Alec Weisman's

Unpublished LIGNET Clips 2012-2014

In Foreign Affairs on September 16, 2014 at 3:05 am

These are an assortment of the clips I wrote while working for for Newsmax Media’s Langley Intelligence Group Network (LIGNET) between June 2011 and September 2014 that were never published.

Accidental duplication of a topic by other analysts was the most common reason that these stories were not released on the site.

However, my interest in peripheral issues meant some of the less relevant Briefs were not posted to the site.


Unused Articles (4)

2014 – 1

Taiwan-China

2013 – 1

Turkey

2012 – 2

Venezuela
Mercosur

More Analytics and Full Stories After the Jump…


Snowflakes/InBriefs/Daily Briefs (67)

2014 – 22

Israel-Azerbaijan, Philippines, Spain, Egypt, Italy, Germany-Spain, China-Philippines-Vietnam, Somalia, Venezuela, Greece, Vietnam-China, Indonesia, Mali, Guatemala, Slovakia, Uganda, Libya, South Africa-Burundi-Rwanda, Al Qaeda, Cyprus, South Africa, Iraq

2013 – 12

Samoa, South Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Kenya, China, Ireland, China-Cambodia-Laos

2012 – 33

Samoa, Colombia-Nicaragua, Malaysia, Finland-Estonia, Singapore-US-China, China-US-Japan, France-Belgium-Monaco, Tajikistan, US, Israel-Italy-San Marino, Kenya-Iran, Japan, Australia-Vanuatu-China, Israel-Vanuatu-Samoa, Nigeria, Australia-Vanuatu-China, Burundi-Rwanda, Armenia, Kuwait, Burundi, Burundi, Comoros, Indonesia-China, Ethiopia-US, Malawi, Grenada-Taiwan, Colombia-Cuba, Uganda-China, Zimbabwe-South Africa, Hungary, Uganda, Singapore-Burma, Kyrgyzstan

Full Stories:

Erdogan’s Crackdown Backfires To Intensified Protests
June 5, 2013

Summary

As protests against Turkish police use of excessive force continue to intensify, a glaring spotlight is being shined on the authoritarian policies of the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The nationwide riots have already left two dead and thousands wounded, while the unrest has exposed the growing schism between the country’s ruling Islamists and a secular minority that has been marginalized for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, attempts by Erdogan to label the demonstrators as “extremists” and “arm-in-arm with terrorism” appear thus far to be having the opposite effect of strengthening the resolve of the opposition. The unrest is also setting the stage for a showdown between the prime minister and Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, as the two men are likely to face off in presidential elections next year.

Background

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ushered in dozens of economic, political, and social reforms intended to transform the country into a modern and secular nation. His successors continued many of his policies for decades, despite intermittant military coups and chronic political instability, until corruption scandals and an economic crisis paved the way for the conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) to sweep to power in 2002.

Following its electoral victory of 34 percent, the AKP began rolling back the country’s secular traditions in favor of its Islamist ideology. After being re-elected two years ago for a third term with nearly 50 percent of the vote, Erdogan, a charismatic former mayor of Istanbul, finally perceived he had a mandate to fully promote his party’s religious agenda.

The government has since curtailed a number of civil liberties in an attempt to restrict dissent, enacted mass purges of the country’s secular military forces, and passed tough restrictions on alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported Turkey was holding at least 49 reporters in prison and was “the world’s leading jailer of journalists” last year, surpassing both China and Iran.

Nevertheless, the fiscal policies implemented by Erdogan’s government have also ushered in unprecedented growth over the past ten years that helped the country become the 18th largest economy in the world. According to the Turkish government, its economy rose 234 percent from 2002 to 2011. Meanwhile, the World Bank trumpeted, “In less than a decade, per capita income in the country has nearly tripled and now exceeds $10,000.”

However, the unrestrained development served as the spark to ignite the recent mass demonstrations. On May 28, environmental activists gathered for a peaceful protest to oppose the government’s plan to demolish Gezi Park, which is adjacent to Taksim Square, the main commercial district of Istanbul, in order to replace it with a replica of 19th century Ottoman-era barracks intended to house a shopping mall and mosque.

Two days later the non-violent protestors were met by a heavy-handed response by security forces, which resorted to large quantities of tear gas and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators. The police response enraged the country’s three largest opposition parties. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have already jumped on the anti-Erdogan bandwagon, embracing the subsequent peaceful rallies that have spread to at least half of Turkey’s 81 provinces.

In addition, a major labor union began a two-day strike on June 4 to protest the crackdown, which it condemned as “state terror.” Nevertheless, of the more than 90 separate demonstrations, some devolved into full-fledged violence, prompting police to arrest or detain thousands of people over the past week.

Analysis:

For the past decade liberal and secular Turks have lamented Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule and the country’s dangerous slide toward theocracy. Although the latest demonstrations are unlikely to threaten the AKP’s firm hold on power in the short term, the full extent to the polarization of Turkish society could have lasting political implications, especially if the popular discontent continues to grow.

In particular, the claims of police brutality have fueled the demonstrations that are growing increasingly anti-government. Although the protests have revealed Erdogan’s increasingly dictatorial tendencies, the unrest is unlikely to erode Erdogan’s support among his large conservative and religious base.

Nevertheless, Erdogan seems to be desperately looking to find a scapegoat to blame for the protests regardless. He has already fingered the opposition as “extremists,” adding that it was mere “looters” and “bums” who were responsible for the violence. Erdogan also lambasted Twitter as a source of conflict, adding, “social media is the biggest trouble for society right now.”

Meanwhile, his arrogance has only risen with the AKP’s electoral success. Erdogan has been more comfortable with attacking the protestors than to listen to their grievances. Nevertheless, he did admit to some “errors in the actions of the security forces, especially with regard to use of pepper gas.”

Erdogan’s defiant response to the protests has already drawn veiled criticism from Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone in urging moderation. In particular, Erdogan is acting like the only limits to his leadership can be imposed “through the ballot box.” Meanwhile, Gul countered, “Democracy does not mean elections alone. There can be nothing more natural for the expression of various views, various situations and objections through a variety of ways besides elections.”

In addition, the demonstrators appear worried about the lack of checks and balances in Turkish politics and Erdogan’s push to hold a constitutional referendum that would convert the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The conflict between Erdogan and Gul may intensify as the two leaders try to judge their opponent’s popularity and skill.

With his credibility under fire, Erdogan is appealing for calm, saying “In a few days the situation will return to normal.” His deputy prime minister issued a muffled apology on June 4 claiming the initial crackdown was “wrong and unjust” but the protestors dismissed his remarks as mere damage control.

However, Erdogan is likely correct when he says the mass nationwide demonstrations are not driven by concerns over the fate of Gezi Park. He appears to hit the nail on the head when he explained the unrest “is about my ruling party, myself and the looming municipality elections in Istanbul and efforts to make the AKP lose votes here.”

Conclusion:

As the momentum of the protest movement already nicknamed the Turkish Spring continues to grow, Erdogan’s contradictory statements could become increasingly counterproductive toward reasserting stability. In addition, as the anti-government protests gain steam, the opposition is likely to seek to use the boiling tension to gain support ahead of local and presidential elections next year and parliamentary elections in 2015.

***

Venezuela: Elaborate Electioneering Expands Chavez Advantage
August 2, 2012

Summary

Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organization of American States (OAS) human rights courts and treaties is only a small part of President Hugo Chavez’ reelection efforts, which include misusing government agencies, massive subsidies, and manipulating media outlets for his campaign. Chavez is likely to resort to even more elaborate methods to ensure his victory in October.

Chavez traveled to Brazil this week for a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur to celebrate Venezuela’s recent acceptance into the organization; while there he announced plans to invest in both Argentina’s oil industry and an oil refinery in Brazil. This is part of efforts to deepen his alliances with the leftist leaders of other countries in Latin America, which is likely to restrict regional support for his opposition, Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Background

As the presidential campaign heats up in Venezuela, the tactics employed by Hugo Chavez to ensure his reelection become more pervasive and desperate. Having led the country since 1999, Chavez has accumulated and expanded executive power so that Venezuela’s judiciary, government, and media are firmly under his control.

His opponent Capriles, a 40-year-old center-left governor of the second-most populated state in the country, is a stark contrast to the 58-year-old populist demagogue Chavez who recently declared himself “cancer-free” for the second time in under a year. However, Capriles remains behind in national polling, allegedly 15 points behind Chavez, in large part because of a combination of government policies that have been implemented since election season began.

First, Chavez began a series of redistribution giveaways to solidify his base of poor peasants. He has instituted a “Housing Thursday” broadcast on the state-run television station where government officials provide government-built housing to low-income Venezuelans. Caracas estimates that 2.7 million families in the country of 29 million people need new homes for a variety of reasons. The government claims to have built 150,000 new housing units last year and plans to build an additional 200,000 this year prior to the election.

These giveaways are financed by the country’s vast oil wealth. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves and among the largest reserves of natural gas, which account for about 12 percent of GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook. Chavez has also used this wealth to finance his pet projects throughout the region.

