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Thursday:  November 20, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Monday
May072012

Vote 2012 Analysis: Now the real campaign begins (PERSPECTIVE)

(Video: OSCE election observer statement on Armenia's May 6 parliamentary elections)

By Naira Hayrumyan

May 6 saw general elections in several European nations, including France, Greece, Serbia, as well as their eastern neighbor - Armenia.

Experts usually make references to ideological differences between contestants in elections. In referring to the Armenia vote, most foreign media would call it a contest between the presidential party and the party of a billionaire former arm wrestling champ – the Republican Party of Armenia led by President Serzh Sargsyan and the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan.

In France, people went to the polls in the presidential runoff to choose between the right-wing ideology, which is based on the support of those “who know how to make money”, and the socialist one, which stands for higher taxes for the rich and more money spent on the opening of new jobs. In France, the Socialists won (with their candidate Francois Hollande beating incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy), and the people of France, still experiencing the effects of the recent global economic crisis, decided that they needed social benefits more than the financial strengthening of Europe.

Greece was also making its difficult ideological choice: two major parties that have alternately ruled the country since 1974, have been in favor of austerity measures, including the sale of national wealth, if only to stay in the euro zone and to get loans to repay the debt. The Conservatives and the right-wing forces think they can sacrifice the future of the euro zone to preserve the national wealth and social guarantees. And in Greece, the latter ideology has prevailed.

In Serbia, the choice has been between the forces espousing concessions on national issues for the European future, and those who have a hard line on issues related to sovereignty, including on Kosovo. The pro-European party is enjoying a slim advantage, with President Boris Tadic still facing a tense runoff. 

And what have the political forces in Armenia been fighting for? What ideologies do the parties that entered the fray stand for? Perhaps, it is only clear that ARF Dashnaktsutyun is a nationalist and socialist party. It speaks of social reform, about promoting national issues. The other parties are quite amorphous.

For example, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which spent much of the past five years trying to grapple with the crisis, has been running on the platform of reforms. What it hasn’t said, however, is what kind of reforms it wants to press ahead with. Nor has the opposition Armenian National Congress elaborated in plain terms what kind of reforms it wants to implement. Sometimes it stresses social issues, stating that it is necessary to curb migration, resulting in a dwindling of the population, then it speaks of a liberal economy that is far from being social-oriented.

(PHOTO: Gagik Tsarukyan)The most obscure position is of the Prosperous Armenia Party, whose leader Tsarukyan, known for his charity projects, would state at campaign rallies that after the elections he will be doing “even more for the people than he has done before.”

An ideological struggle, when everyone could try this ideology on themselves and see what their lives would be like if one ideology or another prevails, would have entailed a real competition. But this time, the presidential party prevailed.

France and Greece, in fact, have changed their ideologies and the power along with it. In Armenia, the power remained, and this means that nothing will change in people’s lives. Do people going to the polls really want their life to stay unchanged?

Still before the parliamentary elections both the government and opposition were saying that they were preparing for the February 2013 presidential election. And from this point of view it is interesting what the list of presidential candidates will look like against the new backdrop of the alignment of forces in the National Assembly.

Still last year President Serzh Sargsyan publicly spoke about his plans to run for a second term in 2013. And the victory by his party, which is expected to gain some 70 seats in the National Assembly and an opportunity to form the government single-handedly, is likely to become a solid support for his reelection bid. The question is whether or not the first and second presidents of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan, mount any serious challenge to him.

The opposition Armenian National Congress led by Ter-Petrosyan has overcome the 7% hurdle for election blocs in the May 6 parliamentary elections and has got the right to form a faction in the next parliament. The result appears to be much more modest than expected by Ter-Petrosyan, whose bloc, however, has been speaking about large-scale violations during the Sunday polls.

(PHOTO: Serzh Sargsyan)But the real question here is whether Ter-Petrosyan will estimate his chances as good enough to try to join another presidential campaign against Sargsyan (the last time they had a rivalry in 2008 the opposition leader got some 21%, as against Sargsyan’s 52%, and the eventual street standoff resulted in deadly clashes).  As things stand now, Ter-Petrosyan hasn’t got any reassuring result percentage-wise.

As for Kocharyan, he had implied he would announce his decision on whether or not to return to active politics after the elections, after May 6. Prosperous Armenia and the ARF, both of which are believed to be loyal to Kocharyan, according to preliminary vote results, have about 36% of the vote. This appears to be a formative resource, and Kocharyan may just put everything on the line.

In this view, new alliances could already be in the offing, such as those that have already been formed once during the pre-election month. If the ANC also backs the candidate from the PAP (whether Kocharyan or former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian), then an alternative to Sargsyan is possible.

One way or another, May 7 marks not only the end of the grueling parliamentary campaign, but the start of perhaps a similarly strenuous presidential race.

---This commentary originally appeared in ArmeniaNow.

Monday
Apr162012

Nigeria: World Bank Presidency - US vs the World? (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Yemi Ajayi

(PHOTO: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, new World Bank President/Dartmouth College) *Since this article posted on Monday, the World Bank board voted to confirm Jim Yong Kim as the next World Bank President. He will start his tenure on June 30 when Robert Zoellick steps down from this same post.

The race for the World Bank presidency will enter the homestretch Monday when the bank's 25-member executive board votes on who succeeds its outgoing president, Robert Zoellick.

It is a defining race for the Bretton Woods institution (comprising the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) founded in 1944. It is also a race that has assumed the character of a clash between an arcane tradition and the quest for change in the way the international finance institution with the official goal of fighting poverty picks its president.

In the race for the World Bank presidency were initially three candidates: Nigeria's Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Colombian Minister of Finance, Jose Antonio Ocampo and a public health expert and president of Dartmouth College in the United States, Jim Yong Kim. The number was reduced to two last Friday with Ocampo's withdrawal for the post.

However, the candidates are merely instruments in a proxy war between Washington and its European allies, which has traditionally produced the president and the rest of the world that is clamouring for a paradigm shift in how the leadership of the World Bank emerges.

The clamour has pitted the rest of the world against the US, which is out to defend its tradition of producing the World Bank president since foundation.

(PHOTO: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria/NigeriaMailOnline)For US President Barack Obama, he cannot afford to fail where his predecessors had succeeded. Losing out in the jostling for the post, especially in a crucial election year, is to hand the Republicans the ammunition to make a bid at undoing his attempt to renew his tenancy at the White House.

Withdrawing from the race last Friday, Ocampo, in a letter to the World Bank, said he was doing so because "it is clear that this is becoming no longer a competition on the merits of the candidates, but a political exercise."

"For me, as an economist and as a Colombian, it has been a great honour to participate in this first open competition for the presidency of the World Bank... to facilitate the desired unity of the emerging and developing economies around a candidate, today (last Friday) I am retiring from the race to support the minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who I wish the best of luck in this final stage."

If it were going to be a straight fight based on merit on a level playing field for the candidates, Okonjo-Iweala could start preparing her handover notes for her successor in Nigeria and return to the organization where she was managing director before her call to national duty last year.

Even though she was reluctant to join the race some weeks ago, her candidacy has gathered rave endorsements from the media at home and abroad, 35 former World Bank economists and managers, Africa and other developing nations since she threw her traditional headgear into the ring.

She is the official candidate of Africa and its allies who have canvassed the argument that someone with high-flying credentials and requisite experience like hers is better placed to make the World Bank deliver on its goals of helping developing nations to improve on their peoples' wellbeing.

Since March when Obama picked him as the US candidate for the post, Kim has come under global scrutiny. Despite his credentials and achievements, especially in public health, including his stint as a director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, he is considered as one who lacks the "appropriate finance and economic credentials" to lead the World Bank.

(PHOTO: Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia/Columbia Univ) In contrast, Okonjo-Iweala has institutional knowledge, hands-on experience in development economics and public finance and has proven to be reform minded. In her first appointment as Nigeria's Minister of Finance, she superintended over the country's historical debt relief, an exercise that earned her global accolades; spearheaded the reform of the public sector in Nigeria leading to greater transparency and the monetization policy of the federal government; and championed the creation of the Excess Crude Account that largely provided a buffer for Nigeria during the global economic crisis between 2008 and 2009.

Notwithstanding his diminished credentials, Kim, by some quixotic arrangement, is most likely to succeed Zoellick who bows out on June 30 after a five-year term during which the bank provided over $247 billion to help developing countries boost growth and overcome poverty. His being the US candidate, which some analysts have described as a "wrong call," guarantees him victory under the weighted voting system that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are calling for a review.

Under the voting system, the US, which is the bank's largest shareholder, Europe and Japan control 54 per cent of the votes. The trio has formed an alliance which ensures that the bloc votes are delivered to the US' candidate. Europe is under obligation to back the US as repayment for its support in always ensuring that the headship of the International Monetary Fund, is held by the continent under an informal pact.

According to reports at the weekend, so far, US, Russia, Canada and Japan are lining up behind Kim alongside Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. This follows a move last Friday by the US members on the World Bank executive board to block the board from transparently assessing the outcome of the interviews of the three candidates, which took place earlier last week.

With Ocampo's withdrawal for Okonjo-Iweala, his backers - Brazil and Argentina - may team up with the three African constituencies to vote for the Nigerian minister.

However, the straw poll held by the bank's board last Friday before Ocampo's withdrawal, showed that Kim was guaranteed 36 per cent of the votes, Okonjo-Iweala about five per cent and six per cent for Ocampo. The votes reflect the voting rights of the countries or regions backing each of the candidates.

The undecided were the European Union with 29.2 per cent; India, 4.6 per cent; China, 3.4 per cent; Switzerland, 3.0 per cent; Saudi Arabia, 2.4 per cent; and Asia, 9.5 per cent bloc votes.

