Friday, March 07, 2008

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY IN IRAQ


For International Women's Day, I give you this...from IPS. It pretty much speaks for itself.

WOMEN'S DAY-IRAQ: Surviving Somehow Behind a Concrete Purdah
Analysis by Dahr Jamail

WASHINGTON, Mar 6 (IPS) - Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of education and a professional career.

Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government officials. In today's Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not conforming to strict Islamist ways.

Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon told reporters and Arab TV channels in December that at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months in that city alone.

"We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report their killing for fear of scandal," Gen. Hannoon said.

The militias dominated by the Shia Badr Organisation and the Mehdi Army are leading imposition of strict Islamist rules. The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is seen as providing tacit and sometimes direct support to them.

The Badr Organisation answers to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Shia bloc in the Iraqi government. The Mehdi army is the militia of anti-occupation Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Women who do not wear the hijab are becoming prime targets of militias, residents both in Basra and Baghdad have told IPS in recent months. Many women say they are threatened with death if they do not obey.

"Militiamen approached us to tell us we must wear the hijab and stop wearing make-up," college student Zahra Alwan who fled Basra to Baghdad told IPS last December.

Graffiti in red on walls across Basra warns women against wearing make-up and stepping out without covering their bodies from head to toe, Alwan said.

"The situation in Baghdad is not very different," Mazin Abdul Jabbar, social researcher at Baghdad University told IPS. "All universities are controlled by Islamic militiamen who harass female students all the time with religious restrictions."

Jabbar said this is one reason that "many families have stopped sending their daughters to high schools and colleges."

In early 2007 Iraq's Ministry of Education found that more than 70 percent of girls and young women no longer attend school or college.

Several women victims have been accused of being "bad" before they were abducted, residents have told IPS in Baghdad. Most women who are abducted are later found dead.

The bodies of several have been found in garbage dumps, showing signs of rape and torture. Many bodies had a note attached saying the woman was "bad", according to residents who did not give their names to IPS.

Similar problems exist for women in Baquba, the capital city of Diyala province, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

"My neighbour was killed because she was accused of working in the directorate-general of police of Diyala," resident Um Haider told IPS in January. "This woman worked as a receptionist in the governor's office, and not in the police. She was in charge of checking women who work in the governor's office."

Killings like this have led countless women to quit jobs, or to change them.

"I was head of the personnel division in an office," a woman speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS in Baquba. "On the insistence of my family and relatives, I gave up my position and chose to be an employee."

Women's lives have changed, and women are beginning to look different across most of Iraq. They are now too afraid to wear anything but conservative dresses -- modern clothes could be a death warrant. The veil is particularly dominant in areas under the control of militias.

Women are paying a price for the occupation in all sorts of ways.

"Women bear great pain and risks when militants control the streets," Um Basim, a mother of three, told IPS in Baquba recently. "No man can move here or there. When a man is killed, the body is taken to the morgue. The body has to be received by the family, so women often go alone to the morgue to escort the body home. Some are targeted by militants when they do this."

Confined to home, many women live in isolation and depression.

"Women have nowhere to go to spend leisure time," Um Ali, a married woman in Baquba, told IPS. "Our time is spent only at home now. I have not travelled outside Baquba for more than four years. The only place I can go to is my parents' home. Housekeeping and children have been all my life; I have no goals to attain, no education to complete. Sometimes, I can't leave home for weeks."

In northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, 'honour killings' continue. In the ancient tradition of 'honour killing', the view is that a family's honour is paramount. As of last December, at least 27 Kurdish women were murdered on suspicion of having had 'illicit' affairs in the previous four months, according to Youssif Mohamed Aziz, the regional minister of human rights.

Iraqi women are not spared U.S. military prisons either. In December, Iraq's parliamentary committee for women's and children's affairs demanded the release of female detainees in Iraqi and U.S.-run prisons.

According to Nadira Habib, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, there are around 200 women detained in the Iraqi run al-Adala prison in Baghdad. Habibi says there are presumably women in U.S.-run prisons too. "But no one knows how many female detainees are now in prisons run by U.S. forces as they always refuse requests from our committee to visit them."

As the central government remains essentially powerless, and religious fundamentalism continues to grow across Iraq, it appears that the plight of Iraqi women will get worse.

WOMEN INVADE MONSANTO FIELDS IN BRAZIL


Hundreds of Brazilian women activists from the group Via Campesina today raided a research unit of U.S. agricultural biotech company Monsanto destroying a tree nursery and an experimental field of genetically modified corn.

Just how much of those fields were destroyed, and how, was still unknown, a Monsanto press agent said Friday.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the invasion of the Monsanto farm about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.

The women were angry over the Brazilian government's decision last month to give clearance for two varieties of GMO corn for commercial use.

The action happened four days after hundreds of members of the same group invaded a corporate tree farm owned Swedish-Finnish paper maker Stora Enso near Brazil's border with Uruguay to protest the planting of trees that are harvested to make pulp.

In that case, police fired rubber bullets to oust the demonstrators, triggering a series of protests throughout southern Brazil that they had employed excessive force.

A spokesperson for Via Campesina, a group defending peasants and land reform, told Reuters by telephone today, "The authorization of these varieties shows once more that (President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's) government favors agribusiness and big foreign companies, abandoning land reform and family farming." Last year, Via Campesina launched a similar campaign against a Syngenta Seeds (SYT) transgenic corn and soy research facility in Parana state in south Brazil, leading to the death of at least one activist by Syngenta contracted security guards.

The country’s National Biosafety Council decision permits the usage of two forms of GMC produced by Monsanto and Bayer called MON810 and LibertyLink, respectively (Last month French officials banned MON810 after a watchdog group said it had “serious doubts” over the GMC's safety).

At the time of the decision by the Brazilian government to allow the GMO corn Via Campesinareacted with fury. The group said the decision went against the advice of two governmental agencies: the health ministry's ANVISA health vigilance unit, and the environmental ministry's Ibama institute. In fact, Health Minister, José Gomes Temporao, a member of the Council wanted further studies on the possibility that these varieties of maize might be toxic or allergenic. Environment Minister Marina Silva, who opposes cultivation of transgenic species, chose not to even attend the meeting.

Via Campesina said the companies behind the engineered corn had presented studies that were "completely inadequate and insufficient to guarantee the safety of these products in terms of human health."

It said it also feared the man-made seeds would contaminate natural crops, with unpredictable results for the environment.

Via Campesina charges expanded use of genetically modified seeds harms Brazil's environment and makes it difficult for poor farmers to compete with the nation's rich landowners and agribusiness companies.

Commenting on the Council's decision, María José da Costa, of the Small Farmers Movement (MPA), told IPS, "We have lost some battles with the government before. But in our view, this is the greatest tragedy of the Lula government."

A letter from the Campaign for a GM-Free Brazil, reports ISP, said that sowing transgenic maize will inevitably contaminate native varieties of maize, which can be grown organically and are ecologically sound.

The measure, it said, is a "flagrant and unconstitutional imposition that sets the economic interests of companies interested in growing GM maize commercially above the health of the population, the need to protect the environment, and also the interests of farmers and consumers who do not want to plant or eat transgenic foods."

According to da Costa, considering the "harm done to people" due to soybeans and other transgenic crops in Brazil, "the disasters that will be caused by the authorisation of GM maize will be of far greater proportions."

She said that maize, in particular, which was first domesticated in Latin America, will now suffer "a great loss of biodiversity, as well as genetic degeneration and impoverishment."

She said that native seeds cultivated by small farmers and indigenous peoples "run the risk of disappearing through cross-contamination."

Unlike soybean plants which are almost entirely self-pollinating, maize is generally cross-fertilised, and its pollen "can be carried several kilometres and contaminate other types of maize at great distances, transported by insects and the wind," she said.

Furthermore, she said, farmers will have no legal recourse for any complaints against contamination of their crops, because jurisdiction is unclear.

And if contamination of their maize does occur, they will have to resort to other seeds, and they will become dependent on the transgenic species, because GM seeds are designed to produce a second generation of seeds that will not germinate.

"The food sovereignty of small farmer communities will be endangered, because they will have to buy seeds outside the community, and they will have to pay royalties to the transgenic seed companies," said da Costa. At present, farmers save their seed from year to year for the next planting.

She also called attention to the technical studies cited by the Science and Technology Ministry in support of the authorisation of transgenic maize, noting that most of them were carried out abroad, and fail to take into account the uniqueness of Brazil’s diverse ecosystems.

The following is from AFP.

Brazilian protesters destroy GM crops: group

Around 300 women rural residents in Brazil burst into a property owned by the US company Monsanto and destroyed a plant nursery and crops containing genetically modified corn, their organization said.

The women were protesting what they saw as environmental damage by the crops.

They trashed the plants within 30 minutes and left before police arrived at the site in the southern state of Sao Paulo, a member of the Landless Workers' Movement, Igor Foride, told AFP.

The Brazilian government had "caved in to pressure from agrobusinesses" by recently allowing tinkered crops to be grown in the country, he said.

In Brasilia, a protest by another 400 women from an umbrella group, Via Campesina (the Rural Way), was held in front of the Swiss embassy against Syngenta, a Swiss company that is selling genetically modified seeds in Brazil.