He announced July 31 that Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA wants to invest in Argentina’s largest oil producer YPF. He said the investment would help YPF to begin work in Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy crude belt while enabling PDVSA to maintain its presence in Argentina’s offshore fields and eventually begin refining. Similarly, Chavez vowed for PDVSA to complete a 230,000 barrels per day oil refinery in Brazil by 2014 that has been fraught by delays and financial problems since its conception. The oil company has until the end of November to ensure it can get loan guarantees to finance the project.

Yet he does not rely solely on buying popular support in Venezuela and Latin America. His expanded executive power and control of the judiciary has enabled Chavez to implement policies that target both individuals and businesses that prove troublesome to his regime. A tenured judge was imprisoned and is now held under house arrest after intelligence officers arrested her in 2010. She was locked up for granting a conditional release to an opposition businessman that Chavez had ordered imprisoned in 2007 and the judiciary has been much more amenable to the whims of Chavez since her arrest.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Venezuela fined the only remaining opposition media outlet in the country, Globovision, $2.1 million for covering a month-long prison riot. Authorities charged Globovision with “promoting hatred and intolerance for political reasons” in their coverage of the event. Chavez has forced more than 30 other media outlets over his 13-year rule while expanding the numbers of state-operated television stations from one to six.

Chavez also has a history of enacting his brand of “21st Century Socialism” through policies that include nationalization and currency controls. He nationalized the Petroanzoategui oil upgrader from ConocoPhillips in 2007. Other industries that have faced nationalization have included agriculture, construction, finance, and mining. The government enacted currency controls in an attempt to combat a 27 percent inflation rate and commodities shortages.

The country is also a major narcotrafficking transit route and the government is believed to have ties to drug traffickers. Since 2008, the US Treasury Department has accused at least seven high-level military officers as well as current and former officials in the Chavez government of aiding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including Venezuela’s defense minister. The smuggling operation by FARC in cocaine is wildly successful, with as much as 24 percent of the cocaine sent from South America in 2010 passing through Venezuela, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

These policies have exacerbated the country’s downwardly spiraling economy, which is wracked by massive blackouts, food and water shortages, a 27 percent poverty rate, and a murder rate of around 53 people per day, among other crises. Yet Chavez has blamed these troubles on capitalism and used his giveaways to maintain the support of his loyal followers.

Chavez is especially fond of making the United States the scapegoat for Venezuela’s troubles. On July 25 he announced that Venezuela was withdrawing from the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body of the OAS, after the court condemned his regime for the deplorable treatment of prisoners earlier this month. This ruling was the latest in a series of decisions that accused Chavez of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.

He has used his anti-American rhetoric to build leftists throughout the region. Chavez founded the leftist Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) that currently has eight member states. Among the most vocal of his radical allies in the bloc are Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Raul Castro of Cuba.

In addition, it was only after Mercosur suspended Paraguay that Venezuela was able to attain membership in the regional trade bloc. The leftists in the bloc, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, and Jose Mujica of Uruguay had supported Caracas membership in Mercosur.

However, Paraguay’s Congress had blocked efforts to grant Venezuela membership over concerns of dictatorial behavior from Chavez and human rights violations. Once Lugo was impeached in June, the leftist outcry in Latin America prompted the trade bloc to suspend Paraguay, leaving the door open for Caracas’ membership bid to be approved.

His radical policies and anti-American rhetoric has enabled Chavez to score the high profile endorsement from many of these key regional leftists as well as former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who served from 2003 to 2010. Chavez also maintains support of Tehran, as he has been a close ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and opposing U.S. sanctions on Tehran for its efforts to develop a nuclear capability.

Analysis:

Capriles faces a significant struggle to overcome both the “Cult of Chavez” and the policies that give the incumbent an exorbitant amount of power to manipulate results of the upcoming election. Hugo Chavez is well on his way as he embraces whatever is necessary to ensure he remains President.

Chavez has led Venezuela through a mixture of carrots and sticks. He has offered his base giveaways if they will only turn a blind eye to the problems that plague the country under his leadership. The vast oil wealth funds Chavez efforts to guarantee this popular support continues and is only matched by his policies intended to intimidate the opposition.

The assault on Venezuela’s judiciary and media only makes it more difficult to stand against Chavez. By silencing the opposition and instilling roadblocks to Capriles campaign such as threatening independent media outlets, Chavez is engaging in his modus operandi of offering reward and instilling punishment.

It is his thirst for power that is driving this use of government resources to win the election. Yet his disastrous policies are hurting Venezuela in the short term and are likely to do substantial damage for the country’s long-term growth. Already the country is importing more refined fuel imports from the United States than it can produce, despite having the world’s largest reserves of oil. In addition, the country is down 22 percent in oil production since 1998 when Chavez first took office.

When coupled with the high inflation, rampant poverty, out of control crime and murder rates, and narcotrafficking, the problems of Venezuela look dire. This provides an opportunity for Capriles, if his campaign can gain traction and publicity.

By emphasizing education reform, crime, and economic insecurity, Capriles has an opportunity to expose Chavez’ record that include the failed policies of “21st Century Socialism,” massive redistribution efforts, and an economic and foreign policy that has isolated and weakened Venezuela.

Chavez is even drawing his foreign allies into the race. Although Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva endorsement of Chavez is a blow to Capriles, who has adopted many economic policies of the former Brazilian president, it is to be expected, as are the endorsements from the other leftist allies of Chavez.

However, government ties to narcotrafficking and his personal friendship to Ahmadinejad raise concerns that the Chavez regime could become even more radical if it appears that Capriles could seriously challenge his chances in October.

Therefore in his efforts to ensure his victory, Chavez has been using every option at his disposal to isolate Capriles and to manipulate the election in his favor. However the outcome is unlikely to be vastly different because Chavez remains a one trick pony who is relying overwhelmingly upon his cult of personality to ensure his victory.

Yet the purple elephant in the room that would likely devastate the Chavez reelection bid is the return of his cancer. Although Chavez remains ahead in polling, Capriles would overwhelmingly win against any replacement candidate. As the intense loyalty of the “Cult of Chavez” does not extend beyond him to his party, his loss or incapacitating weakness will likely lead to a Capriles victory.

Conclusion:

Henrique Capriles uphill battle is likely to grow more intense if Chavez fears that his power is on the line. Although, the election is already tainted by the consolidation of power in the hands of Chavez, the results will likely hinge upon his health more than any other factor.

***

Mercosur: Hard Left Push Comes With Venezuela Membership
July 5, 2012

Summary

The South American regional trade bloc Mercosur is well on its way to embracing its leftist tendencies after it announced last week that it will make Venezuela a full member next month and suspending Paraguay as punishment for the speedy impeachment of the country’s leftist president.

The bloc’s leftist turn will likely cause it to become more dysfunctional and ineffective. The lack of agreement is already causing disputes between the states to fester and will likely make efforts to expand free trade between the countries more difficult.

Background

Mercosur, founded in 1991, is also comprised of full members Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, as well as associate members Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Leftists dominate the governments of most of the countries affiliated with Mercosur, except Chile, Colombia, and Paraguay.

As a trade and customs union, the organization seeks to ensure trade integration and common economic policies between members. This unity makes Mercosur the fifth-largest economy in the world. Nevertheless, most of this economic clout comes from Brazil’s growing economy, which dominates almost 60 percent of South America’s economic output according to the International Monetary Fund.

However, Mercosur is plagued by problems and internal disputes. Argentina has been locked in a dispute with Brazil and Uruguay over its imposition of new import regulations this year. Both Argentina and Brazil are being courted by China for free trade agreements, but their rivalry is acting as a roadblock to coordinated economic growth with Beijing.

In addition, the bloc became embroiled in Argentina’s spat with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands earlier this year. Mercosur agreed to ban ships bearing the flag of the Falkland Islands from docking at ports affiliated with the trade bloc.

Finally, Paraguay’s suspension after the impeachment of its leftist president Fernando Lugo opened the door for Venezuela to attain its sought after membership in Mercosur. Paraguay’s Congress had been the primary obstacle Caracas’ bid to join the trade bloc, blocking the country’s membership since 2006 due to the assault on democracy in Venezuela led by President Hugo Chavez.

The dictatorial Chavez expressed his delight at being accepted for the membership, calling it “a defeat for the empire.” He previously used Venezuela’s position in the Organization of American States and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) to promote anti-American sentiment throughout the region.

Analysis:

The leftist dominance of Mercosur is likely to severely weaken its efforts to coordinate and expand trade policies between member and associate member states. Venezuela’s addition and Paraguay’s suspensions will probably make the bloc even more anti-American, a seemingly perpetual goal of Chavez.

In addition, the leftist-dominance of Mercosur could see closer ties between it and Chavez-dominated ALBA, which could lead to increased radicalism among the leftist leaders in the region.