Monday's decision by the bank's executive board was some three weeks ago clearly encapsulated for the members by the Financial Times. The newspaper in an editorial on March 27, in which it endorsed the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala, said: "In this less than ideal world, Mr. Kim's appointment seems inevitable. But if the Bank's shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms. Okonjo-Iweala."

Will the board heed the voice of reason as the World Bank, for the first time in its 68 years of existence, chooses between candidates?

Well, if the Nigerian minister loses, as that fact cannot be discounted, given the high stakes politics, she can take solace in the immortal word of American journalist and writer, Damon Runyon, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...."

--- This editorial originally appeared in AllAfrica HERE

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together and contribute to furthering world peace, stability and security."

In its Delhi Declaration, BRICS members opposed violence as a way of resolving political crises in other countries. "Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues..." On Syria, BRICS supported the Arab League and special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

On Iran, they observed, "We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions."

The BRICS nations put their might behind Afghanistan, saying it needed "time, development assistance and cooperation, preferential access to world markets, foreign investment and a clear end-state strategy."  Israel was rapped on the knuckles for its settlement policy, but BRICS advocated direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The underlying theme was a repudiation of the western developed countries' approach, without actually getting into the details.

In an action plan, BRICS leaders agreed to meet before United Nations General Assembly meeting every September, much like the Non-Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings; regular gatherings of finance ministers, central bank governors, trade ministers, national security advisers, etc.

(PHOTO: BRICS handout of finance ministers shaking hands in cooperation)But underneath the camaraderie and the determination to strike a different path, serious differences exist. On the economic front, it would be a tussle between India and China, while Russia is pushing the political agenda, particularly on Iran and Syria, where BRICS supported the Russian viewpoint. India and Brazil pushed through their joint pitch for reform of the UN Security Council, which China has not been enthusiastic about, although Russia supports it.

While the BRICS joint statement blamed the Eurozone crisis for the state of the global economy, Indian officials saw this as a way of deflecting criticism of China manipulating its own currency, which also leads to a lot of distortions.

The BRICS development bank too has been kicked down the road, because India still has many reservations. The PM, in fact, preferred to focus on improving the World Bank rather than creating a new institution, as China does.

"We must address the important issue of expanding the capital base of the World Bank and other multinational development banks to enable these institutions to perform their appropriate role in financing infrastructure development," the declaration read.

Indian finance officials see the BRICS Bank idea primarily as a way of legitimizing the use of Chinese currency overseas. Second, they feel that any BRICS bank would essentially be a Chinese bank, because none of the other countries have the financial depth to fuel such an institution. India wants the global financial architecture to change, but at a much slower pace. South Africa supports the Bank, but Brazil cannot, because it already funds the Latin American development bank.

On the election of the next chief of the World Bank, the five countries did not even attempt to find a consensus candidate that could have been an alternative to the Korean-American chosen by the US.

The G20 received a unanimous thumbs-up as a forum for global financial governance and agreed to coordinate positions at the body. Russian president Medvedev said, "We confirmed all agreements on our cooperation in updating the international currency and financial system. One of the goals here is to renovate the IMF. We analyzed the situation in the world economics and came to an agreement on a further coordination of actions within our organization, including preparation for the next G20 summit."

South African president Jacob Zuma made a spirited call for including the development concerns of sub-Saharan Africa in the BRICS development plans. "We feel that Africa is being treated with respect. There is no feeling that people are looking down on our continent."

--- This article first appeared in the Times of India

Related:          BRICS nations stepping up innovation to improve healthcare: Study

Related:          BRICS: Not bound by ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

Related:          BRICS countries call for World Bank Presidency voting review

Related:          Protests outside Hu Jintao's hotel

Sunday
Mar252012

No Nukes? Or More Nukes? As the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit Begins (REPORT)  

(PHOTO: Activists attend a rally opposing nuclear power in Seoul March 19, 2012/ChinaDaily)(HN, 3/25/2012) - World leaders including US President Barack Obama Monday will launch the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit a meeting on the threat from nuclear-armed terrorists, but the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran are set to feature heavily.

Leaders or senior officials from 53 nations will attend the Nuclear Security Summit, with Interpol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Union and the UN also taking part.

Participating countries, which also gathered at the 1st Washington Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 include:  South Korea, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK, Ukraine, USA and Vietnam.

Though not at the summit, next -door, North Korea’s upcoming rocket launch has overshadowed the run-up to the two-day meeting in Seoul, which seeks agreement on locking down fissile material that could be used to build thousands of terrorist bombs.

The nuclear-armed North says its rocket will merely put a peaceful satellite into orbit. The United States and others believe next month’s launch will test a long-range missile which could one day deliver an atomic warhead.

Gary Samore, coordinator for arms control at the US National Security Council, warned that North Korea would face a “strong response” from Washington and its allies if it goes ahead with the launch. “We will be working with other countries, when President Obama is in Seoul, to try to discourage North Korea from going ahead with the proposed satellite launch,” he told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Friday.

Obama will hold talks on the launch plan and other issues with leaders of China, Russia and host South Korea during his visit.

The IAEA, while worried about nuclear proliferation by North Korea, also suspects that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons. Iran says its uranium enrichment activities are peaceful.  Neither Iran nor North Korea are on the formal agenda in Seoul. (Source: Wikipedia)

   NPT Nuclear Weapon States (China, France, Russia, UK, US)
   Non-NPT Nuclear Weapon States (India, North Korea, Pakistan)
   Undeclared Nuclear Weapon States (Israel)
   States suspected of having nuclear weapon programs (Iran, Syria)
   NATO weapons sharing weapons recipients
   States formerly possessing nuclear weapons

 

But leaders of five nations involved in stalled nuclear negotiations with the North — the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan — will all be present, offering an opportunity for consultations.

 Pyongyang sees the summit as a chance for Washington and Seoul to gang up on it. Any South Korean move to address the North’s nuclear program at the summit would be seen as a "declaration of war", it said.  

Seoul says the formal event is not about nations but “non-state actors” such as al-Qaeda, Nigeria's Boko-Haram terrorist group, and others groups which it fears could lay their hands on loose nukes as proliferation continues.

(via PressTV)

Obama in a 2009 speech described nuclear terrorism as “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security”, and announced a drive to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide within four years, a process which led to the first nuclear security summit in Washington in April 2010.

Since then, according to a joint report by the Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA) and the Partnership for Global Security (PGS), which campaign against nuclear proliferation, acknowledged major progress since then.

Former Soviet republic Kazakhstan secured over 13 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, while Chile eliminated its entire HEU stockpile, the report said.

The United States and Russia signed a protocol under which each will dispose of 34 tons of plutonium — enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Russia ended plutonium production. Ukraine eliminated two-thirds of its HEU and was expected to dispose of the rest by the Seoul summit.

But experts say much more must be done to end an apocalyptic threat.

“The commitments on the books will not get the job done,” said Michelle Cann of PGS, the report co-author.  “To prevent nuclear terrorism in the years ahead, the global nuclear security system must grow and adapt to new threats,” she said.

“There is a danger that early successes of the summit process will lead to complacency.”

The ACA says there have been 16 confirmed cases of unauthorized possession of HEU or plutonium documented by the IAEA since 1993, mainly in the former Soviet Union.   Alexandra Toma of the Connect US Fund, which promotes nuclear non-proliferation, said a sophisticated extremist group could plausibly take advantage of such lapses.

“It takes only 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of highly enriched uranium to make a crude nuclear bomb” the size of a grapefruit, she told a Seoul forum Thursday.

The summit agenda has been expanded to cover the securing of radioactive material, freely available from hospitals and other sources, which Stanford University expert Siegfried Hecker told the forum Thursday would be the most likely nuclear threat as a “dirty bomb... a weapon of mass disruption” since radiation sources were everywhere.

The meeting will also discuss the link between nuclear security and nuclear safety after Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima disaster.   Experts say the accident showed terrorists could create the same conditions as a tsunami did, by damaging cooling systems and cutting off power.

 -- HUMNEWS. An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in The Arab Times

RELATED:  Fidel Castro on defense of Iran’s right to nuclear power

RELATED:  North Korea: Déjà Vu All Over Again

RELATED:  Activists oppose nuclear summit in Seoul

Tuesday
Mar062012

The World Reacts to Vladimir Putin's Victory 

By Barnaby Phillips

Here's a quick round-up of global reactions to Vladimir Putin's not-so surprising triumph in the Russian presidential elections:

First prize for effusiveness goes to ... Syria, where the official news agency said President Bashar al-Assad "offered in his name and that of the Syrian people his sincere congratulations for his remarkable election".

Another happy man was Hugo Chavez, the Venezuela president, who sent his personal congratulations to Moscow, saying that Vladimir Putin had "initiated a strategic relationship of co-operation between Venezuela and Russia, connected by a very strong bond of friendship".

There was also a warm reaction from Beijing.

President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory message, and the Chinese foreign ministry said the election had been "a success".

West's reaction

In contrast, Western reactions have been almost uniformly tepid. The EU, according to the foreign affairs head, Catherine Ashton, "took note" of the election.  In this context, "took note" would appear to be diplomacy speak for "we recognise it happened, but we are not overly delighted by it".

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, registered a similar rection. "I take note that President Putin is our interlocutor for years to come ... The election was not exemplary ... [but] ... there was no brutal repression during the campaign, as might have been the case in other times," he said.

Talk about damning with faint praise.

The reaction from the US meanwhile, was even more restrained.

The official statement from Washington DC did not mention Vladimir Putin by name. It said that the US “looks forward to working with the president-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in”.

US statement

The US statement noted concerns about “the conditions under which the campaign was conducted, the partisan use of government resources and procedural irregularities on election day”.

However, it also recognised the Russian government's efforts to reform the system, including the reintroduction of direct elections for governors and the simplification of registration procedures for parties and presidential candidates.

