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JFP 1/19: Aristide wants to return home; Afghans blame US for Iran fuel cutoff
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 January 2011 - 5:11pm
Just Foreign Policy News
January 19, 2011
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Juan Cole: Tunisia Uprising led by Labor Movements, Internet Activists
Talking to Democracy Now, Juan Cole speculates on reasons US corporate media "blew off" the Tunisian revolution: it was led by workers' organizations; it was largely secular, not Islamist.
Center for Economic and Policy Research: Analysis of the OAS Mission's Draft Final Report on Haiti's Election
CEPR finds that the OAS Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusion that candidate Michel Martelly finished second and Jude Celestin third.
Robert Wright: Sharing the Burden of Peace
In his last "opinionator" column for the New York Times, Robert Wright argues that the logic of the U.S. "playing global cop" is dangerously circular: "A big reason that some nations view us so warily is that we assume the role of global cop - or, as they see it, of global bully… The cost of being global cop isn't confined to money; there's also the ill will that gets generated by the policing."
1) Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide wants to return to Haiti, Reuters reports. But Haitian authorities have denied him a passport. [According to statements of Haitian government officials in the WikiLeaks cables, Aristide - like any Haitian citizen - does not legally need a Haitian passport to return to Haiti. But he does need a travel document to travel - JFP.]
2) The US state department and the French foreign ministry have been ratcheting up pressure to force the government of Haiti to accept the decision of the US and France as to who should be allowed to compete in the second round of Haiti's presidential election, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. Amy Wilenz reports that President Preval has been threatened with "immediate exile" if he does not comply with US/French demands. The US/French effort to change the election results is highly unusual, Weisbrot notes, in that it is neither based on a recount nor on a new election. Six of the seven members of the OAS team recommending the change are from the US, France, and Canada - the three governments that led the effort to topple Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004.
3) Afghans are blaming the US for Iran's decision to restrict fuel supplies, the Los Angeles Times reports. In agricultural areas, some farmers are having difficulty finding and affording diesel to run their irrigation pumps. Such pressures can tip the balance between villagers supporting the U.S.-backed government or throwing in their lot with the Taliban, the LAT says.
4) Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary, Reuters reports. A congressional official said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged US interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers. But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable.
5) The Palestinians and their supporters on Wednesday presented a Security Council draft resolution declaring that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory are illegal, AP reports. The document was sponsored by Lebanon; 122 countries signed on as co-sponsors. The US signaled it would not back the resolution, AP says.
6) The Swiss government announced that it would move to freeze the Swiss assets of Ben Ali "and his entourage," and a Tunisian prosecutor has opened an investigation into all overseas assets of the ousted leader and his family, the New York Times reports. Reuters reported that the country's remaining political prisoners were freed on Wednesday, including members of the Islamist party, which remains banned.
7) Turkey is playing a leading role in mediating the conflict in Lebanon as the influence of the US recedes, the New York Times reports. Turkey is better placed to mediate an agreement than the US, analysts say, because it has good relations with both sides, instead of being perceived as a party to the conflict, as the US is perceived.
8) President Karzai decided on Wednesday to postpone the inauguration of a new parliament for another month on the recommendation of a special court he appointed to study electoral fraud, the New York Times reports. The court's chief judge declared that it could throw out the results of the election entirely if it wants. Winning candidates in the election are unlikely to accept any reworking of the results, while losing candidates say fraud and insecurity left much of the nation's majority Pashtun population disenfranchised in the balloting, the NYT says.
9) Palestinians on Tuesday raised their flag over the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington for the first time, AP reports. The PLO office has had permission from the State Department to fly the flag since last August, when the mission was upgraded from a representative office to a general delegation, but had been awaiting permission from the building's owner before displaying it, a Palestinian official said.
10) Reporters Without Borders condemned the five year prison sentence given to a journalist by a terrorism court in Yemen for allegedly collaborating with al-Qaeda. "The Yemeni authorities have used the pretext of combating terrorism to convict a journalist who is an expert on issues related to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and whose reporting tended to question the government's security policies," RSF said. "We condemn the mistreatment to which he has been subjected since arrest, which can be regarded as a case of forced disappearance, and we demand his immediate release."
11) Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned of a "Tunisia-style explosion" in Egypt as anti-government activists announced plans for a nationwide "day of anger" next week, the Guardian reports. "What has transpired in Tunisia is no surprise and should be very instructive both for the political elite in Egypt and those in the west that back dictatorships," ElBaradei said. Opposition groups are planning a series of national protests next Tuesday. "We hope it will be big, very big," said one of the organizers. "I think the most exciting thing about events in Tunisia is that we've seen that when people move, they move for democracy...It shows the choice that we're always being presented with in Egypt by Mubarak and the west - a choice between Mubarak's oppression or religious fundamentalism - is a false one."
12) The US is filing a formal objection to Bolivia's proposal to end the ban on coca leaf-chewing specified by a half-century-old U.N. treaty, AP reports. Coca leaves have been chewed by indigenous peoples in the Andes for centuries. The convention's provisions on coca-chewing are based on a "blatantly racist" 1950 report, the Washington Office on Latin America says. A former European drug official says European countries are likely to support the US because they "do not want to be seen to be unhelpful to the U.S. over an issue that is by no means at the top of their own domestic agendas."
1) Aristide wants to return home
Reuters, January 19 2011 at 09:18pm
Political turmoil increased further Wednesday in Haiti, as former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide hinted he might follow former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in returning to the country.
Aristide - currently exiled in South Africa - is reportedly mulling a return to the troubled Caribbean country, which has lost hundreds of thousands of lives in a massive quake and a cholera epidemic over the past year.
Aristide's return would be harder than Duvalier's arrival, however, because Haitian authorities have denied him a passport. Aristide, 57, went into exile in February 2004, amid an armed uprising at home and huge pressure from abroad for his exit.
2) Haiti's democracy in the balance
'Baby Doc' Duvalier's return does not change the basic issue for Haiti: only an election re-run can thwart foreign interference
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Tuesday 18 January 2011 17.46 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jan/18/haiti-usa
The return to Haiti - and now, possible arrest - of the infamous former dictator, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, after 25 years in exile in the south of France, has made the headlines this week. But behind the scenes, the US state department and the French foreign ministry have been ratcheting up the pressure on the impoverished, earthquake-wrecked and cholera-stricken country of Haiti. The pressure is not to prosecute the dictator for his atrocities, as human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have recommended. The pressure is to force the government of Haiti to accept the decision of the United States and France as to who should be allowed to compete in the second round of Haiti's presidential election.
It is worth looking at the details of this international subversion of the democratic process in Haiti - just to see just how outrageous it is. The first thing to notice is how unusual it is for any electoral authority to change the results of an election without a recount of the vote. Imagine that happening in Florida in 2000, or Mexico in 2006, or in any close, disputed election with irregularities. It just wouldn't happen. There could be a recount and a new result; the original result could stand; or the election could be redone. But the electoral authorities don't just change the result without a recount.
Now, add into the mix that the electoral body seeking to change the result of the election is the Organisation of American States (OAS). More accurately, it is Washington, which controls the bureaucracy of the OAS in these situations (unless there is a lot of pushback from South America, as happened after the Honduran coup in 2009).
In fact, six of the seven members of the OAS "expert verification mission" are from the United States, Canada and France. France! Not a member of the OAS but the former slave-holding colonial power that was still forcing Haiti to pay for its loss of property (that is, the slaves who liberated themselves) until the 1940s. Apparently, the OAS couldn't find any experts in all of Latin America (though they found one from Jamaica) to review Haiti's election.
This is not a matter of political correctness; rather, it indicates how much Washington wanted to control the result of this OAS mission. These are the three governments that led the effort to topple Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004. WikiLeaks cables released this week show that the United States also pressured Brazil to help keep Aristide out of Haiti after the coup. Since Aristide was, and remains to this day, the most popular politician in the country, the WikiLeaks cables show that Washington and its allies also worked to keep him from having any influence on the country from his forced exile in South Africa.