Yet Paraguay’s suspension may lead to closer ties with the United States. The landlocked country has been stymied by the trade restrictions by Mercosur, which has been uninterested in establishing a bilateral free trade agreement with the US. Paraguay’s new President Federico Franco is already considering withdrawing from Mercosur completely in retaliation for the suspension.

However, Brazil and Argentina will likely see economic benefits from Venezuela’s inclusion. Venezuela is heavily dependent upon imports of goods from its neighbors due to Chavez policies including nationalization and high taxes that have wreaked havoc on the country’s domestic industries. Brazil already imports almost $6 billion to Venezuela while Argentina imports around $2 billion into the country.

Conservative and centrist governments in the region have already begun seeking alternatives to Mercosur, recognizing the politicization in action for the bloc. Chile, Colombia, and Peru formed the Pacific Alliance with Mexico on June 6 in an effort to expand their bilateral free trade agreements and focus on increased trade with Asia. In addition, the exports from this new bloc are almost double those of Mercosur, a key economic advantage as the Pacific Alliance turns toward Asia.

Conclusion:

Mercosur could find itself the track for impotence due to its stubborn rivalries and political incompetence if leftist leaders continue to dominate the trade bloc. The addition of Venezuela will likely drive the organization to become more anti-American, even as internal disputes make Mercosur even more ineffective in the light of its new competition from the conservative-learning Pacific Alliance.

***

2014 (22)

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Israeli Defense Minister Visits Shiite Muslim Ally Azerbaijan
September 13, 2014

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon arrived in Azerbaijan on Wednesday on a historic visit to discuss strengthening security ties between the two allies . . . he is the first Israeli defense minister to travel to the Caucasian country, which borders Iran and is primarily Shiite Muslim . . . Azerbaijan provides a third of Israel’s oil . . . the former Soviet Republic has bought at least $4 billion in military equipment from Israel since 2012 . . . Iran is extremely perturbed about the thriving friendship of the “Little Satan” Israel and neighboring Azerbaijan . . . Israel values its relationship with Azerbaijan highly as the country is among a handful of Muslim-majority nations to have diplomatic and defense relations with the Jewish state . . . Ya’alon’s trip could result in more lucrative arms deals with Azerbaijan.

RELATED: Iran Hints Azerbaijan Responsible for Downed Israeli Drone — August 30, 2014

***

Philippines Moves Step Closer to Autonomy for Muslim South
September 13, 2014

Philippines President Benigno Aquino submitted draft legislation to the country’s Congress to establish the autonomous Muslim region of Bangsamoro in the south of the island nation and called for swift passage by lawmakers . . . the government signed a peace deal with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March to bring an end to over 40 years of violent conflict that has left over 150,000 dead . . . Aquino wants the law passed as quickly as possible so he can oversee the creation of Bangsamoro before he steps down in 2016 . . . the new Muslim region could help ease tensions in the mostly Catholic nation but a number of obstacles could hinder implementation of the law . . . many rebel factions are unlikely to disarm, which raises fears that the peace agreement may be short lived . . . the judiciary appears likely to challenge parts of the law, such as provisions that allow the proposed regional government to force Muslims living in Bangsamoro to follow hardline Islamic Sharia law.

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Spain Braces For Unrest As Secession Sentiments for Catalonia Surge
September 13, 2014

Around 500,000 Catalan separatists gathered in Barcelona on Thursday to form a seven-mile-long chain in the shape of a “V” to demand a vote on independence . . . the demonstration coincided with the wealthy northeastern region’s holiday to commemorate its 300th anniversary of Spanish rule . . . Catalonia plans to hold a referendum on Nov. 9 to determine its future although the poll has been deemed illegal by the central government . . . a number of leftist parties are also planning to stage protests in the coming months against the conservative government . . . the Spanish Interior Ministry has signed four contracts to buy over $1 million of riot gear since June in anticipation of the unrest . . . the Spanish government is likely extremely worried the threat of violent protest could depress the nation’s economic recovery . . . Spanish President Mariano Rajoy is adamantly opposed to Catalonia’s independence and seems headed toward a standoff with the region’s leader Artur Mas over secession . . . Catalan separatists will be emboldened if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom next week.

***

Egypt: Militants Launch Ambush on Army Convoy in Sinai Peninsula
September 4, 2014

Militants killed two Egyptian soldiers from a roadside bomb and shot nine others on patrol in the Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday . . . Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb condemned the violence, adding, “Terrorism will not succeed in breaking the will of Egyptians” . . . the military killed eight insurgents from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which has claimed responsibility for numerous previous attacks, in two raids last weekend . . . the Egyptian government is extremely worried by the bloodshed ravaging the Sinai . . . the unrest has deterred tourism from the region and hurt the country’s economic recovery.

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Italy: Renzi’s Ambitious Reform Agenda Back on Track
June 19, 2014

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi corralled a group of unruly senators from his center-left Democratic Party (PD) on Tuesday into dropping their plans to protest his reforms for the chamber . . . last week, 13 PD senators pulled their support for Renzi’s proposal to fundamentally restructure the upper house . . . meanwhile, on Monday the 5-Star Movement (M5S), Italy’s anti-establishment party, announced it would consider cooperating with the PD to pass reforms after failing to hurt the party in local elections on Sunday . . . Renzi greeted their decision as overdue but welcome step, claiming, “Now everyone wants to do reforms, before nobody was interested. This is positive, now we have to all sit around a table, this is the week when things have to be decided” . . . with the PD falling in line behind him and the M5S expressing its willingness to support his reforms, Renzi has won some significant victories this week . . . however, Italy faces substantial economic and political obstacles . . . Renzi knows time is of the essence in passing his ambitious reform agenda since he risks losing public support for his proposals should the Italian parliament succumb to renewed gridlock.

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Germany and Spain Arrest More Islamist Recruiters
June 18, 2014

German police arrested three people suspected of recruiting for radical Islamists fighting in Syria and Spanish police detained eight others over the past weekend, the Associated Press reports . . . one of the three people arrested by Germany was a 30-year-old French national who allegedly fought alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria . . . the Spanish Interior Ministry also claimed the terror cell was led by a local resident who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay . . . as ISIL gains more ground in Iraq, the European Union is desperate to stop foreign fighters in Syria and other conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa from returning to the bloc and carrying out terrorist attacks . . . the EU does not appear to be taking any chances and seems to be boosting security measures in a bid to combat Muslim radicalization.

***

China Denounces Philippine and Vietnamese Fraternizing on Disputed Island
June 11, 2014

The Chinese government condemned Vietnam and the Philippines on Monday for “a clumsy farce” after soldiers from the two nations played sports and drank beer together on a Vietnamese-occupied island in the South China Sea a day earlier . . . Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insisted her country had “irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands” and demanded the Philippines and Vietnam stop all “behavior that picks quarrels and causes trouble” . . . China is desperate to control the resource-rich South China Sea and Spratly Islands . . Beijing seems infuriated by the display of cooperation and friendship by the Philippines and Vietnam, which it likely perceived as a direct challenge . . . the Chinese refusal to negotiate continues to increase the chance of violent clashes of the region.

***

Somalia Struggles to Protect Towns Liberated From Al Shabaab
May 14, 2014

A car bomb tore through the Somali city of Baidoa, once a top stronghold for the radical Islamist militant group Al Shabaab, killing at least 12 people and leaving more than 20 injured Monday in a failed attempt on the life of a senior official . . . Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud begged international donors for help last week organizing an airlift to supply food to towns captured by African Union peacekeepers in recent months, reports Reuters . . . Al Shabaab is attempting to punish the local populace into accepting their return to power by staging deadly guerilla attacks and cutting off the food supply . . . the Somali government is finding it extremely difficult to pacify the highly unstable country in the face of sustained resistance from Al Shabaab.

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Venezuela: Clashes Erupt as Police Demolish Protest Camps
May 10, 2014

Venezuela’s National Guard arrested over 240 demonstrators while clearing four protest camps in the capital Caracas Thursday . . . at least one police officer was killed and two wounded in the clashes . . . Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said security forces found “drugs, weapons, explosives and mortars” in the raid . . . anti-government demonstrations have destabilized the oil-rich nation for the past three months . . . Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed the violence on “right-wing groups who are bent on chaos and death” and were “the result of a permanent conspiracy against our country” . . . Maduro is lashing out against the demonstrators and the United States as his popularity plummets to record lows . . . with Venezuela’s economy stagnant, the government has embraced the use of force to remain in power . . . the ongoing crackdown on the protestors seems likely to escalate.

RELATED: Latin American Economies Starving on Diet of Anti-US Rhetoric — May 7, 2014

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Middle Eastern Virus Spreads to Greece
April 23, 2014

The World Health Organization announced April 20 Greece had reported its first confirmed case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), the fifth country in Europe to be affected by the disease and the continent’s first incident this year . . . the patient — a 69-year-old man who caught the virus while in Saudi Arabia — is in stable condition . . .the WHO claims there have been a total of 250 confirmed cases and 93 deaths globally since 2012 . . . the recent outbreak of MERS is becoming an international concern, following the new cases in Asia and Europe . . . with more than 50 confirmed cases in the past week and seven deaths, Saudi Arabia seems overwhelmed by the rate at which the disease has been spreading.

