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Monday:  October 6, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Italy (8)

Tuesday
Oct162012

High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.

Tuesday
Sep042012

Guyana, Suriname elected to key UN Committees for upcoming United Nations General Assembly (REPORT) 

(SOURCE: WorldAtlas) (September 4, 2012) - Set to make history, today both Guyana and Suriname were selected to chair two of the most important committees at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Guyana will serve as Chair of the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly for the 67th Session, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced.

In a related development, Ambassador of Suriname to the UN, His Excellency Mr. Henry Mac Donald, was today also elected to chair the Third Committee, making this the first time that two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) representatives will chair Main Committees of the General Assembly during the same session.

The General Assembly body stated:

"The Assembly today elected Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador George Talbot, by acclamation to chair the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee).  Ambassador Talbot is the first Representative of a CARICOM Member State at the United Nations to hold the position."

The Second Committee, which deals with a wide range of development matters, will have a full agenda of issues to consider, among them:  macro-economic policy questions, sustainable development issues, including follow-up to the Rio+20 conference, challenges associated with poverty eradication, globalization, international migration and development, and the situation of countries in special circumstances such as Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

(Video: UN promo for upcoming 67th UNGA meeting, 2012)

Guyana’s priorities for the upcoming session will include a focus on: food security and agriculture, poverty eradication, climate change related issues, and the developmental impact of inequalities both within and across countries as well as on greater effectiveness and efficiency in the conduct of the work of the Committee.

During Guyana's tenure, the Committee will also undertake the first quadrennial comprehensive policy review of the UN's operational activities for development.  Ambassador Talbot was nominated and endorsed for the post by CARICOM and by the Group of the Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC) which include 33 countries, equaling 17% of all UN members.

Additionally, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bangladesh were also elected to the Bureau of the Committee.

Ambassador Talbot, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Modern Languages from the University of Guyana and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a career diplomat with vast experience in multilateral affairs.

This year's gathering of the UN's world body of 193 nations will is set to convene in New York City on September 18, and will run for two weeks. According to earlier voting, Serbia's Vuk Jeremić was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly; and Jamaica was chosen as the first seat in the General Assembly Chamber meaning they will lead the chamber in order of speeches.

(This article first appeared in Demerara Waves.)

Friday
May112012

"Rise of the Lilliputians" (REPORT) 

(Video AJE reports on the most recent `Non-Aligned Movement' summit in 2009, Sharm el-Sheikh/Egypt)

By Colum Lynch

They are called the S-5, or the "Small Five", a group of small and middling UN member states that have been informally meeting since 2005 to try and chip away at the unchecked powers of the P-5, the UN's dominant, permanent five members of the Security Council.

And they are heading for a confrontation next week with the five big powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- over an initiative in the General Assembly aimed at pressing the P-5 to voluntarily cede some of their powers.

On May 16, the S-5 will press for a vote on a resolution before the UN General Assembly that calls on the veto wielding powers to refrain "from using a veto to block council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity." It also requests that in cases where a permanent member ignored the General Assembly's advice and exercises its veto, it should at least explain why it did so.

(PHOTO: Jordan's Ambassador to the UN, Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad)The push for a vote comes at a time when the UN Security Council has faced criticism for acting too slowly to contain the escalating violence, and in the wake of two key powers, Russia and China, having cast vetoes twice to block an Arab League initiative aimed at ending the violence in Syria and that would force President Bashar al-Assad from power. Russia, which has argued that its diplomatic strategy stands a better chance of lessening the violence, has been among the sharpest critics of the S-5 initiative, characterizing it as an affront to Moscow, according to a senior diplomat involved in the negotiations.

The veto power has long been a source of resentment among the UN's broader membership, who believe that it places the big powers above the law, shielding them and their friends from the edicts they routinely enforce on the rest of the world.

But for the United States, Russia, and other big powers, the veto represents the most important check on international intrusion into their spheres of influence by a sometimes unsympathetic majority. The United States, for instance, has routinely used its veto power to shield Israel from Security Council measures demanding it show greater restraint in its dealings with the Palestinians.

