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Now for Afghanistan's surge

While reality may dictate otherwise, there is a growing consensus ten years of involvement in the Afghan conflict is enough Western countries are ready to put in as 2011 looms as a deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of troops from the U.S. and Canada. At least in theory. 

Last week in announcing a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to defeat an emboldened insurgency, U.S. president Barack Obama pointed to July 2011 as a date the U.S. could be starting to withdraw troops, countering critics saying that setting a deadline gives ammunition to the enemy by stating: “The absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government … It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.” 

This week while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Obama justified the need to carry out what he referred to as a "just war." But soon after the troop announcement senior members of his cabinet were quick to point out that the withdrawal is not set in stone. "If it appears that the strategy's not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself," said Defence Secretary Robert Gates. State Secretary Hillary Clinton later said it was not a "drop-dead deadline." 

Canada meanwhile stuck with its timetable when prime minister Stephen Harper reiterated the government had little public support for a mission beyond the already extended 2011 deadline. As it reached out to allies to provide additional troops to make the surge more potent, Washington indicated it had accepted Ottawa’s stance by having Vice-President Joe Biden contact the government to inform it of U.S. plans for additional troops rather than have Obama call to plead for either an extended stay or additional troops. 

Canada has borne the burden of the Afghan conflict like few other countries, suffering a disproportionate amount of casualties, 133 deaths for a troop presence of 2,800, as it battled the insurgency in key hot spots of the South that the U.S. surge is expected to target. But as Canada prepared to greet the new arrivals, which may be making their way as early as the first six months of the new year, it was struggling to contain the scandal tied to its handling of Afghan detainees, after explosive charges by a Canadian diplomat kept shaking the walls of the parliamentary buildings weeks after they echoed in the centre block. 

Former envoy to Afghanistan Richard Colvin testified before a House of Commons committee that many of the Afghans detained by Canadian troops were probably tortured after they had been handed to local authorities at the time he was in the country, in 2006-7, adding many were hardly members of the insurgency but rather people in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” including farmers and other innocent civilians. 

His testimony, which considered the treatment of prisoners as “un-Canadian, counterproductive and probably illegal” was soon after refuted by the government and various military officers, but nonetheless shook the public and further undermined support for the war, as officials conceded they were at least aware some of the  detainees could be tortured as early as in 2006 but had no way of monitoring possible abuse at the time because they didn’t follow up on the care provided to detainees they had handed over. 

This was later corrected, the government said, but critics pointed out there was a full year before this happened, charging the government with covering up what it knew about the extent of the abuse and accusing it of trying to victimize a serving diplomat, undermining the independence of the public service in the process. This week dozens of former diplomats signed a public letter stating that the government's treatment of Colvin wrongly questioned his personal integrity and could put a chill on what envoys tell the government. 

When Colvin’s reports were made public they we heavily censored, sparking opposition calls for a public inquiry in the matter. Opposition politicians have also been asking for the resignation of the defence minister after Canada's top soldier, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, backtracked on his earlier assertions this week that a beaten and bloodied Afghan was never detained by Canadian troops before he was transferred to local authorities. He ordered an investigation into the incident. 

Canada is hardly alone to see its officials rattled by fallouts of the Afghan conflict. At roughly the same time Colvin’s testimony rung the alarm in Ottawa the head of Germany's armed forces and a senior Defense Ministry official resigned over reports the military withheld details about a Sept. 4 air strike that killed civilians in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan itself of course has most suffered during the last years, prompting Obama to underline the “status quo is not sustainable” when unveiling his war strategy last week to a war-weary American public. “Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards,” Obama said. “This is the epicentre of the violent extremism practised by al-Qaida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat.” 

The day after Obama’s announcement NATO said it "will send at least 5,000 soldiers to this operation, and possibly a few more thousand on top of it." In the next days, NATO officials said that pledges by countries to send troops, including some 1,000 from Italy and others including Russia, meant that target would indeed easily be surpassed. But both U.S. lawmakers and the targeted enemy criticized the move. in Washington Republicans panned the date as being "arbitrary." Senator John McCain said it sent the wrong message to the militants, possibly encouraging the Taleban. 

The Taleban leadership meanwhile prepared to step up their fight in Afghanistan, saying pledges to send reinforcements would only "provoke stronger resistance". While Afghan President Hamid Karzai said "Afghanistan welcomes this new strategy, and Afghanistan will do all it can to be a good partner in it," he also indicated he would be open to talks with Taleban leader Mullah Omar, if the move would bring peace to his country and was backed by the international community. "We must talk to the Taleban as an Afghan necessity. The fight against terrorism and extremism cannot be won by fighting alone," he told AP. 

While the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal said this week President Obama's deployment of 30,000 extra troops meant success was possible, Karzai stressed he hoped the international community would keep supporting his country financially after the troops have gone home, underlining a need for funds to train the 400,000 troops it needs. 

Karzai's timetable indicated he was hoping for an international military presence in Afghanistan for years to come, pointing out he felt confident his troops could begin taking over responsibility for security in some "critical" parts of the country within two years, but would not be able to take charge nationwide in under five years.  

A Canadian diplomat confirmed last week Ottawa intended to continue development efforts well after Canadian troops have gone home. Canada's development projects in the South have been praised as a model for rebuilding, economic development and closer ties with local populations. 

Meanwhile the simultaneous explosion of five bombs in Baghdad this week, killing over 130 people, were a stark reminder of the threats that remain years after that surge. 

Sri Lanka's enduring hardships

The war in Sri Lanka may have ended when the Tamil Tigers were defeated in May, but thousands of Tamils still face hardships in government camps in the north of the country which Colombo only started opening in recent months after much international pressure. On Dec. 1 the government announced it had ended restrictions on people leaving the remaining camps, holding some 130,000 civilians, although they still could not leave permanently settlements the government has been using in order to screen refugees for rebels possibly hiding among them. 

The army has been trying to speed the process of registering those living in the camps in order to permit them to leave. They are among some 300,000 people displaced by the war, many of whom were used as human shields by the rebels and were later forced into the heavily-guarded camps surrounded by barbed wire. 

The matter became a contentious one at last month’s Commonwealth summit where Britain indicated it would try to block the country’s bid to host the next 53-nation summit over Colombo’s handling of the recent war and ensuing refugee crisis. "We simply cannot be in a position where Sri Lanka - whose actions earlier this year had a huge impact on civilians, leading to thousands of displaced people without proper humanitarian access - is seen to be rewarded for its actions," the BBC was told. 

The Sri Lankan government has been trying to improve its image, saying it plans to return all the displaced people to their home towns and villages by the end of January, but stressed it was busy clearing former conflict zones of some 1.5 million mines that made this impossible in the mean time. But over the weekend the London times reported that over 11,000 Tamil 'fighters', including children, were being held by Sri Lanka without charge in highly secured "rehabilitation centres", despite government claims it had lifted restrictions. Later this week, a U.N. envoy stated that Sri Lankan children continued to be recruited for combat despite the end of the civil war and asked they be freed from the camps. 

Still President Mahinda Rajapaksa is hoping the matter can be settled and hand him precious political capital in time for a presidential election called for Jan. 26, two years before his mandate was set to expire. The competition will be fierce as he faces General Sarath Fonseka, who commanded the army when it defeated the Tamil Tigers. This week the United Nations and human rights groups stressed the government had to ensure the Tamil war refugees received assistance now that they were free to move about after 25 years of bloody civil war which claimed some 90,000 lives. 

“A permanent release from camps must be accompanied by assurances that people are not subjected to further questioning or re-arrest in new locations,” Amnesty International said. But the military maintains a heavy presence in the north and promises to “track” any refugees who may seek to stay away from the camps permanently. UN humanitarian chief John Holmes says returnees face "major problems in terms of shelter", and it would be years before normality returned to the region. The refugees aren’t the only ones trying to have access to the north. 

This week opposition parties also asked the government permission to canvass the terrain once held by the rebels in the lead up to the January vote. They claim only government politicians are currently allowed to go there, something Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the lefist People's Liberation Front, which supports Fonseka, called unfair during an election period. Opposition parties are also calling for the government to allow international monitors to follow the election. 

A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report this week urged a U.S. administration critical of Sri Lanka's handling of the refugee problem to recalibrate its approach toward the country to maintain strategic interests in the region in order "to encourage Sri Lanka to embrace political reform without pushing the country toward Burma-like isolation."

Le référendum suisse

Si les pays scandinaves n’ont pas fini de se mettre le Moyen-orient sur le dos alors que penser des petits pays d’Europe en général, qui ont l’air de prendre plaisir à s’attirer la fougue des pays musulmans ? Après la crise des caricatures et le plus récent épisode entre Stockholm et Israel à propos d’anciennes rumeurs sur le trafic de dons d’organes de détenus palestiniens, le référendum suisse sur les minarets promet des semaines de tensions entre la confédération helvétique et les pays islamiques. 

Comme on pouvait s’y attendre les réactions n’ont pas tardé après le passage, avec 57.5% des voix en faveur, d’une réglementation interdisant la construction de nouveaux minarets dans les mosquées de 22 des 26 cantons, une initiative du parti de droite Parti du peuple suisse. L’initiative avait été rejetée par le gouvernement et le parlement, citant les droits constitutionnels et les libertés religieuses, estimant que toute interdiction pourrait «servir les intérêts des cercles extrémistes ». 

Le Conseil de l'Europe s'est déclaré préoccupé par le résultat du vote, estimant que "l'interdiction de construire de nouveaux minarets touche à la liberté d'expression, à la liberté de religion et à l'interdiction de toute discrimination, qui sont garanties par la Convention européenne des droits de l'homme", selon le secrétaire général, Thorbjorn Jagland. L'Organisation des Nations-Unies de son côté s’est déclarée "profondément inquiète" à la suite du référendum, dénonçant "une restriction injustifiée de la liberté de manifester sa religion". 

Même au Vatican, le résultat sonne comme un "coup dur pour la liberté religieuse et l'intégration", a déclaré Mgr Felix Gmür dans un entretien à Radio Vatican. Evidemment les réactions les plus vives sont issues des communautés religieuses du pays, sans parler des pays musulmans dans le monde entier, un dur coup pour ce pays traditionnellement neutre au cœur de l’Europe. 

«Ce qui nous est le plus pénible n’est pas l’interdiction des minarets mais le message véhiculé par un tel vote, estime Farhad Afshar, président de la coordination des organisations musulmanes de Suisse, les Mulsulmans ne se sentent pas acceptés en tant que communauté religieuse». Pour le grand Mufti d'Egypte, Ali Gomaa, « ce résultat du référendum (...) n'est pas une simple atteinte à la liberté religieuse, c'est aussi une insulte aux sentiments de la communauté musulmane en Suisse comme ailleurs ». 

En Indonésie, Maskuri Abdillah, l’homme à la tête du groupe musulman le plus important dans la plus importante nation musulmane du monde a déclaré que le vote constituait: “la haine du people Suisse envers les communautés musulmanes. Ils ne veulent pas de présence musulmane dans leur pays et ce dégoût intense les rend intolérants." Mouammar Kadhafi de son côté estime que la Suisse a rendu "le plus grand service à Al-Qaida" en lui donnant un "argument" pour s'attaquer à l'Europe. Le pire reste-t-il donc à craindre? 

L’interdiction, qui s’ajoute à celle de l’appel à la prière, déjà en vigueur, a été accueillie triomphalement par son auteur, Walter Wobmann: «Nous sommes énormément heureux, il s’agit d’une victoire pour tout le monde, a-t-il déclaré à Berne, voici la Suisse, la liberté et ceux qui veulent une société démocratique ». Mais c’est à craindre qu’une interdiction touchant à peine 400,000 musulmans dans un pays de 7 millions, aura des conséquences troublantes. Telle était l'impression du ministre des affaires extérieures suisse qui craint des répercussions tant sur le tourisme que sur les échanges commerciaux. Il note également que le vote peut représenter une menace à la sécurité du pays. 

Rien qu’à eux, les très conservateurs investisseurs de la région du Golfe persique, malgré les déboires récents liés à la crise et impliquant Dubai, ont quelques centaines de milliards de dollars placés dans les banques en Suisse. Les banquiers helvètes se sont par conséquent précipités à se prononcer sur la question de l’heure : « Nous regrettons le résultat du vote puisqu’il va dans le sens inverse des valeurs suisses traditionelles d’ouverture et de tolérance, a déclaré un porte-parole de l’association des banquiers suisses, il s’agit du mauvais signal à communiquer au monde musulman ». 

Reste à voir la réaction dans les bureaux, et surtout les rues, du monde musulman. Cette semaine plusieurs personnalités religieuses en Arabie Saoudite ont fait appel au boycott de la Suisse et du retrait des fonds placés dans ses banques. Entre temps un nouveau référendum serait envisagé en vue d'annuler l'interdiction. 

C'est un épisode que voudraient oublier plusieurs Suisses, dont Guillaume Morand, un entrepreneur non musulman, qui a aussitôt protesté le vote en transformant sa cheminée en minaret:  «C'est scandaleux que les Suisses aient voté pour l'interdiction. A cause de ça, on a reçu le soutien de tous les partis d'extrême droite (à travers l'Europe). C'est la honte», dit-il.

Triste Pâques au Vatican?


Tristes Pâques au Vatican? L'heure devait être à la fête alors que le pape accueillait 70,000 jeunes pour célébrer les 25 années des Jeunesses mondiales au Vatican, à quelques jours de Pâques, une des périodes les plus importantes du calendrier chrétien. Mais la papauté était plutôt sur la défensive alors que s'abattait sur la place St. Pierre les plus récentes accusations contre l'Eglise, celles-ci - quelques jours après la lettre inédite du Saint Père adressée aux victimes de pédophilie en Irlande - ciblant Benoit XVI lui-même.

Le Vatican a fermement nié un reportage voulant que le Saint Père ait passé sous silence l'affaire d'un prêtre américain soupçonné d'avoir violenté sexuellement quelques 200 enfants sourds, la plus récente accusation à plonger l'Eglise catholique dans le marasme des scandales; dur rappel de la convocation en 2002 de cardinaux américains confrontés à des affaires de pédophilie. Deux ans plus tard, en 2004, un rapport faisait état de 4,400 prêtres pédophiles et 11,000 enfants abusés à partir des années 50.

Des plaintes d'archévêques à propos du père Lawrence Murphy, dirigées au bureau du futur pontife, seraient restées sans réponse. Selon le porte-parole du pape Federico Lombardi, le cas de Murphy aurait seulement atteint le Vatican en 1996, soit deux décennies après l'apparition des premières accusations au Wisconsin et deux ans avant sa mort. Un procès canonique aurait été commandé, puis annulé.

Autre boulet atteignant les plus hauts niveaux, le pape avait précédemment été accusé d'avoir ignoré la présence d'un prêtre pédophile dans l'archevêché qu'il dirigeait à Munich dans les années 80. Un prêtre pédophile présumé y aurait été hébergé pour y "suivre une thérapie", de loin le plus sérieux parmi les nombreux scandales du genre à secouer le pays natal du pape depuis plusieurs semaines.

Quelques 250 plaintes ont été déposées depuis début janvier, concernant des faits survenus dans les années 1970 et 1980 en Allemagne. Le frère de Benoît XVI aurait également informé celui-ci que des abus sexuels auraient été commis sur des enfants de la chorale de Ratisbonne, qu'il a dirigée pendant trente ans.

Sont également d'actualité, lors des dernières semaines, quelques 200 cas d'abus aux Pays-bas, qui font actuellement l'objet d'une enquête indépendante commandée par les évêques catholiques hollandais. Quelques jours plus tôt, l'homme à la tête d'un monastère de Salzbourg aurait confessé avoir abusé d'un garçon il y a plus de quarante ans avant de rendre sa démission. Des groupes de victimes en Autriche rapportent plus de 150 nouveaux cas depuis.

Une enquête a également été ouverte au Brésil, le plus important pays catholique au monde, suite à la diffusion par une chaîne de télévision d'images tournées en caméra cachée montrant des sévices sexuels commis par un prêtre. Les déclarations de trois anciens enfants de chœur narrant les abus qu'ils auraient subis de la part de trois prêtres ont également été rendues publiques. Au Québec pendant ce temps les Orphelins de Duplessis manifestaient leur déception.

Alors que Lombardi saluait l'effort de transparence de ces chapitres de l'église pour avoir selon lui "affronte le problème du bon pied", ce dernier niait l'existence d'un "mur du silence" au Vatican. Lorsqu'ont retenties les dernières révélations touchant le Saint Père, le Vatican était encore sous le choc du pardon sans précédent de Benoit XVI à l'endroit des victimes d'Irlande dans une lettre lue dans toutes les paroisses au pays, une lettre qui n'a pas nécessairement satisfait les associations de victimes, y relevant "l'absence d'excuses".

Le geste suivait deux rapports du ministère de la justice irlandais, l'an dernier, qui ont révélé un système organisé pour étouffer des affaires de pédophilie concernant 14 500 enfants entre les années 1970 et 2000, mettant en cause six évêques ou évêques-auxiliaires, qui ont présenté leur démission. Mais les victimes d'abus craignent qu'il ne s'agisse que de la pointe de l'iceberg plutôt qu'une véritable cure de l'église mondiale. "Pour chaque 10 personnes qui vous déclarent avoir été abusées vous pouvez être sûr que plusieurs milliers de victimes gardent le silence," a déclaré à la BBC Norbert Denef, victime des abus de membres de l'église en Allemagne.

Rien qu'en Italie, qui abrite le Saint Siège et plus de 50 000 prêtres, les groupes de victimes estiment que les révélations pourraient être très nombreuses, deux accusations, en Lombardie et en Toscane, ayant récemment vu le jour, et certains groupes s'apprêtant à prendre la place St. Pierre d'assaut. "Les groupes de victimes vont croitre de manière exponentielle lors des prochaines semaines," estime Roberto Mirabile, qui lutte contre la pédophilie.

Les évêques de France quant à eux ont évoqué leur "honte et regrets devant les actes abominables perpétrés par certains prêtres et religieux", mais dans une lettre de soutien au pontife constatent que "ces faits inadmissibles sont utilisés dans une campagne pour s'attaquer à votre personne et à votre mission au service du corps ecclésial."

Les nuages planent au-dessus de la place St Pierre en ces célébrations. Le porte-parole Lombardi estime que la réponse de l'Eglise face aux accusation d'abus est cruciale pour sa crédibilité morale et bien que la plupart des cas se soient produits il y a longtemps "les reconnaître et faire amende honorable auprès des victimes est le prix à payer pour rétablir la justice et regarder l'avenir avec une confiance, une humilité et une vigueur retrouvées".

Par conséquent certains propos de Benoit XVI. Devant les dizaines de milliers de fidèles massés place St-Pierre le pape a déclaré que la foi en Dieu aide à "avoir le courage de ne pas se laisser intimider par les jacasseries médiocres de l'opinion dominante", sans cependant directement évoquer les cas d'abus sexuels, un choix de mots fort critiqué. D'autres, dans la lettre aux catholiques irlandais, avaient mieux été accueillis, notamment le besoin d'affronter cette "préoccupation déplacée pour la réputation de l’Eglise et pour éviter les scandales".

Parfois le silence du pape a été accompagné de mots controversés d'autres membres de l'Eglise. C'est ainsi que le prédicateur de la maison pontificale a comparé «l'attaque violente et concentrique contre l'Eglise (et) le pape... (aux) aspects les plus honteux de l'antisémitisme». Des propos qui en plus de soulever le tollé des groupes de victimes, ont déçu plusieurs membres des communautés juives. Ceux qui pouvaient espérer que les fêtes pascales apportent un peu de répit au sein de L'Eglise avaient de quoi être déçus également.

Reprise des attentats en Russie


Plus de dix ans après le début de la seconde guerre en Tchétchénie, des attentats au coeur de Moscou viennent rappeler que la crise sévit toujours dans la région du nord Caucase, également lieu d'attaques terroristes récentes, alors que le Kremlin promet à nouveau de faire chèrement payer les auteurs des attentats de la semaine de fin mars, faisant plus de 50 victimes et 100 blessés en tout.

Si cette promesse du premier ministre Vladimir Poutine pouvait sembler bien creuse, c'est peut-être parce qu'elle faisait écho de ses propos d'alors, à une époque où il sortait tout juste des services secrets et promettait de "buter ces bandits jusque dans leurs chiottes".

C'est d'ailleurs tout près des quartiers généraux des services secrets, à Lubyanka, si souvent synonyme de terreur et de répression de l'état, qu'une des deux veuves noires a fait sauter les explosifs qu'elle portait, à une heure de forte affluence du métro de Moscou.

Si celui-ci n'en était pas à son premier attentat, il n'en était pas à son dernier de la journée non plus, puisqu'une autre de ces kamikazes connaissait le même sort à la station Park Kultury une demi-heure plus tard, emportant de nouvelles victimes, 39 en tout pour cette seule journée.

Deux jours plus tard un groupe tchétchène se déclarait responsable des attentats, selon lui, en représaille à des attaques russes en Ingouchie et Tchétchénie en février, et promettant de nouvelles attaques. Le jour même deux attentats au Daghestan faisaient 12 autres victimes dont neuf policiers russes. Le mois dernier le dirigeant de ce même groupe militant musulman, Doku Umarov, avait menacé le pays tout entier d'attaques terroristes.

Dans l'immédiat Poutine n'excluait pas qu'il s'agisse du même groupe, tandis que le président Dmitry Medvedev promettait de ne pas permettre les terroristes d'atteindre leur but, soit de destabiliser le pays et d'y détruire la société civile. Mais après plus de cinq ans d'une paix relative, après une catastrophique période 2003-4 marquée par deux attaques du métro, la tragédie de Beslan et deux attentats aériens, la terreur avait pourtant bien repris son cours au coeur de la Russie, innondant les rues de Moscou de policiers et semant la crainte chez les citoyens de la métropole.

Après tout comment arrêter une personne suicidaire, puisqu'il s'agissait du portrait des quatre responsables d'attentats en 48 heures. Les veuves noires à Moscou avaient fait leur apparition en 2002 lors du siège du théâtre de la Doubrovka, dont le lourd bilan de 169 victimes, dont 19 femmes commando terroristes, se devait plutôt à l'intervention de sauvetage qu'aux intentions des terroristes.

Certains regrettent que Moscou ait à nouveau chois de crier vengeance plutôt que se pencher sur les raisons sous-jacentes du terrorisme, notamment celui qui mène au phénomène des veuves noires: «En Tchétchénie, toutes les familles et toutes les femmes ont été touchées pas la guerre, explique Amandine Regamey, chercheuse associée au Centre d'études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen de l'EHESS, et cela continue encore aujourd'hui car (le président tchétchène) Ramzan Kadyrov poursuit une politique très répressive vis-à-vis des combattants islamistes et les opérations anti-terroristes menées par la Russie touchent encore des civils.»

Alors que les autorités disent mettre toutes les mesures en place pour éviter de nouveaux attentats, un journal russe citant des sources policières prévoit le pire. En effet selon le quotidien Kommersant, quelques 30 kamikazes auraient été recrutés lors des derniers mois, dont 21 seraient encore en vie pour commettre des attaques suicides comme celles de la semaine dernière. Umarov de son côté, a revendiqué les attentats du métro en promettant de nouvelles attaques.

Tough times for the peace talks


As Israeli tanks left the Gaza strip at the end of March following the most violent clash in the enclave in 14 months, the tenuous state of U.S.-Israeli relations added a new urgency to the usual calls to restart Mideast peace negotiations. Days before relations between Washington and Israel hit a new low as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left the U.S. capital with nary a photo op with U.S. President Barack Obama after talks which had been pre-empted by an ill-timed Israeli building project of 20 homes in East Jerusalem, publicised just hours before the White House meeting, the latest in a series of unfortunate announcements which have come to pull the two countries apart.

No official assurances about the rock solid state of relations between the two nations, or clarification of a diplomat who claimed he had been misquoted when he said relations were the worst between Israel and the U.S. in 35 years, could bring down tensions that have been building, like so many Israeli settlements, since Vice-president Joe Biden's visit to the holy land was met with the announcement 1,600 Jewish homes would be built in East Jerusalem, a turn of events the white House described as an affront.

The announcement also came on the eve of  “proximity talks” the U.S. had painstakingly persuaded Palestinian officials to join. While Netanyahu apologised for the bad timing, he refused to rescind the decision, prompting Washington to cancel a visit by Middle East envoy George Mitchell, a futile move to pressure Israelis to reverse their decision.

Before his rather secretive meeting with Obama at the White House Netanyahu had asserted his stance in front of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby, by stating that “The Jewish people were building in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago. And the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital,” both taking issue with Washington's view of the status of the capital and new settlements, which Israel says should be halted but without stopping the "natural development" of existing ones, after earlier concessions on the need for a two-state solution.

That concession, observers would point out, was not obtained without political cost as Netanyahu desperately seeks to keep his frail coalition together. Political concerns at home are leaving the PM unshakable on some matters, though Israel started giving signs it could heed Washington's desire to take on so-called trust-building measures such as the release of Palestinian prisoners and the dismantling of Israeli military road-blocks, moves the White House hoped could eventually lead to indirect "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the latter have been taken off the table in view of the recent settlement announcements. "Netanyahu's policy is the one that is obstructing the return to negotiations," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, leading officials from Ottawa to the United Nations to condemn the latest announcements.

“Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped,” reminded UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Reports say Washington has asked for no less than a total freeze of all settlement building for the next four months in order to restart the peace process. But new Israeli air strikes into Gaza right before Easter probably weren't leaving mediators holding their breath.

Words Obama longed to say


The Guantanamo detention centre is still open, U.S. soldiers are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economy is still claiming American jobs. And mere weeks ago it seemed the U.S. president's sweeping health-care initiative was itself in critical condition. But fourteen months after his inauguration, Barack Obama got to utter the words he had been longing to use: "This is what change looks like."

It wasn't the sweeping health-care change Democrats had hoped, and builds on the existing system of private insurance rather than creates a brand new government-run insurance plan, but it put Americans on the right path, Obama said, extending medical coverage to a population the size of Canada's. "Tonight we answered the call of history," he said on the night 219 congressmen, not a single one a Republican, voted in favour of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, after a century of trying to reform the country's much-maligned health care system.