As it turns out, the OAS "experts" did a very poor job on their election analysis. They threw out 234 tally sheets, thus changing the election result. According to the OAS, the government candidate, Jude Celestin, was pushed into third place and, therefore, out of the runoff election. This leaves two rightwing candidates - former first lady Mirlande Manigat, and popular musician Michel Martelly - to compete in the runoff. The OAS has Martelly taking second place by just 3,200 votes, or 0.3% of the vote.
The first problem with the OAS mission's report is that there were more than 1,300 ballot sheets, representing about 156,000 votes, that went missing or were quarantined. This is about six times as many ballot sheets as the ones that the mission eliminated. Since these areas were more pro-Celestin than the rest of the country, he would very likely have come in second if the missing tally sheets had been included. The mission did not address this problem in its report.
The second problem is that the mission examined only 919 of the 11,181 tally sheets to find the 234 that they threw out. This would not be so strange if they had used statistical inference, as is commonly done in polling, to say something about the other 92% of ballot sheets, which they did not examine. However, this is not included in the leaked report.
Lacking the force of logic, the US and French governments are turning to the logic of force to get the result that they want. Journalism professor and author Amy Wilentz wrote this weekend in the LA Times: "According to many sources, including the president himself, the international community has threatened Preval with immediate exile if he does not bow to their interpretation of election results."
These are not empty threats. Preval's predecessor, Aristide, was whisked out of the country on a US plane in 2004. And now the US ambassador to Haiti is making it clear, in mafia-godfather-style, that this is an offer he cannot refuse: "US ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said in an interview that the US government supports the OAS report and its conclusions. 'The international community is entirely unified on this point. There is nothing to negotiate in the report,' Merten said."
The French weighed in on Friday, AFP reports: "France warned Haiti's government on Friday to respect a report by OAS poll monitors that is thought to call for President Rene Preval's preferred successor to drop out of the election race …"
So far, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) hasn't caved. But the pressure and threats are very intense. Some of it appears to come from hard-right Republicans, whose influence on foreign policy in the western hemisphere has remained strong under the Obama administration and has increased with their takeover of the House of Representatives. Rightwing activists such as Roger Noriega, who was involved in the 2004 Haitian coup as President Bush's assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, are among those fighting to control the runoff election in Haiti.
It is quite possible that the hard right was responsible for the leaking of the draft OAS mission report. On Monday, OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza - embarrassed and angered by the leak, and probably also by Washington and France's gross disregard for Haiti's sovereignty and democratic rights- sought to downplay the mission's report: "The report, Insulza said, is based on "calculations" and not results. "It's not in our power to give results," he told the Miami Herald. "We are not publishing any kind of results."
Of course, the obvious solution would be to re-run the election, since nearly three-quarters of registered voters didn't vote in the first round, reflecting the fact that the country's largest political party - not coincidentally, the party of Aristide - was arbitrarily excluded. But Washington and its allies don't want to take any chances that they could end up with a free and fair election in Haiti, which hasn't led to their preferred outcome in the very few times that it has been allowed.
3) Afghan fuel shortage spreads to Kabul
Iran's month-old blockade has brought higher prices and shorter tempers, along with resentment toward NATO forces, which Afghans blame for Tehran's decision to restrict supplies.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 9:22 PM PST, January 18, 2011
Kabul - Winter in Afghanistan is always a hardscrabble time, but this year the season's bite has been sharpened by a growing shortage of fuel. And because the dwindling supply is due to an Iranian blockade, the dispute is further tangling complicated dealings with a powerful neighbor.
For the last five weeks, a traffic jam of fuel tankers, now swelled to about 2,500 vehicles, has been backed up at the Iranian-Afghan frontier, with only a fraction of the usual number allowed to pass. The resulting shortages were initially felt most keenly in the agricultural south and west. But in recent weeks, the effects have spread to the crowded, car-choked capital, Kabul, with higher pump prices, longer lines and ever-shortening tempers.
"Sometimes people get angry and argue with us about why it has become so expensive, but there is nothing we can do about it," said gas station attendant Abdul Farwad, who was manning the pumps on a recent chilly morning, fending off customers' grumbles as he did so. In the last month, the cost of a gallon of gasoline has risen by about 20%, to $4.35 in the capital, with higher prices in the provinces.
