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Turkey : Setback for Erdogan

THE outcome of the general election in Turkey has ended the dominance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) preaching Islamist fundamentalist views. It has derailed President Erdogan’s plans to consolidate his power. Though Erdogan, after winning the presidential election last year had won the supposedly non-partisan presidency, he had heavily campaigned for the ruling party that he helped found, even after technically quitting it. He built his campaign around the promise of transferring power from Parliament to the President’s office, claiming that the move would make Turkey more powerful and administratively efficient.

The AKP aimed for at least 330 seats, but can get around 250 only for the 41% votes it obtained, as elections are held based on proportional representation. But the AKP failed to get even a simple majority, for the first time in 13 years. In order to stay in power, the AKP will have to either form a minority government, or enter into an alliance with its rivals.

The AKP’s Islamist leanings directly appealed to the conservative constituency, which was historically sidelined from power by a secular Turkey. A number of factors, including his dictatorial tendencies, slowing down of economy, rising inflation and unemployment, corruption, and fears that Erdogan was becoming another ‘dictator’, strengthened the liberal-secular opposition to the AKP. This triggered street battles in Istanbul between protesters and the security forces.

Smaller parties such as the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were emboldened to counter the AKP on a broader ideological plank. The PDP, which projected itself as a secular, left-of-centre political outfit, surpassed for the first time the 10 per cent threshold needed to enter Parliament, securing 80 seats. This will give the country’s 18-million strong Kurdish minority a platform to push for its political cause and counter the AKP’s attacks on secular traditions. The choice before the people was whether to vote for a-dictatorial presidential system with Islamist characteristics or stand firm for parliamentary democracy despite its shortcomings. They have gone for the latter.
WE were invited to Qatar by the prime minister's office to see new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers in early May - but while gathering additional material for our report, we ended up being thrown into prison for doing our jobs.

Our arrest was dramatic. We were on a quiet stretch of road in the capital, Doha, on our way to film a group of workers from Nepal. The working and housing conditions of migrant workers constructing new buildings in Qatar ahead of the World Cup have been heavily criticised and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Suddenly, eight white cars surrounded our vehicle and directed us on to a side road at speed.

A dozen security officers frisked us in the street, shouting at us when we tried to talk. They took away our equipment and hard drives and drove us to their headquarters. Later, in the city's main police station, the cameraman, translator, driver and I were interrogated separately by intelligence officers. The questioning was hostile. We were never accused of anything directly, instead they asked over and over what we had done and who we had met.

During a pause in proceedings, one officer whispered that I couldn't make a phone call to let people know where we were. He explained that our detention was being dealt with as a matter of national security. An hour into my grilling, one of the interrogators brought out a paper folder of photographs which proved they had been trailing me in cars and on foot for two days since the moment I'd arrived. I was shown pictures of myself and the team standing in the street, at a coffee shop, on board a bus and even lying next to a swimming pool with friends. It was a shock. I had never suspected I was being tailed.

At 01:00, we were taken to the local prison. It was meant to be the first day of our PR tour but instead we were later handcuffed and taken to be questioned for a second time, at the department of public prosecutions.

Qatari government statement, 18 May: "The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see - first-hand - some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages. Perhaps anticipating that the government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained."

BBC response: "We are pleased that the BBC team has been released but we deplore the fact that they were detained in the first place. Their presence in Qatar was no secret and they were engaged in a perfectly proper piece of journalism. The Qatari authorities have made a series of conflicting allegations to justify the detention, all of which the team rejects. We are pressing the Qatari authorities for a full explanation and for the return of the confiscated equipment."

I began my second night in prison on a disgusting soiled mattress. At least we did not go hungry, as we had the previous day. One of the guards took pity on us and sent out for roast chicken with rice.

In the early hours of the next morning, just as suddenly as we were arrested, we were released. Bizarrely, we were allowed to join the organised press trip for which we had come. It was as if nothing had happened, despite the fact that our kit was still impounded, and we were banned from leaving the country.

I can only report on what has happened now that our travel ban has been lifted. No charges were brought, but our belongings have still not been returned. Other journalists and activists, including a German TV crew, have also recently been detained.

How the country handles the media, as it prepares to host one of the world's most watched sporting events, is now also becoming a concern. Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International's Gulf migrant rights researcher, told us the detentions of journalists and activists could be attempts "to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar".

