Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tensions rising between Russia and Georgia, again

There's more saber rattling coming out of the southeastern corner of Europe.

On Tuesday Russian announced it would be sending more peacekeeping troops into Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a move that has Georgia furious.

It’s the latest chapter in the long-running drama between Russia and Georgia over these two regions. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought brief wars for independence against Georgia in the early 1990s. Each war ended in a cease-fire, with Russia sending in troops to act as peacekeepers. Abkhazia and South Ossetia both declared their independence long ago, but no countries, not even Russia, has recognized their claim.

This has not kept Russia from playing a role in their affairs though. Russia has issued passports to most of the residents of Abkhazia (another reason they say their peacekeepers are needed, to protect their passport-holders) and is the region's main trading partner.

In reality the dispute has little to do with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a lot to do with the state of Russian-Georgian relations.

Georgia is desperately trying to strengthen its relationship with the west, and with the United States in particular. Georgia's main goal now is to become a member of NATO, a move Russia is bitterly opposed to. In response to Russia's increase of troops in the area, Georgia has cut off talks over Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, something that Russia desperately wants. Russia is the largest country not in the WTO, but under the rules of the organization any member state can block the entry of a country into the WTO, and Georgia is already a WTO member.

Russia said that their troop buildup came in response to Georgia moving their own troops to the Georgia-Abkhazia border. While its still a little difficult to believe that Russia and Georgia would actually go to war, the problem in situations like these is that when two countries start talking angrily and lining their troops up along their borders, a small misunderstanding can quickly turn into something much worse.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cries of 'Duce! Duce!' salute Rome's new mayor

Uh boy...

Rome elected a new governor the other day. Gianni Alemanno is a former neo-fascist youth leader (and isn't that a great line on your resume?), his victory in a run-off election on Sunday and Monday was greeted with chants of "Duce! Duce!" from his supporters. "Duce," (a rough translation being "leader") was what the Italians used to chant to their former fascist leader Benito Mussolini back in the 1930's. One of Alemanno's closest allies is Umberto Bossi, leader of Italy's Northern League party, which in the past has been accused of both fascism and racism. Meanwhile Silvio Berlusconi, back for his third term as prime minister, also weighed in on the right-wing antics by proclaiming, "We are the new Falange", a slogan used by Spain's fascist party in the 1930's.

Some of Alemanno's first moves were to announce that he would be the mayor for all Romans and to reach out to both the Pope and Rome's chief rabbi. But you have to wonder what our reaction would be to the actions of Alemanno's supporters if Italy was not such a solid ally of the United States.
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chavez calls US ethanol production a "crime"

Yes, it’s another self-serving statement by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, but there's also a nugget of truth in there.

I wouldn't call ethanol production a crime exactly, but it is shortsighted to use food crops to produce fuel. I was thinking about this last week, as "Earth Day" seemed to morph into "Earth Week". I don't think there's a serious argument out there against global warming being real - that man is negatively affecting the climate at least to some degree. So the efforts to conserve more and pollute less are both good and necessary.

But it seems like now that society at-large has decided that global warming is such a problem that there's a rush to do something, now! And in that rush to take action some poor decisions are being made. Corn-based ethanol is one.

It takes a gallon of petroleum to produce one to one and a quarter gallons of corn-based ethanol. Ethanol is less energetic than gasoline, so your car will get lower mileage running on it. So, in the long run, corn-based ethanol doesn't actually reduce the use of gasoline. Brazil has a thriving ethanol industry using the more-efficient sugar cane as the source material. In this system at least food crops are not being diverted into fuel production, but virgin rain forest land is being plowed under so Brazil can "grow more fuel" as one TV commercial says.

Deforestation is happening in other parts of the world, places like Indonesia. In another unintended consequence it turns out that farmland is far less efficient than forests are in absorbing greenhouse gases.

This isn't to say that biofuels are a dead-end. There are some interesting possibilities - cellulose-based ethanol that uses what are now considered agricultural wastes, as a source for ethanol is a promising idea, as is bio-diesel that takes used cooking oil and refines it into diesel fuel. Imagine every McDonalds being a tiny Saudi Arabia.

The point is that going green is a good idea so long as the steps taken are well thought out. Otherwise it’s just trading one problem for another.
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Swiss man jumps using Leonardo da Vinci-designed parachute

And lands safely, that part is important. Olivier Vietti-Teppa, an amateur parachutist, jumped from a helicopter hovering at over 2,000 feet wearing the contraption designed by da Vinci more than 500 years ago.