***

Vietnam Detains Chinese Migrants Following Deadly Clashes
April 23, 2014

Vietnamese authorities has expelled 11 Chinese migrants and returned the bodies of five others that were killed in a shootout with its security forces on April 18 . . . Vietnam’s border patrol also arrested another 21 Chinese migrants trying to enter the country by sea . . . Radio Free Asia reports prior groups of deportees had been sentenced to life imprisonment by Beijing . . . the migrants are believed to be from China’s Muslim Uighur ethnic group . . . while Vietnam ruled out terrorism as a cause for the violence, Beijing has sought to portray the marginalized Uighurs as dangerous separatists.

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Indonesia: Parliamentary Elections Add Uncertainty to Political Landscape
April 12, 2014

Turnout was high in Indonesia’s legislative elections Wednesday, with 75 percent of the country’s 187 million eligible voters casting their ballots . . . the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the biggest opposition party, took about 19 percent, according to preliminary results . . . opinion polls had found the party — led by Jakarta’s popular governor Joko Widodo — would win closer to 27 percent of the vote . . . the conservative Golkar party — led by business magnate Aburizal Bakrie — came in second with 15 percent while the Gerindra party — represented by former general Prabowo Subianto — placed third with 12 percent . . . the ruling Democratic Party of the nation’s outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) received 10 percent . . . PDI-P had been projected to win around 27 percent of the vote . . . their weak showing complicates the outcome of presidential elections on July 9 for which Widodo is likely to win . . . the parties could be forced to build coalitions behind their preferred candidates as none received the 25 percent of the popular vote needed to nominate their leader . . . meanwhile, Islamist parties performed better than expected in the world’s most populous Muslim nation . . . a disputed presidential election could devastate the country’s rising economy, which the International Monetary Fund projects will grow by 5.4 percent this year and 5.8 percent in 2015.

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Mali: New Government to Struggle With Reconciliation
April 9, 2014

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appointed Moussa Mara the country’s next Prime Minister Sunday following the resignation of his predecessor Oumar Tatam Ly and the entire government . . . Mara previously served as Mali’s Town Planning Minister . . . Ly said he was stepping down because the administration was dysfunctional and incompetent, reports the Associated Press . . . while the country held successful presidential elections last year, Mali appears perilously unstable due to corruption and the lingering threat posed by radical Islamists, which had briefly seized power in the country’s sparsely populated north before being expelled by French troops . . . Keita and Mara have a long way to go before peace is assured.

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Guatemala: President Reveals New Drug Policy Imminent
April 5, 2014

Guatemala’s conservative President Otto Perez Molina told Reuters Wednesday that his Central American nation plans to publish a series of recommendations later this year that could include legalizing marijuana and poppy plantations . . . Perez, a retired Army general, has been calling for the country to reconsider its drug policy since his election in 2012 . . . Uruguay legalized marijuana use last year . . . additional legalization measures in Latin America may deal a serious blow to counternarcotics initiatives across the region . . . the recent move by Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana also appears to have undermined faith in the U.S. government is drawing accusations of hypocrisy from its Latin American partners.

RELATED: US Military Cuts Open Door for Latin American Drug Runners — April 1, 2014

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Slovakia: Presidential Election Deals Blow to Ruling Party
April 2, 2014

Slovakian businessman Andrej Kiska won a dramatic victory in the second round of the country’s presidential elections Sunday against Prime Minister Robert Fico from the ruling center-left Smer Party, according to preliminary results . . . Kiska won 59 percent of the vote to Fico’s 41 percent . . . while the Slovak president plays a limited political role, Fico sought the post to secure his party’s dominance over the nation’s democratic institutions . . . as Slovakia’s first president without a Communist history, Kiska will likely attempt to rein in Smer’s leftist financial policies in order to usher in a return of the country’s “Tatra Tiger” economy.

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US Sending Aircraft to Uganda in Hunt for Warlord
March 26, 2014

The U.S. military deployed four CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport planes as well as two C-130s and two KC-135 tanker refueling airplanes to Uganda late Sunday to assist the African Union’s search for Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) militant group, Reuters reports . . . the number of U.S. Special Operations troops stationed in Uganda were increased to 300 from 100 in order to help the 5,000-strong AU forces bring the LRA to justice . . . the U.S. personnel are not authorized to engage the LRA except in self-defense . . . locating Kony in the neighboring Central African Republic is difficult as the country has been ravaged by bloodshed since a coup in March 2013 . . . the search for the LRA has been complicated by an anti-gay law passed by Uganda in February.

RELATED: African Chaos Is Convenient Cover for Outlaw Joseph Kony — January 6, 2014

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Libya: Prime Minister Removed After N. Korean Tanker Breaks Blockade
March 13, 2014

Libya’s parliament voted to fire the country’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan Tuesday after a North Korean-flagged ship loading crude oil from the rebel-controlled Es Sider port eluded a naval blockade earlier in the day . . . Zeidan had asserted the military was in control of the ship Monday . . . Libyan Defense Minister Abdallah al-Thinni will replace Zeidan as the nation’s interim leader . . . rebels from the eastern Libyan region of Cyrenaica are demanding greater political autonomy in exchange for returning the three ports to the central government . . . Zeidan’s removal seriously complicates oil-rich Libya’s political transition . . . the Eastern separatists will likely grow more confident with the news of the tanker’s escape from the authorities . . . while Zeidan intended to launch a military offensive against the rebel-held ports within days, his ouster will probably delay the operation . . . the ongoing conflict is disrupting the OPEC member ability to sell its crude oil.

RELATED: Libya Seizes N. Korean Tanker, Plans to Retake Rebel Ports — March 11, 2014

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South Africa’s Diplomatic Dispute With Burundi and Rwanda Escalates
March 12, 2014

South Africa expelled a Burundian diplomat Monday and another three Rwandan diplomats on Mar. 7, days after unknown gunmen raided the Johannesburg home of the former Rwandan army chief-turned-dissident Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in a failed assassination attempt, as he was not present at the time . . . in response, Rwanda expelled six South African officials . . . on Dec. 31, ex-Rwandan spy chief Col. Patrick Karegeya was found murdered in a ritzy Johannesburg hotel . . . the deteriorating diplomatic relations between South Africa and the small East African nations comes as Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame seem to be trying to consolidate their power by threatening dissidents . . . killing opposition leaders in exile could exacerbate unresolved ethnic tensions and spark renewed bloodshed and conflict in the region. 

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Al Qaeda Leadership Undergoing Generational Shift
February 22, 2014

Al Qaeda is increasingly embracing younger commanders and fighters, according to a new study by the United Nations Security Council . . . in particular, the report suggests the leadership of some al Qaeda-affiliates — especially Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — is shifting from men in their “late 40s to 70s to younger men in their late 30s and 40s” . . . in addition, the UN asserts “those gaining the most operational experience [are primarily] individuals in their teens through to early 30s” . . . the study also claims al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) recruited fighters as young as 12 years old . . . as al Qaeda grows younger, its network is likely to become more adept at recruitment and may resort to more daring terrorist attacks . . . the newer generation of fighters will likely affect conflicts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for years to come.

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Cyprus Reopens Unification Talks With Disputed Turkish Enclave
February 12, 2014

Cyprus resumed long-delayed unification talks with the Turkish-occupied self-declared state of Northern Cyprus on Tuesday . . . following a failed 1974 coup d’état that tried to bring the island under Greek sovereignty, Turkey invaded the strategic Mediterranean island and seized control over the northern third of the country . . . the last round of negotiations, which began in 2008, collapsed two years ago . . . Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades met with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu in a United Nations-administered buffer zone . . . as the European Union is desperate to reunify the island, Turkey could try to use the issue of Northern Cyprus to improve its chances at EU membership . . . the continued dispute is hindering efforts to exploit vast quantities of natural gas located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus, Israel, and Turkey . . . nonetheless, unification and rebuilding will likely be incredibly expensive for Cyprus, which required a $13.67 billion international bailout last year.

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South Africa: Opposition Merger Threatens Ruling Party Dominance
January 30, 2014

Popular black anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele agreed to join forces with the centrist, predominantly white Democratic Alliance (DA) on Tuesday to challenge the two-decade rule of the left-wing African National Congress (ANC) party of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, who passed away last December . . . Ramphele — a respected academic, business executive, doctor, and a former managing director of the World Bank — will run as the DA’s candidate for president against the incumbent Jacob Zuma . . . the ANC secretary-general blasted the partnership as an attempt by the DA’s leader Helen Zille to “rent-a-black” and “rent-a-leader” ahead of new elections for the National Assembly to be held by the summer . . . while the ANC brand and Zuma have been tainted by corruption, scandals, and infighting over the past year,  the DA and Ramphele face an uphill battle to win over voters disillusioned by the government in the wake of Mandela’s passing . . . the ANC is likely to do whatever it takes to retain power and weaken the opposition.

