- Venezuelan lawmakers hurt during punch-up in parliament
- Obama renews vow to close Guantanamo detention camp
- EU considers trade action after Bangladesh factory collapse
Posted: 30 Apr 2013 07:35 PM PDT
CARACAS (Reuters) - Fistfights broke out in Venezuela's parliament on Tuesday, injuring a number of legislators during an angry session linked to the South American nation's bitter election dispute.
The opposition said seven of its parliamentarians were attacked and hurt when protesting a measure to block them from speaking in the National Assembly over their refusal to recognize President Nicolas Maduro's April 14 vote victory.
Government legislators blamed their "fascist" rivals for starting the violence, which illustrated the volatile state of politics in the OPEC nation after the death of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez last month.
"We knew the opposition came to provoke violence," Maduro said of the incident. "This must not be repeated."
The 50-year-old Maduro, who was Chavez's chosen successor, defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5 percentage points. Capriles, 40, has refused to recognize his victory, alleging that thousands of irregularities occurred and the vote "stolen."
The vote exposed a nation evenly divided after 14 years of Chavez's hardline socialist rule.
"They can beat us, jail us, kill us, but we will not sell out our principles," one of the opposition parliamentarians, Julio Borges, told a local TV station, showing a bruised and bloodied face. "These blows give us more strength."
One assembly worker, who asked not to be named, told Reuters the trouble began when opposition legislators shouted "fascist" at the National Assembly leader and unfolded a protest banner reading "parliamentary coup."
Government parliamentarians attacked them. Laptops and tables were hurled in the ensuing melee, with one legislator hit over the head with a chair, the witness said.
Workers later had to show their phones to see if they had photos or videos of the incident, the assembly employee added.
'DEFENDING CHAVEZ'S LEGACY'
Government parliamentarian Odalis Monzon said she and some colleagues were attacked and beaten. "Today again I had to defend the commander's (Chavez's) legacy," she said.
The fracas came after the government-controlled assembly passed a measure denying opposition members the right to speak in the chamber until they recognized Maduro as president.
"Until they recognize the authorities, the institutions of the republic, the sovereign will of our people, the opposition deputies will have to go and speak (to the private media) but not here in this National Assembly," said Diosdado Cabello, the head of parliament.
Both sides accused each other of starting the incident, which took place behind closed doors without media present.
In a video that pro-opposition private TV station Globovision broadcaster said it obtained from a parliamentarian, various assembly members could be seen hitting each other and scuffling to cries of "stop" from others.
In another potential flashpoint for Venezuela, the government and opposition are planning rival marches in Caracas on Wednesday to commemorate May Day.
Venezuela has been on edge since the April 14 presidential election. At least eight people died in violent protests the day after the vote. There have been scores of arrests in what the opposition is calling a wave of repression.
Maduro has accused the opposition of planning a coup.
Former colonial ruler Spain this week offered to mediate in Venezuela's political tensions. But Maduro rejected that.
"Stop sticking your noses in Venezuela. Spanish foreign minister, get out, you impertinent man. Venezuela is to be respected," he said in a speech, referring to Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Paul Simao and Stacey Joyce)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 30 Apr 2013 07:07 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying it was damaging to U.S. interests to keep holding prisoners in legal limbo at Guantanamo, President Barack Obama renewed an old vow on Tuesday to close the camp, where about 100 inmates are on hunger strike to protest against their years in detention without trial.
Human rights groups welcomed Obama's recommitment to shutting the prison. But some activists called for action, not just words, and said the president could take some steps on his own without hitting congressional obstacles.
"It's not sustainable - I mean, the notion that we're going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man's land in perpetuity," Obama said.
Obama lamented the status quo, which has kept most prisoners in detention without trial or charge since the prison was set up at the U.S. Naval Base on Cuba in 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects.
A renewed effort to close the camp would mean finding a series of solutions - some of which would likely come up against the same congressional opposition they faced in the past given lawmakers' reluctance to have inmates transferred to the United States.