Qatar, the world's richest country for its population size of little more than two million people, is pouring money into trying to improve its reputation for allowing poor living standards for low-skilled workers to persist. A highly respected London-based PR firm, Portland Communications, now courts international journalists. On the day we left prison, it showed us spacious and comfortable villas for construction workers, with swimming pools, gyms and welfare officers. This was part of the showcase tour of workers' accommodation, and it was organised by the prime minister's office. Qatar's World Cup Organising Committee, which answers to Fifa, was helping to run the tour.

Following our detention, the minister of labour agreed to talk to us on camera about how the media can cover what human rights campaigners have identified as "forced labour" within his country. "Qatar is an open country forever, since ever," Abdullah al-Khulaifi said. "The shortcomings that I am facing, the problems I am facing, I cannot hide. Qatar is open and now with the smartphones, everyone is a journalist," he said. He said the negative coverage of migrant workers' conditions was wildly overblown and that much progress had been made to improve basic conditions for migrant workers.

The government has implemented a wage protection scheme. It says at least 450 companies have been banned from working in the country and more than $6m (£3.8m) of fines have been handed out to firms mistreating workers, and the number of inspectors has been doubled.

But change has not come easily in what one security guard privately described to me as a country with surveillance officers everywhere. Without trade unions or a free media, bosses of large domestic and international companies have little incentive to radically improve conditions for well over a million labourers desperate for money.

Before we were detained, I met an 18-year-old mechanic, one of the 400,000 Nepalese workers there. He said he wanted to support his older brothers because his father had died and the family was struggling financially. He paid a recruitment agency in Nepal $600 to arrange his visa to work in Qatar and was told he would earn $300 a month. When he arrived he was told his salary, as a labour camp cleaner for air conditioning mechanics, was in fact $165 a month. He said he has never been given a copy of the contract he signed. Worse still, he said he could not understand it as it was in English.

It's a very common trick that foreign recruitment agents play before workers even get to Qatar, and very difficult for Qatar itself to police, although it says it is trying. This young man now finds himself at the mercy of Qatar's restrictive kafala system, which prevents workers from changing jobs for five years. Being tied to an employer in that way can leave migrant workers open to exploitation.

But as Qatar's World Cup approaches, the focus on migrant labour is only likely to increase.

(Mark Lobel, Reproduced from BBC News, Doha, 18 May, 2015)
THE 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup will kill more Indians than the number of players it will host. This is what Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation said last year, when news of Qatari human rights violations made headlines. A thousand Indians had already died, and a year later, we've only rescued Indians from the Gulf country when bombs fell, but ignored the darker, hidden world of Indian migrants in these nations.

In 2013, a Doha hospital reported that over a 1,000 workers were admitted to the trauma unit because of falling from heights, and a "significant" number of them died. Working 12 hours a day in 50 degree heat, without enough water, make for fatal working conditions. Many reported having lower salaries (which were rarely or never paid), having their passports taken away, and working seven days a week. Often there's no written proof of employment terms. This is the Kafala system, which forces migrant workers to depend on their sponsors for pretty much everything. Seizing their passport and visa, these sponsors conveniently terminate the possibility of workers escaping. As the 2022 deadline for the World Cup approaches, and there is an influx of migrant labourers to build facilities for the tournament, things are getting worse.

Migrant workers live in overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning (a necessity in the scorching heat of the Middle East), and are exposed to overflowing sewage and uncovered septic tanks. Many are dumped and forgotten in squalid accommodations by companies who promised them a better life.

Some excerpts from an International Trade Union Confederation Case study: "For three months, I and 15 others who arrived together were forced to sleep on the floor on a thin mattress. We complained to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee about this and were moved into another accommodation. But even now eight people share one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty-five people share a kitchen... The kitchen is not hygienic, the bedrooms are crowded, the drainage in the showers is clogged up and most importantly there is no safety equipment or emergency exits in the building, which puts our lives under serious risk."

The Indian embassy reported that 237 Indians died in Qatar in 2012, and 191 in 2013 - many from "unnatural" heart failure. The year before, 169 Nepalese had died here. If they don't die, many will kill themselves, due to mounting debts and not being able to return home.

