UN Report: North Korea's Human Rights Abuses Are 'Systematic and Widespread'
NK Rights

Reporter:

The panel members heard testimony from 240 witnesses including several defectors from North Korea. The commission concluded, based on the evidence, in many cases the country committed crimes against humanity.


Michael Kirby:

It’s a unanimous report, it’s a report which speaks of the great wrongs that have been done to the people of North Korea, and which calls for attention from the international community.


Reporter:

UN investigators say political prisoners are subjected to torture, rape, and other forms of violence. They estimate the number of people in political prison camps is between 80-thousand and 120-thousand, even though leaders in Pyongyang deny their existence. The report also recognizes the abduction of foreign nationals by North Korean authorities is systematic. They believe agents may have abducted more than 200,000 people including more than 100 Japanese citizens. The commission acknowledges officials use land, naval and intelligence forces for abduction. They say operations were approved at the level of the supreme leader 


Members of human rights groups in Japan welcomed the report. They held a news conference in Tokyo. Shigeru Yokota and his wife Sakie attended. Their daughter Megumi was abducted to the North in 1977 when she was only 13.


Sakie Yokota / Abductee's mother:

I think whether the UN Security Council sincerely discusses this issue and takes action is crucial. It took many years for us to see the world starting to understand the situation.


Kanae Doi:

We continue to push Japanese government, as well as other key governments who sit at the Human Rights Council to adopt the very strong resolution to put this human right situation on North Korea at the Security Council.

 

Reporter:

Japanese Abduction Issue Minister, Keiji Furuya, called the report unprecedented. He said the findings are in depth. North Korean leaders have rejected the report. Their UN representative said they have been no cases of human rights abuse in the country. Investigators are now advising the UN they should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

 
 

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Thailand's Anti-government Protesters Vow to Sabotage Elections

In Thailand, anti-government protesters are ramping up their efforts to disrupt this weekend’s general election.  They wanted a postponement, but Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refused. Here’s NHK.


Reporter:

Yingluck met with members of the electoral commission. They urged her to put off the poll something that Thai constitutional court ruled would be legal. They said a fair election is unlikely given the current situation, but the prime minister didn’t agree. So the vote will go ahead. Demonstrators are vowing  to stop it. Already they’ve been sabotaging absentee voting.  They want Yingluck to resign because they feel her brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, exerts too much influence.  Protest leader and former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, denounced Yingluck for ignoring the will of the people.


Suthep Thaugsuban:

We must continue the fight. And expand our protests to topple the Yingluck’s government.


Reporter:

Suthep called on demonstrators to surround the offices of security authorities. The government declared a state of emergency last week for Bangkok and the surrounding area to maintain security ahead of the election.

 

 
 

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Could This Japanese Solution Provide Millions of Asians with Clean Water?

And now to a problem that's affecting hundreds of millions of people in Asia. More than 650 million don't have clean water to drink. A city in Japan says it has a solution. Here's NHK with the story.


Reporter:

Regional municipalities operate almost all the water work systems in Japan. The city of Kitakyushu in western Japan provides clean tap water to the city’s 490-thousand households. The city developed a water-purifying machine with the private company 15 years ago. Micro-organisms attached to activated carbon dissolve the pollutants. The machine is half the price of other technologies. It uses less chlorine to disinfect the water. Kitakyushu officials started promoting the technology with private firms from 2010 to emerging economies in Asia.


Kazuya Kubata, Waterworks Bureau:

Kitakyushu has a long history as a city of technology and manufacture. It's our mission to take  action. That’s something we must do.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials are now turning their attention to Vietnam. Haiphong is the country’s third biggest city. Raw sewage and industrial wastewater is discharged into rivers. The river water is purified for use in tap water by adding lots of chlorine. But that combination can generate harmful substances. Citizens boil tap water for drinking and cooking. They want clean water that their children can safely drink.


Parent:

I don’t feel safe using tap water. I feel uneasy. Because I have small children. But I don’t have any other choice.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials told their counterparts at the Haiphong Water Authority about their water purification technology. The Vietnamese officials liked what they saw and decided to start using the Japanese system. It went into operation last month.