Obama, who repeatedly pledged to close the camp when he was campaigning for a first term and after he first took office in 2009, put the blame on Congress for his failure to make good on his promise and said he would re-engage with lawmakers on the issue.
While Obama acknowledged an uphill fight and provided few specifics on how to overcome legal and political obstacles, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden later said he was weighing a range of options aimed at reducing the number of inmates and moving toward "ultimate closure."
She said Obama could implement some measures on his own, including naming a new senior State Department officer to refocus on repatriating detainees or transferring them to third countries, a process that has ground to a halt. That post has been vacant since January.
"We will also work to fully implement the Periodic Review Board process, which we acknowledge has not moved forward quickly enough," she said. This is a system of parole-style hearings the Obama administration set up but which have left many inmates frustrated over the slow handling of their cases.
Obama's comments were his first public remarks about Guantanamo since the hunger strike began in early February. Military officials have attributed the protest in part to a sense of hopelessness among detainees over their open-ended detention.
Long a subject of international condemnation but low on the list of the American public's policy concerns, Guantanamo has been thrust back in the spotlight by the hunger strike and the military's decision to force-feed prisoners to keep them alive.
The U.S. military has said 21 prisoners are being force-fed liquid meals through tubes inserted in their noses. Forty medical personnel have been sent to reinforce the military's existing teams at Guantanamo to deal with the hunger strike.
VIOLATION OF MEDICAL ETHICS
Some inmates have given harrowing accounts of force-feeding, and the practice has been criticized by rights groups and also by the American Medical Association.
On Thursday, the president of the AMA sent a letter to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterating the association's position that it is a violation of medical ethics to force-feed mentally competent adults who refuse food and life-saving treatment.
Asked about the force-feeding, Obama defended it, saying "I don't want these individuals to die."
On the hunger strike, he said it was "not a surprise to me that we've got problems in Guantanamo."
"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," he said. "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."
Obama said he had asked his advisers to "examine every option that we have administratively" to deal with Guantanamo. It was unclear whether that meant Obama might use executive powers that some legal experts say he has to transfer some detainees.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, backed Obama's effort. "The deteriorating situation at Guantanamo, including the ongoing and expanding hunger strikes by prisoners ... is disturbing and unacceptable," he said.
But Howard McKeon, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said: "The president faces bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay's detention centre because he has offered no alternative plan regarding the detainees there, nor a plan for future terrorist captures."
Obama has approved military tribunals to try some of the most dangerous suspects, but only nine of the current prisoners have been charged or convicted of crimes. Of the other inmates, 86 have been cleared for transfer or release, 47 are considered too dangerous to release but are not facing prosecution and 24 are considered eligible for possible prosecution.
U.S. lawmakers, mostly Republicans but including some Democrats, have blocked Obama from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to American jails, saying they would pose a security risk if housed in the United States.
The U.S. government will not send some prisoners back to their homelands because of instability or concerns over mistreatment. Most countries are reluctant to accept them for resettlement when the United States itself will not take them.
Obama said ultimately he would need approval from Congress to shutter the facility and acknowledged that would be an uphill struggle, saying, "It's easy to demagogue the issue."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has long campaigned to close Guantanamo, said: "We praise the president for reaffirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress."
It said that if Obama were "really serious" about closing the camp, he could use a "waiver process" to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have already been cleared for release, lift the moratorium on transfers to Yemen and appoint a senior administration official to shepherd the closure.
The United States has not sent prisoners back to Yemen, where 56 of those eligible for release are from, since a foiled plot in 2010 to bomb an American passenger aircraft was hatched my militants in Yemen.
The Guantanamo camp was opened by Republican President George W. Bush, to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured overseas after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Obama failed to meet his promise to close the prison within a year of taking office in early 2009 and it has become an enduring symbol of widely condemned U.S. interrogation and detention practices during the Bush era.
An independent U.S. task force issued a report on April 16 calling indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo "abhorrent and intolerable." It called for the camp to be closed by the end of 2014 when NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan is due to end and most U.S. troops will leave the country.