The demonstrators called attention to an October 2007 incident in which private guards working for Syngenta killed a protester taking part in an occupation of land owned by the company.

Via Campesina said in a statement that "no scientific studies exist that guarantee that genetically modified crops won't have negative effects on human health and on nature."

It added that on Tuesday, another 900 of its members had entered a property owned by the Swedish-Finnish paper giant Stora Enso and ripped out non-modified eucalyptus saplings they claimed were illegally planted.

THE LAWSON FILE: "PATIENTS OVER PROFITS" AND THE FIGHT FOR A SAN FRANCISCO HOSPITAL


As all of the candidates babble about health care reform, out in San Francisco a hospital of vital importance to working and poor people is being transformed into something that will not serve their needs.

St. Luke's founding mission was to provide medical care to anyone in need and it has in fact served multitudes of poor and uninsured people in its 136 year history.

Financially, not surprisingly it has been teetering on the edge for a long time.

But now, as reports the San Francisco Chronicle California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) and Sutter Health, which runs St. Luke's, plans to close the hospital as an acute care institution within a few years, turning it into an outpatient hub. People suffering common acute illnesses such as heart attacks and pneumonia likely would be transferred elsewhere.

But where?

The new plan would leave a total of one hospital south of Market Street and a dozen to the north.

That's a plan.

"People will suffer," the chief of cardiology, Dr. Ed Kersh told the Chronicle. "The day after St. Luke's closes, someone having a heart attack south of Market will have no place to go for acute or continuing care - if he or she is lucky enough to survive."

The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods urged CPMC and Sutter Health to keep all aspects, including the Acute Care Facilities, the Emergency Room, and the Ninth and Tenth Floor open and staffed to its fullest capacity to continue its critical and most needed of services to the most destitute and those in need in the southern and southeastern neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The Coalition was joined by Outer Mission Residents Association(OMRA). Steven R. Currier (OMRA)President of the OMRA Board and former member of the St. Luke's Foundation Board wrote:

"I want to express our concerns with the possible closure of certain departments at St. Luke’s Hospital. To give you a little history, I was a Board member of the St. Luke’s Foundation for seven years."

...The CPMC Board of Directors President’s disregard for the low income, the disenfranchised, and the immigrant community is an insult to this community and to those who serve this community."

As I know from being part of St. Luke’s and the Sutter Group for many years, St. Luke’s Hospital cares for more of these people in their “charity care program” than any other hospital in the Bay Area except for S.F. General Hospital. It is also insulting to many members of OMRA that were either born at St Luke’s,been treated there, or use this hospital for many emergency services, neo-natal services, cardiovascular services, and therapy services.The Board’s arrogance in this matter is quite demeaning to this community and it slaps the other cheek of those very people that need these services."

Well, maybe in the wake of the outcry from the public about this the plan is changing.

A "blue ribbon" panel of public officials and private medical experts is being formed to develop a plan for the future of St. Luke's.

Currier urged, "...the “Blue Ribbon Panel”to look at ways to keep all aspects of St. Luke’s Hospital,the oldest hospital in San Francisco, open to the southernmost area of the City."

The panel’s says its goal is to develop a viable plan for an acute care hospital and outpatient services at California Pacific Medical Center’s St. Luke’s campus, which complements and is supported by CPMC’s current institutional plan for all its campuses.

This is all fine and dandy. However, I don't know about you, but I don't exactly trust "blue ribbon" panels all that much to act on behalf of regular folks.

And apparently neither do the people of the area. After the panel was announced a fancy news conference, they gathered for one of their own. The group gathered at City Hall and said they want medical care that is available to the largely non-white and low-income people who live in the Mission, Excelsior and BayView neighborhoods and they don't trust Sutter.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano whose district includes St. Luke's said it simply: "I have never known Sutter to tell the truth. They don't know what truth is. They just know that profit is."

The blog
Happening Here reports that union members were out in force for this gathering. In addition to the nurses, United Healthcare Workers passed out a statement from its leader Sal Rosselli responding to CPMC's announced committee:

"For years, doctors, nurses, caregivers, elected officials, patients and community leaders have asked Sutter officials to commit to save St. Luke's, and they've hedged and dodged the entire time, changing their position over and over again. Now, they've been dragged to the table kicking and screaming, but they still can't say plainly that they're committing to keep St. Luke's open as a full service, acute care hospital.

"Sutter could save St. Luke's today by signing a legally binding memorandum of agreement to keep the hospital open and fully functioning. The Sutter Corporation reported $587 million in profits last year alone. They have more than enough funds to maintain and improve the hospital. The question is whether or not they have the will to protect the health of San Franciscans by keeping St. Luke's open.

"Fundamentally, we believe San Francisco would be better served by an open and accountable public process to determine the city's healthcare needs and ensure that all of Sutter's reorganization plans meet them in order to win city approval."

This sort of thing happens all over the country and the Oread Daily has reported on it before. Health care reform has to be more than talk and it has to be more than sitting down at the table with health insurance companies (and their buddies) and making them happy. Health care reform won't come until the giant corporations which run our health care system are directly confronted and told what they are going to do.

The time to ask the money bags currently running the system is long past.

In fact, it never was.

The following is from the San Francisco Bay View.

We must keep St. Luke’s alive
by Theodora Mays

As my blurred eyes opened, my head feeling woozy from the anesthesia, I focused on a red-faced doctor whose eyes were filled with tears. He started talking to me, something about the baby's heart rate dropping and a machine for three hours. My thoughts slowly started coming back to me and I remembered being rushed into a room and a big plastic object being placed over my nose. The tragic loss of my baby on that night, so many years ago, rushed back to me as I heard about the possible loss of St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco.

For the last 130 years, St. Luke's Hospital, located at Mission and Cesar Chavez, has provided medical care to poor people and people of color. The hospital's closure is part of the recent string of attacks on poor communities from rich investors, where corporations move services from poor, underserved communities, to richer white areas of the city.

The California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) plans on "replacing" St. Luke's with a series of ambulatory care centers. These centers would be in Stonestown, Potrero Hill and the Excelsior districts and cannot eliminate the need for an inpatient hospital nor will they be directly accessible to St. Luke's most needy patients. St. Luke's is the only private hospital on the east side of the city. The only other accessible hospital is San Francisco General Hospital, which is already overburdened.

If St. Luke's closes, one half of San Francisco will be left with only one hospital, San Francisco General. It is not easy to get from South of Market to North of Market.

Can you imagine having a heart attack in Bayview Hunters Point or the Excelsior District and trying to get across town in rush hour traffic, especially if San Francisco General is not accepting ambulances?

Last year, St. Luke's emergency room served 28,000 people - and 7,000 of these visits were critical. San Francisco General Hospital cannot handle this number of additional visits.

"You cannot have an emergency room without intensive care facilities or an operating room. All that is there is a shell intended to deceive the public into believing that an emergency room remains," said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of the California Nurses Association, Sutter Division. Sutter, whose headquarters are in Sacramento, is the umbrella corporation that runs all the big private hospitals in San Francisco, as well as in much of the rest of the state.

Bonnie Castillo further proclaimed, "We will challenge Sutter with every means we can to preserve this critically needed hospital and the emergency care services at St. Luke's."

Hearing about the challenge to save St. Luke's, my mind kept wandering back to that night - to the blurred faces of my doctor and husband and the sounds of their muffled voices that seemed to keep saying something about "three hours on a machine." I struggled to mumble to my husband for him to call our Bishop, thinking we had three hours to reach out to him for prayer. Then I was jarred with the realization that the three hours had already passed and our baby was dead.

Had there not been a hospital accessible to me when I went into labor, the end could have been far more tragic - both my baby and I could be dead. I kept thinking about this when I heard of the mothers and children leading a Candlelight Vigil marking the closure of the key pediatric unit at St. Luke's Hospital on Feb. 13. Many families and women with high-risk pregnancies will be deeply affected by this closure.

Jane Sandoval, a registered nurse at St. Luke's, agrees: "Sutter is degrading patient care by closing unit after unit at St. Luke's. Do they expect women with high-risk pregnancies to take a cross-town bus? They are abandoning the families who depend on this hospital."

During the past two years, the CPMC has already closed or is "about to close" several services, including the psychiatric inpatient unit, occupational and physical therapy, the workers compensation unit and the neonatal intensive care and pediatric floor.

Imagining the crowds of women gathering at Valencia and Cesar Chavez with burning candles and remembering my own experience of losing a child, I know that we have to save these hospitals. We must keep St. Luke's alive.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

COLOMBIA'S INCURSION INTO ECUADOR IS WIDELY CONDEMNED (BUT NOT BY BUSH, OBAMA AND CLINTON)


As you know Raul Reyes, a leading member of the FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - was killed by the U.S. backed Colombian government March 1 in Ecuador setting off widespread hostile reaction across the continent. With the apparent assistance of US satellite intelligence they located a temporary camp of the Colombian guerilla leader (who had committed himself to releasing more hostages shortly and in fact was in the process of negotiations involving France and Switzerland) a few kilometers inside Ecuador, strafed it with cluster bombs, and made an incursion into Ecuadorian territory to find the leader's body, and put it on display in the Colombian press according to the blog Latin Radical.

