What Else Happened This Week?
Ten stories you may have missed while you were watching the revolution in Egypt.
Sudan: After Southern Sudan’s jubilation on Monday after official referendum results confirmed 98.93 percent support for independence, events have taken a much darker turn for what will soon be the world’s newest state. On Wednesday, Southern Sudan’s cooperatives and rural development minister, Jimmy Milla, was shot dead in his office in Juba over what the government described as a personal dispute.
A new threat to Southern Sudan’s security emerged this week when a militia group loyal to rebel leader and former general George Athor attacked Southern Sudanese military troops. More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting. Officials in Juba have alleged that Athor is supported by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, though he had agreed to a ceasefire before the referendum.
Pakistan: A court in Lahore has extended the imprisonment of a U.S. consulate employee accused of murdering two Pakistani men for another 14 days, in the latest diplomatic spat between the two troubled allies. Raymond Davis, who worked at the U.S. consulate in Lahore, says he was acting in self-defense and that the two armed men, who were riding a motorcycle, had approached his car and brandished a pistol. The U.S. embassy has also defended Davis’s actions, though Lahore’s police chief has described it as “clear-cut murder” and questioning his diplomatic immunity. The Davis case is a quandary for Pakistan. Supporters of the slain men have held demonstrations and burned U.S. flags, and the widow of one of the men committed suicide as an act of protest. On the other hand, moving ahead with a prosecution of Davis would anger Washington, perhaps even jeopardizing the delivery of a five-year $7.5 billion aid package.
Iran: As the Mubarak regime was entering its final hours, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution by praising the events in Egypt as the dawning of a Middle East free from Israeli and American interference. Choosing not to see parallels between Egypt’s pro-democracy revolution and the 2009 Iranian election protests, Tehran has sought, instead, to portray the events as an “Islamic awakening” against a U.S.-backed regime.
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has clamped down on internal dissent by placing opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi under house arrest. Karroubi and fellow 2009 candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi had called for a rally on Monday in support of the protests in Egypt and Tunisia.
Bolivia: It may be a long way from the Middle East, but rising food and energy prices are also putting a strain on Bolivia’s government. President Evo Morales was forced to make a quick exit from the Southern highlands city of Oruro after protesters booed him at a speech and set off dynamite. Protests were also held in the main cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba.
The leftist leader has faced widespread protests since late December when he announced a 73 percent increase in the price of gasoline. The government has also lifted subsidies on flour and sugar, resulting in a near doubling of prices. Even coca growers — long Morales’s main support base — have gone on strike, blocking highways to protest the price increases.
Thailand/Cambodia: The normally stable Southeast Asian region was shocked this week when shooting broke out on Friday on the Thai-Cambodian border over a temple in disputed territory. Fighting continued throughout the weekend around the famed Vihear Temple, killing at least seven people and forcing thousands to flee the region. Cambodia says the temple — classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO — has been badly damaged by shelling and has called on the U.N. Security Council to intervene.
In 1962, the World Court determined that the temple is located on Cambodian territory, but the ruling has never been accepted by Thai nationalists, who have pressured Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take more definitive action to recapture the territory. On Friday, the country’s nationalist “yellow-shirt” protesters, once Abhisit supporters, took to the streets to demand his ouster for failing to take back the temple.
WikiLeaks: Julian Assange’s court hearing in Britain ended this week. The judge hopes to announce a decision on February 24 as to whether Assange will be extradited to Sweden to face questioning in relation to sexual misconduct allegations. Assange’s lawyers have argued that the WikiLeaks founder’s prosecution is politically motivated and that the Swedish prosecutor’s office acted improperly by — ironically — leaking details of his case to the press.
On the same day the trial was wrapping up, former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg released his tell-all book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website. Domscheit-Berg portrays Assange as a megalomaniac conspiracy theorist and says he wrote the book to “set the record straight before Assange turns into a cult, a pop phenomenon.” Domscheit-Berg is currently at work developing a rival site along the WikiLeaks model called OpenLeaks.
Russia: On Wednesday, Russian authorities named the suspected suicide bomber who carried out the attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport last month and arrested his brother and sister. Authorities believe the suspect, 20-year-old Magomed Yevloyev from the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia, was responsible for the bombing that killed more than 36 people. His siblings, both in their teens, are suspected of helping him orchestrate the attack and, according to authorities, had traces of bomb-making materials on their hands. Police believe Yevloyev may have been seeking revenge for the death of his brother-in-law, who was killed in a raid in Ingushetia in August.
North Caucasus terror kingpin Doku Umarov has taken credit for orchestrating the attack. Bashir Khamkhoyev, a prominent militant who is reportedly Umarov’s liaison in Ingushetia, was also arrested this week after a traffic accident.
The investigation into the bombing may have also exposed a growing rift between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The president publicly rebuked his predecessor (and likely successor) this week for suggesting that the crime had been “solved.”
Japan/Russia: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan escalated his country’s long-running dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands on Tuesday, speaking at a rally in Tokyo and calling President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the islands last year an “unforgivable outrage.” Japan’s government has proclaimed Feb. 7 to be “Northern Territories Day” – referring to the Japanese name for the Kurils — and nationalist rallies were held throughout the country, some of which featured the burning of the Russian flag. The dispute over the Kurils — which stretch from Japan’s Hokkaido island to Russia’ Kamchatka Peninsula, dates back to the end of World War II. The two countries have still never signed a peace treaty.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara arrived in Moscow this week to discuss the dispute with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who has described the government-sponsored rallies as “unacceptable.”
Ivory Coast: West Africa’s most serious political crisis continued unabated this week as Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down, despite having been declared the loser of the Nov. 28 election by U.N.-certified results. Hundreds have been killed in clashes between Gbagbo supporters and those of the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara. The International Organization for Migration this week reported that nearly 82,000 Ivoirians have been displaced inside and outside the country since the beginning of the crisis.
Gbagbo, who alleges voter fraud and accuses the United Nations of supporting Ouattara, has been accused of muzzling the press by blocking international radio transmissions and firing the head of the National Press Council. The United States made its position in the dispute doubly clear this week by accepting the credentials of a new ambassador appointed by Ouattara.
Germany: Germany and France are currently pushing the 17-member Eurozone to sign a “pact for competitiveness,” which would establish a bailout system to protect countries from bankruptcy but also require massive free-market reforms to modernize their economies. The plan, which will be fully unveiled at a Eurozone summit on March 11, is going to be a tough sell for the left-leaning governments in Spain and Belgium.
The task of convincing them to sign on got significantly harder this week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chosen candidate to head the European Central Bank dropped out of the running, citing personal reasons. Axel Weber, who also stepped down from his current job as president of Bundesbank, shared Merkel’s free-market policies and his departure is a severe blow to her ability to take a leadership role in Europe’s efforts to extricate itself from the global financial crisis.
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