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Not so bloodless protest in Thailand

Two years after Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown by a coup d’etat, fears successor Samak Sundaravej remained too close to the corrupt leader, who has since fled to Britain, have thrown the country into a turmoil unseen even during the bloodless 2006 military takeover. Incidents which have pitted government supporters against protesters occupying Government House for over a week have in fact led to one death and many injuries, which also was reaching a level of violence unseen two years ago

While back then tourists and locals alike posed in front of tanks for souvenir photos of the events, their presence the subject of amusement more than anything else, union protests against the government have paralyzed much of the country, including airports, railways and utilities, with some neighbouring countries advising their citizens against travel in one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations.

Samak, who has only seen the number of protests against him grow during his seven months in office, resisted calls for him to step down and has accused his opponents in the People’s Alliance for Democracy, who are occupying Government House, of trying to provoke another coup, to force him and his People’s Power Party from office.

With Thailand’s history of coup d’etats, the man in charge of keeping order during the current state of emergency is only too aware of the military’s delicate role. Army commander, General Anupong Paochinda, rushed to say that his troops would neither use force nor take sides, or stage a coup for that matter. "I can assure every person that the Thai police and military will not use force against any civilian by any means," he said at a news conference. "If the military uses force to stage a coup, it will create a lot more problems." He added: "This is a very sensitive issue, and whatever we do, we will have to be careful not to take sides. This is a situation among people in society, two groups who do not agree."

Protesters meanwhile defied the state of emergency’s ban of gatherings of more than five people, some 30,000 remaining massed around Government House. The measures also barred any news reports or published materials that could "cause panic" or affect the stability of the state.

But the stability of the one Asia’s hottest economies seemed to be put to the test by labour organizations. A coalition of 43 unions representing workers at state companies including water, electric, phone and the national airline said they would cut off services to the government in support of the anti-government protests, after disrupting rail service and public bus transportation. "The government has beaten protesters, and that justifies our retaliating by stopping water, telephone service and electricity to some government agencies," Sawit Kaewwan, secretary-general of the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, said at a news conference.

Echoing the slogans of the right-wing protesters occupying Samak's office to bring down the government, the 200,000-strong alliance says the government is corrupt and too close to Thaksin. The same group had organized the massive rallies in 2006 that helped spark the bloodless coup.

Samak says that in addition to staying put he won’t even consider calling new elections. They may eventually be hard to avoid however, as within hours of the state of emergency being declared, the country’s Election Commission said it would ask the courts to disband the PPP for alleged vote fraud in last December’s general election.

Then this week Samak was effectively ousted when a Constitutional Court found him guilty of violating the constitution for receiving payment to host a TV cooking show while in office. But his party has vowed to re-nominate him.

"The issue at stake is whether or not democracy will continue in Thailand," Charles Keyes, a University of Washington anthropologist told the Toronto Star. "Either the will of the people will be allowed to determine the nature of the government, or there will be a return to an older authoritarianism, or `guided democracy.'"

But some are questioning the current state of democracy in the country of smiles, pointing to the impact of many rural poor voters who they say helped elect the present government only because they benefited from better health care, social services and village loan funds.
Two years after Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown by a coup d’etat, fears successor Samak Sundaravej remained too close to the corrupt leader, who has since fled to Britain, have thrown the country into a turmoil unseen even during the bloodless 2006 military takeover. Incidents which have pitted government supporters against protesters occupying Government House for over a week have in fact led to one death and many injuries, which also was reaching a level of violence unseen two years ago.

Unité au rendez-vous?

Le phénomène Obama a beau s'essouffler et l'avance du prodige au drôle de nom a beau rétrécir au point de devenir à peine perceptible dans les sondages, la coqueluche adulée de l'Illinois restait la grande vedette de la convention démocrate, sensée remettre un peu de souffle dans les voiles du jeune sénateur et de son colistier Joe Biden.

Pourtant le discours de son ancien adversaire, Hillary Clinton, allait être un des moments forts de la convention, la division risquant à tout moment de gâter la fête des démocrates, après huits ans de règne républicain; autant sinon plus que le dérangeant Ralph Nader. Clinton, dont le nom figurait symboliquement sur les bulletins de vote soumis à la convention pour souligner son parcours historique, restait, tout comme son mari Bill, une certaine source de discorde malgré le geste d'unité posé en juin dans la ville du New Hampshire du même nom, Unity, qui en principe enterrait la hache de guerre et mettait fin au duel cinglant. En principe.

Or déjà à ce moment là des groupes de manifestants affichaient une déception vite devenue tapageuse, un tiers des troupes de Clinton allant lorsqu'à prétendre aller voter pour John McCain plutôt que Barack Obama. A Denver, des mesures de sécurité étaient en place en prévision d'importantes manifestations de discorde dans le camp démocrate, de quoi gâter une grand-messe prévoyant de rassembler quelques 75,000 fidèles dans le stade de Denver pour entendre parler l'heureux choisi.

Le deuxième jour d'une convention qui a pris son élan avec un discours de la femme d'Obama, Michelle, plaçant la candidature de son mari sous le signe de l'"espoir", il était temps de resserrer les rangs. "Je suis ici en tant que fière Américaine et fière supporter de Barack Obama, déclara Hillary, qui malgré sa popularité n'avait jamais figuré sur la liste des possibles colistiers. Il est temps de reprendre le pays que nous aimons. Il est grand temps de s'unir au sein d'un même parti avec une mission unique... Barack Obama est mon candidat et doit être notre président".

Quelques jours plus tôt Obama avait fait l'annonce de son choix de colistier, un choix accueilli sous la bannière du "sans risque" pas certains, mais critiquée de contraire aux principes de "changement" évoqués par la campagne Obama, étant données les décennies de Biden à Washington.

La machine McCain s'est immédiatement précipitée de souligner les différences entre Biden et Obama durant la campagne électorale, Biden ayant déjà parlé de lui à titre de "premier Afro-Américain consensuel qui s'exprime bien, qui soit brillant, propre et séduisant". Les pubs du candidat républicain citent également Biden, en pleine campagne, estimant qu'il serait "une erreur tragique" d'élire quelqu'un de si faible en matière de sécurité nationale ou de politique étrangère. Celui qui préside la commission des affaires étrangères représente ainsi un certain complément à la campagne Obama, en matière de connaissance des engrenages de la machine politique autant que des affaires étrangères.

Puis restait l'énigme Bill, qui avait fait feu à boulets rouges, pourtant les couleurs de l'autre parti, sur la campagne Obama en désignant sa politique irakienne de "conte de fées", ce qui lui a valu quelques répliques bien ciblées. Si certains dans l'entourage d'Obama redoutaient de la teneur du discours de Bill, ils ont dû être rassurés dès les premiers instants lorsque le 42e président a entonné qu'Obama "est prêt de diriger l'Amérique et de rétablir son leadership dans le monde." S'adressant aux partisans de Hillary encore réticents, Bill a pointé son doigt dans leur direction en leur donnant une directive sans équivoque: "Votez pour Obama en novembre".

Frais de son intronisation par acclamation, lorsque Hillary a demandé que l'on fasse halte au vote formel des délégués, Obama a désigné son rival McCain de sosie de Bush en soulignant qu'il avait voté comme lui 90% du temps. L'Amérique "peut faire mieux que ce qu'elle a fait au courant des huit dernières années. C'en est assez!" a-t-il dit, évoquant la nécessité de restaurer ce qu'il a appelé "la promesse américaine: l'idée que nous sommes responsables de nous-mêmes mais aussi que nous tombons et nous relevons comme un seul pays".

Le discours d'acceptation du candidat historique avait lieu 45 ans jour pour jour après le célèbre discours du "rêve" de Martin Luther King à Washington. La grogne a-t-elle disparu suite au spectacle Obama? Pas certain, surtout si l'on tient en compte le choix de la gouverneure de l'Alaska Sarah Palin comme colistier de McCain, qui attirerait sûrement quelques partisans déçus de l'ancienne first lady.

Les dieux de Béijing?

Qui ont été les véritables dieux du stade? les candidats évidents, Usain Bolt, recorman aux 100m, 200m et au 4x100m. ou Michael Phelps avec ses 8 médailles d'or? Ou encore des candidats moins évidents, comme ce premier médaillé Afghan de l'histoire, ces athlètes Irakiens qui à quelques jours des Jeux en étaient exclus ou cette sud-africaine unijambiste qui a terminé 16e sur les 25 participants au marathon aquatique.

Les obstacles étaient de taille même avant les Jeux pour les Olympiens qui ont dû mettre en arrière pensée les crises à domicile, comme en Georgie, dont les athlètes ont récolté autant de médailles d'or que le Canada alors que le pays traversait le traumatisme d'une invasion territoriale.

Pour Bolt, dont le nom de famille propose des qualités plutôt électrisantes, la question ne se posait même pas: «Je ne vais pas me comparer à Michael Phelps, précise Bolt, qui préfère rester à l'écart de ce débat. C'est un athlète extraordinaire. Il a gagné huit médailles d'or et fixé huit nouveaux records mondiaux. C'est incomparable. Je le félicite d'être le meilleur dans sa discipline.»

De son côté, Kenenisa Bekele était sans aucun doute le roi de sa discipline, l'Ethiopien récoltant l'or au 5,000 m. (en signant un record olympique, rien de moins) après avoir été couronné au 10,000 m. Pour des millions d'Africains Bekele était bel et bien le roi des Jeux, mais encore une fois la question, au moment de faire le bilan, pouvait manquer de bon sens: "Il n'est pas juste de comparer tout le monde, ils ont tous joué un rôle historique, dit-il. C'est impossible, tout le monde a fait son effort, ils ont atteint leurs objectifs, très difficiles à atteindre dans leur discipline".

Après tout, même en Ethiopie son titre de champion sur piste n'était pas nécessairement assuré puisque du côté féminin Tirunesh Dibaba a été la première à capturer le 5,000 m. ainsi que le 10,000 m. Evidemment être couronné à répétition est un exploit en soi. Bekele est devenu, après l'or d'Athènes au 10,000m., le premier athlète éthiopien à remporter trois médailles d'or.

C'est cette logique qui a fait de Karen Cockburn, médaillée d'argent au tremplin, le porte- drapeau de la troisième équipe canadienne à avoir le mieux réussi (18 médailles). Elle a beau ne pas avoir récolté l'or, il s'agissait des troisièmes JOs auxquels elle avait soutiré une médaille (après l'argent à Athènes et le bronze à Sydney, où le sport a fait son apparition).

Si le choix de roi (ou de reine) des JOs reste incertain, que penser de celui du grand pays champion des Jeux: les Etats-Unis rafflant 110 médailles ou le pays hôte, qui dominait au chapitre des médailles d'or, représentant plus de la moitié (51) de ses récoltes de 100 podiums? Le débat a de quoi durer jusqu'aux prochains Jeux, ceux d'hiver à Vancouver, dans moins de deux ans déjà.

Mauvais perdants (encore là c'est matière à débat) peut-être, les Etats-Unis estimaient à la clôture des Jeux qu'il "était désolant que la Chine n'ait pas profité de l'occasion pour faire preuve de plus de tolérance et d'ouverture." Le président américain, qui à l'opposé du premier ministre canadien avait assisté à plusieurs cérémonies à l'occasion des Jeux, avait déclaré: "Nous croyons avec fermeté que les sociétés qui permettent l'expression libre des idées ont tendance à devenir les plus prospères et les plus paisibles."

Pourtant de son côté le président du CIO Jacques Rogue estime que la tenue des Jeux aura ouvert le Chine au monde. Seul le temps le dira vraiment.

Targeting Canadians

It wasn't the first warning Canada had received, but if one is to believe its authors, it was the one most quickly acted upon. Days after the Taleban warned Canadian troops to leave Afghanistan or face more attacks three combat engineers became the latest Canadian soldiers last week to lose their lives after their convoy hit a roadside bomb outside Kandahar City, bringing Canada's military death toll in the country to 93. Half a dozen other soldiers also suffered injuries in attacks in the following days.


The week was especially bloody to many nations of the NATO-led military alliance. France had just lost 10 paratroopers in a single attack and three Polish soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb blast southwest of Kabul. Thousands of miles away meanwhile, hundreds of mourners were gathered in Edmonton, where the three recent casualties were from, to remember Canada's 90th casualty.


The body of Master Cpl. Erin Doyle of Kamloops, B.C., had recently been repatriated after he was killed in a firefight in the country's Panjwaii district. Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued what is becoming a familiar mournful statement, lauding the efforts of the latest soldiers to fall in Afghanistan. "These soldiers made an important contribution to international efforts in Afghanistan aimed at creating the conditions necessary for reconstruction and development efforts to flourish in a country ravaged by decades of war and despotism," Harper said.


"Canada and our NATO allies are making a profound difference in the lives of the Afghan people," assured Defence Minister Peter MacKay in a statement. "Despite this tragic event, we remain undeterred in our mission to help Afghans rebuild their country."


In Afghanistan, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said his fighters were taking credit for the attack. "I don't know that the Taleban are getting any stronger," said in response to a reporter's question Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of the Canadian Forces in Kandahar. "What I would say is that they're much more aggressive this fighting season than they've been in the past."


But it wasn't lost of anyone that at the beginning of the week the Taleban had warned Canada like it rarely had before that it faced more casualties unless it withdrew its troops from the country. In an open letter addressed to "the Canadian people," the fundamentalist group said Canada "sacrificed" its self-respect by following the "American" agenda and urged Canadians to press the government to "put an end to the occupation of Afghanistan."


In the letter, Qari Muhammad Yussef says the Taleban don't want to kill Canadians but are forced to because Canadians are killing innocent Afghans. The warning came just days after three aid workers, including two Canadians, were gunned down by insurgents in Logar province and two weeks after Canadian troops accidentally shot two children to death in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar, fearing the vehicle they were riding in was going to attack them.

NATO troops have repeatedly come under fire for incidents which made civilians casualties in the Afghan population. The UN blamed a US airstrike last week of killing 90 civilians including 60 children. MacKay assured the Afghan government that Canadian troops are following the rules of engagement.


He had earlier condemned the Taleban letter, saying that it will not deter Canadian soldiers currently in Afghanistan. "This letter is a disgusting attempt to justify the deliberate killings of innocent civilians. There is no justification for these killings by the Taliban," he said. "Canada is in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of that country," he said, adding Canada will continue to try to bring stability and security to the Afghan people.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada does not respond to threats from the Taleban. "This has no effect whatsoever on the Canadian mission," spokesman Kory Teneycke said. "The Taleban demonstrates, time and again, its willingness to target civilians, including Afghan civilians as part of their efforts."


Worried about the insurgency but unable to defend itself, the Afghan government however is increasingly wary of foreign troops on its territory. But it may received more if an Obama presidency keeps its words of transferring more U.S. troops there to finish the job started after Sept. 11. In Canada meanwhile, another voice was calling for the withdrawal of the troops.

Just hours before Canada's latest casualties, Alexandre Trudeau, the journalist son of late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, said Canada's "aggressive" war in Afghanistan is all about "teaching lessons with weapons" and will leave nothing behind "except the blood we've lost there." "Our aggressive military activities in Afghanistan are foolish and wrong," said the 34-year-old.


"The Pashtun have extremely different values than ours, values we may not agree with in any case, but it's not our business to try and teach them lessons with weapons," he told the Gazette. "Because, in fact, they'll be the ones teaching us lessons. "We're going to have to leave the place or there'll be nothing left of us or of whatever we've done, except the blood we've lost there after we leave. So it's better we leave now."


Canadian have not only been targeted in Afghanistan. The Algerian branch of al-Qaida said last week it had deliberately targeted Canadians when it bombed a bus full of SNC-Lavalin employees earlier in the week, leaving 12 dead and 15 wounded. In a claim of responsibility issued soon after, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said it had planned the attack for three months and identified the suicide bomber as Abdul Rahman Abu Zeinab al-Mauritani.


The statement said the attackers “made sure that passengers on the protected bus were Canadian citizens. Therefore, they targeted the bus, and it is not as the apostates claim that we are targeting our brothers, Muslim workers.” The company said however that the workers killed were locals.


As it buried its dead in Afghanistan meanwhile, France said its parliament would debate the army's presence there after the country's worst military loss in 25 years. "At the moment I am speaking to you, I have never been so aware of what the solitude of a head of state could be in the face of the decisions he has to take," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a eulogy to the dead men, part of the "national tribute" to them. "I want to ensure your colleagues are never in such a situation. I want all the lessons to be drawn from what happened," he added, without elaborating.


France had been the subject of criticism by other NATO members such as the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, for not putting its troops in harm's way, staying out of the volatile south of the country racked by a fierce insurgency, but the attacks showed there is no safe area in the increasingly hostile country.


Musharraf leaves

Less than a year ago as Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf was declaring a state of emergency, seizing all powers in an effort to prevent the judiciary from ruling on his contested re-election. But on Aug. 18 the embattled former general relinquished the presidency under the threat of impeachment, bringing an end to a nine year rule which has been the trademark of Pakistani leaders before him.

His “civilian tenure,” in effect since he stepped down as army chief to keep his presidency, proved much shorter than his military rule, and only caused him to lose his principal military base of support. By last week’s announcement, there was little reaction even from the country’s army brass to the largely expected resignation.

While the U.S. hailed Musharraf as "one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism," the departure was welcomed in neighbouring Afghanistan as a boost to democracy, Kabul often blaming the insurgency in the south of the country on Pakistan’s failure to crack down on militants in its northwest frontier region.

As a reminder of the continuing troubles in the restive region, police say a bomb blast in a hospital killed at least 25 people and injured others as news of Musharraf's resignation was making the rounds.

In Pakistan, news of the resignation was welcomed with relief a bruising impeachment battle had been avoided, enabling the insurgency-racked country to deal with a plethora of problems the shaky government will have to struggle with. Pakistan's biggest party, the PPP, nominated its leader and Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Zardari, to run for the country's presidency.

Meanwhile, lawyers who had been at the source of Musharraf’s downfall over a year ago, danced in jubilation in the streets of Karachi. It was Musharraf’s decision to suspend the chief justice in March 2007, prompting widespread strikes and protests, that eventually led to his downfall following months of sometimes epic battles between the judiciary and executive. The Supreme Court overturned the decision and later refused to confirm the result of the October presidential election which he had won.

The following month Musharraf declared a state of emergency, citing increasing attacks by militants, but stepped down as army chief before the month was over. The two main opposition parties scored major victories in February’s parliamentary election and eventually formed a coalition, a gesture of temporary unity lasting long enough to enable them to strike a deal to impeach Musharraf, accusing him of violation of the constitution and gross misconduct. The charges included the coup d’etat which placed him in power in 1999 and last November’s state-of-emergency.

In his defiant farewell speech Musharraf said the governing coalition which was pushing the impeachment had tried to “turn lies into truths.” “They don’t realize they can succeed against me but the country will undergo irreparable damage,” he warned, blaming the coalition for what he called failed economic policies, including a declining currency, capital flight and soaring inflation.

He said his policies had brought prosperity out of near economic collapse when he took charge in 1999 and listed other personal achievements, ranging from expanded road networks to developing relations with the U.S. in the post-911 environment and easing tension with arch-rival India.

But not everyone was convinced by his parting words. "He even tried to deceive the nation in his last address,” stressed Mohammed Saeed, a shopkeeper who celebrated Musharraf’s resignation. “He was boasting about economic progress when life for people like us has become a hell."

And while questions remained about whether his resignation would leave the nuclear power on shaky ground under a coalition government - which quickly started arguing over who will succeed him and ultimately failed to survive  the disappearance of its main bogeyman - opponents called Musharraf's retreat a victory for democracy. "His resignation clears the way for our government to get on with ... providing to the people of Pakistan basic social services, economic opportunities, political security and law and order," said Information Minister Sherry Rehman.

The country's stock market and currency rose as a result of the resignation, sending the message that investors at least thought the country was entering a more promising period after a troublesome last year which was notably marked by the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

But the markets plunged again days later when the five month-old coalition collapsed amid a new round of infighting over the powerful post of the presidency. Regimes come and go, other things never change.

Georgia accuses Russia of violating truce

On the eve, five days after starting a military offensive in Georgia the U.S. called "disproportionate," Russia announced it was halting its operations and would bring back its troops. The announcement came as French president Nicolas Sarkozy visited Moscow to act a mediator in the crisis, and one day after harsh criticism from Washington which blamed Moscow for "a brutal escalation" in the conflict with the neighbouring country.

As both countries finally agreed on a cessation of hostilities, Sarkozy however pointed out that both countries were still not at peace. Georgia had called for the end of hostilities earlier in the week, and said it could not see evidence of an end to Russian attacks on its territory. Sarkozy then travelled to Georgia to present the proposal to return the forces to their original positions, which was accepted.

On a day supposed to mark the beginning of the Olympic truce, as the opening ceremonies were taking place in Beijing, world leaders were calling for calm in the Caucasus, where an exchange of fire between Russian and Georgian troops over the breakaway Russian enclave of South Ossetia gradually escalated into all out war between the two neighbours.


Russia sent forces into Georgia on Friday to repel a Georgian assault on the breakaway South Ossetia region which according to a local rebel leader Eduard Kokoity had left the area with "hundreds of dead civilians" in the main town Tskhinvali. Russian troops were said of soon having forced the Georgian forces to retreat, but they weren't planning to stop there.


A senior Georgian security official said Russian jets had bombed a military airbase outside the capital Tbilisi, which had recently hosted some 1,000 troops from the U.S., a close ally, to train Georgian forces. Georgia is the third country with the most foreign troops in Iraq, after the U.S. and Britain, and started repatriating some of its 2,000 soldiers in view of the crisis. The country is strategically located owing to the presence of major pipelines making it a vital supply route for oil from the Caspian Sea and central Asia to Europe.


Georgia said its operation, launched after a week of clashes between separatists and Georgian troops in which nearly 20 people were killed, was aimed at ending South Ossetia's effective independence, won in a 1991-92 war.


President Mikheil Saakashvili said 150 Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles had entered South Ossetia from neighbouring Russia. “This is the worst nightmare you could imagine,” Saakashvili told the BBC, adding Russian troops had been massing north of Georgia for months. “We are a small country and are being bombed right now in the middle of the territory.”


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had sent troops to “prevent bloodshed” after what he called the “aggression of Georgian troops” against Georgian civilians and Russian “peacekepers.”


“It was absolutely unacceptable. Many villages were being attacked by Georgian troops,” he said. He said Russia was trying to prevent “ethnic cleansing” and would defend its citizens anywhere they are.


By Sunday Russia expanded its bombing blitz to the Georgian capital, deployed ships off the coast and deep into Georgian territory. Russia refused to recognize a truce by Georgia and said the Georgian soldiers were "not withdrawing but regrouping." Russian forces then seized several towns and a military base deep in western Georgia on Monday, which according to Saakashvili effectively cut Georgia in half. Georgia's troops were soon sent into a retreat and were pulled back to defend the capital.


Monday U.S. President Bush condemned Russia's "brutal aggression" of Georgia, calling it to reverse its course. Bush said Moscow was seeking to topple Georgia's democratically-elected leadership, which he considered unacceptable in the 21st century. He said the attacks had hurt Russia's international standing.


Since the break-up of the Soviet Unions in 1991 Moscow has maintained tense ties with many of its former republics - some going on to seek EU and NATO membership - in part out of concern for Russian minorities.


Facing his first crisis since he took office in May, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev  vowed to defend Russian "compatriots" in South Ossetia, where most people have been given Russian passports. "We will not allow their deaths to go unpunished," he said.


Tensions over the Russian minority in Georgia go back to the period surrounding the downing of the Berlin wall which ended the Warsaw Pact, South Ossetia choosing the time to declare its autonomy from the Georgian republic, triggering three months of fighting. South Ossetia won defacto independence, one not recognized internationally, in a war against Georgia that ended in 1992. In November 2006 South Ossetia overwhelmingly voted to break away from Georgia in a referendum Georgian officials said was part of a Russian campaign to stoke a war.


In light of the recognition of Kosovo by a number of countries in March South Ossetia asked the international community to recognise its independence from Georgia. Russia’s parliament then urged the Kremlin to recognize this independence after Georgia failed to obtain NATO membership.


As EU, US envoys raced to the region to mediate the crisis Abkhazia, another pro-Russian enclave in Georgia, said its forces had begun an operation to drive out Georgian forces, possibly opening a second front against Tbilisi.


While the ancient tradition of Olympic truce was shattered by the incident, at the Olympic Games one Georgian athlete sought to reassert of spirit of the ancient tradition by embracing her Russian rival on the victory podium.


Nino Salukvadze, who finished third, embraced her Russian rival and former USSR teammate, Natalia Paderina, who won the silver, and made a moving appeal for peace after winning an Olympic bronze medal in shooting on Sunday. "If the world were to draw any lessons from what I did there would never be any wars," Salukvadze said. "We live in the 21st Century, after all. We shouldn't really stoop so low to wage wars against each other."


Georgia's Olympic team was told by Saakashvili to remain at the Games in the "best interest of the country" despite the state of crisis. But some distraught team members say they haven't been able to concentrate because they were concerned about family members back home.


Diplomatie de bikini?

Le duel infernal qui oppose le pays hôte des Jeux à la puissance américaine afin de couronner les champions des JOs éclipse une rivalité de longue date qui avait pourtant survécu à la fin de la guerre froide, celle opposant l'URSS, puis l'ex-URSS aux Etats-Unis.

La Chine avait déjà enregistré de nets progrès à Athènes en terminant avec 32 médailles d'or, soit le double d'Atlanta, lui conférant le second rang officiel. Cependant au compte des médailles, cette place d'argent revenait à la Russie, qui n'avait pas été exclue du "duel des Jeux" d'été depuis ceux de Los Angeles, boycottés par le Bloc Est entier.

Or en ce début des compétitions la Russie se faufile à peine parmi les 5 premières équipes au chapitre des médailles, derrière la Corée du Sud, qui enregistre également un riche départ, et l'Italie. Peut-être la crise qui sévit entre la Russie et la Géorgie y est-elle pour quelquechose?

Les deux équipes olympiques admettaient qu'il pouvait être difficile de se concentrer alors que les éclats ont lieu dans le Caucase. "Evidemment que c'est difficile, admit  le porte-parole du comité olympique géorgien Giorgi Tchanishvili, mais il est mieux pour l'avenir du sport que les athlètes géorgiens continuent de participer aux Olympiques".

Du côté russe  les athlètes étaient plus concentrés sur les disciplines que sur la guerre, estimait le porte parole Gennady Shvets. "Ils se sont entrainés toute leur vie pour vivre ce moment. Nous avons d'excellentes relations avec les athlètes et entraineurs géorgiens". Si l'esprit de la trêve olympique n'était pas observé dans le Caucase, il semblait bien l'être à Pékin, où la première médaillées olympique géorgienne des jeux, Nino Salukvadze, serra sa rivale russe Natalia Paderina dans ses bras lors des cérémonies de la remise des médailles. "Si le monde pouvait tirer les leçons de mon acte il n'y aurait jamais de guerre", déclara-t-elle.

Pourtant les Soviétiques ont bien connu des démêlés olympiques avec des athlètes de pays de l'Est lors d'éditions précédentes des Jeux. En 1956 un match de water-polo URSS-Hongrie s'est terminé dans le sang lors des Jeux de Melbourne, qui avaient lieu l'année du sanglant soulèvement hongrois de 1956, sévèrement réprimé par l'armée rouge, la vraie, celle des armes et non du podium.

En 1968 à Mexico une gymnaste Tchécoslovaque a tourné le dos  lors de la cérémonie de la remise des médailles, en guise de protestation lors de l'hymne national Soviétique. Encore une fois les Jeux avaient lieu après le printemps de Prague, une invasion de l'armée soviétique qui avait l'objet de mettre fin à une série de réformes trop osées de la part du gouvernement.

Y aurait-il quelque geste de protestation lors du match de volleyball Russie-Géorgie à Pékin? Ou allait-on, selon le Sydney Morning Herald, assister à une "diplomatie de bikini?"

La prestation russe n'a peut-être rien à voir avec la guerre du Caucase en fin de compte, mais les deux devront se résorber d'ici 2014, année de la tenue des Jeux d'hiver à Sochi, une ville russe à quelques centaines de kilomètres de la frontière géorgienne.

Despite China's best planning...

In control-freak China, where all efforts have been made to manipulate everything from cyberspace to intangible elements, such as the weather, there were reminders in the run up to the Beijing Games that not all bows to the whims of the omnipotent Communist party.


Certainly not the pollution index, which showed no sign of reacting to China’s extraordinary measures as Games got underway, international protesters or regional separatists, who staged a bomb attack killing 16 policemen four days before the opening ceremonies, despite the country’s much-publicized anti-terror measures.


To be fair the attack occurred in the westernmost province of Xinjiang, not in Beijing, where Chinese President Hu Jintao was welcoming International Olympic Committee members. Chinese state media say two men from a mainly Muslim ethnic group were responsible for an attack are were quickly arrested. It said the men, a taxi driver and a vegetable seller, drove a dump truck into a group of jogging policemen Monday in the city of Kashgar then threw home-made bombs.


Police found nine homemade explosives, a homemade gun and propaganda materials "promoting jihad," CCTV state TV reported. Police believed the "weapons were similar to those captured by police from an East Turkestan terror camp in January 2007," it added. 


A reinforced police prevent did not prevent another attack Sunday as assailants used home-made bombs to launch a series of attacks, even engaging police in battle. At least 10 attackers and one security guard were killed in Xinjiang as a result, police said.


Some 100,000 policemen will be on the streets for the opening ceremonies. Chinese authorities say the greatest threats at the Olympics come from Muslim militants from the western province. In July a group called the Turkestan Islamic Party claimed responsibility for blowing up buses in Shanghai and Yunnan, killing five people, but China denied that the explosions were acts of terrorism.


Alim Seytoff, the general secretary of the Uighur American Association, said the attack pointed more to discontent than militancy. "We don't believe there are militant groups behind this," he said. "But we do know the crackdown in Xinjiang, especially ahead of the Olympics, has increased discontent among


The IOC refused to comment on the latest incident, calling it inappropriate and saying the country had done everything it could to secure the games. A week before the IOC came under criticism for breaking its own rules of Olympic idealism, allowing China to keep blocking some Internet websites despite making it a condition for China to allow fully unfettered access to the Internet for the thousands of journalists during the Games.


China has since sought to justify the blockage by saying it couldn’t allow websites which it deemed “illegal”, involving Tibet or the Falun-gong, to be accessed. It has relented somewhat, allowing some sites to be unblocked, such as that of Amnesty International, which was issuing its latest scathing report on the country.


In Amnesty said the human rights situation in China has deteriorated in the run-up to its hosting of the Olympic Games this year, documenting the use of "re-education through labour", the suppression of rights activists and journalists, and the use of arbitrary imprisonment.


In fact Amnesty says the blocked websites only illustrated the fact that far from keeping its promises of improving human rights, media freedom and better health and education, the regime has gone in the opposite direction.


China also promised blue skies but on the day of the Xinjiang attacks a thick haze of pollution covered Beijing, making some athletes’ asthma and other respiratory problems act up. If pollution levels are too high on competition day, the I.O.C. has said it would postpone endurance events like cycling or the marathon which require athletes to spend extended periods in the bad air.


The uncooperative situation, a side-effect of China's relentless booming economy, has made Chinese authorities apply new strict measures, in addition to the ones limiting vehicles in the capital and cutting production schedules at factories, not only in the city and immediate area, but surrounding regions as well.

In the coastal city of Qingdao, where algae blooms have threatened the Olympic sailing venue, pollution is also being blamed for the blue-green seaweed, forcing hundreds of volunteer to clear the waterways for the coming competitions.

Tight security on the streets, where some 300,000 cameras have been installed, has put in place not only to prevent terror attacks but also activities the regime considers "illegal", such as unapproved protests. Beijing said it would provide "protest pens" in three city parks for protesters who manage to obtain permission to protest, but demonstrators neither waited for permission nor the start of the Games to make their voices heard.

Wednesday protesters unfurled a "Free Tibet" banner near Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, after activists scaled two lamp posts. The members of Students for a Free Tibet also unfurled the Tibetan independence flag. The day before outspoken IOC member Dick Pound said China should have cancelled the Olympic torch relay in view of the massive protests that followed a crackdown in Tibet earlier this year. He referred to the relay as "a disaster."

Later Wednesday three Americans spent almost an hour on Tian Ann Men Square criticizing Beijing's handling of issues ranging from forced abortions to Falun Gong and pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. They unfurled a banner and started marching through the square before they were removed by plainclothes officers.

"We express our strong opposition," said Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee. "In terms of assembly and demonstrations, China has related laws and regulations. We hope that foreigners will respect the related Chinese laws and regulations."

But  IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said organizers should expect people to "use the platform of the Olympic Games to draw attention to their causes."


Canadians were among protesters arrested in other Tian Ann Men protests as the Games got underway, to protest the crackdown in Tibet earlier this year. Some daring protesters even managed to slip Tibetan flag into official Olympic events, before they were escorted out of the venue.

Can China handle the truth? Better yet, the naked truth? Chinese authorities had their hands full two days before the opening ceremonies with a model in her birthday suit protesting on behalf of animal activists.

U.S. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amanda Beard had to launch her naked, anti-fur campaign poster outside the Athletes' Village on Wednesday after Chinese authorities canceled a planned unveiling, citing safety concerns. A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the launch was "a bit more dramatic than we had planned" after Chinese security officials visited a hotel where an official news conference had been scheduled and shut down the event.

Coup d'état en Mauritanie

L’expérience démocratique aura été de courte durée en Mauritanie, un des rares pays démocratiques arabes, après le plus récent des nombreux coup d’états qui ont boulversé le pays depuis l’indépendance en 1960.

Le président Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, le premier ministre Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf et plusieurs ministres ont été arrêtés le 6 août par des militaires, notamment ceux qui avaient été récemment limogés alors que le pays traversait une crise politique liée à l’inflation des produits alimentaires.

En mai dernier Abdhallahi avait mis un terme au gouvernement en raison de sa mauvaise gestion de la crise alimentaire. Celle-ci, présente partout ailleurs en Afrique et dans les pays en voie de développement, avait de surcroit lieu sur fond d’attaques terroristes par des groupes islamistes inspirés par la mouvance d'al-Qaida.

Le nouveau gouvernement mis en place n’a cependant pas fait long feu, remettant sa démission après avoir connu l’échec lors d’un vote de confiance. Celui qui a suivi n’avait plus l’appui des groupes d’opposition. Quelques jours avant le plus récent putsch de cette république du désert de l’ouest africain, la plupart des membres du parti d’Abdallahi, le Pacte national pour la démocratie et le développement, en tout 25 députés et 23 sénateurs, ont quitté le parti, une décision qui selon certains n’était pas sans l’appui des militaires.

Limogé la veille à peine du poste d’état-major particulier du président et chef de la garde présidentielle, c’est le général Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz qui semble avoir dirigé le coup d’état, qui s'est déroulé sans effusion de sang, le premier depuis les élections présidentielles démocratiques de 2007. Celles-ci avaient laissé espérer un transfert permanent du pouvoir aux mains des civils, après le coup d’état de 2005 qui avait mis fin au règne de 21 ans du colonel Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya.

Le plus récent coup d’état de cette république islamique met un terme à l’expérience démocratique d’un des deux pays arabes qualifiés de «démocraties électorales » par l’organisation américaine Freedom House. La Commission européenne a aussitôt « condamné fermement cette action militaire et appelé au respect de la démocratie et du cadre institutionnel légal mis en place depuis 2007 » et souligné les conséquences financières du renversement.

«Cette situation risque de remettre en question notre politique de coopération avec la Mauritanie dans le cadre de laquelle nous venons de finaliser avec le gouvernement mauritanien un programme d'appui de 156 millions d'Euro pour la période 2008 - 2013 en complément de l'assistance déjà en cours», a prévenu le commissaire européen au développement Louis Michel. Celui-ci a également « exprimé son souhait que le président et le Premier ministre retrouvent rapidement leur liberté et leurs fonctions ».

Alors que la junte indiquait qu'elle avait l'intention d'organiser de nouvelles élections libres et transparentes dans le pays le plus vite possible, après une période de gouvernement par un conseil de commandement militaire, d'autres pays et organisations, dont la Ligue arabe et l'Union africaine ont exprimé leur inquiétude à propos de la tournure des événements. Plus virulents, les Etats-Unis ont condamné "dans les plus fermes termes" le renversement.

La Mauritanie, un des nouveaux producteurs de pétrole du continent, s'était notamment rapproché des Etats-Unis depuis son abandon de l'axe de Bagdad en 2003 qui avait assuré le retour des investisseurs américains. La Mauritanie avait également été un des rares pays arabes à reconnaitre l'état d'Israel.

India's latest attacks

Even by the standards of a country struggling with an insurgency-ridden north and a history of terrorist bombings of its major centres, the attacks that ripped through Bangalore and Ahmedabad in the last weekend of July were setting new marks. While the number of victims wasn’t precedent-setting, killing 50 people and injuring over 160, the number of plots, including some which had been foiled, in a period of two days, rattled the world’s largest democracy, which has often looked outside its borders for culprits.


This time all the signs seemed to indicate a domestic wave of terror attacks which the Times of India feared pointed to “a new confidence and a widening of the arc of terror in India.” Claiming responsibility for the blasts, first in the IT capital of Bangalore which killed one, and then as many as 16 more blasts the next day in Ahmedabad, which made 49 victims, was a group calling itself the "Indian Mujahideen” which sent emails to several TV stations five minutes before the first blasts in the second city, the capital of the western state of Gujarat. "Do whatever you can, within 5 minutes from now, feel the terror of Death!" the email said in a warning which left little time for authorities to intervene.


The email reportedly claimed that the group was based in India, was avenging past attacks against Muslims and asked other groups such as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, largely blamed for the attacks which killed 250 people in Mumbai two years before, not to claim responsibility. Indian investigators say the group is in fact a front for the usual L-e-T suspect, but observers stress that the coordination and timing in the attacks indicated a strong domestic element. More bombs were defused later.


The group had also claimed responsibility for blasts that had killed 63 people in the northwestern city of Jaipur in May as well as serial blasts in northern cities in which 13 people were killed last November, sometimes heralded by a similar email. The latest email also reportedly cited grievances against India's Hindu majority while hinting more attacks were to come.


Displaying the leadership's usual resilience, the country’s prime minister said that the attacks would fail to divide India's communities. "These terrorist attacks are aimed at destroying our social fabric, undermining communal harmony and demoralizing our people," said Manmohan Singh during a visit of bombing victims on Monday. "These efforts will not succeed."


Singh also called for his government to improve its intelligence apparatus, which had failed to issue any warning despite a history of recent terror attacks which included 11 major bombings in the last three years. According to U.S. figures there have been over 3,600 attacks there between 2004 and 2007. India's Intelligence Bureau however counts little over 3,500 field operatives to help protect the country of 1.1 billion according to Time magazine.


While much of the country was under a heightened security alert after the attacks, the government has resisted calls to reinstate an anti-terrorism law that it scrapped coming to power in 2004. The laws had been criticized for giving the police too many powers to detain people without charge and allowing the abuse of government opponents. But some now fear the attackers are getting bolder.


“The consecutive attacks on two state capitals marked a break from the pattern of allowing a considerable gap between strikes,” noted the Times of India. “If the atrocities over the weekend marked a new-found cheekiness, they were backed by professionalism of a high order.”


Observers have noted that many of the terror attacks in the last few months have been in states ruled by the nationalist Hindu BJP party, including Gujarat, and wonder whether they may, in the likes of terror attacks in Spain in 2004, be linked to the coming elections there. The party, often accused by opponents of being anti-Muslim, made the fight against terror the topic of recent regional elections.


Other observers say that politics aside, the social alienation of Muslims and their under-representation in the country’s politics are partly driving the attacks.


Going after those guilty of genocide

An international justice system looking to bring to account one sitting leader accused of genocide was welcoming this week within its clutches a long-wanted fugitive also wanted for committing the gravest of all crimes.

It wasn’t lost on anyone that the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, came on the eve of a meeting of EU foreign ministers scheduled to discuss closer relations with Serbia after the formation of a new pro-western govern- ment in Belgrade. Karadzic’s arrest, welcomed by European leaders as a milestone in Serbia’s EU aspirations, had been a condition of Serbian progress toward EU membership and seemed to put to rest some of the tensions between Europe and Serbia which had survived the Balkan war of the mid-90s. Karadzic was tranferred to The Hague on Wednesday.

The West had long suspected Belgrade was reluctant to carry on with the search for Karadzic, seen by militant nationalists as a national saviour and protected by loyal officials and paramilitaries, but the new government signalled it was more willing to comply. Days later Serbia said it was reinstating its ambassadors from EU states that supported Kosovo's declaration of independence, another major point of contention between Serbia and the West.

But Serb officials said they would still preserve their stance on Kosovo, of historic importance to the Serbs. "With this, we want to balance two priorities which we have put before us - one to continue with the fight for Kosovo and the other to intensify the process of European integration," said Serbian environment minister Oliver Dulic. That process seemed threatened earlier when nationalist parties came together to try to prevent a pro-Western government from taking over parliament, a struggle they ultimately lost. Serbian president Boris Tadic said his country "would like to become an official candidate by the end of the year." But the EU had also been pressing Belgrade to follow-up its arrest with that of Karazic's former military commander, Ratko Mladic.

Officials said Karadzic was able to evade authorities and earn a living by working in a medical clinic under a false name and had tried to conceal his identity with a white beard. “Karadzic was located and arrested,” the Serb government said in a statement. "Karadzic was brought to the investigative judge of the War Crimes Court in Belgrade, in accordance with the law on co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia," it added.

The news was greeted by celebrations in the streets of the one Bosnian town synonymous with hardship, Sarajevo, victim of a 43-month siege in which some 10,000 civilians were killed, atrocities for which Karadzic was indicted. He was also charged with genocide stemming from the massacre in Srebrenica — where at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys were murdered — and with ethnic cleansing for driving tens of thousands of Muslims out of the Serb-held areas of Bosnia. This week seven Bosnian Serbs were convicted of genocide and jailed over the massacre.

Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. official who negotiated the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia, welcomed the news of the capture, describing Karadzic as the Osama bin Laden of Europe, "a real, true architect of mass murder." But Serb ultra-nationalists rioted this week during a rally against government plans to extradite Karadzic to The Hague, a process which has not been without stumbling blocks.

The arrest came a week after the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court formally accused the Sudanese president of being the “mastermind” of what he called a genocidal campaign against three ethnic groups in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The announcement was met by concerns it would endanger peace deals in the south of the country and promote new violence in the Darfur conflict that has left 300,000 dead and driven 2.5 million into refugee camps. If the international judges decide there is sufficient evidence to proceed toward a prosecution it would mark a first by the court, established ten years ago to pursue the world’s worst human rights atrocities, against a sitting head of state.

The announcement, which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir condemned as a lie, prompted the United Nations to pull back some non-essential staff deployed in Sudan's restive Darfur region, fearing reprisals and citing recent violence there. Days before seven of its peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur. Last week an adviser to al-Bashir said peacekeepers could be expelled from Darfur if the Sudanese leader is indicted.

"Ocampo talk does not worry us," al-Bashir said while touring the country's regions. "We know who's behind him and who's pulling his strings." Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who made the accusations after three years of investigations into the atrocities in Sudan’s ravaged western province, asked the court to indict Bashir with ten counts of mass crimes, including three for genocide, and to issue a warrant for his arrest. Not only would the court be going after a sitting head of state for the first time, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic - who died during his trial - having been indicted by other international tribunals, it is also the first time that it has sought an indictment for genocide.

