Tag Archives: diamonds

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The death of Michael Jackson dominated news coverage this week, pushing other major developments aside. Indeed, with so much popular interest generated that popular sites like Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmed with traffic and unable to keep up with bandwidth demands. By Sunday morning, networks were slowly returning to other coverage.

In other news from the previous week:

1. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the decision of the Iranian government to arrest eight local employees working in Tehran. The eight Iranian employees at the British embassy were charged with involvement in the ongoing protest over the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections. The arrests follow developments last week in which Britain and Iran each expelled two of the other’s diplomats. The arrests (and the continuing deteriorating relationship more generally) will likely be a topic for informal discussions at the G8 meeting this weekend.

2. Meetings between NATO and Russian foreign ministers over the weekend set the stage for greater cooperation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Relations between Russia and the west had deteriorated after the Georgian war last year. The Russian government also announced plans to restructure the country’s military.

3. Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, is facing increasing pressure to resign from his post ahead of general elections which must be held by October. Aso’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has dominated post-war Japanese politics, ruling the country for all but 11 months of the last 53 years. But Japan’s ongoing economic crisis, combined with allegations of corruption and political infighting within the LDP, has led to a sharp decline in popular support for the party—and a potential radical shift in Japanese politics, with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan poised to seize the opportunity.

4. Lebanon’s new prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, has begun the task of forming a new parliament for the country. Hariri won a surprising victory over rival Hizbollah last month, but now faces the daunting task of uniting Lebanon’s three rival factions, the Sunnis, Shi’as, and Christians. In order to maintain good relations between Lebanon’s three factions, Hariri has proposed to establish a government of national unity. (glossary) But Hizbollah has so far refused to accept the possibility of a unity government unless it is granted veto power, a development which Hariri opposes. Hariri was the favored candidate of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but was sharply opposed by Syria. Stable relations between the three countries are seen as vital to the maintenance of peace and stability in Lebanon.

5. Human Rights Watch accused the government of Zimbabwe of engaging in murder, forced labor, and torture in its diamond mining operations in the Marange district in the eastern part of the country. The accusations come shortly after a campaign by the country’s prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, failed to secure the western economic aid it had hoped for. Zimbabwe faces considerable challengesin its attempt to address the ongoing economic and political crisis which has plagued the country for more than a year. While inflation has come down from its record 231 million percent last year, the political standoff between President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, and his political rival, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, remains unresolved.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It was a busy week for the Obama administration, as the president made the rounds. On Wednesday, President Obama met with King Abudllah of Saudi Arabia to discuss the “strategic relationship” between the two countries.  On Thursday, the President followed up on a campaign promise, delivering a major foreign policy speech in Cairo, Egypt, where he outlined his vision for Middle East peace. In typical Obama fashion, the speech was balanced and generally well-received. (The video footage of the speech is available on the White House blog). In the speech, he reiterated U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute, called on Israel to cease all settlement expansion in the West Bank, and called on Palestinians to renounce the use of violence. Demonstrating a cultural and technical sophistication, the White House ensured the speech was simultaneously available through Facebook and other social networking sites in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Turkish. On Friday, the President visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. And on Saturday, Obama participated in the 65th anniversary celebration of the D-Day landings before meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

A busy week for the president, but here are five stories you might have missed if you were only watching his travels:

1. A new audio tape was released by Osama bin Laden, denouncing Obama’s policies as a mere continuation of the previous administration and warning the United States to prepare for war. According to many analysts, the release of the audio tape signals a growing concern from al Qaeda about Obama’s policies. Al Qaeda fears that Obama may be successful in reaching out to moderate Arab states, weakening support for the brand of radical Islam preached by al Qaeda.

2. Elections for the European Parliament took place last week. Although results are still being tabulated, the low level of voter turnout is expected to benefit smaller fringe parties, particularly those on the far right. In the Netherlands, unofficial results indicate that the Party for Freedom will become the second-largest Dutch party in European Parliament, capturing 4 of the country’s 25 seats. The party campaigned on a platform opposing immigration and Turkish ascension to the E.U. In the United Kingdom, voters are expected to hand the ruling Labour party a stinging defeat, with a real possibility that the party may place third in European elections. Similarly, in Ireland, the ruling centrist Fianna Fáil is expected to place second behind its center-right rival Fine Gael

3. The results of Iranian presidential election scheduled for Friday could hinge on…wait for it…the results of Saturday’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and North Korea. In order to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa, Iran must win its three remaining matches: the first against North Korea on Saturday, then against the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, and finally against South Korea on June 17. A loss either of the pre-election matches could produce a sharp backlash against President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, particularly among the 60 percent of Iran’s citizens under 30—a group already inclined to support his rival, Mir-Hossein Moussavi.

