02/05/2007, 00.00
CHINA - ZAMBIA
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Public protests against Hu Jintao

The government gave the Chinese president a warm welcome and announced economic exemptions for Chinese firms. But workers and the opposition greeted Hu with protests and criticism. Beijing stands accused of exploiting miners and textile workers, taking away the country’s precious copper and opening fire on workers who protest. In Sudan, business was the only topic of discussions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Protests and disputes met President Hu Jintao during a two-day visit to Zambia. Today Hu arrives in Namibia, the fifth leg of his African tour.

Hu arrived in Zambia on 3 February from Sudan, a state in which he talked much about economic accords but said little or nothing about human rights, the genocide and Darfur. Beijing said it will slash Zambia’s debt by eight million dollars and announced investments worth 800 million dollars over three years in the copper mining industry in the northern region of Chambeshi, with the planned creation of 60,000 jobs. Other projects in the pipeline are the construction of two rural schools, a hospital for malaria and an avant guarde agricultural centre. A 0 million foundry will be built in the mining region and a sports stadium in Ndola.

It is in Chambeshi that Chinese firms are accused of making miners work without safety guarantees and of preventing trade union activities. In 2005, 51 miners were killed in a mine blast. In 2006, Chinese supervisors and police opened fire on miners who were asking for better work conditions and increased salaries (now they are paid two dollars a day). Former miner Albert Mwanaumo told how a Chinese supervisor shot him and said: “The Chinese, they don't even consider us to be human beings.” Lusaka cancelled a visit by Hu to the mining region to avoid certain public protests.

A parliamentary spokesman, Amussa Mwanamwambwa, announced a decision by Lusaka to set up a special zone of economic cooperation with Chinese investors with perks and fiscal exemptions. But he had to ask the Chinese to “give priority” to local suppliers for goods and services, now procured from elsewhere, to avoid “adversely affecting the growth of local industries”. Copper constitutes 60% of the country’s export and is essential for Chinese industry.

China’s presence in Zambia is backed by the president Kenneth Kanuda but bitterly opposed by the Opposition of Michael Sata. For the election on 28 September last, Sata promised to reopen ties with Taiwan and to throw Beijing out. He won a big majority in Lusaka and in the mining region, where the Chinese presence is greatest.

The General Secretary of the Patriotic Front Guy Scott said the Chinese “are out to colonise Africa economically and also to get Africa's solidarity at the United Nations”. But Zambia’s Finance Minister, Ng’andu Magande, applauded the “Chinese way” of favouring “the economic route” compared to those who devote primary attention to “United Nations reform and [armed] conflict zones”. He proclaimed the visit of Hu a “great success”.

In January, workers of the Zambia-China firm Mulungushi Textiles, the country's largest textile mill, protested outside the Chinese embassy to complain about poor wages, mistreatment and the temporary closure of the plant that left 700 workers without pay.

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