NEWS BYTES 9.14

Officers face homicide charges--

 The death of a Black motorist who was stopped by five white
officers has revived visions of 19th century lynch mobs and
hangings. Three white and three Black coroner's jurors recommended
Friday that the five Pittsburgh, PA police officers face homicide
charges for the death of Johnny Gammage. On the night of Oct. 12, the
officers pulled over Gammage, 31, on a routine traffic stop. The
officers testified during the three-day inquest that Gammage had been
driving erratically in his 1988 Jaguar. But they also said they had to
sit on Gammage and beat him with flashlights in order to control
him. An autopsy later revealed that Gammage, a resident of Syracuse
N.Y., suffocated from compression of his neck and chest. One juror
said testimony showed that what began as a routine traffic stop turned
into a racial incident once the officers realized that the man in the
Jaguar was Black. The recommended charges against the officers are the
harshest possible. The jury could have suggested the D.A. consider
involuntary manslaughter, no charges at all, or homicide charges
against only some of the officers. Pittsburgh NAACP president Tim
Stevens said Saturday he hoped the verdict sends a message to
police. "They have the power, literally, to take a life, and there are
consequences to misusing the badge and the gun."


French students protest against education cuts--

 Prime Minister's Alain Juppe's pledge to cut the public sector
deficit to the level set for France to join a European single currency
in 1999 has resulted in nationwide protest.  Juppe plans to cut the
already inadequate funding for education and welfare. Students from
seventeen French universities went on strike Friday and hundreds
across the country staged street demonstrations as unrest over demands
for more teachers and classrooms gathered momentum. About a thousand
students demonstrated symbolically in the Latin Quarter on the Left
Bank of the Seine, scene of the most violent rioting in 1968. At one
of the universities spearheading the protests, in the eastern city of
Metz, students Thursday kidnapped Education Minister Francois Bayrou
and released her only after Bayrou pledged to reopen negotiations on
increasing state funds. Bayrou has promised to present an emergency
four-year plan in the spring to redistribute resources among
universities to help the poorer ones. But student unions object to the
plan and insist that extra funds should be made
available. Disappointed by talks with the government, students from
four more universities have joined forces with left-wing trade union
Force Ouvriere movement in calling for a national day of action on
Nov. 21.


Striking Detroit newspaper workers to launch new paper--

Detroit's striking newspaper unions announced Tuesday they will
launch a weekly newspaper, called the Detroit Sunday Journal to
capture upcoming holiday advertising and force an end to a violent
labor battle that just entered its fifth month. About 2,500 reporters,
mailers, press, and delivery workers from six unions walked off their
jobs at the Free Press and Detroit News July 13, after talks broke
down over proposed job cuts and changes in work rules. Appearing at a
joint news conference, union leaders and editors for the Sunday
Journal vowed the paper will keep publishing until the strike is
settled. Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of
America, said the paper has the financial backing of several unions,
including the AFL-CIO and its 78 affiliates. "The entire labor
movement will see that no newspaper union will be broken in the city
of Detroit," he said. Tim Kelleher, a senior vice president for
Detroit Newspapers Inc., said the joint operating agency of the two
papers said weekly and Sunday circulation has fallen about 25 percent
at both papers since the strike began. As a result, the papers have
cut their advertising rates about the same amount, but Kelleher claims
that the company is not worried about losing advertisers for the
upcoming holiday season. The Sunday Journal has received initial
funding of $500,000 from the parent organizations of the six striking
unions. The largest supporters so far are the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Graphic Communications International
Union, and the Communications Workers of America.


Committee agrees on anti-immigrant welfare provisions--

The National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium,
Organization of Chinese Americans, Asian Pacific American Labor
Alliance - AFL/CIO, and the Asian Pacific Islander American Health
Forum (APIAHF) are urging Congress to vote against the welfare reform
bill and are calling for President Clinton to veto it if it
passes. The groups believe that the anti-immigrant provisions in the
final bill will have a devastating impact on the Asian Pacific
American community. Under the bill current legal permanent residents,
as well as new entrants, will be ineligible for Food Stamps and
Supplemental Security Income for the aged, blind, and disabled, until
they are citizens or have worked long enough to qualify for Social
Security. The House agreed to drop an exemption that would have
allowed benefits for legal permanent residents too mentally or
physically disabled to complete the citizenship process. States will
have the option of barring AFDC, Medicaid, and Title XX programs such
as community health programs to legal and permanent residents. APIAHF
Policy Analyst Staff Dong Suh stated, "With the bill's drastic
reduction in federal spending on Medicaid, states will likely exercise
their option of barring access to legal immigrants. There is no
rationale for cutting preventative care. This bill is particularly
harsh to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and disabled." The
welfare bill is expected to be added to the budget reconciliation bill
headed for a vote this week. If the President vetoes the budget bill,
welfare reform will probably be voted on as a separate bill after
Thanksgiving.


House passes anti-abortion legislation--

The House voted Wednesday to impose a two-year prison term for
doctors who perform certain late-term abortions -- the first time
Congress has moved to outlaw a specific abortion procedure. By a
lopsided 288-139 vote, the House passed a bill banning so-called
partial birth abortions. Supporters of the bill called it the most
important vote since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 and
said it was just the beginning of efforts to restrict access by
outlawing a series of abortion techniques. Opponents warned that the
bill was a first step towards outlawing all abortions and said it was
so loosely worded that it would ban other late-term abortion
techniques; they charged that Congress did not have the expertise to
determine whether a specific medical procedure was appropriate. "For
American women, passage of this bill should be a wake-up call. The
anti-choice extremists have unveiled a new plan: to outlaw abortion
procedure by procedure," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado
Democrat.  Passage of a free-standing bill criminalizing a specific
abortion procedure is a major step forward for abortion
opponents. "This was probably the key vote of the 105th Congress
... This was the beginning of the debate on when life begins," said
Rep. Bob Dornan, a California Republican.


