This week in conflict… February 12th-18th, 2011.

World

  • The World Bank (WB) estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since last summer by soaring commodity prices. Food prices are said to have risen by almost 30% over the past year.
  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) pledged to increase their cooperation with the UN this week, from stabilizing Afghanistan to boosting cyber security. The OSCE contains 56 States from the US, across Europe and Central Asia to the borders of China.
  • A new academic paper finds that countries with IMF programmes failed to increase public health spending when receiving additional health aid, responding to a recent article in the Lancet that argued that routing health aid through NGOs rather than developing country governments might be more effective in increasing actual expenditure on health services. The IMF denounced the study as having serious methodological problems.
  • A new Web-based database and research tool will expand what academic researchers, international human rights advocates, journalists, students and the public know about government repression. The Illustrative Information Interface allows anyone with Internet access to register his or her view of the scope and severity of government abuse for a particular geographic area from 1900 to the present.
  • A new report published by Universities UK, suggests that vice-chancellors should reject demands to ban controversial speakers, and engage with, rather than proscribe” extreme political views on campuses. The report is expected to emphasize how seriously universities take their responsibility for the security of students, alongside obligations to promote free speech and academic freedom.
  • A UN report concludes that there is a need to find a new way to describe the “fluid and changing” ways in which men care for and support children, redefining the concept of fatherhood. More men are taking on a parenting role more accurately described as “social fatherhood”.

