Archive for December, 2008

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Siege of Gaza, Day 2

December 29, 2008

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/

The death toll is at over 280 on the second day of Israeli bombing of Hamas facilities in Gaza in retaliation for protracted rocket attacks. A week after the expiration of the Egyptian brokered truce and growing hostilities, Israeli forces began raids on Saturday morning. Their immediate goal is to target Hamas facilities, which include security structures and supply tunnels, but Israel has called up 6,500 reservists in preparing for a prolonged ground campaign. Most of the casualties are reported to have been Hamas security officers, however the area is densely populated and the targets are mixed among civilian structures. Despite mixed impression of the proportionality of the response, the international community has generally called for a restoration of the ceasefire with some governments placing the onus on Hamas.

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China Joins Anti-Piracy Effort

December 29, 2008

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Xinhua reports a task force of Chinese warships is the latest addition to international forces in the trade lanes off the Somali coast. Eighteen navies, including four SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and 11 NATO navies have deployed to the region. China’s first modern naval deployment outside the Pacific, the mission will provide experiential and cooperative opportunities for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The flagship of the fleet, a multi-purpose missile destroyer is among the most advanced in the navy and will showcase the navy’s capabilities. China’s presence in the Gulf of Aden will help to secure its trade lanes through which raw materials from Africa and crude oil from the Middle East is imported. Somali pirates have accumulated booty exceeding $150 million and under the specter of poverty and lawlessness in Somalia it is unlikely that the growing trend will decline anytime soon. 

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

December 17, 2008

A Farewell Kiss? 

December 17, 2008: IRAQ-The most famous citizen to make a political statement with a shoe since Khrushchev is appearing in Iraqi court this week, coincidentally, the same week Bush has stated that he “stands firmly” in his decision to go to war in Iraq, calling it “the most important decision” he made while in office. Under Iraqi law, shoe-thrower Mr. Zaidi could face seven years in prison for the “attack on a foreign official” and yelling insults such as: “This is the gift from the Iraqi’s, this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” For the record, calling someone “a son of a shoe” is one of the worst insults in Iraqi culture. However, once the fanfare of the court case has passed—what will remain? Whether the President’s “farewell” will be remembered by his own statement: “I could not live with myself if I had just chosen to [exit] and leave the valor and the sacrifice of a lot of our young men and women”—or that of a disgruntled Iraqi reporter—will have to be revealed in time. 

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Time for China to Make a Stand 

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Will Pakistan force the Chinese Tiger Awake?

December, 17, 2008: CHINA-China has often been the dark horse of international politics—intermittently making an appearance to lend support on global issues. However, as China’s economic muscle grows, the nation’s days as a powerful wildcard may soon be over. From the way things have been shaping up the last couple of months, the first test could be Pakistan. Beijing has an interest in encouraging stability in Pakistan—albeit not for the same reason as the United States. While the Bush Administration has focused on Pakistan’s role as home for radical Islamists, China sees Pakistan as a “stepping-stone” to the West and a counter to India. For this reason, Beijing has been timid in turning up the pressure cooker—unlike the U.S., China has seen no reason to hold value in India’s democracy. Whether or not this lackluster commitment turns around will be a major statement about China’s future as a major player in global security—don’t touch that dial on Pakistan and China. 

WEEKLY BRIEFS (Not Boxers)

Russia and Israel may be expanding military business by trading ultra-cool pilotless spy plane technology. 

Febres Cordoro, “pistol-wheeling, chain-smoking, horse-breeding business man” according to the NY Times, dies. 

Militant group of nomadic Niger tribesman claim to have kidnapped Canadian Diplomat.

New South African break-away party has named its president. 

Russia is having a grand ol’ time feigning democracy 

By Dana Liebelson

 

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The Protests Continue…

December 15, 2008

GREEK RIOTS CONTINUE

December 15, 2008: Riot police hold their line as students protest on December 15, 2008 in Athens, Greece. Protests and riots have continued for several days in Greece after the fatal shooting of 15-year-old schoolboy Alexis Grigoropoulos by police on December 6, 2008. [Getty Images]

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Georgia’s Faltering Democracy

December 15, 2008

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By Sean Alexander, Guest Contributor

Mikheil Saakashvili’s rise to power is the stuff of legends, and even includes the amusingly true tale of how he (peacefully) stormed into the Georgian Parliament building and drank from then-President Shevardnadze’s tea cup. Saakashvili, Georgia’s third post-independence president was billed as the answer to Georgians’ prayers, promising to rid the country of the rampant corruption that brought down Shevardnadze. In just four years, however, Saakashvili was under fire. He took the promise of a better, brighter future for Georgia and threw it away by lashing out at independent media in November 2007, prompting mass protests. Thereafter, the promise of true democratic reform was thrust into the hands of the Georgian people-or rather, the opposition. Within a year, however, even the opposition squandered the opportunity, leaving Georgia just as fragile as ever. It should also be pointed out that a coup d’état deposed the first Georgian president and could, theoretically, be responsible for taking down the third.

So what happened to democracy in Georgia? And more importantly, what will happen?