Despite the high death count of Indian labourers in Qatar, the Indian embassy in Qatar says that it is "quite normal", according to Amnesty International. Nikhil Eapen, Spokesperson, Amnesty International India, had written last year on their website about the government's aloof stance: "Instead of simply saying that such deaths are normal, the Indian government should provide clearer and more transparent information because at this point, we are unable to say how these deaths took place - whether on construction sites, in labour camps, road accidents or as a result of natural causes."

Or is there an ulterior motive? In December last year, Prince of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani had spoken about committing 1 lakh crore rupees to Modi's goal of 'smart cities'. With such a massive investment, maybe the government has chosen to sideline what may seem like a handful of Indians, for the bigger deal.

(Source: indiatimes May 15, 2015)
CONTRARY to widespread predictions of a fractured mandate, following a hectic election campaign, the Conservative party of Britain has won a clear majority in the 650 strong House of Commons. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives had 331, Labour 232, the Scottish National Party (SNP) 56 and the Liberal Democrats 8. In practice 323 Members of Parliament is the number needed to form a majority government.Though there was strong criticism against the continuous cutting down of welfare policies under the Conservative regime the opposition Labor or other splinter parties could not put forward any radical alternative to the neo-liberal policies of David Cameron. Though the SNP,which is for a separation of Scotland from Britain,won 56 out of the 59 seats in that region, on economic policies it too does not having any basic difference with Cameron, except his call for a referendum in 2017 on whether to continue in the European Union or not. If Britain decides to quit EU, the SNP shall press for another referendum and opt for separation. The much splintered left groups could not articulate the people's anger against the ruling system.

In a way the British election results show a shift to further rightist policies under Cameron with the support of 37% votes. It also hints at Britain getting further splintered soon. Financial markets responded gleefully to news of a Conservative win – which lifted the Labour threat of higher corporate and personal taxes for the City of London, along with more stringent regulation.The Tories are planning to cut welfare spending and introduce new powers to spy on the general public.

However, soon after the Tory victory was announced Britain erupted in angry protests. One of the demands of the protesters was the introduction of proportional representation in place of the first-past-the-post system.The Tories won a majority despite polling only 37% of the votes from those who turned out to have their say. On the other hand the Greens, who polled over 1 million votes, have just one seat to show for itunder Britain's winner-take-all voting system.

Several hundred protesters gathered in Westminster and marched through Central London two days after the 2015 General Election in protest of the new David Cameron Government. They carried posters and placards bemoaning the cuts that Cameron is expected to continue pushing through. Anti-austerity protesters staged a demonstration outside Downing Street after the announcement of the Conservative victory. Dozens of activists chanted "get the Tories out" as Whitehall – a road in Central London which is the main thoroughfare running towards Parliament Square and which houses most of the Government buildings – was shut for several hours during the demonstration.
IN a chilling reminder that religious intolerance, fundamentalism and fascistic tendencies are on a rise all over the globe, secular Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death in the city of Sylhet in an attack by four men wielding machetes on May 12 May. The killing took place in broad daylight when Das was on his way to work in a local bank. Das's killing is part of a gory pattern as he is the third Bangladeshi blogger committed to rationalism and secularism to be murdered this year. Bloggers Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy were murdered in similar attacks in Bangladesh in March and February respectively.

A banker by profession, Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website founded by Avijit Roy. Roy remained one of the eight moderators of Mukto-Mona till his murder. The site had published death threats that progressive Bangladeshi author Humayun Azad received before he was assassinated. Das was also an activist for the Gono Jogoron Moncho (Peoples' Awakening Forum) movement that is campaigning for a secular Bangladesh.

Death threats to secular bloggers are on the rise in Bangladesh. A few years back, hardline Islamists demanded a blasphemy law to stop bloggers they perceive to be anti-Islamic from writing about Islam. Secular forces in Bangladesh say that their views are under threat. Militant Islamic groups have published atheist blogger hit-lists. Last year, the group Ansar al Islam Bangladesh (also called Ansarullah Bangla Team)posted a "hit list"of writers seen as opponents of Islam, the advocacy group 'Reporters Without Borders' reported. Among the killingsfor which the group claimed responsibility was the 2013 fatal attack on Rajib Haider, an activist who called for harsh punishments of Islamists who committed atrocities during the country's 1971 liberation war. The same group is thought to be behind the attack on Roy and Das.