Da Vinci's parachute looks like a pyramid and is about 20 feet tall. It was built using drawings and instructions left by da Vinci.

I don't think that I would have jumped with the thing, but I'm glad someone did.
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Zimbabwe - Mugabe parliament loss confirmed

I was working on a post about how the election in Zimbabwe is being stolen until I saw this item on the BBC today. Things looked bad when the electoral commission decided to do a selective recount of 23 seats won by the opposition. But the commission has upheld the results in 18 of the districts in question confirming the opposition MDC party's majority in the parliament.

But the electoral commission still refuses to release the results of last month's presidential vote. MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai claims to have won just over 50% of the vote, giving him the presidency outright. Independent observers claim that Tsvangirai got just under 50%, meaning a runoff with President Robert Mugabe would be necessary.

Of course this is all speculation until when, if ever, the actual results are released. And things in Zimbabwe are taking an uglier turn. According to Human Rights Watch at least 10 MDC activists have been killed either by members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party or by Zimbabwean state security forces. There are widespread reports of beatings and arrests of MDC members across the country. The situation has gotten so bad that churches in the country's second-largest city are opening their doors as sanctuaries for opposition supporters worried for their safety.

One positive note - the ship filled with munitions bound for Zimbabwe is now headed back to China after none of Zimbabwe's neighbors would allow it to dock and unload. Both the United States and former UN head Kofi Annan have been urging other leaders in Southern Africa to take a harder line with Mugabe, and to put pressure on him to give up his attempt to hang onto power. Turning back the shipment of Chinese weapons hopefully is a first step on this path.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

White House says Syria 'must come clean' about nuclear work

What exactly is going on in Syria?

Syria was front and center in Congressional hearings on Thursday over North Korea's nuclear program.

For the big picture you have to step back about seven months to last September when Israel launched a surprise airstrike on a site deep within Syria. What was surprising aside from the raid itself was how little it was discussed. Israel claimed it was a nuclear facility that was within weeks of becoming operational, Syria said it was an abandoned military base, but neither side said much else and the story quickly faded from the headlines.

In Thursday's hearing though White House officials offered evidence that the site was indeed a nuclear reactor with help from the North Koreans. The design of the destroyed reactor is said to be nearly identical to North Korea's Yongbyon plant - the center of their nuclear weapons program. US intelligence officials who spoke with the press said that they were pretty sure that North Korea had in fact helped build the Syrian site, but did not have the same level of confidence that the reactor would be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Syria continues to deny that the site was meant to produce nuclear weapons.
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Turkmenistan to drop late dictator's month names

You have to have a huge ego to run a country, but how big does your ego need to be to change the names of the months themselves (including naming one of them after yourself)?

That's exactly what Saparmurat Niyazov, former president of the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan did. A mild-mannered fellow, Niyazov called himself "Turkmenbashi" – or Father of all Turkmen. Turkmenbashi is also the month formerly known as January in Turkmenistan. In addition to Turkmenbashi, Niyazov named months after his mother and a book of philosophy he wrote.

Niyazov died suddenly in 2006, and Turkmenistan's new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov has taken on the task of dismantling the large cult of personality that Niyazov built, which includes restoring the months to their former names. He has also loosened restrictions on the internet and improved educational standards in the country.

Turkmen feel that their country is still far from being democratic, but calling January "January" is at least a small step in the right direction.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Many Mexicans see oil as last frontier against US invasion

If you think that $4 for a gallon of gas is bad, it could get even worse.

Mexico is the third-largest source of oil for the United States. But Mexico's oil industry is in trouble. Its existing oil fields are drying up, its infrastructure (things like pipelines) is crumbling and the state-run oil monopoly, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex as its more commonly known) doesn't have the money to explore for new oil fields or to repair its facilities.

The obvious answer would be to encourage foreign investment in the oil industry, a step that President Felipe Calderon wants to take. It’s a step being met with outrage by many Mexicans who see it as nothing less than Mexico surrendering its national sovereignty.

"Calderon is a right-winger who is going to take away our way of life," said one protestor in Mexico City. "It's the same as strangling us because foreign oil companies are exploiters who will enslave us." Opposition members of parliament have staged a two-week long sit-in to protest the move, while TV ads have compared Calderon to Hitler.

