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The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday regarding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held in Coolum, in Queensland, Australia, from March 1-4.
In his statement Tony Blair found it difficult to hide the fact that the CHOGM had been a setback for Britains aims. The discussion on the political situation in Zimbabwe, the major item on the agenda in Australia ahead of this weekends general election in that country, did not go according to the plans of the British government. Tony Blair had demanded that Zimbabwe be suspended from the Commonwealth, because the government of that country is allegedly violating "core Commonwealth values". In other words, it is not allowing the British government to determine how it runs its internal affairs and refusing to adopt those Eurocentric values which the British government and others are attempting to dictate. But the majority of the other members of the Commonwealth at the CHOGM, mainly former British colonies, took a different view and refused to accept the bullying and pressure exerted by the British government
What is clear from Tony Blairs statement is that he and the British government are continuing to act as the colonial overlords, not just threatening and abusing the president and government of Zimbabwe but also demanding that the other member states of the Commonwealth stop "fudging" and adopt the British governments reactionary position. The Prime Minister is claiming that "the credibility of the Commonwealth itself is at stake" and is demanding that action against Zimbabwe must be taken if the Commonwealth observers monitoring elections this weekend "find widespread evidence of intimidation and violence". What is also clear, is that the government only considers that the "credibility" of the neo-colonial Commonwealth is at stake when it is not able to bully and dictate to those countries which were Britains former colonies.
It should not be forgotten that for much of the twentieth century Britain was the colonial ruler of Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was formerly known, and responsible for the savage exploitation of the peoples and resources of that part of Africa, especially the most fertile land which was confiscated for the benefit of a few thousand colonial settlers. The people of Zimbabwe only managed to gain their independence and sovereignty after many years of armed struggle in 1980. But the British government refuses to accept its obligations to financially assist land redistribution in Zimbabwe, as set out under the terms of the Lancaster House agreement of 1980, and as Tony Blair made evident in his statement yesterday, even denies that land is in any way a significant issue. At the same time in recent years the government has continually interfered in the political and economic affairs of Zimbabwe as if it is still the colonial power in that country. It has openly supported the political opposition to the present Zimbabwean government, through the Westminster Foundation and by other means, so as to create the very conditions of instability that it now condemns. In Australia the Prime Minster even went as far as to suggest that if the current president of Zimbabwe refused to accept that his rival had won the election then the Commonwealth should intervene. The British government has attempted to create a situation in Zimbabwe that it can use to its own advantage, in the context of imposing its own Eurocentric values, not only on Zimbabwe but more widely throughout Africa and elsewhere, but it found itself almost totally isolated at the CHOGM.
The CHOGM Statement on Zimbabwe did in fact call for an end to all violence from "all parties" in the run up to the Zimbabwean election. It established a "troika" of the heads of government of South Africa, Nigeria and Australia to consider and determine further appropriate action in regard to Zimbabwe if the forthcoming election is not considered "free and fair". However, the Statement reaffirmed the view "that land is at the core of crisis in Zimbabwe" and pledged that the Commonwealth "will be ready to assist Zimbabwe to address the land issue and to help in its economic recovery in co-operation with other international agencies.
What was evident at the CHOGM was that the poorer countries in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere refused to accept the diktat of Britain and its handful of allies amongst the richer countries. The delegate from Tanzania, for example, spoke of his satisfaction that the poorer countries had been able to withstand a "bombardment for an alliance against Mugabe", while other countries criticised Britains bullying tactics before and during the CHOGM. The Zimbabwean Minster for Information declared the CHOGGM had sent a clear message that "the recolonisation of Africa is not on the cards, and if it is, it will not start it Zimbabwe we will not allow it".
WDIE condemns British government for its blatant interference in Zimbabwes affairs, for its machinations within the anachronistic Commonwealth and for its attempts to impose those values which further the interests of the big monopolies and financial institutions in Africa and throughout the world.