The killing has set off a storm of criticism against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with noted author Taslima Nasreen saying people had "given up any expectation" that she would act against the killers.

Avenging a Failed Coup D’état

New Democracy 55, Organ of New Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party of Sri Lanka ON 9TH MARCH 2015, US President Obama issued an Executive Order declaring a national emergency affirming that the situation in Venezuela poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Obama has thus confirmed that all US moves thus far in Venezuela have been driven by US imperialist interests. The recent desperate move indicates that a large-scale military attack is the only avenue left for the US to achieve a regime change in Venezuela, after thirteen years of subversion, waste of millions of dollars on a pro-coup opposition incapable of winning elections, instigation of destabilizing violence, generation of disruptive shortages, promotion of smuggling of goods across the Colombia border, and pressure on the currency. An overview of US intervention in Venezuela is useful at this stage. President Chavez’s rejection of the US demand that Venezuela supports its “war on terrorism” won worldwide support. The US reacted by organizing and backing a military-business coup on 12th April 2002 which was soon overcome by a mass uprising backed by constitutionalist armed forces. The US followed it with backing for an executive lockout in the oil industry from December 2002 to February 2003 aimed to bring down the government but was defeated by the workers and engineers. In 2004, the US unsuccessfully conspired to bring down Chavez through a referendum, organized by NGOs funded by the subversive agency “National Endowment for Democracy”. This was followed by an unsuccessful US backed boycott of Congressional elections in 2005. Chavez got re-elected in 2006, humiliating the US-backed candidate. However, in 2007 a US backed coalition secured a victory by narrowly defeating constitutional amendments aimed at socializing the economy. But Chavez reversed the setback in 2009 by winning a referendum on constitutional amendments including the abolition of term limits, and got re-elected for a fourth term in 2012 against a US financed candidate. Following Chavez’s death in 2013 Chavez’s selected candidate Nicolás Maduro was elected President defeating Obama’s favourite. The opposition and the US challenged the result for many months after the rest of the world accepted it. Repeated electoral defeats persuaded US political strategists to resort to violent, unconstitutional means. The progressive domestic policy of the Government of Venezuela and its foreign policy opposing US domination of regional political bodies such as the OAS and US military missions in Latin America made Venezuela a key target for regime change. Venezuela played a leading role in promoting organizations that encouraged Latin American and Caribbean integration to the exclusion of the US and Canada. Petro-Caribe, a Venezuelan sponsored trade and investment organization to benefit Caribbean and Central America countries excluded the US and Canada. The regional political organization UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) effectively sidelined the US dominated OAS and includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Venezuela also joined MERCOSUR, a free trade organization which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. These moves made the Chavista regime a barrier to the political dominance of the US in Latin America. Also Venezuela’s strong political and economic ties with Cuba helped to weaken the aggressive stand of the US towards Cuba. Venezuela played a leading role in opposing US imperialist meddling and aggression in many instances including the US backing of the coups in Haiti and Honduras and US-led invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Its strengthening of trade ties with Iran in defiance of US sanctions, set it on a collision course with US plans of a global empire. US imperialism has always concocted lies to justify its brutal invasions. Demonizing the victim has been necessary to make the invasion more palatable during the build-up to and early stages of the invasion, although it has not taken long to expose the lies after the event. The motivation for the present threat against Venezuela arises from the pathetic failure of US policy, firstly to stop Maduro from getting elected in 2013, and then to bring him down by a prolonged smear campaign against the voting process, by encouraging violent riots in 2014 organized by US-backed terrorists which killed 43 and injured 870, and by backing the failed coup of February 2015 in which several US embassy personnel used their diplomatic cover to infiltrate and recruit Venezuelan military officials to plot the overthrow of the government and assassinate Maduro. Obama’s desperation is self-evident from his bizarre unsupported claim of a Venezuelan “threat to national security and foreign policy”. On the contrary, it is the US that has financed proxy political and military actions designed to overthrow legally constituted elected governments of Venezuela as well as have warships, military and air forces bases in the vicinity of Venezuela. Thus, Obama’s cantankerous tone is partly a battle of nerves to test the resilience of the regime, partly a threat and partly a test of political will of Latin American regimes. He failed on all counts when the 16th March emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of UNASUR unanimously rejected US sanctions and military intervention. The European Union too failed to adopt the US sanctions although the European Parliament echoed Obama’s demand to free the jailed terrorists. President Maduro has stood firm, and declared a national emergency and asked for special powers. Although an immediate invasion is unlikely, the US strategy could be to polarize Latin America, create conditions to run down Venezuela’s economy and thus create a “humanitarian” pretext for a costly military intervention. Anti-imperialists and democrats around the world cannot leave anything to economic sense prevailing over brutal imperialist arrogance. There is a need to stir public opinion internationally on US intentions in Venezuela and build a campaign to defend Venezuela.

