Georgia

This Week in European Conflict… March 3rd-10th, 2012.

  • The European Union pulled a TV ad from circulation and apologized after many considered it racist. The ad featured several non-Western martial artists who confront a white brunette (symbolizing Europe) with weaponry and ends with her surrounding them.
  • President Lukashenka of Belarus lashed out at the European Union for expanding sanctions against his country last week, specifically at the openly homosexual German Foreign Minister, reportedly saying it is “better to be a dictator than to be gay”. Prison authorities reportedly prevented a pastor from visiting jailed opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka in a bid to persuade him to end his hunger strike on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition United Civic Party was reportedly blocked by officials from coring into neighbouring Lithuania.
  • Sweden has reportedly been secretly helping Saudi Arabia plan the construction of an arms factory to produce anti-tank missiles since 2005.
  • President Sarkozy said on Tuesday that there are too many immigrants in France, defending his re-election campaign promise to cut the number of new arrivals by half. On Thursday, Sarkozy promised Armenians he will eventually secure the adoption of a law that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. On Friday, authorities said they wanted the Basque separatist group ETA to completely disarm and would continue to work with the Spanish government to end the last major guerrilla conflict on the continent.
  • The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England tried to ambush the PM’s attempt to legalize same-sex marriage when he launched his “no” campaign from the pulpit on the weekend. The British government is planning to launch a formal consultation document on allowing homosexual couples to marry. Some disturbing statistics were revealed on Friday, citing that more than half of young black men available for work in the country are now unemployed and that women are being disproportionately affected by government funding cuts.
  • The President of Armenia accused leaders in neighbouring Azerbaijan of seeking to block progress on resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. Armenia is set to engage in its first ever joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Three police officers and one gunman were killed in Dagestan on Sunday as unknown gunmen reportedly attacked them near a polling station for the Russian Presidential elections. On Tuesday, a female suicide bomber killed five police officers during an attack on a police station. On Friday, Russian forces reportedly used helicopters and artillery fire to pursue a group of 15 suspected terrorists in the Dagestan region.
  • Around 3,000 coal miners blocked a major road in southwestern Romania on Thursday, demanding a pay raise that was promised to them by the previous government.
  • Slovakia held its Parliamentary elections amid widespread public anger over a major corruption scandal on Saturday.  Exit polls suggested that a leftist opposition party appeared to be winning.
  • Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held their Parliamentary elections on Sunday, despite Georgia not recognizing them as valid.
  • The Parliament of Moldova voted to legalize chemical castration for convicted pedophiles and some rapists on Tuesday. The law will also apply to foreign nationals. On Wednesday, the acting President set the Presidential elections for March 16th, as the Parliament had failed to agree on a candidate amid prolonged disagreements between political factions.
  • Vladimir Putin won a third term as President in Russia, amid reports of voting irregularities and fraud during Sunday’s vote, though the ruling United Russia party said the elections should serve as “a model for other countries” in terms of transparency. On Monday, the United States urged the Russian government to conduct “an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations” from the Presidential vote, after international elections monitors say the election was clearly skewed in favour of Putin; riot police detained opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny during an anti-government rally; while thousands of Russians joined a mass protest against Putin’s return to the Kremlin, resulting in the detention of hundreds. Two of the members of the feminist band “Pussy Riot” who were arrested on the weekend started a hunger strike in protest. On Tuesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was troubled by Putin’s claiming victory and called for a discussion on whether to hold a new election. On Wednesday, authorities granted permission to opposition activists to gather up to 50,000 people on the weekend to protest Putin’s win; while the Russian League of Voters condemned the Presidential election as an “insult to civil society”. On Thursday, wives of retired military officers marked International Women’s Day by staging a protest and a hunger strike outside the defense ministry to demand better housing for their families; Putin announced plans to start consultations immediately on the composition of a new government; while NATO’s Secretary-General phoned Putin to congratulate him on his victory and agreed to meet in the “not-too-distant future”. On Friday, police in Moscow announced they will take any necessary measures in the instance of violations at a critical opposition rally on Saturday; the Kremlin said they had dismissed Russia’s ambassador to Qatar in the wake of an altercation between the ambassador and airport authorities; a group of major Russian human rights organizations criticised US Secretary of State Clinton over her response calling Putin the “clear winner” in the Presidential election;  while American President Obama called Putin, in the first conversation between the two men since Putin won his controversial third term. On Saturday, about a dozen protesters were arrested by police as several thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators rallied to denounce the elections.
  • A bomb exploded near the Prime Ministry building in Ankara, Turkey, lightly injuring one person on Monday; while the Turkish authorities were reportedly exploring paths to end the Kurdish conflict. On Friday, authorities expelled members of a Ukrainian feminist group from the country after they staged a topless protest to mark International Women’s Day; while state prosecutors sought permission from the PM to question spy chiefs over their secret contacts with Kurdish militants, challenging the government’s move to cub the investigation.
  • The interior minister of Macedonia condemned a recent wave of ethnically motivated violence, including a series of attacks over the week that left nearly a dozen people injured.
  • Prosecutors at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court asked for a 28-year sentence for Vojislave Seselj of Serbia on Wednesday, accusing him of incitement to commit atrocities in the 1990s Balkan wars; while mayors of ethnic Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo said they had received assurances from the Serbian Parliament speaker that local and Parliamentary elections will be held in Kosovo as well. Former Bosnia politician and warlord Fikret Abdic was released from prison after serving two-thirds of his sentence for crimes against Muslims during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday and was met by some 3,000 supporters.
  • The Parliament of Croatia unanimously ratified a treaty on the country’s entry into the European Union on Friday.
  • The European Union announced that Hungary had not answered all the questions raised by the bloc about its respect for democratic rights and freedoms, with the EU threatening legal actions on Wednesday.
  • The President of the Ukraine ordered the government to work on a series of new reforms that he says are aimed at improving social welfare and public trust in the government on Wednesday during a televised cabinet meeting.