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Iraq: Sunni Lawmakers Resign Over Rising Violence
January 2, 2014

Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Dec. 31 urged Sunni politicians “to adopt wise stances and not emotional ones,” the Associated Press reports, a day after over 40 Sunni lawmakers announced their resignation from parliament and others threatened to withdraw from the cabinet over clashes in Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province . . . al-Maliki also pledged to withdraw the armed forces from the city and instead “continue operations pursuing al-Qaeda hideouts in the desert of Anbar” . . . the military broke up a Sunni protest camp on Dec. 30 that had been a thorn in the side of the government . . . in addition, the UN announced Jan. 1 that 2013 was the deadliest year for the country since 2008 with 7,818 civilians killed in the sectarian violence . . . the government appears is having considerable difficulty navigating the Sunni-Shia divisions that are plaguing the nation . . . al-Maliki’s efforts to crack down on his political rivals seems to be backfiring and may require the prime minister to tread carefully to avoid further damaging the country’s perilous security situation.

SEE RELATED: Iraq Tense After Forces Arrest Prominent Sunni Leader on Terrorism Charges — December 29, 2013

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2013 (12)

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Samoan Pay-By-Weight Airline Scheme Intrigues Aviation Industry
December 13, 2013
Almost a year after Samoa Air gained headlines for charging its passengers based upon their weight the company’s CEO told Australia’s public broadcaster that the decision was so successful that the airline will upgrade its entire fleet to a “pay-as-you-weigh” system . . . the World Health Organization notes, the tiny Pacific Island microstate borders the United States territory of American Samoa, which has a 94 percent obesity rate — the world’s highest . . . Norwegian economist Bharat P. Bhatta asserts global airlines should adopt similar policies to “achieve greater efficiency, fairness and environmental stability” and notes eliminating 2000 pounds saves $3,000 in fuel a year, according to the International Business Times . . . competition and fuel costs are driving the aviation industry to seek new ways to increase its profit margin so this “pay-by-weight” system could become an attractive option . . . however, these types of extreme cost-cutting changes are unlikely to adopted by the world’s biggest airlines in the near term, as industry profits are projected to hit record highs over the coming year.

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South Africa: Nelson Mandela Dies at 95
December 6, 2013

South Africa’s iconic former leader Nelson Mandela died late Dec. 5 according to the country’s President Jacob Zuma . . . Mandela — the first black South African to assume the presidency — held office from 1994 to 1999 following the end of the country’s discriminatory apartheid political system . . . the 95-year-old activist had been in deteriorating health for the past few months . . . Zuma eulogized Mandela, saying “Our nation has lost his greatest son. Our people have lost their father,” adding, “Wherever we are in the country, wherever we are in the world, let us reaffirm his vision of a society… in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another” . . . Mandela left a rich legacy for racial equality and democracy . . . his death — coupled with numerous corruption scandals — could weaken the legitimacy of his largely unchallenged ruling African National Congress party ahead of elections next year.

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Ukraine Stumbles On European Ties, Looks to Russia In Consolation
November 22, 2013

The Ukrainian government revealed yesterday it was putting highly anticipated free trade and association agreements with the European Union on ice after its parliament refused to support six different bills intended to release imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail so she could travel abroad to receive medical care as had been required by the EU . . . the country’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the country would instead look to revive talks with Russia over a customs union of former Soviet states “with the aim of adopting measures to ensure national security,” according to the Los Angeles Times . . . Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was expected to sign the deals at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit on Nov. 28-29 . . . the EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton lamented the decision, saying, “This is a disappointment not just for the E.U. but, we believe, for the people of Ukraine” . . . however, the New York Times reports Yanukovych issued contradictory statements earlier today, claiming, “Ukraine has been and will continue to pursue the path to European integration,” but acknowledged, “Of course, there are difficulties on the path” . . . Russia had imposed serious trade restrictions over the past few months against several post-Soviet states in a bid to force the countries to reconsider plans to pursue closer ties with the EU . . . the announcement is a huge victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin as Ukraine’s U-turn fits with his dreams of restoring Russia’s influence in the region to levels unseen since the fall of the USSR . . . while Yanukovych could be playing both sides of the fence in an attempt to get the best deal, if he fails to sign a deal with the EU next week then Ukraine’s long-term ambitions for closer European integration may stagnate for the foreseeable future.

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Mexico: Vigilantes Take Back Towns From Gangsters
November 20, 2013

Angry civilians have “liberated” several towns and villages in Mexico’s western state of Michoacan from the control of the Knights Templar drug cartel, the Los Angeles Times reports . . . the “self-defense” brigades first took up arms against organized crime earlier this year after the government was ineffective at securing the region over the past seven years, according to the Associated Press . . . the Mexican government has sanctioned a small handful of the vigilante groups . . . while the military has stepped up its efforts to take on the cartels, the vigilantes seem to be doing a decent job on their own in driving the criminals from their villages . . . the government is likely worried by the rising number of armed civilians . . . rival cartels could try to infiltrate some of the vigilante militias in an attempt to weaken the Knights Cartel in Michoacan.

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Saudi Arabia: Popularity Crashing Across Middle East
October 22, 2013

According to a study released by the PEW Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project last week, “Saudi Arabia’s standing has slipped substantially among key Middle Eastern publics” since 2007 . . . however, the poll found the country’s favorability rating has remained strong in the “other predominately Muslim countries outside of the region” . . . support for the kingdom is highest in Pakistan, Jordan, and Indonesia, which reported 95 percent, 88 percent, and 82 percent favorability, respectively . . . meanwhile, Turkey, Lebanon, and Tunisia are increasingly hostile to Saudi Arabia, with 53 percent, 49 percent, and 45 percent of the population viewing the kingdom in a negative light, respectively . . . in particular, the report claimed support had plummeted 31 percent in Lebanon to just 51 percent, fell 14 percent in Turkey to 26 percent, and crashed 13 percent in both Egypt and the Palestinian Territories, to 78 percent and 52 percent, respectively . . . Saudi Arabia’s waning favorability rating among its Middle Eastern neighbors could have dangerous implications for its foreign policy agenda . . . as the kingdom popularity remains strong among fellow Sunni Muslims, sectarian tensions are likely to have a major effect on Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region.

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Russia: Deadly New Suicide Bombing Raises Stakes For 2014 Olympics
October 22, 2013

Russian authorities said a 30-year-old woman from the volatile North Caucasus province of Dagestan was responsible for carrying out a suicide bombing on a bus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd — formerly known as Stalingrad — yesterday . . . at least six people were killed and 28 others were wounded in the blast, the deadliest terrorist attack outside the restive North Caucasus region in three years . . . law enforcement officials told Reuters that the suspect radicalized her husband, an alleged explosive expert who joined an Islamic separatist group in Dagestan last year . . . the latest bombing raises concerns that Islamist militants are ramping up their terrorist attacks in an effort to disrupt the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are being held next February in Russia’s Black Sea resort city of Sochi . . . the Chechen insurgency in the North Caucasus has a long history of using “black widows” — women whose male relatives were killed by Russian security forces — to conduct suicide bombings. 

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Turkey: Kurds Dismiss Proposed Reforms As “Crumbs”
October 2, 2013

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) rebel group blasted a democratization reform package proposed by the Turkish government yesterday, saying the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of the country’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan “does not understand the Kurdish problem and is not serious in its approach” and explained, “Tossing out a few crumbs to stall [the peace process] shows this government lacks the mentality and capacity for a solution” . . . the Kurdish center-left Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) concurred, adding, “the democratization package does not meet our expectations” . . . on September 30 Erdogan proposed reducing the vote threshold required to enter the legislature from 10 to 5 percent, expanding Kurdish language education, and removing the country’s ban on female headscarves for public servants . . . last month the PKK halted the withdrawal of its fighters from Turkish territory after accusing the government of failing to seriously address the almost 30-year-old conflict

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Morocco: Ruling Islamists Agree to Form New Coalition Government
September 6, 2013

Morocco’s ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) reportedly signed a pact with the opposition National Rally of Independents (RNI) party on Sept. 4, which effectively ends the country’s four-month-old political crisis that ensued after a nationalist party announced its intent to resign from the three-party governing coalition . . . Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane is expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle over the next few days . . . the agreement averts the necessity of new elections and is likely to help restore stability to the country’s political system.

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Kenya: Trial of Deputy President Delayed
May 8, 2013

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on May 6 again postponed the trial of Kenya’s new Deputy President William Ruto, which had first been scheduled to begin in April and later moved to May 28, in order to hold further hearings with the prosecution and the defense . . . the court will decide a new date after holding a status conference on May 14 . . . Ruto and Kenya’s new President Uhuru Kenyatta are accused of committing crimes against humanity for their role in post-election violence in 2007 that left more than 1,200 people dead, charges which both have categorically denied . . . the delay comes as many countries have slowly begun to warm to the Kenyatta government . . . as both Kenyatta and Ruto were democratically elected earlier this year, the ongoing ICC investigation could threaten to reawaken persistent ethnic tensions and lead to renewed unrest in Kenya.