The Haiphong officials based their decision on low cost of the Japanese system and the fact that it uses less chlorine. The machine succeeded in eliminating most of the pollutants.

The Japanese system has caught the attention of officials in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s biggest city.

They started testing at this month. That could lead to a deal worth almost 20 million dollars. Seven other Vietnamese cities have also asked Kitakyushu officials to do on site service.


Ho Chi Minh City water official:

Providing people safe water supply is one of our biggest goals. I hope their technology will bring us good results.


Kazuya Kubota:

If we want to get orders from abroad. We need to go into the field with local officials, and talk with them about what needs to be done.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials have high hopes for their work in Vietnam. They hope it will encourage Japanese companies to work together to design water resource management systems and win orders from overseas clients.

 

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Trial for Chinese Rights Activist Who Assembled Anti-Corruption Demonstrations
Xu Zhiyong, a Chinese rights activist, has gone on trial in Beijing for his role in anti-corruption protests. Xu is charged with gathering crowds to disrupt public order. Earlier this year, the police cracked down on Xu's grassroots movement, which called for government officials to publicly declare their assets. Here's a report from Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

Reporter:
Xu is a founder of the New Citizens Movement, which started last year. It encourages people to get involved in politics. Many people in the movement have been detained for taking part in demonstrations. They have demanded the disclosure of assets held by senior Communist Party officials.

Zhang Qingfang:

The proceedings don’t meet the minimum requirements for a fair trial. They lack legitimacy.

Reporter:

Xu’s supporters waved banners outside court and shouted that he is innocent. They called for freedom of speech. Police stopped the protest and could be seen hauling some people away.
 
 

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Our Unbalanced Chemical Burden
Chemical safetyThe year 2014 started with a claxon blare of emergency warnings: 300,000 West Virginians were given urgent instructions not to drink or even touch their own tap water. 

But 300 million other Americans could also hear the alarm's sound as the story grabbed nationwide media attention. That was appropriate. Not just because a ruptured storage tank had spilled its toxic contents into public water supplies in Charleston, West Virginia, but because the incident exposed the underlying failure in the safety of all Americans who assume they are protected by vigilant federal state and local agencies supposedly policing environmental threats.

Surprise. We are all living amid constantly increasing exposure to tens of thousands of chemicals in combinations and in doses we would never encounter in nature.

Why? Because of modern science, coupled with the industrial impulse to make money by manufacturing more and more products to make life easier and more enjoyable for more and more people. We call this progress.

Yes, there are laws on the books intended to protect us. Laws with huge loopholes demanded by special interests whose money and influence over lawmakers and lawmaking is hard to overstate. For example, when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in the 1970's, some 62,000 chemicals that were already in wide use were granted automatic approval under legislation that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring them to be safety tested unless scientific evidence already existed showing them to be dangerous. And these days the EPA, the big bulldog guarding public health, has also been granting conditional licenses for pesticide makers to introduce new, untested chemical products for food crop treatment under fast-track authority also imbedded in the law. Conditional licenses can last up to 20 years. 

Today 84,000 chemicals are in commercial use in manufacturing and agriculture. The number is growing, and the vast majority have never been tested and evaluated at all for safety by any regulatory authorities. The stuff is in our food and food packaging, cosmetics, in the clothes we wear and in household products of all kinds. So much for toxic substance control.

Cosmetics chemicalsDoctors and scientists are finding many links between chemicals widely in use and increases in leukemia, brain, breast and childhood cancers, asthma and certain birth defects. Chances of developing learning and development disorders, including autism, and endocrine disruption that effects development, metabolism, fertility and intelligence are increased at even extremely low doses. Whether that evidence is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the law is subject to much debate but little or no action. And so it goes.  