The U.S. military on Monday counted 100 prisoners as hunger strikers. Five of those being force-fed have been hospitalized for observation but did not have life-threatening conditions, a spokesman for the detention camp, Army Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House, said on Tuesday.
Hunger strikes have occurred at Guantanamo since soon after it opened. The current protest began in early February, after guards seized photos and other belongings during a cell search. Prisoners said the guards had mistreated their Korans during the search. The U.S. military has denied that.
(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami.; Editing by Frances Kerry, Christopher Wilson and Lisa Shumaker)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 30 Apr 2013 06:15 PM PDT
(Reuters) - The European Union voiced strong concern over labour conditions in Bangladesh after a building collapse there killed hundreds of factory workers, and said it was considering action to encourage improvements, including the use of its trade preference system.
Anger has been growing since the illegally built structure collapsed last week, killing at least 390 people. Hundreds remain unaccounted for but rescue officials said on Tuesday they had given up hope of finding any more survivors.
It was the third deadly incident in six months to raise questions about worker safety and labour conditions in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports.
Representatives of major international garment buyers - some facing sharp criticism in home markets for doing too little to safeguard the mostly female workers making their clothes - met industry representatives in Dhaka on Monday and agreed to form a joint panel to put together a new safety plan.
Clothes made in five factories inside the Rana Plaza building on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, were produced for retailers in Europe and Canada.
Late on Tuesday, the EU issued a brief statement expressing concern and suggested it would look at Bangladesh's preferential trade access to the EU market in considering taking action to encourage better safety standards and labour conditions.
"The EU is presently considering appropriate action, including through the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) - through which Bangladesh currently receives duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market under the â€˜Everything But Arms' scheme - in order to incentivise responsible management of supply chains involving developing countries," said the statement, issued by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.
About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh's garment industry, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter. The bulk of exports - 60 percent - go to Europe.
Ashton and de Gucht said they were deeply saddened by the "terrible loss of life", particularly because it followed a fire in the Tazreen Fashion factory in a Dhaka suburb in November that killed 112 people.
"The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building's construction is finally becoming clear to the world," Ashton and de Gucht said.
Also on Tuesday, following a private emergency meeting of Canadian retailers, the Retail Council of Canada said it would develop a new set of guidelines.
That emergency meeting brought together retailers including Loblaw, Sears Canada Inc and Wal-Mart Canada, to discuss how they would deal with the tragedy.
Representatives of some 45 companies, including Gap Inc, H&M, J.C. Penney, Nike Inc, Wal-Mart, Britain's Primark, Marks & Spencer and Tesco, and Li & Fung, also met officials from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Dhaka on Monday to discuss safety.
The Retail Council of Canada, which represents operators of more than 43,000 stores in Canada, said it would work with international organisations, the Bangladeshi government and others to find ways to address safety in the Bangladesh garment industry.
Primark and Loblaw have promised to compensate the families of garment workers killed while making their clothes.
With no hope left of finding survivors, heavy machinery is being used to clear concrete and debris from the site in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 30 km (20 miles) from Dhaka.
It was still an agonisingly slow process for families waiting for news on loved ones who worked in the Rana Plaza, which collapsed with about 3,000 people inside. About 2,500 people have been rescued so far, many of them injured.
With angry protests continuing daily since Bangladesh's worst industrial accident, the building's owner was brought before a court in Dhaka on Monday, where lawyers and protesters chanted "hang him, hang him".
About 20 people were injured on Tuesday as police fired teargas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters in Savar calling for the death penalty for the owners of the building and factories.
Officials in Bangladesh have said the eight-storey complex had been built on swampy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers entered the building last Wednesday despite warnings it was structurally unsafe.
Eight people have been arrested - four factory bosses, two engineers, building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana and his father, Abdul Khalek. Police are looking for a fifth factory boss, Spanish citizen David Mayor, although it was unclear whether he was in Bangladesh at the time of the accident.
The garment industry employs mostly women, some of whom earn as little as $38 (24.5 pounds) a month.
(Reporting by Susan Taylor, Neha Alawadhi, Serajul Quadir and Rema Paul; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Mark Bendeich)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|