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JFP 9/12: Israel "isolated"; Sadr calls ceasefire to ease US pullout
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 September 2011 - 6:58pm
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September 12, 2011
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Juan Cole: Top Reasons the U.S. Should Get Out of Afghanistan
The US and NATO have come to be seen as armies of foreign occupation; former radicals maintain Afghans are fighting the US/ NATO troop presence now, and would put down their arms if the foreigners left; the large US/NATO troop footprint in the country, along with the US-engineered overbearing presidency, which the US uses to try to control the country, contributes to fanning the flames of insurgency; since the Pakistan cross-border problem is insoluble, the Afghanistan War is unwinnable.
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1) With its Cairo embassy ransacked, its ambassador to Turkey expelled and the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition at the UN, Israel found itself increasingly isolated and grappling with a radically transformed Middle East, the New York Times reports. The diplomatic crisis was crystallized by the scene of Israeli military jets sweeping into Cairo at dawn on Saturday to evacuate diplomats after the Israeli Embassy had been besieged by thousands of protesters, the Times says.
Israeli critics of the Israeli government said the Israeli government had not done anything to "mitigate the fallout" from the Arab Spring. Daniel Ben-Simon, a member of Parliament from the Labor Party, said "It all comes down to [Netanyahu's] obsession against a Palestinian state, his total paralysis toward the Palestinian issue. We are facing an international tide at the United Nations. If he joined the vote for a Palestinian state instead of fighting it, that would be the best thing he could do for us in the Arab world." "The world is tired of this conflict and angry at us because we are viewed as conquerors, ruling over another people," said former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Egyptians noted Saturday that Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, distanced themselves from Friday's protests and did not attend, while legions of secular-minded soccer fans were at the forefront of the embassy attacks. Saturday night the Egyptian government reactivated the emergency law allowing indefinite detentions without trial, one of the most reviled measures under Mubarak.
2) Moktada al-Sadr called on his followers on Saturday to cease their attacks on US military forces in Iraq, saying that he did not want the US to have an excuse to remain in the country, the New York Times reports. But if US troops do not leave by the end of the year as agreed, the attacks should resume, the statement said.
3) Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath says the Palestinians would use their upgraded status at the UN to seek full membership in U.N. bodies like the WHO, UNESCO, and the International Court of Justice, AP reports. That's usually limited to full member states, raising the possibility of a challenge in each case. "That will make life difficult for Israel because we will have to fight each one," said a former legal adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry. Shaath said the Palestinians will also appeal to the International Criminal Court "to protect our people from the Israeli crimes."
General Assembly recognition of Gaza as part of a nonmember Palestinian state could limit Israeli "freedom of action" to blockade and attack Gaza, AP says.
4) The majority of people in the UK, France and Germany want their governments to vote in favor of recognising a Palestinian state if a resolution is brought before the UN in the next few weeks, the Guardian reports. 59% in the UK, 69% in France, and 71% in Germany said their government should vote in favor. Support for the Palestinians' right to have their own state, without reference to the UN vote, was higher: 71% in the UK, 82% in France, 86% in Germany.
5) The US has still produced no evidence that a single person has been physically harmed by the WikiLeaks disclosures, AP reports. Several foreign lawmakers, diplomats and activists cited in the U.S. cables as sources to "strictly protect" said they hadn't said anything to U.S. officials that they hadn't freely said elsewhere, and that they felt in no danger as a result of the disclosures.
6) The regime in Bahrain hasn't delivered on its promises of dialogue and reform and is now it is risking a new explosion of unrest, argues the Washington Post in an editorial. The US has considerable leverage in Bahrain - through the 5th Fleet, military aid programs and a trade agreement, the editorial notes. But no senior U.S. officials have visited Bahrain in months, and the administration has had nothing to say about the deteriorating situation. The administration should use its influence now - before the crisis resumes, the editorial says.