As often happens, some of the resentment is aimed at a highly visible target: the 150,000-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization force. Iranian officials have blamed the chokehold on "technical reasons" but also have suggested that at least some fuel ends up in the hands of the Western military.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which is composed largely of U.S. troops, has stated repeatedly that its supply routes do not run through Iran. But the denials are to little avail; the belief that Americans are indirectly responsible for the fuel shortage has taken hold strongly among many Afghans.
Analysts say a likelier culprit is regional muscle-flexing, with Afghanistan cast in its familiar role as the pawn of great powers. When Iran feels squeezed by the United States, it can in turn put the squeeze on Afghanistan, where few tasks are easier than stoking resentment against the unpopular administration of President Hamid Karzai.
A potential break in the crisis came Tuesday, when Karzai's office announced that Tehran was prepared to ease the restrictions in coming days provided that Afghanistan spells out for Iran its fuel requirements. But Afghanistan has previously balked at, in effect, petitioning Iran for permission to import what it needs.
Afghanistan is entirely dependent on the outside world for fuel, and between one-third and half of it passes through Iran. Afghan officials have talked of trying to develop direct supply links with neighbors such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. But in the meantime, Iran has a heavy hand on the spigot.
In this instance, Iran's motivation is murky. Some observers have pointed to continuing U.S. pressure over its nuclear program. "Above all, for Iran, it's a way of showing power," said Haroon Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul.
In agricultural areas, some farmers are having difficulty finding and affording diesel to run their irrigation pumps. The insurgency is strongest in the south, and such pressures can tip the balance between villagers supporting the U.S.-backed government or throwing in their lot with the Taliban.
Farmers come under constant threats and blandishments from the insurgents to switch to growing opium poppies, which do not need as much water and can be trafficked by the Taliban to fund its war effort. Noor Agha, a farmer in the bitterly contested Arghandab district of Kandahar province, said that because of a lack of fuel for irrigation pumps, it was all he could do to save his fruit orchards. His wheat fields, and those of his neighbors, were a loss. "And tomorrow," he said, "the Taliban will come and tell us there is another way."
4) U.S. officials privately say WikiLeaks damage limited
Mark Hosenball, Reuters, Tue Jan 18, 4:33 pm ET
Washington - Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary.
A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers. "I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster," the official said.
But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. "We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.
But current and former intelligence officials note that while WikiLeaks has released a handful of inconsequential CIA analytical reports, the website has made public few if any real intelligence secrets, including reports from undercover agents or ultra-sensitive technical intelligence reports, such as spy satellite pictures or communications intercepts.
Shortly before WikiLeaks began its gradual release of State Department cables last year, department officials sent emails to contacts on Capitol Hill predicting dire consequences, said one of the two congressional aides briefed on the internal government reviews.
However, shortly after stories about the cables first began to appear in the media, State Department officials were already privately playing down the damage, the two congressional officials said.
5) UN council considers Israeli settlement issue
Anita Snow, Associated Press, Wednesday, January 19, 2011; 2:17 PM
United Nations - The Palestinians and their supporters on Wednesday presented a Security Council draft resolution declaring that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory are illegal - despite a U.S. appeal not to.
The document, sponsored by Lebanon, was circulated as the council engaged in open debate on the Middle East, including Palestinian issues. An additional 122 countries signed on as co-sponsors.
The proposed resolution reiterates demands that Israel halt all settlement building in Palestinian territory. It says that settlements built in occupied territory since 1967, including disputed East Jerusalem, "are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."
The resolution also called on Israel and the Palestinians to continue negotiations to wrap up final issues by September 2011 as called for by the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia. It said international and regional diplomatic efforts should be intensified to support and invigorate the peace process.
"If it was up to us, we would love to see the Security Council acting on it immediately," said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian observer to the U.N., but acknowledged that U.S. opposition would make it difficult.
The United States, among five permanent members on the 15-country council with veto power, signaled it would not back the resolution.
