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."
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
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."
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
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
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra isn't exactly wanted in twelve star systems, but he has been doing a lot of traveling in order to avoid capture by the authorities. He's generally been successful so far, having outwitted the fuzz on multiple occasions. But, according to German reports, the man convicted on corruption charges (and sentenced to two years) in absentia may have been sighted in Bonn last week:
Thaksin's whereabouts had been a mystery since he ended a sojourn in London late last year. Friedel Frechen, a municipal spokesman in Bonn, said Thaksin showed up at the city immigration office last December 29 and applied for a residency permit."
The permit was granted, and Thaksin stayed in Germany for the better part of a year before government officials discovered his true identity. Their method? One of Thaksin's escorts at the immigration office claimed to be a member of the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence unit.
Seeing as how the BND would probably, you know, recognize a former head of state, he might have picked a better cover.
With the world's navies asking how to stop piracy in the Gulf of Aden in recent months, it's about time someone took notice of the most recent pirate-fighting success story: the Malacca Strait. Robert Gates did just that today, citing the Pacific Rim as an example to be followed.
The success story goes like this: in the early part of this decade, the Malacca Strait was like today's Gulf of Aden. Pirate attacks were pushing up insurance rates, re-routing ships, and annoying the world's shipping and naval fleets. So great was the threat that Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia decided, in 2004, to invest signifant naval power to curtail the pirates. It seems to have worked; pirate attacks are down this year for the fourth year running -- to just 28 along Malaysia's coast (compared to 121 just a few years ago).
The good news is that the Pacific Rim is a lot safer. The bad news is that none of this is likely to work in Somalia -- let me count the ways. First, none of the countries in the Pacific are failed the way Somalia is -- meaning that the countries could also combat the core of the problem on land, without fearing a "safe haven" ashore. Not so in Somalia, where pirate havens are essentially untouched.
Even more important, while lots of countries want piracy in the Gulf of Aden to stop, no one or two of them are at such peril that they want to invest the resources to get the job done. In the Pacific, the three countries' economic survival as port hubs depended on their safety. No such pressure in Somalia.
So good job Malacca, but sorry Somalia. It's a good lesson for someone -- but probably not you.
Choe Sang-hun, reporting for the New York Times, speculates that North Korea's nuclear test surprised the United States and South Korea:
The test appeared to have caught South Korea and the United States off guard, and the news hit just as South Korea’s government and people were mourning the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
If officials were caught off guard, it wasn't because they weren't expecting a nuclear test. News organizations had been reporting on preparations for a possible test for weeks, citing South Korean officials. Then, of course, there is the fact that North Korea had also been warning it would do exactly this since April.
North Korea may, however, have pulled off its test earlier than expected. Experts mistakenly thought it would take weeks to make all the necessary preparations, as was the case when North Korea conducted a less-successful test in 2006.
"North Korea seems to want a speedy game," one senior South Korean official told Yonghap. "It seems to be seeking to create a condition favorable to itself as early as possible, rather than dragging its feet."
“The suddenness of the nuclear test shows North Korea following military, not diplomatic logic,” Hideshi Takesada, a Korea expert at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, told Bloomberg.
Kenneth Quinones, a former North Korea director at the U.S. State Department, thinks the launch means that the generals are running this show.
"They’ve convinced Kim to bulk up their military capabilities in advance of any diplomacy,” Quinones told Bloomberg. “But they’re painting themselves into a corner."
I'm not sure what Quinones means by that, but from past experience, the North Koreans have to be thinking that their position going into any talks is going to be stronger now. Their first nuclear test in 2006 was most likely a dud, but it brought the Bush administration to the table. Imagine the goodies they'll get now that, as it appears, their device actually works?
Interestingly, South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said that North Korea may have even notified the United States ahead of time, and a "diplomatic source in Beijing" told reporters that China was given a head's up as well.
Also noteworthy: North Korea fired off three surface-to-air missiles after its test, two of which were reportedly a warning to U.S. spy planes to back off, according to Yonhap.
Burma is sounding positively gleeful today about talks with the United States, after Stephen Blake, director at the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, made a rare visit to the country this week. The New Light, an official state newspaper, reported "cordial discussions [between the two parties] on issues of mutual interest and promotion of bilateral relations."
Is it a fist unclenching or one big diplomatic gaffe? Thing is, the U.S. State Department remembers the meeting a little differently, saying that the visit was routine and certainly indicates no change on Burma policy. Despite the policy review underway in Washington, the sanctions, the human rights record criticism, and the cold shoulder on aid are not likely to disappear anytime soon.