7) A cargo truck packed with explosives struck a NATO outpost south of Kabul, Saturday, killing at least 5 people and wounding dozens more, including 77 members of coalition troops, the New York Times reports. The injury toll was one of the worst for foreign forces in a single episode in the war, the Times says. The bombing was another indication of the eroding security situation in provinces close to the capital, the Times says.
8) Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan is beginning an "Arab Spring" tour to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in a bid to forge stronger ties, AFP reports. Erdogan is a popular leader on the Arab street due to his strong challenge to Israeli policies, AFP notes. Turkish officials said Erdogan would not go to Gaza for the time being, saying Turkey did not want to become a problem for the new Egyptian administration.
9) The killing of Medardo Flores, a radio journalist who supported former President Zelaya, brings the number of Honduran journalists killed in the past 18 months to 15, Reporters without Borders says. None of these murders has been solved, RSF notes.
10) Ex-General Otto Pérez Molina finished first in Guatemala's presidential election Sunday, but without enough votes to avoid a November runoff, the New York Times reports. His failure to win outright suggested that concerns among voters about his military past in the civil war and his "iron fist" plans for crime fighting may have been greater than polls showed, the Times says.
1) Beyond Cairo, Israel Sensing a Wider Siege
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, September 10, 2011
Jerusalem - With its Cairo embassy ransacked, its ambassador to Turkey expelled and the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition at the United Nations, Israel found itself on Saturday increasingly isolated and grappling with a radically transformed Middle East where it believes its options are limited and poor.
The diplomatic crisis, in which winds unleashed by the Arab Spring are now casting a chill over the region, was crystallized by the scene of Israeli military jets sweeping into Cairo at dawn on Saturday to evacuate diplomats after the Israeli Embassy had been besieged by thousands of protesters.
Egypt and Israel both issued statements on Saturday reaffirming their commitments to their peace treaty, but in a televised address on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned that Egypt "cannot ignore the heavy damage done to the fabric of peace."
Facing crises in relations with Egypt and Turkey, its two most important regional allies, Israel turned to the United States. Throughout the night on Friday, desperate Israeli officials called their American counterparts seeking help to pressure the Egyptians to protect the embassy.
The Egyptian government responded to those questions Saturday night, pledging a new crackdown on disruptive protests and reactivating the emergency law allowing indefinite detentions without trial, one of the most reviled measures enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak.
Since the start of the Arab uprisings, internal critics and foreign friends, including the United States, have urged Israel to take bold conciliatory steps toward the Palestinians, and after confrontations in which Israeli forces killed Egyptian and Turkish citizens, to reach accommodations with both countries.
Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador a week ago over Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly raid last year on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in which eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed. The storming of the embassy in Cairo on Saturday was precipitated by the killing of three Egyptian soldiers along the border by Israeli military forces pursuing terrorism suspects.
Israel has expressed regret for the deaths in both cases, but has not apologized for actions that it considers defensive.
A senior official said Israel had few options other than to pursue what he called a "porcupine policy" to defend itself against aggression. Another official, asked about Turkey, said, "There is little that we can do."
Critics of the government take a very different view.
Mr. Benn, the Haaretz editor, acknowledged that Mr. Netanyahu could not be faulted for the events in Egypt, the rise of an Islamic-inspired party in Turkey or Iran's nuclear program. But echoing criticism by the Obama administration, he said that Mr. Netanyahu "has not done a thing to mitigate the fallout from the aforementioned developments."
Daniel Ben-Simon, a member of Parliament from the left-leaning Labor Party, said the Netanyahu government was on a path "not just to diplomatic isolation but to actually putting Israelis in danger," he said. "It all comes down to his obsession against a Palestinian state, his total paralysis toward the Palestinian issue. We are facing an international tide at the United Nations. If he joined the vote for a Palestinian state instead of fighting it, that would be the best thing he could do for us in the Arab world."
The Palestinians have given up on talks with Israel, and within the next two weeks they plan to ask the United Nations to grant them membership and statehood recognition within the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem as a capital.
