North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Israeli-Hamas truce, Egypt's Morsi takes the spotlight

The geography of the Middle East, much of which is in turmoil of one kind or another.

The conflict between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip cooled off with an announcement of a truce. 166 Palestinians and six Israelis died in the 8 days, and both sides claimed victory of sorts. As one report describes the aftermath, "Israel said it reached its objectives, while Hamas claimed victory because Israel didn't make good on threats to send ground troops into the territory, as it had done four years earlier. Israel's air force carried out some 1,500 strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Gaza militants fired roughly the same number of rockets, including some targeting the Israeli heartland cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time."

The report continues, "The truce is to lead to a new border deal for Gaza, with Egypt hosting indirect talks between Israel and Hamas. Israel has shunned Hamas as a terrorist group and refuses to negotiate with it directly. Israeli demands that Hamas halt weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas seeks free movement for people and goods in and out of Gaza."

Palestinian fishermen launch from the Gaza strip

Sometime soon, Palestinian fishermen will be able to go out to sea six miles instead of three (Israel watches the sea and fishing vessels closely to prevent arms being smuggled into the Gaza Strip). Farmers will soon be able to plant and reap closer to the border with Israel, utilizing some of the 300-meter wide security strip once imposed on by Israel. Israel, for its part, pounded Hamas infrastructure, and has the opportunity to draw up more agreements regarding the sealing and interdiction of smuggling tunnels rife along the Egyptian/Gaza border.

Farmers near the Israeli-Gaza border will soon be able to expand into acres closer to the fence itself

One of Israel's top objectives is to cut out weapons smuggling from Egypt to the Gaza strip. Many of the airstrikes during the 8-day conflict targeted tunnels such as these.

The details of a new border deal at the same time brings Egypt back into the spotlight. Since Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization, it will not deal with Hamas directly. Egypt plays the 3rd party communicator with Israel on Hamas's behalf, but has new challenges of its own.

New powers announced by Egypt's President Morsi

One day after the truce announcement, Egypt's new President, Mohammed Morsi, raised domestic and international concern with his own announcement. As a Washington Post article describes, "Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took extensive new powers for himself Thursday, freeing his decisions from judicial review and ordering retrials for former top officials, including ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

The decree, issued a day after Morsi won international praise for fostering a cease-fire in Gaza, appears to leave few if any checks on his power. The president said all of the decisions he has made since he took office in June — and until a new constitution is adopted and a parliament elected — were final and not subject to appeal or review. The announcement, read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman and broadcast repeatedly with accompanying nationalistic songs, shocked many in this struggling country, and street protests quickly erupted."

Egypt's President Morsi claiming his new announced unlimited power

Brave Egyptian women part of street protests ...

A BBC article analyzes the move this way, "The president said he was acting to protect the revolution. Specifically, he wanted to prevent the courts from disbanding, for a second time, the assembly that is writing the Egyptian constitution. There were reports that the courts might be about to do this.

That could seriously derail the transition to democracy, further delaying new parliamentary elections, which could deter Egypt's political leaders from taking tough decisions while they wait for the vote. ... They were not direct political appointments, but many Egyptians suspect they are still loyal to the old regime. The same applies to the prosecutor-general, whom the president sacked. His replacement moved quickly to re-open criminal investigations into the former president, his family, and former regime officials.

On both of these issues, President Mursi will have the support of many Egyptians. But it is the way he has gone about it that has aroused such fury. The president failed to consult with other political forces, acting in an autocratic manner reminiscent of his predecessor. Indeed, he has taken more power than Hosni Mubarak ever claimed, with almost no constraints at all. And his attempt to sideline the judiciary is reminiscent of the early power-grab of the Free Officers in 1954, the beginning of what is now being seen as six decades of military dictatorship in Egypt.

As a result, many Egyptians fear the real agenda is not to protect the revolution, but to increase the power of President Mursi, and of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement from which he comes. In particular, there is an accusation that the underlying aim is to enable the constitutional assembly - currently dominated by Islamists - to write an Islamist constitution for Egypt. That is why President Mursi's move has produced such bitter, and potentially dangerous, divisions in the country."

Egypt's Morsi (right) receives new powers provided by Himself

Egypt's new Pharaoh?

So here we find ourselves, watching to see where "Arab Spring" will take this major Arab power. Perhaps the most provocative words came from Nobel peace prize winner and former U.N. atomic energy agency chief Mohamed El Baradei. He lashed out at the declaration, which effectively puts the president above judicial oversight. "Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences..."

ElBaradei with his 2005 Nobel Peace Prize is an Egyptian that was recently hoping to lead Egypt himself as part of a secular pro-democracy party.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip enter deadly conflict

In just a few days time, a small number of rockets originating from the Gaza strip and fired into Southern Israel has escalated into the retaliatory killing of the Hamas military chief, three Israeli civilians and 13 Palestinians dead, dozens more wounded, hundreds of missiles with at least one reaching Tel Aviv for the first time, and Israel calling up 30,000 reservists for what could be a major offensive into the Palestinian enclave.