This is the way things work, because we believe so much in balancing interests and promoting a vigorous economy. Avoiding over-regulation is an important part of all that, as so many of those serving in elected office believe as they go about passing laws and blocking laws and collecting campaign contributions to help them remain in office. Most people know by now that much of that money comes from chemical companies and manufacturers who use those chemicals in their products and who of course employ many hard-working Americans who want to keep their jobs. Strictures on enforcement actions are in place not only in the EPA but also at the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers For Disease Control, and the Agriculture Department, where targeted budget constraints can cripple enforcement as effectively as can loopholes. And the conflict between public health concerns and private interests is even worse at many state and local agencies.

Since the effects of long term exposure to chemicals is slow and subtle, and because medical science is boosting life expectancy for so many of us, there is no sense of crisis, no emergency alarm. But look around. Not everyone is enjoying a longer life and good health.   

       
Miles R. Benson had a long career as a political correspondent for the Newhouse Newspaper Group. He spent 16 years as a senior Congressional correspondent and 16 years covering the White House. Since 2007, he has served as the special correspondent for Link TV's Earth Focus.
 
 

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Secrecy Bill Debacle Weakens Japanese Prime Minister's Support

Shinzo AbeJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is nearing the end of his first year in office. Following a landslide victory in 2012, Abe launched a number of policies to promote economic recovery. He also moved to revise the country's pacifist constitution to allow the military use of force. And the recent passage of a secrecy bill is Abe's latest move to boost Japan's defense capabilities. But do Japanese approve of this direction? A recent NHK poll suggests his popularity is the lowest it's been since he was elected.

Reporter:
Our interviewers spoke to more than 1,000 people by phone. Fifty percent said they support Abe's cabinet, a drop of 10 percentage points from last month. Thirty-five percent said they don't. Our poll asked for feedback on the new secrecy law. Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner approved last. The law gives the government more power to decide what people can and can't know. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they disapprove of the law. Thirty-two percent said they approve of it. Fifty-nine percent said the discussion over the bill by Diet members wasn't sufficient. Eight percent said lawmakers had a thorough discussion. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they are worried the law may infringe on the public's right to know. Abe spoke on Monday and addressed the criticism over the new law.

Shinzo Abe:
I sincerely recognize the citizens' severe criticism as a reprimand. I should have taken more time to explain the bill. But the problem lies in the fact that we lack rules to decide what constitutes a secret and how to keep secrets classified.

 

--


FukushimaDespite his poor poll numbers, Abe's going ahead with plans to strengthen Japan's military. His cabinet is expected to approve a plan to deploy more war planes and unmanned drones in the country's southwest. They'd be stationed closer to the islands that Japan's disputing with China. The defense review also calls for setting up an amphibious force to take back any islands occupied by a foreign country. The review makes no secret that the build-up is designed to counter China's growing presence in the East China Sea. Abe's cabinet is expected to approve the defense review in a few days.

And three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster people in the area still fear the risk of cancer and other illnesses caused by consuming contaminated radioactive food and drink. Produce, meat, milk and fish from the affected areas are known to be contaminated. Since 2011, more than 300,000 people in the prefecture have been tested for internal contamination using a device called the whole body counter. But until recently, the scanning machine was too large for infants, who are the most vulnerable to radiation exposure. In response to this problem, scientists developed a new testing device for babies. Once again, here's NHK.

Reporter:
Tests for radiation exposure for infants began at a hospital in Hirata village. Over 30 families showed up for the test.

Parent:
I have been so worried. I've been waiting a long time for my baby to be checked.

Parent:
I don't know what will happen when my baby grows up. So I'd like this checkup.

Reporter:
Yumi Takahara lives 80 kilometers from the nuclear plant. She has long been worried about the effects of the radiation on her three daughters. Manami, the youngest, is six months old.

Yumi Takahara:
I'd feel safer if my baby were checked at a younger age.

Reporter:
This new device is called Baby Scan. It measures the internal radiation level of an infant placed inside it. Infants undergoing the radiation check are placed in this compartment where they remain for four minutes. The machine has a relatively wide opening and children can watch their parents during the checkup, which helps them stay relaxed. Professor Ryugo Hayano of the University of Tokyo headed the research team that developed the scanner. He says the main challenge was to make it as precise as possible.