During the latter half of that period, Democratic Representative John Dingell had kept the issue alive by introducing a universal health care bill in Congress every year since 1956. "This is a day that we could all be proud of," he said when the night ended. "My father started this crusade seventy years ago," said the longest-serving Representative in the history of the United States who is the son and successor of a Democrat who came to Congress in 1933 on the coattails of Franklin D. Roosevelt. "Today, thirty-seven million people will thank us."

"Today after 100 years of trying and a year of debate, health care reform becomes law," Obama said as he signed the bill. But America's health-care saga, on a night the 44th president was in the minds of many already putting his legacy on the line, is hardly over. The vote was greeted by an immediate Republican vote to send the matter back to committee, a motion defeated handily.

The Republicans now say they will make health care a large part of their campaign this fall during mid-term elections. Protests outside Congress carried signs calling for Obama to "kill the bill" or be impeached, as members of the GOP slammed the night's results. "This debate is not about the uninsured. It is about socialized medicine," said California Republican Devin Nunes. "Today Democrats in this House will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people."

The reform package for America's $2.5 trillion a year health care had passed only after Obama obtained a last-minute backing by pro-life Democrats who wanted assurances the bill would not expand access to abortions. Like their lawmakers Americans have been deeply divided about the issue, several recent polls showing a narrow majority of them disapprove of the health-care legislation and especially Obama’s handling of the issue some have dubbed Obamacare.

Already legislatures in Virginia and Idaho have passed bills to sue the federal government if it tries to force local citizens to buy health insurance against their wills while 36 other states are debating similar propositions. While Republicans say they will seek to repeal the legislation, observers note that their candidates in a number of swing conservative districts have better chances to bump some of their Democratic rivals during this November's mid-term elections.

“Some of the Democrats walked the plank,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “They will almost certainly lose their jobs in November on account of this, and the fact that more attention hasn’t been paid to jobs and unemployment.”

But it soon became apparent some Democrats had more to fear than just losing their seats as reports emerged nearly a dozen had received threats or been the subject of harrassment, one finding a coffin on his lawn. The FBI and Capitol police were investigating a number of threats including some targeting Democrats Thomas Perriello of Virginia, Steve Driehaus of Ohio and Louise Slaughter of New York, while House Majority leader Steny Hoyer said Republicans should do more to condemn these threats of violence.

“I would hope that we would join together jointly and make it very clear that none of us condone this kind of activity,” Hoyer told reporters. “And when we see it, we speak out strongly in opposition to it. And I would hope that we would do that going forward.” It appeared as if what some hoped would be a balm on America's health wounds only threw salt on the open sores of U.S. politics. 
do that going forward.”

La fête aux jeux paralympiques


Finie la fête? Pas tout à fait. Jeux de seconde catégorie les JOs paralympiques? Allez voir! Non seulement les Canadiens ont suivi le premier relais de flamme paralympique de l'histoire avec enthousiasme, ils ont également fait salle comble lors de la cérémonie d'ouverture, qui a notamment honoré Terry Fox, diffusée en direct en Colombie-britannique, ainsi que dans plusieurs compétitions, notamment le hockey sur luge.

Il s'agit d'une des cinq disciplines, avec le ski de fond, le ski alpin, le biathlon et le curling en fauteuil roulant, auxquelles participent plus de 500 athlètes de 44 nations. Les 55 athlètes canadiens, notamment le porte-drapeau de l'équipe de hockey, Jean Labonté, dont l'équipe a remporté l'or en 2006, ne comptent pas décevoir.

Labonté, qui a perdu une jambe au cancer, ne cache pas qu'il visait l'or comme il y a quatre ans, puis quatre autres années plus tôt, et si ces athlètes unifoliés imitent l'équipe précédente, ils seront les maîtres incontestés du podium: le comité paralympique classe en effet les pays selon le nombre de médailles d'or. Labonté et les siens se sont imposés dès le début, battant l'Italie 4-0 puis la Suède 10-1, mais se sont inclinés en semifinale contre le Japon, mettant un terme au rêve d'or.

Mais le précieux métal est venu d'ailleurs. L'équipe alpine cherchait notamment à laisser sa marque, étant à la chasse d'un nombre record de médailles afin de placer le Canada parmi les favoris. L'attente n'a pas été longue. Dès les premiers jours les Canadiens se sont démarqués sur les pentes, Viviane Forest remportant l'argent (et plus tard le bronze et l'or) en descente slalom pour personnes avec faiblesses visuelles. Elle n'a pas vu la mer de drapeaux unifoliés qui l'attendait au bas de la pente, mais n'a rien raté de l'appui retentissant du public.

"Au départ on entendait déjà la foule, dit-elle par la suite. On se disait 'mon Dieu, c'est la foule?' Sur le coup ont a ressenti beaucoup de stress mais on s'est dit 'amusons-nous un peu et skions comme nous pouvons le faire'," dit-elle en présence de son assistante. Plus tôt Clodette Bongonje était devenue la première à remporter une médaille aux jeux paralympiques sur le sol national, l'argent au ski de fond.

Plusieurs autres médailles ont suivi, dont trois d'or en une seule journée, pour placer le Canada parmi les trois premiers. Rien qu'à elle seule, Lauren Woolstencroft a remporté trois médailles d'or sur les pentes. Ce 3e rang c'est l'objectif visé par l'équipe nationale. C'est un but qui selon la présidente du comité canadien Carla Qualthrough sera dépassé: "Vous représentez la prochaine génération de héros canadiens, dit-elle, rendez-nous fiers."

L'ancienne URSS a cependant vite décollé, remportant 14 médailles dès le premier jour dont 8 pour la Russie, dont 3 d'or, suivaient l'Ukraine avec 5, et le Belarus avec une médaille. Les Allemands se sont dégalement imposés. Mais les organisateurs, dont le président du comité paralympique Phil Craven, notent que ces jeux sont plutôt une période pour célébrer l'accomplissement des athlètes souffrant d'un handicap plutôt qu'un concours de médailles.

Du côté billetterie, malgré les quelques événements reportés en raison de la météo, on avait vendu en quelques jours plus de 200,000 billets, soit la somme totale vendue quatre ans plus tôt. "On est près de vendre toutes les sessions à guichets fermés, estimait Terry Wright du comité paralympique, les billets ne sont pas bien chers alors pour nous le boni c'est l'atmosphère pour les athlètes."

Mais certains se demandent pourquoi ce hiatus de quelques jours entre les deux versions des JOs. C'est le cas du fondateur des jeux paralympiques, le docteur à la retraite d'Edmonton Robert Steadward, qui doute que le calendrier choisi à Vancouver soit des plus efficaces. "Il faut se pencher sur la possibilité de fusionner les deux compétitions, dit-il. Les athlètes pourraient partager le village, les transports et toutes les expertises nécessaires. Pourquoi attendre 10 jours?"

Lone wolves in the homeland


A few months after a Nigerian man attempted to set off explosives on a Detroit-bound flight, an old fear returned in February when a small plane crashed into an Austin office building where nearly 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service were starting their work day.

The old fear had always been lurking, even when a Yankees pitcher and his instructor were killed in 2006 when their plane plowed into a New York skyscraper. But this time the perpetrator, Andrew Joseph Stack III, wasn’t involved in an accident, nor was he moved by ideology, but rather a maddening grudge against U.S. tax authorities.

In a way Americans had seen it all before, in 1995 when a federal building was bombed in Oklahoma City. But another attack against the U.S. government weeks after the Austin crash sparked fears people with few clues about how to vent their frustrations against the state are taking increasingly drastic and violent measures.

In a statement on a website connected to his wife signed “Joe Stack (1956-2010),” Stack singled out the tax agency as a source of suicidal rage, concluding, “Well, Mr. Big Brother I.R.S. man, let’s try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well.” He uttered grievances on specific sections of the tax code, corporations, and politicians.

In early March John Patrick Bedell, who had also left behind a rambling trail of anti-government screeds, shot and injured two people at the Pentagon subway station before he was eventually gunned down. According to family and friends the man was mentally ill and a drug user but his extreme views on the government were plain to see on Internet postings: “When governments are able to confiscate the resources of their citizens to fund schemes that only need to be justified by lies and deception, enormous disasters can result,” he wrote.

It was in fact the third incident of the sort to be registered in the first three months of the year in the U.S., after a Las Vegas court house was the scene of a shooting by a man angry at social security in January, John Lee Wicks. He opened fire after losing an appeal that cut his social security and killed a security guard before he was gunned down.

Concern after these incidents has cast a look back at a 2009 Homeland Security report on domestic terrorism that warned of possible attacks motivated by hatred of the government. The report was largely downplayed because it largely focused on the threat of “right-wing extremist groups”, in part because of the election of America’s first black president, but also stressed possible consequences of living through the worst economic conditions in decades.

“The consequences of a prolonged economic downturn could create a fertile recruiting environment for right wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities.” But while Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, right before the Pentagon shooting, the attacks were part of a growing pattern in the U.S., she stressed it was more the hallmark of lone individuals than organized groups. “We have seen an increase in lone wolf type attacks, which, from a law enforcement and investigation perspective, are the most challenging,” she said, noting what made them so difficult to prevent is that the culprit “were not conspiring.”

“They’re not using the phones, the computer networks, they’re not talking with others any other way that we may get some inkling about what is planned,” she told a subcommittee of the House. In the mean time, after a number of incidents and security scares related to planes have put the focus of anti-terrorism measures and security efforts at airports, the latest incidents have put federal building security in the U.S. back in the spotlight, the subject of discussions in Congress this month.

Union leaders however blasted the U.S. government for stalling on building security because of its lack of action following a 2009 General Accounting Office report exposing serious security gaps at 10 major federal buildings. Last week the Washington Post reported the House subcommittee on federal work force plans to focus on “how federal agencies are sharing tips on threats with local law enforcement agencies.”

But as Napolitano noted, the type of lone wolf attacks the U.S. has seen since the beginning of the year has left few electronic or other traces leading to tips. “These recent assaults on federal employees seem to be motivated by a deep-seated and irrational hostility against the government,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, who plans to introduce a bill that includes federal security changes after it was delayed last fall to take into account the shooting in Fort Hood, Texas.

But some expressed fears such bold statements would soon give way to the usual apathy, as was the case following the Oklahoma City bombing. Besides other major threats remain to the U.S. homeland, including the more familiar ideological threats which have garnered attention since 9-11.

Recently Americans were reminded of this when an American-born al-Qaida spokesman called on Muslims serving in the American armed forces to emulate the man facing charges for the Fort Hood attack, which killed 13 people last year. "Brother (Maj.) Nidal (Hasan) is the ideal role model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes," said Adam Gadahn in a 25-minute video placed on militant websites. But the so-called U.S. mouthpiece was in fact embracing the "lone wolf" aspect of Hasan's attacks, a call to arms targeting potential low-level operatives, even amateurs with no formal training, to take up arms.

To Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice, the video message from the Pakistan-based spokesman constitutes "the first official top-down sanctioning of grass-roots operations," he told The National. "In essence al-Qaida just released the hounds". But this could come back to bite the terror group in the hind quarters, he warned: "They are allowing their reputation to be used by individuals who may not be vetted or sensitive to the kinds of attacks that really tend to backfire," such as the 2005 attack of an Iraqi suicide bomber against a Jordanian wedding, creating a backlash in Jordan.

But the call to arms sparked fears as a blonde American who dubs herself "Jihad Jane" and allegedly used her looks to avoid detection, pleaded not guilty this week to recruiting Islamic militants in the latest homegrown terrorism case to grip the U.S. She is accused of conspiracy to support terrorists, recruiting militants and agreeing to murder a Swedish cartoonist who offended Muslims.

Greeks in the streets


Like an army on the march, the euro zone moves at the speed of its slowest member, and all eyes were on Greece as Prime Minister George Papandreou undertook his desperate odyssey to secure enough international backing to allow the country to raise some 22-billion euros to pay off debt due in April and May.

The 11-year-old currency has slipped 8 percent against the greenback in recent months as confidence in the zone grouping 16 of Europe’s 27 countries, including vulnerable Portugal and Spain, remained shaky at best. Greece is hoping to avoid having to run to the International Monetary Fund, an institution other capitals such as Paris and London are also trying to keep at bay.

UniCredit economist Marco Annunziata says “involving the IMF would be embarrassing because it would show that the euro zone is not able to guarantee that its members will follow sustainable policies,” leading some countries to ponder launching a European version of the institution. But others considered the IMF Greece’s best bet to slay the financial minotaur.

Athens is hoping unpopular austerity measures announced in recent weeks, slashing a soaring deficit by 4.8 billion euros, will earn it financial support to move ahead. But there was little support in the streets. Greeks had after all elected Papandreou last year hoping to avoid the austerity measures, and rallied in violent clashes in the streets to vent their outrage.

But anger was also being vented in various capitals about the role speculators may have played profiting from Greece’s, and indeed the currency’s, downfall. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating whether a group of hedge funds colluded to undermine the currency. “Unprincipled speculators are making billions every day by betting on a Greek default,” Papandreou said as he arrived in Washington last week.

“That is why Europe and America must say ‘enough is enough’ to those speculators who only place value on immediate returns, with utter disregard for the consequences on the larger economic system – no to mention the human consequences of lost jobs, foreclosed homes and decimated pensions.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted Papandreou’s trip, following others across Europe, was not so much to seek financial help but rather reforms in the financial sector. Greece seeks the U.S., through the G20, to “make some of the changes in regulatory regimes governing some of these financial instruments that have been used to the detriment not only of Greece but other countries, including our own.”

A cry which resonates deeply a year after a financial meltdown. Indeed a number of countries have also been railing against institutions such as credit agencies, which had  downgraded the country’s credit rating in recent weeks. “The fate of Greece, and if you are going to be more dramatic, the fate of Europe, depends on the judgment of one rating agency,” said the head of Austria’s central bank, Ewald Nowotny. “That is an unacceptable situation.”

The austerity measures aim to cut the country’s staggering deficit by 4 percent to 8.7 percent of GDP, not that this does much to cut into some 300 billion euros in public debts, representing 113 percent of the national economy, or help Greece maintain government operations beyond March. “The problem isn’t just about finding the money, or securing another loan,” Savvas Robolis of Athens university told the Globe & Mail. “The problem is what comes next, after the bailout.”

While Papandreou traveled to Berlin, Paris and Washington in search of support, Greeks gathered in the streets, sometimes clashing with police, to protest everything from cuts of up to 8 percent in public servants’ income, to raises of general sales taxes, income taxes and freezes in pensions. Thousands took to the streets and hundreds of union members occupied the offices of the finance minister, while various unions called for nationwide strikes to paralyze the country.

This week European finance ministers said they would pledge financial help to the stricken country, possibly in the form of bilateral loans, and help themselves avert a continent-wide crisis, but powerhouse Germany made its reluctance plain. Chancellor Angela Markel said she was furious countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal were not willing to stick to longstanding commitments to minimize deficits, and that there should in fact be a law allowing countries in the euro zone to be denied the use of the euro in such circumstances.

The statement did not please more supporting countries such as France. In the short term however, violent street protest aside, the government acknowledged the cutbacks would worsen the recession before improvements are felt. The euro remained under pressure meanwhile as Greece hinted it may not achieve its deficit cuts if its borrowing costs remained high.

Retour du protectionnisme?


La symbiose internationale des marchés financers a rarement sauté aux yeux comme elle l'a fait lors de la crise économique qui a commencé en 2008, touchants nations petites et grandes sévèrement. L'intégration accrue des ensembles économiques, de la zone euro, aux nouvelles ambitions des pays latino-américains, s'est notamment développée à partir des initiatives de libre-échange à travers les années, mais alors que les barrières tombent toujours, alors que certains pays comme le Canada cherchent de nouvelles ententes de libre-échange en Amérique du sud, non sans controverse, le climat économique a fait renaitre d'anciens réflexes protectionnistes chez nos voisins.

Rares sont les analystes qui donnent beaucoup de chance de succès au projet de loi de certains congressistes de faire annuler le traité de libre-échange nord américain, mais après l'épisode protectionniste relié à la controversée clause "Achetez américain" des fonds sensés stimuler l'économie aux Etats-Unis, l'initiative pousse encore plus loin la menace au commerce entre les deux plus grands partenaires économiques de la planête.

"Notre évaluation de la situation est qu'il s'agit d'une mesure inconsistente avec les politiques de Barack Obama" estimait pour sa part le ministre du commerce Peter Van Loan de l'initiative à saveur électorale, en cette année d'élection au Congrès, de 28 politiciens des deux partis, dont nombres de démocrates dits conservateurs.

Parmi eux Gene Taylor du Mississippi, auteur du projet de loi, qui estime que le libre-échange des Trois Amigos est en bonne partie responsable du taux de chômage de 10% aux Etats-Unis. Contre l'Aléna à l'origine, Taylor l'estime responsable d'avoir fait chuter l'emploi dans l'industrie manufacturière de l'ordre de 29%.

Fort heureusement, le faiblenombre de congressistes participants fait dire à l'ambassadeur du Canada à Washington que les risques de passage sont quasi-inexistants, le projet prévoyant de retirer les Etats-Unis de l'Aléna six mois après l'adoption du projet de loi, et ce malgré l'engagement de Washington au G20 l'an dernier de résister toute tentation protectionniste pendant la crise actuelle.

Les politiciens canadiens ne sont pas unanimes à rejeter le projet cependant, Jack Layton estimant qu'il s'agirait d'une bonne occasion de changer le traité actuel pour lui donner une tournure plus verte. Mais alors que le Canada, largement exportateur, se tourne vers de nouveaux marchés latino-américains pour multiplier ses débouchés, certains pays candidats ne sont pas sans créer une certaine controverse.

Alors que le Canada est exclu du nouvel ensemble regroupant des pays latino- américains il cherche séparément à tisser de nouveaux liens avec plusieurs d'entre eux, dont la Colombie, un choix critiqué par certains syndicats. Paul Moist, président du Syndicat de la fonction publique, regrette entre autre que le Canada cherche à faire bouger de l'avant une entente avec Bogota alors que plusieurs organisations humanitaires font état d'assassinats de dirigeants syndicaux en Colombie, soit au nombre de 45 l'an dernier: "Etant donné ces sérieux abus il est inacceptable que le Canada adresse même la parole au gouvernement colombien," dit-il.

Le syndicat fait également mention de déplacements forcés des populations indiennes, citant des rapports d'Amnistie Internationale et de l'ONU. La politique du gouvernement actuel a cependant l'appui de l'ancien premier ministre conservateur Brian Mulroney, pour qui, à l'opposé de certaines tendances américaines, l'approche promet de "créer des emplois".

"Voilà qui démontre que les intérêts canadiens peuvent être bien servis par une politique étrangère éclairée," a-t-il déclaré lors d'une réunion célébrant les 20 années du Canada au sein de l'Organisation des Etats d'Amérique. Il a du coup critiqué les projets du groupe régional latino-américain excluant le Canada et les Etats-Unis, estimant y voir une "menace se pointer à l'horizon", une menace qui pourrait cependant être éliminée avec "une bonne diplomatie et un peu de chance".

A defining moment?

Even when the medal count was below expectations and observers were heaping the criticism, Canadians thought something unique was at play in Vancouver. Could the 2010 Winter Games become a defining moment in the nation’s history like Expo 67 or Paul Henderson’s goal years later? More than half thought so. Imagine now, after a record-breaking Games-ending gold rush capped by the shot heard around the world, despite the fact its author admittedly never saw it leave his blade.

Over seven hours after Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal of these Olympic Games, fans were still partying in droves downtown Vancouver, but there is a sense a party would have carried on anyways. After the Beijing Games, where few had seen such an embrace of the events, the public input was refreshing. “The fact that they took to the streets the way they did, and embraced the world, to me put the Games in a different place,” said Vancouver Olympic Committee head John Furlong. “There’s nothing we could have done that came close to what they did… I think what’s happened is the country, they’re not watching this, they’re living it with us, like it’s theirs.”

Of course it was. And it may leave a legacy according to Deborah Morrison, president of Canada's National History Society. "The Vancouver Games are going to be one of those turning points that redefines how Canadians see themselves," she said. "We know we've got a strong economy, strong communities, and are ready for the next great national enterprise -- be it economic, environmental, social or cultural. These Games have provided that final dose of international affirmation that gives us renewed confidence in our own potential."

In a mid-Games poll the Historica-Dominion Institute found that a majority of respondents said the Vancouver Olympics were "a more defining national moment" than the 1972 Canada-Soviet hockey series, Montreal's centennial-themed Expo 67, the 1976 Montreal Summer Games or the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. "The Vancouver Games are truly Canada's moment," said the institute's president Andrew Cohen."We are seeing a new sense of pride, not only in our athletes, but in ourselves as a people."

Perhaps it was expected that a Canada-U.S. hockey final would attract a record 22 million viewers in Canada, but overall 85 per cent of Canadians took in at least some of the events on television, consuming 1.25 billion hours of Vancouver 2010 coverage. Of course the availability of coverage, on TV but also other platforms such as the Internet, and ability through social networking sites to immediately comment on them, did not hurt either in letting Canadians even far away from Vancouver actively participate. The audience understandably peaked during the overtime period of the game, and apparently included a U.S. president perhaps concerned about his friendly beer wager with PM Stephen Harper. But this was repeated over and over again as the Games produced the five most watched TV events in Canadian history.

The story of a growing population certainly, signs of unhealthy TV viewing habits perhaps, but no doubt key moments in a generation of fractured TV viewing and fewer and fewer moments bringing countries together this closely. Or so they said. And it was about more than TV. IOC president Jacques Rogge spoke of the "extraordinary embrace of the Games by the entire city of Vancouver. That is something I have never seen on this scale before. This is something really unique, and given a great atmosphere to these Games."

But he could have been talking about the country, judging by the post-game outpouring and previous Olympic flame relay participation and turnouts. Of course not all agree the party will have a lasting nationwide legacy.  “I think Vancouver itself and British Columbia more widely will benefit from the exposure they've received, but whether that will create some sort of long-term, pan-Canadian feeling -- or feelings about Canada abroad -- I don't think so," said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies.

But it doesn't hurt that even the first drafters of history who had been so critical of the Games in the beginning were singing different tunes by the time the closing ceremonies were taking place, including members of the virulent British media, in part due to their tradition of basing final rankings on the number of gold medals, not combined medals. “Canada has owned that bloody thing,” wrote columnist Rick Broadbent from the London Times. “A man died, the weather played havoc with the schedule, a mountain was a near disaster of a venue, and the Olympic flame, a beacon of sport's importance to all, was locked away behind a wire fence. The British media was hammered for reporting this, but it merited it. But these Olympics have been a huge success on numerous other levels. The action was riveting and the fans took it to heart. If they were fervently patriotic, veering on jingoistic, so what?”

Even the man who initially branded Vancouver’s “the worst Games ever,” Guardian columnist Lawrence Donegan, conceded: “After Beijing, where the connection between the Games and the host city was so tenuous it was virtually unnoticeable, this compact, beautiful city has embraced the Games unambiguously (give or take a small - very small - minority of anti-Games protesters).”

But for some reason future Games hosts have been toughest on what Rogge referred to as Vancouver’s “excellent” Games. And there was no pleasing one particular outlet better remembered from the dark days of the Soviet era. The Pravda published a series of blistering and non-sensical op-ed pieces, signing off with “Doesn’t it feel great to slam the door behind you as you walk out, stick up the middle finger using the palm of the left hand on the upper right forearm for extra leverage and blow a giant raspberry? That is exactly how it feels as Russia leaves Vancouver after disappointing Games with a question, was the Canadian ice hockey team on drugs?” Of course Russia had a reason to be a little hurt after having been eliminated in the quarterfinals and its sports officials fired over the poor showing in Vancouver this week. A response seemed hardly necessary.

While the jury will be out for some time on the actual legacy of the Games, the goal that left Canada on top of the hockey world for the next four years has become a moment that defined this generation of hockey fans yearning for the Henderson '72 or Lemieux `87. Because it was a close but successful enterprise that made the nation jump as one, like few events can.


Un différent séisme au Chili

Six semaines après l'hécatombe en Haïti, un séisme encore plus puissant, à un tel point qu'il aurait légèrement changé l'axe de la terre selon la Nasa, a frappé le Chili, mettant le pays, selon les dires de son président Michelle Bachelet aux prises avec les forces de la nature. Le tremblement mesurant 8.8 points Richter, frappant près de Concepcion,  un des plus puissants jamais enregistrés, a plongé six régions du pays en état d'urgence, causant des dommages jusque dans la capitale, Santiago à 325 kilomètres, où une usine chimique a pris feu.

Le séisme a fait plus de 700 victimes, un chiffre considérable mais tout de même incomparable à celui d'Haïti, qui a tué près de 250,000 personnes, et ce malgré la proximité aux grandes villes et l'éclatement de plusieurs infrastructures au Chili. C'est dans ce même pays  où a eu lieu le tremblement de terre le plus violent de l'histoire, le Gran terremoto de Valdivia, mesurant 9.5, en 1960, là encore faisant bien moins de victimes qu'à Haïti, soit 6,000.

Une seule des secousses après le tremblement initial était de l'ordre du séisme de Port-au-Prince, mais l'écart entre les dégâts et surtout la mortalité mettait à l'évidence la fragilité des infrastructures dans la moitié ouest d'Hispaniola. Après tout 13 millions de personnes vivaient dans la zone immédiate au Chili, lors d'un tremblement de terre plusieurs centaines de fois plus puissant que celui du 12 janvier.

En fin de compte environ deux millions de personnes auront été touchées par le séisme au Chili, mais rien n'y mettait en péril, comme à Haïti, le fonctionnement du gouvernement, qui 24 heures plus tard n'avait toujours pas fait appel à l'aide internationale. Eventuellement le pays a fait appel à une aide spécialisée, notamment en matière médicale, mais il n'était pas question d'aide humanitaire en vivres.