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China: First Aircraft Carrier Plans Maiden High Seas Voyage
April 23, 2013

Beijing announced April 19 that the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, plans to travel on the high seas for the first time by the end of the year . . . although the former Soviet ship was purchased used from Ukrainian, the vessel was refurbished in China and has already conducted more than 100 exercises since being commissioned last year . . . currently stationed at the port of in Qingdao in the Shandong province of eastern China, state media Xinhua added, “all the tests [on the aircraft carrier] have been going smoothly” . . . the government has yet to announce a definitive date or destination for the vessel . . . the pride of the Chinese Navy, the Liaoning’s maiden long distance voyage will likely be set to maximize its impact on the country’s patriotism . . . as the technology associated with the vessel remains unable to challenge those built by the United States, Beijing instead appears to be hoping to use the ship to act as the first step toward achieving its ambitions of becoming a naval power.

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Ireland Strikes Deal to Lower Debt Burden
February 8, 2013

Ireland secured an agreement with the European Central Bank yesterday after 18 months of extensive negotiations that would allow the country to reduce the crippling debt burden Dublin incurred after it received a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund for about $90.5 billion . . . the deal gives Ireland 40 years to repay its debts, which will enable the country to save $27 billion over the next decade . . . the debt restructuring appears to be a positive development for Ireland’s fiscal situation, as it takes some pressure off the country and gives Dublin additional time for the Irish economy to improve.

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China/Cambodia/Laos: Beijing Expanding Influence in Southeast Asia
January 8, 2013

China is looking to boost its presence in Southeast Asia through a series of billion dollar investments in Cambodia and Laos . . . two Chinese companies announced plans last week to spend a combined $11.2 billion to build a 250 mile railroad, a steel plant, and a seaport in Cambodia, the largest investment in the impoverished country’s history . . . meanwhile, 20,000 Chinese workers are heading to Laos to begin construction on a separate $7 billion 250 mile railroad through that country . . . China invested $3.3 billion in Laos in 2012, making it the third-largest foreign investor in the country, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) smallest economy, after Thailand and Vietnam . . . Beijing is aggressively pursuing economic opportunities in Southeast Asia in order to expand its influence with ASEAN via substantial investment in the poorest members.

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2012 (33)

Samoa Devastated by Cyclone Evan
December 21, 2012

Cyclone Evan has battered Samoa over the past week, wreaking havoc and reducing parts of Apia, Samoa’s capitol city, to rubble . . . the International Monetary Fund warned Cyclone Evan could cause significant negative damage to the economy of the Pacific island nation, while the country’s prime minister suggested it will cost Samoa more than $125 million to repair the damage from the cyclone . . . Fiji was also struck by the cyclone but damage was much less than expected . . . Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have pledged millions of dollars in disaster aid to the stricken country . . . Samoa’s economy is unlikely to recover from the devastating impact of Cyclone Evan for the foreseeable future . . . the perilous situation in the country could deteriorate in the face of extensive damage. 

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Colombia Leaves International Court Over Nicaragua Ruling
December 18, 2012

Bogota announced it would withdraw from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) within 12 months following a ruling in November that granted Colombia sovereignty over several disputed islands while giving Nicaragua control over three-quarters of the disputed resource-rich waters of the Caribbean Sea . . . this move prompted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to denounce the court’s decision and call for bilateral talks with Nicaragua instead, citing the “omissions, mistakes, excesses, inconsistencies that we can not accept” . . . the decision to leave the ICJ frees Colombia from the jurisdiction of the court and is likely to prolong and exacerbate the dispute with Nicaragua . . . although the ICJ’s ruling is technically binding, it lacks enforcement power, therefore the impact of Bogota’s withdrawal is primarily a symbolic expression of its displeasure.

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Malaysia: Offshore Oil Find Good News For Kuala Lumpur
November 27, 2012

Swedish Lundin Petroleum [TSX: LUP] announced last week that it had discovered natural gas off the coast of Malaysia at its Tembakau-1 project, the latest in a series of high profile oil and natural gas finds the company has made in the country over the past year . . . according to Ashley Heppenstall, the company’s President and CEO, “We are hopeful this discovery has the potential to be commercial on a stand-alone basis given its close proximity to existing gas infrastructure and the strong demand for gas in Peninsular Malaysia” . . . Tembakau-1 is less than 20 miles away from the nearest oil and gas infrastructure in the country . . . Malaysia has the third largest reserves of oil in the Asia-Pacific region after China and India, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration . . . the recent discoveries could help Malaysia offset rising domestic demand for energy . . .  despite its vast reserves the country will likely have to begin importing natural gas next year for the first time.

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Finland/Estonia: Likely Candidates for Baltic LNG Terminal
November 27, 2012

A study for the European Commission (EC) by consultants Booz & Company that was released November 23 suggests that Finland is the most likely candidate for a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Baltic region; Estonia was also a significant contender . . . the report indicated a terminal in either country would provide the same benefits “both in terms of supply diversification and security of supply” . . . the Baltic states consume about 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year, of which half is taken by Finland . . . the EU is looking to reduce the region’s dependence upon LNG imports from Russia’s Gazprom, which is currently under investigation by the EC for allegedly engaging in monopolistic practices. 

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Singapore Interested in Lockheed F-35 Fighter As Defense Against China
November 13, 2012

Singapore is considering the purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp’s [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to Tom Burbage, the general manager of the company’s F-35 program . . . when asked last week about whether the country plans to place the order, he explained, “Their activity has picked up a little bit and it makes us think that they’re going to become more active” . . . Singapore pledged to contribute about $50 million to the F-35 development effort when it became a security partner in February 2003 . . . China unveiled its second stealth fighter the J-31 in late October . . . Singapore is likely worried about China’s growing military capabilities and is looking to supply itself with a deterrent in order to offset the possibility of aggression from Beijing. 

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China: Consumers Turn to Ford and GM As Dispute With Japan Continues
November 9, 2012

Both Ford [NYSE: F] and General Motors [NYSE: GM] have seen record sales in the world’s largest auto market over the past few months, as sales of their Focus and Cadillac automobiles, respectively, dramatically increased . . . GM plans to invest up to $7 billion in the five years to 2015 on China . . . Toyota’s [NYSE: TM] China sales dropped by 44 percent last month, after experiencing a 49 percent drop in September, while both Honda [NYSE: HMC] and Nissan Motor Co. [TYO: 7201] experienced their worst monthly sales on record in October . . . Chinese consumers are avoiding Japanese companies following the escalating territorial dispute between the two countries, disproportionately benefiting the big American automakers.

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Europe’s Wealthiest Man Flees to Belgium, Monaco to Avoid Hollande’s Proposed 75 Percent Income Tax
September 11, 2012

Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe and the fourth wealthiest in the world, sparked an outcry in France on September 9 after he announced his plans to apply for citizenship from Belgium in the face of French President Francois Hollande’s call for a 75 percent tax on incomes above $1.24 million per year . . . Arnault, whose personal fortunate is estimated by Forbes to be around $41 billion, is the CEO of the French fashion giant LVMH . . . he previously emigrated to the US in 1981 after socialist President Francois Mitterrand took power, only returning after Paris adopted more conservative tax policies . . . in June, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered to “roll out the red carpet and welcome more French businesses to Britain” if the tax increase passes . . . Arnault would likely use his new citizenship to take advantage of the tax-free status that Belgians hold in Monaco, a well-known tax-haven in the French Riviera . . . it is becoming increasingly likely that countries friendly to the super rich like Monaco and Switzerland will benefit as Hollande’s socialist policies drive the wealthy from France, while even Belgium and the UK will become attractive locations for rich Frenchmen likely to flee the oppressive tax rate.

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Tajikistan: Government Blocks YouTube, Foreign News Websites Amid Violence
July 31, 2012

Authorities have blocked access to YouTube and the BBC as well as various other foreign news websites in the aftermath of a military operation in an eastern province of Tajikistan that borders Aghanistan . . . troops were dispatched to capture a former warlord who was believed to be responsible for the death of the country’s regional security chief . . . fierce fighting on July 24 left more than 40 dead, including 12 soldiers . . . following the violence Tajik President Imomali Rahmon offered a ceasefire and amnesty to rebels who surrendered their weapons . . . the poorest country in Central Asia, Tajikistan is especially susceptible to sectarian violence and drug trafficking that spills over the border from Afghanistan . . . blocking YouTube and media sites when unrest flares is a common practice in the region.

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American Defense Contractors Targeting Expansion in Asia-Pacific and Middle East Regions
July 18, 2012

Raytheon’s Chairman and CEO William Swanson reported last week that the company was targeting the growing demand for new fighter jets, helicopters and surveillance equipment from countries in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East regions . . . almost a quarter of the company’s $25 billion in annual sales come from foreign buyers and Raytheon is seeking to grow this amount to 30 percent of annual sales . . . in addition, international sales accounted for 24 percent of Boeing’s defense division revenues in 2011 and are likely to grow to between 25 and 30 percent this year, while Lockheed Martin Corp is also seeking to expand its international sales from 17 percent to 20 percent of the company’s revenue . . . as part of this push, Lockheed Martin also signed a deal with Taiwanese aviation firm Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. on July 11 to assist in Taipei’s $5.85 billion F-16 fighter upgrade project . . . major American defense contractors are seeking to take advantage of this rising international demand for military equipment in order to offset cuts to the defense budgets of the United States and European Union.