This Week in European Conflict… February 25th-March 3, 2012.

  • European Union leaders confirmed that Herman Van Rompuy will serve a second term as President of the European Council on Thursday. Van Rompuy has served as the President since December 2009.
  • A remote-controlled bomb injured 15 police officers and one civilian on Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey targeting a police bus close to the headquarters of the ruling AK Party. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
  • A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units were started on Thursday in the Netherlands. The scheme will send teams of specifically trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.
  • The government of Ireland passed into law controversial copyright legislation that Internet freedom groups called a new form of censorship.
  • Serbia took a large step towards integrating with mainstream Europe on Monday as European Union foreign ministers called for the country to be made a candidate for union membership; while the European Union mission in Kosovo said six suspected operatives of Serbia’s Interior Ministry were arrested in Kosovo and five of them ordered held for 30 days. On Thursday, EU leaders formally endorsed Serbia as a candidate for membership into the bloc.
  • Hundreds of angry protesters forced President Sarkozy to take refuge in a cafe during his campaigning in France’s Basque country. Sarkozy denounced the “violence of a minority and their unacceptable behaviour”.
  • Senior EU officials agreed on fresh sanctions against Belarus on Monday in response to the President’s continued repression of his political opponents. On Tuesday, jailed hunger-striking opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka received a visit from his wife at the detention centre, who said he looked “half-alive”; while EU members announced they would recall their ambassadors to Minsk—a move Belarus said was “escalating tensions”— after Belarus asked the ambassadors to leave and recalled its own envoys “for consultations” in a tit-for-tat response to an expansion of sanctions. On Friday, EU officials expressed their “serious” concern over the “deterioration of the situation” in the country, as the European Council adopted a statement endorsing the recent EU sanctions and called on the bloc to continue work on “further measures”.
  • Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Russia on Sunday, wearing white scarves and ribbons or carrying white balloons or flowers, and lined the Garden ring holding hands to form a human chain to protest the likely return of Putin to the Presidency. On Monday, the opposition accused the Kremlin of playing up a purported assassination attempt against PM Putin to boost his popularity ahead of the Presidential elections; while an activist in the opposition Solidarity movement was reportedly arrested and sent to a psychiatric clinic for alleged antigovernment action. On Tuesday, authorities announced their plans to modernize the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle to include detachable equipment, such as an optical sight and a lamp. On Wednesday, PM Putin said his enemies were planning dirty tricks including ballot stuffing and even murder to tarnish the elections; opposition political blogger Aleksei Navalny said that he and other opposition protesters would not recognize the results of the March 4th Presidential election if Putin wins; while the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg passed a bill banning propaganda to minors about homosexuality or pedophilia, angering critics by tying sexual violence against children to homosexuality. On Thursday, Putin said he had not yet decided whether he wants to stay in power beyond 2018, when the Presidential mandate he is expected to win expires, showing his confidence in an upcoming win; the top investigative body says it launched an investigation into several video clips allegedly containing fake evidence of vote-rigging; authorities accused the US of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups; while Human Rights Watch says authorities are cracking down on critics during the protests. On Friday, the Guardian ran an article suggesting that although anti-Putin protests are rampant in Moscow, outside the capital, his support is much greater; election monitors complained of harassment and revealed alleged plans for mass fraud, prompting the opposition to plan protests no matter the results on Monday; Russia expressed a willingness to restore diplomatic relations with neighbouring Georgia, after the Georgian President offered to established visa-free travel to Georgia for Russians; Putin said that protests made him a stronger candidate; while the Russian Interior Ministry announced it plans to send 6,300 police officers from central Russia to Moscow for the election and subsequent days.
  • Police and protesters fought in the streets of Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday as more than 30,000 people joined students in demonstrations against cuts in education spending.
  • Police in London, England announced they arrested 20 people in an operation to dismantle the Occupy protest camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday. The protesters were refused permission to appeal against a High Court decision to allow their eviction to proceed.
  • Two dozen Azerbaijani and Turkish protesters gathered outside the Armenian Mission near the UN on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and to demand an apology for what Baku calls“genocide” in the village of Khojaly. On Tuesday, France’s Constitutional Council ruled that the recent law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution, a move Turkey welcomed.
  • An inactivated explosive device was discovered on an empty subway train at an Athens metro station in Greece on Saturday. Police say they believe the device was likely linked to a far-left group.  
  • A former interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukraine was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office. Critics dismissed the charges as politically motivated. On Monday, the EU criticized the court decision, saying the verdict casts doubt on the independence of the judiciary.

This Week in European Conflict… February 18th-25th, 2012.

