Third World Report (Asia)

Bangladesh: Sweatshop Workers Turn Up the Heat

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As I write, the streets of Dhaka, the capital city, are filled with protesters fighting the police. The air is thick with the acrid smell of tear gas and the city is paralysed by a general strike.

Bangladesh's "caretaker" government is due to conduct elections on 22 January but now the whole process looks shaky. The main opposition party, the Awami League (AL), has put together an alliance of many other parties, including those of the left, to boycott the election.

The suspicion of those who have joined the boycott is that the election will be manipulated by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the ruling centre-right party. The call to resist the one-sided election has the possibility of drawing on an increasingly combative working class.

Nepal: The End of the War - But What Next?

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On Tuesday 21 November 2006, at 8.30 pm, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) bringing an official end to the decade-long "People's War" launched by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in February 1996.

The CPA declares the current ceasefire permanent, thereby ending the Maoists' armed insurgency. From now on the use of guns, explosives and other military material, as well as abductions, attacks on persons or places by ground or air, raids or ambushes are declared illegal. There is also a commitment that within 30 days both parties to the conflict (the Maoist PLA and the government forces - the Nepal Army) will share information regarding the placement of mines and that within 60 days they will all be disabled.

Pakistan: Compromising Opposition to Imperialism

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Before Pakistan's president General Musharraf visited the US in October, the Economist magazine commented that by doing a deal with the Taliban in northern Pakistan his military regime had used an old colonial technique - buy those you cannot defeat. In the past three decades the Pakistani military, along with a section of the ruling class, has continued a mutually beneficial policy of cohabitation with radical Islam.

General Zia, who ruled between 1977 and 1988, helped the US wage war against the Russian occupiers of Afghanistan by using religious parties and militias as proxies. The democratic administrations that followed Zia continued the policy, allowing the military to keep arming and training them. In return, Pakistan's religious political parties lent their support to both military and democratic regimes. The policy continued under General Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999.

India: Songs That Sow the Seeds of Division

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Readers of this magazine will doubtless be familiar with the rampaging anti-Muslim bias which afflicts the media in the West. Unfortunately, the same attitudes are also rooted in large sections of the media in India - even those which pride themselves in being "secular" and "progressive".

Some weeks ago, they were awash with reports about Muslims who were protesting against the suggestion that all children studying in schools be forced to sing the Vande Mataram song - with numerous newspapers, television channels and politicians declaring that it was India's "national song". Refusal to sing, they claimed, was thoroughly "unpatriotic" and even "anti-national". Once again, Muslims in India were forced to prove their loyalty.

New Left Challenge in Indonesia

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Almost ten years ago the brutal Suharto regime in Indonesia was swept away by a tide of social and political unrest following the economic crisis of 1998.

Four presidents and several corruption scandals later, life is still a struggle for the majority of Indonesians in a country where the majority live on less than $1 a day.

Suharto signed a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1997. Every president since has continued to adhere to the IMF's dictates, bringing misery to most Indonesians. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's latest president, is no exception. Last October his government increased retail prices for fuel by over 100 percent, and for kerosene - the fuel used by most poor families - by 300 percent.

India: Suicide and the 'Art of Living'

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Death is stalking the farmers of the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where more than 14,000 people have committed suicide between 2001 and 2006.

The Congress Party government in Andhra Pradesh claim that they have contained the crisis by initiating a number of ad hoc measures like debt moratoriums and cheaper credit, yet to this day farmer suicides continue in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of the state.

Sri Lanka: On the March Back to Civil War?

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Since the beginning of April this year at least 300 civilians have died as the ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has begun to unravel.

The ceasefire had been negotiated with the help of the Norwegian government in 2002 and brought to an end a war that had been going on since 1983. However, it did not resolve the issues that had caused the conflict in the first place.

Nepal: Next Steps in Democracy Struggle

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During April hundreds of thousands of people came out onto the streets of Nepal in an impressive show of anger against the authoritarian regime of King Gyanendra. In the wake of the king's concessions to the protesters, everyone is asking questions about what will happen next.

The movement that opposed the royal dictatorship was initiated by an alliance of the seven main parties (known as the SPA), and supported by the whole of civil society and virtually all social classes. Would it achieve its objective of removing the king's powers and restoring democracy? What would be the role of the Maoists, who currently control most of the countryside and are able to exert a stranglehold on the urban areas?

Thailand: A Confused Response to Corruption

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In the past few weeks over 100,000 people have demonstrated in the Thai capital Bangkok and in other provincial cities calling for the resignation of the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The issue which unites this opposition is disgust at Thaksin's vast wealth, and the fact that he is part of a system of "money politics" in Thailand. Thaksin recently sold his shares in the Shin Corporation, a vast telecoms company, for 70 billion baht (over a billion pounds) - and he did not pay a single baht in tax. This may not be illegal but many people here see corruption as a moral issue, rather than legal one.

Pakistan: The Pendulum of Pakistani Politics

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Protests against the Danish cartoons, which were specifically designed to engender anti-Muslim hatred, have been taking place in Pakistan since the end of January.

Though initially very small, by the beginning of February they developed into a huge demonstration in Lahore. The next day the protests had spread to the North Western Province, and to date five demonstrators have been killed by the police. The expression of anger on the streets put the government under massive pressure.

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