Shell continues Nigerian natural gas project--

Oil giant Shell and its partners decided on Wednesday to sign a
contract to build a $4 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in
Nigeria despite the international furor over the Nigerian
government's execution of nine minority rights activists on
November 10. Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of his
Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (MOSOP) were hanged on
November 10, for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs last year. Human
rights groups said it was a political trial and the Commonwealth has
suspended Nigeria from its ranks.
	Pressure groups in the West have urged Shell, an Anglo-Dutch
company and the technical leader in the LNG project, to abandon the
project in protest at the executions of the campaigners for the rights
of the 500,000-strong Ogoni people living in the Niger river
delta. Shell has rejected the calls. The project is the biggest of its
kind in Africa and its go-ahead will give a boost to Nigeria's
embattled military government which ratified the death sentences on
the nine men. Shell denies that its Nigerian operations have caused
devastating environmental damage, but concedes that the oil industry
has caused problems in the Niger Delta. Last Tuesday, Alan Detheridge,
the London-based Shell director responsible for Nigeria, said, "We
don't see any commercial or technical problems why the project should
not go ahead." Detheridge reiterated Shell's position that it did not
want to get involved in local political issues and said dropping the
project would not only hurt the Nigerian people but the environment
too.
	Currently the state owned Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation holds 49 percent in the Nigeria LNG Ltd. Shell
International Gas Ltd has 24 percent; Elf Aquitaine of France holds 15
percent and Agip SpA of Italy holds 10 percent. The World Bank's
investment arm declined last week to pick up a two percent stake
offered to it and Shell has said that will be shared among the foreign
partners. The partners in Nigerian LNG Limited met last Wednesday in
Nigeria and decided to proceed with construction. The project has been
mooted for the past 20 years and Shell fears that it will collapse
altogether if it does not go ahead now.
	Ken Wiwa, son of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, denounced Shell's
decision to proceed with the LNG project before the European
Parliament in Strasbourg. "The mere fact that less than a week after
Ogoni activists have been executed they are planning to go ahead with
the biggest venture they've ever had in Nigeria, it is absolutely
astonishing and is in line with the insensitivity of that company,"
said Wiwa. Citing his father, Wiwa called for a boycott of Shell. The
late Ken Saro-Wiwa had led a campaign of self-determination for the
Ogoni minority, whose homeland has been exploited for oil and gas by
Shell and other companies. Responding to a call by the Trans-African
pressure group for an oil embargo, he wrote before his death, "
Nigerian oil is what sustains the Nigerian military dictators,
enabling them to survive even though they collect no taxes and
misgovern in every sense of the word."
	Several groups have already begun boycotting Shell. Body Shop
International, the environmental-friendly retailer, said on Tuesday it
would step up its boycott of Shell products. The Luxembourg-based
human rights group, The Society for Threatened Peoples, is also urging
consumers to boycott Royal Dutch/Shell Group until Shell "stops
destroying Ogoni land in eastern Nigeria's Niger Delta, launches an
ecological clean-up program for the region and uses its significant
influence in Nigeria for the withdrawal of the army and the release of
17 detained Ogoni."


Maine defeats anti-gay rights bill--

On Tuesday, Maine voters defeated an anti-gay rights measure by a
53% to 47% margin. The initiative was conceived by Portland housewife
Carolyn Crosby, a founding member of the conservative organization
Concerned Maine Families. The initiative, without explicitly
mentioning sexual orientation or homosexuality, proposed the exclusion
of any new categories from state and local human rights laws. It would
also have nulled Portland's gay rights protections. Portland resident
Panthea Burns took to heart the defeat her fellow Maine voters dealt
an anti-gay rights measure. "The thought of this passing and the
feeling of being rejected by my own home state because I'm a lesbian
would have been hard," she said. Opponents of the initiative had
formed a coalition, "Maine Won't Discriminate," that won the backing
of such leaders as independent Gov. Angus King, business groups and
the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. National gay rights activists
helped collect some of the $1 million used to defeat the initiative,
whose backers outspent proponents by a 10-1 margin. Voters have turned
down anti-gay rights proposals in Idaho and Oregon in the past few
years. In 1992, Colorado voters approved a ban on gay rights laws, but
the state"s high court threw it out and it is now before the
U.S. Supreme Court. But Carolyn Crosby has vowed to "continue to fight
on" next year, when Maine lawmakers are expected to propose a gay
rights bill.


Prisoner uprising in Athens security prison--

Hundreds of prisoners, including many foreigners, seized Athens's
top security jail and were holding six staff hostage, police said on
Wednesday. Riot police surrounded the prison on the western outskirts
of the Greek capital after prisoners rioted through the night. Fires
were lit, facilities were ransacked, the hospital was raided. Inmates
currently control three of Korydallos prison's four wings, police
said. Their demands ranged from better food to less
overcrowding. "About 1,100 inmates are out of control and out of their
cells," a senior police officer said. "Many of those joining the
uprising were foreigners, mostly Albanians," he added. Several inmates
have already been hospitalized for injuries suffered during fights
between prisoner factions. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the
prison in a tense stand-off and schools in the area were closed for
the day as a precaution. The uprising began last Tuesday night when
inmates, armed with shards of glass, took hostages in a failed attempt
to break out. They then seized more hostages and began opening cells
as other prisoners joined in. Police had fired tear gas and plastic
bullets to try to stop the siege but the tactic failed. One prisoner
talking to a reporter from Athens's private Skai radio channel said
that they were protesting "unbearable prison conditions. We need
better medical care. We're people, too."

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