April 26, 2009

Pakistani military pushes back against Taliban

The Pakistani military began an offensive against the Taliban militants near the Swat Valley on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pakistan's military said that one soldier and several militants had been killed in the fighting in the Lower Dir district, the Journal reported. Militants had ambushed police on Sunday, provoking a violent response from the Pakistani military.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the government has not broken the peace deal established in February with the Taliban in the Swat Valley, Al Jazeera reported.

The fighting came one day after the Taliban withdrew from the Buner district that they had entered last week, the Journal reported.

On a related note, the government removed administrator Syed Mohammed Javed from his responsibilities in the Malakand region that includes Swat, Buner and Dir, because of his suspected meetings with top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, the Journal reported. Javed had been a key architect of the negotiated peace deal several weeks ago. Officials complained that Javed had appeased the Taliban too much, allowing them to increase their influence outside of the region of agreement.

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus said that the Taliban and other militants are the greatest threat to the existence of Pakistan, Al Jazeera reported.

April 24, 2009

Flu Outbreak Becomes a concern in Mexico City

Mexico City closed schools on Friday in an effort to prevent further spread of a swine flu virus that is suspected to have killed 60 people near the capital and infected more than 900, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

The first citywide school closure since the 1985 earthquake kept 6.1 millions students at home, the Chronicle reported.

The news raised concerns worldwide of a possible influenza pandemic, as the World Health Organization activated its pandemic response center, the Australian reported via Agence France-Presse.

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Cordova said that the swine virus was responsible for at least 16 of the deaths, and the government was still researching the other 44 cases, the Chronicle reported.

The Mexican government plans to administer 500,000 vaccines to health workers, but does not have enough vaccines for the general public the Chronicle reported.

Officials had not yet determined how seven recent cases of influenza in the southern United States might have been related to the strain found in Mexico, the Australian reported.

Five people in California and two people in Texas recovered from a virus that included avian, swine, and human strains, the New York Times reported. Contact among some of them suggested that the virus could be transmitted between humans.

April 19, 2009

Zimbabwe Independence Day marked by unity

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai came together for a celebration of the country's Independence Day at the stadium in the capital city Harare, the Star Online reported via Reuters.

After a coalition government was formed in February, the first unified celebration took place on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

Mugabe gave a speech calling for tolerance and reconciliation, the Star reported. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have pledged to work together to address the host of issues that face nation.

Many major Western donors, including the United States, currently have targeted sanctions on the government, but Mugabe called for those to end, the Chronicle reported.

The United States has lifted a travel advisory against the country, the Chronicle reported.

Unemployment in Zimbabwe is around 90 percent, the Star reported, and about two-thirds of the population are receiving international food aid, the Chronicle reported.

Local currency had become enormously inflated, prompting the Finance Ministry to establish only hard national currencies, the Chronicle reported.

The government is currently seeking $2 billion in emergency aid, the Star reported.

April 18, 2009

Obama friendly at Summit of the Americas

President Barack Obama was amiable in his first Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

The Globe and Mail said the Summit has been the scene of "Obama-mania."

The President mentioned ideas for new security and other cooperation efforts in the Western Hemisphere, the Chronicle reported.

Perhaps most notably, Obama shook the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez multiple times on Friday and Saturday, and also received a book from the leader who was at odds with the Bush administration, the Chronicle reported.

The book, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" by Eduardo Galeano, argues that Latin America has long been exploited by the United States and Europe, the Globe and Mail reported.

Ambassador exchange seems to be on the table for the United States and Venezuela, the Chronicle reported.

Obama said he would accept Cuban President Raul Castro's proposal for talks, the Chronicle reported.

The President also shook hands with Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, who had essentially been an adversary of President Reagan, the Chronicle reported.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the country has not yet experienced any change, the Globe and Mail reported.

April 8, 2009

Arab world reacts to Obama's first regional visit

The first impression of President Barack Obama for people in many Arab countries is that he appears to deeply contrast former President George W. Bush.

After Obama said to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday that the United States “is not and never will be in a war with Islam,” he drew praise from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Australian reported via Agence France-Presse. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed Obama has broken from the "arrogance" of past U.S. presidents.

Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi of Saudi Arabia, who is on the government committee that rehabilitates militants away from extremism, said that Obama behavior makes it less likely for young Muslims to join terrorist groups, reported.

In Beirut on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said he believed Obama's comments in Turkey earlier this week were sincere, the Star reported via Reuters. While he acknowledged optimism about Obama's difference from Bush - who he said did not have an open attitude with the Muslim world - Fadlallah said that the true test for Obama will be whether he can implement a policy in the face of institutions beyond his control.

The leading concern among Muslims in the Middle East is the U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reported. Abul Gheit and Fadlallah pointed to the situation as among the most pressing issues in the region. Fadlallah and Gaddafi were also clear that Obama's actions will still need to back up his words regarding engagement with the Arab world.

Attack followed by promise of two bombings per week from Taliban

A suicide bombing that killed 22 people in an Islamabad mosque last Sunday was followed by a threat of more bombings from the Pakistani Taliban, The Associated Press reported.

Hakimullah Mehsud, the deputy of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, said last weekend that there would be two suicide bombings each week if the United States does not stop its missile strikes in Pakistan, the AP reported.

Channel 4 News reported on Wednesday that the Taliban, which already has moved forces into, is threatening to take the war to Islamabad.

A senior Pakistani police officer said that 20 vehicles carrying Taliban entered the Buner district, an area about 60 miles from the capital city, on Monday, Channel 4 News reported. Violence on Tuesday resulted in 13 deaths in the area.

Responsibility for Sunday's attack was claimed by Umar Farooq, who said he spoke for Fedayeen al-Islam, which is believed to have ties to the Taliban, the AP reported.

Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, are in Pakistan this week to discuss security issues, Channel 4 News reported.

April 4, 2009

North Korea delivers threats ahead of satellite launch

North Korea issued a statement on Thursday saying that it would attack Japan if it shoots down the satellite North Korea has scheduled for launch in coming days, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Japan had ordered that anti-missile systems destroy debris that would fall on Japan from a failed launch, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that North Korea has 200 missiles capable of striking Japan.

North Korea has said that the launch scheduled for some time April 4-8 is part of developing a peaceful space program, the Taipei Times reported.

The United States, Japan, and South Korea suspect that North Korea will actually be testing a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, the Taipei Times reported.

U.S. officials said that satellite photos reveal that North Korea has indeed mounted a satellite on the rocket, the Taipei Times reported.

Japanese ambassador to the United Nations Yukio Takasu said that Japan would request action by the Security Council if North Korea chooses to launch the rocket, as Japan and its allies claim that North Korea's action would violate a U.N. resolution, the Times of India reported.

North Korea had previously threatened to shoot down U.S. spy planes near the launch site, the Taipei Times reported.

March 26, 2009

Pentagon reports unease over China's military

Concerns about China's military development highlighted the annual Defense Department report on China's military power, which was issued on Wednesday, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The report expressed concern about the lack of transparency regarding China's intentions for its growing military power, the Boston Globe reported.

Pentagon press secretary said the report was a call for stronger high-level relations with the Chinese, which were suspended last October, the International Herald Tribune reported. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the report distorted the facts about China's People's Liberation Army.

The report also indicated an increase in the number of Chinese missiles opposite Taiwan, USA Today reported.

Earlier this month, there was a small incident between naval ships of China and the United States in the South China Sea, the Boston Globe reported.

While pointing out that China had the capacity to engage in short, intense conflicts along its borders, the report estimated that the PLA would be unable to sustain conflicts far from their border for several years, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The report did acknowledge that the PLA had contributed to international efforts of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.

March 24, 2009

Czech Parliament Vote: No Confidence in Prime Minister

The Parliament of the Czech Republic on Tuesday passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and his cabinet, the International Herald Tribune reported.

The lower house of the Parliament voted 101-96 against the government, the first time that the government has collapsed since the 1993 split from Czechoslovakia, reported.

The vote came in the middle of the Czech Repulic's six-month term in the rotating presidency of the European Union, and shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Prague, reported.

Topolanek said he will resign, although he will not be required to do so by the Czech Constitution until the E.U. presidency has been fulfilled, the Tribune reported.

