In the latest development in the showdown between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the hands of the Philippine coast guard, Taiwan is holding military drills near Philippine waters. The Philippines -- its apology having been rejected by Taiwan -- is also standing firm, saying it won't "appease" the Taiwanese, while the United States is urging cooler heads to prevail. The standoff is just the latest in a string of geopolitical showdowns in which fishermen have served -- sometimes unwittingly and sometimes wittingly -- as lightning rods in East and Southeast Asian maritime territorial disputes.
The humble fishing boat, in fact, has been at the center of incidents between China and Russia; between China and Vietnam; between Japan and Taiwan; between China and South Korea; between North Korea and South Korea; between North Korea and China; between China and the Philippines; and between South Korea and Japan. And then, of course, there was the 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which set relations between the two Asian superpowers on edge for months.
How has the fisherman -- a seemingly unassuming practitioner of his ancient craft -- come to play this vital role on the international stage? There are a number of factors at play. For starters, Asian waters are running out of fish -- which means more fishing boats are straying into foreign waters in search of good hauls. Then there's the growing nationalism in many of these countries, which raises the stakes in these disputes and allows one arrested fisherman to take on national significance.
In addition, there's the suspicion that some countries -- notably China -- really do use fishermen as proxies in their ongoing disputes with other countries -- that these fishing boats are not the innocent bystanders caught up in forces greater than themselves that they seem. At the height of last year's tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it was reported that China was sending an "armada" of 1,000 fishing boats to the islands with the goal of overwhelming the Japanese coast guard -- though the reports later proved false.
Hung Shih-cheng, the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman at the center of the current row between Taiwan and the Philippines, appears to have ventured into disputed territory with the simple aim of fishing; the Philippine coast guard has said the crew believed he was trying to ram one of their ships and opened fire.
Venture astray, and face the chance of catching fire from a military vessel as a result of international border disputes? That's quite an occupational hazard.
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As Burmese President Thein Sein prepares to travel to the United States next week -- the first visit to the country by a Burmese leader in 47 years -- a potential humanitarian disaster is looming on the horizon back home.
Thein Sein's scheduled visit on May 20 has already been controversial, coming as it does after a recent surge in ethnic violence involving Buddhists, Rohingya Muslims, and other minority groups. But now many of the Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims who've been displaced by the violence and now live in temporary camps are threatened by Cyclone Mahasen, which is approaching the coast of western Burma and is expected to make landfall between Wednesday and Friday (when Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in May 2008, it killed roughly 140,000 people).
In recent days, the government has come under fierce criticism from groups like Human Rights Watch for failing to move the camps to higher ground ahead of the storm. On Tuesday, a boat carrying more than 100 people seeking to escape the cyclone capsized, and 60 are still missing.
The Burmese government launched a campaign on Tuesday to begin moving tens of thousands of people to higher ground (about 70,000 displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims are vulnerable to the cyclone, according to Human Rights Watch), but it is still facing charges of not acting quickly enough:
"The Burmese government didn't heed the repeated warnings by governments and humanitarian aid groups to relocate displaced Muslims ahead of Burma's rainy season," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "If the government fails to evacuate those at risk, any disaster that results will not be natural, but man-made."
Thein Sein's trip has attracted scrutiny from those who believe Western governments have acted rashly in embracing the reform-minded, quasi-civilian Burmese government without paying heed to ongoing human rights abuses in Burma. And the historic visit could grow even more controversial if Cyclone Mahasen hits the camps hard in the days that precede it.
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The kind of electoral fraud Malaysia's newly reelected Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has been accused of seems too elaborate to be true.
The opposition is alleging that BN brought in foreigners -- mainly from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia -- to supplement the party's vote counts. In addition to these so-called "phantom voters," the opposition has accused BN of flying voters from its eastern strongholds of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to vote in mainland states where victory was less assured. (BN leader and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied the accusations.)
The plot is certainly convoluted: It involves complicit airline companies and suspicious groups of foreigners arriving on chartered flights prior to the election. But even if the accusations turn out to be rooted in paranoia, there's good reason for them: Malaysia -- and BN in particular -- has something of a spotty history when it comes to importing votes from abroad.
A Malaysian Royal Commission of Inquiry, for instance, is currently investigating so-called Project IC, a notorious program in which the BN -- which gets the bulk of its support from the ethnically Malay, Muslim population -- allegedly provided Muslim immigrants -- mainly from the southern Philippines and Indonesia -- in Sabah with identity cards in exchange for votes. These immigrants, already ethnically similar to Malays, were assimilated, and Sabah -- once a non-Malay majority state where BN faced electoral threats -- has been something of a party fortress ever since.
As John Pang recently wrote in the New York Times:
In one of the most brazen examples of manufacturing ethnic identity for political gain, Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister from 1981 to 2003, imported about 700,000 Muslim immigrants from the southern Philippines into the Malaysian state of Sabah. They were secretly issued Malaysian citizenship in order to create a "Malay" Muslim vote base for Mr. Mahathir's party.
Pang's description may be a bit premature, as the inquiry is still ongoing. But several members of the UMNO, the ruling Malay party at the time, were detained for their involvement in falsifying identity cards in the late 1990s, with one former member of the project claiming that in 1985 alone, 130,000 illegal immigrants received identity cards.
Accusations of bringing in Bangladeshis by the thousands to cast votes certainly go beyond your standard ballot-box stuffing. But in Malaysian politics, stranger things have happened.
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From the country that brought you the virtual-girlfriend game Love Plus comes the latest breakthrough in dating simulation: Japanese students at the University of Tsukuba have apparently invented the Riajyuu Coat, a jacket that hugs you and comes with a pair of headphones that whisper sweet nothings in your ears. According to the gaming blog Kotaku, riajyuu is slang for "someone who is pleased with their life outside the Internet," which may be wishful thinking for anyone who finds themselves in need of such a coat.