Lastly, the award for sarcasm goes to US senator and former presidential candidate, John McCain, who, after watching Putin's surprisingly weepy appearance at a victory rally, tweeted: "Dear Vlad, Surprise! Surprise! You won. The Russian people are crying too!"

Mind you, Senator McCain has form when it comes to taunting Vladimir Putin. When protests broke out in Russia after December's disputed parliamentary elections, he tweeted: “Dear Vlad, The #ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

Putin responded by describing McCain as "nuts".

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Tuesday
Feb282012

Vladivostok - The Final Frontier of Russian Politics (PERSPECTIVE)

You'd need many weeks of travel to get the true feel of a country the size of Russia. Even then, you wouldn't be anywhere close to understanding it.

It is harder still to pierce the veil of people's real political allegiances and beliefs.

I have just ten days, and much of that time will be spent navigating the often numbingly frustrating modes of Russian public transport from planes and airports, to trains and unintelligible timetables.

Here in the far east, where my journey begins in the city of Vladivostok, it feels like frontier exploring, rough and exotic, unusual in this abundantly connected, same-same world of 2012.

I'm a foreigner in a strange land, not always welcomed with my garbled Russian and western high expectations of life. Precise timings? - why. Accurate directions? - what for. Hot coffee? - nyet!

The police are quick to yell at me for infringements of the most meaningless bureaucratic protocols: no photos even outside the train station, no going in through the door marked out. But you get the sense they'd be nowhere about if you were in real trouble.

My Russian colleague sums it up well.

"Always keep your expectations very low," Anton says. I try.

It is that spirit which has kept much of the Russian electorate spellbound by Vladimir Putin for 12 years. The political compact is a simple one: provide me with my basic needs, make my life a little better than it was and I will give you my vote, ask no questions.

While I wholeheartedly endorse my friend's advice as a mantra for travel across this vast country, the spirit of low expectation is steadily being rejected politically by large numbers of Russians.

Vladivostok is a crumbling port on Russia's far east Pacific coast, seven time zones away from the Kremlin. It is strikingly decrepit for a city that is the proud home of the navy's Pacific Fleet and the country's gateway for trade with Japan and Korea, with China on its doorstep.

Only a few years ago, I'm told, there was no working sewerage system in this city of 600,000.

It is achingly cold.

Despite sudden massive infrastructural investment ahead of this September's APEC summit, which Vladivostok will host, the political compact here is falling apart.

Salaries are stagnant and low, prices are shooting up. The streets are decidedly third world. A teacher on $400 a month spends half that on rent and taxes. Massive oil deposits in the region have made the Kremlin rich, and local officials in expensive SUVs sport Swiss watches worth as much as their cars, a trademark of Russian wealth and position.

Vladivostok has benefitted little.

It's a city closer to Pyongyang than to Moscow, and not just geographically.

There have been opposition protests in Vladivostok, as in many Russia cities, since last December's parliamentary election revealed falling national support for the ruling United Russia party, and massive electoral fraud. The numbers have not been huge here, but then nor is general turnout at the polls.

In Vladivostok, a once prized and well-funded Soviet city, United Russia was beaten into second place by the Communist Party in December.

The Communists were out on the streets during my visit.

I don't believe there's any danger of a Communist takeover, a Russian Revolution mk-II. Across the country, opposition forces of all persuasions, including a hefty chunk of Russia's middle class, are in this together. They won't stop Vladimir Putin winning the election. But they hope to force change on the way he governs in future.

More and more people want accountable politics, control of their own destinies. In my report, neurologist and local activist Alexander Krinitsky says people no longer want to be sheep "in the flock of some shepherd - now we sheer their coats, now we slaughter them."

It does feel like change is upon Russia, a change of heart, a change of thinking. A change to that simple old compact between power and the voter.

If only Mr Putin et al are wise enough to listen.

I'm finishing this in the historic and beautifully preserved city of Irkutsk in the heart of Siberia. Vladivostok is a three hours flight away to the east and I'm preparing to board a train on the trans-Siberian railway heading west for the oil town of Tyumen. As we clatter along over the next two days, I'll ask my fellow travellers, perchance over a vodka or two, what they think of pre-election Russia.

More as it happens...

For regular updates from Russia, follow Jonah Hull on Twitter: @JonahHull

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Thursday
Feb232012

The Slide Towards War (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Conn Hallinan

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb, and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime.

So from a strictly security perspective, Israel has little reason to go to war with Iran. But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, driven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. It now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem: Tel Aviv sees Tehran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the West as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which Israel is still officially at war—as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock-and-awe attack followed by a UN-mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would bring in the Americans.

Of course, that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a rapid ceasefire; it fought for eight long years against Iraq, and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. A war between Israel and Iran would be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region.

Iran’s leaders dispense a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Tehran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles.

The United States and Its Allies

For all its talk about how “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war. But with the 2012 elections looming, could Washington remain on the sidelines? Polls indicate that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war, but a united front of Republicans, neoconservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee is pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the United States also has a dog in this fight. American hostility to Iran dates back to Tehran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The United States also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, and largely blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the United States and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France andGermany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the world’s energy jugular.

Setting the Stage for Tragedy

In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas, but a whole lot of it is — and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. Another war in the Persian Gulf would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but elements within the regime will take advantage of any war to consolidate their power. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government. It would allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition and give cover to the Ahmadinejad government’s drive to cut subsidies for transportation, housing, and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom supports a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are best served by starting a war and that the United States will go along.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Israel, the West, and the Gulf Cooperation Council share many of the same interests. Unfortunately, they also share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

Conn Hallinan is a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus. His work can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com

Originally published  by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday
Jan182012

World Bank Report Projects a Difficult Year Ahead (NEWS BRIEF) 

The World Bank cut its global growth forecast in both developed and poorer nations by the most in three years, in its twice-yearly report issued late on Tuesday, saying that a recession in the euro region threatens to exacerbate a slowdown particularly in several major developing countries.

“Europe appears to have entered a recession, and grown in several major developing countries (Brazil, India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey) has slowed,” the bank said as it updated forecasts made last June.

The world economy  will grow 2.5 percent this year, down from a June estimate of 3.6 percent, the   Washington-based institution said. The euro area may contract 0.3 percent, compared with a previous estimate of a 1.8 percent gain. The U.S. growth outlook was cut to 2.2 percent from 2.9 percent.

“The world is different than it was six months ago”, said Andrew Burns, head of the bank’s global economics team and lead author of the report. “This is going to be a very difficult year.”

Two major reasons for the projected global slowdown are noted in the report: Europe’s debt crisis has worsened and several big developing countries have taken steps to prevent growth from fueling inflation.

Economies in developing countries will continue to out-pace those of wealthier, developed countries, according to the World Bank, but the Bank also lowered its forecasts for growth in these countries to 5.4 per cent in 2012 and 6 per cent in 2013 – this is down from previous estimates of 6.2 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively.

School Girls in Oecusse, Timor-Leste. Photo: Barbara Ratusznik/World BankThe report also noted that “the downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome”. – It also said that while Europe is moving toward long-term solutions to its debt problems, the markets remain skittish.

It also noted the failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the United States and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those facts could trigger sudden shocks in the global economy.

The 2012 forecast for Japan was cut to 1.9 per cent growth from 2.6 percent in June. China’s growth will slow to 8.4 percent this year, the same as an interim revised projection released in November.

In addition, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects, the World Bank noted of the challenges facing the economy.

“Although contained for the moment, the risk of a broader freezing up of capital markets and a global crisis similar in magnitude to the Lehman crisis in 2008 remains,” the World Bank said.

Should that happen, it said developing countries are more vulnerable than they were in 2008 because they could find themselves facing reduced capital flows and softer trade.

Slower global expansion is already showing through softer trade figures and lower commodity prices, according to the World Bank.

“No country or region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the World Bank, adding that developing countries must now plan how to soften the impact of a potential crisis.

- HUMNEWS Staff, Agencies

Tuesday
Jan172012

New Chair of ASEAN, Cambodia can reset the balance of Asia power (Perspective) 

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

(PHOTO: Cambodia, as the new ASEAN chair, will seek to consolidate the community of 600 million ASEAN citizens & increase the grouping's bargaining power with the world's major powers/THE NATION)

Ten years have elapsed since Cambodia chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit for the first time, in 2002, three years after its admission. Now, Phnom Penh is more democratic and richer and has gained more experience in handling the ASEAN scheme of things. Indeed, the current host has the potential to reset the grouping's global standing and relations with all of its powerful dialogue partners. Undeniably, Cambodia would like to leave behind a tangible legacy under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen - the region's longest-reigning leader. It is not surprising that Cambodia has chosen a simple slogan of "One Community, One Destiny" - reflecting the nation's fundamental Buddhist values and new-found confidence. In short, at least for the time being, ASEAN's destiny is now in Cambodia's hand.

There are at least three areas in which Phnom Penh can take the lead.

First, as an emerging developing country, Cambodia can serve as a linchpin to narrow the development gap between the new and old ASEAN members. The country is in a good position to do so. During the past decade, Cambodia's economy has grown impressively at around 5 per cent per year. That helps to explain why it has now graduated from the list of the world's least-developing countries. The Cambodian leaders believe that more equitable development within ASEAN will strengthen its unity and prosperity. Truth be told, a development gap does not only exist between the old and new members but also among the former group. For instance, the per capita GDPs of Singapore and Brunei are many times higher than those of Indonesia or the Philippines.

Although Cambodia is the newest member of ASEAN - joining in 1999 - the country has enjoyed a special status within the group because of the nature of its political system and leadership - nobody can deny that it is the freest among the new ASEAN members. This unique position allows the once war-torn nation to play multiple roles in the regional and international arenas.

