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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 9:50 am 
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New members for Ukraine's exclusive club

By Adrian Bloomfield
29 September 2007

It is a cushy job if you can afford it. The benefits are great, the hours easy, the holidays paid for and, if you don't feel like working, you can always send a minion in to the office for you.

When Ukrainians go to the polls tomorrow, they could be forgiven for assuming that they are voting in a new parliament. In fact, commentators say, they will merely be choosing members of the country's most indolent and expensive club.
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In the bitter winter of 2004, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian protestors, camped in Kiev's main square, swept to power a new breed of rulers who vowed to crush corruption and turn the country into a modern European state.

Three years after the orange revolution, the expectations of its supporters have withered as political in-fighting, treachery and greed have combined to keep the country in a state of almost permanent political crisis. Yet no one state body demonstrates the pernicious intersection of business, organised crime and politics that has traditionally haunted Ukraine quite as damningly as the country's parliament or Rada.

According to estimates, 300 of his 450 deputies are dollar millionaires. Few of this gilded community are thought to have earned their wealth legitimately and almost all of them bought their seats.

Ukraine's rotten boroughs bring with them many perks, including immunity from prosecution - a status President Viktor Yushchenko says he wants to abolish - and, more importantly, greater access to lucrative government contracts.

This vast swindle is aided by Ukraine's electoral system. MPs have no constituencies but are instead selected through closed lists drawn up by party bosses and their sponsors. The higher a millionaire wants to be on the list, the more they have to pay - with guaranteed seats being sold for upwards of £4m last month, according to sources.

Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, estimated to be worth £7.2 billion is number seven on the list of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Party of the Regions.

While the Region's party, which has ideological links with Russia, is considered to be the worst offender even the westernising pro-orange party are guilty, analysts say.

Former Primer Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party has given billionaire Kostyatin Zhevago a guaranteed seat. Some tycoons are said to buy blocks of seats for their representatives.

Opponents claim that Mr Akhmetov has bought seats for his driver and bodyguards. So high are the stakes that it is estimated Ukraine's political parties have spent £2 billion pounds in campaigning, making the election among the most expensive in European history.

As a result one of the few surviving legacies of the orange revolution is being jeopardised. Parliamentary elections last year were regarded as the fairest in Ukrainian history.

This time around observers expect the fight will be much dirtier. Even when the poll is over, the shenanigans do not stop.

MPs rarely bother to turn up, sending messengers to cast their votes for them. "Businessmen have no time to sit in parliament and listen to stupid debates," said Yuri Syrotiuk an activist who monitors parliament for the Ukrainian Open Society Foundation.

Because businessmen only really benefit if their party has a governing majority, defections are common. 30 MPs in the last parliament crossed the floor to join the Party of Regions nearly giving Mr Yanukovych a two-thirds majority, enough to strip the President of his powers and hand Russia revenge for the humiliation that the orange revolution dealt President Vladimir Putin.

Source: Telegraph UK.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 9:37 am 
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From The Sunday Times
October 28, 2007
Militias threaten Kosovo"s uneasy peace
By Nicola Smith, Pristina

Image

Outlawed militias are emerging from the shadows in the Balkans as Kosovo hurtles towards an independence deadline on December 10 that is likely to trigger a confrontation with Serbia.

Deep frustration with the West"s stalled bid to grant the province full autonomy in the face of Serbian and Russian opposition threatens to embroil the region in another round of bloodletting.

The Albanian National Army (ANA), a guerrilla group branded as "terrorists" by the United Nations in 2003, has already resurfaced, brandishing sophisticated sniper rifles and Kalashnikovs and pledging to "protect" Kosovo"s vulnerable northern fringe from Serbian aggression.

Kosovo"s Serbian minority, heavily backed by Belgrade, is arming itself in anticipation of a unilateral declaration of independence from the provincial government. Kfor, Nato"s 16,000-strong force, might be caught in the middle of a conflict potentially involving Russia as well.

Last week The Sunday Times met three members of the ANA at a secret location half an hour from Pristina. "The situation in Kosovo lately has obliged us to take up our weapons again because we have seen the failure of the international community," said one of the men, who identified himself with the nickname Astriti.

He claimed the militia already carried out road patrols and erected nighttime checkpoints close to the Serbian border, near the municipality of Podujevo: "We are concentrated in north Kosovo since the population there is threatened by Serbian bands and regular military forces. They have been neglected by Nato forces and the Kosovo police."

On December 10 a high level "troika" of senior Russian, American and European diplomats will present a report on the future status of Kosovo to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general. The province has been under UN control since 1999 when Nato bombing drove out Serbian forces amid gross human rights abuses on both sides.

Kosovo"s government, which faces a general election on November 17, has already said it may declare independence if the international community fails to take a decision by that deadline.

Among the groups braced for action is the War Veterans" Association of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) — one of the largest and most successful guerrilla movements in recent history. Former KLA leaders say they are prepared to dust off their guns and renounce the ceasefire if provoked by Serbia.

"The delay of the Kosovo status decision has raised dissatisfaction among the population, especially among the former liberators," said Avdyl Mushkolaj, a former KLA commander for the region of Dukagjini.

"This is the real end, we won"t allow any further playing with our destiny.

"If the status decision is delayed there is a big danger that the situation will run out of control. It will most probably start with protests that will turn to violence. None of our politicians have enough support to calm any riots."

Mushkolaj insisted that while there was no appetite for war, the KLA"s structures, hierarchy and weapons still existed and could be rapidly mobilised. "The KLA is alive. Its members are still alive and willing to do another war if needed," he said.

In a region where experience has shown that a fragile peace can be shattered in an instant, politicians on both sides have admitted that the diplomatic stand-off could lead to renewed military action or even a wider war.

"If there is a small fire in Kosovo, Serbia will put oil on the fire," said Blerim Kuci, Kosovo"s interior minister. Such a conflict would have wider international implications: Serbia is backed by Russia, while the United States and most of the European Union support Kosovo"s independence bid. Kuci warned that any delay in the decision on status would create "a fertile ground for extremist elements" and lead to violence on the streets.

"A new political force would emerge on the scene by using violent means. This would be accompanied by protests and social tensions," Kuci said.

Serbia has fired its own warning shots. Marko Jaksic, one of Serbia"s negotiators in the status talks and a close ally of Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, cautioned last week that "Belgrade will not stand peacefully by while the territory is taken.

"In a case of recognition of independence there will be a radicalisation of Serbia," Jaksic said. "There will be a fast arming of Serbia, even creating Russian military bases in Serbia, something like Iran today."

Attempts by the Kosovo assembly to declare unilateral independence could be met with "military" resistance, he argued: "From that moment the battle will begin for the reintegration of Kosovo into Serbia."

Such statements from Belgrade have struck a chord with the Serbian minority in Kosovo who, like the Albanians, fear ethnic reprisals against them.

Sources close to the police in the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica, where some of the most bitter tensions have occurred since the end of the war, claimed that the authorities had been handing out weapons to those fearful of renewed violence.

Mladen Vukicevic, a 36-year-old charity worker from the northern — and Serbian — part of the town, said that people were nervous. He knew of one cache of guns that he would be prepared to use.

"I would definitely fight to defend myself and my family. I don"t believe in the UN or in Kfor. I need to believe only in myself," he said.

Additional reporting: Andrew Wander

Links:
Albanian National Army(ANA) on Kosovo TV.
Nato - Kosovo Force.

