Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's new chief, might lack the charisma and presence of his predecessor, but that hasn't stopped him from communicating prolifically over the years, rallying followers to attack Western interests, condemning France's banning of the hijab, and praising recent protests in the Arab world. Below are some of his major statements over the years.
Forming al Qaeda (Feb. 1998)
In a faxed statement to a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri announced the formation of their new group, al Qaeda, intent on waging war against the United States and its allies -- and for the first time called for the killing of American civilians. The founding document for the new group (a coalition of Islamist organizations, including Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad) said: "To kill the Americans and their allies--civilian and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in nay country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Asqua Mosque and the holy mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
Telling Iran to shut up with their 9/11 conspiracies (April 2008)
In an audio interview, Zawahiri lashed out at Iran and Hezbollah for propagating the conspiracy theory that Israel -- not al Qaeda -- was really behind the Sept. 11 attacks. He accused Iran and its proxy of trying to discredit al Qaeda by diminishing its signature success. Shiite Iran has long been one of Zawahiri's biggest targets, rhetorically at least. In response to a question about the theory that Israel was really behind the attacks, Zawahiri said, "The purpose of this lie is clear-- [to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no one else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it ... Iran's aim here is also clear--to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Sparking a debate about female jihadists (April 2008)
In that same interview, Zawahiri set off an emotional debate in jihadi circles with his insistence that al Qaeda does not allow women to fight and that a woman's role is limited to caring for the home and children of male fighters. His comment angered some female al Qaeda sympathizers.
"How many times have I wished I were a man," wrote one woman in a jihadi chat room, according to the Associated Press. " When Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri said there are no women in al Qaeda, he saddened and hurt me ... I felt that my heart was about to explode in my chest. I am powerless."
Zawahiri's comment showed he was a bit out of touch with reality in the Middle East. At the time, women were asserting a stronger role in fighting American and other forces. In Iraq alone, there had been at least 20 female suicide bombers since the start of the American war there.
Zawahiri's first wife was killed by an American airstrike in Kandahar in 2001, which might account for some of his views on the topic.
Congratulations, Mr. President (Nov. 2008)
Newly elected Barack Obama got a special shout out from the al Qaeda No. 2, who called him a "house negro." "It is true about you and people like you...what Malcom X said about the house negroes," he said in audio message posted online, lumping Obama in with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Zawahiri also taunted Obama about increasing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. "Beware that the [stray] dogs of Afghanistan have savored the taste of your soldiers' flesh, so do send them in thousands."
Voicing support (sort of) for the Arab Spring (April 2011)
Al Qaeda's standing as the vanguard force against the corrupt regimes of the Middle East was undoubtedly diminished by the Arab Spring this year. And Zawahiri's often rambling, unfocused statements on the protests didn't help. In April, he lashed out at both the NATO troops bombing Qaddafi's infrastructure and Qaddafi himself. "I want to say to our Muslim brothers in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and the rest of the Muslim countries, that if the Americans and the NATO forces enter Libya, then their neighbors in Egypt and Tunisia and Algeria and the rest of the Muslim countries should rise up and fight both the mercenaries of Qaddafi and the rest of the NATO."
According to Juan Zarate, former deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism under President George W. Bush, his statements on the Arab Spring make clear that under Zawahiri's leadership, al Qaeda's goal will still be targeting the "far enemy."
Bin Laden's eulogy (June 2011)
Zawahiri paid tribute to bin Laden in a YouTube video. He praised him as a "hero of the first battle line," and a "man who said no to America." He also warned of a major new attack against the United States.
Some analysts found it curious that he made no reference as to who would take the reins of al Qaeda. Zarate speculated that the delay in his naming was partly due to real questions within the organization about whether he was the right man for the job. As analyst Leah Farrall pointed out, there are several second generation al Qaeda figures who have more charisma and appeal than Zawahiri.
A disturbing new film from Britain's Channel 4 is making waves in the U.K. and overseas, with video of executions and other war crimes committed during the final five months of Sri Lanka's 25 year civil war. The army ultimately defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers in May, 2009-- but not before an estimated 100,000 people were killed.
Channel 4 said some of the footage has never been seen before and took two years to put together and authenticate.
One of the most graphic parts shows three prisoners who are on their knees, bound and blindfolded, while government soldiers stand over them. One soldier is heard saying, "Is there no one with balls to kill a terrorist?"
"Of course there is, shut up," another soldier says.
Then all three prisoners are shot.
