Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It ain't just us

Updated Another occasional set of brief dispatches from places around the world to remind ourselves that we're not the only country on Earth and the impact of the West Virginia primary on Hillary Clinton's determination to stay in the race is not the only issue worth thinking about. I expect you're familiar with some of these, but they still bear notice.

Burma/Myanmar: The dictators continue to block international aid workers from the country even as the death toll from the May 3 cyclone approached 35,000. The UN predicted it would reach 60,000 while the International Red Cross feared it could exceed six figures. People in the stricken nation accused the military of wanting to control relief aid so the best could be stolen and the rest, despite being donated to the country freely, could be sold to the people. That charge has now been echoed by
[t]he directors of several relief organizations in Myanmar[, who] said Wednesday that some of the international aid arriving into the country for the victims of Cyclone Nargis was being stolen, diverted or warehoused by the country’s army.
All this can't help but raise the question of if the aid should simply be halted if it is not going to get to the people who actually need it.

Meanwhile, the country faces the possibility of a second "significant tropical cyclone" striking the same area as the first in the next few days.

China: The death count in the wake of Monday's devastating earthquake has reached 40,000 and there are fears it still could rise by thousands or even tens of thousands more as rescue workers reach more remote areas. More than 30,000 people were missing or out of reach in the city of Shifang, near the epicenter of the quake, which registed 7.9 on the Richter scale - equivalent to the energy released by a blast of nearly 6 megatons. Meanwhile, a new fear arose as the government reported that nearly 400 dams suffered damage in the quake. Fortunately, most are small; still, failure of any significant number would be a serious matter.

India: Eight bombs were set off in the streets of Jaipur on Wednesday, killing 61 and injuring 216. There is fear that the bombs were set off by Islamist militants from either Pakistan or Bangladesh in an attempt to undermine a peace process between India and Pakistan hoping to settle their decades-long border dispute over Kashmir.

Some 400 people have been killed in similar bombings since October 2005. While there is no proof of who is behind the bombings, the BBC describes some suspects.

Lebanon: The political crisis in Lebanon continues to drag its way through turmoil and bloodshed. The political conflict that began
more than a year ago with Shi'ite ministers bolting from the Cabinet devolved last week into Lebanon's worst fighting since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, with at least 54 people dead and scores wounded.
The number of dead isn't clear, with figures ranging from 54 to 81. What is clear is the political standoff between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government and opposition forces that has left Lebanon without a president since November threatens now to turn into renewed civil war while it provokes a larger, regional standoff and mutual accusations between the US and Saudi Arabia - which support Siniora's government - on the one hand and Syria and Iran - which support Hezbollah's opposition forces - on the other. To perhaps no one's surprise, Saudi Arabia and Siniora are Sunni; Iran and Hezbollah are Shi'ite.

The immediate cause of the violence was decisions by Siniora's cabinet to shut down Hezbollah's phone network and fire the head of airport security, who was thought to be too close to Hezbollah. After six days of fighting in which Hezbollah clearly had the better of it, a ceasefire was achieved when the moves were rescinded "in view of the higher national interest" and at the request of the military, according to the government. Hezbollah, however, took this as a victory and at least one observer called it "a humiliating climb-down" by Siniora.

Even as accusations fly, with Saudi Arabia saying Iran's support for Hezbollah threatens its relations with the Arab nations and Iran blaming the US (and vice versa), an Arab League delegation is in Beirut trying mediate an agreement on sharing power and a new election law in order to put an end to the crisis.

Although I don't expect it to come about, I can't help but wonder what would happen, what sort of settlement would be reached and how much violence would occur in reaching it, if everybody - the US, the Saudis, Syria, Iran, all of them - just butt the fuck out.

Peru: Peru, according to one study one of the three nations of the world to be most affected by global warming, has established its first environmental ministry on the eve of hosting a Latin America-European Union summit expected to focus on climate change. The government had resisted creating the ministry, despite the fact that many there felt it was long overdue, for fear environmental concerns would affect mining interests. Now, however, the economic effects of climate change are looming large enough to require an attitude adjustment.