Les lendemains de catastrophe étaient cependant similaires à certains égards, plusieurs criminels s'étant échappés des prisons pendant le séisme et des troupes furent dépêchées pour mettre fin au pillage dans plusieurs secteurs. Mais les différences crevaient les yeux. La côte chilienne a évidemment l'habitude des tremblements de terre, 13 d'entre eux ayant mesuré 7 ou plus depuis 1973, exigeant que l'on mette en place, notamment lors des années 80 puis 90, de strictes réglementations en matière de bâtiment.

La richesse relative du pays andin y est également pour quelquechose, tout comme l'étendue de la zone touchée, moins concentrée qu'à Haïti, où l'aide continuait de se diriger cette semaine. Puis l'épicentre du séisme au Chili avait la chance d'être au large, déclencheant des alertes au tsunami qui sont allées jusqu'à évacuer des régions côtières au Japon. Sans y faire de dégâts cependant. 

"Les tremblements de terre ne tuent pas, ils ne causent même pas de dommage, explique Eric Calais, un géophisicien de l'université Purdue, s'il n'y a rien à endommager." La familiarité avec le phénomène a également contribué à limiter les dégâts: "Le Chili doit bien héberger le plus de séismologues de renommée internationale et d'ingénieurs en séïsme par habitant," estime Brian Tucker, président de Geo-Hazard international. Les autorités estiment cependant qu'il faudra au pays trois ou quatre ans avant de se remettre de cette tragédie.
Comment se contenter de moins la prochaine fois?
La récolte était encore maigre par rapport à ce qui avait été promis lorsque Chris Del Bosco a commencé sa descente le 21 février lors de la première finale du spectaculaire ski cross de l'histoire des JOs. Tirant de l'arrière au milieu du parcours par rapport à ses trois rivaux, il s'est hissé en troisième place juste avant le dernier saut, assuré du broze. Mais l'unifolié a tout gagé sur un dernier saut un peu tiré par les cheveux, cherchant à améliorer son score. Ce fut l'échec. Sa chute lui coûta sa médaille sur les pentes de Cypress Mountain.

Ce n'était pas vraiment ça l'idée de posséder le podium. L'or ou rien. Il fallait remporter le plus de médailles toutes catégories. Mais le Canada sort de ses jeux avec le plus de médailles d'or de l'histoire des JOs d'hiver, 14 soit plus de la moitié de sa récolte de 26 médailles, et du haut du podium, la campagne controversée qui visait l'excellence, avait tout l'air d'avoir porté fruit.

Pendant la compétition, alors que certains athlètes mettaient en doute l'efficacité du programme, le maire de Toronto, qui doit accueillir les Jeux panaméricains de 2015 n'excluait pas non plus un programme avec pour but de faire briller l'excellence lors de la compétition. Fini les lys d'or de la consolation, vive le tout pour le tout.

Un coéquipier aura commenté par la suite: "Christopher était en bonne position pour monter sur la plus haute marche du podium, c'est vraiment crève-coeur." En effet, mais il y a également la prochaine fois, la leçon tirée par Jaysey Jay Anderson, un vétéran et champion de la planche à neige qui avait tout remporté sauf une médaille olympique, jusqu'au 27 février, lorsqu'il est sorti de la brume vainqueur au bas de la pente, une des trois médailles d'or remportées par le Canada lors de cette journée.

C'est à se demander si vers la fin le pays hôte ne voulait plus rien partager. Mauvais hôte ou champion olympique, il faut savoir trancher. Excellent hôte d'habitude, le Canada a lors de ces jeux préféré se faire plaisir, brandir le drapeau, ou chanter l'hymne, qui eut un effet magique lors d'un match de curling Canada-Angleterre, changeant la cadence et assurant la victoire de l'équipe de Kevin Martin, également couverte d'or.

C'était comme si nos athlètes avaient réussi le défi de Cléopâtre et ressortaient couverts d'or. Alors que certains s'inquiètent sur la dette que devra repayer la ville pour l'organisation de ses Jeux, les cours du précieux métal permettent de penser qu'une visite chez les prêteurs à gage suffiraient. Les mauvais moments? Du spectacle d'ouverture à la controverse entourant la clôture du flambeau olympique? Relégués aux oubliettes.

En fait les vrais champions ont pu composer avec la misère pour se surpasser et livrer les moments les plus inoubliables. Car malgré cette avalanche d'or, une médaille de bronze aura tenu la pays en halène, celle de Joannie Rochette, la patineuse de Berthierville, port étendard lors de la cérémonie de clôture, qui sut exceller malgré le malheur du décès de sa mère quelques jours plus tôt.

Comme aux JOs précédents, les femmes ont porté le flambeau, de Clara Hughes, le port étendard médaillé de bronze au patin de vitesse, à l'équipe féminine de hockey, qui signa sa troisième conquête de l'or consécutive. Equipe Canada ne s'est pas excusée d'avoir marqué à 18 reprises lors de son match inaugural, un blanchissement, comme celui de la finale contre les Etats-Unis. Jacques Rogge a beau menacer de retirer le sport si les autres pays ne font pas le poids, ce sera à leur équipe nationale de faire monter le niveau, non aux Canadiennes de diminuer leurs ambitions.

Les championnes ont su véritablement inspirer les hommes, car malgré le fait que cette fête célèbre le sport amateur, les professionnels du hockey tenaient le pays tout entier en haleine. Comme en 2002, Equipe Canada sortait de la ronde préliminaire avec une fiche de 1-1-1 plutôt insatisfaisante, et avait tout à prouver lors de la ronde élimination.

Une écrasante victoire de 8-2 contre l'Allemagne et un étonnant gain de 7-3 contre des Russes qui en théorie devaient se rendre en finale, ont à nouveau permit au pays de rêver. Un difficile gain de 3-2 contre les Slovaques a par la suite ramené la troupe de Babcock sur terre, mais tout de même préparé le match revanche de la première ronde, une reprise de la finale de 2002.

Mais celle-ci a exigé une période de surtemps après une remontée américaine de 2-0 pour égaliser le score à 24 secondes du temps réglementaire. A 7:40 de surtemps, on dit que le champion de Coupe Stanley Sidney Crosby est entré dans la légende.

Après cette fête de la victoire, et de la fierté, une question demeure: comment se contenter de moins la prochaine fois? Et pour la prochaine fois, à Sochi, les Russe, terminés loin du peloton, se demandent déjà comment imiter nos athlètes.

Canada wins 4 medals as Team Canada advances

With Team Canada playing for a spot in the gold medal game and redemption after losing to the US in the preliminary round, you would think the day belonged to the rink at Hockey Place. Think again. Old Pacific coliseum was where Canada won two gold medals, leading the world in the category, and also secured a bronze in short track. Canada won a silver in curling, after narrowly losing to Sweden.

Canada's Charles Hamelin won the gold medal at the men's 500m short track event, beating U.S. champion Apolo Ohno to the finish line. Francois-Louis Tremblay did not finish but got the bronze after Ohno was disqualified.

Canada later won the gold in the 5000m short track relay and the long track relay team won a spot in this weekend's final against the US, guaranteeing at least silver. Canada has 21 medals and with the curling, skating and hockey finals in the bag, is guaranteed at least the 24 medals it placed in Turin but could win with most golds of all countries.

There were plenty of emotions at Hockey Place however as Slovakia hit the post in a last second shot that could have sent the semifinal in overtime.

Patrick Marleau opened the scoring after redirecting a pass from Weber with 6:30 left in the period. Morrow followed minutes later to increase the lead to 2-0. Getzlaf score in the third to extend the lead to 3-0 on a rebound in a power play with under 3 minutes left.

Slovakia narrowed the lead to 3-1 after scoring with 8:25 left in the game. With under 5 minutes to play the Slovaks, who earlier upset Russia and Sweden, scored 3-2 taking advantage of a defensive error by Canada. Slovakia kept the pressure on by withdrawing goalie Halak, but lost 3-2.

The U.S. easily defeated Finland 6-0, scoring all their goals in the first period.

The women's team lost the curling final 7-6 to Sweden after the Swedes forces overtime, forcing the Canadians to settle for silver.

The men's team is also participating in a final, this weekend.

Meanwhile Canada looked good to secure a medal in four-man bobsleigh.

Sorry Canada not welcome, Latino group says


When Canada belatedly joined the Organisation of American States in 1990 the hope was that it would be a counterweight to Washington’s heavy influence on the organization, after decades of American intervention in its near abroad. So officials were disappointed this week when Latin American and Caribbean nations said they would set up a new regional body excluding both the U.S. and Canada, an announcement made by Nafta partner Mexico, which heavily backed the project along with Brazil.

The new yet to be defined bloc would seek to be an alternative to the 50-year-old Washington-based OAS after years of divisions between the U.S. and Latin American members over trade, as leftist governments sprouted south of the Rio Grande. During a summit of over 30 countries in Cancun host president Felipe Calderon said the new group "must as a priority push for regional integration... and promote the regional agenda in global meetings."

Long-time U.S. opponents, including Cuban President Raul Castro, applauded the announcement as a historic move toward "the constitution of a purely Latin American and Caribbean regional organisation" while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the proposal represented a move away from US "colonising" of the region. Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 but refused to reintegrate it in 1999. Castro’s presence at the summit seemed to indicate a thawing in relations with Mexico after years of strained rapport.

In keeping with the pro-Latino agenda, Latin American and Caribbean countries also united behind Argentina in a dispute over British drilling for oil around the Falkland Islands, which has re-emerged as a point of contention decades after the 1982 war. The summit declared "support to the legitimate rights of the Argentine Republic in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom," Calderon said.

Latin-American countries aren’t entirely united behind the move however, the summit having been the scene of a fractious left-right divide made obvious when Chavez and conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe clashed during a lunch during which Chavez reportedly accused his counterpart of tolerating paramilitary groups who threatened Venezuela. The tension was enough to form a group of friends to mediate between the two countries.

Other issues also divided summit participants, such as the legitimacy of Honduras’ presidency, which was not represented at the meeting. Following the toppling of president Manuel Zelaya in last June's military-backed coup in Honduras, Porfirio Lobo was elected as successor, a move some countries have not recognized. Honduras remains suspended from the OAS despite Lobo’s inauguration last month, but was expected to join the new group.

Quelling misunderstandings was one reason stated for starting the new group, and while some participants such as Chavez see it supplanting the OAS, host nation Mexico said it would remain part of both. Washington said it wasn't too concerned about the announcement. "This should not be an effort that would replace the OAS," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela.

The summit started with Calderon expressing solidarity with Haiti over the devastating earthquake that killed at least 217,000 people on January 12. Haitian President Rene Preval was among the leaders participating at the summit.

“We will strengthen our voice in the concert of nations through this new mechanism, to become protagonists and no longer mere spectators of what happens in the world,” Calderon said at the summit’s closing. Closing statements included familiar refrains, such as asking the U.S. to end its embargo on Cuba.

Impossible, dominer le podium?

Les missions étaient multiples lors de ces JOs. Avant tout, une première médaille d'or à domicile. Ensuite l'or au hockey. Finalement, le sommet du tableau des médailles. A quelques jours du début des compétitions les athlètes canadiens se faisaient rappeler ce premier impératif par leur comité olympique.

Ainsi lorsque Jennifer Heil est tombée à une marche du sommet du podium le premier jour, il était difficile de cacher sa déception. "Je visais l'or" a-t-elle déclaré. Mais l'attente n'a guère duré, même si elle permettait déjà aux Canadiens de souffler après quelques premiers jours de misère.

Avant tout il y eut le décès de l'athlète Georgien Nodar Kumaritashvili à quelques heures d'une cérémonie d'ouverture vite modifiée pour lui rendre hommage. Puis lors de cette cérémonie le  moment fort a été quelque peu gâté par une défaillance technique venu le temps d'allumer le flambeau. Puis il y eut la pluie, qui pour plusieurs font de ces jeux les premiers "JOs du printemps", tandis que d'autres maudissaient les compétitions reportées en conséquent.

Finalement, les violentes manifestations avaient également de quoi gâter la fête, ou du moins l'image d'un pays plutôt paisible et accueillant. Evidemment il s'agissait de la ville hôte des troublantes manifestations de l'APEC qui en 1997 lançaient le bal des manifestations lors des événements internationaux, se répandant de l'autre côté de la frontière à Seattle en 1999, pour culminer avec la mort tragique d'un manifestant lors du G8 à Gênes. Il s'agissait également des Jeux où le Canada laissait plus ou moins tomber le masque tout sourire pour révéler ses grandes ambitions, une férocité mieux réservée pour la compétition.

A peine les JOs lancés, certains se doutaient si, déjà, Vancouver n'était pas une erreur de choix, notamment en tant que ville la moins hivernale à accueillir l'événement. Même dans les montagnes, la pluie semblait substituer la neige. (Les ratés cumulés portaient la presse britannique à qualifier les jeux de "pires de l'histoire") Mais pourtant c'est dans ces hauteurs où a eu lieu le sacre, le moment qui a fait oublier ces tracas.

En 23 secondes 17 le jeune Québécois de Rosemère Alexandre Bilodeau avait inscrit avec le sillon de ses skis une page d'histoire sur le (plutôt) blanc parcours de Cypress Mountain malgré la pluie, et malgré les rivaux. Et Bilodeau en promettait davantage: "La fête ne fait que commencer pour le Canada, dit-il dans les instants qui suivirent son triomphe et précédèrent un tendre baiser d'une copine qui semblait lui promettre toute une St Valentin. Equipe Canada est tellement forte, elle va remporter beaucoup d'or."

Le dernier coureur de la soirée, un Français, avait fait plonger le silence dans cette foule unifoliée survoltée, jusqu'au moment où il fut classé sixième et hors de danger. Le Canadien en avait surpassé un autre, un athlète de Vancouver coursant pour l'Australie, le champion du ski acrobatique, et certains craignaient une reprise de la veille où Heil a terminé 2e après avoir été surclassée par une Canado-américaine portant le red white and blue.

Tel que promis suivirent trois autres médailles d'or, en snowboard avec Maelle Ricker, puis Christine Nesbitt au patin de vitesse et enfin Jon Montgomer au skeleton, cette luge en position inversée. Mais semble-t-il la cadence n'y était pas, certains responsables olympiques avouant que les rapides succès américains au chapitre des médailles, laissaient croire qu'attendre l'objectif de dominer le podium serait plutôt difficile, mais après une semaine la moitié des huit médailles canadiennes étaient d'or et les succès au hockey et au curling chez les hommes comme chez les femmes, promettaient davantage lors de la récolte de la seconde semaine.

En fait une seule suffisait, semblait-il par moment, l'or au hockey, d'où la consternation lorsque les Suisses ont forcé une scéance de barrage lors du 2e match d'Equipe Canada. Sidney Crosby a volé au secours de la victoire, mais les heureux élus de la sélection ont dû redescendre sur terre. La tâche est lourde car il s'agit bien des jeux du Canada, et faut-il parfois le croire, des Canadiens.

Car contrairement aux Jeux de Beijing où le pays hôte voulait à tout prix annoncer son arrivée sur la scène internationale, les jeux de Vancouver semblent plutôt s'adresser principalement et fièrement à un public Canadien, 90% de la population ayant d'ailleurs suivi les compétitions depuis ses débuts. Les taux d'écoute internationaux ont beau être élevés, il faut croire que, de la cérémonie d'ouverture aux slogans dans les rues, qui reprennent des lignes de l'hymne national, cette fête semble plutôt être une fête de la fierté canadienne que du sport amateur international.

Les enjeux pour les athlètes sont donc conséquents. Pour leur rappeler il suffit de voir les partisans qui remplissent Robson square chaque soir vêtus de rouge et de blanc dans une ambiance mélange fête du Canada et séries de la coupe Stanley, même après un gain contre la Norvège... Etait-ce de trop? 


Vancouver's year, for better or worse

Drivers entering British Columbia from Washington state can only gaze in awe at the spectacle offered by majestic snow-capped mountains serving as a backdrop to the coloured and fertile region of Surrey. A sign describes it as the best place on Earth and the scenery seems to back it up, and apparently other things as well. Sure there have been snafus during the Olympic Games, but for a number of reasons, this is Vancouver's year.

Its growth will outpace all of Canada's other cities, but also many world cities in terms of rent. It’s been praised as the most livable city in the world, but only if you can afford it. It’s being celebrated for everything from its scenery to its Chinese food, and Canadians recognize it’s the national metropolis with the most UnCanadian weather, which isn’t so bad in the heart of winter.

But of course it’s seen its share of gang-related violence, and Downtown Eastside, just a few blocks from the stadium hosting the opening, medals and closing ceremonies, has brought it a notoriety few would suspect from such a rich, and in principle socially-conscious country. Also that balmy weather, entering record levels in B.C. this winter, has to say the least become a problem leaving venues from traditionally snow-rich Canada with the need to import the white stuff from more typical  flake-covered regions of the country.

Still not bad on the balance as the pearl of the west coast hosts thousands of athletes and visitors and gets precious international TV exposure, even if it isn't all praise and flattery... Ironically, while the British press has heavily criticized the organization of the Games, the monicker of most livable city comes from the Economist magazine, which bestows the honour upon Vancouver for the second time in a row in 2009, after ranking it across five areas: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure, just ahead of Vienna, with former Olympic host Calgary and two-time failed bid Toronto also in the top 10.

In addition to being so livable, business is also booming, although preparations for the Games may have at least in part something to do with that, in a survey by the Conference Board of Canada. While strong growth is predicted across the board in 2010, after rebounding from that economic slump, Vancouver will lead the way, the board said, expecting to grow 4.5% in 2010, after contracting by 1.8% last year.

“Vancouver is poised for a substantial rebound,” said Mario Lefebvre, the board’s director of municipal studies. “In addition to the boost provided by the Olympic Winter Games, housing construction and consumer spending are forecast to rebound strongly this year.” But all that growth and good publicity may be making, Olympic weather pun intended, Vancouver a bit too hot. At least this seems to be the case on the housing market, not only the most boming one in Canada but one setting international marks as well, something best reserved for Canada’s final medal haul.

In fact the bottom line is all that boom is leaving Vancouver the least affordable housing market in nearly 300 metropolitan markets worldwide, according to the sixth annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. “Vancouver is the most unaffordable of the 28 housing markets measured in Canada and the most unaffordable of the 272 metropolitan markets ranked in Ireland, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, the U.S. and Canada,” the Frontier Centre for Public Policy concluded in its annual survey. “[In] Vancouver the median sale value was $540,900 and the median household income was $58,200, giving a Median Multiple of 9.3 — defined as ‘severely unaffordable.’”

“It wasn’t a great surprise. [Vancouver] was at the top of the list last year as well, or on the bottom of the list, depending on your perspective,” David Seymour told the Vancouver Sun. And unaffordable by more than by a little bit. While the authors of the report say an affordable rating index of 5.1 and over indicates severe unaffordability, Vancouver rated nearly twice that, with 9.3. “The recent increases to almost 10 years’ income are ... unprecedented in modern history,” the authors said. This underlines Vancouver’s severe homeless sector as well, social activists pointing out that all that economic growth and boost provided by the Games is doing little to alleviate Vancouver’s many social ills.

Despite the reputation of America’s cities, the Downtown Eastside neighborhood of squalid rooming houses and alleys populated by thousands of addicts, the homeless and the mentally ill, is the most concentrated drug and poverty ghetto in North America, with high use of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to criminologist Benedikt Fischer of Simon Fraser University. Due in part to rampant drug use, the area's HIV rate is the worst in the developed world, said International AIDS Society president Dr. Julio Montaner. The HIV rate qualifies the area for World Health Organization epidemic status, he told the AP.

Not the kind of notoriety Vancouver is seeking. When International Olympic Committee members visited the city, the bus made sure to take a wide detour around the neighborhood. During the Games buses shuttling people attending events at the Pacific Coliseum made sure to race down this part of town, hoping passengers wouldn't notice the hookers, dealers and their clients going up and down past the Insite supervized injection site. Just to make sure, officials posted a few staffers in Olympic jackets, should any questions arise.

The host city expects much to be written about the area during the Games, prompting it to open its own media centre to explain the neighbourhood’s difficulties to visiting reporters and set up interviews with residents. Something critics said is intended to put a spin on Downtown Eastside. Not that that area hasn’t made international headlines already, being the only place in North America where drug addicts can shoot heroin into their veins at an officially sanctioned injection site, and having been featured in reports on the trial of Robert Pickton. The pig farmer was arrested in 2002 and charged with the deaths of 26 prostitutes and addicts from the Downtown Eastside, in what police say is Canada's worst serial murder case. He was convicted of killing and butchering six of them at his suburban farm, all the while feeding some of the remains to pigs.

More recently murders related to Canada’s most violent drug-fuelled gang war brought more notoriety to the city. That was after a 2007 ranking that already placed Vancouver 5th in terms of murders, a list topped by Port Coquitlam, an area east of Vancouver that many consider a suburb. So to some extent it’s also been Vancouver’s year for reasons Vancouverites would rather forget.

And frankly some citizens aren’t too pleased to have to put up with the Games as well, cutting entire blocks of downtown to traffic and clogging venues with tourists, when it wasn’t the work of Olympic protesters. While some have fled the city, others are doing everything to stay away from the crowds. That includes Mark Craddock, a Bell worker who was given free tickets to attend events he preferred to avoid. "I just don't want to deal with the crowds," he said. "It's just not worth it."

The crowds were certainly present, doubling usual transit attendance records, something organizers considered a success rather than an inconvenience. It's all about how you see the glass, but for better or for worse, this will have been Vancouver's year.


Les militaires au pouvoir au Niger

Qu’y a-t-il de plus désolant qu’un autre coup d’état en Afrique? Le fait qu’il survienne largement « sans surprise ». Il y avait donc quelquechose de routinier dans les condamnations qui ont accompagné le coup d’état au Niger le 18 février. Mais la prise de Niamey et l’arrestation du président Mamadou Tandja après un échange de tirs n’a pas été condamnée par tout le monde, un membre de l'opposition qualifiant les soldats de «patriotes » luttant contre « la tyrannie » de l’homme fort à la tête du pays depuis 1999, qui l’an dernier avait fait changer la constitution pour conserver le pouvoir et y rester à vie.

La Communauté économique des pays d’Afrique de l’ouest, qui avait suspendu le Niger après cet acte, a tout de même condamné les derniers développements : « Nous condamnons le coup d’état tout comme nous condamnons le coup d’état consti- tutionnel de Tandja » déclarait à la BBC un représentant du groupe, Abdel Fatau Musa. Pourtant le putsch ne semblait pas étonner grand monde après les événements d’août 2009. Depuis, «il y avait des risques de coup d’état au Niger» estime Philippe Hugon, directeur de recherches à l’Iris, citant le fait que le pays riche en uranium mais généralement parmi les plus pauvres, et donc surveillé par plusieurs pays ayant des intérêts, notamment la France, ait connu quatre autres coups d’état, et l’impopularité d’un président qui  «avait perdu beaucoup de légitimité, notamment en modifiant la constitution pour rester au pouvoir».

Selon la presse africaine, ce dernier avait ainsi  « semé le vent et récolté la tempête »  parlant même de "contre-coup d'Etat".  Pour l’éditorialiste du journal burkinabé L'Observateur Paalga, il s’agit du "prix de l'entêtement d'un homme qui aurait pu sortir par la grande porte après ses deux mandats" tandis que Le Pays rappelait que la prise de pouvoir par la force est toujours le résultat d'une "malgouvernance politique, économique et sociale".  Certains craignent qu’une confluence d’incidents, dont la crise constitutionnelle au Nigéria, ne provoque une instabilité générale dans la région.

L’an dernier le groupe rebelle Front des Forces de redressement au Niger dénonçait « ces pays (Chine, France, Canada…), assoiffés de mettre la main sur les ressources minières - Uranium, Or, Pétrole…- (qui) feront fi des droits de l’Homme, et soutiendront (le président Mamadou) Tandja et son armée, dans sa croisade contre les populations autochtones » accusant par ailleurs l’armée de se livrer «impunément à des massacres sanglants de civils. »

Dix personnes auraient péri lors du coup d’état, mais le lendemain déjà, soulignant l’aspect presque routinier du geste, la vie semblait avoir repris son cours dans les rues de la capitale. Quelques jours plus tard, des citoyens manifestaient leur satisfaction par milliers. Les dirigeants de la junte, dont le Col. Salou Djibo ainsi que Col Djibrilla Hima Hamidou, qui avait été impliqué dans le coup d’état de 1999, déclarent être passés à l’acte pour «restaurer la démocratie» et voler au secours d’une population atterrée par « la pauvreté, la déception et la corruption ». Transparency International classe le pays 106e en terme de transparence.

Ils avaient l’aval d’au moins un membre de l’opposition, Mahamadou Karijo, du parti pour la démocratie et le socialisme, qui semblait satisfait que les militaires “ne sont pas intéressés par le pouvoir politique mais vont combattre pour sauver le peuple Nigérien de tout genre de tyrannie.”

Après des mois de pourparlers entre gouvernement et opposition afin de mettre un terme à la crise politique qui secoue le pays, les militaires semblent avoir perdu patience, et alors que certains départements ont été confiés à des bureaucrates de haut niveau, le sort des ministres et du président reste inconnu.

La suite sera suivie avec beaucoup d’intérêt à l’étranger, notamment en France, où la firme énergétique Areva a commencé à construire ce qui doit être la deuxième plus grande mine d'uranium au monde. Paris a fortement condamné le coup d’état, mais son secrétaire d'Etat à la Coopération, Alain Joyandet, qui "espère" l'organisation "dans les prochains mois" d'élections "libres et transparentes", rappelait que: "Ce n'est pas la première fois que l'armée intervient au Niger pour permettre l'organisation d'élections libres. Je vous rappelle que (le président) Mamadou Tandja, qui est militaire, est lui-même arrivé au pouvoir dans un contexte similaire."

La Chine quant à elle, extrêmement active sur le dossier de l’Afrique, surveille également ses intérêts après la signature d’une entente de 5 milliards $ pour pomper du pétrole au Niger. Le Canada quant à lui est selon certains estimés le deuxième investisseur étranger au pays. 