The jacket looks fairly normal but comes with a belt that tightens around the waist, as though your girlfriend were hugging you from behind. When you feel the squeeze, you'll hear a sweet voice in your ears that says things like, "I'm sorry I'm late!" (even coat-girlfriends can't show up on time?!). Here's the promotional video:
The researchers don't seem to be interested in selling the coat so much as just having fun with the idea. But the concept does suggest that Japan's traditionally quirky innovation isn't limited to robots anymore.
Indonesia has a witchcraft problem. Belief in the supernatural is widespread in the Southeast Asian archipelago -- and not just among the underclasses. But like many post-colonial societies, its inherited legal system leaves victims of sorcery unable to seek judicial relief. That may be about the change, however, if the country's parliament OKs a number of amendments to its Dutch colonial-era criminal code. The Financial Times has more:
Indonesia would make it illegal for anyone to "declare the possession of mysterious powers" or "encourage others to believe that by their actions they can cause mental or physical suffering of another person." The crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp300m ($30,700).
The amendments, which have been in the works since 2008, would put an end to the perceived bias of the state in favor of witches and sorcerers (the difference: witches possess innate mystical powers, whereas sorcerers have come to acquire them). Critics have denounced this kind of bias not only in Indonesia, but also in numerous other post-colonial societies that have since moved to outlaw black magic. As Michael Rowlands and Jean-Pierre Warnier explained in a 1988 article about witchcraft in Cameroon:
Cases of sorcery were to be brought to court. But the courts dismissed them for lack of evidence against the accused. Once acquitted, the latter often sued the defendants for libel and won their case. The sorcerers were thought to go unchecked and the victim felt betrayed by the colonial authorities who appeared to side with the sorcerers.
Unchecked sorcery has become a major issue in Indonesia, where hundreds of people have been killed by anti-witchcraft vigilantes who have taken the law into their own hands. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed in 2009 that ''[m]any are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it.''
But not everyone is in favor of outlawing the dark arts. Indeed, one of the country's best known warlocks has proposed harnessing the power of black magic to solve other, more pressing problems. "This is the heritage from our ancestors and we need to preserve it," he told the Financial Times. "Rather than banning it, we should use black magic to punish those who are corrupt."
The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
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We hear plenty about drugs and conflict diamonds; but the international black market for timber -- a global trade that has been plaguing the forests of South America, Central America, and Asia for years, and one that is estimated to be worth anywhere from 30 to 100 billion dollars a year -- gets a lot less attention.
Illegal wood had a rare moment in the spotlight on Feb. 19, when Interpol reported the results of its first international operation to target timber trafficking. "Operation Lead," which brought together law enforcement agencies from twelve Latin American countries, was carried out over a month late last year and resulted in the seizure of the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads of timber (worth millions of dollars) and the arrests of more than 200 people.
While individual countries in the region, such as Columbia and Brazil, have cracked down on the illegal trade in the past, the transnational nature of the crime makes it difficult for domestic law enforcement agencies, which are limited in their jurisdiction, to be very effective. An international approach has the potential to be more successful. According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, Operation Lead has laid the foundations for future efforts to combat the global trade.
So why timber? It is not as lucrative as the drug trade, but it still brings in a fair amount of cash. According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
In Latin America, the drug and timber trades aren't mutually exclusive. Though the extent of the connection is not yet clear, timber trafficking overlaps with organized crime and the drug trade in interesting ways in countries like Colombia and Peru.
For one, it has been suggested that timber offers drug traffickers an opportunity to invest in a new illegal market -- to "diversify their portfolios" -- as some governments become more successful (however slightly) in cracking down on the drug trade.
In Peru, where an estimated 80 percent of total timber exports are illegal, the wood trafficking network has become so sophisticated that drug traffickers are now piggybacking on the timber trade -- literally. In 2006, a U.S. State Department cable (later released by WikiLeaks) reported that drug traffickers in the Andes moving coca paste and opium "appear to be getting involved in transport of illegal timber, for both its profitability and its utility as concealment." In 2010, Peruvian police seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine and coca base hidden in a single shipment of Sinaloa cedar.
Logging may also be viewed as a profitable way to open land for the farming of coca. According to a 2011 UN report, since 1981, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia's forests have been cut down illegally to make way for coca crops. In 2008, then Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon announced, "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest."
All considered, it isn't surprising that the illegal logging trade has taken a violent turn in some countries. Last year in Cambodia, an anti-logging activist and a reporter covering the illegal trade were both murdered. Three Brazilian activists were killed in 2011 -- just three out of dozens that have been murdered over the past several years.
It should be noted that illegal logging is not entirely run by timber kingpins and "wood mafias." Local communities also cut down wood illegally (to use, not to sell), and have probably been doing so for generations.
The countries affected are going to have to take strong action if they want to save their forests, because the problem is not going to fix itself. The world's appetite for high-value wood is high and is only getting higher. In its report entitled "Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber," the EIA states that between 2000 and 2011, the quantity of global log imports tripled, with a value that increased fivefold. China -- with wood product exports that have increased almost sevenfold in the past decade, with new construction projects beginning every day, and with a new bourgeoisie that covets fancy rosewood lounge sets (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), cars with wood-embellished interiors, and yachts -- comprises a large part of that demand. According to the EIA, China is the world's top importer of illegal timber. "More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
Nicaragua in particular has seen enormous growth in its illegal timber market thanks to Chinese demand. In 2008, Nicaraguan exports of granadillo totalled about $127,000. In 2011, after other Central American countries enacted stricter wood export regulations, that number grew fifty fold, to $6 million.
