- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

CUBA

Czech notables back Castro’s critics

PRAGUE — Seventy-five politicians, actors and writers plan to spend time in a mock prison cell in Wenceslas Square to raise awareness about the plight of political prisoners in Cuba.

The “Stop Repression in Cuba” campaign by People in Need, a Czech humanitarian group, was begun yesterday by Prague Mayor Pavel Bem to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the March 18 imprisonment of 75 political prisoners in Cuba.

Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares; Senate Chairman Petr Pithart; Alexandr Vondra, former ambassador to the United States and deputy foreign minister; and Olympic canoeing gold medalist Lukas Pollert each will spend one hour in the replica cell wearing a prison uniform.

“We want to show people here what kind of conditions these political prisoners are being kept in and to show the people of Cuba that they are not alone,” said organizer Carlos Gonzales.

BRAZIL

Federal police continue pay strike

BRASILIA — About 7,000 federal police were idle yesterday on the seventh day of an indefinite strike, stalling corruption investigations and threatening stoppages at the capital’s airport unless they get a pay raise.

The national police strike is causing delays of up to four hours for international travelers at airports, where the officers usually handle immigration services. It could test the government’s will to control public-sector wages as treasury, tax and legal workers also threaten to strike.

Federal agents are threatening to stop work tomorrow at the capital airport, used by politicians, unless they get a 54 percent pay raise that they say should have come 10 years ago with a change in the law. Justice Minister Thomaz Bastos said the government cannot afford to meet these demands.

CANADA

Martin in a bind over financial scandal

MONTREAL — Scandal is buffeting the government of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, dashing his hopes of a smooth run-up to expected spring elections.

Mr. Martin, who took office in December, had hoped to coast to his date with voters as he solidified his Liberal Party’s grip on power. But a disastrous month has put him in a bind: Should he call on voters soon or hold off until late in the year, hoping the scandals blow over but risking a further erosion of support?

Canada’s political establishment was roiled last month when Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a bombshell report on government finances. Mrs. Fraser reported that the Liberals had diverted public money to advertising agencies close to the party, so they could improve Ottawa’s image in French-speaking Quebec.

The $187.5 million program to promote Canadian federalism began after the French-speaking province narrowly rejected a 1995 referendum to secede.

Weekly notes …

More than a score of Colombian rebels were killed in two raids on leftist encampments in the southern departments of Tolima and Guaviare, military officials said yesterday. Gen. Lelio Fadul announced that 14 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were killed in skirmishes that started about a week ago in Tolima. He said eight combatants also were killed in Guaviare, and six rebels were captured in Calamar, about 375 miles south of Bogota. … Mexican President Vicente Fox on Sunday said his wife — thought to have political aspirations — will not run for the presidency in 2006 or thereafter. “Mrs. Marta Sahagun has never expressed a desire to be a candidate or president of this wonderful country,” Mr. Fox said in the Pacific coast resort of Los Cabos, “so you can be assured we are not going to see her running for the Mexican presidency, OK?”

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