Africa

  • The overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak has inspired unrest throughout the Middle East, including new violence in Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, and Algeria. On Sunday, the Egyptian military dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and called for an election to be held within six months. Police in Cairo, Egypt dismantled remaining tents in Tahrir Square on Monday, in an attempt to get the country back to work. While anti-government protests have quieted down, workers strikes and protests calling for better worker conditions still rage on. Military leaders met with opposition leaders to discuss constitutional amendments for approval in a national referendum within two months, giving them 10 days to finish the revisions. Critics argue that the constitution needs to be rewritten from scratch. Engineers began to assess the Internet blockage they faced during the uprisings, concerned that similar methods could be spread to other places of unrest.  The new army rulers have appointed a retired judge, respected in legal circles for his independent views, to head a committee set up to propose constitutional changes. Some of the organizers of protests announced on Wednesday that they had formed a “Council of Trustees” to negotiate the country’s transition to democracy. On Friday, Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the ousting of President Mubarak.
  • The National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) must now decide on the future of the UN peacekeeping force established in the country before the referendum for monitoring the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Several advocacy groups have warned of the pitfalls of shifting the focus away from the peace agreement for Darfur, as the region has seen escalating levels of violence in the last two months.  At least 80% of the border between North and South has been so far demarcated, though in several regions, such as Abyei, the demarcation remains a contentious issue. On Saturday, three traders were killed in Abyei by an angry mob after a soldier allegedly attempted to enter the town market. On Tuesday, authorities said that at least 211 people were killed in the attacks by a renegade militia in Jonglei last week. The UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is said to have significantly stepped up its patrols as a response to an upsurge of violence and adopted a new approach on movement and access in order to help protect civilians.
  • Hundreds of anti-government protesters clashed with police on Tuesday night in eastern Libya, reportedly triggered by the arrest of a human rights campaigner. Government supporters had reportedly taken over the square where demonstrators met by Wednesday. Thursday was scheduled as a “Day of Rage”, and saw hundreds of anti-government protesters again clashing with police and government supporters, as the unrest spread to more cities. Security forces are said to have killed at least 24 in the crackdown of protesters. On Friday, the protests continued, with video showed protesters knocking over a statue of Muammar Gaddafi.
  • At least 20 people are dead following explosions at Tanzania People Defense Forces arms’ depot in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday night. Twenty-three depots were razed in the explosions, along with at least two residences and a secondary school.
  • An elderly couple was beheaded while their two grandchildren were beaten to death in an attack on a village in central Nigeria on Saturday, in what is suspected to be a ritual killing done in the belief that sacrifices will bring social success and political power. At least six people were killed on Tuesday in Jos during the Eid’l Maulud celebration. The chief judge in Borno State cited that at least 109 have been lost to extrajudicial killings this past year.
  • Analysts predict the demise of Zimbabwe‘s Government of National Unity approaching, as the country is expected to have a national poll sometime this year. On Wednesday, the EU decided to remove 35 people from the visa ban and asset freeze list and to extend the validity of the remaining measures. On Tuesday, police are said to have seized cars belonging to PM Tsvangirai’s official escort and arrested his drivers for possessing beacon lights usually found on police vehicles. Independent newspaper vendors report they are being harassed by suspect ZANU-PF thugs.  PM Tsvangirai threatened to boycott a rushed election this year, arguing that it was important to create conditions for a free and fair election first.
  • The new Tunisian foreign minister resigned from his post this week, after anger at compliments paid to his French counterpart. There are also reports that ousted President Ben Ali is in a coma, after suffering either a stroke or a heart attack and is listed as in critical condition. Thirty-five inmates of a Tunisian prison escaped after assaulting their guards on Wednesday, though most were recaptured.
