International news briefs: Basque talks; Zimbabwe protests


Spain considers Basque talks

The British Financial Times reported on November 4 that Spain's conservative Prime Minister José Maria Aznar had bent to pressure following the Basque regional elections, and given approval to government officials to begin "exploratory" talks with "people close to ETA". ETA is the armed national liberation group fighting for Basque self-determination.

Popular Party government spokesperson Josep Piqui refused to spell out when, where and with whom the talks might take place. Despite the lack of detail, the opposition Socialist Party condemned the government's move towards talks.

Meanwhile, Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the left-wing Basque pro-independence party, Herri Batasuna, rejected a report in the right-wing Spanish daily ABC that said HB would negotiate on behalf of ETA.

Otegi described the reported move by the government as a "positive change of attitude" but added, "If the government wants to talk to Herri Batasuna, let it do so. If it wants to talk to ETA, then it should talk to ETA. We are not going to represent ETA in any manner or in any talks."

"Officials view the [regional] election results, which gave a near record score of almost 18% of the vote to ETA's political allies, Euskal Herritarrok, as strengthening the hand of ETA leaders who decided on the [September 17 open-ended] cease-fire", reported the Financial Times' Madrid correspondent, David White.

Zimbabwe protests

Spontaneous protests by thousands of angry commuters, taxi operators and young people erupted in the townships around Zimbabwe's major cities, Harare and Bulawayo, on November 4. The protests were over the sudden increase in diesel and petrol prices and the subsequent doubling of bus and taxi fares.

Youths and taxi owners attempted to enforce a boycott of buses and taxis by erecting burning barricades and throwing rocks at buses and taxis that continued to operate.

The government ordered thousands of heavily armed troops into the streets to control the protests. At least 120 people were arrested in Harare and 27 in Bulawayo.

A protest march was dispersed by troops after the mainly young people chanted: "We are fed up with ZANU-PF" and voiced opposition to Zimbabwe's participation in the Congo civil war. The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front is the ruling party led by President Robert Mugabe.

The government approved a 70% increase in petrol prices and 350% increase in kerosene prices on November 3. Bus and taxi fares were doubled on November 4. In the past month, mealie (corn) meal — the staple food of most Zimbabweans — has risen 43% and bread by 35%. Meat and milk prices have also been raised.

While people are facing price rises and increased austerity, the government is spending more than US$1 million a day to support its 3000-plus troops in the DRC.

Police on November 3 broke up a peaceful antiwar march in Harare. "It was a sad day for democracy", said Tendai Biti, a lawyer and human rights activist. "We were manhandled and our march muzzled by the police without any authority of any statute."

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