Professor Ryugo Hayano:
Even though the baby, or the children, are eating the same amount of radioactive cesium as compared to parents, the amount of radioactive cesium accumulated in the body will be much less. In order to quantify the amount of radioactive cesium in the body, it doesn't make sense to measure with the same detection limit that is used for adults.

Reporter:
The machine makes meticulous calculations and is designed to block as much external radiation as possible. It has four radiation sensors, twice as many as previous models. Takahara was anxious to hear the results of the scan. Manami was put into the machine. She cried a bit because she had to be away from her mother for several minutes. But her body was successfully measured and the examination was completed. The results came in minutes later.

Healthcare employee:
No cesium is detected.

Yumi Takahara:
We have been eating a variety of foods, so that was my main concern. I am very relieved to hear this positive result.

Reporter:
A thousand people have already made appointments to have their children examined. Thanks to this machine, those most vulnerable to radiation, infants, are finally beginning to get the protection they need.

 
 

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Thailand: Protesters React to Surprise Election Announcement
It's been another wild week in Thailand. For more than a month, protesters have tried to oust Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Tens of thousands occupied government buildings, trying to shut down the government. In response, she called surprise elections to, in her words "let the people decide the direction of the country and the governing majority." Thais will go to the polls on February 2. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported on the effect that this announcement had on the demonstations.

Reporter:
The sit-in continued on Thursday around the prime minister's offices. A few of the demonstrators scaled the compound walls but didn't enter any official building. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is asking police and military chiefs for talks to determine their allegiance. Despite a long history of coup attempts the army is currently refusing to take sides.

Protester:
I don't have much hope for the meeting, because I don't think they will accept the invitation. The armed forces chiefs want a new election, but we don't want that.

Reporter:
Yingluck, who received a warm welcome in Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand, offered on Monday to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. Yingluck's support is strong in the rural north and northeast, making her the most likely winner of the poll due in February next year. When in government, her brother Thaksin brought in policies designed to support farming communities there. However, middle class city dwellers who formed the bulk of the protest movement are calling for the establishment of an unelected council to appoint Thailand's next political leaders. That said, protest leaders have yet to make a formal announcement on whether or not they will back the election.
 
 

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A Month After Typhoon Haiyan, Tacloban Struggling to Rebuild
A month after Typhoon Haiyan wiped out parts of the Philippines and killed nearly 6,000 people, the hardest hit areas are struggling to clean up. And 1,500 people are still missing. Japan's NHK has this report from the city of Tacloban, where residents are struggling to recover from the disaster.

Reporter:
This is Tacloban, the biggest city on Leyte Island, one of the hardest hit areas. Mountains of debris are everywhere along the coast. Infrastructure such as electricity and water is still heavily damaged. Some of it is totally destroyed.

Resident:
Some people are back at work. But only about 30 percent. We don't even have electricity.

Reporter:
The markets are often running. For those with cash, there's plenty of food and meat. But whatever we grow, we see long queues. Survivors wait to receive some of the international aid that has finally arrived. Most people have nothing. The residents of this village used to be carpenters, farmers and fishermen. But one month after the Typhoon Haiyan washed out everything they had, they now found themselves earning from "cash for work" programs. Elena Daga has a temporary job. She's been hired by an aid organization. She clears debris for 8 hours and gets paid about two and a half dollars. Elena had a small house and a shop in downtown Tacloban. The day before the typhoon her husband told her to evacuate with their children. He said he would look after the shop. She returned four days later to find nothing left but the foundations.

Elena Daga:
This is all that's left. My husband was swept away by the waves.

Reporter:
Elena has built a shelter on the outskirts of Tacloban out of debris that she found. She lives with her two daughters and a son who cry for their father.

Elena Daga:
I need to get a proper job. My children need to go to school. That's all I want.