“The evidence establishes reasonable grounds to believe that al-Bashir intends to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups as such,” said Moreno-Ocampo’s application for a warrant to arrest the leader. “Forces and agents controlled by al-Bashir attacked civilians in towns and villages inhabited by the target groups, committing killings, rapes, torture and destroying means of livelihood.” “Al-Bashir is executing this genocide without gas chambers, without bullets and without machetes . . . he used other weapons: rapes, hunger and fear,” it went on.

The charges made regional countries nervous, the 53-member African Union seeking to have them deferred “because there is a risk of anarchy in a proportion we have not seen in this continent”. Sudan’s government on the other hand downplayed them, saying the indictment would be meaningless. "Whatever comes out of the ICC . . . is non-existent,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.

While enforcement is unlikely in the form of U.N. Security Council action, made difficult because of division between its members, the U.N. reminded AU officials it could not interfere in the work of the international court, whose judges have three months to consider formal indictments against Bashir. And international prosecutors would argue those indictments shouldn't be taken likely, pointing to Karadzic's capture. "It clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice," said International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
Nouvelle crise en Belgique
C’est avec le cœur lourd que les Belges célébraient leur fête nationale le 21 juillet, alors que leur pays traverse sa plus récente crise constitutionnelle. La veille le roi Albert II a appelé Flamands et Wallons à rester unis et à trouver de nouvelles façons de travailler ensemble pour résoudre la crise politique qui menace l'unité du pays. « Les divisions dans les esprits n'est pas une fatalité. C'est l'union et la tolérance dans le respect de l'identité de chaque entité fédérée qui représentent la seule voie possible dans notre société démocratique, a souligné le roi dans son discours. Nous devons inventer de nouvelles formes de vivre ensemble dans notre pays». Pourtant tout semblait indiquer que la classe politique belge était à court d’idées sur ce plan.

Six jours plus tôt le premier ministre chrétien-démocrate Yves Leterme avait semé la consternation en présentant la démission de son gouvernement de coalition, formé de cinq partis des communautés francophone et néerlandophone, après l'échec de négociations sur l'autonomie des régions. Leterme avait jugé que le modèle politique du pays avait «atteint ses limites», et ainsi à nouveau laissé planer le spectre de la partition, relançant dans la crise politique un pays qui n’avait pas été proprement gouverné pendant plusieur mois en 2007.

La démission a cependant été rejetée par le roi, qui lors de son discours, s’est également dit alarmé par la hausse du nombre de Belges vivant sous le seuil de pauvreté, faisant référence à une étude montrant qu'en Belgique, une personne sur sept peut être considérée comme pauvre. "Ce pourcentage est plus élevé que dans nos pays voisins (...) mais ne faisons-nous pas partie des pays les plus prospères de la planète?".

Cette pauvreté est d’autant plus au centre des préoccupations qu’elle est plus durement ressentie du côté Wallon, qui craint une diminution de fonds redistribués des régions flammandes; plus prospères et qui font appel à une plus grande autonomie. Alors que le roi lui-même entamait des négociations avec les dirigeants politiques, le quotidien Le Soir dressait un portrait bien sombre de l’avenir dans un éditorial plançant le pays «au bord du gouffre».

Les partis francophones ont été les premiers à se sentir estomaqués par le geste d’abandon du premier ministre, qui avait estimé que le «consensus politique» entre les Flamands et les francophones ne fonctionnait plus. Le vice-premier ministre Didier Reynders, était de ceux qui appelaient Leterme à ne pas jeter l'éponge, affirmant qu'il croyait toujours en la possibilité de parvenir à un accord entre les deux camps. «Nous devons travailler dans les prochaines heures et les prochains jours pour construire sur la confiance (...) pour travailler vers une solution, a-t-il souligné. Le gouvernement doit poursuivre son programme économique et social. Nous devons poursuivre avec notre coalition et avec Leterme en tant que premier ministre».

D’autres, dont Elio di Rupo, leader des Socialistes francophones, a d’autant plus été surpris qu’il estimait que les négociations sur la réforme des institutions s'étaient tenues dans «un climat constructif, positif». Le côté flammand a cependant accusé l'autre camp de ralentir délibérément les pourparlers et de ne pas faire preuve de bonne volonté.

Leterme avait formé en mars un cabinet qui a succédé au gouvernement intérimaire du libéral flamand Guy Verhofstadt après neuf mois de crise politique. L’intervention du roi ne constituait ainsi que le plus récent chapitre de la saga constitutionnelle, remontant aux élections législatives du 10 juin 2007, dans ce royaume regroupant 6 millions de néerlandophones et 4,5 millions de francophones.

La crise laisse sans solution encore l’épineuse question de la réforme des institutions, au sein de laquelle les néerlandophones réclamaient une autonomie accrue des régions, notamment en matière de sécurité sociale et de fiscalité. C’est ce qui, du côté francophone, fait craindre une réduction des budgets accordés à la Wallonie, région la plus pauvre du pays, et à la capitale bilingue, Bruxelles.

« Notre pays traverse, vous le savez bien, de sérieuses difficultés politiques, a noté le roi dans son discours habituel à la veille des fêtes du 21 juillet. Mais j'aimerais rappeler que les difficultés et les crises sont aussi des occasions de rebondir et de se ressaisir ». Le 21 juillet commémore le jour en 1831 où le premier roi belge, Léopold de Saxe-Cobourg, a prêté serment de rester fidèle à la constitution. Albert II en a profité pour évoquer le souvenir de son frère le roi Baudouin «un avocat vigoureux de l'unité et de la cohésion du pays »  qui marquera le 31 juillet le 15e anniversaire de sa mort.

Le 31 juillet est également la date à laquelle doit soumettre un premier rapport la troïka désignée par le roi pour se pencher sur la crise actuelle. Entre temps Leterme est en fin de compte revenu sur sa décision de démissionner, assurant qu'il resterait en place pour mener à bien la réforme institutionnelle, déclarant, lors d'une réunion extraordinaire, de façon plutôt dramatique: "C'est moi ou le chaos".
Freedom for the world's most famous hostage
It had been so long since she tasted freedom from her Colombian rebel captors, that former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was both relieved and incredulous at first. "God, this is a miracle," she said as she stepped down from the military plane following a daring military rescue during which Colombian spies had tricked Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels into handing her and 14 other hostages.

"Such a perfect operation is unprecedented," she said, as she embraced her mother on a Bogota tarmac. People erupted in cheers in various cities across the country after learning about the release. In Paris, meawhile, standing next to a French president who had pushed for Betancourt’s release, the rest of the family was struggling to express their gratitude following the end of the six-year ordeal. Betancourt’s son Lorenzo Delloye-Betancourt called her release "indescribable joy" and "the most beautiful news of my life." "I still cannot believe it," he said. His sister Melanie said it was like "emerging from a bad dream".

But it was a nightmare for the rebels. This was just the latest blow to the FARC, already reeling from the deaths of key commanders and the loss of much of the territory it once held. Colombia’s military used the opportunity to renew offers to negotiate with the rebel movement, which suffered battlefield losses and widespread desertions that have cut its ranks and is leading some to speculate they may be about to end their four-decade fight.

The Colombian military killed a top commander in a controversial raid into neighbouring Ecuador March 1. During the raid, it obtained computer hard drives that suggested Venezuela's Hugo Chavez had ties to the rebel group, which some analysts say will force him to shed any support he may have given. Chavez called Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to offer his congratulations. He had been calling for a negotiated settlement between Colombia and the rebels.

Since his swearing in, Uribe took a much more radical approach, declaring a national state of emergency, imposing a wartime surtax, increasing the size of the army and weeding out commanders believed either to be corrupt or unwilling to engage the rebels in battle. Some estimate his strategy has paid off, putting the rebels on the defensive.

Earlier this year Chavez used his leftist credentials to convince FARC leaders to hand over six hostages, including several kidnapped politicians, in a move that won him praise across the continent. But relations between Venezuela and Colombia soured after the Ecuador raid, triggering the region's worst diplomatic crisis in a decade.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said military intelligence agents infiltrated the guerrilla ranks and led the local commander in charge of the hostages to believe they were going to take them to supreme rebel leader Alfonso Cano. He denied reports that $20m had been paid to some FARC members to assist the operation or that Israeli and U.S. agents had been involved in the operation, saying it had been "100% Colombian".  The country's intelligence has long been backed by U.S. government support.

The operation also freed three American contractors who had been the longest-held American hostages in the world and took place as Republican presidential candidate John McCain was touring the country. Colombia is where the U.S. has poured $6.2 billion over the last years to help the government fight the war on drugs, in what observers say is the point of origin of 90% of America's cocaine.

The remaining freed hostages were members of the Colombian security forces, among a group of about 40 that the rebels had been using to bargain for political concessions. Collecting ransom and drug trafficking are two major sources of income for the rebels. "We wanted to have it happen as it did today," said armed forces chief Gen. Freddy Padilla. "Without a single shot. Without anyone wounded. Absolutely safe and sound, without a scratch."

Some of the hostages had been held for a dozen years, captured when rebels overran military outposts, but Betancourt was by far the most famous hostage, her rescue often the subject of much speculation before turning into bitter disappointment. Hugging her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, and her husband, Juan Carlos LeCompte, French-Colombian Betancourt appealed to the FARC to release the remaining hostages and make peace.

It is estimated that FARC still holds hundreds of captives. She thanked Uribe, against whom she was running when she was kidnapped, and said he "has been a very good president" but added she wasn’t through with politics. "I continue to aspire to serve Colombia as president," she added. Betancourt, 46, had been campaigning for the presidency in Colombia's interior in 2002 when she ignored advice of the government and military and entered a former demilitarized zone where the rebels were still strong.

The rebels snatched her and her vice-presidential running mate, Clara Rojas, who was freed in January, in a deal brokered by Chavez. Also released then was Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, 57, a former congresswoman kidnapped in 2001, one in a long list of abducted Colombian officials over the years.

Since her release Betancourt made a number of public appearances in what she is calling a new campaign for the release of the remaining hostages. Some are wondering whether, despite her praise of the Uribe, she is not only resuming the campaign for the presidency she was a part of at the time. When elected in 1998 Betancourt was considered the most popular senator in Colombia and remains the second most-popular politician today after Uribe.

While Uribe can't run for a third term according to the Constitution, he was tempted to change the rules, something that the release may help him obtain. On the other hand Santos' popularity and the potential candidacy of Betancourt could, according to the Economist, make things interesting if three major actors in the dramatic rescue battle for the highest political office in the land.

Sadly the fight against the guerilla goes on, as at least one Canadian is suspected of being among the latest hostages captured. And no small success is able to correct the inequalities that prompted the FARC to take up arms in the first place in 1964. Today still almost 60 per cent of Colombians subsist on $2 a day or less and government health and social programs are disarray after years of neglect, squeezed by years of boosting the military.

Curiously the man that inspired FARC to lead the struggle, Fidel Castro, criticised their "cruel methods of kidnapping and holding prisoners in the jungle" this weekend, calling for the group to let the hostages free, without necessarily dropping the armed struggle. In the past 50 years, rebel groups that had yielded "did not survive to see the peace," Castro noted.
Quebec celebrates 400th
It's hard for it to rain on your parade when the festivities last an entire season. And so while dignitaries from around the country and other nations wished Quebec City a happy 400th birthday on July 3 under rainy skies, there was little to dampen the enthusiasm of a city which had kicked off its party as far back as on a cold winter's night on Jan 1st.

The celebration has been going on strong not only for months across the province, in a year Quebec City's Colisee had hosted both the world hockey championships and the world eucharistic congress before the city welcomed the Francophonie summit, but other parts of the country and overseas as well. On the eve of the anniversary French explorer Samuel de Champlain landed in what would become one of the continent's first permanent settlements, boats which had taken off on France's west coast had arrived in the old capital. Two days before July 1 celebrations had a distinct Quebecois rhythm as giant puppets and impersonators dressed in traditional costumes mingled with the Canada Day crowd.

Then on July 3rd at 11 a.m., the time Champlain is said to have hit the shores of the St. Lawrence, bells in churches nationwide rang in the celebration. As soon as the fête began, so did the bickering by some nationalists that the party was supposed to celebrate the French fact in the Americas, and not Canada's founding, but the prime minister begged to differ in his July 3rd Quebec City speech.

"The seeds planted here 400 years ago today have blossomed into a magnificent city, a strong and proud Quebecois nation and a great Canadian country, strong and free. What an amazing legacy," Stephen Harper said, calling Champlain's arrival a milestone "for Quebec and for the whole of Canada." Harper also referred to his government's efforts to have Parliament adopt a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation in 2006, saying it built upon the work of pioneers who came after Champlain who created "in North America a bastion of French language that is renowned in the world."

Governor General Michaelle Jean kicked off the ceremony by stressing it was more than simply a birthday. "This is not only the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec that we are celebrating together today," she said. "We are celebrating four centuries of courage, of stubbornness and bold behaviour that allowed French Canada to exist, to continue to exist and to remain in existence for the future." In her remarks, Jean also said that the anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on Canada's roots and the first encounters between Canada's Aboriginal Peoples and European explorers. "Quebec City is giving us an opportunity to explore the beginning of all of these encounters, and all the mixing that came about between French, English, Irish (and) Aboriginal Peoples, and 400 years later, Canada contains the entire globe and it is this whole voyage that we will never forget," Jean said.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon highlighted the historical ties that bind France to Quebec, saying that "there is only one France" and that Quebec is part of it. He created a minor stir by twice referring to Quebec as a "country" in a joint declaration with Quebec's premier before the official ceremonies, a term downplayed by his staff which pointed out that regions of France where sometimes referred-to as "country."

President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to visit Canada later this fall, and all the indications point to a possible departure from Paris' usual safe diplomatic stance of "non-indifference, non-interference" on the issue of Quebec.

Premier Jean Charest stayed away from political controversy and drew parallels between the characteristics of Champlain and those of Quebecers, including openness and determination. "Four centuries later, we still have within ourselves his energy, his audacity and his faith in the future . . . Today, it is a whole nation that salutes him," Charest said.

The speeches were followed by a march of 1,500 soldiers from the Plains of Abraham to the Chateau Frontenac. And many many more days of merry-making as the city prepares for stars the likes of Celine Dion, Paul McCartney and whatever comes the old city's way in 2008.
La Mongolie aux urnes
Loin d'être un fait accompli, à l'opposé de chez ses voisins russes et chinois, les élections sont une chose sérieuse en Mongolie, qui pourrait donner une leçon de démocratie à Moscou et à Pékin.

Le gouvernement a dû décréter l'état d'urgence quelques jours après la sortie de résultats électoraux donnant la victoire au Parti révolutionnaire du peuple mongol (PRPM) au pouvoir. Environ 5 personnes ont perdu la vie et 300 personnes ont été blessées lorsque des manifestants se sont attaqués aux quartiers généraux du PRPM estimant qu'il y avait eu des irrégularités lors de la tenue du vote.

Pourtant le choix qui se présentait aux électeurs de cet ancien satellite de l’URSS était autre chose que ce qui est ordinairement proposé aux électeurs de la Russie de Poutine, sans parler de la Chine communiste. Alors que le PRPM, plus ancien parti de Mongolie, a dirigé le pays de 1921 à 1996, plus de 350 candidats représentant une douzaine de partis ont participé au scrutin, ainsi que 74 pourcent du 1.5 million d’électeurs enregistrés.

En remportant au moins 44 sièges lors des législatives du 29 juin, soit une majorité des 76 sièges du Grand Houral, le PRPM du Premier ministre Sanjaagiin Bayar mettait en principe fin au statu quo avec l'opposition qui paralysait le pays depuis quatre ans, lorsque les Démocrates, s'étaient retrouvés à égalité avec les anciens communistes.

Depuis la victoire des Démocrates en 1996 et le retour des PRPM quatre ans plus tard, un genre d’alternance semble faire partie du paysage politique en Mongolie. L’instabilité fait également partie du jeu. Depuis 2004, le pays a connu trois Premiers ministres; un chaos politique digne d’une démocratie moderne qui favorise le vote à la proportionelle.

Evidemment qui dit liberté ne dit pas nécessairement richesse. Le pays tente de transformer son économie nomade à base d’agriculture où le revenu par habitant ne dépasse guère les $1,500. Quelle tentation par conséquent quand le parti au pouvoir a promis un dividende de $1,300 par personne grâce à l’exploitation d'énormes richesses minières.

Les deux grands partis soutiennent la ratification par le parlement d'un projet d'accord d'investissement qui permettrait que le chantier minier d'Oyu Tolgoi soit exploité par des compagnies internationales, dont la canadienne Ivanhoe Mines et Rio Tinto. Cet accord aurait de quoi, selon ces compagnies minières, faire accroître le PIB du pays de 34%, et ouvrirait la voie à d'autres contrats d'exploitation des ressources naturelles du pays, dont le sous-sol renferme entre autres charbon et uranium.

Le parti Démocratique promettait légèrement moins, soit un «partage du trésor » d’environ $860 par tête. De quoi soulager tout de même les 2.5 millions d’habitants du pays dont le taux d'inflation est de l'ordre de 15% l'an. L'économie mongole a tout de même connu un taux de croissance de 9,9% en 2007, contre 7,5% en 2006.

Les principales formations politiques, alarmées par la croissance du prix des produits alimentaires et du pétrole dans un pays dépendant de la Russie pour son pétrole et son gaz et de la Russie et de la Chine pour les céréales, entendent ainsi développer ces deux productions pour mieux contrôler les prix à l'avenir sur cette terre où le bétail est 12 fois plus nombreux que les hommes. Mission impossible peut-être, mais qui aurait cru à l'implantation d'une démocratie sur la terre de Gengis Khan?

En attendant les troubles qui ont marqué les lendemains du scrutin risquent de retarder les lucratifs projets miniers. L'opposition a exigé certains recomptages et même la tenue de nouvelles élections dans certaines régions en raison d'irrégularités". Les observateurs internationaux ont bien noté quelques incidents mais ont de règle générale jugé l'exercice démocratique tout à fait acceptable. "A mon avis il y a bien pu avoir quelques irrégularités électorales mais en gros ça n'a pas changé grand chose au résultat," a estimé Luvsandendev Sumati de la Fondation Sant Maral, auteur de sondages.

Malgré leurs différends, les deux partis ont uni leur voix pour faire un appel au calme quelques jours après les fâcheux incidents, sans pour autant s'entendre sur un accord de partage du pouvoir. En attendant le calme est revenu, mais les masses gardent toujours les politiciens à l'oeil.
Untouched by terror, and yet....
Security officials concerned Canadians may be turning complacent about the possibility of a terror strike like to say that of a list of Western countries threatened by al-Qaida in the past, only Canada has yet to be hit. But these days Canadians can be forgiven for thinking the country is under siege. Court dates from Brampton or Ottawa to Guantanamo Bay are, to quote one newspaper’s recent headline, “putting terror on trial” in Canada.

Snipers on rooftops and concrete barriers in front of an Ottawa courthouse have set the stage for what some are calling “the trial of the century.” This week the Crown's star witness in the trial of terror suspect Momin Khawaja has placed him at a camp for Islamic fighters in northern Pakistan. Mohammed 'Big Dawg' Babar told court he met Khawaja in Lahore where he told the Canadian to shave his long beard and to wear Western clothes to make himself look like any other tourist.

Three or four days later, Babar testified, he drove Khawaja and another man into the tribal areas of northern Pakistan. Babar said that the former software developer once considered establishing a jihadi training camp in Canada. Babar is the only al-Qaida informer to have testified in open court and his lawyer claims he has no direct testimony to offer about Khawaja's alleged involvement in the British fertilizer bomb plot which landed the latter at the mercy of lady justice.

The charges against Khawaja include allegations he participated in a terrorist group, used explosives for the commission of a terrorist act, facilitated terrorist activity, financed terrorism, and offered assistance to a terrorist group. Five British Muslims were convicted last year in relation to the same plot. Khawaja was the first person charged with terrorism under the Criminal Code, which was amended as part of the Anti-Terrorism Act passed by Parliament soon after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But he isn’t alone. Also facing trial under Canada's anti-terror legislation is a youth who cannot be named, currently on trial in Brampton for his part in the so-called Toronto 18 plot. In both cases the government is desperate to show that Canada's post-9/11 laws work, but Ottawa may be relying on Khawaja to drive this point across rather than the Brampton case, seven of the suspects arrested in a wide anti-terror sweep two years ago having seen their charges dropped since.

There are similarities between the two cases, both involving alleged attempts to blow up buildings and create mayhem in support of Islamist causes. Both involve otherwise unremarkable young Canadians. The British plotters planned to use fertilizer to make their bomb. Some charged in the Toronto 18 case were allegedly planning to do the same. But in the case of the 18, the existence of a serious plot has still to be established. On the other hand the London bombers had already purchased fertilizer by the time they came to police attention.

Two other terror-related cases are evolving in entirely different judicial settings, one in the country’s highest court, the other part of a U.S. military tribunal environment that defies international rules of justice. In the case of Adil Charkaoui, a Moroccan-born permanent resident that some witnesses also placed in training camps, the Supreme Court was asked earlier this year to decide whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had carried out its investigation in that case in a biased manner. This followed the spy agency's own admission that they had not only destroyed records of interviews with Charkaoui himself, but had systematically destroyed all interview records in his file, as a matter of policy. The Canadian Bar Association, the Quebec Bar Association and Amnesty International, among others, intervened in Charkaoui's favour at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said Thursday CSIS was wrong to destroy the documents but also turned down his request for lifting his security certificate which means he remains monitored at all times as he has been for the last five years. Earlier high court rulings on the suspected al-Qaida sleeper agent however made the government rewrite its law governing the controversial certificates, used to detain foreign-born suspects indefinitely with the goal of deporting them.

Meanwhile 21-year-old naturalized Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr told the media this week he longed for a normal life and a chance to return to the country where his "soul" is "connected" six years after being imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for killing a U.S. serviceman during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15. Khadr, who was born in Toronto, is the only Western detainee to remain at Guantanamo. His trial is only expected to begin in October.
Zimbabwe opposition pulls out of vote
It was hardly the first time thugs had cracked down on opposition supporters in Zimbabwe but for Movement for Democratic Change party leader Morgan Tsvangirai Sunday’s incident was the last straw. Less than a week before a presidential run-off vote his party had denounced as impossible to be held under fair conditions due to electoral violence since the first round of voting last March, Tsvangirai withdrew from the race and sought refuge in the country’s Dutch embassy.

"We in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on 27 June, when that vote could cost them their lives," Tsvangirai said  at a press conference in Harare as he dropped out of the race. "We have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process." "We will not play the game of Mugabe," he added.

The MDC says at least 70 supporters have been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by ruling party militias. While the claims were hard to substantiate there was no doubting the government’s response, Monday, when police raided the offices of the MDC, arresting about 60 people, including women and children.

Government officials said Tsvangirai pulled out the vote because he faced "humiliation and defeat" at the hands of President Mugabe, who he said would win "resoundingly". Officials said that in any case Tsvangirai's withdrawal came too late to call off the election, but at the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that going ahead in the current climate would only "produce a result that cannot be credible," and urged its postponement.

Ban spoke shortly before the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously declared that the violence and restrictions on Zimbabwe's opposition made a free and fair run-off election "impossible." The U.S. and Britain meanwhile drafted a more critical statement that effectively called for Tsvangirai to be declared president if violence continued to render the run-off a sham, basing the legitimacy of the move on the results of the first round of the presidential election.

Tsvangirai won 47.9 per cent of the vote according to a May 2 recount, a strong win but not enough to avoid a run-off. "Until there is a clearly free and fair second round of the presidential election, the only legitimate basis for a government of Zimbabwe is the outcome of the (March 29, 2008) election," the draft statement said. Intimidation by government forces on a large scale warranted this outcome, according to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "The current government - with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation - is a regime that should not be recognized by anyone," he told parliament.

Across the Atlantic U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that "the Mugabe regime cannot be considered legitimate in the absence of a run-off" and urged both the government and its opposition to work together "on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe." While Ban distanced himself from the strong statements out of London and Washington, he spoke out against South African arguments the matter was a strictly internal one. "What happens in Zimbabwe has importance well beyond that country's borders," he said. "The region's political and economic security are at stake, as is the very institution of elections in Africa."

South Africa has long tried to act as intermediary in the crisis but has been criticized as being too lenient with Mugabe. Officials from Thabo Mbeki’s office said they were "very encouraged that Mr Tsvangirai, himself, says he is not closing the door completely on negotiations". But Tsvangirai doubts anything can be done about the violence that since the first round has made his party’s campaigning near-impossible. MDC members have been repeatedly beaten and its supporters evicted from their homes.

Tsvangirai himself has often been arrested and the MDC's secretary general, Tendai Biti, was held and charged with treason before being released on the eve of the run-off. Police regularly ban opposition rallies, and while a high court allowed one on Sunday to go on in Harare it was crashed by violent Mugabe supporters.

Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980 and became a hero fighting white rule in his country, has repeatedly vowed never to turn over power to the opposition, vowing to hold on to power until “God” tells him otherwise. While Tsvangirai’s move may have brought attention to the plight of the opposition, it may only have allowed the political survival of the 84-year-old veteran leader according to one analyst. “It (Tsvangirai's withdrawal) means Robert Mugabe is the legitimate president of Zimbabwe as far as the legal position is concerned," said Tom Cargill, of the London-based Chatham House.

Yet with the U.N. saying a fair vote was impossible and usually silent African neighbours saying the situation in Zimbabwe can't go on like this forever, a rare mobilization is taking place to isolate further the bad boy of Africa. True to form however, Mugabe refused to bow to international pressure, saying the world can "shout as loud as they like" but he would not cancel the planned run-off election even though his opponent quit the race.

While South Africa's ruling party issued a toughly worded statement calling on Mugabe's government to stop "riding roughshod" over the opposition, the ANC also warned against international intervention following a report that Britain has drawn up contingency plans for deploying troops in Zimbabwe to resolve a humanitarian crisis and to evacuate British nationals and their dependents. But as Tsvangirai left the Dutch embassy, he called for a "negotiated political settlement" stating that the run-off, which he described as an "exercise in futility" would not provide a solution to the crisis which has troubled his country.

In the mean time U.S. presidential contender Barak Obama said Washington and regional African leaders should join to spread word that President Mugabe's Zimbabwean government "is illegitimate and lacks any credibility".
De palais en musée
Hier encore c’était le palais du roi Gyanendra, aujourd’hui il s’agit d’un musée. Quelques semaines à peine après la victoire des rebelles maoïstes lors des premières élections au Népal depuis 1999, et quelques jours après l’abdication du dernier roi himalayen suite à l’abolition d'une monarchie vieille de 239 ans, le 28 mai, le drapeau quelque peu médiéval du pays a été hissé au-dessus du prestigieux bâtiment de Katmandou, devenu le symbole d’une nouvelle ère républicaine.

La métamorphose du palais Narayanhiti avait en quelque sorte de quoi rappeler l’évolution d’un autre palais, celui du dalai lama à Lhassa, également devenu musée après la fuite de son pensionnaire en Inde, en 1959, après la répression chinoise d’une révolte; mais la comparaison s’arrête là. Tout comme la fin de la monarchie, la conversion de l’immeuble s’est faite, un peu à la surprise de tout le monde, sans effusion de sang, alors que Gyanendra a paisiblement accepté de se retirer, le 11 juin, à la résidence d’été que constituait jadis le plus modeste palais Nagarjuna, à quelques kilomètres de la capitale.

Voilà qui mettait fin au bref règne de Gyanendra, devenu monarque après un massacre au palais en juin 2001, dont ne s’est jamais remise la royauté, et dont les traces pourraient devenir visibles aux yeux de milliers de touristes attendus, eux qui étaient pourtant chassés des lieux dans le passé. Pendant plus d’un règne ce palais entouré de longues murailles n’était en effet ouvert au public qu’une fois l’an, au dixième jour d’un festival marquant la fin de la mousson, en septembre, afin de célébrer la victoire contre les démons.

Un siècle après être devenu le siège de la dynastie qui a unifié le Népal en 1768, le palais était ouvert au public lors d’une cérémonie regroupant des diplomates et des représentants de la société civile, dont le premier ministre Girija Prasad Koirala, que certains voyaient bien devenir le premier président de la nouvelle république - une suggestion cependant rejetée par les maoïstes qui dominent la nouvelle assemblée constituante et obtinrent sa démission quelques jours plus tard.

Sans roi ni président, le pays, l'un des plus pauvres au monde, se lance donc dans une nouvelle ère politique avec un geste on ne peut plus symbolique, les principales attractions du musée étant constituées d’objets délaissés par le monarque sortant lors de son exil historique, dont sa couronne, son sceptre, sertis de diamants de rubis et d’émeraudes, son trône et ses dorures.

D’autres articles exhibés font plutôt l’objet de curiosité, comme une Mercedes, modèle 1939, offerte au grand-père de Gyanendra par Adolf Hitler, qui avait été hissée par une armée de manœuvres à Katmandou à une époque où les routes étaient peu répandues à travers la topographie himalayenne. Plus récemment, la Benz servait d’outil de formation aux mécanos d’un collège technique de la capitale.

Se retirant dans la campagne avec son costard en alpaga, Gyanendra, petit-fils, celui en qui plusieurs voyaient la réincarnation du roi Vishnou, est désormais évincé d’un pouvoir qui a l’intention de mener une petite « révolution bourgeoise démocratique » cherchant à mettre fin au féodalisme népalais et au système de castes ancré au sein de la société. «La république a été établie, déclarait Koirala le jour de l’inauguration du musée. Le roi a facilité le transfert en saisissant le désir et les attentes de la population en quittant de manière volontaire vers l’exil. Il s’agit d’un événement historique. »

Il ne faudra pas s’en faire pour l'ancien monarque sexagénaire pour autant. Dans un pays où sévit la pauvreté l’ancien homme d’affaires reste un des Népalais les plus riches qui puisse vivre à l’ombre des pics.
Boston, ville de champions

Faut-il se rappeler l’excitation, un peu débordante, des partisans du Canadien quand le CH a éliminé les Bruins de Boston en première ronde des séries cette année ? Mais alors que les rêves des partisans Montréalais s’évaporaient en seconde ronde, c’est la ville américaine qui est aux anges après avoir remporté son dernier trophée de championnat sportif.


Alors que la dernière coupe Stanley des Bruins remonte à 1972, les autres clubs de la ville n’ont eu aucune misère à s’illustrer ces dernières années. L’automne dernier, les Red Sox remportaient leur deuxième série mondiale en trois ans, en éliminant les Rockies en 4 matches.

Entre 2002 et 2005 les Patriots, eux qui n’avaient connu que des échecs lors de la grande finale dans le passé, récoltaient trois trophées Lombardi. Il y a de quoi penser que les succès bostonais viennent à la paire en général, les Bruins ayant également gagné en 1970.

Du moins c’est ce qu’espèrent les derniers champions de la ville du Massachusetts, les Celtics, qui n’avaient pas remporté de titre depuis Larry Bird, en 1986, dans une finale qui avait toute une saveur des années 80: contre les Lakers.

Les hommes en vert l’ont emporté 4 rencontres à 2 mardi et battant facilement Los Angeles à domicile, devant une foule en liesse, 131-92, sous la gouverne de Kevin Garnett et de ses 26 points.

Ray Allen a accumulé autant de points et Paul Pierce, le troisième membre de ce qui devient un illustre trio, a ajouté 17 des siens vers le 17ème titre des Celtics. Neuf de ces championnats ont d'ailleurs été le résultat de finales disputées contre les Lakers, la rivalité ayant répété le duel ultime non moins de 11 fois à travers les années.

Le moins que l'on puisse dire après cette défaite catastrophique, c'était que les Lakers n'étaient pas en mesure de devenir le premier club de basketball de remporter le championnat après avoir connu un déficit de 3-1 dans la série finale.

L'après-saison n'avait pourtant pas été à l'image de ce match ultime, puisque Boston avait disputé au moins six, parfois sept rencontres, avant d'éliminer ses adversaires pendant les séries, en commençant par Atlanta (7), Cleveland (6) puis Detroit (6).

Après cette victoire record (un écart de 39 points sans précédent) il faut se rappeler que Boston n'était pas favori afin de remporter la série.

Feeling the pain at the pump
With world oil prices soaring above $138 US, just how bad are fuel prices as the summer driving season heats up ? At least one Quebec company is bringing home the production of some of its pool parts from China because of increasingly high shipping charges. That high.

Overseas European farmers, truckers and fishermen meanwhile have been staging loud disruptive protests, begging the European parliament to lower gas taxes. Some of their Canadian counterparts have been feeling their pain at the diesel pump and frustration about fuel costs among fishermen facing lower revenues is leading to active protest by some accounts.

The spokesman for lobster fishermen who used their boats last month to block the entrance to a Cape Breton harbour to get access to the lucrative snow crab fishery says diesel prices played a role in the confrontation. “Of course that had lots to do with it — guys, their profits are going out the window,” said Lawrence MacLellan who added his own fuel costs have risen from $3,500 to $4,500 this year.

Things were hardly better on the farm despite highgrain prices. “Rising farm input costs on fuel are off the charts,” said Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Bob Friesen, noting fuel and fertilizer represent anywhere from 40 to 50 per cent of input costs. The costs mean that despite high food prices farmers are far from making windfall profits this year and worry about possible grain price drops.

On the road truckers were also suffering. David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance said the price of fuel has “put real strain on the industry,” causing some businesses to fold as truckers struggle to make ends meet. “Fuel has become the number one cost so it’s had an enormous impact on the cost structures of our business,” he said.

While the latest GM plant shutdowns have dealt Ontario’s economy the latest in a series of manufacturing sector blows, one think tank was backing the finance minister’s assertion Canada would not be heading for a recession. While this may be so, there will be no economic growth either in Canada in the first half of this year according to the forecast by Global Insight.

The rise in oil prices is transforming the economic map of Canada in a sense. Manufacturing and job losses in Ontario may turn the province traditionally known as the engine of the country into a “have-not” province by some accounts. On the flip side Newfoundland’s oil revenues are putting the Atlantic province, which has been a “have-not” province since it joined confederation, into the black for the first time. Overall growth this year in Canada will slow to 1.1 per cent, the weakest expansion since the early 1990s recession, and down from the 1.4 projected just a month and 2.7 per cent last year.

Among the least welcome forecasts in Canada, as driving season revs up, is the belief by some crude oil is destined to reach $150 US a barrel this summer. While most Canadians, some of whom are paying as much a $1.50 a litre at the pump, are rethinking travel plans as a result, things couldn’t be more rosy in the oil-rich West, where oil industry workers toasted the new highs. Politicians and analysts however blamed much of the surge on speculators rather than market forces.

``I've been doing this for 35 years and we've never had a movement like this in the oil price that was not justifiable by something fundamental - like a major supply disruption,'' noted Peter Linder, the manager of Delta One Energy Fund. Oil's latest run started last week with the announcement of likely interest rate increases in Europe, indicating a weakening of the U.S. dollar, in turn driving investors toward the commodities.

Acknowledging the worrisome international situation, the world's leading economies and oil consumers pledged greater investment in energy efficiency and green technologies Sunday to control their spiralling thirst for petroleum. In a joint statement, energy ministers from the G8, joined by China, India and South Korea, also urged oil producers to boost output, which has stalled at about 85 million barrels a day since 2005, and called for co-operation between buyers and producers. Meanwhile wealthy nations pondered reining in consumption.
Obama's historic nomination
For the second African-American in history to mount a nationwide campaign for the U.S. presidency, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, it meant a country once torn by slavery could once again feel good about itself, having witnessed white supporters in droves applaud a black presidential candidate in the once segregationist state of Alabama. For America’s first black Secretary of State, it meant showing the country’s greatness across the world, something indeed deemed necessary by many. For a number of world leaders, it meant the promise of American politics, in particularly foreign policy, done differently. Something that brought into agreement both friends - who heard a candidate’s call for an exit strategy in Iraq and focus on al-Qaida and Afghanistan - and foe, such as Iran’s president.

We’re not there yet. If anything polls are warning about another close election with Barack Obama leading by a few points. But no matter how bitterly fought the campaign for the Democratic nomination there was no denying the historic significance of the last 17 months in American politics, even if it came with a sweeping inevitability that made the evening’s results a side-show. In the end it didn't quite matter who won the Democratic primaries in South Dakota and Montana, the distribution of delegates guaranteed that Barack Obama would win enough of them (at least 2,118) to secure a historic nomination for his party.

Even before the polls closed in the first of the two final primaries, rumours were swirling that Clinton was on the verge of conceding defeat and even considered the vice-presidency. Clinton eventually won South Dakota, scoring her latest in a series of victories, but by then it was too late. Days later Clinton formally endorsed Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee, urging her supporters to embrace the Illinois senator as he prepares for a bruising general election campaign against Republican John McCain.

“I endorse him and throw my full support behind him,” she told her cheering supporters. “And I ask all of you to work as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.” Clinton’s acknowledgement of defeat ended her campaign to become the first female president in American history. Obama in turn paid tribute to Clinton for her "valiant campaign" to become the party nominee for US president. He said his former rival had "shattered barriers on behalf of my daughters and women everywhere".

On primary night Clinton said she would take a few days to go over her increasingly disappearing options with party leaders, boasting she had won the most popular votes of all primary candidates. But she insisted she was also "committed to uniting the party." The following morning her campaign said she would express support for Obama's White House bid.

By then Obama, who eventually won Montana, had all but claimed victory, making a point of appearing at an event in St. Paul, in the state that would hold this summer's republican convention. "Tonight after 54 hard-fought contests our primary season has come to an end," he said after thanking everyone from members of his family to supporters and his staff. "I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States." He congratulated Clinton on her run, in the hopes to mend a party unity worn by months of at times scathing vitrol traded with the former first lady. "We certainly had our differences," he said but praised Clinton's unyielding drive to serve Americans, especially in the health care field. "I am a better candidate for having had the honour to compete with Hillary Clinton."

He refused the notion the campaign has left the party more divided and cited record participation rates in the primary process. While an Obama-Clinton ticket would be considered a “dream ticket” by Democrats after such a close nomination contest, there is concern the primary process has driven a wedge within the party. In the days following his triumph Obama briefly talked to his former opponent, and later set up a committee to look into a running mate. After all that it was indeed time to launch the actual campaign for the presidency.

McCain had not waited for the nomination to become official to take on his Democratic rival. In a speech given in Louisiana moments before the South Dakota results came in, McCain targeted Obama on everything from healthcare to foreign policy. McCain stressed that he often ”strongly disagreed” with the current administration about the conduct of the war in Iraq but noted that the current strategy was succeeding and that “all of this progress would be lost is Obama had his way” and withdrew soldiers immediately. "The course Sen. Obama advocates would draw us into a wider war with greater sacrifice that would put America is harm's way," he said. McCain questioned Obama’s judgment further by noting the senator from Illinois was “ready to talk in person without condition with tyrants.”

"My differences with him are not personal but are with the policies of his campaign," Obama said of McCain later that night. "What's not an option is to leave troops in that country for the next 100 years," he said, adding the U.S. military was overstretched. "Start leaving we must." "It's time to refocus our efforts on Al-Qaida and Afghanistan," he said, on the day Canada lost an 84th soldier in that war. It would lose another over the following weekend. "So I'll say this - there are many words to describe John McCain's attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush's policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them."

After a long drawn-out campaign last week marked an important step for Obama toward his once-improbable goal of becoming America's first black president. Obama's victory set up a five-month campaign with McCain, a race between a 46-year-old opponent of the Iraq War and a 71-year-old former Vietnam POW and staunch supporter of the current U.S. military mission. But as the campaign progresses and the U.S. economy slows, concern may be less about the wars overseas than financial concerns on the home front.

The campaign put on hold the dreams of the former first lady and one-time Democratic front-runner. But Clinton realized early in the nomination process, after the Iowa caucuses, that Obama would be more than just a formidable opponent. Choosing to run her campaign on experience as someone who could take charge of the White House from day one, against a junior senator choosing to be the voice for change, Clinton staged occasional comebacks but gradually lost the delegate count amid a cash-depleted campaign she sometimes funded herself. She eventually lost the support of superdelegates free to choose the person they endorsed.

Clinton did make her mark as the strongest female presidential candidate in U.S. history, drawing large, enthusiastic audiences in a Democratic primary process which overall drew record turnouts, some 34 million people voting in all. As Obamania took over the U.S. however, the sizes of his crowds spoke for themselves, some 75,000 people tuning in for an outdoor speech in Portland. Obama emerged from Super Tuesday with a lead in delegates that he never relinquished, and he proceeded to run off a string of 11 straight victories. Now the battle for the real prize begins.
Faux départ pour la Macédoine
La tenue d’élections en Macédoine au début du mois a rappelé cet autre foyer de turbulence sur l’ancien territoire yougoslave, lorsque des violences ont fait un mort, une dizaine de blessés et 28 personnes ont été arrêtées. C’était plutôt mal partir la candidature du minuscule état de 2 millions d’habitants qui espère rejoindre les rangs de l’Otan et de l’Union européenne, dont les représentants étaient déçus des débordements lors de ce scrutin où les résultats laissaient pourtant peu de doute.

Le premier ministre sortant Nikola Gruevski a été facilement reconduit, son parti conservateur remportant une majorité en doublant le score de son plus proche rival avec 48 percent des voix. Gruevski a été parmi les premiers à reconnaitre le besoin de réparer l’image du pays le lendemain du vote, promettant de réorganiser un scrutin dans les bureaux de vote où l’élection avait été troublée.

Au lendemain du scrutin, l'Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe a estimé que "les normes internationales n'ont pas été respectées lors des élections", voyant là "des tentatives organisées afin de perturber violemment le processus électoral dans les zones albanaises" du pays, selon le rapport officiel présenté dans la capitale Skopje.

En 2001 des rebelles albanais lançaient une insurrection pour faire reconnaitre leurs droits dans ce pays où leur ethnie représente 25% de la population. Le mouvement, s’opérant à partir des montagnes limitrophes du Kosovo et inspiré de l’UCK a éventuellement mené à l’adoption d’amendements constitutionnels faisant de l’Albanais la seconde langue officielle, augmentant la proportion d’Albanais dans la fonction publique et précisant les droits des minorités; mais celles-ci ont vite fait de reprendre la lutte entre elles, des escarmouches se succédant depuis entre les partisans des deux partis albanais principaux.

Les incidents plus récents ont eu lieu dans des zones peuplées majoritairement par des Albanais, le plus grave dans le village d'Aracinovo, à 10 km au nord de Skopje, où une patrouille de la police macédonienne a essuyé des tirs qui ont fait un mort et deux blessés. Les tiraillements que connait le pays s’étendent à l’extérieur des frontières territoriales, le voisin du sud représentant la source traditionnelle de blocage.

Car Athènes estime que le nom de Macédoine appartient à son patrimoine historique, il s’agit de celui de la province grecque avoisinnante, et pourrait, après avoir bloqué l'adhésion à l'Otan à l’aide de son véto, barrer le chemin de l'ex-république yougoslave vers l'UE. Aussi l’alliance Atlantique attend-elle le règlement de cette crise afin de donner son feu vert. Le secrétaire général  Jaap de Hoop Scheffer a déclaré que le pays serait le  bienvenu lorsqu'il aura réglé la question de son nom officiel avec la Grèce.

