Obituary: Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King, the widow of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, has died aged 78. Mrs King had carried on her husband's work for racial equality after he was assassinated in 1968.

She fought successfully for a national holiday in memory of him and founded The King Center in Atlanta to preserve his legacy.

News of the mother of four's death was reported by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young to US network NBC television.

Mr Young, also a civil rights campaigner, said Mrs King had died in her sleep on Monday night. Mrs King had been in poor health in recent years.

She suffered a serious stroke and heart attack in 2005, and earlier this month missed the public marking of her husband's birthday for the first time in two decades.

Mrs King, who met her husband in Boston and married him in 1953, supported him in his civil rights work.

After his death, she raised their four children while at the same time working to secure his legacy.

She recalled in her autobiography, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr, how she had felt compelled to carry on the civil rights movement.

"Because his task was not finished, I felt that I must re-dedicate myself to the completion of his work," she wrote.

In 1969 she founded the Martin Luther King Jr Centre for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta and in 1986 saw the establishment of a national holiday to mark her husband's January birthday.

Speaking in 2003 on the 40th anniversary of her husband's best known speech, Mrs King urged the crowds to follow the peaceful path he preached.

Mrs. King was vocal in her opposition to capital punishment and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, thus drawing criticism from conservative groups. She was also a vocal advocate of women's rights, lesbian and gay rights and AIDS/HIV prevention.

There is a medal named after Mrs. King that is awarded for excellence in children's literature.

Over the years, she not only was active in preserving the memory of her husband, but also active in other political issues. After her husband was assassinated in 1968, she began attending a commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to mark her husband's birth every January 15 (now on the third Monday in January since Martin Luther King Day was proclaimed).

She also honored presidents on different occasions. Some of them include being at the state funeral of former president Lyndon Johnson, in 1973, being present when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day, during the 1980's, Coretta King reaffirmed her long-standing opposition to apartheid, participating in a series of sit-in protests in Washington that prompted nationwide demonstrations against South African racial policies. In 1986, she traveled to South Africa and met with Winnie Mandela while her husband Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner on Robben Island. After her return to the United States, she personally urged President Ronald Reagan to approve sanctions against South Africa. She was present at the first inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001. King received honorary degrees from many institutions including Princeton University and Bates College.

On August 16, 2005, Mrs. King was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and a mild heart attack. Initially, she was unable to speak and move her right side. She was released from Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta on September 22, 2005, after regaining some of her speech and continued physiotherapy at home. Because of complications from the stroke, she was apparently unable to make her wishes known regarding the ongoing debate as to whether her late husband's birthplace should continue to be maintained by the city of Atlanta or the National Park Service. On January 14, 2006, Mrs. King made her last public appearance in Atlanta at a dinner honoring her husband's memory.


US + Iran = Bad for Gays

From Human Rights Watch:

In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a coalition of 40 organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called for an explanation of the vote which aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the rights of sexual minorities.

“This vote is an aggressive assault by the U.S. government on the right of sexual minorities to be heard,” said Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “It is astonishing that the Bush administration would align itself with Sudan, China, Iran and Zimbabwe in a coalition of the homophobic.”

In May 2005, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is based in Brussels, and the Danish gay rights group Landsforeningen for Bøsser og Lesbiske (LBL) applied for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Consultative status is the only official means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status.

States opposed to the two groups’ applications moved to have them summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases. The U.S. abstained on a vote which would have allowed the debate to continue and the groups to be heard. It then voted to reject the applications.

“The United States recklessly ignored its own reporting proving the need for international support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The State Department’s ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ show severe human rights violations based on gender identity and sexual orientation occur around the world.”

As the U.S. government acknowledged in its 2004 country report on Iran, Iranian law punishes homosexual conduct between men with the death penalty. Human Rights Watch has documented four cases of arrests, flogging, or execution of gay men in Iran since 2003. In its 2004 country report on Zimbabwe, the U.S. government noted President Robert Mugabe’s public denouncement of homosexuals, blaming them for “Africa's ills.” In the past, Mugabe has called gays and lesbians “people without rights” and “worse than dogs and pigs.”
The U.S. has reversed position since 2002, when it voted to support the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s request to have its status reviewed. Officials gave no explanation for the change.

“It is deeply disturbing that, at the UN, the United States has shifted gears toward an aggressive stance against human rights for LGBT people,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “Unfortunately, denying LGBT groups a voice and a presence within the United Nations – the world's most important human rights institution – is fully in keeping with the U.S.’s assault on basic human rights principles worldwide.”