But as the months of Arab Spring have turned autumnal, Israel has increasingly become a target of public outrage. Some here say Israel is again being made a scapegoat, this time for unfulfilled revolutionary promises.
But there is another interpretation, and it is the predominant one abroad - Muslims, Arabs and indeed many around the globe believe Israel is unjustly occupying Palestinian territories, and they are furious at Israel for it. And although some Israelis pointed fingers at Islamicization as the cause of the violence, Egyptians noted Saturday that Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, distanced themselves from Friday's protests and did not attend, while legions of secular-minded soccer fans were at the forefront of the embassy attacks.
"The world is tired of this conflict and angry at us because we are viewed as conquerors, ruling over another people," said Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party member of Parliament and a former defense minister. "If I were Bibi Netanyahu, I would recognize a Palestinian state. We would then negotiate borders and security. Instead nothing is happening. We are left with one ally, America, and that relationship is strained, too."
2) Iraqi Cleric Tells Followers To Halt Attacks
Michael S. Schmidt and Zaid Thaker, New York Times, September 10, 2011
Baghdad - The anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on his followers on Saturday to cease their attacks on United States military forces in Iraq, saying that he did not want the Americans to have an excuse to remain in the country, according to a statement posted on a Web site of his political party.
But if the American troops do not leave by the end of the year, the attacks should resume, the statement said.
It could not be independently confirmed that the statement was from Mr. Sadr.
A 2008 agreement between the United States and Iraq calls for the withdrawal of American troops by the end of this year. But in August, the Iraqi government said it would negotiate with the Americans about some troops remaining to continue to train the fledgling Iraqi security forces.
Last week, it was revealed that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had endorsed a plan for 3,000 to 4,000 troops to stay in Iraq beyond December to conduct training. Also last week, the United States military told the Iraqi government that it had begun to withdraw its 46,000 troops from the country.
Mr. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army twice fought significant battles with American and coalition forces, became a prominent political player in Iraq after candidates loyal to him won 39 seats in last year's parliamentary election.
In his statement, Mr. Sadr said, "I am concerned about the complete independence of Iraq and the withdrawal of the occupying forces from our holy lands." He added, "And if the withdrawal is not completed and Iraq remains unstable, the military operations will resume in a new and stronger form."
3) Some dismiss it as symbolic - but the Palestinians' UN bid could shake things up
Associated Press, Monday, September 12, 2:10 PM
Jerusalem - Many Israelis are dismissing the Palestinians' efforts to win international recognition of their independence at the United Nations this month as merely symbolic.
But the Palestinians hope the high-profile maneuvering, on a grand global stage, might yield results that have eluded them through decades of peace talks, popular uprisings and violence campaigns.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is set to address the U.N. next week, planning to ask the world to recognize a Palestinian state.
The path to full membership seems blocked because it goes through the Security Council, the powerful 15-member body where the United States - still urging the Palestinians to back down - promises a veto. But the General Assembly, meeting next week in New York, seems likely to recognize Palestine as a nonmember observer state. This status, identical to that of the Vatican, requires only a simple majority of its 193 members.
Formally, General Assembly recognition would be mainly declarative. But in the Middle East, especially at this time, events could quickly spiral out of hand. The Palestinian gambit could have far-reaching consequences.
While it's impossible to predict how things will unfold, here's a look at some of the possible scenarios:
RESUMPTION OF VIOLENCE
Israelis fear a return to the violence that typified the first half of the previous decade, when Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli retaliations were the order of the day. Israeli media have warned of mass marches into Jerusalem, the besieging of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the storming of borders and attacking of army checkpoints.
The Palestinians do plan demonstrations to coincide with the diplomatic activity, but they insist all will be peaceful and dismiss Israel's fears, accusing it of heating up the atmosphere to discredit their efforts.
A senior Palestinian security official said the Palestinian president had given clear orders to prevent any friction with the Israelis at checkpoints and settlements.