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Israel/Italy/San Marino: Israeli Foreign Minister Seeks Deeper Ties To Help Offset Financial Crisis
July 2, 2012

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman began a three-day visit to Italy and San Marino on July 1 to discuss expanding economic ties with the countries . . . Lieberman is meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti and other high ranking officials, as well as San Marino’s heads of state . . . Lieberman also visited the offices of Italian aeronautics company Alenia Aermacchi for a ceremony on July 1 prior to signing a contract for 30 advanced M-346 training jets worth more than $2 billion . . . Jerusalem selected the company to provide the jets in February after the company won the bid over the South Korean Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 . . . Lieberman is the first Israeli minister to visit San Marino, one of the world’s wealthiest countries by per capita GDP and the world’s oldest republic, which is also well known for its banking sector . . . Israel has been deepening its strategic political and economic relationships with southern European countries shaken by the ongoing EU debt crisis . . . the visit to Italy will likely help Israel receive stronger support for its efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program and could also prompt stronger bilateral trade between Israel and the two countries.

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Kenya/Iran: Court Charges Two Iranians Linked to Terror Networks For Illegal Explosives
June 27, 2012

A Kenyan court charged two Iranian nationals on June 25 who were allegedly “armed with intent to commit a felony” and cause “grievous harm” . . . police arrested the pair last week after finding suspicious links between the men and regional terror networks . . . police discovered the men were illegally in possession of around 33 pounds of RDX, a powerful explosive . . . the men denied the charges . . . a grenade attack in a bar in southern Kenya killed three people the day before . . . Kenya is taking the threat of terrorism very seriously, especially due to repeated attacks that are likely carried out by the terrorist organization Al Shabaab in retaliation for its participation in peacekeeping efforts in Somalia . . . Kenya was likely targeted by the Iranians due to its close relationship with Israel and the United States.

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Japan: PM Fires 5 Cabinet Ministers to win Opposition Support for Tax Reforms
June 5, 2012

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda sacked five cabinet ministers on June 4 who had been accused by the opposition of performing poorly . . . Noda replaced the ministers of agriculture, defense, finance, justice, transportation . . . the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s largest opposition party, offered to compromise on some of Noda’s tax reforms if he ensured spending wouldn’t increase . . . the centerpiece of the tax reforms is the proposal to double the sales tax to ten percent by 2015 . . . Japan was downgraded by Fitch last month for not making any tangible progress in coping with its skyrocketing cost of social programs . . . Noda’s decision to reshuffle his cabinet is an attempt to win support for his tax reforms from the LDP . . . Noda knows his political legacy depends on passing tax and welfare reforms that can bring Tokyo’s debt under control.

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Australia Seeks to Repair Ties with Vanuatu Amid China Pacific Push
June 4, 2012

Australia has apologized to Vanuatu on June 3 a few weeks after the Pacific archipelago expelled all of Australia’s police, who allegedly violated diplomatic protocol by impeding the travel of Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman in April . . . Vanuatu’s foreign minister threatened to turn to China for assistance if Australia did not apologize . . . Canberra’s decision to apologize to Vanuatu was intended to outmaneuver Beijing, which had been hoping to exploit the diplomatic spat to expand its influence in the Pacific . . . Japan and Australia have become extremely worried about the growing clout of China throughout the Pacific and have correspondingly increased their efforts to counter Beijing’s rising access to the region.

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Israel/Vanuatu/Samoa: Jerusalem Deepens Ties With Pacific Allies
May 21, 2012

Israel is turning its “Periphery Doctrine” toward small Pacific island nations as it seeks to expand its support globally and offset anti-Israel sentiments . . . last week Samoa’s Prime Minister accepted an invitation to visit Israel later this year . . . the announcement comes shortly after the Vanuatu Prime Minister traveled to Israel earlier this month . . . Jerusalem has been expanding ties with countries in the Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa, and the predominantly Muslim republics of Central Asia . . . the Pacific island states have traditionally been stalwart allies of the United States and Israel . . . Jerusalem recognizes the importance of maintaining their Pacific alliances, especially as Beijing and Moscow turn their attention to the region in a drive to deepen relations with these often neglected countries.

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Nigeria: ConocoPhillips Seeks to Sell Nigerian Assets Amid Instability and Financial Stress
May 14, 2012

ConocoPhillips announced plans to sell off its Nigerian on- and offshore oil and gas fields in deals that could net the company between $1 and 2.5 billion as it looks to sell off between $8 to $10 billion worth of assets over the next 12 months . . . although its onshore blocks are fully functional, Nigeria is facing significant oil theft, with Royal Dutch Shell reporting more than 43,000 barrels of crude per day being stolen out of Nigeria’s major pipelines . . . China’s Sinopec, Indian ONGC, South Korean KNOC, as well as Nigerian local Conoil and Oando are the primary targets for the sale . . . Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer, extracting 2 million barrels per day, but according to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, the country needs $10 billion per year in investments over the next ten years to reach its domestic energy needs . . . despite the recent surge of investments in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, ConocoPhillips is looking to sell its assets in the country in order to raise much needed capital . . . in addition, the instability and lack of security makes operations in the country more tenuous in spite of the significant potential for growth of Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.

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Vanuatu/Australia/China: Rising Hostility Toward Australia to Help China
May 11, 2012

The government of Vanuatu has expelled all Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers in retaliation for the improper treatment of Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman and the arrest of one of his aides two weeks ago . . . Kilman accused Australia of impeding his official visit to Israel and he demanded an apology from Canberra for violating of diplomatic protocol . . . he also compared the assistant’s arrest to kidnapping although his aide is accused of committing international tax fraud . . . Vanuatu’s foreign minister said his country will turn to China, Indonesia, and Israel for assistance after the expulsion of the AFP . . . Vanuatu’s rising hostility toward Australia is likely to be a blow to Canberra’s efforts as a leader in the Pacific . . . Beijing will likely reap the benefits of the recent diplomatic fallout and will likely expand its aggressive investments in the small island nation in order to further its influence in the region.

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Burundi/Rwanda: Police to Cooperate to Stop Crime, Terrorism After Rebel Militant Leader Killed
May 7, 2012

Burundi and Rwanda signed an agreement on May 7 to increase bilateral police cooperation in order to eliminate the threat of emerging cross-border crime and terrorism . . . senior police from Burundi, Somalia, and Sudan are currently being trained by the Eastern African Police body (EAPCO) . . . the agreement comes only days after a Burundi rebel leader responsible for the death of 36 people last year was killed in a shootout with government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo . . . Burundi is a member of the East African Community (EAC) along with Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and has peacekeeping forces operating in Somalia, which exposes the country to Al Shabaab-sponsored terrorism . . . Burundi and Rwanda want to avoid instability and step up the fight against terrorism in the region.

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Armenia: Ruling Coalition Dominates Elections
May 7, 2012

Armenia’s ruling Republican Party (HHK) received more than 44 percent of votes cast in elections held on May 6, while it’s coalition partner, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), received more than 30 percent of the vote . . . voter turnout surpassed 62 percent and there was no reports of violence . . . the results allow Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to solidify his control over the National Assembly . . . continued stability will help enable Sarkisian to focus on Armenia’s economy and energy policy.

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Kuwait: Riot Police Crackdown on Nomadic Protestors
May 4, 2012

Kuwaiti riot police clashed with around 200 nomadic “Bidoon” tribesmen who were protesting for increased rights on May 1 . . . the “Bidoon”, meaning stateless in Arabic, number around 180,000 people living on the margins in Kuwait, the UAE, and Bahrain . . . their lack of citizenship is enforced by strict nationality laws . . . citizens in Kuwait receive generous welfare benefits, which has helped the country avoid “Arab Spring” protests . . . government bickering and corruption is prompting marginalized groups to begin agitating for better treatment.

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Burundi: President Suspends Food Taxes to Reduce Spectre of Instability
May 2, 2012

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would suspend taxes on essential food items from May 15 until December in an attempt to ease growing tensions over the countries skyrocketing cost of living . . . the price of water and electricity has increased by more than 400 percent over the past three months while inflation hit 24.5 percent in March . . . government workers went on strike in late March bringing the government to a standstill in order to protest against the high living costs and special tax loopholes given to top officials . . . Burundi is a member of the East African Community (EAC) along with Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and has peacekeeping forces operating in Somalia . . . the government is desperate to reduce prices to avoid further protests without enacting meaningful reforms . . . renewed instability in Burundi would be a serious blow to the integration efforts of the EAC.