An emotional silver

It was an emotional night for Martine St Gelais, celebrating her 20th birthday on a night of intense competition at the short track event at the Pacific Coliseum. She knew uprooting her Chinese competitor would be next to impossible in the 500m but punched the air and covered her face with emotion with every qualifier. St Gelais also led most of the final, only to lose in the final laps. But she had won the hearts of millions of Canadians celebrating her silver medal, Canada's 6th medal at the Games.

Meanwhile things aren't getting easier for Vancouver Olympic organizers. On a day they had to refund 20,000 tickets because weather conditions at Cypress Mountain left standing spectators in an unsafe area and as they were dealing with the fury over judging mistakes at a biathlon event some 20 people were injured when a rail collapsed at a concert Tuesday evening. Nine people were hospitalized.

Still the foreign media is weighing in on Canada's new aggressive stance at the Games and the critics are in, critics being in large numbers and many asking for the old Canada back. ''

Under the headline "Canada Shaming Itself At Stormy Olympics" Jay Mariotti, national columnist for FanHouse, was among a number of them: "Ohhhhhhhh, Canada. What have you done to yourself? You've sacrificed your sound sensibilities, your lighthearted ways and your minimum-stress comfort zone to become, well, a pocket version of the United States." Ouch.

While Russia is making a huge deal of its hosting the next Winter Games at major exhibitions in Vancouver, the country is not impressed by the current metal count, the former dominator being limited to three so far. Some have called for Russia's sports minister to resign.

Golden again!


Just to prove the point Canada is over it's old jinx Canadian snowboard cross racer Maelle Ricker roared down Cypress Mountain and claimed Olympic gold for a second time for Canada, giving it five medals.

It made up for the disappointment of the alpine team, which lacked the precious silverware.

Also very much with gold in its sights, Team Canada took to the ice and local favourite Roberto Luongo pleased the hometown crowd by posting a shut out against Norway, 8-0, making up for Canada's slow start in the first game of the tournament. It plays Switzerland next on Thursday.

The win was enough to send crowds of red and white flag wavers streaming down party avenue Granville in downtown Vancouver, which is closed to traffic during the games, nearby building featuring Canadian athletes prominently.

While the ugly weather persisted in Cypress Mountain, leading to more cancellations, more ugliness from the streets as some of the vandals of last Saturday faced charged in a Vancouver courtroom.


THE WAIT IS OVER, CANADA GETS GOLD IN MOGULS!

On Valentine's Day love is in the air, and in the Great North strong and free much of it was directed toward a young athlete from Quebec.


It took two days of competition but Canada removed the monkey off its back Sunday scoring a gold in men's moguls courtesy of Alex Bilodeau. Canada's second medal of the day, one eagerly awaited since the 1976 Summer Games, has made the misery of the first few days ooze away for Canadians tired of hearing visitors complain about the bad weather, the technical mishap at the opening ceremonies, and the bad omen of the luge death.

The red-and-white crowd greeted nervously the last competitor to reach the finish line. But the eerie silence was broken when the French competitor ranked 6th, leaving Bilodeau in first place. Next to Vancouver-born Australian Begg-Smith and American Bryon Wilson on the top step of the podium where he had invited them, Bilodeau looked a tad shorter than his competitors, especially the towering Aussie, but stood as a giant in the annals of Canadian Olympic history.

Bilodeau promised more to come "It's too good to be true (for me) but there are so many golds to come... Canada is so strong right now. The party is just starting for Canada," said the athlete after the historic win.
"I am the most ready I have ever been," he said. "I went out and knew what to do."
Bilodeau  became teary-eyed when told his brother Frederic, who suffers from cerebral palsy, watched the entire run his hands in the air.
"My brother is my inspiration," he said, fighting tears.

Earlier Ottawa’s Kristina Groves collected Canada’s second medal of Games to take the bronze medal in the women’s 3000 metre long-track speed skating event at the Richmond Oval.

On another note the ladies's downhill event would have to wait however as they were postponed because of poor weather in Whistler, a recurring theme.

But Canada was carrying on with its new-found bad-boy take-no-prisoners attitude going after... Denmark. Ottawa announced Sunday it is going to close its ports to vessels from the Faroe Islands and Greenland because of shrimp overfishing.

Meanwhile Canada's romping of Slovakia in the women's hockey tournament kept fuelling debates about the sport's future... and whether Canada, which already limited competitors from using its installations ahead of the games, could be a gracious host. Canada's 18-0 was a record in terms of lopsied victories.

The men's team opens up against Norway Tuesday and there was a scare Saturday when Sidney Crosby left a game after being hit. But he returned and the injury was deemed not serious. Injuries have sidelined some members of the squad gunning for Olympic gold.

A German duo captured the emotional discipline of these games, Felix Loch and David Moeller winning gold and silver in men's luge for the country favourite to top the medal standings. Armin Zoeggeler of Italy was third.

Meanwhile the one event some said could not be delayed by weather was delayed by a technical difficulty when a zamboni broke down on the oval.

Canadian also snickered after an American TV host confused Terry Fox with... Michael J. Fox during an ABC broadcast.

Canada's heritage minister meanwhile was expressing his disappointment there hadn't been more French during the opening ceremonies, where it was heard few times besides official announcements, Jacques Rogge's speech and Garou's musical performance. He was echoing Jean Charest's assessment that  “everybody would have liked to have had more French in the opening ceremony.”


Cauldron lit under shadow of athlete's death


The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Vancouver opened on a sobering note Friday, the day an athlete was killed in a luge training accident. Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in a terrifying crash at Whistler Olympic Park during a training run earlier in the day. 
Kumaritashvili was clocked at 144.3 km/h before he was bounced and thrown off his sled before hitting a metal pole on the side of the track after he flew over the wall. At 12:15 p.m. German International Olympic Committee official Thomas Bach confirmed he was dead despite immediate efforts to revive him after the accident.
An emotional IOC president Jacques Rogge said the death, hours before the opening ceremony, "clearly casts a shadow over these games."
The carefully scripted opening ceremony was partly rewritten so it could be dedicated to the athlete. Members of the Georgian team removed their hats as they entered the stadium under loud applause and an ovation. They were to leave the ceremony right after their stadium entrance. Athletes from other countries wore arm bands as a sign of respect. 
With a "fallen colleague ... in our hearts" competitors from around the world stand ready "to deliver a performance of a lifetime," said John Furlong of the Vancouver organizing committee after a short tribute to Kumaritashvili by Rogge as a photo of the 21-year-old appeared on screens.
The day before Austria's Manuel Pfister clocked the fastest speed ever recorded by a luger at Whistler's Sliding Centre, prompting fears that sliders have now reached the absolute limit of what is safe. The course features several dangerous elements, including an imposing 152-metre drop. It's the longest in the world and equivalent to 48 stories. Officials later conceded that the track was much faster than anticipated and the sliding centre was closed to investigate the accident scene. The site had been the scene of other accidents during training but this was the first time a luge accident resulted in a death. Georgian team officials said the team would stay at the Games to "dedicate their performance to their fallen comrade."
The track was however reopened Saturday for training and competition after officials determined it was not to blame for the accident but rather that the athlete lost control during his fatal run. Officials were however to raise one wall along the track.
The last deadly accident to strike the games came at the 1992 Albertville Games where Nicholas Bochatay of Switzerland died after crashing into a snow grooming machine during training for the demonstration sport of speed skiing on the next-to-last day of the games. 
While Rogge in his bilingual address expressed hopes the Olympic truce would be observed during the Games, the largest allied offensive in Afghanistan was underway half a world away, led by U.S. and British troops. 
Moments after Rogge spoke Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean proclaimed the Games open in both official languages.
Jacques Villeneuve, Barbara Ann Scott-King, Romeo Dallaire, Bobby Orr, Sylvie Payette, Anne Murray, Donald Sutherland and the mother of Terry Fox, Betty, carried the Olympic flag into the stadium after a night marked by dancing, choreography and musical performances by signers including K.D. Lang, Bryan Adams and Sarah McLaughlan. As the hymn of the Games was performed the Olympic flag was raised by RCMP officers in red tunics, who had earlier brought in the Canadian flag. The flag-raising was then followed by a moment of silence to remember Kumaritashvili.
The ceremony climaxed as Man in motion and humanitarian Rick Hansen brought the flame into the stadium before lighting Katrina LeMay Doan's torch, who made a few steps before lighting the torch belonging to basketball All-Star Steve Nash. Skier Nancy Greene was then passed the torch which then reached all-time hockey great Wayne Gretzky. In a moment which had fuelled speculation for months if not years, the four final torchbearers were to jointly light a series of giant cauldrons which were raised from the centre of the field, the first to be lit in an indoor stadium. But one of the cauldrons, perhaps an eerie reminder of the fallen athlete, failed to do so, leaving LeMay Doan torch in hand.
Gretzky then ran out of the stadium to the back of an open air pick-up under police escort heading to a waterfront location where he would light the city's outdoor cauldron under the rain. Gathered crowds roared the Great One on along the way, a highlight which pleased the throngs who were in the streets during the ceremony held at BC place.
Earlier in the day the Olympic torch, on the final leg of its cross-country relay, the longest domestic relay in history, was carried by California Gov Arnold Schwartzenegger but was later detoured by protesters awaiting downtown Vancouver. Some 1,000 protesters hoping to bring their march to the site of the opening ceremonies were blocked by a line of police, but no violence followed.
The weather was also a cause for concern in Whistler, site of the sliding centre and ski competitions, where rain was expected on opening day. The rain falling on the city was no concern to the 60,000 gathered in the first dome to host the opening and closing ceremonies. Some have come to dub Vancouver's the Spring Games.


Let the Games begin!

With the Olympic sites secured and under lockdown mode, streets around them closed to circulation and the Olympic flame in the home stretch, Vancouver is preparing to host the world's best athletes, not to mention thousands of visitors and more than a handful of protesters who have periodically showed up at various legs of the torch relay.

Canada hasn't hosted the Olympic Games in 22 years and still longs for its first gold medal at home. It hopes to accomplish much more than that by trying to boost its medal total to new levels and "win" its home games. Boosted by sports investments through the "Own the podium" initiative which has given its athletes a jolt of energy and cash, Canada is expected to register its best medal haul ever, including a few golds.

But more importantly it seems, it seeks to regain world hockey supremacy, and a repeat of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where it won gold in both women's and men's hockey competitions. It certainly has it work cut out for it. The U.S. and Canada are widely expected to meet in the women's final, with the Americans coming in as defending champions, backed by a goalie with experience frustrating Team Canada forwards.

And while post-Soviet men's hockey isn't anything like what it used to be in the Red Army days, it got the best of Canada during the last two world championships, including the 2008 competition held in Canada. Russia's superstars, anchored by the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin and Volchenkov, will try to become the first to capture Olympic gold under the new colours, the Unified Team having posted the only post-Soviet success in Albertville.

With the favourite status comes the pressure for Team Canada of a homeland expecting no less than gold, and certainly cheering the Maple Leafs on along the way. In the lead up to the Games, the signs have been encouraging. While the Ovechkin-led Capitals sit atop their conference, Canada's players are showing their individual talent on the scoreboard, with Sidney Crosby leading in goals with 37, tied with teammate Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thorton setting up the plays and collecting a league leading 55 assists.

In nets, Brodeur is showing he will be a competitor, leading the NHL with 32 wins. Recently even players that hit a dry spell, such as Team Canada regular Jarome Iginla, came off a week with three goals and seven points in four games. While Crosby leads the league in shoot-out percentage (6 of 7), should the games require a tie-breaker, other Team Canada players have posted decent shootout records, including Jonathan Toews (five goals on eight tries), Rick Nash (four of 10) and Ryan Getzlaf (three of seven).

But can they play as a team? They'll have to if they are to defeat the offensive Russian powerhouse that is making the Polar rivals favourites in some camps. The Swedes and Finns meanwhile say they relish their roles as underdogs, while the Czechs and Americans hope to surprise.

While the suspense is driving many nuts, so is speculation surrounding the top-secret selection to light the Olympic cauldron in BC place. Hockey, again, was on the mind of a few people, including Globe & Mail columnist Gary Mason, who favoured Wayne Gretzky, the exec director of the gold-winning 2002 squad, despite the fact old 99 "seems too obvious a choice."

A Facebook group meanwhile is collecting support for Betty Fox, a fan favourite, and mother of the one-legged runner of the Marathon of Hope. The last time Canada hosted the Games Gretzky was being traded out of Edmonton and the Terry Fox foundation was being formed. It's been a long time and the expectations are high not only in hockey, if Canada is to do better than its record 24-medal Turin finish.

By some estimates, a nation scores at least 3 more medals during games it hosts, that would give Canada 27, perhaps still short of topping the medal count, won by Germany with 29 in 2006. But Canadian sport officials say 28-34 medals could very well become a reality. "The best benchmark for us to give some inference of where we're going a couple of weeks from now would be the 2009 world championships. (It) was a year when every winter sport had a world championship, and . . . Canada for the very first time was ahead of Germany and the U.S. and all the other countries. We had 29 medals and the U.S. and Germany had 27," says Own the Podium CEO Roger Jackson, a 1964 Olympic medallist.

Despite injuries that have plagued some athletes from skiiers to hockey players, the host nation is expected to do well in speed skating (up to half its medals), as well as snowboard, figure skating, curling, freestyle skiing, bobsled and skeleton. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada will finish 2nd overall, after Germany but ahead of the U.S.

"I'm not sure most Canadians are aware of how close we are to the top in overall winter sports performance now," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the magazine. "We're going to be a major player across the board."

The rush for medals has prompted U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert, who will be at the Games, to accuse "syrup-sucking" Canadians of being "un-Canadian": "This time they want to win. That's very unpolite" a reference to "Own the podium", the 2005 program which USA Today described as being "more than a battle cry (but) a $117 million business plan that provides Canadian athletes in select sports with more coaching, enhanced training and paid travel — plus this ambitious goal: Place first in the total medal count."

Now is when we find out if the multi-million multi-year effort pays off. Team Canada of course, built of millionaires itself, needed no encouragement.


No repeat of revolution in Ukraine


As sweeping and momentous as the country’s orange revolution was, Ukrainians were rather cool to any suggestions of a renewed revolution after the slim election day win of Russia- friendly Viktor Yanukovych in the Feb. 7 presidential election.

After all the bitter infighting between the original revolution’s allies, Yulia Tymoshenko, who narrowly lost the run-off and considered calling for a new upheaval similar to 2004’s, and president Victor Yushchenko, who fared poorly in the first round and called for voters to vote none of the above in the run-off, citizens generally accepted the election of a man once referred to as a “Moscow Stooge” who’s undergone an image makeover.

After all the incoming administration has its work cut out, as the country tackles a rampant corruption largely left intact by the outgoing government and an economic crisis which led the IMF to suspend its $16.4 bailout of Ukraine. As the results were being counted, about 3,000 pro-Yanukovych supporters in fact were the ones rallying in the square in front Central Election Commission, some chanting, "Yulia, lose gracefully!"

But Tymoshenko’s party said it would fight on after the close 49%-45.5% decision, even going to court if necessary, despite observers’ assessments the vote, while imperfect, was generally fair. "I will never recognise the legitimacy of Yanukovich's victory with such elections," the Ukrainska Pravda quoted Tymoshenko as telling a party meeting the following week. The party would challenge results in targeted areas, and possibly the general results overall, officials said, but won few endorsements in the west, which urged leaders to move on so Ukraine’s new leaders can deal with the many challenges facing the nation of 46 million considered among Europe’s poorest.

A group of observers representing major European institutions were among those declaring that the election was generally fair as Ukraine’s U.S. embassy called the vote a "consolidation of Ukraine's democracy." Moscow’s words of congratulation for Yanukovych were hardly a surprise, the Kremlin describing his campaign as "highly rated by international observers". Joao Soares, president of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said the vote was an "impressive display" of democracy despite a number of violations, including several by Tymoshenko herself.

The charismatic gold-braided candidate, who was a close ally to Yushchenko before their 2005 falling out, is not without a spotty public record in fact, and close ties to influence-seeking oligarchs, who like her are among the country’s very wealthy in a largely poor state. But threats of a challenge only promised a period of uncertainty many agreed had to be avoided so the country could go ahead and tackle rampant problems in a nation which, the vote showed, remains bitterly divided between the nationalistic pro-Europe west and Russophile east.

By some estimates Tymoshenko’s display was only an attempt to remain at her prime ministerial post under a new president but inner-party grumbling was becoming more apparent with every passing day. Supporters in her Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc however insisted the party would only recognize Yanukovych as the winner of the presidential elections in Ukraine if it fails to prove the electoral violations that led to this victory in court, but in the end there could only be one outcome.

This weekend Tymoshenko finally dropped her legal challenge, saying the court's lack of interest represented actions that "bear no resemblance to justice."


Sri Lanka's historic election

With the 25-year Sri Lankan civil war over and himself a retired army chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka was a little surprised to see soldiers circling his hotel the day after election day last week. A government spokesman later said the troops were there for his protection and not to intimidate the main contender to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the historic electoral poll, but by the time Fonseka made his way to cast his vote more surprises were in store for him.

He found out that he wasn’t on the electoral register and therefore couldn’t count on the one vote he felt sure he had secured. He conceded he wasn't previously registered but assured he had submitted the right papers. So by the time the first preliminary results of the Jan. 26 election gave Rajapaksa a firm lead with 57% of the vote, the general was hardly caught off guard, promising a legal challenge against his ally-turned-rival. But so far his faith in the country’s institutions leave much to be desired.

In a letter to the electoral commission Fonseka wrote: “I humbly request you to order the inspector general of police... to take appropriate security measures to protect my life.” He said “President Rajapaksa's election campaign has made great use of state resources,” adding “there have been threats, intimidation and accusations levelled against me. Many of my supporters were intimidated. The government engaged in a campaign abusing state media and state resources to accuse me of being a foreign agent and a traitor.”

The charge certainly seemed to stick this week when the government purged some of Fonseka's military comrades, which it accused, along with the former general himself, of plotting to stage a coup. While Fonseka says there are sufficient grounds to annul the vote, the 60-40 margin of victory, which was wider than expected for what was supposed to be a much closer contest, makes it unlikely. Election monitors were willing to concede the president enjoyed blanket coverage on state TV, but reported no large-scale electoral fraud sufficient to rig the election.

While election day was relatively peaceful after a campaign not without its share of violence, leaving at least four people dead and hundreds wounded, some areas did witness violence. Mostly areas too familiar with bloodshed like the Tamil-populated north and the war-wary city of Jaffna, where Fonseka was popular and at least six explosions took place before and just after voting began. If this was an attempt, as opponents claimed, to scare people into not voting, this may have succeeded as the region registered under half of the 70% national average participation rate.

While the incumbent had initially been expected to win the election easily, the race tightened in its later stages, capped by the endorsement of a former leader in favour of Fonseka days before the vote. Rajapaksa meanwhile tried to brush off the post-election dispute, asking a population bitterly divided by decades of war to come together. "From today onward, I am the president of everyone, whether they voted for me or not," he said. Rajapaksa promised to sit down with the Tamil minority to discuss devolution of power and vowed to rebuild the country by encouraging foreign investments. "I will start by developing the country," he told reporters. "We are looking at a 6 percent plus (economic) growth in my second term."

The margin of victory will give Rajapaksa the opportunity to cement his grip on power during this year’s parliamentary elections. Some Sri Lankans were willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. "Just as he won the war against terror, we are confident that he will fight the economic war and bring prosperity to the country," Jagath Dissanayake told AP. "This is how the public pay their gratitude to a leader who ended a three decades war and brought peace to this country."

But dissenters gathered by the thousands in Colombo this week to protest the vote, while Amnesty International said opposition critics and journalists have been condemned since an election and peace that "should have ended political repression".


Reprise du débat sur le voile islamique

Non le débat ne date pas d’hier dans le pays européen avec la plus importante minorité musulmane, mais disons que le compte rendu d’une mission parlementaire française vient de lui mettre le vent dans le voile. Pas n’importe lequel, mais le voile islamique intégral, que préconise d'interdire dans les services public un groupe de parlementaires après sept mois d’enquête et une cinquantaine d’auditions.

Au début de ce long processus, le ton avait été donné à l’Elysée, lorsque le président Nicolas Sarkozy avait entonné : « La burqa ne sera pas la bienvenue sur le territoire de la République française ». Signe de soumission chez les uns, d’observation religieuse chez d’autres, le débat sur le port du voile dépasse les seules frontière de l’hexagone, ayant débarqué sur nos rivages notamment lors du grand débat sur les accommodements raisonnables.

Bien avant, en 2004, une loi interdisait en France le port de signes religieux "ostensibles" dans l'enceinte des établissements scolaires, notamment le foulard islamique mais également la kippa juive, le turban sikh et les grandes croix chrétiennes.

Ainsi l’ancienneté du débat en France faisait du compte rendu récent matière à débat dans plusieurs capitales occidentales, en commençant par Paris, où la mission, composée de 12 députés, préconisait un vote en bonne et due forme de loi interdisant la burqa dans les secteurs publics, comme la poste, les transports et les écoles, faisant contraste avec la proposition de plusieurs députés de droite prévoyant une telle application sur l’ensemble des espaces publics et condamnant le geste de «demi-loi».

Selon le ministre de l’intérieur à peine 1,900 femmes sur les 5 millions de musulmans résidant en France portent soit niqab, soit burqa, voiles qui couvrent la plupart sinon la totalité du visage. La loi «contraindrait les personnes non seulement à montrer leur visage à l'entrée du service public mais aussi à conserver le visage découvert» , faute de quoi les femmes concernées pourraient ne pas percevoir les prestations souhaitées.

«Le voile intégral en France est contraire à nos principes républicains. Votre rapport le démontre largement. Ce voile représente tout ce que la France rejette spontanément. C’est le symbole de l’asservissement des femmes et l'étendard, comme vous l'écrivez, de l’intégrisme extrémiste» a déclaré Bernard Accoyer, le président de l’Assemblée nationale. Pas assez fort pour certains, mais d’autres, notamment du camp de gauche, refusaient d’avance de voter, invoquant un débat «pollué par celui sur l’identité nationale» et un climat «irrationnel».

Quelques jours plus tard le premier ministre François Fillon adressait une lettre au Conseil d'Etat lui demandant d'étudier "les solutions juridiques permettant de parvenir à une interdiction du port du voile intégral" qu'il souhaite "la plus large et la plus effective possible". Le lendemain il déclarait que le gouvernement légiférerait au printemps sur le sujet.

Même côté catholique, cette décision n'était pas épargnée par la critique: "Il faut raison garder. Le nombre de femmes portant le voile intégral étant très limité, les décisions prises ne doivent pas conduire à stigmatiser les croyants musulmans," estimait pour sa part Mgr Michel Santier cette semaine, le président du Conseil pour les relations interreligieuses de la Conférence des évêques de France. Le lendemain le ministre de l'immigration, Eric Besson, dans une décision sans précédent, refusait la nationalité à un ressortissant étranger qui obligeait sa femme française à porter le voile intégral.

De l’autre côté de la Manche pendant ce temps, Londres prenait officiellement ses distances par rapport au geste français: «Le gouvernement britannique ne partage pas la position de la France sur la sécularisation», a rappelé le site internet de Downing street dans un pays qui compte environ la moitié des musulmans vivant en France, à peine 1% d’entre eux portant la burqa.

«Au Royaume-Uni, nous sommes à l'aise avec l'expression des convictions, que ce soit le port du turban, du hijab, du crucifix ou de la kippa. Cette diversité est une partie importante de notre identité nationale et l'une de nos forces», a précisé le gouvernement. Mais c’était sans consulter certains partis politiques, comme le parti pour l'indépendance du Royaume- Uni, grand vainqueur des élections européennes de 2009 après avoir terminé en deuxième place devant le Labour, qui fait de l'interdiction du voile islamique intégral dans les lieux publics un thème de campagne pour les législatives prévues cette année.

Autant dite qu’il ne pourra compter sur le soutien de la communauté musulmane :  «Dans l'islam, ce n'est pas une obligation de se couvrir le visage ...  c'est un choix individuel que nous devons respecter, a expliqué à l'AFP Ajmal Masroor, porte-parole de la Société islamique britannique. Au nom de la laïcité et du laïcisme, (la France) est devenue un (pays) extrémiste laïc».

Ainsi la France est bien loin d’avoir le monopole du débat, qui avait également rebondi en Grande-Bretagne en 2006 lorsque le ministre Jack Straw s'était dit «gêné» de parler à quelqu'un sans voir son visage. De son côté, le premier ministre danois Lars Loekke Rasmussen estimait que ce genre de voile n'avait pas sa place dans son pays scandinave non plus, mais sans faire appel à une interdiction complète pour des "raisons de droits".

Alors que le gouvernement canadien n'a pas l'intention d'emboiter le pas, un groupe musulman a fait appel à l'interdiction du voile intégral la semaine dernière. Le Congrès musulman canadien a en effet demandé au gouvernement conservateur de s'inspirer de la proposition de la France. Selon la vice-présidente de l'organisme, Salma Siddiqui, le voile intégral représente «un outil servile», et ajoute que le congrès a l'intention de faire pression sur les politiciens de tous les partis politiques dans ce sens.

Au Québec le port du voile dans les bureaux de vote a déjà fait l'objet de débats et la commission sur les accom- modements raisonnables avait plaidé en faveur d'une tolérance en regard au port du foulard de manière générale, mais la police de Montréal avait également accueilli favorablement un règlement déjà en rigueur en France interdisant le port de la cagoule, et autres masques, en bordure des manifestations.

A l'opposé du Royaume-Uni, un voisin immédiat de la France, dont les problèmes en matière d'immigration ont récemment défrayé la manchette, pense également emboiter le pas sur le voile intégral. La ministre italienne de l'Egalité des chances Mara Carfagna a affirmé que les projets de loi italiens, car il y en a quatre, iraient de l'avant, un sondage montrant que 71% des Italiens sont en faveur d'une interdiction du port du voile intégral: «J'adhère complètement à l'initiative française, dont je pense qu'elle va inciter d'autres pays européens, comme l'Italie, à adopter des lois sur cette question, a-t-elle dit. Il s'agit d'une sacro-sainte lutte pour défendre la dignité et les droits des femmes immigrées».


