Uganda, gambling and others

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Horrors in Uganda: a conflict the world has now forgotten

Horrors in Uganda: a conflict the world has now forgotten

Sir: In many ways, the problems of Northern Uganda are even worse than you describe ("Child soldiers, sex slaves and cannibalism at gunpoint: the horrors of Uganda's north", 23 October). We see the daily reality of a conflict which has been forgotten by the world and left to fester, and fear that the impression that it is nearing an end, created by the Ugandan government with Britain's apparent support, does not reflect this reality. A just and lasting peace is far from secure. Indeed, after 18 years of fighting, it is time to look for fresh ideas for ending the conflict.

You might think that the atrocities described would force the Ugandan government to act, but instead they have failed to respond adequately to this crisis, which has led to 1.6 million people fleeing their homes to avoid being attacked by the Lord's Resistance Army. Most of the people affected don't even have access to basic assistance, as it is simply too dangerous for aid agencies like Oxfam to reach them. Every night, 45,000 children leave their homes and walk for hours to take shelter and avoid abduction by the LRA. These and other civilians urgently need protection so they can live in safety and free from fear.

The UN and its member states should work with the African Union and the government of Uganda to ensure this protection now, while stepping up the longer-term efforts to find a just and lasting peace. The crisis in Northern Uganda is of such magnitude that it simply cannot be ignored.

International Director, Oxfam

Gambling Bill will lead to crime and misery

Sir: Why is an expansion of casino gambling even being considered? Did I miss mass marches to Downing Street with placards saying "What do we want - Gaming: When do we want it - Now!" ? From which direction has the presumed pressure come for this change?

How New Labour to encourage more people to gamble in more addictive and intensive ways, to put money in the pockets of the casino operators and - incidentally - in the Treasury coffers! Apparently this is excusable because of the enormous sums which will in theory be poured into regeneration by the casino operators. Of course! Let the poor pay for their own regeneration and bankrupt them in the process.

Extraordinarily, this crime- obsessed government has also found it possible in this context to muzzle David Blunkett and the very real concerns about crime: since gaming brings crime as summer brings swallows, whether in the management of the casinos, in the enforcement of debt or in the provision of illegal drugs.

We're then expected to listen to Tessa Jowell instructing us that anyone who objects to encouraging addiction, social misery, debt, regressive indirect taxation and organised crime is elitist and anti-American. What rubbish! This government has already demonstrated its disregard for democracy and ethics in the conduct of the Iraq affair. Now we have another example of its contempt and disrespect for the intelligence of the electorate, which will lead only to a further weakening of its perceived integrity.

Walton on Thames, Surrey

Sir: As a resident of Felixstowe I am directly affected by the proposal to site a casino in the town (20 October).

Your photograph implies that the casino will be built on the seafront, in an area with amusement arcades and fast-food outlets. This is not so. The casino would involve conversion of a cinema right in the centre of the town, surrounded by Edwardian terraced houses and adjacent to the conservation area. An uncompromisingly modern hotel will be built. Punters "from Chelmsford, Cambridge and Norwich" may use the A14 to get here, but will then be using the nearby very busy shoppers' car park - or competing with residents for spaces in the nearby streets.

We are against the proposal, not merely because it is a casino but because all the other buildings are going to make life increasingly difficult. We are not "genteel"; rather, we are ordinary working people enjoying living in an Edwardian conservation area. This is not "an area that could do with some regeneration". We have been quietly doing our own regeneration, restoring houses, replacing original features, removing modern excrescences of the type proposed for the hotel-casino.

The authorities should be looking to support residents in their efforts to improve their town, not giving them a kick in the teeth by encouraging a modern monstrosity.

Felixstowe, Suffolk

Sir: The Licensing Act 2003 will come into force on 1 January. This Act will place huge bureaucratic obstacles in the way of those who perform or promote live music. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Culture is backing legislation that will facilitate the building of casino.

Is it the Government's intention to kill off live music, in order to give people more time to gamble?

Curthwaite, Cumbria

Pensioners united

Sir: I was surprised at the references in your article "Age rage" (30 October) to pensioners not being organised in this country. The National Pensioners Convention is the umbrella organisation for pensioners, with over 1,000 affiliates representing pensioners' action groups, retired trade union members, branches of national federations and the voluntary sector such as Age Concern and Help the Aged.

The NPC organises the annual Pensioners' Parliament, which this year, with over 2,500 delegates, finalised the draft for the Pensioners' Manifesto. It created for the first time a comprehensive policy demand from pensioners. This document was presented to all MPs in September, and will be used in the run-up to the next general election, with all candidates' positions on it being widely publicised in their prospective constituencies.

Pensioners in this country are fed up with being members of the fourth richest country in the world whilst receiving the lowest state pension of any developed country in Europe.


Sir: I could not disagree more with Janet Street-Porter's "Age rage". I live in a town dominated by an affluent elderly population. Since they dominate the council and everything else, they ensure that no other group is catered for. They are hostile to younger groups, and they indulge that hostility in rudeness, aggression, and misbehaviour.

The elderly here are never prosecuted, and never even challenged for their behaviour. They are profoundly resented by all other sectors of the local population. That resentment is fully deserved. They are the cause of many social problems because the town is run entirely for their benefit.


