Saturday, April 28, 2007

Notes from all over

But mostly from Africa, as it turns out. Another collection of brief items to remind us that our concerns are not the only ones and are not central to everyone.

Mexico - Mexico City, to be more specific, where city lawmakers voted earlier this week to legalize abortion in the district. The measure passed handily, 46-19 with one abstention, despite strong opposition from the country's ruling National Action Party and the Catholic Church, with Pope Benedict (who will always be Cardinal Ratzinger to me) calling for its defeat and local bishops threatening to excommunicate anyone who supported it.
The law made the megalopolis one of the rare parts of Latin America where abortion is legal without restrictions in the first three months of pregnancy. Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico, a US territory, have similar legislation. ...

Until now abortions in Mexico were only legal in cases of rape or if the pregnancy entailed serious health risks.
The law only applies to Mexico City; the severe restrictions in place elsewhere in the ocuntry are unaffected. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has said he'll sign the bill.

Opponents plan to mount a legal challenge, but rights supporters express confidence such a challenge will fail and even hope that the vote will mark the beginning of a change in attitude on the matter in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nigeria - Umaru Yar'Adua, the candidate of the ruling party, won a landslide victory in voting for president this past weekend.

Well, maybe. It seems the election was so bad, so marked by vote-rigging and violence, that even outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had hand-picked Yar'Adua to succeed him, "admitted to a bundle of election flaws," as the Agence France Presse put it, which added that both foreign election monitors and the political opposition called it the most fraudulent election in the nation's history, even worse than those of 2003 which the country's Supreme court agreed were tainted.
Dozens of Nigerians died in violence before the presidential and state elections[, AP reported}. Electoral officials during both votes could be seen inking ballots and shoving them into boxes. The presidential ballots bore no serial numbers, making them easy to mishandle and impossible to track. Election observers say ruling party thugs ran off with ballot boxes.
The Nigerian press was harsh in its judgment.
"We have been the laughing stock among world commentators," wrote the respected independent daily The Nation. "This is not the kind of Nigeria we dreamed of when many dueled with life ... for a democracy."

"Even a goat would have won the elections provided it had the backing of the PDP (ruling People's Democratic Party)," said the private daily The Vanguard.
Large-scale court challenges are planned and an opposition bloc is calling for peaceful protests on May 1 to demand the election be annulled and a new election held.

Somalia - For the moment, Mogadishu is quiet. Quiet enough, at least, for the dead to be gathered for burial and for some to venture to the central market area to see if their businesses are still standing.

This after nine days of fierce street fighting and heavy artillery barrages as Ethiopian troops and tanks acting on behalf of the interim Somali government sought to drive Islamist rebels from positions in the city. Somalia has endured 16 years of almost-unbroken violence since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was booted out in 1991, an event that produced a classical power vacuum that a variety of militias and clans have sought to fill with the predictable bloody results.

This past December, Ethiopia intervened on behalf of the interim government and appeared to have defeated the Islamists. In March, an African Union peacekeeping force began to arrive to police a ceasefire. Instead, rebels began attacking them as soon as they arrived and violence quickly escalated.

This latest round has left hundreds of civilians dead, hundreds of thousands have fled the city leaving half of it "a ghost city," and the interim government is accused by the UN of blocking the arrival of humanitarian relief and food aid. Meanwhile,
"We are getting reports that people have started dying in the camps because of squalid conditions - they are starving, with no water, food or medicine," said Sudan Ali Ahmed, chairman of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organisation which monitors casualty rates.

"These people should just stop fighting."
The question, as it always is with war: Is your cause really worth this?

Turkey - In an unusually blunt statement, Reuters reported on Friday, the General Staff of the Turkish Army (the equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) declared that the armed forces "are watching ... with concern" in the wake of an indecisive first round of parliamentary balloting for a new president that revealed a deep split between Turkish secularists and the Islamist-rooted government.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, the ruling AK Party's candidate, failed to win sufficient votes in the first round of voting after opposition parties boycotted the session. ...

The AK Party's main rival, the CHP, has asked the Constitutional Court to annul the vote on a technicality, raising the risk of protracted legal wrangling in the strategically important European Union candidate country.
Turkey has been pointed to on any number of occasions as the example of how a Muslim country can embrace democracy. (Or at least the outward form of it, the substance is open to considerable question.) Yet the tension is always there and the military regards itself at the guarantor of secularism.
Turkey's secular elite, which includes army generals, top judges and the opposition parties, fear that Gul, a former Islamist, will try to erode Turkey's separation of politics and religion if elected.

The army ousted a government it viewed as too Islamist as recently as 1997. Gul served in that government. He says his views have changed and he is now a conservative democrat. ...

[But a]s an example of what it called increased "reactionary," or Islamist, activity, the army statement cited the recent murder of three Christians at a Bible publishing house in eastern Turkey. Turkish media have suggested the arrested suspects may be militant Islamists.
Gul is suspect because of his involvement in that Islamist government - and, in what can be taken as a clear indicator of how high feelings run, because his wife wears the Muslim headscarf.

Nobody, Reuters notes, is expecting a coup but the military's statement serves to remind everyone of the underlying tensions - especially because if Gul wins the presidency, as he's expected to unless the court acts, the AK Party would dominate all key state institutions - and while the party rejects the label "Islamist" (as does, again, Gul himself), opposition parties and secularists are not convinced.

Zimbabwe - His country falling apart with repression, corruption, hunger, and the highest inflation rate in the world - 1600% - Zimbabwe's native fascist, "President" Robert Mugabe, responded last month as those familiar with his rule could have predicted: He became increasingly violent toward protesters. All protests were banned and a peaceful meeting on March 11 became a target for attack by Mugabe's forces. In the wake of that assault, hundreds of opposition leaders were kidnapped, beaten, and tortured; at least one was branded so the thugs "would always know" who he was.

Faced with international condemnation, Mugabe tried to cut Zimbabwe off from the world, threatening to "kick out" foreign envoys and preventing opposition leaders from leaving on the fatuous claim that they might be charged with "inciting violence." (Something like, it seems, the abusive husband who glares at his bruised and battered wife and says "Look what you made me do!")

At one point, it looked like Mugabe was being forced to back down: He scrapped a plan to push presidential elections back from 2008 to 2010 (which would extend his current term two years by fiat) and released many of those arrested. That, however, was before he arranged, to the dismay of even some in his own party, to have himself nominated again as presidential candidate in 2008.

And dozens of opposition leaders have been re-arrested, again subjected to beatings and torture. Some of those are still held.
A leading Zimbabwe opposition activist who was badly beaten during a bloody crackdown on dissent appealed for international help securing the release of 28 other critics of President Robert Mugabe still in police custody.

Five of the 28 are "in very bad state," barely able to move or eat, said Grace Kwinjeh, whose lawyers arranged for her to get treatment in South Africa, where she was hospitalized for five weeks. ...

Kwinjeh, deputy secretary for international relations of [main opposition leader Morgan] Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, urged an international campaign to free them and to end the abduction, arrests and beatings of Mugabe opponents.
Perhaps one thing to do would be to say if Mugabe wants to isolate Zimbabwe, fine. No aid of any kind. At all. From anywhere. (I'd normally make an exception for humanitarian aid, but since any such aid doesn't seem to be getting to the people who need it, I'm not sure I'd do that in this case.) All assets frozen, including any personal assets that can be reached. No travel into the country. Refugees can leave, but any Zimbabwean official who leaves the country is subject to arrest and trial before the World Court on a charge of crimes against humanity. Then let's see how long his already-restive party continues to put up with him.

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