June 13, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 24

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“They gonna keep moving us on, moving us on. They doing it again Sunday ’cause they got some soccer game they gonna charge people to park here for. They gonna make $500 at $20 bucks a space. We ain’t worth $500 to them.”

— Mark, a 40-year-old homeless man in Cleveland who lives in a tent city below an overpass (see “The Slums,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
An Islamist finds religion
Congo shuts down mines over looting fears
“Honk for peace” teacher seeks Supreme Court hearing

*The Slums*
A boom in urban poor defies solutions

*South Asia*
Democracy, too, slides in Bangladesh

*Intolerance*
Homophobia, as a policy gets personal


TOP STORIES

An Islamist Finds Religion

Hassan al-Turabi, a renowned Sudanese Islamic scholar who once offered refuge to Osama bin Laden, is raising eyebrows with his support for the right of women to wear their hair uncovered and marry non-Muslim men, and his opposition to the ongoing violence in Darfur.

A former supporter of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, al- Turabi was jailed in 2005 for allegedly backing a coup plot. Critics say he’s an opportunist trying to curry favor with a liberalizing Sudanese society, but the mercurial cleric says his calls for democracy and openness are entirely Islamic.

Congo Shuts Down Mines Over Looting Fears

At least 60 mining deals have been suspended in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the newly elected government looks into complaints of “foreign looters” who exploit the nation’s vast mineral wealth with no benefit for Congolese citizens.

The BBC reports that decades of civil war were driven by huge reserves of copper, cobalt, gold and diamonds, and that current mining contracts lack transparency and competitive bidding.

“Honk For Peace” Teacher Seeks Supreme Court Hearing

A Indiana teacher who says she was fired for telling students she blew her car horn in support of anti-war marchers has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court over a January ruling that affirmed limits on free speech by public school teachers.

The ruling against Deborah Mayer, who now works in Florida, is far from the first to limit speech by teachers or public employees. The Supreme Court, however, while addressing student speech in the recent “bong hits for Jesus” case, has never ruled on teacher’s rights.

Sources:

“Sudan’s legendary Islamist takes a moderate view”
Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 2007

“DR Congo reviews 60 mining deals”
BBC News, June 11, 2007

“Bloomington teacher takes free speech fight to Supreme Court”
WTHR (Indianapolis), June 11, 2007

“‘Honk for peace’ case tests limits on free speech”
San Francisco Chronicle, May 14, 2007


THE SLUMS

A Boom in Urban Poor Defies Solutions

Experts predict that by 2030 two billion people will live in urban squatter and slum communities with no services, sanitation or running water.

The growth of slums and economic disparaties are spurring poitical debate and legal crackdowns, even as new social movements emerge within the communities themselves.

Forbes.com reports that today 80 percent of Nigerians — that’s more than 40 million people — live in slums, as do 158 million Indians, or 56 percent of the population.

The Economic Times in India puts that sum closer to 70 million, accounting for 45 percent of Delhi’s population, and more than 50 percent of Mumbai’s.

In an editorial, the newspaper says that the huge influx of rural poor to cities has changed voting patterns, which are now divided along economic rather than caste lines.

It also said that legitimizing illegal land claims will only worsen the problem by encouraging more squatting, and that the government should instead offer affordable housing and increase economic opportunity in rural areas.

Experts say reformist social movements, religious crusades, drug gangs and fundamentalist militants such as Hamas have all emerged from slums, even as social and environmental problems deepen.

In Brazil, favelas outside of Sao Paulo cluster around a stream that feeds one of the city’s primary reservoirs, polluting water supplies with raw sewage.

A move to turn the stream into a covered, underground channel will likely result in the eviction of hundreds of thousands of people living around the watershed, many of whom moved there from within Sao Paulo proper after being displaced by gentrification.

In Cleveland, Ohio, as many as 4,000 people are homeless on a given night — more than twice the number of shelter beds available — and a tent city there balances between a court precedent supporting squatters’ rights and a push to ban panhandling and spur construction and development.

Critics say assault and other crimes against the homeless are on the rise, even as college students hand out tents and mattresses, the Cleveland Free Times reports.

Other advocacy groups there seek to remove the homeless from local public spaces, including a secluded highway underpass the city wants to use as a fee-for-service parking lot.

Sources:

“Two billion slum dwellers”
Forbes.com, June 11, 2007

“Why slum rehabilitation is good money chasing bad”
The Economic Times (India), june 12, 2007

“BRAZIL: Water sources threatened by lack of low-cost housing, sanitation”
Inter Press Service, June 8, 2007

“We can still see you”
The Cleveland Free Times (Ohio), June 13, 2007


SOUTH ASIA

Democracy, Too, Slides in Bangladesh

Even as Bangladesh reels from lethal mudslides, the nation’s political establishment is in chaos following the suspension of the legislature, and the arrest of thousands by the military as part of an alleged anti-corruption campaign.

Now the European Union has expressed “deep concern” over rights violations and claims of the extra-judicial killing of almost 100 individuals, Agence France-Press reports.

Those arrested include leaders of two of Bangladesh’s main political parties, as well as the son of a former prime minister.

An editorialist writing under a pseudonym for United Press International says the crackdown follows two years of political discord, strikes and unrest that caused the most harm to average citizens through failing social services and economic decline.

Most of all, he says, Bangladeshis are confused. Local media are full of reports of bribery and political patronage, but offer no criticism of the military regime, leaving the question of a restoration of democracy unanswered.

Even as political and human rights fears deepen, China’s new ambassador to Bangladesh expressed great enthusiasm for the nation’s economic potential.

“Bangladesh has a large potential market with huge population and low-price skilled labour,” Zheng Qingdian said in a recent interview with the UNB news service in Dhaka.

Sources:

“EU demands probe into rights violations in Bangladesh”
Agence France-Presse, June 9, 2007

“China concerned over Bangladesh situation”
UNB, Dhaka, Mon, 11 Jun 2007

“Commentary: Abusive past, dramatic present and confusing future for Bangladesh”
UPA Asia, June 11, 2007


INTOLERANCE

Homophobia, as a Policy, Gets Personal

Intolerance of gays and lesbians worldwide seems to be digging in, as the public and private lives of homosexuals come under fire from Oregon to Russia and South-Central Asia.

In Portland, two teenage girls who hugged and kissed on a bus were forced off the vehicle after a passenger complained to the driver.

The city transit agency says it’s against policy to eject young people from a bus; the girls’ parents may file their own complaint about the incident.

In Russia, Orthodox Christian groups plan on holding prayer meetings and patrols in a popular meeting venue for Moscow gays and lesbians.

This follows assaults on a gay rights demonstration in the Russian capital in which police let the perpetrators go and arrested the protestors instead.

In Pakistan, a court jailed one married couple for three years because the husband was formerly a woman who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery 16 years ago.

In addition to jail time, the court also mandated psychological treatment, amid questions over whether the marriage, which is not formally prohibited under Pakistani law, should be dissolved.

Experts in religious law there called the marriage a “curse” and an “obscenity,” and said that fines, imprisonment, divorce or capitol punishment are all appropriate.

Sources:

“Girls, 14, ejected from Ore. bus for kissing”
The Advocate, June 13, 2007

“Orthodox groups to patrol homosexuals’ meeting venue in Moscow”
Interfax (Russia), June 13, 2007

“Sex-change couple jailed in Pakistan”
Times of India, May 28, 2007

“Tatchell punched during Moscow gay protest”
The Telegraph, May 28, 2007


Editors: Josh Wilson

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