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Chinese government officials considered using an armed unmanned aerial vehicle to target a drug trafficker hiding in Myanmar, according to an interview with Liu Yuejin, the director of China's Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau that appeared in Global Times on Monday. The target, Naw Kham, wanted for a drug-trafficking related attack that killed 13 Chinese sailors, was eventually captured last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation in Laos and is now appealing a death sentence in China. Yuejin's comments are an unusual glimpse into China's considerations for the use of drone strikes, a tactic that is no longer used exclusively by the United States.
The proposed Chinese strike would have occurred in Myanmar's restive north, where the Naypyidaw government has struggled to control ethnic conflicts and a thriving drug trade. Much like the U.S. official rationale as for strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, China could have either sought Naypyidaw's support or credibly claimed that the government was "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," in the words of the Obama administration's white paper on its own targeted killing program. Similarly, as a violent drug trafficker tied to the deaths of Chinese sailors, China could have justified the potential drone strike under the white paper's loose definition of the "imminent threat of violent attack" against the homeland -- much as the United States justified targeting al Qaeda militants tied to the bombing of the USS Cole with drone strikes, beginning Abu Ali al-Harithi in 2002 (well before the white paper was authored).
The admission that the Chinese government considered a drone strike comes as its relationship with Myanmar has become increasingly strained amid stalled economic projects and new competition for influence with the West. China also appears to have placed special emphasis on their UAV programs in recent months, unveiling new models (that look suspiciously like U.S.-made Predator and Reaper drones) and retrofitting old Shenyang J-6 jets to fly by remote control.
Yuejin told Global Times that the drone strike option was passed over because of instructions to capture Naw Kham alive, but his comments demonstrate that China is weighing targeted killings seriously. When -- almost certainly not "if" -- China conducts its first drone strike, it will join just three other nations -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- and place itself among the drone powers in the ongoing international assessment of the legality of these operations and whether they abridge international law and the established concept of sovereignty.
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In the wake of a series of cyber attacks from Chinese I.P. addresses at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute, Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan is pushing a plan to create a "cyber defense network" consisting of Japan and 10 ASEAN countries.
"Under the system, the government intends to share information about cyber-attack patterns and technology to defend against the attacks. It also plans to carry out exercises to verify the effectiveness of the system within the current fiscal year."
More details will be discussed during meetings on information security in Tokyo this week, but the countries reportedly interested in participating include Thailand and Indonesia.
While the network's present plans -- sharing technology and information about attack patterns -- don't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking, the fact that the network is being formed could be seen as another sign of widespread, cross-border fears of Chinese hackers.
More than a dozen Japanese websites belonging to banks, a government minister, a hospital, and some courts were hit during the row over the Senkaku Islands, many altered to display Chinese flags or to proclaim that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Similar attacks took place on websites in the Phillipines - again related to a territorial spat over an island - earlier this year (although in fairness, Filipino hackers struck back) while last week saw a flurry of reports claiming that Chinese hackers had targeted the White House in a cyberattack (the White House said the attacks were a simple spear-phishing email, and that no harm had been done).
Yomiuiri Shimbun also reports that ASEAN countries might be interested in the network because their protections against cyberattacks haven't kept up with the increased use of computer equipment that has accompanied economic development.
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While the United States has only recently made tentative efforts to engage with Myanmar, India has, controversially, had decent relations with the country's government for quite some time. Human rights activists criticized Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with Than Shwe in 2012, calling it "unbecoming" for a democracy to welcome the Burmese military ruler.
At a time when relations are being renewed between Myanmar and the West, there's been a flurry of recent activity along India's 1,019-mile northeastern border with the country. The seven states of northeastern India are currently at their lowest period of insurgent violence in decades, and the shift in relations with their neighbor across the border could have enormous socio-economic implications for India, China and Southeast Asia.
On Feb. 22, India's foreign minister met with Myanmar's construction minister in New Delhi to speak about expanding both aviation and highway transportation between the two countries. The bridge in question would pass through the Naga region, inhabited by the tribal Naga people in the hilly district of Tamenglong in Manipur. For months, the United Naga Council -- an organization based in northeastern India -- had resisted such developments.
According to Samrat of the New York Times, several old routes cross the border between northeastern India and Myanmar. Some, like the World War II Stilwell Road, built under the U.S. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, had become "ghost roads," used mainly by Naga and Kachin insurgents to transport weapons and drugs, chiefly poppies to make and smuggle heroin across the border. But these roads have gradually returned to relatively law-abiding uses. Nonetheless, Indian officials claim Burmese authorities do not actively work to curb the flow of drugs and weapons into India.
In 1991, India's central government implemented a ‘‘Look East Policy'' to forge closer ties with the country's eastern neighbors. Critics say that Indian officials have made little attempt to put the policy into practice, but now the government is clearly looking to pick up the pace. During its many years of self-imposed isolation, Myanmar's only major economic partner was China, giving Beijing a strategic advantage in a nation that borders five countries.
Yesterday brought good and bad news in the spat over sovereignty in the South China Sea. At a meeting of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali, Indonesia, representatives from the ASEAN countries and China agreed upon a set of guidelines for resolving territorial disputes in the sea, where six countries - China, Vietnam, the Phillippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan - have overlapping sovereignty claims. The new deal, as outlined by the Jakarta Post, builds off the body's Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a nonbinding agreement signed in 2002 aimed at facilitating a legal agreement to resolve sovereignty disputes and prevent conflict in the region
Official reactions to theARF deal have varied. Chinese assistant foreign minister and meeting co-chair Liu Zhenmin has called the agreement a "milestone document," and his fellow co-chair, Vietnamese assistant foreign minister Pham Quang Vinh, said it was "significant and a good start." Nonetheless, it's important to note that the adopted guidelines are not legally binding; they merely reiterate the need to conform with the DOC, and they also lack a deadline for the implementation of a legal accord to resolve the conflict. Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario highlighted this concern when he said that more steps were needed to "add teeth" to the new deal.