FARC leaders said Tuesday that Colombia`s murder of Reyes "gravely struck the possibilities of humanitarian exchange and annulled a political outlet in the conflict," and urged that Venezuela, France, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Bolivia push for the demilitarization of two Colombian municipalities which the FARC say must be clear of government forces in order for hostage release to proceed.

Claims by the Colombian government to have acted in self-defense have been refuted by survivor testimonies and Ecuadorian government investigations which reveal evidence that it was a pre-planned "massacre" of a sleeping encampment.

On top of that, says Venezuelan Analysis, "...reports that U.S. Admiral Joseph Nimmich met with Colombian military leaders in Bogotá two days before Saturday`s attacks with the stated purpose of "sharing vital information in the fight against terrorism" have fueled suspicions of direct U.S. involvement in invasion."

Inside Colombia FARC blew up a pipeline belonging to Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol in reaction to the raid today.

Ecuador and Venezuela ordered troops to their borders with Colombia and reduced diplomatic ties with that nation, calling the attack a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty.

In Ecuador today civil, political and grass-roots organizations took to the streets to support their government's reaction to the raid on its territory (see picture). The Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, called President Uribe of Colombia a "criminal, mafioso, paramilitary" leading a "narco-government".

Prensa Latina reports Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina) and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) today hailed an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution on Colombia´s aggression against Ecuador as a step to prevent other similar actions in Latin America. The OAS adopted a resolution on Wednesday which said Colombia violated Ecuador's sovereignty by launching a military raid into its territory. The OAS formally declared that Colombia`s actions violated Ecuador`s national sovereignty and broke international law, both of which the OAS declared are "inviolable...directly or indirectly, for whatever reason, even temporarily".

Even before the final OAS vote was taken Fernandez told Radio Mitre, "I consider it important to unanimously condemn this violation of territorial sovereignty, which cannot have any pretext or cause,"

She said "There is no single president who has failed to note the need to flatly reject the violation of territorial sovereignty of any of our countries for any cause."

In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet criticized the Colombian air strike, saying that it was a shame that “borders were not respected” and calling on Colombia to provide Ecuador an explanation.

The media in Nicaragua described the situation as extremely serious.

On Monday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega warned against the dangers caused by the action of the government of Colombia for South and Central America. He added that Colombia violated international law. Ortega said today he was breaking off diplomatic relations with Colombia as did Venezuela and Ecuador earlier this week.

Brazil condemned the bomb attack on Monday and called on Bogota to offer an explicit apology.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday added his voice to the regional condemnation of Colombia's military strike on rebels inside Ecuador, and called on the two countries to resolve the problem peacefully.

"We coincide in the rejection of any action that constitutes a violation of territorial sovereignty," Calderon said after a meeting with Salvadoran President Tony Saca in which the two leaders discussed the crisis.

A Mexican student was killed in the raid as were more than twenty others in the bombing raid.

The Bush administration, not surprisingly, was quick to defend Colombia's cross-border moves,

The response made by Barack Obama to the cross border killing and incursion ought to disappoint his "progressive" supporters. A statement released by the Obama campaign pretty much parroted that of the Bush Administration (and his opponent Hillary Clinton). The statement read:

"The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region."

The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors."

On the other hand, the Colombia Action Network issued the following statement on the crisis:

"The Colombia Action Network is outraged at the Colombian army's air assault and raid on March 1st into Ecuador. The Colombian government justifies it's actions by stating they acted in "self-defense". However, we see this for what it is, an escalation of Colombia's civil war, a violation of Ecuador's sovereignty, a threat of war against Venezuela and other neighboring countries, and a further attack on the rights the people of Latin America."

The attack came just days after the FARC unilaterally released hostages for the second time. The attack is a clear sign that the U.S. backed Colombian government has decided that it is not interested in negotiating for hostages or for peace. Colombian President Uribe and U.S. President Bush are only interested in war."

We are outraged that the Colombian government killed 20 members of the FARC, including a high ranking leader Raúl Reyes. We see this as an act of aggression and as a dangerous escalation of the Colombian civil war."

We call upon the Colombian government to stop violating the sovereignty of Ecuador, to stop threatening neighboring Venezuela, and to stop killing, torturing, and detaining civilians in its brutal civil war."

We call upon the U.S. government to stop funding the war crazy government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The U.S. has spent close to five billion of dollars funding the Colombian government's war on leftist rebels under the auspices of the "war on drugs" and the "war on terrorism". In reality the U.S. is funding the war and it's potential escalation to surrounding countries."

The following report is from that well know radical leftist news service known as Bloomberg.

Colombia Pipeline Bombed by FARC After Ecuador Attack (Update5)

Colombian rebels bombed an oil pipeline and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he may seize assets of the neighboring country's companies after a Colombian raid into Ecuador killed a rebel leader.

The bombing and Chavez's nationalization threats may be the start of reprisals for the March 1 air raid on Ecuadorean soil that killed the second-in-command of Colombia's biggest guerrilla group. Escalation of the conflict could cut the more than $5 billion in annual trade between Venezuela and Colombia.

``This is definitely the beginning of reprisals against Colombia and it is likely to continue,'' Edgar Jimenez, an equity analyst at Stanford Bolsa y Banca in Bogota, said in a telephone interview.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, bombed the Transandino pipeline in Putumayo province, putting it out of service for at least three days, Colombia's Vice Minister of Mining and Energy Manuel Maiguashca said.

Owned by state oil company Ecopetrol SA, the pipeline brings petroleum from fields in Colombia and Ecuador to an export facility in Tumaco in Narino province on Colombia's Pacific coast.

Crude oil for April delivery rose 98 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $105.50 a barrel at the 2:30 p.m. close of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

International Reaction

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega said today his country was joining Ecuador in breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia. Chavez, during a news conference last night in Caracas, asked his ministers to draw up an inventory of Colombian assets in Venezuela.

``Some of them could be nationalized,'' Chavez said. ``We're not interested in Colombian investments here.''

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, who joined Chavez at the press conference, called on the international community to condemn Colombia for its cross-border strike. He said he'll only accept the findings of a panel set up by the Organization of American States to investigate the attack if it denounces Colombia's actions.

``If the international community doesn't condemn this aggressor without question, then Ecuador will know how to respond,'' Correa said.

Pipeline Attacks

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the countries to reach a diplomatic agreement over the border raid. She called Colombia a ``good friend.''

``Everybody needs to be vigilant about the use of border areas by terrorist organizations like the FARC,'' Rice told reporters after a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Brussels.

Attacks on oil pipelines, including the Transandino, which carries about 60,000 barrels a day, have declined as Uribe boosts security near oil fields.

One Colombian field, Cano Limon, was hit 170 times in 2001, a figure that fell to 34 in 2003, the most recent year when figures were reported. The Transandino was attacked 30 times in November 2003, according to the Ecopetrol Web site.

Mobilizing Troops

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner met her Venezuelan and Ecuadorean counterparts today in Caracas.

``No one can agree with what Colombia did,'' Argentine Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez said in an interview on Radio 10 in Buenos Aires today. ``This is a violation of sovereignty that worries and infuriates us.''

Chavez, who calls the U.S. the ``empire'' and refers to President George W. Bush as ``Mr. Evil,'' said the U.S. was behind the attack. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, in contrast, calls the U.S. ``a friend.''

Chavez and Correa, both self-proclaimed socialists, sent troops to their respective borders with Colombia this week to increase security.

An expanded military presence along the frontier -- already rife with paramilitary, drug trafficking and rebel activity -- raises tensions to a level where a miscalculation could trigger a military clash.

Colombian Companies

Grupo Nacional de Chocolates SA, Colombia's largest food company, stands to lose the most among publicly traded companies, analysts and traders said. The shares have fallen 4.3 percent since the raid.

Colombia is a key trading partner with Venezuela and Ecuador, supplying both with food and other goods.

Other companies that operate in Venezuela include Cementos Argos SA, Colombia's biggest cement maker, and Compania Colombiana de Inversiones SA, an investment holding company, Rupert Stebbings, head of international sales at brokerage Interbolsa, said by phone from Medellin.

``If push comes to shove, and Chavez is able to somehow reduce Colombian exports to Venezuela, Colombia takes a hit,'' said Boris Segura, an economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. ``A lot of Colombia's exports to Venezuela are industrial goods, which have high value added, and generate a lot of employment.''

Protesters and Chavez supporters gathered in the Plaza Venezuela near downtown Caracas today, carrying pictures of Uribe with a red handprint covering his face, and the words ``No More!''

In Bogota, a similar protest was held in Plaza Bolivar square, with participants carrying banners emblazoned with Chavez's image and chanting anti-Uribe slogans.


To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Walter in Caracas at mwalter4@bloomberg.net; Helen Murphy in Bogota at hmurphy1@bloomberg.net

BERKOWITZ ON GATHERING OF GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTICS


So there I was listening to some guy filling in for Rush Limbaugh today (what can I tell ya, good to keep up with the other guys) babbling on about a distinguish group of scientists who had gathered somewhere in the Free World to debunk the "myth of global warming." So I come downstairs, fire up the computer and an apropos column from my bud Mr. Bill Berkowitz appears. Check it out. It is taken from MediaTransparency.org.