  • The opposition in Uganda expressed their fears of vote rigging prior to Friday’s vote, as the Electoral Commission announced it would dispatch ballot papers to selected districts 48 hours before the vote. The army is also said to be more involved than previously anticipated, even though the police are legally mandated to provide security during the elections process. On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Speaker ordered 77 lawmakers who changed their political platforms ahead of this year’s election to vacate Parliament, calling their actions unconstitutional. Disputes over land in northern Uganda are reported to be escalating, affecting the resettlement plans of former internally displaced people. President Museveni dismissed predictions of an Egypt-inspired protest erupting after elections on Friday and repeated threats to arrest the main opposition leader. A record turnout is expected. Authorities ordered phone companies to intercept text messages with certain key words or phrases for fear of elections violence.
  • Algerian civil society groups organized thousands to protest on Saturday, despite a ban on marching and are said to be planning for another protest next Saturday. Police are said to have briefly detained several hundred, but that there were no reported injuries. The government said it will soon end its 19 year-old state of emergency. One of the founders of the state, Abdelamid Mehri, called upon the President to replace the undemocratic system of rule and reform the government.
  • Protests continued in Gabon, with demonstrators saying their president also stole an election and has presided over corruption. Troops are said to have suppressed the protests with tear gas and arrests.
  • Demonstrators protesting against the chronic fuel crisis in Malawi were stopped by police on Monday, but have vowed to continue. The protesters are frustrated by the government’s reluctance to tell the people the true reasons for the crisis.
  • Eighty-nine people were arrested on Tuesday in South Africa for public violence in Wesselton, after protesters allegedly raged, firing live ammunition, burning tires, throwing stones and blocking roads. On Thursday, two men were seriously injured after their truck was petrol bombed in Durban in the fourth day of the road freight workers countrywide strike.
  • Incumbent Ivorian President Gbagbo has asked the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice to declare the threat of force against him by ECOWAS Heads of State illegal, calling the proclamation a clear violation of the ECOWAS treaty that respects sovereignty of Member states.  Around 1,000 cocoa farmers and cooperative managers protested inside the regulatory body in Abidjan on Tuesday demanding an end to the cocoa export ban that many fear will ruin the industry and continued to protest on Thursday at the EU offices. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council decided to extend the temporary redeployment of peacekeeping units from Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire for up to three month. Long lines were seen outside several banks with people eagerly awaiting to withdraw their savings amid rumours of a cash shortage, after several international banks shut this week. By Friday, all banks closed as a result of international sanctions and Gbagbo announced that all major banks that had suspended business would be nationalized. The UNHCR has begun to relocate Ivorians in Liberia to a newly established camp further west of the border and hopes to move an estimated 15,000 into the camp over the next couple of weeks.
  • A man set himself on fire in front of the presidential palace in Senegal on Friday. A private radio station reported that the man was a soldier wearing his military fatigues when he set himself on fire. It was not immediately clear why he set himself on fire, but many suspect it is related to the similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
  • At least five people were killed and an additional 10 wounded on Tuesday after government forces fired on a demonstration against al-Shabaab in Somalia. On Thursday, Somaliland police announced they had seized a Somali Transitional Federal Government minister, under order from the break away republic of Somaliland.
  • Madagascar‘s exiled former leader Ravalomanana plans to return home on Saturday to help work on a solution to the leadership row triggered by his overthrow two years ago. The President dismissed the talk of return as a rumour aimed at dividing popular opinion and announced on Wednesday that if the ousted President enters the country he will be arrested.
  • The UN peacekeeping force in the DR Congo reported on Wednesday that Lt.-Col. Samuel Bisengimana, a senior member of the Forces democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) defected yesterday after year-long negotiations and has turned himself in under the DDR program. The FDLR has faced a major blow to its forces after three other Majors with the FDLR defected last month, and some 1,881 rebels, including 64 officers defected last year.
  • The last UN troops in Sierra Leone left the country on Thursday after 12 years in the country.
  • The parliament in Kenya ruled the nomination of top judicial figures by President Kibaki was unconstitutional on Thursday, reigniting a row that has pushed the coalition cabinet to the brink of collapse. Kibaki’s allies promised to contest the decision that is seen as a symbolic victory for PM Odinga.

