World Bulletin/News Desk
Canada's prime minister will meet with native leaders next week to discuss social and economic issues, an olive branch to an angry aboriginal movement that has blockaded rail lines and threatened to close Canada's borders with the United States.
Stephen Harper made no mention of the aboriginal protests in a statement on Friday announcing the Jan. 11 meeting.
But the meeting is a key demand from native Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike for 25 days on an island within sight of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
Spence's spokesman Danny Metatawabin told reporters, on the snowy ground outside her traditional teepee, that she would continue her hunger strike until she was satisfied with the outcome of next week's meeting.
Spence's hunger strike has been one of the most visible signs of a protest movement called Idle No More, which had announced plans for blockades on Saturday all along the U.S.-Canadian border.
It was not clear if these blockades would now be called off, or if there would be any disruptions at the border crossings between the two big trading partners.
The movement is not centrally organized, and Metatawabin said he would not tell others what to do. Several hours after Harper's announcement, the Idle No More website still had a call up for blockades on Saturday.
Demonstrators blocked a Canadian National Railway Co line in Sarnia, Ontario, for about two weeks until Wednesday, and there were shorter blockades elsewhere in the country, including one that delayed passenger trains between Montreal and Toronto for several hours on Sunday.
Harper said next Friday's meeting would address economic development, aboriginal rights and the treaty relationship between the government and native groups. He described it as a follow-up to a meeting with aboriginal leaders last January as well as talks in November with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.
"While some progress has been made, there is more that must be done to improve outcomes for First Nations communities across Canada," Harper said in a statement.
Many of Canada's 1.2 million aboriginals live on reserves where conditions are often dismal, with high rates of poverty, addiction and suicide.
Treaties with Ottawa signed a century ago finance their health and education in a way that many experts say is now dysfunctional.
Speaking to reporters in Oakville, Ontario, Harper sidestepped a question on whether he had agreed to the meeting because of Spence's hunger strike and fear the protests could snowball like last year's Occupy Movement.
Asked about the demonstrations, he said: "People have the right in our country to demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law, but I think the Canadian population expects everyone will obey the law in holding such protests."
Idle No More was sparked by legislation that activists say Harper rushed through Parliament without proper consultation with native groups and which affects their land and treaty rights. But it has broadened into a complaint about conditions in general for native Canadians.
In her meeting with reporters after Harper's announcement, Spence said she planned to attend the meeting in person along with three of her supporters and she wanted the governor general - Queen Elizabeth's representative - and the Ontario premier to attend as well.
She stood flanked by her daughter and several supporters, some of them holding up feathers. There were several minutes of drumming and singing before she and her spokesman began talking.
When asked what she needed to hear from the prime minister in order to start eating again, she said, "a positive result because there's a lot of issues we need to discuss" and that they should discuss the issues as equal partners.
The independent City Press on Sunday said the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) was on the verge of charging the minister in a case dating back to the time he headed the country's tax collecting agency.
The Saudi ambassador has accused Iran-affiliated Iraqi Shia militias of plotting to assassinate him
"The talks with the US have de facto failed because we Europeans of course must not succumb to American demands," he told public broadcaster ZDF. "Nothing is moving forward."
President Muhammadu Buhari indicates Nigeria is willing to talk to rebels over kidnapped Chibok girls
Iraqi forces have been battling ISIL militants in an attempt to retake territory captured by the terror group
Head of miners federation that called strike last month, 2 top officials among detained
Former economy minister says Brazilian president did nothing Illegal
Haider al-Abadi says Khalidiya town cleared of terror group as army plans push to retake Mosul
Authorities suspect attack carried out by Paraguayan People's Army guerrilla group
An Israeli army commander has made shocking threats to Palestinian youth held in the Al-Duheisha, threatening that he will “make all the youth of the camp disabled,” according to a Palestinian rights group, reported by the Middle East Monitor
Hillary Clinton has received the first classified intelligence briefing Saturday morning
Japan has pledged to give $30 billion as an investment to Africa by 2018
Egyptian authorities to reopen Rafah crossing on Tuesday for three consecutive days
Incumbent President Ali Bongo faces stiff competition from former African Union Commission
Spanish authorities have cracked down on an illegal ring that involves Chinese domestic staff
Scots drive to put Israel's West Bank wall on the Google Map as fall-out from Celtic fans Palestinian flag protest simmers