4. In a dramatic sign of just how bad the global economic downturn has become, the government of Botswana was forced to turn to the African Development Bank last week for a record $1.5 billion loan. Botswana has long been heralded as one of Africa’s strongest and best-managed economies. Its president, Ian Khama, has a reputation as a reformer and statesman. But even he has been humbled by the problems faced by the economy of Botswana, which depends on diamonds for 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and about 30 percent of its gross domestic product. And as the price of diamonds has collapsed, the country has found itself increasingly facing economic difficulties.

5. On Friday, clashes between police and indigenous Amazonian protestors in Peru claimed more than 30 lives. Peru’s President, Alan Garcia, urged calm, but both sides appear to be escalating a standoff which has been ongoing for two months. At issue are indigenous land right claims, which they feel the government has abrogated in order to attract more foreign investment.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The biggest story of the week has to be the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Since last week, when we discussed the termination of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the two sides have increased cross-border attacks.  Civilians on both sides of the border are preparing for an increase in violence, as Hamas threatens a dramatic increase in rocket attacks against Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip in response to the dramatic increase in Israeli air strikes over the weekend.  So far, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to launch an all-out ground attack, but many are speculating that Israel is preparing to follow the massive air strikes with some kind of ground assault.  The United States has given tacit approval to the Israeli strikes, calling on Hamas to cease its activities.  The Europeans are calling for a stop in the violence, and Libya has called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the crisis.  However, any solution to the crisis must also involve Egypt, which has so far failed to develop an initiative both sides can accept. 

In other news from the last week:

1.  On Friday, Pakistan began shifting large portions of its military forces from its northern border with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India.  Pakistani military officials are downplaying the move, which so far has involved an estimated 20,000 soldiers.  But the Pakistani government has raised concerns that India may launch a strike in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  The United States and the European Union are urging restraint on both sides, noting that Pakistan’s move undermines the ability of coalition forces to wage the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  India and Pakistan have long been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir.  Both are also nuclear powers.

2.  Somalia’s President, Abdullahi Yusuf, may be close to resigning.   Earlier this month, a political crisis emerged when Yusuf attempted to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein.  Hussein had been appointed as part of a power-sharing agreement supported by the West and by neighboring governments.  Since the attempt, Kenya has announced its intentions to move forward with sanctions against Somalia.  The resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf may increase instability in the embattled country, already home to a number of pirates and warlords.  Alternatively, it may result in greater stability if the Islamic insurgency with close ties to al Qaeda is able to establish control over the country. 

3.  The Russian government is bracing for an increase in unrest as the ruble fell to a four-year low against the euro and the dollar on Friday.  In early December, the Russian government put down protests in Vladivostok as it increased duties on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic auto manufactures.  The opposition has criticized the government, and the liberal People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov, has argued that the implicit social contract, under which the Russian people exchanged political freedoms for economic prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down.  The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, with industrial output falling and unemployment increasing at the same time the price of the country’s most important product, oil, has collapsed. 

4.  The December 23 death of Lansana Conté, left a power vacuum in Guinea  which was filled on Friday by a military junta.  Conté had ruled the West African nation for 24 years, after seizing power in a coup in 1984.  The military group which seized power on Friday is led by Moussa Camara, a captain who served in a logistics unit.  The junta has appealed to the international community for recognition and assistance.  But so far, the international community has been slow to recognize the new government, as the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and France have all condemned the coup.  Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a precoursor in the production of aluminum, and the coup has raised concerns about the stability of world alumunum markets.  It also has a key role to play in ensuring the stability of its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which experienced a long civil war in the 1990s fueled by trade in illicit diamonds.

5.  The budget of the United Nations was passed on Tuesday.  The new budget increases spending by $700 million (from $4.17 billion to $4.87 billion), excluding the cost of peacekeeping operations.  Passing the budget of the United Nations has become an increasingly politicized affair, as developing countries push for an expansion of the international institution’s role while the developed countries attempt to limit it.  This year, compromise was reached when the developed countries agreed to fund an additional 92 positions in exchange for increasing UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.