Nor does the military regime show any real signs of changing tack. Senior Gen. Than Shwe set guidelines for a 2010 election today -- a poll in which the opposition is barred from taking part. "Some parties look to foreign countries for guidance and inspiration, follow the imported ideologies and directives irrationally," the general explained.So perhaps at best, the Burma dealings really are routine. As the junta calls for talks and condemns foreign powers all in one breath, it's becoming frighteningly clear just how out of touch the country's leadership is. Unfortuantely for Burma, no news there.
Anyone else notice a difference in body type between pirates, and those tasked with combatting them?
Four of the seven Somali pirates arrested await their trial March 5 in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. U.S. naval vessel USS Leyte Gulf intercepted the seven pirates off the Somali coast last month as they attempted to board a merchant vessel.
Members of the elite Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Philippine Coast Guard exercise in Manila on Feb. 16. The SOG participated in an annual three-day exercise with its Japanese counterparts from Feb. 17 to 19 to enhance its capabilities to combat pirates and armed robbers at sea.
Photos, top to bottom: STR/AFP/Getty Images, JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images
Not everyone can see the bright side after being ousted in a military coup and having your assets seized. But former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra is a glass-half-full kind of guy:
"I do not know whether I should condemn or thank the military junta that has frozen my assets in Thailand, otherwise I probably would have invested a lot in the stock exchange and lost it."
Malaysian Christians have long referred to Jesus as the "son of Allah." Their government, it seems, has a problem with that:
Malaysian Muslim activists and officials and they see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytize.
Those concerns led to the ban on the Catholic Herald newspaper's use of "Allah" to denote God. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling, made after it appeared the paper would be allowed to use "Allah" provided it stamped "For Christians" on the front page of the paper.
"Allowing Christians to use the word is dangerous because it's attacking the sole religion of the Malays," said Yusri Mohamad, president of the influential Muslim Youth Movement.
"We have to question Christians' motive for wanting to use this obviously Muslim word. It appears to be for conversions. All Muslim Malays in Malaysia are against this."
Someone in this nation of a quarter billion people needs to be sent out on a beer run.
Indonesia may soon be in danger of running out of alchohol. The Muslim country has only one legal importer and charges sin taxes of up to 400 percent. After a government crackdown on the thriving black market, many bars are on the verge of going dry. With young Indonesians increasingly acquring a taste for drinking, the BBC reports, that might be just what the government wants.
For more on the root of this problem, (and an explanation of the above photo) check out this Passport classic.
Update: The Freakonomics blog asks, "will higher liquor prices discourage Indonesians from drinking? Or, instead, will more expensive alcohol behave like a Giffen good, becoming that much more in demand?"
Photo: BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Seth Mydans profiles Abhisit Vejjajiva, the dapper new prime minister of Thailand. Apparently, he is a Barry Manilow fan:
Critics say Mr. Abhisit is handsome, articulate and well mannered but lacks the hearty touch of successful Thai politicians. They joke that he would need a visa to travel to the rural heartland of the north and the northeast. [...]
But his cultural divide from the heartland may be difficult to breach. Asked last year about his likes and dislikes, he said that his favorite book was "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Camus and that he was a devotee of the singer Barry Manilow, whose voice is rarely heard in rural Thailand.
Photo: PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
The Sawiris family, which owns Egyptian telecom firm Orascom, has a history of making smart business deals. So maybe they know something the rest of us don't?
An Egyptian company said it will launch 3G mobile telephone service in North Korea on Monday, after winning the contract to build the advanced network in a country where private cell phones are banned. [...]
It was not clear what restrictions, if any, would be imposed on the network, which provides data capabilities as well as phone services. Ordinary North Koreans are forbidden from having cellular phones, and the government maintains strict controls over Internet access.
At a minimum, it's a great opportunity for the world's espionage services.
UPDATE: CrunchGear's Nicholas Deleon comments:
I just find it funny that there's going to be 3G in Pyongyang and I can't so much as get T-Mobile EDGE here in Dutchess County, NY, which is about an hour north of NYC.
This is beyond disturbing:
Lawmakers in Indonesia's remote province of Papua have thrown their support behind a controversial bill requiring some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips -- part of extreme efforts to monitor the disease.
Health workers and rights activists sharply criticized the plan Monday.
But legislator John Manangsang said by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of ''sexually aggressive'' patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others with up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine.
The idea of implanting anyone with a microchip against their will is bad enough, but I can only imagine the possibilities for abuse on a government panel tasked with deciding which patients are "sexually aggressive" enough to qualify.
The Wall Street Journal reports today that Miss Vietnam 2008, 18-year-old Trãn Thi Thuý Dung, was stripped of her crown after officials discovered she hadn't completed high school. The scandal puts Vietnam in a tough spot, as it might not have a viable contestant to send to the Miss World competition on Nov. 15th.
Vietnam -- a country that's taking the bad news very seriously -- has an interesting history when it comes to beauty competitions. After the country's first national pageant in 1988, the grand prize, a bike, was stolen from the winner. Last July, Vietnam played host to the Miss Universe contest, with Jerry Springer and Scary Spice hosting the awards ceremony.
