Tag Archives: Gaza

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has to be the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday.  Since then, President Obama has been moving quickly to make sweeping changes to U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including announcements that he was suspending the military tribunal system established to try terrorism suspects, closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay and other secret detention facilities, mandating that all U.S. interrogators comply with the Army Field Manual, and issuing orders to national security team that they should develop a plan outlining a “responsible military drawdown in Iraq.”  And that was his first day in office.

Here’s five important stories from the past week you might have missed if you were only focused on the Obama transition.

1. Seeking to improve deteriorating relations with India, Pakistan announced on Friday that it would prosecute militants with links to the November Mumbai terror attacks.  The government of Pakistan is hoping to amend its constitution to permit trials for acts of terror committed outside its borders.  In the meantime, it has announced its intention to try several militants with links to the Mumbai attacks for cyber crimes.  Last week, the Pakistani government arrested 124 alleged militantsThe United Kingdom, the United States, and other western powers have made an effort to improve relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, which have been particularly tense since the November, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the new prime minister of Pakistan, is facing considerable domestic and international pressure

2.  The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seems to be holding, but tensions continue to rise.  On Sunday, Hamas announced that it would terminate the ceasefire if Israel continued to maintain its blockade on Gaza.  Israel maintains that the blockade is intended to prevent the shipment of weapons into Gaza, but the blockade also prevents the shipment of food, energy, and reconstruction materials into the territory.  Both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama have called on Israel to reopen its borders with Gaza.

3.  Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested last week.  A central player in the ongoing civil war in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nkunda was believed responsible for the destabilization of the region which has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and an estimated 5.4 million deaths—half of whom were children—during the past ten years.  Nkunda’s arrest presents an opportunity for peace in the eastern DRC.  It also represents a fundamental shift in relations between the Congo and its eastern neighbor, Rwanda.  The two countries have had tense relations since the mid-1990s, but Nkudna’s arrest was part of a joint operation and Rwandan troops are currently cooperating with the Congolese military to track down remnants of guerilla forces operating in the region.

4.  A national referendum on a new constitution in Bolivia is currently underway.  The constitution, promoted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is widely expected to pass given Morales’ popularity.  However, several groups are campaigning against the constitution, including the Christian groups and the country’s relatively wealthy.  If passed, the new constitution would introduce “community justice,” provide for the election of judges, remove Catholicism as the official state religion, and cap landholdings at 5,000 hectares.

5.  Europe continues to struggle with the fallout from the global economic crisis.  On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a new €600 million stimulus package targeting the French newspaper industry.  The Spanish government has called on its citizens to engage in “patriotic” shopping, buying Spanish products as a way to address the economic downturn in that country.  Meanwhile, Iceland became the first county to witness a government collapse as a result of the crisis.  The prime minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, resigned on Friday, paving the way for early elections and a potentially dramatic shift to the left after nearly twenty years of liberalization in the country.   In November, Iceland became the first developed country to have to turn to the International Monetary Fund since 1976.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The major news networks yesterday were giving virtually non-stop coverage to the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.  Obama is already on his journey to Washington DC for Tuesday’s inauguration.  In his weekly radio address, President-elect Obama warned of the challenges facing the nation, the most critical of which include unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a global economic crisis.  Despite the challenges, however, the television news networks focused extensively on the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial inauguration itself. 

Here’s five important stories you might have missed among all the ceremony:

1.  Hamas and Israel reached a one-week ceasefire on Sunday, temporarily halting the three-week old conflict which has already resulted in more than 1,100 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths.  The political fallout of the conflict also looks to be severe, with Qatar and Mauritania announcing they would terminate political and economic ties with Israel over the conflict. With the largest Muslim and Jewish comminutes in Europe, France is also bracing for an increase in sectarian violence between Jewish and Muslim communities.

2. After signaling that a deal had been reached last week and then seeing that deal collapse, Russia and Ukraine announced on Saturday that they had again reached an agreement which would permit Russia to resume natural gas shipments to the European Union.  Russian natural gas supplies are normally shipped through pipelines in Ukraine, and these shipments account for approximately twenty percent of the E.U.’s total natural gas consumption.  In the new one-year agreement, Russia offers Ukraine a 20 percent discount on natural gas prices in exchange for a promise not to increase transit fees for using the pipeline.  Some countries in Eastern Europe have been without heat for twelve days as Russia and Ukraine struggled to come to a solution to the standoff.  But political wrangling in Ukraine could still derail the deal.

3.  Ethiopian troops completed their planned withdrawal from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday.  The withdrawal raises concerns about the viability of Somalia’s pro-Western government and the increasing influence of Islamic extremists in the country.  Ethiopia threatened to withdraw its forces several months ago, complaining that the international community had not provided sufficient resources to support its mission and the government of Somalia.  In the absence of Ethiopian or other military forces, it is feared that Somalia may expand its reputation as a home to Islamic terrorists.