The E.U. executive said it is confident in the Czech Republic fulfilling its presidential term, reported.

It is now up to President Vaclav Klaus to appoint a new prime minister and cabinet that meet the approval of Parliament, reported. General elections are not required unless three attempts fail to form a government.

Former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said the government failed to handle the economic crisis, and suggested that nonpartisan experts take over in June and carry out early elections within the next several months, reported. The next elections are scheduled for 2010.

March 13, 2009

Switzerland changes tax evasion rules

Switzerland will alter its tradition of bank secrecy, after an announcement on Friday that it will cooperate with investigations of tax evasion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Along with Austria and Luxembourg, Switzerland announced its cooperation with international investigations of tax evasion, after increased pressure to do so from other countries, including the United States, USA Today reported.

Swiss President and Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz said the country would only disclose information in cases where investigators present substantial evidence, the Journal reported.

Swiss authorities have provided the United States with information on 300 suspected tax evaders, but has withheld requested information about 50,000 other account holders, USA Today reported.

Switzerland plans to negotiate treaties with other countries, to adopt guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Journal reported.

Last week, the OECD prepared a list of uncooperative tax havens that included Switzerland, and planned to present it to the Group of 20 summit next month, the Journal reported.

Switzerland adopted bank secrecy laws in 1934, and now holds an estimated $2 trillion of foreign money, USA Today reported.

March 8, 2009

Obama suggests outreach to Taliban, Karzai agrees

President Barack Obama said in an interview with the New York Times on Friday that it could be worthwhile to reach out to some moderate elements of the Taliban as part of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, the Times reported.

Obama said that there could be "comparable opportunities" to the efforts in Iraq to reach out to some militant groups alienated by Al-Qaida, the Times reported.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday that he the idea is "good news," and that identifying and reconciling with moderate parts of the Taliban has been the position of the Afghan government, the Star Tribune reported via The Associated Press.

Karzai said that some of the Taliban are beyond reconciliation. But he said that those who are fearful of returning to their country, or feel they are forced to stay with the Taliban, are welcome to reconciliation, the Star Tribune reported.

While Obama said that "troops are doing an extraordinary job in a difficult situation," he said the United States is not winning the war in Afghanistan, acknowledging that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is complex, the Times reported.

Pope will visit Holy Land in May, has been invited to Iraq

Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday that he will travel to the Holy Land in May for the first papal visit to the region since 2000, the News & Observer reported via The Associated Press.

As part of his trip, he said he will be praying for "the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all of humanity," the News & Observer reported.

The Australian reported that Benedict has also been invited to Iraq by President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to a papal envoy to Jordan.

Benedict will visit Jordan, Israel, and Palestine during a pilgrimage May 8-15. He is planning to travel to Africa March 17-23, the News & Observer reported.

Benedict's pilgrimage, which will be the second official papal visit to Israel and his first, will include a visit of the largest mosque in Jordan, Masses in Jordan and Nazareth, and a visit to a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the News & Observer reported.

In Jordan, he is also expected to meet with leaders of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church, the country's largest Christian denomination, the Australian reported.

Benedict's trip to Africa will include visits to Cameroon and Angola, and meetings with Catholic bishops and Muslim representatives, the News & Observer reported.

February 27, 2009

Obama plans to end combat in Iraq by Aug. 2010

President Barack Obama announced on Friday his plan to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq within 18 months, the Star reported.

Obama told 2,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that combat operations would end by August 31, 2010, with many troops being withdrawn from Iraq, where 4,250 U.S. soldiers have died, the International Herald Tribune reported.

He said he plans to leave 30,000 to 50,000 in Iraq until the end of 2011, the Mail Online reported. Their purpose would be to train and equip the Iraqi army, protect civilian reconstruction projects, and conduct counter-terrorism operations.

While following through on a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, Obama had also ordered 17,000 troops to Afghanistan last week, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama's plan for involvement in Iraq spurred criticism from many Republicans. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, however, said he believes the plan is reasonable and plans to support it, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama said his administration would pursue regional diplomacy in the Middle East, including with Iran and Syria, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Obama shared his plans with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and with former President George W. Bush, before his address in Camp Lejeune, the Star reported.