There's another clip where a soldier laughs after a bound prisoner is gunned down at close range. "It's like he saw," the soldier says, referring to the executed man. "He looked, then he looked away."
The videos were taken by government troops on their mobile phones as "grotesque war trophies," according to Channel 4.
There's also footage of a hospital in a rebel-held area that was shelled by government troops over a period of days. A witness interviewed in the film said the hospital was "targeted" and that 10-15 people were killed in the assault.
But it's not just the government's troops that are shown committing atrocities. The film includes video of Tamil Tigers firing at civilians trying to escape the conflict zone.
According to the BBC, the British Foreign Office called the film's content "horrific" and said it would pressure Sri Lanka to investigate. Don't hold your breath. The government's response to the film? They called the footage fake and "malicious."
Judge for yourself. The full 50-minute film can be watched here.
Pakistan rounded up five informants who provided information to the C.I.A. that helped lead to the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, according to the New York Times. The arrests, which reportedly include a Pakistani Army major who copied the license plates of cars visiting the compound, highlight once again how strained the relationship is between Washington and Islamabad. As Pakistan's powerful Inter-Service Intelligence directorate (ISI) was able to uncover and arrest the alleged C.I.A. informants very soon after the killing, one might wonder what they could do if they put as much energy into locating some of the world's other most wanted people believed to be hiding out in the country.
Here are a few bad guys who remain at large.
The man believed to be behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 is a shadowy figure with ties to militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and reportedly to the ISI, though they deny it. He directed the Mumbai operation as it was happening and can be heard on recorded phone conversations instructing the terrorists on the ground where to go, whom to kill, and when to go out in a storm of bullets. He also recruited the American David Headley to act as a scout for the group.
Bin Laden's longtime deputy, the Egyptian-born doctor is one of America's prime targets in Pakistan. Since bin Laden's death, the United States has upped the pressure on the Pakistani government, military and ISI to provide more information on his whereabouts, according to reports.
The current leader of the powerful Haqqani network sends weapons, recruits, and supplies to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The group is closely allied to the Taliban. Some analysts say it works as a proxy force used by the ISI, elements of which are accused of providing financial and operational support for their attacks in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most mysterious fugitive in Pakistan, Iqbal is an officer in the ISI who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks, according to testimony from David Headley, who claimed that he provided money and helped choose targets. He's named as Headley's ISI handler in a Justice Department indictment. But very little is known about him--including his real identity and how high up in the ISI he was.
In 2009, Forbes Magazine named. Ibrahim the 50th most powerful person in the world. The head of the Mumbai-based crime syndicate D-Company, he is also India's most wanted man, believed to be involved in everything from drug and weapons trafficking to terrorism (he's suspected of organizing attacks in Bombay in 1993 that killed 257 people and the U.S. says he has links to al Qaeda). He's reportedly hiding out in Pakistan, using plastic surgery to help avoid detection--as well as his connections in the ISI.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for al Qaeda. Since the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the terror network has suffered additional losses that analysts say are taking a heavy toll on the group.
Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month (though al Qaeda hasn't confirmed his death, reports of which have been incorrect before). And last week, an al Qaeda leader in East Africa -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed -- was killed by Somali forces in Mogadishu. Mohammed was the most wanted man in Africa.
Analysts and U.S. officials say the deaths have created a power vacuum.
"The organization is in a great deal of turmoil," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy. "It's trying to sort itself out with what's going on."
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said Kashmiri and Mohammed were key operational figures, not easily replaced due to their long pedigrees of planning and executing attacks.
"They are especially important because they would have been looked on to plan and implement any acts of retribution [for bin Laden's death] from al Qaeda," he said. "Their killings knock them seriously off balance."
Of course, al Qaeda is well-known for its ability to replenish its ranks. Analysts like Hoffman and Evan Kohlmann, who has consulted with the U.S. government, see a few key names potentially emerging to fill the void.
1. Saif al-Adel
Born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963, according to the FBI. Currently believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region.
Al-Adel was reportedly named the interim chief of Al Qaeda after bin Laden's death. After the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was eventually put under house arrest. In 2008, Iran swapped him for a diplomat taken captive by al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Signature attacks: Has played a hand in many al Qaeda attacks, allegedly dispatching Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and aiding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.
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Last week we listed some items that are growing in popularity among China's increasingly wealthy middle class, along with some of the impacts of these recent obsessions, including jade. One major consequence not included in the list is the fact that China's passion for jade has been criticized by both human rights groups and the U.S. government for financing Burma's military dictatorship.