Sir: No wonder no-one asks Simon Dee for advice. If he still pays his bills, (including rates which were abolished in 1987), when they arrive it's no wonder he's got no money.

Get into the 21st century, Simon. Stop moaning and pay by monthly direct debit. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with soup and sandwiches. They are healthier than a lot of other meals.

London, SW19

A father's pain

Sir: John Howarth (letter, 27 October) hits the nail on the head when he says the pain of losing one's children only increases with increased separation, but I think there are probably three ways to deal with it, not two: seek more contact - yes; turn your back and avoid contact altogether - yes. The third is maybe more productive in the long run: hang in there. Let them know you're always there for them. Send them letters and presents for Christmas and birthdays. Nurse the pain; it never goes away but it does lessen over time.

The last thing I expected after separation was that I wouldn't see my children. But five years after the event a punitive mother, nasty solicitor and puny legal system have contrived otherwise. Some children wait until their thirties before making contact with their fathers again. Zen says that infinite patience brings results. I'll be there when they come knocking.

Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex

EU commissioners

Sir: The European Parliament has made history repeat itself. Members have established decisive control of the composition of the Executive in exactly the same way as the Commons did in 19th century England.

Our Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen, but must command a majority in Parliament. The Commission is appointed by governments, but again must also command such a majority. The analogy is not exact, but in Europe today there are distinct similarities with Queen Victoria's failed attempt to avoid appointing Gladstone in 1880. Hartington and others could not command a majority and the Queen had to give in, as Berlesconi now has had to.

It would seem sensible in future years for heads of government to consult group leaders first. A decision should certainly not be left until a few days before the new Commission is due to leave office.

Hastings, East Sussex

Sir: The blackballing of the Italian nominee for the European Commission shows yet again how out of touch the European Parliament is with its electorate. The one person who overtly believes in God is refused. What does this say to Christians, Muslims, Jews and members of other faiths other than, if you have strong moral principles you are not wanted? Again, the atheistic nature of the EU is emphasised by the absence of any reference to God in the proposed constitution. Believers in the various faiths throughout the EU vastly outnumber the irreligious, but their views are being ignored.

Leigh Sinton, Worcestershire

Taxing plastic bags

Sir: How right you are to deplore the plastic bags that stores are determined to give away (leading article, 29 October), but it is not only the public that need educating about the unnecessary use of plastic carrier bags.

A local supermarket has recently stopped selling its 50p lifelong bags and reverted to insisting that shoppers use its free plastic carriers. I have a variety of the lifelong bags from different stores, which I regularly use to put my purchases in. I dread finding a member of staff offering to pack my bags as they insist on using plastic carrier bags and seem unable to cope with lifelong bags. How different from another chain of supermarkets where staff assume I will have lifelong bags and will only ask for a plastic carrier as a last resort.

Llandrindod Wells

Sir: There is an even simpler solution to the problem of plastic supermarket bags: do not visit supermarkets (letter, 30 October). While Mike Carter drags plastic crates to supermarkets, I get my household food delivered two times a year. We save money by buying in bulk. From spring to autumn we eat organic vegetables from the garden, and for whatever we need extra I cycle in to my local Co-op.

Inverkeilor, Arbroath, Angus

Emissions reaction

Sir, On Friday you published a letter from an eminent group of academics promoting the use of disused oil reservoirs and old aquifers to house the ever-growing clouds of CO 2 emissions, thus enabling Britain to meet its environmental targets and delay the inevitable for some 10,000 years.

Within 24 hours, ministers had announced a new initiative to likewise bury their heads in the sand along with the excess greenhouse gases. Is this a record?

Broadstone, Dorset

Google calculations

Sir: Matthew Hoffman points out (Errors & Omissions, 30 October) that a conversion of cubic centimetres was not given in the article about Homo floresiensis. He questions whether this was because the calculation was too complicated. Later in his column Mr Hoffman appears to be a fan of Google. If he types the phrase "380 cubic centimetres to cubic inches" into Google, it will give him the answer 23.1890228 cubic inches.

Ipswich, Suffolk

John Peel remembered

Sir: On reading Andy Kershaw's appreciation of John Peel (27 October), and how John felt he had been marginalised by the BBC, I was reminded of a similar situation around the time of the death of Alistair Cooke, who felt hurt by the way the BBC handled his "retirement". Hopefully this will be a wake-up call to managers generally.

Ash, Surrey

US goes to the polls

Sir: Just as the Bush administration needs an enemy to continue its war on terror, so Osama bin Laden also needs one to continue his. Hardly a surprise, a Bin Laden tape appears right on cue just before polling day. I wonder whether Bin Laden got an appearance fee for turning up bang on time? Sadly, many US citizens will miss the obvious, that for Bin Laden a Bush victory is essential.

Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent

Sir: I received my absentee ballot on 26 October. It appears that it was directed to a non-existent Teddington, Middlesex, in Canada, as the election officials failed to include the country in the address. I will only just be able to vote, via fax, as the ballot will not be counted unless it arrives before 8pm on 2 November.

Teddington, Middlesex, UK

Sir: It appears the US has appointed itself the world government. Following its democratic traditions, should it not therefore allow the rest of the world to vote in its election?

Reading, Berkshire