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Thousands protest at Pope’s visit

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Thousands of protesters gathered on the streets of London today to demonstrate against Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit.

Organisers estimated up to 10,000 were due to join the march to Downing Street in opposition to the papal tour.

Campaigners held aloft banners stating “the Pope is wrong — put a condom on” and “Pope protects paedophile priests” as they joined the march.

The action is supported by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society among others.

Protesters cite a number of grievances against the Vatican’s stance on issues ranging from gay rights, the use of condoms and the Church’s response to clerical sex abuse.

Among those in attendance is human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The seasoned campaigner hit out at the use of taxpayers’ money being used to fund the visit.

He said: “The Vatican isn’t a state, it is not recognised as a country by the
UN.

“To give the Pope head of state status is wrong and to give him immunity
against prosecution is wrong — no one should be above the law.”

Mr Tatchell also criticised Pope Benedict’s homily at Westminster Cathedral stating that he did not go far enough in taking personal responsibility for the crimes of paedophile priests.

“The Pope keeps on apologising for the failings of everyone but himself,” he said.

“He hasn’t admitted his own shortcomings and even today he fails to hand over to police across the world the files he has kept on paedophile priests.

“That makes him an accomplice to sex crimes against children.” Comedian Al Murray also figured among the crowd.

He said: “Like a lot of people I am a perplexed that it is a state visit. “The Pope’s opposition to condoms kills people. It is all very well him lecturing us on morals but he should look at his own organisation’s view.”

Asked how his alter-ego The Pub Landlord would react to the visit, Murray
replied “he doesn’t like it either but that is because he is a fan of Henry
VIII because of his marriage arrangements”.

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America’s Grand Strategy: Militarizing Space

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

September 8, 2010

By Stephen Lendman

On January 3, 2001, the UN General Assembly’s Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space Resolution A/55/32 said:


“The exploration and use of outer space….shall be for peaceful purposes and be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. (The) prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.”


Over 140 nations agreed. Only two declined support, both abstaining – America and Israel.


On August 9, 1996, in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, then Commander-in-Chief US Space Command, Joseph W. Ashy asserted:


“It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but – absolutely – we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space. That’s why the US has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms. We will engage terrestrial targets someday – ships, airplanes, land targets – from space.”


On April 18, 2002, the Center for Defense Information’s Theresa Hitchens headlined, “Weapons in Space: Silver Bullet or Russian Roulette,” saying:



Weaponizing space “could actually undermine, rather than enhance, (America’s) national security….There is nothing to be gained, and potentially much to be lost, by (pursuing) a momentous change in US space policy.”



Co-founder and coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Bruce Gagnon warned:

“If the US is allowed to move the arms race into space, there will be no return. We have this one chance, this one moment in history, to stop the weaponization of space from happening. The peace movement must move quickly, boldly, and publicly,” what so far hasn’t happened, most people mindless to the danger.


First revealed in the 1998 US Space Command document, Vision for 2020, it was later released in 2000 as DOD Joint Vision 2020 calling for “full spectrum dominance” over all land, surface and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and information systems with enough overwhelming power to wage and win global wars against any adversary, including with nuclear weapons preemptively, ultimately from space, America wanting unchallenged control.


The Pentagon’s Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) plans an array of sophisticated weapons to achieve it, some operational, others being tested, and new ones under development for its Operations Plan (OPLAN) 8010-08 Strategic Deterrence and Global Strike use, the US Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) Strategic War Plan.


Since at least WW II, America’s strategy has been permanent war, a topic discussed earlier, accessed through the following link:


click here


On June 17, Space.com’s Jeremy Hsu headlined, “Air Force Sees Hypersonic Weapons and Spaceships in Future,” saying:



“A recent (Air Force) scramjet test has hinted at a future where hypersonic vehicles,” traveling five times the speed of sound, fly around the world and in space, an “experimental X-51A Waverider,” achieving the longest ever Mach 5 flight on May 26, using a rocket booster and air-breathing scramjet.