ISRAEL UNDER LEGAL ASSAULT
Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath says the Palestinians would use their upgraded status to seek full membership in U.N. bodies like the World Health Organization, UNESCO, and the International Court of Justice. That's usually limited to full member states, raising the possibility of a challenge in each case.
"That will make life difficult for Israel because we will have to fight each one," said Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Shaath said the Palestinians will also appeal to the International Criminal Court "to protect our people from the Israeli crimes."
That court allows cases against individuals, whether members of the military or government. Although Israel - like the United States - is not a member, 116 countries, including most of Europe, are. Israeli soldiers or officials could face threat of arrest in any of them.
Former Israeli U.N. ambassador Gabriella Shalev also predicted a steadily increasing level of harassment for Israel - including possible economic sanctions, snags in trade agreements, and an increasing number of universities becoming inhospitable to Israelis. The flip side: A report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel noted that if the Palestinians join international conventions on torture, the rights of the child and the rules of engagement in war, they may themselves be exposed to charges by Israeli victims of suicide bombings, rocket barrages or other attacks.
ISRAEL'S FREEDOM OF ACTION IN GAZA
Israel claims it has no obligations to Gaza because its military occupation officially ended when in 2005 it unilaterally removed all settlers and soldiers from the coastal strip.
But Israel maintains control of most points of entry and airspace, and blockades it from the sea in a policy meant to keep Hamas government in check.
In response to attacks or threats, it bombards Gaza more or less at will, regularly killing militants but leaving considerable collateral destruction in its wake.
This arrangement will be much more difficult to sustain once the General Assembly has recognized Gaza to be part of a state, even if one that is a nonmember.
ISRAELI POLITICAL CHANGE
New talks aren't likely with the current Israeli government, but concern is rising in Israel about its isolation and mounting tensions with countries like Egypt, Turkey and even the United States.
Enough pressure could compel Netanyahu to jettison his nationalist coalition partners and ask the moderate Kadima opposition to form a government that will be more aligned with world opinion, and perhaps more amenable to the Palestinians. Public opinion could compel Kadima to agree, even though its leaders would far prefer to bring Netanyahu down.
4) UN recognition of a Palestinian state receives public approval in Europe
Polls in France, UK and Germany show the majority of people back recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN
Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, Monday 12 September 2011
Jerusalem - The majority of people in the UK, France and Germany want their governments to vote in favour of recognising a Palestinian state if a resolution is brought before the United Nations in the next few weeks, according to an opinion poll.
The three European countries are seen as crucial votes in the battle over the Palestinians' bid for statehood at the UN, which meets next week. All three are pressing for a return to peace negotiations as an alternative to pursuing the statehood strategy, but they have not declared their intentions if it comes to a UN vote.
In the UK, 59% of those polled said the government should vote in favour of a UN resolution recognising a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In France and Germany, the figures were 69% and 71% respectively. Support for the Palestinians' right to have their own state, without reference to the UN vote, was even higher: 71% in the UK, 82% in France and 86% in Germany.
The poll was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Avaaz, a global campaigning organisation that is conducting an online petition in support of a Palestinian state. It is planning to deliver more than 913,000 signatories backing what it describes as "this new opportunity for freedom" to the European parliament .
David Cameron must listen to the views of the public, said Ricken Patel of Avaaz. "The prime minister has a clear choice: stand with the British public and 120 other nations to support a Palestinian state and a new path to peace, or side with the US government, which continues to push for a failed status quo."
5) AP review finds no threatened WikiLeaks sources
Bradley Klapper and Cassandra Vinograd Associated Press, Sat, Sep 10, 2011
Washington - Federica Ferrari Bravo's story of meeting American diplomats in Rome seven years ago hardly reads like a James Bond spy novel or a Cold War tale of a brave informant sharing secrets to help the United States. So it came as a something of a surprise to her to hear that in one of the 250,000-odd State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, she was deemed a source so sensitive U.S. officials were advised not to repeat her name. "I don't think I said anything that would put me at risk," Ferrari Bravo said.