Brian Leber, a Chicago-based jeweler involved in efforts for an industry-wide boycott of jewels from Burma, wrote in to remind us that the Southeast Asian country is not only home to one of the world's most repressive regimes, it also has millions of kilograms of jadeite -- the most expensive and most sought after jade in China.
U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar that specifically targeted the military junta's trade of jadeite have apparently done little to quell the Chinese appetite for the fine gem: According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, jadeite from Myanmar has, unlike other gems, continued to be "primarily purchased, processed, and consumed by China."
Despite the fact that she has apparently been given authorization to vote in Burma's upcoming presidential election, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she's not planning on participating:
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) had already decided to disband to avoid having to expel Ms Suu Kyi and other detainees under strict electoral laws.
Our South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says her decision not to vote may further encourage other NLD supporters to follow her lead, come election day.
That in turn will infuriate the current military leadership, she says.
"The NLD will not compete so she (Suu Kyi) said she has no party to vote for even if she is allowed to vote. As the NLD is not participating in the election, she will not vote," said Nyan Win.
Burma's upcoming election and the sort-of-but-not really transition to civilian rule appear to be a sham so blatant that one wonders why they're even going ahead with it. The poll certainly won't do much for the regime's international legitimacy. Is anyone in Burma buying it?
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Authoritarian regimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the internet. Vietnam is leaning toward love. State-owned Vietnam Multimedia Report recently launched a trial version of go.vn, an answer to Facebook -- which is banned in Vietnam -- that lets users build profiles, post photos, send messages, share music, add friends, and catch the news. The full version should launch later this year.
One user you can't defriend? The government. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The catch is that users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site. Security services monitor websites in Vietnam, whose authoritarian, one-party dictatorship treats dissidents ruthlessly.
The site marks a shift in tactics for Hanoi's Politburo members, who have more typically shut dissident bloggers and tried blocking Facebook Inc.'s flagship site to stop subversive thoughts from spreading online.
Think Facebook has privacy issues?
According to the Journal, Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop, believes the site is both a "trustworthy" alternative to foreign sites and one ripe with "culture, values, and benefits" for Vietnam's teenagers. When early articles about Ho Chi Minh didn't go viral, Vietnam Multimedia's online unit added English tests and state-approved videogames, including, according to the Journal, "a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Hop predicts about half of the Vietnamese population will sign up over the next five years.
Apparently, the Vietnamese aren't impressed:
Some Vietnamese have figured out how to skirt the Facebook ban by using proxy servers or tinkering with their computer settings. Others have launched online campaigns to boycott local Web sites such as go.vn despite its ongoing makeover. "Make 'go' go away," one person wrote in an online message.
Many Vietnamese shrug when queried about go.vn. "I didn't even know it existed," says Pham Thanh Cong, a fourth-year physics student at Hanoi Polytechnic as he waits his turn to play an online shoot-'em-up game at a street-side Internet café.
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That's what Indonesia is arguing:
Indonesia says the United States is abusing health regulations to shut out clove cigarettes, known as kretek and very popular in the southeast Asian country, while allowing U.S. manufacturers to continue to market menthol cigarettes.
U.S. officials say that flavoured tobaccos risk attracting young people to smoking, and that the ban applies to clove cigarettes from all countries and so is not discriminatory.
A meeting of the WTO's dispute settlement body agreed to set up a panel to rule on the dispute, the sources said.
I'm not sure about the trade rules, but the clove ban does seem somewhat inconsequential. Cloves made up less than .01 of the cigarettes smoked in the U.S. in 2008, so arguing that they're a uniquely dangerous gateway for young smokers seems like a tough case to make. On the other hand, with the possible exception of our nation's MFA programs and the staff of Reason magazine, there hasn't been a whole lot of backlash. Menthols, meanwhile, accounted for 28 percent of U.S. consumption, so banning them would presumably have been a much tougher political move domestically.
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The streets of Bangkok may be quiet again after the Red Shirt protests earlier this year that resulted in more than 80 deaths and thousands of injuries, but the country's politics are still highly unstable. A state of emergency remains even as Prime Minsiter Abhisit Vejjajiva has proposed a "road map" to national reconciliation. The government has also filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for his alleged role in organizing the protests.