The quick rise in the seriousness of the action underscores the volatility of the borders between Israel and Gaza, and the general wariness of the Israelis as the military also fired into Syria in response to a stray mortar hitting an IDF army post.

Israel back in the news with retaliatory attacks in both Syria and the Gaza Strip

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Trails of smoke from rockets fired from Gaza into Israel

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Israel has batteries of anti-rocket missiles as part of its "Iron Dome" defense network. Such an anti-rocket missile is launched here with accuracy, though the sheer number of rockets from Gaza have allowed dozens through ...

Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip are increasingly capable of longer and more accurate targeting - some weapons having come from the recent civil war in Libya, others directly from Iran. The coastal Israeli city of Tel aviv has been targeted, as has Jerusalem though in that case the rocket was intercepted by an Iron Dome defense missile.

The erupting conflict is set against a background of the continuing bloody conflict in Syria - where dozens are killed every day, over a million Syrians displaced, and Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey increasingly drawn into the civil war.

What a mess.

It demonstrates the difficulty of the UN in dealing with any Middle East tension, and represents a great challenge to Egypt, in how to respond to Hamas and associate militants while maintaining a cold peace with Israel.

A few more details on the Israeli offensive which represents the largest wildcard - how deep, how extensive, and how deadly will it be.

From CBS news, "Waves of airstrikes on more than 100 militant targets quickly followed the assassination of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari. The air attacks continued steadily into the early hours Thursday, targeting the armed group's training facilities and rocket launchers in Israel's most intense attack on the territory since its full-scale war there four years ago.

Tank shells and naval gunfire backed up the air onslaught. Few in the territory's largest urban area, Gaza City, heeded the call for dawn prayers, and the only vehicles plying the streets were ambulances and media cars.

In Washington, the United States lined up behind Israel. "We support Israel's right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties," said a State Department spokesman.

School was canceled within a 25-mile radius of Gaza. People living in areas hugging the frontier were ordered to stay home from work, save for essential services, and shopping centers were shut down. Israeli police stepped up patrols around the country, fearing Hamas could retaliate with bombing attacks far from the reaches of Gaza.

Israel said the airstrikes Wednesday were the beginning of a broader operation against the Islamic militants. They also said a ground operation was a strong possibility in the coming days if Hamas didn't take steps to rein in the rocket fire.

The Israeli military says it has destroyed dozens of the militants' most potent rockets -- the Iranian-made Fajr, which is capable of striking Israel's Tel Aviv heartland -- as well as shorter-range rockets.

In all, the military estimates Hamas had 10,000 rockets and mortars in its arsenal before the military operation began.

In a nationwide address, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel could no longer stand repeated attacks on its southern towns. Days of rocket fire have heavily disrupted life for some 1 million people in the region, canceling school and forcing residents to remain indoors.

The tragedy of war

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BBC journalist Jihad Masharawi weeps while he holds the body of his 11-month old son Omar, at Shifa hospital, killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

An injured Israeli baby is held by a security officer inside an ambulance at the scene where a rocket, fired from Gaza, landed in the southern city of Kiryat Malachi

Sunday, November 11, 2012

China set to select new leader

In contrast to the sometimes rancorous and very public US election campaign and vote, China this coming week will select a new leader - a once-every-10-year event.

As ABC news notes, "During the week-long 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which takes place every five years, 2,309 delegates from across China will elect the country’s new leadership. Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to be installed as the new party secretary and, hence, China’s leader for the next decade."

The leadership of one fifth the world's population, the National Congress of the Communist Party of China

Presiding over the 18th National Congress is the party's leader and country's president - Hu Jintao. He has been China's leader the past 10 years.

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping - China's next leader

As the Australian Sydney Morning Herald observes: The next leader of one-fifth of the world's people is a Communist Party aristocrat married to a pop star - but his views are a mystery, hidden behind party secrecy and an enigmatic demeanour.

The article goes on, Xi Jinping, 59, has an impeccable political pedigree as the son of a respected figure in the revolution that brought the communists to power in 1949 and previously headed some of China's most economically dynamic and reform-minded areas.

Xi - a portly figure typically seen on state television with a deadpan expression - has shown a bit more colour than his predecessor Hu, a Communist bureaucrat with a wooden image. He created a stir during a 2009 speech in Mexico by scoffing at "foreigners with full bellies and nothing to do but criticise our affairs", an apparent reference to the West. But he has longstanding links with the US, having gone on an agricultural research trip to the country in 1985 and stayed with a family in Muscatine, Iowa, deep in the midwest farming heartland.

