The Guardian 19 October, 2005

Global briefs

JAPAN: The Osaka High Court ruled on September 30 that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumiís visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a religious institution honouring Japanese World War II dead, including the worst war criminals, are unconstitutional because they violate separation of church and state. Japan Press Weekly said Judge Otani Masaharu ruled Koizumiís visits were official because he used an official car, was accompanied by the Prime Ministerís secretaries and signed the visitorís book with his official title. The lawsuit was filed by 188 plaintiffs from Taiwan, occupied by Japan for 50 years. Japanese Communist Party Secretariat head Ichida Tadayoshi called the decision "epoch-making" and said the JCP has called the visits wrong because the shrine glorifies Japanís past wars of aggression as "just wars" and seeks to spread its view to the public. Koizumiís visits have caused consternation among Japanís neighbours, especially China, where the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in World War II are vividly recalled.

FRANCE: Five of Franceís biggest trade unions held a nationwide strike on October 4 that brought a million workers into the streets. They were protesting against government changes to labour laws that, among other things, would let employers fire workers without cause during their first two years on the job, and demanding the government reopen negotiations on working conditions and wages. Workers are also upset by growing privatisation of public utilities and transport. "When all unions join together to bring a consistent message, there is a response and support from the population", Bernard Thibault, head of the left-led CGT union, said. A poll showed 74 percent of French people supporting the strike, while 62 percent think the governmentís economic policy is "bad".

COLOMBIA: Colombiaís far-right paramilitaries, the so-called United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) said on October 6 they were suspending their disarmament program to protest at the imprisonment of AUC commander Diego Murillo. The AUC often works with the Colombian armed forces, and its members have repeatedly been accused of the death squad-style slaughter of civilians including opponents of President Alvaro Uribeís government. It had reportedly demobilised about half of its 20,000 fighters during two years of talks with the government.

BELGIUM: In the first general strike in 12 years, hundreds of thousands of workers shut down most public transportation and halted work on construction sites, in manufacturing plants, supermarkets and the Port of Antwerp on October 7 to protest against the governmentís plan to raise the retirement age from 58 to 60, making it harder for workers to retire early with full benefits. The strike also affected prisons and schools, but not health facilities. Among picketed worksites was the European Unionís headquarters in Brussels. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said he would not yield to pressure, stressing that Belgium has to cut costs in its pension system because its population is aging. If the government, unions and businesses cannot come to an agreement, an even larger national strike looms later this month.

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