Thaksin, who was overthrown in a miltiary coup in 2006 and now lives mainly Dubai, denies funding or organizing the Red Shirt movement. Today, I had the chance to speak with former Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama, who is now Thaksin's legal advisor and spokesman and asked him about the former leader's connection to the movement:
Dr. Thaksin provides moral support.... He has no control over the day-to-day running of the Red Shirts. They have their own structure, their own management, their own leaders. It’s not possible for him to order anyone to stage a rally. It would be decided by the Red Shirts themselves.
Noppadon has rejected the Abhisit government's road map plan, calling instead for national peace talks between the various parties in the conflict, including Thaksin. He warned today that without meaningful reconciliation, more unrest is likely:
If the situation goes unresolved, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the government candidates will not be able to campaign in certain regions of Thailand, for example in the North and Northeast. That would be bad for democracy. The Red Shirt protesters will go and hound them, go and prevent them [from campaigning].
The sense of bitterness, the sense of hatred is still there among the red shirts because of the loss of life. They feel Abhisit ordered the army to use excessive force and violated their human rights. Unless we can settle the crisis amicably, Thailand will not have political stability. ...
We don’t want the Red Shirts to stage a third big rally in Bangkok. To prevent that, some sort of arrangement or reconciliation to be achieved. If we don’t address the hatred, I fear there will be more demonstrations in Bangkok.
What do you call a political rally where citizens-turned-automatons stand silent and unmoving without signs, literature, or adornment of any kind? No real political rally at all -- or, permissible dissent in Burma.
The iron-fisted Burmese junta -- led by military general Than Shwe -- has repeatedly framed this year's upcoming elections as fair and democratic, dismissing the critics who claim it is merely a design to cement five decades of uninterrupted military rule. But the despotic regime's recent ban on essentially any public, recognizable political expression -- on marching, chanting, making speeches, brandishing flags, distributing publications, or making disturbances near any offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals, and religious meetings (read: anywhere on solid ground) -- likely won't win over any disbelievers.
Today the ruling junta published a 14-point directive in state-run newspapers to explain what constitutes a recognized party and exactly what that party can -- or much more thoroughly, can not -- do. To attain party status, a group must be registered by the (state-run) Election Commission and then amass a minimum of 1,000 members in the three following months. To hold a rally, the party must be approved and then must obtain permission to hold the rally from that same committee. It is worth noting first that the majority of the 38 currently registered groups (a mere sixth of the number registered in the most recent election … back in 1990) support the ruling party; second, that campaigning comes with its own laundry list of restrictions; and third, that any participants in a political rally must adhere to the aforementioned restrictions or face a crackdown from local authorities. The end result? Any political body espousing real opposition is unlikely to materialize, and any political rally is whittled down to what most closely resembles a silent rave -- minus the headphones and the fun.
The other conditions of the elections only make prospects grimmer: No election date has been specified, over 2,000 "political prisoners" are barred from the voting booths, and what is arguably the only party capable of posing a real challenge to the junta, the National League for Democracy, is effectively defunct. The party's leader and rightful winner of the last Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, is most likely skeptical as she awaits the arrival of this elusive election -- all from the decrepit lake house where she remains under a 20-year-long house arrest.
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Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya touched the third rail of Thai politics in a speech in Washington on Monday:
“I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how it would have to reform itself to the modern globalised world,” Kasit Piromya, the foreign minister, told a seminar in the US.
But the incident also brings up another questions, where has King Bhumibol Adulyadej been for the last few weeks? As the Financial Times reports, his stature has certainly not diminisehd amid the chaos in Bangkok:
Even the red-shirted anti-government protesters who are presently demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok and who are often criticised by their opponents as a republican fifth column, halt their protests twice a day, at 8am and 6pm, to stand at attention and listen to the royal anthem as it plays over the city-wide public address system.
The king generally reluctant to get involved in politics -- which is a good thing -- but he has occasionally intervened in tims of political crisis. With the crippling protests in Bankok showing no signs of abating and few credible political leaders to help resolve the situation, this might seem like a perfect time for His Majesty to step in.
The bigger longterm issue, which Kasit seemed to be hinting at, is that that the 82-year-old monarch's health is fading and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reportedly doesn't have the same credibility. Given the current state of Thai politics, it might be time to make some institutional changes so that these deus ex machina interventions are no longer necessary.
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In September 2009, authorities at an airport in Mangalore arrested two passengers arriving from Dubai with 18 kilograms of contraband hidden in their suitcases. This wouldn't be shocking if they were smuggling drugs, but they weren't. Instead, the passengers were carrying nearly 90,000 dollars worth of saffron. This wasn't an isolated incident either; authorities confiscated 10 kilograms of the stuff at the same airport in July 2009.
