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28 October 1999 Edition

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Mexican students mark six-month strike

When a couple of thousand students blocked one of the main ringroads in Mexico City last week, riot police moved in and bludgeoned the students into submission. Days later, the students occupied research institutes, effectively extending their control of the university buildings. One student was kidnapped by unidentified agents but later released. All in all, a fairly routine week in the clash between striking students - who maintain their sit-in at all of the lecture halls belonging to the university - and the authorities. The strike has been total since 20 April, and shows no signs of breaking.

Last December, plans for a hefty hike in fees for the National University of Mexico were being hatched by Rector Francisco Barnes and the members of the University Council. The University's budget had been further cut, and the most obvious solution was to exclude the few remaining students from poorer families and concentrate on the middle classes to an even greater extent. When it became clear that the council was serious in its plans, students decided to strike in order to voice their rejection of such measures.

Despite official efforts to divide the movement between a supposed mass of ``moderates'' and the ``ultras'' who control it, the strike is still solid and shows no sign of breaking, although internal tensions have arisen. The Federal Government steadfastly refuses to intervene in the dispute, preferring instead to let the conflict weaken the university, which has in the past been responsible for producing many of the ruling PRI party's main critics. However, the chronic underfunding of all sectors of education has been brought home by the protest, and the students' actions are supported by a wide range of trade unions and left-wing organisations.

There has also been considerable contact between the strikers and members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, based in the southern state of Chiapas.

Meanwhile, internal elections to decide who will be the PRI's presidential candidate loom large on the horizon, scheduled as they are for 7 November. Favoured candidate Francisco Labastida has been attempting to make political gains by spreading particularly fanciful rumours about the dispute at the university. On one occasion, he claimed that a sector of the students were being armed and directed by the EPR (the Popular Revolutionary Army, the most classically Guevaran of Mexico's guerrilla armies).

In further developments, thousands of people have been left homeless after recent dramatic flooding because government-sponsored housing projects were built in particularly vulnerable areas. Aid supplies were slow to reach those affected, due to government inefficiency and because some police officers were stealing from the warehouses where the food was being stored. It appears that the traditional chaos before elections (scheduled for 2 July 2000) is beginning to take hold.

East Timor

The UN Security Council approved on Monday 25 October a force of nearly 11,000 troops and police and thousands of civilian administrators to lead devastated East Timor to independence in two to three years following the Indonesian legislators approval of the result of the independence vote - 80% of the East Timorese opted for independence on the 30 August UN-organised poll. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) will replace the Australian lead INTERFET, dispatched last month to restore order in the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded and annexed in 1975.

Basque Country

In a new statement published by the Basque newspaper GARA on 24 October, the Basque pro-independence armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) states that in a letter sent to the Spanish government, ETA has invited the Spanish government to a new meeting that should take place in the Basque Country. In the statement, ETA criticised the attitude of the Spanish executive as ``it has not even fulfilled the few points agreed upon during our last meeting on 19 May 1999''. The spokespersons designated by ETA are Antton Lopez Ruiz, Josu Urrutikoetxea Bengoetxea y Josetxo Arizkuren Ruiz, three Basque POWs who are serving sentences in Spanish and French prisons.


A group of ten environmental activists from the Basque Country, who are carrying touring Europe to denounce ``social and ecological aggression'', have climbed to the top of the millennium wheel erected by the Thames in London. The activists wanted to draw attentio to the illegal construction of a damp in Itoiz, in theBasque Country and to show solidarity for the more than a million farmers who will be desplaced by the construction of 3,200 reservoirs in the Narmada Vally, Central India.

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