China and Russia, meanwhile, have exercised the veto to block condemnation of friendly countries, including Myanmar and Zimbabwe, from condemnation for committing rights abuses.

A number of economic heavyweights and emerging powers, including Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, Nigeria, and South Africa, have been clamoring for a greater say in the council's deliberations, leading to several proposals that would expand the 15-nation Security Council and grant a number of rising powers a permanent seat.

The S-5 -- Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland -- realize that they have no hope of ever becoming big powers with permanent seats on the council. So they have devoted their efforts to pushing for reforms in the way the 15-nation council does business.

(PHOO: Switzerland's Ambassador to the UN, Paul Seger) Indeed, their recommendations on the use of the veto are a part of a broader menu of suggestions, including more P-5 consultations with states that aren't serving in the Security Council, that they intend to put before the General Assembly as a way to encourage reforms in the way the council works.

The sponsors say they are confident that they will have support from more than 100 of the assembly's 193 member states. But the P-5 have made it clear they want nothing to do with it, arguing that the UN Charter intended the victorious powers of World War II to manage threats to international security. While the vote would not be legally binding it could serve to ramp up political pressure on the big powers to change.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and top diplomats from Britain, China, France, and Russia met with the S-5 on Wednesday in an effort to get them to back down.

Rice also pointed out that there were many other countries, not only the P-5, that have expressed opposition to a General Assembly vote. Another bloc of countries, known as the Uniting for Consensus group, which includes countries like Italy, Pakistan, and Argentina, also oppose a vote -- saying that it would distract from efforts to negotiate an enlargement of the Security Council.

Rice, who did most of the talking, told the group that while they recognize their pioneering effort to reform the council, their resolution would actually undercut the efforts to make the council more transparent. Rice asked them not go ahead with the resolution, according to Paul Seger, Switzerland's UN ambassador.

"They tell us don't put that resolution to a vote; it's infringing on the prerogatives of the Security Council, it's disruptive and could jeopardize the overall reform of the Security Council," Seger told Turtle Bay. "My sense is that they are afraid that certain prerogatives, certain acquired rights, are being questioned for the first time."

Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's UN ambassador, told Turtle Bay that the UN Security Council has undertaken many of the reforms being sought by the S-5, but their decision to bring the matter before the General Assembly would likely result in a "divisive vote that sets back the overall cause of reform."

"The Security Council must be always able to adapt and operate with flexibility in order fulfill its responsibilities under the Charter to meet the evolving challenges to international peace and security," he added in a statement. "But for that effectiveness and adaptability, it needs to be confident in its own decisions and procedures. It ultimately must remain the master of its own rules of procedure, as stated in the UN Charter."

Seger and other members of the S-5 say they are not looking for a fight -- but they also say it's unfair for the Security Council to ask other states to send their peacekeepers into harm's way, as Switzerland has in Syria, without including them in informal council deliberations on the situation there. The group, meanwhile, has marshaled a series of legal and political arguments to bolster its case that the majority of UN membership should have some role in advising the 15-nation council. They invoked Article 10 of the U.N. Charter, which permits the UN General Assembly to make recommendations to the Security Council, except in cases where the council is managing an international "dispute or situation".

Jordan's UN ambassador, Prince Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, told Turtle Bay that there is also a legal case to be made that the UN Charter itself places limits on the rights of the council's permanent members to veto council action aimed at preventing mass killings. He argued that while the council bears "primary responsibility" for the maintenance of peace and security it also requires decisions be made in "conformity with the principle of justice and international law." Genocide and mass slaughter, he said, are certainly not in conformity with those principles, he said.

(PHOTO: Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin)"We don't want to go up against the P-5," Seger added. "We don't question the right of the veto we only ask them kindly: Would you consider not using the veto in situations of atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide?"

Seger, who also serves as chairman of the UN peace-building commission for Burundi, recalled an invitation to brief the Security Council on a visit he had made to that Central African country. He briefed the council on his findings, and then was asked to leave as the council went behind closed doors for its own discussions on the matter.