Georgia seems to have fallen into a pattern of proclaiming democracy and adherence to democratic principles only to have its administrations twist the concept beyond all recognition in order to enhance their own power. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first president did so by dumping democracy in favor of nationalism, alienating Georgia’s ethnic minorities. Shevardnadze, the second president, did not fare much better-although he lasted longer-by subverting democracy for corruption and cronyism. In both cases, however, there were “democratic forces” waiting in the wings to steer Georgia back on its path. Saakashvili-once heralded as Georgia’s best hope for a democratic future-has stumbled. Like Gamsakhurdia before him, Saakashvili favors nationalism, promising to bring Georgia’s wayward republics back into the fold. And then there is the troubling matter of shutting down critical media outlets. And yet the West continues to throw its support behind Saakashvili.

To be fair, there’s not really a lot the West can do at this point beyond voicing concern for internal developments. This is because the opposition in its current guise is still too weak and fragmented to mount to any real challenge to the Saakashvili regime. To illustrate this point, one need only recall that in November 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution, a massive rally was planned in support of Imedi TV, the main media outlet shut down by the Saakashvili regime. In the end, only “a couple hundred” people showed up, according to the Civil Georgia website. I was in Tbilisi that day, and wouldn’t have known that anything was up if I hadn’t read about it beforehand. It seems that at the popular level, the public has reached a level of complacency about change. They may want things to improve, but they’re no longer likely to take to the streets for just any old protest, which seems to be about all the opposition can muster.

Of course, things could change. Within the past few weeks, a prominent opposition voice-Nino Burjanadze-set up a new opposition party and is widely seen as the best person to unseat Saakashvili. Her image as savior, however, doesn’t seem to be all that much different from that of Saakashvili back in 2003 when he took over the presidency, leaving one to wonder what really would change. Of course, it is possible that the masses will unite behind Burjanadze and she will guide Georgia into a new era of peace and prosperity. I see nothing wrong in eating crow over that, but I remain skeptical. It is going to take a lot more than hope and hype regarding one individual before I start acknowledging a better and brighter future for Georgia. What is tragic is that, until that day comes, Georgia will continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place as it tries to squeeze into the already-bloated concept of Europe as well as stand on its own against its Russian neighbor to the north.

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

December 4, 2008

REGIONAL BRIEFS (Not Boxers) 

This Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese rebel leader who used to be a Rwandan Officer. Coincidence?

Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese rebel leader who used to be a Rwandan Officer. Coincidence?

ASIA

Hong Kong has reported for the fourth time in two months, Chinese eggs are contaminated with melamine. On Craigslist: tickets for the Chinese Dairy Industry’s funeral. 

The China National Petroleum Corporation signed a $3.29 billion dollar deal to build a pipeline through the United Arab Emirates. 

AMERICAS

The United States has dropped the first part of a $400 million aid package into the black hole of Mexico’s drug war. 

The U.S. is still trying valiantly to save the American auto industry. 

EUROPE

European central bank makes biggest rate cut EVER, interest rate cut by ¾ of a percentage point. 

Europe’s human rights court has ruled that Britain’s decision to store two citizen’s DNA profiles is sketchy. 

AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST

The Health Minister of Zimbabwe has declared the recent unprecedented outbreak of cholera a national emergency, with over 500 deaths since August. Keep up the good work Mr. Mugabe. 

Rwanda is likely involved in a government-organized effort to support Congolese rebels

No one is too thrilled with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki’s power snatching

Afghanistan keeps the U.S. on its toes by signing a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions

By Dana Liebelson

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World’s Weekly Blue Streak

December 2, 2008

TOP STORIES

Bollywood Moves Towards the Brink

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A luxury hotel burning in Mumbai

December 1, 2008: INDIA—The news on the night before Thanksgiving gave little to be thankful for—instead of Macy’s Day balloons there was a rising body count in Mumbai. After several days of upheaval and intense military occupation, the long-reaching effects of the attack have come into focus, none so ominous as the strain on already-tense relations between India and Pakistan. Last week, Prime Minister Singh promised, “to defeat the evil designs of terrorists,” but in recent days he has elaborated on this promise by directly placing blame on Pakistan and sharply stating that: “Pakistan’s actions need to match the sentiments expressed by its leadership.” Such talk is buoyed by enormous popular support, and it’s impossible not to be reminded of the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that pushed the two countries treacherously close to the brink. Nine out of the ten terrorists are dead, and although lacking identification, India has claimed full Pakistani citizenship. If Mr. Singh has jumped the gun, such claims could be dangerous given the harsh criticism of India’s handling of the attacks, which culminated in the resignation of Mumbai’s chief minister. With India hurtling towards elections and America struggling to uphold tepid Pakistani relations, Bollywood will undoubtedly stay in the limelight. 

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Electoral Wildfire 

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More fire over Nigerian elections

December 2, 2008: NIGERIA—Although Indian casualties held the media attention last week, 400 Nigerians were killed on Friday, with 7,000 forced to evacuate their homes in the worst unrest in years. The violence stemmed from a clash over election results, after the Muslim candidate backed by the ANPP lost to the ruling party, the PDP. Nigeria has roughly an equal population of Muslim and Christian citizens, and the violence began between Muslim Hausa and Christian youth gangs.  The riots were sparked when electoral workers failed to publicly post election results, casting suspicion that the results had been tampered with. Nigeria has a tempestuous electoral history, alternating between attempted free elections and military rule. The last major election of Nigeria’s president, in 2007, caused similar violence due to the election’s lack of credibility. For now, Nigerian president, Umaru Yar Adua, has deployed troops to the major locations of the riots. Seeing as the court case concerning the validity of the 2007 election just made it to court in September, don’t expect organization anytime soon. 

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Check back Wednesday for more top stories and briefs!

By Dana Liebelson