Just take a look at present-day Cambodia and its cosmopolitan capital city, with its heavy presence of foreign investors and thriving business community. Cambodia, the UN and other international organisations have been working closely together to build up this nation since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. Indeed, its international profile has been the envy of ASEAN members. For instance, it is the only ASEAN member that has signed all important human-rights instruments. Next year, it will bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time. At the end of December, Hun Sen delayed for another two years the adoption of a highly controversial law to regulate the operation of civil society organisations based in Cambodia. It was a wise move to mitigate any possible criticism in the future. The host is also contemplating holding a forum to allow interfacing between ASEAN leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations ahead of the summit in early April.

The second challenge is to ensure that ASEAN will not become a pawn in the major powers' competition. With pro-active multilateral diplomacy and a long tradition of strict neutrality since independence, Phnom Penh will not shy away from engaging the grouping's dialogue partners, especially the US and China, to harness their economic power as well as manage their relations with ASEAN. The outcome of the East Asia Summit in Bali last November showed that ASEAN needs to stay ahead of the curve and further consolidate its common positions, which are extremely limited. As the ongoing Thai-Cambodian conflict and disputes in the South China Sea will continue to dominate the ASEAN agenda one way or another, Cambodia's past diplomatic finesse and brinksmanship could come in handy in keeping ASEAN together.

Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong are considered highly seasoned diplomats, each with three decades of experience, who understand the regional pulse like the backs of their hands. The two want to see ASEAN play a mediating role in the six-party talks aimed at resolving problems relating to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme since all concerned countries are members of the ASEAN Regional Forum. In the past, ASEAN tried to play such role but was not successful. At the Bali summit, South and North Korean foreign ministers met and agreed on the resumption of six-party talks. With the new leadership in North Korea, the ASEAN chair wants to explore this prospect again. Phnom Penh has longstanding and good relations with Pyongyang. Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung built a residence for retired Cambodian King Sihanouk to live in during his exile. His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, has a contingent of security guards trained by North Korea.

As the ASEAN chair, Cambodia hopes to get all five members of the so-called "nuclear club" - the US, China, Russia, the UK and France - to sign the protocol of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone this year. ASEAN wants a commitment that the five would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the group's members. China was the first nuclear power to express interest in signing the protocol in 2005. But ASEAN would prefer all five to sign at the same time.

Another important mission is to encourage China and ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea as soon as possible. Senior ASEAN officials met and discussed the terms of reference last year among themselves, ignoring China's request to sit in on the meeting. Last week, senior officials from China and ASEAN held discussions in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, after months of delay, to exchange views on how to proceed with the proposed joint projects stated in the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. At the meeting, Beijing was more conciliatory, while the ASEAN claimants, especially the Philippines, played tough.

The third area of importance regards the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Cambodia would certainly like to promote multifaceted cooperation within this framework. That would also mean boosting its ties with the US. During the past three years, the countries have ramped up their relations, including the security dimension. Since there are many ongoing hydroelectric projects along the Mekong River, cooperation concerning water management and conservation as well as better governance will be highlighted. The degree to which the lower riparian countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) can cooperate with the US will impact on the upper riparian countries in the long haul. Last November, the US invited Burma to join the LMI as part of the US-Burma normalisation process.

In the final analysis, the current chair must do its utmost to convince the leaders of non-ASEAN countries that their participation in all ASEAN-led meetings or summits are important and beneficial to all. Uncertainties abound at this juncture on whether the invited leaders would be able to make their way to Phnom Penh. For instance, despite Washington's strong commitment to ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, it is not clear who will represent the US at the upcoming EAS summit later this year. Similar anxieties also persist in the cases of China and Russia, which will pick new leaders.

Can Cambodia build on the success of the Indonesian chair in raising the profile of ASEAN and consolidating ASEAN in the global community? It will not be long until we find out.

- Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group – publisher of the English-language daily, The Nation, in Thailand. He has been a journalist for over two decades reporting on issues related to human rights, democracy and regionalism. This piece ran in the Nation on 1/16/12.

Monday
Jan022012

THE HUM - WORLD HEADLINES - January 3, 2012

Afghanistan 

(PHOTO: Uzbekistan's railway leading from Afghanistan to Mazar-e-Sharif. TOLO News) Afghan traders are to be hit with high extra fee to transport goods to Mazar-e-Sharif via Uzbekistan's railway

Algeria 

Report: Algerian troops kill leader of N. African al-Qaeda offshoot

Algeria sentences Qaeda leader to life

Angola 

First prison for young offenders starts functioning this year 

Argentina 

Pilot Project in Argentina Assists Victims in Reporting Rape

Dakar rider dies on home stage

Daily Dakar Diary | Day 1 - Comeback kid takes first stage

Azerbaijan 

Fairmont hotels goes for expansion to Azerbaijan

(PHOTO: Economist Dambisa Moyo. One of 5 Zambian women to watch in 2012. UKZAMBIANS) Bangladesh

Bangladesh out of piracy-prone nations' list 

Barbados

Barbadians win in Commonwealth short story contest

Legendary Barbados cinema closes

Benin 

Benin Metropolis Requires N200bn To Fix

Bhutan 

Internal audit on teacher nominations

Bolivia

Bolivia Officially Withdrawn from UN Drug Convention

Bosnia-Herzegovinia

Bosnia approves 2011 state budget to avoid collapse

Brunei Darussalam

iPad-wielded waiters will serve you

Burundi

Fish catches from Lake Tanganyika, Burundi going down

Cambodia

Asean Presidency a Chance for Improved Credibility for Cambodia: Analysts

Aquatic action ushers in the new year

Chinese firms eye $500m rice investment

Chile

Four of six wildfires in Chile reported to be under control

(PHOTO: British actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars, Bob Anderson, dies. GALATIA FILMS)Christmas Island 

Carrot and stick to control refugees (Video)

Cocos Islands

Papers show: king had to go

Colombia 

Colombia, Followed by Mexico Lead in Number of Religious Workers Killed in 2011

Colombian law on victim compensation takes effect

Congo (DRC)

DR Congo beefs up security after deadly jail violence

UN report calls for action to clean up Congo’s minerals trade and end impunity

DRC Senate Chief Hospitalized in Paris After New Years Eve Attack

Croatia 

Croatia to withdraw genocide lawsuit - FM

(PHOTO: Textile makers are in the same turbulent boat as many other local exporters in Vietnam. VIETNAM INVESTMENT REVIEW)Cuba

Cuba, an Inspiration to LatAm, Says Nicaraguan President 

Cyprus

Cyprus Health Ministry to tackle faulty breast implants

Dumped baby shocks Cyprus 

Denmark

Danish monarchy polls as Europe’s most popular

Denmark takes up EU presidency with little sway on crisis

Ecuador

Ecuador vows to push Yasuni jungle protection plan

Egypt

Mubarak trial adjourns 

(PHOTO: World Record Ring set in Ukraine. SHRENUJ & CO.) El Salvador

U.S. Ambassador Leaves El Salvador

Eritrea

Role of Handicraft in Familiarizing Nation's Tourism Resources Stressed

Chinese group to pay $80m-plus for Chalice's Eritrean gold project

AfDB invests $19.2m into Eritrea’s education sector

Estonia

Forests are the key to Estonian growth (Perspective)

Ethiopia

Ethiopia, Japan sign water project agreement

Fiji

PM heeds call for education

France

French women groups protest FIFA decision to endorse hijab 

(PHOTO: Nicaragua Plans to Extend the San Juan River Dredging Operations on border with Costa Rica. DREDGING TODAY)French Polynesia

Progress in eradicating Elephantaisis

Gambia

Government to meeting with citizens in Diaspora

Gaza and West Bank

Prospects for Palestine in 2012 (Perspective)  

Germany

European Supervolcano Showing Signs of Life

Ghana

Ghana Removes Fuel Subsidy

Greece

Greece's recession refugees show it's time for a debate about good breeding (Perspective)

Guam

Guam collision rate twice US average

(PHOTO: Bootleggers in UAE who are supplying liquor to labour camps. SUPPLIED) Guatemala

Sinaloa Cartel Shifting Meth Production to Guatemala

Guinea-Bissau

UN Gen. Sec. Condemns Use of Force in Guinea-Bissau 

Guyana 

Pres. Ramotar makes stirring appeal for "genuine" govt-opposition cooperation

Guyana, Germany ink deal to protect Amazon  

Honduras

Holding Honduras accountable (Perspective)

India

A global university rises in one of India’s most remote corners

Made-in-India coffees are ‘instant' hit abroad

Landfill in Uran wetlands affecting migratory birds

India is the world's spam central

The Dalai Lama begins ten-day Kalachakra teachings

(PHOTO: A nurse at Mulago hospital, Uganda speaks to MPs about the countrys shortage of nurses. UGANDA HEALTH NEWS) Indonesia

New Skills Help Build a Better Life in West Java

Protesters chase parishioners over ‘friendly Islam’ sticker

Indonesian garbage helps save environment

Iran

Drilling 30 oil wells in Turkmenistan earns Iran $300 million 

Iraq

Iraq's Sunni muslim finance minister survives car bombing

Ireland

Internet freedom will be priority of Ireland’s OSCE leadership

Ivory Coast

TV Presenter Freed Conditionally After Being Held for Five Months

Jamaica

Jamaican Women to Watch in 2012

National development challenges facing the incoming government in Jamaica (Perspective)

(PHOTO: The musician Alison Andrews performs in Dubai. ALICE JOHNSON)Jordan

Oil will keep GCC warm if the world freezes over (Perspective)

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan launches environmental initiatives (Video)

Kenya

Ivory poaching on the rise thanks to Asian demand and a legal loophole

Kenya boat capsize near Lamu 'kills six'

Kyrgyzstan

1st VP congratulates Kyrgyz Prime Minister on election win

Macau

Macau assured of safe produce during Spring Festival  

Macedonia

Kiro Gligorov, architect of Macedonian independence, dies at 94

(PHOTO: A rural village in Zambia, struggling with urbanisation. MIRAM ZIMBA, TIMES OF ZAMBIA) Malawi