Hands off Yemen!

SINCE March 26 Saudi coalition air forces have launched more than 1,200 airstrikes against targets throughout Yemen, with some strikes killing scores of civilians. A bomb dropped on the Al Mazraq refugee camp in northern Yemen on March 30 killed at least 30 civilians. An airstrike on a dairy factory in the port city of Hodeida on April 1 killed at least 37 workers. The Saudi monarchy, with US backing, has launched a widespread air assault against Houthi-controlled military targets as well as major urban areas. Street fighting in Aden between Houthi forces and armed forces opposed to them has left hundreds deadand hundreds more wounded, littering the streets with corpses. Saudi-US coalition airstrikes have hit residential areas and homes as well as schools and hospitals throughout the country, including inthe provinces of Taiz, Amran, Ibb, Al-Jawf, Sanaa and Saada. Ivan Simonovic, UN Deputy Secretary General for Human Rights, said that over 600 people have been killed in Yemen so far, more than half ofwhom are civilians. While the United States has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi coalition from the onset of the assault, it has been gradually increasing its involvement in the conflict. American imperialism has long sought to maintain its control over Yemen, which lies next to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a major oil choke point. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration has a direct hand in the selection of targets for airstrikes. Pentagon war planners at a joint operations centre are directly approving every target selected by the Saudi military. The conflicts in Yemen are based on political, social as well as local/tribal differences. The (Sunni) Yemeni Moslem Brotherhood fraction, Al-Islah party, is led by the Ahmar family, which is Zeidi. Hashed and Bakil, the main two Zeidi tribes in the North, make up 20% of the Yemeni population. Under the Monarchy as well as under the Republic they played the major role in deciding who was going to rule Yemen. All parties responsible for this conflict are from Hashed: the former President Saleh, the Houthis and the Al-Ahmar family (leaders of the Moslem Brothers). In the past few years, the coalitions among these actors have been pragmatically swapped. The fights with Houthi militia as well as the separatist movement inthe South are the result of the Sanaa government’s inability to fulfil the resolutions of the National Dialogue Conference. This government itself was a compromise imposed by Saudi Arabia to safe-guardits interests after Saleh’s resignation. It kept in power the Al-Ahmar family as well as pro-Saleh fractions. Both regional powers with vested interest, Saudi Arabia and Iran, dragged their allies into the recent escalation. While Saudi Arabia’s pressure on its allies prevents the Iran-allied Houthis from sharing power ,the Houthi solo-attempt to take power seems to be short-sighted. A solution can only be achieved on the negotiation table between all Yemeni parties and not by foreign intervention. US, take your hands off Yemen! Stop the aggression against Yemen! For a political solution of the Yemeni conflict based on democracy and participation! For a democratic united Yemen!

Condemn Arrest of Khalida Jerrar

THE Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine strongly condemned the arrest of national leader and Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar by Zionist occupation forces, considering this arrest to be a desperate attempt to suppress her activity and prominent national role in defending the rights of the Palestinian people, the prisoners and their struggle, and to confront the policies and plans of the occupation and expose its crimes. The arrest of MP Khalida Jarrar, along with the arrests of MPs Ahmad Sa’adat, Marwan Barghouti and many members of the Change and Reform Bloc, once again confirms that the Zionist state does not respect any immunity or agreements, urging a quick response to these arrests targeting various sectors of the Palestinian people through immediately ending security coordination and all forms of political and economic relationship with the occupation state, and rebuild the Palestinian national strategy on the basis of the overall conflict with the enemy. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is confident that the leader KhalidaJarrar is able to thwart the occupation’s plans for her arrest, as she defeated its previous plan to expel her to Jericho. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Central Information Department.
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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.