Bangladesh: textile tragedy

On 24 November 2012, one of the worst ever factory fires to hit Bangladesh killed at least 124 people with the death toll still rising in a factory in Ashulia, near Dhaka. Over 1,000 nightshift workers were trapped inside the multi-storey building after being unable to escape after the blaze, which started on the ground floor and was thought to be caused by faulty wiring, blocked off all three stairwells within. The factory has no emergency exits. Hundreds sought refuge on the roof until they were rescued by firefighters, however many, in a desperate attempt to flee, jumped out of windows but were injured or killed. After a five hour fight to control the flames, about 100 bodies were discovered on the second floor but factory owners remain quiet about how many workers are still missing.

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Bangladesh: the Tipaimukh damned / FRFI 228 Aug/Sep 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

Beginning from the Manipur Hills in north east India, the Barak River, at 560 miles long, is one of the major rivers in southern Assam and within the Manipur territory. The Barak flows though Manipur, entering Bangladesh and forming the Surma Basin. Continuing south through Bangladesh as the Meghna River, it eventually reaches the Bay of Bengal. The Tipaimukh dam, first proposed in 1972, will be built along the Manipur-Mizoram border, about 100km away from the India-Bangladesh border.

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In October 2011, the governments of India and Manipur signed an agreement for the building of the hydroelectric dam with the Indian state-owned companies National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd (NHPC) and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVNL) without the knowledge of the Bangladeshi government, in what was a clear breach of numerous international treaties. It was a clear indicator of the subservience of the Bangladeshi government to India, whose leaders Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh respectively, have ignored pleas to stop the building of the dam, despite estimates that five million Indians and 40 million Bangladeshis stand to be affected.

The project has been facing staunch opposition because of the potential disaster for communities reliant on the river: Bangladesh is one of the world’s most active freshwater fisheries and home to approximately 20 million rice farmers. Farmers in the Surma basin depend on a single crop, rice, which is planted when water levels are low, and is harvested just before the monsoon season causes a rise – at which point fish begin to spawn, maturing just as the monsoon floods recede once again. These floods carry the nutrients needed to maintain the highly fertile conditions found in the region. Any artificial alterations to this flood pulse will affect livelihoods on a massive scale, as the dam would increase water levels by more than double but would not allow for them to recede.

Big dams: devastation and destitution

Bangladeshis fear that the Tipaimukh dam will be a repeat of the effects of the Farakka barrage which lies across the Ganges in West Bengal, less than 11 miles away from the border with east Bangladesh; since its completion in 1974, the barrage has affected 30 million people across the state and in Bangladesh, which loses an estimated over £2.5bn annually because of it. There has been desertification of areas, flooding and huge sedimentation. Vast areas of the towns Malda and Murshidabad have simply eroded. Agriculture, in particular the rice paddies that people rely on, fisheries and forestry have been destroyed with abnormally high water salinity rendering it unsafe for drinking and irrigation. Environmental experts report that repairing the infrastructure in the region could take 50-60 years.

Another major concern is that the Tipaimukh dam site is on the sixth most active seismic zone in the world: about 18 earthquakes measuring 7.0 or above on the Richter scale have occurred here since 1890. Geologists have speculated that the seismic activity that caused the 1967 earthquake at the Koyna dam in Maharashtra, western India, which killed 200 people, and the 2008 earthquake near the Zipingpu dam in China, which killed almost 70,000 people and left another 11 million homeless, were triggered by the reservoirs created by the dams. The Tipaimukh reservoir, when completed, will hold up to thirteen times the volume of water of the Zipingpu dam.

Big dams – big business

Building dams is not new in India: it was under the imperialist British Raj that India became one of the world’s most active dam-building nations. The SJVNL frequently receives funding from the World Bank and various consortia of foreign and European banks to build dams. The NHPC too receives heavy foreign investment for the dirty business of dam building, including from Deutsche Bank and Export Credit Agencies. French multinational company Alstom provides much of the equipment required to build mega-dams.

The NHCP has constructed many dams, with 30 currently being built or proposed. Two of these, the Lower Subansiri in Assam and the Uri II in Jammu Kashmir, are also facing fierce opposition – but the Assamese Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi says that ‘unreasonable protests’ cannot stop the project.

In Jammu Kashmir, reports have surfaced of residents, who were promised 10% of the energy generated by the dam, spending up to 12 hours a day without electricity; it is instead being siphoned off to more affluent communities across India, sold at a grossly inflated price. The Manipuri Government too, has been bribed with the promise of ‘free’ energy to be generated by the Tipaimukh dam.

The fact is that big dams are built because they make big money for the ruling class and for imperialism; the human and environmental devastation counts for nothing. Presently, the Tipaimukh dam is going ahead, but there is a significant movement in Bangladesh and India against its construction, and there have been violent clashes too: Indians and Bangladeshis who live off the land know that the fight against the building of the dam is a fight for their lives.

Nazia Mukti

North Korea vilified

Kim Jong-il Following the death of President Kim Jong-il on 17 December 2011 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK-North Korea) is again the target for British ruling class media vilification. Kim Jong-il is portrayed as mad and corrupt, the better to present North Korea as dangerous and its state worthy of overthrowing. In January 2002 former US President George W Bush said that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an ‘axis of evil’. Four months later the US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton added Libya, Syria and Cuba to the list. When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003 Bolton said that North Korea, Iran and Syria should ‘draw the appropriate lessons’.

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Crackdown intensifies in struggle against navy base in South Korea

jeju

On 10 August, protestors clashed with 200 riot police during demonstrations against the building of a naval base on Jeju Island in South Korea. More than 94% of the people of Gangjeong, the site of the proposed military base, are opposed to the planned base, and protests over the past months have seen thousands occupy and rally on the streets to halt the construction of what is widely recognised to be another base for US imperialism in the region.

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Genocide Against Sri Lankan Tamils Continues – British ruling class complicit

sri_lanka_killing_fieldsTwo years after the Sri Lankan government with British and US support defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the British government continues to be complicit in the oppression of the Tamil people. On 16 June the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) plans to deport around 60 Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka by charter flight, and a second charter flight has been booked for 21 June. London Law firm Ravi Solicitors have compiled evidence that in at least 14 cases, the names and documents submitted by a Tamil asylum seeker as part of their asylum claim have been handed to the Sri Lankan High Commission.  UKBA have not denied this accusation.

On 14 June Channel 4 aired a documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, featuring devastating video evidence of horrific war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government in the final stages of its war against the LTTE. The documentary was shown to diplomats at the UN on 3 June, and has been cited by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, as evidence of ‘definitive war crimes’. This follows a report published in April by the UN Secretary General concluding that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the final weeks of the Sri Lankan army’s offensive, double previous UN estimates.

While the Sri Lankan government talks of unity and peace, the horror for the people of Tamil Eelam continues. Several thousand Tamils continue to be held in ‘reintegration’ camps in the North and East of Sri Lanka, where reports are rife of sexual abuse, forced labour and torture. Harassment, denial of work and re-arrest of those released is common. Family members are routinely denied visiting rights or information about their detained relatives. On 13 June the British Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Mark Gooding, visited the Thellipalai detention camp near Jaffna to announce a pledge by the British government to provide £500,000 towards the running of such camps.

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