"I asked Churkin, 'could I maybe just sit there, be a resource person?'" Seger said, referring to Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin. "He said, 'No. We cannot open the council consultations to outsiders: It's never been done and it will never be done in the future.'"

- This article first appeared on Colum Lynch's `Turtle Bay' page on Foreign Policy. Follow the writer on Twitter @columlynch

Sunday
Jan152012

(UPDATED) International Films at Tonight's Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards

(PHOTO: Ricky Gervais, JUST JARED) Tonight in Hollywood, the 69th annual Golden Globe awards put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) will take place.  Hosted, as it has been for the past three years, British comedian Ricky Gervais will be back even though in his past appearances he has caused controversy by taking aim at Mel Gibson and Sir Paul McCartney in 2010; and again in 2011 when he openly questioned the sexuality of "some famous Scientologists" before revisiting the troubled past of actor Robert Downey Jr.

Gervais has tweeted about his Globes game plan in the days leading up to the show: "I keep having to write new jokes as I pick my victims, I mean targets, I mean presenters to introduce. Some great people have confirmed." He even told Twitter followers that he'll be drinking lager, ad-libbing and speaking his mind.

The HFPA origins stem from a group of journalists' desire “to efficiently and accurately cover all aspects of the world of entertainment”.  According to the group’s website, “today's organization has its roots in the early 1940s when Pearl Harbor had drawn America into World War II. Audiences, hungry for diversion, were seeking out films offering escape, inspiration and entertainment.  Amid the turmoil of war and the difficulties with communications, a handful of Los Angeles-based overseas journalists banded together to share contacts, information and material.”

   

(Ricky Gervais 2011 Golden Globe Opening Monologue, Courtesy Golden Globe Awards)

In 1943 the journalists, led by the correspondent for Britain's Daily Mail, formed the HFPA and conceived the motto “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.”  The group’s first special event was a luncheon in December 1947, at which a plaque was awarded to Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Bros., in recognition of his humanitarian work as the principal sponsor of the “Friendship Train,” which left Hollywood with food, clothing and medical supplies for the needy of Europe.

 

(THE FLOWER OF WAR, CHINA)

During its early years the HFPA established itself with the studios by innovations such as its World Favorites awards, which it came up with by polling more than 900 newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the world. The group also came up with the idea of "bon voyage" interview lunches with actors and actresses who were leaving to make films in countries represented by the members.

At first awards were only given for films, but in 1955 the Golden Globes began honoring achievements in television too. Today, the Golden Globes recognize achievements in 25 categories; 14 in motion pictures and 11 in television. Dick Clark Productions has produced the Golden Globes ceremony since 1983. 

 

(THE KID WITH A BIKE, BELGIUM)

Today the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association represent some 55 countries with a combined readership of more than 250 million. Their publications include leading newspapers and magazines in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, ranging from the Daily Telegraph in England to Le Figaro in France, L'Espresso in Italy and Vogue in Germany as well as the China Times and the pan-Arabic magazine Kul Al Osra.

However, despite the group’s international beginnings, only one of the twenty six categories for awards features `International Films”.  This year from China, Belgium, Iran, Spain and the United States.

The Flowers Of War (China) features Christian Bale and Ni Ni tells the story of a Westerner who finds refuge with a group of women in a church during Japan's rape of Nanking in 1937. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety.

 

(A SEPARATION, IRAN)

The Kid With A Bike (Belgium) directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, starring Cécile de France and Thomas Doret.  Set in Seraing, it tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who turns to a woman after his father has abandoned him. The film was produced through companies in Belgium, France and Italy.

A Separation (Iran) tells the story of a married couple who are faced with a difficult decision, to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. The film stars Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat.

 

(THE SKIN I LIVE IN, SPAIN)

The Skin I Live In (Spain) features the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, who creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet.

And Angelina Jolie’s recently released film In The Land Of Blood And Honey (United States) which tells a story which took place during the Bosnian War, in which Danijel, a soldier fighting for the Serbs, re-encounters Ajla, a Bosnian who's now a captive in his camp he oversees. Their once promising connection has become ambiguous as their motives have changed.  Directed and written by Jolie the film stars Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija.