And yet, there is no formal requirement that contestants must complete a certain level of education before entering, a fact that Vietnam's contest organizers concede. The reaction over Thuý Dung's lost title has thus been mixed and the public has rallied to her defense.
Although other national pageants don't have such stringent rules (the United States gives its contestant winners a six-month window to complete high school), Le Ngoc Cuong, a spokesman for the contest, views a high-school diploma as vital. Otherwise, "lots of girls would drop out of school to focus on beauty pageants," he said.
As for Thuý Dung, crown or not, she's behaving like a true queen, sending a healthy message to young ladies of the world: She's going back to school, and says, "I wish Vietnam can still find the right candidate to send to Miss World, even if it isn't me."
U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has performed abysmally in some TV appearances (yesterday's debate aside), but at least she hasn't gone as far as Thai political candidate Chuwit Kamolvisit, who is running for governor of Bangkok. Yesterday, he laid the smack down -- quite literally -- on a popular news anchor when he got asked some questions he didn't want to answer.
At the end of the Updated News at Noon program, Kamolvisit pounced on the interviewer, hit him in the face, and stomped on him before the TV crew dragged the candidate away. Kamolvisit, a former bodybuilder who has been involved in Bangkok's sex industry, said, "I couldn't stand it when he humiliated me on air."
Kamolvisit has done outrageous things before. In 2005, after being elected to Parliament, he smashed a bathtub with a sledgehammer as a way of symbolically smashing his ties to the sex industry:
With everyone's attention fixed on the financial meltdown here in the United States, it's been easy to overlook the instability of another large institution: the Malaysian government.
On the occasion of Malaysia's national holiday, opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim declared that he had assembled enough MPs from the ruling bloc to form a new government. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party has been in power for 50 years but has recently seen its majority eroded by the opposition, which is drawing strength from the long-standing resentment of BN's racially divisive policies. More recently, BN has also shown contempt towards democratic institutions by detaining vocal journalists and commentators under the country's Internal Security Act, causing a public backlash.
All eyes are on Anwar, whom we interviewed a few months back, and whether he will follow through. For months, he has repeated that his coalition would seize power on Sept. 16, but is now taking a softer stance, instead demanding talks with BN leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to "ensure that the transition will be peaceful." Meanwhile, Abdullah is calling Anwar out on a bluff, saying that if the opposition leader really had the requisite numbers for a new government, he would "storm into my room with hundreds screaming behind him 'victory.'" We'll let you know if that happens.
Every politician is haunted by his or her past at one time or another, but perhaps none so strangely as the embattled prime minister of Thailand. After facing several weeks of sit-in protests in Bangkok over allegations of corruption, Samak Sundaravej is being brought closer than ever to the ring of fire.
Quite literally, it turns out. Samak is a nationally famous chef, renowned among his culinary colleagues the world over. In Thailand, he is best known for his cooking show, Tasting and Complaining, and his nine-editions-printed cookbook, not for politics.
As the show's name implies, Samak roasted more than just spicy fish on the air. He also used the opportunity to vent steam on political issues of his choice. Picture Bobby Flay ripping the Bush administration on Iron Chef between platings, and you get the idea.
The trouble is, Thailand's constitution prohibits members of the cabinet from working for private companies while in office. Samak cut back on the show after assuming power just over half a year ago, but he has made several appearances since then. Now, Samak is in court defending himself against the gravest allegation of all: cooking while in office. One thing they won't be able to convict him for? Bad taste: his salmon recipes look delicious.
Last fall's Saffron Revolution was the probably the closest the country has come to mass protests since that fateful day when hundreds of thousands of Burmese took to the streets to call for democracy: 8.8.88.
The Irrawaddy, the best source of news on Burma, has a special issue today commemorating the '88 uprising. They are reporting that many people in the capital donned black clothing to mark the anniversary today, and that plainclothes police were out in force. All the while, conditions in the delta where Cyclone Nargis hit hardest remain dire, with little to no government or foreign aid coming through.
What do you do if you're a growing, quasi-capitalist dictatorship and you're confronted by the specter of rising prices?
If you're Vietnam, you simply outlaw them:
Vietnam announced tough measures to contain rampant inflation on Monday, warning companies they could be prosecuted for passing on higher commodity costs to customers.
The government will prosecute or revoke the licences of companies that increase the prices of goods without sufficient justification, part of a plan to freeze prices for the rest of the year on goods ranging from coal to public transport.
At 27 percent, Vietnam suffers from the highest rate of inflation in Asia. But simply banning it isn't going to work -- it will just create shortages and black markets -- and moreover it sends the wrong signal about the country's direction. It seems Vietnam's rulers still have a lot to learn about this whole capitalism thing.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.