July 31, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 30

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


QUOTED:

“What power did any of these men have at the time of the coup in 1973? None!”

— Retired Chilean Army General Guillermo Garin on the arrest in May of 98 formerly low-ranking soldiers suspected of abuses under the Pinochet regime (see “Chile,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
It takes a tree to save a village
Argentina: Saving the family farm
A toilet for Thai transexuals

*World*
Pinochet’s ghost still haunts Chile
Court dates and coup attempts for Turkey secularists
Racial profiling in the Great White North?

*Conservation*
Real estate slump good for conservationists


TOP STORIES

* It Takes a Tree to Save a Village

A plan to replenish the forests of the West African nation of Burkina Faso is at odds with the development of farms and villages, Inter Press Service reports.

The government wants to plant nine million trees to replace disappearing forests in the sub-Sahara region — but almost two-thirds of the country’s forests, about 110,000 hectares annually, are cleared for farming, according to official estimates.

Burkina environmental minister Salifou Sawadogo told IPS that cities and villages have grown within forested regions, creating tension between environmental and economic needs.

However, Moustapha Sarr, a park director in the capital Ouagadougou, said that local communities aren’t consulted in reforestation plans.

Indeed, a plan to move over 20,000 people during reforestation was put on hold, even as the government acknowledges the depth of the problem:

“As it stands, the gap between what we take and the forests’ capacity to regenerate themselves is significant,” Sarr told the wire service.

A study last year cited brushfires, overgrazing and illegal timber cutting as likely causes of deforestation.

Removing trees has also caused sediment blockage in rivers and streams.

As the United Nations embarks on a campaign to plant seven billion new trees worldwide, Burkina is starting its own initiative to reward communities’ preservation efforts with financial and other incentives.

— T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Winning people over to reforestation”
Inter Press Service, July 26, 2008

“For forests under fire, a slight return”
Newsdesk.org, July 2, 2008

* Argentina: Saving the Family Farm

A coalition of farm worker organizations, small farmers and native communities has rallied together in Argentina to focus attention on the government’s land-holding laws and local food policies.

According to the Latin America Press, the National Campesino Front (FNC) was created in April to advocate for government policies that favor indigenous and farm communities over multinational corporations.

At issue is the purchase of Argentinean land by corporations that cut down millions of acres of native forest in order to cultivate genetically modified soy — most of which is exported as animal feed.

The country is now the world’s second-largest producer of biotech soy.

Critics say that the policies that came with the push for soy have resulted in farmers being “kicked off” their land — and call for policies that support biodiversity, resource conservation and land reform.

–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“The National Campesino Front”
Latin America Press, July 24, 2008

* A Toilet for Thai Transsexuals

A secondary school in northeast Thailand recently built a toilet solely for its transsexual student population.

According to the Telegraph, the Kampang School built the toilet for the 200 self-declared transsexuals — students with male anatomy but decidedly feminine characteristics.

“These students want to be able to go in peace without fear of being watched, laughed at or groped,” said Sitisak Sumontha, director of the school, told the newspaper.

Thailand is famously accepting of sexual minorities, including transvestites, cross-dressers and people born with both male and female characteristics.

Kampang School follows in the footsteps of a Chiang Mai technical college, who, in 2003, built a “Pink Lotus Bathroom” for its transgender students.

Transsexual students are so commonplace that Thailand’s Education Department plans to count them and, if necessary, build dormitories and toilets for them if universities have large enough populations.

–Julia Hengst/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“Thai school builds transgender toilet”
The Telegraph, June 19, 2008


WORLD

* Pinochet’s Ghost Still Haunts Chile

General Augusto Pinochet is dead, but Chile continues to wrestle with the legacy of his 17 years of brutal military rule.

Under the leadership of President Michelle Bachelet, who was herself jailed and tortured by the Pinochet regime, the elected government of Chile has launched a campaign to commemorate the Pinochet years with museums and the preservation of historic sites.

Minister of National Properties Romy Schmidt told McClatchy Newspapers: “Our plan would involve practically all the police stations and military regiments in the country, which could get uncomfortable. But that would be a meaningful step because it would show the whole government was involved in the abuses.”

The military and police forces are deeply implicated in investigations into human rights abuses under the old regime.

In May, a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of 98 suspects, many of whom were young, low-ranking soldiers at the time of their alleged crimes.

The call for arrests, the biggest since Chile returned to civilian rule in 1990, was cheered by human rights activists, but harshly criticized by others.

“What power did any of these men have at the time of the coup in 1973?” retired army general Guillermo Garin, said to the BBC last month. “None!”

And the argument over Pinochet’s legacy moved on to the next generation in a very literal way earlier this week when the General’s eldest daughter, Lucia Pinochet Hiriart, filed papers to run for local office in a wealthy, right-leaning neighborhood of Santiago.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Pinochet’s daughter seeks office in Chile politics”
Reuters, July 28, 2008

“Pinochet’s foot soldiers in firing line”
BBC, June 9, 2008

“Chile faces its dark history by tracking down torture centers”
McClatchy Newspapers, July 29, 2008

* Court Dates and Coup Attempts for Turkey Secularists

Political unrest and terrorism is causing problems for Turkey’s ruling party, which has staved off coup attempts as well as judicial efforts to remove it from power.

Turkey’s highest court decided not to ban the government’s ruling party Wednesday for allegedly attempting to establish Islamist rule in country, the Turkish Press reported.

The courts deliberations on the conduct of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began Monday on the heels of a terrorist bombing in Istanbul that left 17 dead and hundreds more injured, al-Jazeera reported.

The case highlights the schism between secular groups in Turkey and the ruling AKP, which draw support from devout Muslims with ties to the country’s Islamist movement.