Events later on Wednesday confirmed the Philippines's dissatisfaction with the ARF agreement. Four Filipino lawmakers and a Filipino military general ignored strong warnings from China and visited the island of Pagasa, the only island in the Spratlys populated by Filipinos, in a "peace and sovereignty mission." They joined residents to sing the national anthem and called for improvements in facilities on the island, which has no schools or hospitals for its 60 inhabitants. A spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed outrage about the visit.
Wednesday's events came as Hillary Clinton wrapped up her tour of India and prepared to join ASEAN representatives at the security forum in Bali. At the same meeting last year, she surprised Chinese officials when she called resolution of the sovereignty disputes a "leading diplomatic priority" for the U.S. She looks set to reiterate the position this year. We'll see whether China agrees.
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A two square mile patch of grassland on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, surrounding the 11th-century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, has been a regional flashpoint for decades. The skirmishes have escalated in recent years and both countries maintain hundreds of troops along the border. But the fighting could quiet down soon if the sides agree to a ruling today by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice. The court declared that a demilitarized zone should be established immediately in the region surrounding the temple, outlined here in diagrams from the Bangkok Post. The two countries have indicated they would abide by the decision.
With the U.N. ruling, the area surrounding Preah Vihear joins a handful of other demilitarized zones around the world. The most famous of these has divided North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The zone has played an important role maintaining the uneasy peace between the two countries, while also serving as a surprisingly effective wildlife refuge for a number of northeast Asia's endangered species. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the buffer zone established under U.N. control in 1974 between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway region recognized only by Turkey.
Israel also deals with its share of DMZs -- one at the Golan Heights, where U.N. forces have maintained the ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974, and one at the Sinai Peninsula. But the latter now contains Egyptian soldiers deployed with Israel's permission during the chaos of the Arab Spring, after Bedouin tribesmen started bombing gas lines in the region to protest their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian government. Israel imports 40 percent of its gas from Egypt.
Looking for the next emerging DMZ? The two Sudans agreed in late May to set up a demilitarized zone along their border, but the details are still very much in the works. Conflict continues to brew over the contested region of Abyei, which lies in the middle of the border. Without a resolution to the dispute, the DMZ there could be a long ways off.
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Polygamy has become passé -- at least for young people in Indonesia and Malaysia.
86.5 percent of Indonesians between the ages of 15 and 25, and 72.7 percent of young Malaysians, disagree with the practice, according to a new survey. Of course, in and of itself that isn't earth-shattering news, but given that the countries are overwhelmingly Muslim and generally quite conservative, the number is interesting.
The same survey also found that 90.1 percent of young people in Indonesia wouldn't marry outside their religion (the survey only included young Muslims, a religion that makes up 88 percent of the population) and 98.2 percent said premarital sex was not okay.
So why the negative attitudes toward polygamy -- which is after all permitted under Islamic law?
It may be a generational shift based on years of vocal opposition from women's groups -- especially in Indonesia.
In both countries, polygamy is legal and has strong backers. Supporters have set up clubs that preach the virtues of polygamy and encourage women to be obedient to their husbands, according to the AP. Young people clearly aren't buying the message.
Only about 5 percent of recent marriages in Malaysia are estimated to be polygamous, according to activists there the AP talked to. In Indonesia, it's more widespread and often performed without official state recognition in mosques.
Polygamy remains a hot button issue throughout the globe -- and certainly crosses religious boundaries. Sects of Christians and Jews back the practice.
Among majority-Muslim countries, besides Indonesia and Malaysia, polygamy is recognized and practiced widely in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan. Egypt and Jordan permit it but tightly regulate the practice (written permission needs to be granted from the wife beforehand). Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco ban the practice.
Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's new chief, might lack the charisma and presence of his predecessor, but that hasn't stopped him from communicating prolifically over the years, rallying followers to attack Western interests, condemning France's banning of the hijab, and praising recent protests in the Arab world. Below are some of his major statements over the years.
Forming al Qaeda (Feb. 1998)
In a faxed statement to a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri announced the formation of their new group, al Qaeda, intent on waging war against the United States and its allies -- and for the first time called for the killing of American civilians. The founding document for the new group (a coalition of Islamist organizations, including Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad) said: "To kill the Americans and their allies--civilian and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in nay country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Asqua Mosque and the holy mosque [in Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
Telling Iran to shut up with their 9/11 conspiracies (April 2008)
In an audio interview, Zawahiri lashed out at Iran and Hezbollah for propagating the conspiracy theory that Israel -- not al Qaeda -- was really behind the Sept. 11 attacks. He accused Iran and its proxy of trying to discredit al Qaeda by diminishing its signature success. Shiite Iran has long been one of Zawahiri's biggest targets, rhetorically at least. In response to a question about the theory that Israel was really behind the attacks, Zawahiri said, "The purpose of this lie is clear-- [to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no one else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it ... Iran's aim here is also clear--to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Sparking a debate about female jihadists (April 2008)
In that same interview, Zawahiri set off an emotional debate in jihadi circles with his insistence that al Qaeda does not allow women to fight and that a woman's role is limited to caring for the home and children of male fighters. His comment angered some female al Qaeda sympathizers.
"How many times have I wished I were a man," wrote one woman in a jihadi chat room, according to the Associated Press. " When Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri said there are no women in al Qaeda, he saddened and hurt me ... I felt that my heart was about to explode in my chest. I am powerless."