The Italian diplomat's episode, along with similar stories from several other foreign lawmakers, diplomats and activists cited in the U.S. cables as sources to "strictly protect," raises doubts about the scope of the danger posed by WikiLeaks' disclosures and the Obama administration's angry claims going back more than a year that the anti-secrecy website's revelations are threatening lives around the world. U.S. examples have been strictly theoretical.
The question of whether the dire warnings are warranted or overblown became more acute with the recent release all of the 251,287 diplomatic memos WikiLeaks held. Tens of thousands of confidential exchanges were dumped, emptying a trove of documents that had been released piecemeal since last year and initially with the cooperation of a select group of newspapers and magazines that blacked out some names and information before publishing the documents.
The latest cables were published in full, without the redaction of any names. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland branded the action "irresponsible, reckless and frankly dangerous," and the U.S. says the release exposes the names of hundreds of sensitive sources.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has blamed Britain's Guardian newspaper for publishing a secret encryption code, allowing intelligence agencies worldwide to access the cables and forcing WikiLeaks to provide the people affected the same information.
But an Associated Press review of the sources found several of them comfortable with their names in the open and no one fearing death. Others are already dead, their names cited as sensitive in the context of long-resolved conflicts or situations. Some have publicly written or testified at hearings about the supposedly confidential information they provided the U.S. government.
The Associated Press survey is selective and incomplete, as it focused on those sources the State Department seemed to categorize as most risky. The AP did not attempt to contact every named source in the new trove. It's generally up to the embassies themselves to decide which identities require heightened vigilance, officials say.
Still, the total damage appears limited and the State Department has steadfastly refused to describe any situation in which they've felt a source's life was in danger. They say a handful of people had to be relocated away from danger but won't provide any details on those few cases.
6) Bahrain needs U.S. attention now
Editorial, Washington Post, September 9
Bahrain has become the hidden story of the Arab Spring. While the popular uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen have dominated the news in recent months, far less attention has been paid to the tiny but strategic Persian Gulf emirate, which hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet. That's partly because Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family deflected criticism from the massive crackdown it launched in March by promising to initiate a dialogue with its opposition and implement political reforms. The regime, however, hasn't delivered - and now it is risking a new explosion of unrest that could destabilize not just Bahrain but the region around it.
The latest trouble began with the promised National Dialogue, which unraveled soon after it began in July. The government gave the largest opposition party five out of the assembly's 300 seats and left some crucial reform issues - such as the reform of parliamentary districts - off the agenda. Most of the opposition walked out before the "dialogue" concluded with several minor recommendations. One of them would increase the powers of the regime's principal hard-liner, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has been in office since 1971.
Another conciliatory initiative, a commission to investigate the unrest, has been undermined by the behavior of its Egyptian chairman, who has made public statements preemptively exonerating the ruling family. A promise to rehire thousands of workers fired from their state jobs because of their suspected support for the opposition has been only partly fulfilled. And while some political prisoners have been released - a group of doctors were freed this week after they and other prisoners staged a hunger strike - hundreds remain jailed and the regime continues to use a "court of national safety" to imprison opposition leaders.
Rather than moving toward reconciliation, Bahrain is more polarized than ever, and the fault line increasingly falls between the ruling Sunni elite and majority Shiite population. Clashes between protesters and police occur almost every night in Shiite villages, and the Aug. 31 death of a 14-year-old boy who the opposition says was struck by a tear gas canister has magnified the tension. Thoughtful Bahrainis worry that a new eruption of mass protests is imminent and that it may lead to a purely sectarian conflict that could spread to Saudi Arabia and even Iraq.