Why is saffron (which is the most expensive spice in the world) suddenly being smuggled into India?
Well, it turns out that production in Kashmir, the primary growing area for high-quality Indian saffron, has fallen 85 percent in the last 10 years. Experts are blaming climate change, poor irrigation, and pollution in the region. In response, prices in India have doubled in the past three years. Meanwhile, with Iran and Spain supplying most of the saffron to the world market, global prices have held steady.
Now, the subsequent price gap between India and other countries has led to an opportunity for smugglers to profit; the spice sells for double in India than what it in other markets -- up to $5,000 per kilogram. So, learning from their experience with drugs, gangs operating in India, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are using saffron "mules" to carry shipments in their luggage on international flights. Easier for them to carry than other contraband goods (such as drugs), saffron is not easily detectable -- or probably even screened for -- by customs officials.
Smugglers are also trying to avoid paying hefty export and import taxes, which have only increased potential profit margins. While the Iranian government recently imposed a five percent export tax on bulk shipments of saffron, the Indian government has imposed both an export ban and import taxes to protect the interests of saffron growers in Jammu, Kashmir, and Punjab.
With less risk and such high profit who wouldn't be mad about saffron? Drugs are just so passé.
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Think mustard gas is bad?
In possible contravention of long-standing international conventions on the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons, the Indian military has announced the addition to a new weapon to its arsenal: chili grenades.
Made from bhut jolokia -- the spiciest chili pepper in the world, according to the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records -- the grenades are expected to be "effective nontoxic weapon[s]... [whose] pungent smell can choke terrorists and force them out of their hideouts."
I urge readers to be on the lookout for one of these things at the next international weapons exhibition they attend.
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As the world's eyes fell on Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, Chinese authorities scrambled to find a way to improve the city's notoriously low air quality. They shut down factories, closed roads down and even tried to disperse rain clouds. Now, New Delhi is facing a similar problem prior to hosting October's Commonwealth Games. But the world's fourth most polluted city is banking on some clean tech to get it done: a giant, half million dollar air purifier. This seven-ton machine, built by an Italian company, has a five-stage filtering process and can go through 10,000 cubic meters of air every hour. P.K. Sharma, health chief of New Delhi's Municipal Council spoke with Agence France-Presse:
"It is the first such project in India and if it works then we would acquire a number of them and place them at strategic locations," the health chief of the New Delhi Municipal Council, P.K. Sharma, said.
He said a state environmental agency will monitor the performance of the machine, which costs about 25 million rupees ($551,000 dollars) and works like a vacuum cleaner, sucking in air and releasing it purified form from a roof vent."
Like in the Beijing Olympics, pollution can be a major factor for the 8,000 or so competing athletes. Three months of testing will show whether the machine actually works or not, although there are already dozens of similar models installed in Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Let's just hope it's more effective than Beijing's measures.
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Here's a novel (and disgusting) political tactic from Thailand's "red-shirt" protesters:
Organizers of the demonstrations in the Thai capital said they're requesting that each protester donate between two and 20 teaspoons of blood - 10 to 100 cubic centimeters - to meet their goal of more than 2,000 pints (1 million cubic centimeters). That would require between 10,000 and 100,000 people - roughly the crowd's peak size - to donate.
"The blood will be taken from the body and democratic soul of the Red Shirts," said a protest leader, Natthawut Saikua, referring to the popular name for the protesters. He said they would start recruiting medical staff for the blood drive Tuesday morning.
They threatened to pour the blood on Government House if their renewed demand was rejected by 6 p.m. Tuesday (7 a.m. EDT, 1100 GMT).
I thought it was going to be hard to top the great Latvian cow head protest of 2009 in stomach-turning outrageousness, but this literal blodbath might do it. The red cross is also complaining about the waste of perfectly good blood.
The protesters -- supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra -- want current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
The red shirted supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have been busy mixing up a disgusting and smelly concoction of faeces and fermented fish to throw at anyone who might get in their way.
What this has to do with reforming the Thai political system, I'm not sure.
Update 2: They did it.