TransWorld Radio Malawi tagline changes

Malaysia

Malaysia preps for new Pinewood studio

Maldives

Green Muslims have been nominated as some of the most influential Muslim leaders of 2011

Malta

Maltese delegation to visit Saudi Arabia

Mauritania

Over one million Mauritanians could face severe food crisis - IFRC 

Mexico

Same-Sex Marriages Legal in Cancun

Micronesia

Micronesian college names new president

(PHOTO: From the `Light from Life' exhibition opening in the UAE. GULFTODAY) Mongolia

Second Mongolian-language TV Channel Begins Broadcast 

Boxers in Mongolia training

Morocco

Morocco still without cabinet, row over Islamist minister

Mozambique

Malawi to save millions from Mozambique railway line

Nepal

High alert sounded on Indo-Nepal border

UP district in India bans poultry imports from Nepal

Netherlands Antilles

(PHOTO: Rare sea turtles sightings around the island of St. Eustatius are at risk with new oil terminal planned. GOOGLE EARTH) New Worries About Oil Terminal Risks on St. Eustatius Island

Nicaragua

Nicaragua Plans to Extend San Juan Dredging Operations

Nigeria

Protests as fuel prices soar in Nigeria

Northern Mariana Islands

Crossed fingers for 2012 

Oman

Oman daily vows to appeal journalists’ jail terms

Palau

Palau enters race against climate change

Palau gets Solar Powered Airport

Panama

Differing views on repair time for Bridge of the Americas

Tourism boss wants extra $1 million for Carnaval

Panama Prepares Jazz Festival 

(PHOTO: UNICEF Nutrition Officer Dr. Rajia Sharhan holds a young child at a therapeutic feeding centre in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital . UNICEF) UNICEF Yemen 2011 HalldorssonPeru

Peru doubled organic exports over last 4 years

Weak Environmental Impact Studies for Mines

Philippines

Philippines to release funds for infrastructure projects

Tuberculosis in the Philippines: 10 things you should know 

Poland

EU champions Poland's space project

Puerto Rico

Not Yet a State, Puerto Rico Practices Good Governance (Perspective)

Qatar

Environmental Protest in Front of Qatari Embassy

Romania

The healthcare system in Romania is gravely ill

Poll: Romanians watch TV for business news, only 3% read newspapers and magazines

Amazing photos of Ice Hotel in Romania

(PHOTO: Mekong Delta Ports Need Dredging say authorities. DREDGING TODAY) Russia

Moscow to rank among world's ten biggest megalopolises in 2012

Rwanda

Rwandans Welcome HPV Vaccine Program

Saint Kitts & Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis Moves Closer to Wind Energy and Solar Power Goals

Samoa

Bad timing for some Samoans

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to apply law for women only to sell lingerie

Serbia

Serbian drivers facing problems entering Croatia

Seychelles

The Seychelles Adds Guernsey TIEA

(PHOTO: A man works at a steel factory in Que Vo District, outside Hanoi . THAN NIEN DAILY)Slovakia

President Gašparovič says Slovakia will face difficult times ahead

South Africa

Thousands expected at ANC's 100th bash

South Sudan

UN: Up to 50,000 flee South Sudan tribal turmoil

Spain

Unemployed Spaniards set their sights on South America

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka plans to earn One Billion U.S. Dollars from tourism this year

Suriname

Suriname starts stabilization fund

Sweden

(PHOTO: Swedes choose social media over texting, FLICKR) Swedes choose social media over texting

Swaziland

Coca-Cola accused of propping up notorious Swaziland dictator

Syria

Assad cousin denied entry to Switzerland

Syria sought nuclear know-how from Pakistan's Khan in 1980, 2002

Comedy amidst Syrian tragedy

How is Syria affecting Arab business? (Perspective)

Taiwan

Runway at Taiwan's biggest airport set to re-open after repairs

Nuclear concerns dominate Taiwan environmental poll

Vice presidential candidates exchange fire over ability to govern

Gender equality department launched in Taiwan

Taiwan cuts compulsory military service to 4 months

(PHOTO: Kulwa Saimon (23), an aids patient in Tanzania and sucessful entrepreneur. IPP MEDIA) Lung cancer study makes gain

Taiwan cyclists set world record for mass bike ride

Tanzania

Farmers want compensation for crops affected by oil spill

Growers plan grand mango show in Dar Es Salaam

After admission, Kulwa lives well with HIV-Aids

Thailand

Global Chip Sales Down on Thailand Flooding

Thailand: 165 killed on roads over first three days

Honda scraps 1,000 flood-ravaged cars in Thailand

Mobile world gets ready for breakout year in Thailand

Poll: Corruption a major problem

The Arctic

Arctic mystery: What killed the ozone, and will it strike again?

Tonga

Tonga is worlds fattest country

(PHOTO: At left, ozone in Earth's stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 kilometers in mid-March 2011, near the peak of the Arctic ozone loss. At right, chlorine monoxide — the primary agent of chemical ozone destruction in the cold polar lower stratosphere — for the same day and altitude. NASA) Trinidad and Tobago

TV6 raid 'disappoints' press institute

Transparency body: Top cop must explain show of force at TV6

Tunisia

Tunisian Border Patrol Exchanges Fire with Armed Libyans

560 French PIP Breast Implants Implanted in Tunisian Women

Tunisia Celebrates Its Sense of Humor With Comedy Festival

Tunisia Repossesses Property of Ben Ali’s Son-in-Law in Canada

Turkey

Turkey's first hydrogen boat produced 

Number of Chinese tourists expected to increase in Chinese Culture Year in Turkey

Uganda

Government urged to recruit more nurses

Universities urged to emphasize marketable courses

Govt to develop a special needs education policy

Lower food prices push down inflation

Crime syndicate busted in Western Uganda

(PHOTO: Mysterious disease strikes Uganda. "The major symptom of the disease is the continuous nodding of the head")World Bank mineral development support to Uganda ends

Warid Telecom launches mobile money service (Uganda)

Mysterious disease hits Uganda

Ukraine

Ukraine foreign minister calls for more Saudi investments

Record Number of Diamonds Set in One Ring

United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi residents face threat of severe water shortage

UAE bands are finding their voice

Bootleggers active again in UAE labour camps

Interview: On a mission to conserve the environment

New Porsche Design BlackBerry in UAE

YahLive, Etisalat partner on satellite uplink services

No ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for UAE movie fans

Plastic industry set to grow rapidly in Gulf countries

Emirates Steel eyes more expansion to reach 6.5 mln tpa

‘Light from life’ exhibition opens 

United Kingdom

UK prime minister tells country 2012 will be tough, promises to tackle financial excess

UK hopes for feel-good Games in austere age

Renewable energy boosts UK economy by £2.5bn

Facebook Blamed In A Third Of UK Divorces

Former Great Britain Olympic fencer and Star Wars actor `Darth Vader’ Anderson dies

UK: East Yorkshire farm benefits from sprouts bonanza

United States

Mosque Attack Stuns US Muslims

Three arrested in U.S. for selling stem cell ‘miracle cures’ for terminal diseases

The FDA Fast Tracks a Vaccine to Fight Pneumonia in Older Adults

Short Sales of Homes Increasing

IT companies feel the pinch as US holds back L-1 visas

Survey Declares Boston As America’s Drunkest City

Tennessee claims title of U.S. prescription drug capital

Americans deserve the deficit facts (Perspective)

New App Predicts Next U.S. President (Press release)

US Virgin Islands

(PHOTO: Remnants of an original sugar mill at the entrance to the Cruzan Rum Distillery. LAINE DOSS)oss Rum Diary: Touring the Cruzan Rum Distillery (Pictures)

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan in 2012, will increase funding for the construction of roads by 60.8%

Child 12 years old in Uzbekistan embarrass soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (Video)

President of Uzbekistan Provides Tax Preferences to Media

Vanuatu

Vanuatu PM Reiterates Stand Against Corruption

Venezuela

Venezuela in debt no matter higher oil prices

MOVIES: Gustavo Dudamel returns to theaters

Vietnam

Vietnam private sector squeezed by rising costs 

Vietnam garment industry urged to focus on green energy

Exports braced to take hit in 2012

Vietnam: Plenty of good fruit but low prices

Vietnam imposes tariff on petrol imports

Vehicular fires continue in Vietnam, still puzzling

Mekong Delta Ports Need Dredging Program

Journalist arrested on bribery charges in Vietnam metro 

Vietnam levies environment tax on five product groups

The highlights of the Vietnamese games market in 2011 

Charity TV programme raises 6.6 trillion VND for the poor

Central Vietnam boast the most beautiful beaches in the country

Yemen

Eleven Yemeni coastguards drowned

Yemen to take part in GCC health ministers meeting

New island born in Red Sea

Interview: Rajia Sharhan of UNICEF Yemen on malnutrition

Zambia

Zambia releases Czech ‘spies’

5 Zambian Women to watch in 2012

NHA to build affordable houses countrywide

Jealous hubby to hang

Blast at Zambia steel factory injures 11

Support small-scale women miners urge banks for support

'Education key to curbing drug abuse'

Women's movement against death penalty

Freedom of Information law a reality - Lubinda (Perspective)

Challenges of urbanisation in Zambia (Perspective)

Music has transformed politics - Dr Kaseba (Perspective)

Zimbabwe

Media activist Moyse charged with undermining Mugabe

Zimbabwe's Health Ministry Targets Diarrheal Diseases in New Year

Armed Robbers Steal Diamond Ore from Marange Resources

ZRP calls for review of the Criminal Law, consider women as potential rapists

Govt needs to assists farmers to increase yield for wheat and maize: ZFU (Perspective)

Saturday
Dec102011

A Liberian, a Liberian and a Yemen – Women – Walk into a Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony…..