Charles Brink, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s X-51 program envisions future hypersonic weapons flying “600 nautical miles in 10 minutes,” including in space. NASA’s James Pittman, principal investigator of its hypersonics project, hopes to have “large vehicles for access to space using air-breathing propulsion.”


Earlier X-43A hypersonic scramjet test flights reached Mach 6.8 in March 2004 and Mach 9.6 in November that year – about 7,000 MPH. The X-51A project uses a more sophisticated scramjet engine, but hasn’t yet matched or broken the X-43A’s record, nor can it reach orbit, a goal Boeing Phantom Works/Defense hypersonics director Joseph Vogel hopes to achieve in the next 15 – 20 years, saying he expects the technology will be able to fly missions not possible today, the X-51A showing early promise.

In April, after years of development, the Air Force successfully launched the X-37B, its robot space shuttle, a reusable spacecraft traveling like an aircraft at Mach 5 – perhaps another future space weapon. Global Security.org’s John Pike told Space.com that projects like the X-37B may “represent the tip of a space weapons program hidden within the Pentagon’s secret ‘black budget,’ or they might be nothing more than smoke and mirrors,” intended to deceive America’s rivals, fueling a space arms race, hoping they’ll “waste money chasing down dead ends.”


For its part, the Air Force denies wanting the X-37B for an orbital weapons delivery system or for surveillance. Others disagree, journalist Sharon Weinberger saying “the most daring job of a space plane, and the one least discussed, is (its) role (as) a bomber, (letting it) fly over targets within an hour of launch to release cone-shaped re-entry vehicles that would both protect and guide weapons through the atmosphere.”



It would also be able to “carry 1000 or 2000-pound re-entry vehicles armed with precision munitions like bunker-busting penetrators or small-diameter bombs (including mini-nukes more powerful than the atom bombs destroying Hiroshima or Nagasaki), or simply use the explosive impact of kinetic rods cratering at hypersonic speeds to destroy targets.”



On the other hand, the X37B’s main function may be a test platform, perhaps for developing even more destructive space weapons, part of America’s permanent war strategy, waging future ones from space, using technologies adversaries can’t match.


OPLAN-08 – The Pentagon’s Strategic War Plan


OPLAN 8010-08 is a “family of plans” against six or more potential adversaries, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and other “terrorist” states. In 2002, the Bush administration asserted the right to:


“do whatever is necessary to deter the use of (undefined) weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its allies, and its interests. If a weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States or its allies, (or it such use is imminent or threatened), we will not rule out any specific type military response,” including first-strike nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.


Under Obama, the policy remains in force. His May National Security Strategy “reserve(s) he right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests.” In other words, to wage preemptive wars, using first-strike nuclear weapons “to keep the American people safe (and advance the nation’s) values and ideals,” ones pursuing unchallenged global and space hegemony, ruling it by intimidation and war.

OPLAN 8010-08 – Updating SIOP


Unlike the Cold War’s Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), OPLAN 8010-08 contains “more flexible options to assure allies, and dissuade, deter, and if necessary, defeat adversaries in a wider range of contingencies.” It includes conventional strike options, but it’s mostly nuclear, custom designed for each potential adversary.

The nuclear options include the Emergency Response Options (ERO), Selective Attack Options (SAO), Basic Attack Options (BAO), and Directed/Adaptive Planning Capability (DPO/APO) options, specific details, of course, highly classified.

Options range from limited ones to massive “shock and awe” strikes against many targets, by manned and drone aircraft, ICBMs, and from attack submarines and surface ships, using hundreds of strategically located warheads.
 