The party is accused of trying to introduce non-secular rule in Turkey while in power, a charge AKP officials denied.

In March, prosecutors asked the court to ban Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and 70 members of the AKP from politics for five years, al-Jazeera reported.

President Abdullah Gul was also implicated on the prosecutor’s list.

Erdogan admitted to the Turkish Daily News that his party has made mistakes, but called for national unity in the wake of the court’s deliberations.

The Turkish Press reported that the court has the option of cutting the party’s election funding instead of banning it.

Several observers have told al-Jazeera that a ban could have created political chaos as well as spurred new elections.

It would not have been the only political party outlawed: Courts have banned two dozen others since 1963.

The European Union condemned a potential ban as an “undemocratic” move that would jeopardize Turkey’s bid to join its ranks, reports The Guardian.

Turkey’s struggles with religion and politics also have prompted not just court battles, but also fears of a coup.

Last week, 86 militant secularists were indicted for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, according to The Guardian.

Another 26 people were arrested for a plotting a secularist coup, al-Jazeera reported, and in early July two senior retired generals, leading businessmen and journalists, were also arrested.

Last year, an attempt to lift a decades-old ban on wearing headscarves at universities was overturned by the courts for being anti-secular.

Turkey’s elected government has been unseated by a military coup four times in the last 50 years.

Sunday’s bombings are being blamed on Kurdish rebels, although its timing with regards to the courts deliberations is troubling, one newspaper editor said.

“We hope there isn’t a link but there seems to be a very big chaotic atmosphere in Turkey,” Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of the New Anatolan, told al-Jazeera.

— John Hornberg/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Court convenes on AKP ban case”
Al-Jazeera, July 28, 2008

“Judges meet to decide on AKP’s fate”
Turkish Daily News, July 28, 2008

“Istanbul rocked by bomb attacks”
The Guardian, July 28, 2008

“Death toll in Istanbul bomb attack rises to 17”
Irish Times, July 28, 2008

“Islam: Secularists raise tension as Turkish court prepares landmark judgment on ruling AKP”
The Guardian, July 28, 2008

Turkey detains 26 over ‘coup plot’
Al-Jazeera, July 24, 2008

“Turkey’s Top Court Concludes First Day Hearing Of Ruling Party Closure Case”
Turkish Press, July 28, 2008

“Turkey’s ruling party hails court ruling as victory for democracy”
Turkish Press, July 30, 2008

* Racial Profiling in the Great White North?

Racial minorities in Canada are more likely to have a police record than their white counterparts even if they don’t get convicted, the Toronto Star reports.

The Star examined the criminal histories of almost three million people in Canada’s national crime database.

According to the Canadian Police Information Centre, minorities were less likely to be convicted of a crime, but spend longer periods in pre-trial detention.

DNA sampling, required by Canadian law for violent crimes, also showed a skew.

Almost twice as many minorities — 10.5 percent — gave samples for violent crimes, as compared to 6 percent of all Caucasian offenders.

Judges may also at their discretion order DNA samples for less serious offenses: CPIC figures say 13.4 percent of those convicted of robbery alone who gave their sample were minorities, as opposed to 8.4 percent who were white.

Minorities, who comprise 20 percent of Canada’s population, also outnumber whites for having warnings of potential violence and flight and suicide risks in their criminal files.

The Star also gauged public perception of how many non-whites have criminal records in an online poll. They asked over 1,000 readers over a two-day period in May.

When all respondents were asked what they thought the percentage was of Canadians with a criminal record, the average response was 36.7 percent — roughly one out of three people. However, government figures put the actual figure at 16.7 percent, or one in six.

University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley told the Star that local police departments might be concerned that “these data could hurt the image of the justice system.”

Frank Walwyn, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, said that additional research and analysis was required into the racial profiling issue.

“More information is needed in order to draw meaningful conclusions from these numbers,” he told the newspaper.

— TJ Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Is justice system blind to colour?”
The Toronto Star, July 21, 2008

“The criminals among us”
The Toronto Star, July 21, 2008


CONSERVATION

* Real Estate Slump Good for Conservationists

The mortgage crisis and real estate slump are affecting just about everyone these days, but some conservationists are not complaining.

According to the British real estate Web site Property Wire, environmental and preservation groups in the United States are landing great deals on properties with scenic and historic value.

The site quoted Keith Fountain, director of land acquisition for the Nature Conservancy’s Florida chapter, as saying: “Just a few years ago conservationists couldn’t compete. It was very tough to buy anything. Now it exceeds anything I’ve seen in my 16 years with the conservancy.”

Still, conservationists are a long way from getting every property they want.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2008 list of the most endangered historic places in the United States lists such monumental structures as a 200-foot-tall NASA dirigible hangar in California, a theater in Philadelphia and a hotel in Dallas, but it also lists entire neighborhoods, such as New York City’s Lower East Side and New Orleans’ Charity Hospital area.

Perhaps most strikingly, it lists the entire California State Park system, which has suffered from severe budget cuts.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on one endangered site, the Upper Post of Fort Snelling, a pioneer trading post and staging ground for U.S. attacks against Plains Indians.

While Fort Snelling has been preserved by the state’s historical society, the Upper Post has languished in bureaucratic confusion and neglect.

Recently, the post’s 19th century quartermaster building was declared unfit for renovation.

The paper quote Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin as saying: “This is a great treasure. The conditions of the buildings are unacceptable. We need to find a way to sustainably redevelop the site.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Not too late for a crumbling fort”
Star-Tribune, July 29, 2008

“2008 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places Announced”
Preservation.org, July 29, 2008

“U.S. property downturn is good news for conservationists”
PropertyWire.com (U.K.), July 29, 2008


Editors: Will Crain, Josh Wilson

Intern: Julia Hengst, John Hornberg, T.J. Johnston

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