China and India Take Aim at the WTO
NEW DELHI — In the wake of protests at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle last December, India and China are rallying developing nations to take a stronger role in future trade talks. "The WTO cannot be allowed to become another world government," India warns, while China charges that it doesn’t "reflect the interests and demands of developing countries enough and clearly has defects."
Speaking in January at the Confederation of Indian Industry’s annual Partnership Summit, Commerce and Industry Minister Murasoli Maran called on developing countries to counter the influence of major players. The same day, China’s vice-Minister of the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Ministry Zhang Xiang directly criticized the WTO, suggesting that China’s entry would strengthen the negotiating hand of developing nations.
The WTO is divided between developing and developed nations, particularly the US and the European Union. India, one of the largest economies among the former, wants to uncouple labor and environmental standards from the WTO’s core focus on trade. During his speech, Maran called for more time and preferential treatment as developing nations integrate with the global economic system. He urged resistance to moves that reduce their competitiveness.
China, which hopes to enter the WTO, is already setting itself up as a leader, promising to counter the influence of the US. Chinese officials foresee a clash between the "Chinese-style market economy based on socialism and the interventionist policies of Western countries."
With China and India seeking to influence the WTO agenda, conflict may be inevitable. The WTO could end up mired in debates and uncomfortable compromises. And if supporters of preferential treatment and state-run economies take control, the US and other nations may pull back, leaving a bloc of third-world economies with little international influence. The WTO’s size and economic disparities between members already hamper the institution.
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Arizona Dems Opt for E-lections
PHOENIX — If you live in Arizona and are registered as a Democrat, voting will soon be just a click away. In a national first, the state’s Democratic Party has struck a deal with a New York company that will allow members to vote via the Internet in the March 11 presidential primary. Internet voting will make the process "easy, fun, and exciting," said party chairman Mark Fleisher after electronically signing an agreement with Votation.com. "We are entering a new age, new millennium, and a new way of voting."
Barring glitches, more than 843,000 Democrats will be able to make their picks from any computer linked to the Internet. Officials also will set up terminals at various locations for those without access. Registered voters will simply hop online, request a personalized certificate, and then cast their ballots using a personal code. The process is expected to take only minutes. Paper ballots still will be available at the polls.
Only 10,000 registered Democrats voted in the 1996 presidential primary, but officials hope that figure will swell to 50,000 with computer aid. The idea is to attract so-called Generation Xers, who commonly stay away in droves. State Representative John Loredo, an Hispanic leader, feels the idea will also catch on in the state’s minority communities as cheaper computers become available.
But Deborah Phillips, president of the Voting Integrity Project in Arlington, Va., warns that states should look carefully before leaping onto the information superhighway. Concerns about voter fraud and hackers still need to be addressed. Companies running the Internet elections also need to be better scrutinized, she adds.
"There’s a lot of jockeying by the companies that put on these elections and they are the ones who are pushing public policy," Phillips explains. "That’s a bad way to do things. Our elections are too important to be sacrificed on the altar of e-commerce."
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Suiting Up for High-tech Combat
WARNAMBOOL, Australia — The year is 2050, and Private Jane Smith is about to set off on a mission, equipped with micro-computer-run devices that have roots in the information technology of the 1990s. "The computer systems you are wearing mean that you can see at night, over hills, and around corners," her captain explains. "You can report instantly via the personal voice communicator in your helmet. We’ll all be listening in.
"And remember, if you see something, mark it with the laser sight on your rifle. That’ll register it as a potential target across the military intranet. Then switch on your camcorder and relay the video to us. But most important: Keep your visor down. If you lift it, you risk being blinded by the laser beams all over the battlefield."
It sounds like sci fi, yet plans are underway to develop such tools for the computerized 21st-century soldier. Australia, along with Britain, France, and the US, are actively exchanging ideas. Several years ago, Motorola won a $44 million contract to develop equipment such as a lightweight and wearable personal computer, high resolution helmet-mounted display (HMD) with night vision, identification sensor, thermal weapons sight with laser range-finder, lightweight body armor, and protective clothing to deal with nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.
IBM has a "wearable" computer based on its Thinkpad, with a CPU that attaches to a waist belt. Meanwhile, the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency is working with Yale University on a "smart shirt," circuitry-impregnated clothing that can also vary color for camouflage. Eventually, even the HMD may be replaced by a device projecting images onto the eye’s retina. Work by Seattle-based Microvision is heading in this direction.
Other innovations in the works include body-mounted keypads and voice control. Even mind control isn’t beyond reach. An Emory University project designed to help the disabled use brain implants could be the first step.