  • The former foreign secretary of the EU Jack Straw announced that the European Parliament should be abolished after failing to achieve its purpose of bridging the divide between the European people and EU. Straw argued that the body has a “major democratic deficit”  as a poll shows 78% believe their voice doesn’t count in the EU.
  • Tens of thousands reportedly rallied across Russia on Saturday in support of Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of cars circled central Moscow on Sunday to demand PM Putin allows free elections in the country; President Medvedev announced his intention to meet with some of the heads of the opposition protest movement; while PM Putin outlined plans for military reform and rearmament that would see the government spending 23 trillion rubles (around $770 billion) over a ten year period.  On Monday, a rare meeting between the President and opposition leaders produced talk of political reform but no sign of concessions strong enough to halt protests posing a challenge to Putin; a new poll predicts that Putin will be elected President in the first round of March’s election; while PM Putin announced that the country needs a stronger military to protect it against foreign attempts to stoke conflict around its borders. On Tuesday, Putin allegedly sought to bolster his authority ahead of the Presidential election by promising police in Moscow to pay hefty pay raises; the President of the southern republic of Tatarstan endorsed Putin, claiming Russia needs a “tsar” rather than a manager as head of state; while early voting began in remote areas ahead of the March 4th Presidential election. On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered in a central Moscow stadium to hear Putin, as he spouted nationalistic rhetoric and warned of the dangers of foreign influence, reportedly reminiscent of Soviet times. On Friday, Radio Free Europe ran an article detailing how a new protest movement, organized largely through social media, is rolling through the country; while Putin announced that he sees no new chill in ties with the Americans, but warned that he would not let the US gain nuclear supremacy and had no intention of playing “yes man” to the West on global issues.
  • An opposition activist in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in jail on Wednesday for holding an unsanctioned “toy protest” in Minsk, and announced he will go on a hunger strike in protest. On Thursday, another toy protest activist was reportedly jailed, while both men announced the start of a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment.
  • A wave of execution-style shootings and a police station bombing have rocked Sweden’s third largest city, sparking fears of gangster violence taking hold of the country, once seen as the world’s safest places.
  • Police announced on Saturday that at least seventeen police and seven insurgents were reportedly killed in four days of fighting on the border between Chechnya and Dagestan. Another 24 police and security troops were also wounded in the fighting.
  • EU officials announced that a new round of talks in Brussels between Serbia and Kosovo was to be postponed to February 22nd after Pristina representatives failed to show up on time because their flight had been cancelled.  On Wednesday, Serbia announced its plans to open its first shelter for gays and lesbians in a southern city. On Thursday, the German Foreign Minister announced that Germany firmly supports Serbia’s bid to join the EU and would like to see it given candidate status at the upcoming week’s EU summit; while former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic slammed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a puppet of NATO, calling it biased against him and other Serbs. On Friday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner announced that Serbia and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership reached a deal on border issues and Kosovo’s participation in Balkan regional meetings; while the Bosnian Education Minister has reportedly resigned and fled the country after receiving death threats for his decision to remove mandated religious classes from primary school.
  • Macedonia reportedly urged NATO to accept it as a member when the alliance holds a summit in May, despite Greek opposition due to a long-running dispute over its name.
  • The government of Germany and two main opposition parties agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the next President, following the resignation of the former President on Friday.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people protested across Spain on Sunday against reforms to the labour market, in fears it will destroy workers’ rights and the welfare state. The protests took place in some 57 towns and cities across the country. Thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against alleged police violence, a day after security forces arrested 25 protesters and injured 4 at a demonstration against spending cuts in education.
  • Nearly 75 percent of voters in Latvia rejected the plan to change the constitution and introduce Russian as an official second language in the country on Saturday, a move praised by neighbouring Lithuania. Russia however, criticized the country for rejecting their language, calling the vote biased because it excluded so many Russian-speaking “non-citizens” from voting.
  • The Guardian ran an article outlining the six key elements of the deal for the bailout of Greece by the eurozone finance ministers. On Wednesday, trade unions promised a popular revolt over the bailout.
  • Emergency services in London, England began practising their response in the event of an attack during the summer Olympic Games, set to be staged in the capital this year.
  •  The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay thousands of dollars to 24 Somali and Eritrean migrants who fled Libya in 2009, but were subsequently returned. The court ruled that the migrants risked ill-treatment in Libya where such migrants were systematically detained.
  • President Saakashvili of Georgia challenged his political opponents to disclose their views on relations with Russia, while also underlining his commitment to strengthening the country’s ties with NATO and the EU.

This week in conflict… November 27th- December 3rd, 2010

World

  • Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks released some 250,000 diplomatic cables from the US government this week, amid much controversy. The site then faced cyberattacks, attempts to shut it down, attempts to arrest its spokesman Julian Assange, and the blocking of its paypal financial account. Ecuador offered Julian Assange refuge within their borders.
  • Foreign Policy came out with its 2nd annual Top 100 Global Thinkers list. In my opinion, the list leaves much to be desired as I would like to see more peacemakers or revolutionary thinkers, instead of the heavy focus on bankers, corporate leaders and policy makers who have a knack for spreading and continuing cultural violence under a false guise of humanitarianism.
  • Wednesday, December 1st, was World AIDs day. Around 2.7 million new HIV infections still occur each year, and despite scaled-up treatment, there are still five new HIV infections for every two who gain access to treatment.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was in favor of adding more members to the UN Security Council this week, and that it was the prevailing view among UN members that the current format is in need of reformation. If only reformation meant removing the veto and the privilege of permanent membership in favor of a more balanced, equal system…
  • The two week long UN Climate Change conference is underway in Cancun, Mexico, and many are hoping that real change can be negotiated this time around, though most are still doubtful. Canada stepped up to win the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place Fossil of the day awards, which are given to those who have done the most to disrupt or undermine negotiations, on Tuesday.