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Just to bring you up to speed on the recent antics of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he was ousted in a 2006 military coup due to corruption and cronyism and was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for a corrupt land deal. His assets in Thailand were frozen and he was later stripped of his Thai passport but, don't worry, he continues to be a glass-half-full kind of guy; he suavely globe-trots his way out of the grasp of authorities (allegedly holding six other passports). And, finally, his little princess made it into our list of worst-behaved daughters. Oh, and don't forget his latest business venture: a lotto service in Uganda, which he hopes will "benefit the people of Uganda." Nothing like gambling to really help people in need, eh Thaksin?
If you think all this means he's not so well liked back home, you would be wrong. In Thailand's impoverished and neglected northeast, Thaksin is seen as a champion of social equality, mostly due to his hands-on governing style, a low-interest lending program and low-cost healthcare program that he enacted as PM. In fact, his appeal has probably increased in the last few years.
And Thaksin hasn't let his money, or popularity, go to waste. He's been funneling money to supportive political parties and his grassroots supporters, called "The Reds", ever since he left Thailand. Now, as a reaction to the government's confiscation of $1.4 billion of his assets in late February, "The Reds" are planning to hold mass demonstrations in Bangkok, starting tomorrow. With an expected turnout anywhere between 100,000 and 600,000 the Thai authorities aren't messing around. They've already deployed 50,000 troops on the streets in order to stop things from getting out of hand.
Oh Thaksin, you just never cease to stir the pot.
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U.S.-Pakistani relations tend to be defined by a certain set of core issues, which include the ISI's double-dealing with the CIA, the 2005 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, and Pakistani nuclear security. While these issues are undoubtedly important, sometimes it's refreshing to see something new crop up, if only for variety's sake.
This is just what happened at Reagan National Airport on Sunday, Feb. 7, when a delegation of Pakistani legislators visiting Washington to meet with senior administration officials refused to submit to a full body X-ray scan. As a result, the legislators, who had already concluded their business in Washington and were attempting to fly to New Orleans, were prohibited from boarding the airplane. Insulted, the legislators promptly left on the next flight for Pakistan, leaving behind a public relations nightmare for the State Department, which had assisted the American Embassy in Islamabad with organizing the trip.
While the fallout from this episode is certain to be short-lived, the anecdote nevertheless serves as a nice illustration of the challenge the United States faces in trying to balance its national security interests with its need to improve relations with the Pakistani government.
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The Washington Post reports that the United States backs a ban on trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna and listing the fish as an endangered species.
Strickland said the U.S. decided it needed to push for the extraordinary new protection because "the regulatory mechanisms that have been relied upon have failed to do the job."
"We are literally at a moment where if we don't get this right, we could see this very, very special species really at risk for survival," said Strickland, who will lead the U.S. delegation to CITES between March 13 and 25.
For more on the politicking on the tuna trade before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Doha next week, see our story, "Peak Tuna."
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China is denying that the $1.2 billion in aid that Vice President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Cambodia yesterday had anything to do with the fact that just hours earlier, the country deported 20 Uighur asylum speakers -- a move that Xi praised during the very same visit:
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations Tuesday, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and said there were "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regularly scheduled news briefing. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
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If you can’t beat ‘em, regulate ‘em -- that’s the Indian Supreme Court’s take on the country’s illegal sex trade.
The court’s advice came in response to an NGO’s public litigation regarding child trafficking in the country. As of 2007, UNICEF estimates 2.4 million Indians were HIV-positive (with the high estimate ranging up to 3.2 million). The sex trade is at the center of the epidemic: reportedly, a young prostitute can charge a customer just over $2, while an older woman will only receive about 65 cents – and that figure usually drops if the prostitute demands the use of a condom. And the youngest girls in the trade, forced into prostitution before 15, are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus – they work longer hours, serve more clients, and are more likely to work in multiple brothels.
A UNAIDS report issued a couple of weeks ago reports that efforts to control the spread of HIV has been effective, with HIV prevalence among female sex workers declining by more than half, from 10.3 percent to 4.9 percent, between 2003 and 2006. Still, as the court points out, there are an estimated 2 million female sex workers, and legalization would allow monitoring of the trade and further provision of medical aid.
As the judges asked, "When you say it is the world's oldest profession and you are not able to curb it by laws, why don't you legalise it?"
Photo: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Manny "Pac Man" Pacquiao has suffered four losses in his career. Three were to rival boxers and the fourth was to Philippine congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio for the congressional seat in the First District of South Cotabato, home to General Santos City, the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.