Zawahiri's comment showed he was a bit out of touch with reality in the Middle East. At the time, women were asserting a stronger role in fighting American and other forces. In Iraq alone, there had been at least 20 female suicide bombers since the start of the American war there.
Zawahiri's first wife was killed by an American airstrike in Kandahar in 2001, which might account for some of his views on the topic.
Congratulations, Mr. President (Nov. 2008)
Newly elected Barack Obama got a special shout out from the al Qaeda No. 2, who called him a "house negro." "It is true about you and people like you...what Malcom X said about the house negroes," he said in audio message posted online, lumping Obama in with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Zawahiri also taunted Obama about increasing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. "Beware that the [stray] dogs of Afghanistan have savored the taste of your soldiers' flesh, so do send them in thousands."
Voicing support (sort of) for the Arab Spring (April 2011)
Al Qaeda's standing as the vanguard force against the corrupt regimes of the Middle East was undoubtedly diminished by the Arab Spring this year. And Zawahiri's often rambling, unfocused statements on the protests didn't help. In April, he lashed out at both the NATO troops bombing Qaddafi's infrastructure and Qaddafi himself. "I want to say to our Muslim brothers in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and the rest of the Muslim countries, that if the Americans and the NATO forces enter Libya, then their neighbors in Egypt and Tunisia and Algeria and the rest of the Muslim countries should rise up and fight both the mercenaries of Qaddafi and the rest of the NATO."
According to Juan Zarate, former deputy national security advisor for combating terrorism under President George W. Bush, his statements on the Arab Spring make clear that under Zawahiri's leadership, al Qaeda's goal will still be targeting the "far enemy."
Bin Laden's eulogy (June 2011)
Zawahiri paid tribute to bin Laden in a YouTube video. He praised him as a "hero of the first battle line," and a "man who said no to America." He also warned of a major new attack against the United States.
Some analysts found it curious that he made no reference as to who would take the reins of al Qaeda. Zarate speculated that the delay in his naming was partly due to real questions within the organization about whether he was the right man for the job. As analyst Leah Farrall pointed out, there are several second generation al Qaeda figures who have more charisma and appeal than Zawahiri.
A disturbing new film from Britain's Channel 4 is making waves in the U.K. and overseas, with video of executions and other war crimes committed during the final five months of Sri Lanka's 25 year civil war. The army ultimately defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers in May, 2009-- but not before an estimated 100,000 people were killed.
Channel 4 said some of the footage has never been seen before and took two years to put together and authenticate.
One of the most graphic parts shows three prisoners who are on their knees, bound and blindfolded, while government soldiers stand over them. One soldier is heard saying, "Is there no one with balls to kill a terrorist?"
"Of course there is, shut up," another soldier says.
Then all three prisoners are shot.
There's another clip where a soldier laughs after a bound prisoner is gunned down at close range. "It's like he saw," the soldier says, referring to the executed man. "He looked, then he looked away."
The videos were taken by government troops on their mobile phones as "grotesque war trophies," according to Channel 4.
There's also footage of a hospital in a rebel-held area that was shelled by government troops over a period of days. A witness interviewed in the film said the hospital was "targeted" and that 10-15 people were killed in the assault.
But it's not just the government's troops that are shown committing atrocities. The film includes video of Tamil Tigers firing at civilians trying to escape the conflict zone.
According to the BBC, the British Foreign Office called the film's content "horrific" and said it would pressure Sri Lanka to investigate. Don't hold your breath. The government's response to the film? They called the footage fake and "malicious."
Judge for yourself. The full 50-minute film can be watched here.
Pakistan rounded up five informants who provided information to the C.I.A. that helped lead to the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, according to the New York Times. The arrests, which reportedly include a Pakistani Army major who copied the license plates of cars visiting the compound, highlight once again how strained the relationship is between Washington and Islamabad. As Pakistan's powerful Inter-Service Intelligence directorate (ISI) was able to uncover and arrest the alleged C.I.A. informants very soon after the killing, one might wonder what they could do if they put as much energy into locating some of the world's other most wanted people believed to be hiding out in the country.
Here are a few bad guys who remain at large.
The man believed to be behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 is a shadowy figure with ties to militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and reportedly to the ISI, though they deny it. He directed the Mumbai operation as it was happening and can be heard on recorded phone conversations instructing the terrorists on the ground where to go, whom to kill, and when to go out in a storm of bullets. He also recruited the American David Headley to act as a scout for the group.
Bin Laden's longtime deputy, the Egyptian-born doctor is one of America's prime targets in Pakistan. Since bin Laden's death, the United States has upped the pressure on the Pakistani government, military and ISI to provide more information on his whereabouts, according to reports.
The current leader of the powerful Haqqani network sends weapons, recruits, and supplies to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The group is closely allied to the Taliban. Some analysts say it works as a proxy force used by the ISI, elements of which are accused of providing financial and operational support for their attacks in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most mysterious fugitive in Pakistan, Iqbal is an officer in the ISI who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks, according to testimony from David Headley, who claimed that he provided money and helped choose targets. He's named as Headley's ISI handler in a Justice Department indictment. But very little is known about him--including his real identity and how high up in the ISI he was.
In 2009, Forbes Magazine named. Ibrahim the 50th most powerful person in the world. The head of the Mumbai-based crime syndicate D-Company, he is also India's most wanted man, believed to be involved in everything from drug and weapons trafficking to terrorism (he's suspected of organizing attacks in Bombay in 1993 that killed 257 people and the U.S. says he has links to al Qaeda). He's reportedly hiding out in Pakistan, using plastic surgery to help avoid detection--as well as his connections in the ISI.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for al Qaeda. Since the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the terror network has suffered additional losses that analysts say are taking a heavy toll on the group.
Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month (though al Qaeda hasn't confirmed his death, reports of which have been incorrect before). And last week, an al Qaeda leader in East Africa -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed -- was killed by Somali forces in Mogadishu. Mohammed was the most wanted man in Africa.
Analysts and U.S. officials say the deaths have created a power vacuum.
"The organization is in a great deal of turmoil," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy. "It's trying to sort itself out with what's going on."
Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said Kashmiri and Mohammed were key operational figures, not easily replaced due to their long pedigrees of planning and executing attacks.
"They are especially important because they would have been looked on to plan and implement any acts of retribution [for bin Laden's death] from al Qaeda," he said. "Their killings knock them seriously off balance."
Of course, al Qaeda is well-known for its ability to replenish its ranks. Analysts like Hoffman and Evan Kohlmann, who has consulted with the U.S. government, see a few key names potentially emerging to fill the void.
1. Saif al-Adel
Born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963, according to the FBI. Currently believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region.
Al-Adel was reportedly named the interim chief of Al Qaeda after bin Laden's death. After the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was eventually put under house arrest. In 2008, Iran swapped him for a diplomat taken captive by al Qaeda in Pakistan.
Signature attacks: Has played a hand in many al Qaeda attacks, allegedly dispatching Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and aiding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.
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Last week we listed some items that are growing in popularity among China's increasingly wealthy middle class, along with some of the impacts of these recent obsessions, including jade. One major consequence not included in the list is the fact that China's passion for jade has been criticized by both human rights groups and the U.S. government for financing Burma's military dictatorship.
Brian Leber, a Chicago-based jeweler involved in efforts for an industry-wide boycott of jewels from Burma, wrote in to remind us that the Southeast Asian country is not only home to one of the world's most repressive regimes, it also has millions of kilograms of jadeite -- the most expensive and most sought after jade in China.
U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar that specifically targeted the military junta's trade of jadeite have apparently done little to quell the Chinese appetite for the fine gem: According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, jadeite from Myanmar has, unlike other gems, continued to be "primarily purchased, processed, and consumed by China."
Despite the fact that she has apparently been given authorization to vote in Burma's upcoming presidential election, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she's not planning on participating:
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) had already decided to disband to avoid having to expel Ms Suu Kyi and other detainees under strict electoral laws.
Our South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says her decision not to vote may further encourage other NLD supporters to follow her lead, come election day.
That in turn will infuriate the current military leadership, she says.
"The NLD will not compete so she (Suu Kyi) said she has no party to vote for even if she is allowed to vote. As the NLD is not participating in the election, she will not vote," said Nyan Win.
Burma's upcoming election and the sort-of-but-not really transition to civilian rule appear to be a sham so blatant that one wonders why they're even going ahead with it. The poll certainly won't do much for the regime's international legitimacy. Is anyone in Burma buying it?
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Authoritarian regimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the internet. Vietnam is leaning toward love. State-owned Vietnam Multimedia Report recently launched a trial version of go.vn, an answer to Facebook -- which is banned in Vietnam -- that lets users build profiles, post photos, send messages, share music, add friends, and catch the news. The full version should launch later this year.
One user you can't defriend? The government. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The catch is that users have to submit their full names and government-issued identity numbers before they can access the site. Security services monitor websites in Vietnam, whose authoritarian, one-party dictatorship treats dissidents ruthlessly.
The site marks a shift in tactics for Hanoi's Politburo members, who have more typically shut dissident bloggers and tried blocking Facebook Inc.'s flagship site to stop subversive thoughts from spreading online.
Think Facebook has privacy issues?
According to the Journal, Vietnam's Minister for Information and Communications, Le Doan Hop, believes the site is both a "trustworthy" alternative to foreign sites and one ripe with "culture, values, and benefits" for Vietnam's teenagers. When early articles about Ho Chi Minh didn't go viral, Vietnam Multimedia's online unit added English tests and state-approved videogames, including, according to the Journal, "a violent multiplayer contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism." Hop predicts about half of the Vietnamese population will sign up over the next five years.
Apparently, the Vietnamese aren't impressed:
Some Vietnamese have figured out how to skirt the Facebook ban by using proxy servers or tinkering with their computer settings. Others have launched online campaigns to boycott local Web sites such as go.vn despite its ongoing makeover. "Make 'go' go away," one person wrote in an online message.
Many Vietnamese shrug when queried about go.vn. "I didn't even know it existed," says Pham Thanh Cong, a fourth-year physics student at Hanoi Polytechnic as he waits his turn to play an online shoot-'em-up game at a street-side Internet café.
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That's what Indonesia is arguing:
Indonesia says the United States is abusing health regulations to shut out clove cigarettes, known as kretek and very popular in the southeast Asian country, while allowing U.S. manufacturers to continue to market menthol cigarettes.
U.S. officials say that flavoured tobaccos risk attracting young people to smoking, and that the ban applies to clove cigarettes from all countries and so is not discriminatory.
A meeting of the WTO's dispute settlement body agreed to set up a panel to rule on the dispute, the sources said.
I'm not sure about the trade rules, but the clove ban does seem somewhat inconsequential. Cloves made up less than .01 of the cigarettes smoked in the U.S. in 2008, so arguing that they're a uniquely dangerous gateway for young smokers seems like a tough case to make. On the other hand, with the possible exception of our nation's MFA programs and the staff of Reason magazine, there hasn't been a whole lot of backlash. Menthols, meanwhile, accounted for 28 percent of U.S. consumption, so banning them would presumably have been a much tougher political move domestically.