Key Middle East peace issues "can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties - and not by recourse to the Security Council," said Rosemary A. DiCarlo, deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. "We therefore consistently oppose attempts to take these issues to this council."
6) Tunisian Opposition Pushes for Coalition Changes
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, January 19, 2011
Tunis - Leaders of Tunisia's tiny legal opposition parties prepared a push to reshuffle the nascent unity government, scrambling Wednesday to appease public anger that at the cabinet's continued dominance by members of the ruling party of the ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Opposition leaders portrayed themselves as walking a tightrope, balancing the public's demand for a purge of the old ruling party against their fears of a government collapse that could invite a military takeover. "We are walking on eggs," said Ahmed Bouazzi, a member of the executive committee of the Progressive Democratic Party, the largest and most credible legal opposition group.
Mr. Bouazzi of the Progressive Democratic Party - the largest and most credible recognized opposition group, which claims all of a 1,000 members - said that after decades under Mr. Ben Ali's one party rule the opposition had miscalculated in settling for only relatively minor position in the unity government.
"We - I, personally - did not realize the balance of forces, that the ruling party was so weak as a party" when the prime minister called about forming a unity government, he said, entering a meeting to internal party meeting to prepare demands for the first cabinet meeting Thursday. "If it was now, we would say, 'no, you should fire this one and this one and this one, and give us that one.' "
For now, the government owes its tenuous grip on stability to Gen. Rashid Ammar, who is believed to have triggered the end of Mr. Ben Ali's rule by refusing an order to fire at demonstrators. "He is controlling the country, the heavy weapons," said Ahmed Bouazzi, an executive committee member of the largest legal opposition party the Progressive Democratic Party, which says it counts about a total of about 1,000 members.
On Wednesday, the Swiss government announced that it would move to freeze the Swiss assets of Mr. Ben Ali "and his entourage," and The Associated Press reported that a Tunisian prosecutor had opened an investigation into all overseas assets of the ousted leader and his family.
In Geneva, Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said that an assessment team would head to Tunisia within a week to investigate possible abuses during four weeks of protests that drove Mr. Ben Ali from power. More than 100 people died during that period, Ms. Ally said, including more than 70 killed by live fire from security forces.
The United Nations team, she said, would help Tunisia's interim government see that abuses of the "recent and more distant past are investigated and those found responsible for breaches are brought to justice."
At the same time, Reuters reported that the country's remaining political prisoners were freed on Wednesday, including members of the Islamist party, which remains banned. Najib Chebbi, an opposition minister in the coalition government, told Reuters, no party members remained in jail.
7) Lebanon Shows Shift of Influence in Mideast
Anthony Shadid, New York Times, January 18, 2011
Beirut, Lebanon - In Lebanon's worst crisis in years, whose resolution may determine whether Hezbollah controls a government allied with the United States, American diplomacy has become the butt of jokes here. Once a decisive player here, Saudi Arabia has all but given up. In their stead is Turkey, which has sought to mediate a crisis that, given events on Tuesday in Beirut's streets, threatens to turn violent before it is resolved.
The confrontation here is the latest sign of a shifting map of the Middle East, where longtime stalwarts like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have further receded in influence, and emerging powers like Turkey, Iran and even the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar have decisively emerged in just a matter of a few years. It is yet another episode in which the United States has watched - seemingly helplessly - as events in places like Tunisia, Lebanon and even Iraq unfold unexpectedly and beyond its ability to control.
The jockeying might be a glimpse of a post-American Middle East, where the United States' allies and foes, brought together in the interests of stability, plot foreign policies that intersect in initiatives the United States must grudgingly accept.
"There is a sense that the regional players have gone up as the United States has gone down in terms of its presence, its viability, its role," said a high-ranking Lebanese official allied with the American-backed side in the crisis, which erupted last week.
In a series of stalemates - from the Arab-Israeli conflict to Lebanon - Turkey has proved the most dynamic, projecting an increasingly assertive and independent foreign policy in an Arab world bereft of any country that matches its stature. Its success is a subtle critique of America's longstanding policy in the Middle East of trying to isolate and ostracize its enemies. From Hezbollah here to the followers of a populist, anti-American cleric in Iraq, Turkey has managed to forge dialogue with America's enemies and allies alike.