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Burundi: Labor Unions Strike to Protest Skyrocketing Cost of Water and Electricity
March 29, 2012

Government workers joined labor unions to strike on March 27 to protest against the high cost of living in Burundi and the exemption for senior government and military officials from paying the income tax . . . the price of water and electricity has increased by more than 400 percent over the past three months while inflation hit 22 percent in February . . . unions represent more than 70 percent of Burundi government workers . . . Burundi’s unions are likely to increase the frequency of their strikes if the government doesn’t focus on reducing prices and eliminating the tax loopholes for top officials. 

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Comoros: Government Issues First Oil Exploration License
March 29, 2012

Comoros awarded its first oil exploration license to Kenya-based Bahari Resources Ltd. on March 28 after a surge of significant oil discoveries off the eastern coast of Africa . . . the exploration block is adjacent to a Mozambique block operated by Italy’s Eni and Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp . . . Comoros has had around 20 coups since independence in 1975 . . . the Comoros is looking to benefit from the surge of recent oil finds off the eastern coast of Africa . . . oil could help the country overcome its high poverty rate and could help to ease political tensions.

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Indonesia/China: Jakarta Signs $17 Billion in Trade Deals With Beijing
March 29, 2012

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a $17 billion trade deal with Chinese President Hu Jintao after a two-day official visit to Beijing on March 22-23 . . . bilateral trade was $60.5 billion in 2011, a 42 percent increase from 2010 . . . China is Indonesia’s second largest trading partner after Japan . . . Beijing is trying to maximize its relationship with Jakarta due to Indonesia’s rapidly growing economy and membership in both ASEAN and the G20.

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Ethiopia: Walmart In Talks to Enter Ethiopian Market
March 26, 2012

An Ethiopian delegation met with Walmart officials last week to discuss allowing the multinational retailer to establish its stores in the country . . . the negotiations have gained energy after Walmart spent $2.2 billion to acquire a controlling share in the South African chain retail company Massmart Holdings last year . . . the Ethiopian government likely sees Walmart as a more reliable partner in keeping prices low than local retail stores . . . Walmart is looking to expand its international presence into Africa in order to capitalize on the economic growth of the continent.

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Malawi: President Accuses Foreign Donors of Funding Opposition
March 13, 2012

Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika blamed opposition plans to hold protests later this month on foreign donors and urged his supporters in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to “do everything possible to rise up and make sure the demonstrations are thwarted” early last week . . . Mutharika added that he was “tired of being insulted” and that “if donors say this is not democracy, to hell with you” . . . the United Kingdom cut aid to Malawi in 2010 and the International Monetary Fund suspended a $79 million loan program over Mutharika’s economic policies . . . Mutharika is becoming increasingly hostile as protests intensify over the faltering economy . . . the country is likely to see an increase in unrest if Mutharika becomes increasingly dictatorial and refuses to adjust his policies.

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Grenada/Taiwan: New Grenada Budget Increases Dramatically For $55.5 Million in Debts
March 12, 2012

Grenada announced on March 9 that it was increasing its budget by 15.8 percent to pay off its $55.5 million debt, of which $28 million is owed to Taiwan’s Exim Bank . . . Grenada severed its ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 2005 despite having outstanding loans with the Exim Bank of Taiwan . . . Taiwan’s Exim Bank sued in US court and won in 2007 . . . American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, and Virgin Atlantic airlines have been forced to comply with the court order to pay landing fees at the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) directly to an account with Taiwan’s Exim Bank . . . the new $379 million 2012 budget also cut salaries for all government ministers by five percent . . . Grenada has been facing major financial problems in finding ways to pay off its debt and may be faced with closing its airport due to a loss in revenue.

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Colombia/Cuba: Bogota Declines Invite to Havana For Summit of the Americas
March 8, 2012

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Colombia would not be inviting Havana to attend the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Summit of the Americas scheduled next month after meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on March 7 to discuss the controversy . . . the leftist Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) had insisted that Cuba be invited to the summit in defiance of opposition by the United States . . . ALBA was formed in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba . . . Santos’ success in avoiding a regional controversy is likely to help generate additional regional assistance for his country in combatting the terrorist group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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Uganda/China: Beijing Seeks Access to New Uganda Oil Refinery
February 23, 2012

State-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) is in negotiations with Uganda to invest in a new oil refinery along with British Tullow Oil Plc and French Total SA . . . the Ugandan government approved a long delayed $2.9 billion deal between Tullow and CNOCC on February 21 for the oil companies to partner in developing Uganda’s oil fields in the Lake Albert Basin . . . the refinery is expected to produce 200,000 barrels per day and begin operation in 2015 . . . Beijing is looking to expand its access to African oil and gas reserves to help expand its energy portfolio.

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Zimbabwe/South Africa: Mugabe Promises Elections This Year After Threatening to Stop Mediation Efforts
February 21, 2012

Zimbabwe’s 88 year old President Robert Mugabe threatened to expel South African President Jacob Zuma as a regional mediator if his efforts to solve disputes in Mugabe’s coalition government fail to meet his approval . . . Mugabe also swore to “definitely” hold elections this year “with or without a new constitution” . . . Zuma has been working for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to help Zimbabwe have free and fair elections and prevent a repeat of the violence after the 2008 elections . . . prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party has said a new constitution is necessary before holding new elections . . . Mugabe is trying to outmaneuver efforts to avoid constitutional reforms including term and age limits by holding elections early . . . the country could see a political melt-down if Mugabe goes forward with his plan to ignore SADC reforms.

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Hungary: Parliament Votes to Join EU Fiscal Compact
February 21, 2012

The Hungarian parliament agreed to join the European Union fiscal compact after a two-thirds vote by the Fidesz party and Socialist MSZP . . . Budapest agreed to the revised plan two months after the original had been proposed in December . . . the plan is intended to impose fiscal discipline to avoid a repeat of the current debt crisis in Greece . . . the revisions made the agreement noncompulsory for non-euro-zone members such as Hungary and dropped a section of the plan that would have mandated tax harmonization throughout the EU . . . ratification of the fiscal compact brings Hungary closer to getting EU and IMF support for possible financial backing . . . Hungary is slowly making compromises with the EU over its new constitution, which has faced criticism for restricting.

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Uganda: Reintroduced Anti-Gay Bill Will Likely Prompt International Outcry
February 8, 2012

Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati reintroduced a bill on February 7 that would punish homosexuals with life in prison . . . the bill was first introduced in 2009 and initially contained a clause that instituted the death penalty on homosexuals before being temporarily shelved in 2011 . . . Sweden and the United Kingdom have threatened to cut foreign aid to Uganda if the bill passes, while Canada and the United States fiercely criticized of the legislation . . . homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda . . . the bill penalizes anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” and any individuals who knowingly rent property to a homosexual to seven years in prison . . . it would also criminalize public discussion of homosexuality . . . Uganda looks to lose a significant amount of foreign aid if the bill is passed . . . nevertheless many Ugandan lawmakers support instituting harsher punishments for homosexuality.

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Singapore/Burma: Singapore to Help Burma Enact Economic Reforms
February 3, 2012

Burmese President Thein Sein visited Singapore on a four-day official trip earlier this week . . . he met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong along with business leaders and top financial ministers . . . their finance ministers signed an agreement in which Singapore will train Burmese officials in modernizing its legal, banking and financial sectors . . . Singapore and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) repeated a call for the international community to end sanctions on Burma this week . . . Singapore sees this agreement as an opportunity to help Burma make additional reforms . . . Burma is hoping that this deal could help it establish a stock exchange soon . . . the training could help prepare the country for the anticipated flood of investment and tourism that will probably ensue if elections in April are deemed “free and fair” by international observers . . . legitimate elections will likely prompt a major reduction and elimination of the various sanctions against Burma.

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Kyrgyzstan: Energy Crisis Leaves Country On Brink Of Disaster
February 2, 2012

Record low temperatures and a failing Soviet-era electrical grid is causing massive and repeated power failures . . . Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek is having around 40 power failures a day, according to the Deputy Minister of Energy and Industry Avtandil Kalmanbetov . . . Kyrygzstan’s largest energy distributor Severelectro announced plans to begin rolling blackouts to prevent its electricity distribution networks from overloading . . . repairing the grid will cost $2.1 billion over a period of five to 10 years, according to a 2011-USAID report . . . the outages have prompted protests against Kyrgyzstan’s new parliamentary democracy, which took office last November after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed in April 2010 . . . the power outages had played a major part in the protests that led to Bakiyev’s removal . . . more than a third of the energy produced by Kyrgyzstan’s hydroelectric plants travels on a power line through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before re-entering Kyrgyzstan . . . a dispute between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan over power usage has both countries threatening to withdraw from the Central Asian Unified Energy Grid . . . Kyrgyzstan will likely see a significant energy collapse if Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan leave the energy grid, which would have major repercussions on Kyrgyz politics . . . if the power grid is not fixed quickly then China or Russia will likely move to try to fill the void, as Moscow views the region as within its sphere of influence and Beijing is increasingly looking to Central Asia for access to its substantial supplies of energy resources.

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