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The streets of Bangkok may be quiet again after the Red Shirt protests earlier this year that resulted in more than 80 deaths and thousands of injuries, but the country's politics are still highly unstable. A state of emergency remains even as Prime Minsiter Abhisit Vejjajiva has proposed a "road map" to national reconciliation. The government has also filed terrorism charges against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for his alleged role in organizing the protests.
Thaksin, who was overthrown in a miltiary coup in 2006 and now lives mainly Dubai, denies funding or organizing the Red Shirt movement. Today, I had the chance to speak with former Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama, who is now Thaksin's legal advisor and spokesman and asked him about the former leader's connection to the movement:
Dr. Thaksin provides moral support.... He has no control over the day-to-day running of the Red Shirts. They have their own structure, their own management, their own leaders. It’s not possible for him to order anyone to stage a rally. It would be decided by the Red Shirts themselves.
Noppadon has rejected the Abhisit government's road map plan, calling instead for national peace talks between the various parties in the conflict, including Thaksin. He warned today that without meaningful reconciliation, more unrest is likely:
If the situation goes unresolved, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the government candidates will not be able to campaign in certain regions of Thailand, for example in the North and Northeast. That would be bad for democracy. The Red Shirt protesters will go and hound them, go and prevent them [from campaigning].
The sense of bitterness, the sense of hatred is still there among the red shirts because of the loss of life. They feel Abhisit ordered the army to use excessive force and violated their human rights. Unless we can settle the crisis amicably, Thailand will not have political stability. ...
We don’t want the Red Shirts to stage a third big rally in Bangkok. To prevent that, some sort of arrangement or reconciliation to be achieved. If we don’t address the hatred, I fear there will be more demonstrations in Bangkok.
What do you call a political rally where citizens-turned-automatons stand silent and unmoving without signs, literature, or adornment of any kind? No real political rally at all -- or, permissible dissent in Burma.
The iron-fisted Burmese junta -- led by military general Than Shwe -- has repeatedly framed this year's upcoming elections as fair and democratic, dismissing the critics who claim it is merely a design to cement five decades of uninterrupted military rule. But the despotic regime's recent ban on essentially any public, recognizable political expression -- on marching, chanting, making speeches, brandishing flags, distributing publications, or making disturbances near any offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals, and religious meetings (read: anywhere on solid ground) -- likely won't win over any disbelievers.
Today the ruling junta published a 14-point directive in state-run newspapers to explain what constitutes a recognized party and exactly what that party can -- or much more thoroughly, can not -- do. To attain party status, a group must be registered by the (state-run) Election Commission and then amass a minimum of 1,000 members in the three following months. To hold a rally, the party must be approved and then must obtain permission to hold the rally from that same committee. It is worth noting first that the majority of the 38 currently registered groups (a mere sixth of the number registered in the most recent election … back in 1990) support the ruling party; second, that campaigning comes with its own laundry list of restrictions; and third, that any participants in a political rally must adhere to the aforementioned restrictions or face a crackdown from local authorities. The end result? Any political body espousing real opposition is unlikely to materialize, and any political rally is whittled down to what most closely resembles a silent rave -- minus the headphones and the fun.
The other conditions of the elections only make prospects grimmer: No election date has been specified, over 2,000 "political prisoners" are barred from the voting booths, and what is arguably the only party capable of posing a real challenge to the junta, the National League for Democracy, is effectively defunct. The party's leader and rightful winner of the last Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, is most likely skeptical as she awaits the arrival of this elusive election -- all from the decrepit lake house where she remains under a 20-year-long house arrest.
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Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya touched the third rail of Thai politics in a speech in Washington on Monday:
“I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how it would have to reform itself to the modern globalised world,” Kasit Piromya, the foreign minister, told a seminar in the US.
But the incident also brings up another questions, where has King Bhumibol Adulyadej been for the last few weeks? As the Financial Times reports, his stature has certainly not diminisehd amid the chaos in Bangkok:
Even the red-shirted anti-government protesters who are presently demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok and who are often criticised by their opponents as a republican fifth column, halt their protests twice a day, at 8am and 6pm, to stand at attention and listen to the royal anthem as it plays over the city-wide public address system.
The king generally reluctant to get involved in politics -- which is a good thing -- but he has occasionally intervened in tims of political crisis. With the crippling protests in Bankok showing no signs of abating and few credible political leaders to help resolve the situation, this might seem like a perfect time for His Majesty to step in.
The bigger longterm issue, which Kasit seemed to be hinting at, is that that the 82-year-old monarch's health is fading and his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn reportedly doesn't have the same credibility. Given the current state of Thai politics, it might be time to make some institutional changes so that these deus ex machina interventions are no longer necessary.
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In September 2009, authorities at an airport in Mangalore arrested two passengers arriving from Dubai with 18 kilograms of contraband hidden in their suitcases. This wouldn't be shocking if they were smuggling drugs, but they weren't. Instead, the passengers were carrying nearly 90,000 dollars worth of saffron. This wasn't an isolated incident either; authorities confiscated 10 kilograms of the stuff at the same airport in July 2009.
Why is saffron (which is the most expensive spice in the world) suddenly being smuggled into India?
Well, it turns out that production in Kashmir, the primary growing area for high-quality Indian saffron, has fallen 85 percent in the last 10 years. Experts are blaming climate change, poor irrigation, and pollution in the region. In response, prices in India have doubled in the past three years. Meanwhile, with Iran and Spain supplying most of the saffron to the world market, global prices have held steady.
Now, the subsequent price gap between India and other countries has led to an opportunity for smugglers to profit; the spice sells for double in India than what it in other markets -- up to $5,000 per kilogram. So, learning from their experience with drugs, gangs operating in India, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are using saffron "mules" to carry shipments in their luggage on international flights. Easier for them to carry than other contraband goods (such as drugs), saffron is not easily detectable -- or probably even screened for -- by customs officials.