Violence et vide politique au Nigéria


Plusieurs jours après les sanglants éclats religieux de Jos au Nigéria, on retrouvait encore des cops par dizaines dans certains puits de cette région installée sur la faille religieuse qui traverse le pays le plus peuplé d’Afrique. Pendant ce temps c’était au vice-président de promettre d’arrêter les responsables des violences qui auraient fait plusieurs centaines de morts, un rappel que le pays traverse non pas une mais deux crises de nature inter-religieuse.

Car l’intervention soulignait l’absence du chef de l’état, qui n’a pas été vu depuis novembre lorsqu’il a été hospitalisé en Arabie Saoudite, ce qui a donné lieu à une paralysie politique ainsi que de bien folles rumeurs. Une série de manifestations, de poursuites judiciaires et de débats parlementaires tentant de combler le vide de l’exécutif s'est enchainée ensuite, notamment à un moment où un programme d’amnistie sensé mettre fin à la crise des rebelles du Delta du Niger menaçait de tomber en morceaux, emportant le fragile processus de paix avec lui.

En effet la semaine dernière les rebelles ont officiellement annoncé la reprise des hostilités, mettant fin une la trêve datant depuis octobre. Cette semaine trois centrales de pétrole de Shell dans la région du delta étaient fermées pour raison de sabotage. Entre temps le chapitre d'al-Qaida au Maghreb se dit prêt à soutenir la cause des musulmans au Nigéria.

A 58 ans, Umaru Yar'Adua, n’en était pas à ses premiers problèmes de santé, dirigeant vite les débats sur la succession, qui entre temps laisse le vice-président Goodluck Jonathan à la tête du pays. Dans un Nigéria profondément divisé par la religion, commes les violences ont pu le rappeler, la prise en charge d’un chrétien du sud lors de l’absence du musulman Yar'Adua n’est pas passée inaperçue dans ce pays qui assure une régulière alternance au poste de chef d'état entre chrétien et musulman depuis le retour à la démocratie.

Puis l'absence du président s'est prolongée notamment lors de la tentative d’attentat d'un terroriste Nigérien sur un avion américain entre Amsterdam et Détroit, suivie d'un des plus sérieux éclats inter-religieux depuis plusieurs années.

Le calme a beau être revenu à Jos, après l’arrivée massive de troupes, de nombreux habitants fuyaient pourtant encore cette ville divisée où tant de sang a été versé, plusieurs immeubles - dont une mosquée - fumant toujours après avoir été la proie des flammes inter- communautaires. Alors que les violences ont pris naissance à Jos à la mi-janvier, elles se sont vite propagées dans la région, emportant le village de Kuru Karama, qui à 30 kilomètres de Jos avait le malheur d’être une communauté musulmane dans une région majoritairement chrétienne.

Ces éclats en étaient de trop pour l’archévêque de Jos, qui lors de la messe dominicale à la cathédrale St. Michael déclara devant 3000 fidèles : «Nous sommes potentiellement un grand pays, mais il faut reconnaître que nous gâchons ce potentiel. Notre diversité devrait créer une harmonie, non le contraire.». Mais pour Ignatius Kaigama, les différences religieuses ne sont pas essentiellement au cœur du problème. Plus tôt il confiait à la BBC, la chaine qui a fait transmettre le premier message du président depuis son absence, qu’il faut plutôt blâmer : « la lutte pour la suprématie ethnique et politique à Jos. »

La ville prévoit entre autre des règlements selon lesquels les musulmans qui y demeurent, même depuis longtemps, n'y sont que de simples colons, et pèsent ainsi moins sur l'échiquier politique. «Si cette question n’est pas résolue nous assisterons à un cycle de violence. Il faut une solution politique» dit-il. Un autre rappel du vide politique qui persiste alors que les appels au président de cèder le pouvoir au vice-président continuent.

Mais pendant ce temps, les ministres des affaires étrangères européens et américain rappelaient lors d'une conférence à Londres qu'il était impératif que les dirigeants nigériens respectent la constitution du pays au courant de la crise. Une parmi tant d'autres.


Haiti deals with aftermath of disaster


First the earthquake, the instant destruction of countless buildings, from the presidential palace to the U.N. headquarters, without sparing the capital's cathedral. Then the aftershocks, the search for survivors as bodies piled in the streets high amid the rubble, making aid efforts difficult at best. Followed by the lack of food and water, despair, violence among the survivors and growing fear of disease, while the hope of finding people alive in the ruins of so many buildings ebbed away, amid the rare miracles.

The template of tragedy strikes Haiti with a disturbing regularity that even sets it apart on Hispaniola, the island it shares with the Dominican Republic. There damage of the Jan. 12 7.0 earthquake remained at a minimum and functioning institutions enabled it to serve as a hub of humanitarian effort. The lack of institutions in Haiti, on the other hand, owing to the widespread destruction of its capital Port-au-Prince, made the aftermath of disaster all the more unbearable despite the fact it was already home to a large contingent of U.N. peacekeepers and international aid agencies.

Their distraught leader, Ban Ki-moon, visiting the island nation on Sunday, said a country more than a few have considered "cursed",  was facing the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, just a few years after the catastrophic Asian tsunami disaster. "I am here to say we are with you. You are not alone. This is a tsunami-like disaster," Ban said after flying over the ruined city.

As time ran out in the search for survivors of last week's devastating quake in Haiti and aid efforts started to trickle into the hemisphere's poorest country with great difficulty, residents of the capital started filing out of a city now mostly made of ruins and rubble as rising tensions among survivors led to the first sporadic signs of violence some fear may grow into widespread rioting. Meanwhile the incoming contingents, some 1,000 troops promised by Canada, which said it would host an international meeting in Montreal on reconstructing the shattered nation, and even greater U.S. presence, only reinforced the impressions the ravaged country had become a war zone.

This week foreign evacuees were being airlifted out of Haiti while locals took to the roads to escape an increasingly bleak situation in Port-au-Prince after the devastating quake that may have killed some 200,000 people. The smell of rotten bodies was becoming overwhelming in areas where they were still yet to be picked up by relatives or workers to place them in mass graves. "Sadly, we have to bring everybody to mass graves because we are racing against a possible epidemic," PM Jean-Max Bellerive told AP. As of Thursday some 70,000 people had been so disposed as the government announced plans to set up some 400,000 homeless survivors in camps outside the capital.

While a few survivors were still being pulled out of the rubble there was fear the time to rescue survivors that may lie under the remains of hundreds of collapsed buildings and structures was running out. Aid agencies were concerned the immediate lack of medication and necessities, and delays making them available, could claim the life of survivors. "Money is worth nothing right now, water is the currency," one foreign aid-worker said. 
Meanwhile the situation in the capital was slow to improve as crews started to clear main streets to make aid transit possible. Some food deliveries became chaotic as the threat of looting and violence increased, a reminder the damage had also freed the city's prisoners.

As the U.S. announced its coordinated strategy to deal with the crisis it was fighting perceptions it had effectively taken control of the country, starting with its airport and air space, as aid flights from around the world tried to compose with the limited infrastructure available to accommodate them in the wake of the disaster. Relief planes were struggling to land on the sole landing strip of Port-au-Prince airport as hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors awaited for desperately-needed food aid.

For the first crucial hours of the aftermath of the latest tragedy to strike the poor Caribbean nation, Haitians were left to their own devices, struggling to rescue survivors, or trying to survive themselves, as authorities were largely absent in the streets of the devastated capital Canada's Haitian-born governor-general described as having been struck by "an atomic bomb."

None one was denying the long-term task at hand. The progress from international efforts to help Haiti in recent years had been virtually wiped out by the devastating earthquake, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said over the weekend. "We have to start from scratch” with a long-term commitment when the current emergency is over, he said. While the frantic activity at the airport indicated help was making its way to Haiti as emergency teams rushed to start search and rescue operations, the activity overwhelmed the facility, which had to freeze some incoming flights, left circling in the skies above. Frustration grew on the inability to provide immediate assistance.

France said it was filing an official complaint with the U.S. after its aid planes were denied permission to land. President Rene Preval called on donors to avoid arguments, speaking from temporary headquarters, a dilapidated police station where he met with ministers on plastic chairs in open air now that the presidential palace has been destroyed. "Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed," Preval told the Miami Herald as he was trying to grasp the magnitude of the disaster and how to manage it.

The prime minister voiced concerns over 100,000 people may have been killed while a senator spoke of nearly half a million victims. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince was among the dead, and the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, whose building was also heavily damaged, was also killed and dozens of U.N. personnel remained missing. At least 46 U.N. staffers were killed. The international Red Cross said a third of Haiti's population may need emergency aid.

In the mean time neighbouring countries like the U.S. and others with large Haitian populations, where expatriates were scrambling to get in touch with relatives at home, such as Canada, wasted no time sending  immediate assistance. Canada sent a first team of its DART disaster assistance team within hours, while the U.S. promised an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort, as the Navy rushed ships to provide assistance, including an aircraft carrier.

As Washington started evacuating a first wave of citizens in Haiti it announced over 10,000 troops would be sent to the country to join in the rescue effort during what President Barack Obama called “one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history”. Visiting the devastated land on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Haitians that the U.S. would be "here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead", asserting that "Haiti can come back even better and stronger in the future".

The U.N. said it would immediately use $10 million from its emergency disaster fund to help with relief efforts. Canada committed $135 million to quake relief, matching individual donations, while the world bank said it was providing $100 million for immediate assistance. Ottawa  meanwhile is also promising to speed up immigration applications from Haitians with family in Canada.

The U.S. said it would provide $130 million as well but experts were cautioning leaders had made cash pledges in the past, notably following the tsunami, that they didn't always honour. "Not only is there donor fatigue, but as we've seen in Afghanistan and Indonesia after the tsunami, all these commitments gets made, but tracking them and actually seeing the delivery of funding is another matter altogether," said Peter Stoett of Concordia university.

Former president Bill Clinton, who sent troops to restore Haiti's exiled president in 1994 and organized a massive aid program, said the country had sadly been in the best position to "escape its history," right before the quake. Repeat disasters in Haiti meant that a number of agencies already on the ground would also be able to respond quickly to the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. The U.N. already has some 9,000 personnel on site. But many of those agencies also immediately struggled with trying to get in contact with their own missing members, including the U.N. and Doctors without Border, which reported many staff members missing.

It will take time before the dust settles and the true magnitude of the catastrophe comes to light as communications have been severed in many areas, for large periods of time leaving officials in Canada and the U.S. initially unable to get in touch with their counterparts in the stricken island nation. Some observers doubted lack of communications was solely responsible for the problem establishing contact, and questioned whether any leadership was in place. "The sad truth is that no one is in charge of Haiti today. This vacuum, coupled with the robust response from the Obama administration, has inevitably created a situation where the U.S. will be the de facto decision-maker in Haiti," said Latin America expert Dan Erikson of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

Preval said that Haiti’s Senate president was among those trapped inside the parliament building, one of many official buildings to have been badly damaged in the capital. The Red Cross estimated that about three million Haitians had been affected by the quake, the largest to hit the country in more than 200 years.

In addition to being stricken by natural disasters and hurricanes in the last decade Haiti was gripped by a tense political standoff in April 2008 amid riots over skyrocketing food prices. In the fall of 2008 four storms caused massive flooding and left almost 9,000 people homeless, killing about 1,000. In 2004 some 3,000 people are believed to have died during two weeks of persistent rain caused landslides across Haiti.

Governor General Michaelle Jean, who was born in Haiti, choked back tears last week saying she had a long and difficult night after hearing news about the earthquake. "It's as if an atomic bomb has fallen on Port-au-Prince," she said. "We are a courageous people, stand firm," she then said in Creole, addressing her former compatriots. Just a year before Jean was in Haiti remarking how the country had improved in recent years, despite the high food crisis then disrupting the island.

Now Haiti stands, according to some estimates, to face a death count not very different from the worst earthquake of the last century, the 1976 Tangshan China quake which killed 255,000 people, and in the scale of the 2004 tsunami. “That poor country,” said retired Windsor police detective Frank Chauvin, who has been running an orphanage for girls in Port-au-Prince. "That country has suffered enough." Chauvin said at least three girls had been killed at the orphanage, which is situated in the centre of the city.

As thousands of expatriates around the world sought to get information about missing family members, a Facebook group on the disaster with over 200,000 members was acting as an Internet bulletin board for people seeking relatives they had not heard from since the earthquake. "I am looking for frere Gerard, Jackson Jean Louis and his family? Anyone who heard anything please contact me send me a message on my facebook page," wrote Joandi Hartendorp, among the many posting messages and photos.

The site has meanwhile being credited with saving at least one life after it drew attention to someone trapped inside a building. Authorities were alerted to the survivor by a Facebook posting and made their way to the site to rescue the individual, one of 120 miraculously pulled from the rubble. This week came another, when a three-week-old baby was pulled alive out of the rubble that had covered her for a third of her existence. A small victory in the face of the tremendous daunting task of rebuilding the country.

China chugging, and censoring along

It may be a recession in many parts of the world but the Chinese economy is chugging along, showing tremendous resiliency. Yet, while Beijing is preparing for another coming out year by hosting the 2010 Shanghai Expo, the strides it is making in the economic and diplomatic front, in part by showboating its relief effort in Haiti, are hardly matched on the democratic front, as the imminent pull-out of Google from the world’s largest market goes to show.

An economy making new claims, as China surpassed Germany as world’s greatest exporter, and became a giant importer at the same time, all the while China’s banks confirmed their standing as the most valued financial institutions in the world, is fuelling the foreign policy agenda, from flying the flag in the Gulf of Aden, where an international force still watches over the area’s pirates, to Port-au-Prince, where search and rescue teams in their smart new suits literally leaped out of Chinese planes on the tarmac of the airport brandishing the yellow- starred red banner.

While China was totaling over $1.2 trillion in exports in January, ahead of a $1.17 trillion forecast by Germany’s foreign trade organization, the world’s largest steel maker was also supplanting the U.S. as the world’s largest auto market, after its 2009 vehicle sales jumped 46 percent, ending more than a century of American dominance that started with the Model T Ford, and right in time for Detroit's auto show.

Sales in passenger cars, buses and trucks were hardly showing signs of a slowdown, rising to 13.6 million, in fact the fastest pace in at least 10 years, while U.S. sales slumped 21 percent to 10.4 million, the fewest in nearly three decades. Helping spur the growth was the government’s halving of the sales tax on new vehicles and cash offers to replace old clunkers, insulating the country from slumping global demand, but also leading some to conclude 2010 auto sales will not be as robust.

The blow to Germany was its second in just under three years as China replaced the European powerhouse as world’s third-largest economy in 2007, and seemed to grab N.2 away from Japan this week after posting growth of 8.7% for 2009. Both auto crown title and N.2 spots weren't expected for years. That was before the U.S. recession. Meanwhile the economic crisis has only seen China rise further thanks to Beijing’s own $586 billion surplus and growth of 10.7% in the last quarter.

But all that economic glitter, flag-flying and being the world’s largest market may not be everything, as the Google debacle goes to show. The world’s premier search engine site at first bent its rules by agreeing to block certain web sites on Beijing’s black list, to try to capture some one of the world’s fastest growing Internet markets. But in the end decided it could no longer continue the censorship. It seems it all just wasn’t enough.

Last week Google was attacked by hackers using its Chinese search engine to gain access to information on users, a development it considered the last straw. The hackers were targeting the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights dissidents and some 20 Chinese and international companies, creating a rift some experts say could forever change the face of the Internet.

Google vice-president David Drummond refused to speculate whether the Chinese government was behind the attacks but said the web search giant, a distant number two in the Chinese market "simply cannot continue to operate a filtered or censored search engine." But Ottawa Internet expert Rafal Rohozinski says removing Google from China could have groundshaking effects across the Internet, fearing that blocking Google could hinder international access to one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.

“Basically the business model that has allowed companies like Google to exist, which is a global unified unfettered Internet cloud, will be replaced by national Internet clouds or clouds that belong to coalitions of countries which decide who and who cannot access resources from within those clouds," said Rohozinski. "They are radically altering the entire structure of cyberspace."

The immediate effect however was surprising to some, and perhaps shocking to the regime, as Google.cn produced pictures from the Tiananmen massacre, which would have previously been blocked during a search by the so-called "Great Firewall of China." But in the country where business rules, it was business as usual censoring the web within hours, as comments favourable to Google were soon replaced by criticism.


One month to Vancouver

The 45,000 km journey of the Olympic flame arrived in Alberta Tuesday, one month before Vancouver 2010's opening ceremonies Feb. 12
Rain in BC's metropolis has some worried conditions may be less than ideal at some venues but forecasters say snow is on the way as Vancouver 2010 officials fine-tuned their transportation plans during the Games, which take place until Feb. 28.


Triste débat après les éclats en Italie

Les incidents en Italie en janvier sont venus rappeler qu’après un long périple sur la Méditerranée, l’existence demeure difficile, arrivé sur l'autre rive, celle de forteresse Europe, pour les immigrés en Italie. A peine ont-ils surmonté le défi du trajet, sur une embarcation précaire ou aux mains de passeurs féroces, qu’ils doivent composer avec la mafia ou la xénophobie de certains groupes dans le sud du pays.

Une soixantaine de personnes ont été blessées à Rosano lors d’affrontements entre Italiens et immigrés africains lorsque ces derniers ont voulu se venger après avoir été la proie d’attaques racistes dans cette région traditionnellement pauvre, et largement menée par la mafia, de Calabre. En fin de compte un millier d’immigrés africains, la plupart des travailleurs illégaux de l’Afrique subsaharienne, ont été contraits de quitter Rosano.

L’incident a relancé le débat sur l’immigration et le racisme sur la botte de L’Europe, où certains partis politiques ont des positions particulièrement hostiles envers l’immigration illégale. Les incidents ont fait l’objet d’une rare intervention du Vatican, dont le journal Osservatore Romano a dénoncé le "racisme" des Italiens impliqués dans les éclats, après des heurts qui ont été qualifiés de véritable chasse aux immigrés à Rosano.

« Non seulement écœurants, les épisodes de racisme dont la presse se fait écho nous ramènent à la haine muette et sauvage envers une autre couleur de peau que nous croyions avoir dépassée », écrit le quotidien dans un article intitulé "Les Italiens et le racisme", qui estime que "l'exemple américain n'a servi à rien".  «Un voyage en train, une promenade au parc ou une partie de football ne laissent pas de doute. Nous n'avons jamais brillé par notre sens de l'ouverture, nous Italiens du nord au sud ». La veille, lors de la prière de l'Angélus, le pape Benoît XVI avait souligné que l'immigré était "un être humain à respecter".

Alors que des bulldozers s’affairaient à raser le camp des immigrés qui ont fui la ville, des citadins de Rosano sont descendus dans la rue pour contrer les accusations de racisme. Dans un langage peu rassurant, un quotidien de droite de la famille Berlusconi (dont le gouvernement a durci le ton sur les immigrants illégaux) avait alors fait paraître l’appel suivant : « Plutôt que sur les nègres, tirez sur les mafieux. Pourquoi les Calabrais ne tirent-ils pas sur la mafia ? Les immigrés sont pauvres et faibles, laids et sales, des cibles idéales. Le crime organisé, qui tient en échec les forces de l'ordre est fort, violent, avec un esprit de revanche et donc il convient de ne pas le toucher ».

La police a pendant ce temps ouvert une enquête sur une éventuelle implication mafieuse lors des affrontements, que certains qualifient de pires incidents raciaux depuis la seconde guerre mondiale. Le ministre de l’intérieur, de droite, Roberto Maroni, s’est félicité pour sa part d’avoir résolu le problème de « manière brillante » en organisant l’exode « de manière exemplaire », des commentaires qui n’ont pas plu à l’opposition, qui accuse le gouvernement d’alimenter la xénophobie. Selon Maroni, l’incident était le résultat d’années de « tolérance erronée ».

Certains commentateurs en revanche n’ont pas hésité de comparer les incidents aux chasses du Klu Klux Klan des années 60. Un journal a même parlé de « nettoyage ethnique ». Quelques 8,000 travailleurs illégaux demeurent en Calabre, où ils oeuvrent surtout dans  le secteur de l’agriculture. Alors que le chômage dans le sud alimente les tensions, certains groupes de droits de l’homme estiment que les immigrants sont exploités par la Ndràngheta, une organisation mafieuse originaire de Calabre opérant dans le sud.

« Il n’y a pas d’état en Calabre », estime Pierferdinando Casini, dirigeant de l’Union des Chrétiens Democrates, tandis que Roberto Calderoli, qui comme Maroni est issu de la Ligue du nord, un parti notamment populaire à Lampedusa, lieu de débarquement de plusieurs illégaux chaque année, le taux de chômage de 18% dans le sud exige que « le travail revienne aux Italiens, pas aux immigrants illégaux ».  Ces sans-papiers se promènent à travers le sud, notamment en Sicile, pour participer aux diverses cueillettes qui accompagnent les changements de saison, et plusieurs observateurs notent que le rôle de la mafia saute aux yeux puisqu’elle contrôle ces déplacement.

Puis on n’en est pas aux premiers incidents du genre. En février des immigrants ont mis le feu à un centre de détention en attendant leur déportation. Plus tôt Naples avait été le lieu d'éclats après l’exécution d'immigrants illégaux par la mafia. Le débat sur l'immigration dépasse les frontières du pays,  le président français rappelant son rejet du port du burka cette semaine.


Le deuil du foot africain


L’organisation d’un match de foot de la Coupe d’Afrique des Nations était sensée démontrer que cette région de l’Angola en avait fini avec les crises et les guerres, or elle s’est soldée par un échec sanglant. L’attaque d’un convoi transportant l’équipe togolaise dans la région de Cabinda le 8 janvier a fait trois morts, dont un des entraineurs du club et le chauffeur du bus, tout en blessant plusieurs joueurs.

Alors que les joueurs, qui s’étaient décidés de rester sur place, étaient rapatriés chez eux sous ordre du président, les critiques de ce tournoi vieux de plusieurs décennies mais impopulaire chez les entraineurs européens, commençaient de s’acharner sur les organisateurs. Les dirigeants des grands clubs sont d’habitude mécontents de perdre leurs meilleurs joueurs d’Afrique tous les deux ans, alors que leurs saisons sont bien avancées. Puis ce ne sont pas les risques qui manquent lors de matchs disputés sur le continent, comme les phases de la qualification de la coupe du monde l’ont montré en 2009.

Mais il s’agit bien, comme le faisait remarquer un membre des Eperviers, du continent (en Afrique du sud, un pays voisin de l’Angola non sans ses difficultés) où sera disputé le Mondial cette année. D’où en partie la réticence initiale des joueurs de l’équipe qui devait disputer son premier match le 11 janvier, mais qui rentrait chez elle la veille, pour participer à un deuil de trois jours. Pendant ce temps le coup d’envoi était donné entre le Mali en le pays hôte, précédé d’un moment de silence.

«Des personnes sont mortes pour cette Coupe, d'autres sont blessées. On ne peut pas les abandonner et partir comme des lâches, déclara Alaixys Romao, le milieu togolais. Si on reste ici, c'est pour eux. Mais aussi pour ne pas donner satisfaction aux rebelles. » Malgré une trêve signée en 2006, ces derniers, membres du Front pour la libération de l’enclave du Cabinda, poursuivent leur lutte pour l’indépendance en lançant des attaques « à faible intensité » qui exigent que le gouvernement maintienne constamment des troupes en présence.

Alors que le Togo en voulut aux autorités angolaises de ne pas avoir fourni d’avertissement sur la situation, le gouvernement de Luanda était plutôt étonné d’avoir constaté que le club avait fait le trajet dans une zone si sensible en autocar au lieu de survoler le parcours. Le Flec avait d’ailleurs menacé de s’en prendre au tournoi, comme il s’en prend parfois aux employés des installations pétrolières étrangères dans cette région riche en or noir.

Le gouvernement avait pourtant promis que « le Cabinda est sûr et la sécurité y est garantie » mots employés par l’ancien rebelle Antonio Bento Bembe devenu ministre après les accords de 2006. Ceux-ci prévoyaient plus d’autonomie pour l’enclave séparée du reste du pays par le territoire congolais. Mais à l’époque le Flec en exil a critiqué Bembe, estimant qu’il n’avait pas l’autorité de négocier avec le government angolais, tout en rappelant les buts indépendantistes du groupe rebelle.

Certains joueurs parlent de revenir au pays participer au tournoi, après avoir fait leur deuil, pour honorer la mort des passagers du bus. «On a tous très mal au coeur, ce n'est plus une fête, mais nous avons envie de montrer nos couleurs, nos valeurs et que nous sommes des hommes, a déclaré l'Epervier Thomas Dossevi. On a été perturbé, mais on va tâcher de participer».


Air security, al-Qaida remain concerns into 2010

What were arguably one of the dominant themes of the past decade, the war on terror and al-Qaida, showed no sign of going away into 2010 as the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner over U.S. soil once more reinforced security measures worldwide while U.S. officials were left to ponder intelligence failures and the reach of al-Qaida sympathizers in Yemen.

Over eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks and Richard Reid's failed attempt, three days before Christmas 2001, to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes, the arrest in Detroit of a Nigerian who attempted to detonate explosives on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to the U.S. both raised concerns security measures had failed to prevent him from boarding the plane and underlined post-911 awareness displayed by air travelers, who rushed to stop 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab from trying to ignite what officials later described as being a two-part concoction of PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive, after his actions set off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation.

U.S. officials said they were launching a review of air safety on two broad fronts, investigating systems for detecting explosives before passengers board flights and for placing suspicious travelers on watch lists. Abdulmutallab, it turns out, had been red flagged weeks before and placed in November on a database of more than 500,000 names of people suspected of terrorist ties, but not on a smaller list of some 18,000 people either designated for additional security searches or barred from flying altogether. The 23-year-old came to the attention of U.S. intelligence when his father, a prominent Nigerian banker, reported to the American Embassy in Nigeria about his son's increasingly extremist views.