D’autre part l’alliance a exprimé sa préoccupation sur le dossier des élections: "Les pays travaillant pour devenir membre de l'Otan doivent  faire tous leurs efforts pour se conformer aux normes  démocratiques de l'Alliance", a indiqué M. de Hoop Scheffer dans un communiqué. Gruevski avait d’ailleurs convoqué ces législatives anticipées après l'échec de la candidature de la Macédoine, lié au véto grec.

Même préoccupation du chef de la délégation de l'Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l'Europe, qui a mis en cause des "actions irresponsables, violentes et destructrices de militants des deux principaux partis albanais" de Macédoine. "L'UE reste très favorable à la perspective européenne du pays, a déclaré pour sa part le commissaire européen à l'Elargissement, Olli Rehn dans un communiqué. Je souligne que la tenue d'élections libres et justes est une partie essentielle du critère politique du processus d'adhésion".

L’annonce selon laquelle Gruevski acceptait la suggestion du diplomate en chef de l'UE, Javier Solana, de réorganiser le scrutin là où les incidents ont eu lieu a été bien accueillie. La Macédoine va "montrer qu'elle peut organiser des élections libres, démocratiques et honnêtes dans tous ses bureaux de vote et qu'elle mérite de poursuivre sa voie" vers l'intégration aux institutions euro-atlantiques, a déclaré Gruevski.

La porte semble donc encore entre-ouverte, malgré les chocs, aux négociations d'adhésion à l'UE, la Commission européenne devant, d'ici la fin de l'année, recommander ou non l'ouverture des discussions. Entre temps Grèce et Macédoine se sont engagés à reprendre les discussions sur le nom. Les Grecs sont plutôt sensibles sur la question des noms. Séparément la justice grecque a commencé à examiner si l'usage du qualificatif "lesbienne" pouvait être interdit aux homosexuelles, à la demande d'habitants de l'île de Lesbos.
Back to the days of shame
A wave of xenophobic attacks across South Africa’s townships have plunged the continent’s most modern country back into its dark past as mobs beat foreigners and set some ablaze in scenes reminiscent of the worst apartheid-era violence. A testimony to the country’s failure to handle immigration and deal with a number of social ills making it among the world’s most violent nations, the incidents have also spoken volumes about the chaos in nearby Zimbabwe, a country many of the foreigners fled, as it geared up for the second round of its controversial elections.

Politicians appealed for an end to the violence in the country that is preparing to host the World Cup of soccer in two year’s time. “Citizens from other countries on the African continent and beyond are as human as we are and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said president Thabo Mbeki, whose African National Congress had based itself in neighboring states during its war against the apartheid regime. South Africa, he added, was not “an island separate from the rest of the continent.”

The message was loudly echoed by township resident, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and apartheid struggle icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu who pleaded: “Please stop. Please stop the violence now,” in an impassioned statement. “This is not how we behave. These are our sisters and brothers. Please, please stop.” Tutu, who once intervened in the apartheid years to prevent a mob from necklacing a man, was distraught the practice was now being used against poor immigrants fleeing violence from other countries. He noted that when South Africans were fighting against apartheid they had been supported by people from around the world, and particularly in Africa, where the immigrants now being targeted were coming from.

Tutu stressed that although those countries were poor, their populations had welcomed South Africans as refugees, and allowed liberation movements to have bases in their territory, even if it meant they could face reprisal by the then South African Defence Force. “We can’t repay them by killing their children. We can’t disgrace our struggle by these acts of violence,” he said. “It is as if we were back in the days of the necklace."

Police meanwhile, who once cracked down on anti-apartheid groups in these same townships, now stepped up efforts and called for reinforcements to prevent more violence, arresting more than 240 people after some ten days of violence which claimed over 40 lives. Some have criticized the ANC’s failure, after 14 years of rule, to deal with both illegal immigration, estimated around 5 million, and deep social inequalities inherited from the apartheid era, such as mass unemployment, poor sanitation and limited services in many townships. Many victims say their attackers accuse them of taking jobs away from South Africans, in a country where the national unemployment rate is estimated at around 40%, and is much higher in many townships.

South Africa has a history of troubles in its townships, against immigrants or not, the country being ranked as one of the world’s most violent nations in terms of crime, with 52 people murdered every day for an annual murder rate of 43.1 per 100,000 people. There are also half a million cases of assault and attempted murder annually. Further inflaming the situation is the world-wide crisis of rocketing food and fuel prices, leaving Africa’s poorest foreigners at the mercy of township lynch mobs seeking scapegoats. Foreign-owned businesses and shacks were looted and destroyed before the violence spread further, as South Africans from smaller ethnic groups, such as Vendas and Shangaans, also became targets.

“Days of Our Shame” read one editorial in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, the paper faulting Mbeki for his failure to better the lot of many of his people and for his soft diplomacy toward Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. “It is clear the African renaissance remains a pipedream when South Africans kill and rape their African brothers and sisters purely for not being South Africans. It again underlines the fact that Mbeki left his society behind as he traversed the continent signing peace deals. He failed to sell his pan-Africanism to his own people,” the paper wrote. “His head-in-the-sand attitude towards Zimbabwe’s problems has served only to deflect those problems on to the poor. As, daily, thousands of Zimbabweans sneak through our porous borders, we can’t help but remember Mbeki’s mantra on Zimbabwe: ‘Crisis, what crisis?’”

A Times editorial, entitled "Mbeki’s Shame," also criticized the president for his refusal to take a tougher line against Mugabe. “By failing to condemn Robert Mugabe’s murderous dictatorship, Mr Mbeki has done more than any outsider to keep him in power. He has also perpetuated the flood of Zimbabwean refugees who now comprise of three-fifths of South Africa’s foreigners... For Mbeki to announce the creation of a panel to study the causes of the lawlessness, as he has, is fiddling while Rome burns.”

This week as the army was asked to intervene in the township violence which sent thousands of foreigners either fleeing or seeking refuge around police stations, a leading think tank warned there were dangers of a coup in neighbouring Zimbabwe by military hardliners wanting to prevent opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai from toppling Mugabe. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said its leader scrapped plans to return to Zimbabwe recently because it had received details of an alleged assassination plot.

“It is the military (plotting), the JOC (Joint Operational Command) that has been running the country” since the March 29 election, said party Secretary-General Tendai Biti. The MDC won that election but it took weeks, amid mounting post-voting violence, before the country’s electoral commission finally ordered a second poll for the presidential ballot. Official results and observers said the MDC had won but not by enough votes to avoid a run-off.

The International Crisis Group called for African mediation leading to a national unity government led by Tsvangirai as the best way to resolve a crisis, adding continued rule by Mugabe would be “catastrophic” for a nation already suffering inflation of 165,000 percent and 80 percent unemployment. The Group said military commanders opposed to Tsvangirai had been instrumental in preventing a democratic transition. “There is growing risk of a coup either before a run-off (in a pre-emptive move to deny Tsvangirai victory) or after a Tsvangirai win,” the Group said.

The report added that African mediation must address the loyalty of the security forces as a priority. Failure to do so “would risk a Tsvangirai victory leading to a military coup or martial law and the security services splitting along factional lines." Meanwhile intimidation, torture and murder by Mugabe’s supporters since the March poll “preclude the possibility of holding a credible run-off,” it added. The report was also sharply critical of the South African leader whom it said had “continued to shield Mugabe.” It said Mbeki’s reluctance to criticize the Zimbabwean leader or condemn the post-election violence had badly undermined his credibility.

Biti also condemned Mbeki's failure to confront Mugabe, using the strongest terms yet used by his party. “What’s concerning us is this lack of statesmanship, of leadership by African leaders,” he said. “I think that the paralysis of leadership and perspective lies (with) certain officers indebted to Robert Mugabe.” The MDC has asked the Southern African Development Organization to replace Mbeki as its chief negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis. International efforts to intervene they say have been hampered by Mbeki and South Africa’s current chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.

“The Zimbabwe crisis is exposing every leader on the African continent, embarrassing us as Africans because we are not able to resolve our own problems,” Biti said, who added that fears of a coup were not unfounded, calling next month’s runoff “merely extending and exacerbating the crisis” legitimizing “Mugabe’s constitutional coup.”
Une Serbie toujours partagée
« Nouveau départ » ou pareil au même en Serbie ? Le succès électoral du Parti Démocrate du président Boris Tadic avait certes quelquechose de prometteur, encourageant la population à participer au projet de “Serbie européenne”. Mais sans doute la dernière déchirure, celle du Kosovo, avait-elle le plus blessé et était-elle encore trop saillante pour qu’on ne parle déjà plus des fantômes du passé. Un d’entre eux a d’ailleurs refait surface alors que deux partis anti-occidentaux tentaient de former une coalition qui mettrait de toute évidence les projets européens au placart.

Ce n’est pas ce qui devait se produire si l’on revient sur les éloges internationales des élections du 11 mai, qui selon l’éditorialiste kosovare Blerim Shala « révèlent une société serbe tournée vers l’avenir, vers l’intégration européenne, et guère mobilisée par le thème du Kosovo ». C’était peut-être vite parlé alors que le parti radical d’extrême droite, les nationalistes dont le premier ministre Vojislav Kostunica ainsi que le parti socialiste du défunt Slobodan Milosevic se rapprochaient d’une entente. Poursuivant une tradition qui se veut un rejet du camp européen, des représentants serbes se rendaient à Moscou, où l’on a refusé de reconnaitre l’indépendance du Kosovo, afin de discuter d’avenir et d’obtenir l’aval de la famille du despote.

Le quotidien Blic rapportait que les socialistes avaient posé comme condition à leur participation à un futur cabinet l’amnistie pour Mirjana Markovic et Marko, le fils de Slobodan Milosevic, tous deux accusés d’abus de pouvoir et de blanchiment d’argent. On semble donc loin du «nouveau départ » qui selon le quotidien serbe « est, sans conteste, le moteur de ces dernières élections» suite au « choix pragmatique » des électeurs, apparemment plus tentés par «la stabilité économique, les investissements, les nouveaux emplois » qu’un programme qui « se focalisait sur la défense des intérêts serbes au Kosovo, qui a récemment déclaré son indépendance. Les électeurs n’ont pas vu l’offre leur permettant d’améliorer leur qualité de vie. »

Même son de cloche de Shala qui affirmait qu’ « il est clair que l’Accord de stabilisation et d’association avec l’Union européenne, la perspective d’intégration de la Serbie dans l’UE et les projets d’investissements de Fiat à Kragujevac, ont eu plus de poids en Serbie que la vaine guérilla politique et diplomatique contre l’indépendance du Kosovo. » La bourse, elle qui comme bien du monde avait redouté une victoire nationaliste, a plutôt bien réagi le lendemain d’élection, enregistrant des gains de presque 13%. 

Pourtant comme l’organisation, illégale, des élections dans la partie nord du Kosovo, notamment à Mitrovica, l’a démontré, le Kosovo est loin d’être oublié, et les divisions à son sujet font l’objet d’un rappel fréquent. En Bosnie à la suite de la déclaration d’indépendance du Kosovo, les dirigeants du parti au pouvoir en Republika Srpska, la partie serbe du pays, ont préconisé de transformer la Bosnie en une fédération et revendiquent le droit de l’entité, prétendument fondé sur la Charte de l'ONU, à une autodétermination, par référendum, pouvant aller jusqu’à la sécession.

L’ONU a vite rappelé que les entités de la Bosnie n’ont nullement le droit de faire sécession mais cet incident, de même que les manifestations d’extrémisme suscitées par l’indépendance du Kosovo, ont rappellé que « l’Union européenne n’est pas seule sur scène et que le nationalisme risque d’alimenter des déclarations incendiaires, susceptibles de faire dérailler à long terme le processus d’intégration européenne ».

D’autre part l’UE a dû reconnaître qu’il est peu probable qu’elle puisse prendre la relève de la police de l’Onu au Kosovo à la date prévue, soit le 15 juin, et le refus de Moscou de reconnaitre le dernier-né du continent y est pour quelquechose. Le gouvernement albanophone de l’ancienne province serbe souhaitait à l’origine que les 2200 policiers, magistrats et administrateurs civils de cette mission civile européenne se déploient lorsque l’indépendan- ce de la province a été proclamée, en février. Mais le refus de la Serbie et la Russie de la reconnaître empêche l’ONU de déléguer officiellement le mandat de la force à la mission européenne.

L’Europe n’a pas seulement des difficultés avec la Serbie. Suite à des affrontements pré-électoraux entre les partis albanais de Macédoine, culminant récemment avec la mort d’un militant, la Commission de l’UE menace de retarder l’ouverture des négociations d’adhésion si la situation ne s’améliore pas. Mais même si Tadic refuse autant que l’opposition de reconnaitre le Kosovo, il soutient pourtant que les jours de division avec Bruxelles sont révolus: «Les citoyens ont voté pour une Serbie forte, stable et pro-européenne, non pas pour un gouvernement isolation- niste, disait-il, Kostunica veut punir la Serbie (en raison de ses pauvre résultats électoraux). Je vais défendre la volonté électorale des Serbes avec toutes les méthodes démocratiques à notre disposition. »

A la source de cette nouvelle crise, l'impossibilité de gouverner sans l'aide des autres: les radicaux ont enregistré 29% des voix contre les 39% de la coalition de Tadic. “On pourrait encore une fois se retrouver avec un gouvernement faible et instable, et à la merci de la majorité naturelle du parlement... qui est nationaliste,” estime un expert.
Morales' great gamble, of sorts
For a former farmer, Bolivian president Evo Molares sure hasn’t been shy to upset many of his former colleagues disappointed by agrarian reforms pushed through by the leftist leader since he assumed office a little over two years ago. Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, has more reforms in store, including amendments to the constitution which have been stalled by conservative opposition members.

The constitutional measures would enshrine reforms including land redistribution to Bolivia’s indigenous majority and spread the wealth with the poorer western regions, a move critics say gives the government too much power. This would be in keeping with Morales’ first socialist measures since taking the helm, including the nationalization of energy companies, which upset the rightist governors of eastern, energy-rich regions now pushing for autonomy.

On May 4 thousands of flag-waving opposition supporters rushed to the streets to celebrate the overwhelming approval of an unofficial referendum on regional autonomy held in Santa Cruz Bolivia’s economic capital. While Morales declared the referendum a “resounding failure” he was bracing himself as three other areas in Bolivia’s more prosperous east prepared to hold their own autonomy referendums, some say in an effort to force the government to hold talks about the constitutional draft.

“The conditions no longer exist for the government to impose its constitution and if it tried it wouldn’t last more than a few days,” said Oscar Ortiz, an opposition leader who heads Bolivia’s senate. Morales meanwhile is labelling the promoters of autonomy, or as he calls it “political separatism” as oligarchs and exploiters of the people that want to steal the country’ wealth and natural resources. “Elitist landowners are seeking new ways to keep exploiting the people and plundering the land that belongs to all,” he said.

In an effort to push through his reforms Morales has agreed to an August 10 showdown in the forms of a recall referendum on his presidency and nine regional governorships which would require officials to get no less support than the percentage which got them elected. If not they would have to step down, and in Morales’ case, call new elections, more than two years before the end of his mandate.

Morales said he looked forward to the challenge. “For the first time in Bolivian history, the people will not only have the right to choose, but also to decide if the authorities are failing to serve them,” he said, adding he was confident of the win. In his case he would have to score 53.74% or more, with a popularity level of about 54%.

While the president’s numbers have softened somewhat, his pro-Indian and leftist reforms are popular in western Andean areas, where indigenous people like him make up the majority of the population, marking a clear divide in Bolivia with the European-descended landowners in the east. The referendum is apparently the only thing Morales and his opponents have agreed on for a long time and will for the third time in less than three years force the country of 9 million back to the polls.

Supporters of the president have staged huge pro-government rallies in response to the autonomy movement. But while the referendum pushes until next year any vote on the constitution and amendments permitting Morales to end current limits on presidential terms and force the breakup of huge cattle ranches and soybean farms in the east, some analysts say it will do nothing to settle matters.

“The referendum won’t provide an exit from the crisis,” political analyst Juan Antonio de Chazal told daily newspaper La Razon. “It’s more like a taking stock of forces to see who has more legitimacy.”
Dealing with Burma's crisis

In these lean times at aid agencies, made difficult by a combination of high food and oil prices, a major natural disaster is precisely what they hoped to avoid. But just days after a major plea from the United Nations to boost food aid to avoid “a silent tsunami” of hunger, and reports by the Asia Develop- ment Bank that the food crisis could undo years of development policies in Asia, one of the area's poorest countries, and more reviled regimes, has been stricken by a devastating cyclone suspected to have killed some 10,000 in one coastal city alone. In all over 60,000 were either dead or missing and U.N. officials expected the toll to rise.

Yet while aid agencies responded with their usual efficiency, Burmese officials stand accused of hampering aid efforts. “More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself,” Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in Rangoon, where food and water supplies were running low. “The wave was up to 12 feet  high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages. They did not have anywhere to flee.” At least five states in Myanmar and the main city of Rangoon have been declared disaster areas by the country’s government.

On Friday the World Food Programme said it temporarily halted aid shipments to Burma after two plane-loads of food were impounded on arrival by the military authorities.This came at the end of a week the country has been facing international condemnation for delaying shipments of aid and the arrival of disaster specialists with red tape.

The disaster struck as the military junta in power, better known for its brutal crackdown on protesting monks and democracy activists, was about to hold a referendum on a new constitution which it deemed a firm step toward multi-party democracy but which many international observers recognize as achieving little except to ensure the military will continue to be the ultimate power and authority in Burma. This week Freedom House listed Myanmar among the most repressive regimes along with Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

In the midst of the tragedy the junta said it would still carry on with the referendum, postponing it only in the worst-hit areas of Rangoon and the delta, after a campaign which silenced the opposition and intimidated voters into voting “yes”. In recognition of this situation, Canada announced it would be making $2 million in relief fund available to agencies dealing with the disaster Monday, while at the same time making Burmese Nobel Prize laureate and opposition member Aung San Suu Kyi an honourary citizen.

Similarly U.S. president George W. Bush said his country would help Burma but also wanted to see it hold free elections. The last time Burmese voters were called to the polls was in 1990 when 85 per cent of them voted for Suu Kyi, in an election later made invalid, sending its winner to prison.

While the reclusive regime refused aid in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, it recognized this time that the devastation was too overwhelming, and the UN’s World Food Programme said the government had given aid agencies a “cautious green light” to start sending help. But it didn’t make providing aid easy, a remider that the country’s military is more comfortable cracking down on dissidents than mobilizing for large-scale emergency operations.

In fact despite the magnitude of the disaster - the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh - France said the ruling generals were still placing too many conditions on aid. “The United Nations is asking the Burmese government to open its doors. The Burmese government replies: ‘Give us money, we’ll distribute it.’ We can’t accept that,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told parliament. France has suggested invoking a U.N. “responsibility to protect” clause, a concept recognized in 2005,  and delivering aid directly to Myanmar without waiting for approval from the military in Yangon. In New York, Rashid Khalikov, U.N. humanitarian affairs coordinator, appealed to Myanmar to waive visa requirements for U.N. aid workers trying to get into the country.

As in the aftermath of the 2004 India Ocean tsunami which killed a quarter of a million people across southeast Asia, some officials were expressing hopes some good could come of the relief effort. “Out of this horrific disaster, maybe there will be some good come . . . in terms of getting in to Burma,” said NDP’s Ottawa-Centre MP, Paul Dewar. He said the devastation could provide an opportunity for international agencies and relief groups to “get in” and help a country that usually would not allow entry to them.

That's just what the junta feared, delaying access to aid agencies with red tape and frustrating concerned capitals around the world. By some accounts the junta was concerned about letting foreigners into the country before the country held its referendum. “Forget politics. Forget the military dictatorship. Let’s just get aid and assistance through to people who are suffering and dying as we speak, through a lack of support on the ground,” said Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had his own take on the delays: “I don’t think we’re entirely surprised. We know the nature of the Burmese military regime. This is a regime that hasn’t been known to take the interests and rights of its people to heart. We know about their abuses, not just of democracy but of human rights in Burma, but nevertheless, the Burmese people are suffering."

The United States, which has imposed sanctions on the junta, said it had provided $3 million in immediate assistance through aid agencies and a disaster response team was on standby, but Washington said the government hadn’t given it permission to enter the country. “Our message is to the military rulers,” Bush said. “Let the United States come and help you, help the people.”

In terms of mending relations through emergency support, the aftermath of the tsunami aid efforts did help mend relations between Jakarta and the stricken separatist region of Aceh, but did nothing if not exacerbate the crisis between Tamil rebels and Sri Lanka’s government. Burma’s neighbours, India and Thailand, often accused of being too cosy with the regime for the sake of getting access to the country’s rich oil and gas resources, were quick to respond with assistance. Within days two Indian navy ships loaded with food, tents, blankets, clothing and medicines sailed for Rangoon. Thailand flew in nine tonnes of food and medicine, the first foreign aid shipment.

But it was becoming obvious as the first batch of $10 million worth of aid arrived into the country, its distribution delayed by a lack of equipment and bad roads, more would be needed for a long time to come. Of all places the cyclone was most devastating in the Irrawaddy delta, the nation’s rice bowl, reducing furthermore to poverty a country which at independence was the rice bowl of the region. Rice futures rose in response to the news that vast swaths of Myanmar’s rice-growing areas had been wiped out.

Concerns mounted over the lack of food, water and shelter in the delta region where some 1 million people were estimated to have become homeless. There were concerns about possible spread of disease in a country with one of the world’s worst health systems. “Our biggest fear is that the aftermath could be more lethal than the storm itself,” said Caryl Stern, who heads the U.N. Children’s Fund in the United States. Lack of immediate post-storm assistance increased the likelihood of diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Troisième essai pour Berlusconi

Sa troisième élection à titre de premier ministre, à 71 ans, fait de lui presque un symbole de stabilité sur l’incertaine scène politique italienne. Deux ans après avoir quitté ses fonctions faisant face à des accusations de conflit d’intérêt, Silvio Berlusconi, “Il Cavaliere” rentre dans Rome vainqueur à nouveau, et à la tête d’un gouvernement presque à toute épreuve.

En effet les fortes majorités remportées par son parti, Peuple de la liberté, dans les deux chambres parlementaires lors des législatives de la mi-Avril, et sa précieuse alliance avec une Ligue du Nord xénophobe et antieuropéenne, lui garantissent quelques mois de stabilité, notamment après la déconfiture de la gauche.

Rien ne symbolise mieux ceci que la prise de la “Ville éternelle” par un parti de droite, du jamais vu depuis la chute du Duce. A l’inverse, le parti communiste italien, jadis un des plus puissants d’Europe, a totalement été évincé du parlement, une première depuis 1946. Cette disparition n’a pas été la seule car le nouveau parlement a moins l’apparence d’une mosaique que ceux du passé, comptant 5 partis contre 14 à la chambre et 12 au sénat dans la précédente législature.

Des observateurs dressent par ailleurs un certain parallèle entre l’élection de Sarkozy en France et la ré-élection de Berlusconi en Italie, lui qui sera officiellement investi des fonctions de président du Conseil pour la troisième fois depuis 1994. “Nous avons les moyens de faire du bon travail. Rome va pouvoir à nouveau jouer son rôle de capitale, une capitale plus propre et plus sûre”, a lancé Berlusconi, qui s’est déclaré “l’homme le plus heureux d’Italie” alors que les représentants des Chambres des députés et du sénat se réunissaient pour la première fois depuis les élections.

Du coup Berlusconi rappelait un des thèmes principaux de la campagne, celui de s’attaquer à la criminalité. La contre-performance de l’économie et la déception du gouvernement Prodi expliquent en partie le retour du Cavaliere, tout comme l’important contrôle que Berlusconi exerce sur le paysage médiatique et télévisuel italien, ironiquement ce qui avait été à l’origine de plusieurs procès et de sa chute en 2006. Deux ans plus tard, Berlusconi est plus que jamais le grand magnat de la presse italienne, contrôlant, en comptant l’influence qu’il va sans doute exercer d’une manière et d’une autre sur les chaines publiques maintenant qu’il est élu, 90 pourcent de la télévision italienne.

Mais c’est sans doute en partie cette image d’éternel et puissant homme d’affaires qui a à nouveau séduit l’électorat italien, estime l’Economist, comme si le peuple pouvait par osmose absorber un peu de sa richesse et le faisant élire. Pourtant le déclin italien face aux autres économies européennes ne date pas d’hier et englobe les deux mandats précédents de Berlusconi. Le Front Monétaire International projette que l’économie italienne ne va croitre que de 0.3 pourcent l’an prochain, de loin le taux le plus bas de l’Union et du G8. Le PNB par population va d’ailleurs glisser sous la moyenne de l’UE au courant de l’année 2008, et sous celle de la Grèce en 2009, lui qui avait déjà été rattrapé par l’Espagne en 2006.

Et cette économie sur-régularisée et fortement syndiquée n’est pas prête de voir la lumière au bout du tunnel. Il n’y a qu’à voir la réaction de Berlusconi sur le dossier Alitalia, qu’il a menacé de nationaliser si l’Union européenne n’autorise pas le gouvernement italien à lui octroyer un prêt d’urgence pour éviter la faillite de cette compagnie aérienne en grande difficulté. “S’ils continuent à nous embêter, nous pourrions prendre une décision par laquelle Alitalia serait rachetée par l’Etat, a-t-il déclaré, annonçant un nouveau règne d’insolence. C’est une menace. Pas une décision”. L’UE doit déterminer si le prêt de 300 millions d’euros ne viole pas la législation commu- nautaire sur les subventions publiques.

Evidemment Berlusconi n’a pas toujours suivi les règles de la maison. Mais d’un autre côté ses majorités pourraient faciliter l’adoption d’importantes et difficiles réformes. Voilà peut-être le sens de ses mots quand il a annoncé que son nouveau cabinet connaitrait « des années difficiles » tout en promettant un gouvernement moins turbulent et plus responsable que ceux du passé. Lors de la campagne Berlusconi a affirmé que des baisses d’impôt et l’augmentation des investissements dans les infrastructures pourraient redonner de la vigueur au pays. Reste à voir s’il tient véritablement à concrétiser de telles mesures.

Turkmenistan seeks to enter the 21st century

As personality cults go, few rivaled with that of former Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov. Up until his death in December of 2006, Niyazov used the country's oil and gas wealth - which made it the country with the second largest gas reserves in the former Soviet Union - to build golden statues of himself around the country and other eccentricities such as a theme park based on Turkmen folk tales.

He made his book, a "spiritual guide" called the Rukhnama, compulsory reading for students and workers and renamed months of the year after historical figures and members of his family. In his calendar, Saturday was Rukhnama Day and April was named after his mother. January was named after his own honorific: Turkmenbashi, or Father of the Turkmen.

Niyazov’s reign as one of the world’s most repressive dictators was unscathed by the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, carrying from 1985 until 2006, and seemed to survive him, until news in April that his successor, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov will be abolishing the names of days and months among a series of reforms he said were necessary to bring the country into the 21st century.

“The fast changing economic and political conditions in the world and the ongoing reforms in the country demand improvement in the activity of state legal institutions, quick adoption of new laws and their prompt introduction in life,” said Berdymukhamedov. “Some articles and rules of the constitution are outdated, lagging behind times, even hindering the progress.”

Berdymukhamedov said that "profound politico-juridical change" is coming. “The world is moving forward and any state that cannot keep pace with the global developments will inevitably be left behind,” he added. “We cannot allow this to happen to our country.” But with a minimum wage of about $40-$60 per month, the average Turkmen may have felt left behind by the country’s at times lucrative energy policies.

This week Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed agreements on energy after agreeing with Pakistan and India to push forward a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline that would start being built in 2010. The only problem is that it would cross through into Afghanistan's western province of Herat and the southern province of Kandahar - one of the most Taliban-troubled regions – before entering Pakistan. As yet another sign of possible change to longstanding policies in Turkmenistan, its proud policy of neutrality, Berdymukhamedov said he was seeking a U.N. convention on international pipeline security to protect the link that could power the1.3 billion people of the subcontinent.

The change of policy is worth a shot as the country's energy industry, once jealously guarded by Niyazov - who treated the country’s oil and gas industry as his personal fiefdom, feeding speculation he stashed away an estimated $3 billion overseas - is looking forward to foreign investment in the oil and gas sector of $2.5 billion this year. The government estimates its onshore hydrocarbon reserves to be 21 billion tons of oil and 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas while Caspian offshore reserves are estimated to be 12 billion tons of oil and 5 trillion cubic meters of gas.

But the troubles at home will need soul-searching as well as money. “The need has ripened for development of essentially new approaches to domestic policy and decision of socio-economic problems, including the determination of precise legal instruments and perfection of activity of the supreme bodies of authority in Turkmenistan,” Berdymukhamedov said. So the president asked a number of ministries and the country’s supreme court as well as other bodies to create working groups to propose constitutional reforms that will then be sent to parliament for debate.

In September a special session of the legislature will be convened to adopt amendments. While their nature and that of other reforms will vary, Berdymukhamedov is sure about one thing. "Names of months and days have to comply with international standards."

Election serbe sur fond d'indépendance au Kosovo

Du déjà vu, en perspective, ce vote présidentiel serbe, qui qualifie l’ultranationaliste Tomislav Nikolic et l’actuel président pro-européen Boris Tadic pour le second tour. Mais à l’aube, selon certains, de la proclamation de l’indépendance du Kosovo qui mettrait fin à ce qui pouvait être défini à titre de « Grande Serbie », l’heure est à la fierté nationaliste à Belgrade, où tout candidat espérant un avenir en politique doit se prononcer contre la séparation de cette province à majorité albanaise.

Des deux finalistes, Nikolic, le patron par intérim du Parti radical serbe (SRS), la première formation du Parlement, est nettement le plus ferme sur la question, rejetant toute indépendance du Kosovo, un fait accompli pour plusieurs capitales internationales, et prônant une alliance avec la Russie se voulant, comme en Ukraine, le rejet de l'alternative européenne.

Alors que plusieurs politiciens, dont le premier ministre Vojislav Kostunica, exigent que Tadic défende «le chœur de la civilisation et de la culture serbes » au prix de décevoir les capitales européennes, censées dépêcher au Kosovo des observateurs internationaux pour accompagner le processus de l’indépendance, ce dernier continue de livrer un message mixte qui refuse de trancher catégoriquement entre le Kosovo et Bruxelles. Pour le candidat réformiste, tenter de réconcilier l’irréconciliable constitue un défi de taille.

La campagne serbe a lieu alors que le premier ministre du Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, estime qu’une proclamation d’indépendance n'est qu'“une question de jours”, déclarant au nom du peuple albanais que “le Kosovo est prêt”. “Nous nous attendons à un soutien massif de la part des Etats-Unis et de l’Europe”, a-t-il ajouté à l’issue d’entretiens avec Javier Solana, le chef de la diplomatie européenne et le commissaire à l’élargissement, Olli Rehn.

C’est bien ce dernier que conserve, malgré ses discours cherchant à plaire aux masses, dans sa mire Boris Tadic, qui a vu avec le temps une ancienne république Yougoslave, la Slovénie, se joindre au club européen, d'autres cherchant à emboîter le pas alors que Bruxelles est plus réticente à ajouter au compte un pays qui n’a pas encore rendu tous les comptes de la dernière guerre européenne il y a dix ans.

Parmi les rares têtes dirigeantes des atrocités à s'être retrouvé derrière les barreaux en passant par la justice internationale figure le chef de Nikolic, Vojislav Seselj, emprisonné au Tribunal pénal international de La Haye pour crimes contre l’humanité. Bien que le candidat ultranationaliste ne parle pas de faire la guerre à un Kosovo indépendant, il prévoit quand même des mesures de représailles comme un blocus économique de la province et une rupture des relations diplomatiques avec les pays qui reconnaîtront cette sécession.

D’un côté comme de l’autre, la Serbie pourra compter sur l’appui du président russe Vladimir Poutine, qui a assuré à son homologue Tadic de l’opposition “catégorique” de Moscou à toute déclaration “unilatérale” d’indépendance du Kosovo, lors de la signature d’importants accords énergétiques au Kremlin. “La Russie est catégoriquement opposée à une proclamation unilatérale d’indépendance du Kosovo, a insisté Poutine, vu le risque de provoquer de graves dommages à l’ensemble du système de droit international”.

“La Serbie ne renoncera jamais à la préservation de son intégrité territoriale”, avait à son tour insisté Tadic, remerciant Poutine de son côté pour un soutien sans lequel “la Serbie aurait plus de mal à défendre ses intérêts au Kosovo”, alors que Belgrade est isolé face à Washington et à une majorité des Etats membres de l’Union européenne qui considèrent l’indépendance comme inéluctable.

Ces capitales ont insisté sur la nécessité de conduire un “processus coordonné” jusqu’à l’indépendance. Dans l’entourage de Solana, on souligne également que cette marche doit être conduite “sans précipitation, sans tension inutile”. De son côté Thaci répétait que le Kosovo agirait “en coordination” avec l’UE et les Etats-Unis. “Nous allons coopérer étroitement.” 

Rethinking Afghanistan

In between Canada's two latest military casualties in Afghanistan the country had a short but intense period to consider the latest assessments being made on its most important military engagement since the Korean war.

Last week a panel on Canada’s future role in the country called for a conditional extension of the mission because the Forces could not complete what they set out to do by the end of the current military mandate in 2009. Changes had to be considered to make this possible, the panel ruled.

Unbeknownst to its leader John Manley some changes were already in the works, such as a suspension of all the transfers of Afghan detainees after a federal government monitoring team found “a credible allegation of mistreatment.”

Manley did recommend that the prime minister assemble a special cabinet committee that would devote the attention to the mission that the mission needs. According to Canada's last military casualty, Cpl. Étienne Gonthier, 21, a combat engineer from Quebec who died on Jan. 24 when his light armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, that includes better equipment.

“He told his grandparents when he came over here during the holidays that if they (the Canadian soldiers) were fighting against Americans, British or Australians, they would all be dead by now,” Mayor Roger Carette said. Instead he considered himself lucky the Forces were fighting disorganized Taleban forces, but he suggested the Forces were disorganized as well.

The panel also recommended Stephen Harper urge the international community to “get its act together,” both in Afghanistan and with other key countries in the region. “We do not expect that NATO will be able to replace us in 2009. Nor will the Afghans be ready to take over. But we can insist that NATO find us a partner in Kandahar, enabling us to expand the scope of security and to shift increasingly from fighting to training the Afghan forces,” Manley said. A key finding was its blunt demand on NATO to find 1,000 additional troops for southern Afghanistan by February 2009 or else Canada would announce its intention to withdraw its 2,500 troops.

But NATO allies being urged to send extra troops into Afghanistan had recently responded with outrage to criticism by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that many operating in the south of the country were ill-prepared to combat guerrillas. “I’m worried we’re deploying (military advisors) that are not properly trained and I’m worried we have some military forces that don’t know how to do counterinsurgency operations,” he was quoted as saying in a recent Los Angeles Times article.

Canada’s 2,500 troops are based in the southern region around Kandahar, and while Gates soon contacted allies insisting he had been misinterpreted, joined by other U.S. officials cautious of rankling the few allies putting up a fight in the restive region of the country, the timing could not have been more awkward as mourners were gathering to commemorate one of four Canadian soldiers killed in the country since Dec. 30.

To date 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat lost their lives in the country. The following day seven Canadian soldiers were slightly injured in two separate roadside bombings just hours apart. By then Gates was publicly praising NATO troops for helping reclaim parts of southern Afghanistan.

The Times article was published the day after the U.S. announced it was sending 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan, most of them to help NATO troops in the south. To some this signaled an intention to take more aggressive action on the ground. Britain, the Netherlands and Canada are carrying the load of military operations in the southern region and none of the countries recognized themselves in Gates’ statement.

The Dutch defense minister called in the U.S. ambassador for an explanation while the U.S. ambassador to Canada issued a statement expressing “satisfaction with the role the Canadians are playing within ISAF.” “My country greatly appreciates the sacrifices Canadian troops and other NATO allies are making in southern Afghanistan to increase security and stability in a troubled region,” David Wilkins said. The British Ministry of Defence insisted its troops had extensive counter-insurgency experience. “We are working to an agreed NATO operational plan under a U.S. commander,” a spokesman said. Conservative legislator Patrick Mercer more bluntly called Gates’ comments “bloody outrageous.”

A State Department spokesman said Gates “was not directing his comments at any one country in particular, but at the alliance as a whole, which includes the United States.” The article also mentions unnamed U.S. military officers as saying their experience in Afghanistan supports the secretary’s comments, but European officers are also quoted complaining that the United States allowed the security situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate by keeping too few troops in the country.

Overall the alliance has been bickering over the reluctance of some European members, such as France and Germany, to commit forces to confront the Taleban in the south. Gates later said the deployment of Marines was designed to shore up forces in “the toughest part of the country.” That decision, he added, had nothing to do with any misgivings about the performance of Canadians already there. “I have no problems with the Canadians,” he said.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair meanwhile urged Canada not to flinch in its fight against radicals in Afghanistan. “We have to stand up and fight for our values as though they were at risk - and they are,” he said while visiting Toronto.

Canada had a retraction of its own to make vis a vis its huge neighbour a few days later. Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier demanded a controversial training manual be re-written. A recent Foreign Affairs document identified the United States and Israel as countries it suspects of practising torture. The document also defined such U.S. interrogation techniques as blindfolding and forced nudity as torture. But to some, the Gates and Foreign Affairs slip-ups were a rare insight into what some insiders have perhaps been thinking.

Canada resumes command of the mission in southern Afghanistan in February after 15 months of Dutch and British control. This will take place as a change to warmer weather usually indicates an escalation of combat in the region. For Canadian troops, the escalation has already begun: in a single week three soldiers were being buried.

Gates’ comments were particularly  untimely as the Harper government is attempting to extend the military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2009. The opposition has called for a prompt withdrawal that year, if not before, but Liberal leader Stephane Dion, returning from a trip to the region, caused some surprise when he said that any attempt to counter terrorists in war-torn Afghanistan would not succeed without an intervention in neighbouring Pakistan. A spokesman later said he was stressing a diplomatic rather than a military intervention.

In Gonthier's hometown, in a region which sent 40 Quebec youngsters to war, there was growing doubt about the purpose of the mission. “The community supports the soldiers who are in Afghanistan right now, but the people here are questioning the relevance of what the soldiers are doing there and the poor equipment they seem to have to rely on,” said mayor Carette.

Markets send early warning about economy

It didn’t take long for traders to vote with their feet about economic prospects for 2008 as worldwide markets collapsed three weeks into the new year, sending the loonie diving and forcing the Fed to slash its interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point. The Bank of Canada also lowered its rate by a quarter of a point, as markets reeled at the prospect of a sharp downturn in the U.S. economy. The markets soon rebounded somewhat but by then the bad news had extended to lowered projections for this year's economic growth.

On Jan. 21 a 600-point drop in Toronto added to losses of nearly 900 points the previous week, some 6.6 per cent, a veritable bloodbath on Bay street where a dollar once sailing above parity only managed to eke its way back above 97 cents US. It was the fifth straight day of heavy losses in Toronto and the biggest one-day loss since 2001. The market had by then dropped 17 per cent since hitting its peak in July and fallen all the way back to where it was in November 2006. The market rallied by 500 points on Jan. 22 but many feared more carnage to come.

Last week the Bank of Canada lowered the growth forecast for the overall economy to 1.8 per cent this year, a slowdown early in the year expected to yield to stronger results in the latter months. Domestic demand is expected to remain strong but the slumping US economy has lowered expectations, Bank governor David Dodge said.

The U.S. Federal Reserve rate cut, the scale of which was unseen since 1984, limited the damage on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average fell a mere 128.11 points. Still that was a 5th consecutive drop in a market fewer and fewer are hesitating to call a Bear run, sparking talk of a recession in the world’s largest economy.

Markets in Europe and Asia were not spared by the collapse, sparked by fears a slowdown in the U.S. could spark a global economic slowdown. The sell-off signalled investors don’t believe a U.S. stimulus package worth as much as $150 billion proposed by President George W. Bush will succeed in keeping the world’s largest economy out of recession and worry too much of the world’s economy remains tied to America’s fortunes. Prices of commodities like oil, gold and copper were sent sharply lower on concerns that countries like India and China will indeed be hurt by the U.S. slowdown.

On the up side the price of oil, which recently reached $100 a barrel, dropped under $90 in the process. The Nikkei stock average closed down 5.65 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 8.65 per cent while European markets fell more than 4.4 per cent. Some European stock indexes saw their biggest one day drop since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Financial market conditions have deteriorated since October," the Fed said in a statement, “leading to a tightening of credit conditions in industrial countries. Given this, and a deeper, more prolonged decline in the U.S. residential housing sector, the 2008 outlook for the U.S. economy is now significantly weaker” than forecast in October. Canada’s outlook also became more gloomy as surging unemployment, lacklustre retail sales during the holidays, and the slumping stock market south of the border was bound to have implications for its most intimate economic partner.

“We clearly have under-estimated the impact of the subprime mortgage market has had on equity valuations (in the U.S.) and the broad and growing threat it now poses to financial market disintermediation,” said Jeff Rubin, chief strategist at CIBC_World Markets. Michael Gregory, senior economist at BMO_Capital Markets, issued a note cautioning that “economic and financial market conditions will probably continue to deteriorate between now and the next policy announcement on March 4.”

Analyst were wary predicting how much further the Canadian stock market has to fall before hitting bottom. Among the key issues being considered is whether a U.S. recession will be short and shallow or long and deep. Economists aren’t predicting a Canadian recession for now but expect more cuts by the Bank of Canada to offset the effects of the a slowing U.S. economy, especially in the exporting provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

Recession fears and stock market losses quickly eroded the economic confidence of Canadians, especially their expectations about the future which have sunk to a more than two-year low, a monthly survey by a Canadian marketing firm revealed last week.

Clinton, McCain take the comeback state
After an Iowa caucus which started the year-long process of electing a U.S. president by bringing new faces into the spotlight, the New Hampshire primary crowned familiar names without securing any individuals as democratic and republican front-runners. But while Hillary Clinton’s win in the Granite State kept her hopes of obtaining the presidency very much alive, runner-up Barak Obama came in close enough at second to make the contest for the democratic leadership a serious two-horse race.
 
After an evening which showed the two running neck & neck Clinton secured the win with 39 percent of the vote despite late polls which had given the state to the senator from Illinois. “I come tonight with a very full heart and I want especially to thank New Hampshire. Over the last week I listened to you and in the process I found my own voice,” Clinton said shortly after embracing her daughter and husband on stage. "Together let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.” 
 
Clinton’s performance recalled the second-place finish of her husband Bill Clinton, who was dubbed the Comeback Kid in New Hampshire after finishing second there in the 1992 Democratic primary. Clinton had been down in the polls as critics often associated her experience with old-style politics while newcomers such as Obama personified "change". But in an election without an incumbent and where Republicans themselves speak of change after years of strict conservative orthodoxy, Clinton said she too could shake up things after two mandates of an administration too close to special interests. “It’s time we had a president who stands for all of you,” Clinton said. “I intend to be that president... There will be no more invisible Americans."
 
Obama had taken New Hampshire by storm after winning Iowa, drawing sometimes overflow crowds and getting into long-distance shouting matches with Clinton, and still finished strong with 36 per cent of the vote. “I am still fired up and ready to go,” Obama said, congratulating Clinton on her win. “A few weeks ago no one would have imagined what we accomplished here tonight in New Hampshire.”
 