Reporter:
The majority of people here are Christians like Elena. Many say that this year they don't have the means to celebrate Christmas. They're only at the beginning of a long road to recovery.
 
 

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Thailand: Protesters, Security Forces Call Truce for King's Birthday
Thai protestsIn Thailand, anti-government protesters and security forces entered a tentative truce just in time to honor the birthday of the country's king. This comes after days of demonstrations railing against the policies of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Demonstrators accuse Shinawatra of being a stand-in for her brother, deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 2006. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reports from Bangkok with the latest.

Reporter:
On Thursday morning the King called for solidarity in an address aired across the country. The king is the longest ruling monarch in the world. Although, he has no official political power under the Thai constitution, he exerts great influence. In past political crises, the king has paved the way for mediation by summoning rival groups to appear together before him. That's why attention has been focused on whether his address on Thursday would help end the recent turmoil. The king appealed for solidarity without showing support for either of the rival political groups. The most recent conflict was triggered when Prime Minister Yingluck attempted to railroad a controversial amnesty bill through parliament last month. The opposition reacted sharply, saying the bill would let Yingluck's older brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, return to Thailand. He was ousted in a 2006 military coup and is now living in self-imposed exile. On Thursday anti-government protesters continued sit-ins on the grounds of government offices. They plan to restart demonstrations on Friday. The rift is a confrontation between those who are benefitting from Thailand's economic growth and those who are being left behind. The opposition group's base is the urban middle class. Thaksin's support is rooted in the farming villages he courted with generous aid programs to win elections. With deep seeded issues unresolved the lull on the king's birthday is unlikely to last long.
 
 

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Dispatch from the Fracking Front Lines: Transylvania Fights Back

[Reprinted with author's permission from The Ecologist]

 

As the headlights fade around the bend, the team begins their work, snipping the orange seismic wires and slicing through electrical converters and generator boxes.

"Do you think they're about to have sex?" one of the group whispers. I'm in Transylvania, crouched in the bushes with a bunch of activists in balaclavas, taking turns to speculate why a car has crept to a halt close to where we are hiding out. "No, it must be the cops, you can see the light from the mobile phone," another one says. Time to move on.

It has been over an hour since the group started trashing equipment owned by the gas exploration company Prospectiuni, playing an edgy game of cat and mouse as we struggle to stay one step ahead of the security teams and police vehicles that are now sweeping the hilltops looking for us.

Another light tears round the bend on the road and the shout goes through the team to hide. I throw myself down, stretched out once again in the cool damp grass of a Transylvanian meadow. It's going to be a long night.

In recent weeks the sleepy Saxon communities and protected forests of Sibiu county in Transylvania, have become an unlikely front for a new battleground, pitting gas exploration companies, the Romanian government, and international investment firms against a small band of environmental activists from across Romania. The activists are working side by side with local farmers to resist gas and oil exploration that they claim is taking place illegally on their land.

Listed on the London Stock exchange just two weeks ago with brokering assistance from Goldman Sachs, the Romanian gas company Romgaz has long announced plans to explore the low-lying hills of Transylvania for conventional and also unconventional sources of gas and oil.

Nobody gave it another thought until the exploration began in earnest this month, when 34-ton earthquake-inducing seismic trucks growled into the muddy tracks of villages here, accompanied by cohorts of security guards and busloads of workers.

Communities told me that they awoke to ribbons being laid out across their lands even attached to their garden fences, signals for the companies to lay cables and plant the explosives for the seismic tests.

Today the villages and fields are peppered in strips of ribbon, stretching like spaghetti across this ancient landscape of beech forests, bee hives and the harvested stubs of organic corn fields intermingled with medieval villages and citadels.

Jim Wickens/EFU
The village gathers to protest fracking. Photo: Jim Wickens/EFU.

All the seismic tests are taking place within Romania's largest Natura 2000 site. Several of the churches here are UNESCO heritage sites, visited both by Princes Charles and Edward in recent years.