The security reviews may only, experts observed, increase delays and add screening at airports, in addition to those rushed in place following the Detroit arrest. The initial beefed-up security measures included more thorough bag searches and physical pat-downs, with Transport Canada warning passengers to expect delays and arrive at least three hours before any flight.

The measures also limit one carry-on bag per passenger and were expected to be in place for several days with additional in-air restrictions being set by individual airlines, such as Air Canada, for example, no longer allowing passengers to leave their seat during the final hour of flight. Later new restrictions stopped passengers to the U.S. from bringing carry-on items altogether - with some exceptions such as books, laptops or cameras - while the U.S. said it would request that people coming from 14 countries including Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and Cuba undergo pat-down body searches and have carry-on baggage searched.

They come in addition to strict measures already in place, such a restrictions tied to transporting liquids, since a series of plots on airliners heading to U.S. and Canadian cities in 2006. But officials were looking at loopholes that allowed Abdulmutallab, indicted this week on six charges - including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction -, to bring the explosive onboard in the first place.

The man’s presence on the passenger watch list wasn’t enough information at the time, U.S. officials said, to prevent him from boarding the flight, after his name was forwarded to the U.S. by Dutch authorities in Amsterdam, where he transited on a journey which had begun in Ghana and transited through Nigeria. But officials were questioning whether his point of origin, and transit screening procedures, weren’t among the loopholes that allowed the threat to take place, sparking security concerns that once again formed long lines in airports across the world as security officials rushed to implement the new measures.

All the while the incident raised concerns about the growing presence of Al-Qaida in Yemen, a country where Abdulmutallab confessed al-Qaida trained him and provided the explosives. U.S. officials first said al-Qaida ties were not immediately clear and noted the Christmas Day incident was not tied to a wider conspiracy or plot. Days later however al-Qaida in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had trained the suspect.

A Yemeni minister also suggested several hundred al-Qaida militants may be operating in Yemen and could be planning attacks like Detroit's, as officials in the largely lawless country asked for foreign financial assistance to help deal with security issues. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan said the group had "several hundred members" in Yemen and was posing an immediate threat, prompting Washington, London and Paris to temporarily close their embassies there. "This is something that we've known about for a while," he said. "We're determined to destroy al-Qaida, whether it's in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or in Yemen."

The U.S. mission in Sanaa was attacked in September 2008, killing 19 people, and al-Qaida was held responsible for this. Al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch emerged a year ago as part of a unit of “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula”, moving from attacks against targets in Yemen, when it first made use of the explosive underwear used in the Detroit terror attempt, to half a world away. Observers note it's more than a coincidence that half the remaining inmates at Guantanamo Bay are from Yemen.

“Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act pre-emptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war,” warned U.S. senator Joe Lieberman. Yemen may perhaps be the country where one of the first salvoes in the war on terror was fired, in 2000, when the USS Cole was bombed, killing 17.

As Yemeni security forces launched an offensive into parts of the country known to be an al-Qaida stronghold, arresting three this week, al-Shabab Somali islamic militants urged Yemenis to support the terror group. In Somalia the government has been fighting to drive out Islamist rebels, leading to clashes which killed at least 47 people in the central Somali town of Dhuusa Marreeb over the weekend. Somali militants have also been on terror watch according to reports this week the RCMP was investigating high-level U.S. fears that Somali extremists from Canada were poised for a spectacular attack on the historic inauguration of Barack Obama a year ago.

In this weekend's radio address, Obama acknowledged al-Qaida was in all likelihood behind the Detroit attack. "It appears that (the suspect) joined an affiliate of al-Qaida, and that this group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America."

The incident cast another country is the spotlight, the suspect's native Nigeria, home to religious tensions between Christians and Muslims, especially in the past year when extremist group Bako Haram, which opposes Western education and claims links to al-Qaida, contributed to violence that killed hundreds until leader Muhammad Yusuf was gunned down by police.

The airline terror incident came weeks after a major security breach, when a U.S. Transportation Security Administration document found itself on the web. Officials said much of the information was dated but concerns emerged that the document could teach individuals how to elude security procedures at U.S. check points.

Obama ordered immediate reports about the “mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to (Detroit's) potential catastrophic breach of security”. Shockingly, a first report outlined an intelligence failure reminiscent of America's failure to connect the dots leading to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

It appeared the National Security Agency had intercepted conversations  months before among leaders of al-Qaida in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack, but U.S. spy agencies failed to combine the intercepts with other information, such as the Nigerian businessman's warnings about his son's increasingly extremist views.

"This was not a failure to collect intelligence — it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," Obama said this week, taking responsibility. "I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes. Ultimately, the buck stops with me … When the system fails, it is my responsibility." Meanwhile Canada announced it was introducing full-body scanners in major airports.


Few safe havens for African gays


Politicians threatening to pass a tough anti-homosexuality bill that would sentence some gays to life in prison and even death have drawn international condemnation against the eastern African country of Uganda, but homosexuals right across the continent, from Malawi, further south, to the relative model that is Senegal on the west coast, will find few safe havens.

In Malawi this week a court denied bail to two men arrested last week on charges of public indecency after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the conservative African state where homosexuality is illegal and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, much like Kenya. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were married in December attracting hundreds of curious onlookers.

Judge Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa told the packed court he could not grant the couple bail, citing fears for their security amid a public "angry with them." Police meanwhile said the two had been taken for medical tests to prove whether they had intercourse.

Sadly havens from discrimination are hard to come by, as over three dozen African nations have outlawed homosexuality, with Egypt and Mali possibly following suit. Even in Senegal, a relative model of modernity, fleeing the stigma is no easy feat. "We face verbal and physical aggression in the streets if people know we are MSM (men who have sex with men)," says Lamine, secretary-general of a 95-member group called Xam Xamle ("teaching knowledge"), set up to convince men, often without success, to attend meetings on the importance of safe sex and regular HIV testing. "They call us perverts, they say we are worms."

By some accounts two-thirds of gay Senegalese men maintain conjugal relationships with wives or girlfriends as part of their public facade, admitting to living in fear exposure of their homosexuality would provoke contempt at best, and possible violence at worst in the predominantly Muslim country. This complicates another major problem in Africa, fighting AIDS, as anti-AIDS initiatives are often viewed suspiciously, notes Dr. Bara Ndiaye, project leader for NGO Enda-Sante. "This society is very hostile toward homosexuals."

Indeed according to a 2007 Pew Research Centre poll of 700 Senegalese respondents, 97 per cent believed homosexuality "should be rejected" by society. In early 2008, five men were arrested after their photos appeared in a magazine celebrating a symbolic gay marriage, much like Malawi’s. Then in December  police burst into the private residence of an HIV outreach worker and arrested nine men, charging them with violation of the country's law against gay sex prohibiting "unnatural" acts.

But the law being considered in Uganda, condemned by a number of countries including Canada, the U.S. and Britain - notably at last year’s Commonwealth summit, where President Yoweri Museveni was the chairman of the gathering - has brought government sanction of homosexuality on the continent to a new level. It would jail anyone who does not inform police within 24 hours of learning about the existence of a gay or lesbian and imposing the death penalty for any sexual act between gay men or lesbian women where one is infected with HIV.

The result has been to leave Ugandan homosexuals feel hunted like never before. “We walk on the streets knowing that at any moment someone could be knowing you and there could be mob justice,” Stosh Mugisha, a woman who is going through a transition to become a man, told the New York Times.

Understandably Ugandans can count on little support from officials in Kampala: “I detest gays in my heart,” said without shame member of Parliament Kassiano  Wadri. “When I see a gay, I think that person needs psychotherapy. You need to break him.”

Comparable logic may be leading Nigeria to consider imposing a five-year prison sentence on anyone visiting a gay web site or attending a same-sex marriage. The rarity of safe areas for gays in Africa prompted one gay travel web site to suggest: “If you are afraid of being discriminated against (in Africa) then just be discreet or travel to South Africa.”


De nouvelles manifestations en Iran

On n’en était pas aux premières manifestations, même osées, contre le régime de Téhéran, loins de là, mais celles qui ont précédé le nouvel an ont sans doute donné de bonnes excuses aux partisans, parfois violents, du pouvoir de liquider l’irritante opposition qui a daigné non seulement remettre la présidence de Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mais même le régime spirituel, en question.

Après une semaine de manifestations, certaines faisant plus d’une demi-douzaine de morts, la veille du nouvel an les dirigeants de la république islamique ont déclaré avoir perdu patience face aux éclats qui ont secoué la rue à Téhéran et plusieurs autres villes du pays depuis les funérailles du grand ayatollah modéré Hossein Ali Montazeri, comme si la retenue avait été à l’ordre du jour lors des cérémonies où des slogans contre le régime ont résonné.

Parmi les morts ont a compté le neveu du chef de l’opposition Mir Hossein Moussavi, arrivé deuxième lors des élections de l’an dernier, elles qui avaient donné lieu à une ronde de manifestations également réprimées. Moussavi a annoncé sur son site web être "prêt au martyre" afin de réformer son pays après que trois de ses conseillers aient été parmi les centaines de personnes, dont quelques étrangers selon le régime, arrêtées lors des manifestations.

Les durs qui appuient le régime ne chercheraient depuis plus d’excuse afin de mettre fin aux manifestations, et à l’opposition politique, par la force, plusieurs accusant l'opposition de trahison, une peine passible de la peine de mort. « Les têtes organisatrices de ces groupes de manifestants ont été identifiées et certaines ont été arrêtées, estimait le ministre du renseignement Heidar Moslehi, nous nous attendons à ce que le système judiciaire prévoit des sanctions sévères à leur égard. »

Comme après les attaques terroristes dans l’est du pays en automne 2009, les partisans du régime accusaient les « ennemis du pouvoir » d’entretenir des liens avec des « ennemis étrangers ».

En fait le mécontentement contre le régime n’a pas cessé de se manifester depuis la ré-élection controversée d’Ahmadinejad en juin. On accusait le président notamment d’avoir truqué le vote, lui qui était déjà favori mais dont on ne prédisait pas un tel écart dans la victoire, avec quelques 63 pourcent des voix. Moussavi a tenu à organiser un second tour, avant que les autorités électorales, à la fin juin, n’annoncent qu’un recompte, mais alors extrêmement partiel, avait corroboré l’élection du président, laissant les partisans de Moussavi fous de rage mais affaiblis par la répression.

Selon le site web du candidat, Seyed Ali Moussavi aurait été atteint par balle dans le dos, lors des plus récentes manifestations, lorsque les forces de l’ordre ont tiré sur les manifestants. Certains parlent d'une "exécution" et bonne et due forme. La police a rejeté cette version des faits, parlant de morts résultant d’une chute d’un pont, d’accidents de la route, et de tirs qui ne provenaient pas des policiers.

Les partisans religieux du régime ont notamment été outrés par le fait que les manifestations plus récentes aient lieu lors de l’Achoura, une période sainte du calendrier chiite. Mais pour certains, la répression de ces manifestations – sans conteste interdites – en période sainte a de quoi remettre en cause la raison des plus hautes instances iraniennes:

«Que s’est-il produit à ce système religieux pour qu’il ordonne la tuerie de personnes innocentes durant le jour saint d’Achoura ? a questionné, Mehdi Karoubi, un autre modéré qui a terminé quatrième lors de l’élection. Pourquoi les dirigeants ne respectent-t-ils pas ce jour saint? »

Sur son site Moussavi affirme être "prêt au martyre", et appelle les autorités à reconnaître le droit des gens à manifester pacifiquement: "J'affirme explicitement et clairement que l'ordre d'exécuter, tuer, et emprisonner (les leaders de l'opposition) ne résoudra pas le problème", martèle-t-il. "Je n'ai pas peur d'être un des martyrs qui offrent (leur vie) dans la lutte pour des exigences justes".

L'Iran traverse "une crise sérieuse", et toute stratégie de bâillonner l'opposition à travers arrestations, violence et menaces ne marchera pas, assure-t-il, rappelant des termes de l'ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lors de la Révolution islamique de 1979: "Nous tuer nous rend plus forts".

Il faut croire que ceci a peu ému le régime qui, selon certains sites de l'opposition, a procédé à plus de 180 arrestations lors des derniers jours.

After the tempest

The Tea-Party-led tempest that indicted the two first years of the once promising Barack Obama administration returned the Republicans to a House majority but leaves analysts to wonder how the new D.C. gridlock will hamper efforts to rise the country out of its downturn and to what extent those newly-elected candidates will play according to the old GOP rulebook.
 
So soon after Halloween, the outcome of election night became the horror story Democrats feared, giving Republicans control of the House for the first time since 2006 but coming just short of snagging the Senate as well. But while Republicans took the night, the winning GOP candidates often critiqued the way their own party had been handling things in Washington, brandishing a different brand of politics nearly sounding like they belonged to a third party.
 
Republican Rand Paul, a Tea Party-backed candidate for the Senate who won in Kentucky and once said Medicare failed for the same reason the Soviet Union failed, said "both parties proved themselves untrustworthy when it came to balancing the budget." The night's results are a "second chance for Republicans to be what they wanted to be," said Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio. But the Tea-Party supported Cuban-American, who took 51% of the vote, said "Our nation is headed into the wrong direction and both parties are to blame."
 
The Republicans gained more seats in the House than they added to their tally (52) under Newt Gingrich's 1994 Republican revolution. But while Obama even lost his old Senate seat in Illinois to the GOP, Senate majority leader Harry Reid managed to hold on to his Nevada seat in one of the country's most closely-watched races, and few Democratic success stories.
 
"This is not a time for celebration," due to high unemployment and a poor economy, cautioned an emotional John Boehner, expected to become the next Speaker of the House. "It is time to roll up our sleeves and go to work." Exit polls had reported that voters considered the economy the most pressing issue on their minds, two-fifths saying their financial situation was worse than it was two years ago. "The American people are asking for a new way forward," he said, by doing things differently than they have been done "by both parties." "It starts with cutting spending instead of increasing it, reducing the size of government instead of increasing it, and reforming the way Congress works." He said the people had directed Obama, who continues to set the agenda, to "change course."
 
Appearing at a news conference the next day, a "humbled" Obama admitted his party had taken a "shellacking" at the polls and signalled a new willingness to seek "common ground", yielding already to Republican demands on tax cuts to the rich and abandoning legislation stalled in the Senate on economic incentives to reduce carbon emissions, but stood firm against any GOP intention of repealing healthcare legislation.
 
"I think we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years." The president had been criticized for focusing too much on health care instead of putting greater focus on creating new jobs in an economy suffering an unemployment rate just below 10%. But Obama defended the "emergency measures" rushed by his administration.
 
"What is absolutely true is that with all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious - a recovery package, what we had to do with respect to the auto companies -  I think people started looking at all this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive in people's lives than they were accustomed to," he said. "We've stabilized the economy, we've got job growth in the private sector, but people across America aren't feeling that progress. They don't see it... And so I think I have got to take direct responsibility for the fact that we have not made as much progress as we need to make."
 
In the lead up to the polls the president campaigned constantly, sometimes trying to conjure the magic of the 2008 election by telling voters that on voting day "you have a chance to once again say: 'Yes, we can'." But some of the venues where he was present were not sold out, as they could have been two years ago, while Republicans have run ads suggesting links to the president, now polling at 45% or lower, were a liability for the Democratic candidates.
 
A pleasant surprise for the Democrats on election night in West Virginia summed up that reality. Joe Manchin managed to score a win for the Democrats that helped them keep the Senate but only after heavily campaigning against the president there.
 
Meanwhile Republicans such as former vice-presidential contender Sarah Palin, who has hinted she may try to run in 2012, have been hammering home the message Obama politics have made things in America worse. "You blew it, President Obama," she said. "We gave you the two years to fulfil your promise of making sure that our economy starts roaring back to life again."
 
Disillusioned independents and even Democrats had visibly joined Republicans seething for revenge on Tuesday. "Barack Obama will most likely go down as the worst president in American history, which is probably making Jimmy Carter real happy," said Dave Alexander, 52, taking part in events organized by the Tea Party Express nationwide in the lead up to the vote. At this particular one in Kentucky, the president's name became an acronym for "One Big Ass Mistake America."
 
The rise of the GOP has been largely credited to the popularity of the Tea Party, a loosely organized movement dominated by small government, anti-tax libertarians who have made their dislike of the Obama administration plain to all. But while they have parked their movement in the Republican lot, some analysts wonder whether candidates who successfully bounced more traditional GOP members during this year's Republicans party primaries will keep what could be a marriage of convenience going.
 
Tea Party activists were days before the election already warning Republicans of a backlash if they turn away from the movement that has made Tuesday's sweep possible. "There is a commonality of interest between the Tea Party and the Republican Party that will last until Nov. 2," predicted Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. "Both want to displace as many Democrats as possible. But there are some Republicans concerned about the Tea Party making them look extreme to independent voters and moderates," he said, adding it could prove too difficult for Tea Party candidates "to align behind a traditional Republican program."
 
Some of the more extreme elements among the movement advocate no less than the elimination of entire government departments and agencies such as Education, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, and even talk of privatizing Medicare and Social Security. The main motivation being the need to seriously trim budgets to prevent the country from going bankrupt, if that's still possible.
 
Other analysts, looking to the Fed's $600 billion move to put more liquidity into the economy, now fear the new congressional deadlock expected to last at least the next two years will only make harder the still very pressing need to put the economy back on its feet. With gridlock in Washington preventing a future stimulus or bipartisan agreements to tackle deficits, the Fed may well be the only entity to get things going, by some accounts.
 
The next two years will feature “massive gridlock and little co-operation,” wrote Brian Gardner of investment firm Keefe Bruyette & Woods in a recent report. “We do not expect significant progress on budget matters … and we think more pressure will be placed on the Fed as the lone governmental entity with the power to support a weak economy.”
 
If the deadlock persists and Republicans are seen as blocking every initiative and offering few solutions, observers note this may only cause disgruntlement among electors in time for the 2012 presidential election, a campaign now underway.

Une femme président au Brésil
Si du fond d'une Amérique terrassée par la crise économique jaillit un cri pour le changement, l'appel au Brésil - en pleine croissance économique - avait plutôt des tons de continuité, avec cette exception: l'élection de la première présidente de ce pays de presque 200 millions d'habitants. Malgré le suspense d'un deuxième tour, Dilma Rousseff, bras droit d'un président populaire mais limité à deux mandats par la constitution, a été élue avec 56 pourcent des voix.
 
Estimant avoir reçu "la plus importante mission de ma vie" le soir du vote, l'ancienne dirigeante de guérilla s'est engagée à poursuivre les politiques d'élimination de la pauvreté et de dépenses sociales tout en respectant les principes de responsabilité fiscale qui ont rendu possible cette "nouvelle ère de prospérité". On s'attend largement à ce que Rousseff reste fidèle aux politiques du président sortant, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, qui auraient tiré quelques 20 millions de Brésiliens de la pauvreté, et dont la popularité a été le principal véhicule du succès de cette économiste relativement inconnue de l'arène publique.
 
En fait il s'agissait du premier scrutin auquel participait Rousseff, une fille d'immigrant bulgare, en tant que candidate, elle qui avait enduré les bourreaux de la dictature dans les années 70. Lula lui-même aurait avoué le manque d'expérience politique de son candidat, mais vanté ses qualités de technocrate, une qualité considérée nécessaire en vue des importants travaux d'infrastrucure prévus dans la 8ème économie du monde, qui se prépare à accueillir la Coupe du Monde en 2014 puis les JOs de 2016. Puis Rousseff se dit prête à "frapper à la porte" de Lula au besoin, celui-ci réussissant avec cette victoire élecorale de conserver une certaine influence sur la politique nationale.
 
La popularité de celui qui doit remettre les clefs du pouvoir en janvier, et qui atteint encore les 80% d'appui favorable dans les sondages, était évidente le jour du vote, jusqu'à faire l'objet d'un certain emballement. “Si Lula devait se présenter aux élections 10 fois je voterais pour lui 10 fois, confiait une vendeuse de Sao Paulo à l'AP. Je vote pour Dilma, biensûr, mais en réalité ça va être Lula qui va nous diriger".
 
Pour son opposant Jose Serra, il s'agissait d'un second revers, après avoir vécu la cuisante défaite face à Lula en 2002.  Pour certains cependant, les résultats font état d'une sévère division du pays, le nord, région où les politiques de Lula ont été les plus populaires, ayant majoritairement élu Rousseff. Une division également ressentie dans la stratification sociale. «Il suffit d'entrer dans un restaurant fréquenté par la classe moyenne pour voir palper ce phénomène : ceux qui sont assis votent Serra, ceux qui sont debout et font le service votent Dilma », résume André Singer, politologue à l'université de Sao Paulo.
 
Mais de manière générale, le message de continuité se devait à la croissance spectaculaire du Brésil, alors que stagnent plusieurs économies du G8, soit plus de 5% nationalement, le nord voyant par ailleurs « un taux de croissance à la chinoise », plus près des 7.3%. Un terme rarement utilisé dans un contexte américain, celui de plein-emploi, semble décrire la situation enviable de villes même dans le sud, dont Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte et Porto Alegre.
 
Entre temps celle qui espère devenir un modèle pour la femme brésilienne, recevait félicitations et invitations des quatre coins du monde, notamment de Bulgarie. Plus près de chez elle, Hugo Chavez saluait la victoire, voyant en Dilma "une autre géante" de la politique latino américaine.

After disaster, disease
As a new flu season gets into high gear and governments ponder last year's response to the H1N1 pandemic while a new strain of the virus rears its ugly head, health officials considered their response to disease outbreaks in the aftermath of a controversial report on malaria deaths and fatalities linked to the current cholera outbreak in quake-torn Haiti.

On the barely recovering insular nation tens of thousands of people remained threatened by an outbreak of cholera despite some signs that the epidemic is stabilising, according to the UN. The epidemic, which claimed over 400 lives and thousands of infections, sparked new fears when it reached the capital Port-au-Prince, still largely in ruins after the Jan. 12 earthquake. "This is an extremely serious situation and based on experience with epidemics elsewhere it would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak," said UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Haiti Nigel Fisher.

Of concern were the squalid conditions experienced by some 1.3 million people staying in tent camps following the devastating earthquake, where the spread of disease had been quickly identified as the next health threat. Even in frequently hurricane and flood-ravaged Haiti however, a cholera outbreak hadn't been seen in over a century, further frightening a population which has barely caught their breath, let alone rebuilt their lives, after the tragedy.

And health officials from the Pan American Health Organization feared the disease is there to stay, and may get worse as a major storm bore down on the island this week. "Now that cholera has established itself with a strong foothold in Haiti, it's clear to us that this will not go away for several years," said deputy director Jon Andrus. "The surge of cases will come down but there will probably be cases in the future, now that the bacteria is well established in the environment."

The disease was also making inroads in flood-ravaged Pakistan, which confirmed over 100 cases of cholera, as well as outbreaks of a rare tick-borne disease and a surge in dengue fever, according to the World Health Organization. As health officials in Haiti struggled to set up treatment centers and a campaign to educate Haitians on how to stem the spread of the virus, such as by distributing hygiene items, a report painted a frightening picture of another old disease, making victims not only in the aftermath of disasters but on a regular basis.

According to a study in the medical journal The Lancet the number of malaria deaths in India each and every year is no less than 14 times higher than W.H.O. estimates, killing some 205,000 people. According to the study, based on “verbal autopsies” of 122,000 deaths from 2001 to 2003, 90 percent of the deaths were in rural areas, and 86 percent took place away from hospitals or clinics. The authors argued that since most malaria victims who see doctors in time can be cured, India’s medical system vastly underreports malaria deaths, reports W.H.O. numbers are based on.

Not making the long-term outlook less grim, Nicholas White, one of the scientists who pioneered the development of highly effective malaria therapies, warned during a Toronto visit that growing parasite resistance to the treatment could perhaps one day make the drug ineffective. Malaria remains endemic in 99 countries and is suspected of being behind an epidemic that decimated three villages of Venezuela's Yanomami Indians, who live in a remote part of the Amazon rain forest. Village chiefs recently told health officials about 50 people had died recently, most of them children.

The nemesis of efforts to battle disease, drug resistance, seemed to be a factor in the campaign against tuberculosis as well, where it was partly blamed for a rise  in British cases  (9,000 in 2009) in a report this week. If only the treatment of these diseases looked as promising as the news on polio, as a new vaccine against the virus has helped reduce the number of cases by more than 90%, again according to The Lancet. It reports the new vaccine is significantly better at protecting children against polio than the current popular vaccine and has been in use in Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. Hopes are the vaccine could eventually eradicate polio.

The track record against the disease is encouraging as mass vaccination campaigns have brought the number of polio endemic countries down from 125 to four. Overall from 1988 to last year the number of cases have crashed from 350,000 to just 1,606. "The dramatic drop in the number of polio cases in India and Nigeria is attributable to the new vaccine and better coverage during immunization campaigns." W.H.O.'s Roland Sutter told the BBC. But experts caution that the global financial crisis has resulted in cuts to funding gap for immunisation programmes worldwide, including polio and malaria.

Meanwhile while the H1N1 virus can appear to be as dated as the once feared millennium computer bug, experts are expressing some fear the flu may be mutating to a more dangerous virus. W.H.O says cases of the new strain have come up in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore and could infect people who have already received the flu vaccine.

Gentilles réformes en Chine

Au terme de quatre jours de rencontres afin de dresser le prochain plan quinquennal - sur fond d'appels à davantage de liberté d'expression, à la fois internes et externes - les déclarations issues du Palais des Peuples plus tôt cette semaine étaient surveillées dans l'espoir d'y voir un soupçon de fléchissement de la ligne dure de Pékin, ou alors quelque indice sur la succession.

En fin de compte une déclaration parlant d'entreprendre des réformes politiques "vigoureuses mais régulières" du comité central du Parti communiste ne remettait nullement en cause l'emprise du parti sur la vie quotidienne mais visait plutôt à réduire une source de tension susceptible d'entraver la sacro-sainte croissance économique: les importantes disparités, notamment entre la campagne et la ville, qui font en sorte que la tranche des 10% plus riches soit 65 fois plus prospère que la plus pauvre.