“At this moment in this election there is something happening in America,” he said between supporter cries of “we want change.” Americans “know in their hearts this time must be different.” Obama drew young and male voters while Clinton took home the female and registered Democrat vote according to statistics.
 
On the Republican side John McCain took New Hampshire with 37 per cent of the vote while Iowa winner Mike Huckabee came in third. GOP favourite Rudy Guliani, who did not campaign in the state, scored just 9 per cent, ending fourth. “Tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like,” McCain said, making little of pundit predictions his campaign was over early in the presidential race. McCain's campaign seemed near collapse just last summer.
 
The night’s results also came as a relief to Clinton supporters, who feared the candidate long touted as being a Democrat favourite could suffer a second consecutive setback early in the campaign after Iowa's third-place finish. Analysts wondered whether an emotional outburst a day before the vote hadn’t helped to humanize the New York senator better known for being unemotional and making rather dry speeches.
 
When asked in a small establishment how she could cope with the demands of the electoral grind her voice softened and she spoke more haltingly. “It’s not easy, it’s not easy,” Clinton replied slowly and near tears. “I couldn’t do it if I did not passionately believe it was the right thing to do. It’s very personal to me.” “I have so many ideas for this country, I just don’t want to see us fall backwards,” she said. “It’s about our country, it’s about our kids’ futures.”
La violence suit les élections au Kenya

Alors qu’on assiste au Pakistan à une veille électorale ensanglantée, c’est le lendemain qui cause des troubles au Kenya, où l’opposition a rejeté le dernier scrutin présidentiel retournant au pouvoir Mwai Kibaki. Avec plus de 600 morts, les émeutes entourant cette réélection controversée semblent avoir tourné aux affrontements ethniques, 30 personnes ayant été brûlées vives le premier jour de l’an dans une église.

 

Cet incident, qui a également fait plus de 100 blessés par balles ou par flèches, a ouvertement été décrit comme un «nettoyage ethnique» dans cette région d’Afrique où l’expression prend tout son sens. La plupart des victimes étaient des kikuyu, soit l'ethnie de la classe dominante et du president Kibaki. La violence s’est particulièrement emparée de cette région depuis le dévoilement des résultats électoraux le 30 décembre.

 

La Croix-Rouge compte plus de 200000 déplacements dans la région occidentale  en raison des violences. Des images aériennes de zones de l’ouest du pays ont montré des centaines de maisons et huttes incendiées et des barrages routiers installés tous les dix kilomètres sur les routes. «C’est un désastre national », a déclaré lors d’un point de presse le secrétaire général de l’organisation, Abbas Gullet. Seules les personnes du «bon groupe ethnique» peuvent franchir ces barrages.

 

Les victimes fuyaient les violences qui parcourent le pays depuis une élection qui selon l’Union Européenne « est tombée à court des normes internationales » et dont le comptage « manquait de crédibilité ». Certains commissaires électoraux au Kenya ont émis de similaires réserves à propos de l'exercice. La Commission nationale des droits de l’homme du Kenya a également estimé que le scrutin était «dénué de crédibilité».

 

Le vieux président de 76 ans, élu en 2002 après deux échecs précédents, a fait de la lutte contre la corruption un thème central de sa campagne. Pourtant un rapport de Transparency International de septembre dernier indiquait que le pays connaissait des échecs dans la guerre contre les pot-de- vins.

 

Plusieurs sondages sur les scrutins présidentiel et législatif donnaient le chef de l'opposition Raila Odinga vainqueur. Certains parfois même avec une avance d’un million de voix. Le mélange de violence politique et de vieilles rivalités tribales fait craindre que le pays tout entier ne sombre dans l’anarchie et le chaos.

 

Kibaki avait été déclaré vainqueur après trois jours de comptage mais son rival Odinga estime qu’il y a eu fraude électorale. Le gouvernement conteste toute irrégularité. « je n’ai aucun indice qu’elles (les élections) aient été manipulées», affirmait le ministre des finances Amos Kimunya. Mais les indices sont pourtant nombreux. Un document confidentiel que s’est procuré Le Monde recense les irrégularités constatées par les observateurs des partis.

 

Dans 88 des 210 circonscriptions, une anomalie entache le formulaire officiel recensant les résultats de la circonscription, selon le journal. «Dans une circonscription de la province centrale, bastion du président sortant, Mwai Kibaki, l’ensemble des bordereaux issus des différents bureaux de vote sont signés par la même personne. A Kieni, dans la même région, on enregistre une différence de 20000 voix entre le nombre de votants pour les législatives et pour la présidentielle, écart irréaliste témoignant d’un “gonflage” du premier chiffre. »

 

Après plusieurs journées de manifestations qui ont parfois viré à l'émeute, le gouvernement a laissé entendre qu'il pourrait organiser un nouveau scrutin mais seulement si la demande provenait d'une cour de justice. En attendant l'opposition a rejeté la proposition de former un gouvernement d'unité nationale tandis que le président de l’Union africaine échouait dans sa médiation.

 

Les tensions demeurent importantes puisque Odinga a refusé les invitations du président au dialogue, irrité par la ligne de conduite de Kibaki, qui consiste à s’estimer réélu sans admettre de contestation, et a fait prêter serment aux derniers membres de son gouvernement. Comble de la provocation, l'opposition a fait appel à trois jours de grève dans ce pays important de l'économie régionale.

Vote delayed after Bhutto killing

Benazir Bhutto never doubted the dangers she faced by coming back to Pakistan last October. She was quickly reminded of the threats when a suicide bomber detonated his charge during her welcoming rally, missing her but killing some 140 other people. Threats took many forms, she reflected in one of her final interviews, they could be Islamic fundamentalists, part of security system or political rivals.

She could be hated for being secular, critical of army procedures, or the first woman democratically elected to lead a Muslim state. “I am what the terrorists most fear,” she told a US magazine in one of her last interviews. “A female political leader fighting to bring modernity to Pakistan. Now they’re trying to kill me.”

Neither she nor her family or the city she was in when she was killed by a suicide bomber on December 27, were spared of the bloody history of violence which has engulfed Pakistan, a country held by the military for more than half its existence. She was herself the target of a number of previous attacks and both her brothers were killed in the mid-90s, one by poisoning, the other when he was gunned down.

Bhutto’s own father was hanged in 1979 on charges of having ordered the murder of a political opponent, perhaps a mile from the spot in Rawalpindi where a man shot at Benazir’s convoy following a political rally, before detonating a bomb strapped to his body. She died yards from where the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, had been felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1951.

The loss of the two-time female prime minister of 54, who returned to the country to try to reclaim the mantle in elections scheduled for this year  opposition parties initially said they would boycott, was met with both sadness and outrage. “The repercussions of her murder will continue to unfold for months, even years. What is clear is that Pakistan’s political landscape will never be the same having lost one of its finest daughters,” wrote Pakistan’s main English-language newspaper, the Dawn.

Meanwhile the streets were engulfed in violence, claiming dozens of more lives after the 20 who died in the assassination. Many turned their anger against the leadership of president Pervez Musharraf both in the streets and in political circles. ``Under the present circumstances and under Musharraf, neither is campaigning possible nor is a free election,” said Bhutto ally and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. ``Peace is impossible under Musharraf,’’ he said. ``Pakistan’s unity is impossible under Musharraf. He is the root cause of all problems.’’

Musharraf called for a crackdown of demonstrators two days later. Compounding the disgruntlement was the government’s initial assertion neither bullet nor bomb killed Bhutto directly, but that she died from hitting her head during the attack. Scotland Yard eventually accepted a request from Pakistani authorities to help with their investigation into the assassination.

Musharraf said he was “not fully satisfied” with the investigation into the killing of Bhutto but said he did not believe government or intelligence agencies had tried to “hide secrets” after her murder. He did later concede however that Bhutto may have been killed by a bullet but made no friends among her supporters when he told a U.S. network Bhutto was herself to blame for making herself so vulnerable to an attack.

Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League party initially called for a boycott of the vote as well as a nationwide strike to protest against the killing, reconsidered not taking part in the vote after Bhutto’s son was selected as heir to the family dynasty. Bhutto’s son took over as chairman of her party and immediately vowed to fight for democracy as revenge for her assassination.

At an emotional news conference where his father was presented as co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party, the 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto, an Oxford University student untested in politics, said he was ready to lead.“My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal said. “The party’s long and historic struggle for democracy will continue with a new vigour.” Bilawal will complete his studies before formally taking the party's helm.

Pakistan’s Election commission delayed the vote until February in view of the post-assassination violence. Speaking with little emotion, Musharraf defended the election’s postponement as “absolutely right” because riots in the wake of Bhutto’s death left 58 dead and caused hundreds of millions of rupees in damage. Musharraf, for whom the killing represented the latest incident in a turbulent year, blamed the attack on terrorists.

The day before the assassination he and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai had pledged to share intelligence and tighten border controls to quash increasing attacks by Taleban and Al-Qaida terrorists. “People from both the countries are suffering under the hands of extremism and terrorism,” Musharraf said at a joint news conference. “The key in fighting and enhancing the capability against terrorism and extremism is intelligence cooperation,” said Musharraf, who had recently ended a six-week state of emergency.

But political opponents and analysts were wondering where that security and intelligence sharing was during the political rally in what they described as one of the most closely-watched cities in Pakistan. The day following the assassination authorities said they recorded an intercept in which Al-Qaida’s most wanted man in Pakistan had congratulated his people for the attack. But Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party rejected the claim. A spokesman said the government must show solid evidence. “The government is nervous,” a spokesman said. “They are trying to cover up their failure” to provide adequate security.

In her final rally Bhutto had herself spoken of the need to “curb the religious extremists ... curb the violence in this country.” Now many fear the attack will leave the country weakened in its attempt to either fight terrorism or promote democratic ideals. Concerned world leaders condemned the attack. “Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice,” U.S. president George Bush said, adding that by returning to the country despite threats to her life Bhutto “refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.” Bush urged political leaders in Pakistan to honour her memory by embracing democracy.

The United Nations Security council called the attack “abhorrent.” A sign of the turbulence engulfing the country, the UN's refugee agency meanwhile says clashes between Pakistan’s Shia and Sunni groups have forced people to flee the country in droves. Hundreds of families, comprising some 6,000 mainly women and children, have been crossing the border as the security situation has been deteriorating in Pakistan’s tribal regions. It is the first time so many people have crossed this way into Afghanistan after years of fleeing the country.


Harper warns on NAFTA as primary held



On the day Senator Hillary Clinton kept her fading presidential hopes alive by defeating Barack Obama in Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrapped up the annual Three Amigos summit by warning possible presidential contenders against reopening NAFTA.

During the Democratic race both candidates toyed with the idea of reviewing the North American Free-Trade Agreement, but Tuesday the leaders of the countries involved, Canada, Mexico and the U.S., staunchly backed the continental deal, Harper pointing out that U.S. dependence on Canadian oil gives Canada a big bargaining chip. The meeting bringing together Harper, George W. Bush and Mexico’s Felipe Calderon  turned into a pep rally for keeping NAFTA intact in the face of hints from the Obama and Clinton camps they would rewrite it.

The Democratic contenders had been especially vocal in the lead up to working-class primaries in the Northeast. Calderon said reopening the pact would “condemn the region to complete backwardness” as India, China and the European Union are increasing their competitiveness while Bush argued those “who say get rid of NAFTA as a throwaway political line” are playing with fire because ditching the agreement would cost jobs and investment in all three countries.

Harper said the deal has been good for North America and that the Canadian government’s preference is not to renegotiate it. But he said Canada would be ready to face such eventuality if necessary. Harper stressed Canada’s preferred trump card in any future negotiations. “Canada is the United States’ No. 1 supplier of energy,” he said. “We are a secure and stable supplier that is of critical importance to the future of the United States. If we have to look at this kind of an option (a renegotiation), I say quite frankly, you know, we would be in an even stronger position now than we were 20 years ago. And we will be in a stronger position in the future.” Bush agreed America’s neighbours were as secure and stable oil suppliers as one could hope for of oil at a time when prices are going through the roof at almost $120 US a barrel.

This week the CIBC warned Canada may see $1.40 gas prices this summer, adding that they could climb well over $2.25 a litre by 2012. But at the same time the free-trade agreement commits Canada to keeping up its energy supplies to the United States even in times of shortages at home, in effect requiring that cuts to U.S. buyers be no deeper than they would be to Canadians. U.S. ambassador David Wilkins, a Bush appointee, also gave a nod of approval to Harper's decision to play the energy card. "I don't think anybody can fault the prime minister for putting that out there on the table because it certainly makes sense for Canada to say that."

But Clinton and Obama may have been too wrapped-up in their ever-so-tight campaign to notice, even as political watchers find Clinton will not be able to match her opponent’s lead in the delegate count before this summer’s convention. Obama enjoys a lead of over 130 pledged delegates. Still Clinton’s strong support among working-class white voters, the same thought to be most concerned by NAFTA, a base considered key to winning the White House in November, managed to keep her in the race.

“It’s a long road to 1600 Pennsylvania avenue and it runs right through the heart of Pennsylvania,” Clinton said to cheering supporters in Philadelphia Tuesday joined by her husband Bill and daughter Chelsea. She said she would be able to lead “on day one,” stressing arguments she would be the most experienced candidate. “This is a historic race,” she said. “Tonight more than ever I need your help to continue this journey. Your support has made a difference between winning and losing,” she said before pleading for funds for her out-spent campaign.

“Some people counted me out and said to drop out but the American people don’t quit and deserve a president who doesn’t quit either,” she said. “Because of you the tide is turning.” The victory could give Clinton a much-needed shot of momentum and may have kept fence-sitting super-delegates from leaping to Obama as Democrats brace for several more weeks of bare-knuckled campaigning in a contest that has exposed deep divisions within the party.

In a speech in Evansville, Indiana, Obama focused his attention on the republican candidate rather than Clinton, saying the U.S. had had enough of the way it had been run for the last years. “This is our chance to say not this year, not this time,” he said repeating his familiar refrain. There has been growing concern amid the Democratic National Committee that the slugfest could weaken the contenders in the face of an opposition united behind Senator John McCain.

There is also concern that if it comes to convincing super-delegates to vote against Obama, that the population would react negatively to a candidate winning the popular vote, state and delegate count but losing the nomination. Especially should it happen to a black candidate who managed to garner support across racial lines.

Clinton has repeatedly vowed to remain in the race until all the ballots are counted but insiders say she may get the nod to stop her campaign if a better-funded Obama looks too strong to overcome, if only to avoid a nasty campaign from turning off undecided voters about the Democratic party. Clinton said she planned to keep going “until everybody’s had a chance to vote in this process,” including Democrats in Florida and Michigan, whose primaries were declared invalid because they broke party rules. She won both but Obama did not stand in one of them.

Divisions in the electorate appeared at the exit polls where 92 per cent of African American voters supported Obama while roughly 60 per cent of white voters in Pennsylvania voted for Clinton. Obama may have lost working-class white voters earlier this month after he said “bitter” small-town Pennsylvanians cling to guns and religion for support in bad economic times. The candidate has often been criticized as "elitist," a critique some say could hurt him against McCain in those key blue-collar areas in the fall, but one which some analysts find surprising considering he is the only candidate whose mother once had to collect food stamps.

Médailles d'or... bien avant les Jeux

Tandis que la flamme olympique peine à se frayer un chemin entre les manifestants de Canberra à New Delhi, sur fond de crise du Tibet, la Chine rafle déjà certaines médailles douteuses. Le pays le plus peuplé de la planête a en effet en peu de temps remporté les médailles d’or en matière de pollution atmosphérique et d’exécutions sommaires.

Alors que Pékin tentait d’accélérer la mise en place de mesures destinées à réduire la pollution avant la tenue des Jeux, la Chine se voyait décerné la palme de plus important pollueur, un titre anciennement réservé aux Etats-Unis. Selon une étude américaine en cours les chiffres relatifs aux émissions de gaz à effet de serre seraient tels que la Chine aurait même dépassé les Etats-Unis à ce chapitre l’an dernier, époque à laquelle les niveaux de pollution auraient pu être sous-estimés.

Alors que certains athlètes se désistaient en raison des risques posés par la pollution, et que la fédération athlétique australienne analysait ses athlètes susceptibles de souffrir d’asthme aux Jeux, le président du CIO Jacques Rogue s’empressait de reconnaitre que certains athlètes éprouveraient des difficultés, mais en ajoutant qu'ils ne feraient face à aucun danger réel.

A une centaine de jours des JOs la Chine annonçait qu’elle renforçait ses mesures afin de combattre la pollution lors de l’événement. Pékin prévoit entre autre suspendre les travaux de terrassement entre le 20 juillet et 20 septembre, une période qui compte les Jeux Parolympiques. Les industries les plus polluantes doivent également réduire leurs émissions de 30%, des mesures visant non seulement Pékin mais aussi les provinces voisines, jusqu’en Mongolie intérieure.

La mission n’est pas gratuite et explique entre autre le refus de certaines puissances, comme les Etats-Unis, de suivre les objectifs de Kyoto en raison des coûts économiques de mesures aussi draconiennes: la facture est estimée à 15 milliards de dollars. Les mesures, évidemment, ne sont que temporaires, et parviendront mal à entacher… le palmarès chinois en matière de pollution. L’équipe de l’université de Californie à l’origine de l’étude environnementale trouvait d’ailleurs troublant que la croissance soutenue de pays en voie de développement puisse contrer tous les efforts environnementaux de pays riches respectant les normes de Kyoto, dont le traité n’a d’ailleurs été ni signé par la Chine, ni les Etats-Unis. Ces chiffres d’académiciens ne surprendront pas les statisticiens qui depuis quelques temps observent que la Chine compte les villes les plus polluées au monde.

Un autre palmarès digne de mention ? La place de la Chine au chapitre des exécutions, qui se chiffrent à plus d’une par jour, de loin le pays le plus porté à concrétiser une peine capitale, selon Amnistie Internationale. Une soixantaine de crimes peuvent mener à une condamnation à mort en Chine, où quelques 470 personnes ont été exécutées l’an dernier. Amnistie ne se gêne pas de multiplier ce chiffre par 20 fois, estimant que « le voile doit être levé s’agissant de la peine capitale » en Chine.

L’organisation a recensé 1,252 exécutions officielles dans 24 pays en 2007 et plus du double de personnes condamnées à mort. Cinq pays se partagent la part du lion et sont responsables de 88 pourcent des cas: soit la Chine, l’Arabie Saoudite, les Etats-Unis, le Pakistan et l’Iran, selon Amnistie. « En tant que bourreau le plus important au monde, la Chine remporte la médaille d’or au niveau des exécutions, estime la directrice du chapitre britannique de l’organisation, Kate Allen. Selon des estimés raisonnables (puisque les chiffres officiels sont secrets) la Chine exécuterait en moyenne 22 prisonniers par jour, ce qui signifierait 374 personnes durant la tenue des JOs ».

Les crimes pouvant mener à une condamnation à mort sont loin d’être toujours crapuleux, et incluent la fraude fiscale, le vol des factures de taxes, accepter des pots-de-vins et endommager des installations électriques. Devant tant de critique internationale la Chine a en fin de semaine finalement proposé de reprendre le dialogue avec un représentant du dalaï lama, une annonce surprise qui sera tout de même bien accueillie dans les pays occidentaux, à moins de quatre mois des jeux Olympiques de Pékin.


Nepal goes to the polls

Anywhere else it would just have been a minor traffic accident, but in Nepal, it was quickly viewed as a terrible omen. On April 13, during one of the dozens of annual Hindu festivals widely observed in the Himalayan kingdom, a 20-metre pole fell off a wooden chariot, injuring eight people. Almost immediately the religious adviser to Nepal’s embattled King Gyanendra said the apparently innocuous incident was being taken very seriously behind the walls of the royal palace.

“I can guarantee you this is not a good sign for the country,” said Madhab Bhattarai, a Hindu priest, guru and close aide to the king for years also known as “Great Teacher.” “This is a bad omen for those who run the nation. It signals that there will be some kind of big accident,” he told AFP. "I have suggested to the palace to perform certain special rituals as they are a bit worried." The wheels may as well have fallen off the royal chariot.

And perhaps to a monarchy scarred by a bloody recent history and hunted down by ultra-republican Maoists that have won the most seats in recent elections, though not enough to form a majority, that was the message the rest of us may have missed. The incident happened as electoral returns were coming in following a rare date at the polls to choose a special assembly that will rewrite the Constitution and showed the guerilla winning most of the seats of the 601-member Constituent Assembly.

A loss at the polls would be dearly felt by Gyanendra, considered by followers to be a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who seized absolute power to fight these same Maoists in 2005 after years of royal turmoil. Gyanendra ascended the throne in 2001 when his brother and predecessor, King Birendra, was shot dead at a party along with eight other family members by a drunk crown prince, who eventually took his own life. Under Gyanendra’s tenure the rebels agreed to put down their weapons under a historic 2006 peace deal that led to the election, the first since 1999, but not before more bloodletting and intimidation ahead of voting day which killed scores of people including two candidates.

In addition the last year wasn’t kind to Gyanendra personally as his son and heir, Crown Prince Paras, was rushed to hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. One could say the monarchy has experienced a massive coronary of its own. Gyanendra has been stripped of all his powers, including his role as head of state and army commander, and was recently told by the Maoists to either adapt to life as a “common citizen” or face trial and ”strong punishment."

For ordinary citizens however, the vote was an experience that flirted with the spiritual. Teacher Navaraj Suwal said Nepal had never had elections like this before. “This election will determine the kind of laws that will be around for the next hundred years,” he said. The new assembly will have to deal with a litany of problems facing one of the world’s poorest countries, and profound debates including whether the country should abolish its 240-year-old monarchy and how to represent its traditionally marginalized ethnic and caste groups. Upper-caste men have dominated Nepal’s politics.

Some have welcomed the Maoists, especially members of low-caste or outcast Hindu groups, if only because they could open the door to equality. Charismatic Maoist leader Prachanda, likely the next prime minister, has drawn support for promising a “bourgeois democratic revolution” to dismantle Nepal’s vestiges of feudalism and end caste-based discrimination.

This won’t be music to the ears of Nepal’s neighbour and traditional partner, India, which used to back Gyanendra and later played an important role in the Nepalese peace process, all the while struggling with its own Maoist insurgency. But it beats having another crisis to worry about along the border.


The tortured relay of the torch

Athletes carrying the Olympic torch in its tortured route across a number of countries on the way to the Beijing Games have had to jump obstacles and dodge protesters the moment the flame was sun-lit in Greece. Calls have been growing for a boycott and while no country has signed on, Tibetan groups across the world have called for the relay not to pass through Tibet, the site of last month’s protests turned violent, while a number of leaders have said they will not attend Olympic ceremonies.

When the torch relay route was announced with much fanfare, organizers were proud to say that it would traverse the longest distance, cover the greatest area and include the largest number of people, but those 130 days of travelling 137,000 kilometers are proving a long an painful obstacle course for those who partake in it. At least they have their health.

From the moment the torch was lit in a traditional ceremony in Olympia, participants have had to zig-zag between protesters infuriated by China’s handling of Tibetan protest last month that turned violent and killed some 20 people according to Beijing, as many as five times more people according to Tibetan organizations.

Over the weekend torch-bearers in London had to struggle with both poor weather and protesters, some managing to squeeze between an army of bodyguards in track suits there to protect the relay. The following day in Paris the relay route had to be cut short due to more protests. Protests over China’s crackdown on Tibet forced organizers in the French capital to put the torch on a bus to protect it from demonstrators. After being extinguished several times, the flame was bused to a stadium in south Paris for its final stop. Numerous demonstrators were arrested and hauled off in police vans, eliciting howls that police were showing the same disrespect for democratic values shown regularly by authorities in China.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising France had such a poor welcome for the torch. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he could not “close the door” to the idea of skipping part of the Beijing Games. His foreign minister has been known to support the Tibetan cause. Some Eastern European leaders said they would not attend the Games, while the U.N. Secretary-general and British PM Gordon Brown said they would miss the opening ceremonies. Canada's Stephen Harper was still weighing his decision while cabinet was pondering a possible boycott.

It seems the spotlight has indeed fallen on China in 2008, but for all the wrong reasons, Olympic officials going so far as to hint cutting the international leg of the torch relay. IOC President Rogge once said that “by travelling along the historic ‘Silk Road’, a symbol of ancient trade links between China and the rest of the world, crossing the five continents and going to new places, the Beijing 2008 Torch Relay will, as its theme says, be a ‘Journey of Harmony’, bringing friendship and respect to people of different nationalities, races and creeds,” but these different nationalities are proving to be an obstacle for Beijing’s big coming of age party in August.

While protests have once again sprouted in some Tibetan areas of China over the weekend, there are signs they may have ignited nationalist outbreaks in another region of China which has decried attempts by the Han Chinese to assimilate locals, the Western and Turkic Muslim province of Xinjiang. “I’ve travelled here from Holland today. This can make a difference,” said protester Asr Srwut next to the Arc de Triomphe. The 38-year-old is originally from Xinjiang, home to the country’s Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, and there are signs of rising tensions there since the Tibet incidents.

Like Tibetans, the Uighur resent Chinese interference in the practice of their faith, but feel particularly victimized as Chinese authorities used the Sept. 11 attacks as excuse to crack down against what they considered Muslim terrorism. Residents near the city of Gulja said about 25 local Muslims were arrested last week after authorities were tipped that they were making bombs. Local officials say it was part of a conspiracy to undermine Communist rule in the region. “They claim that Xinjiang belong to them and want to drive all the Han people out,” retired local party official Hong Xiuhua told the New York Times.

As in Tibet, Chinese authorities have tried to win locals over with economic growth, an effort led by settlements set up by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which according to the Wall St. Journal is an outgrowth of the People’s Liberation Army conveniently coupling economic advancement with the need for security. “The battle against ethnic separatism and invasion has never stopped,” the Corps’ vice-secretary general, Zhao Guangyong tells the business paper, adding the Corps play a “very important role in promoting national unity.”

But analysts such as Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch see just the opposite. “People feel their cultural identity is being threatened.” Not just that, many are protesting that Chinese settlers are the only ones in Xinjiang to profit from the region’s economic growth. Just over a week after the March 14 Tibet incidents, about 500 Uighurs gathered in the city of Hotan, hoisting banners and shouting pro-independence slogans, urging fellow Uighurs to join the movement, before police moved in and arrested many of them.

A decade earlier police tactics were less forgiving, a dozen demonstrators having been killed in 1997 during a previous wave of protests, Uighur human rights advocates say. There has been a string of other incidents in recent weeks, though some unverified. On March 18 rumours spread in Urumqi that an Uighur woman had detonated a bomb on a city bus. Chinese authorities said at about the same time they arrested another Uighur woman who was part of what they said was a separatist plot to hijack a jetliner. The month before Chinese police raided what they called a meeting of Islamic terrorists, shooting and killing two and arresting a dozen more.

More recently some 70 Uighur were arrested in the city of Kashgar, an important religious center, in a sweep to secure the city before the arrival of the torch, something some may argue is hardly in keeping with the spirit of the Games. While Uighur groups hardly have the international appeal of Tibetan groups, or as popular a spiritual leader at their head, they were just as vocal about what they called Beijing’s attempt to use the Olympics to crack down on minorities.

“One world, one dream? Is that right?”mocked Dilxat Raxit of the World Uighur Congress, referring to the motto of the Games. "The Uighurs have a different dream. We don’t want the Olympics there.” Asr agreed. “I’ve always been against giving the Olympic Games to China,” he told the BBC. “They simply don’t deserve it. But what’s happened recently in Tibet really does prove they’re not fit to be the hosts."

Uighurs have been popping up around the torch relay route, previously hundreds gathered to protest as the flame arrived in Istanbul. The welcome will hardly feel warmer as the flame travels through Xinjiang as the torch arrives in China. The region lies astride on the Silk Road Olympic officials once looked at with great enthusiasm, before growing protests from Athens to San Francisco turned the relay into an Olympic event many organizers are now wishing simply went away.

Beijing may have sought to draw attention away from the controversy when it announced this week that it was detaining 45 East Turkestan, or  Uighur, terrorist suspects, allegedly foiling plots to carry out suicide bomb attacks and kidnap athletes during the Olympics. 


Un second tour au Zimbabwe?

Sachant qu'il est d'une espèce en voie de disparition, Robert Mugabe, le tyran octagénaire du Zimbabwe, dernier des révolutionnaires indépendantistes, prépare sans doute son prochain geste de mépris en vue de conserver le pouvoir, mais il n’y a nul doute que les législatives du 29 mars ont ébranlé la forteresse du Zanu-PF qui depuis 28 ans garde le pays avec une poigne de fer.

Alors que des comptes électoraux se font toujours attendre, ses proches préparaient un second tour de présidentielle après l'échec historique du Zanu-PF, le parti au pouvoir depuis l’indépendance, arrivé second au scrutin législatif où 99 des 210 sièges de l’assemblée sont passés au parti principal de l’opposition, le Mouvement pour le changement démocratique (MDC) de Morgan Tsvangirai. Le martyre de l’opposition, souvent battu physiquement, est dorénavant l'homme à battre dans les bureaux de scrutin.

Celui-ci estime d’ailleurs que la lenteur avec laquelle sont dévoilés les résultats cache la manigance la plus récente de Mugabe afin de rester le seul maître du Zimbabwe depuis l'indépendance. Selon Tsvangirai, même les législatives n’ont pas été aussi serrées que les résultats ne le laissent entendre, puis le chef du MDC doute qu’il n’ait pas déjà obtenu la moitié de la faveur électorale aux présidentielles, évitant un second tour. Selon Tsvangirai un second tour engendrait des violences: "Ce pays ne peut pas se permettre un second tour, ceci polariserait et trauma- tiserait la nation”, insiste-t-il.

Mais des supporters de Mugabe menacent également de passer à la violence s'il perdait l'élection. Un second tour présidentiel, rejeté par le MDC, pourrait pourtant avoir lieu, tandis que le Zanu-PF exige un recomptage aux législatives. Le parti de Mugabe conteste à sa façon les résultats parlementaires, puisque le vote populaire aurait été à la faveur du Zanu-PF avec 45.9% des voix contre 42.8%.

Pour plusieurs pays dont le Canada, la nouvelle répartition des sièges est déjà prometteuse : « Il s’agit d’une occasion d’apporter des changements concrets et considérables sur le plan démocratique au Zimbabwe. Plus précisément, nous espérons que le nouveau gouvernement zimbabwéen mettra en œuvre des politiques qui amélioreront la situation des droits de la personne au Zimbabwe ». En revanche les Etats-Unis ont été plus critiques envers l’appel au second tour, évoquant la possibilité d’une «arnaque».

“Nous avons gagné l’élection présidentielle haut la main, sans avoir besoin d’un deuxième tour”, affirmait le secrétaire général du MDC Tendai Biti, dont le parti estime que Tsvangirai a obtenu suffisamment de voix, soit 50,3%, pour éviter un nouvel appel aux urnes, et exige que le chef de l’Etat zimbabwéen reconnaisse la défaite.

Les signes de rejet se perpétuaient, malgré la lenteur plutôt douteuse dans la publication des résultats, ceux du Sénat - qui se font au compte-gouttes – donnant un léger avantage au MDC. Menacé de perdre une présidence aux urnes qu’il pourrait chercher à préserver par les armes, même si les forces de sécurité sont plutôt divisées, Mugabe ne peut déjà plus compter sur l’appui de deux ministres, rejetés par le scrutin législatif. Un ancien ministre dissident, Simba Makoni, a obtenu 6.8% des voix lors du scrutin.

L’appel à la tenue second tour du Zanu-PF à peine prononcé, les forces de l’ordre arrêtaient deux journalistes accusés de tenter de couvrir l’élection sans accréditation tandis que la police  pénétrait dans des locaux du MDC. Alors que la justice tarde à trancher sur le dévoilement des résultats, l'opposition constate une recrudescence de la violence policière. Mais ses membres, sentant peut-être le vent tourner, rejettent l’idée de prendre la fuite. « Vous ne pouvez pas fuir le fascisme, estimait Biti, le Zimbabwe est un petit pays, alors nous n’allons pas nous cacher. Nous allons seulement faire plus attention."

Selon certaines rumeurs la Communauté de développement d’Afrique australe, qui a convoqué un sommet d’urgence, tenterait de convaincre Mugabe de se retirer dans la dignité afin d’éviter un sanglant épisode comme celui qui a eu lieu au Kenya, où des violences ont fait 1500 morts après l’élection contestée de décembre. On favoriserait un retrait du chef de l’Etat en échange d’une impunité pour les violations des droits de l’Homme, nombreuses, commises sous son régime. Une autre option pourrait être l’exil, dans un pays ami comme la Malaisie.

Mais Mugabe n’a sans doute pas encore dit son dernier mot. L’élection précédente au Zimbabwe, que l’opposition prétendait également avoir gagné, n’a pas donné lieu à un tel spectacle. Mais depuis, le Zimbabwe, ancien grenier de l'Afrique, n'a fait que davantage s'enfoncer dans le marasme, lui qui parvient à présent mal à se nourrir, dont l’inflation dépasse 100000 %, dévalorisant la monnaie de manière brutale, et dont les pénuries de nourriture et de carburant sont durement ressenties au sein d'une population dont le taux de chômage dépasse 80%.


Petits pas à la Havane

Les bateaux de croisière, nombreux encore en cette fin de saison hivernale, contournent l’île à 90 miles de Key West comme s’il s’agissait du triangle des Bermudes, même si cela signifie un plus long trajet pour parvenir à la prochaine escale ensoleillée. De retour au port, les passagers sont avertis de l’embargo qui sévit encore et toujours à propos des produits issus de cette île interdite aux Américains, mais dont ils gardent le pouls en raison de l’importante communauté d’exilés installée en Floride depuis presque cinq décennies.

La transition longuement attendue qui a eu lieu à la Havane en février dernier ne semblait pas longuement émouvoir la communauté d’expatriés peuplant Little Havana au cœur de Miami, et pourtant certains commencent déjà à se demander ce qui se trame dans leur ancienne patrie, depuis l’annonce de certaines réformes sur l’île depuis l’arrivée de Raul.

Au début du mois le gouvernement annonçait une nouvelle levée d’interdiction visant ses citoyens, leur permettant dorénavant de loger aux hôtels précédemment réservés aux touristes et autres étrangers de passage. Cet Apartheid excluait ironiquement le peuple cubain d’immeubles historiques comme le Nacional, tout près du Malecon et du barrio revolucionario. La semaine précédente, les réformes en matière de communication et de technologie avaient franchi un nouveau pas avec l’autorisation qui permettait un accès sans limites en matière de téléphone cellulaire.

Pour certains ces nouvelles libertés ne sont destinées encore une fois qu’aux mieux nantis qui peuvent se payer des objets et accès de luxe, sur une île où le salaire moyen ne dépasse pas $20 par mois. C’est bien l’avis de Juan Suarez, un auteur exilé qui expose ses œuvres à la feria des communautés « en exil » de la petite Havane à Miami: « Qui pensez-vous peuvent se payer de telles sommes, alors qu’un Cubain gagne en moyenne 11 dollars par mois! » Pour Suarez, la transition n’est que la suite d’un même régime.

A deux pas de lui, Blanca Garcia, auteure de plusieurs livres dont « le cachot de la torture », également exilée à Miami depuis les premières heures de la révolution, craint pire encore sous Raul : « Il est pire. Quand il était petit il prenait plaisir à étrangler les chats en les regardant droit dans les yeux, dit-elle. Il est bien gentil avec les membres de sa famille, mais à par ça… »

Pour d’autres pourtant, ces petits changements constituent un pas presque révolutionnaire, venant peu après les nouvelles réglementations donnant accès à plusieurs objets jadis bannis, comme les ordinateurs, DVD et fours micro-ondes. Apparemment la location d’automobiles serait également en train de se libéraliser. Mais internet restera très encadré, et la plupart de ces biens sont déjà disponibles sur le marché noir et ne seront disponibles ouvertement qu’à ceux qui peuvent se mettre la main sur des devises convertibles, ce qui n’est pas le cas du peso ordinaire.

Certains observateurs s’empressent de dire que ces pas de nains se tournent dans le bonne direction, mais on est encore loin des réformes économiques et sociales nécessaires pour libéraliser le pays : « Comme symbole, oui c’est important, estime l’économiste dissident Oscar Espinosa au Miami Herald. Il faut comprendre qu’il s’agit d’un renversement de politiques qui sont en place depuis des années et des années. Qui pouvait penser qu’un Cubain pourrait se procurer son propre téléphone cellulaire? Personne ne pouvait l’imaginer. Je suis persuadé que plusieurs Cubains ne savent même pas ce que c’est.”

Les Cubains restent fiers malgré leur pauvreté relative, et sont les premiers à faire remarquer qu’à Cuba on ne crève pas de faim, comme dans certaines régions d’Afrique. Mais au niveau des télécommunications de portable et d’internet, les chiffres mettent l’île de Fidel dans le même camp que le continent noir.

Alors que la révolucion a pris naissance dans le maquis et les campagnes, une prochaine vague de réformes, la plus récente en moins de deux mois, pourrait aussi s’emparer du secteur agricole, et même d'un secteur de la santé dont sont si fiers les auteurs de la révolution: « La question qu’il faut se poser est à savoir si Raul est près à permettre une plus grande ouverture et laisser l’information circuler plus librement avec ces nouvelles réglementations sur les portables, dit Andy Gomez de l’institut cubain de l’université de Miami. Je pense qu’il ne s’agit que d’un truc permettant au gouvernement de mieux surveiller les Cubains » plutôt que le début d’une ère de glasnost avec un air de rumba. Après tout, que faire avec un four micro-ondes quand les maisons sont sérieusement délabrées et les coupures de courant sont fréquentes?


Bhutan goes to the polls

It’s spectacular enough when a dictator decides to relinquish power, but when an absolute monarch decides to hold parliamentary elections to convert the regime into a constitutional monarchy, it’s enough for the world to stop and take notice, no matter how small and overshadowed by giant neighbours it might be.

Such was the case in Bhutan last month where the peaceful transition was so unusual the head of state, 28-year-old king Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck, had to convince his own people of the need to elect its leaders and build governance from the ground up. Making sure a kingdom little-known to the outside world and more associated with robed monks and spectacular plateaus stays on the path of modernity has been done in timid but progressive steps since the early 1960s, in an effort to preserve Bhutanese culture at the same time.

Televisions and the Internet weren’t allowed until 1999. Ever preserving its strong sense of spirituality, the kingdom has sought to marry modernism with traditional values thanks to a policy of promoting “Gross National Happiness” - based on the idea that economic growth should be balanced by respect for spiritual traditions and the environment.

Still, the more recent changes were not easy to accept for some of the Himalayan kingdom’s 2 million people, who have watched on as a neighbouring Himalayan Buddhist kingdom, Tibet, struggled to balance development and survival of traditions, and witnessed regional democracies such as India struggle with electoral violence.

In addition, what the quiet and often overlooked little kingdom lacked politically it could boast economically, prospering in comparison to neighbouring democracies. Its average annual of income of $1,400 when former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck - the current king’s father - urged his people to make a giant leap of democracy in 2006, was twice India’s, and nearly all its people had access to schools and hospitals, a luxury fit for kings in this impoverished region home to a number of failed democracies.

Still about one-fifth of the country lives in poverty and youth unemployment has risen sharply in recent years. “There was much resistance when His Majesty told us that we must decide our future if Bhutan was to prosper,” Karma Dorji, a 55-year-old civil servant waiting to vote in Thimphu, the capital, told AP. “Everyone is very sad to see the king stand down,” 42-year-old businessman Kinley Penjor told Reuters. “But I think democracy will be good. In the past if you went to a minister about your problems - well there is always a little bit of corruption, even in Bhutan, or it might be decided according to his mood… Now we can elect the best candidates.”

But hesitating to stray too much from the monarchy, voters in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, with no apparent enthusiasm or rush to the polls, elected the more royalist of two former prime ministers fighting for the post of head of government. Jigmi Kinley, who twice served as premier under royal rule, and his Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, swept 44 of the parliament’s 47 seats. The party’s spokesman, Palden Tshering, called the win a “victory for His Majesty.” In fact, both main candidates, Kinley and Sangay Ngedup of the People’s Democratic Party, stayed close to the king’s vision, embracing “His Majesty’s vision”, and championing GNH.

The candidates promised lower poverty and better infrastructure but were prevented from speaking about anything touching security or citizenship, a decade after more than 1,000 ethnic Nepalis were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s when the government imposed strict citizenship rules. Many now live in neighbouring Nepal where they are demanding the right to return. Wangchuck will in all probability retain some influence, but the institutional change is worrying to a people apparently more afraid of democracy than heights.

“How does this end? Do we become India or worse, Pakistan? Are people going to riot every time a politician says so?” asked Phuntso Lhamo, a 23-year-old student, as she waited to vote. The question was legitimate as eight deaths marred the eve of a historic election intended to bolster peace in nearby Nepal.


The rising price of food

This week when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak decided to cope with food shortages he ordered the army to increase the production and distribution of bread. For weeks rising prices had sparked clashes in bakeries in poorer areas, leading to several deaths. That’s how serious a world crisis sparked by rising food prices - wheat prices in particular jumping some 92 percent over the last year - has become, causing food riots and disruptions everywhere from Mexico to Pakistan and anywhere in between.
 
The crisis is slowly being felt in the West, Canadians showing increasing signs of being squeezed by food prices, but the world’s poorest are most at risk according to Josette Sheeran, head of the U.N. World Food Programme. “This is the new face of hunger,” she said recently, expressing concern basic food prices could continue to rise until 2010. The crisis is a major problem for the governments of developing nations, even usually peaceful ones, dealing with the wrath of a struggling population. “This is a serious security issue,” Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute told Time magazine.
 
Blamed for the rising prices are a basic combination of rise in demand and slumping offer. The consumption rise is notably in flourishing countries such as India and China where more are leaving the country-side to earn greater wages in the cities where they can buy more food. Meanwhile in the West farmers are being lured away from the usual crops to develop biofuels embraced in the world’s fight against pollution and global warming. This has made the price of corn rise about 44% over the past 15 months. “The prices of basic staples — wheat, corn, rice — are at record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months,” said U.N. Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon in a rare letter of appeal, stressing the crisis was sparking riots worldwide and threatened Millennium Development Goals aiming to reduce the proportion of hungry people by half by 2015.
 
In some countries, prices for milk and meat have more than doubled. In addition global stockpiles of basic foods have hit new lows. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization the global supply of wheat is the lowest it’s been in the last 50 years, covering just five week’s worth of food consumption. What you would expect to be a boon for the world’s farmers, especially in developing countries, falls well short of that because wages, as in other sectors, have not been able to keep up with food prices. In addition climate change - such as desertification - and freak weather events are no help to crops while oil prices of over $100 a barrel are “affecting the entire value chain of food production, from fertiliser to harvesting to storage and delivering” according to the WFP.
 
That means more trouble ahead for countries expected to feel the impact harshly, from Chad to Zimbabwe, Cuba to Tajikistan, the WFP says. As countries have a harder time feeding their own people, they are less likely to export, cutting food supplies to others. “You’re going to have real problems in countries that are food short, because we’re already getting embargoes on food exports from countries, who were trying desperately to sell their stuff before, but now they’re embargoing exports,” Donald Coxe, global portfolio strategist at BMO Financial Group, told the Financial Post, citing Russia and India as examples.
 
