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April 2013 Country Archive


On APRIL 1ST 2013

North Korea

Summary: Tensions on the Korean peninsula grew further in March, relentlessly stoked by the North. Pyongyang is no stranger to fierce rhetoric, but this time it seems to have burst all bounds – including explicit threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes on all and sundry: the US, South Korea and Japan. Obviously that will not happen, but the sheer ferocity and intensity are unsettling. (Go To NORTH KOREA)



Summary: Prime Minister Erdogan appears to be on the verge of a potentially momentous transformation in terms of Turkey’s relationship with the Kurdish separatist movement. It appears likely that the two sides may reach a cease-fire which could end a 30-year insurgency. If this is the case it could be a tremendous coup for the mercurial Prime Minister. (Go To TURKEY).



Summary: Those who have had an opportunity to study Libya closely understood that this was not one of Qadhafis delirious statements, of the type uttered in the early days of the uprising in 2011, when he warned Libyans that his forces would go house to house and street to street: 'Zenga, zenga; sharaa, sharaa'. That saying was a favorite tool used by refugees escaping Libya to lighten the mood a bit at the refugee camps on the Tunisian side of the Libyan-Tunisian border at Ras el-Jadir. Indeed, the prophecy has fully materialized. Libya is in chaos and is still struggling to find democracy while sitting on the edge of anarchy. Of course, Qadhafi spoke with cause; the chaotic situation that would develop could almost be said to have happened by design. There were no institutions apart from the National Oil Company; no real economic structure (oil took care of the basics) and these failures are making the governments state building task much more difficult than it would have been had Qadhafi left some kind of State legacy behind. (Go To LIBYA).


Summary: Civil wars, inevitably draw external supporters, meddlers and instigators. The Syrian opposition is now made up by a number of factions, divided along fundamentalist and secular elements, with additional fractionalization within those two general classifications. As happened in Libya, as long as common cause persists - overthrow of dictatorship - the revolt can even appear to be united and compact. Qadhafi’s demise, then, shed light on the various groups, representing different interests, who would soon start fighting among themselves. The same is happening in Syria, where the armed groups are varied, operating in different parts of the country, fighting for different causes, supported by several external partners. The latter could be described as the usual suspects, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both governments, while keen to thwart any political protests at home have been most active in mobilizing the Arab Awakening.
Their reach has been extensive and elements in Mali and Niger have also started to blame both these States in helping to instigate or fund some of the Islamist insurgents in the southern Sahara under the guise of backing the opposition in international forums. (Go To SYRIA)



Summary. The fate of Egypt remains ever more a mystery; the economic situation would require immediate action aimed at tackling poverty and increasing employment, especially among young people; however, the climate of instability has reduced tourism, adding more pressure. Strikes are daily occurrences; the latest involved public transportation employees protesting the planned increase in fuel prices decreed by Morsi. The primal spirit of the Egyptian revolution, its momentum, now seem far away; yet a less idealistic and more dangerous revolt could be just around the corner. (Go to EGYPT)



Summary: The ‘White Terror’ remembered: On the 66th anniversary of the 228 incident in which tens of thousands of native Taiwanese were killed by mainland soldiers of the KMT army, President Ma Ying-jeou has apologised to the descendants of the victims and reaffirmed a commitment to human rights on Taiwan. It was an astute move and one, which for the first time, may lead to a reconciliation between the native Taiwanese and the mainlanders with whom the island of Taiwan is shared. A non-partisan approach to the past may yet be possible and Ma deserves credit for taking the first step. This sits uneasily with the personal vengeance President Ma took last year against his Taiwanese predecessor, for eight years the nations president, Chen Shui-bian, now a sick and broken man who is still unjustly in jail in disgraceful circumstances. (Go to TAIWAN)



Summary: The shape of the 2014 elections remains as uncertain as ever, with Karzai’s plans not finding much consensus around the political spectrum. In the meanwhile, Afghanistan is about to become an oil exporter. In the US the debate over post-2014 US presence in Afghanistan is virtually over; Obama will probably announce his decision in the summer and will likely go for the 9,000 US troops option, hoping to get a few thousand Europeans on top of that. Such a force will include a protection element with combat capability, but not something that would have a significant impact on the on-going fighting. Should the current negotiations fail, Afghanistan would likely be in free fall. (Go to AFGHANISTAN)



Summary: Amid generally negative expectations concerning the chances of a PPP-led government to emerge from the forthcoming elections, some pundits observe that Zardari and his friends might do better than expected. But would any sane individual want to be in government for the coming summer? A big financial storm is gathering over Pakistan, which any government will find difficult to tackle. (Go to PAKISTAN).