Nobel Peace Prize winners Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, left; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, center; Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, right take the stage at City Hall in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2011. (PHOTO: TimesofMalta, John McConnico)(HN, December 10, 2011) - ...And take home the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace.  On Saturday December 10, the traditionally sanctioned date on which the Nobel Committee awards the world’s highest peacemaking honor, three proud women – from Africa and the Middle Eastern – strode onto the stage at Stockholm’s `Concert Hall’ to take their place in history.

The women - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman - won the coveted prize for their efforts to peacefully bring change to their countries.

But President Sirleaf who called the prize a “wonderful recognition” said it really belongs to many more oppressed women around the world who have “suffered inequalities”.  

"This award belongs to the people whose aspirations and expectations for a better world we have the privilege to represent and whose rights we have the obligation to defend," said Sirleaf.  She went on, "History will judge us not by what we say in this moment in time, but what we do next to lift the lives of our countrymen and women who face a lack of access to those basic things that allow the comfort of life".

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Liberia's first elected female president in 2006.  Fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee is an activist recognized for uniting women against the country's warlords. 

Leymah Gbowee, who led a group of women in white t-shirts who stared down warlords to help turn the tide of her country's civil war, also spoke about the millions of others who were on stage Saturday.

"I believe that the prize this year recognizes not only our struggle in Liberia and Yemen, it is in recognition of the struggle of grass-roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Tunisia, Palestine and Israel and in every troubled corner of the world," said Gbowee.  Adding, "victory is still afar...there is no time to rest."

Royal trumpeters heralded the beginning of the annual ceremony, as Norway's royal family and this year's Nobel laureates entered the hall.

Both Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee become the seventh and eighth African recipients of the Nobel prize – following successively Albert John Lutuli, South Africa, 1960; Desmond Tutu, South Africa, 1984; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1993; Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana, along with the UN itself in 2001; sustainability advocate Wangari Maathai, Kenya, 2004 (deceased in September 2011 from a long battle with cancer). 

Co-recipient of this year’s Peace Prize Yemeni activist and journalist Tawakkol Karman becomes the first Arab woman and youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for her country’s freedoms earlier this year in Sana'a's Tahrir Square.  On the Nobel stage she said, “The prize will lift the spirits and support the aspirations of Arabs who are struggling peacefully to improve their lives. This year's Arab revolutions confronted tyrants who went too far in depriving their people of freedom and justice. The international community must do more to fulfill its pledges and resolutions for peace, freedom and women's rights.”

The three Nobel Peace Prize winners each received a medal and a diploma, and will share the $1.5 million US prize. The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature - and the related prize in economics - were presented later Saturday in Stockholm as well.

These awards for 2011 were given in Physics, jointly to Saul Perlmutter,  Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess of the US and Australia; the Prize for Chemistry to Dan Shechtman of Israel; the Prize for Medicine jointly to Bruce A. Beutler, Ralph M. Steinman and Jules A. Hoffmann respectively of the US and Luxembourg; the Prize for Literature to Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden; and the Prize for Economics to Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims of the US.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize was first annually awarded in 1901, a total of 15 women have received it. The first was Austrian writer and peace activist Bertha von Suttner in 1905.  Later the late Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun won in 1979 for her humanitarian work.  1991's recipient was Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003.  The most recent woman to receive the prize was Wangari Maathai in 2004.

Women have also won Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature, with one woman, radiation researcher Marie Curie, honored twice, first in physics and years later in chemistry.

Norwegian Nobel panel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says women are critical to peace.  "We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Jagland.

IN A RELATED EVENT:

China’s Alternative Nobel Prize Honours Russia’s Vladimir Putin as Thousands Take to Streets to Protest Recent Elections

In Beijing on Friday, two exchange students accepted a Chinese peace prize on behalf of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Confucius Peace Prize was hastily launched last year as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize which in 2010 honored imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  A group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners including Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams as well as former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, Reporters Without Borders and others have urged China to release Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subverting state power in China by co-authoring an appeal for political reform.  The International Committee of Support to Liu Xiaobo said in an email that Liu is the only Nobel laureate currently in prison, following the release of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010. 

The Confucius Prize sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of China’s government.  Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize went ahead with this year's awards against the wishes of the Ministry of Culture who ordered the group to shut down saying they did not have official permission to run the awards.  Undeterred, the original masterminds of the award set up a new organisation called China International Peace Research Centre before quickly announcing this year's winner.

(Two Russian Exchange students recieve 2011 Confucious Award on behalf of Vladimir Putin. PHOTO: weibo/littleoslo)Lien Chan, former chairman of the Kuomintang, ruling party of Taiwan, was the winner of the first Confucius Peace Prize in 2010. He did not attend the award ceremony, so a little girl was selected by organisers to accept the award in his place.  Similarly, Putin, was honored for `enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya’ organizers said because during his 2000-2008 term as president Putin “brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia”.  The 2011 prize ceremony took place one day before this year’s annual Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, and two Russian female exchange students were selected to stand in for Putin where they accepted a statue of the Zhou Dynasty sage on his behalf.  

The Prize came as thousands of people have taken to Russian streets for a week protesting authoritarian trends in Putin’s policies, his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics. Demonstrations in Moscow over last week’s parliamentary elections which were believed to be tainted by fraud have raised the biggest ever challenge to Putin who is seeking to return to the presidency next year; currently serving as the country’s Prime Minister, having spent two terms as the country’s former President.

Putin, who recently led the United Russia party to its worst ever showing at the polls, beat seven other nominees -- Gyaltsen Norbu (the "Chinese Panchen Lama"), Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma, former UN chief Kofi Annan, Yuan Longping a Chinese agricultural scientist known as the "father of hybrid rice", German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Taiwanese politician James Soong -- to clinch the highly-uncoveted title of Confucious Prize winner.

IN RUSSIA, MEANWHILE PROTESTORS CHANT, `PUTIN OUT’

In the largest public display of mass discontent in post-Soviet Russia, an anti-government demonstration brought tens of thousands of Moscow citizens out to the packed streets near the Kremlin to protest alleged electoral fraud by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party `United Russia’ on Saturday. Protestors gathered in other cities across this huge country with clashes reported in St. Petersburg, the Pacific city of Vladivostok, the Siberian city of Perm and the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk among others.

(Video, Al Jazeera)  City officials in Moscow had given unusual permission for a rally of up to 30,000 people, and by the time the rally started, with periodic wind-blown snow, police said there were at least 25,000 while protest organizers claimed 40,000.

In smaller gatherings earlier in the week hundreds of people were arrested or hospitalized after violence broke out, including prominent opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, and Sergei Udaltsov.

On Saturday people chanted, “Putin Out”; saying things such as "Everyone is sick of living under this regime which forbids freedom of expression” and holding signs with "Putin's a louse" and banners such with the United Russia party emblem, reading "The rats must go".  The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and who has been Prime Minister under current President Dmitry Medvedev’s government, will seek a third term as President in nationwide elections on March 4, 2012.

Putin’s power however was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament. Protestors allege that even that showing was inflated by massive vote fraud, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations. Earlier in the week Russian President Medvedev conceded that election law may have been breached and Putin suggested "dialogue with the opposition-minded".  It is known that on Election Day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure which called the vote unfair, urging an investigation into fraud; Putin has specifically said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US are intentionally fomenting protests and trying to undermine Russia. Recently, U.S. Sen. John McCain tweeted to Putin that "the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

---HUMNEWS staff, with contributors

Wednesday
Oct122011

What was really in Tymoshenko’s 2009 gas agreement with Russia? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Derek Fraser

Yulia Tymoshenko, the principal rival of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, has been convicted in a political trial in Ukraine of having exceeded her authority as prime minister in concluding a gas agreement with Russia in 2009 that was unfavorable to Ukrainian interests. For this she has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment and fined $200 million.Yulia Tymoshenko with her daughter as the sentence is read out in a Kyiv court room Monday. Credit: Юлія Тимошенко

It is worth recalling the circumstances in which she had to negotiate.

The negotiations of 2008 came at the end of the second of two gas wars in three years between Russia and Ukraine, wars that led to Russian gas supplies being twice cut to Ukraine and Western Europe.

Russia’s gas sales to Ukraine have been repeatedly been used by Russia as an instrument for bringing Ukraine to heel.

When Russia first turned off the gas supply to Ukraine and Europe at the end of 2005, a year after the Orange Revolution, it was preceded by Russia tearing up a multi-year gas supply contract it had concluded in 2004 with the more pro-Russian government of President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Statements made Russians at the time make it clear that the main aims of the Russian action were political. One purpose was to create difficulties for Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko in forthcoming parliamentary elections. Another was to take over the Ukrainian gas transit pipeline.

The EU had to intervene to put an end to that dispute.

In the gas war of 2008-2009, Russian motives were also not purely commercial. At the time Russia’s relations with Ukraine were especially tense because of Ukraine’s campaign to join NATO, its support for Georgia in its war with Russia, and Ukraine’s refusal to renew the lease on the Russian naval base on Sevastopol in the Crimea, which was to expire in 2017.

The Russians were also likely angry at the inability of the Ukrainians to pay a contested amount for past gas deliveries and the tough, dilatory and contradictory Ukrainian negotiating positions.

The Russians warned the Ukrainians that they would cut off the gas if the pricing issues were not solved by Dec. 31, 2008. On that day, the Russians proposed a gas price of $250 per 1,000 cubic meters. On the next day, Jan. 1, Yushchenko agreed to $250, but sought an increase in transit fees on Russian gas being shipped to Western Europe.

In response, Putin accused Yushchenko of breaking off negotiations, insisted on $450 and halted gas deliveries intended for Ukraine.

