THE INDEX – June 23, 2010

Pakistan has released 17 Indian prisoners ahead of a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two nations.

The move is intended as a goodwill gesture, coming one day before Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is scheduled to hold talks with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad on June 24.

The prisoners were handed over to India’s Border Security Force near Wagah. They had been arrested for a variety of charges such as illegally crossing the border and overstaying their visas in Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani received a letter from his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh agreeing to negotiations and dialogue. The two nations must "move forward together towards resolving their core issues as wars are no solution", Gilani said. Pakistan and India have suffered from a significant breakdown in trust between the two countries since the 2008 Mumbai bombings, when India accused Pakistan of collusion with terrorists. There have been recent attempts at negotiations between the two nuclear-armed rivals, with both sides showing willingness to talk to try to get back to the progress they had made pre-Mumbai.                              —Nestor Bailly

Garment factories in Bangladesh reopened Wednesday after demonstrations forced a shut down early this week.

The demonstrations have been occurring since Saturday, when protestors began demanding increases in the minimum wage. Currently, the minimum wage stands at 2,000 takas ($25) per month, making Bangladesh’s garment producers the lowest-paid in the world. Demonstrators sought an increase to 5,000 takas ($73) a month.

Managers decided to close down their factories late Monday night when they believed protests were becoming too violent. Tens of thousands of demonstrators had gathered in the streets, and nearly 1,000 riot police were dispatched to control the crowds. On Tuesday, protestors blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh roadway for over two hours, creating traffic that stretched for nine miles. Police fired rubber bullets and released tear gas into the mob.

Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), announced the reopening of the factories after receiving government assurances that enough security forces would be present to quell any violence. “It is very volatile,” reported Police Deputy Inspector Ayub Khan. “We can’t predict if things will flare up again, but we have enough security to handle it today.”

Most workers returned to their jobs peacefully on Wednesday morning. However, Khan still cautioned, “We have nearly a thousand riot police here and we have water cannons in case trouble breaks out.”               —Peter Bozzo

A meeting of the International Whaling Commission [iwc] in Agadir, Morocco addressing whaling restrictions ended today with a stalemate.

This came as a great disappointment to the anti-whaling countries and activists seeking to alter the international convention on whaling in an effort to restrain more effectively the activities of whaling nations. Since 1986, whaling has been banned worldwide. However, Iceland, Norway, and especially Japan continue the practice, using loopholes in the 1986 convention to justify their activities. For example, Japan claims it hunts whales for scientific rather than commercial purposes, though this claim is widely disputed.

For conservationists, whaling is a major concern since it kills hundreds of whales on the endangered species list each year. The anti-whaling coalition’s proposal would have established quotas to replace the flawed convention, allowing for increased restriction and regulation. However, iwc members could not reach an agreement on how this quota would be structured, and the subject has been tabled for at least another year. Many in the anti-whaling camp are holding Japan responsible for failure to reach an agreement.                              Caroline Soussloff

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