Source: The Sunday Times UK.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 27, 2007 9:11 pm 
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Making a Martyr of Bhutto
27 December 2007
By ARYN BAKER



Just days before parliamentary polls in Pakistan, leading Prime Ministerial contender and anti terrorism crusader Benazir Bhutto was shot dead during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. "She has been martyred," said party official Rehman Malik. The Associated Press, citing Malik, reported that Bhutto was shot in the neck and the chest before the gunman blew himself up. At least 20 bystanders were killed in the blast. Bhutto was rushed to a hospital But, at 6:16 p.m. Pakistan time, she was declared dead.

""How can somebody who can shoot her get so close to her with all the so-called security?" said a distraught Husain Haqqani, a former top aide to Bhutto, shortly after news of her death flashed around the world. Haqqani, who served as a spokesman and top aide to Bhutto for more than a decade, blamed Pakistani security, either through neglect or complicity, in her assassination. "This is the security establishment, which has always wanted her out," he said through tears.

For the past several months Pakistan has been plagued by a wave of violence that has seen hundreds of civilians killed in similar bombing attacks; and hundreds more military personnel, prompting President Pervez Musharraf to declare a state of emergency. On December 16th, Musharraf lifted the state of emergency, stating that the threat had been contained. The bombings, however, continued. Just hours before her assassination, Bhutto, 54, met with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the threat of terrorism against both countries.

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Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto mourn in a hospital in Rawalpindi December 27, 2007

The U.S. has long supported a return to power by Bhutto, who was perceived to be a moderate willing to work with Washington on the war on terror. She was also seen as a democratic leader who would serve as a counter to the plummeting popularity of Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 military coup. It was thought that a power-sharing deal between the two, in which Musharraf stayed on as president while Bhutto lead as prime minister, would promote stability in this nuclear armed nation of 165 million. But from the day of her arrival in Pakistan after eight years in exile, Bhutto's return has been marred by violence.

On October 18th, a pair of bombs detonated in the midst a welcome home rally in Karachi for the former two-time prime minister, killing some 145 in a deliberate attempt on her life. The organization responsible for the carnage has not yet been identified, but Bhutto said she suspected al Qaeda and some unspecified members of Musharraf's government who did not want to see her return to power. Despite the clear threat to her life, Bhutto continued to campaign publicly with the kind of mass rallies that are the cornerstone of politicking in Pakistan. "I am not afraid," she told TIME last month, "I am ready to die for my country."

Haqqani, now a professor at Boston University, isn't sure what the latest bloodshed means for his country. "Will the Pakistani military realize that this is going to tear the fabric of the nation apart, and so really get serious about securing the country and about getting serious in dealing with the extremist jihadis?" he wondered. But he made clear he feels the best chance for such a policy has just evaporated. "She did show courage, and she was the only person who spoke out against terrorism," he said. "She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option."

Image
Supporters carry the coffin of Pakistan's former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, December 27, 2007.
(Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Within hours of the assasination, protests and riots broke out in Pakistan's main cities. In Rawalpindi, vegetable vendor Naeem, 25, said Bhutto's murder would hurt Pakistan's poorest, who were among Bhutto's most loyal supporters. "People were hoping her government would help the lower classes and now she is gone," he said. Syeda Asmat Begum, 73, who lives in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, told TIME that "everywhere sadness prevails. We are in fear that even our leaders are not safe from the bombardment of suicide bombers and bullets."

That was a view felt around the country. In Lahore, where shops and restaurants closed and the streets emptied of people except for the center of town where Bhutto supporters gathered to vent their anger, Majid Iqbal, 26, an engineering student was trying to hitch a ride home because bus services had stopped. "People are very worried," says Iqbal, who called his family in his home village outside the city as soon as he heard the news. "If a leader of a great party is not secure then how can the Pakistani people be secure? At this time Pakistan's future is fragile."

Speaking on television outside the hospital where Bhutto died, the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif said, "I myself feel threatened... Are things in control now? Had things been in control, would this have happened?" Bhutto's rival said, "We both were struggling for the same cause, and we had signed the charter of democracy." On camera, he addressed Bhutto's supporters, "I assure ytou that I will fight your war from now." He said, "It is tragic not only for [her party] but also for my party."

Pakistan can ill afford to sacrifice the few moderate leaders it has left. Bhutto's death will plunge the upcoming elections into uncertainty and the country further into instability. At the news of her assassination, many of her loyalists rioted in the streets of Pakistan. There will be many tense days ahead for the Musharraf government as it deals with this political crisis. And that's good news for terrorism. With reporting by Khuda Yar Khan/Islamabad, Simon Robinson/Lahore and Mark Thompson/Washington

View this article on Time.com


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 27, 2007 9:15 pm 
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World outraged, fearful over Bhutto assassination

By Matthew Tostevin 1 hour, 40 minutes ago

LONDON (Reuters) - World leaders voiced outrage at the assassination on Thursday of Pakistan's opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and expressed fears for the fate of the nuclear-armed state.

U.S. President George W. Bush condemned the killing as a "cowardly act" and urged Pakistanis to go ahead with a planned election. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it "a barbaric act of terrorism" that was a challenge to the world.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Bhutto had risked everything to try and bring democracy to her country, of which Britain used to be the colonial ruler. "The terrorists must not be allowed to kill democracy in Pakistan," he said.

Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack as she left a rally ahead of an election due on January 8. The identity of the attacker was not immediately clear, but Islamist militants have been blamed for a previous assassination bid.

"The subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Pakistan's giant neighbor and nuclear rival. "The manner of her going is a reminder of the common dangers that our region faces from cowardly acts of terrorism and of the need to eradicate this dangerous threat."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the killing odious. "France, like the European Union, is particularly attached to stability and democracy in Pakistan," he said in a letter to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

FEAR

Pakistan was already a big global worry. The U.S. ally has been struggling to contain Islamist violence while Musharraf, whose popularity has slumped, only lifted a state of emergency on December 15 after six weeks. Bush urged Pakistanis to honor Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process and said those behind the attack must be brought to justice. "The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," he told reporters at his Texas ranch.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the assassination was a "heinous crime" and an "assault on stability" in Pakistan. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Union's executive arm, the European Commission, said it was "an attack against democracy and against Pakistan."

Police said a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto, 54, as she left the rally in a park in the city of Rawalpindi before blowing himself up. Police said 16 people died in the blast.

The 53-nation Commonwealth, which suspended Pakistan over the emergency rule declaration, said the assassination was "a dark day for Pakistan and the Commonwealth." Saudi King Abdullah said the attackers were "wicked murderers who are distant from Islam and morals." Iran's foreign ministry condemned the attack and urged calm and stability in Pakistan. A Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict had been informed, adding: "It is difficult to see any glimmer of hope, peace, reconciliation in this country."

Source: Yahoo! Reuters.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:33 pm 
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Kosovo faces huge economic hurdles
By WILLIAM J. KOLE
18 February 2008

VUCITRN, Kosovo - It's noon on a weekday, and Kosovo fashion designer Krenare Rugova's sewing machines are strangely silent.

Rugova, young and U.S.-educated, is trying to build an upscale clothing business in her homeland. But she can't work because the power has gone out for the second time this morning. "These blackouts are killing me," she said, fussing over fabrics at her studio in Vucitrn, a drab and dusty town of three-story brick houses tucked behind high walls 25 miles north of the capital, Pristina. "They just shut me down. I'm thinking, `OK, I'll get all these wedding dresses finished in an hour,' and then `zap.' It's very frustrating."