The United States has considerable leverage in Bahrain - through the 5th Fleet, military aid programs and a free-trade agreement. But the Obama administration has been timid here as elsewhere during the Arab Spring. In May, President Obama made a strong statement about Bahrain during a speech on the Middle East in which he promised to support the cause of democratic change across the region. But there has been no follow-up; no senior U.S. officials have visited Bahrain in months, and the administration has had nothing to say about the deteriorating situation. This is shortsighted: If Bahrain blows up, vital U.S. interests will be at risk. The administration should use its influence now - before the crisis resumes.
7) Blast Hits NATO Outpost In Afghanistan
Ray Rivera and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times, September 11, 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan - A cargo truck packed with explosives struck a NATO outpost south of the capital late Saturday, killing at least 5 people and wounding dozens more, including 77 members of coalition troops, NATO and Afghan officials said Sunday.
Among the dead was an 8-year-old girl who officials said was hit by flying shrapnel more than half a mile away.
The injury toll was one of the worst for foreign forces in a single episode in the decade-long war, and the attack came in the same district of Wardak Province where in August insurgents shot down an American Chinook helicopter, killing all 30 Americans and 8 Afghans on board.
No coalition troops died in Saturday's explosion, and none of their injuries were considered life threatening, NATO said in a statement, adding that many were expected to return to their duties shortly.
NATO did not release the nationalities of the wounded soldiers, but the outpost is run by Americans, who provide most of the soldiers in that region. The bomb struck in the district of Saydabad near the main highway that links Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.
The bombing was another indication of the eroding security situation in Wardak and other provinces close to the capital, even as NATO officials say violence in the country over all has begun to decline.
8) Turkey Wants Strong Ties with Arab Spring Countries
Fulya Ozerkan, AFP, Sat, Sep 10, 2011
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will on Monday begin an "Arab Spring" tour to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in a bid to forge stronger ties as relations with Israel are sinking to new lows over a flotilla row.
The visit to Egypt comes amid a state of high alert declared on Saturday in Cairo after protesters stormed the building housing Israel's embassy and clashed with police, prompting a mass evacuation of the ambassador and other staff, a Turkish diplomat said.
Erdogan, a popular leader on the Arab street due to his strong challenge to the Jewish state, will seek closer economic and military ties with the new rulers of Egypt as Turkey is positioning itself as a regional player.
A strong sympathizer of the Palestinian cause, Erdogan in the past embarrassed Egypt with his outspoken condemnation of Israel's treatment toward Palestinians, in contrast to the restraint of now ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime.
Besides his official talks, Erdogan will meet Egypt's young leaders who spearheaded the country's popular revolt that ousted the 82-year-old strongman.
In February, those young activists who gathered in Cairo's central Tahrir square listened live to Erdogan's calls for Mubarak to step down, as carried by Al-Jazeera television.
Erdogan's visit to Egypt comes at a time its relations with Israel have reached a new low after last-ditch efforts to reconcile between the once-regional allies over last year's deadly flotilla raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship failed.
On Thursday, Erdogan expressed his government's will to allow more ships to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying that Turkish warships would escort the country's aid vessels, a move sparking fears of a confrontation with Israel.
He also threatened to visit the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, entering via neighbouring Egypt, but Turkish officials ruled out such a trip for the time being, saying that Ankara did not want to become a problem for the new Egyptian administration.
Observers say the Turkish measures against Israel could boost the country's popularity in the Arab world as Ankara is also a fervent supporter of the Palestinians' drive for statehood at the United Nations later this month.
9) Journalist Who Supported Ousted President Becomes 15th Killed In 18 Months
RSF/Reporters without Borders, Saturday 10 September 2011
Medardo Flores, a radio journalist who supported former President Manuel Zelaya, was gunned down on the night of 8 September, joining the long list of journalists who have been killed since Zelaya's ouster in a June 2009 coup. Employed by Radio Uno in San Pedro Sula, he was slain in an ambush near his home in the Caribbean coast city of Puerto Cortés.
Regional finance manager of the pro-Zelaya Broad Front for Popular Resistance (FARP), Flores was shot just two days after another leading FARP figure, Emo Sadloo, was slain. Zelaya was allowed to return to Honduras in May.