"Turkey has become, I think, until the contrary is proven, an indispensable state in the reorganizing of this region," said Sarkis Naoum, an analyst and prominent columnist in Beirut.
After the summit meeting in Damascus on Monday, the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey visited Beirut on Tuesday, seeing all the parties to the conflict. The trip itself seemed to signal a more intense regional effort that has filled a vacuum left by what some officials describe as an incoherent Saudi policy and an unfocused American approach.
"I wouldn't call it an aggressive role," Mohammed Chattah, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Hariri, said of the American effort here. "I wouldn't even call it a central role, certainly not at this stage. The regional players are much more visible."
Even for American allies, like Mr. Hariri, the United States has become such a contentious player, loathed so deeply by one side in the crisis, that a more visible role would only harm its friends. In an embarrassing episode, its ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for interfering in Lebanon's affairs after a visit to a minor lawmaker. The meeting was soon skewered by television stations across the spectrum.
In Lebanon on Tuesday, Turkey found the rarest of circumstances when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived here: a welcome from both sides. "They're well placed more than any other country in the region," said Mr. Chattah, the foreign policy adviser to Mr. Hariri.
Ali Hamdan, an aide to Nabih Berri, the Parliament speaker and an ally of Hezbollah, called Turkey "helpful." He added, "Their international relations will help market any deal they can reach."
8) Karzai Delays Afghan Parliament as Vote Crisis Deepens
Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland, New York Times, January 19, 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai decided on Wednesday to postpone the inauguration of a new parliament for another month on the recommendation of a special court he appointed to study electoral fraud, deepening the nation's political crisis.
The move will leave Afghanistan without a Parliament five months after its September election, with the prospect of even further delays, and puts the president at odds with his international supporters, who have insisted the elections were valid.
The winning candidates and a range of Afghan and international officials consider the special court unconstitutional and say Afghanistan's election commissions, which have certified the results, have final say over the legitimacy of the election. The commissions have refused to cooperate with the court, saying it has no jurisdiction.
But in a courtroom packed with candidates declared losers by the Independent Election Commission on Wednesday, the court's chief judge, Sediqullah Haqiq, declared that it could throw out the results of the election entirely if it wants, and asked President Karzai to postpone seating the new parliament. The inauguration was scheduled for this Sunday.
While the losers were jubilant at Judge Haqiq's declaration, the move threatened political turmoil and an even more protracted period in which President Hamid Karzai is in effect ruling by decree, as he has since Parliament disbanded in advance of the Sept. 14 poll.
The president's decision seemed certain to deepen the rift between the winning candidates, who are unlikely to accept any reworking of the results, and the losers, who say fraud and insecurity left much of the nation's majority Pashtun population, based mostly in the south, disenfranchised in the balloting.
9) Palestinians raise flag at Washington office
Matthew Lee, Associated Press, Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 3:52 PM
Washington - Palestinians on Tuesday raised their flag over the PLO diplomatic mission in Washington for the first time, as they push for international recognition that complicates the Obama administration's efforts to restart stalled Mideast peace talks.
At a brief ceremony, the Palestinian's chief envoy to the United States, Maen Areikat, hoisted the red, green, white and black banner outside the PLO General Delegation office. He said he hopes the symbolic act would help win support for independence with or without a peace deal with Israel.
"We are proud to see the flag," Areikat said. "It's about time that this flag that symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood is raised in the United States. We hope that this will help in the international efforts to provide recognition for the Palestinian state."
The envoy acknowledged that the flag-raising has no practical effect for U.S. policy, but he said it was an "important, significant step" toward seeking recognition from the United States and others. He said he hoped the Obama administration would move to recognize Palestine as an independent state, something the U.S. has said it will not do until there is a negotiated peace deal with Israel.
Palestinian statehood is "an international interest, a U.S. interest and in the interest of all the parties in the Middle East," Areikat said.