Her predicament illustrates just one of the daunting economic challenges confronting Europe's newest country — an impoverished, underdeveloped corner of the continent that experts warn could be a handout-dependent hardship case for years to come.

As Kosovo seeks international recognition of its declaration of independence, the round-the-clock rumble of thousands of portable power generators threatens to drown out the celebratory fireworks. And its problems go far beyond an electricity grid so unreliable that just keeping the lights on can be a daily struggle. Roads are badly rutted or unpaved. Joblessness runs close to 50 percent, and much of the work force is uneducated. The average monthly salary is a paltry $220.

By virtually every measure, Kosovo joins the family of nations with the dubious distinction of being one of Europe's poorest. It doesn't even have its own international telephone country code: Kosovo shares Monaco's, a holdover from the days when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was the top U.N. administrator here and French-owned Alcatel was chosen to develop the phone network.

"Everyone knows it's going to be hard," said Alex Anderson, Kosovo project director for the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group, which keeps tabs on trouble spots in the Balkans. "No one has the idea that it's going to be the land of milk and honey overnight."

Kosovo's late leader Ibrahim Rugova used to present visitors with crystals and other gems as proof of its untapped mineral wealth. Many snickered, but Rugova — a distant relative of the fashion designer — may have been on to something, said Shpend Ahmeti, executive director of the Policy Analysis Group, a think tank in Pristina.

Geologists conducting a thorough survey of Kosovo's resources say the Serbian province has vast amounts of high-quality lignite coal. They say it also has deposits of nickel, lead, zinc, bauxite and even small seams of gold that could be tapped. "Kosovo is richer than we thought," Ahmeti said. But officials caution that Kosovo first desperately needs to improve its shoddy infrastructure — battered by its 1998-99 war between Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian rebels — if it is to have a decent shot at an economic future for its 2 million people. The government has been reviewing bids for $4 billion contract to build a lignite coal-fired power plant that officials say would end the electricity outages. But the plant won't be fully operational until 2012 at the earliest.

Eight in 10 business owners, Ahmeti said, point to the lack of reliable energy as their biggest obstacle — bigger than high taxes or rampant corruption. For the foreseeable future, an independent Kosovo will remain heavily dependent on handouts from the U.N. and the European Union, which plans to convene an international donors' conference in June. In 2007, the U.N. budget for Kosovo was $220 million. Kosovo's economy was propped up with an additional $540 million in remittances from Kosovars living abroad, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund. It is cash the young country probably won't be able to do without for years to come. Kosovo also risks a hard economic hit from Serbia, which fiercely opposes its independence bid. About 20 percent of Kosovo's trade is with Serbia.

Even so, Anderson contends the untold story is Kosovo's potential, which he thinks is formidable. Its modest metal-processing sector is boosting its productivity, beginning to lead not a revolution but an evolution," he said. And with half the population under the age of 25, there's a strong potential work force.

Krenare Rugova's fashion studio, which turns out creations that are inspired by European and New York attitudes and bear "Made in Kosovo" labels, reflects that trend. Rugova, a 27-year-old graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City, employs nearly a dozen mostly young workers and hopes eventually to hire 30. An ethnic Albanian, she has a couple of Serbs on the payroll. "As long as they can sew, I don't care," she said. "Independence will just create more opportunities," Rugova said. "Things will change. Maybe not right away. But in five years, it will be a different Kosovo."

Source: Yahoo! AP.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2008 8:02 pm 
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The Big Question: Why are so many countries opposed to Kosovo gaining its independence?

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By Paul Vallely
Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Why are we asking this now?

Because Kosovo this week declared itself to be Europe's newest country. Some 17 years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia — and after a ghastly cavalcade of ethnic cleansing, gruesome atrocities, forced expulsions and a civil war that killed 10,000 before Nato intervened — the people of Kosovo have declared themselves independent.

Since 1999 they have lived under a United Nations protectorate while conducting negotiations with the neighbouring Serbs to find a mutually acceptable constitutional status for the region. When the talks broke down, the provisional government unilaterally declared independence as the Republic of Kosovo. Some 90 per cent of the two million people are ethnic Albanians, just 10 per cent Serbs. Now the creators of the world's 193rd independent country have sent 192 letters to governments around the world seeking formal recognition of their independence.

What do the Serbs think?

They are very unhappy. They regard Kosovo as the heart of its state since medieval times, even though 90 per cent of its population is of a different ethnicity. The Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, described Kosovo as a "fake country".

So who's on what side?

The countries who participated in the Nato strikes against Serbia to end the atrocities, led by the United States. President George Bush has already officially recognised Kosovo as an independent state. So will most of the big European nations — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — and the Japanese government is "moving toward recognising" Kosovo, pronouncing developments in line with Japan's criteria for recognising states.

Other EU members — Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, have said they will not. Other countries opposed to an independent Kosovo include Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The neighbouring Balkan states are also divided. Croatia and Macedonia are pro Kosovo, but Bosnia and Herzegovina is not. Other states, like Malta and Portugal, want Kosovo's future be decided at the UN Security Council.

Why is the international community so divided?

In part it reflects each government's differing sense of whether the ethnic Albanians, now Kosovans, were primarily the victims of the Serbs in the war a decade ago. "Serbia effectively lost Kosovo through its own actions in the 1990s," said the Irish foreign minister, Dermot Ahern. "The bitter legacy of the killings of thousands of civilians in Kosovo and the ethnic cleansing of many more has effectively ruled out any restoration of Serbian dominion in Kosovo."

In part it reflects convictions about the solutions to intractable foreign relations problems. In part it is a reflection of the domestic priorities of some governments who fear that support for Kosovo's unilateral declaration could fan separatism in their own countries.

What are the arguments?

The Americans, and most of Nato, believe that a definition resolution of the status of Kosovo is essential for the Balkans to become stable. "A negotiated solution was not possible," said the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Peace and stability are the order of the day," said the British foreign secretary, David Miliband. Such is the population imbalance between ethnic Albanians and Serbs that autonomy was inevitable.

The other side counters with high-minded arguments about the inviolability of national sovereignty. "We will not recognise [Kosovo] because we consider," said the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, "this does not respect international law".

But it is perhaps significant that those opposing recognition mostly have problems with their own separatist or secessionist movements. "Cyprus, for reasons of principle, cannot recognise and will not recognise a unilateral declaration of independence," the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, said. "This is an issue of principle, of respect of international law, but also an issue of concern that it will create a precedent in international relations."

It had, she said, perhaps protesting too much, "nothing to do with the occupied Cyprus, it's not because we're afraid that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) would declare independence because they already did it in 1983 and got a very strong reaction from the (UN) Security Council."

There was similar talk from Sri Lanka. "We note that the declaration of independence was made without the consent of the majority of the people of Serbia and is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which enshrines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states," a Sri Lankan government statement said, suggesting Kosovo could create an unmanageable precedent in "the conduct of international relations and the established global order of sovereign states".

Those on the other side dismiss this. Kosovo, said the British Foreign Secretary, was a "unique situation which deserves a unique response".

What about the Russians?