Mexico took back control of its oil industry from American and European companies more than 70 years ago when those companies refused to pay union wages to oil workers. And for many Mexicans, who feel that the United States stole a sizable chunk of their country (places you may have heard of like California, Nevada, and much of the rest of the American Southwest) in the Mexican-American war in 1848, the idea of American companies again investing in their oil industry is tantamount to surrendering the sovereignty of their nation.

But at the same time Pemex cannot rebuild the oil industry on its own. For now President Calderon and the parliament are locked in a standoff. Meanwhile, oil experts warn that if nothing is done, Mexico could lose its status as a major oil exporter within the next five years.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

CNN versus China

China has taken offense at some recent remarks by CNN commentator Jack Cafferty. In case you've never caught Cafferty's act, he's CNN's resident cranky older uncle who rails for a few minutes each day on a particular topic – politics, entertainment, world events – its all fair game for Jack. A few days ago his target was China. In his monologue, Cafferty called China's leaders "thugs" and their products "junk." Cafferty's whole quote on Chinese made products was:

"We continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know, jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we're buying from Wal-Mart."

On Sunday a few thousand Chinese-Americans protested outside of CNN's Los Angeles offices, demanding Cafferty's firing for his China remarks; the Chinese government also rebuffed an apology from CNN since they felt it was insincere.

Frankly though, I have to ask why did CNN apologize in the first place? Cafferty's shtick is playing the grumpy old man railing against the world, something that is bound to offend someone at sometime. CNN knows that, that’s why they hired him, so why issue an apology for something that you are setting up to happen in the first place?

As for his comments on Chinese-made products, I say Cafferty is right on. Over the past year I've bought several Chinese-made products that turned out to indeed be “junk.” This included a fan that stopped working after about a month and a hand saw that literally fell apart in my hands after about 20 minutes of use. My most recent misadventure from China was a garden hose I bought a few days ago, it started leaking as soon as I connected it, so at least this time I didn't have to wait for it to break.

I find it really hard to believe that I have had particularly bad luck with Chinese-made products. No, I think its more likely that China is trying to crank out as much product as quickly as possible to fuel their economic boom so they don't have time for things like quality control.

Of course that was the point Jack Cafferty was trying to make.
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Russia scraps Libya debt in exchange for contracts

You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. Even though his term as President of Russia ends in a few weeks, he is still meeting with foreign leaders and making huge deals. The latest is a $4.5 billion dollar exchange with Libya's Moamer Kadhafi.

Russia has agreed to forgive over four billion dollars worth of debt going back to the time of the Soviet Union in exchange for Libyan contracts with Russian companies. The deals include a plan to build hundreds of miles of railway in Libya, defense contracts, and most importantly, a deal to develop Libya's vast natural gas reserves.

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom signed an agreement with Libya's national energy company to develop natural gas production and distribution facilities. The plan may eventually include a pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea to link the Libyan gas fields with Southern Europe. Right now Russia supplies about a quarter of the natural gas Europe uses, mostly through pipelines running into Eastern Europe. A significant amount of that gas comes not from Russia, but from former Soviet countries in Central Asia.

The Gazprom deal in Libya not only secures another source of natural gas for Russia, but also, if the pipeline is completed, will make Europe even more dependent on Russia for its energy needs, continuing Russia's growth as an energy superpower.
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Zimbabwe Update

Zimbabwe's electoral commission has begun a recount of about two-dozen seats in the parliament, all won by the opposition MDC party. Since the MDC won a slim majority in the parliament, even the loss of a few seats could be enough to put the ZANU-PF back into power. Meanwhile, the results of the presidential election - held three weeks ago - still have not been released.

If there's any good news from the region its that South Africa refused to let a Chinese ship full of munitions bound for Zimbabwe to unload at its ports. You would think that a nation where the agriculture sector has largely shut down and where 25 million in the local currency still isn't enough to buy a loaf of bread might want to import something more useful like, say, food. But not Robert Mugabe, who ordered three million bullets, along with a few thousand rocket-propelled grenades for good measure, from China three days after the disputed presidential election - a clear indication on his intentions.

On Saturday former UN chief Kofi Annan took African leaders to task for not stepping up on the Zimbabwe problem. Annan, correctly, pointed out the silence of Zimbabwe's neighbors as Mugabe attempts to steal the presidency, and said that they needed to do more to end the situation.

