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Bush blocks campaign to put pressure on Sudan over Darfur By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
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Sep 19, 2006 - 11:12:00 AM

Bush blocks campaign to put pressure on Sudan over Darfur

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Published: 19 September 2006

The Bush administration and big business interests have been accused of undermining efforts to exert financial pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the killing in Darfur.

A bill that passed the US Congress endorsing state legislation to force publicly owned entities to sell off holdings in companies that do substantial business with Sudan, or sell Khartoum weapons, has now been blocked in the Senate, with campaigners blaming the White House. They say the long-delayed draft put forward last week by the Foreign Relations Committee had removed a clause known as Section 11 that would have thrown its weight behind a celebrity-backed campaign requiring publicly owned entities to dump stock.

"If the federal government is for divestment outright, they should publicly state so," said Jason Miller, a US-based Darfur campaigner. " If they are against divestment, they should publicly state so. If there's some middle ground where they agree with certain types of divestment but not others, they should have been open to compromise on Section 11 language. Instead, they gave us complete ambiguity."

The half dozen states that have already passed such measures, and the 15 more said to be studying them, now face the prospect of legal action from a big business pressure group with a track record of lobbying against economic sanctions.

The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) has already sued the state of Illinois, which has enacted the most sweeping such measure. Despite the Senate action, California has become the latest state to draft a bill that would require state pension funds to identify companies in which they invest, and are involved with Sudan. These would then have 90 days to end the association. Failing that the funds would be obliged to sell the stock.

The move in California, which was inspired by a divestment initiative of the University of California, is another vivid sign of how individual states, academic bodies and celebrities such as George Clooney are now taking the action that the US government is unable or unwilling to take itself.

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