A few days later, Putin accused the Ukrainians of taking gas intended for Western Europe. In reprisal, he halted all shipments to Western Europe. He called for an international consortium to take over the Ukrainian transit system.

After the European Union observers had established that there was no evidence that Ukraine had cut shipments to Western Europe or siphoned off gas for its own use, Russia agreed to resume shipments to Western Europe, but only of a small amount, and that by a circuitous route that would have forced Ukraine to deprive much of the south of the country of gas. 

It was apparently only after the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Putin that he and Tymoshenko finally reached an agreement on gas and transit costs. The Western Europeans also put considerable pressure on both Russia and Ukraine to put an end to the gas war.

The new contract was based on the generally accepted formula used throughout Europe at the time that linked the price of gas to the price of diesel fuel plus transportation costs. Ukraine received a 20 percent discount on this price for 2009. Russia received a discounted price on transit fees for the same period. The agreement also did away with an intermediary the gas trade, RosUkrEnergo, which had been allegedly channeling funds to the party of Yanukovych as well as to associates of Yushchenko.

The facts therefore suggest that the gas agreement concluded by Tymoshenko was likely the best she could have achieved under the circumstances. The elimination of RosUkrEnergo, in addition, removed an apparent source of corruption.

Derek Fraser was Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine from 1998-2001. Fraser is a senior fellow for the Centre for Global Studies and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Victoria.


The trial of Yulia Tymoshenko - a mini documentary

Tuesday
May242011

Tajikistan: The Changing Insurgent Threats (ANALYSIS)

Photo courtesy of ICGby The International Crisis Group

Tajikistan, by most measures Central Asia’s poorest and most vulnerable state, is now facing yet another major problem: the growing security threat from both local and external insurgencies.

After his security forces failed to bring warlords and a small group of young insurgents to heel in the eastern region of Rasht in 2010-2011, President Emomali Rakhmon did a deal to bring a temporary peace to the area. But he may soon face a tougher challenge from the resurgent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group with a vision of an Islamist caliphate that is fighting in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban.

That conflict is moving closer to the 1,400km Afghan-Tajik border. Many anti-government guerrillas operating in northern Afghanistan are of Central Asian origin and are largely affiliated with the IMU, which seems to be focusing on its fight against the government in Kabul but may at some stage turn its attention northwards. Tajikistan has almost no capacity to tackle a dedicated insurgent force; its efforts to quell problems in Rasht have left its only well-trained counter-insurgency unit with just over 30 fighters.

A decade of increased international attention and aid has failed to make Tajikistan more secure or prosperous. A kleptocracy centred on the presidential family has taken much of the money from assistance and aluminium. Popular discontent over poverty and failing services has been kept in check by repression and an exodus of the dissatisfied as migrant workers. All institutions have been hollowed out, leaving a state with no resilience to cope with natural disasters, economic crises or political shocks.

A new generation of guerrillas is emerging, both within Tajikistan and in the IMU. They are mostly men in their twenties with little memory of the Tajik civil war of 1992-1997. This development has punctured two comfortable assumptions: that the IMU was a forlorn rump of ageing jihadists and that Tajiks were too scarred by the memory of the brutal civil war to turn on the regime. The latter has long been central to the analyses of both the Tajik leadership and many foreign governments.

The secular, Soviet-trained leadership that emerged from the civil war now finds itself dealing with a society increasingly drawn to observant Islam. The regime’s response to this is as inept as its efforts to bring Rasht to heel. Tajiks studying in foreign Islamic institutions have been called home; the government is trying to control the content of Friday sermons and prevent young people from visiting mosques; it has also dismissed some clerics. Officials allege that the main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, is becoming increasingly radicalised. Clumsy policies may make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jihadist groups, too, are paying more attention to Tajikistan. Limited infiltration of armed guerrillas from Afghanistan has been taking place for several years. The numbers seem relatively small and their intent unknown. Many pass through to other countries – notably Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Some, however, are probably probing for government vulnerabilities. A small number of fighters from the North Caucasus have also been active in Tajikistan in recent years.

Radicalization by osmosis is growing: Tajikistan is gradually becoming part of the virtual jihad. Islamist websites are paying increasing attention to events in the country. Islamic militants in Tajikistan are adopting tactics already well known in other jihadist struggles, notably in the North Caucasus. In September 2010 the country witnessed what was described as its first suicide bombing. And while most military attention is focused on Rasht, the northern border area of Isfara, not far from Khujand, is developing the reputation of a safe haven for armed militants.

Billions of dollars of drugs pass through Tajikistan en route to Russia and China every year. There is a strong suspicion within the international community that senior members of the ruling elite are protecting the transit of narcotics from Afghanistan. High-level protection is almost certainly undermining international organisations’ attempts to control the border with Afghanistan – efforts that officials involved admit have had very little effect. At a time of growing menace from Afghanistan, the first line of defence is being kept artificially weak.

With the IMU engaged, for now, in Afghanistan, it would be advisable to use whatever breathing space is available to re-evaluate security and aid policies.

China, a silent but crucial player in the region with vital security interests, could usefully be drawn into joint consultations, along with the U.S., Russia and others, on measures to assess the security problems and possible responses.

Bilateral and multilateral donors should examine the utility of providing assistance to a regime that cannot prevent a very significant proportion being lost to corruption. Conditionality should be adopted as the norm. The Tajik government should be put on notice that a failure to address support for the narcotics trade within its own elite will seriously damage its credibility and outside support.

President Rakhmon denies that the North African scenario of popular unrest and revolt could happen in Tajikistan; despite the different circumstances, such confidence is questionable.

Tajikistan is so vulnerable that a small, localised problem could quickly spiral into a threat to the regime’s existence. The speed with which the popular mood can move from passivity to anger was demonstrated not just in the Middle East, but much closer to home, in Kyrgyzstan, in April 2010. Tajikistan is not immune.

- The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. The recommendations by ICG on the above topic can be found  here.

Tuesday
Mar012011

(TRAVEL) - `A Trip to Adjara, Georgia’ 

--- By Craig Fedchock

Some of Georgia’s impressive historical churches. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)My work has given me the opportunity to travel to a wide variety of places around the world.  I’ve seen giant fruit bats in Australia and the Philippines, the harvest of longan fruit in Vietnam, and citrus in South Africa.  While I’ve seen so many things, I nevertheless didn’t know what to expect when I first came to the country of Georgia, nestled as it is along the Black Sea and reaching into the Caucasus Mountains. 

While the capital Tbilisi is at least somewhat well-known if for nothing more than being the capital of the country that tried to take on Vladimir Putin’s Russia two years ago, and limited amounts of Georgian wine and food are starting to make their way to our shores, not much else is widely known about the country. 

My experience began in the capital, a robust city which is benefitting from investments to its infrastructure from many countries, including most especially the United States.  I suspect that most of you reading this piece would be fairly surprised to learn that the main road from the city’s airport into town is named “George W. Bush Avenue,” complete with the former President’s picture.  As there are others much more experienced with Tbilisi and its environs, I shall be more than happy to defer to their perspectives and comments about that fine city. 

My preference instead is to reflect on the far too short a time I spent in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, which, with its capital Batumi, is seemingly a miniature version of the country as a whole. There are daily flights to and from Tbilisi on the national airline Georgian Airlines, as well as Air Batumi, although their dependability is suspect as one of my colleagues found out to her good fortune to be explained later.  There is train service as well to and from the capital, including an overnight train.  My suggestion, however, would be to fly to Istanbul on any one of the major airlines and take the non-stop Turkish Airlines directly to Batumi.  I myself was fortunate to arrive in traditional Georgian style in a “marshroutka”, sort of a large minivan with just enough shocks to keep you from tumbling like an astronaut in the space shuttle, but not enough to keep you from feeling like you just spent a few hours with one of those old fashioned weight loss machines in which you were strapped with a belt around your waist.  The redeeming thing is that despite the best efforts of the somewhat macho Georgian drivers, I managed to arrive at my hotel safe and sound. 

The Black Sea coast looking north from the Batumi botanical gardens. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)At the moment Batumi is in the midst of an enormous economic expansion.  The city, a favorite summer vacation spot during the Soviet times for those coming from Moscow and the other large northern cities, is slowly but surely picking itself back up from the ashes from the former USSR as well as the significant internal strife which took place for some time after the fall of communism.  Batumi has even been holding the Black Sea Jazz Festival for the past five years, bringing in some of the world’s best artists on a regular basis.  One of the key landmarks in the city is the Sheraton Hotel, which opened only in June of this year.  The Sheraton stands above most of the other buildings in the city, almost like the Alexandrian light house after which it claims its design.  It will soon have company, however, as Radisson, Kempinski, Hilton and Novotel all are in the process of developing properties which are destined to make the Batumi skyline gain an appearance more akin to that of Miami than a Caucasian Black Sea resort when they are all completed sometime in the next two years.

Just a short walk from the Sheraton, and eventually all of the other hotels mentioned above, stands the “Boulevard”, a lengthy boardwalk the likes of which I have not seen elsewhere.  Bordering the Black Sea “beach”, which is really stone rather than sand, the Boulevard stretches for roughly seven kilometers and just like everything else in Batumi, is on the upswing, with plans for expansion, some Batumians say, almost all the way to the Turkish border, about an additional 12 kilometers.  The amazing thing about the Boulevard is that while it abounds with restaurants and discos, it does so in such a way that it still maintains a feeling of spaciousness that is not at all common with other boardwalks I’ve had the chance to visit.  The Georgians have managed to keep their traditional menus alive in several of these shoreline restaurants, but I also saw a Chinese and even a Dutch (yes, a Dutch!) restaurant bordering the boulevard.   While nothing has been written about Georgian cuisine that can even come close to doing it justice, I don’t doubt for a minute that the restaurants featuring other cuisines will produce some good results if for no other reason than Georgians will be doing the cooking! 