The leaders of Zimbabwe's neighbors are conflicted. Mugabe was once a great voice in Africa's struggle against colonialism, the force that finally drove the British from what was then Rhodesia. Other leaders in the area are reluctant to criticize him; as if in doing so they would be turning their back on the struggle their own nations went through to escape their colonial past. But what they need to realize is that Mugabe's past doesn't match up with his present. He may have once led Zimbabwe to become an economic power in the region and the breadbasket of southern Africa, but now he is simply a thug desperately trying to hang on to power, destroying his country in the process.

You don't have to be an expert on world affairs to know Africa is a troubled place - poverty, hunger, civil wars, an explosive rate of HIV/AIDS infections all plague the continent. But these problems are made worse by something else Africa has too much of, poor government. Thugs like Mugabe are all too common. Its time for Africa's other leaders to do just that - lead. They need to tell Mugabe its time to go, that they won't sit silently by as he destroys Zimbabwe in a vain attempt to hang on to it. Hopefully South Africa's refusal to let Zimbabwe's munitions boat dock is a first step in this process.
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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back in the USSR: Soviet Internet domain name resists death

You may not realize it, but the Soviet Union lasted long enough into the computer age to be assigned its own two-letter internet domain - ".su" back in 1990. Now, 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the .su domain is soldiering on. While most websites registered in the United States use domains ending in terms like ".com" or ".org", two-letter country code domains are popular in many other parts of the world.

ICANN, the organization responsible for regulating the use of internet addresses has, several times, tried to delete ".su", saying its outlived its usefulness. Other domains, like Czechoslovakia's ".cs" were phased out after their country ceased to exist. But a mix of Russian entrepreneurs, bloggers and Soviet Union nostalgists have kept the domain alive, by fighting steps to consolidate it with Russia's ".ru" domain and by creating new ".su" sites. Some use .su" as a way to register famous brand names like "", others create ".su" sites for nostalgia or camp value. And then there is the Kremlin-backed youth organization Nashi ("Ours" in Russian), whose official site is "". While Nashi does not promote a return to communism, they do tend to use Soviet images and icons as a way of connecting with Russia's powerful past - for example leaders within the organization are sometimes referred to as "commisars", and the image of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin has been used freely in Nashi's promotional material.

It helps to explain why the domain persists. According to ICANN the reason is not technical, but rather politics. Russia does not seem to want to let ".su" go.

A recent drop in the registration fee charged by RU-Center, the Russian-organization that controls the ".su" domain won't do anything to help. In the past few months, the domain has nearly quadrupled in size, with more than 45,000 websites now registered to ".su".

There is some talk about ".su" becoming an internet center for Russian-speaking people around the world. Another interesting development will come later this year with the introduction of ".рф" (cyrillic for "RF", standing for "Russian Federation"), the first cyrillic-text internet domain.
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Zimbabwe party 'was offered deal' - Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday that his MDC party had been approached by the ZANU-PF party officials the day after the country's disputed election about a power-sharing agreement.

ZANU-PF officials discussed the idea of a unity government with Tsvangirai, which he said he was willing to agree to, along with promises that ZANU-PF officials - including President Robert Mugabe - would not be prosecuted once out of power. Tsvangirai said the talks fell apart when hardliners within ZANU-PF refused to continue negotiations.

Three weeks on, the official results of the election have still not been announced, though Tsvangirai claims he took just over 50% of the vote. His MDC party was announced to have won a slim majority in Zimbabwe's parliament. The ruling ZANU-PF party though has refused to concede, and now reports are starting to come out about attacks against opposition supporters across the country. An ominous sign of where things are likely headed in Zimbabwe has arrived off the coast of South Africa - a Chinese cargo ship filled with munitions, including three million bullets, ordered three days after the presidential election.
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Thousands of Russian NGOs entangled by new rules

Thousands of non-governmental organizations operating in Russia may soon be forced to close their doors because of tough new government regulations.

In 2006, the Russian Duma passed strict laws regulating the operations of NGOs in Russia, requiring them to submit detailed reports of their activities, membership and funders. Since then the laws have been revised several times, making them stricter each time. NGOs now have until Tuesday to meet the new reporting requirements, or could risk being closed by the government.

The law affects thousands of NGOs operating in Russia dealing with issues from human rights to the environment. I know from talking with friends that the climate for operating NGOs in Russia is already difficult. After decades of centralized government rule under the Soviet Union, the idea of privately operated groups dealing with social issues was unheard of and often met with suspicion.