Both sides in the ScotRail pay dispute pledged on Wednesday night to persevere with peace talks after bad weather intensified travel chaos caused by a second 24-hour stoppage by train drivers. ScotRail is expected to consider new proposals by the unions for ending the impasse when talks resume today at the arbitration service ACAS.
CBI Scotland, called for two further strikes planned for next Monday, and Tuesday 19 March, to be called off.
ScotRail and ASLEF and RMT, who met separately with ACAS officials on Tuesday, said they would continue talks into the weekend, if necessary, in a bid to find a solution.
The unions, who represent ScotRails 750 drivers, have rejected a 16.5 per cent offer that would increase basic pay to almost £27,000. Drivers are seeking parity with colleagues at other train operators and unions said the increase was tied to unacceptable changes in conditions, such as cuts in sick pay and holidays.
Meanwhile, ministers have again rebuffed calls from the Scottish National Party to intervene.
An ACAS statement, issued after Tuesdays talks in Glasgow between ScotRail and the unions, ASLEF and the RMT, said: "No settlement was reached and both sides have agreed to resume talks again on Thursday."
Kevin Lindsay, the Scottish district secretary for the train drivers union, ASLEF, said: "Im reasonably disappointed in ScotRails attitude, but then I shouldnt be surprised."
The ScotRail deal included a host of measures to increase flexibility and productivity, such as reducing the number of bank holiday payments to five and losing pay for the first two days of sickness in order to curb absentee rates. The company said the deal would remove archaic practices that amount to perks.
According to a report in The Times today, Tony Blair is preparing to renege on promises to public service workers in an attempt to "keep business on board" regarding the governments policy of private provision of public services.
Cabinet papers passed to The Times show that Downing Street is seeking to reverse concessions offered last autumn when the government was trying to quell a union revolt on public service reforms.
The newspaper report points out that Tony Blair remains wedded to his "Third Way" policy of contracting out services and Public-Private Partnerships in health, education, local government and transport. He is understood to be concerned that concessions to appease unions will deter firms from making public sector deals.
The latest leaked document recommends that business leaders proposals for a "code of practice" should be adopted. This would ensure that council contractors offered new employees "fair and reasonable" terms while still being able to set flexible rates and conditions.
It also says that the government should scrap Patricia Hewitts proposals for including occupational pensions in regulations protecting contracted-out workers. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, announced a review of transfer undertaking protection of employment (Tupe) regulations in September, saying they were not properly protecting workers already contracted out to the private sector. She promised to strengthen pension rights for workers transferred from one firm to another.
At the moment pensions are excluded from the Tupe regulations, but government guidance says that public sector workers whose jobs are contracted out should be offered a "broadly comparable" scheme. Patricia Hewitt acknowledged that unions were right to be concerned about workers who already have private sector employers who could find themselves in a "significantly worse position" after being transferred to another company, not least because of the lack of protection for pensions.
However, the leaked policy document says: "In order to keep business on board, ministers might think it preferable not to extend the Tupe regulations but to maintain the current system. It recommends that Tupe should "not be extended to cover pensions" and suggests only minor changes to ensure that existing guidance is enforced properly.
Unions have complained that protection offered by Tupe is eroded by employers who offer lower pay to new staff. However, the leaked document says the unions demand for recruits to be treated "no less favourably" than transferred workers "would seriously lessen the degree of flexibility that contractors would have to make improvements". It adds: "Any action to limit the ability of private contractors to introduce flexibility will tend to diminish the benefits of outsourcing and PPPs. It will also raise costs for the public sector as contractors price in the lack of flexibility."
The document shows that lobbying by employers organisations has persuaded Downing Street to support CBI proposals for an enforceable code of practice under which new recruits are given "fair and reasonable" terms but still allow firms to offer staff different pay and conditions. It says that this "would not satisfy the unions", but suggests that they could be mollified if employers were by a concession in which employers would be required to consult them on such terms without "going so far as to give them negotiating rights".
