1 Millions to be moved in China anti-poverty drive (Tom Phillips in The Guardian) Over the next three years China’s Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes.
Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used.
By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.
China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities.
A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.
2 Saudi princes held for anti-austerity protest (BBC) Saudi authorities have arrested 11 princes for holding a protest at a royal palace in the capital Riyadh. The group were angered by the government’s decision to stop paying the water and energy bills of royals. Those involved have not been named.
The government is currently attempting a major economic overhaul to reduce its dependence on oil revenues. Public spending has been targeted, including the lifting of some government subsidies. The kingdom has roughly doubled domestic petrol prices and introduced a 5% tax on most goods and services, including food and utility bills.
News of the sit-in was first reported on the Saudi website Sadq. The princes also said they wanted compensation after one of their cousins was handed the death sentence for an unspecified crime, according to Sabq. Last year dozens of princes, as well as sitting ministers and ex-ministers, were arrested as part of an anti-corruption drive.
3 Stressed Iran working class fuels protests (San Francisco Chronicle) The Iranian town of Doroud should be a prosperous place — nestled in a valley at the junction of two rivers in the Zagros Mountains, it’s in an area rich in metals to be mined and stone to be quarried.
Yet local officials have been pleading for months for the government to rescue its stagnant economy. Unemployment is around 30 percent, far above the official national rate of more than 12 percent. Young people graduate and find no work. The local steel and cement factories stopped production long ago and their workers haven’t been paid for months.
That’s a major reason Doroud has been a front line in the protests that have flared across Iran over the past week. Several thousand residents have been shown in online videos marching down Doroud’s main street, shouting, “Death to the dictator!”
Anger and frustration over the economy have been the main fuel for the eruption of protests that began on Dec. 28. President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, had promised that lifting most international sanctions under Iran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the West would revive Iran’s long-suffering economy.
But while the end of sanctions did open up a new influx of cash from increased oil exports, little has trickled down to the wider population. At the same time, Rouhani has enforced austerity policies that hit households hard. Demonstrations have broken out mainly in dozens of smaller cities and towns like Doroud, where unemployment has been most painful and where many in the working class feel ignored.
The initial spark for the protests was a sudden jump in food prices. It is believed that hard-line opponents of Rouhani instigated the first demonstrations in the conservative city of Mashhad in eastern Iran, trying to direct public anger at the president. But as protests spread from town to town, the backlash turned against the entire ruling class.