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.