Global warming 'skeptics' conference enabled by conservative philanthropy
Heartland Institute and dozens of other sponsors of conference funded by Coors, Bradley, Walton, Scaife and DeVos foundations

"Ignored, and often even censored and demonized" is how the promotional materials for the Heartland Institutes's recent conference "The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change," described the way "distinguished scholars from the U.S. and around the world," that have had the courage to question global warming, have been treated by environmentalists and the mainstream media. In a "Background" piece, conference organizers claimed that "They [the scholars] have been labeled 'skeptics' and even 'global warming deniers,' a mean-spirited attempt to lump them together with Holocaust deniers.

Always on the lookout to defend the oppressed, both Glenn Beck, the right wing host of a CNN Headline News show, and the Fox News Channel rode in to rescue the "demonized" and beleaguered. On Monday morning, March 3, "Fox and Friends" homed in on the problem that the "skeptics" are facing. Fox's point: Goreistas, or advocates of devoting major resources to dealing with global warming, receive a disproportionate share of network and cable television face time, while those raising questions about global warming are shut out of the debate.

Dan Gainor, vice president of the Business and Media Institute (BMI) -- a co-sponsor of the conference -- joined co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade "to explain network news reporters' failure to balance their coverage of climate change and their tendency to ignore or mistreat scientists and others who disagree with the "consensus" theories surrounding global warming," a BMI report by Nathan Burchfiel pointed out.

According a BFI report titled "Global Warming Censored: Networks Stifle Debate, Rely on Politicians, Rock Stars and Men-on-the-Street for Science," written by Gainor and Julia A. Seymour, an analysis of 205 network news stories about "global warming" or "climate change" between July 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2007, "found a meager 20 percent of stories even mentioned there were any alternative opinions to the so-called 'consensus' on the issue."

On "Fox and Friends," Gainor said that "the consensus theory that Al Gore's been pushing, that the mainstream media have been pushing for years -- it's all bogus." According to a report posted at Raw Story, Gainor also pointed out that the New York Times had done a "somewhat sarcastic" piece on the conference. "Disagreement's not allowed in the media," he complained. "We just did a report looking at how the network news shows have covered climate change. ... 13 to one, the people they put on are on one side saying it's not a debate. ... On CBS it's 38 to one."

Over at CNN Headline News, Beck told his audience that he would be vigilant in covering the conference "like it was the second coming of Jesus himself." "After all," Beck said, "if this were a traditional gathering of global warming alarmists, the media would be everywhere. But, since it's full of hundreds of credible, mainstream scientists who happen to disagree with their peers, it's completely ignored."

However, according to Think Progress, the conference was not ignored by the mainstream, media. "....The New York Times has published two separate articles on the conference, and the Times' John Tierney has written about it on his blog. Other mainstream press outlets that have covered the conference: the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, the New York Sun, and Reuters."

The Business and Media Institute
The Business and Media Institute (BMI - website) -- "Advancing the Culture of free Enterprise in America" -- is a project of the Media Research Center (MRC), headed by longtime conservative activist, L. Brent Bozell. In addition to being BMI's vice president, Gainor is also listed as an MRC "Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow" "a position apparently named for the legendary Texas oilman and corporate raider," Raw Story reported.

BMI's Board of Advisors includes at least a dozen people deeply tied to conservative philathropy: Herman Cain, the organization's national chairman was former President and CEO of Godfather's Pizza, Inc. and President and CEO of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc.; David All, President, The David All Group, LLC and founder of TechRepublican.com and co-founder of Slatecard; Bruce Bartlett, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S. Treasury Department; Dr. Donald Boudreaux, Chairman, Department of Economics, George Mason University; Dr. Richard Ebeling, President, Foundation for Economic Education (website); Dr. Daniel J. Mitchell, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute; Duane Parde, President, National Taxpayers Union; Grace-Marie Turner, President and founder, Galen Institute (website); Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, President, American Council on Science and Health (website); Dr. Walter E. Williams, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, George Mason University.

'The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change'
"The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change," was billed as "the first major international conference to focus on issues and questions not answered by advocates of the theory of man-made global warming." According to James M. Taylor, the Conference Coordinator and a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute who is the Managing Editor of its Environment & Climate News, hundreds of scientists, economists, and public policy experts from around the world were brought together "to call attention to widespread dissent in the scientific community to the alleged "consensus" that the modern warming is primarily man-made and is a crisis."

The conference's goals were:


"to bring together the world's leading scientists, economists, and policy experts to explain the often-neglected "other side" of the climate change debate;

"to sponsor presentations and papers that make genuine contributions to the global debate over climate change;

"to share the results of the conference with policymakers, civic and business leaders, and the interested public as an antidote to the one-sided and alarmist bias that pervades much of the current public policy debate; and

"to set the groundwork for future conferences and publications that can turn the debate toward sound science and economics, and away from hype and political manipulation."

In addition to BMI, among the 50 co-sponsors are a host of longtime anti-environmental enterprises, many tied to conservative philanthropy, such as Americans for Tax Reform, Cascade Policy Institute, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Congress of Racial Equality, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Independent Institute, International Climate Science Coalition, International Policy Network, National Center for Policy Analysis, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, Science and Environmental Policy Project, Science and Public Policy Institute and Sovereignty International.

Conference sponsors received "input into the program regarding speakers and panel topics"; "10 free 'full package' registrations--air fare, hotel, and free admission--for 10 people, ideally scientists, economists, or important players in the climate change debate who are prepared to speak on panels"; "20 free admission passes"; and "logo and organization info on all promotional material produced, including advertising prior to the event and exhibiting space at the event."

The Heartland Institute
Over the past few decades, The Heartland Institute (website), described by the New York Times as "a Chicago group whose antiregulatory philosophy has long been embraced by, and financially supported by, various industries and conservative donors," has been in the forefront of the movement of corporate-sponsored conservative think tanks, public policy institute and academic researchers first denying global warming existed, more recently palming off climate change as a natural phenomenon, and all the while demonizing those bringing global warming to the attention of the public.

In April 2000, Z magazine published a piece I wrote about the Heartland Institute that was written for CultureWatch, a monthly newsletter which from May 1993 through October 2000, tracked right-wing movements. Titled "Powerful Right-Wing Alliance Challenges Climate Justice: Anti-environmentalists join forces," the story noted that Heartland's Environment News and New Hope Environmental Services Inc., publishers of World Climate Report (with funding from the Greening Earth Society), had joined forces to publish Environment & Climate News, whose tag line is "the monthly publication for new-era environmentalists."


One of the publication's essential functions is to act as a mouthpiece for industry as it tackles head-on the issue of global warming. The first issue presents two stinging critiques by two of "the nation's leading scientists...on global climate change": "Kyoto's Chilling Effects" by Patrick J. Michaels, PhD, University of Virginia environmental science professor, and "Link between deaths and climate weakening over time" by Robert E. Davis, PhD, associate professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia.

Michaels, a featured dinner speaker Sunday night was described by the New York Times as "a climatologist with a paid position at the antiregulatory Cato Institute."

Founded in 1984 by Joseph L. Bast, the Heartland Institute, I wrote in 2000, "spent its early years as a no-frills, conservative, free-market, tax-exempt research organization applying, 'cutting-edge research to state and local public policy issues'--and not really distinguishing itself."


In 1996, Heartland created a new program that linked the conservative advocacy of a think tank with state-of-the-art technology to become one of the right's leading information clearinghouses. If ever a trendy phrase "just-in-time" information delivery has meaning, it is most assuredly illustrated by Heartland's PolicyFax project.

At a time when paper was still premium, Heartland's PolicyFax project delivered documents -- 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and free of charge --on a host of issues to public officials crafting legislation, editorial writers and op-ed columnists preparing a piece, advocacy organizations prepping for an anti-environmental campaign. The kicker: Every elected official in the U.S. (regardless of position), every significant media worker, and researchers from all the other think tanks received Heartland's complete set of resources delivered directly to their desks.

Heartland is still on the cutting edge of information delivery: PolicyFax has evolved into PolicyBot (website), a project that Heartland claims "is the Internet's most extensive clearing-house for the work of free-market think tanks, with more than 22,000 studies and commentaries from over 350 think tanks and advocacy groups."

Heartland has a bevy of publications including: Budget & Tax News, a monthly "devoted to lower taxes and smaller government"; Environment & Climate News, a monthly "for common-sense environmentalism"; Health Care News, a monthly "for free-market health care reform"; IT&T News, a monthly "for state legislators and regulators, addressing information technology issues"; School Reform News, a monthly "for school reformers"; The Heartlander, a monthly "membership newsletter"; News & Views, a publication of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, "offering multicultural perspectives on economic and social policy."

These days, in addition to its publications, a number of books, a video entitled "Global Warming Snowjob," which focuses on Al Gore, Heartland advocates for school vouchers, supports a Frank Luntz-like concept called "common-sense" environmentalism, and promotes "free-market" health care. Heartland's Joe Bast has taken up the cause of beleaguered smokers in the "Smoker's Lounge," "the place to go for sound science, economics, and legal commentary on tobacco issues."