In voting against the applications to the NGO committee, the U.S. was joined by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Votes in favor of consultative status came from Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania. Colombia, India, and Turkey abstained, while Côte d'Ivoire was absent.

“It is an absolute outrage that the United States has chosen to align itself with oppressive governments – all in an effort to smother the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It is deeply disturbing that the self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ will ally with bigots at the drop of a hat to advance the right wing’s anti-gay agenda.”

In addition to the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the organizations signing the letter are:

Advocates for Youth
Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBT Muslims
Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School
Amnesty International USA
Catholics for a Free Choice
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Center for Women’s Global Leadership
Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA)
Congregation Beth Simchat Torah
Equality Now
Family Care International
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Global Rights
Immigration Equality
International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, City University of New York School of Law
Jan Hus Church
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Latino Commission on AIDS
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
Legal Momentum
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (New York City)
Mano a Mano
Metropolitan Community Churches
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition Building Institute Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Caucus
National Center for Lesbian Rights
New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition
Open Society Institute
Queer Progressive Agenda
Queers for Economic Justice
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.
Women's Environment and Development Organization

Additional endorsers of the letter since it was formally sent are:
Horizons Foundation
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization
San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center


Economic Domination vs. Social Capital

The World Economic Forum convened today in Davos, Switzerland for the annual five-day business smooze fest among the world's powerful.

From the BBC:

...Mix them with a brace of hot inventors, the bosses of aid organisations and social enterprises, and religious leaders, and then add a sprinkling of stars - Bono, Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie and Peter Gabriel among them - and you have the world's ultimate networking event.

It's a chance to rub shoulders with Bill Gates and Michael Dell, talk to Sir Richard Branson and Intel boss Craig Barrett, track down the founders of Google and the boss of Coca Cola, and listen to Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan and Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The Davos congress hall has all the charm of a nuclear bunker (which its lower basements are).

It is also surrounded by barbed wire, more than 5,500 heavily armed soldiers and police officers, and numerous checkpoints.

But despite this, the throngs of millionaires pack happily into its 1970s interior to talk and listen.

At the last count, the organisers had scheduled 243 official events for the four-and-a-half days of Davos. At times, eight or nine sessions are running in parallel.

The importance of the Economic forum has waned over the year because critics feel nothing really gets accomplished. In recent years leftist activists who believe "another world is possible" have congregated in the concurrent World Social Forum in Venezuela. However the hyprocrisy of being against capitalism and neoliberalism shines in the streets of Caracas.

Also from the BBC:
"The Chavez T-shirt is my bestseller," says Luz Castillo, who owns a little stall next to the conference centre for the Caracas World Social Forum. "I've sold six shirts within the space of an hour. I'm making a profit of $7 per item."

Other street vendors are selling Chavez posters, watches, books, flags, audio tapes and even toy plastic dolls of Venezuela's charismatic leader.

"Chavez is cool," said Alejandro Montoya, a student from Peru, who explained that he had paid $1,500 for a tailor-made tourist package to take part in the Social Forum.

"Is it a lot of money? Yes, of course, but just remember it's a chance in a lifetime for me to come face to face with my hero, Comandante Chavez."

Homelessness is very prominent in Venezuela. Chavez pledges to eradicate poverty by 2011. Nonetheless, as the Bible says, "the poor will always be with us."

Five hundred metres away from the Hilton, homeless people scavenge in dustbins for what little food they can find. Sometimes they find a half-eaten hamburger or sandwich thrown away by one of the visitors staying at the hotel.
Carlos, a middle-aged man, who has spent the last three years sleeping rough on the streets, shrugs his shoulders.

"If you ask me, it's all very well for these people to fly in from abroad, to buy their T-shirt and then disappear," he says. "Nothing changes for me and the five other guys who sleep on these park benches next to me."


Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith makes a literary comeback with On Beauty, an ode to EM Forster’s Howard’s End. Like her first novel, White Teeth, Smith examines the complex lives of two families – the Belseys and the Kipps – battling it out in the fictionalized college town of Wellington. Howard Belsey is a liberal Rembrandt scholar who is on the brink of tearing his family apart after having an affair with a fellow professor. His long suffering wife, the lovable Kiki, tries to keep together the sanity of her three children – Jerome, Zora and Levi. Howard’s archrival is Monty Kipps, the ultraconservative Trinidadian academic who comes to Wellington with his sensitive wife, Carlene and their promiscuous offspring, Victoria. Beginning with the rumor that Victoria and Jerome are to wed, the novel is a perfect capsule of the red state/blue state battle in America. This book is the perfect comic relief for anyone still recovering from the 2004 and/or even the 2000 US Presidential election. Any reader can relate to at least one of the characters. Smith gives her readers her version of race, gender, class, art, psychology, religion, family and politics - 21st century style. Lovers of Smith’s first book will continue to be proud of this young writer who is beyond her years. Like in life all her characters have flaws and concerns that they come to terms with in the end. Smith is a remarkable voice in latest crop of new writers. Forster would be most proud.


Out South:Illegal Arrests in India

From Human Rights Watch:

New arrests of gay men in Lucknow, India—
the scene of a case in 2001 that drew worldwide protests—show that
India's colonial-era sodomy law continues to threaten human rights and
encourage the spread of HIV, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter
to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

On January 4, Lucknow police arrested four men on charges of operating a
"gay racket" on the Internet, as well as of engaging in "unnatural" sex.
Police claim they seized the men while having a picnic in a public place,
and accused them of belonging to an "international gay club" centered
around the Internet website guys4men.com, on which gay men can place
personals and engage in Internet chat. Reports received by Human Rights
Watch indicate that undercover police, posing as gay on the website,
entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting
where they were arrested.

"Lucknow police have a shameful record of harassing gay men as well as
non-governmental organizations that work with them," said Scott Long,
director of Human Rights Watch's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgender Rights Program. "They are able to do so because India's
government clings to the criminalization of homosexual conduct, which
only prevents people from coming forward for HIV/AIDS testing,
information, and services."

In July 2001, Lucknow police, apparently spurred by an informer, raided
the local offices of two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working
on HIV/AIDS prevention, the Naz Foundation International (NFI) and
Bharosa Trust. Four staff members were jailed for 47 days in deplorable
conditions, accused of running a gay "sex racket." Police declared the
HIV/AIDS-related information materials seized in the raided offices
"obscene." They charged the men under India's sodomy law, criminal
conspiracy, aiding and abetting a crime and the sale of obscene materials.
After international condemnation of the detention of the "Lucknow Four,"
the case was eventually dropped.

In a 2002 report, Epidemic of Abuse, Human Rights Watch documented
how India's sodomy law has been used to harass HIV/AIDS prevention
efforts, as well as sex workers, men who have sex with men, and other
groups at risk of the disease. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, titled
"Of Unnatural Offences," punishes "carnal intercourse against the order of
nature" with up to ten years' imprisonment. It was introduced by British
rulers in the nineteenth century.

A challenge to section 377's constitutionality was brought was brought
before the Delhi High Court in 2001 by the Naz Foundation India, asking
the court to declare the law should no longer apply to consenting adults. In
response, the then government stated that "The purpose of section 377 of
IPC is to provide a healthy environment in the society by criminalising
unnatural sexual activities." The case ended indecisively, and litigation is
still pending.

"Section 377 strikes at the basic right to privacy," said Long. "This case
shows how it is used against rights to free expression and to meeting in a
public place. It casts a pall over public health efforts."

Human Rights Watch said that India's constitution protects the right to
equality, freedoms of speech and assembly and right to personal liberty.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to
which India acceded in 1979, guarantees freedom from discrimination. In
the case of Toonen v. Australia in 1994, the United Nations Human Rights
Committee held these protections against discrimination in all areas of
rights should be understood to include sexual orientation.


Obituary: Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq Mandefro

Ethiopians and Orthodox Christians around the world are mourning the death of Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq Mandefro. He spent decades launching congregations throughout the United States and the Caribbean and is credited with leading thousands of Rastafarians -- including reggae great Bob Marley -- toward Orthodox Christianity.

From the Washington Post:

As a young cleric, Yesehaq was a protege of Emperor Haile Selassie, titular head of the Ethiopian church. Yesehaq was sent to the United States in the 1960s and eventually became administrator of the church in the hemisphere, launching about 70 congregations, his followers say.

Yesehaq's work in the Caribbean began after Selassie visited Jamaica in 1966 and was thronged by local Rastafarians, who saw Selassie as a modern-day messiah. According to church leaders, Selassie denied being a deity and urged Yesehaq to try to draw the Rastafarians to the Ethiopian church. Yesehaq served many Jamaicans and others of Caribbean descent, in the islands and in immigrant enclaves in the United States. Among them was Marley, at whose funeral Yesehaq officiated in 1981.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of Christianity's oldest branches, was linked to the Coptic Church in Egypt until the 1050s, when it began conducting worship in the ancient Ethiopian language of Geez.