Suspicion of the activities of NGOs is what has been driving the crackdown by the Russian government. It contends that anti-government campaigns in Serbia and Georgia (the "Rose Revolution" in 2002) that led to the downfall of the governments in those countries were funded and organized through NGOs. The Russian government has therefore been wary of NGOs in Russia, particularly foreign-funded ones, fearing that they are front organizations looking to stir up political turmoil.

It is a pretty silly fear that ignores a few facts. First Serbia and Georgia are far smaller countries than Russia, so organizing nationwide protests was a much easier task in those places then it would ever be in Russia. Second, and more importantly, the governments in both Serbia and Georgia at the time of the protests were very unpopular, quite a different situation from the 70-80% approval ratings that Vladimir Putin currently enjoys.

In the end, the Russian government will likely only hurt its own people while protecting against a threat that does not exist. NGOs in Russia could provide a valuable safety net for people being left behind in Russia's economic boom (like the elderly and children in rural areas), something that will not happen if the government makes it too difficult for them to operate.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trans-Dniester in landmark peace talks

Tucked away in a far corner of Europe is one of the stranger places of the world - the self-recognized republic of Trans-Dniester. Actually a thin sliver of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, the territory of Trans-Dniester fought a brief war for independence in 1990. Trans-Dniester's claim of independence was never recognized by any other nations. A cease-fire has been in place since 1992.

Now Trans-Dniester and Moldova have again begun peace talks, something that has not happened since 2001. The leaders of both sides are hoping to build trust and improve security, though specific goals have not been outlined.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Trans-Dniester has retained many of the trappings of the Soviet Union. It maintains a local version of the KGB, while keeping the Soviet-era hammer and sickle emblem on its flag, passports and money. Its population is largely Russian, rather than Moldovian, one of the reasons why the region has sought its independence. The European Union has long been concerned over Trans-Dniester because of a thriving black market economy and a massive stockpile of Soviet-era munitions maintained at several military bases.
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cosmonaut's Day

Saturday was Cosmonaut Day in Russia. The day commemorates the flight of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly into space, in 1961. The event was marked on the International Space Station by South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon with a song and a "traditional" meal of Korean dishes adapted for space flight. One of Yi's fellow station residents is cosmonaut Sergei Volkov - who is the first son of an astronaut to go into space. Meanwhile in Moscow, government officials laid flowers at Gagarin's tomb in Red Square.

Gagarin died in a training accident in 1968 as he prepared to return to space.
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Strains Show in New Pakistani Government

After only a week in power, Pakistan's new ruling coalition is showing some strains.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's joined forces with the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif in a ruling coalition - a union that many thought meant the end of current President Pervez Musharraf. But now the PPP may compromise with Musharraf on a deal to bring back the country's supreme court, a move that is angering their coalition partner.

All of this goes back to last year when Musharraf's rule was legally challenged in Pakistan's supreme court. But before the court could rule, Musharraf declared a national state of emergency - supposedly in response to domestic terror threats - and dismissed the court's justices, replacing them with his own appointees that were sympathetic to his point of view. This crisis led to Bhutto's return to Pakistan, which ultimately resulted in her assassination. That event galvanized average Pakistanis’ opposition to Musharraf's rule and gave the opposition a victory in the subsequent elections.

Follow all that?

When the PPP/Sharif coalition took power, one of their promises was to restore the Supreme Court. But the two parties can't decide on how to do that. Sharif's party wants to restore the fired justices immediately, while the PPP wants to bring the justices back as part of a broad judicial reform package.

If the two sides can't come to an agreement, then Pervez Musharraf may still keep his hold on the presidency.
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Friday, April 11, 2008

Food prices add to Haitians' struggles

Rising global food prices are only adding to Haiti's problems.

The Caribbean island is already one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere (Haiti's annual per capita income is only $480). Now a sharp increase in world food prices is driving many Haitians to the brink of starvation. Since the middle of last year food prices have gone up by 40%. To make matters worse much of Haiti's farmland has been damaged by tropical storms, erosion and deforestation, making the country reliant on imported food.

The crisis could force President Rene Preval from power. Gunshots were heard in the capital as he addressed the country on the food crisis. His plan to provide government loans to farmers, if even effective, will not produce any results until the harvest season months from now.