It too has its secessionists. Usman Ferzauli, the man who styles himself the Foreign Minister of Chechnya, has just, helpfully, backed Kosovo's declaration. But when he talks about "leading an armed struggle against the world's most aggressive and militarised power for the latest 14 years" he is not talking about the ethnic Albanians but their fellow Muslims in Chechnya, who enjoyed a brief period of autonomy before Moscow re-established control.

There are bonds of cultural and ethnic kinship between the Serbs and Russians. Europe is increasingly wary of the Slavic Bear. The Russians still have their carrier fleet anchored not that far away. Russia insists there is no basis for changing a 1999 security council resolution on Kosovo's status — and says that Belgrade must agree to any change.

What is likely to happen?

The US and the European members of the UN Security Council will back Kosovo's independence. But Russia and China will not. Russia will block Kosovo's membership of the United Nations. Serbia will use all diplomatic means at its disposal to block Kosovo's recognition — and will probably block Kosovo's access to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

The real questions are less glamorous and more profound. Unemployment in Kosovo is over 40 per cent, corruption and organised crime is bad, and wealth per person is just 5 per cent of the EU average. The troubles are far from over yet.

Is independence for Kosovo a good thing?

Yes...

* 90 per cent of its people are non-Serbs and should be allowed to determine their own fate

* Serbia effectively lost Kosovo through its own actions in the atrocities and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s

* Kosovan independence is the logical working out of the collapse of Communist Yugoslavia after the Berlin Wall came down

No...

* Kosovo has formed the heart of the state of Serbia since medieval times

* All the people of Serbia should have been allowed to vote on the issue of Kosovan independence

* It sets a dangerous precedent for other parts of the world where rebels want to break away

Source: The Independent.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2008 8:21 pm 
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Kosovo and the law

Kosovo's declaration of independence has turned Russia into the main guardian of international law at the UN

February 18, 2008

Of all the outcomes of the end of the Cold War, it is doubtful whether anyone - especially in the west - would have guessed that Russia, potentially joined by China, would end up being the guardians of international law. But with the declared independence of Kosovo, backed by the major states of the west, that is exactly what we have. This is not a happy day.

The issue at stake is not whether Kosovo - now Kosova - deserves to be independent. From its own narrow perspective it does, and good luck to it for having got a powerful group of cheerleaders behind it. Equally, the issue is not whether Serbia deserves to be punished - for everything, from starting the Balkan wars to allowing Srebrenica to happen and in addition to so embarrass the west, and ultimately to not hand over the war criminals who led the atrocities, Mladic and Karadzic.

In themselves these are each worthy causes, but focusing on them misses the point: from its start in 1999, the entire chronicle of Kosovo happened outside the jurisdiction of the UN security council. And to this extent it is not unique, as the US repeatedly claims, since it became a precedent - for the US and its cobbled together coalition to enter Iraq in 2003, again without a security council resolution.

In each of the cases the justification for sidestepping, and ultimately ignoring, the UN was that the situation at stake - the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the threat inherent in Saddam Hussein to the world and to his own people, and now the untenable status of Kosovo - posed a greater moral hazard to the health of the world than abiding by international law.

Such justification would be absolutely worthy and correct if it were applied to all similar situations, but as we well know, since 1999 many parts of the world have been totally ransacked by brutal leaders, many of whom have also acquired substantial arsenals of weapons - usually courtesy of western companies - that threaten the peace outside their own borders. Sudan comes to mind in this context, with its oppression of Darfur and the spill-over into Chad and potentially other neighbouring states. The conflict in the Congo has now claimed more lives than any since the second world war, and has also caused dangerous border disputes. Then there is Zimbabwe, Burma, the Kurds, North Korea, Chechnya - and that is just an opening survey.

Upon this background, it is obvious that Kosovo has not been a precedent for a changed morality in the international world, and that the only thing that makes it unique is that the Nato allies in 1999 entered into a situation that was way beyond their capabilities and control, and have felt the need to end it ever since. That this is now happening at the expense of international law is disgraceful.

To be clear, the issue at stake is not merely the sidestepping of the UN - it is also the complete rewriting of both history and tradition. History, because this is now being touted as the final act of the break-up of Yugoslavia, when, in international terms, it was always absolutely clear the term referred to the six constituent republics of the FRY - while Kosovo was always a province of Serbia. And tradition, because while the UN charter effectively enshrined three rights: of state sovereignty, self determination of a people, and human rights - it has always been the case that state sovereignty has been the abiding principle. So clear is this matter, that it was stated quite specifically in security council resolution 1244, that which more or less sanctified the Nato bombings ex posto facto in 1999 and which governs the UN presence in Kosovo:

Reaffirming the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the region, as set out in the Helsinki Final Act and annex 2,

Reaffirming the call in previous resolutions for substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration for Kosovo ...


Any attempt to read these paragraphs, which are integral to the resolution, in any other way - and especially as a justification for the independence of Kosova without any agreement from Serbia - is simply misleading, if not downright wrong.

Russia is currently leading the charge in this vein in the UN, and refuses to allow 1244 to be read in any way other than that in which it is written. And while there are not many good things to say about Russia these days, especially in terms of democracy and human rights, and doubtless it is backing Serbia for a variety of reasons, not all of them pure, it is by default the only significant state to defend the sanctity of the UN and international law.

For those who cherish the international system, who wish to live within clear boundaries of law, there is no choice but to hope Russia carries on blocking yet another attempt to turn the UN into a mockery, and sanctify a world of renegade states, breakaway regions and self asserted law. What a sad day.

Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:38 am 
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From The Sunday Times
April 6, 2008
Stand up, for today you can force China through a tunnel of shame
The London torch procession shows how craven Britain has become: ignore it or protest
By Simon Jenkins

Today"s London publicity stunt for the Chinese regime should be ignored by the public and any reputable athlete or politician, unless to register a fierce protest. The four-month "journey of harmony" of the Olympic torch (or many cloned torches) through 21 nations is an exercise in political laundering. It is appalling that the prime minister is to "greet" his torch in Downing Street.

This tour has nothing to do with sport. It has been staged by the Chinese government, not the International Olympic Committee, with "celebrity runners" in each country approved by the commercial sponsors, Coca-Cola, Lenovo and Samsung. In Britain those conned into joining include Tim Henman, Sir Trevor McDonald, Vanessa-Mae, the Sugababes, Ken Livingstone and Gordon Brown. It shows how craven Britain has become to its membership of the so-called Olympic family and its Chinese parents.

The idea of carrying a lit torch from the Temple of Hera in Greece was invented by Hitler in 1936 to suggest a link between the German people and fellow Aryans in southern Europe. It was revived as a political act by Sydney in 2000 with a regional tour symbolising Australia"s links with the Pacific rim of Asia. Athens staged a world tour in 2004 in honour of the Games returning to their original home.

Nothing has equalled the present shenanigans. China"s ruling politburo knows that these Games carry heavy political baggage. Everything is image. The regime wants value for money from its $30 billion and that would never accrue from a mere fortnight"s track and field events.

That is why today"s London run, which began in Athens last month, will return to China by touching down in Lhasa, Tibet. There it will meet a torch from the summit of Everest. The centrality of Lhasa to the tour is to emphasise that Everest is in China by virtue of being in Tibet. It is not the protesting Tibetans who are polluting sport with politics, but their Chinese overlords.

Participants in today"s display are thus endorsing an event the climax of which is to celebrate a dictator"s conquest of a neighbour. When Saddam Hussein did that to Kuwait, Britain went to war. The least Britain owes the Tibetans is not to add to their humiliation. Playing sport is one thing, political cheerleading is another.