'Climate equivalent of Custer's last stand'
Conference participants spent a fair amount of time lambasting former Vice President Al Gore, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And critics had some pointed things to say: Kert Davies, a campaigner from Greenpeace, told the New York Times that the conference was "the largest convergence of the lost tribe of skeptics ever seen on the face of the earth."

Frank O'Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch, told the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin that the conference "looks like the climate equivalent of Custer's last stand." And, The League of Conservation Voters Gene Karpinski, said he's "sure that the flat Earth society had a few final meetings before they broke up."

Attended by several hundred people, the conference did garner the attention of the Fox News Channel and CNN's Glenn Beck, received coverage in several mainstream newspapers, and there were reports galore on online news sites and blogs.

None of which satisfied BMI's Nathan Burchfiel and Amy Menefee who complained, in a piece on the BMI website dated March 3, that ABC's "World News," CBS's "Evening News" and NBC's "Nightly News" "couldn't find time in the half-hour broadcasts March 3 to mention" the conference.

With hopes that "The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change" will lead to a revitalized anti-global warming movement, organizers have declared their desire to take the show on the road: "The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change is the first major international conference questioning global warming alarmism, but it will not be the last one. This event is intended to be a catalyst for future meetings, collaboration among scientists, economists, and policy experts, new research, and new publications."

"The proceedings will be transcribed, edited, and published as a major contribution to the debate over global warming. Other possible follow-up activities now being discussed include: an event in London in 2009; launch of a new journal devoted to climate change; launch of an association of philanthropists willing to support further research and public education opposing global warming alarmism; support for an International Climate Science Coalition that will act as an alternative voice to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and expanded cooperation among the scores of organizations currently sponsoring research, publications, and events on the dubious claims in support of the theory of man-made catastrophic global warming," the conference organizers wrote.

Reasononline science correspondent Ronald Bailey reported that while "occasionally there was something of a camp-meeting atmosphere among participants," it was evident that "Climate skeptics don't agree among themselves about what, if anything, is going on with the world's climate."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

AND WHAT WILL THESE MARINES HUNT WHEN THEY COME HOME?


The Marines have apparently decided that fighting insurgents in Iraq is akin to hunting big game. What a noble thought.

And they're training those under their command to do just that. Already nearly a thousand Marines, mostly squad leaders, have been trained. They spread their knowledge among their troops. The training program has been in development since 2006.

A Marine Corps press release states, “'Always the hunter, never the hunted.' That’s the tagline for a new Marine program, Combat Hunter, designed to teach Marines how to better observe, communicate, and act in their effort to 'find, fix,and finish' the enemy."

Combat Hunter’s methods, says the press release, are based on three criteria--identifying skills that will make Marines more efficient “hunters” in all environments (especially urban), examining and employing the skills used by individuals who have lived in disadvantaged areas of large cities, and developing training programs from skills identified during experimentation.

“Combat Hunter is designed to increase the lethality of a unit during operations through enhanced observation, profiling and tracking skills,” Gunnery Sgt. Ben Alicea, a senior instructor with Mobile Training Cadre 1, Advanced Infantry Training Company, School of Infantry East explained on the Marine web site.

The Marines claim the training will not only help their troops fight enemy forces, but distinguish them from "friendlies."

Apparently it will also teach our troops that some human beings are actually not human beings at all, but big game. Now some may say that is okay with them. I wonder if they think it will be okay when these guys come home and something goes wrong like, say, a case of post traumatic stress syndrome.

Oh well, let's move on.

The Asia Times in an article on the training program wrote:
"...according to an article by Kimberly Johnson of the Marine Corps Times, Colonel Clarke Lethin, chief of staff of the I Marine Expeditionary Force - I MEF, a unit based in Camp Pendleton, California that took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and will be returning there soon - indicated that its commanders 'believe that if we create a mentality in our marines that they are hunters and they take on some of those skills, then we'll be able to increase our combat effectiveness"'.

The article included this curious add-on: "The corps hopes to tap into skills certain marines may already have learned growing up in rural hunting areas and in urban areas, such as inner cities, said Colonel Clarke Lethin, I MEF's chief of staff." Outraged by the statement, one Sergeant Ramsey K Gregory wrote a letter to the publication asking, 'Just what was meant by that comment about the inner city? I hope to God that he's not saying that people from the inner cities are experts in killing each other and that we all just walk around carrying guns."'

It is also interesting and rather disturbing to note that one of the men the Marines have signed up as a consultant for this program is a South African by the name of David Scott-Donelan. Who is this fellow? Well here is his bio taken from his own training school's (whose logo accompanies this post) web site TACTICAL TRACKING OPERATIONS SCHOOL :
David Scott-Donelan was a career soldier with almost three decades of active duty in the war zones of Rhodesia, South Africa, Mozambique and South-West Africa/Namibia.

Enlisting in the Army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1961, Scott-Donelan was one of the original members of the resuscitated 'C' Squadron (Rhodesia) Special Air Service (SAS), where he was introduced to the concepts of irregular warfare and tactical tracking by Allan Savory, a game ranger known for his innovative and successful concepts in hunting down heavily armed elephant and rhino poachers.

In 1968, Scott-Donelan was posted to the new Tracker Combat Unit (TCU), commanded by Allan Savory, with the mission of tracking down and annihilating Communist trained and equipped nationalist insurgents infiltrating the Rhodesian border from Zambia and Mozambique. He went on to command the TCU and was responsible for the selection and training of expert trackers for the unit which was beginning to make a name for itself on operations. In 1974, the TCU was absorbed by an innovative, new, counter-insurgency unit known as the Selous Scouts and Scott-Donelan was posted to the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). The RLI was heavily involved in helicopter and airborne operations against armed and dangerous terrorist gangs infiltrating Rhodesia in ever increasing numbers. After several years of non-stop action, he served as an intelligence officer at a Brigade Headquarters (HQ) and Combined Operations HQ, Rhodesia's equivalent to the Pentagon. Frustrated with staff duties, he agitated for a transfer to the Selous Scouts and was appointed Officer Commanding Training Group which included the Tracking and Bush Survival School, the notorious "Wafa Wafa", on the shores of Lake Kariba.

In 1980, due to intense political pressure from the USA, Britain and the UN; Rhodesia, after never having lost a battle, lost the war and became the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Joining the South African Special Forces in 1980 as a member of 5 Reconnaissance Regiment, Scott-Donelan commanded the Regiment's Developmental Wing which was responsible for establishing a complete training and operational resource base as well as conducting training programs for several guerrilla armies. Five years later, he was seconded to the South-West-Africa Territorial Force as Company Commander and responsible for operations against the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia, which was infiltrating into South-West-Africa/Namibia from Angola and Zambia.

Immigrating to the USA in 1989, Scott-Donelan is now the Training Director of the Nevada based Tactical Tracking Operations School and trains law enforcement, corrections and military personnel in the same tracking techniques which proved so successful against armed and dangerous fugitives in Africa.

The Seattle Weekly reporting on Scott-Donelan after he had been brought in to help train Washington DC's finest back in 1999 reported Scott-Donelan was an officer in what was called the Selous Scouts who were part of the Rhodesian army fighting black guerrillas. The Scouts were known as the most ruthless unit in the forces of the white supremacist Rhodesian government. Their tactics were believed to include torture of enemy soldiers and killing of civilians. Captain Scott-Donelan, the article says, taught his trainees to "to kill in several sophisticated ways."

When Enid McAdoo, an African American probation officer in Seattle read about DC's hiring of Scott-Donelan she decided to check him out. What she found left her stunned.

"I was aghast," she says. To McAdoo, it was incomprehensible that the field of law enforcement, long troubled by its treatment of minorities, would look for instruction to someone associated with some of the world's most racist regimes. "It's like an SS officer coming over here and teaching a class."

The Weekly also reported that a former Zimbabwe official, living in the state of Washington, was similarly appalled. That person who out of fear did not give their name on the record told the paper, "It's ironic to me that he is training law enforcement officers because one thing about the Selous Scouts is that they did not operate within the rule of law. . . . What is he going to teach them? How to torture people without being found out? How to get confessions out of people they arrest?"

I know that I'm thrilled that the Marines find such an apartheid era character to be a good mentor for our troops.

How about you?

The following is from the San Diego Union Tribune.

Teaching Marines to be like hunters
By Rick Rogers

Trying to become predators instead of prey, Marines headed to Iraq will go through training built on advice from big-game hunters, soldiers of fortune and troops who grew up around firearms in the woods or the inner city.

Combat Hunter, a program begun at Camp Pendleton and now being rolled out nationwide, is designed to help Marines stalk and kill insurgents by using their senses and instincts. It emphasizes keen observation of Marines' surroundings and meticulous knowledge of their foes' habits.

“This is the most comprehensive training of its kind in our history,” said Col. Clarke Lethin, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

“These are primal skills that we all have but that we evolved out of,” he added. “We are going back in time. The Marines who go through this program will never be the same. They'll never look at the world the same again.”

The Marine Corps had not paid much attention to this low-tech combat approach since the Vietnam War. Like the other service branches, the Corps has generally gone high-tech by creating increasingly advanced weapons and developing virtual reality training.