Africa

  • Egypt’s November 28th parliamentary elections were marred by widespread allegations of fraud that eventually led to the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd opposition groups withdrawing. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud allegations. Turnout was said to be only around 15%, although other sites claimed as high as 35%. On Monday, protesters clashed with police and setting fire to cars, tires and schools and riots broke out in several cities.
  • Cote’s D’Ivoire’s elections were marked by violence and coup allegations. Please read my recent articles about the elections and the international response.
  • The UN issued a warning that armed groups in the eastern Congo, including the army, have formed criminal networks to exploit the country’s mineral wealth. The UN sought to extend its mandate of the Group of Experts in the country who are monitoring the arms embargo and sanctions. The UN Group of Experts have also released their latest report on the troubles in the DR Congo. The UN Security Council ordered sanctions and blacklisting of an army commander in the DRC on Wednesday, which amounted to a travel ban and freeze of their financial assets.
  • Kenya’s Prime Minister Odinga ordered the arrest of gay couples on Sunday on the grounds that their behaviour is “unnatural”. The PM asserted that a recent census showed that there were more women than men and that there were “no need” for same sex relationships. On Friday, two Kenyan police officers were killed in a gun and grenade attack in Nairobi by two men on a motorbike.
  • At least 1,500 south Sudanese civilians have fled the north-south border area fearing aerial attacks by the Sudan Armed Forces. The SPLA accused Khartoum of using newly-acquired Chinese planes to try and disrupt the upcoming referendum, which is to happen on December 8th. On Thursday, the south accused the northern-backed militias of killing 10 soldiers and 2 civilians in an ambush, which the north denied.
  • Two Islamist fighters are said to have died in a clash with the Algerian army on Sunday. Algerian troops are said to have surrounded the group and made an assault after residents alerted them to the presence of armed elements in the wooded region.
  • Guinea’s Supreme Court has declared Alpha Conde as President, finally confirming the results after a two-week wait. Rival candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo’s supporters had taken to the streets claiming the vote was tainted by fraud.
  • At least 40 people were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia in three consecutive days of fighting this week between al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam against the troops from the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union peacekeepers. The Bakara Market was heavily shelled in the fighting, killing and injuring many civilians. On Thursday, it was reported that another at least 35 people were killed in intense violence after two insurgent groups fought each other.
  • The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria has announced that they will be charging former US Vice-President Dick Cheney over the bribery scandal involving an engineering firm, KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Cheney was chief executive officer of Halliburton when the KBR firm had admitted to bribing Nigerian government officials over the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Nigeria.

Asia

Americas

  • Haiti voted on November 28th in an election that was denounced as a “massive fraud” by 12 out of 18 presidential candidates, although international observers considered the vote “valid” despite the irregularities. Protests and demonstrations flared across the capital, resulting in the death of at least 2 people. Results are to be made public starting December 5th, with the official tally announced December 20th. The UN and international support are rumoured to leave Haiti if the government fails to honour the elections results.
  • Brazilian security forces seized control of Rio’s most notorious slum on Sunday following a week of attacks by drug gangs in retaliation for the pacification campaign. The police say they confiscated 40 tons of marijuana, 50 assault rifles and 9 antiaircraft guns.
  • A 15-year-old student armed with a handgun held nearly two dozen students and a teacher hostage in a Wisconsin school on Tuesday. The standoff ended when the gunman shot himself, and there were no other reported injuries.
  • A new report released by Disability Rights International revealed tragic conditions in Mexican institutions for the mentally and physically disabled that included lobotomies performed without consent, children missing from orphanages, widespread filth and squalor and lack of medical care. The report has been called particularly galling because Mexico had championed human rights for the disabled and helped to write the international standards in response to earlier damaging reports. On Monday, Mexican soldiers found the bodies of 18 people buried on a ranch near the Texan border, and gunmen killed a female police chief.

Middle East

  • Bomb attacks killed a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist and wounded another in Tehran on Monday. Iranian President Ahmadinejad accused Israel and Western governments of the assassinations. A new round of nuclear talks on Iran are to begin on December 5th. 
  • Israel’s cabinet voted to build a facility to hold thousands of illegal immigrants who enter the country, mostly from Africa. The centre, which Israel stipulates is not a jail, would provide the basic needs for the migrants until they can be expelled from the country.
  • Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a statement this week labeling Houthi rebels in Yemen as “legitimate targets” and claiming that new attacks were being prepared against them. The statement vowed to kill Sunnis, destroy their homes and displace their families and are said to have increased Sunni-Shiite tensions in the northern areas.
  • In Iraq, on Sunday, a sticky bomb killed one person and wounded four in western Baghdad; three people were wounded in another sticky bomb attack in southern Baghdad; and US forces opened fire and killed an Iraqi engineer on a road after he allegedly failed to slow down at the US patrol. On Monday, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of a policeman and a member of a government backed militia north of Baghdad; police found the bullet-riddled body of a woman in Mosul; police found the body of a policeman shot in the head south of Baghdad; gunmen shot dead a taxi driver in Mussayab; gunmen shot dead a man near his home in Mosul; and militants bombed three electrical transmission towers in Anbar province, cutting power to numerous cities and towns for months. On Tuesday, a sticky bomb killed a driver in western Baghdad; and a roadside bomb wounded at least three civilians in central Baghdad. On Thursday, Iraqi soldiers killed three armed men and arrested another in Mosul; Iraqi soldiers killed an attacker who allegedly tried to throw a hand grenade at an army patrol in eastern Mosul; gunmen shot dead a civilian near his house in western Mosul; gunmen stormed a house and killed a teenage girl in western Mosul; a roadside bomb at an Iraqi police patrol wounded one policeman and two civilians in eastern Baghdad; gunmen shot dead a human rights ministry employee in Baghdad; a roadside bomb targeting Iraqi police patrol wounded two policemen in Baghdad; a roadside bomb exploded and wounded three civilians in central Baghdad and a sticky bomb wounded a driver in northern Baghdad.