I normally dislike boycotts, embargoes and sendings to Coventry. They tend to hurt the wrong people and only boost the self-importance of those at whom they are directed. That particularly applies in areas such as sport, where non-political contact between young people in conflict-ridden parts of the world should be promoted rather than suppressed.

For that reason it is right, as the Dalai Lama has said, for athletes to participate in the Beijing Olympics, as in Hitler"s in 1936 and Moscow"s in 1980. But the athletes and their political and media hangers-on should recognise that the Games have never been politics-free, not since their revival in 1896. The ambition of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, their promoter, was emphatically political, hoping that big nations would "fight each other at the Games" instead of rushing into wars of national prestige.

Since then a self-perpetuating mafia, the IOC, has relentlessly hyped the Games as festivals of national prestige to push their cost way beyond that of any other world championship and beyond the hopes of any poor city or nation.

It demands permanent stadiums, villages and massive security, most of it useless for any lasting purpose. The world is littered with vacant and derelict Olympics venues. London has caved in to the same pressure and is building unnecessary sites for athletics, swimming and cycling, as well as London facilities for horse riding and shooting that could have been staged in the home counties at Hickstead and Bisley.

The IOC knows that only by investing the Games in flatulent pretension can it hope for rich governments to keep it in the style to which it has become accustomed. Nothing but dictatorship could have drained Beijing of the $30 billion that its Games are costing. After Britain"s experience of IOC lifestyle requirements - such as "Zil lanes" in Mile End Road for its personal limousines - it may have to rely on other dictatorships in future.

The pretension is embodied in the torch, a 20th century invention, called "a symbol of peace, justice and brotherhood" that is "bringing people together on its journey of harmony". Its "mother flame" is being transported about the world in a specially adapted Air China jet, with 10 "flame attendants", like Greek acolytes. The torch requires its own motorcade and a nightly hotel room where it must be surrounded by unsleeping guards.

No sport does itself credit by associating with antics reminiscent of the crazed millionaire in Dr No. Yet even London has capitulated to this nonsense, with the British Museum, Downing Street, Canary Wharf and the Docklands Light Railway all cashing in. Taxpayers must spend £1m on eight hours of police overtime culminating in the lighting of an "Olympic cauldron" at the Millennium Dome. If this were not the Olympics it would be total nutcase country, with the Witches of the Sabbath and the Flat Earth Society demanding equal time.

Handling the politics of the Olympics will clearly be a matter of some delicacy. The Chinese ambassador in London may yet absent herself from today"s event. Gordon Brown and his cabinet should do likewise. The British, led by Tessa Jowell, the ensnared Olympics minister, periodically intone their "concern for civil rights in China" as if it were a Buddhist mantra. It makes no difference.

From the moment the Games were awarded to Beijing, all involved knew they risked becoming quislings to the Chinese cause.

Many athletes have protested that boycotting the Games because of Tibet or civil rights would be a "terrible blow to young people who have trained for years". But most sporting championships are purely about sport, such as those devoted to cycling in Manchester last week. By contrast, athletes always knew that Beijing would be a seismic political event.

In Tibet 140 people are reported to have died, preliminary to the athletes" enjoyment of their sport. Eight were reported shot last week for supporting the Dalai Lama. The Chinese have closed Lhasa to clamp down on further protest, as they had to close Tiananmen Square for the first receipt of the torch. They have arrested 70 Uighurs in the "autonomous" province of Xinjiang. Dissidents in Beijing are being arrested and condemned to who knows what fate. One writer, Hu Jai, has been imprisoned and tortured for doing what the IOC boss, Jacques Rogge, advocated, namely that the Olympics be used to publicise human rights abuses in China. What is Rogge doing now?

The Olympics are a festival of chauvinism, a farrago of anthems and flags and medal tables and prestige. Those participating in the Olympics are not individual players, as in most sporting occasions. They are Coubertin"s soldiers, defending their nation"s honour in a charged political climate. The Olympics are a United Nations general assembly by another name. China and the IOC are relying on the ceremonial flummery to validate the Games financially and politically.

There is now no way those participating can cut the Games down to sporting size. The IOC has long closed that option. But in this contest of political symbolisms, they can return like for like. The more odious the host regime, the more assiduous visitors can be in publicising the odium.

Politicians should go nowhere near these Games except in protest. Leave them to sport. Today and at every stop along the way, the torch and its bearers must suffer a tunnel of shame, parodying its protestations of peace, brotherhood and justice. This is an opportunity to publicise and protest against the world"s greatest dictatorship.

The BBC"s 400 Olympics staff are on the mother of all junkets, in contempt alike for China"s oppressed and Britain"s licence-fee payers. It will be shocking if such a media bonanza ignores its wretched political environs.

China last week welcomed the British government as a member of something called the Olympic family. If this is a family, I hope that for the next four months it is an intensely unhappy one.

simon.jenkins@sunday-times.co.uk

Source: The Sunday Times UK.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2008 9:22 am 
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Parliament of Pacific island nation Nauru dissolved
April 18, 2008

SUVA, Fiji — The president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru declared an emergency Friday, dissolved parliament and called new elections next week in a bid to boost his grip on the government amid a fierce row with the opposition.

The political crisis in the impoverished country of 12,000 people stems from the fact that President Marcus Stephen's government holds only half of the 18 seats of parliament while feuding with opposition lawmakers.

Rioters last month set fire to the main police station during a weekend protest by about 100 young people in Nauru, a 8.4-square-mile island halfway between Australia and Hawaii. There were unconfirmed rumors that opposition politicians fueled the riots.

Stephen said in a statement Friday that Nauru's political process was "seriously compromised" by the opposition's "self-serving agenda of economic destruction, which is now starting to hurt every Nauruan." Members of the opposition could not be reached for comment. Stephen set new elections for April 26. Voters elect the 18 lawmakers, who are responsible for choosing the president.

Stephen's bloc sought to neutralize the opposition in late December by electing rival lawmaker David Adeang as parliament speaker, an official who votes only to break ties. That shifted a 9-9 split with the opposition to a 9-8 split in Stephen's favor. But the move backfired, with Adeang using the position to cause trouble for the government. On March 22, he moved to ban two of Stephen's Cabinet members because they were dual citizens of Nauru and Australia. The Supreme Court overturned the ban, but last week Adeang suspended all nine government lawmakers, citing their "unruly and shameful behavior" in parliament.

Stephen said the opposition maneuvers were blocking budget bills and threatening foreign investment. Under the emergency, he assumes executive powers so the government can pay salaries and other bills, but no individual rights are suspended. "I believe the voters of Nauru will voice their disgust at the opposition's attempt to hold our democratic institutions to ransom," Stephen said in the statement. Adeang could not be contacted for comment. A former champion weightlifter, Stephen was elected president by lawmakers on Dec. 19 after incumbent Ludwig Scotty was ousted in a no-confidence motion.

Nauru was once a major supplier of phosphate used mainly in fertilizers, but its fortunes dwindled along with the phosphate reserves, worsened by poor economic management. Inhabitants rely heavily on fishing and gardens.

Source: Yahoo! AP.

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PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 2:36 pm 
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Top 10 hells on earth
14 May 2008

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) — Had a bad vacation? It probably could have been a lot worse, with men's portal AskMen.com coming up with a list of the top 10 hells on earth to prove how much more dire it could have been.