February 23, 2009

International Criminal Court to decide Sudanese president's case March 4

International Criminal Court judges announced Monday that they will decide on March 4 whether to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, USA Today reported via the Associated Press.

The decision will concern the July 14, 2008, application for an arrest warrant against Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, and the statement of the ICC noted that there had been rumors about the date and outcome of the decision.

Prosecutors have filed 10 charges against al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide and crimes against humanity, USA Today reported.

Al-Bashir could become the first sitting head of state for whom an arrest warrant had been issued by the ICC, which has operated since 2002, USA Today reported.

The Sudanese undersecretary for foreign affairs said that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Sudanese citizens, and that the country's judiciary is capable of handling all such matters, USA Today reported.

Sudan is currenlty in peace talks with one Darfur rebel group over the war that began in 2003, and, according to U.N. officials, has seen the death of up to 300,000 people, and the displacement of 2.7 million others, USA Today reported.

There was fear that a decision could lead to more violence, but the undersecretary said the government would continue to pursue peace throughout the country, USA Today reported.

February 20, 2009

North Korea claims to be ready for war with South

North Korea is prepared for an "all-out confrontation," as released by the Korean Central News Agency Thursday, the Manila Times reported.

The statement by a spokesman of the Army General Staff came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to arrive in Seoul to meet with South Korean officials, the Statesman reported.

After repeated threats against South Korea in recent weeks, North Korea is thought to be preparing for a long-range missile launch in a matter of weeks. The missile, which is suspected to be able to reach as far as Alaska, would likely be the same one that was tested in 2006, the Star Online reported via Reuters.

South Korea's defense minister said that there may be a naval confrontation in a disputed area of the Yellow Sea. The previous agreement over the area was among multiple agreements that North Korea chose to discard last month, the Manila Times reported.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is unpopular in North Korea because he has put restrictions on aid to the North since taking office last year, the Star Online reported.

North Korea may also be concerned about military drills that South Korea and the United States plan to conduct in mid-March, the Manila Times reported.

February 16, 2009

Venezuela erases presidential term limits

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will be eligible to run for more terms of office, as determined by the passing of a referendum Sunday that overturned the two-term limit for the presidency, the Times Online reported.

Chávez, who first won election in 1998, will not have to step away from re-election in 2012, as decided by the 54 percent support for the amendment, the Australian reported via Reuters.

Chávez failed in his 2007 efforts to amend the constitution, but the referendum passed by a wider margin than expected, the Australian reported.

He said he will need 10 more years to complete the revolution he has promoted, the Times Online reported.

Opponents of Chávez claim that he seeks to emulate the lifetime rule of Cuba's Fidel Castro. They claimed that the campaign for the referendum was illegally funded, and suspected electoral fraud, the Times Online reported.

Chávez claimed that his opponents were attempting to override the will of the people. He had also said that a vote against the referendum went in the direciton of violence and chaos, the Times Online reported.

February 15, 2009

Cease-fire in Pakistan

The Taliban in the Swat valley of Pakistan agreed Sunday to a 10-day cease-fire with the Pakistani army after over a year of fighting, BBC News reported.

Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad, who was released by the government just last year, had been in negotiations with the government of the Northwest Frontier Province, BBC News reported.

The agreement will include the implementation of Shariah, Islamic law, in the region. One component is that Islamic experts will join judges in carrying out decisions consistent with Shariah, the Globe and Mail reported.

President Asif Zardari expressed concern in an interview with CBS about the influence of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Globe and Mail reported.

One Pakistani analyst claimed the cease-fire was a "surrender," another interpreted it as indication of the country's failed legal system. But officials in the Northwest Frontier Province said the agreement is necessary for improvement of conditions in the region, the Globe and Mail reported.

Swat had formerly been a major tourist destination, BBC News reported.

A formal announcement of the agreement is expected Monday, the Globe and Mail reported.

February 10, 2009

Dalai Lama becomes honorary citizen of Rome

The Dalai Lama became an honorary citizen of Rome during a ceremony with the mayor on Monday, but China expressed disapproval a day later, VOA News reported.