Combat Hunter grew out of a concept by Gen. James Mattis, who has spearheaded the formation of various training programs for the Marine Corps. He saw the need for greater focus on hunting-related skills while overseeing combat forces at Camp Pendleton in 2006.

At the time, the Marines had recently turned the corner on roadside bomb attacks that killed and maimed so many of them in Iraq. They became better at detecting improvised explosive devices and blunting their impact.

Then the insurgents changed tactics. Instead of blowing up Marines, the enemy increasingly turned to shooting them as they patrolled neighborhoods or drove by in convoys.

Mattis, known for out-of-the-box thinking, weighed his options. He considered adding Marine snipers to protect his units, but he rejected the idea because it would take too long to train and field them.

Then he hit upon the idea of Combat Hunter, a strategy that squared with the Marine Corps' aggressive fighting style.

“One of the things that Gen. Mattis said is that he wanted a quick turnaround for this project. There was a sense of urgency,” said Maj. James Martin, the project officer for Combat Hunter.

Lethin recalled the reason for that urgency: Too many troops felt fear when they left their bases in Anbar province, the vast western region of Iraq where Marines hold the lead combat role for the U.S. military.

“Fear is a terrible thing. The Marines felt they were being hunted. They felt they were bait for the insurgents,” Lethin said.

“How do we teach our Marines to be the hunters? How do we bring the confidence back?” Lethin said. “Sometimes technology is not the answer. We think we have the answer in Combat Hunter.”

The unorthodox program draws on the expertise of an eclectic mix of consultants. There are the tracking abilities of David Scott-Donelan, a former officer in the South African Special Forces and a veteran of civil wars in Africa. Then there's African guide Ivan Carter, as well as others who would rather not be identified by the Marine Corps.

Training drills also reflect the hunting skills of Marines from rural areas and, as an unclassified Marine briefing said, the life experiences of those “who have lived in disadvantaged areas of large cities.”

Some of the training was on display yesterday in an area of Camp Pendleton called the K-2 Combat Town.

Marines usually train among its prefabricated buildings and in its dirt-lined streets. But for Combat Hunter, they perch in the green hills and watch what goes on in the mock village.

From a distance of eight or more football fields away, teams of Marines learned what to look for downhill. As they peered through binoculars, the Marines tried to catalog hundreds of details to form a baseline of knowledge. Then they looked for telltale signs of insurgent behavior.

The scenario they watched yesterday involved a mock sniper shooting an Iraqi police officer. The Marines had to tease out clues to ascertain who did what and from where. The exercise was one of 15 scenes that they will scrutinize in the next two weeks.

One goal of the training is teaching troops to unleash deadly force only after they have determined that it's warranted.

“Just because someone is a jerk does not mean we can kill them, do you got me?” said Greg Williams, a former police officer and big-game hunter as he debriefed 55 Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

“Rrrr,” the Marines replied in agreement.

“We never do trigger time unless we do brain time, do you got me?” Williams emphasized.

“Rrrr,” the Marines responded.

After a lunch break, the trainees started analyzing more complex attacks.

Some of them praised Combat Hunter for teaching them to more effectively spot insurgents – as well as roadside bombs and weapons caches – while giving them confidence to patrol day in and day out.

“I think it is absolutely critical training,” said Cpl. Andrew Moul, 25, from Hart, Mich., who will deploy to Iraq in the fall. “In Iraq right now, it is more of a security situation, and we need this skill set to keep civilians and Marines alive by making better decisions.”

Unconventional thinking about an unconventional war might make a lot of sense, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, a pro-defense think tank in Arlington, Va.

“What we are learning in Iraq is that the demands of warfare in the new century are so widely different from anything for which we were planning. We have to look in unexpected places for the skills that will serve us best” Thompson said.

“It may be that a combination of better hunting skills, language skills and cultural anthropology serves us better in Iraq than some gee-whiz wireless network,” Thompson said.


ANTI-POVERTY ACTIVISTS SHUT DOWN COUNCIL MEETING OVER TORONTO'S HOMELESS CRISIS


Anti-poverty activists shut down a meeting of Toronto City Council today over the death of a man who froze on the streets because he could not get a shelter bed.

Canada's National Post reported anti-poverty activists shouted “shame!” as they filed into council chambers shortly before noon, prompting the speaker to halt the meeting.

“People are dying on the streets. Your shelters are full,” Gaetan Heroux, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, shouted from the edge of the velvet rope that encircles the council floor.

Things quickly became physical as security forced some members out. The pushing and shoving then continued as police moved in. About a quarter of council on both the right and left side of the political spectrum stuck around to hear what the activists had to say. Councilperson Adam Vaughan says they have a point.

"We're trying to handle it here," says Vaughan, "but we are handling it with very scarce resources."

Last Wednesday night OCAP says an Aboriginal man who was homeless was found frozen to death in a stairwell in Toronto. Another man was found in Chinatown with serious injury from exposure.

The activists complained the city has shut down too many shelters. Even Phil Brown, the general manager, of the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, says the city is down 198 beds as of the end of 2007. Four shelters with a total of 258 beds have closed, while a new shelter with 60 beds has been opened.

Heroux said he does not believe city claims, however, that there is plenty of space in homeless shelters.

“I don't believe the city,” he said. “The hostels are full; the hostels are packed ... people are sleeping in the common areas, on the floor with no blankets. It's ridiculous.”

OCAP has issued a publication on the bad state of housing for street people in Toronto. It's entitled "They Call It Struggle for a Reason." The introduction to the report reads:


" The City of Toronto is in the process of dismantling the hostel system in the downtown core. By mid summer of last year five shelters in the downtown core were shut down: Council Fire, 110 Edward, 60 Richmond, Salvation Army’s Riverdale Shelter, and Treasure House. The total number of hostel beds lost was 312. These shelters provided more than 340,000 meals and supplied 113, 880 beds annually. The total savings to the city and the province is $4 million. These cuts will further deteriorate conditions in city hostels, where overcrowding, violence, TB, and bed bugs have already become the norm. "

New Democratic Party Housing critic Cheri DiNovo says it’s appalling the Liberals refuse to take concrete action on providing shelter to the most vulnerable after the 50-year-old homeless Toronto man was found dead last week during an extreme cold alert of -27 Celsius.

“How many more unnecessary deaths need to happen before the McGuinty Liberals takes shelter in this province seriously? Cold alerts don’t help when emergency shelters are overcrowded, leaving many with no where to go when temperatures hit record breaking lows,” said DiNovo.

Last week, DiNovo introduced a Private Members Bill that would amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to enshrine shelter as a right for all Ontarians.

According to the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) an average of four to six homeless people die each month, but this does not include those who are unidentified or unreported.

On the Federal level, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2008 budget effectively threatens to withdraw what little federal funding exists to help the nation's homeless or to alleviate the growing affordable housing crisis in Canada. "There's not a penny for new truly affordable homes in federal budget 2008, even though all three national housing and homeless programs are due to expire this year," said Michael Shapcott, a policy fellow at The Wellesley Institute in Toronto.

The following is from CTV Toronto.

OCAP interrupts council to protest shelter cuts

Poverty activists stormed city hall today, interrupting a council meeting to protest Toronto's services for the homeless.

Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty planned the protest after a homeless man was found dead in a downtown stairwell on Feb. 27, reportedly as a result of freezing temperatures.

About a dozen Toronto police officers were on hand and ushered the protesters out of council chambers.

In a news release issued by the organization Monday, OCAP said the city needs to address a shortage in Toronto shelters.

"Over the last decade the city has refused to address the serious over-crowding and lack of beds that exist in the shelter system," the statement said. "We cannot bring this man back. But we can demand no further deaths occur."

The week before the homeless man died, city officials heard deputations from social service agencies as well as homeless people, advocating for more financial support to services.

OCAP member Gaetan Heroux was quoted in Monday's news release saying people who stay in hostels face dangerous conditions.

"Not only do crowded hostels create violence and psychological damage, but many people will face the bracing cold of February and could sustain cold injuries and even perish," he said.

According to OCAP, the city recently closed down five shelters in the downtown core, resulting in a total loss of 312 beds.

THE LAWSON FILE: WHEN IT COMES TO BOSSES ITS ALWAYS THE SAME OLD SAME OLD


Talk about a disconnect.

A museum in New York that celebrates the labor movement as part of its mission is doing everything in its power to make sure its employees are unable to organize. Educators and tour guides at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which tells the story of poor Jewish immigrants, have been working with the UAW for over a year and have met nothing but roadblocks from museum management in their attempts to form a union.

What doesn't management get? Have they ever checked out their own museum?

It's just another example of the bosses (no matter where) being totally out of touch with reality.

According to its own mission statement:

"The Lower East Side Tenement Museum's mission is to promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a gateway to America."

I might mention that among the Honorary Trustees of the museum is one U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton who is today counting on union voters in Ohio to turn around her campaign.

The museum has 40 per diem workers — who work on a flexible schedule and are paid for the days they work. Nearly all of them have joined the union, said Eden Schulz, recording secretary of Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers.

Schulz points out, "The workers really are the exhibit. Without them it would just be an empty, old tenement building."

The workers’ complaints include conditions endemic to the original tenements: extreme temperatures and cramped rooms. The workers want pay increases, benefits, guaranteed hours and improved breaks.