"Il faut augmenter la part du revenu individuel dans la répartition du revenu national", dit un communiqué diffusé après la réunion. "L'élargissement de la demande intérieure est la stratégie de référence à long terme du développement économique et social de notre pays, a déclaré en marge du congrès  Zhang Ping, chef de la Commission nationale pour le développement et la réforme. La prochaine étape de l'action économique doit consister à cerner le rôle de la demande intérieure, surtout de la demande des consommateurs, dans la croissance économique".

Et lors de la prochaine période à l'étude, l'économie chinoise pourrait croître de 50% et se rapprocher davantage des Etats-Unis, encore pour le moment au premier rang mondial. "La Chine doit réussir des percées majeures en matière de restructuration économique et maintenir une croissance économique stable et relativement rapide", estime par ailleurs le comité central. Eviter de futurs troubles sociaux et gonfler la demande intérieure semble être la principale motivation afin que se poursuive le développement interne, qui connait des écarts importants à la fois entre campagne et ville et côte et régions intérieures.

La notion de "restructuration politique" était donc loin de satisfaire une critique à la fois interne et internationale suite au tollé suscité à Pékin par le choix du prisonnier politique Liu Xiaobo comme lauréat du Prix Nobel de la paix, une décision que regrette le régime, en quête d'excuses de la part du comité Nobel. Cette semaine une publication près du parti accusait Oslo de provoquer "une sérieuse crise idéologique" entre la Chine et l'occident.

Liu purge depuis l'an dernier une peine de 11 ans pour avoir été co-auteur d'une pétition risquée faisant appel à de véritables réformes politique en Chine. "Au lieu de promouvoir la paix, le prix de cette année creuse la mésentente et l'hostilité entre la Chine et l'occident," estime la publication reliée au pouvoir. Pourtant des membres du parti ne sont pas restés si insensibles au geste.

En marge du congrès une lettre signée par 23 anciens du parti communiste faisait un appel courageux à la liberté d'expression, décrivant la censure officielle de "scandale". Les signataires comptent notamment un ancien secrétaire personnel de Mao Zedong ainsi qu'un ancien rédacteur du journal du parti, le quotidien du peuple. Séparément quelques 100 dissidents chinois ont signé une pétition faisant appel à la mise en liberté de Liu. Le congrès a évidemment ignoré ces appels, même si le premier ministre Wen Jiabao lui-même estime qu'à la longue les appels à "la démocratie et la liberté vont devenir irrésistibles". Des propos prononcés sur CNN que la presse chinoise a plutôt ignoré.

Autrement l'élection de Xi Jinping à titre de vice-président d'un organe de supervision de l'Armée de libération populaire laisse entendre que celui-ci pourrait être l'heureux futur président.


The Andean Miracle
One had been on the merciless job for a mere five days, another wasn't supposed to be working at all while a third wrestled with the demons of having talked his brother, trapped down there with him, into the job. One proposed to his girlfriend while another learned of the birth of his child.

Their stories were told around the world for the weeks they were trapped 700 metres below the surface of a Chilean copper mine, but only last week did they finally surface to hug family members and tell themselves their unlikely story of survival. And by then promises of book and movie deals had already been lined up to tell the tale of the 33 characters who evidently held nicknames reminiscent of those of reality show participants.

There was "The Doctor", a physician whose torrid infidelities would be revealed to the world, and his wife, all the while the title of "The Romantic" went to another, who in a letter from underground asked for his girlfriend's hand in marriage. 

While the country had been rocked by a terrible 8.8 earthquake earlier this year that claimed over 500 lives, blacked out 93% of the population and plunged many regions into a state of emergency, nothing about Chile had captivated international attention for so long since the 1973 coup d'etat that ushered in dictator Augusto Pinochet.

As he awaited the final miners to rise from their deep tomb, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera told the BBC he hoped that from now on, when people hear the word Chile "they will not remember the coup d'etat or the dictatorship, they will remember what we've done (here) all the Chileans together."

When less than 24 hours after rescue operations began Luis Urzua, the shift supervisor, was raised to the surface through the narrow Phoenix capsule, he completed the miraculous rescue of the group few thought possible two months ago. Those affectionately referred to as "los 33" had in the meantime shattered the previous record of 25 days spent underground by miners, surfacing 69 days after the Aug. 5 collapse that blocked their exit and cut them off from the world.

For 17 of these days the world didn't even know if they had survived until Jose Ojeda, a widowed diabetic, wrote these words of unexpected hope on a drill sent down 700 metres into the mine: "We are fine in the shelter the 33 of us." Gradually the world came to find out about characters such as "the Sailed One", a 63-year-old veteran who worked the mines for 51 years and was on the eve of retirement, the veteran of the group.

Amid the tears and sleepless nights of worried relatives and countrymen there was also shock and some laughter as it became known that Yonni Barrios' wife, Marta Salinas, and his lover, Susana Valenzuela, met while holding vigils outside the mine. Nicknamed "the Doctor", the physician spent his time attending to the needs of his fellow miners and reported on their health, writing to his wife "I felt I was in hell." Commentators quipped this would be the case upon his return to the surface, which they suggested, he may have wanted to delay as long as he could.

Indeed there was some discussion about who would first, and last, exit the depths that had entrapped the group. On Oct. 12 however, Chilean officials decided the healthiest of the lot would first be moved out, by fear the first trips would prove rather rocky. The decision underlined that the ordeal would remain one until the end, when the miners would be raised in a narrow 66 cm capsule to the surface at the rate of about one per hour. Psychologists and physicians warned they feared some would succomb to the trauma of the experience or a possible heart attack.

The miners had followed a strict regimen and training to be able to fit into the narrow contraption. Even the rescuers sent down into the mine to prepare the much-anticipated rescue initially dreaded the experience, the colleague of the first to go down instructing to "think about a holiday" during a descent even claustrophobic for an experienced rescuer or miner.

And so it was that Florencio Avalos, 31, was the first miner to reach the surface shortly after midnight Oct. 13. While embracing relatives however, his mind remained with Renán Ávalos Silva, the younger brother he had talked into working in the mine. It would be nearly 20 hours before he was raised to the surface, the 25th of 33 flawless transfers above ground.

Soon after Avalos broke the ice, Pinera said the nation could stand proud and was "capable of doing great things" when united. "This country shows its true soul, shows what it is capable of, when we face adversity," he said. Soon was to follow Carlos Mamani, a 23 years old heavy equipment operator and the only non-Chilean miner, greeted by Bolivian President Evo Morales who had flown in for the occasion.

Mamani had begun working in the mine just five days before the accident. Morales said his country would never forget Chile for the improbable rescue. Eventually followed the likes of Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest at 19, who like Samuel Ávalos, Osman Araya and a number of others had been working at the mine for just a few months, while 54 years old drill master José Henríquez, who is also an evangelical preacher, could offer spiritual comfort.

Luis Urzúa, also 54, who was the first miner to actually talk with authorities, was to be the last miner to leave the mine, closing a dramatic chapter in the country's recent troubled history. And while Elvis fan Edison Peña was granted his dearest wish to "be free" and "see the sun" again, the sight was especially sweet for 29 year-old Ariel Ticona, whose wife Margarita gave birth to a daughter on Sept. 14. At his request, she was named Esperanza.

Víctor Zamora on the other hand, the 33 year old who learned his wife was pregnant during the ordeal, will be present at the birth of his child, this after a miraculous rescue Chile's health minister described as "the Earth giving birth." Psychologists say their unique situation leaves little precedent to determine how they will deal with their trauma, pointing to the uniqueness of every individual.

There will be some good news as each miner will receive five million pesos - about $10,000 - pledged to each of them from Chilean millionaire Leonardo Farkas. But the news for the mining company and government could point to trouble as 27 of the 33 are suing the mine owner, and may add the central government to the lawsuit for failing to enforce safety regulations that might have prevented the accident that has left them trapped.

"The Devil was down there and so was God. I didn’t see either but I felt both. They were in a battle for our souls. And God won," Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to reach the surface later reflected in a Daily Mail interview. "I see this as something that has united the world. I am a humble man and I am happy to have played a small part in an event which has made the world come together, if just for a moment." A what a moment it was.

Canada's diplomatic black eye
When it comes to Canada's diplomatic standing, the month may very well be referred to as the nation's October crisis after the country's military was booted from a tiny Gulf state and Canada for the first time lost a vote to be elected to the UN Security Council, the powerful decision- making club it usually joined at least once a decade in the postwar era.

In the end Canada had to swallow its pride, in part because the countries that challenged it were much smaller nations. In the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates didn't take kindly to seeing its access to Canada's airline market limited for its national carriers Emirates and Etihad, giving Ottawa a few months to pack up the once secretive Camp Mirage, used in the transit of cargo to Afghanistan. In a clear affront, the UAE even denied a Canadian military plane transporting two cabinet ministers and the chief of the defense staff the authorization to land, closing its airspace in an incident which bordered on the diplomatic as it went counter to current bilateral agreements.

The gesture was symbolic and temporary as the UAE later indicated Canada could keep using the airbase for the remaining time it has. With the war effort in Afghanistan itself winding down, the nation's standing among NATO allies has also taken a slip, the alliance having failed to convince Ottawa to once more extend the controversial military mission which has claimed the lives of 152 Canadian soldiers.

But while the Gulf embarrassment was temporary, that of the vote for a spot at the 15-member Security Council had a longer sting. Again the UAE may have been involved, an official telling the AP it lobbied against Canada at the UN. Overall it seemed Canada's support of Israel dismayed a number of countries from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.

"It is the first time in the UN's history that Canada has failed to earn a Security Council seat when it has been on the ballot. Many believe the loss is a reflection of diminished international standing as the result of the current government's foreign policy," said Patricia Jean of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. While the group said a number of foreign policy decisions over the years led to Canada's loss of stature, from its stance on climate change to its reduction of aid to certain African states, it singled out "Canada's foreign policy as it relates to Palestine and Israel is clearly a key factor that led to its defeat at the UN."

In a move insiders described as gutsy on the eve of the vote, Canada announced it was reinforcing ties with Israel, a country woefully isolated at the UN, home to a solid voting block of Arab and Muslim countries that have been known to isolate and often censor Israel. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had pulled all the stops to land the coveted seat reserved for non-permanent Security Council members, addressing the UN twice at the launch of the new session of the General Assembly last month and announcing additional aid to Third World countries.

The outcome of it all wasn't what many expected so soon after hosting G8 and G20 summits that let Canada lead the agenda and the world's most powerful nations. At least for the duration of a photo op. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon however denied foreign policy had something to do with the loss, blaming divisive politics, namely the Liberals, instead. Few experts agreed.

Former diplomat Paul Heinbecker added Canada's changed stance on peacekeeping to the CJPME list of factors that led to the upset. In a book released days before, he had hinted Harper's campaign had been more motivated by the "fear" of losing the vote than actually doing good at the UN.

A former U.S. spokesman at the UN hinted even the U.S. shared the blame, by not standing by its close ally and neighbour.  U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice "not only didn't campaign for Canada's election but instructed American diplomats to not get involved" prior to voting, claimed Richard Grenell, a former American spokesman at the UN, citing sources. Rice "could have had her team work to Canada's benefit. Instead, she instructed colleagues to steer clear, effectively abandoning Canada."

Steering away from that assessment, and even Cannon's angle on domestic politics, Harper tried to put a brave face to hide his disappointment days after the vote. "As I've said before, our engagement internationally is based on the principles that this country holds dear," he said. "It is not based on popularity." One thing most agreed on: "It's a big disappointment, and it's a shock," Heinbecker said of the UN vote.

Canada's Indian high commissioner however said too much was being made of the vote, recalling India's failure to obtain the seat in the past and adding Ottawa had to simply "move on." Something Harper seemed to indicate he was willing to do.

One former diplomat wasn't holding punches this weekend when interviewed on the matter however. Former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis said the Prime Minister's Office "didn't know what it was doing" during its failed campaign for the seat, coming to the conclusion the government ultimately bungled its effort. The PMO, he said "was too arrogant, it didn't have a careful plan of what might be done." "As a result, our diplomats were largely hung out to dry."

He said that while Canada had sought in past efforts to address specific concerns at the time, such as apartheid in South Africa, African aid, or Washington's "Star wars" military programme, this time around, failing to adequately address key issues likely "sealed our fate."

The Liberal opposition, whose leader's comments to the effect Canada's hadn't earned the seat was initially blamed by the government for the failed bid, painted the vote as a “major diplomatic failure" this week. Responding to the prime minister's line Canada stood solidly by its principles, the Liberals charged: “Since when was incompetence a matter of principle? We're faced with sheer incompetence,” critic Bob Rae slammed. In a poll this week Canadians seemed divided, half blaming the loss on Harper's policies, and 30% on Ignatieff.

Bravo Cahoooooon!
Toute sa vie Ben Cahoon a été vénéré à titre de meilleur joueur Canadien, notamment à l'occasion des saisons 2002 et 2003 et des Coupes Grey remportées par les Alouettes en 2002 et l'an dernier. Pourtant ce natif de l'Utah, considéré Canadien en raison d'une jeunesse passée en partie en Alberta, a évolué dans les rangs de Brygham Young avant de se retrouver à Montréal suite au repêchage de 1998.

Mais le N.86, dont les réceptions sont souvent accueillies par un "Cahooooooon!" dans les estrades, a mis les mains sur plus qu'un simple record canadien lorsqu'il a capté une passe du meilleur quart de la ligue lors d'un match de l'action de grâce contre Calgary. Il est du fait devenu le meilleur receveur de tous les temps, dépassant la marque de 1,006 attrapés de Terry Vaughn, qui avait lui-même évolué avec quatre clubs, dont Montréal.

C'était la cerise sur le gâteau lors d'un match opposant les deux meilleurs clubs de la ligue alors qu'on s'enligne vers l'après-saison, Calgary et Montréal devenaient du fait à égalité avec une fiche de 10-4. Cahoon est loin de la marque de Jerry Rice, avec près de 200 touchés et plus de 1,500 attrapés, mais l'étoile des 49ers n'a jamais fait preuve d'autant de polyvalence que le demi inséré des moineaux. Il y a trois ans Cahoon avait en effet complété le botté de 22 verges de la victoire contre Toronto dans un gain de 30-27.

Mais l'heure était aux honneurs de la réception. Et Cahoon s'est dit très touché par le geste de ses coéquipiers. «Ce que j'ai le plus aimé, c'est lorsque mes coéquipiers m'ont félicité chaleureusement et m'ont pris dans leurs bras. C'est avec eux que je vais au combat chaque semaine, et c'est l'essence de notre sport, a-t-il indiqué. Je suis heureux que ce soit maintenant chose faite et que ce soit arrivé à la maison, devant nos partisans »

Le match a été du coup interrompu afin qu'il soit proprement acclamé par la salle comble du Stade Molson. De l'avis du vétéran de 12 saisons, atteindre ce sommet lui permet de passer à autre chose. «(le record) ce n'était pas mon objectif principal. On pourra maintenant passer aux choses plus sérieuses».

Comme marquer un touché, le N.86 n'ayant pas pénétré la zone payante avec le ballon une fois cette saison. Ironiquement, Cahoon est à 183 verges de gains d'obtenir la marque du joueur ayant accumulé le plus de verges en une saison sans obtenir de touché. En plus, à moins de connaitre de spéctaculaires dernières rencontres cette année, Cahoon est à la veille de connaitre sa saison la moins reluisante, malgré tout, depuis son année recrue.

« C’est un mystère, dit-il à propos de sa disette. Je crois que je suis capable de me démarquer. Ce n’est pas une question de chance. J’ai eu mes opportunités. » Mais celle de rejoindre le temple de la renomée, il ne l'a pas ratée.

The lingering crisis

As economic crises come, even in countries where a recession has technically been declared over and vanquished, this one still has bite. Democrats nervously preparing for this fall's midterms are quite aware of this, as the fight over the need to extend Bush-era tax-cuts for the wealthy delve into whether targeting the rich would punish and inhibit the job-creators, at a time U.S. unemployment remains over 9%.

A slower U.S. has dragged its two dependent neighbours, Canada faring better of the two but recording sluggish growth as the economy shrank in July while Mexico has all but called the party off in the year of the bicentenacy of its independence and centenary of its revolution; yet another calamitous year after the H1N1-tainted 2009.

Austerity measures in Europe, where countries have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, has brought mass protest to the streets, further paralyzing economies and upping the ante on governments caught between the demonstrators and the need to appease the financial gods. Thousands of demonstrators marched in Spain last week, hit with an unemployment rate of 20%, and Brussels, hub of the continental MPs who proposed stiffening sanctions for governments that fail to cut their budget deficits and debt swiftly enough.

France meanwhile saw continued protests over some of these austerity measures, specifically plans to raise retirement to the age of 62, as the government was seeking to appease Brussels by announcing a deep deficit reduction pledge sure to spark further protest down the road, promising to bring down the deficit from 7.7% to 6% of GDP in a year.

But some leaders are being held to account for the sad state of affairs. In the small insular country that became the poster nation for the banking crisis that dragged the interconnected economies down, understated Iceland, the parliament voted last week to press negligence charges against former prime minister Geir Haarde, at the helm during the 2008 bank crisis that left the country’s economy in tatters, a volcano spewing of debt.

The move followed the unveiling of a “truth report” that accused polity and regulators of “gross negligence” in their handling of the banking sector before its inevitable demise. According to the Financial Times the parliamentary move could make Haarde the first Icelandic leader to be tried by a special constitutional court set up in 1905 to hear cases involving elected officials. He could face a fine or even prison time as a result.

But in term of bringing leaders to account few, not the even the Europeans, approached the raw brutishness of Ecuador's police last week when men in uniform protesting government austerity measures in the form of benefit cuts resulted in the president being manhandled, held captive in a hospital, only to be rescued by the army.

Calling the incident which left the country in a prolonged state of emergency and closed its borders with neighbouring nations a failed coup attempt, popular President Rafael Correa said there would be "no pardon or forgiveness" for those implicated in the rebellion. Five people died in the events and dozens were injured while Correa himself checked into the hospital after being exposed to tear gas when he tried to meet with the disaffected officers in person.

Disgruntled officers then circled the Quito hospital, prompting his supporters to call in the army. This time however, the president will not only keep his seat but may see his popularity soar further as he promises "a deep cleansing of the national police." The incident however brought back terrible echoes of the past in a country that has seen its share of coup d'etats.

The popularity boost would come in handy if the country calls early elections to deal with the possible dissolution of parliament. Correa's rise to power has been synonymous with economic trouble however, as the country defaulted on on $3.2bn of global bonds last year, the year the U.S.-trained economist was re-elected.

Massive protests in the country have, as in Iceland where they prompted Haarde's departure, led to the early removal of leaders in the past, including Correa's prederessor, Lucio Gutierrez, deposed in 2005 after two years following massive protests over plans to overhaul the Supreme Court. Five years before that another president elected two years earlier, Jamil Mahuad, was forced to step down as a result of indigenous protests.

In all the country has seen eight different presidents in the decade before Correa took power in 2006. There was no lack of drama in the latest Ecuadorian presidential soap opera however, including a scene where the main character tore at his shirt and said: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough." But even in victory the events weren't without concessions from the government. Days later a senior minister announced the controversial austerity law that sparked the crisis would be rewritten.

Jeux de misère?
A Pékin il y avait la pollution, à Vancouver la menace du terrorisme et à Athènes, les retards de la construction étaient tels que les organisateurs ont menacé de disputer les JOs en Australie.

Chaque veille de grands rassemblements athlétiques apporte avec elle son brin d'espoirs mais aussi de crainte. Mais lorsqu'en plus les Jeux du Commonwealth, supposés signaler l'ère de la puissance indienne, ont dû composer avec l'écroulement d'un pont et la découverte d'un serpent par la délégation sud-africaine, à quelques jours du coup d'envoi, il ne restait plus grand chose pour rassurer certains athlètes Australiens et Canadiens qui ont préféré déclarer forfait et annuler leur billet pour Delhi.

Il faut dire que malgré le blitz de dernière heures du comité organisationnel pour tenter de mettre au niveau la salubrité des lieux condamnée par plusieurs délégations, repoussant leur arrivée aux jeux, on pouvait bien se demander où étaient passés les 10 milliards $ dépensés pour accueillir la fête du sport des 71 nations du Commonwealth.

Cherchant à être rassurant de son côté, le comité canadien promettait des sites à la hauteur, une fois ses propres équipes ayant effectué des nettoyages de dernière minute. Quelques jours plus tôt à peine, la délégation canadienne avait fait état de plusieurs défaillances, en faisant un site "invivable", du réseau électrique à l'état des salles de bain en passant par la sécurité des lieux.

Equipe Canada a dû procéder à ses propres réparations des ascenseurs et viser à assécher des coins regorgés d'eau, produit d'une mousson particulièrement féroce qui a été tenue responsable d'une épidémie de dengue. Le plus malheureux, selon le comité canadien, est l'"indifférence" qui a accueilli les plaintes à l'origine sur l'état des lieux, certains membres du comité d'accueil s'étonnant que les visiteurs soient si attachés à leurs habitudes en matière de salubrité...

Selon le président du comité olympique australien, les Jeux n'auraient simplement jamais être dû être accordés à Delhi. Mais alors que la tempête semblait se calmer cette fin de semaine, à quelques jours du coup d'envoi du 3 octobre, une armée de travailleurs se mettant à la tâche, et que le comité canadien estimait que ses athlètes allait être "surpris" de l'accueil à Delhi, un athlète sud-africain eu la surprise de se retrouver face à face avec un serpent dans sa chambre.

Le même jour, le boxeur indien Akhil Kumar, dans la catégorie des 120 livres, eut la surprise de passer à travers son sommier lorsqu'il s'allongea sur son lit du village des athlètes.

Certains y ont vu là le témoignage de la faiblesse des infrastructures, illustré grandeur nature quelques jours plus tôt lors de l'affaissement d'un pont, faisant 23 blessés, construit pour l'occasion. Pourtant entre les deux événements, le président des Jeux Michael Fennell, tout en admettant les ratés, s'attendait toujours à voir la totalité des équipes se présenter aux compétitions.

Ca semblait bien être le cas lors des cérémonies d'ouverture, plutôt réussies, qui n'ont eu rien à envier à celles de Vancouver. Mais les obstacles demeuraient au rendez-vous, un membre de l'équipe indienne contractant le dengue, tandis que la pesée des boxeurs se butait à du matériel douteux. En fin de compte il fallait se demander pourquoi tant de préoccupations, tellement les sièges étaient vides lors des premières compétitions. Faut-il se le rappeler, il ne s'agit pas des JOs, et sans les ratés, les Jeux du Commonwealth se seraient déroulés dans avec leur ordinaire indifférence.

A setback for Chavez
There's not much room for opposition voices in Hugo Chavez's style of politics and the presidency will trump parliamentary power in his southern American country every time, but opponents of Venezuela's strongman took heart this week when electors gave them political gains at the ballot box, handing them a victory in the popular vote and overtuning the president's two-third majority in parliament.

Despite the setback on what he had defined as a referendum on his rule, giving the opposition some momentum ahead of the more crucial 2012 presidential elections, Chavez swallowed his pride and declared victory, one of two sides to do so.

"It has been a great election day and we have obtained a solid victory: enough to continue deepening Bolivarian and democratic socialism. We need to continue strengthening the revolution!"

But by taking 65 of the National Assembly's 165 seats, and claiming to have won 52% of the popular vote, the Democratic Unity coalition could at least relish the thought it could effectively start to block the government from appointing judges and pushing through laws at will.

“The Venezuelan people have spoken,” said opposition leader Ramon Aveledo. "The present parliament (which ends its term of office in January) no longer represents Venezuela: it should not, and morally and politically cannot, take legislative decisions.”

“The president has been given notice,” echoed Enrique Mendoza, an opposition leader who celebrated his seat win.

Opposition successes have been rare since Chavez swept into power in 1998, riding a continental wave of leftist electoral victories. Previously the opposition could only make a stand by boycotting elections, a 2005 decision that only strenghtened Chavez's control. But the legislative win comes on the heels of the 2007 constitutional-reform referendum, where opposition mayors and governors were elected in a move that divided the country.

That division now looks more entrenched than ever before. "It looks like a 50-50 nation, and that strengthens the opposition," says Steve Ellner, a political analyst at the University of the East. But he adds: "This result will slow things down but doesn't disable him."

Indeed observers note Chavez still had strong daring cards to play if he wants legislation rammed through, such as his control over a Supreme Court he has stacked in his favour.

In a country where the media is rarely impartial, opposition voices celebrated what they considered the dawn of Chavez's weakening: "This Monday morning is clearer and brighter, we won't allow the shadows to return" said the Caracas daily Tal Cual. "Chavez is the big loser. (The results) put the brakes on a long decade of authoritarianism and humiliation. This country finally stood up and said enough."

Until the new congress begins its first session in January however, the present seat allocation remains unchanged, prompting a warning from Aveledo the government shouldn't take its remaining time to rush legislation into place.

In the meantime, government supporters at least had the night's raw electoral numbers to console themselves with. "The opposition got 61 and we got 99 seats, I don't understand how they call that a triumph," argued Aristobulo Isturiz, the campaign chief for Chavez's socialist party. "This result reaffirms us as the primary political force in the country."

Tel père, tel fils?
S'il faut en croire les analystes, tout acte issu de Pyongyang, de l'attaque d'un navire sud coréen à la très secrète visite officielle en Chine au courant de l'été, a pour but de préparer la succession de la dernière dynastie communiste au monde. Evidemment ces analystes, affamés de renseignements officiels et confirmés, se fient souvent à des renseignements de seconde main ou des rumeurs à la sauce bulgogi.

Ainsi lorsque le grand Kim Jong II a, de source gouvernementale, confirmé la promotion de son fils cadet à la fonction de général de l'Armée populaire coréenne cette semaine, ce brin de renseignement officiel de l'agence de presse centrale nord-coréenne a presque agi à titre de communiqué du régime ermite confirmant la succession de son fils, le troisième, d'environ 26 ans: Kim Jong Un.