Summary: The month of March proved to be a rollercoaster for India’s diplomats and politicians. New Delhi downgraded its diplomatic relations with Italy and has held the Italian envoy over the marine row. Two Italian marines charged with murder of Indian fishermen were being tried in India and were allowed to visit Rome for the elections. However, the Italian government refused to send them back despite the order by the Supreme Court of India. Within the neighbourhood, India witnessed further rows as a presidential visit to Dhaka ran into the ongoing political turmoil in Bangladesh. On the terror front, India was shocked by a resolution passed by the Pakistan National Assembly (PNA) against execution of a Kashmiri man convicted on charges of terrorism. Lastly, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) witnessed a major blow as its longstanding ally from Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) quit the alliance over India’s stance on the United Nations resolution against Sri Lanka, on human rights violations during the war against the Tamil Tigers. (Go to INDIA)



Summary: The prospects for Iran’s oil industry appear to be worsening, as implicitly recognised by Teheran itself. Inflation is up as well, while Teheran shows no intention of moderating its foreign policy posture. Candidates for the presidential elections are popping up in large numbers, but no clear front-runner has emerged yet. The Iranians would like the Chinese to deliver large infrastructural projects; one might already being in the process of being finalised, involving the high speed rail network. The fact is, however, that the Chinese have been reducing dramatically their investments in Iran, from US$3 billion in 2011 down to US$400 million in 2012.
Ahmadinejad is hinting for the first time in public that it is not him who is pushing for the nuclear programme to continue at all costs, but Supreme Leader Khamenei;
Ahmadinejad now says that he would be ready to have direct talks with Washington to reach an agreement quickly. Such a statement also offers a glimpse into the impact of the sanctions regime, which is becoming a matter of discussion among presidential contenders. Even a former intelligence minister and current member of the’ Assembly of Experts’ like Ali Fallahian, who has recently announced his candidacy at the presidential elections, has stated that he would stop the nuclear programme and sign a deal straight away (Go to IRAN)



Summary: The world needs Iraqi oil to keep international prices down, so one should expect American, European and Chinese powers to do their best to maintain a degree of stability. But the game in Iraq is not being played by world powers: it is a regional game for supremacy, over which the rest of the world has little say. Efforts by most Kurdish and Sunni political groups to bring Maliki down are not being successful, while Maliki becomes more and more aggressive. Perhaps his ‘salami’ tactics are really working? But al Qaida is peering back from across the Syrian border. (Go to IRAQ)



Summary: Relations between Moscow and the US remain sour over the Magnitsky law, adoption and missile defence. The Kremlin continues to gain unenviable attention for corruption cases involving high-ranking officials. Meanwhile the protest movement, which seemed to offer so much in the immediate aftermath of Putin’s return to the presidency, appears to have lost momentum, with its leaders routinely harassed and intimidated. (Go to RUSSIA)



Summary: The political crisis in Bangladesh took a violent turn this month after the verdict against Delwar Hosain Sayedee, a senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), for committing war crimes in 1971. As the Opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a national protest, violent clashes broke out all over the country claiming more than 100 lives. Blamed by various human rights watchdogs as being a politically motivated trial, the Hasina government has been blamed for pushing the country to the brink of civil war. On the other hand, while the World Bank (WB) pulled the plug on Bangladesh’s dream project – Padma Bridge – China has jumped on the opportunity to fill the gap. A Chinese consortium has promised to build the bridge within three years (Go to BANGLADESH)



Summary: Troubled times for Bosnia as economic problems add to the nation's complex political dilemmas. Citizens are bearing the brunt of an austerity budget designed to promote growth in the long-term, stimulating discontent. In a country where political structures are weak and fragmented, divided along delicate ethnic fault lines, this is worrying. Recent reports that Bosnian weapons are being funnelled to rebels in Syria have highlighted the potential risk of a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement within the nation. (Go to BOSNIA)



Summary: Croatia is on the cusp of becoming the EU's 28th member, which has been heralded as a great victory for progress for the state. In other geopolitical news, recent reports that weaponry from Croatia is being used by the rebels in Syria, has highlighted the state's conflicted history and resulted in it pulling out its soldiers - part of a UN force - from the Golan Heights on the Syria-Israel border. (Go to CROATIA)



Summary: Glaring rights abuses are a hallmark of this autocratic state. A confident regime, built upon immense energy riches, the Aliyev regime has continually oppressed dissenting voices. The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Armenia continues to provide a source of regional tensions. (Go to AZERBAIJAN)



Summary: The Islam Karimov regime in Uzbekistan routinely appals human rights observers. Economic wealth is concentrated within the ruling family, notably in the hands of Karimov's publicity hungry daughter Gulnara, who has garnered a considerable amount of unfavourable attention for her shady business operations and career as a pop star. NGOs and civil society have been all but crushed. The West's cooperation with the regime in order to secure a safe exit route from Afghanistan next year, has been scrutinised by rights activists who fear that a blind eye is being turned towards rights abuses in order to facilitate this operation. The amount of military hardware that will end up in Tashkent's hands is of particular concern. (Go to UZBEKISTAN)



Summary: While many problems remain to be sorted, there are signs that Vietnam is finally putting its economic house in order. A number of state-owned firms that had run into trouble because of their flawed investment strategies, are in the process of being restructured and in some cases, opened up to private investment. In the banking sector, greater levels of foreign investment are being planned with the eventual intention to eventually allow some foreign investors to acquire a majority stake in local banks. (Go to VIETNAM)



Summary: Filipinos will be going to the polls again on May 13. More than 18,000 elected positions at national and local levels are up for grabs. At the national level, the Catholic Church has once again sought to demonstrate that it wishes to influence the election outcome by urging voters to reject candidates who support Birth control (the Reproductive Health Bill), that passed into law last December but which has yet to be implemented. At the behest of pro-life legislators – and with the backing of the Church – the Supreme Court has issued an order to restore the status quo ante and delay the implementation of the law, until after the election. The Church may be hoping to get the law reversed but the most likely outcome is that the bishops will end up with egg on their faces. (Go to PHILIPPINES).
                                                                                         Clive Lindley. Publisher

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