Europe

  • On Sunday, Swiss voters approved a plan for automatic deportation of foreigners who commit serious crimes or benefit fraud. Anti-racism groups complained of racist posters showing white sheep kicking black sheep off a Swiss flag.
  • Moldova voted on November 28th in its general elections. The ruling pro-Europe alliance was reported as ahead of the opposition Communists, but it is still unclear whether the three-party Alliance for European Integration will gather enough mandates to allow it to elect a president and end a long-running political deadlock.
  • Two explosions in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi killed at least one person on Sunday. No cause or possible motive have yet been released.
  • Government security forces killed two suspected militants in Daghestan. The militants were described as ideologues of an underground terrorist group.
  • Russian President Medvedev warned on Tuesday that if the West and Russia cannot agree upon a joint European missile defense program, it will trigger a new arms race. The President also pledged his support for the NATO suggestions of an alliance missile shield that will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming NATO summit. However, on Wednesday, Vladmir Putin warned that Russia would be forced to deploy new nuclear weapons if the US does not agree to a partnership with Russia over the plans for a missile defense shield. On Wednesday, police in Moscow detained 10 HIV-positive protesters who were congregated outside the government buildings holding placards demanding medical care to mark World AIDs day. On Thursday it was reported that the prosecutor’s office in a central Russia city has asked the local Muslim leader to provide detailed information about the people who attend the local Islamic centre following a months-long court battle to build a mosque in the city.
  • Belarus has announced it will give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons materials by 2012. Belarus gave up its Soviet-era inherited nuclear weapons in 1994, but still retained highly enriched uranium stocks.
  • Immigrants in Greece have been subject to increasing violent attacks by suspected right-wing extremists in recent weeks. Experts say that this reflects a growing general trend of hate crimes against Muslims throughout Europe. On Thursday, police fired teargas at protesting university students demonstrating against increasing tuition fees and austerity reforms, injuring at least 3 demonstrators. A controversial bid to build a mosque in Athens have increased tensions as open-air services resulted in clashes between police and protesters from the extreme-right.
  • British students continued their demonstrations against proposed university tuition hikes amid hundreds of arrests.

This week in conflict… September 11- 17th, 2010

World

  • The UN will be having its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in New York city from the 20th to the 22nd of September. They are looking to accelerate the progress towards the MDGs by 2015, review successes, best practices and lessons learned, obstacles and gaps, challenges and opportunities to lead to more “concrete strategies of action”.
  • A new machine was invented to convert used plastic back into oil. The machine is relatively small, and lightweight and could have enormous impact on global waste management.
  • For the first time in 15 years the number of hungry people in the world has declined, however these figures do not include the millions of hungry people in three “emergency” areas of Pakistan, Haiti and the Sahel in Africa and are not significantly lower than previous years. Rising grain, meat and sugar prices are threatening to increase the number of hungry and malnourished in the upcoming year.
  • The number of children who die before reaching the age of five has fallen by a third since 1990, UNICEF reported on Friday. The estimates suggest that 12,000 fewer children are dying each day around the world compared to 1990.

Africa

  • Scheduled run-off elections in Guinea will be delayed following the conviction of the head of the election commission for election fraud, who died on Tuesday in a Paris hospital. The run-off was scheduled to take place September 19th. Outbreaks of violence killed at least one person and injured another 50 as rival political factions clashed on Sunday.
  • Somali police claimed to have foiled a suicide attack by Islamist rebels in Mogadishu on Saturday. Security forces blew out the tires of a petrol tanker and arrested the wounded gunman found with explosives in his bag before he could ram the tanker into the seaport. A senior government minister in Somalia’s separatist region of Somaliland has admitted that a group of rebels have secretly landed along Somaliland shores to fight against the Ethiopian government, a claim that the Ethiopian government adamantly denied. An escalating dispute between the PM and the president could result in the PM being forced from his post. The president later denied the dispute had taken place. Clashes on Thursday between government troops and insurgents around the government buildings killed 15 people and injured at least 50.
  • It appears that Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni will run for a fourth time in next year’s presidential election. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and that he does not want any independent competition. The government issued its Public Order Management Bill which is intended to control public political gatherings. Opposition parties and human rights group claim the law is designed to stifle dissent and intend to challenge it. The government also dismissed the UN draft report’s accusations that it committed war crimes during its operations in the DR Congo in the 1990s. A journalist was beaten to death by an angry mob in the southern town of Rakai after filming an attack by a crowd of angry motorcyclists on a local home, and another journalist was murdered three days later as he walked to work.
  • Senegalese courts issued a new ruling forbidding marabouts (Muslim holy men) from enlisting children to beg on their behalf. Going against decades of tradition, the ruling is said to be a victory for the near 50,000 street children endangered in Senegal. Amnesty International reported that Senegal’s security forces are continuing to torture prisoners, while its ministers of state block investigations into those claims.
  • The Rwandan Army is rumored to be sending new soldiers to neighbouring Congo. This followed several private meetings between Congolese President Kabila and Rwandan President Kagame during Kabila’s three day trip to Rwanda. Following the meeting, Kabila announced that he would suspend all mining from three eastern provinces, with no details of how it would possibly be enforced. Prices have already tanked and experts are concerned about rioting and increasing lawlessness around the mines. Civil society in the Congo are calling for action against harassment following the recent imprisonment, torture, kidnapping and disappearances of several activists. A ceremony marking the destruction of the 100,000th weapon by Mines Advisory Group in the Congo was held in Kinshasa this week and was seen as a step towards positive peace even though violence rages on through much of the country.
  • Mobile phone companies in Mozambique are being accused of bowing to government pressure and suspending their texting services and then lying about it in the wake of the Maputo riots at the beginning of the month. The riots were thought to have been organized through text message.
  • The UN Security Council extended its mandate in Liberia (UNMIL) for another year and authorized the peacekeeping force to provide support to the government through its elections next year.
  • Assassins killed a top anti-graft official in Nigeria on Tuesday. Around 1,000 hoodlums have allegedly been hired to burn down the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission office.
  • Twenty-three constitutional outreach meetings had to be canceled in Zimbabwe after ZANU PF supporters brought guns to disrupt the meetings where contributions are deemed to contradict the party. In other areas, their representatives have simply boycotted the meetings, forcing an abandonment of proceedings under the outreach meeting rules.