Driving into the remote communities where the seismic tests are taking place feels like walking into an occupied territory. I watch as a team of workers prepare a hole with dynamite a few metres from the village football pitch. On the high street private security jeeps can be seen parked up at the crossroads, black uniformed men filming and following our every move.

At the end of the road an elderly orthodox priest ushers me inside nervously, asking not to be identified. "They told me not to talk with you", he says. "The bishops say it is not the role of a priest to get involved in community affairs." He pauses, a flash in his eyes, almost thinking aloud.

"We thought they had come to rebuild the playground - then the earthquake happened, shaking the houses here, causing cracks and breaking ornaments inside the houses. The people were scared. Nobody asked us permission, they didn't even tell us what they were doing."

He is interrupted by a shrill ringtone on his mobile. Fifteen minutes later he returns to the kitchen, told again by his superiors to be quiet. The interview is over. "They know you are here", he says, showing us the door.

We keep moving out of the village, following the ribbons and the intermittent booming sounds of controlled explosions echoing around the valleys. Away from the security guards, a lady speaks up. "They are thieves," she hisses. Her neighbor comes over begging for answers. "We've heard the land will be poisoned, is this true? We live from this land. We don't have salaries!"

At the top of a hill I find a giant geological lab on wheels, antennae dangling on top and men pouring over electrical equipment inside. A small portly man introduces himself. Gheorghe Daianu, a seismologist and director of operations for the exploration company Prospectiuni, which has been subcontracted for 40 million euros to carry out the tests in the region.

He condemns the protests against his work, calling opponents of gas exploration "neo fascists." Daianu is resolute that the company has permission to be on every parcel of land where the tests are taking place, a claim he says that can be backed up with paperwork, before he orders us to leave the area.

I head to the nearby village of Mosna, where farmer Willy Schuster and his wife Lavinia have invited me to stay at their home to cover a protest planned against the exploration activities.

Amidst clucking chickens, roaring fires, and cheese-making in the kitchen, a dozen activists began to arrive from across the country, updating Facebook accounts and charging their cameras for the following day. This would be the first protest against gas exploration in Transylvania, they explained, urging me to get an early night's sleep. But first I had another appointment.

Bundled into a rusty van under cover of darkness from a pre-arranged location, I found myself sat in the midst of a dozen men and women in balaclavas. The driver turns to greet me. "Don't worry about our get-away vehicle - it's super quick. Only 350,000km on the clock!" She laughs out loud as the rusty door slams shut, and the team trundles away into the frosty darkness.

Jim Wickens/EFU
Fracking protester with seismic wires. Photo: Jim Wickens/EFU.

Minutes later, I am bundled out onto the roadside with military precision, scurrying into the undergrowth with half a dozen adrenaline-fuelled activists, armed with pliers and wire cutters. As soon as the headlights fade round the bend, the team began their work, snipping the orange seismic wires and slicing through electrical converters and generator boxes they come across.

Every so often a shout goes up, and the team is sent diving for cover as the sweeping headlights of suspected security vehicles sweep across from the road close by. Part army, part anarchy, the evening is spent in a whirlwind of adrenalin-fuelled scrambling among remote hills under the light of a full moon, clawing through scratchy thorn bushes, woodland clearings and boggy streams. Beneath the balaclavas, members of the team gradually open up to me.

"Several months ago none of us knew each other, but now we are united. We are so angry about the way our country is being run. 2013 must be the year that Romania wakes up, that citizens begin to have a say in what is happening to our country. Things like fracking have to stop. We cannot accept the destruction of our own future."

At seven the next morning I sat drinking coffee with Willy in his farmhouse kitchen when a convoy of gas trucks rolls past his window en route to his fields. He runs out of the door chasing after them, apoplectic with rage.

I arrive on scene just in time to see workers from the exploration company filing out of their company coach and spreading out across his wintery fields. Willy screams them away, impounding a company pickup and refusing to let it go until the police come to file a criminal complaint.

As the morning unfolds, streams of security trucks are chased, kicked, and turned away from Willy's land. "I am terrified for my children", he says, waving a flimsy branch at the assembled security forces facing him down on the muddy track. "I am fighting for their future."