The PLO office has had permission from the State Department to fly the flag since last August, when the mission was upgraded from a representative office to a general delegation, but had been awaiting permission from the building's owner before displaying it, he said.
In the meantime, the Palestinians are continuing to push for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for ongoing settlement activity in the West Bank. That could be brought to the council as early as this week.
Combined with the push for international recognition, the resolution puts the administration in a difficult position. The United States is opposed to the construction of Israeli housing settlements but at the same time does not want to endorse a resolution that is critical only of Israel, its main Mideast ally.
U.S. officials are grappling with whether or not to veto the resolution should it come to a vote in the council. One official said discussions were continuing on how to avoid a veto by either modifying the language or convincing the Palestinians to abandon the effort.
In the West Bank, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians and their backers have agreed on the wording for the anti-settlement resolution. He said he expects it to be submitted to the Security Council in coming days.
Erekat said he believes the resolution will have the support of at least 14 council members and that the Palestinians still hope the U.S. will also vote in favor and turn it into a unanimous decision.
Another Palestinian official said several Security Council members and Arab countries have asked the Palestinians to hold off for several days in hopes of persuading the U.S. not to veto the resolution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.
10) Reporter sentenced to five years in prison for alleged Al-Qaeda links
Reporters Without Borders, 18 January 2011
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the sentence of five years in prison followed by two years of house arrest that a Sanaa court specializing in terrorism cases passed today on Ilah Haydar Shae, a reporter employed by the Saba news agency, for allegedly collaborating with Al-Qaeda.
"The Yemeni authorities have used the pretext of combating terrorism to convict a journalist who is an expert on issues related to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and whose reporting tended to question the government's security policies," Reporters Without Borders said.
"We condemn the mistreatment to which he has been subjected since arrest, which can be regarded as a case of forced disappearance, and we demand his immediate release," the press freedom organisation added.
Kept in solitary confinement in an intelligence agency detention centre in Sanaa since his arrest, Shae refused to attend several recent hearings because he disputed the court's legality. He also disputed the legality of his arrest in August and a previous arrest on 11 July, insisting that those responsible for these arrests were the ones who should be prosecuted.
According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, Shae has been tortured since his arrest (http://en.rsf.org/yemen-fourth-hearing-in-detained-24-11-2010,38885.html).
Meanwhile, Fouad Rashid, a journalist who was arrested arbitrarily in Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramaut province (500 km east of Sanaa), on 10 January, is still being held. Rashid is the founder and editor of the Arabic-language news website Al-Mukalla Press, which has regularly covered the unrest in the south of the country.
11) Mohamed ElBaradei warns of 'Tunisia-style explosion' in Egypt
Jack Shenker, Guardian, Tuesday 18 January 2011 18.38 GMT
Cairo - The Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei has warned of a "Tunisia-style explosion" in his country as self-immolation protests proliferated and anti-government activists announced plans for a nationwide "day of anger" next week.
"What has transpired in Tunisia is no surprise and should be very instructive both for the political elite in Egypt and those in the west that back dictatorships," ElBaradei told the Guardian. "Suppression does not equal stability, and anybody who thinks that the existence of authoritarian regimes is the best way to maintain calm is deluding themselves."
The Nobel peace prize winner repeated his call for the Egyptian government to implement urgent political reforms, claiming that the citizens of the Arab world's largest nation were "yearning desperately for economic and social change" and that without drastic improvements, a "Tunisia-style explosion" in Egypt would be unavoidable.
Opposition groups are planning a series of national protests next Tuesday, coinciding with a public holiday designed to celebrate the achievements of the police force - an institution that has galvanised popular anger against the state in recent months after high-profile police torture allegations and the deaths of several Egyptians in police custody.
"We hope it will be big, very big" said Ahmed Salah, one of the organisers. "Whether it will provide the spark that brings down the regime we simply don't know. But I think the most exciting thing about events in Tunisia is that we've seen that when people move, they move for democracy - not for religion, not for elite interests, not for private loyalties. It shows the choice that we're always being presented with in Egypt by Mubarak and the west - a choice between Mubarak's oppression or religious fundamentalism - is a false one."