This month the WFP began providing emergency food assistance to millions of Afghans who can no longer afford to buy wheat and wheat flour, staples of the Afghan diet. Expected to act to bring relief to these hard-hit areas, the WFP says it, along with other relief agencies, is doubly strained because the costs are hurting its programs as well. “Last year, WFP estimated it would need US$2.9 billion to cover 2008 project needs. Soaring food and fuel prices now means it needs at least half a billion dollars more than it had anticipated,” the agency says. “The new estimated figure to cover 2008 projects is US$3.4 billion. This would not cover funding for any unforeseen emergency operations.”
 
WFP has approved projects to feed 73 million in 78 countries in 2008. It’s not alone to face cuts. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the WFP’s greatest donor, was forced to cut $120 million from future aid programs to pay for current commitments, a result of commodity expenses which have soared 41 percent. U.S. agencies are doubly hit by the drop of the dollar.
 
To boost food production in the context of soaring world food prices, senior government officials from Eastern Europe were meeting with executives from the private agribusiness sector this week to try to boost agricultural investments. At the meeting European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and FAO officials said there was significant untapped agricultural production potential in the Eastern Europe and the former USSR, especially in countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, where around 23 million hectares of arable land were withdrawn from production in recent years. At least 13 million hectares could be returned to production, with no major environmental cost, officials said.
 
Meanwhile to boost its own immediate food needs, Egypt called for its army and interior ministry, which control numerous bakeries normally used to supply bread for troops and police, to deal with current shortrages. “Bread should be provided to the citizens and the lines should disappear,” Mubarak was quoted as saying. But it may not be for long.


Des nouvelles robes en feu

En cette année d’épanouissement international et de fête du sport amateur, ce n’est pas le spectacle que Pékin avait prévu. Les autorités chinoises ont demandé aux touristes, qu’ils veulent pourtant en grand nombre en cette années des Jeux Olympiques, de quitter la capitale tibétaine après des incidents ayant fait une douzaine de morts selon les autorités, mais beaucoup plus selon des sources tibétaines.

Ces manifestations de moines bouddhistes, tibétains ceux-là, dégénérant at aboutissant au tir des forces de l’ordre, mettait une certaine puissance mondiale plutôt dans le camp des parias birmans que des nouveaux rois du sino-capitalisme. Les manifestations les plus importantes depuis près de 20 ans contre la domination chinoise sur le Tibet avaient été initialement dirigées par plusieurs centaines de moines qui réclamaient la libération de confrères arrêtés à l’automne, avant de s’amplifier et de prendre une saveur plus politique.

La mauvaise tournure des manifestations à Lhassa contre le pouvoir, virant à la violence et au paysage de véhicules et de commerces incendiés, a aussitôt fait réagir les Etats-Unis et l’Union européenne, qui ont appelé la Chine à faire preuve de “retenue” tandis que le chef spirituel, le dalai-lama, demandait à Pékin de ne pas recourir à la force contre les protestataires.

A Dharamsala, en Inde, le dalai-lama a tout de même reconnu dans les manifestations “une expression du ressentiment très profond du peuple tibétain” mais a aussi exhorté les Tibétains à “ne pas recourir à la violence”, menaçant même de remettre sa démission si les violences se poursuivaient. Il a tout de même accusé Pékin de mettre en place un “génocide culturel” au Tibet, mais n'a pas exclu un certain dialogue avec Pékin.

Pourtant le gouvernement régional chinois affirmait pouvoir démontrer que “les troubles à Lhassa ont été orchestrés par la clique du dalai-lama” estimant que “le récent sabotage à Lhassa était organisé, prémédité, et orchestré,” des propos repris par le premier ministre Wen Jiabao. De son côté la Maison Blanche enjoignait Pékin à “respecter la culture tibétaine” tout en encourageant un dialogue entre Pékin et le dalai-lama. Mais certains reconnaissent que le moment était plutôt mal choisi de retirer la Chine de la liste américaine des 10 pays avec la pire fiche en matière de droits de l’homme.

Selon la presse officielle chinoise 16 personnes sont mortes lors des manifestations, des victimes brûlées par les manifestants selon elle. Mais l’entourage du dalai-lama, qui exige une enquête internationale, parle plutôt de 100 victimes de tirs des forces de l’ordre. A quelques semaines du début du relai de la flamme olympique, Pékin s'est empressé de dire que les policiers n’avaient pas tiré sur les manifestants mais en l’air pour tenter de les disperser, avant d'admettre qu'il y avait peut-être eu certaines exceptions.

Les autorités accusent les manifestants, et même certains moines, d’avoir mis le feu à certains commerces et lancé des pierres en direction des policiers. Des commerces principalement détenus par des chinois auraient été ciblés, rappel des tensions persistantes dans une région saisie par la sinisation à outrance de Pékin depuis son annexion en 1951. L’armée chinoise a fait sentir sa présence dans plusieurs régions du Tibet, bloquant des chemins pour limiter l’accès à la capitale tibétaine et effectuant plusieurs arrestations.

“C’était le chaos partout”, a témoigné un guide tibétain sous couvert d’anonymat, précisant qu’une rue traversant le centre historique de Lhassa, “semblait en feu”. Selon lui, des policiers armés et en tenue anti-émeute soutenus par des véhicules blindés bloquaient les principaux carrefours du centre-ville.

A quelques mois des Jeux Olympiques, la crise intervient à un moment plutôt délicat pour Pékin, qui s’est fait rappeler par le CIO que démocratie et esprit des jeux allaient de pair. A présent, plusieurs organisations poussent au boycott des JOs, ou du moins, demandent aux dirigeants internationaux de refuser toute invitation à se rendre sur place. “La France n’était pas partisane d’un boycott, mais la France peut attirer l’attention sur la concomitance entre les Jeux Olympiques et cette aspiration tibétaine que la Chine doit prendre en compte”, a dit de son côté le chef de la diplomatie française Bernard Kouchner, qui depuis longtemps soutient la cause tibétaine.

Une manifestation de soutien attirant des milliers de personnes à Katmandou, au Népal, a également mené à des heurts avec la police et fait une douzaine de moines bouddhistes blessés tandis qu’une autre contre l’ambassade de Chine à New Delhi a mené à plusieurs arrestations. Les manifestations se sont également répandues dans d'autres provinces de Chine. A travers le monde plusieurs manifestants ont critiqué la ligne dure de Pékin, qui a malgré tout observé une certaine retenue par rapport aux gestes du passé, sentant l’attention particulière dont elle fait l’objet.

Les manifestations ont éclaté à l’occasion de l’anniversaire du soulèvement de 1959 contre le pouvoir chinois qui avait conduit à l’exil du dalaï-lama et surviennent 20 ans mois pour mois après la mort d’environ 18 moines en 1988 lors de manifestations contre le régime, provoquées par l’arrestation d’un moine qui avait crié des slogans nationalistes lors de cérémonies religieuses. L’année suivante d’autres manifestations avaient abouti à l’imposition de la loi martiale, c’était quelques mois avant le massacre de Tian An Men.

L’arrestation brutale de moines en Birmanie l’automne dernier avait également donné lieu à d’importantes manifestations durement réprimées par le régime militaire. Depuis cette crise, qui avait vite donné lieu à une condamnation internationale, le régime a promis de faire un effort de démocratisation qui, selon plusieurs observateurs internationaux, n’est en fait qu’un leurre. La junte militaire au pouvoir en Birmanie a d’ailleurs récemment rejeté la suggestion des Nations unies de permettre à des observateurs indépendants de suivre le référendum national sur la nouvelle Constitution prévu pour mai.

Cette présence avait été suggérée par l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU, Ibrahim Gambari, qui avait servi de médiateur lors de la crise de l’an dernier, insistant que la présence d’observateurs renforcerait la crédibilité du référendum aux yeux de la communauté internationale. Le rejet du régime a été accueilli plutôt sèchement par le rapporteur spécial de l’ONU pour la situation des droits de l’homme en Birmanie, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, qui a ironisé : « Si vous croyez aux lutins, aux trolls et aux elfes, alors vous pouvez croire qu’il y a un processus de démocratie en cours en Birmanie ».

Il estime que les élections et le référendum constitutionnel promis par la junte « ne constituent pas un processus de transition démocratique » en rappelant que les militaires au pouvoir « répètent depuis huit ans qu’ils veulent la démocratie ». Le processus électoral a entre autre exclu la plus importante représentante du mouvement de contestation, la lauréate du prix Nobel et chef de l’opposition Aung San Suu Kyi.


Winter's deadly toll

The latest massive snowfalls across eastern Canada have left people wary of shovelling, their nerves sometimes even frayed, and a near-record amount of snow on the ground and roof tops across the region, causing shortages in everything from salt to snowblowers and even shovels. The death of three women working in a well-established Morin Heights bakery last week was the deadliest among a string of snow-related incidents over the last few weeks that have included everything from cases of snow rage to roof collapses blamed on large snow accumulations.

Just days before there were two incidents of Quebecers pulling out a gun during weather-related arguments. A gun collector in Quebec City threatened a female snowblower operator with a 12-gauge shotgun after she accidentally blew snow onto his parking space. At about the same time a man was arrested in Montreal after pulling a toy gun on another over a parking spot, in an area where they were few due to large snow accumulations.

But an even larger number of incidents involved cases of snow accumulation on business and residential buildings leading to either structural damage or evacuations prompted by their fear. In mid-February town officials in various Quebec municipalities were sending messages out to their communities about the risks of accumulating snow on roofs, balconies and other exposed surfaces.

Around then a storage facility collapsed under the weight of snow and ice in Trois-Rivieres, but was luckily empty at the time. Neighbouring buildings were evacuated as a preventive measure because authorities feared the outbreak of fire or a gas leak. The incident came a day after two incidents in Quebec City shook up local residents. Nicole Begin was watching television on the evening of Feb. 17 when the part of the roof covering her balcony collapsed under the weight of snow. “I thought it was the entire roof caving in,” Begin told French-language television. “I’m still shaking from it.” A similar incident happened in the same part of town later, waking up residents in the middle of the night.

Officials in both cities were urging businesses and residents to clear heavy snow accumulations regularly to avoid such incidents. “What worries me particularly are temporary parking shelters,” said Const. Michel Letarte of Trois-Rivieres police. “We have seen in some regions that accumulation has led to deadly collapses.” In December, a young Quebec woman died after one of these snow-laden car tents collapsed, burying her alive. A spokeswoman for the Canada Safety Council said the incident was far from common, but one year ago another man in Granby died after a snow-covered shelter collapsed on him and other workers.

Letarte also stressed the need to clear balconies, but added that urban centres were having a tough time finding room to dump the snow this year. “Where do we put all this snow? That’s the problem of major urban centres,” he said. The accumulation has indeed been so great that some towns, such as Longueuil on the south shore of Montreal, said they would stop clearing secondary streets for the rest of the winter. Officials in Gatineau similarly decided they were not going to clear some sidewalks across town for the rest of the year, choosing to let the sunshine do its work instead.

In Quebec City, a town ringing in its 400th anniversary with well over 400cm of snow, snow clearing budgets told the whole story: It would spend an additional $12 million on top of its annual budget of over $40 million to clear city streets. Soon after the Quebec City incidents, the city also sent an advisory urging residents to be cautious about accumulating snow. “The abundant snow of the last weeks and the current rain add to the weight on top of the structures and considerably increase the risk of collapse,” a city statement said.

Over the last weeks more incidents crept up across the East after another mammoth snowstorm dumped up to 50 centimetres of snow. The top of an Ottawa bungalow even cracked in two after the latest snowfall, luckily leaving no one injured. Then a shopping mall in the Montreal area was evacuated because of fears over the weight of the snow, just days after a pavilion of Laval University in Quebec City was evacuated following similar fears, clearing some 1,500 students.

School officials said they had to clear the building after realizing cracks were appearing on the walls and doors were having a hard time shutting. Engineers eventually opened the walls of the building and found its structure was under strain and needed reinforcements. A quick visit to the roof showed where the problem lay.

In the days leading to the Morin Heights disaster some 14 roof collapses of various size had been recorded in the Montreal area alone where some 347 centimetres of snow, 36 centimetres short of the record, had fallen. Among them three were major collapses, the rest partial cave-ins. All but one were commercial buildings. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries in one case. In another, the collapse caused a natural-gas leak. Roofs are typically built to withstand 40 pounds of weight per square inch, according to James Ross, a division chief with the Montreal fire department. That means the maximum they can hold is 17 centimetres of ice; or 38 centimetres of hard snow; or 70 centimetres of fluffy snow, he said.

During all these incidents injuries were kept to a minimum, until the collapse of the Gourmet du Village bakery in downtown Morin Heights, a major ski area 80 kilometres north of Montreal. While some 15 employees who had heard a loud crack made it out in time, three unfortunate women did not, and were stuck in the building when the snow-laden roof came down in a crash. They were all declared dead upon arrival in hospital.

The following days were marked by mourning, snow removal and province-wide warnings by everything from school boards to labour safety boards on the need to clear snow from rooftops. The town’s devastated mayor, Michel Plante, said the region having received between 40 and 50 centimetres of snow the previous weekend “should be enough of a warning sign.”

Finally that message was being taken seriously. Two days later the Montreal school board evacuated all its schools, some 90,000 students, as a preventive measure so that snow removal and examination of their roofs could be done. But the next few days provided another reminder of the risks of snow accumulations when a 55-year-old man died in the Shawinigan area when the roof of his home collapsed.

Insurance companies say the incidents, including three warehouse roof collapses this week, which caused no injuries, have not hurt their bottom line yet, but they're waiting to see what the next weeks have in store. The snow is expected to get heavier as it gets mixed with rain, and warmer weather could usher in a difficult flooding season this spring.


Entre deux mi-temps, la guerre

Faut-il s’étonner, dans une région où une rivalité de football a déjà parti une guerre, qu’on assiste une semaine à peine après une rupture diplomatique aboutissant à la mobilisation militaire, à une réconciliation toute aussi soudaine ? L’Amérique latine souffle à nouveau après une accolade entre les présidents de Colombie, d’Equateur et du Venezuela lors d’un sommet à Saint-Domingue du Groupe de Rio.

La scène était inimaginable, tout comme la mobilisation militaire aurait pu paraître précédemment, avant l’incursion de l’armée colombienne en territoire équatorien en début mars, au cours de laquelle le numéro deux des Forces armées révolutionnaires de Colombie (FARC), Raul Reyes, a été tué.

L’offensive avait mal été reçue entre autre au Venezuela, qui depuis des semaines joue aux médiateurs dans la crise opposant le FARC au gouvernement colombien. Les émissaires français, suisses et espagnols chargés de négocier la libération d’Ingrid Betancourt étaient d’ailleurs en route pour rencontrer Reyes, dans la jungle, à la frontière de la Colombie et de l’Equateur, lorsque l’armée colombienne l’a liquidé.

En solidarité avec l’Equateur, Caracas avait ordonné la fermeture de son ambassade à Bogota et l’expulsion de l’ambassadeur de Colombie à Caracas, au lendemain du raid transfrontalier. Le président Hugo Chavez, qui s’est personnellement impliqué dans le dossier des otages colombiens, a après le récent sommet aussitôt demandé à ses ministres de s’engager dans la voie de la pacification, accusant les Etats-Unis d’avoir été derrière la crise pour faire obstacle aux projets d’intégration latino-américains.

Chavez a également procédé au rappel des troupes envoyées en renfort à la frontière colombienne au plus fort de la crise. L’Equateur et le Venezuela avaient vite déployé des soldats aux frontières avec la Colombie, rompu les relations avec Bogota et condamné le raid qui a tué une vingtaine de rebelles en plus de Reyes. Le Nicaragua avait lui aussi sur le coup rompu ses relations diplomatiques avec la Colombie.

De son côté le président équatorien Rafael Correa a annoncé qu’il fallait “un peu de temps” pour rétablir les relations diplomatiques avec la Colombie, après les tensions des derniers jours. Il estimait qu’il serait “difficile de rétablir la confiance” dans le gouvernement du président colombien Alvaro Uribe, mais “nous allons converser et avancer.” Dans une interview accordée au quotidien argentin Clarin, Correa a dit que le calendrier de rétablissement des relations avec la Colombie dépendrait des actions du gouvernement colombien.

“Ne confondons pas tout, le problème n’est pas l’Equateur, le Pérou ou le Brésil, le problème est la Colombie. Nous sommes un pays neutre qui souffre de ce conflit”, a-t-il dit au journal.“(Le président colombien Alvaro) Uribe voulait nous accuser de comploter et d’accueillir ce qu’il appelle des terroristes. C’est une insulte”, a-t-il ajouté. “Nous sommes des victimes. Uribe doit garantir que ses voisins ne se retrouveront plus impliqués là-dedans.” Correa a appelé la Colombie à en faire davantage afin d’assurer la sécurité des frontières “ou alors accepter le déploiement d’une mission de paix internationale”.

La “Déclaration de Saint-Domingue”, adoptée par le Groupe de Rio, dénonce “la violation de l’intégrité territoriale de l’Equateur” et salue “les pleines excuses du président (colombien) Alvaro Uribe”, ainsi que “son engagement que de pareils actes ne se reproduisent sous aucune circonstance”. Le groupe s’est également engagé “à combattre les menaces (...) provenant de l’action de groupes irréguliers ou d’organisations criminelles, en particulier de celles liées au narcotrafic, considérées comme terroristes par la Colombie”.

Suite au sommet et à l’occasion de la journée Internationale de la Femme, Chavez, a à nouveau demandé au commandant en chef du FARC, Manuel Marulanda, de permettre la libération de l’ex-candidate à la présidentielle colombienne, Ingrid Betancourt, la dernière femme encore entre les mains des rebelles.

La mère de Betancourt, Yolanda Pulecio, a remercié Chavez et la sénatrice colombienne Piedad Cordoba de leur rôle de médiateur, puisque “grâce à eux sept personnes ont été libérées, et je demande à Dieu tous les jours, je lui demande qu’il vous aide et que la guérilla libère ma fille... Vous connaissez toute sa situation. Elle est malade, elle est très faible. Je ne veux pas vous rendre tristes avec ce sujet, je ne veux pas, la seule chose que je veux, c’est que vous n’ayez jamais à vivre une chose semblable”.


McCain awaits Democratic rival

Republican presidential candidate John McCain swept all four states in contention Tuesday and won enough delegates to wrap up what once seemed an unlikely GOP nomination with over 1,191 delegates. Meanwhile for a second time in the U.S. campaign Hillary Clinton took on the looks of the comeback lady, ending a string of a dozen losses by scoring three of four states, including the prized Texas and Ohio, as Barak Obama faltered after what quickly became known as the Canada-linked Nafta-gate.

While long-time favourite Clinton hung on in the fierce battle for the Democratic nomination, McCain conceded that being on the GOP ticket had seemed unlikely to many, sometimes even himself. “I have never believed I was destined to be president," he said on the night he reached the magic number of delegates. "But I do believe we are born with responsibilities to our country,” he said. “I am part of something greater than myself.”

“My friends now we begin the most important part of our campaign,” he went on. Turning to foreign policy, McCain addressed one of the most contentious issues of the campaign. “I will defend the decisions to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime,” he said, adding that the next president will have to explain how he intends to bring that war to a swift end while stabilizing the country. He will also have to persuade allies to play a greater role in Afghanistan.

Earlier contender Mike Huckabee had bowed out of the race, calling for a party divided by such a small "c" conservative front-runner to unite behind McCain. President George W. Bush endorsed his former republican rival the following day.

The evening's Democratic contests meawhile confirmed that McCain would have to wait some time before finding out who he would duel with in the fall. Ending a string of losses, Clinton took three of the night's four contests, but not without expressing a sincere sigh of relief. “For everybody who has been counted out but refused to be knocked out... who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you!” she said after a shower of confetti had welcomed her on an Ohio stage.

“You know what they say, as Ohio goes so goes the nation. Well this nation is coming back and so is this campaign,” said the beaming candidate. “We’re going on, we’re going strong and we’re going all the way.” She said voters had to decide who is tested and ready to run the country, a slight at Obama’s experience, or perceived lack of, in the view of pundits who said the Illinois senator's campaign had learned a valuable lesson in the previous days, with a connection to the great White North.

“We are in the middle of a very close race,” Obama said congratulating Clinton on her wins. For a brief period it seemed that the two star candidates, who had fiercely clashed on camera and in public, wanted to lower the rhetoric a notch. The following morning Clinton did not rule out a dream ticket bringing the two together, but added that the time had not come for that.

“No matter what happens tonight we are on our way to winning this nomination.” Obama said he congratulated McCain on his nomination but said that during the campaign the GOP nominee had fallen in line with policies of the Bush administration, “which have not served America.” Both McCain and Clinton dismissed his call for change, Obama said.

While this call for change had once made the Obamania steamroller appear unstoppable, a crack in the rhetoric had perhaps, to some, shown that the young senator was not that different from the others, perhaps even displaying a lack of experience, by mishandling an issue which had creeped over the 49th parallel.

Earlier in the day Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had denied his chief of staff had leaked a controversial Foreign Affairs Department memo that proved to be embarrassing to the Democratic front-runner. Harper said that the Canadian Embassy in Washington had already issued an apology for the leaked memo, and that he was trying to find out who was responsible for the leak.

At issue was an internal memo written by a Canadian diplomat in the Chicago consulate reporting on a conversation he had with one of Obama’s senior economic advisers. In the memo, the Canadian official reported that he was assured that Obama’s earlier criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement was “more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy” - in effect, that Obama was saying one thing publicly and another in private.

Obama rival Hillary Clinton seized on that discrepancy to attack her opponent, who was poised to potentially knock her out of contention. In a copy of the memo obtained by the NPU the adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is reportedly suggesting Obama “is less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favour of strengthening or clarifying language on labour mobility and environment.” Goolsbee is expected to become a close economic adviser to a president Obama, yet admittedly knew little of America’s strongest trade relationship.

While the Democrats win the favour of Canadian public opinion, both Obama and Clinton have said they would revisit NAFTA one way or another, blamed for job losses in the bellwether state of Ohio, which both sought to conquer in their bid for the presidency.

Federal Trade Minister David Emerson said threats to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA were cause for genuine concern because they feed a growing protectionist sentiment south of the border. He warned any move to reopen part of the agreement would leave the entire treaty vulnerable to renegotiation.

For a moment the issue seemed to put McCain and the Republicans on Canada’s side. McCain said the desire by his Democratic rivals to renegotiate NAFTA in fact threatened to jeopardize crucial military support from Canada. Trade and national security are “interconnected with each other,” the Arizona senator said. “One of our greatest assets in Afghanistan are our Canadian friends. We need our Canadian friends, and we need their continued support in Afghanistan,” McCain said.

“So what do we do? The two Democratic candidates for president say they’re going to unilaterally abrogate NAFTA... How do you think the Canadian people are going to react to that?” McCain said. Tuesday McCain said he would would campaign by championing free markets.

During a TV debate Clinton had said: “I will say we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it, and we renegotiate on terms that are favorable to all of America.” To which Obama agreed: “I will make sure that we renegotiate... I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.”

“They’re saying ‘radically restructure’ (NAFTA),” McCain said. “I think Canada would view that as a betrayal of the long years of negotiations that we agreed to.”

Bush meanwhile urged NATO members to come to Canada’s aid in southern Afghanistan, promising to join the effort to convince European allies to meet Ottawa’s demand for another 1,000-soldier strong battle group by early 2009. On Sunday Canada lost a 79th soldier in the country. “The United States is putting in 3,200 additional Marines. We are trying to help Canada realize her goal of a thousand additional fighters in the southern part of the country,” Bush said.

Primary night wasn’t kind to Bush. Voters in two Vermont towns approved symbolic measures calling for the indictment of President Bush and V-P Dick Cheney for what they consider violations of the Constitution.


New leader, same regime in Russia

The theatrical moment perhaps encapsulated how Russia will be conducting policy in the years ahead. Two hours after voting finished in an electoral contest which left few surprises, a smiling Dmitry Medvedev walked out of the Kremlin gates alongside current president Vladimir Putin and both made their long way to a stage where music was blaring with the same decontracted demeanour, Medvedev dressed in jeans with a leather jacket.

The duo the embodiment of a proud national Russian symbol, the two-headed eagle. The two men took to the stage at a celebratory concert where two microphones awaited, Putin’s hand-picked successor standing next to him at arm’s length. “We are choosing our path of development for a long time ahead and we have a chance to... cement stability and carry on down the path we have been travelling down for the past few years,” Medvedev said.

“The elections have taken place and our candidate, Dmitry Anatolyevich Med- vedev, has a confident lead,” the Putin said to chants of “Putin! Putin!” from the crowd. “The elections were in strict accordance with the constitution.” Medvedev easily won the election, with nearly 70 percent of the votes.

But the results weren’t greeted with the usually flurry of congratulatory messages. In fact world observers had even before the vote condemned the Russian electoral process. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said that “an election where there is not a level playing field for all contestants can hardly be considered as fair” one day after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe cancelled a planned observer mission, citing obstacles imposed by Moscow.

While few foreign observers monitored the vote, Golos, a respected Russian monitoring group, said it had received reports of hundreds of violations during the election, including ballot box stuffing, false voter registration and multiple ballots being cast. Some foreign journalists, including one from The Economist, said they were roughed up by goons and sent away after witnessing such activities for themselves.

The other candidates hardly seemed palatable alternatives, nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky collecting some 11 percent of the vote. Perhaps causing the greatest surprise was Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who collected just under 20 percent of the vote, a higher than expected result many considered a protest vote in an election process allowing for very little opposition. Zyuganov called the election result “cynical” and said he would consider legal action.

A number of liberal candidates were not able to register for bureaucratic reasons, more notably Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. Interviewed by the BBC Kasparov said that so many obstacles were created by the regime that unless you were loyal to it you stood very little chance. The regime he said “does not allow opposition groups to create legal political activity.”

Still some in the West have welcomed Medvedev’s reputation as a moderate after years of tense ties with Putin over divisive issues such as his crackdown on domestic dissent, U.S. plans for a missile defense and Kosovo’s independence. Many Russians are also grateful for the current stability following the trauma of economic upheaval which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Medvedev, 42, the first deputy premier and head of gas monopoly Gazprom, has all along promised to follow the policies of Putin, who is stepping down after two four-year terms. The new president represents a new generation of post-Soviet politicians, presenting himself as a champion of the free markets and unlike Putin, 55, he has no KGB background. But his role wasn’t a small one as he helped Putin restore Kremlin control over the Gazprom monopoly.

In a reminder of Soviet times, when hard-to-get items were available during carefully staged elections, polling stations offered enticements to voters from discounted food and office supplies to concerts and flowers. Government-paid teachers and doctors across the country complained that they were being pressured to vote at their workplace under the gaze of their superiors to ensure a convincing win and a high turnout for Medvedev.

After the vote some few protesters took to the streets in Moscow and St Petersburg but were occasionally outnumbered by pro-Kremlin activists, when they weren’t beaten by police. In general most Russians didn’t express much concern at the outcome.

In contrast voters in the former Soviet republic of Armenia didn’t hesitate to demonstrate their opposition openly against a recent electoral process they considered rigged. Some eight people were killed in clashes in the capital Yerevan last week between police and protesters alleging election fraud, the worst violence since independence, prompting police to declare a state of emergency and sending troops and armoured cars to patrol the centre of the city.

This came after 10 days of protests over the Feb. 19 presidential vote which gave a convincing win to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Official results gave Sarkisian 53% of the vote, with Mr Ter-Petrosian, a former president, getting 21.5%. While international observers in the Caucasus republic generally considered the electoral process fair, the opposition said the poll was rigged in favour of Sarkisian, a close ally of the outgoing leader who, like Putin, is barred constitutionally from seeking a third term in office.

Putin however will very much stay involved with the Kremlin, pledging to serve as Medvedev’s prime minister, leaving the two to rule in tandem. Perhaps the former KGB agent is even plotting a new future presidential run. Putin indicated clearly last month that he expects to wield significant influence and that the “highest executive power” lies with the prime minister’s office.


Rares violences au Cameroun

La violence s’empare d’un havre de paix africain, une terre de refuge brûlée par le soleil dont le président soutenu par l’ancienne métropole cherche à briguer un nouveau mandat en modifiant la constitution. Pourtant ce n’est plus vers le Tchad qu’il faut se tourner, mais son voisin, le Cameroun, qui pleure les 24 morts de récentes émeutes.

Celles-ci, parties du port de Douala pour gagner la capitale, Yaoundé, ont eu lieu sur fond de crise sociale alors que le coût de la vie jumelé au projet de réforme constitutionnelle du président Paul Biya soulève le peuple camerounais et donne lieu à des scènes qui pour certains font plus que rappeler celles des crises du début des années 90.

C’était dix ans après la prise du pouvoir de Biya, maintes fois ré-élu depuis lors de scrutins souvent contestés, donnant au régime une apparence de « démocrature ». Pour plusieurs observateurs, les récents éclats contre le prix de la vie, notamment celui du carburant qui a donné lieu à une grève nationale des transporteurs, n’est que l’expression de la déception du peuple face à un régime qui se perpétue sans augmenter les richesses.

«Le prix du carburant n’est pas le seul problème» affirme John Fru Ndi, président du Social Democratic Front (SDF), le parti principal de l’opposition. Le projet de modification de la constitution du président, afin qu’il puisse se représenter en 2011, a concentré les rancœurs.

Une situation qui n’est pas sans rappeler celle du Tchad, lieu d’origine de nombreux réfugiés aboutissant au Cameroun lors des éclats récents entre rebelles et forces gouvernementales, dont le président Idriss Déby, qui avait pris le pouvoir avec l’aide de Paris en 1990, a été réélu en mai 2006 pour un troisième mandat rendu possible après une modification constitutionnelle deux ans plus tôt. Autre parallèle, le silence de Paris lors de la crise camerounaise, tandis que l’ambassadrice des Etats-Unis, Jante Garvey, faisait connaître son opposition au projet de réforme du président.

Dès l’annonce du projet constitutionnel en janvier, l’opposition a organisé des manifestations à Douala, faisant fi de l’interdiction de manifester décrétée par le gouverneur de la province. Le mouvement a alors vite gagné de l'intensité, menant aux éclats récents, où plusieurs commerces ont été saccagés et où la répression policière a été sévère.

Certains manifestants s’en sont pris à des pensionnats, lieu d’instruction des enfants de l’élite, afin de mettre à l’évidence les inégalités à travers le pays. Les manifestants ont également exprimé leur mécontentement face aux coupures d’électricité et à la corruption. En 2007 Transparency International plaçait le pays au 138e rang au niveau de la transparence des institutions. “Au Cameroun, c’est l’état de corruption qui est une situation normale, et l’honnêteté, un délit” estimait en guise de conclusion une étude sur la corruption réalisée par le Groupe d’études et de recherches sur la démocratie et le développement économique et social dix ans plus tôt.

A la question «Avez-vous dû verser un pot-de-vin pour accéder à un service public? » 79% des Camerourains répondaient par l’affirmative selon une autre étude complétée l’an dernier, soit une proportion double de celle du Nigéria, peu connu pour ses efforts de transparence. De son côté le président Biya accuse l’opposition de souffler sur les braises afin de le faire renverser.

L’opposition craint de son côté que les efforts du chef d’Etat de mettre un terme aux incidents à tout prix n’entrainent de nouvelles pertes de vie. 1500 personnes ont été arrêtées par les forces de l'ordre lors des troubles, surtout des jeunes. Fru Ndi maintient que son groupe n’a rien à voir avec les incidents, mais estime saisir le sens des manifestations d’un peuple frustré: « Le peuple n’a d’autre choix pour s’exprimer que celui de descendre dans les rues » dit-il.

Même son de cloche plus à l’ouest du continent, au Burkina Faso, où on a aussi assisté à des manifestations en raison de la cherté. Pour Saniel Balint-Kurti, du Chatham House research institute, les deux pays connaissent sensiblement la même situation: “Il s’agit de deux ex-colonies françaises qui ont des présidents au pouvoir depuis bien longtemps, des présidents appuyés par la France. Aucun des deux n’est un dirigeant démocratique”, dit-il. Blaise Compaoré est au pouvoir depuis un coup d’état en 1987.

Mais certaines ex-colonies britanniques font mieux en matière de dirigeants africains refusant de lâcher prise. A 84 ans, le président Robert Mugabe, le seul qu’ait connu le pays depuis l’indépendance en 1980, repartait ce mois-ci en campagne pour briguer un nouveau mandat lors de l’élection du 29 mars au Zimbabwe.


Espoirs d'unification à Chypre

Le nouveau dirigeant communiste de la partie grecque de Chypre n’a pas perdu un instant avant de faire appel à la reprise des négociations avec la partie turque de l’ile divisée en 1974, relançant les espoirs d’unification aussitôt les résultats du scrutin présidentiel dévoilés. Dimitris Christofias a remporté l’élection avec 53% des suffrages devant le conservateur Ioannis Kasoulides, qui était lui aussi favorable à la reprise des pourparlers.

De manière générale le ton semble bien avoir changé dans la partie sud de l’ile qui avait rejeté une entente d’unification acceptée par le nord en 2004, juste avant l’adhésion au sein de l’Union européenne. Le scrutin semble donc marquer la fin de la ligne dure sur le dossier, incarnée par le président sortant Tassos Papadoupoulos, lui-même exclu dès le premier tour à la surprise générale.

Christofias prévoit d’ailleurs rencontrer au plus vite son homologue turc Mehmet Ali Talat, dirigeant de la République turque de Chypre Nord, uniquement reconnue par Ankara depuis 1983. Dès son discours de victoire Christofias a “tendu la main de l’amitié à la population chypriote-turque et à ses dirigeants”, se disant impatient d’entamer une “coopération substantielle pour le bien des deux communautés”.

Pas moins enthousiaste, le dirigeant chypriote-turc estimait même probable un règlement d’ici la fin de l’année: “Je pense que ça ne sera pas une surprise si nous résolvons le problème d’ici la fin 2008, a-t-il déclaré le lendemain de l’élection. Les Chypriotes-grecs se sont décidés en faveur du changement. Ils ont choisi une personne qui peut effectuer ce changement. Nous pensons que cette décision sera le départ d’une nouvelle ère”. Certes une nouvelle ère dont “le processus (...) allait être très difficile”, mais prometteur à la fois.

Christofias a indiqué qu’il prévoyait « une première rencontre exploratoire » avec Talat en mars, ainsi que ses premières visites officielles à Athènes, puis à Bruxelles, siège de l’Union européenne. L’élection de Christofias a aussitôt été accueillie à Bruxelles à titre d’ “opportunité pour surmonter l’impasse qui dure depuis longtemps sur la question chypriote”, par le président de la Commission européenne José Manuel Barroso dans un communiqué, exhortant le vainqueur de l’élection à “saisir cette occasion et à démarrer sans délai des négociations sous égide de l’ONU (...) sur un accord global”.

L’UE avait mal avalé l’adhésion d’une seule partie de l’ile en 2004. L’élimination de la ligne verte séparant les parties, et divisant la capitale, Nicosie, permettrait également l’entrée au sein de l’Union d’une certaine population turque qui de manière générale constitue le prochain grand projet d’adhésion des pays membres de l’UE.

De son côté le premier ministre grec, Costas Caramanlis, a assuré le nouveau président du soutien de son pays pour reprendre les négociations avec la partie turque. Lors d'une visite à Athènes, Christofias a répété son intention de relancer les pourparlers et même de rouvrir un des premiers poste-frontières à avoir été érigé, lors des périodes d'éclat entre les deux communautés - pendant les années 60 - celui de la rue Ledra.

Jadis soldats canadiens, les bérêts bleus de l'ONU séparent toujours les deux peuples chypriotes au long d'une ligne verte qui se cicatrise peu à peu.


Raul elected to replace Fidel Castro

There was the usual defiance, but still it wasn’t perhaps how supporters would have expected the ailing Commandante to step down formally in the 50th year of the revolution. Fidel Castro didn’t declare that he would not return to lead his country as president - leaving parliament to elect a new leader - in one of his famous five hour-long speeches under the blistering sun before large flag-waving crowds. He said it in the uncharacteristic way he had made all communications since a surgery placed him in the sidelines of the political scene a year and a half ago, away from the crowds or the cameras, through a letter, which was posted on the state newspaper’s website overnight.
 
Over the weekend Cuba’s parliament is largely expected to choose as successor Castro’s brother, Raul, 76, who had been steering the country temporarily since July 2006 when Castro underwent abdominal surgery. Since that date Raul and others, Castro wrote “were unwilling to consider me out of public life despite my unstable health condition.”
 
“My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That’s all I can offer,” he added in the letter announcing his decision. “I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief,” he declared. “It would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer.”
 
Castro, 81, added he felt confident Cuba would find an appropriate replacement. “They have the authority and the experience to guarantee the replacement.” The announcement wasn’t entirely surprising considering Castro’s failure to show up at a number of important national events since his surgery, despite occasional photo-ops with visiting leaders intended to show the leader Maximo in good health.
 
Last December, during the international gathering on global warming in Bali Castro had forwarded a letter to his delegation which to some seemed to prepare his departure. Among his final words, he stressed “My essential duty is to not cling to posts, much less block the way for younger people, but to contribute experiences and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era in which it was my destiny to live.”
 
Neither Castro nor Washington considered the change at hand something that would dramatically alter the state of relations between the two countries. “The path will always be difficult and require from everyone’s intelligent effort ... The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong; however, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century,” Castro added with his unflinching defiance. “My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write under the heading of ‘Reflections by comrade Fidel.’ It will be just another weapon you can count on.” An indication Fidel would surely retain some influence behind the scenes according to some observers.
 
Washington meanwhile called on Cuba to hold free elections and said the decades-long embargo would remain. “The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for a democracy, and eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections,” U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters in Rwanda, a stop on his Africa tour.
 
In another letter later in the week, Castro mocked the call for reform: "Change, change, change! Well I agree, but in the United States... Cuba changed some time ago, and will continue on its dialectical path.” He further reflected: “The night before (announcing he would step down), I slept better than ever. My conscience was clear and I promised myself a vacation.”


Division greets Kosovo independence

Celebratory fireworks in Pristina and full-scale riots in the streets of Belgrade ushered in the declaration of independence of the sixth and last state, not including Serbia, carved from the former Yugoslav federation since 1991. Kosovo’s declaration, made after years of failure in trying to find a mutually acceptable constitutional status for the region with neighbouring Serbia, was met internationally with a division not unlike one found at home, where the Serb minority adamantly rejected independence.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain’s recognition of Kosovo as an independent sovereign state would help “close the chapter” of Yugoslavia’s painful break-up that began more than a decade ago, but on the day after the Feb. 17 declaration, it only seemed to open a difficult diplomatic chapter.

Some European countries and the United States were quick to welcome Europe’s  latest country on the international stage, while others voiced their opposition. Even among European countries, some such as Greece, Cyprus and even the breakaway half of Czechoslovakia, voiced their opposition to recognizing Kosovo. Spain, a country home to strong nationalist areas, also distanced itself from France, Great Britain and Italy, who found “An internationally-supervised independence the only viable solution to bring stability and security” to the region.

Canada meanwhile, where even the separatist Bloc Quebecois acknowledged the rules for independence were clearly established, was still hesitant to recognize Kosovo. Joining Serbia as some of the strongest detractors was Russia, which itself fears regional separatism and is a staunch ally of Serbia. Moscow vowed it would block Kosovo membership of the U.N. and all other international bodies where it has a veto and quickly called for U.N. Security Council consultations over the independence declaration.

The long-expected declaration was met by clear rebuke in Belgrade, which vowed never to give up the territory, in which Serb history goes back 1,000 years, but which has been a protectorate of the United Nations for nearly nine years. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica branded the southern region “a false state” in a televised address to his nation just minutes after the vote in Pristina, saying Kosovo was propped up unlawfully by the United States which was “ready to violate the international order for its own military interests.”

Belgrade soon started calling back diplomats from countries which supported Kosovo independence. While Serbia said it would not use force against its neighbour, it hinted it would apply economic and diplomatic pressure against Kosovo.

President George W. Bush led the way formally recognizing Kosovo and hailed its bid for statehood saying “the Kosovars are now independent” during his tour of Africa, catching his own State Department somewhat off-guard, which only formally recognized Kosovo hours later. “The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

Mostly U.S. and Albanian flags were flying across Kosovo as jubilant crowds poured into the streets on Sunday, the avenues of Pristina lined up with flags from other NATO and European countries which were seen as making independence possible. This stood in sharp contrast with scenes of rioting in Belgrade where the embassies of countries recognizing Kosovo were targeted.

The proclamation was made by leaders of Kosovo’s 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, including former guerrillas who fought for independence in a 1998-99 war which claimed about 10,000 civilian lives. “We, the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state,” said the text read out in parliament by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. “This declaration reflects the will of the people.”

All 109 deputies present at the session in Pristina voted in favour with a show of hands. Eleven deputies from ethnic minorities, including Serbs, were absent. Kosovo is “an independent, sovereign and democratic state,” parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi announced after the vote. But Europe’s newest country is also one of its poorest, the unemployment rate among its population of 2 million somewhere around 60 percent. Its largely ethnic Albanian population also makes it a largely Muslim country in Europe, at a time of debate on whether or not to allow Turkey into the EU, though officials have said their country would be secular.

In the short term a major EU mission will be deployed with a mandate to keep control of police and justice but NATO’s 17,000 troops could remain in the country for years if differences remain too sharp between the country’s Albanians and an estimated 135,000 Serbs, largely living in the north. Thaci sought to reassure Serbs, saying “Kosovo is the homeland of all its citizens” adding that Kosovo was committed to providing guarantees for the Serb minority.

But in the days following the declaration of independence his words were drowned by the rioting of Kosovo’s own Serb minority, its members sacking border posts in the newly independent republic to warn they won’t let a new frontier separate them from Serbia. Mobs of several hundred men, some masked, torched U.N., customs and police offices at two border posts on the boundary line between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo police and U.N. customs officials were forced to withdraw to a nearby tunnel as the crowds used bulldozers and explosives to demolish the border posts, according to eyewitnesses. NATO-led peacekeepers from KFOR were called in and U.S. soldiers blocked the main road crossing with Serbia. Nearly ten years later NATO troops don’t appear to be anywhere near leaving the region.

The scene was no less ugly in Belgrade Thursday where a government-sponsored protest gathering 200,000 turned into an attack on the U.S. embassy which was ransacked, leaving one demonstrator dead. “I’m outraged by the mob attack,” said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, adding he would ask the Security Council to condemn it unanimously. Serb officials tried to calm the crowd down as the situation went out of control, but some of the words uttered by Kostunica during the rally still echoed: "As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia." A sign repeating the words was left outside the U.S. embassy the next morning, when Washington decided to evacuate its staff.


L'opposition s'unie contre Musharraf au Pakistan

La campagne électorale pakistanaise ensanglantée qui a emporté la vie de Benazir Bhutto a touché à sa fin en obligeant une opposition de plus en plus unie contre le président Pervez Musharraf à former un gouvernement de coalition afin de pouvoir gouverner. Les deux principaux mouvements de l’opposition, celui de l’ex-Premier ministre Bhutto, assassinée le 27 décembre dans un attentat suicide, et celui de son rival des années 1990, Nawaz Sharif, sont arrivés largement en tête des résultats mardi, sans qu’aucun des deux ne dispose, seul, d’une majorité pour gouverner.