John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union said, "Downing Street is stabbing millions of workers in the back. Ministers gave a clear guarantee that workers rights would be protected and two-tier workforces abolished. This document exposes this as a cruel deception."
The document exposes that the government on behalf of big business does not recognise any rights for workers, but only grants certain concessions, which can be reneged on and removed when it considers expedient. It underlines that workers must affirm their rights and insist that the right to a livelihood be given a legal guarantee. Workers must not be deflected from fighting for their interests against their exploitation, and must step up their struggle to build the opposition to the "Third Way" programme of New Labour.
A leading US Senator said on March 3 that US action against Iraq might begin without notification to Congress so as to allow President George W Bush to employ an element of surprise on the country's leadership.
The United States "will get a second Vietnam" if it dares attack Iraq, Vice-Premier Tariq Aziz warmed on Monday. He said that the Iraqi people would fight to the last ditch and that the US aggression would not yield the desired results to the White House administration.
The influential Iraqi newspaper Babil said on Monday that it expected a US strike in May, because US companies were storing oil until then to form a reserve. "Iraq is now the biggest strategic oil stockpile for the future. This requires the reckless US administration to take care and deal with our country in more civilised manner that secures both countries' interests," the paper said.
US Vice President Dick Cheney is due to meet Tony Blair in London next week, when Iraq will top the agenda, a British government source said on Monday. Cheney will also visit the Middle East this month on an 11-nation trip.
The contention as to whether the US or the big European powers control the fate of Europe, including the Balkans, and look to link up towards the East, through Central Asia, continues to simmer.
The Romanian Foreign Minister, Mircea Geoana, told Romanian radio after meeting President Vaclav Havel in Prague on March 5 that Havel is now backing a NATO extension formula that would include seven countries. Geoana added that Havel is now "placing his entire moral and political authority, his symbolic personality" at the service of an expansion that would include Romania and Bulgaria. Meeting later in Bratislava with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan, Geoana said a meeting in Bucharest later this month of all NATO candidate countries should "demonstrate unity and solidarity" ahead of the organisations summit. Both ministers said they believe their own country will be invited to join.
During a news conference on March 4, Geoana Romania's efforts to join NATO later this year. At a summit scheduled for November in Prague, NATO is expected to proceed with its first expansion wave since 1997, when it invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance. At that time, Romania together with Slovenia was nominated as a front-runner for a possible second wave of enlargement. But since then, Romania has lost ground in favour of other candidates. Analysts now see Slovenia, Slovakia, and the three Baltic countries Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia as the favourites to gain membership. The remaining three candidates are Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Romania, which has also been left out of the European Union's anticipated 2004 expansion due to its failure to achieve required economic and institutional reforms, has now launched a diplomatic offensive to secure an invitation to join the 19-member military alliance.
At the same time, Czech Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik had visited London on March 4-5 to discuss with Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon co-operation in the "Coalition" against "global terrorism".
However, the president of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, Gil Carlos Rodriguez Iglesias, urged Romanian officials on March 4 to intensify efforts to harmonise laws with those of the EU. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase reiterated Romania's readiness to comply, citing the recently prepared proposal for constitutional amendments.
In a bid to increase its chances for NATO membership, Romania reportedly will buy two British frigates that meet all NATO standards. The daily Ziua, quoted by Mediapool, says negotiations began last summer, with an eye to turning Romania into a prominent naval force in the Black Sea region.
The chairman of the US Committee on NATO Enlargement, Bruce Jackson, said on March 2 that only the simultaneous entry of Romania and Bulgaria would make strategic sense, especially with the support of their neighbouring NATO members Turkey and Greece. Jackson was on a three-day visit to Sofia.
On Friday meanwhile, NATO chief George Robertson said that "NATO will continue to support the reforms in Albania and efforts towards consolidation into democratic institutions". He said that speeding up the process of meeting NATO standards should be a priority.