The 68th Golden Globes will be seen LIVE around the world on local broadcasters from Brazil to Botswana to Bahrain and beyond.

---HUMNEWS

Friday
Oct282011

Italy: State of Emergency Due to Flash Floods and Mudslides (NEWS BRIEF)

(PHOTO: DW-WORLD.DE)(HN, October 28, 2011) Seven people have been reported dead an others are still missing after heavy rains caused severe flooding in northern Italy, officials said Friday.

Flash floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains earlier this week barreled through picturesque towns along the northwest coast, burying streets under mud, damaging homes, stores, churches and overturning vehicles.

Among hard-hit towns are Monterosso and Vernazza, along the Cinque Terre region on Italy's northwest coast.

The Italian Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency in the flood region, which means 65 million euros ($91 million) will be put aside to deal with the disaster, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Heavy rains continued to fall Thursday night in Milan and other spots across the southern European nation, according to the Servizio Meteorologico, Italy's official weather agency. The agency gave an alert about intense, widespread rainfall in the regions of Calabria and Basilicata in southern Italy, as well as the eastern part of Sicily.

--- HUMNews Staff

Friday
Sep302011

UN, Children's Group Slams Italy Decision to Close Migrant Port (NEWS BRIEF)

(HN, September 30, 2011) - Using strong language somewhat uncharacteristic of the United Nations, the world body joined with the respected Save the Children to slam an Italian Government decision to close a port that has become a crucial transit point for refugees fleeing the violence and unrest in North Africa.

Lampedusa was declared an unsafe port by the Italians yesterday, meaning that aid groups are unable to transport refugees there.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Save the Children have been working together since 2006 at the Reception and Rescue Centre of Lampedusa.

The three groups said in a news release Friday: "This decision could undermine the entire rescue at sea system for migrants and asylum seekers and at the same time could make rescue operations much  more hazardous and complex.

"Since it is no longer  possible to dock in Lampedusa, the ability of the Coast Guard and the "Guardia di Finanza" to carry out rescue at sea will be compromised by the distance they will have to travel to reach the next safe port, e.g Porto Empedocle, 120 nautical miles away. This would have severe implications on rescue operations when the weather is bad, or when it involves transporting people in need of urgent medical assistance, minors and other vulnerable individuals."
 
Aid groups say that migrants are hosted in the centre only for a minimum period of time to allow for assistance and identification before being transferred to appropriate facilities elsewhere in Italy.
 
"It is important that Lampedusa remains a safe harbour in order to save lives," the release said.

For its part, Italy says it cannot cope with the high numbers of migrants ending up on its shores. More than 48,000 have reached the shores of southern Italy since the start of the year.

Recently, 11 people were injured after refugees clashed with riot police on Lampedusa after hundreds of protesters -trying to resist repatriation - burned the reception centre down.

The organizations are also expressing their concern over the recent de facto detention of migrants on ships and question its legal basis and the conditions under which the migrants are kept.  The groups said they want the practice stopped, that "appropriate solutions" are found as soon as possible in line with existing provisions in Italian and  international law.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Wednesday
Jun152011

Italy's Great Survivor (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG) 

By Alan Fisher

Silvio Berlusconi PHOTO CREDIT: Roberto GimmiAs the official turnout was announced, people cheered and clapped and a few even claimed tears.

Spontaneously, people started bouncing up and down, and a wave spread through the crowd.

That Italian voters would reject the resumption of the country's nuclear power programme was never in doubt. The worry for many was how many people would come out to vote.

A number of parties urged people to stay at home, the prime minister himself didn't vote, preferring to spend Sunday and Monday, the two voting days, at the beach and at the office.

He was hoping the votes would fail to pass the barrier of 50 per cent plus one of the electorate voting. Only when that figure was achieved does the result becoming legally binding.

He failed. The official turnout - 57.2 per cent, the highest in an Italian referendum in almost 20 years.