La défaite était cuisante pour le camp du président Musharraf, tandis qu’un de ses plus grands détracteurs, l’ancien Premier ministre Nawaz Sharif, appelait aussitôt l’opposition à s’unir pour “débarrasser le Pakistan de la dictature”. M. Sharif, évincé par Musharraf lors d’un putsch, ne s’est pas gêné en demandant le départ de ce dernier. Mais un porte-parole du président s’est empressé de rappeler la ré-élection de Musharraf en octobre, en ajoutant qu’il n’était pas près de démissionner : « Il ne s’agit pas d’une élection présidentielle. Le président Musharraf a déjà été élu pour cinq ans».

De son côté, Asif Ali Zardari, l’époux de Mme Bhutto et nouveau chef du Parti du Peuple Pakistanais a promis “un gouvernement de consensus national avec l’ensemble des forces démocratiques”. Son parti a remporté la plus grande part des sièges, soit 87 sur les 272 du parlement, mais les 33% des voix récoltées étaient sensiblement les mêmes que celles du passé, limitant tout vote de sympathie à l’égard de Bhutto.

L’élection a quand même ébranlé le chef de l’exécutif, qui venait de remettre à un homme de confiance le poste de chef des armées, et doit composer avec un gouvernement dorénavant hostile. Les résultats ont de manière général affaibli les instances militaires dans un pays qui a vécu plus de la moitié de ses 60 ans d’histoire sous l’ombre des généraux putschistes. “La démocratie se venge !” titrait mardi le quotidien The News.

Pourtant le taux de participation, bien que légèrement plus élevé que les précédents, ne dépassait pas 45% des électeurs. Mélange de volonté de faire bouger les choses mêlée aux craintes d’attentats, fréquents et sanglants lors de la campagne, sans parler du conservatisme d’une section de la population qui ne va pas voter, cette participation n’engageait pas la moitié de la population pouvant voter.

Certains ont tout de même trouvé rassurant le faible résultat des partis fondamentalistes, dont le Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, une alliance de partis radicaux, dont certains soutiennent les talibans et Al-Qaida, qui n’a remporté que trois sièges, une hécatombe après les 50 sièges remportés en 2002. Ces résultats semblaient refléter l’aversion d’une population minée par la peur, après l’année la plus meurtrière des kamikazes proches d’Al-Qaida au Pakistan, faisant plus de 800 morts lors d’attentats en 2007.

Rien que depuis début 2008, près de 150 personnes ont déjà été tuées dans une campagne de terreur qui s’était intensifiée à l’approche des élections, avec pour paroxysme l’attentat suicide qui a coûté la vie à Mme Bhutto.

De son côté la Maison Blanche estimait que les élections pakistanaises semblaient avoir été “justes dans une large mesure” et rappelait sa volonté de coopérer avec le prochain gouvernement contre le terrorisme, tout en refusant de juger Musharraf, un précieux allié dans la guerre au terrorisme, à l'écart du pouvoir.

Mais pour les deux dirigeants des partis principaux de l’opposition, il s’agit de mener une guerre au terrorisme autrement que par des moyens uniquement militaires, une certaine source d’aliénation dans les régions de l’ouest, où de nombreux partis ont préféré boycotter l’élection. L’opposition entend plutôt mettre fin aux violences liées aux terrorisme par le dialogue, une mesure pourtant tentée sans succès par Musharraf dans le passé.

L’opposition entend également renverser la censure des médias et rétablir l’indépendance de la jurisprudence. Signe de la bonne entente entre les deux partis principaux de l’opposition, ils annonçaient quelques jours après l'élection seulement leur intention de former ensemble un nouveau gouvernement. “Nous allons travailler ensemble pour former un gouvernement ensemble dans le centre et dans les provinces”, a déclaré Sharif jeudi, ajoutant qu’un troisième plus petit parti y participerait également.

“Nous allons renforcer le parlement, nous allons renforcer la démocratie, nous allons travailler ensemble pour le Pakistan. Nous allons construire un Pakistan plus fort”, s’est accordé à dire Zardari. L'entente n'a pas empêché certains avocats opposés au régime de Musharraf de descendre dans les rues pour exprimer leur colère, mais celui-ci n'a eu rien à célébrer lors d'une semaine qui a administré un célèbre soufflet à son régime.


From Russia with bitterness

Less than a month before what is supposed to be the beginning of the end of his presidency, Vladimir Putin wasn’t sounding like someone packing his boxes as he addressed Russia's state council in a TV broadcast outlining Russia's ambitions up to 2020. Speaking to a gathering of the full government, parliamentary leaders and top generals, Putin said the world is engaged in a new arms race following Nato plans to expand in its previous sphere of influence and U.S. plans to include Poland and the Czech republic in a missile defence shield.

“It is already clear that a new phase in the arms race is unfolding in the world,” Putin said. “Russia will always respond to this new challenge," he added, promising “new weapons that are qualitatively the same or better than those of other countries,” despite not having the money of richer countries. Failure to respond to Russian concerns about Nato expansion made the need for the buildup necessary, he said. “In effect, we are forced to retaliate, to take corresponding decisions.”

Over the last year such words have usually been accompanied by military manoeuvres. Russia has been flexing its military muscle, reviving strategic bomber flights to probe western air defences, investing in new strategic weapons and using the windfall from high oil prices to rebuild its weakened military. In December, Russia said it was planning naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

As he was expressing fears about Nato, the alliance was continuing to struggle with an Afghan mission some feared would, in a worst case scenario, split it apart. Sniping over the roles of participating countries continued to dog the organization, shakened politically in a way it has never been militarily. While some countries have been responding to needs for additional troops, the countries bearing the brunt of military activities in the more dangerous southern part of the country, the U.S., Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, have been asking for other members in the 27-country alliance to step up.

Canada has threatened to withdraw its troops at the end of its current mandate, in 2009, unless 1,000 more troops are sent by other countries in that part of Afghanistan. The war has not only been divisive in Nato, it has been divisive in Canada where the federal government laid the groundwork for a possible election over Afghanistan after it tabled a confidence motion to extend Canada’s combat role until 2011. "The motion presents a clear choice to the members of the House of Commons - strengthen the military mission in Afghanistan or abandon the commitment we have made to the people of Afghanistan and our international allies," Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan told a news conference Friday.

The NDP wants an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Bloc Quebecois wants troops out of Afghanistan by February 2009 at the latest. The decision on whether to topple the minority government will lie with the Liberals, who want an end to Canada’s combat role in February 2009, but support a continued non-combat role beyond that date. Negotiations were underway meanwhile to test France’s commitment to send more troops to the Afghan south to calm tensions within the alliance.

To see an alliance developed to bring it to its knees struggle with the same country it was kicked out of in 1989 surely brings some comfort to the old Russian superpower. Among Russia’s neighbours, Ukraine and Georgia are seeking membership in Nato and Putin accused the military alliance of bad faith and questioned its intentions. “We drew down our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam. What did we get?” he asked. “New American bases in Romania, Bulgaria. A new third missile defense region in Poland.”

“We are categorically being told these actions aren’t directed at Russia, and therefore our concerns are completely unfounded,” he continued. “That’s not a constructive response.” While Russia would respond to these actions with new weaponry, Putin stressed that military spending should not come at the cost of  economic and social development, deploring lack of modernization and widespread corruption. “You have to go to every agency with a bribe: to the firemen, the health inspection, the gynaecologists. Whom don’t you have to go to? It’s just terrible,” he said.

Putin also accused the West of “interference in domestic political fights (which is) not only immoral but also illegal,” on a day the March 2 presidential election widely expected to usher in his protégé came under attack from a Western democracy watchdog. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said that “an election where there is not a level playing field for all contestants can hardly be considered as fair” one day after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe cancelled a planned observer mission, citing obstacles imposed by Moscow.

The director of OSCE’s monitoring wing, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights cited Russia's refusal to grant permission to send an assessment mission last year, limits imposed on the number of observers and the length of time they could stay in Russia. “They have imposed restrictions and limitations which do not allow us to deliver a professional job in accordance with our mandate,” said Christian Strohal. Russian officials, who in the past have called the OSCE’s election watchdog a tool of U.S. policy, angrily attacked the pullout. They called it unacceptable and said the watchdog had been trying to dictate terms to Moscow.

Putin’s hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, a bureaucrat currently serving as first deputy premier, is widely expected to win the vote as polls give him anywhere from 65 to 80 per cent of support in a country where Putin has a monopoly on the media. The other candidates hardly seem like palatable alternatives, from Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and a barely known politician, Andrei Bogdanov. A number of liberal candidates were not able to register for bureaucratic reasons, more notably Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion and Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky.

The Council's comments were unusual because Western monitors usually refuse to give any assessment of an election until after polling day. Medvedev’s supporters deny the vote is one-sided however, saying his popularity is unsurprising in a country enjoying its biggest economic boom in a generation, but in what appeared to be one of a number of going-away speeches, Putin said much work remained to be done to support the economy despite his successes increasing foreign investment and rising salaries since taking power eight years ago.

Putin doesn't plan to be very far from the spotlight come March 2, more than once saying he may serve as prime minister if Medvedev is elected. A constitutional ban prevented him from serving for a third consecutive presidential term.


McCain now front-runner, Clinton & Obama split

In a narrowing field of candidates Super Tuesday managed to define a front-runner in the more crowded republican camp rather than settle the remaining democratic duel. John McCain established himself as the man to beat after taking nine states including the two delegate-packed states of New York and California.

Having collected over half of the 1,191 delegates up for grabs to secure the GOP nomination, 889 of which were being awarded that night, even the usually careful senator couldn't help stating the obvious: “Tonight I think we must get used to the idea that we are the Republican Party front-runner,” he said, adding he didn’t mind it one bit.

While McCain had twice the number of delegates of his closest rival, Mick Romney, who dropped out of the race days later, a surprising showing by Mike Huckabee kept McCain from all but locking the nomination. Addressing supporters even before finding out he would eventually take Georgia, Huckabee said he agreed with pundits saying the GOP contest was a two-man race: “It is, we’re in it,” he said.

McCain's win in New York underlined the absence of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, long considered a GOP favourite, whose exit was precipitated by his loss in Florida, where he had spent much of the primary season campaigning. His ousting came within a day of another important departure, that of John Edwards, the vice-presidential contender four years ago, after losing his home state of South Carolina.

Romney's departure, and the boost it gave to McCain's candidacy, however concerned the more conservative base of the Republican party. Days after his Super Tuesday successes, there were boos in a conservative gathering McCain attended. Critics say he’s too liberal to carry his party’s nomination, pointing to him breaking with the party on immigration and opposing the Bush tax cuts. The need to unite the party never seemed more urgent.

On Super Tuesday all the top candidates won their own state, but the grueling contest only dug positions in deeper on the democratic side. Like McCain, Hillary Clinton took the two monster states, but while Barak Obama came in short on the delegates, he left a definite printmark from coast to coast by collecting 13 states. “There is one thing on this February night that we do not need the final result to know, our time has come,” he said, repeating his campaign slogan to chants of “Obama.” “Our time has come, our movement is real and change is coming to America,” he said. “This fall we owe the American people a real choice.”

The big gains among white voters, especially in the south - where he took Alabama and Georgia - suggested Obama’s candidacy is increasingly crossing racial lines. Clinton’s victories, meanwhile, were being propelled by heavy turnouts among white women and Hispanic voters. “Tonight we are hearing the voices of people across America,” said Clinton, joined on stage by her husband Bill and daughter Chelsea as the crowd chanted “Hillary!” “After seven years of a president who listens only to special interests you’re ready for a president that listens to your voice,” she said. “Tonight, in record numbers, you voted not just to make history,but to remake America.”

While Hillary maintained her overall lead, the night helped little to declare a front-runner for the Democrats, in a race both candidates stood well short of the 2,025 delegates needed for the nomination, even though 1,575 of them had been up for grabs that night. Illustrating perhaps how divided the race had become was the fact that in the lead up to Super Tuesday both candidates had been endorsed by different members of the influential Kennedy clan. Hillary and McCain, winners of the night, had both been backed by the New York Times.

As the busiest primary night in history came to a close in the first $1 billion presidential campaign, cash worries started to be felt in a Clinton camp which had probably expected to clinch the nomination sooner. The following day Clinton disclosed she’d lent $5 million to her cash-short campaign, and while she said she would contest Obama everywhere, senior aides conceded Obama would have more to spend on ads as analysts projected his main financial backers would be able to put up more money than those behind the New York senator.

Officials with both campaigns said Obama raised $32 million in January and Clinton $13.5 million. A campaign which was occasionally focused on racial lines, suddenly seemed to turn to financial ones.

Meanwhile new technology is allowing Americans overseas to take part in the primary process. "We got to vote for the first time in the primaries on Tuesday," says NPU correspondent Beth Brown in Bangkok. "We voted on-line after a tedious but fulfilling registration process. It was fun." 


Au tour du Tchad d'évacuer

Terre de refuge des Soudanais fuyant les atrocités commises au Darfour lors des dernières années, le Tchad était lui-même le point d'origine de déplacements de population importants cette semaine, surtout vers le Cameroun, alors que les rebelles quittaient la capitale en promettant de revenir pour compléter leur plus récente offensive.

En trois jours celle-ci avait fait progresser quelques 1500 hommes soutenus par quelques 250 camions équipés de mitrailleuses de l’ouest du Soudan aux portes du palais présidentiel à N’Djamena. Ce retrait volontaire avait, selon le porte-parole des rebelles Abderaman Koulamallah, été fait “pour donner à la population une chance de sortir”. Les rebelles se disaient préparer une nouvelle offensive en attendant “une colonne de renfort en provenance de l’est”. « On va certainement repasser à l’offensive, déclarait Koulamallah. Il ne faut pas que les gens croient que Déby a gagné. Il est toujours retranché dans son bunker.»

Quelques centaines de ressortissants étrangers en ont profité pour fuir la capitale, un spectacle qui se répète tant en Afrique occidentale, comme en Côte d’Ivoire il y a quelques années, qu’orientale, comme au Kenya plus récemment. Plus proche du premier cas, celui du Tchad risquait également d’attirer dans son engrenage les 1200 troupes françaises stationnées sur son territoire. Pourtant le ministre français des Affaires étrangères Bernard Kouchner a semblé écarter une intervention directe de la France même si l’hexagone ne manquait pas généralement d’initiative.

Tandis que Paris était à l’initiative du dépôt d’une résolution non contraignante condamnant les attaques des groupes rebelles contre le gouvernement tchadien et appelant les Etats membres à apporter leur soutien à ce dernier, adoptée par le Conseil de sécurité, l’aviation française avait l’instruction de survoler la frontière entre le Tchad et le Soudan “pour vérifier qu’il n’y ait pas d’incursion étrangère”.

Il s’agissait en quelque sorte de calmer le jeu puisque le gouvernement tchadien accuse le Soudan de soutenir la rébellion, une version soutenue par Paris, où l’imminence de l’arrivée de la force européenne de maintien de la paix pour protéger les réfugiés du Darfour n’était pas à dissocier aux événements. Le secrétaire général de l’Elysée Claude Guéant avait accusé Khartoum de vouloir “liquider” le régime d’Idriss Déby en soutenant la rébellion avant l’arrivée de l’Eufor.

Depuis l’éclatement de la crise au Darfour, le sort des deux pays semble de plus en plus intimement lié. “Si c’est nécessaire pour la sécurité du Tchad, pour la défense de l’intégrité du Tchad, nous irons au Soudan”, affirmait le chef de la diplomatie tchadienne. De son côté le Soudan accuse le Tchad de soutenir les rebelles au Darfour.

Avec l’appui d'hélicoptères de combat et des chars, le gouvernement estimait quelques jours plus tard avoir rétabli l'ordre et a imposé un couvre-feu dans la capitale, mais bien vite des voix s’élevaient contre des arrestations d’opposants et des exécutions extrajudiciaires présumées. De son côté l’ancienne métropole se disait prête à soutenir le gouvernement au pouvoir et son président, qui avait lui-même chassé son prédécesseur avec l’appui de la France en 1990 : “Le Tchad a un gouvernement légitime qui doit donc être soutenu, avait lors d’un voyage à l’étranger déclaré le président français Nicolas Sarkozy. Il va de soi que si le Conseil de sécurité prend la résolution, la France sera disposée à être encore davantage aux côtés de ses amis tchadiens”.

Réélu en mai 2006 pour un troisième mandat rendu possible après une modification constitutionnelle en 2004 qui levait la limitation des mandats présidentiels, Idriss Déby a réussi à conserver le pourvoir il y a deux ans, après une intervention des forces françaises sur place alors que les rebelles étaient sur le point de le renverser.

Au plus fort des plus récents éclats, des échanges de tirs entre militaires français et rebelles avaient lieu près de l’aéroport de N’Djamena, lieu d’évacuation des ressortissants étrangers. Il y a eu un « contact ponctuel et limité » au moment de la première offensive rebelle au cours duquel les militaires français ont “répliqué à niveau”, selon un porte-parole de l’état-major français.

La jeunesse grecque dans les rues

Du haut d’une Acropole fraichement restituée, le nuage qui plane au-dessus de la ville antique n’est pas le nefos, cette trainée de smog quasi-permanent des temps modernes, mais une bonne dose de gaz lacrymogènes qui gâte le bleu adriatique  du ciel athénien. Gris comme l’humeur des jeunes qui depuis plusieurs jours se révoltent non seulement dans ces rues, mais bien au-delà de l'Attique, à proximité des empreintes du grand colosse de Rhodes ou encore des quartiers plongés dans l’ombre de la tour de Salonique.
C’est la jeune plebe qui est révoltée depuis la fusillade d’un jeune de 15 ans le 6 décembre par un agent de l’ordre, le pire désordre dit-on depuis la fin de la dictature. Le sang aussitôt répandu, c’est la jeunesse scolaire et universitaire, elle qui est tant minée par le chômage, qui s’est déversée dans les rues, de Corfou à Mytilène et jusqu’en Crète, pour manifester, ou parfois sous prétexte de manifester, contre la mort d'Alexandros Grigoropoulos, martyr malgré lui.Des manifestations contre des ambassades et consulats grecs ont également eu lieu à travers l'Europe et à New York.
Alors que les manifestations sont fréquentes sur la place parlementaire de Syntagma, celle du 7 décembre et les autres depuis, revêtaient un caractère plutôt désagréable sans doute lié au fait que l’incident avait eu lieu dans le quartier d’Exarchia, mieux connu pour son penchant anarchique. Mais l’ampleur du mouvement de protestation depuis laisse croire alors soit à une anarchie généralisée, peu probable, ou au mécontentement global d’une jeunesse à court de débouchés au sein d'une crise socio-économique prononcée, en Grèce encore plus qu'ailleurs sans doute.
Les manifestations se sont emparées, à la vitesse de l’embrasement des nombreux cocktail molotovs, d'une dizaine d’autres villes, les manifestants s’en prenant à de nombreux postes de police et à des immeubles gouvernementaux, y mêlant parfois au passage des commerces décorés pour Noël ou des autos de particuliers. Le quatrième jour, celui des obsèques de Grigoropoulos, première victime aussi jeune de tirs policiers depuis 1985, a été particulièrement animé, et ce aux portes même du cimetière.
Le gouvernement conservateur à peine majoritaire de Costas Karamanlis a alors fait flotter la menace de mesures plus sévères, pour assurer sa survie. Après des discussions infructueuses avec le gouvernement pour mettre fin aux dérangements, le dirigeant de l'opposition socialiste George Papandreou a ignoré les appels à l'unité nationale et profité de l’état de la rue pour demander la démission du premier ministre, qui avait refusé celle de son ministre de l’intérieur précédement.
La crise a lieu sur fond de scandale de corruption lié au pouvoir, et alors que Karamanlis reste quelque peu plus populaire que son adversaire, la crise risque de grignoter le mince écart qui les sépare. Puis la popularité du premier ministre auprès des manifestants ne s’est pas améliorée lorsqu’il a caractérisé d’ «ennemis de la démocratie » les émeutiers, aussitôt remontés aux barricades à la veille d’une grève générale, prévue d'avance par des syndicats.
Entre temps le bilan s'alourdissait. Après quatre jours plus de 100 personnes ont été arrêtées lors des émeutes et, à Athènes seulement, quelques 300 commerces ont été endommagés par les manifestants, profitant parfois de l'"asile universitaire", empêchant les forces de l'ordre de pénétrer dans une université, pour se réapprovisionner face aux forces de l'ordre.
De son côté le policier qui a tiré sur l'adolescent a été inculpé d'homicide volontaire. Un rapport de ballistique aurait cependant confirmé la thèse de l'accident selon l'avocat des policiers, mais la famille de la victime a fait appel à un pathologue pour vérifier les conclusions de l'étude. Selon le rapport du coroner le jeune a été atteint à la poitrine, mais les circonstances de l'incident ne sont pas claires.
Selon la police deux agents auraient été attaqués par des jeunes avant que trois tirs ne retentissent. Selon la version officielle l'agent aurait voulu tirer en l'air, mais selon des témoins il aurait directement visé la victime.
L'incident n'est pas sans rappeler celui qui a causé la mort de Fredy Villanueva à Montréal-Nord l'été dernier, un quartier également défavorisé où une importante émeute a suivi l'incident. Le ministre de la sécurité publique a récemment révélé que l'agent responsable du tir, également afin de se défendre selon la version officielle, ne ferait pas face à des accusations.


Charest wins his bet
Looking on at the chaos taking hold in Ottawa which may or may not have chipped away at his majority, Jean Charest must feel relieved he won the bet Prime Minister Stephen Harper had lost earlier: calling an early vote to gain a majority to better steer his citizens during tough economic times.

It took a while for the former federal politician, the Captain Canada of the 1995 referendum, to get a foothold into the province after being parachuted there in the 90s, but he’s shown surprising staying power, accomplishing what no other premier had done in the province since the 40s, not even Jean Lesage or Rene Levesque: win a third mandate, and as bonus, recovering the majority of his first.

This, the separatist Parti Quebecois warned, would be sure to bring a return of the confrontational Charest of the past, instead of the conciliatory one seen since he obtained a diminished government in March 2007, but an electorate uninspired by the opposition, or the nail-biting cold, nevertheless returned to power Charest with 66 seats Monday.

Critics were quick to point to the disappointing participation rate, 57 per cent, and resurgence of the Parti Quebecois, jumping from 36 seats to 51, but Charest had obtained his intended goal, with a special place in the province’s history as bonus. “In this period of economic instability, Quebecers have recognized the need to have a stable government,” Charest told supporters in his acceptance speech. “They strengthened our team by electing a majority government.”

Truth be told the night’s results came as a relief to the PQ, which had found a new momentum under leader Pauline Marois after a disastrous result less than two years earlier. The separatists scored better than projected by the polls and returned the province’s politics back to their usual duality. “We’re getting down to work again because we’ve seen a real revival of our political movement. I’m at the head of a party that is in good health financially and organizationally,” said Marois.

Analysts wondered meanwhile whether the turmoil in Ottawa had not played some role in Quebec, as Harper singled out the separatist Bloc Quebecois in his thrashing of the looming coalition. While the return of the PQ signaled at least some renewed strength in the nationalist camp, Charest quickly warned Marois against bringing sovereignty back on the drawing boards, dismissing the PQ’s results and insisting any interpretation of the vote as a renewal of calls for a referendum was a manipulation of the results, pointing out sovereignty was if anything shelved during the campaign. “What was at stake in this campaign was the economy and only the economy, and that never changed,” he said.

While the matter of whether nationalism shared the spotlight, or whether the fracas in Ottawa influenced the results, is up for debate, there is no doubt the big heartbreak of the night belonged to Mario Dumont, whose party’s representation shrunk below official status levels (from 41 to 7 seats), and who promptly stepped down as party leader, a tragic outcome for the ADQ which is perhaps associated with its leader like no other party, often running with the slogan “Equipe Mario Dumont.”

Perhaps mimicking federal politics, provincial politics in Quebec showed there was little room for a third option which had mainly triumphed in March 2007, leaving its young leader a few seats shy of the premiership, due to the weakness of the traditional separatist opposition. Mr Dumont's rise, which coincided with drops in support for sovereignty, had for some symbolized the personification of a new brand of Quebec politics detached, from the age-old Yes-No debate. Nationalism gave way to "autonomism", and the province could move forward looking through a new political prism, some thought, but the ADQ's coming of age was ultimately ephemeral, and Dumont's dreams of leading the province ultimately dashed.

But some would argue the usual duality is long gone now that provincial politics have seen the electorate fragment further, yielding to a fourth party, Quebec Solidaire. A fragmentation of the vote that makes Charest's majority win all the more surprising.


Glum Canada heading into Holidays


With the economy creeping into recession, the Afghan death toll reaching 100 and political drama of historic proportions unfolding in Ottawa, Canadians may be short on Holiday cheer this year. A poll released the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper obtained the Governor General's permission to suspend Parliament just a few days into its newly-minted session, putting the business of government on hold until  Jan. 26, revealed almost three-quarters of Canadians said they are "truly scared" for the future of the country.

Then last week the Canadian Forces said three soldiers had been killed by explosives in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll in the mission to 100. Meanwhile statistics said the country had lost 71,000 jobs in November, the worst tally in 26 years. South of the border the economy shed another half million jobs. Canada's politics had become as tumultuous as its economy, reeling from the latest series of job cuts in the automobile, paper mill and media industries over the last days, with fresh confirmation Canada was entering a much anticipated technical recession.

The night before the trip to Rideau Hall, Canada's clashing political leaders, who had barely lowered their rhetoric since the Oct. 14 elections, had faced off on the small screen as Harper said he would employ every means at his disposal to prevent a Liberal-New Democrat coalition supported by the separatist Bloc Quebecois from taking over government, and vowed to “resist this undemocratic seizure of power.” Some see there some irony in that the man credited for uniting the badly divided Right managed to unite the Left as well.

Days before the leaders of the NDP and Liberals had agreed to name Stephane Dion the leader of a Bloc-supported coalition, in effect waking the country up to the possibility it may be run by the little popular runner-up in the recent federal election. But Dion faced immediate pressure to step down and did so on Dec. 8, paving the way for Liberal front-runner Michael Ignatieff to take over a possible coalition. But ironically Ignatieff is a less fervent supporter of the coalition, describing his position on Sunday as a "coalition, if necessary, but not necessarily a coalition". While the separatist Bloc said it would not join the coalition formally, it agreed to back it until 2010.

Sparking this unprecedented political drama, just days into the new, shortened Parliamentary session, was outrage by the opposition parties that the reinforced Conservative minority would scrap annual subsidies to political parties of $1.95 for every vote cast during an election. They also resented what they called the Tories' failure to prop up the country, as France was doing then to the tune of $26 billion, by not coming up with their own stimulus package for the economy.

But a solid majority of Canadians said that they would prefer holding their noses and march back to the polls to having the minority Conservative government replaced by a coalition, according to that same Ipsos-Reid poll. Canadians were just more likely to trust the Tories, almost six in 10 of them, to best manage the economy during the turbulent times.

Canadians knew electing a new minority in October meant going back to the polls sooner rather than later, but never expected it to be this soon, let alone Quebecers who have meanwhile seen their own provincial election eclipsed by the controversy. The Tories may have a hard time making future gains in Quebec where some have resented an anti-Bloc stance some say emboldened the currently fledging nationalist movement in the province. While Jean Charest's Liberals won a rare third consecutive mandate in Quebec, regaining their previous majority, the Parti Quebecois did come in a strong second in the vote.

"At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada," Harper had said. Even Charest had come out backing the Bloc, calling it the democratic voice of millions of Quebecers in Ottawa.

Meanwhile the coalition, which had its supporters in Ottawa last week where hundreds of union members came out in front of Parliament Hill, has its detractors in other parts of the country. A Dion-led Bloc-supported coalition was especially seen as being pro-Quebec and anti-West in the West, which thought it had finally obtained prominence under Harper. Ignatieff as leader did not make the coalition more popular. The country is relatively divided on the coalition, most people in Quebec supporting it, while in the rest of the country, opponents were more present. That didn't keep politicians from taking their message on the road, the NDP and Liberal leaders attending a campaign-like rally in Toronto Saturday in front of coalition supporters.

Adding to the oddity of the political turmoil is the observation that Canada's first-past-the-post Parliamentary system is precisely supposed to avoid fractioning votes and is supposed to promote majorities, something which has been lacking in the last elections. But as the government was preparing to enter a prolonged break over the holidays, Harper did his best to douse the political fire by inviting his opponents to give him advice on a new federal budget.

He did so minutes after proroguing Parliament, a move meant to pre-empt a confidence vote his government could have lost just days later. The vote on the budget in January, is expected to be the next showdown on the Hill. Harper said the olive branch was to remind politicians of the economic concerns being felt by Canadians. "The opposition criticism is that we have to focus on the economy immediately," he said. "Today's decision will give us an opportunity . . . to focus on the economy and to work together." But the Liberals and NDP vowed to push ahead with their plans to form a coalition government. "He's trying to lock the door of Parliament so that the elected people cannot speak," Layton said. "He's trying to save his job."

Apologetic about the current crisis, Harper admitted his party as well as the others were responsible for the turmoil. "The public is very frustrated with the situation in Parliament," he said. "We are all responsible." Never before had a prime minister asked to suspend Parliament to avoid a confidence vote, something University of Toronto political scientist Robert Bothwell says makes a mockery of Harper's decision, and the country.  "Canada looks terrible. It looks ridiculous. It makes nonsense of our Constitution," he said, adding that the move set a dangerous precedent.

Britain's Economist magazine referred to the crisis as "un-Canadian caper" starting the article with: "There are no tanks in the streets or protesters occupying the airport, but Canada is in the midst of political turmoil the like of which this normally placid country has rarely seen."

Yet Canadians remain supportive of the prime minister, not only preferring to head to the polls rather than accept a coalition, but more likely to elect a majority if elections are held according to an Ekos poll. It recorded a rise in Conservative support to 44 percent up from the 37.6 percent they received in the election.


L'impatience face à Mugabe
L’Afrique est-elle enfin en train de perdre patience avec Robert Mugabe, qui vient à nouveau de manipuler le processus électoral pour se maintenir à la tête de son pays souffrant ? Il y a une semaine à peine cette nation malmenée d’Afrique de l’est faisait appel à l’aide internationale en raison de l'épidémie de choléra qui a fait plus de 790 victimes parmi les 16,000 personnes infectées depuis août. Mais craignant une "invasion" étrangère pour mettre fin à la crise, Mugabe ensuite déclaré la guerre au choléra "gagnée", alors même que les groupes humanitaires sonnaient une nouvelle alarme.

Cette crise ne vient que s’ajouter aux autres qui s'aggravent sous le règne du despote de Harare, qui accuse les sanctions qui pèsent contre son régime, plutôt que le délabrement des infrastructures nationales dues à la mauvaise gestion des affaires de l'état, d'être responsables de la crise.
L’épidémie s’ajoute à la crise politique qui secoue le pays depuis l’échec des pourparlers avec l’opposition de Morgan Tsvangirai, qui lors de la campagne électorale obtenait la faveur populaire.

L’échec des discussions politiques sur un partage du pouvoir a fait sortir le premier ministre du Kenya Raila Odinga de ses gonds récemment, faisant appel au renvoi de Mugabe. La déclaration semblait signaler une perte de patience et un changement de ton vis-à-vis le  Zimbabwe. Plus tôt le ministre des affaires étrangères du Botswana Phandu Skelemani avait lors d'une entrevue radiophonique laissé entendre que si les pays voisins fermaient leurs frontières, le régime de 28 ans de Mugabe tomberait en une semaine. Les deux pays ont par la suite rompu leurs relations diplomatiques.

Au Botswana et au Mozambique, deux pays voisins du Zimbabwe, les autorités sanitaires étaient en état d'alerte, tentant de déterminer les risques de propagation de l'épidémie dans la région, elle qui s'est développée notamment en raison du délabrement des systèmes de santé et d'épuration des eaux au Zimbabwe.

L’Afrique du Sud de son côté, dont le rôle de médiateur de l’ancien président Thabo Mbeki avait été jugé trop timide par plusieurs membres de la communauté internationale, pourrait également durcir le ton sous la présidence prochaine de Jacob Zuma, attendue tôt dans la nouvelle année. Celui-ci a proclamé la formation d’une nouvelle alliance entre son pays et le Kenya sur l’éternelle question du Zimbabwe, où Johannesbourg pourrait de plus en plus se pencher contre le régime de Mugabe.

Odinga déclarait à la BBC, un peu comme Skelemani, que si assez de gouvernements africains isolaient Harare, Mugabe pourrait se voir obligé de quitter le pouvoir: «Je crois sérieusement que si les dirigeants sud-africains prenaient une position ferme et demandaient le retrait de Mugabe, il n’aurait pas le choix de faire autrement». La déclaration devait sûrement plaire à Tsvangirai, en tournée en Afrique pour obtenir de l’aide après des autres chefs de gouvernement.

"Les Zimbabwéens sont les premières victimes de l'incapacité de leur gouvernement, mais toute la région va en payer le prix, avertit un rapport rapport de 20 anciens dirigeants dont Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan et Nelson Mandela. Trois à quatre millions de personnes ont fui le pays, vers l'Afrique du Sud, le Botswana, le Mozambique et la Grande-Bretagne... la détérioration du système de santé et des infrastructures de distribution d'eau ont provoqué une épidémie de choléra qui risque de s'étendre à l'échelle régionale". Ce groupe d'"Anciens" a accusé Mugabe d'être incapable de résoudre la grave crise humanitaire au Zimbabwe.

Au Zimbabwe pendant ce temps on rapportait des incidents lorsque des soldats auraient pillé plusieurs établissements après s'être butés à des banques incapables de payer leur salaire. Alors que l’Union européenne s’estimait également à bout de patience et préparait des sanctions plus sévères contre le Zimbabwe, en ajoutant une dizaine de noms à la liste des personnes interdites d'entrée dans l'UE, la Grande-Bretagne, longuement critiquée par Harare, a indiqué qu’elle ferait parvenir davantage d’aide au développement au Zimbabwe.

En posant ce geste, le premier ministre Gordon Brown a dit qu’il agissait parce que « l’état incapable de Mugabe ne voulait plus ou ne pouvait plus protéger son peuple ». Paris et Washington ont également promis de débloquer des fonds. Prenant son mal en patience, la Commission a de son côté promis plus de 12 millions $ pour alimenter le pays souffrant en eau propre et en medicaments. L'Afrique du Sud se préparait quand à elle à envoyer une équipe au Zimbabwe pour faire des recommandations pour sortir le pays de la crise alimentaire qui sévit, et qui a pour effet d'affaiblir une population moins capable de résister à l'épidémie.

"Des millions de gens faisaient déjà face à la famine. Avec un chômage de 80 pourcent et des carences alimentaires à travers le pays ils doivent maintenant combattre le choléra ainsi que les autres maladies qui résultent d'un manque d'eau et de mesures sanitaires", estimait Peter Mutoredzanwa, le directeur d'Oxfam au Zimbabwe.
A break in the Thai protests, but no solution
Usually in countries with a tradition of coup d'etats, here the latest barely two years old, politicians get quite nervous when the men in uniform say a change of government is in order. That was the message when Gen. Anupong called for new elections last week in Thailand, where governments have had short lifespans since a 2006 coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But the army chief denied a new putsch was on his mind, stressing the government still had "full authority." “We will not seize power. We are just making a suggestion and will let the government decide,” Anupong later insisted.

If anything the military was actually seen by some as being the only possible mediator in a crisis which threatened to get worse as anti-government protesters extended their protests to Bangkok’s two main airports, stranding thousands and squeezing the country’s lucrative tourism industry, while pro-government demonstrators started to lead counter-protests in the streets.

The military’s middle-ground position was all the more evident as it took its time responding to the crisis, never fully backing Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, a relative of Thaksin’s seen as being too close to the former leader accused of corruption by protesters who have vowed to oust the government for weeks. At the same time the army chief ordered the protesters to leave the airport and end their campaign against the government.

In the end they did, but only after a court dismissed the country’s prime minister for the second time in months, ruling Somchai’s People’s Power Party was guilty of fraud in the Dec 2007 elections. The same court had ruled Somchai’s predecessor guilty of conflict of interest, putting an end to his tenure. Somchai accepted the verdict and quickly stepped down. “My duty is over,” he said.

Protesters meanwhile were jubilant: “We have won a victory and achieved our aims,” declared the protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul, of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. But pro-government supporters who had been massing around the court, and at one point ruptured its power supply, voiced their disappointment.The judgement was fixed,” said pro-government businesswoman Rojarek Phalaburee. “We will continue to join the protest.”

And this could mean more trouble as analysts fear Thaksin supporters were already lining up a new party to stay in power, while pro-government supporters were growing angrier at a justice system which toppled another head of government, calling the court’s ruling a “judicial coup d’etat”. Widespread civil strife could ensue,” opined Bangkok Chulalongkorn University  political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

Scenes had after all dramatically tensed in the streets over the weekend as the two protest groups neared getting into full-blown clashes and explosions in the capital wounded 51 people Sunday, one of them at the prime ministerial compound that has been occupied by protesters since August, giving a sense the stand-off was entering a more violent stage. Monday a bomb blast killed one protester and wounded 22 at one of the airports. In all seven people have been killed in six months of political tension and more injured.

Hard-core government supporters, who call themselves the Red Shirts, said they were losing patience with the protesters and threatened to take things into their own hands. Leader Weera Musikapong told reporters that the “best way out” of the crisis was to follow the law. “But, if the government does not act today or tomorrow, the Red Shirt group and the people must come out and do something.”

Further emboldened by a second court decision in their favour, anti-government protesters had already been uplifted after Queen Sirikit attended the funeral of a protester who was killed in a clash with police. The king is revered as a symbol of stability in a nation that has endured 10 mostly bloodless coups since ending absolute monarchy in 1932.

Doing little to settle the crisis, the court decision at least gives the tourism-reliant national economy a little reprieve by making possible the reopening of Bangkok’s two main airports. Not that the country’s economy hasn’t reeled from all the disruption. “The protesters have basically closed down the country,” said Ruth Banomyong of Thammasat University. “Thailand was never considered as a very risky country,” he said. “I don’t think companies would have prepared for this.”


Target India, again
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn't waste much time speculating who was behind the most brazen attack of an Indian city yet, which resulted in some 170 deaths and about 230 injuries in Mumbai last week. Just under a dozen assailants used grenades and automatic weapons, took hostages and sprayed crowds of civilians with gunfire in the streets of India's economic hub as well as businesses, train stations and hospitals in coordinated attacks on 10 targets launched Nov. 26.

In a televisions address the next day, as troops were dealing with the ongoing hostage crises, one involving a Jewish centre where five hostages were eventually killed, Singh said the militants had come from "outside the country," a formula usually meant to indicate Pakistan. Singh stressed the attacks were clearly "well-planned and well-orchestrated" and warned "neighbours" who provided a haven to anti-India militants that there would "be a cost" to pay. Could that cost him also?

There were perhaps reasons for reacting so quickly. By some accounts U.S. intelligence had warned India that Pakistan-based terrorists would attack Mumbai targets, naming one of the hotels where hostages were held captive. Pakistan quickly denied any involvement in the attack, its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, ironically in New Delhi for peace talks, warning against a “knee-jerk reaction.” But it was feared the hard lengthy work going into the peace talks was already undone.

Within days evidence mounted the men had come to Mumbai by sea from Karachi. "Investigation carried out so far has revealed the hand of Pakistan-based groups in the Mumbai attack," said India's minister of state for home affairs. At which point Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who is battling Islamic radicals in his own nation, said he would cooperate. "If any evidence comes of any individual or group in any part of my country, I shall take the swiftest of action in the light of evidence and in front of the world," he told CNN-IBN TV.

This cooperation was quickly put to the test as India demanded that Pakistan take "strong action" against those responsible for the attacks and  summoned Pakistan's high commissioner to India Monday, giving him a list of "those persons who are settled in Pakistan and who are fugitives of Indian law," according to India's foreign minister. Qureshi meanwhile offered to establish a joint investigation with India while saying his government wanted to continue a peace process begun in 2004. "We do not want to do anything which could fan tension. We want to de-escalate matters," he said.

This seemed to bring some relief the tense nuclear-armed South Asian continent would not drag the world into a crisis of strategic proportions. But in New Delhi, the government was starting to feel the heat as protest mounted against the country's perceived weak security apparatus and its failure to pre-empt such massive attacks as well as delays before eliminating the gunmen. Not to mention about an attack it had been warned about. As the heads started to roll and India considered forming an anti-terror agency, the prime minister accepted the resignation of India's home minister, who said he took "moral responsibility" but refused a similar offer by his national security adviser.

Nine of the attackers who carried out the 60-hour siege were killed, but a tenth reportedly told interrogators they wanted to go down in history in an Indian version of the Sept. 11 attacks and confessed to being a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar- e-Taiba militant group, which has long fought Indian forces in disputed Kashmir and was blamed for other attacks, including one against India's parliament in December 2001.

According to officials, the man arrested was Pakistani, and while the death count was staggering, some believe it could have been much worse. "We found bullets with them, hand grenades, bombs," said R.R. Patil, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra state, who later resigned. "Based on our investigation, we believe they had planned to kill 5,000 people."Newspapers reported some of the militants had checked into the hotel days or weeks before the attacks, and rented an apartment in the city a few months ago pretending to be students. Some 20 police officers were among the victims by the time the final operations to eradicate the attackers ended, on Saturday.

Even though most of the victims were local, the attackers seemed to be targeting tourists and Westerners across the city, taking dozens of hostages at two five-star hotels, the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal. "I guess they were after foreigners because they were asking for British or American passports," said Rakesh Patel, a British witness who lives in Hong Kong and was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on business.

Speaking to Indian television by telephone, a gunman holding hostages in the Oberoi Hotel demanded that Muslim prisoners, including those captured in Kashmir, be released from Indian jails. “Release all the mujahideens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled,” he said. Divided Kashmir has inflamed domestic militants but has also been a regular flash point between India and Pakistan. The insurgency-hit north of the country reeled again this week when a bomb exploded in a train, killing at least two people and injuring another 30.

A previously little-known organization calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen sent an e-mail to news organizations claiming responsibility for the Mumbai attacks. The Deccan is a region in southern India that was traditionally ruled by Muslim kings. This would be the latest in a string of attacks in Indian cities claimed by Muslim groups, and only the latest to target India’s economic capital. In July 2006 a series of devastating bombs on Mumbai's rail line system killed over 200 people and injured hundreds. In 1993 some 250 people were killed when at least 13 bombs were sent off in a day known as "Black Friday".

This past July attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad killed 50 people and injured over 160, the number of plots in a period of two days, including some which had been foiled, rattling the world’s largest democracy. Hindu extremists have sometimes been responsible for some of the attacks over the years but there has lately been no shortage of self-proclaimed Islamic groups claiming responsibility for such attacks.

Another little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives and six weeks earlier a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for a series of bombs in crowded markets in New Delhi that left more than 20 dead. The same group had claimed responsibility for the Bangalore and Ahmedabad attacks, claiming it was avenging past attacks against Muslims.

But because the latest attacks targeted Westerners, even though most of the victims were Indian, and considering the coordinated nature of the attacks, analysts doubted the Mumbai attackers were entirely local, and quickly considered the more familiar group with foreign and al-Qaida ties, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was largely blamed for the 2006 attacks in the city. The group however denied any involvement in the attacks.