4.  There is growing speculation that Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba, may be in grave health.  Castro has not appeared in public since July 2006, and has recently cancelled a number of meetings with foreign dignitaries.  In a public speech on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, one of Castro’s closest allies, appeared to offer his eulogy, noting “That Fidel is his uniform, who walked the streets and town late at night, hugging the people, won’t return.  That will remain in memories.”  Fidel’s brother, Raúl Castro, has served as president of Cuba since July 2006, when his brother was forced to resign for health reasons.  Since then, the economy of Cuba has struggled, the extensive welfare protections afforded workers have begun to decline, and the government has begun to promise greater openness and transparency.

5.  A closely fought by-election in Malaysia has been won by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, part of the country’s Islamic opposition.  While the results will not alter the balance of power in the national parliament, they do raise concerns about the ability of the incoming National Front government to effectively govern.  

And for two bonus stories this week:

6.  In Japan, sharp divisions are appearing in the Liberal Democratic Party, the party which has ruled Japan for all but 11 months in the past 53 years.  Yoshimi Watanabe, who served as state minister for administrative reform from 2007 to 2008, tendered his resignation from the party last week amid the declining popularity of the party with the electorate.  The opposition Democratic Party of Japan appears well-positioned to win the next national election, which must take place by September. 

7.  Iran’s ex-Prime Minister, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, may run as a candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for June.  Mousavi is widely seen as a reformist candidate possessing the popularity to potentially defeat incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Despite the passage by the United Nations Security Council of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israel continued its offensive in Gaza over the weekend.  The resolution was passed by the United Nations with the United States abstaining, marking the first time the United States has permitted a resolution opposed by Israel to pass.  Hillary Clinton, the incoming Secretary of State, is expected to deliver a speech on the Middle East next week, and speculation is that the speech may provide some insight into the policy of the Obama administration.

In other news from the last week:

1. More bleak data released last week dampened hopes for a speedy recovery from the global economic crisis.  On Friday, it was reported that the United States lost more than 2.6 million jobs in 2008 and the unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December—the highest level in 16 years.  Similar figures indicated that the United Kingdom and continental Europe are also suffering from falling economic output and rising unemployment

2. Russia and Ukraine reached a deal on Saturday aimed at restoring Russian natural gas shipments to the European Union.  The deal, which has yet to be formally signed by Ukraine, would permit European Union, Ukrainian, and Russian observers to monitor a pipeline that transports Russian gas through Ukraine to the E.U.  The European Union hopes the deal will prevent future disputes over the pipeline, stabilizing shipments to E.U. member states.

3. After receiving a ransom payment of U.S. $3 million, Somali pirates released a captured Saudi oil tanker sized last fall.  After the United Nations authorized military action against the pirates late last year, a number of countries have moved naval forces into the region in order to cut the level of piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

4. A three-day long strike by employees of state-owned energy companies in India ended on Friday.  The striking workers failed to garner popular support for their demands, and the strike, which resulted in fuel shortages throughout the country, became highly unpopular. 

5. A U.S. businessman with ties to the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency has purchased lease rights over 400,000 hectares of land in Sudan.  The purchase becomes the largest private land deal in post-colonial Africa, but raises concerns over the increasing foreign control over the continent’s agricultural land.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza continued this week, with Israeli air strikes and rocket attacks by Hamas through much of the week culminating with an Israeli ground attack over the weekend.  So far, more than 400 Palestinians and 4 Israelis have been killed in the fighting.  A Libyan-sponsored United Nations resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was blocked by the United States on Saturday.  Meanwhile, some international observers warned that the use of military force will not achieve a stable solution to the Gaza conflict

In other news from the previous week:

1.  The Chinese government has moved to isolate dissidents who support Charter 08.  The Charter, often referred to as the most significant push for opening the one-party state in China since the Tiananmen Square protests, has been signed by 7,000 Chinese and foreign intellectuals.  The Charter warns of “the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions” if the Chinese Communist Party does not move towards greater democratization and political openness. A number of signatories to the document have been detained by police, and the government has cautioned the media against carrying interviews with the Charter’s signatories.

2.  Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are growing as both sides seek to mobilize support for their position in Europe.  Russia cut off natural gas flows to Ukraine last week, accusing the Ukrainian government stealing gas from the pipeline; the Ukrainian government denies the charges.  The standoff is a major concern for several members of the European Union, which secures up to 20 percent of its natural gas demands through the disputed pipeline. 

3.  Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution on January 1.  The revolution led to the overthrow of the dictatorial government of Fulgencio Batista and the establishment of a communist state under the leadership of Fidel Castro.  The resignation of Fidel Castro earlier this year, the economic slowdown on the island, and the devastation brought by two hurricanes have left the country in crisis.  As a result, celebrations of the revolution were scaled back.  The future of U.S.-Cuban relations is likely to be a significant policy question for the incoming Obama administration.