Asia

  • On Saturday, the Taliban are said to have attacked a police headquarters in Afghanistan’s Kandahar city, killing at least 15 and wounding some 40. On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least three people and wounded several others in an attack on a Kabul hotel in Afghanistan. The Afghan government announced it will be taking over the running of women’s shelters despite concerns from human-rights groups that the move could put lives at risk. The UN released a report on Monday citing that an increasing number of children have been killed and injured in the conflict, mostly by Taliban and other anti-government groups. In 2010, the report said women and children made up a greater proportion of those killed and injured than in 2009, with child casualties increasing 55%.  On Tuesday, a Finnish soldier was killed in an explosion in the north. On Thursday, NATO said it had detained three senior members of the Hizb-ul-Islami Gulbuddin insurgent group in separate operations; an Afghan police officer on a bike was run over and killed by an ISAF vehicle in Kabul; and an ISAF service member was killed during an insurgent attack in Kabul. On Friday, a suicide car bomb killed at least 8 people and injured scores of others in the eastern city of Khost.
  • The Kazakhstan opposition party says it intends to boycott the country’s presidential polls in April, as they complain the quick call does not allow them sufficient time to prepare an effective campaign. The leader of an environmental group however, says he will run despite the fact that he has “no chance” of winning.
  • An anti-terrorism court judge in Pakistan issued an arrest warrant for former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for his alleged connection in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Newsweek ran an interesting perspective on the record number of Predator drone strikes with an exclusive interview with a man who approved the operations.
  • A car-bomb exploded in southern Thailand, injuring 18 people on Sunday. Fighters have waged a violent campaign since 2004 that has left more than 4,440 dead.
  • Cambodia announced that it will ask the UN Security Council to help secure a “permanent ceasefire” with Thailand to help stop the deadly border dispute. The UNSC met in a closed-door meeting with foreign ministers from both countries to discuss the fighting. Cambodia has also asked the Southeast Asian group ASEAN to send observers to monitor the fragile ceasefire, a move thought likely to be resisted by Thailand. On Tuesday, the Thai and Cambodian troops are said to have clashed before dawn by Thailand, wounding one soldier, though Cambodia said it was unaware of any clash. Thousands of residents displaced by the recent fighting began to return to their homes on Wednesday.
  • North Korea‘s Kim Jong-il is said to have appointed his son Kim Jong-un to the second most powerful position within the regime, as vice chairman on the National Defense Commission. According to the US defense secretary, North Korea also appear close to finishing a new inter-continental ballistic missile launch site. Proliferation experts were skeptical noting that they have been largely unsuccessful for years. A North Korean has walked across the heavily mined border into South Korea during the “Dear Leader” birthday celebrations to the amazement of South Korean authorities. North Korea has allegedly asked all its 40 embassies to appeal to foreign governments for aid as it struggles to feed millions in an usually direct approach for the highly secretive regime. China told the UN Security Council members it plans to block the publication of the special report that accuses North Korea of violating sanctions on its nuclear programme.
  • Thirteen people were sentenced behind closed doors to between 6 and 10 years in prison for their alleged membership in the Islamic group called Jihadists in Uzbekistan. The verdict was only made public this week after relatives of the defendants appealed to seek information. Local and international rights group estimate that more than 10,000 practicing Muslims in the country are currently serving long prison sentences on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and install a theocracy.
  • The  government of Tajikistan intends to distribute copies of the Qu’ran translated into Tajik and the country’s constitution to 400,000 households in the southern province in a bid to stop the spread of radical Islam among young people. Homes would also be given copies of a law on national traditions and a proposed law that could ban children under 18 from attending prayer at mosques. Tajik and Russian border guards are discussing a new draft agreement on control of the Tajik-Afghan border, after a cooperation agreement has now expired.
  • A top member of Myanmar/Burma‘s junta has resigned from his seat in Parliament less than three weeks after he was sworn in. No reason was given for the move.
  • The Philippine government and Maoist communist rebels sat down for the first formal peace negotiations in more than 6 years on Tuesday despite the arrest of a senior insurgent on the eve of the talks. The government and the rebels have been in stop-start negotiations for nearly 25 years, during which some 40,000 people have been killed.
  • A human rights lawyer in China was detained by police after seeking to help another legal activist on Wednesday. His friends and family are concerned because he is still missing and they are unsure where he is being held.
  • The Interior Minister of the Azerbaijani enclave of Naxcivan has been accused of torturing a man who criticized police tyranny. Officials dismissed the claims as “nonsense”.