“We teach civic lessons about workers who unionized in the Lower East Side,” Tal Bar-Zemer, a costumed tour guide at the museum, told the Villager. “We felt the union would be a really wonderful thing, especially given the historical lessons that [the museum] teaches.”

The bosses, as always, didn't see it that way.

H.R. Britton, a tour guide who leads up to six tours a day at the museum told the Villager last May she was surprised that management was resistant to the staff forming a union.

“I find it really ironic,” he said. “You lionized the unions, but you don’t want one under your roof. How does that square with the peoples’ lives you eulogize?

“It hurts me to see a lack of integrity like that,” Britton added, “Especially at a museum whose mission I love.”

The museum refused to recognize a card count process which showed almost every worker had signed on and said it instead wanted to go through the NLRB, a process that can take forever and which union organizers will tell you allows the bosses lots of time to intimidate workers.

A statement released several months ago from the workers read in part:
"Through our work here, we have gained historical perspective and are inspired by the stories of young reformers who collectively organized to improve their own workplaces. In recent months, we have endeavored to have a collective exchange regarding developments and changes in the Museum, and it has become clear that unionizing is the solution that will allow us to bargain in good faith at the table as equals with management representatives over issues including wages, benefits and job security. Strengthening the foundation of The Tenement by making educator jobs more stable is crucial to ensuring integrity in its coming expansions. We recognize collective bargaining as our way to invest in the future of the institution and contribute to the strength of this foundation."

Maybe fighting unions is the new message the museum bosses would like to educate the public about. If so they ought to think about a new mission statement.

"I've been there four and a half years and I've never gotten a raise," said Lethia Nall. "I've had to work hours without a break in a cramped tenement apartment with no air-conditioning in the summer and minimal heat in the winter."

The bosses would tell you that just shows how realistic their museum is.

Maia Macek, 34, said that while she has received no wage increase in her two years working at the museum, administrators have given themselves pay hikes over the same period. Macek also complained that employees are sometimes repudiated, or even fired, at will — a practice, she and other educators said, they would like to see change.

The bosses would tell tough luck, they are called bosses because they like to boss...and bossing is tough work and deserves more pay.

As my bubbe, of blessed memory, used to say, "amerikanish naroyum ."

Don't hold me to the spelling but the Yiddish means pretty much what it sounds like.

Her husband, an old leftie from way back, would have probably just told the bosses to "ayin kafin yan" which roughly translates to "go shit in the ocean."

The following is from Statin Island Live.

Tenement museum tour guides say they want benefits, union

Tour guides at a museum that re-enacts the lives of poor Jewish immigrants say museum management won't let them form a labor union.

Dozens of educators and costumed interpreters at the Tenement Museum planned a protest Tuesday evening outside a 20th anniversary dinner at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers. The guides prepared a timeline of union history to dramatize their cause, including events covered on the museum's own tours.

The guides who take visitors through the turn-of-the-century Lower East Side building have been trying to join Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers for more than a year. The guides said that most earn about $17 per hour, with no regular pay increases, job security or health benefits.

"It is very disappointing that a museum that celebrates labor history as part of its mission would refuse to recognize the right of their own employees to form a union," said Lethia Nall, a museum educator.

A call to the museum wasn't immediately returned Tuesday. The museum's employees said the majority have signed union cards, but the museum is seeking hearings with the National Labor Relations Board to challenge the move.

The museum's landmark building on Orchard Street is preserved as a homestead of about 7,000 working class residents and poor immigrants who arrived there between 1863 and 1935.


Monday, March 03, 2008

GAZA ATTACK ENDS FOR NOW


Israel has pulled back its troops from the Gaza Strip with an army spokesman saying that military operations in the territory were 'winding down'. The move on Monday came after an intense Israeli assault on the territory killed eight more Palestinians overnight, adding to the more than 100 people killed in past six days. Since last Wednesday according to the Palestinian Health Ministry 115 Palestinians have died. One third of the victims were children. 320 people were injured.

"This operation has run its course," Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Army Radio. "There were dozens of deaths among the Hamas terrorists -- this is certainly deterrence."

Ehod Olmert, the Israeli prime Minister, stated on Monday that Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket attacks launched from the Gaza and described the latest operation a success. Olmert added that" Nothing will stop us from attacking Gaza."

Olmert was later attacked by members of the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee for aborting the operation which they said contradicted pledges he and the defense minister made Sunday. Both had vowed that military ground action would press on until the Hamas missile-rocket offensive against Israeli civilians was stamped out.

Hamas, on the other hand, declared "victory" and vowed to continue firing rockets into Israel. And so the did. One of a number of Katyusha rockets fired from Gaza at Ashkelon hit a seven-story building, sending a dozen people into shock and sowing wide panic in the city of 120,000. Eight missiles exploded in Sderot, 2 in Shear Hanegev and 4 in the Eshkol farmland area south of Sderot.

MP Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, the prominent Hamas leader, on Monday emphasized that the Palestinian resistance would strongly retaliate to any future IOF incursion into the Gaza Strip.

A commentary in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which denounced the latest Israeli incursion which has left so many dead points out that during the past two years almost 900 Gaza residents have been killed.
"Imagine if the Palestinians were to kill dozens of Israelis, including women and children, in one week, as the IDF did. What an international outcry we would raise, and justifiably. Only in our own eyes can we still adhere to our restrained, forbearing image. All the talk about the 'major operation' is designed to achieve only one goal: to show it is possible to be even more violent and cruel."

Israeli activists took to the streets to demand that the killing stop (see story below and picture above).

In the West Bank a majority of schools were closed, and several marches and demonstrations took place in a number of Palestinian cities and towns. Dozens of Palestinians have been injured in the southern West Bank protesting the attack on Gaza. In Bethlehem, for example, students marched to the Israeli separation wall near Rachael's Tomb. Young Palestinians pelted Israeli military vehicles with stones and empty bottles. The soldiers fired live ammunition, tear gas and sound grenades. Ten people were injured, witnesses said.

The military wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, claimed responsibility on Monday for shooting two Israeli soldiers near Kissufeim.

They said in a statement that the operation came as part of a series of responses to the ongoing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people.

Separately, Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigades claimed responsibility on Monday for launching a homemade projectile at the Israeli town of Sderot in the western Negev.

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), launched mortar shells at forces stationed on Mount Al-Kashif east of Jabalia.

Meanwhile, Israeli MK Yisrael Katz said on Monday Israel must carpet bomb the Gaza Strip as the Russians did to the Chechen capital, Grozny. "All the buildings near which projectiles have been launched should be destroyed to the ground since there is no solution for the projectiles' problem," said Katz, who is a member of the right-wing Likud party.

According to Katz, the Israeli air forces should drop leaflets from the air ordering the residents of Gaza Strip to leave their homes, and then the warplanes should destroy every building near where the projectiles are launched. "They could flee to the Sinai," he said, referring to Palestinians who would be displaced by his plan.

Not everyone was quite so bellicose.

The Alternative Information Center (AIC), an internationally oriented, progressive, joint Palestinian-Israeli activist group, denounced Israel’s killing of over 140 Palestinians in Gaza since last Wednesday and called on the international community to intervene immediately. We all know that won't happen.

The Al Mezan Center For Human Rights issued a report stating that the Israeli army killed 107 residents, including 55 civilians, 27 children and six women in the period between February 27 and March 3.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem expressed grave concern at the large number of children and other uninvolved civilians among those killed and wounded in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

According to B'Tselem figures, from 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. B'Tselem stated, "Contrary to the Chief of Staff’s contention that ninety percent were armed, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded." Their statement continued, "...initial examination of a few of the many incidents in which civilians were killed raise the grave concern that the Israeli army used excessive and disproportionate force, and failed to distinguish between uninvolved civilians and Palestinians who took part in the fighting. Such attacks may constitute a breach of the laws of war."

B'Tselem like many other groups also condemned the firing of rockets across the border by Hamas and their supporters into Israel which has resulted in fatalities. A statement from the group released on February 27 said, "The Palestinian government must do everything it can to stop the rocket fire and the Palestinian organizations must cease their attacks aimed at civilians. In refraining from taking action to stop the firing, and especially given its active participation in these attacks, the Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip gravely breaches international law and commits war crimes."

The following is from Gush Shalom (Israeli peace group).

AGAINST THE MASS KILLINGS IN GAZA!

For four days, since the beginning of the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip, the situation has deteriorated and become intolerable. More than a hundred Palestinians have been killed, most of them children, women and other civilians, while an Israeli civilian and two soldiers also lost their lives. Hundreds of wounded are filling the few hospitals.

In all the Israeli peace movements, there arose an urgent need for a demonstration to protest against the madness - the more so as the media, as usual, accompanied the action with rabid war propaganda, and hardly any sane voice was heard in public.

Today (March 3) hundreds of protesters came together opposite the Ministry of Defense in Tel-Aviv, in order to express their protest against the continued killing, which starts to look like a massacre. The demonstrators shouted in unison angry slogans, such as "Barak, Barak. Minister of Defense - How many civilians have you killed until today?" and "How long will blood be shed - The people of Gaza are human beings!"

The police was ready in great force, but it seems that the many high-ranking officers present had given an order to show restraint. However, several fights broke out and some protesters were arrested.