Asia

  • Protests continue in Afghanistan, with protesters setting fire to police checkpoints and shops in response to the now withdrawn threat by a US pastor to burn copies of the Qur’an. Two people are said to have been shot and killed during the first day of demonstrations after police opened fire on the protesters. The violent protests continued during the week with dozens of injuries and an unknown number of deaths. NATO forces acknowledged this week that there could have been civilian casualties in an air strike earlier this month that wounded an election candidate that was strongly condemned by President Karzai. Election officials declared that thousands of fake voter registration cards have been found all across Afghanistan for the Saturday parliamentary elections. The Taliban took claim to the murder of two election staff members on Wednesday, while NATO forces are said to have shot an armed protester on Thursday. The Taliban have threatened that they would try to disrupt the poll, urging all Afghanis to boycott the election. On Friday they claimed to have kidnapped 30 campaign workers, elections officials and even a Parliamentary candidate. The UN has evacuated about a third of its permanent workforce over fears of election violence and fraud. The “war on terror” has not had the exact effect on security that was hoped, as this cool graphic shows. The number of attacks each month and travel risks have both increased dramatically.
  • Five militants were killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border on Sunday and another 10 suspected killed in drone strikes on Tuesday. At least 11 are reported killed in another series of US unmanned drone missile strikes on Wednesday. A journalist was shot dead outside his office after receiving repeated death threats on Tuesday. Gangs torched vehicles and a shop in Karachi following the death of a senior politician in London.
  • North Korea made a surprise gesture of reconciliation with the South this week by proposing that families separated by the six decades of war be allowed to reunite. The proposal has been suggested by the South in the past. Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that North Korea has sent “strong and clear signals” that it will abandon its nuclear weapons programme if the US guarantees it will not attack. The death of two North Korean journalists became public this week. The two died in a prison camp in 2001, while many more are thought to still be held inside in terrible conditions.
  • The Timorese national police force in the eighth district took back its primary policing responsibilities from the UN in the gradual transfer of security functions that has been ongoing since May of 2009.
  • Tajiki security authorities killed at least 20 Taliban fighters in a clash along the Afghani border on Saturday. Officials are concerned with growing Islamic radicalism in the country.
  • Tens of thousands of Muslims marched through Indian Kashmir on Saturday in violent protests injuring at least 20 people. Government and police buildings were set on fire, and an indefinite curfew was re-imposed, but did little to stop the over 300 protesters who stoned the home of the state education minister. More than a dozen people were killed in protests on Monday following a report on an Iranian TV channel about the desecration of the Qur’an in New York on 9/11 and another 18 people were killed on Tuesday after police fired into protesting crowds. At least five more protesters were shot and killed by police on Wednesday as the violence began spreading to new areas. The protesters wounded six soldiers on Thursday night as they attacked government forces with rocks and another two people were shot dead by Indian troops in demonstrations on Friday.
  • Myanmar/Burma’s ruling military claims to have defused a bomb threat aimed at disrupting the upcoming November 7th elections. Observers are concerned that recent incidents might spark wide-spread unrest in the country.
  • Thousands of Russian, Chinese and Kazakh soldiers began two weeks of war games in Kazakhstan on Monday to prepare for regional threats. More than 3,000 troops will take part in the exercise.
  • More than 70 gay rights activists were detained in Nepal on Tuesday after a rally demanding government identification papers for transgendered people. Without papers, these sexual minorities are unable to get a job, enroll in schools or colleges, seek treatment in hospitals, inherit property or travel.
  • A UN backed court in Cambodia formally indicted four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge on Thursday on charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder. These cases are said to be more difficult than the recent Duch case, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the torture and death of at least 14,000 people.
  • Freedom of expression is being curtailed in Azerbaijan in advance to this year’s elections. Nine NGOs met and conducted a three-day mission to collect testimonies of violations earlier this month.
  • Three soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Philippines on Thursday. The attack was linked to al Qaeda militants.

The Middle East

  • In an ironic case, the Iraqi government has agreed to pay around $400 million to American citizens who were tortured or traumatized by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s. This move is likely to anger many Iraqis who consider themselves the victims of both Saddam and the current US invasion. Amnesty International issued a report saying that tens of thousands of detainees are being held in prisons without trial and are facing physical and psychological abuse or other mistreatment. At least four people were killed in clashes between militants and security forces in northern Iraq on Sunday. Seven Iraqi civilians were killed near Falluja on Wednesday during a raid by American and Iraqi forces while nine Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in a separate incident in Mosul.
  • Barack Obama has called on Israel to extend its partial freeze of settlement building on occupied Palestinian lands during the newly-resumed Middle East peace talks, with PM Natanyahu later indicating that it might be possible to limit the scope of future building but refusing to extend the freeze. The Palestinians have made it clear they will walk away from the talks if settlements continue. Air raids and rocket launches continued despite the peace talks, killing at least two Palestinians on Saturday, another three on Sunday, and at least one on Wednesday, with Hamas vowing to carry out attacks in the coming weeks to undermine the “useless” talks. Israeli soldiers killed a local Hamas commander on Friday during a raid on a refugee camp. The UN General Assembly President condemned the desecration of the ancient Muslim cemetery of Mamilla in Jerusalem. The UN has reported that at least 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enroll in UN schools had to be turned away this year because building materials for school construction have not been approved to enter the area for the past 3 years.
  • Iran has barred two key nuclear inspectors from investigating into the country’s nuclear program. The UN atomic watchdog head voiced “great regret” over the decision. President Ahmadinejad has also called off plans to attend a high-level UN global disarmament meeting next week. A senior Iranian diplomat has defected after resigning from his position in the Finnish embassy, and another defected on Tuesday from his post in Belgium. The diplomat said he stepped down due to the attacks by government forces on protesters during the disputed 2009 elections.
  • Armed militants failed to bomb a key gas pipeline on Monday in Yemen, after their hand grenades fell metres away from the pipeline. It was not yet determined who was behind the attacks.