Americas

  • A US immigration and customs agent was killed and another wounded while driving through northern Mexico, in a suspected drug cartel attack. On Saturday, armed men opened fire and hurled a grenade into a crowded nightclub in Guadalajara, killing at least 6 people and wounding some 37.  On Sunday, eight people were gunned down by suspected drug gang hitmen in two incidents just outside Mexico City, while the police chief was killed in Monterrey.  On Monday, seven bodies were dumped in a northern town’s main square, while a further five people were shot to death inside their cars, and another person was killed in an attack on a bus. Five others were also reported as killed and the city hall and police headquarters damaged as a turf war raged between two drug cartels.
  • Two Cuban political prisoners have been released from prison, despite the fact that both men said they wanted to remain in jail until other opposition leaders were freed and other demands met. Sources say around 100 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba.
  • Colombia‘s FARC rebels freed six  long-held hostages to a Red Cross commission this week, calling the move a humanitarian gesture to show their willingness to work towards peace. The rebels are still holding 15 police and soldiers for political leverage.

Middle East

  • The Palestinian Authority cabinet resigned on Monday in a move seen by some as a response to calls for democratic reform echoing around the Middle East, while the Palestinian leadership promised to hold long-overdue elections by September. Hamas said it would not take part in the elections, nor recognize their outcome. Elections have not been held since January 2006, where Hamas won an overall majority, but Abbas’s term as President expired two years ago. On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians rallied in Ramallah calling for unity between Hamas and Fatah factions. Libyan leader Gaddafi called on Palestinian refugees to capitalize on the wave of popular revolt in the Middle East by massing peacefully on the borders of Israel until it gives into their demands.
  • Turkey will insist on an apology from Israel for the blood flotilla raid from last year as a condition for mending ties, regardless of the findings of a UN investigation. Israel has broached the issue of compensation, but has not admitted it was at fault and both countries have come to contradictory conclusions in their reports over the handling of the situation. Israeli soldiers are said to have killed three Palestinians along the Gaza-Israeli border on Wednesday, with Gaza saying the men were fishermen working on nets on the short,  the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine claiming one men as a member of their group and the Israeli army saying the men were plotting to plant explosives.
  • Activists in Iran protested in central Tehran on Monday, despite a ban on the rally by authorities. They accused the government of hypocrisy in voicing their support for Egyptian and Tunisian protests while refusing to allow their own people to participate in a peaceful demonstration at home. Sporadic clashes erupted between hundreds of Iranians and security forces, while mobile phone connections were reportedly down in the area. Security forces also cut phone lines and blockaded the home of the opposition leader to prevent him from attending, while the former head of the state-controlled News Agency and another prominent opposition politician were both detained. The government is said to have established a special prosecutor’s office for those in the media and cultural fields found violating the strict Islamic codes of behaviour. Some relatives of the demonstrators who were arrested during protests in Tehran on February 14th are said to have been beaten or detained by special police units. Reports say that anywhere from dozens to some 1,500 protesters were arrested, and that several well-known political figures, activists and journalist are among those being held. On Tuesday, Iran’s parliament erupted with cries calling for the execution of opposition leaders thought to have directed Monday’s rally, as some 221 legislators signed a petition to this effect. The head of the judiciary rejected the demands on Thursday. One of the main opposition leaders was reported missing on Thursday, having been missing for two days already. Two Iranian warships withdrew their application to sail through the Suez canal after Israel described the move as a provocation on Wednesday night. Clashes between anti-government protesters and government supporters continued on Wednesday at Tehran University during the funeral of one of two students killed during Monday’s protests. On Friday, participants in a government-sponsored rally called for the two main opposition leaders to be executed.
  • Thousands of students have taken to the streets this week in Sanaa, Yemen, demanding the ousting of President Saleh, with security forces preventing the crowd from reaching its destination with razor wire only to disperse them throughout the city. On Wednesday, 2,000 policemen were dispersed within the capital to try and put down continuing protests. President Saleh has said he will not run for another term in elections in 2013, nor will he set up his son to succeed him. Clashes between police, protesters and government loyalists continued on Thursday, with more than a dozen people reported wounded and at least one confirmed death. Riots flared on Thursday night, with protesters in Aden setting fire to a local government building and security forces killing one demonstrator. Tens of thousands turned out for anti-government demonstrations across the country on Friday, resulting in at least three deaths after a hand grenade was thrown at protesters. Pro-government rallies are also said to be held in several cities.