Valerio Rossi Albertini is perhaps an unlikely character to find in the yes campaign - voting for an end to nuclear power. His is after all, one of Italy's best known nuclear physicists and a senior figure in the national research council.

But his vote was cast with the future in mind.

Germany has rejected nuclear power and is looking at alternative energy. If we restart our programme now and concentrate on nuclear it will be 15 to 20 years before we produce one kilowatt and other countries will be well ahead in developing and using alternatives," he said.

Yet he accepts that the vote rejecting nuclear was not because of the worry of being left behind, but the concern in a country that struggles to clear its streets of trash, where earthquakes are not an uncommon occurrence, that disposing of nuclear waste and dealing with a Japan size disaster was too much of a risk to take.

The nuclear option was just one of four issues on the ballot. As Britain debated the role of the Church in politics, the Catholic Church in Italy led the charge against two proposals to privatise local water companies. Many priests said water was a gift from God and shouldn't be used to produce profits for companies and corporations.

It was a message that struck a chord with voters who rejected the idea.

And then there was the vote on the controversial law which allows politicians to avoid court cases if they can prove they are carrying out government business.  Facing four court cases, one for sex with a minor and three for abuse of power, critics called this a law for Berlusconi himself. The country’s constitutional court had all but scrapped the law, but the people also wanted their say and voted to remove the so called "legitimate impediment" defence which has kept the prime minister from a few court appointments.

When he was told the results, Berlusconi said he accepted the decision, and then went shopping for a necklace.

It was the man regarded as a master political communicator sending a message he was untroubled by such a comprehensive defeat.

But the clean sweep in the referenda and an appalling performance for his party in last month's local elections have left many wondering if Berlusconi is past his sell-by date. His government partners will be worried that his unpopularity could drag them down at the next election, and his own party will be wondering if he remains an asset or a liability.

Silvio Berlusconi is an astute and clever politician. That reputation follows him around. But it is his reputation as a survivor that will be tested most in the months to come.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on June 14, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Wednesday
Apr062011

Tragedy at Sea for African Migrants (News Brief)

Italian rescue workers attend to survivors from the shipwreck off Lampedusa CREDIT: Laura Bastianetto/Croce Rossa Italiana(HN, April 6, 2011) - More than 250 migrants are feared dead after a boat carrying some 300 people sank in the early hours of the morning, some 40 miles off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. 

Forty seven survivors were rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard and three by a local Italian fishing boat, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported this morning.

The vessel, which was laden beyond capacity, had left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Chad and Sudan. Some 40 women and five children - including a two-month-old infant - were on board. Only two women survived the shipwreck.  
  
The survivors were transferred to Lampedusa. They told IOM officers who are providing them with first aid and counselling that the boat sank in rough seas. 

They say that when rescuers arrived, the boat was already sinking. Survivors managed to swim towards the approaching Coast Guard ship. Many drowned because they couldn't swim or were dragged down by desperate fellow passengers. 

The journey reportedly took two days in rough seas.

"The survivors are all in a state of shock," says IOM's Simona Moscarelli. "One man told me he had lost his one year old son. One of the two surviving women told me how she had lost her husband."

The Italian Red Cross said the migrants said they hoped for a new life in Europe; among them are tailors, masons and electricians.

The migrants have been transferred to the Loran base, a facility where the Italian authorities are sheltering migrants coming from Libya, in order not to mix them with the migrants arriving from Tunisia.

Since the beginning of February, the island of Lampedusa has been overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 20,000 migrants. The majority of them are Tunisian coming from the Tunisian port of Zarzis, Djerba and Sfax. Over the past ten days, more than 2,000 mostly African migrants and asylum seekers have landed on the island after having sailed from the Libyan coast. 

This latest incident comes as Lampedusa's ability to deal with the large number of refugees "has been stretched to the limit", according to Italian officials.

Since 2006, IOM has been providing assistance to migrants in Lampedusa as part of a project funded by the Italian Government. IOM works alongside UNCHR, Save the Children and Italian Red Cross to monitor reception assistance and to provide legal counseling to migrants who have arrived on the island.

- HUMNEWS staff, IOM