North and Central America

  • Two religious leaders burned Qur’ans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in Tennessee claiming that the act was an act of love and to defend the US Constitution and the American people. At Ground Zero in New York City, several Qu’rans were desecrated in protest.
  • The US is moving ahead with its plans to sell $60 billion worth of advanced aircraft and other weaponry to Saudi Arabia in what is thought to be the largest US arms deal ever. The Senate has also advanced the New Start arms control treaty with Russia, which would bar each side from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers starting 7 years after ratification.
  • A Jordanian reporter claimed that some of the women who were raped at the US’s Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq were later “honor killed” by their families due the shame this inflicted. Robert Fisk reported that “a very accurate source in Washington” has confirmed “terrible stories of gang rape” by US forces in the prison, including videotape evidence of underage boys being sodomized.
  • The Pentagon scurried to buy up all 10,000 copies of the first printing of Anthony Shaffer’s new book Operation Dark Heart for destruction because it threatens to expose highly embarrassing information about secret operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how the US missed to opportunity to win the war against the Taliban.
  • Mexican marines captured the alleged leader of one of the country’s top drug cartels on Sunday in a raid. Several drug lords are now surrendering without a fight when surrounded. More than 28,000 people have died in drug violence in the past 3 years. Members of several Mexican political parties attacked 170 Zapatista supporters and expelled them from their homes in retaliation for the construction of an autonomous school.
  • The Cuban government has announced plans to lay of at least half a million state workers by mid-2011 while reducing the restrictions of private enterprise to help them find new employment. Nearly 90% of the Cuban work force has been state-employed for many years.
  • The UN has launched a new operation against rape and gendered violence in Haiti. The head of MINUSTAH voiced his continued concern over the situation of women and children in refugee camps, but noted that a 200-strong police unit maintains a permanent presence in six high risk camps.

South America

  • Peru’s President asked Congress to repeal his two-week old decree that gave virtual amnesty to hundreds accused of atrocities during the civil war amid harsh criticism. Activists are alleging widespread rights abuses during the President’s first term and are seeking to put him on trial along with previous President Fujimori.
  • Peruvian police clashed with protesters on Thursday, resulting in the death of one man and injuring at least 18 others. The protesters opposed an irrigation project that will leave their town without water.

Europe

  • Serbia has indicted nine ex-paramilitaries over the killing of ethnic Albanians during the 1998-9 Kosovo conflict. Serbia, who is also seeking ratification of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, is thought to have taken the move in a step in their process towards EU membership.
  • A clash between ethnic Serbs and Albanians broke out after the Turkish defeat of Serbia in the World Basketball Championships. Two NATO soldiers were injured in the clashes.
  • The Russian government has found a new way to quash dissent, confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software. Dozens of outspoken advocacy groups say they have been raided. Microsoft was quick to respond, changing their policies to prohibit its Russian division from taking part in piracy cases. The government was also quick to shut down an attempted protest outside Moscow City Hall that was protesting against the government.
  • A senior security police officer was gunned down in the Northern Caucasus region of Daghestan, following several attacks from the previous week that killed at least two officers dead and several wounded. At least seven militants were said to have been killed in a separate incident on Sunday and another 10 militants on Monday.
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) began hearings on Monday of charges by Georgia of Russian human rights abuses in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Charges were filled by Georgia in 2008 with claims that Russia had violated the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. Hundreds of protesters gathered in North Ossetia on Wednesday demanding better security after recent violence.
  • Presidential aides in France are charged with violating the law on the secrecy of sources of journalists by using a domestic intelligence agency to identify an informant in the Bettencourt scandal. If true, this would violate freedom of the press in the country. The French Senate also voted almost unanimously to ban face-covering Islamic veils in public, with 246 votes for and just one against. The ban should come into effect in spring of next year. A bomb threat at the Eiffel Tower resulted in the evacuation of approximately 25,000 people, but was later declared unfounded. The French government may also face legal action from the European Union for its expulsion of hundreds of Roma on the basis of discrimination based on ethnic origin.
  • Turkish voters have approved a referendum on changing the constitution, which critics say will give the ruling party more power over the judiciary. Turkish rights groups, seizing on the opportunity of the reforms that would remove previous immunity, immediately launched petitions to try a retired general over his role in a 1980 coup. At least 8 people were killed by a landmine while traveling in a bus in the south-east. The attack has so far been attributed to the Kurdistan Workers Party. Another attack on Friday killed at least 10 people near a taxi stand amidst clashes between police and demonstrators following a funeral for victims of the bus attack.
  • Spanish police have arrested nine people suspected of leading a Basque separatist group Eta. The group is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and had announced a ceasefire in March of 2006, which was subsequently broken.
  • A Belarusian activist was detained by police and later fined for distributing newspapers with the logo of the opposition Tell the Truth campaign. The campaign encourages Belarusians to speak out about social problems. An opposition leader says he will not run in the upcoming December elections because he believes it will be rigged.
  • A dissident republican group in Northern Ireland has threatened to target bankers and financial institutions on mainland Britain. The group is said to have broke away from the Provisional IRA during peace talks.


This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…

World

Africa

  • Rwanda’s election process saw President Paul Kagame win again by a landslide amid a climate of repression. Opposition candidates were arrested and media silenced in advance of the elections. Kagame is said to have won 93% of the votes, and even as much as 100% of the votes in some districts. His team began celebrating the victory before the polls had even closed. Two days later Kigali was struck by a grenade attack that injured at least 20 people.
  • The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has warned the UN mission and aid missions in Darfur that they will face expulsion if they do not support his government authorities. On Wednesday, gunmen killed 23 people, including police officers in an ambush on a truck in the south. On Wednesday, an exchange of gunfire at a refugee camp in western Darfur was reported, though it was not clear who fired the shots.
  • Government forces in Puntland, Somalia have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group killing at least 21. The UN warns that the long-running conflict in Somalia is spreading beyond its borders and becoming increasingly concerning.
  • 2,000 illegal miners stormed a mining site in the DR Congo burning trucks and stealing copper from Tenke Fungurume mine. 32 have been arrested.
  • The Central African Republic pleaded for the UN Security Council for help just as the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT is coming to an end. Concerns of rebellion, banditry and inter-ethnic conflict still loom.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 697 people, nearly one third of who are children, in central Africa in the last 18 months according to a human rights group investigation despite previous assurance from the government of the DRC that the LRA has been decreasing its violence. At least 255 of those abducted were killed, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. Up to 74,000 people have been forced to flee the situation in the CAR and Congo.