The Pentagon’s National Target Base includes four categories – military forces, WMD infrastructure, military and national leadership, and war supporting infrastructure – a post Cold War strategy to deter all so-called WMDs, the Bush administration saying America: 
 has made it clear for many years that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, our people, our forces and our friends and allies. Additionally, the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.” 
The policy remains unchanged under Obama, OPLAN 8010-08 for preventive or retaliatory “strategic deterrence” and preemptive “global strike.” STRATCOM describes the former as its “first line of operation….that includes nuclear force operations.” The latter expands national and theater operations globally, the terms Prompt Global Strike and Global Strike used interchangeably, whether with conventional or nuclear weapons, or if prompt or deliberate. 
The Air Force’s nuclear/conventional command is called Global Strike Command, using America’s full attack capabilities to destroy targets, including WMDs preemptively, STRATCOM’s counterproliferation strategy designed to destroy all WMDs “before they can be used….(a) preemptive….counterforce….or offensively reactive” strategy. 
While claiming to “put an end to Cold War thinking (by) reduc(ing) the role and number of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” Obama’s National Security Strategy puts old wine in new bottles, rebranding it to appear softer while keeping hardline policies in place, backed by a growing arsenal of globally positioned sophisticated weapons, asserting the right to use them preemptively against perceived threats. 
During the Cold War, MAD (mutually assured destruction) held both sides at bay. Today’s strategy includes “more flexible options (for) a wider range of contingencies (with weapons) to optimize performance,” meaning destroy an adversary’s capabilities preemptively, then target another.
With America on a nuclear hair-trigger, it’s reinvented MAD in new form, threatening potential global nuclear winter, defined as “a long period of darkness and extreme cold that scientists predict would follow a full-scale nuclear war, a layer of dust and smoke in the atmosphere cover(ing) the earth and block(ing) the rays of the sun, (causing) most living organisms (to) perish.”
 
Anti-nuclear expert Helen Caldicott says “one single failure of nuclear deterrence could end human history (quickly). Once initiated, it would take one hour to trigger a swift, sudden end to life on this planet.” Only nuclear disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons can stop it. 
In their joint July 1955 Manifesto, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell put the nuclear threat bluntly: 
“Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? (The) best authorities are unanimous that a war with H-bombs (or today’s arsenal) might possibly put an end to the human race.” For some, it will be instant, but “the majority (will experience) a slow torture of disease and disintegration.” It’s our choice. So far we’ve made it badly. 
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

 
http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/. 

 

Author’s Bio: I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.
 

Original Content at http://www.opednews.com/articles/America-s-Grand-Strategy–by-Stephen-Lendman-100908-890.html
 


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Tony Blair pelted with eggs at book signing in Dublin

September 4, 2010 Leave a comment

4 September 2010 Last updated at 13:34 ET

Anti-war protest in DublinPlease turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

Activists clashed with Irish police as they tried to push down a security barrier outside the bookshop

Eggs, bottles and shoes have been thrown at the former prime minister Tony Blair as he attended a book signing in Dublin.

It happened as he arrived at Easons on O’Connell Street in the city to sign copies of his autobiography.

The missiles, which were thrown by anti-war protesters, did not hit Mr Blair.

Four people were arrested as activists clashed with Irish police at a security barrier outside the bookshop.

Around 200 protesters demonstrated at Mr Blair’s role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on one side of the street on Saturday morning.

Continue reading the main story

Analysis

image of Mark Simpson Mark Simpson BBC Ireland Correspondent


Few places in the world can have witnessed such a large security operation for a mere book-signing.

The main street in Dublin city centre was closed for four hours and a ring of steel erected around Easons bookshop to accommodate Tony Blair and his fountain pen.

Most Dubliners looked on in disbelief.

Many wondered about the security bill, at a time when Ireland’s crippled economy needs every euro it can get.

The Blair supporters looking for a signed book were less vocal than the demonstrators – but they easily outnumbered them.

The former British prime minister won the popularity contest. But it came at a price.

On the other side, more than 300 people gathered to get a copy of his book signed.

It was Mr Blair’s first book-signing since the publication of his autobiography.

BBC Northern Ireland reporter Julian O’Neill said one of the activists had managed to get into the book shop.

“We talked to one person who managed to get in the book shop to get her book signed and as Mr Blair was signing her copy she said she wanted to make a citizen’s arrest for war crimes,” he said.

“She said Mr Blair looked a little taken aback but before she knew it she was surrounded by four security personnel who ushered her into the stairwell.”

There was a large police presence in Dublin and O’Connell Street was closed to traffic.

Among those who turned out to see Mr Blair was Emily Lynch, from Termofeckin, County Louth, who praised him for playing a huge part in Irish history.