This list was compiled by AskMen and is not endorsed by Reuters:

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A young boy sits next to a small shelter made from a disused shipping container in a settlement in Papua New Guinea's capital city of Port Moresby October 26, 2005.
REUTERS/David Gray

1. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Type of hell: Disease

With over 115 new HIV and AIDS cases diagnosed every month, the capital of Papua New Guinea is in trouble. With the population expanding at an uncontrollable rate, unemployment levels have rocketed, income levels plummeted and gang members, known as raskols, have been known to carry out bank robberies with M16 machine guns and hijack cars wielding machetes.

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Vehicles travel on a street in Linfen, one of the most polluted cities in China, in north China's Shanxi province, November 27, 2007.
REUTERS/Stringer

2. Linfen, China

Type of hell: Darkness

Linfen, China, is sooty and dark, located in a 12-mile industrial belt, and affected by the 50 million tons of coal mined each year in the nearby hills of Shanxi. There's no escaping the smog.

Image
A Burundian boy watches as food from the World Food Programme is distributed to villagers who have feld their homes, due to war between the government and the rebels, at Mubimbi 25km (15 miles) from Bujumbura on September 15, 2003.
REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime

3. Bujumbura, Republic of Burundi

Type of hell: Corruption

With the lowest GDP per capita in the world, Burundi is the poorest country on the planet and is scarred by a history of genocide, mass killing and assassinated political leaders. Not only that, but a pool of 178 countries found that Burundi's people had the poorest satisfaction of life in the world.

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A group of people bow at the base of the giant bronze statue of the state founder and 'Great Leader' Kim-Il Sung in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang February 26, 2008.
REUTERS/David Gray

4. Pyongyang, North Korea

Type of hell: Oppression

While its modern-day facade may look like any other Western city, underneath it's entirely autocratic. Radios and TVs have only one channel which broadcasts special programs controlled by the government, bicycles are banned as part of a political regime to restrict movement and interaction.

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Damaged homes are seen as yards are littered with debris after a suspected tornado and heavy storms hit Edmond, Oklahoma March 31, 2008.
REUTERS/Mike Stone

5.Oklahoma City, United States

Type of hell: Natural disasters

Located in the direct path of "Tornado Alley," the worst time to visit would be from March to August. Tather is pretty much expected. The severe weather season makes Dorothy's Kansas look positively calm, with Oklahoma City being the city worst affected by tornadoes in the United States.

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Gas masks are seen in a kindergarten in the abandoned town of Pripyat, in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant March 31, 2006.
REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

6. Chernobyl, Ukraine

Type of hell: Radiation

Famed for a nuclear explosion that tore through the city in 1986 and contaminated most of its living organisms, Chernobyl is certainly not the kind of place you'd like to vacation in. Everything is still largely abandoned and remains as it was 20 years ago, with hundreds of miles of uninhabitable space, deserted buildings and poisoned lakes and rivers.

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Armed men try to control the crowd during a protest against soaring inflation and rising prices in Mogadishu, April 10, 2008.
REUTERS/Feisal Omar

7. Mogadishu, Somalia

Type of hell: Lawlessness

With the collapse of central government in 1991, Mogadishu is largely lawless, with no structure of real peacekeeping present, despite a failed effort in 1992 by the U.S. marines. Indeed, Mogadishu certainly won't be found in any glossy vacation brochure anytime soon.

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An aerial view of the house being carried with ice by the waters of the Lena river outside Yakutsk, May 23, 2001.
REUTERS/Viktor Korotayev

8. Yakutsk, Russia

Type of hell: Environmental extreme

Officially the coldest place on earth, temperatures here often drop to a hypothermia-inducing -58°F, and if it drops below this (which it often does), children get the day off school. Another hellish aspect of Yakutsk is its isolation -- a whole six time zones away from Moscow.

Image
A view of traffic on a street on the first day after a week-long nationwide transport blockade in Dhaka, November 26, 2006.
REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

9. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Type of hell: Pollution

Despite enduring political instability, military suppression and devastation from war and natural disaster, the capital of Bangladesh faces a new crisis over critically high pollution levels. Rapid industrial development has filled the city with so much smog it is causing environmental damage, with 9.7 million tons of waste dumped in the river by the city each year.

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Balls and bombs ... lootings, robberies, kidnappings, and sexual assaults have been rife in Iraq, but it is the daily slaughter of troops, journalists and civilians that terrify most.
REUTERS/Kareem Raheem

10. Baghdad, Iraq

Type of hell: Conflict

The city has been irreversibly damaged by the Gulf War and years of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, bringing the once vibrant city to its knees. Lootings, robberies, kidnappings, and sexual assaults have been rife, but it is the daily slaughter of troops, journalists and civilians that terrify the most.

Source: Reuters.

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PostPosted: Thu May 22, 2008 8:27 am 
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Zimbabwe inflation now over 1 million percent
By ANGUS SHAW
May 21, 2008

Attachment:
capt.2c70536bf1f14abbbcc3a7bfbaf27e25.zimbabwe_prices_hre103.jpg
capt.2c70536bf1f14abbbcc3a7bfbaf27e25.zimbabwe_prices_hre103.jpg [ 102.44 KiB | Viewed 4532 times ]

A vendor sells sweets and snacks with an average price of 15 million Zimbabwean dollars each, on the streets of Highfields in Harare, Tuesday, May, 20, 2008.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Weary Zimbabweans are facing a new wave of price increases that will put many basic goods even further out of their reach: A loaf of bread now costs what 12 new cars did a decade ago.

Independent finance houses said in an assessment Tuesday that annual inflation rose this month to 1,063,572 percent based on prices of a basket of basic foodstuffs. Economic analysts say unless the rate of inflation is slowed, annual inflation will likely reach about 5 million percent by October.

As stores opened for business Wednesday, a small pack of locally produced coffee beans cost just short of 1 billion Zimbabwe dollars. A decade ago, that sum would have bought 60 new cars. And fresh price rises were expected after the state Grain Marketing Board announced up to 25-fold increases in its prices to commercial millers for wheat and the corn meal staple.

The economy was on shop clerk Jessica Rukuni's mind as she left the public swimming pool in downtown Harare's central park with three disappointed children. She found the new admission price of 100 million Zimbabwe dollars — 30 U.S. cents — out of reach. "The point is that it's far too much for most people who don't get U.S. dollars," she said. Her income is the equivalent of about one U.S. dollar a day, and her family has one basic meal daily.

The collapsing economy was a major concern of voters who dealt longtime President Robert Mugabe a defeat in March 29 elections. His challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, topped the poll but did not win the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff. The two face each other in a second round June 27. Mugabe was to officially launch his runoff campaign with a rally at his party's headquarters in Harare on Sunday, the state-run Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.

The opposition's campaigning has been hampered by violence blamed on Mugabe's government and party. The opposition claims Tsvangirai is the target of a government assassination plot and he has been out of Zimbabwe since shortly after the March 29 first round. He plans to return to Zimbabwe to campaign for the runoff once security measures are in place, his aides have said.

Mugabe, speaking as he reviewed graduating police cadets Wednesday, said the opposition was fanning violence. Independent observers have said that while there have been some retaliatory attacks by the opposition, the vast majority of the attacks have been carried out by Mugabe supporters. Mugabe accuses the United States, the European Union and especially former colonial ruler Britain of using their economic influence to back his opponents and bring about his ouster. He has severed ties with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial organizations.