The pound for pound boxing champion of the world will return to politics, this time running in the neighboring district of Sarangani. The seat will be left vacant for the 2010 elections due to term limits. Pacquiao will be supported by his own party, the People's Champ Movement (Here's hoping Freddie Roach will stay on as campaign manager).
As far as a platform goes, Pac Man told the AP in March, "I want to help [the poor] because I know what they feel right now. It is not easy to help other people. That is a big responsibility. I will focus on that for the meantime."
He told reporters yesterday, "I want only good things for Sarangani... I will work for children, for the health of our countrymen and for their livelihood."
Pacquiao does indeed know what poverty feels like, growing up poor in a country where 30 million people live on less than a dollar a day. He worked as both a baker and a construction worker before he became known as the Mexicutioner.
If he wins the seat, it is not clear if he will fight Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. as was expected. This would surely be a disappointment to millions of fans who would like nothing more than to see "Money" knocked out. This will also play a vital role in his bid for a congressional seat; his 2007 loss is often credited to many of his fans who voted against him to make sure he would stay in the ring.
Covering this campaign (the new greatest job in journalism) will also be a Christmas-come-early for hundreds of political writers who will undoubtedly use the politics as boxing analogy ad nauseam. (E.g. Gets back in the ring, ready for a fight, trades jabs, throws in the towel)
Thailand peripatetic former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has turned up in Cambodia, where he has been named a special economic advisor to the government. As Thailand's current government is seeking Thaksin extradition on corruption charges, they're not too thrilled about this development and have recalled their ambassador from Cambodia:
[Thai prime minister] Abhisit accused Cambodia of interfering in Thailand's internal affairs, and a foreign ministry official said bilateral co-operation agreements would be reviewed.
"Last night's announcement by the Cambodian government harmed the Thai justice system and really affected Thai public sentiment," Mr Abhisit said.
The Cambodian government claims they want to take advantage of Thaksin's business expertise, though it's likely also relishing the chance to irritate Thailand. The two countires have been engaged in border skirmishes in recent months.
It's been an interesting year for Thaksin, who has demonstrated a Carmen Sandiego-like ability to generate controversy around the world while evading arrest. In April, he was named an honorary Nicaraguan ambassador and granted a passport by Daniel Ortega's government. He was also granted a residency permit in Germany under false pretenses a few months later with a member of his entourage claiming to be German intelligence agent.
So, gumshoes, where will Thaksin turn up next?
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Image
A new Islamic law in Indonesia's devoutly Muslim Aceh province takes a strict interpretation of Sharia law including a provision to stone adulters to death. The "Islamic Crime Bill," passed by the regional parliament on September 15, 2009, authorized the following punishments for adultery and homosexuality:
“Any person who deliberately commits adultery is threatened with 100 cane lashes for the unmarried and stoning to death for those who are married.”
“Any person deliberately performing homosexuality or lesbianism is threatened with up to 100 cane lashes and a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of fine gold, or imprisonment of up to 100 months.”
Additionally, the law outlines the punishment for rape is a minimum of 100 cane lashes and a maximum of 300 cane lashes or imprisonment of at least 100 months and up to 200 cane lashes or a maximum imprisonment of 200 months for pedophiles.
The regional parliament passed this law in order to target "behavior considered morally unacceptable."
Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
The band, that is. Thanks to a government decree today, Muslims in Malaysia will not be allowed to attend the group's concert next month. The policy, as told to the AP goes like this: "Muslims cannot attend. Non-Muslims can go and have fun."
So... Where is the Love? It's not the hip-hoppers that Malaysia is concerned about; it's the event's sponsor, Guinness. It's part of a bid to crack down on alcohol use among the Muslim majority. On top of this incident, liquor sales are being watched more closely, and sharia courts -- set up for the civil cases of Muslim adherents -- are taking the laws seriously, granting rough penalties for infractions.
Not everyone is happy about all this, and not just because they will miss a rockin show. The country's minority Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic populations have often chafed against the government's pro-Malay (and hence pro-Muslim) politics. In regional elections earlier this year, ethnic and religion tensions came to fever pitch. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim led a multiethnic coalition that came the closest in memory to actually challenging years of pro-Malay rule by the United Malays National Organization and its partners.
So why did Malaysia give this concert a go-ahead in the first place? Tourism revenue, it seems. But there's more Humps on the road to winning Black Eyed Peas cash than it seemed.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
This Google Earth image of a mysterious building in Northern Burma posted by the New America Foundation's Jeffrey Lewis on the Arms Control Wonk blog has been making the Internet rounds.
