PRETORIA, South Africa - Associated Press - August 16, 2001: Waving anti-American and anti-Israeli signs, some 2,000 South African workers demonstrated Thursday against the United States for threatening to boycott a U.N. conference on racism.
Gathered outside the U.S. Embassy, the demonstrators criticized the United States for warning it would skip the meeting over references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and African demands for slavery reparations in a proposed convention document.
The contentious issues have overshadowed planning of the World Conference Against Racism which begins Aug. 31 in the South African coastal city of Durban. The Americans' staying home would diminish the gathering's credibility.
Sipho Pityana, director general of the South African Foreign Ministry, said progress had been made in diplomatic discussions, noting that language singling out Israel as racist has been dropped.
"There is a general understanding we have to move away from the more heated language," Pityana said at a news conference Thursday.
Pityana said that the questions of reparations for slavery and a proposed apology by former slave-holding nations remained unresolved.
"This is not Africa with a bag and a bowl asking for assistance," Pityana said. "It is about the legacy of the past we are grappling with."
The United States opposes demands for compensation from countries that benefited in the past from slavery and colonialism.
Pityana said that if attempts for compensation fail, suggestions have been made for symbolic gestures such as the building of monuments in memory of the victims of the slave trade and colonialism.
At the demonstration arranged by local unions and the South African communist party, protesters waved signs that read, "Stop Apartheid Israel" and "United States: Stop Supporting Racism."
Jan Tsiane, leader of a local political group, said those protesting Thursday identified with the Palestinian people and the current uprising against Israel. "(We) would have opted for the same option of becoming suicide bombers," Tsiane told the marchers, referring to the Palestinian militants who have killed scores of Israelis in recent terror attacks.
UNITED NATIONS - Associated Press - August 16, 2001: The United Nations is facing a summer cash crunch because of dozens of countries that have not paid dues, including the biggest culprit, the United States.
The world body will have to dip into the separate peacekeeping budget later this month to pay staff salaries and other bills, U.N. deputy spokesman Manoel Almeida e Silva said Wednesday.
As a result, countries that contribute troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations won't get paid, he said.
While 103 countries have paid their full assessment to the regular budget, 86 countries have paid only part of their dues, or nothing, Almeida e Silva said.
Despite being owed some $728 million, the United Nations had the money to cover its costs. But Almeida e Silva said the U.N. cash flow situation now "is extremely precarious with a projected cash deficit of $75 million by the end of this month."
The United States' unpaid dues total $463 million, accounting for 64 percent of the money owed to the United Nations.
Other major contributors who haven't paid up include Japan, which owes $152 million, but Almeida e Silva said the Japanese usually send a check in September.
Brazil and Argentina, both facing serious financial problems, owe $39 million and $21 million respectively, and China owes over $7 million.
This summer's cash crisis is similar to one last year when 108 countries were paid up but the United Nations was still owed $760 million. The $463 million in unpaid U.S. dues to the current budget is distinct from $582 million in back dues that Washington had owed the United Nations since the mid-1990s.
Payment of the dues has not yet received full approval from Congress, and House Republican leaders have threatened to delay the back dues until the Bush administration agrees to support legislation exempting American military personnel from the reach of the International Criminal Court, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The administration wants those dues paid before President Bush's scheduled speech to the U.N. General Assembly in late September, the newspaper said. And even though the administration, like the House conservatives, opposes the international court, it does not want to be constrained by the legislation, the paper said.
Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the United States risks eroding its standing in the United Nations if it doesn't pay its back dues before the annual General Assembly session begins next month.
JOHANNESBURG, Agence France-Press - 2 August: Thousands of activists from around the world will demonstrate at a UN- sponsored conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this month, protest organizers said Thursday. "But we don't want another Genoa -- the protests will be peaceful," said Nazeem Jeenah, of South Africa's National Consultative Forum on Palestine, referring to battles between police and demonstrators at a G8 summit in that Italian city last month.
"We do not expect any trouble. We are planning the protests in such a way that we can maintain discipline," he told AFP.
Jeenah said at least 20,000 South Africans would take part in a march on August 31 as South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the conference, and that he expected many of the 10,000 to 12,000 delegates attending a parallel meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to join in.
Mark Weinberg of the South African Non-Governmental Coalition agreed. "We expect around 20,000 South Africans to take part -- and that's a very conservative estimate," he told AFP, adding that he too expected several thousand of the NGO representatives to join the march.
The South African protesters represent such diverse groups as the landless, those against the privatization of state companies, and AIDS activists. Mark Heywood, spokesman for AIDS campaigners the Treatment Action Campaign, said its local branch would be taking part.
He agreed there was a potential for "quite a large number of people" to take part in protests, depending on the issue, but added: "At this point it's not very easy to say."
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, with 1.7 million members, is planning a separate march at the week-long UN conference, which organizers say will be attended by around 12,000 delegates, including at least 30 heads of state.
Jeenah said the activists wanted to see reparations for slavery and Zionism on the agenda -- two topics which have provoked threats of a US boycott -- along with Indian untouchables, Third World debt, the situation of indigenous peoples, AIDS, social services and landlessness.
"We were expecting that the United States would take this position on Zionism but we are very disappointed that the South African government has not taken a clearer stance on this issue," he said.
"There is no issue -- Zionism is racism and Israel is an apartheid state.
"What the Palestinian people are suffering is very similar to what happened under apartheid and the government had very close ties with the Palestinian liberation movement, hence we had hoped that South Africa would take a strong position."
Jeenah said the protests would last the whole week, with a different topic highlighted each day.
"A lot of different constituencies are taking part so that everybody's voice will be heard," he said.
"The protesters have also agreed to share the same agenda, to support each others' causes, so on every day after that (opening day) we are expecting at least 10,000 to 15,000 people to take part."
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma meanwhile said Thursday that preparations for the conference were on track. "We think from our side things are really on momentum," she said in Pretoria at the launch of a postage stamp to mark the conference, adding that the US boycott threats gave no reason for panic.
"Racism by its very nature will mean that people will have different experiences and outlooks, so it will be a miracle if we assume that people will think alike," she said. "What is important is that at the end of the conference we arrive at some common ground and come up with a document ... to deal with the scourge of racism."