Zimbabwe's official annual inflation was given by the government as 165,000 percent in February, already by far the highest in the world. The government has not updated that — the state statistical service has said there were not enough goods in the shortages-stricken shops to calculate new figures. The economic decline has been blamed on the collapse of the key agriculture sector following the often violent seizures of farmland from whites. Mugabe claimed the seizures begun in 2002 were to benefit poor blacks, but many of the farms went to his loyalists.

"The crunch is going to come when local money is eroded to the point it is no longer acceptable" in commercial activities or as earnings, especially by longtime ruler Mugabe's loyalists, said independent Harare economist John Robertson.

Already, more transactions are being done in U.S. dollars, both openly and in secret. Manufacturing industries, running at below 30 percent of their capacity, reported growing absenteeism by workers facing soaring commuter bus fares.

Source: Yahoo! AP.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2008 9:55 am 
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A party fit for a king — but not needy Tonga
By Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent
Wednesday, 4 June 2008

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George Tupou V (left) talks with the Duke of Gloucester at his father's funeral in Tonga in 2006

It will be the party of the century when George Tupou V is crowned King of Tonga in August — and it will be his impoverished countrymen in the tiny South Pacific nation who will bear the expense.

The lavish ceremony, to be attended by foreign royals and celebrities including, reportedly, Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Sean Connery, will cost £1.6m — one-third of Tonga's annual aid budget. The regal robes, which are being tailored in London, will set the country back £230,000, while a gold sceptre similar to the Queen's is being cast, at a cost of £20,000.

The Tongan Prime Minister, Felete Sevele, defended the expense yesterday, saying that "enormous benefits" would flow to the country as a result of the coronation. "It will be a joyous celebration of culture, custom and kingship in the only Polynesian kingdom," he said.

One can only hope that ordinary Tongans share Mr Sevele's optimism. The coronation has been delayed for nearly two years because of concerns about the public reaction to the extravagance. Pro-democracy activists rioted in the capital, Nuku'alofa, five weeks after the former king, the long-reigning Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, died in September 1996. Sixty per cent of buildings in the city centre were destroyed, including businesses owned by George Tupou V.

Tonga, a former British protectorate and the last monarchy in the Pacific, consists of 170 islands, 36 of them inhabited, scattered between New Zealand and Hawaii. The royal family, a clutch of nobles and an elite caste enjoy a life of ostentatious wealth, while the 100,000-strong population ekes out a living from small farming plots or the sea. The Tongan government has yet to release the guest list for the five days of festivities, which will culminate on 1 August. But it has confirmed that Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito will attend, along with Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Britain will be represented by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Exclusive broadcasting rights have reportedly been given to the BBC.

According to New Zealand newspapers, the coronation will feature three balls: one for "very, very important people", one for "very important people", and one for everyone else. There will also be a fireworks display, a military parade, traditional dancing, a rugby match and an open-air concert. While the king's late father was loved and revered by his subjects, George Tupou V, a 60-year-old multimillionaire bachelor, is less popular. A Sandhurst graduate with an Oxford degree, he is a flamboyant figure who dresses up in military uniforms and is driven around in a former London taxi. He once described Tongans as "squatters who would urinate in elevators if there was nothing to stop them".

The new king has promised to reform Tonga's almost feudal system of government, but many in the growing pro-democracy movement are frustrated by the slow pace of change. A state of emergency imposed after the riots, which caused £34m worth of damage, remains in place.

Reformers have gained seats in Tonga's parliament, but many MPs are directly appointed by the king, and the titled nobles — the descendants of 19th-century cannibal warlords — wield great influence. Mr Sevele said the coronation — which some sources say could cost twice the official figure — would be a milestone in the country's history. "It is part of our life and who we are," he said. "There will be a renewal in our sense of nationhood and the togetherness which defines Tonga. The country's image will be taken to the world. This is a once in a lifetime occasion, a coronation for the people that will usher in a new era for Tonga."

Up to 5,000 visitors, including expatriate Tongans, are expected to flood in for the festivities. Mr Sevele predicted that their spending would inject twice the cost of the coronation into the economy. "This will bring benefits to all sectors of the community," he said. Extra flights have been put on by the three airlines that serve Tonga, and every hotel, resort and guest house in the islands is already fully booked.

A brief history of Tonga

* Tonga, a group of 170 islands in the South Pacific with a population of 100,000, is the last Polynesian monarchy.A quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

* Queen Salote Tupou III ruled Tonga from 1918 until her death in 1965. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, so the story goes, she arrived in an open carriage accompanied by a tiny man in frock coat and spats. Noel Coward, upon being asked who the man might be, famously responded: "That's her lunch."

* The late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV reigned for 41 years after succeeding Queen Salote, his mother. He once tipped the scales at 33 stone, entering the Guinness Book of Records in 1976 as the world's heaviest monarch.

* Taufa'ahau Tupou IV lost $26m of the country's wealth to a Californian conman, Jesse Bogdonoff, whom he appointed court jester.

* The new king's sister, Princess Pilolevu, was publicly humiliated when her letters to her secret lover, a rugby-playing commoner, found their way into public circulation.

* A former British protectorate, Tonga became fully independent in 1970, though it was never formally colonised.

Source: The Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2008 12:50 pm 
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July returns to Turkmenistan as country renames the calendar
July 1, 2008

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ASHGABAT, July 1 (RIA Novosti) - Turkmenistan reintroduced the Gregorian calendar on Tuesday for days of the week and months of the year, abolishing the system of the country's former eccentric leader who created a personality cult during his 21-year rule.

Saparmurat Niyazov or Turkmenbashi (the head of all Turkmen), who ruled the largely desert state with an iron fist from the end of the Soviet era until his death in 2006, renamed all months in honor of himself, Turkmen symbols and his mother in 2002. July was named Gorkut after the hero of a Turkmen epic.

January was named in the Central Asian state after the president, April his mother and September after his book the "Rukhnama" (Book of the Soul), which was compulsory reading for government officials and students. He also renamed Saturday Rukhnama Day.

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov abolished the old calendar in April this year after receiving numerous requests from members of the public. The resolution was ratified by the country's parliament (Mejlis) in May. The renaming will mainly affect official and commercial documents.

Berdymukhammedov has made some moves toward opening the country up to the outside world, including lifting a ban on Internet access. He has also called for widespread reforms of the country's decaying healthcare and education systems. Although the country earns substantial revenue from its main exports, natural gas and cotton, the economy has suffered from years of corruption and restrictions on private enterprise. Data on the country's economy remain state secrets, but unemployment is known to be over 50%.

Source: Novosti Russia.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 6:42 am 
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Soldiers patrol Mongolian capital amid state of emergency
2 July 2008

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Heavily armed soldiers patrolled the capital of Mongolia Wednesday after a state of emergency was declared to quell deadly protests that erupted amid outrage over disputed national elections.

Four people were killed and about 400 policemen injured during the riots that saw thousands of protesters destroy buildings and cars as they stormed through Ulan Bator on Tuesday, according to state-run television. The Soviet-era headquarters of the formerly communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) that claimed victory in the weekend elections was still smouldering after being set alight and looted in the unrest.

