News briefs: Cuba, Kurdistan, Nigeria
US Senate votes to ease Cuba blockade
On March 23, pressure from US farmers, agribusiness and politicians representing "farm states" convinced the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote to allow greater sales of US food and medicine to Cuba, easing a four-decade-long US economic blockade against Cuba.
While the committee approved legislation to allow food and medicine exports, it continues to bar the use of US export credits. This will limit exports to what Cuba can directly pay for. Cuba spends about US$1 billion a year on food imports.
Last year, senators voted 70-28 in a similar vote, but the legislation was not passed by Congress. In the past year, the US eased restrictions on food sales to Iran, Libya and Sudan. US farming industry interests have turned their attention to Cuba in the hope of bolstering weak grain and soybean prices.
Kurdish leader faces second jail term
A Turkish state security court on March 21 began a new case against the head the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HADEP). HADEP chairperson Ahmet Turan Demir and 17 other party members were each sentenced to 45 months' jail on February 24 for participating in protests after the kidnapping of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, last year.
The new charges against Demir stem from a speech he made last October, in which the Turkish authorities claim he said: "[The people of Czechoslovakia] ... split up [into two separate countries] without a quarrel. The problem here must be resolved in this way." Demir faces a further three years in jail if found guilty of engaging in "separatist propaganda".
Police can shoot to kill
Nigeria's government is to create a new police unit authorised to shoot on sight "vandals" who interfere with oil pipelines and facilities, police and state oil company officials revealed on March 22.
The unit is being drawn from the dreaded Secret Security Service and will be subsidised by the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which oversees the country's oil production and is involved in many joint-venture operations with Western oil companies.
"Deliberate action is necessary to send a strong message", Ndu Ughamadu, an NNPC spokesperson, said. "We've tried everything else. It is time to get tough. Shoot them on sight is the necessary response."