In the 1990s, Yesehaq declared the Western branch of Ethiopian Orthodoxy independent of the hierarchy in Addis Ababa, rejecting the authority of the new patriarch, Abuna Paulos. The rift endures today, although there are no liturgical differences between the two branches.


Day-O! Viva la Revolucion!

"No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution," said Harry Belafonte to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on a telecast on Sunday.

From the Associated Press:

Belafonte led a delegation of Americans including the actor Danny Glover and the Princeton University scholar Cornel West that met the Venezuelan president for more than six hours late Saturday. Some in the group attended Chavez's television and radio broadcast Sunday...

The 78-year-old Belafonte, famous for his calypso-inspired music, including the ''Day-O'' song, was a close collaborator of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and is now a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. He also has been outspoken in criticizing the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Chavez said he believes deeply in the struggle for justice by blacks, both in the U.S. and Venezuela.

"Although we may not believe it, there continues to be great discrimination here against black people," Chavez said, urging his government to redouble its efforts to prevent discrimination.

Chavez accuses Bush of trying to overthrow him, pointing to intelligence documents released by the U.S. indicating that the CIA knew beforehand that dissident officers planned a short-lived 2002 coup. The U.S. denies involvement, but Chavez says Venezuela must be on guard.

Belafonte suggested setting up a youth exchange for Venezuelans and Americans. He finished by shouting in Spanish: "Viva la revolucion!"

According to Wikipedia, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (born July 28, 1954) is the 53rd President of Venezuela. As the leader of the "Bolivarian Revolution", Chávez is known for his democratic socialist governance, his promotion of Latin American integration, his heavy criticism (which he terms anti-imperialism) of neoliberal globalization and United States foreign policy. Because of these views, he has been the target of criticism from in several industrialized countries on the grounds of lack of electoral transparency and constantly attacking groups with prejudice in his speeches.

A career military officer, Chávez founded the leftist Fifth Republic Movement after a failed 1992 coup d'état. Chávez was elected President in 1998 on promises of aiding Venezuela's poor majority, and reelected in 2000. Domestically, Chávez has launched several programs he dubbed Bolivarian Missions to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chávez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America.

A poll carried out between Feb 19 and March 2, 2005 put Chavez 's approval rating at 70.5% (Peter Millard Dow Jones Newswires).


On the Zapatista Campaign Road

On New Year's Day Zapatista leader Subcommander Marcos started his bid for president throughout Mexico. The largely ceremonial bid is intended to really build on the leftward turn in Latin American politics. Throughout his tour he is blaming current politicians for "savage capitalism and the sins of the rich for everything from gay-baiting to racism to domestic violence."

Subcommander Marcos has all the points of a typical campaign for political office: slogans, chants, partisan songs, rallies large and small, a campaign caravan making stops in towns and cities, jabs at other politicians, cute presentations from children and hugs from local community leaders, shaking hands with admirers over a line of bodyguards, and the occasional obligation to kiss, or at least hug, a baby or two.

From the New York Times:

"In the coming days we are going to hear a ton of promises, lies, trying to give us hope that, yes, things are now going to get better if we change one government for another," he said Tuesday before a crowd of 4,000 masked followers in the town square of Palenque, site of noted Maya ruins. "Time and time again, every year, every three years, every six years, they sell us this lie."

In January 1994, Marcos led an army of Indian farmers out of the mountains and took over the eastern part of the state of Chiapas, protesting the government's neglect of indigenous peoples. The government struck back with a huge offensive the following year, pushing the rebels back into the Lacandón jungle, which covers most of eastern Chiapas. The authorities say Marcos is actually a white college professor from a middle-class family whose name is Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente.

Since the old corrupt single-party regime was toppled in the 2000 elections, support for Marcos and the Zapatista Liberation Army has waned somewhat here. The Fox government has poured more money into schools and antipoverty programs, while keeping a heavy military presence in the region. In the meantime, Congress has rejected some accords with the rebels that would have given Indian communities greater autonomy...

...An adroit humorist, Marcos brought guffaws from the crowd as he described his rooster's attempts to find love in the barnyard, which always ended in Penguin falling over before he could mate.

