali, were living in filthy, overcrowded conditions in the building, which is owned by the government and managed by the charity France Europe Habitat. Though the building was supposed to be temporary quarters, some residents had been there over a decade while waiting for subsidised housing. A fire in April at a rundown residential hotel — also largely sheltering immigrants — killed 24 and injured over 50. French officials promised a systematic investigation of similar temporary housing facilities.

ECUADOR: Ecuador’s Congress acted on August 25 to lift a state of emergency in areas where protestors attacked oil wells, but talks to resolve the crisis were stalled over protestors’ demand for immunity. Demanding that oil companies invest more in poor Amazon communities where they drill, demonstrators had attacked pipelines and pumping stations, greatly curtailing exports. Residents of the communities say environmental damage is severe, and they get little benefit. Ecuador is South America’s second largest oil supplier to the US.

INDIA: The Kerala State Pollution Control Board on August 19 ordered Coca-Cola to shut down its bottling plant in the remote village of Plachimada, saying toxic waste from the plant was affecting drinking water in nearby villages and the plant was not providing adequate drinking water to local residents. Residents were jubilant. Soon after the plant started operations in 2001 local residents began protesting because their wells were running dry. Over two years ago, a local doctor said the water still available from the wells had become unfit for consumption. In July 2003, tests at the University of Exeter in Britain found the waste sludge the plant had given local residents as "free fertiliser" was full of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead, and was contaminating the food chain.

JAMAICA: In Jamaica last month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Percival Patterson signed the first bilateral agreement under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe initiative to provide oil to Caribbean countries under very favourable financial terms. The pact will increase Venezuela’s oil exports to Jamaica from 7000 to 21,000 barrels per day, with a grace period of two years for payment at a one percent interest rate. The PetroCaribe agreement, signed by Venezuela and all but two Caribbean countries in June, offers generous financing for oil sales to help small Caribbean economies deal with high fuel prices. Chávez has also said the Venezuelan government would sell gasoline directly to poor organised communities in the US, in order to cut costs by eliminating middlemen.

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