4.  John Atta Mills, the leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress, was declared the winner of Ghana’s presidential runoff elections on Sunday.  He defeated Nana Akufo-Addo of the ruling New Patriotic Party to win the presidency in elections characterized as free and fair.  Ghana has long been viewed as the model for political and economic reform in Africa, and the peaceful political transition in Ghana is viewed as a model for other struggling countries.

5.  On Friday, the government of Sri Lanka announced it had seized control of the northern town of Killinochchi in the northern part of the country.  Sri Lanka has effectively been divided in half for years, with the northern part of the country under the de facto control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers) and the southern part of the country under the control of the Sri Lankan government.  The government’s victory in the Tiger stronghold of Killinochchi is widely seen as a dramatic blow to the Tamil Tiers.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been a bad week for economic news.  Both the United States and Canada posted record job losses, home foreclosures continue to rise, and Congress is at an impasse on how to (or if to) bail out the U.S. auto industry.   Here’s five stories you might have missed amid all the bad economic news coming out this week.

1. Massive riots rocked the Greek capital of Athens on Sunday, as young Greeks took to the streets to protest the killing of teenager by police.  The center-right Greek government has been under pressure amid the spread of the financial crisis to Greece.  It currently holds a narrow two-seat majority in the country’s parliament, but the protests—the largest in Greece since World War II—may force some concessions on the part of the government.

2.  Amid news that the global economic crisis is taking a severe toll in Asia, both China and India are seeking to limit the spread of the crisis by instituting Keynesian-style economic stimulus packages.  India has announced a $4 billion package while China is seeking to boost domestic consumption.  Both plans have been criticized for being too small in the face of the current crisis.

3.  The Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip continues.  According to Palestinian officials, the impact of the closure is so severe that the Gaza’s financial institutions have run out of money.  The lack of cash has affected nearly all aspects of daily life in Gaza, as families lack the cash to purchase basic supplies and relief agencies have been forced to suspend their work.  Israel maintains the closure is necessary to prevent the Hamas government in Gaza from attacking Israeli settlements near Gaza. 

4.  Elections are being held in Ghana, one of Africa’s most longstanding and stable democracies.  Sunday’s presidential election is projected to be very close, potentially triggering a run-off election later this month.  Many are looking to Ghana to illustrate the potential of peaceful political transitions to countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria, which experienced violence surrounding recent elections.

5.  Regional economists are raising concerns that Latin American governments may be crowded out of international credit markets due to barrowing by the United States and other developed countries.  The Latin American Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee, comprised of former finance ministers and central bank governors from the region, are warning that the loss of access to credit could have severe consequences in the region, potentially forcing countries to undertake painful fiscal adjustments or detrimental import restrictions and capital controls.

Political Violence: Jihad or McWorld?

A series of apparently unrelated bombings hit a number of countries over the weekend: 

  • In India, two separate explosions in Ahmedabad killed 45 people and injured more than 300.  A group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility.  Ten unexploded bombs were found by police in Surat, a city in the same Indian state, today. 
  • An explosion in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, killed 17 and injured some 150 people.  Although no one has claimed responsibility, speculation is that Kurdish nationalist—possibly linked to the Kurdish Peoples Party, or PKK—are responsible.  On Tuesday, the Turkish government launched an airstrike against suspected PKK strongholds in Iraq, killing 40 according to the Turkish government. 
  • Female suicide bombers in Iraq were responsible for at least two attacks over the weekend.  The first involved three separate explosions targeting Shia pilgrims in Baghdad, killing 24 and injuring 79.  The second centered in the Kurdish political capital of Kirkuk, killed 12 and injured dozens.  No claim of responsibility has been made, but observers are pointing to the history of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s use of female bombers in the past. 
  • Finally, tensions between rival Hamas and Fatah parties in Gaza sparked a new round of violence over the weekend.  In one incident, a car bomb exploded in the Gaza Strip, killing several bystanders.  Hamas claims that the attack was orchestrated by Fatah in an attempt to kill some of its supporters; Fatah contends the explosions was likely part of an internal power struggle within Hamas.

Are all these attacks related?  Not in the sense that they were coordinated by a single group.  The groups involved—the Indian Mujahideen, the PKK, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Fatah all have their own objectives and are not likely to want to work together.  But in the broader sense, I think there are some common threads.  In his class work Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber argues that there are two driving trends in the world today.  He writes,

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of nationalstates in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

Perhaps Barber is right.  Perhaps we are seeing the world fall apart and come together at the same time.  It’s a bleak notion, but one for which Barber, I think, finds a comforting solution: strong democracy.