That anecdote was told to persuade people to accept other kinds of love between same-sex couples. When someone in the back of the crowd shouted that Marcos could not heard, Marcos handled it like a seasoned stand-up comic.

"That's O.K.," he said. "This part is rated triple X. It's better you don't hear it."

Pedro Cruz, a 49-year-old construction worker, is typical of the Mexican voters he has been attracting to his speeches here. Like many working class people, Mr. Cruz is disenchanted with politics and contends that even the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution will be corrupted by big business interests if its candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is elected. He says he does not intend to vote.

"Marcos is going to have a big influence, I think," he said. "The fact is, it gives us some hope there might be some help for the poor."


Call for Inquiry into Egyptian Violence

International human Rights organizations are calling on the Egyptian government to set up an independent council to investigate the December 30 killing of 27 Sudanese refugees in a Cairo park and possible deportation of them.

In a letter to President Mubarak, Human Rights Watch today expressed
concern that some of the 645 persons slated for return could be at risk of
persecution in Sudan, and that the police assault had scattered families,
resulting in the separation of children from their parents. International
law prohibits the return of refugees to places where they face
persecution and obliges states to ensure that children not be separated
from their families.

"It's clear that the brutal tactics of the security forces left families
separated and vital documents such as refugee cards destroyed or
missing," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights

On September 29, 2005, several hundred Sudanese refugees started a protest in a park opposite the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, in the Mohandissen area of Cairo, near the offices of UNHCR. The protestors, who included asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants, were demanding improvements in their living conditions, protection from return to Sudan, and resettlement in a European or North American country, among other demands.

By the end of December, the number of demonstrators had exceeded 2,500 and the Egyptian authorities indicated that they intended to relocate the refugees to the outskirts of Cairo. On the evening of 29 December, police forces surrounded the area while last minute negotiations reportedly took place, involving leaders of the demonstration and officials from the Ministry of Interior. At around 3.30 am on December 30, the police forces started using water cannons to disperse the demonstration and subsequently beat the demonstrators.

Amnesty International considers that international standards require that the investigation should look into abuses by the police, including all deaths, and the circumstances surrounding them, as well as the alleged pattern of excessive or unnecessary use of force. Amnesty International said the independence and impartiality of the investigation would be strengthened by the participation of international experts. The Egyptian government should ensure that all those officials responsible for committing, ordering or failing reasonably to prevent any human rights violations should be brought to justice. They also should ensure that victims or their families receive adequate reparation.

Amnesty International is also calling on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that police comply with international standards governing policing activities, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and receive adequate training on fundamental human rights, in particular those protecting the rights to life and to physical and mental integrity of all individuals, among other rights.

President Mubarak subsequently said that the attorney general would
look into the incident, but government officials have consistently blamed
the demonstrators for provoking the violence and directly or indirectly
causing the deaths and injuries. In its letter to President Mubarak,
Human Rights Watch said that an independent commission was needed
in order to probe responsibility of high government officials, including
Interior Minister Habib al-`Adli, for ordering and directing the attack.

"Previous government inquiries into police violence against Egyptian
protestors have consistently exonerated Interior Ministry officials,"
Frelick said. "In this case the precipitous return of hundreds of victims
and witnesses would make any investigation into the violence of
December 30 an empty gesture."


No Cease Fire in Nepal

The Saga continues in Nepal...

From IRIN:

Nepal’s Maoist rebels have decided not to continue their unilateral cease-fire which expired on Monday after four months. Declared on 1 September 2005, this was the first unilateral cease-fire announced by the rebels after nearly a decade of violence aimed at overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a Maoist state.

Two cease-fires in 2001 and 2003 were called jointly by both rebels and government but ensuing peace talks ended in failure.

On this occasion, the government, currently under the direct rule of King Gyanendra and his council of ministers, did not reciprocate the Maoist ceasefire. In a statement the insurgents accused the state of arresting dozens of Maoists cadres and killing one of their key members, Kimbahadur Thapa, despite their cease-fire.

The king has come under severe criticism both at home and abroad, for failing to respond to the Maoist decision to cease hostilities and an offer of peace talks.

The United Nations expressed concern on 31 December that violence would escalate should the ceasefire end. “Secretary-General Kofi Annan deeply regrets that despite the appeal of so many national and international voices, including his own, no progress appears to have been made towards a mutually agreed truce,” said a statement by Annan’s office.

The suspension of hostilities had been widely welcomed and had led to an increase in aid and development work in the Himalayan kingdom as well as fewer deaths, injuries and abductions.