  • Small-scale clashes were reported in two villages in Bahrain ahead of planned “Day of Wrath” protests on Monday. Police are said to have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. More than 10,000 people taking part in a funeral procession for a man killed by security forces, found themselves under a barrage of police pellet bullets, that killed another young man. The main Shia party, al-Wifaq, announced that it was withdrawing from parliament, where it has 18 of the 40 seats. Army patrols and tanks are said to have locked down the capital on Thursday, with security forces forcefully cleared the camp of protesters in Pearl Square, killing at least four and causing hundreds of injuries.  Around 60 people are said to be missing after the raid on the protest camp. Thousands of mourners took to the streets calling for the downfall of monarchy on Friday. Reports, however, say that not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of democracy in the country, specifically many of the minority Sunni population who fear that this will mean the Shiite will then dominate.
  • The Iraqi defector, codenamed Curveball, who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted that he lied about his story and was shocked that it was used to justify the war. Curveball claimed that officials said his pregnant wife would not be able to join him in Germany if he didn’t cooperate. Germany’s former foreign minister has accused the former head of the CIA George Tenet of lying about the Curveball case, saying there were doubts about Curveball telling the truth far before the war began, despite Tenet’s assertion that he only found out in 2005. On Saturday, authorities unearthed more than 150 bodies in an area northeast of Baghdad that are thought to be from some of the worst fighting from the war; a roadside bomb wounded two sons of a government-backed militia leader outside his home near Tikrit; a roadside bomb went off near a police patrol, wounding three in southwestern Baghdad; a suicide bombing on a bus carrying Shi’ite pilgrims killed at least 33 in Samarra; and a roadside bomb wounded two civilians in Taji. On Sunday, gunmen opened fire on a police patrol, killing one policeman and wounding two others north of Baghdad; and a local government-backed militia leader was wounded in a roadside bomb attack. On Tuesday, Iraqis protested against corruption and joblessness across the country; a hand grenade targeting the central bank’s Mosul branch wounded two security guards and two civilians; a roadside bomb and a mortar shell exploded in southeast Baghdad wounding two civilians; a roadside bomb killed a civilian and wounded four others in Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded a civilian in central Mosul; gunmen killed a civilian in front of his house in Kirkuk; and a grocery store owner was stabbed to death inside his shop in Kirkuk. On Wednesday, a bomb planted near a police station wounded two policemen south of Baghdad; gunmen in Mosul shot dead the head of the provincial government’s property registry office; and a roadside bomb exploded near a local police chief’s vehicle, wounding him and two others north of Baghdad. On Thursday, three people were reported killed and at least 14 wounded in clashes between protesters demanding better jobs and improved services and security forces in the eastern city of Kut; some 13 people were killed and 33 wounded when a bomb exploded at a car showroom in Muqdadiya; at least five people killed in Kurdistan after they tried to storm the political offices of the region’s leader; a leading cleric in the Sadrist movement was assassinated in Kerbala; gunmen killed a journalist near his home in Mosul; a roadside bomb wounded six Iranian pilgrims and one Iraqi in Taji; attackers stormed the house of a university professor and hanged him in western Baghdad; three mortar rounds landed in the Green Zone; and gunmen opened fire on a guard near an amusement park in west-central Baghdad, wounding him. Protests are also said to have spread to several Iraqi cities and continued through to Friday. Female university students in Baghdad are complaining about attempts being made by administrators to introduce the hijab as part of a compulsory uniform, a flagrant infringement on personal freedom as guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution.
  • Clashes broke out on Friday between government supporters and opponents at a protest calling for more freedom and lower food prices in Jordan, injuring some 8 people. Jordanians protested the entire week.
  • Hezbollah’s leader told group members in Lebanon on Wednesday to be prepared to invade northern Israel if war breaks out, illustrating the fragile situation along the border over the past few years. Nasrallah warned Israel that Hezbollah would avenge the death of slain commander Imad Moughniyeh. Israel’s PM responded by saying that no one should doubt Israel’s determination to defend itself. The sixth anniversary of the assassination of former PM Hariri saw Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square largely empty, in striking contrast to past years when tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands crowded the square. Many sense this demonstrates a shift in political momentum within the country following the recent government collapse that forced the younger Hariri out of office in January.

Europe

  • Police in Belarus have detained two young activists for distributing leaflets calling for the immediate release of other activists in jail. The two face charges for hooliganism. The campaign manager of a former opposition candidate was also arrested, charged with organizing mass unrest. 
  • Four military personnel in the Armenian Defense Ministry were arrested in connection with another noncombat death within the army after a 19-year-old conscript was found beaten to death by fellow soldiers. On Thursday, it was reported that Armenia and Georgia formally agreed to plans to jointly operate their three border crossings in an effort to facilitate trade and transport.
  • On Monday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in front of police stations in Dagestan, killing three and injuring 26. At least 10 people died on Tuesday in clashes between police and militants in Chechnya.
  • The Italian PM Berlusconi faces trial on charges he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then used his political position to try to cover it up, following massive protests across the country. Last month a court partially removed Berlusconi’s right to political immunity.
  • Belgium marked a near world record of 249 days without a government, due to political deadlock following June elections last year that failed to produce a clear winner. Many took to the streets in protest and celebration.
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