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OSLO — After more than four years of persecution, a St. Petersburg City Court showed judicial independence in late December, ending the case against environmental whistle blower Aleksandr Nikitin. The court acquitted Nikitin of all charges. But it’s not yet clear whether the prosecution will appeal.
Nikitin was arrested and charged with espionage by the FSB, the unrepentant successor to the infamous Soviet-era KGB, for his work on the Bellona report, The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination. Since 1995, he’s maintained that all information he contributed was publicly available. In addition, he and international personalities maintain that knowledge about the dangerous storage practices of nuclear waste in the Russian navy is paramount. Under the Russian Constitution, such information can’t be classified as secret, they argue.
Nikitin became one of the world’s most prominent environmental activists, honored by several international organizations. In 1996, he received the Goldman Prize for Environmental Heroism, often called the Nobel Prize for the environment. For more information, contact the Bellona Foundation at www.bellona.no.
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Uranium Shells Fired on Vieques
WASHINGTON, DC — The bitter confrontation between the US and residents of Vieques, a small Caribbean island used as a bombing range by the US military, has grown more poisonous with the Navy’s admission that it tested radioactive depleted uranium munitions on the island. Marine warplanes fired 263 rounds of depleted uranium shells at the Vieques firing range during a training exercise last February, prompting accusations that it’s ignoring health and environmental hazards.
Activists charge the Pentagon is covering up other incidents in which radioactive munitions were fired on the island. "The use of cancer-inducing depleted uranium on Vieques must be investigated," says Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano, who has called for a congressional inquiry.
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Lumumba Murder Traced to Belgium
BRUSSELS — A new book by Africa expert Lugo de Witte establishes Belgian responsibility for the murder of Patrice Lumumba, one of Africa’s most charismatic post-colonial leaders. A Flemish expert on Africa, de Witte wants a parliamentary commission to hear testimony from former officials involved.
In June 1960, Lumumba, the 36-year-old hero of anti-colonial struggle, became the first prime minister of an independent Congo. Within a month, civil war erupted, provoked by the attempted secession of the copper-rich Katanga province, and led by Moise Tshombe, who recruited Belgian, French, and South African mercenaries to fight the government. UN forces intervened, but did little more than maintain the status quo.
Lumumba was deposed, and then-unknown colonel Joseph-Desire Mobutu took control of country, which he renamed Zaire. Mobutu was a faithful friend of the West until his overthrow in 1997.
The US saw Lumumba, a militant nationalist, as a communist sympathizer. Although CIA assassination plans were exposed by hearings and declassified documents, de Witte’s research shows that by the time Lumumba was killed, Washington had little ability to operate in the Congo. "Belgian officers had direct responsibility for his assassination," he insists.
A document signed in 1960 by Harold Aspremont Lynden, then Belgium’s minister for Africa, said explicitly: "The main objective to pursue, in the interests of the Congo, Katanga and Belgium, is clearly the final elimination of Lumumba."
On January 17, 1961, under arrest by Mobutu’s forces, Lumumba was transferred to Katanga on the orders of Aspremont Lynden and the Belgian foreign minister. He was tortured in the presence of Belgian officers before being shot by an execution squad supervised by a Belgian captain. His body was exhumed by Belgian police, and dissolved in acid.
Although much is known about the crime, crucial information remains buried in Belgian government files, including records of a secret Congo committee that met under the chairmanship of the prime minister. The government has approved a parliamentary commission to investigate, but its scope isn’t clear yet.
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African Clerics Embrace Safe Sex
MBABANE — After shying away from sex in their sermons, growing awareness of AIDS has finally led church leaders in Swaziland to discuss anti-AIDS efforts. "God would really blame us for not being actively involved in the fight," says Rev. Solomon Nxumalo of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. "We have preached abstinence for too long, but the truth is that it doesn’t work. Why not then preach the use of condoms?"
The AIDS virus is now thought to infect up to a third of the southern African kingdom’s adult population, and even more among the young and sexually active. In the past, many clergy frowned on contraceptives, and considered AIDS a punishment from God. And despite the government’s AIDS program, the local Catholic Church maintains its conservative position. However, Catholic officials did help launch the Hope House project to care for terminally ill AIDS sufferers.
Other churches are going further, although some remain reluctant to use words like kulalana (sexual intercourse) in God’s house. The pastor of the Abundant Life Church appeals for assistance to infected people, saying they shouldn’t be treated as outcasts. A Methodist Episcopal preacher, worried that other clergy aren’t changing with the times, says the spirit of Christian social action obligates congregations to fight the epidemic that’s killing the youth of his country.