A recent report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said that despite continued human rights violations during the recent ceasefire period, the number of killings during the past four months had dropped sharply in 33 conflict-affected districts of Nepal.

The Maoists said in Monday’s statement that they would consider returning to a cease-fire if the situation improved and the army stopped killing their members and supporters.


Post Colonial Moment: The Battle of French History

With the recent race riots still fresh in memory, the French debate how the country's colonial history should be taught in schools.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The controversy "very much speaks to what is happening in France today," says Nancy Green, who teaches immigration history at the School for Higher Social Science Studies in Paris.

"Questions of memory keep popping up," setting competing groups' recollections against one another, she explains. "It's hard to tell when they'll be sufficiently digested" into a commonly accepted version of history.

The trouble started last February, when lawmakers from the conservative ruling party quietly slipped a clause into a bill requiring schools to "recognize in particular the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa."

History teachers protested, and in November the opposition Socialists, whose leader François Hollande said had voted for it "inadvertently," tried and failed to overturn it in Parliament.

Diplomatic pandemonium ensued. Algeria suspended negotiations on a friendship treaty with France that was meant to seal the two countries' final reconciliation. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled a trip to France's Caribbean island possessions when local leaders said they would not meet him. And fierce arguments broke out at home both about the nature of French colonial rule and about whether politicians should tell schools how to teach history.

President Jacques Chirac insisted in a special address in December that the French state had no intention of promoting an official history. "Laws are not meant to write history," he said. "The writing of history is for historians." France "has known moments of light and darker moments. It is a legacy that we must fully assume ... respecting the memory of everyone."

Mr. Chirac also added that he would form a commission to decide what to do about the law and report back in three months. "It does not take much," he warned, for history, "the key to a nation's cohesion," to become "a ferment for division."

That, argues Catherine de Wenden, a specialist on immigration, is the problem with perceptions of the war in Algeria, which ended with Algeria's independence in 1962.

"There were the colonists, the Algerians who fought with the French, the Algerians who fought against the French, the French soldiers called up to fight - each of these groups has drawn different conclusions from the war," Ms. de Wenden explains. "It is not possible for them all to have one common vision."

As French society has changed over the past half- century, with several million North African immigrants moving to France and raising children as French citizens, "more and more people do not recognize colonial history told from the colonizers' perspective," points out Guy Pervillé, a history professor at Toulouse University. "They want their memories reflected in history, too."

That has led to another historical flap, prompted by the recent publication of "Napoleon's Crime," a book that blasts France's greatest national hero for reintroducing slavery in the French empire in 1802.

This is an issue rarely raised in histories of Napoleon's rule, points out Patrick Karam, head of the "Guyanese, Caribbean and Réunion Collective" of intellectuals from France's overseas regions. "Historians have not done their job," he complains. "They have been pro-Napoleon propagandists."

So touchy is the subject that nobody from the government dared attend a December ceremony celebrating the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's greatest military victory, at Austerlitz.

It is unclear how the new law would actually change history teachers' classes, even if it stands. Historians are up in arms, though, because this is not the first time that the French parliament has written historical judgments into laws that are enforceable by the courts.

In 2001, the National Assembly passed one law declaring the fate of Turkish Armenians in 1915 to have been a genocide, and another pronouncing the trans-Atlantic slave trade a crime against humanity.

Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, a respected historian, will appear in court next month to face charges, brought by Mr. Karam's group, that he made statements in an interview implying that the slave trade was not a crime against humanity. (In fact, he said that it didn't constitute genocide.)

"If a citizen breaks the law he is punished," says Karam, who wants Dr. Pétré-Grenouilleau suspended from his university teaching job. "Why shouldn't a historian who breaks the law be punished?"

Historians have rallied round Pétré-Grenouilleau, seeing the lawsuit as an attack on academic freedoms. Some of the country's best-known historians demanded earlier this month that all laws "restraining a historian's freedom, telling him on pain of punishment what he should ... find," should be abolished.So long as French colonial history remains so politicized, however, unable to escape the different claims of competing recollections, it seems likely to remain a political problem.

"France, which needs to find itself and come together, cannot move forward into the future without facing its past with courage," said Azouz Begag, the Minister for Equal Opportunity.

"France has to accept that it is not at the head of an empire any more," adds Benjamin Stora, a historian at the Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilization in Paris. "This is a debate that history settled 50 years ago. We have to get over it."