There has been speculation that Xi could have a reformist bent, but analysts say he has risen up mainly because his pedigree made him a compromise, status quo choice acceptable to Hu, former president Jiang Zemin and other powerbrokers. Xi has backed non-controversial policies and positions during his rise up the party ranks, said China political analyst Willy Lam. "He's a team player. He played by the rules of the party. He's not a risk-taker. He doesn't want to take risks that might jeopardise his career," he said.

Current Chinese President Hu, and former President Zemin confer as major power brokers

Peng Liyuan

Ms Peng, 49, is a hugely popular folk singer who has been more famous than her husband for most of his career. Hundreds of millions of people have heard her sing during the country's annual Spring Festival pageants on television; she is also a major general in the People's Liberation Army musical troupe.

Peng Liyuan is better known to China's population than her husband, due to her career as a singer.

China's issues are many

It seeks a more assertive role in the South China sea and Western Pacific, upsetting many Asian nations - Japan, Philippines, Vietnam and its rebellious province - Taiwan.

Its economic growth of 8-10% per year the past several years, while breathtaking, is needed to provide a lift in well-being for its many fractious populations. Can it be sustained?

China's one-child policy meant to slow population increase has resulted in an imbalance of men to women, and an unintended threat to a workforce able to support the needs of an aging population.

Can strict political control be maintained with an increasingly free market economy?

And what about Tibet - where Buddhist monks self-immolate themselves in protest to Chinese rule?

Okay, to end this on a lighter note ... 2013 is the Year of the Snake in China.

PS. We might as well at least remember the name Xi Jinping, and how to pronounce it - SHEE chin-PING

And if SHEE is how Westerners will handle Xi, here are puns as needed, courtesy of

Xi’s all that
That’s what Xi said
Murder, Xi wrote
Xi’s way out of my league
He said, Xi said
Xi loves me, Xi loves me not
Xi loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah
Xi’s the one for me

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Uganda's role in regional peacekeeping forces to end

Friday, November 2, the Uganda government announced it was going to withdraw its military forces from various regional UN-authorized peacekeeping efforts across Africa. The announcement is not a good omen for the efforts involved, most noticeably the sizable force considered the backbone of UN efforts to establish a legitimate government in Somalia.

The reason

The BBC notes that the UN infuriated the government of Uganda when it published an experts' report last month accusing Uganda of arming Congolese rebels. The report said Rwanda and Uganda were both supplying weapons to the M23 rebels in the DR Congo. This long running conflict has forced some 500,000 from their homes since April, 2012.

This M23 group - led by Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda - who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes charges - is merely the latest ascendance of constantly shifting and coalescing rebel groups in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The region has never been brought under control of any government since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Bosco Ntaganda, operations leader of the latest ascendant rebel group, the M23, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwanda's current leader, Paul Kagame(a Tutu) and Uganda, under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni, opposed the Hutu-led government and militias that slaughtered nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus during that three month period in 1994, and during the past two decades Rwanda has continued to back armed groups in the east of DR Congo as a way to fight Hutu rebels who fled there after the genocide.

The troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with Rwanda and Uganda neighboring.

M23 rebels moving to a position

The BBC article continues by quoting, Mr Mukasa, Uganda's Security Minister, told a news conference: "If our efforts are going to be misinterpreted and we are going to be maligned, we want to be in a good relationship with our neighbours. "Let's stop all these initiatives. We will concentrate on ourselves. Whoever wants to cause us trouble, they will find us at our home."

Uganda Security Minister, Wilson Mukasa

Places where Uganda troops are stationed.

The BBC notes that operations in Somalia, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be affected. Uganda provides the largest contingent to the UN-backed African Union mission in Somalia (Amisom) (7500 of the force's 16500 total). The Amisom force has helped the Somali government gain ground against Islamist militias. Analysts say a rapid withdrawal of Ugandan troops could threaten those gains.

Over 7500 Ugandan troops serving under the UN flag in Somalia

Ugandan troops are deployed in smaller numbers to an international mission to CAR and DR Congo to hunt down the remaining elements of the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony.

Ugandan troops deployed to search for the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, in both Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo

African conflicts across the midsection of the continent

The Horn of Africa - Somalia is the center of this large region of conflict - Islamists (Al Shabaab) and famine, piracy - with Ethiopian, Kenyan, Burundian, and Ugandan soldiers comprising the UN peacekeeping force establishing security in what is known as the prime example of a failed state.

Sudan/South Sudan - the continuing battle of Islamist Sudan vs the black African South Sudan - the current point of conflict is over oil resources along the two country's border.

Mali/Nigeria - both battling Islamists with Al Qaeda sympathies, along with corruption in their own government.

Rwanda/Democratic Republic of Congo - the longest, deadliest, and most under-reported conflict on the continent.

Troubles, troubles, everywhere.