Asia

Middle East

North America

  • More than 1,000 Mexican journalists marched through the capital to protest the killing and disappearance of their colleagues in the escalating drug violence that is increasingly targeting reporters.
  • The confessions of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen charged with terrorism, can be used as evidence at his trial even though they may have been obtained through torture. Khadr stands to be the first child soldier to be prosecuted for war crimes in modern history, as under international law, children captured in war are to be treated as victims and not perpetrators. His trial, which was to start this week, was delayed for the next 30 days after his lawyer collapsed from illness in the courtroom and had to be medevaced out of Guantanamo Bay.
  • The US appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocks Massachusetts schools from using literature that denies the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

South America

  • Colombia has sworn in a new president who has vowed that he is willing to hold talks with leaders of Farc, the country’s rebel group and reconstruct relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • A suspected car bomb exploded in Bogota injuring four people on Thursday.
  • Suriname swore in its “new” president Desi Bouterse on Thursday. Bouterse, who was previously in power following a 1980 coup, ruled the country from 1980-7 and 1990-1. He was accused of violating fundamental human rights and the murders of 5 journalists during his time as dictator.
  • Peru’s indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who the government accuses of starting an Amazonian uprising that killed 33 people, is considering running for president next year.
  • The families of 32 Mapuche prisoners have been on a month-long hunger strike in southern Chile over trial irregularities for the twenty self-declared political prisoners imprisoned over land conflicts.

Europe

  • All of the major European countries are planning mass expulsions of Roma populations and demolitions of Roma settlements. Even though they are European citizens, the Roma are now threatened with expulsion, in breach of the EU basic right to free movement. Some rights group worry that such an action is tantamount to the criminalization of an entire ethnic group.
  • Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an explosion in southeastern Turkey on Sunday. On Monday Turkish soldiers killed 5 Kurdish militants in a firefight after discovering guerrillas laying mines and on Tuesday another 2 people were killed after a pipeline was blown up by Kurdish militants.
  • Russia has deployed an S-300 air defense missile system over the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia complained of the strengthening military control over these territories that it insists are still an integral part of Georgian territory.
  • North Caucasus rebel groups have begun to split ranks after the contradictory statements of resignation of leader Doku Umarov last week. Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty.
  • Four former Bosnian Serb army soldiers have been charged with genocide for crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. The four are said to have assisted in the deaths of at least 800 people.

The “ethnic” side of conflict in the Caucaus.

 

This summer brought to light complicated global hostilities and the probability of continued conflict in the Caucasus region. Russia has sent a clear message to the West, who has been trying to lure away countries on Russia’s western border and turn them democratic and market-oriented, that it will not tolerate excessive signs of independence from its neighbours.

 

For many months preceding the war, Russia imposed heavy sanctions on Georgia and rounded up Georgians in Moscow for deportation. In revenge for Kosovo’s independence, Prime Minister Putin established legal ties with the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Georgia’s northern borders, two regions who have broken away from the Georgian territory. In early July, Russia staged a massive military exercise on the border with South Ossetia, and many Russian jets flew over the region, increasing tensions. In August, Georgia and South Ossetian separatists exchanged fire and explosive attacks. Expected peace talks were halted, after the Russia diplomat in charge of facilitating the process blew off the meetings. Russia then claimed that Georgia broke the unilateral ceasefire by ordering a massive “ethnic cleansing” offensive in South Ossetian villages. According to Georgia, the ceasefire was broken by the South Ossetians. Georgia then began to shell and invade South Ossetia, leaving the Russian army (who was conveniently nearby after its military exercises) to move in to “protect” the South Ossetians.

 

Blood is clearly on all hands. Civilians are caught in the cross-fire. Thousands have been displaced, hundreds have died, and although a ceasefire has been signed, peace is far from a reality.

 

The region has been struggling to rebuild itself for the past twenty years. Nationalism flourished after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and began dividing the region ethnically and ideologically. Factions that lived in relative peace for centuries, were suddenly ideological enemies, and displaced to their new ethnically fixed territorial regions. Conflicting histories plague the peace process as claims to land are ‘legitimized’ by different regional versions. Massive ethnic cleansing of regions (including forced displacement and relocation) has left pockets of clashing ethnicities eager to slit each others’ throats.

 

The tendency since the Cold War to describe all conflicts as “ethnic” conflicts has left many wondering if these are in fact “ethnic” conflicts at all. If the tensions are a product of ancient ethnic hatreds, then this would assume that there is something inherently conflictual about ethnicity, making conflict increasingly inevitable since we live in such an ethnically diverse world. We often forget that ethnicities are not some homogenous group, but are in fact constantly changing and fluid. The problems have more to do with access to raw materials and political choices that have pitted one group against another.

Separating ethnicities into homogenous enclaves is a dangerous game.

 

Academics claim that the more ethnically diverse a society, the less its propensity towards conflict. In fact the chance for conflict increases the more ethnically singular an area is, especially if the society is ranked. Ethnicities need to be recognized and the rights of all peoples, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, background, etc. need to be enforced.

 

Violent conflict is always avoidable. There are many ways to transform conflict through non-violent means. Diplomacy must begin to work, and to do this we must demand it work. Our governments must sanction aggressors to the full extent, and ensure that the do not get away with violence. We must write letters, stage protests, and make our voices heard. Violence has no need to continue, but the only way it will ever stop is if we make it stop through international sanctioning, pressures and peace building initiatives. We can transform war into peace, but only through intense solidified effort. We must all work together.


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