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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.