Quality of Life

This week, a quality of life survey of world cities finds cannabis-friendly cities crowding the top of the list while more intolerant cities bloat the bottom; the Swiss vote to extend their heroin maintenance program; and Thailand responds to international criticism that its recently announced Drug War offensive has so far killed over 1000 citizens.

March 3 -- Reuters reports: The Swiss city of Zurich edged out Vancouver, Canada, and the Austrian capital of Vienna to top a quality of life survey published on Monday, with impoverished, war-torn African cities dominating the bottom ranks.

The study handed the crown to Zurich based on 39 criteria ranging from political, social and economic factors that also included the quality of health, education and transport services.

Zurich, which is surrounded by picturesque scenery, also claimed top spot in last year's survey of cities, commissioned by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

Vancouver, nestled between mountains and ocean on Canada's Pacific coast, and historic Vienna ranked a joint second, followed by Geneva and Sydney, Australia.

The top-rated city in the United States was San Francisco, which placed 20th, down from 18th last year.

Other notable cities included Amsterdam at the 10th spot, Tokyo at 26, London at 39, Los Angeles at 53 and Rome at 66th.

Milan, Athens and Rome were judged the least safe cities in Western Europe while Washington got the worst safety ranking in the United States.

(Ed. note: The world's most cannabis tolerant cities -- Amsterdam, Vancouver, San Francisco -- scored highest on the list while America's capital, Washington, D.C., ranked lowest of all US cities.)

March 5 -- The New Zealand Herald reports: Lawmakers have voted to extend Switzerland's pioneering programme to provide heroin to severely addicted people.

The National Council voted 110-42 to extend the programme until the end of 2009, rejecting an attempt by right-of-centre parties to end it.

The Swiss Government maintains the heroin programme brings health gains and reduces crime and death associated with the drug scene.

Some 1300 drug addicts, averaging about 33 years in age, benefit from the legal prescription of heroin under medical control.

Switzerland's experiment with drug distribution began in 1994 with the first government-authorised distribution of heroin, morphine and methadone in the world.

March 9 -- The Washington Post reports: When Thailand's prime minister launched a campaign Feb. 1 to eradicate drugs from his country within three months, skeptics predicted the effort would prove no more successful than his earlier pledges to eliminate pollution and untangle Bangkok's notorious traffic jams.

But within days, the seriousness of the initiative became brutally clear. Police reported at least 300 drug-related slayings over the first two weeks, and by March 1, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that 1,100 people had been killed during the offensive.

Government officials say most of the killings have been the result of violence among rival drug gangs panicked by the crackdown. Police acknowledge responsibility for only about 30 of the deaths, saying these were largely self-defense shootings.

Human rights activists, however, suspect that many of the killings have been carried out by Thai security forces and allied gunmen as they try to meet Thaksin's quota for reducing the number of drug producers and dealers on a government list of suspects.

"According to our research, most of them are killed by the police, because they want to meet the target," said Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of Forum Asia, a human rights group. "They think if the drug dealers are brought to court, they will be released again. A better way to solve the drug problem is to kill them."

His group reported it has uncovered at least three cases in which drugs were planted on victims before their bodies were turned over to the coroner.

Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, speaking to reporters on the eve of the crackdown, set the tone for police operations against suspected drug traffickers. "They will be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace. Who cares? They are destroying our country," he said.

Based on public opinion polls, most Thais agree. A survey conducted in the third week of February by the Suan Dusit Institute showed that more than 90 percent of respondents backed Thaksin's campaign. It remains unclear, however, whether this resounding support will weather continuing disclosures about excessive violence.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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