“He helped make a very important moment in Ireland,” she said.

‘On our side'”I remember him coming out and giving a speech on the steps in Belfast in 1998.

“He is the only prime minister Irish people can relate to and feel he’s on our side, before that there had been nothing like that.”

Groups represented at the demonstration included the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Coalition and the 32-County Sovereignty Movement.

Richard Boyd-Barrett, of the Irish Anti-War Movement, accused Mr Blair of making “blood money” from the memoirs.

Mr Blair has said he would hand over the reported £4m advance payment for the book plus all royalties to the Royal British Legion.

His memoirs detail his accounts of life in Downing Street, the Iraq war, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America and Princess Diana’s death.

He also wrote about concerns over the amount he was drinking and of his rift with his successor Gordon Brown.

‘Stretched the truth’One of the chapters also deals with his efforts to secEditure peace in Northern Ireland and his relationships with the key political players.

He admitted that he often stretched the truth past breaking point to get agreement during the peace process and he admits that he took horrendous chances with the political parties.

His book, ‘A Journey’ has already become Waterstone’s fastest-selling autobiography ever and shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.

Easons said on Saturday that there had been an “unprecedented demand” for Mr Blair’s autobiography.

Managing director Conor Whelan said: “We have had a huge customer demand for Tony Blair’s book.

“We hold these events in response to our customer demands and they turned out this morning in very large numbers to meet Mr Blair.”

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Leaked UN report accuses Rwanda of possible genocide in Congo

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Unprecedented investigation by human rights commissioner says Hutu deaths ‘cannot be put down to margins of war’

Hutu refugees at UN’s Goma camp A UN Goma camp area in 1994. Two years later, the Rwandan army attacked the Goma camps, which were full of Hutu refugees, forcing hundreds of thousands deeper into Zaire. Photograph: Jon Jones/Sygma/CorbisThe United Nations has accused Rwanda of wholesale war crimes, including possibly genocide, during years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights catalogues years of murder, rape and looting in a conflict in which hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.

A draft version of the report, revealed by Le Monde and expected to be published next month, says the abuses, over a period of seven years and two invasions by Rwanda, amount to “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” because the principal targets of the violence were Hutus, who were killed in their tens of thousands.

Among the accusations is that Rwandan forces and local allies rounded up hundreds of men, women and children at a time and butchered them with hoes and axes. On other occasions Hutu refugees were bayoneted, burned alive or killed with hammer blows in large numbers.

It is the first time the UN has published such forthright allegations against Rwanda, a close ally of Britain and the US.

The Rwandan government reacted angrily to the report today, dismissing it as “amateurish” and “outrageous” after reportedly attempting to pressure the UN not to publish it by threatening to pull out of international peacekeeping missions. Rwanda’s Tutsi leaders will be particularly discomforted by the accusation of genocide when they have long claimed the moral high ground for bringing to an end the 1994 genocide in their own country. But the report was welcomed by human rights groups, which called for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes.

The report by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) covers two periods: Rwanda’s 1996 invasion of the country then called Zaire in pursuit of Hutu soldiers and others who fled there after carrying out the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, and a second invasion two years later that broadened into a regional war involving eight countries.

Rwanda’s attack on Zaire in 1996 was initially aimed at clearing the vast UN refugee camps around Goma and Bukavu, which were being used as cover by Hutu armed forces to continue the war against the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali.

Hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million Hutus in eastern Zaire were forced back to Rwanda. Many more, including men who carried out the genocide but also large numbers of women and children, fled deeper into Zaire. They were pursued and attacked by the Rwandan army and a Zairean rebel group sponsored by Kigali, the AFDL.

The UN report describes “the systematic, methodical and premeditated nature of the attacks on the Hutus [which] took place in all areas where the refugees had been tracked down”.

“The pursuit lasted months and, occasionally, humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked, notably in the eastern province, thus depriving them of things essential to their survival,” the report said.