Over the demonstration, the flags of the various movement were waving, including the two-nations flag of Gush Shalom, the national flag of Peace Now and the red flag of the Communists. MK Dov Hanin of Hadash and Gamal Zahalka of Balad were present, as well as Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now, Tamar Gozansky of Hadash and Jonathan Pollak of the Anerchists.

Answering questions of Journalists, former MK Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom said: "Government and army spokesmen admit quite openly that a cease-fire could be achieved within the hour, but that the government refuses to do this so that 'Hamas would not fix the rules of the game'. This proves that the real aim of the action is not to stop the launching of the rockets, but to break Hamas. That is a criminal play with the lives of human beings, most of them unarmed, including the children on both sides of the border. The aim, of course, will not be achieved."

In the course of the demonstration, many of the participants signed a joint Israeli-Palestinian petition for a cease-fire, which is now being prepared simultaneously both in the Gaza Strip and in Israel.

ARMENIA UNDER THE GUN


Armenia is counting the cost of what is already being called “Bloody Saturday,” after several people were killed in running battles between police and opposition demonstrators in the capital Yerevan.

After a day of violence on March 1 which stunned this normally peaceful city, outgoing president Robert Kocharian declared a state of emergency in Yerevan.

The protesters were calling for the cancellation of the February 19 election in which Kocharian’s ally and prime minister Serzh Sarkisian was voted in as president, when the security forces moved in with force to break up the demonstration.

Police and Interior Ministry troops used truncheons, tear gas, and electric stun guns to disperse opposition supporters from a central Yerevan square March 1, but thousands regrouped later reports the blog World War IV. Riot police fired tracer bullets into the air and again used tear gas to disperse the crowd of 15,000. Some protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.

Shops were looted, cars set on fire, molotov cocktails were thrown, and in addition to the fatalities known so far, 16 servicemen and 18 protesters were wounded in shootouts between the two sides. Each side blames the other.

"The situation is horrible," said one resident to EuroNews. "I could not ever imagine that here in Yerevan such things could happen. I don't know how to describe it, everyone just went crazy."

A 30-year-old eyewitness, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, told Human Rights Watch that several rows of Special Forces in riot armor, with helmets, plastic shields and rubber truncheons, started approaching from the left and right sides of Freedom Square. The witness said that police, without prior warning, sprayed water and descended on the demonstrators, using rubber truncheons and electric prods.

“People started running towards Northern Avenue, but were chased by the police,” the witness told Human Rights Watch.

The witness was among those who fled, running together with his father and younger brother, but police caught him from behind and beat him on his back and head with a rubber truncheon.

“I momentarily lost consciousness after a blow on the head, and fell,” he told Human Rights Watch. “When I came to my senses, my brother was carrying me away from the square. My head was bleeding and my hat was all covered in blood.”

The witness required seven stitches on the right side of his forehead. He sustained bruises to his right hand, back and legs. Fearing arrest he refrained from going to a hospital and sought medical assistance from a private doctor. His father and brother also sustained cuts and bruises on their backs and heads, but did not require urgent medical assistance.

An Armenian human rights advocate told Human Rights Watch of several similar descriptions of the police action given to her by other witnesses.

Troops are now patrolling the streets of the capital to enforce a state of emergency, which will remain until March 20.

Thirty supporters of opposition leader and Presidential candidate Ter-Petrosian have been jailed in the aftermath of Armenia’s disputed presidential election. The status of Ter-Petrosian himself is in dispute.

Political analysts and human rights activists are wondering whether Robert Kocharian’s administration is striving to cleanse the narrative of the March 1 events. With the government controlling all channels of information, it is difficult to determine the extent of the brutality. Many news sources have been blacked out by the government.

“It’s hard to say if there’s a cover-up. … What’s evident is the need for a full, independent investigation,” said Rachel Denber, the deputy director of Human Right's Watch (HRW) Europe and Central Asia division.

Denber declined to comment on whether HRW deemed the government’s official death toll of eight as reliable, or whether the number of dead was probably higher. She would only describe the March 1 events as a “very chaotic and violent situation.” Denber added that Armenia, as a member of the Council of Europe, was “obligated” to abide by internationally recognized standards for the investigation of government actions.

“The Armenian government should refrain from using violence and make clear that it won’t tolerate excessive use of force by police,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “A political crisis doesn’t give the government carte blanche in how it responds to demonstrators.”

In written statements released March 2, HRW questioned whether the use of force by Armenian security troops on March 1 was disproportionate to the threat to public order. “Armenian police used excessive force and violence to disperse demonstrators protesting peacefully against recent election results,” said one HRW statement.

The European Union on Monday called on Armenia to lift a state of emergency and free the opposition leader from house arrest and demonstrators detained by police after deadly weekend riots.

"I urge the Armenian government to lift the state of emergency declared on March 1," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

"I also call on the Armenian authorities to lift any restrictions on free movement for former presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian and to release any citizens detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly," she said.

Elections were held in Armenia on February 19. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian was declared the winner, and the successor to political ally outgoing President Robert Kocharian. Immediately supporters of opposition leader former president Levon Ter-Petrosian erupted, saying the elections had been rigged to ensure Sarkisian would succeed Kocharian.

Close to 400 observers, including some 75 parliamentarians, monitored the elections for the OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), and the European Parliament (EP). The International Election Observation Mission said, "...presidential election in Armenia was conducted mostly in line with the country’s international commitments, although further improvements are necessary to address remaining challenges.”

I regret not having more personal knowledge of the politics of Armenia. If you do, please send me something.

The following is from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

Eyewitnesses Tell of Violence, Shootings
Amidst a virtual media blackout, witnesses tell their own stories of street fighting in Yerevan.

Armenia is under a virtual news blackout because of the state of emergency imposed in Yerevan on March 1, which placed tight restrictions on local media.

As people struggle to form a clear picture of the violence that has shaken the Armenian capital, rumours are circulating rapidly.

Amid the rumour and half-truths, several direct witnesses have given accounts of what they saw to IWPR.

Yerevan residents have resorted to telephoning one another or coming out onto the streets to swap information. Taxi drivers, in particular, have become a good source of “alternative news”.

Internet providers have all but shut down access to two independent sources of information – the websites of Radio Liberty and A1+ television.

Much of the video footage shot during the protests was confiscated by police, but some is being released on the internet, as Armenians exchange information on sites such as Youtube and Facebook.

Rumours that the number of dead was not eight – as officials say - but 40 or even 100 have fuelled anger among opposition supporters already infuriated by official television reports that placed all the blame on the protestors.

Eyewitnesses who observed clashes at various points in the day on March have told IWPR of running battles and police violence.

When the trouble began early on March 1, as the opposition’s tent city on Freedom Square was broken up and protestors were rounded up., one young woman named Suzie managed to capture on film footage in which ten policemen attacked and kicked a man.

Later in the day, another clash took place close to the French embassy and the office of Yerevan’s mayor. A foreigner living in Yerevan, who asked not to be named, told IWPR he observed the ensuing confrontation, and alleged that men armed with rifles deliberately fired on civilians.

“I was on a balcony overlooking the epicentre of the battle last night. I was within 10 metres of the entire fight,” he said.

“There were special-forces snipers with black ski-masks mixed in with the young, scared policemen, who were not masked. While the police shot tracers into the air, these riflemen directly aimed at and shot protesters. I saw two men fall on the ground below me, one with a massive haemorrhage to his head. He was unconscious and carried off by other protesters.”

At the start of the police action against the crowd assembled near the embassy building, he said, “I saw a police captain and his lieutenants drinking in celebration as they sent the first attack of terrified, ill-trained riot police to the front.”

As the police moved in, they set fire to a barricade that protesters had erected near the embassy. “Protesters lobbed fire back onto the streets and counter-charged. The police then panicked, and some were wounded in the melee, mostly from their own [colleagues] also trying to get away from the fight. I saw several police limp back, but none were bloody,” said the eyewitness, adding, “This is when I saw masked soldiers take aim and fire directly at the protesters.”

The eyewitness said the demonstrators had only makeshift weapons - rocks and metal bars. “A few had Molotov cocktails, but most simply took tear gas canisters and whatever police used to send fire into the protesters [and threw them] back,” he said.

In the second police charge, he said, the police brought in water-cannon trucks, but used them “ineptly”, running out of water before they reached the protesters.

The security forces then retreated again. “This is when the protesters began to give chase, chasing riot police and the water-cannon trucks all the way to Proshian and the Hrazdan gorge,” said the eyewitness.

He gave his own account of the looting incidents that followed, which have been widely reported in the media. He said protestors seemed to target only the security forces and those businesses whose owners were seen as close to the current government.

“Some elements broke into supermarkets owned by oligarchs and deputies of parliament who are widely seen to be among the most corrupt officials in the country,” he said. “This is the remarkable thing that occurred – they targeted only two oligarch supermarkets, one candy store, one high-scale shoe shop and a few windows. That's it. They did not touch a single other shop on the street.”

The same applied to vehicles, he continued, claiming, “The only cars torched were military or police vehicles. Fighting went back and forth in front of me and there were five cars unfortunately parked on the street by people living in the building, but there was not a scratch on them.”