As the protests erupted, Prime Minister Sanjagiin Bayar, of the MPRP, accused the rival Democrats of inciting the violence by unfairly alleging Sunday's parliamentary elections had been rigged. "The other party is accusing us of buying the election. It's not true, the election was free and fair," he said from the MPRP headquarters before it was ransacked. An AFP reporter who walked through the city on Wednesday saw dozens of soldiers with rifles standing guard outside the MPRP headquarters, as well as other military personnel and vehicles patrolling the centre of the city.

Mongolian President Nambariin Enkhbayar declared a four-day state of emergency late on Tuesday to end the rioting, implementing security measures that included a ban on alcohol sales and restrictions on the press. A night-time curfew was also imposed while traffic was prohibited from passing through the centre of Ulan Bator where the worst of the violence erupted. Police had been forced to fire bullets and tear gas to quell the unrest, according to an AFP reporter on the scene and other witnesses who estimated the rioting mob to be about 6,000 strong. However it was impossible to immediately confirm further details about the four people that national television had reported killed.

Mongolia, a landlocked nation of nearly three million people, has a history of political intrigue and turmoil, after emerging from 70 years as a Soviet satellite and holdings its first democratic elections in 1992. However the violence was among the worst the nation -- famous for its ancient warrior history under Genghis Khan -- had seen since adopting a democratic model, and many people in Ulan Bator were left disenchanted.

"I sincerely appreciate my country and its history but I think this was an unfair election," said Denzin Chuluunbaatar, 45, a social worker, who was walking through the city on Wednesday. "The politicians are not thinking about the country, they just think about themselves... It's just a small country so we can't fight each other. It would be terrible if there was a civil war."

Prime Minister Bayar identified Democratic Party leader Tsakhia Elbegdorj of inciting the unrest by making his allegations of electoral fraud. Elbegdorj had indeed bluntly accused the MPRP in a press conference on Tuesday of "illegal activities" that robbed the Democrats of victory. "People voted for democracy, ask eight of 10 people and they will say they voted for the Democratic Party. We lost because... corrupt people changed the results," he told reporters. "This was a dark moment in the history of Mongolia."

The MPRP, which ruled during the Soviet years, had claimed to have won 45 seats in the 76-seat Great Hural. State press said the Democrats had won 21 seats. However the General Election Committee has yet to make a formal announcement on the ballot, and an official declaration from it could spark further anger.

"The results are not ready yet," committee spokesman Purevdorjiin Naranbat told AFP. He was unable to say when the results would be announced. In 2004, Mongolia's last general election, the MPRP and the Democrats were forced into a coalition that produced three different prime ministers.

Source: Breitbart AFP.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 4:13 pm 
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Monday, 3 November 2008

Paradox of power in ailing Egypt

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Cairo

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The NDP is at its lowest ebb after decades of Mubarak rule, analysts say

In Cairo's industrial suburbs, workers at Magdi Tolba's clothing factory turn out 40,000 garments a day, mostly destined for well-known stores in the west. Despite warnings from President Hosni Mubarak the economy was likely to suffer in the global economic downturn, Mr Tolba believes Egypt remains a "land of opportunity". "We have certain advantages that do not exist anywhere else," he says. "Geographically, we are in the middle of the world. We have safety, we have political stability."

Yet it's political stability at a price. The octogenarian President Hosni Mubarak has ruled for 27 years, repeatedly extending a state of emergency imposed after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Given that he has been in power since the early 1980s critics have questioned the choice of slogan for this annual National Democratic Party conference this weekend - "New Thoughts for Egypt's Future".

Serious problems

It's the same old rhetoric, said Abdul Galil Mustafa , a senior member of the opposition movement Kefaya. He believes President Mubarak is preoccupied not with reform, as he set out in his keynote speech on Saturday, but with securing his son Gamal as his successor.

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Many Egyptian families are not tasting the benefits of economic reform

"It's amazing somebody who has been responsible for controlling this country for almost three decades is talking at this moment about the future," Mr Mustafa said. He questioned official figures which suggest the economy has grown almost 7% in the past financial year. "Go anywhere in Egypt and you'll discover the kind of poverty that the majority are suffering. We have serious problems meeting even the basic needs for survival," he says. "This regime has done nothing over the past six or seven years except bring people into government that will help fix this man in his father's place. It's all about the future of this Gamal, not the future for Egypt.''

Criticism grew louder in the run-up to the NDP conference, as it became embroiled in allegations of corruption and cronyism. "Popular perceptions of the NDP have never been worse," said Amr Hashem Rabie from the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Unfair advantage

In 2004, under Gamal Mubarak's direction, a "technocrat" government consisting largely of wealthy businessmen was appointed. It reduced trade tariffs and sold off state assets, to the dismay of many Egyptians. "The obvious coupling of wealth and authority hurt the party's image as the guardian of public welfare," said Mr Rabie. "Egyptians saw rich businessmen within the NDP receiving unfair advantages from their close associations with the party, including market monopolies and tax exemptions for their projects."

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Opinion is divided on Gamal: A much-needed moderniser, or more of the same?

President Mubarak's current six-year term ends in 2011. Ordinarily, that would trigger a cross-party contest for the presidency. Yet despite Egypt's declared status as a democracy, there is no effective opposition to speak of, and demonstration are rarely tolerated. The best organised group outside the regime is the banned Muslim Brotherhood. But in local elections held earlier this year only 10% of its declared candidates were allowed to stand.

"Approval ratings are difficult to determine in Egypt because there are no reliable statistics," said MB official Essam Arian. "But most commentators admit that the NDP's popular standing is now in free fall." He says this is down to a series of scandals involving party officials, poor hospitals and schools, and a "chronic disconnect between the ruling elite and the people".

Mounting scandals

Embarrassingly for the NDP, one of its most senior figures has become embroiled in a high-profile murder trial. Construction magnate and NDP policy committee member Hisham Talaat Moustafa has denied financing the killing of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim. Ms Tamim, said to be his former lover, was found with her throat cut in Dubai three months ago.

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Pro-NDP poster showing Gamal and Hosni Mubarak
"He's the right man for the future"
Magdi Tolba on Gamal Mubarak

"If such things happened in a respectable country, the head of the party would be forced to resign," said Mr Rabie. "But in Egypt, there are no resignations, no accountability, no change." He said the conference pledges were "only an attempt to portray the NDP as a unified, functioning party with fresh ideas. But given the mounting scandals and poor prospects for real change, the people aren't buying it this time".

The NDP's secretary-general has come out fighting. Safwat El-Sherif said: "Our party does not allow corrupt people to fill its ranks. We respect the rule of law. The NDP is not a place for wrongdoers to enjoy immunity." The party's critics, he said, "suffer from political blindness and moral delinquency".

Cairo Cotton Company chief executive Mr Tolba, who has advised NDP ministers, believes Egyptians should try to remain positive. And he is enthusiastic about the possibility of a Gamal presidency. The president's son graduated in business and economics from the American University in Cairo, and is a western-trained banker. "I would say he's the right man for the future," says Mr Tolba. "I wouldn't evaluate him as the president's son, but as an expert, an economist who's listening and working positively." He admires Gamal's willingness to debate openly and listen to criticism and most importantly "after 60 years we're going to have a civilian president".

Egyptians are already resigned to the fact that when President Mubarak does finally stand aside, through choice or providence, the decision over who succeeds him will be made for them. Gamal Mubarak insists he doesn't want the job but has slowly accumulated power. For the moment there is no sign of anyone else being groomed for the job.

Source: BBC News.

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