“The extent of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably in the several tens of thousands, are demonstrated by the numerous incidents detailed in the report. The extensive use of non-firearms, particularly hammers, and the systematic massacres of survivors after camps were taken prove that the number of deaths cannot be put down to the margins of war. Among the victims were mostly children, women, old and ill people.”

The report goes on to say that “the systematic and widespread attacks have a number of damning elements which, if proved before a competent court, could be described as crimes of genocide”.

The UN also adds that while Kigali has permitted Hutus to return to Rwanda in large numbers, that did not “rule out the intention of destroying part of an ethnic group as such and thus committing a crime of genocide”.

The Zairean army collapsed in the face of the invasion and Rwanda seized the opportunity to march across the country and overthrow the longstanding dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Laurent Kabila was installed as president. He promptly changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Rwanda invaded again in 1998 after accusing the new regime of continuing to support Hutu rebels. The following five years of war drew in armies from eight nations as well as 21 rebel groups in a conflict that quickly descended in to mass plunder of the DRC’s minerals as well as a new wave of war crimes.

The UN report accuses Angolan forces of using the cover of the war to attack refugees from Angola’s conflict-plagued Cabinda province who had fled to the DRC. Angola is accused of “executing all those they suspected of colluding with their enemies”. Angolan soldiers also raped and looted, the UN investigation said.

International human rights groups welcomed the UN report and said it should be used to bring the accused to trial. “This is a very important report,” said Human Rights Watch. “We hope that it can form the basis for ending the impunity that has protected the people responsible for some of these crimes.”

The UN’s damning conclusions will prove hugely embarrassing to Rwanda, which is attempting to project itself as a rapidly modernising state that has put its brutal recent history behind it.

President Paul Kagame’s office attempted to dismiss the report. “It’s an amateurish NGO job, and it’s outrageous,” said a spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo. “Nobody reasonable believes that it’s helpful to anybody. The countries mentioned in the draft report have rejected it and will continue to reject it.”

Makolo did not comment on reports that Kagame last month warned the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that Rwanda would pull its troops out of peacekeeping missions in Darfur and elsewhere if the report was made public. Le Monde said that threat was reiterated in a letter to Ban by Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the leaked draft was not the final version and the report to be published next month had undergone revisions.

“It’s only a draft from about two months ago and the proper final version will come up very soon,” he said.

But if there are substantial differences, the UN is likely to stand accused of bowing to pressure from Rwanda.

Atrocities detailed in the OHCHR document seen by Le Monde

Kinigi, 7 December 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR killed nearly 310 civilians, many of them women and children. The troops had accused the local population, mostly Hutu, of sheltering Interahamwe [Hutu paramilitaries, who] had already left the village. At first the troops sought to reassure the civilians [whom they gathered together] in several buildings, including the adventist church and the primary school. In the afternoon, troops entered these buildings and killed the villagers with hoes or axes to the head.”

Luberizi, 29 October 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR/FAB [Burundi’s armed forces] killed around 200 male refugees. The victims were part of a group of refugees told by the troops to regroup so that they could be repatriated to Rwanda. The troops separated the men from the rest of the group and killed them with bayonets or bullets. The bodies were then buried in mass graves [near to] the church.”

Bwegera, 3 November 1996 “They burned alive 72 Rwandan refugees in Cotonco (cotton company) headquarters, one kilometre from the village.”

Mutiko, December 1996 “Special units from the AFDL/APR started to hunt down refugees, killing several hundred. Once they had been intercepted at barriers put up by the troops, the victims were given food and told to get into UN lorries waiting at the exit of the village. The victims were then taken out on to the road, then killed with blows to the head with canes, hammers and axes. The troops encouraged the local population to take part in the killings.”

• This article was amended on 27 August 2010. A heading in the timeline above suggested that the human rights report came from the UNHCR. This has been corrected.

RDF troops marching through a village in Congo

Video (10min 25sec), Congo: Knowing the enemy

9 Dec 2009:

Photojournalist Susan Schulman travels to Congo with the Rwandan defence force as part of a groundbreaking attempt to destroy Rwandan Hutu militia the Interahamwe, also known as the FDLR

Voters line up to cast their ballots in June 2008 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Gallery (15 pictures): My key moments in Africa

27 Mar 2009:

Chris McGreal’s key moments from his 20 years in Africa

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Why Doesn’t the World Care About Pakistanis?