Up until now the government had resisted calls to reinstate a controversial anti-terrorism law that it scrapped coming to power in 2004, because it had been criticized for giving the police too many powers to detain people without charge. But this may be changing as some now fear the attackers are getting bolder. "It is the highest profile, boldest attack we have seen in some time," said travel security expert Bruce McIndoe.

Another expert, Rohan Gunaratna, called the attacks a "watershed" for India, "because for the first time, the terrorists deliberately attacked international targets." Neither tensions with Pakistan nor terror threats, like the explosives found at a Mumbai rail station just this week, will entirely go away any time soon.


Un nouveau voisin?
Le Canada n’est peut-être pas près d’avoir un nouveau voisin à l’est de ses frontières, mais pour les habitants du Groenland le vote du 25 nov. constituait un important geste en faveur d'une autonomie élargie sur la plus grande ile au monde. Environ 75 pourcent des quelques 27,000 électeurs qui se sont présentés aux urnes ont voté en faveur de cette plus grande autonomie lors d’un référendum consultatif que beaucoup considèrent comme une étape cruciale vers l'indépendance et qui pourrait entre temps mener au transfert d’un nombre de compétences et permettre à l’ile de tirer plus de recettes des importantes ressources de l’Arctique.

Le Canada, les Etats-Unis, la Russie et la Norvège sont impliqués dans de nombreuses disputes territoriales sur le toit du monde, une dispute entre autre alimentée par des études selon lesquelles le grand nord recellerait d'importantes richesses de gaz et de pétrole. Outre une autonomie élargie dans des champs de compétence incluant la justice et dans une certaine mesure les affaires étrangères, cette victoire offrirait aux Groenlandais le droit de toucher chaque année environ 16 millions de dollars issus de l'éventuelle exploitation de réserves pétrolières.

En revanche Copenhague diminuerait ses subventions, qui se chiffraient en 2007 dans l’ordre d’un demi-milliard de dollars, soit près du tiers du PNB du Groenland. On est donc loin de parler d’indépendance pour cette immense masse terrestre sous contrôle danois depuis 1775 dont 80 pourcent est couverte de neige et dont la population ne dépasse pas quelques 57,000 habitants dont 50,000 sont autochtones. Mais on assiste tout de même à un nouvel éloignement de Copenhague, qui conféra au Groenland une plus grande autonomie en 1979.

Depuis le territoire a fait plusieurs gestes pour s'affirmer, notamment en tant que nation inuit. Les noms de lieux en danois ont entre autre été remplacés par les noms inuits, la capitale Godthab devenant Nuuk. Puis en 1985 le Groenland a hissé sa propre bannière, préservant tout de même le blanc et le rouge du drapeau danois. La même année l'ile s'est exclue de l'ensemble Européen, notamment en vue de protéger l'industrie de la pêche.

« L’autonomie apporterait de bien bonnes choses au Groenland, » estimait Lars-Emil Johansen, premier ministre de l’ile entre 1991 et 1997. Le oui selon lui donne lieu à « la reconnaissance des Groenlandais en tant que peuple, à la reconnaissance de leur langue, au droit à l’auto-détermination, et au contrôle des ressources sous-marines ». Copenhague se réserverait cependant le droit d’intervenir sur les questions de politique étrangère et de défence, la base américaine de Thule étant notamment installée sur l’ile, et les Etats-Unis espérant toujours y construire une station de son bouclier anti-missile.

Le premier ministre social démocrate Hans Enoksen estime que le Groenland vient de franchir un pas important, mais rappelait durant les derniers jours de la campagne que le plebiscite ne portait par sur l’indépendance, bien que celle-ci soit selon lui possible à long terme. Il a remercié du coup le premier ministre danois Anders Fogh Rasmussen d'avoir permis l'organisation du référendum: «Merci d'avoir ouvert la voie à cette occasion, a-t-il dit, vous détiendrez une place importante dans l'histoire du Groenland.»

Mais pour Johannes Mathiassen, qui a voté « non », l’ile n’est pas prête de prendre les choses entièrement en main: « Je ne suis pas opposé à une plus grande autonomie, dit-il à l’AFP, mais en sentant le besoin d'ajouter: nos dirigeants ne sont pas prêts afin d'assumer plus de responsabilités. » Pourtant c'est ce qu'affirmait la campagne du oui, qui scandait un "Yes we can" d'un ton plutôt familier.

World leaders meet to discuss crisis
World leaders gathered in Washington as Europe and Japan entered a recession, with the U.S. expected to follow suit and China acknow- ledging the financial crisis has hit it harder than initially thought. Canada so far is proving to be the more resilient of the G20 countries whose leaders gathered to discuss the global crisis over the weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper boasting about the strength of Canadian banks and saying the country’s situation was the most fiscally sound of all the participants.
On Saturday the leaders backed better financial market regulation and granting more say for emerging countries, represented at the meeting, in response to the global economic crisis. "We must lay the foundation for reform to help ensure that a global crisis, such as this one, does not happen again," the leaders said in lengthy statement after the emergency summit.
The plan endorses an early warning system for problems such as the frenzy that fed the U.S. housing bubble. It also rejects protectionism and calls for the creation of "supervisory colleges" of financial regulators from many nations to better detect risky investing and other potential problems. But perhaps its most notable accomplishment, according to the Economist, is that it brought for the first time so many leaders of rich as well as emerging economies to a major financial summit, the sum in total representing some 90% of the global GDP.
"Whatever the tactical reasons, the success of this weekend’s gathering has permanently changed the machinery of international economic co-operation. The centre of global economic summitry has shifted from the G7 to a broader group," the magazine wrote.
But the following Monday tumbling markets showed  many investors were unconvinced that the weekend's vague commitments would prevent a global recession. "Failure of the G20 meeting to produce any concrete measures to deal with the global recession has caused markets to continue to trade with a sell bias to start this week," said Paul Lennox, corporate treasurer at the B.C.-based international payments firm Custom House.
With speculation mounting that recession is creeping among the world’s economic engines, Europe’s 15-nation euro-zone confirmed a second quarter of contraction last week, technically putting it into recession. Growth was down 0.2% in the third quarter after a similar drop between April and June. This came as little surprise as data showed Germany and Italy were already in recession.
In contrast France grew slightly (0.1%) in the same period, as President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Washington with perhaps the strongest intent to change the world’s economic system. Harper meanwhile said that short of a complete overhaul, more regulations should be agreed upon, choosing a middle-ground between strong centralized power and laissez-faire capitalism.
The recession is the first to hit the euro-zone since it adopted the single currency in 1999, and forecasters feared the worst was far from over. “Looking ahead, we can expect further quarters of negative GDP growth, until the third quarter of 2009, simply because so far we have not had in the GDP figures the full impact of the credit market crisis," said Gilles Moec, senior economist, Bank of America. "We also haven't yet seen the full impact of unemployment on consumer spending," he added, forecasting that the euro-zone region will shrink by 1% next year.
Hardest hit was the main economic engine, Germany, which slipped by 0.5% in the last quarter, after falling 0.4% in the previous. A strong euro has hit exports in addition to the slowdown related to the financial crisis of the last months. Spain is also expected to head into a recession and so is the U.K., as fears are spreading the other 12 European countries will also slip, the 27-country ensemble down by a comparable 0.2% in the last quarter, despite lower interest rates by the European Central Bank this month, moving from trying to prevent inflation to trying to kick-start the economy.
This week Japan confirmed that the economy contracted at an annual pace of 0.4 percent in the July-September period after falling an annualized 3.7 percent in the second quarter. The U.S. economy shrank 0.3% in the third quarter, and while such contraction has yet to be seen in Canada, which is expecting to lead the top industrialized countries in growth next year, the slowdown will hit the country coast to coast according to the Conference Board of Canada. As a result Ontario could even find itself on the brink of a recession this year and into 2009, the Board said in a report last week.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty meanwhile said the government was considering selling real estate and other Crown assets to help balance the books as the economy continues its downward slide, plans that include reviewing capital assets and determine if any should be sold. But officials refused to call it a "fire sale" of government assets.


Dropping oil prices can also mean trouble


While few have been spared by the collapse of the financial sector consumers have at least been getting some reprieve at the pump due to a slump in demand by even the most resilient economies. Oil prices have more than halved since the summer, after peaking at $147 a barrel in July, hitting under $50 this week. Just recently oil analysts Goldman Sachs were saying oil prices could drop to $50 in the event of a world recession.
The collapsing price of crude has brightened somewhat the spirits of drivers and travelers, most airlines having removed oil surcharges, but comes with consequences in a producing nation such as Canada. While the hard-hit manufacturing sector in central Canada has more breathing room, oilsands producers in Alberta are scaling back their plans and cutting spending as the high cost of capital makes the projects less feasible as oil prices drop.
Dropping demand for Canada’s resources have hit the Canadian dollar, slipping back under 80 cents US, trouble for travelers but relief for exporters, suffering as the country’s largest foreign market contracted further, shedding 240,000 jobs last month. But Canada is hardly the only oil producer to have felt the pinch.
With talk of global oil demand falling next year, for the first time since 1991, OPEC decided last month to pump 1.5m fewer barrels a day starting Nov. 1, with several members eyeing further cuts. With $2 trillion worth of mainly publicly-funded projects planned or under way, Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are looking to scale down some projects as they are doubly slammed by the sliding price of oil and financial crisis. In a country such as Saudi Arabia, where oil money also buys social peace, high crude prices do more than just keep the coffers full. In addition, according to reports, Riyadh has budgeted its military procurement and energy infrastructure program on expectation that the price of oil would remain over $50 through 2010, sparking fears of  encountering a deficit otherwise.
Many oil-developing countries being emerging or developing economies, this is a common problem. In Nigeria, where the oil industry has been targeted by social unrest, budgets also suffer from dropping prices. Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Chukwuma Soludo said recently the country had to peg its budget accordingly. "Already, the government had put the price between $40 to $45 in next year's budget and at the same time had promised to find other ways of (tapping into) other neglected aspects of the economy.”
If anything, the painful lessons have reminded governments of the need to diversify oil-reliant economies, as some Gulf states have done. "If the country can afford to do without oil revenue dominating the budget for next year, the problem must have been found,” said Charles Udara, a business consultant with the Wordsnet Communications. "How are countries without oil coping and while can't the same apply? They must have been relying on alternative means of sustaining their economy by developing those things that we neglect here," the economist said, stressing the need to develop areas such as tourism, agriculture and solid minerals.
Commodity-rich Russia has been feeling the same crunch, and saw its stock market lose 75% of its value since last year in part as a result of the falling prices of crude. Moscow has sometimes exhibited an aggressive foreign policy, but lower oil prices can be a remedy to that according to a Russian anecdote that quips: "When oil is $160 a barrel, Vladimir Putin says that Moscow should rule the world. When the price falls to $120, he argues that Moscow should control all the countries of the former Soviet Union. When it declines to $60, the Russian prime minister says that Moscow will oppose the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. But should the price of oil decline still further, to $30, Putin is going to say that Moscow demands NATO offer membership to both of those former Soviet republics."
Short of that the drop in oil may at least have postponed the clash over the Arctic, where Russia, at current prices, finds exploiting the seabed for resources unprofitable. In short, some Russian analysts say, the dropping price of oil may “save the world from Russia’s ambitions.”
Some of the former Soviet republics around the Caspian Sea are similarly affected by the combination of dropping oil prices and financial upheaval, former economic engine Kazakhstan seeing its once 10% annual growth rate halved this year. The slowdown there is having an effect across the region as workers have been streaming in from neighbouring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Further south, for all its swaggering, Iran can’t escape the same predicament according to the International Monetary Fund, which says that Iran, Venezuela and Nigeria need oil prices above $95 per barrel just to cover their respective national budgets. Critics of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s nuclear ambitions hope these will be curtailed by tighter revenues. Oil revenue accounts for at least half Tehran’s budget and 60 economists recently criticized Ahmedinejad’s foreign and domestic policies for exacerbating economic troubles. They said Iran’s "tension-creating foreign policy'' resulted in billions of dollars in costs as a result of UN Security Council sanctions.
Similarly critics of president Hugo Chavez’s domestic and foreign policy also see the dropping prices weaken his abilities. Caracas is particularly vulnerable as more than 90% of its export revenue and more than half of the government's annual expenditure comes from oil. "We are on the edge of a precipice and we should prepare for contingencies," said former head of the Venezuelan central bank, Domingo Maza Zavala. "The government is presenting a different panorama to Venezuelans, which is dangerous because the best way of confronting dangers and risks is the truth."
Analysts say a weak economy made worse by slumping oil prices could bring on a burgeoning fiscal deficit, high inflation, and balance of payments problems. While Chavez’s many social programs have made him popular at home and abroad, a much tightened fiscal situation could run the country into serious trouble, they say. Already inflation is running at 36% in the last 12 months, the highest in Latin America. "Everything is linked to the oil boom," Jose Manuel Puente, from the Public Policy Centre, told the BBC. "If oil prices continue to fall, the country simply will be unable to continue importing to meet rising demand, maintain the exchange rate and the expansionary fiscal policy, and keep this illusion of harmony."
But according to one of the world’s leading authorities on energy supply, it won’t be long before oil prices are back up again and setting new records. The International Energy Agency reports in its World Energy Outlook for 2008 that in the long run cheap oil is a thing of the past as prices could soar as high as $200 a barrel by 2030. It says lack of investment and research and development in the oil sector will be responsible for the rising costs of crude, leaving a vibrant market for Canada's oilsands, but disappointed drivers and perhaps more economic troubles ahead.
According to one prominent Canadian economist, high oil prices may deserve the credit for the current global economic slowdown, and not the crash of the U.S. housing market.


Le Québec aux urnes
La recherche de la majorité c’est un peu celle du Saint Graal au Canada en ce moment, et comme son homologue fédéral Stephen Harper, le premier ministre du Québec Jean Charest a mis un terme à un gouvernement minoritaire afin chercher le pouvoir législatif qui selon lui permettrait de faire face à la crise financière avec aplomb.

"Si la cohabitation pouvait être praticable en temps de croissance, elle constitue un risque déraisonnable en période d'incertitude, a-t-il dit. Qu'est-ce qui est le mieux pour l'avenir du Québec: demander aujourd'hui aux Québécois de se donner un gouvernement qui a un mandat clair, de traverser cette tempête qui s'annonce, ou risquer d'être forcé d'aller en élection par l'opposition en plein coeur de la crise? Avec un gouvernement minoritaire, l'enjeu n'est pas de savoir s'il y aura des élections, mais quand il y aura des élections."

Le pari, 20 mois seulement après les dernières élections provinciales, est quelque peu osé si l’on constate les résultats de l’élection fédérale, et le maintien d’une minorité – quoique renforcée – ainsi que la majorité de Québécois (70 pourcent) donnant des signes de fatigue électorale.

Mais si la conjoncture économique est douteuse, la conjoncture politique parcontre laisse entrevoir des signes plus positifs pour les libéraux en quête d’un troisième mandat, un fait plutôt inusité dans la Belle province.

En effet quelques jours avant l’appel aux urnes les libéraux avaient repêché deux membres de l’Action démocratique du Québec, critiquant entre autre l’autoritarisme du chef du parti autonomiste.

Comme au fédéral à la veille d’un appel de plus en plus évident aux urnes, l’opposition avait tout fait pour éviter le lancement de la campagne, acceptant même de donner libre voie aux projets du gouvernement, mais en vain.

Comme Stéphane Dion plus tôt, le chef adéquiste Mario Dumont a accusé Charest de déclencher une élection générale sur la base de "faux prétextes" et appelé les électeurs à le "punir" pour avoir lancé le Québec dans une nouvelle campagne électorale.

"On part en élection. Ce n'est pas l'économie d'abord, c'est l'économie qui prend le bord, parce qu'au cours des prochaines semaines, plus personne ne va parler d'économie", a prédit Dumont.

Le Parti Québécois, qui a encaissé sa pire défaite électorale il y a moins de deux ans, accuse Charest de lancer des élections pour cacher l'état déficitaire des finances publiques.

Le PQ vise néanmoins un gouvernement majoritaire, mais les sondages placent les libéraux nettement en avance, et laissent croire à la possibilité d’un gouvernement majoritaire le 8 décembre.

Les sondages encourageants et le dévoilement d’une charte pour immigrants - reconnaissant les valeurs du Québec - répondant aux recommandations de la commission Bouchard-Taylor sur les accommodements raisonnables, constituaient des signes précurseurs de cet appel au vote.

L’organisation de réunions internationales dans le cadre du 400ème de Québec, dont le sommet de la Francophonie, n’a pas été nuisible envers Charest non plus, permettant au premier ministre de jouer dans la cour des grands.


Obama: fiscal stimulus package a priority
Days before being invited to the White House to meet with president George W. Bush president-elect Barack Obama used his first news conference to stress an economic fiscal package should be passed “sooner rather than later” to deal with the current economic crisis.
Obama noted the latest economic numbers revealed that a quarter million jobs had been lost last month and reminded the U.S. was facing “the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime.”
“Americans people need help, the economy is in bad shape,” he said, appearing Friday next to his economic transition team, promising to tackle the economy “head on.”
He noted however he was not the president before Jan. 20 but would make passing such a package a priority should it not pass before he is inaugurated.
Obama said the U.S. needed “a rescue plan for the middle class” and an extension of unemployment insurance for those who were struggling after losing their jobs.
Some 1.2 million Americans lost their jobs this year, leaving 10 million of them unemployed, he said. Such a fiscal plan could jump start economic growth, he said, stressing the auto industry was the backbone of the country’s manufacturing sector, but noted the fiscal crisis also required “a global response.”
“I do not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead,” he said. “Some choices we make are going to be difficult,” he added, stressing finding a solution would neither be quick or easy.
His meeting with Bush and finding a solution to the crisis would require setting aside bipartisan politics, he said.
Obama said his transition team would review and appropriately respond to a letter received by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, something that should not be done in “knee-jerk” fashion considering the country is seeking nuclear weapons, which he stressed was “unacceptable”, and supported terrorism, which he said “has to cease.”
The first press conference since his election however did not involve the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
On a lighter note, responding to a reporter’s question, he said the choice of a dog, which he promised to his kids if elected, was “a major issue” which had to be discussed since one of his daughters is allergic. He said this possibly prescribed choosing the dog from a shelter because “a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”
Obama sweeps America off its feet
  NPU Photo

Win the election? Yes he could. And with at least a sweeping 349 electoral votes and perhaps more. But can Barack Obama now deal with the out-of-this-world expectations his historic candidacy and now win have created?

As expected there was no need for a photofinish on Nov. 4 at the end of a two-year marathon electoral race that heralded change starting with a stunning Iowa caucus victory on Jan. 3 and sent an unusually high number of American voters to the polls to elect the country’s first black president.

Americans have had months to see history being made, as tens of thousands attended various packed political rallies, and millions more poured into the voting booths wanting to take part in this once unthinkable American march - either early or on voting day - leaving turnout the largest since the election of John F. Kennedy, whose name resurfaced during the campaign.

If making history was a challenge now the president-elect must satisfy the possibly overblown expectations of a campaign which drew many voters to the polling booths for the first time. In the final weeks of the campaign Obama’s senior advisers were drawning up plans to lower these expectations amid concerns that many of his euphoric supporters are harbouring unrealistic hopes of what he can achieve. A case in point may have been the adulation of an Ohio bishop who compared Obama to Moses and Martin Luther King in the same breath. "Imagine, if Obama wins, then the world may actually change (for the better)! I'm optimistic," said Ramona Arora in North Carolina.

On election night as in some of his final speeches, Obama sought to bring supporters back to Earth, as the Democrats wanted to prevent the highs of a campaign of “hope” from being brought down in the first days of the presidency by the reality of persistent economic difficulties which are slipping the word “recession” in the daily vocabulary. "Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime, two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century," said Obama. "The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep, we may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there."

"I promise you -- we as a people will get there," he said in his home town of Chicago in front of 250,000 supporters who gathered in a city park to mark the moment a black man was elected to the White House, in a country which went full circle since slavery. Emotional outbursts were taking place all around him, where former presidential contender Jesse Jackson failed to hold back tears, and beyond, from cars blasting their horns in Times square to parties marking the event in Australia.

John McCain was not one to ignore the significance of the evening's vote. "This is a historic election and I recognize its special significance for African-Americans," he said during his concession speech shortly after the election was called at 11 p.m. Running-mate Sarah Palin, who was seeking to become the country's first female vice-president, recognized it as such as well shortly after voting Tuesday morning. "This is a historical event no matter which ticket prevails."

The emotions of the final days of the campaign had been compounded by a tragic loss in the Obama family. On the eve of the vote the Democratic candidate had learned his grandmother, who had been such a pivotal figure in his upbringing, had lost her struggle against cancer. Obama had previously temporarily suspended his campaign to visit 86-year-old Madelyn Payne Dunham in Hawaii when her health started deteriorating.

As expected and even before election day, voting did not unravel without complications. Long lines appeared in some 30 states where early voting took place and technical complications with voting machines plagued many districts. Some 25% of voters, 29 million of them, cast their ballots before election day, usually a good omen for Democrats. Another one came early Tuesday morning when Obama received 15 votes to McCain's six in the first official results from the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. He was the first Democrat to win there since 1968.

While bringing out the vote worked, it didn't happen without controversy. Organizations such as community organization ACORN came under scrutiny during the campaign after irregularities were spotted in its drive to register voters, but days before the vote the group fought back allegations that it was trying to register voters fraudulently. The group, which supported Obama, released ads condemining Republican "attempts at voter suppression across the country," saying it was filing several lawsuits around the country to halt the alleged suppression.

This made observer groups fear lawyers would once again be thrown deep into the electoral process. Prior to the vote McCain's campaign launched a suit to extend by 10 days overseas absentee ballots arriving in Virginia, a key battleground state. Across the country an army of lawyers was being recruited, ready to intervene in any close election races.

While some would argue the unpopularity of the outgoing presidency gave the Democrats a head start, the meteoric rise of the first-term senator has taken place on many fronts, from capturing usually red states such as Nevada, which voted Republican in eight of its last 10 presidential elections, and Virginia, which has voted GOP over the last four decades, to solidifying down the stretch by drawing millions of dollars from voters online, $150 million alone falling into the coffers in September. Obamamania resonated well beyond U.S. shores, notably in the country where his father originated, Kenya, where chickens and goats were being slaughtened in celebration. Halfway across the world, the city of Obama, Japan, welcomed the win like that of a native son.

Every poll since late September had shown Obama winning, sometimes by two-digit margins, the financial collapse in the final weeks leading partly to the strengthening of his popularity and his argument the troubles were the indictment of years of Republican rule. In an interview of the final week of the campaign, when asked whether he really wanted to inherit the financial mess, as well as two foreign wars, the senator said he was up to the challenge. “This is the time you want to be president, to have an impact,” he said on the day a half-hour “Obama infomercial” was running on network television across the country. “Challenges give energy to move in a new direction, realize what we have been doing isn’t working.”

The $5 million advertising stunt was meant to remind voters “one more time, 'Here's what I'm going to do,' not oversell, and let people make up their minds. That's how democracy works," he said. "At this stage, everything that needs to be said has probably been heard by a lot of voters."

Meanwhile the mood was glum among Republicans, once buoyed by the short-lived boost which followed the selection of Sarah Palin on the ticket, with indications of recrimination between aides of the two Republican running mates swirling as election day neared.

Not only did the campaign see a number of newspapers which had never before endorsed a Democrat, such as the Los Angeles Times, choose Obama, one New Mexico bi-monthly went further by becoming the first to call the election, choosing to run “Obama Wins!” on its cover of its Oct 26-Nov 8 issue, apparently fearing no repeat of the “Dewey Beats Truman” fiasco six decades earlier. Not surprisingly, a study released days before the vote reported a certain media bias in the press, which it said was twice more likely to say good things about Obama than his opponent during the campaign.

Republicans meanwhile were accused of keeping campaign ads on the negative side, as McCain struggled to cut Obama’s lead in the polls with aggressive messages, referring on the screen or in public to the Illinois senator as a socialist and raising the issue of his acquaintance with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.

Republicans also warned there would be grave consequences for the country if Democrats were in charge of both chambers of Congress and the White House. Americans will have the opportunity to find out between now and new elections, in two years.



Mission de l'ONU menacée au Congo


Les rebelles prétendant défendre la minorité tutsie des milices hutues responsables du génocide rwandais, les derniers affrontements entre les troupes de Laurent Nkunda dans le nord-est du Congo et celles de l'armée montrent à quel point les crises de la précédente décennie en Afrique centrale sont loin de se résorber, qu’il s’agisse de la guerre qui s’est emparée de l’ancien Zaïre il y a dix ans ou du génocide des Grands Lacs quatre ans plus tôt.

Mais en approchant ses troupes aux limites de la capitale régionale de Goma, c’est la mission onusienne la plus importante au monde que menace l’ex-général Nkunda et son Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, forçant du coup hors de leur plus récent asile des dizaines de milliers de réfugiés forcés de quitter le Nord-Kivu à l’approche des rebelles. Déménageant de camp en camp, le pire est à craindre pour ces réfugiés, qui ne peuvent plus dans plusieurs cas compter sur l’aide humanitaire de l’ONU tellement la MONUC est à bout de forces.


Alors que Nkunda signait ses plus récentes conquêtes, le camp principal de la force à Goma, où sont regroupés 6,000 des 17,000 casques bleus de la MONUC, faisait face à la colère des habitants, pris de panique par l’avancée des rebelles aux portes de la ville. La démission récente du second commandant de la force en quelques mois n’a en rien remonté le moral des troupes, d'autant plus que le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU a la semaine dernière examiné une requête urgente de renforcer la mission, mais sans prendre de décision. Quelques jours plus tard, l'Union européenne décidait d'envoyer des diplomates plutôt que des soldats pour tenter de régler un conflit qui risque à nouveau d'embraser la région, lui qui avait déjà débordé plusieurs frontières.


Dans la plupart des coins de la zone chaude, les casques bleus sont les seuls à encore tenir tête aux troupes de Nkunda, les troupes congolaises préférant souvent fuir plutôt qu’affronter l’ennemi. Nkunda, qui accuse l’armée congolaise de collaborer avec des forces rwandaises abritant des auteurs du génocide et a lancé une nouvelle offensive le 28 août après l’écroulement de l’accord de paix de Goma de janvier, a juré de s'emparer de Goma avant de "libérer" tout le pays. Avant de serrer les rangs autour de Goma il a donné aux réfugiés quelques jours afin de fuir ou de permettre l'aide humanitaire de passer.


Nkunda avait généralement rejeté l’accord de paix, refusant de rendre les armes alors que selon lui des rébelles hutues restaient actives dans la région. Les combats au courant des deux dernières années ont déplacé plus d’un million de personnes tandis que la guerre de 1998-2003 et ses répercussions humanitaires auraient tué près de 5,4 millions de personnes dans ce pays dont les richesses minières ont souvent alimenté les conflits.


Si Nkunda soupçonne des éléments rwandais de soutenir l’armée, le journal pro- gouvernement Le Potentiel estime pour sa part que « deux bataillons étrangers, rwandais, appuient Nkunda dans son entreprise de rebellion » l’ex-gradé ayant abandonné l’armée avant de lancer sa propre rébellion à la fin de la guerre civile congolaise. Voilà bien une accusation qui réunit le gouvernement et les rebelles, car alors que le Rwanda nie tout rôle, le gouvernement congolais accuse Kigali de participer également à la crise et d'appuyer Nkunda. Autre point en commun: tant les troupes rebelles que celles de Kinshasa sont accusées d'avoir commises des atrocités et pillé durant le conflit.


Alors que s’inscrit le plus récent chapitre de la misère dans la région, les organisations humanitaires, dont plusieurs ont dû rebrousser chemin, avouent leur impuissance malgré tant de bouches à nourrir: « Nous ne pouvons simplement pas envoyer des équipes dans la campagne, explique Ron Redmond de l’agence des réfugiés de l’ONU, il y a trop de combats, c’est trop dangereux, c’est l’anarchie ! »


Ils estiment qu'un des six millions d'habitants de la province sont en déplacement. Pour le quotidien congolais, la prise de Goma signifierait la fin de la mission onusienne au Congo. « Si Goma tombait, l’Onu serait alors vraiment un "machin", pour reprendre les propos du Général de Gaulle. La présence de la Monuc deviendrait sans objet. »


Israël aux urnes
Même pour une ancienne agente du Mossad, rassembler les partis israéliens autour d’une coalition gouvernante se serait avéré une mission impossible. Le pays hébreu effectuera donc un autre retour aux urnes, mettant au placard les plus récentes initiatives en vue d’un rapprochement israélo-palestinien.

A la tête du parti centriste Kadima la ministre des affaires étrangères et ex-protégée d’Ariel Sharon, tentera de devenir la deuxième femme au poste de premier ministre depuis la fondation d’Israel. La sélection de Tzipi Livni à la tête du parti en septembre, en remplacement du premier ministre Ehoud Olmert, enlisé dans des affaires de corruption mais qui conserve son poste par intérim, a relevé quelque peu les fortunes du parti qui jusqu’à tout récemment tirait légèrement de l'arrière face au Likoud de l’ancien premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahou dans les sondages.

Alors que la précarité des gouvernements israéliens se doit à la complexité du système électoral, et notamment de son mode à la proportionelle, la division entre les partis principaux est claire et nette sur la question des pourparlers sur la Palestine. Les personnalités principales se distinguent aussi nettement, plusieurs voyant en Livni l’incarnation d’une nouvelle politique, une bouffée de fraicheur dans l’affreux bourbier du Knesset, alors que Netanyahou prend toutes les apparences de l’ancienne garde.

Mais pour le quotidien Haaretz, Livni ne s’est pas distinguée de ses prédécesseurs en essayant en vain, pendant 35 jours, de former une coalition. « Elle n'a pas fait le moindre petit geste qui aurait pu refléter cette ambition de faire de la politique autrement. C'est pour cela, et pour nulle autre raison, que Livni a échoué » prétend le journal.

Bouffée de fraicheur chez les uns, manque d’expérience chez les autres, le Haaretz poursuit sa logique encore plus loin: « Si les Premiers ministres de l'Etat d'Israël étaient sélectionnés au terme d'un concours, Livni n'aurait jamais rempli les conditions minimales pour être retenue, continue le journal. Elle ne dispose ni du curriculum vitae requis, ni d'une expérience à la hauteur des exigences de cette fonction. De même, elle manque cruellement d'une véritable vision politique ».

Pourtant la majorité des gouvernements ne parvenant pas à terme, il aurait été surprenant que Livni parvienne à un compromis, d’autant plus que les partis-clé nécessaires semblaient inflexibles sur les questions qui lui tenaient à cœur. Deux partis cruciaux, le Shas ultra-Orthodoxe et la Liste unifiée de la Torah, avaient exigé qu’elle s’engage à ne mener aucune négociation avec les Palestiniens sur un possible partage du contrôle de Jérusalem, alors que Livni mène, depuis près d’un an, les négociations afin de parvenir à la création d’un Etat palestinien.

« J'ai constaté ces derniers jours que les négociations menaient à des exigences exorbitantes tant au niveau économique que politique (des partis). Il y a un prix que je ne suis pas disposée à payer, a-t-elle martelé. J'ai informé le président que dans les conditions présentes, nous devons organiser le plus vite possible des élections. Le peuple choisira ses dirigeants ». Le lendemain le président Shimon Peres a annoncé la tenue d'élections anticipées, qui se dérouleront en février 2009.

Selon certains commentateurs le refus de Livni de céder aux exigences des partis religieux pourrait lui permettre de renforcer son image de «Madame propre» de la politique israélienne tandis que d’autres la caractérisent au contraire de «loser» en rappelant sa victoire très serrée lors des primaires de Kadima, et en ajoutant qu’elle est la seule personnalité politique à avoir échoué à former un gouvernement depuis Shimon Peres, en 1990.

Mais pour certains ceci ne fait que rappeler la nature complexe du système politique et électoral israélien.  «Alors qu’Israël est confronté à la menace iranienne et à la crise financière mondiale, les tractations de ces dernières semaines ont tourné autour de la défense d’intérêts sectoriels, estime Dan Ben-David de l’université de Tel-Aviv. La priorité numéro 1 devrait être la réforme du système politique israélien vers un système présidentiel qui mettrait fin à la prise d’otage de la gestion du pays par des groupes qui se soucient peu de l’intérêt du pays».
Du foot en Palestine
Pendant dix ans la sélection nationale palestinienne a dû jouer en Jordanie ou au Qatar lorsqu’elle disputait des rencontres internationales de soccer « à domicile ». Mais dimanche dernier le onze palestinien a pu enfin disputer une rencontre chez elle lors d’une rencontre historique à caractère d’autant plus politique que le stade était à environ 100m. de la muraille de sécurité qui cerne Jérusalem.

Cette fois l’équipe a pu effectuer un retour de ballon et servir d’hôte à l’équipe jordanienne lors d’un match amical qui s’est soldé par le score de 1-1. Environ 6,500 partisans en liesse étaient rassemblés au nouveau stade Fayçal Husseini à Al-Ram, en banlieue de Jérusalem en Cisjordanie, scandant au son des tambours: "la Palestine va faire trembler la terre", alors qu’un animateur haranguait la foule avec des vers du défunt poète Mahmoud Darwich: "Le football est la plus noble des guerres".

 Réunis pour cette occasion sportive très particulière dans un stade entouré d'un important dispositif de sécurité et  décoré des portraits de Yasser Arafat, le dirigeant historique palestinien mort en 2004, du roi Abdallah II de Jordanie, et de l'actuel président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas, ce dernier ainsi que son Premier ministre, Salam Fayyad, ont accompagné le président de la Fifa Joseph Blatter lors des cérémonies protocolaires de cette rencontre qui n’a pas manqué de moments forts. Suivant leur entrée sur le gazon synthétique, les joueurs jordaniens, dont certains d'origine palestinienne, se sont agenouillés en cercle pour embrasser le sol.

« Je peux vous dire que le football vous donne de l'espoir. Le football donne aussi espoir aux hommes politiques d'atteindre leurs buts", a déclaré Blatter avant la rencontre. Ceci (la cage sur le terrain) est un petit but. Le président et le Premier ministre tentent, eux, de réaliser le grand but », a-t-il ajouté en faisant allusion à la quête palestinienne d'indépendance après plus de 40 ans d'occupation israélienne.

Autant dire que le classement des clubs, la Jordanie est classée 112ème sur 207 nations et la Palestine 180ème, avait peu d'intérêt en l'occurrence. Bien qu'on ne soit pas à la veille d'assister à une rencontre Israël-Palestine de ci-tôt, il y avait quelquechose d'unificateur dans cette rencontre qui pendant 90 minutes de jeu a permis d'oublier les division inter-palestiniennes, étant données les luttes intestines entre les mouvements Fatah et Hamas qui a pris de force le pouvoir à Gaza.

D'une part le capitaine du club, l'attaquant Ahmad Kashkash, est originaire de l'enclave palestinienne au bord de la mer. Puis le premier ministre du Hamas à Gaza, Ismaïl Haniyeh, a mis de côté les traditionnelles et parfois sanglantes rivalités en téléphonant au général Jibril Rajoub, du Fatah, qui dirige depuis mai la Fédération palestinienne de football, pour lui souhaiter bonne chance.

C'est d'ailleurs dès la 8e minute de jeu que Kashkash a inscrit le but des siens, une avance qui a tenu jusqu'en 2e moitié lorsque la riposte a égalis. la marque entre les voisins. “C'est un événement historique, s'est exclamé Jibril Al-Rjoub, l'ancien conseillé en sécurité d'Arafat qui dirige la fédération de foot palestinienne. Ca envoie une message clair à la communcauté internationale que la Palestine mérite l'indépendance”.
High tide for piracy
In the case of an Indian cargo ship seized days before on Somalia’s northern coast, justice was swift on Oct. 21 as Somali gunmen freed the 13 crewmembers and captured four of the pirates after a fierce gun battle. That was the 30th ship seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia this year and in other cases ship seizures have resulted in long-standing standoffs on the high seas.

As a reminder Indian maritime unions were warning their government that their members would refuse to sail the pirate-infested waters unless Delhi took action in the case of a ship seized in mid-September. The National Union of Seafarers of India and the Maritime Union of India said in a joint statement that they had repeatedly urged the government to resolve the stand-off over the Hong Kong-registered MV Stolt Valor.

But the Japanese owners of the vessel said it could take yet another month before the issue is resolved. The owners said they were still negotiating but would not comment on reports that they were trying to get the pirates to reduce their $ 2 million ransom demand. Piracy is big money off the coast of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.

Indian shipping companies tell their government that the crisis could bring on ever more helfty losses if shipping comes to a standstill in the Gulf, pointing to four vessels scheduled to leave Mumbai on Oct. 22 deciding to put off their departure so as to obtain more assurances in the form of Indian Navy escorts.

But even a heavy military presence doesn’t seem to intimidate increasingly intrepid Somali pirates, who according to Bimco, a Danish shipping federation, held 200 seamen hostage in September. A case in point is the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with 33 Russian tanks and ammunition headed for Kenya. A Russian frigate equipped with guided missiles joined an international flotilla of U.S. and NATO warships that have surrounded the Faina to stop pirates from unloading its cargo. Most of the dozens of ships seized this year were freed after their owners paid hefty ransoms but 10, including the Stolt Valor and Faina, were still being held.

Despite the heavy military presence, relatives of the mostly-Ukrainian crew of the Faina were preparing to pay the ransom demanded by pirates. "We have the money to pay a ransom to bring them back home, we collected much of it in donations from ordinary people," said Olha Grizheva, the mother of one of the hostages. A "major political party" donated the remainer of the ransom, according to the Ukrainian media.

One Russian crewmember died of natural causes shortly after becoming a captive, while another had to be evacuated. Reports placed the ransom demanded by pirates between $5 and $30 million dollars. The previous week pirates had released the crew of a South Korean ship seized in September.

The commander of Nato's anti-piracy patrol scheduled to start off Somalia says it will be difficult to defend ships from such attacks. "The time that a pirate unveils himself to the time that he's onboard ship is such a short period of time," Admiral Mark Fitzgerald told the BBC. "From a military standpoint, we certainly are limited by what we can do," he said. "How do you prove a guy's a pirate before he actually attacks a ship?" He said that the North Atlantic Council was still drawing up the rules of engagement for pirates.

Over 200,000 civilian vessels pass the Horn of Africa every year, making the region a rich hunting ground for Somalia's pirates. The crisis is enough to make even war-wary Japan consider sending the country’s Maritime Self-Defense Force to the region, under pressure from the Japanese Shipowners' Association. "In September alone, 26 Japanese ships--including foreign ships operated by Japanese companies--were attacked by pirates," a petition filed by the JSA said. "There is a limit to what can be done by the private sector to deal with armed pirates."

Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since 1991 and has been overrun by continual civil strife. Lack of stable government, not to mention any authority along the coasts due to the country's lack of formal coastal force, is leaving unescorted vessels fair game for pirates. In the case of Indian cargo vessel, authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia said their forces raided the ship soon after pirates attacked. Armed militia members from local clans sometimes fill in to guard the nation's coast.

Philippino, Panamanian, or Indian, the vessels targeted come in all shapes, colours and sizes as over 60 ships that have been attacked by pirates off the Somali coast this year alone, twice the amount seen in 2007, according to a report released by London-based Chatham House, an international affairs institute. According to Chatham $18 million to $30 million in ransoms paid this year are helping finance the war in Somalia. One of the groups reportedly receiving ransom money is Al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group that is waging a bloody battle for control of Somalia.

Puntland officials have condemned foreign countries for paying ransom, stressing it only encourages more piracy. "When ransom is paid once, the next time there is another piracy incident the ransom will only increase," one official said.
Tories return to power with strengthened minority
Results

There was no rush at the polls as Canadians re-elected a strengthened minority Tory government Tuesday, the third consecutive minority government in Ottawa since 2004. The election recorded the lowest participation rate in history with only 59.1 per cent making the trip to a polling station to choose the leader of the government that will have to tackle the economic crisis which has taken hold of the country during the election.

Nationally the Tories added 16 more seats to their tally to score 143, still short of the 155-seat majority. Under Stephane Dion the Liberals dropped 19 seats to 76 while the NDP gained 7 seats to 37 and the Bloc gained another two to score 50 of Quebec’s 75 seats.

“Tonight Canadians have voted to move our country forward and have done so with confidence,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Canadians have cast their vote, rendered their verdict and have charted the way forward for our country... As a result of our campaigning our party is bigger our support base is stronger”

In his acceptance speech Harper said he would turn his attention to the issue which had been dominant during the campaign. “These are challenging times in the world economy, Canadians are worried right now and I understand those worries but I want to ensure Canadians that working together we will weather this storm and position our economy to emerge stronger than ever before.”

The following day Harper answered critics who said the Conservatives were too slow to react to the financial crisis hitting Bay Street and overall credit crunch by unveiling an economic plan calling for reined in government spending and presenting Parliament with a budget that takes account of the credit crisis by the end of November. Harper said he would meet with Canada's provincial leaders as well as G-7 counterparts to discuss economic needs.

The next-day announcement sought to reassure Canadians that the transition would be seamless, even though the Tories lost one cabinet minister after the vote. The Conservatives topped all the polls during the campaign, including some that hinted a majority may be within their grasp. But as the campaign was winding down and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called for supporters from all parties to rally behind the Grits to deny Harper a majority, and even government, the prime minister himself downplayed polls showing the Tories were expected to win.

A blow to Dion, whose leadership was questioned by a former liberal rival on election night after posting the worst percentage numbers of his party in over a century, another Harper minority could also come back to haunt the Tory leader after his third electoral contest, one in which he failed to make inroads into Quebec, where the Tories were at least hoping to supplant the Liberals as the federalist party, or gain enough new ground in Ontario.

Harper was criticized by opponents of calling a snap election out of fear the economy would get worse, a byproduct of a financial crisis largely created south of the border. As the campaign progressed and the crisis worsened, Harper lost some voters by downplaying the impact of the economic upheaval on Canadians, a stance increasingly made difficult to sustain as the stock market plunged and his own finance minister moved to inject some $25-billion of liquidity into the financial system, which he said was to maintain the availability of long-term credit.

While Canada’s economic fundamentals were sound, the markets were being battered yet again the day after the election, as the resource-rich economy reeled from slumping demand world-wide and diving energy prices, sending the loonie into a dive well below 90 cents US. During the length of the campaign the TSX dropped from 13,160.90 on Sept. 10 to 9,065.16 last Friday or 31 % and the dollar from 94.14 U.S to 83.23 U.S., heralding the challenges after a campaign dominated by concerns over the economy. Commodity-rich Canada was certainly not spared by the drop in the price of oil either, from $106.34 to $77.70 or 28 % in the same brief 37-day period, the shortest allowed for a federal election.

Still the Tories managed to come on top despite campaigns in various parts of the country to elect “Anybody-but-Harper”, notably championed by Newfoundland premier Danny Williams, comparisons to George Bush on anything from the economy to the war, and an at times a faltering campaign marked by gaffes which led to the dismissal of some staffers. The ABC campaign's impact was noticed early on election night as the Tories were shut out of Canada's easternmost province.

Meanwhile Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe claimed Quebec had prevented Harper from obtaining a majority because he had taken Quebec for granted. Duceppe pounced on Tory cuts in the arts sector, deeply felt in the province, and what he called Harper's preference to support big oil in the West rather than suffering manufacturers in Quebec.