The Georgian Table. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)I will mention that there are some true jewels in the Georgian culinary cupboard.  From simple fare like Khachapuri, which is really not much more than bread and cheese, (but oh what bread and what incredible cheese), and the basic “salsa” of Georgia, Tkemali, (made from tart plums, garlic, coriander (or dill) and salt and pepper and which Georgians are happy to put on just about anything), to more exquisite dishes, having a meal anywhere in Georgia is truly special.  Georgians will use almost any excuse to feed strangers, and the people living in Batumi are no exception.  The hospitality of Georgians is unmatched and simply needs to be experienced.  Beyond that however, the use of spices in the Adjara region is a little more creative and the flavors little more complex, and this alone warrants giving the region more attention.  

As I mentioned above, the city is truly undergoing a major renovation, and nowhere do the results promise to be more fantastic than in the area known as “Old Batumi.”  While there is still more work to be completed (according to one wine shop owner, who just happens to be producing a sherry-like Church Wine” based on a recipe his grandfather developed in 1907, the streets are being rebuilt for the first time since the Tsars were running the place, and the results are already striking. 

Nearing completion is Europe Square, surrounded by buildings no more than two stories tall which easily conjure up images in the mind of just about anywhere in the developed countries of Europe (although France comes first to my mind).    An additional shopping plaza is under construction in Old Batumi as well, and once complete, Batumi will definitely be in the running for being considered as a true jewel of the Black Sea. 

Beyond the city of Batumi, there are a couple of other places which must be mentioned.  For a short taxi ride from the Sheraton costing roughly about $3-5, you can visit to Batumi Botanical Gardens.  With thousands of species representing almost all the far corners of the earth, you can easily spend a minimum of two hours walking on the well-paved trails without seeing even a third of everything you could possibly see.  That the garden also houses Stalin’s one time dacha made it particularly fun for me, having spent several of my formative years studying the Soviet Union.  For roughly $3, you can make a day of it here, just make sure you bring along some Georgian wine, bread and any number of the fresh fruits and vegetables which are seemingly ubiquitous on the road side.

A makeshift banquet of honeycomb, pears, and of course, vodka. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)The best thing of all for me, however, was the chance I had to visit Georgia’s newest National Park, Mtirala.  This came about at the invitation of the Adjara Autonomous Republic’s Minister of Agriculture, Emzar Dzirkvadze, and resulted in a day I will most likely never forget.  The Minister exhibited a true love of his region, and respect for the land for which he cares in many ways, not least of which was his willingness to get behind the wheel of the four wheel drive which took us up the winding and unsurfaced road to the mountaintop where the park is located.   As I mentioned above, one of my colleagues was able to join the trip because her flight on Air Batumi was delayed until much later in the day.  On the way there we stopped by a small stand, artfully constructed with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, for a taste of the honey produced by bees kept by residents living in one of the small villages of indeterminate age (maybe hundreds of years old?) that can be found in one of the truly remotest regions of the country.   

While on the road to our visit, the Minister spoke of his plans for the region, all reasonable and deserving to be realized, while pointing out with pride the many things that are represented in Georgian nature.  It was obvious in his comments that not only the minister, but his fellow Adjarians are committed to ensuring that whatever happens, the need to maintain the quality of life and produce, with a strong emphasis on organic production, is paramount.  That being said, after a fantastic drive which had us driving next to, around or even in a few cases through, spring-fed waterfalls around almost every corner, we arrived at the Visitor Center (again constructed with the aid of the World Wildlife Fund and even equipped with a wheelchair ramp) for the park.  While there, we were given a presentation by a park representative in flawless English which included a tour of the guest quarters, four rooms which at 20 Lari (the Lari is currently running about $.50 US) a night, including breakfast, which can only be described as elegantly Spartan, one of the best examples of the finest in ecotourism I have seen. 

Georgian Beekeeper in Mtirala Park. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)We then visited the beekeepers, who make all of their beekeeping supplies out of local materials, and saw first-hand the love for the land which is in the Adjarian people, not to mention the ever-present Georgian hospitality.  Within minutes of the completed presentation on  beekeeping, a table magically appeared from out of nowhere under a pear tree and we were treated to the freshest honey and honey comb possible, along with the requisite shot of honey vodka.  As we had some lunch waiting for us at the restaurant a short walk from the Visitor Center, we made our goodbyes far too quickly and moved a short bit it down the mountainside for our lunch.  That the restaurant is situated next to a spring-fed mountain stream, and the water is absolutely drinkable only made the remainder of our time in the park that much more enjoyable.  At the Minister’s suggestion, we gathered up our clay water vessel, walked about two minutes and filled our pitcher with water coming directly out of the mountain side.  Everything in our meal, with the exception, once again of the requisite beer and vodka, was locally and organically produced (including some of the best fresh trout which kept getting bigger and bigger the longer we stayed at the table), and had we not needed to catch our flight home, all of us in our party would have had no trouble at all to committing to several additional days in the park.   

The Adjara region is one of those places where you can lose yourself for a few days in the forested mountains, and come back to Batumi to enjoy nightlife and cuisine as sophisticated as anywhere.  While the renovations are still underway it is not too early to pay a visit; you will leave wanting even more.   

--- The author if Craig Fedchock, Director of International Capacity Development for the United States Department of Agriculture; Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service.  He recently took this trip to the country of Georgia, and was so moved by the beauty of the culture and the people, he wanted to share the experience with others.

Friday
Jan072011

Central Asian Migrants Facing Uncertain Year in Russia (Report)

(HN, January 7, 2011) - Fardin Saidulayev manages a newspaper kiosk in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where he is one of the few Tajik laborers to hold a coveted work permit. Yet he faces an uncertain new year. As of January 1, new Russian legislation bans foreigners from working in trade. Saidulayev says he now lives in constant fear he will be fired, or even deported.Young Tajik men, returning home on a 97-hour train ride from Moscow, arrive at the main station in Dushanbe in February 2009. Russia is tightening immigration procedures, saying the country only needs skilled, Russian-speaking laborers. The change could have a drastic effect in Tajikistan, where migrant-worker remittances comprise up to half the country's GDP. CREDIT: David Trilling/EurasiaNet.org

“I am not sure what I will do,” Saidulayev, 26, said recently. Originally from the town of Ishkashim in the Pamir Mountains, Saidulayev has been in Russia for three years. “I may try to keep working here or I may have to start working on a building site, but competition for jobs there is fierce and the pay is lower,” he added.

Though its economy is rebounding from the 2008 global financial crisis, Moscow, the scene of recent ethnic rioting, is tightening immigration procedures. Russian officials now say the country only needs skilled, Russian-speaking laborers. The changes could have a drastic effect in Tajikistan, where migrant-worker remittances comprise up to half the country’s GDP.

Around 98 percent of Tajik migrants in Russia work as unskilled laborers, Viktor Sebelev, the head of the Russian Federal Migration Service’s office in Tajikistan, said recently in Dushanbe. Many fail to integrate into Russian society. The Moscow-based Center of Migration Studies says that only 50 percent of labor migrants are literate enough in Russian to complete official documents; 20 percent have no command of the language at all.

In November, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed the decree banning foreign laborers from working as traders in outdoor kiosks and markets and from selling alcohol or pharmaceuticals. Foreigners still have the right to work in markets as loaders, cleaners, wholesalers or managers.

Since Putin signed the legislation, official rhetoric justifying the measure has intensified.

In early December, newly appointed Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced new restrictions on migration to Moscow. The mayor called for “firm control” over immigration and declared the quota of foreign workers in the city would be decreased to 200,000, an almost 50 percent drop in 2011 from the previous year’s total. "I have nothing against migrants, the city needs them. I just want to understand what kind of specialists are needed and in what areas," he said in comments carried by the state news agency, RIA Novosti.

Similarly, the government has cut its migrant work permit quota again this year to 1.5 million, a significantly smaller number than in 2007 when 6 million migrants obtained work permits, RIA Novosti reported.

The Federal Migration Service also announced in early December that it would compile a list of all migrants from the CIS in Russia, a process expected to take two years. Proponents claim that legalizing a migrant’s status guarantees more rights, including access to healthcare. But the number of unregistered migrants far exceeds the number of permits. Some estimates place the number of migrant workers in Russia at 12 million.

A reduction in unskilled labor migration could have serious repercussions for Tajikistan’s feeble economy. In 2009, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), 18 percent of the working-age population migrated abroad; their remittances accounted for 49.6 percent of GDP. Tajik government officials estimate that 900,000 Tajiks work in Russia, 30 percent in trade like Saidulayev.

There is skepticism, however, whether Putin’s new decree is enforceable. In Dushanbe, the IOM’s Malika Yarbabaeva expects it "won’t result in the mass return of migrants from Russia." A similar law from 2007 was never effectively implemented, she argues, noting that only 17 percent of all migrants live legally in Russia, highlighting the Moscow’s weak control over the state bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, the new law will simply augments the black market for foreign labor, pushing more migrants into unsafe conditions, said an official from Tajikistan’s migration service. “I do not think we will see many Tajiks return. The migrants will find loopholes in the law and continue to work in Russia. For instance, they will register their stalls in the names of Russian citizens,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern for vexing his Russian counterparts. The Tajik official argued that many Tajiks will continue to work illegally in the trade sector.

That is bad news for Saidulayev, who feels that, because he is legally registered, he has a higher profile than many migrants and could be singled out and made an example of. “I am being punished for living here legally when many people from my country live here illegally. I think this new policy will compel many Tajiks to continue living outside the Russian laws,” he said by telephone from Novosibirsk.

“At the moment I am waiting,” Saidulayev said, calling the distinction between skilled and unskilled laborers arbitrary. “I expect the police will come to close me down soon. If this happens, I don’t know what I will do.”

Edward Lemon is a freelance journalist based in Dushanbe. This article originally appeared in EurasiaNet.org