A man more accustomed to milking cows than fighting multinationals, he is nonetheless standing up to the gas companies. Many more are beginning to follow the example of this accidental hero who is rapidly becoming a thorn in the side of the country's energy ambitions.

Southern Transylvania's rolling hills are one of several new fronts opening up in Romania's search for home-grown deposits of natural gas and oil, a treasure-trove of energy opportunities according to energy-extraction advocates.

Victor Ponta, the Romanian prime minister, made a bold statement to journalists in June this year, laying the way for a swathe of expansion by fossil fuel companies across the hills of Europe's second poorest nation.

"Do we want to have gas? First of all to stop importing from Russia. Do we want to have it cheap and do we want to make the Romanian industry competitive and, of course, to have lower expenses for the people? Then we must have gas."

But Ponta's government is facing an unexpectedly uphill battle in meeting their resource ambitions. In recent weeks the controversial Canadian-owned gold mine in Rosia Montana has been put on hold, forced into submission by waves of protests in city streets numbering tens of thousands.

And in the latest public showdown, a fracking rig operated by Chevron further south, has been chased away from a test site by communities deeply fearful of the damage that they believe fracking may bring.

With almost four million peasant farmers in Romania reliant on clean air, water, and soil for their livelihood, support for natural resource protection campaigns are finding fertile ground in the most unlikeliest of places, among the conservative communities in the country's rural heartland.

I meet Hettie, a 26-year-old activist from the nearby city of Brasov, as she blocks the road to Willy's land. "If villagers see us doing it, they will do it too," she says. "We have to give people the courage to do this at any time."

Faced with an increasingly galvanized opposition, the government is preparing to fight back. A "Law of Expropriation", currently being drafted in the Romanian Parliament, will potentially allow multinational companies to take over privately-owned land if it is felt the developments are "in the national interest." At present, the law is focused primarily around mining. But observers say it is widely expected to be extended to energy development projects in the near future.

Jim Wickens/EFU
Fighting with the police. Photo: Jim Wickens/EFU

 

The stand-off in Willy's field is rapidly escalating into a community affair. Half a dozen security cars remain blocked, prevented from moving forward by a growing throng of local residents, joined by Roma kids on bicycles and a young woman riding a horse. A farmer appears in an orchard on the other side of the valley where minutes earlier gas workers had been busy rolling up electrical wiring.

Gheorghe Daianu, the Prospectiuni seismologist, spits angrily, wiping his wrinkled forehead in frustration and sucking heavily on a cigarette. "Of course they have no permission to be here, but what can I do?"

Community activists claim that half a dozen laws are being breached by Prospectiuni in their gas exploration, from lacking the appropriate permits, testing too close to homes, through to committing trespass. "The real problem here is that village people simply don't know their rights," says community activist Hans Hedrich.

Prospectiuni and Romgaz both turned down an opportunity to comment on claims of illegality, but in a statement on their website the CEO of Prospectiuni states: "Occasionally we still make mistakes, but they are not ill-intentioned, however we try to have active environmental permits and town planning certificates."

By late afternoon, under the lee of another 600-year-old medieval church, volunteers are dishing out potato soup, Transylvanian cakes and hot tea - with surprising efficiency. Elderly ladies in headscarves and traditional dress are rubbing shoulders with pierced activists and men in balaclavas.

It's an intriguing mix. The impassioned crowd marches out to rip out more seismic wires in full view of the policemen who stand watching from the side of the road. Residents too scared to talk the day before now stand outside their houses, cheering and applauding the protestors in delight.

"Honestly, I feel sorry for them," one of the police officers tells me, as they stand aside and allow the protestors to rip out a mile of bright orange cabling, dragging it through the dust on their way back to the village. "What the company is doing here ... well ... it's just wrong." Then he moves his head closer to mine. "Actually it's illegal," he whispers.

Jim Wickens is an investigative journalist. He works for the Ecologist Film Unit and is a regular correspondent for The Ecologist.

 
 

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