Control of the Balkans
Plans by some EU officials particularly from France and Spain to take over peacekeeping in Macedonia from NATO have come in for sharp criticism from the Atlantic alliance. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior NATO official said: "What is the chain of command for the European Union? There isn't one, and no one has come up with one... Without a well thought-out chain of command and procedures, I would strongly recommend against it." Earlier, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's office said: "There would be a real risk that the EU's first mission would end in failure or rescue by a re-engaged NATO." On March 6, the Financial Times quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as noting that the current NATO peacekeeping operation Amber Fox is integrated into KFOR's supply networks and asked: "What will happen if the EU takes over? Will it have separate supply lines? ..That would be crazy."
The Vienna daily Die Presse reported on March 6 that it is unclear how the EU would fund any peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. There is no money budgeted for such a large-scale project. The same daily also reported on a conference of EU Social Democrats in Brussels, where speakers frequently juxtaposed the EU to the United States. One German member of the European Parliament added that the real "clash of civilisations...is between Europe and America."
The British government has denied reports of cabinet divisions over the deployment of British troops to Macedonia. Leaked documents indicate that while Ministry of Defence officials and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon have warned against the use of British troops in an EU-led peace-keeping mission, the Foreign Office has argued that Britain could be left isolated if it fails to take part. However, Downing Street has signalled that the troops may form part of the mission despite defence chiefs' warnings that it may end in failure.
The NATO force in Macedonia is currently due to leave in June and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana wants an EU force to take its place.
Tony Blair was warned of the dangers of a force assembled under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in a letter from Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's office. "Military advice is that the fledgling ESDP mechanism is not ready to undertake an operation of this magnitude and risk," says the letter. "The defence and intelligence staff assess that there are already indications that the situation in Macedonia my well deteriorate. While international troops are unlikely to be deliberately targeted, they could easily be caught in the crossfire. There would be a real risk that the EU's first mission would end in failure or rescue by a re-engaged Nato, which would be disastrous in presentational terms."
However, the Prime Minister was also told there was a "strong" political case to take part in a note from officials in Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's office. And it was too early to say whether Britain might take part if the NATO mandate was not renewed in June and an EU force was sent in, the Prime Ministers Official Spokesman said.
On March 3, the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina launched a transportation operation through the Croatian port of Rijeka, unloading 30 helicopters, 50 tanks and other military vehicles and containers. A US infantry division will replace SFOR units in Tuzla, northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Moscow, a round of negotiations between NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenther Altenburg and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov held on March 4 yielded no results, it was reported. Both sides acknowledged considerable difficulties in working out a new framework for Russia-NATO co-operation according to the proposed "19+1" formula, and will likely not be able to overcome those issues before NATO's spring session in Reykjavik in May. Meanwhile, Chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin told Moskovskaya Pravda on March 5 that NATO military exercises and the alliance's long-standing plans continue to view "Russia, Belarus, and the other CIS countries as potential adversaries, and that means that there is nothing to talk about [with NATO.]"
It was also reported on March 6 that top EUCOM (U.S. European Command) officials are working with the Pentagon on reviewing the Unified Command Plan. Department of Defence officials said the plan includes drawing Russia into EUCOM's area of responsibility for the first time.
Russia, meanwhile, is angry over the likely deployment of 200 US troops in Georgia. Washington says it is considering sending the troops to train security forces in Georgia to battle "terrorists". Some US officials have alleged that refugees in bordering on Chechnya have have ties with the al-Qaida network.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told his US counterpart, Colin Powell, that Washington should "take into account" Russia's "well-founded concerns that the direct involvement of American troops in anti-terrorist activities on Georgian territory could further complicate the situation in the region."
As part of an expanded effort to mount proxy fights in more than half a dozen countries, the Bush administration is preparing to provide US military advisors, weapons and special training to governments in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa over the next six months, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
The administration has sought a 27 percent funding increase for a programme to bolster militaries in other countries. The expanded effort is designed to allow the US to more directly use other nations' armed forces to strike at "terrorists" who threaten American interests.
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