Meanwhile Haitians will continue "eating Clorox" - local slang comparing the burning feeling of hunger pains to that you would get from drinking bleach.
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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mugabe asks for recount as election stalemate deepens

Its nine days after Zimbabwe's presidential election, but still no official results have been released. Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has claims that he has won with slightly over 50 percent of the vote. But the government, led by President Robert Mugabe, has continued to prevent the release of the voting totals. Now Tsvangirai is appealing to the country's supreme court to force the announcement of the results.

Mugabe has said that he would agree to stand in a run-off election, a strange position to take considering that he hasn't officially lost. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has already lost their majority in Zimbabwe's parliament.

Opposition leaders fear that the delay in releasing the election results is a ploy for Mugabe to buy time to stage a coup to keep him and his party in power. War veterans from Zimbabwe's war of independence - a strong bloc of support for Mugabe - are said to be mobilizing in areas of the country.
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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Raul's Reforms May Strengthen Communism

Raul Castro has started to blaze his own path as leader of Cuba, including launching some initiatives that his older brother Fidel opposed for decades.

Restrictions on the ownership of personal electronic goods like computers, DVD players and cell phones have been lifted, as have bans that kept average Cubans out of the countries' resort spas and hotels that are so popular with foreign tourists. The government also is letting private corporations have access to some state-held farmland. All were moves that Fidel resisted taking because he feared they would lead to the development of social classes within Cuba and undermine his vision of a socialist state based on equality. Raul’s reforms are similar to ones put in place by the communist governments in China and Vietnam that helped to spur the growth of the economies in both nations.

The reforms boosted Raul's popularity and could in the long run strengthen Cuba's communist government. Cubans of course know about the DVD players and cell phones that the were previously prevented from owning. Giving them access to these goods is a symbolic way of showing that the country is moving forward. And the idea of providing the people with food and entertainment as a way of gaining their loyalty is a strategy that goes back to the time of the Roman Empire.

Critics of Cuba's communist government though point out that even though people can now buy more goods, low salaries will still keep them out of the hands of most Cubans, and that this could just make people more frustrated at their government and prompt them to call for even more changes.
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Update - Zimbabwe elections

Time could finally be running out for Robert Mugabe. While official results of Saturday's presidential election still have not been announced, results from Zimbabwe's lower House of Representatives have been announced with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) pulling out a two-seat victory over Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

It is a surprising turn of events, since speculation was growing that Mugabe had rigged the results of the elections to keep himself and his party in power. The opposition MDC party accused ZANU-PF of rigging the results of the last presidential election in 2002. In the years following, members of the MDC were routinely harassed and even beaten. During the past few months, Mugabe has all but banned reporters from European news outlets from reporting from inside Zimbabwe - all signs outside observers felt were indications that Mugabe planned to hang on to power by any means necessary.

Still, the results from the parliament show that either Mugabe did not try to fix the results of the election, or that his efforts failed.
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More love for the US

The percentage of people around the world with positive views of the United States has increased, according to a new poll by the BBC World Service. The overall percentage of people with generally positive views of the US rose from 31 to 35% since last year, while the number with negative views fell five points to 47%.

The BBC poll measured public perceptions of 17 countries, including the United States. The countries scoring highest in the survey were Germany and Japan, each with a 56% approval rating. Iran, Israel and Pakistan finished at the bottom of the survey with approval ratings of 20% and below. Russia showed the greatest improvement in approval ratings, jumping from 29 to 37%.
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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Zimbabwe's rivals neck and neck

People in Zimbabwe are beginning to question why the official results of Saturday's elections have not yet been announced. The opposition party - Movement for Democratic Change, led by their presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai - believes that he has won and claim the delay is a chance for current president Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to steal the election.

The whole thing is eerily similar to the recent elections in Kenya - the opposition at first claimed victory, there was then an unexplained delay in announcing the election results, until finally the president emerged with a slim victory.

Mugabe has led Zimbabwe for 28 years, but has resorted to increasingly heavy-handed tactics to stay in power in recent years. And questionable reforms put forward by Mugabe have wrecked Zimbabwe's economy - the country now has the world's highest inflation rate - over 100,000% - and the Zimbabwean dollar is practically useless.

Unofficial results by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network give Tsvangirai 49% of the vote, to 42% for Mugabe. If these results prove true, a run-off election will need to be held in three weeks.
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