16 February 2006 Edition

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International News

Guantanamo hunger strikers force fed

Since last Summer prisoners at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay have staged a hunger strike in protest over their continuous detention and torture. Now a lawyer for detainees has accused the US military of employing increasingly brutal methods. Tom Wilner has described how military personnel strapped hunger strikers into "restraint chairs" to force-feed them. The attorney, who returned from the prison at the US base in eastern Cuba, had his notes declassified by the US Government late on Wednesday 8 February.

The new harsher methods, Wilner said, began in December and included the removal of so-called comfort items like blankets from prisoners. The lawyer said this treatment is the reason the number of strikers has dropped to four from several dozen at the end of 2005.

"That's what stopped the hunger strike," said Wilner, who represents six prisoners from Kuwait including one who has resumed eating after starting the protest in August. "They purposely force-fed these people to end the strike."

The US military said on Wednesday that it has not changed the manner in which it is handling the hunger strike.

Four detainees are now refusing food, including three who are being force-fed - the lowest number since the strike began in August. All four are said to be in a stable condition.

The military says the strike began with 76 detainees protesting their confinement at the remote, high-security prison in Cuba and the number joining the protest reached 131 in mid-September. Defence lawyers say the figures have been higher.

One possible reason for the discrepancy is that the military defines a hunger strike as missing nine consecutive meals, but some detainees may eat just enough to avoid that classification so they won't be force-fed, said Julia Tarver Mason, a lawyer for 13 Saudis at the prison camp.

Prisoners participating in the hunger strike have alleged in court documents that the feeding tubes have been roughly inserted and withdrawn in an abusive manner - an allegation the military has denied.

The United States is holding some 500 people in Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban government.

Stephen Oleskey, a defense attorney who visited the base last month, said some of his clients, Algerians who were arrested in Bosnia, told him they had seen hunger strikers who were "emaciated" and needed help to walk.

British Army abuse in Iraq exposed

The disclosure of a 1994 video showing British forces battering defenceless teenagers in Amara have led to renewed condemnation of Britain's role in the occupation of Iraq. The film shows teenagers snatched by British soldiers and severely beaten. The scenes are very familiar to thousands of nationalists in the Six Counties who suffered similar treatment from the British Army here over the years.

Officials in Basra have cut off all contact with the 8,000 British forces in the south of Iraq. This could be an ominous development for British troops stationed there coming as it comes in the wake of the recent murder of an Iraqi policeman by SAS members.

A British corporal, Martin Webster, has been arrested in connection with the incident.

Palestine

Hamas, outright victors in the recent Palestinian national elections, will end its armed struggle if Israel withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories, its leader told Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta in an interview published on Monday 13 February.

"If Israel recognises our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance," Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said.

In earlier statements Meshaal had only said that Hamas could agree to a "long-term truce" with Israel if it were willing to return to the 1967 borders and recognise the rights of Palestinians to self-determination.

However, Meshaal added, in his latest comments, that Hamas did not feel bound by the international Middle-East roadmap for peace since, in his view, no one else was abiding by it.

Germany

German public-sector workers extended their strike on Monday 13 February from municipality level to nine of the country's 16 states to increase pressure on authorities not to extend their working hours without any extra pay.

University hospital staff and street cleaners walked off their jobs in several states including Bavaria, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, according to the Ver.di trade union, Germany's largest. About 20,000 people are expected to strike, according to union leader Frank Bsirske.

Workers are protesting against plans to extend weekly working hours from 38.5 to 40 hours without a pay increase. Ver.di, whose organisation represents 2.4 million workers, said local and regional authorities will use longer hours to cut as many as 250,000 jobs in the public sector and related administrative branches.

Haiti

A member of Haiti's Electoral Council said results of Presidential elections were being manipulated, echoing complaints by supporters of Rene Preval, who poured into the streets on Sunday with angry allegations of fraud.

With 75% of votes counted, Preval was short of victory on Tuesday 7 February elections outright by less than a percentage point.

Suspicion has risen among many Haitians that the results were being manipulated in the five days since voters turned out in droves to elect a new government. It will replace an interim government installed after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody rebellion two years ago.

Preval demonstrators threatened violence if Preval is not declared the first-round winner. About 125,000 ballots - or 7.5% of the 2.2 million votes cast - have been declared invalid because of irregularities.


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