But all along it seemed obvious the opposition was weak, and that neither Dion, nor his Green Shift environmental platform - meant to highlight that Canada turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol under Harper - were appealing enough to mobilize voters, even among his troops. Until that is, the first of two leaders debates, during which Dion came out strong, energizing his campaign and cutting the Tories’ lead in the polls, which had been leaving open the possibility of forming a majority.

Dion gradually talked less about the carbon tax central to his environmental platform, leading to Tory charges the Liberals had little to offer than new taxes, and attacked Harper’s Bush-like “laissez-faire” approach to the economy, while highlighting a five-point 30-day plan on the economy. “I think Stephane Dion has performed better since the debates,” said a Dion strategist. “He has fought hard and showed resilience.”

While his aim had been to form a majority to, in his words, lead the country in tough economic times with decisive action, Harper told voters in one riding he would welcome “any mandate”, sensing a turn-around in the polls. But Liberal strategists rightly feared that the turn-around happened a little too late for Dion, who was accused of being indecisive by the Tories after an interview during which the Liberal leader seemed to stumble when questioned how he would lead the country differently from Harper in view of the current economic crisis.

Harper said the incident during which Dion seemed not to understand the question, showed he lacked the ability to lead Canada through turbulent economic times. Liberals slammed Tory reaction as a cheap shot, but the incident highlighted Dion's troubles with one of Canada's official languages, his mangled English making it difficult for him to properly explain his complex green platform, which in addition to a carbon tax included cuts to income tax and corporate taxes, or communicate effectively with English-speakers. One financial analyst noted that "explaining the complicated program would be a tall order for even the most charismatic and eloquent politician."

Harper meanwhile unveiled the party’s $8.7 billion platform including a $345 million tariff reduction for the manufacturing sector and $400 million for the aerospace and auto industries and heralding measures to help the financial sector. Despite the crisis, and speculation about the possibility a recession south of the border would plunge Canada’s economy into one as well, the Tories got some good news when Statistics Canada reported that, against all predictions, the economy created 107,000 new jobs, the biggest single-month gain ever recorded.

The numbers seemed to support an odd-sounding sound-bite, a similar one having haunted John McCain in the U.S. campaign, in which Harper noted "our economic fundamentals are good.” A report singling Canada out as having one of the world’s best banking system also helped support Harper’s position he would not intervene in the banking sector despite the meltdowns seen in so many countries around the world.

But overall the economic picture seemed so bleak the brightest financial analysts said they would refrain from trying to forecast where the country is headed. Canadians hope their new government will have a clearer perspective of the days ahead.
Mexico's growing violence
Mexico was bracing for hurricane Norbert over the weekend, but while the storm weakened as it made landfall in the West of the country there seemed to be no end to the fallout of the rising tide of drug-related killings that have been fueled by warring drug cartels and government efforts to crack down on them over the last months, leaving thousands of victims in its wake.

Fortunately many of the victims are gang members themselves, but civilians have been caught in the crossfire, leading to nationwide protests against the violence which has been gripping North America’s southern- most country. Over two dozen people, including a newspaper publisher and two federal agents were gunned down as a result of the latest violence. Last week 11 people died when four masked men dressed in black entered the Rio Rosas bar in the northern city of Chihuahua, spraying gunfire liberally among the patrons.

A columnist for a local newspaper was among the dead during the violence and two federal agents and two suspected drug traffickers were killed the following day in a shootout along the highway between Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez, a city that borders Texas and has been an epicenter of drug violence.

Nor has the U.S., which is the main destination of Mexico’s bloody drug trade, been spared by the attacks. Although it was not clear whether the attack against the U.S. consulate in Monterrey Monday was related to the violence, additional police guarded the building as investigators analyzed a security video of the incident in search of assailants who shot at the building and threw a grenade that failed to explode. Nobody was hurt in the assault but some fear terrorists could use Mexico or Canada to attack U.S. interests.

Grenades have been a weapon of choice in the gang-related attacks. In one of the bloodiest days of the latest wave of violence alleged drug hit men threw grenades into a crowd of Independence Day revelers in the western city of Morelia on Sept. 15, killing eight people, to some heralding cartel plans to expand their violent campaign against the Mexican government's crackdown. Grenades were also used recently against the state Public Safety office in Guadalajara, injuring six people on the street. It was the second attack on the Guadalajara office in less than six months. In a previous attack in June explosives killed a policeman and wounded another. Four former soldiers were arrested in that attack.

Further north in the border city of Tijuana, gunmen stormed a restaurant and shot dead two men seated at a table as well as the restaurant's photographer. In another part of town, the bullet-riddled bodies of two men were found in an abandoned car.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon initially earned praise for his get-tough approach to crime two years ago, but mounting violence is taking a toll, leading to some 3,000 deaths by September this year alone. That month the gruesome discovery of 12 headless bodies of people identified as local drug dealers dumped onto two ranches in Mexico's southeast highlighted the new levels of violence. As the violence has increased, beheadings have become commonplace in the increasingly vicious narco turf battles.

Nor is the violence limited to the drug trade. An increase in kidnappings by gangs usually not associated with the drug trade has been making Mexico surpass Colombia and Iraq in abductions this year. Kidnapping rose 9.1% year-on-year in the first five months of 2008, highlighted over the summer by the abduction and murder of the son of a prominent businessman, causing public opinion to turn. At the end of August social groups organized marches around the country to protest against insecurity and the impunity of criminals, the largest crowds gathering some 150,000 people in Mexico City.

By then Calderon, state and federal politicians had signed a “National Agreement for Security”. One critic however stressed the agreement will do nothing to increase the average tenure of police officers in cities, which hardly goes over two years.

While generally popular with some 60% of support, in opinion polls, Calderon can feel the violence dragging ratings down, only 34% praising his public security actions and 25% his combat against kidnappings. Spreading doubts further, the U.S. warned its citizens this week to increase vigilance when traveling south of its border.
Crise démesurée en Islande
Peu de pays ont été épargnés par la crise financière qui secoue les places boursières et les économies, à Tokyo, Sao Paulo comme à Moscou et Toronto, mais alors que les capitales étudient des mesures pour soutenir quelques banques et institutions, le premier ministre islandais évoquait la semaine dernière la possibilité d'une faillite nationale alors que la plus petite des nations nordiques espérait obtenir une aide financière russe afin de ne pas sombrer au fond de l’Atlantique.

Avec une surface à peine deux fois celle de la Nouvelle-Ecosse mais un tiers de sa population, l’Islande a développé depuis les années 1990 un goût pour les lois ouvertes du marché qui a brisé ses habitudes insulaires et conservatrices et augmenté son niveau de vie de manière astronomique, mais tout en l’exposant aux aléas des marchés internationaux, n’ayant pas la masse interne pour faire croitre ses affaires.

En conséquence l’économie repose dans une large mesure sur les activités financières internationales et ces derniers temps Reykjavik ne compte plus les faillites bancaires et institutionnelles, le résultat d’une dette externe monstrueuse qui ne sera en rien réduite pas des prêts de Moscou évalués à 5 milliards $, soit un quart du Produit intérieur brut. L’économie est d’autant plus exposée que le secteur financier islandais pèse neuf fois plus que le PIB et les quatre banques principales sont endettées de plus de $100 milliards.

Puis une implosion de l’économie aurait des conséquences sur le continent. Le groupe d’investisseurs Baugur contrôle notamment une douzaine de grands manufacturiers européens et américains d’importance, employant 53,000 personnes dans 3,700 boutiques dont le prestigieux magasin de jouets britannique Hamleys, le joaillier Goldsmiths et les chaines de mode Whistles et Jane Norman. Au Canada, l'industrie de la pêche avait ses propres préoccupations, certaines compagnies des Maritimes comme Ocean Choice ayant des liens financiers étroits avec les banques d'Islande.

Le recours d'urgence du premier ministre Geir Haarde au crédit russe fait partie des mesures prises par le gouvernement islandais pour tenter de sauver son économie nationale. Le gouvernement a également adopté une série de mesures législatives extraordinaires dans ce sens, donnant entre autres à l'État le pouvoir de prendre le contrôle des banques du pays menacées de faillite, dont Landsbanki, la deuxième banque du pays puis Kaupthing, la principale. Les premiers grands signes de faiblesse sont apparus lorsque la troisième banque, Glitnir, a été nationalisée.

Le gouvernement a également ordonné l'arrêt temporaire de toutes les transactions boursières à la suite d'une dévaluation de 30 pourcent de la couronne islandaise par rapport à l'euro. Mais très vite le pays constatait qu'il ne pouvait empêcher la glissade de sa devise. A l’instar des autres nations européennes, le gouvernement entend également désormais garantir tous les dépôts effectués dans les banques du pays pour tenter de rétablir la confiance des investisseurs et des épargnants. « Nous avons été obligés de prendre des actions décisives pour sauver le pays » a expliqué Haarde.

Le renversement est de taille pour ce pays sinon relativement paisible de pêche et de geysers dont le revenu par habitant est des plus élevés et qui en 2007 méritait le titre de pays où il fait le mieux vivre de l’ONU et où les habitants étaient les plus satisfaits. A présent, l’heure est au doute et aux angoisses. « Tout est fermé, soupirait  Johann Sigurdsson en quittant une succursale de Landsbanki, on n’a pas pu vendre nos actions ou même tirer de l’argent de la banque. »

Les déboires de Landsbanki ont été ressentis en Grande-Bretagne, où la banque internet affiliée Icesave a également gelé les comptes de ses clients. Londres a aussitôt agi en garantissant les comptes des clients britanniques, mais en brandissant la menace de poursuivre le gouvernement islandais. Le premier ministre britannique Gordon Brown estime qu'environ 100 conseils locaux,  services de police et de pompiers pourraient avoir perdu plus d'un milliard de livres à cause de ces faillites et a caractérisé la gestion islandaise de la crise d'irresponsable, faisant même usage de la loi antiterroriste pour geler des avoir islandais en Grande-Bretagne.

Haarde a été plutôt surpris par ces mesures, ayant quelques jours plus tôt décrit les relations entre les deux iles au large du continent d'excellentes. « Nous sommes une économie très ouverte et exposée, a-t-il expliqué à la BBC, lorsque nous avons été frappés par la crise ça a été de plein fouet... Ce que nous avons appris est qu'il n'est pas prudent pour un petit pays d'essayer de jouer un rôle directeur dans le système bancaire international.»

Des paroles peu rassurantes pour les plus communs de mortels. « Partout, on entend des gens dire 'nous devons changer notre mode de vie', rapporte le pasteur Birgir Asgeirsson, je sens beaucoup d'anxiété chez les gens. »
Adieu Grand Prix!
Après le départ des Expos a-t-on vécu le 7 octobre le plus récent chapitre de la mise au placard des grands vestiges sportifs des grandes années? Car depuis 1967 peu d'années s'étaient écoulées sans la fête de la F1, dont le Grand Prix du Canada est devenu permanent il y a 30 ans. Depuis 1978 la ville a vibré au son des monoplaces chaque été à l'exception de 1987, où un conflit de commanditaires avait forcé l’annulation de l’épreuve et gâché la fête.

Mais certains craignent qu'il n'y ait quelquechose de plus permanent dans l'exclusion de Montréal du calendrier 2009 de la F1, dont le grand patron, Bernie Ecclestone, disait il n'y a pas plus tard que cet année: «Nous aimons le Canada, nous allons à Montréal depuis très longtemps et nous irons au Canada aussi longtemps que nous le pourrons».

Un différend commercial entre l'organisation du Grand Prix du Canada et la Fédération internationale de l'automobile serait à l'origine de la décision unilatérale de la FIA d'exclure la course de Montréal. Le vice-président marketing du Grand Prix du Canada, Paul Wilson, a déclaré que le modèle économique demandé par la F1 n'est plus viable, tout en refusant de demander toute aide gouvernementale. Wilson a indiqué que pour garder la course à Montréal, il aurait fallu augmenter considérablement le prix des billets.

Il fallait se douter qu'après l'exclusion de la mecque du sport automobile, Indiannapolis, cette année, Montréal ne soit plus à l'abri des humeurs des patrons de la F1. "Je suis surpris mais pas totalement étonné, se trouvait à commenter Roger Peart, président de l'autorité nationale en matière de sport automobile, ASN Canada, le côté commercial du sport se dirige vers des contrées plus prestigieuses (comme Abou Dhabi). Je ne parle pas de Montréal en tant que tel mais des installations des autres pays" où l'événement est souvent soutenu financièrement par l'état.

Et ce même si le Grand Prix du Canada se disputait ordinairement à guichets fermés et des millions de dollars avaient été investis par les différents paliers de gouvernement pour donner aux écuries des paddocks répondant à leurs exigences. Evidemment les plaintes de certains pilotes sur la qualité de la piste ont souvent été retenues et l'organisation d'une seule course en Amérique du Nord ne facilitait l'organisation du calendrier annuel, dont les dates étaient prévues principalement en Europe mais de plus en plus en Asie.

Les négociations en vue de la possible présentation d’une course aux Etats-Unis dès 2010, pourraient-elles raviver l’espoir des amateurs montréalais? Puis la F1 avait bien retiré Montréal du calendrier en 2003 en raison des restrictions de la loi anti-tabac, puis était revenue sur sa décision après avoir subi les pressions gouvernementales, du milieu des affaires et de divers lobbys organisés. Mais à moins qu'un nouvel organisme ne s'impose, il est difficile de pouvoir espérer un retour de la F1 d'ici tôt.

« C'est décevant de ne pas courir en Amérique du Nord, a commenté Ecclestone, si nous pouvons y retourner, ce serait bien. »

Le maire et le premier ministre du Québec ont vite exigé des explications sur cette décision qui éliminerait environ $80 millions de retombées économiques. Sans parler, le rappelle le maire Gérald Tremblay, du prestige de paraitre sur les écrans du monde devant 300 millions de téléspectateurs. "Imaginez Montréal sans le Canadien," prétend un marchand de la rue Peel, non pas sans un peu d'exagération.

Tremblay a sur le coup promis de livrer une sérieuse lutte pour obtenir le retour de la prestigieuse course, mais un professeur de l'université Concordia prétend que Montréal n'a peut-être pas les reins assez solides dans ce système international de l'offre et de la demande: "La F1 a un produit très en demande, une multitude de villes fait du lobbying pour ce produit, explique Bruno Delorme, ils n'organisent que 18 événements (courses) par année, il y a une offre limitée alors ça se joue aux enchères". La ville qui remplace Montréal, Abou Dhabi, ne manque évidemment pas de ressources pour se tirer d'affaires.

La date de la nouvelle était d'autant plus tragique qu'elle marquait à un jour de près le 30e anniversaire de la première victoire de Gilles Villeneuve lors du premier Grand Prix du Canada.

Dernier brin d'espoir peut-être, certaines écuries ont prononcé leur déception face à la décision.

"C'est l'opposé de ce que nous cherchons, le marché Nord-américain est toujours le plus gros, affirme Mario Theissen de BMW-Sauber,  les Etats-Unis ont toujours été difficiles à conquérir mais le Canada, Montréal particulièrement, a toujours été en très bonne posture."

Puis deux jours après l'annonce trois palliers de gouvernement ont laissé savoir qu'ils rencontreraient Ecclestone pour discuter du différends commercial de $10 à 20 millions qui serait responsable pour l'annulation du Grand Prix.
Bailout bill passed on second try
A week of votes in the U.S. Congress which sent world markets up and down like a yo-yo ended with the House of Representatives passing a revised, "sweetened" version of a $700 billion financial rescue deal Friday. Only after the week's shakeup, an increase in the level of government insurance for bank deposits and new tax breaks, did lawmakers pass the bill they had previously rejected.

World financial markets were sent tumbling by the initial rejection, sending stock exchanges in New York and Toronto down some 800 points, registering single-day record losses and erasing more than the deal is worth from the books. On Monday U.S. lawmakers had rejected the deal despite a number of appeals by U.S. president George Bush to approve the measure to bring confidence back to the markets after weeks of upheaval tied to mortgage-related debt.

In the end popular pressure against the bailout weighed heavier than the plea of a commander in chief with months left in his administration and dwindling political capital. Since the bailout was announced it came under repeated fire from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as well as leaders overseas.

A number of world leaders used their podium time at the United Nations at the launch of the latest session of its General Assembly last week to criticize America's response to the financial crisis whipping world markets. They called for new regulations to the financial sector, some seeing the crisis as everything from an indictment of free-market economics to the twilight of U.S. economic supremacy.

The speeches weren't entirely surprising considering the compounded effect felt by some countries already struggling with food crises and high fuel prices. But calls for a major shake-up of the financial industry also came from close allies of the U.S. who had been asked to support the $700 billion bailout, all the while Congress was struggling to keep the emergency deal from being undone.

"No country, however powerful it may be, can bring an effective answer to the financial crisis on its own," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, calling for increased regulations and for G8 countries to address the issue at a special meeting. "Let us build together a regular, regulated capitalism, where entire sections of financial activity are subject not solely to the assessment of market operators… where credit agencies are controlled and punished when necessary, where transparency… replaces opaqueness."

The leader sometimes called "l'Américain" later added: “The idea that markets are always right was a mad idea.” The crisis dominated 28 speeches on the first day of general assembly, as developing nations demanded a stronger voice in decisions that shape the world economy. "Economic uncertainty has moved like a terrible tsunami around the globe, wiping away gains, erasing progress," said Philippines counterpart Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. "Just when we thought the worst had passed, the light at the end of the tunnel became an oncoming train, hurtling forward with new shocks to the global economy."

U.S. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon had opened the U.N. general assembly session with hopes of drawing attention to the plight of the world's poorest and seek more assistance by rich countries, a goal that may have to be postponed in view of the crisis.

President Bush reminded he was working with Congress to ink out the bailout that would according to its proponents start ending months of uncertainty which have collapsed major financial institutions, seeping into sectors of the economy beyond Wall Street. He spoke of taking "bold steps" to stabilize markets and inject confidence into them.

But his appeal to G8 members to sign on wasn't enthusiastically received, some finance ministers offering tepid support, other criticizing it outright. In a blistering attack German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck said the world was in fact witnessing the decline of an empire, calling Washington's actions "irresponsible," and blaming them for worsening the crisis. "The world will never be the same again," he said. "The U.S. will lose its status as the super-power of the world financial system," he said, charging Washington's initial response to the crisis was "wrong and dangerous." "This largely under-regulated system (of)  laissez-faire capitalism - the notion the markets should be as free as possible from regulation… is collapsing today."

But as the bailout deal failed in Congress and another European bank, Dexia, had to be rescued, European leaders became more outspoken about the need for the U.S. to take decisive action, including his own chancellor. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for another vote on the plan to restore confidence while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had sent a message to the White House to underline "the importance that we attach to taking decisive action". New Japanese premier Taro Aso said: "We should not let the world financial system collapse."

"The US must take its responsibilities in this situation, must show statesmanship for the sake of their own companies and for the sake of the world," European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said. But Europeans couldn't always agree among themselves, France and Germany clashing over the idea of a U.S.-style financial rescue fund as Italy's UniCredit became the latest bank under scrutiny after missing 2008 earnings targets.

Washington was initially reluctant to step in and provide federal help to a major institution, Lehman Brothers, in mid-September as the investment bank became overwhelmed by bad debt, while another player, Merril Lynch, only found solace in the arms of the Bank of America. Yet two days later the Federal Reserve agreed to provide American International Group an $85 billion loan to help stave off bankruptcy.

By then it was too late and the Fed was forced to acknowledge, according to chairman Ben Bernanke, that the financial system would require a system-wide bailout to prevent further crises, threatening to extend credit woes to other sectors of the economy besides real-estate. Days after the Fed assisted AIG, effectively taking it over, Bernanke described the American economy's arteries as being "clogged" and in risk of suffering a "heart attack", a Democratic senator recalled.

The crisis became a major issue in the current U.S. campaign, Republican candidate John McCain initially calling for an emergency session to deal with the issue and suspending his campaign. But the much anticipated TV debate was carried out, both candidates sparring on the issue. "This is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain," Obama said in the opening exchange of the first of three presidential debates. "(It's) the theory that basically said we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most and somehow prosperity will trickle down. It hasn't worked."

McCain laid the blame for the crisis at the feet of Wall Street executives who had betrayed the trust of American investors, saying there would be no tolerance for corruption under his presidency. As yet another U.S. bank came crashing down, Washington Mutual, authorities were looking at corruption allegations against some financial institutions already singled out by the crisis. After some initial reluctance both candidates now a degree more regulation is in order.

That would not be surprising since massive government intervention has been the response in most major financial crises. Investment banks at the heart of the crisis aren't as closely monitored as regular banks, who have been under close scrutiny since the 1992 S&L debacle. Insurers like AIG aren't even federally regulated. But the bailout soon drew not only criticism in Washington, but in the streets, even Wall Street, where several hundred protesters gathered at a rally to condemn the proposal.

It took two tries, but the bailout eventually emerged, leaving some to wonder if, like the previous $85 billion bailout, it will be enough to stabilize markets worldwide.


Une guerre pas tout a fait terminée

 
Pas besoin de deviner bien longtemps où est fixé le regard des deux sentinelles de bleu de blanc et aussi de rouge qui occupent le poste au monument des victimes de la guerre des Malouines dans le centre-nord de Buenos Aires. De l’autre côté de l’immense bannière argentine en bordure de l’avenida del Libertador se trouve le parc de l’aviation argentine, qui lorsque le soleil n’est pas au zénith, est en partie plonge dans l’ombre de ce qui jadis fut la torre de los Ingleses.


Ah les Anglais!

Lorsqu’est venu le temps de se souvenir des sacrifices des jeunes conscrits qui n’ont pas fait le poids face aux paras aguérris de Mme Thatcher, rien n’a été laissé au hasard a première vue, surtout pas l’emplacement narquois de cet espace marqué de noms gravés dans la pierre et chauffé par une flamme éternelle.

Un quart de siècle après la déroute au large du continent, pour certains encore les positions restent campées, comme la géographie, inamovible, qui limitent les accords entre les deux nations.


En 1995 l'Argentine a bien promis de ne plus s'en remettre à la force sur ce dossier, mais l'année précédente encore une constitution fraichement remaniée laissait toujours les iles en question sur la liste des disputes territoriales. Sur certains murs de la capitale portuaire des graffitis rappellent le rejet éternel de l’echec. Comme sur ces pins vendus dans le vieux quartier de San Telmo, dessinant la carte de l’archipel au sein d’une bannière de bleu clair et de blanc.




En 2001 Tony Blair a bien tenté de calmer les ardeurs en effectuant la première visite officielle d'un premier ministre britannique en Argentine, puis l'an suivant son ministre de la défense Geoff Hoon disait des relations entre les deux "amis" qu'elles étaient "en très bonne forme." Ce qui n'a pas empêché des manifestants lors d'une cérémonie au monument des Malvines/Falklands de lancer "Longue vie aux héros du (bâtiment coulé) Général Belgrano!" lors de son passage.




Il y a bien eu quelque rapprochement entre les deux pays depuis l’éclat au large de la Pantagonie en 1982, et à quelques milliers de kilomètres de Londres, à une époque où la dictature argentine a voulu à ses risques et périls jouer la carte nationaliste contre les professionnels au service de sa Majesté, mais selon un avocat argentin qui est également enseignant au college, l’effort se limite au nécessaire “business is business”.

Pour Rodolfo Alfredo Ankudowicz, dont les parents sont immigrés de Pologne en Argentine dans les années 30, le people était convaincu qu’après 150 ans de contestation, l’armée allait finalement saisir les iles.


“Il faut dire que c’était quand même une rare fois qu’on participait a une guerre extérieure, d’habitude elle était interne” dit-il, faisant allusion à la guerre civile qui suivit l’indépendance du pays, notamment pour tenter de tenir tête, en vain, à Buenos Aires. Quelle désillusion, quelle déception par la suite.




L’échec cuisant aura non moins ébranlé les fondations de la dictature et du système du Proceso qui avait causé environ 30,000 morts durant les terribles années noires. Alors que quelques militaires, pas nombreux mais quand même, ont finalement vu les tribunaux et la date de début des années de Proceso fait l’objet d’une commémoration annuelle, la page est loin d’être tournée du coté des Malouines, dont l’accès devait jusqu'en 1999 d’ailleurs se faire par ailleurs.




En regardant la tour, renommée Torre Monumental, près de la station Retiro, une tour d’ailleurs à l’honneur du rapprochement entre les deux pays au début du XXe siècle, Ankudowicz ne peut s’empêcher de se moquer de la devise “Dieu et mon droit” gravée aux-dessus des armoiries britanniques, en s’exclamant “mais quel droit?”


De parts et d’autres du splendide édifice brun et blanc, des traces d’autres couleurs, notamment le rouge, plutôt mal effacées laissent deviner des propos a la teneur pas très catholique. On a laissé inchangées les vitres marquées de lancés de pierre.

Relations amicales peut-être, mais un visiteur britannique en sait assez pour savoir éviter le sujet des iles à tout prix en terre argentine.



"On n’a pas fini de me faire des reproches anti-colonialistes” dit-il. Peut-être l’ironie d’être de passage à Buenos Aires pour y enseigner, le tango, en est-elle aussi un peu pour quelquechose.

Pourtant ces vétérans de la guerre dont le dénouement, éventuellement, mit fin à la dictature il y a 25 ans, ont parfois de la misère a se faire entendre, et campent - ironiquement comme le mémorial en face de la tour anglaise - face à la casa rosada présidentielle pour faire entendre leur message.




Ceux-ci sont en effet “sans compensation” explique Gualca, un vétéran du conflit, qui depuis sept mois et qui sait pour encore longtemps, campe devant le palais. “Nous ne sommes rien pour eux” dit-il des dirigeants, car malgré leur participation au conflit, son unité n’est pas reconnue a part entière et ne recoit pas les bénéfices ordinairement donnés aux vétérans, malgré des ententes conclues dans le passé.


Ces vétérans, affectés sur le continent à l'époque, disent que le gouvernement cache qu'il y a eu des combats sur le continent en plus des éclats sur les iles au moment du conflit.

Gualca a comme tant d’autres été envoyé au combat dès ses années de service, à 18 ans, et sans entrainement. Ce qui a fait du succès militaire britannique une surprise uniquement en Argentine.


“Imaginez si on vous prenait la, comme ça, tout de suite, on vous donnait plus ou moins une arme et on vous disait ‘allez-y’, ce que ce serait.”

Obtenir la reconnaissance n’a pas seulement un but monétaire dit-il, mais c’est également pour l’honneur. “Puis de toutes façons, quand même, nous sommes un pays relativement riche”.

Une fois par semaine lui et les siens partent une manif de la plaza de Mayo centrale vers San Telmo, des vétérans en uniforme tenant une longue banderolle aux couleurs de l’Argentine.

“C’est une manif pacifique, mais on peut tenir longtemps." Ils sont déjà là depuis bien plus longtemps que la durée du conflit, qui a duré à peine dix semaines.


Le départ précipité de Mbeki
Pas facile de suivre les traces de Nelson Mandela. Mais voilà ce qui attend un politicien relativement jeune qui comme le grand Mandiba a passé des années en taule à Robben Island, la prison insulaire au large de Cape Town, une des capitales administratives d'Afrique du Sud.

L'annonce faisant de Kgalema Motlanthe président par intérim est venue quelques heures après l'annonce de la démission de Thabo Mbeki, soupçonné dans une affaire d'interférence politique dans le procès pour corruption concernant le dirigeant du Congrès national africain, Jacob Zuma, une affaire avec toutes les allures d'une classique lutte intestine.

Zuma a depuis été acquitté et est vite devenu le favori lors des élections présidentielles prévues en avril. Mbeki a nié les allégations pesant contre lui et a déclaré qu'il démissionnait à la demande du parti et au nom de l'unité. Les relations entre les deux ont radicalement changé de cap en 2005 lorsque Mbeki a renvoyé Zuma de ses fonctions de vice-dirigeant après une affaire impliquant son conseiller financier. Ce dernier aurait sollicité un pots-de-vin au nom de Zuma.

Depuis Zuma a effectué un retour en force sur la scène politique, remportant les élections du parti l'an dernier. "Il ne s'agit pas d'un changement de parti  mais d'un changement de direction au sein du gouvernement", a déclaré Zuma. Mais voilà ce qui taquine des observateurs de la scène politique à la veille d'élections qui devraient reporter au pouvoir le seul parti élu depuis la fin de l'Apartheid.

Si le manque de compétition est flagrant, les divisions intestines cependant se multiplient. Le ministre des finances Trevor Manuel et neuf autres membres du cabinet ont annoncé leur démission quelques jours plus tard, un geste regretté au parti, où l'on espérait une transition plus paisible. Motlanthe n'a pris que quelques jours pour les remplacer, purgeant le cabinet des alliés de Mbeki mais reconduisant tout de même Manuel, entré au gouvernement après les premières élections multiraciales en 1994 et très apprécié des investisseurs étrangers. La ministre des Affaires étrangères Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a également conservé ses fonctions, ainsi que plus de la moitié de l'équipe sortante.

Mais le remaniement, surtout le renvoi de Mbeki, a été jugé "très troublant" par l'archévêque influent Desmond Tutu, estimant que les intérêts du parti étaient passés avant ceux de la nation. "Notre pays mérite mieux que ça, dit-il, ce genre de vengeance est plus propre à une république de banane."

Le départ de Mbeki est survenu quelques jours après une décision de la cour blanchissant Zuma, le 12 septembre, tout en accusant le gouvernement d'être intervenu dans l'affaire. Lors d'un discours télévisé Mbeki s'est défendu d'avoir voulu influencer le processus judiciaire ou d'avoir voulu obtenir un verdict plus aligné avec ses objectifs politiques.

Zuma prétend que le renvoi n'avait pas pour but de punir Mbeki, et a invité ce dernier à conserver son rôle de médiateur dans la crise politique au Zimbabwe, qui a fait du dirigeant de l'opposition Morgan Tsvangirai le premier ministre après des élections contestées. Mais l'intervention de Mbeki sur ce dossier n'a pas toujours été appréciée dans l'arène internationale, tandis que sur le plan interne certains déplorent le creusement de l'écart entre riches et pauvres lors de sa présidence.

Mbeki a également été incapable d'empêcher une reprise de la violence, notamment contre les immigrants, et ses politiques sur le SIDA ont été critiquées de toutes parts, affaiblissant sa présidence. Mbeki a l'intention de combattre les allégations pesant contre lui.

Eprouvant une certaine sympathie, l'opposition redoute la direction politique du pays dans les mois à venir: Zuma n'a fait que chercher "une solution politique à ses problèmes judiciaires" prétend la dirigeante du parti de l'Alliance démocratique, Helen Zille.

Thrown in the spotlight
Having been thrown into the spotlight after the terrorist assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto, it was not long before yet another terror attack were to test the mettle of new Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, who had just made his first address to parliament a few hundred meters away, calling for terrorism to be rooted out. It had been Bhutto’s dearest wish as well, a cry many times ignored as Pakistan faced a new wave of violence.

A suicide truck bomb attack that killed at least 53 people at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital quickly pointed to al-Qaida or an affiliated group according to Pakistani intelligence officials, who have more than once been accused of helping the terror group thrive and avoid annihilation. It came days after an attack against the gates of the U.S. embassy had killed 50 locals and two Marines. An Islamic group threatened more attacks were to follow.

"The sophistication of the blast shows it's the work of al Qaeda," a Pakistani intelligence officer said of the hotel blast. The strike came soon after an al-Qaida video, released to mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, called on militants in Pakistan to step up their fight. The Czech ambassador was killed in the attack, the latest to target this chain of hotels chosen by visiting officials and diplomats. In 2003 a bomb  killed over a dozen at a Jakarta Marriott, which was later attributed to Jemaa Islamiya.

This latest attack was the worst yet in the Pakistani capital. A crater up to 20 feet deep was in the road in front of the gates of the hotel, which had been bombed twice before. The Interior Ministry said the bomb probably contained more than 500 kg of explosives. "This is an epidemic, a cancer in Pakistan which we will root out… We will not be afraid of these cowards," Zardari had said in a televised address to the nation days before. He now sees himself forced to turn his words into action.

Pakistan's army is already in the midst of a major offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters on the Afghan border, but U.S. attacks on militants on the Pakistani side of the border, have infuriated many Pakistanis and made the war on terror there a much tougher sell. Zardari talked with U.S. President George Bush at the UN about rising concerns about U.S. attacks in Pakistan and U.S. offers to help Pakistan after the attack in Islamabad.

On Sept. 3 a U.S. ground assault in Pakistani territory on what was said to be a militant target in the South Waziristan region sparked major outrage as the unauthorised incursion is said to have killed 20 innocent villagers. On at least two occasions since then Pakistani troops have opened fire to thwart US forces trying to cross the border. There have also been a succession of US drone missile attacks along Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan warned the U.S. against such actions after a five-minute clash last week between Pakistani and U.S. forces. Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan "not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror" but at the U.N. Zardari said  U.S. efforts to  help its offensives against terror were  "a blessing." U.S. military officials have complained about militants operating out of safe havens in Pakistan but say that if they brief Pakistan about where they want to attack militants, elements in Pakistan's intelligence services sympathetic to the militants tip them off to help them escape.

The fighting in the region is sometimes so fierce it has sent Pakistanis even fleeing to insurgency-rattled Afghanistan to seek refuge from the violence. Terror attacks such problem across Pakistan, where 1,200 have been killed by them since July 2007, that the U.N. declared its capital unsafe for the children of its international staff and ordered them out.


Seeking a majority
Two years ago Canadians voted for change but hesitated to give the Conservatives a clear majority mandate to govern, leaving the Tories to struggle with other parties in a minority government to get things done. Have the months since made a case for a majority government?

After weeks of political bickering and party swaggering over the summer season, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the worst-kept secret in Canada Sunday by pulling the plug on his minority government and sending Canada to the polls for the third time in four years on Oct. 14.

Harper said the campaign will give voters a choice "between clear direction or uncertainty" at a time of global economic trouble. He said he was prepared to take issue with the other parties' policies and cited the Liberal Green Shift carbon tax as a prime target. "They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness," he said.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion kicked off his campaign minutes after Harper left Rideau Hall, telling voters they face a "stark choice" between the "most Conservative government in Canadian history" that doesn't believe government can have a positive effect on the country and a Liberal party that is progressive and sees government as an agent for tackling poverty, unemployment and climate change. He said he relished the role of underdog in the campaign and being "underestimated."

"Today Stephen Harper announced he is quitting as prime minister so I'm applying for his job," NDP Leader Jack Layton said, launching his campaign in Gatineau with the parliament serving as a backdrop. All major party leaders were going to be spending at least part of the first day of the campaign in Quebec, where the Tories hope to find the votes to win a majority for the first time in 20 years.

But their decision to extend Afghan operations to 2011 may not have won them many favours in a province where the mission is unpopular. During the campaign Harper promised to have the troops out by then. As Harper was making his way to the governor general's home across the street Canadians were mourning their 97th soldier killed in Afghanistan, a conflict which may reach the 100 milestone during the campaign.

The last weeks have been a bloody for Canadian soldiers, two incidents alone claiming three lives each. Last week three soldiers died during a direct attack by insurgents, to some a frightful reminder of the Taleban's capabilities. A Taleban spokesman said the group was intensifying its efforts with the Canadian election in mind, saying he recommended whoever is in charge in Ottawa  to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan.

Sgt. Scott Shipway died early Sunday when the armoured vehicle he was travelling in struck an IED in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. The war will be one issue which will separate the parties during the campaign, the shortest allowed by law. While Canadians haven't listed the war as a major issue most agree Canada is paying too high a cost both monetarily and in lives.

Meetings between Harper and opposition leaders in the weeks leading to the election call seemed to be information sessions about the government's decision to trigger a fall vote rather than attempts to reconcile a Parliament the Conservatives considered "dysfunctional." Dion walked out of a 20 minute meeting with Harper at 24 Sussex drive accusing Harper of carrying on with a "charade" to call an election, adding the government was breaking its own rules about not holding a vote before 2009. The Conservatives want elections to be held at clearly defined intervals but say this is not possible in a minority situation.

While Parliament has been on holiday parties have been able to agree on little during the myriad of committees held during the summer break. The barbecue circuit had turned into early campaigning stops with rumours of a fall vote intensifying in the last few weeks. The decision to hold a vote cancels four byelections previously scheduled in September. The latest polls have shown an election would do little to change the political landscape, leaving Canada with probably another Conservative minority government.

Polls have shown the Liberals' Green Shift environment plan, involving a far from popular carbon tax proposal, leaving Canadians largely unmoved, not managing to sway voters to elect Stephane Dion. If anything the environment may prove a tough issue to score points for the Liberals, owing to the growing popularity of the fourth-party greens, only now rising to prominence. Dion has blamed the Conservative government for mismanaging the economy by bringing it on the verge of recession and, lately, cuts to the arts sector the Liberals say will be one of a number of battlegrounds in the campaign.

But the Tories are beating Dion's Grits on the economy with more Canadians finding the Conservatives stronger on the  matter than the Liberals, according to one poll. Canadians told pollsters the biggest issue facing the country is the economy, with 18 per cent calling it the most pressing current concern. That's followed by health care at 15 per cent and then the environment at 14 per cent.

Pundits claim the Tories may have precipitated their election call fearing a slumping economy would hurt their record down the road. The Tories may also fear a Democratic win south of the border would bolster the Liberals. The snap election will be in sharp contrast with the long drawn-out campaign south of the border, which will culminate in the Nov. 4 vote two weeks after Canadians head to the polls.

Layton has been ridiculed by opponents for citing Obama's campaign as showing the winds of change are blowing across the continent, which could pave the way for an NDP win, he said. "Jack Layton you're not Obama, you're Jack Layton," Dion quipped during one rally.

But some numbers are simply damning for the Liberals: head-to-head comparisons, Harper being seen by 53 per cent of Canadians as the most decisive leader, compared with 17 per cent for Dion, landing him third behind Layton. Some pundits contend as many as three leadership posts may be up for grabs once the election is over, and cite particular concerns in the Liberal camp at the starting gate.

While the parties head into an election with roughly the same numbers that came out of the 2006 vote, with the Tories at 37 per cent and Liberals at 29 per cent, the Tories have scored improvements in Ontario, especially around Toronto, and are a strong second in Quebec, where they are increasingly seen as the federalist alternative outside of Montreal. One poll gave the Tories 43 percent of the vote nationwide, putting them within grasp of a majority.

A strong campaign could make this possible, according to some, ending two minority mandates and completing the mission Harper set out on when he assumed the leadership of the newly merged Tories. Out of the starting blocks Harper downplayed expectations of a majority, even if some observers say obtaining one, after Harper showed a minority government could work, was the reason for the election call. "We believe it's going to be a tough election. We believe it will be a tight election and yes, we believe it will be, in all likelihood, it will be a minority."

One poll reported that while most Canadians want a majority government they expect another minority when the ballots are counted. Canada has been governed by minority Parliaments since the 2004 election, when the Liberal government of Paul Martin lost its majority.
Le foot, rassembleur?
Le foot a déjà parti des guerres, mais peut-il amener la paix? Le président turc Abdullah Gul est devenu le premier chef d’Etat de la république kémalienne à visiter l’Arménie cette fin de semaine, posant un geste diplomatique sans précédent entre ces deux pays qui n’ont jamais engagé de dialogue depuis l’indépendance de l’ex-république soviétique en 1991.

L’an dernier encore Ankara réagissait avec véhémence à une résolution américaine affirmant que « le génocide arménien a été conçu et exécuté par l’empire ottoman » faisant 1.5 million de victimes. Ankara rejette le terme de « génocide », estimant qu'il ne s’agissait que de la dure réalité de la guerre 1914-18 qui aurait fait plusieurs centaines de milliers de morts des deux côtés. Le sujet est matière à tabou en Turquie où plusieurs intellectuels ont fait face à des accusations de nature criminelle pour en avoir parlé. Mais le parti au pouvoir a proposé aux universitaires d'autres pays de se pencher sur la version arménienne des événements contestés.

Même si la visite n’avait nullement le but renoncer à la version turque des faits mais bien de « devenir une occasion pour mieux se connaitre et créer un nouveau climat d’amitié dans la région », elle n’a pas manqué de susciter de vives réactions. Les nationalistes turcs méprisent cette décision, désigneant l’Arménie à titre de « pays ennemi » et interprétant la visite à titre d’important changement de politique. « Moi j'aurai préféré me rendre à Bakou pour un match et non à Erevan », a sèchement déclaré le chef de l'opposition Deniz Baykal.

La Turquie est d’ailleurs alliée avec l’ennemi juré de l’Arménie, l’Azerbaijan turcophone, notamment sur la question de l’enclave du Nagorno-Karabakh. Celle-ci s’est en fait auto-proclamée indépendante en 1991 suite à un conflit armé impliquant les troupes d'Erevan qui a fait près de 30 000 morts et provoqué l'exode de près d'un million de personnes.

Ce lourd passé sous les paupières, Gul se rendait donc à Erevan à l'invitation de son homologue arménien Serge Sarkissian pour assister au match Arménie-Turquie de qualification pour le Mondial 2010 de football, la présidence turque estimant dans un communiqué que le sommet historique «devrait lever les obstacles empêchant deux peuples qui partagent une histoire commune de se rapprocher et créera de nouvelles bases ».

Ce rapprochement survient alors qu’une autre ancienne république soviétique, la Géorgie, traversait une crise ressentie dans toute la région. La présidence turque a du coup appelé toutes les parties à saisir l'opportunité offerte « alors que les événements récents ont plongé les peuples du Caucase dans l'inquiétude ». Plutôt inattendu, le geste conciliateur n’est que le plus récent rapprochement entre Ankara et ses anciens ennemis. La Turquie fait également preuve de souplesse dans ses rapports avec Athènes, alors qu’il y a vingt ans à peine les deux pays menaçaient de partir en guerre à propos de l’exploitation du sous-sol de la mer Aégée.

Sur une île où ces tensions se sont souvent manifestées, à Chypre, la réconciliation est également à l’ordre du jour alors que le dirigeant chypriote grec Demetris Christofias et son homologue chypriote turc Mehmet Ali Talat lançaient formellement les pourparlers sur l’avenir de l’île divisée. Toujours matière à conflit cependant, la question kurde préoccupe toujours Ankara, pas gênée de faire survoler ses avions au-dessus du territoire irakien pour attaquer les rébelles kurdes y cherchant refuge.

L'initiative d'Ankara est cependant fidèle aux engagements diplomatiques du pays selon le Turkish Daily News, notant le rôle d'intermédiaire d'Ankara entre la Syrie et Israel. Le quotidien estime que Gul a avec cette visite tenu tête aux pression nationalistes internes et posé "un geste courageux" en engageant la "diplomatie de foot" que le Daily News appelle "la première véritable réussite" du président.

La question arménienne ne sera pas pour autant réglée par une simple visite, mais cette rencontre gravitant autour du ballon rond pourrait être le premier chapitre dans l’établissement de relations diplomatiques en bonnes et dues formes entre les deux pays. "Je crois que ma visite a démoli un mur psychologique dans le Caucase," estimait pour sa part le président sur le chemin du retour.

Les deux dirigeants auraient cependant évité l'épineuse question du génocide dans leurs pourparlers, explorant plutôt d'autres questions dont la proposition d'Ankara de lancer une plateforme pour garder le dialogue ouvert sur les questions touchant l'explosif Caucase. Place au match retour, prévu pour le 14 octobre en Turquie.