The Tibetan spiritual leader received honorary citizenship in a ceremony with Mayor Gianni Alemanno and the city council. The mayor said the honor acknowledged the Dalai Lama's efforts for peace and human rights, VOA News reported.

The Dalai Lama stated his commitment to promotion of the individual, inter-religious dialogue, and resolving the situation in Tibet, VOA News reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that Italian relations with the Chinese could be negatively impacted if they are unresponsive to Rome's decision, The Australian reported.

A statement by the Italian Foreign Ministry said that Italian mayors are independent of the national government, and that Italy supports a united China, RIA Novosti reported.

Rome's city council had approved the idea last September, the Australian reported.

As he continues his trip through Europe, the Dalai Lama will also receive honorary citizenship in Venice, VOA News reported.

February 7, 2009

Turkish Prosecutor opens Investigation of Israeli Actions

In response to a complaint by a human rights organization, a Turkish prosecutor will open an investigation into Israel's recent attacks on Gaza, Arab News reported via Reuters.

The human rights organization Mazlum-Der filed a complaint against 19 Israeli officials - including Israel's prime minister, president, foreign minister, and defense minister - for crimes in connection with the 22-day offensive in Gaza that killed 1,300 Palestinians and wounded 5,400, Middle East Online reported.

The Ankara chief prosecutor's office will investigate whether there should be a prosecution for genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity, News 24 reported via the Associated Press.

Prosecutors are required to assess the need for full investigation when an official complaint is filed. Turkish law also allows for trials of such crimes, even if they were not committed in Turkey, Middle East online reported.

February 1, 2009

Iraq Holds Elections

Provincial elections were held in Iraq for the first time in four years Saturday, with few violent incidents.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces had implemented major security measures for the election, including thorough screenings at polling entrances, reported the Associated Press.

Provinical council elections were held in all but four of the 18 Iraqi provinces, reported Al Jazeera. The councils nominate governors and finance public projects.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will be seeking re-election later this year, said that Saturday's elections were an important step for the country and an evaluation of its progress.

The Times Online reported that 15 million Iraqis, just over half of the population were registered to vote. Sunnis had boycotted the elections four years ago, but had a substantial turnout Saturday.

The Associated Press reported that, in some areas, there were voters claiming that they were omitted from the voting registries.

Leading up to the election, there were a few concerns about candidates and political parties buying votes, reported Al Jazeera. Five to eight candidates had been killed leading up to the election.

Results are not expected until Tuesday.

January 28, 2009

World Economic Forum hears from Russia, China

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier H.E. Wen Jiabao shared their perspectives on the global economic crisis in speeches Wednesday at the first annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Both men admitted that the impact of the crisis on their respective countries, but stressed the importance of addressing the causes of the current economic climate, while also calling for reform of the international financial system.

"In order to prevent chaos and unpredictability, is very important that we reassess the role of leading international organizations and institutions," Putin said in his address. "We need to improve the system of international relations, making it more effective, safe, and stable."

The Times Online reported that Putin expressed concern about state financial involvement in the national and global economies, recalling the failure of the Soviet Union under a similar strategy.

In his speech, Putin also criticized the idea that increased military spending could be among the solutions of the economic crisis. He discussed Russia's role as contributing to global food and energy situations. He also explained his hope for improvement of educational opportunities in Russia.

Wen's speech conveyed confidence in China's ability to face the global economic crisis, reported the International Herald Tribune.

The confidence among the Chinese, he said in his speech, is due to stability in their economic fundamentals, long-term trend of development, and the external environment.

Wen also proposed significant assistance to developing countries, as well as direct action on global challenges, including terrorism, climate change, diseases, and security of food and resources.

Putin and Wen each suggested that the crisis was an opportunity for global cooperation

"This crisis can and must be pooling our intellectual, moral, and material resources," said Putin. "Trust and solidarity are key to overcoming the current problems."

"The financial crisis is a test of the readiness of the international community to enhance cooperation, and a test of our wisdom," said Wen. "Only with closer cooperation and mutual help, can we successfully manage the crisis."