Flores' death brings the number of Honduran journalists killed in the past 18 months to 15. A media owner was also killed. None of these murders has been solved.
"It will be very hard for the authorities to rule out the possibility that Flores was killed for political reasons or because of his work as a journalist," Reporters Without Borders said. "Aside from being a FARP member, he worked for a radio station that supports Zelaya so he was doubly exposed. Honduras is one of the hemisphere's most dangerous countries for the media and its journalists are again in mourning.
"Flores' murder is very worrying for the future of the process begun by the Cartagena accords and Honduras' readmission to the Organization of American States. What progress has it brought in terms of respect for human rights and civil liberties? We cannot wait to know what explanation the authorities will give to the UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, who is to visit Honduras from 27 September to 4 October."
Radio Uno has often been the target of harassment and raids by the police and army since the coup. Its founder and manager, Arnulfo Aguilar, narrowly escaped an armed ambush outside his home on 27 April.
10) Ex-General to Face Runoff in Guatemala
Damien Cave, New York Times, September 12, 2011
Mexico City - Otto Pérez Molina, a conservative former general who promises to crack down on violent gangs and drug cartels, finished first in Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday, but without enough votes to avoid a November runoff.
With 95 percent of the votes tallied on Monday, Mr. Pérez Molina, who played major roles both in Guatemala's bloody civil war and in negotiating the 1996 peace accords that ended it, had won 36 percent, short of the 50 percent plus one vote required for outright victory. Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy businessman running as a populist, had 24 percent of the vote and seemed destined for the Nov. 6 runoff. In third place with 16 percent was Eduardo Suger, a 72-year-old academic who built a network of private universities.
Mr. Pérez Molina, 60, had been polling stronger before Election Day, and his failure to win outright suggested that concerns among voters about his military past and his "iron fist" plans for crime fighting may have been greater than polls showed. Or, experts said, Mr. Baldizón's populism and well-financed campaign reached more voters than expected.
Voters waiting to cast ballots from the capital, Guatemala City, to the countryside over the weekend said they were motivated mostly by the fear of violent crime, which has become epidemic, with as many or more killings per day than during the war. Those who voted for Mr. Pérez Molina said they appreciated his strategic experience and his plan to put a better-equipped military on the streets to fight crime.
Mr. Baldizón, 41, has also pledged to fight crime and the Mexican cartels, which are particularly strong in the northern border region where Mr. Baldizón has built a network of businesses. His campaign largely emphasized a plan that would require companies to give workers an extra paycheck, which Parliament would not be likely to support in a country long controlled by a powerful corporate sector.
But he has also said he will expand the Guatemalan National Guard and increase use of the death penalty, even if it means pulling out of regional human rights agreements.
Experts say the get-tough approach of both candidates highlights how desperate Guatemalans have become in the face of spiraling insecurity. "It's like Colombia in 2001 and 2002, when insecurity and crime and violence were the dominant reality of daily life," said Cynthia Arnson, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. "People want order."
But Guatemala is still a country of nightmarish memories, and many people still struggle with the idea of electing a former general who remains a symbol of the war. Especially in the department of Quiché, in the mountainous villages where Mr. Pérez Molina served during the 1980s, when some of the war's worst atrocities were committed, there is a palpable fear of a return to violence.
Human rights advocates wonder if soldiers will once again kill with impunity and whether dubious accusations will lead to killings outside the law. They point out that while the military is considered less corrupt than the police or the justice system, this could easily change, given the money available from drug cartels.
Meanwhile residents like Mauricio Vaquez, from a relatively safe village near Cotzal, said that they were more concerned about poverty and failing infrastructure than crime. Mr. Vaquez said that sending more men with guns to Quiché and other mostly indigenous areas that suffered greatly during the war would create only more danger, not peace. "We've already seen the work the generals do," he said. "A lot of people say they know the mountains. They know because they pursued us here, and that's why we don't want them."
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