World notes: Jan. 12, 2008

Nigeria: Russians compete for natural gas Reuters reported that Gasprom, Russia’s natural gas conglomerate, is negotiating with Nigerian officials over plans to invest up to $2.5 billion toward the extraction and processing of natural gas. To develop agriculture and industry, the seven-month-old government of President Yar’Adua has embarked upon exploitation of natural gas in Nigeria, location of the world’s seventh largest reserves. Two British companies have offered competing investment proposals, while European multinationals are already engaged in exporting Nigerian liquified natural gas. Each day, some 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas released during oil extraction operations are burnt off due to lack of infrastructure. Russian authorities viewing Central Asian natural gas supplies as precarious are looking to Africa for alternative sources.

Turkey: Women win strike A strike that began Sept. 26, 2006, ended Jan. 2 when 84 workers — 82 of them women, returned to work at the German-owned Novamed medical equipment factory in Antalya, Turkey. Their union, Petrol-Is, had support from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, and Mine Workers’ Unions, the federation’s German affiliate IGBCE, and Turkish unions, women’s groups, and other nongovernmental organizations. Demonstrators worldwide marked International Women’s Day last year, March 8, by rallying on the workers’ behalf. The first unionized workforce inside a Turkish free trade zone, the workers gained a 5 percent wage increase set for this year and 4 percent raises during each of the next two years. They also won paid holidays and bonus possibilities, the ICEM web site reported.

China: Legislation benefits workers China’s new Labor Contract Law that took effect Jan. 1 entitles workers employed continuously for at least 10 years to open-ended contracts providing for severance pay if their contracts expire or if they resign or are terminated. The law protects workers from dismissal without cause and requires employers to contribute to workers’ social security accounts. China’s People’s Daily suggested that the government wanted to “narrow the economic and social gap between China’s poor and the rich.” It quoted academician Wang Chunguang praising the law as “beneficial to the job stability for migrant workers.” Additional legislation adopted Dec. 29 that takes effect on May 1 calls for mediation and arbitration to be applied to labor disputes. National statistics show that monthly wages rose 18.8 percent during the first nine months of 2007.

Italy: Marchers denounce U.S. base March organizers had hoped for a turn out of 20,000, given that Dec. 15 in Vicenza was cold and snow was falling. Instead, more than 80,000 people filled the streets of a city notable for Renaissance architecture to protest their government’s acceptance of a new U.S. military base in nearby Dal Molin. The peakers condemned U.S. bases in Europe as key components of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Italian media have lined up in favor of the new base. But, according to envirosagainstwar.org, activists take encouragement from Czech citizens who recently rejected U.S. military installations in their area by a 99 percent vote. Vicenza citizens have camped out day and night at the edge of the proposed site. A neighboring town recently turned down a proposed residential village for U.S. troops.

Venezuela: Chavez issues amnesty Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pardoned leaders of both the failed military coup of April 2002 and the oil industry strike that happened a few months later. Chavez said Dec. 31 that he wanted to “send a message to the country that we can live together despite our differences.” The amnesty covered many who signed a decree issued by coup leader Pedro Carmona dissolving Venezuela’s Supreme Court and National Assembly. According to Venezuelanalysis.com, the president’s action did not apply to coup and strike participants who violated human rights, committed “crimes of war,” or are fugitives. Among the latter is unionist Carlos Ortega, who engineered the oil industry shutdown. Right-wing opponents of Chavez, including the Catholic Church hierarchy, criticized Chavez for denying amnesty to police officers. Some Chavez supporters are resentful that plotters seen as dangerous or without remorse are going free.

World Notes are compiled by W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit@roadrunner.com).