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Because they live in Pakistan.

BY MOSHARRAF ZAIDI | AUGUST 2010

The United Nations has characterized the destruction caused by the floods in Pakistan as greater than the damage from the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Yet nearly three weeks since the floods began, aid is trickling in slowly and reluctantly to the United Nations, NGOs, and the Pakistani government.

After the Haiti earthquake, about 3.1 million Americans using mobile phones donated $10 each to the Red Cross, raising about $31 million. A similar campaign to raise contributions for Pakistan produced only about $10,000. The amount of funding donated per person affected by the 2004 tsunami was $1249.80, and for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, $1087.33. Even for the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, funding per affected person was $388.33. Thus far, for those affected by the 2010 floods, it is $16.36 per person.

Full Article Here

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Prosecutors: Rape Claim against Assange Bogus

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Arrest Warrant Withdrawn against WikiLeaks Founder, But Julian Assange Remains Suspected of Molestation in Separate Case
(AP) Updated at 1:32 p.m. Eastern

Swedish prosecutors withdrew an arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks on Saturday, saying less than a day after the document was issued that it was based on an unfounded accusation of rape.

They said that for the moment Julian Assange remains suspected of the lesser crime of molestation in a separate case.

The accusations have been labeled a dirty trick by Julian Assange and his group, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified U.S. documents from the Afghan war.

Full Article

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France urged to repay Haiti billions paid for its independence

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Leading activists write to Nicolas Sarzoky urging president to repay more than €17bn to help earthquake-hit country rebuild

96452555 France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, after the earthquake in January. Photograph: Francois Mori/AFP/Getty ImagesA group of international academics and authors has written to Nicolas Sarkozy calling on France to reimburse the crushing “independence debt” it imposed on Haiti nearly 200 years ago.

The open letter to the French president says the debt, now worth more than €17bn (£14bn), would cover the rebuilding of the country after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people seven months ago.

Its signatories – including Noam Chomsky, the American linguist, Naomi Klein, the Canadian author and activist, Cornel West, the African-American author and civil rights activist, and several renowned French philosophers – say that if France repays the money it would be a solution to the shortfall in international donations promised following the earthquake.

Despite pledges at an international donors’ conference in March of aid totalling £3.4bn, only five countries – Brazil, Norway, Australia, Colombia and Estonia – have sent aid amounting to about £325m.

The letter, published in the French newspaper Libération today says the debt was “patently illegitimate … and illegal”.

The debt dates back to when Haiti, then St Dominique, was France’s most profitable colony thanks to slavery. In 1791 the slaves revolted, and in 1804, after defeating Napoleon’s forces, they founded the world’s first independent black republic.

But after independence, French slave owners demanded compensation. In 1825 the French monarch Charles X demanded Haiti pay an “independence debt” of 150m gold francs – 10 times the fledgling nation’s annual revenue. The original sum was reduced but Haiti still paid 90m gold francs – about €17bn today – to France. It was still paying off this debt in 1947.

In 2004, a lawsuit launched by Haiti to recover the money was abandoned when France backed the overthrow of the government.

Campaigners say the debt was illegal even in 1825, because when the original demand for compensation was made slavery was technically outlawed.

Their letter says: “The ‘independence debt’, which is today valued at well over €17bn … illegitimately forced a people who had won their independence in a successful slave revolt, to pay again for the freedom.

“In 2003, when the Haitian government demanded repayment of the money France had extorted from Haiti, the French government responded by helping to overthrow that government.”

The letter describes France’s actions as “inappropriate responses to a demand that is morally, economically, and legally unassailable”, adding: “In light of the urgent financial need in the country in the wake of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, we urge you to pay Haiti, the world’s first black republic, the restitution it is due.”

The letter has also been signed by members of parliament from Europe, Canada and the Philippines, as well as scholars, journalists and activists in France, Haiti, the US, Canada, the UK, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Germany.

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