Smugglers are also trying to avoid paying hefty export and import taxes, which have only increased potential profit margins. While the Iranian government recently imposed a five percent export tax on bulk shipments of saffron, the Indian government has imposed both an export ban and import taxes to protect the interests of saffron growers in Jammu, Kashmir, and Punjab.
With less risk and such high profit who wouldn't be mad about saffron? Drugs are just so passé.
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Think mustard gas is bad?
In possible contravention of long-standing international conventions on the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons, the Indian military has announced the addition to a new weapon to its arsenal: chili grenades.
Made from bhut jolokia -- the spiciest chili pepper in the world, according to the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records -- the grenades are expected to be "effective nontoxic weapon[s]... [whose] pungent smell can choke terrorists and force them out of their hideouts."
I urge readers to be on the lookout for one of these things at the next international weapons exhibition they attend.
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As the world's eyes fell on Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, Chinese authorities scrambled to find a way to improve the city's notoriously low air quality. They shut down factories, closed roads down and even tried to disperse rain clouds. Now, New Delhi is facing a similar problem prior to hosting October's Commonwealth Games. But the world's fourth most polluted city is banking on some clean tech to get it done: a giant, half million dollar air purifier. This seven-ton machine, built by an Italian company, has a five-stage filtering process and can go through 10,000 cubic meters of air every hour. P.K. Sharma, health chief of New Delhi's Municipal Council spoke with Agence France-Presse:
"It is the first such project in India and if it works then we would acquire a number of them and place them at strategic locations," the health chief of the New Delhi Municipal Council, P.K. Sharma, said.
He said a state environmental agency will monitor the performance of the machine, which costs about 25 million rupees ($551,000 dollars) and works like a vacuum cleaner, sucking in air and releasing it purified form from a roof vent."
Like in the Beijing Olympics, pollution can be a major factor for the 8,000 or so competing athletes. Three months of testing will show whether the machine actually works or not, although there are already dozens of similar models installed in Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Let's just hope it's more effective than Beijing's measures.
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Here's a novel (and disgusting) political tactic from Thailand's "red-shirt" protesters:
Organizers of the demonstrations in the Thai capital said they're requesting that each protester donate between two and 20 teaspoons of blood - 10 to 100 cubic centimeters - to meet their goal of more than 2,000 pints (1 million cubic centimeters). That would require between 10,000 and 100,000 people - roughly the crowd's peak size - to donate.
"The blood will be taken from the body and democratic soul of the Red Shirts," said a protest leader, Natthawut Saikua, referring to the popular name for the protesters. He said they would start recruiting medical staff for the blood drive Tuesday morning.
They threatened to pour the blood on Government House if their renewed demand was rejected by 6 p.m. Tuesday (7 a.m. EDT, 1100 GMT).
I thought it was going to be hard to top the great Latvian cow head protest of 2009 in stomach-turning outrageousness, but this literal blodbath might do it. The red cross is also complaining about the waste of perfectly good blood.
The protesters -- supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra -- want current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
The red shirted supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have been busy mixing up a disgusting and smelly concoction of faeces and fermented fish to throw at anyone who might get in their way.
What this has to do with reforming the Thai political system, I'm not sure.
Update 2: They did it.
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Just to bring you up to speed on the recent antics of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he was ousted in a 2006 military coup due to corruption and cronyism and was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for a corrupt land deal. His assets in Thailand were frozen and he was later stripped of his Thai passport but, don't worry, he continues to be a glass-half-full kind of guy; he suavely globe-trots his way out of the grasp of authorities (allegedly holding six other passports). And, finally, his little princess made it into our list of worst-behaved daughters. Oh, and don't forget his latest business venture: a lotto service in Uganda, which he hopes will "benefit the people of Uganda." Nothing like gambling to really help people in need, eh Thaksin?
If you think all this means he's not so well liked back home, you would be wrong. In Thailand's impoverished and neglected northeast, Thaksin is seen as a champion of social equality, mostly due to his hands-on governing style, a low-interest lending program and low-cost healthcare program that he enacted as PM. In fact, his appeal has probably increased in the last few years.
And Thaksin hasn't let his money, or popularity, go to waste. He's been funneling money to supportive political parties and his grassroots supporters, called "The Reds", ever since he left Thailand. Now, as a reaction to the government's confiscation of $1.4 billion of his assets in late February, "The Reds" are planning to hold mass demonstrations in Bangkok, starting tomorrow. With an expected turnout anywhere between 100,000 and 600,000 the Thai authorities aren't messing around. They've already deployed 50,000 troops on the streets in order to stop things from getting out of hand.
Oh Thaksin, you just never cease to stir the pot.
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U.S.-Pakistani relations tend to be defined by a certain set of core issues, which include the ISI's double-dealing with the CIA, the 2005 Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, and Pakistani nuclear security. While these issues are undoubtedly important, sometimes it's refreshing to see something new crop up, if only for variety's sake.
This is just what happened at Reagan National Airport on Sunday, Feb. 7, when a delegation of Pakistani legislators visiting Washington to meet with senior administration officials refused to submit to a full body X-ray scan. As a result, the legislators, who had already concluded their business in Washington and were attempting to fly to New Orleans, were prohibited from boarding the airplane. Insulted, the legislators promptly left on the next flight for Pakistan, leaving behind a public relations nightmare for the State Department, which had assisted the American Embassy in Islamabad with organizing the trip.
While the fallout from this episode is certain to be short-lived, the anecdote nevertheless serves as a nice illustration of the challenge the United States faces in trying to balance its national security interests with its need to improve relations with the Pakistani government.
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