Spain: A truck bomb detonated in the northern part of the country, ripping through a barracks housing police officers and their families, killing one officer and wounding four others. Madrid accused the Basque separatist group ETA for the blast, but no group has yet claimed responsibility.
If ETA was behind the bombing, it would be the group's second fatal attack in a little more than two months and would bring to six the death toll since a faltering peace process collapsed in December 2006.
There have been other bombings in the last two years-plus, but they did little damage.

Sudan: Peace in Sudan continues to be "just a dream some of us had," as
[s]outh Sudanese former rebels fought northern government forces on Wednesday in the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, killing up to four people and sending hundreds fleeing, south Sudanese and U.N. officials said. ...

Analysts say that Abyei, often called the "Kashmir" of Sudan's north-south conflict and coveted by both sides, could be the flash point to reignite civil war if its status is not resolved amicably and quickly.

Under a 2005 agreement that ended more than 20 years of north-south civil war, Abyei town is to be guarded by special joint units of northern and southern soldiers.
An incident Tuesday involving southern soldiers detaining a northern soldier escalated into a violent confrontation in which a northern soldier was killed - which ignited the firefight. Commanders from both sides were meeting UN staff to try to quiet things down, but the tensions remain amid reciprocal accusations of ceasefire violations.

On a related topic, there was also serious fighting near the capital, Khartoum, over the weekend, in which more than 200 were killed. This, however, was not a north-south dispute. This attack was carried out by JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group in Darfur.

The fact that they were able to penetrate so far into Sudan without being detected was used by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, UN Chief of Peacekeeping, in arguing to the Security Council that the peace mission in Darfur is seriously short of resources. The attack took place "during an alarming increase of violence in Darfur itself," adding to a loss of security that not only could further hinder the already-slow deployment of a planned force 26,000 UN and African Union peacekeepers but already has
impacted humanitarian operations, as banditry and hijackings have led to lost aid supplies, recently forcing food agencies to halve rations to more than three million needy people in Darfur.
The Security Council denounced the rebel attack but Guéhenno urged restraint on the part of the Sudanese government, the better to "move away from the brink" of even worse violence.

: Just a few days after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) announced it would take part in a run-off presidential election, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared that the 21 days previously given to organize the second round was not enough time and extended it to 90 days.

MDC's candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won a plurality over President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's presidential election on March 29 but had threatened to boycott the second round, accusing Mugabe's ZANU-PF party first of manipulating the vote count - which was not officially released until May 2 - to hold Tsvangirai under a majority and then of trying to rig the run-off.

The MDC called the government's decision to delay the election "illegal and unfair" and charged its purpose was to give Mugabe supporters "time to torment and continue a campaign of violence on the MDC."

A government minister said the election law allowed for leeway and claimed reports of election violence were exaggerated. But considering the reports are coming from the UN and a team of retired South African generals acting as observers and they both conclude that the violence is both widespread and primarily state-sponsored, I expect that's not surprising.

As a footnote, US ambassador James McGee had an interesting confrontation at a roadblock outside the capital, Harare. A convoy of diplomats from four countries and the European Union, plus an AP reporter,
had just completed a tour of hospitals and an alleged torture camp when police demanded they prove they had official permission to visit the sites.

At one point, a police officer threatened to beat one of McGee's senior aides. The officer got into his car and lurched toward McGee after he had demanded the officer's name. The car made contact with McGee's shins, but he was not injured.

McGee climbed onto the hood of the car while his aide snatched the keys from the ignition, then the diplomats used their mobile phone cameras to take photographs of the officer.
I have to admit I would have liked to have seen that. I'm sure than being an ambassdor gave him a fair degree of freedom of action, but pushback against arbitrary authority is always nice to see.

Updated to add the item about Sudan and the BBC story about suspects in the India bombings.

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