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World Notes: Nov. 4, 1985

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DEPARTMENT

ARGENTINA A Case of the Jitters

The action was extraordinary, but so, according to Raúl Alfonsín, was the provocation. The Argentine President abruptly declared a nationwide state of siege last week, suspending for 60 days all constitutional guarantees against arbitrary arrest. As he outlined the draconian measure, Interior Minister Antonio Tróccoli stressed the “worsening and persistence” of violence in the country, a reference to a spate of minor bombings that began more than a month ago. Tróccoli knew whereof he spoke: a day before, a bomb had exploded outside his weekend home, injuring no one.

Alfonsín later said that the suspension of liberties would apply only to a dozen military officers and civilians, whom he had a few days earlier ordered detained on charges of plotting to use violence “against democratic institutions and people.” Authorities fear that the bombing campaign is the work of right-wing extremists who are unhappy about the government’s trial of nine former members of the military junta for human rights violations. Moreover, Alfonsín’s ruling Radical Party faces sensitive congressional elections on Nov. 3. Under the circumstances, the government evidently decided not to risk having the vote marred by further violence.

GREECE “The Country Paralyzed”

The reaction from Greece’s labor leaders was angry and swift, as protest marches and demonstrations erupted across the country. More than 20 unions called tens of thousands of workers out on a 24-hour strike, closing government offices, private industry, shops, schools, hospitals, banks and airports. The action even took taxis off the streets. It was the start of a series of work stoppages that continued through the week. Headlined Avgi, Athens’ Eurocommunist daily: THE COUNTRY PARALYZED.

The fury was directed at Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who two weeks earlier had introduced an economic austerity plan. With its call for a 15% devaluation of the Greek drachma, wage curbs, new taxes, import controls and cuts in public spending, the plan was designed to ease the country’s roughly $6 billion budget deficit, its $3 billion balance of payments deficit and its $14 billion foreign debt. Despite the resulting labor confrontation, the government refuses to give way. Since the real impact of the austerity will not begin to be felt for months, Papandreou will probably win this round. Last week he was taking no chances. Diverting attention from domestic troubles, he charged that U.S. jets from the Sixth Fleet had violated Greek airspace.

SOLOMON ISLANDS They Had the Wings of an Angel

Most of the 78 inmates at Rove Prison in Honiara (pop. 20,000), capital of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, were busy at their usual tasks, which include fashioning water jugs out of beer bottles for sale in local markets. To the inmates’ astonishment, two senior prison officers suddenly opened the prison’s steel and barbed-wire gates and, along with the 40 guards on duty, simply walked away. The two officers and other members of the staff had complained that their authority was being undermined by prisoners’ complaints and a successful court action for assault brought by one of the inmates. Within minutes the entire population of the facility, including murderers, rapists and petty thieves, had escaped. City officials advised residents to lock their doors.

By week’s end the guards were back at work and police had rounded up all the escapees. Some had returned voluntarily, a few of them on the first day in time for their evening meal. Also in custody, though elsewhere in the city, were the prison superintendent and the two senior officers, who were charged with allowing the great escape.

FRANCE Bomb Blast and Bombast

French Premier Laurent Fabius flew to the South Pacific atoll of Mururoa last week to preside over a new round of underground nuclear tests. Accompanying him were Defense Minister Paul Quilès and a 21-member party of parliamentarians and journalists. Hours before the blast, officials announced that the French navy had seized the Vega, a ketch owned by the Greenpeace environmental organization, after the protest ship had entered French territorial waters near the test site. By week’s end the four crew members were being taken to a nearby atoll and were awaiting expulsion.

At Mururoa’s narrow landing strip, Fabius wasted no time in telling the traveling journalists that France was committed to nuclear testing despite the objections of Greenpeace, as well as those of New Zealand, Australia and other countries in the region. “My visit here is a sign of France’s attachment to nuclear deterrence,” he said. The unspoken message: France had not been cowed by the international indignation that followed last month’s revelation of government involvement in the July 10 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace flagship, in Auckland, New Zealand.

ICELAND Take That, You Brutes!

Tens of thousands of Icelandic women walked off their jobs for 24 hours last week to protest “male privilege.” Businessmen could not place telephone calls because most of Iceland’s switchboard operators had joined their sisters on protest lines chanting, “We dare! We can! We will!” The government was temporarily leaderless because President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir had stayed away from her office to demonstrate solidarity with the striking women. Worst of all was the problem of breakfast. Many Icelandic men, having awakened to discover that their wives were refusing to prepare the morning meal, jammed restaurants.

All the disruption was intended to be a demonstration of the fact that the tiny country (pop. 240,000) could not function without its women. Why make that rather obvious point? Because working women in Iceland earn 40% less than men on average, though 80% of working-age women hold jobs. Journalists seeking more data on that shocking wage disparity ran into trouble. “I’m sorry,” said a female employee at the Iceland Information Office. “I can’t speak to you. I’m on strike.”

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