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, said the Egyptian opposition had been emboldened by the uprising in Tunisia. "In the last couple days, we've already seen a newfound energy and optimism that wasn't there a month ago. Perception is sometimes more important than reality. And, now, perhaps for the first time, Egyptian opposition groups believe they have a chance.
"Before Tunisia, no one thought it would be possible to unseat Arab leaders any time soon. But now many Egyptians are asking, if the Tunisians can do it, why can't we? After all, conditions in Egypt are worse. Unemployment is higher, and the gap between between the rich and the rest of society is larger."
But he said a popular revolt in Egypt would be more difficult. "The Egyptian regime has always been particularly adept at playing the Islamist card. Tunisia didn't have a large Islamist opposition to frighten people with. There is a minority in Egypt that will stop at nothing to prevent Islamists from even having a chance to gain power. Also, Tunisia wasn't crucial to western security interests.
"Egypt, on the other hand, is the second largest recipient of US aid and is a pro-American pillar in the region. The US can afford to lose Tunisia. But Egypt is a different story. The Obama administration won't take too kindly to the idea of losing Egypt to the opposition, particularly when that opposition is likely to include the Muslim Brotherhood."
12) US objects to Bolivia bid for licit coca-chewing
Frank Bajak, Associated Press, Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 7:03 PM
Bogota, Colombia - The United States will file a formal objection Wednesday to Bolivia's proposal to end the ban on coca leaf-chewing specified by a half-century-old U.N. treaty, according to a senior U.S. government official. "We hope that a number of other countries will file as well," the official told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He spoke on condition he not be further identified, citing the topic's political sensitivity.
Despite being stigmatized as the raw material of cocaine, coca leaves have been chewed by indigenous peoples in the Andes for centuries. A mild stimulant, the leaves have deep cultural and religious value in the region. Chewed or consumed as tea, coca counters altitude sickness, aids digestion and suppresses hunger and fatigue.
Jan. 31 is the deadline for nations to raise objections with the United Nations to Bolivia's proposed amendment to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to remove language that obliges signatories to prohibit the chewing of coca leaves. If none are registered, it would automatically take effect.
Bolivia's leftist government, which is led by a former coca growers union leader, and its supporters contend the language it wants removed is discriminatory.
The convention's stipulation that coca-chewing be phased out within 25 years after it took effect in 1964 is based on a "blatantly racist" 1950 report, according to liberal advocacy groups Washington Office on Latin America and the Transnational Institute.
The Bolivian proposal would leave in place language that made coca leaves a controlled substance, said Pablo Solon, the country's U.N. ambassador.
Bolivian President Evo Morales launched a global campaign after his 2005 election seeking to declare coca licit, chewing it at international forums and presenting coca leaf-embossed art works and musical instruments to foreign officials including then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "How can it be possible that the coca leaf, which represents our identity, which is ancestral, be penalized," Morales, an Aymara Indian, told reporters Friday before dispatching his foreign minister to Europe to lobby for the proposal.
The U.S. arguments are outmoded and "there is not a single scientific study left that shows coca is a dangerous substance," said Paul Gootenberg, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and author of "Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug."
"Traditionally the argument was that coca was basically cocaine and could be used illicitly to distill cocaine. But that was never realistic," he said, noting that it would take 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of coca leaves to produce 2.2 pounds (a single kilogram) of cocaine. "It has never happened and it never would. It doesn't make any sense from a smuggler's perspective."
Carel Edwards, who retired six months ago as head of the EU Commission's drug policy unit, said many European nations currently consumed by economic woes "do not want to be seen to be unhelpful to the U.S. over an issue that is by no means at the top of their own domestic agendas."
They understand, he said, that given the extreme violence of the drug war in neighboring Mexico, "combined with the rather simplistic and populist views held by the general public on (narcotics) in the U.S., it is difficult for any U.S. administration to go along with the Bolivian request."
Gootenberg said the United States is encountering greater resistance these days to its position on coca leaf. "As global cultural rights have come to the forefront of the U.N.'s agenda (its) anti-coca policy is a glaring contradiction," he said.
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