It may look like an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but the thing is huge -- 80 meters long on each side and seems to roughly match up with the Sydney Morning Herald's report of a Burmese nuclear reaction construction project. The Institute for Science and International Security has more.
No one seems to have a conclusive idea about what the thing is yet, but it does seem worth keeping an eye on. Via James Fallows, the Lowy Interpreter has a useful roundup of the latest Burma nuke speculation.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will today become the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House since Barack Obama was elected last year. On the agenda for the two presidents is the global financial crisis, climate change and terrorism -- a high priority for the Philippines that has consistently sought U.S. help in combating Muslim separatists on the southern island of Mindanao.
But back in Manila, the Philippine Daily Inquirer says Obama plans to "lecture Arroyo on democracy" during her visit. Since coming to power in 2001, the Philippine president has fielded numerous allegations of -- among others -- corruption, extrajudicial killings, torture, bribery and fraud. Arroyo's attempts to push through a charter change, instituting a unicameral parliamentary form of government and effectively allowing her to extend her term in office past June 2010, has sparked a great deal of opposition.
Social Weather Stations survey revealed
that 70 percent of Filipinos are opposed to amending the Constitution. Her current approval rating stands at
-31 percent, making even former U.S. President George W. Bush look
An estimated 10,000 protestors took to the streets on Monday in yet another anti-Arroyo demonstration. The Philipines has a history of "people power" movements and has twice ousted sitting presidents using popular mobilization. Arroyo (and Obama) would be wise to take heed.
Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty images
Last Friday's Jakarta bombings, which killed nine people, were the first attacks in almost four years in the Indonesian capital, and this time, the targets were not just foreign businessmen, but also the famous Manchester United football club. A blog post purportedly from terrorist leader Noordin Mohammed Top, who is wanted for both last week's attacks and several attacks from 2002-04 (including the Bali nightclub bombing that killed over 200) reads, "“The [Manchester United] club consists of players who are Crusaders and therefore they did not deserve to play in a Muslim country.”
Given the recent behavior of their top stars, the equating of the "Red Devils" with religious warriors amuses football fans everywhere outside of the Greater Manchester area (and plenty of people inside of it as well). Even so, the actual danger to the team was small; the bombings took place several days before Manchester United was supposed to arrive in Jakarta, and even if the message is authentic, it's impossible to tell whether Top is merely trying to claim more headlines after the fact. But in the long-term, the threat is likely to have significant implications for international sports, as top teams will have to step up security, particularly while traveling to other countries, and events like the Olympics, which already require massive security budgets, will likely have to spend even more.
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The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights...Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right.He writes in part to criticize Amnesty International's 2009 report (pictured at right) for its inclusion of poverty as a rights violation. In a following post he then publishes a response from Sameer Dossani of Amnesty:
It's true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn't a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It's certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty - the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics - but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.
Is this more than a semantic debate? Both agree poverty ought to be alleviated and that poverty is connected to actual human rights violations. Easterly calls it "disappointing" that Amnesty is "blurring its previous clear focus on human rights." Is it?
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
Understandably lost on events in the Middle East is the continuing trial of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese junta have put Suu Kyi on trial after she allowed a trespassing American to stay on her property overnight, in violation of her interminable house arrest. Since then, she has been subject to harsh prison treatment in the infamous Insein Prison and the typical authoritarian show trial, and international condemnation has been both swift and nigh universal.
Since June began, though, small hints that even the Burmese junta was sensitive to internation impressions were appearing, as the regime allowed the defense team to appeal how many witnesses it could call. Now, her trial has been postpone until the end of the month, with the defense being allowed to call another witness. This does not mean that the trial has suddenly become open and fair; as the British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, rightly points out:
This delay suits the government fine. It conveys an impression that the wheels of justice are turning and that there is some doubt about the final outcome. Of course there isn't. Daw Suu* will be found guilty – the only question is the length of the sentence and where she will serve it.
The number of political prisoners has increased by more than 1,000 over the past 16 months. There is no precedent for the acquittal of those accused of serious "political crimes" and certainly not someone of her stature. Comedians, doctors, bloggers, journalists, housewives and aid workers have been packed off to Burma's jails and work camps. They are generally sentenced at short, closed hearings. The unusual thing about this trial is that the status of the defendant obliges a spurious impression of openness.
Still, it's telling that even in a country like Burma, these token gestures at openness and fairness have become required.
STEPHEN SHAVER/AFP/Getty Images
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