Alors que le nom de ce dernier apparait du fait pour la toute première fois dans les médias du pays isolé, à croire les renseignements qui fuient du régime, il circule depuis bien longtemps à titre non-officiel, notamment au sein du domaine de l'éducation où les élèves sont formés à chanter ses éloges. "On nous a instruit à l'université que Kim Jong-un est très intelligent, qu'il a une bonne carrière militaire et qu'il est très jeune" confie au journal britannique Guardian une jeune fille qui a préféré préserver l'anonymat.

Une déclaration était attendue depuis l'annonce de la tenue de l'assemblée du Parti des travailleurs, la plus importante réunion du genre des 30 dernières années au pays. Loin d'être le seul proche à être promu, Un est accompagné de Kim Kyong Hui, soeur ainée de Kim, à gravir les échelons du pouvoir, du fait cimentant l'emprise de la famille sur le pays qui n'a de démocratique que le nom.

Les questions de succession sont venus hanter la famille avec les rapports, encore une fois rarement corroborés, de problèmes de santé du cher dirigeant omnipotent. Celui-ci aurait souffert d'une attaque cardiaque il y a deux ans, voyageant par la suite en Chine pour subir des traitements.

Selon Kim Yong-hyun, expert de la Corée du nord de l'Université Dongguk, il n'y a nul doute que «la promotion de Kim Jong Un est le point de départ du processus menant à sa succession au pouvoir», des développement très suivis au sud de la ligne de démarcation militarisée ainsi qu'à Washington, très impliquée dans les pourparlers de paix stagnants dans la péninsule.

La transition est d'autant plus importante que certains l'estiment responsable de l'attaque du navire sud-coréen Cheonan par le régime le 26 mars, afin de consolider la place de Un dans la hiérarchie. L'incident avait créé des tensions sans précédent entre Séoul et Pyongyang, qui ont depuis réduit en intensité. Mais ce concept est bien relatif dans une des zones les plus explosives au monde.

Pourtant malgré toutes ces cérémonies la jeunesse de Un porte à penser que si son père de 68 ans venait à mourir prochainement, il ne saurait être prêt à prendre les rênes du pouvoir, un droit qui selon certains reviendrait dans l'immédiat à Hui, qui a quatre ans de moins que son frère Kim. Les rumeurs du train-train de la succession lors du congrès sont notamment alimentées par le souvenir de la transition précédente, qui avait évolué de la sorte en 1980.

Les analystes s'attendent à ce que l'annonce d'une promotion dans les rangs du parti suive celle des rangs militaires afin de confirmer les intentions de Kim. Le lendemain voila qui semblait fait avec la nomination du plus jeune fils de Kim  à la Commission militaire centrale du Parti des travailleurs, puis au comite central du parti, des postes politiques.

Les intentions de Kim avaient semé le doute il y a quelques mois lorsqu'un délai avait repoussé la date du début de cette assemblée tant anticipée. Selon la BBC la poursuite de ce culte de la famille serait éventuellement confirmée par l'apparition de portraits montrant père et fils l'un à côté de l'autre dans les foyers de la nation. Selon le journal coréen Chosun Ilbo, ce genre de propagande serait déjà en cours dans le royaume de misère de 24 millions d'habitants.

Il ne faut pas en vouloir à Kim entre temps s'il préfère poursuivre des traitements à l'étranger pour son état de santé. Selon un rapport d’Amnesty International cet été, absence de médicaments, opérations chirurgicales et amputations réalisées sans anesthésie, hôpitaux délabrés, conditions d’hygiène défaillantes et recours systématique au marché noir définissent un système de santé au bout du rouleau.

Selon des témoignages le personnel médical ne serait plus payé, et facture désormais pour prodiguer des soins, une solution excluant les plus pauvres, qui sont nombreux. On est loin de la gratuité des soins du était jadis une des fiertés du pays. Avant la chute du mur, le pays pouvait s'estimer plus développé à bien des égards par rapports à ses frères communistes. Or l'époque qui a suivi, marquée par l'ère Kim, a d'autant plus isolé le pays, dont l'économie s'est écroulée comme peu d'autres, laissant la tâche du prochain dirigeant de la nation plutôt difficile.

Braving the polls

Soon after Afghans headed to parliamentary polls this year, few countries or organizations dared to call the vote a success, but all saluted their bravery after a campaign peppered by threats and violence at some electoral stations on voting day. In the end the violence, while deadly with over a dozen people killed, was less overwhelming than during last year's presidential vote, but so was participation: a disappointing 40% participation rate for what some hoped would become a young democracy in the region.
 
"The declining trend signifies several things, most prominently a growing disillusionment and disenga- gement with the process, and the impact of a worsening security situation," analyzed Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Of course considering the level of corruption that tarnished last year's polls, the other figures didn't tell the whole story, and observers were quick to admit the latest call to the polls wasn't without reports of irregularities.
 
Monitoring group Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan reported "extensive irregularities" including some incidents of ballot stuffing and the arrest of people with fake ID cards. FEFA said overall it "has serious concerns about the quality of elections," given the number of complaints of fraud, estimated to be around 4,000 in all. "Ballot stuffing was seen to varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting."
 
But officials with the Independent Election Commission were satisfied by the turnout, considering the threat of attacks, and cited fewer reports of violent incidents - though still only marginally (445) less than those seen last year (479). "As a whole I would rate this election successful," said IEC head Faizal Ahmad Manawi, a statement rarely repeated.
 
A special representative for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made this obvious the next day, saying the Afghan statement "is premature, with all due respect." "They have done a great job ... But I would wait to talk about success," said Staffan de Mistura as the vote tallying began. "If they meant success holding the election, then we would all agree, it was almost a miracle," de Mistura said. "Beyond that I would wait and be cautious."
 
Capitals across the world, from Washington to Paris, were more likely to echo U.S. Gen. David Petraeus' praise that the "people of Afghanistan sent a powerful message... The voice of Afghanistan's future does not belong to the violent extremists and terror networks. It belongs to the people." Courageous indeed, considering the results of the vote were unlikely to change much of the composition of the parliament.
 
Monitored as an indication of whether or not allied troops can gradually start handing over greater security responsibility to Afghan forces, the exercize left to be desired, in a year which has registered the highest level of violence against foreign troops since they settled there. The next day British troops handed over responsibility of the hot zone of Sangin to the U.S., after suffering over 100 casulalties there since their operations began in 2006.
 
This week a Canadian government assessment of the quarter of April 1 to June 30 concluded the security situation in the country is "deteriorating" and was marked by "increasing insurgent violence and intimidation of several Afghan civilians" not to mention the assassination of several government officials.

Divisions sur le nord
Les derniers jours nous ont rappelé les deux façons d'aborder les difficiles contentieux dans l'Arctique. Le lendemain d'une entente historique réglant la polémique entre la Norvège et la Russie concernant les droits territoriaux maritimes de la mer de Barents, la Russie et le Canada campaient sur leurs positions dans le litige du grand nord, notamment celui de la dorsale Lomonossov qui s'étend du Groenland à la Sibérie.

Il faut dire que c'est notamment une mission symbolique de Moscou en 2007, lorsqu'un drapeau russe avait été planté sous la banquise du pôle Nord, qui avait mis un point d'exclamation sur les rivalités engageant une demi-douzaine de nations polaires se disputant des tracés dans ces régions de glace supposément truffées de ressources gazières et pétrolières. Puis le réchauffement terrestre permettant le passage à l'année longue de navires dans ces voies septentrionales, réduisant la longueur et les coûts des trajets commerciaux, a également multiplié les intérêts dans ces régions pas encore très définies du grand nord.

Oslo et Moscou ont cependant décidé la semaine dernière de régler leur brouille remontant à plus de 40 ans de manière amicale. Lancé suite à une dispute reliée à la pêche puis aggravé avec la découverte de gisements pétrolifères et gaziers, le différend a été résolu avec le partage entre deux parts plus ou moins égales de la surface contestée, soit une zone de 175.000 km carrés. "Il nous a fallu 40 années pour parvenir à ce traité", a déclaré le président russe Dmitri Medvedev en compagnie du premier ministre norvégien Jens Stoltenberg. Selon ce dernier, l'entente "envoie un important signal au reste du monde: l'Arctique est une région paisible où les différends peuvent être résolus en conformité avec le droit international".

Sans doute, mais le lendemain déjà Moscou et Ottawa rejouaient le disque des rivalités polaires, laissant à l'ONU la décision finale de trancher sur un bout du nord dont Ottawa s'obstine à dire que la souveraineté "n'est pas négociable." "En ce qui concerne la dorsale Lomonossov, elle a été découverte par des explorateurs russes, mais la question est aujourd'hui de prouver qu'elle constitue le prolongement de notre plateau continental, a dit le ministre des affaires russe Sergueï Lavrov à Moscou, en compagnie de son homologue canadien. On nous a demandé des informations complémentaires, et nous les rassemblons activement... Tout cela doit être fondé sur des faits prouvés scientifiquement, qui seront examinés par la commission (de l'ONU). Alors, on décidera qui a raison et qui a tort".

Côté canadien, Lawrence Cannon affirmait qu'il était confiant de la teneur des arguments canadiens en la matière: "Nous avons déposé, bien évidemment, la recherche scientifique que nous avons recueillie, notamment au sujet de la dorsale Lomonossov, et nous sommes confiants". Les ententes sans arbitre ne sont pas pourtant si étrangères aux habitudes canadiennes, les diplomates canadiens estimant qu'une entente sur la mer de Beaufort, entre le Yukon et l'Alaska, elle aussi matière à dispute depuis 40 ans, pourrait être atteinte à l'issue de rencontres prévues à cet effet.

Puis parvenir à de telles ententes n'assure pas nécessairement le bonheur de tout le monde. Même à propos de l'entente de Barents, le soulagement des diplomates et des pétrolières cause le malheur des écologistes qui redoutent déjà les premières exploitations de pétrole, maintenant que le moratoire dans la zone a été levé. Mêmes craintes chez les populations autochtones du nord, qui vont se pencher sur la question du développement énergétique de la région lors de leur prochaine conférence.

En attendant, un professeur de droit prévient qu'en raison de l'accumulation de preuves de toutes parts, la commission des limites du plateau continental de l'ONU ne tranchera pas d'ici "10 ou 20 ans" si le Canada soumet toute sa documentation à la date limite de 2013. Cela fait déjà neuf ans que la Russie a déposé son propre dossier, jugée insuffisant à l'époque. Entre temps les deux pays, qui refusent de travailler sur le dossier des réclamations ensemble, parlent de faire flotter d'autre drapeaux, selon Cannon en assurant "une présence robuste des forces canadiennes".

Cette semaine Moscou estimait à 100 milliards de tonnes les réserves en gaz et pétrole dans l'Arctique russe. Selon la BBC le pays prévoit l'installation de huit centrales nucléaires flottantes dans la région pour alimenter en courant sa ruée vers le nord. La Russie envisage donc ses propres "mesures pratiques" pour assurer la sécurité de ses frontières dans l'Arctique, Lavrov redoutant cependant, à une époque où Ottawa investit en la matière, toute notion de militarisation de la région. Pourtant même à Bruxelles, l'Otan n'hésite pas à rappeler le besoin de s'adapter aux nouveaux enjeux dans la région. La mission du drapeau en 2007 y est peut-être pour quelquechose.

Dure rentrée
La rentrée parlementaire a été difficile pour le gouvernement français, qui a dû faire face à d'importantes mani- festations contre les projets de réforme dans les rues de l'hexagone, tandis que Paris faisait l'objet d'une condamna- tion internationale tant pour l'interdiction du port du voile intégral dans les endroits publics que l'expulsion de populations Roms.
 
C'est notamment cette dernière politique qui a vu la France traitée de tous les noms, accusée d'exercer un "holocauste racial" par le vieux Fidel Castro, ou de procéder à des expulsions dignes des pires pages de l'histoire du XXème siècle par la Commission européenne, qui jugeait honteuse la ligne dure du gouvernement en matière d'immi- gration. Des propos vite regrettés.
 
Bruxelles estime d'ailleurs qu'une très controversée circulaire sur les Roms ne constitue rien de moins qu'une infraction au droit européen, un mois après les premières expulsions de gens du voyage vers l'Europe de l'Est. Les efforts de Paris de convaincre les instances européennes que la population rom en tant que telle n'était pas particulièrement ciblée par la politique, et que la France ne procédait qu'au démantèlement de camps au cas par cas, ont été coupés court par la révélation de la dite circulaire du ministère de l’intérieur, en date du 5 août, où l'on peut lire : « 300 campements ou implantations illicites devront avoir été évacués d’ici trois mois, en priorité ceux des Roms ».
 
Criant au "scandale" la vice-présidente de l’exécutif communautaire Viviane Reding n'y voyait que du feu et pas d’autre option que de lancer une procédure d’infraction contre Paris, citant notamment l' « application discriminatoire » d'une directive sur la libre circulation des citoyens européens au sein de l'Union.
 
Après avoir uni le monde contre l'initiative américaine d'envahir l'Irak, Paris ne devait pas s'être senti si seul et isolé depuis les controversés essais nucléaires de la décennie précédente. Malgré l'opposition, à la fois interne et externe sur la question, la politique ne fera que l'objet de débats supplémentaires sur l'expulsion de Roumains et Bulgares en situation d'irrégularité, en début d'automne, des discussions cherchant à la fois à faciliter leur expulsion et limiter leur entrée.
 
Les appels du parlement européen à une halte aux expulsions, estimées à plus de 8000 déjà depuis le début de l'année, sont également restés sans réponse. Depuis l'entrée de la Roumanie et la Bulgarie au sein de l'UE, des milliers de Roms ont pris le chemin de la France, où plusieurs peinent à trouver un emploi et sont accusés par certains partis extrémistes d'augmenter la criminalité.
 
Y a-t-il eu emballement sur la question? Récemment Le Monde notait que d'un simple fait divers régional, ce "cas école" a en très peu de temps évolué en incident diplomatique. La mort d'un gitan de 22 ans recherché pour vol et tué par un gendarme avait le 18 juillet provoqué l'attaque d'un commissariat dans le Loire et Cher qui aurait tout commencé, portant le président Nicolas Sarkozy, trois jours plus tard, à déclarer que les incidents "soulignent les problèmes que posent les comportements de certains parmi les gens du voyage et les Roms". Une semaine plus tard on annonce le futur démantèlement de la moitié des 600 camps Roms illégaux. Moins d'un mois plus tard, les premières expulsions ont lieu, malgré la comdamnation d'instances tantôt onusiennes tantôt papales.
 
"Entre la mort tragique d'un Gitan mi-juillet, les incidents qui s'en sont suivis, leur récupération politique par le gouvernement, les critiques de l'ONU, du pape et de la Commission européenne, il s'est écoulé deux mois, note le journal. Deux mois d'un "emballement politique" savamment alimenté qui a capté l'attention de l'opinion durant une bonne partie de l'été."
 
Evidemment la rencontre des dirigeants de l'UE la semaine dernière a été notamment centrée sur la polémique, un participant évoquant un échange «très violent» entre Sarkozy et  le président de la Commission européenne José Manuel Barroso. Evasif sur la question par la suite, le président français aurait répété les engagements de Paris de mettre fin aux camps illégaux, tout en rappelant que «la totalité des chefs d'Etats et de gouvernement ont été choqués» par les propos de Reding, et ajoutant: «José Manuel Barroso s'est désolidarisé des propos blessants».
 
Loin de s'arrêter là, l'affaire a enfanté une autre controverse lorsque Sarkozy est sorti d'une réunion affirmant que la chancelière Angela Merkel allait envisager une politique similaire visant les Roms en Allemagne. Propos qui ont vite été niés puis corrigés par Berlin. Cette semaine Paris et Berlin tentaient d'enterrer la hache de guerre lors d'une réunion à l'ONU centrée sur les cibles du millénaire où Paris a rétitéré son idée d'un impôt financier pour aider les démunis.
 
Mais la polémique des Roms restait d'actualité avec  cet appel de l'organisation non- gouvernementale Cohre:  "Le Conseil des droits de l'homme de l'ONU doit lancer un appel fort à la France pour qu'elle stoppe de nouvelles expulsions forcées et déportations de Roms et apporte des solutions à ceux qui ont déjà été expulsés contre leur gré et renvoyés", l'organisation pour les droits à l'habitation se disant "très inquiète des expulsions forcées des camps de Roms et des déportations de Roms qui sont des citoyens européens".
 
Puis cette semaine le sujet ne pouvait être évité au parlement européen, où un groupe d'étude va se pencher sur la question. Pour ce qui est des propos de Castro, un porte-parole du ministère français des Affaires étrangères estime "que M. Fidel Castro s'intéresse enfin aux droits de l'Homme, ça c'est vraiment révolutionnaire".

Turkey's constitutional vote
Coming on the anniversary of the 1980 coup that ushered in the old outdated document, Turkey's approval of a "new" constitution this month was bad news for the perpetrators of the military takeover 30 years ago that was followed by over half a million arrests and cases of torture, not to mention 51 executions.
 
Within hours of the 58% win in favour of the change - bringing 26 amendments including a major overhaul of the judiciary and the possibility that officers of the bygone era to be tried - a number of Turkish rights groups filed petitions calling for the 93-year-old man who presided over the coup, Kenan Evren, to be prosecuted.
 
Whether this actually takes place is anyone's guess but the praise heaped on Prime Minister Recep Erdogan for ending on the winning side by foreign capitals from Washington to Berlin, not to mention supportive press praising he "opened the door for a more free and democratic era," was sure to come in handy as he faces elections next year in his bid to extend his stay in an office he has occupied since 2002. Erdogan said the result meant the country had "crossed a historic threshold toward advanced democracy and the supremacy of law".
 
But after a divisive campaign which ended with a 42% rejection rate, the critics, including the  pro-military Cumhuriyet newspaper, were quick to shoot down the results as paving the way "for a judiciary dependant on the ruling party," the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which secularist forces suspect of preparing its own "coup", in part by packing the courts with supporters, now that both president and parliament have greater say over the appointments of judges and prosecutors.
 
The courts and military consider themselves the guardians of the secular legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the judiciary nearly banning the AKP in 2008, the year a constitutional court defeated attempts to lift a ban on the wearing of Muslim veils on college campuses. While the old national divisions remained obvious and deep as ever after the vote - despite a short period the country stood united behind its basketball team, which only fell to the U.S. in a final played on home soil - European officials welcomed the results of the vote as being key in the country's efforts to one day join the European Union. "This discussion in society, also about the concrete form of the balance of power in the state, is very much to be welcomed," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a statement as Berlin reacted to the news.
 
Some among the 78% of eligible voters who participated in the poll lamented that it amounted to choosing or rejecting a package of items they would rather have been selective about. "This is a package where some things are good for democracy - such as less power for the military. But there are some items which might be used by the government to use democracy for non-democratic purposes, like the item regarding the judiciary," Ozgur Deniz told the BBC as he voted "No".
 
In addition to allowing civilian courts to try military personnel for crimes against the state and  sacked military officers to appeal their dismissal, the amendments strengthen gender equality while banning discrimination against children, the old and disabled persons.
 
As a testimony to other national divisions, street violence disrupted the vote at several polling stations, notably in areas with large Kurdish populations of the southeast, Kurdish parties urging supporters to boycott the vote, which they said did not change the plight of minorities, warning that failure to address this would bring an end to the semi-effective unilateral ceasefire by PKK rebels. “From tomorrow onwards, Turkey needs to unite as one, and look ahead," appealed President Abdullah Gul. "Turkey should focus all its energy on the issues its people are facing and the future of the country.”

Countdown to a tense 9-11 anniversary

The anniversary of the terror attacks in New York and Washington is always an emotional event in America, and while the 10th anniversary will be particularly significant in 2011, this year's was being approached with an unusual levels of fear as voices from around the world urged the pastor of a tiny U.S. congregation to cancel a planned Koran-burning event meant to coincide with Sept. 11.

Throughout the week, as U.S. defence officials warned the event could put U.S. troops at risk and the U.S. State Department asked America's citizens abroad to be vigilant and avoid public demonstrations, protests rocked a number of Muslim nations including Afghanistan, where chants of retaliation accompanied flag burnings.

On Thursday, soon after U.S. president Barack Obama condemned the planned event as a "stunt" that would amount to a plain and simple "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaida throughout the world, including the West, world police body Interpol issued a rare global alert warning the event could prompt terror attacks. "Although there are currently no specific details as to what forms of terror attacks would follow, what is clear is if the Koran burning goes ahead as planned, there will be tragic consequences, ones which may well claim the lives of many innocent people," said Sec. Gen. Ronald Noble after he was personnaly contacted by the minister of the interior in Pakistan, where protests were also taking place.

A U.S. administration concerned a radical example of freedom of expression could imperil the homeland and threaten national security left it to Defence Secretary Robert Gates to contact the pastor to weigh in on his concerns U.S. troops could come under attack in retaliation. At the end of a day full of worry that the clock was ticking away to a Sept. 11 time bomb, pastor Terry Jones called a press conference to say he was cancelling the event after claiming the New York imam behind a controversial plan to open a new mosque near ground zero would move his project further away, and that he would spending Sept. 11 meeting with him instead of staging the event.

When the imam in question, Feisal Abdul Rauf, denied knowing anything about this, Jones, the author of a book called "Islam is of the Devil", said he was rethinking his decision on the Koran-burning, on the eve of a presidential press conference sure to be dominated by the topic and more calls for calm.

In the lead up to the anniversary Canadians meanwhile had been reminded that of the six countries identified by al-Qaida as being enemies in a 2002 communique, theirs was the only one not to have suffered a major terror attack. Authorities in Ottawa said in August they uncovered an al-Qaida-linked plot to attack assets in the nation's capital, arresting three people on terror charges and seeking the arrest of four more currently overseas.

Police said they seized circuit boards and other electronic equipment used to build improvised explosive devices, which have claimed the lives of many Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, including Cpl. Brian Pinksen, who died last week after being injured previously. Revenge for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan appears to have been one motive.

While Ottawa's police chief said the arrests made the threat of terrorism the new norm in the nation's capital, they were just the latest arrests of so-called home- grown terrorists in Canada, as the last cases involving the Toronto 18 were working their way in the court system.Of the 18 mostly young men arrested in 2006 for targetting the Parliament Buildings, a Canadian Forces base and Toronto building, eleven members have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of terrorism-related charges.

While the targets of the latest Ottawa suspects aren't clear yet, expert Martin Rudner says the capital region offers a number of picks for a group seeking revenge for the mission in Afghanistan, from the "Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces facilities in Ottawa to even the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in Gatineau, because they are involved in the developmental and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan."

The latest arrests would fit the pattern CSIS director Richard Fadden said pointed to "the growth of domestic radicalization" in recent years. He said earlier this year over 200 individuals in the country under investigation for terrorism-related activities.

Fadden said he was particularly concerned with second- and third-generation Canadians who have become disenchanted with their own country to the point of seeking to attack it.

He'd had a head's up from his predecessor, Jim Judd, who right after his resignation in the spring of 2009, warned the government not to underestimate the spectre of domestic terrorism.

"It has sometimes been suggested that the phenomenon of terrorism has been exaggerated in Canada in the course of this decade and especially in the post-9/11 period. In fact, a brief survey of our experience in this period might lead to a relatively different conclusion," he wrote in a "secret" April 15, 2009 memo to the government obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

Among such cases was Ottawa's very own Momin Khawaja, the first person charged under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, arrested in 2004 and later convicted of financing and facilitating terrorism as a result of his ties to a British-based group whose terror plot involving a fertilizer bomb was foiled by authorities.

Khawaja was also found guilty of two criminal offences involving a remote-control device that could detonate a bomb. and sentenced Khawaja to a further 10 years in prison in March 2009, in addition to time spent in pre-trial custody.

The Rwanda genocide, revisited
Could a regime credited for ending one genocide in Rwanda be guilty of perpetrating another? Such is the charge a United Nations investigation into atrocities that took place in Congo is suggesting, at the risk of undermining a peacekeeping operation in a country whose leader was also accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity and eventually genocide.

Weeks after his re-election, with 93 percent of the vote, Rwanda's Paul Kagame is meeting true opposition in the form of a leaked UN report which documented over 600 large-scale atrocities in eastern Congo blamed on the Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali and its allies between 1993 and 2003.

The "systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of damning elements that, if proven, could be classified as crimes of genocide," says the leaked draft of the report, which created such a stir, the final version has yet to be made public in order to allow countries to post their comments.

Rwanda's comments took little time to register, condemning the findings as "immoral and unacceptable" and threatening to withdraw its 3,300 peacekeepers from Darfur, where they play key roles in a joint UN-AU operation trying to keep the peace in the country of the first sitting leader to be charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, also recently re-elected.

A military spokesman says the army has "finalized a contingency withdrawal plan for its peacekeepers deployed in Sudan in response to a government directive in case the U.N. publishes its outrageous and damaging report.” This prompted this week's visit of Sec Gen. Ban Ki-Moon, who condemned the leak and sought to defuse the crisis.

The report alleges the atrocities were pepetrated by Rwandan troops and their allies, including Congolese rebel movements, against local Hutus and those who had been fleeing Rwanda. It cites one example of Rwandan and Burundian army troops, backed by the rebels, carrying out "widespread and systematic attacks on eleven camps" one Oct.20. "They killed about 370 refugees the following day at the Luberizi refugee camp, dumping the victims into the latrines. Later that month, the troops killed around 220 male refugees outside a nearby Pentecostal church."

Duke university expert Stephen Smith told NPR such accounts warrant use of the controversial and damning term. "This report talks about tens of thousands of Hutus - both Hutus from Rwanda but also Hutus from Congo - being killed and being targeted. So in U.N. terms, it would make perfect sense to use the genocide word," but questioned whether it would appear in the final version.

The Economist magazine quoted sources saying the purpose for the draft's leak may have been to prevent the term from disappearing in the final version.

The initial charges against al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court did not include genocide until this year when judges finally came to the conclusion "that there are reasonable grounds to believe [Bashir] responsible for three counts of genocide,” in addition to those of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As strong as the term is, it didn't prevent Bashir from travelling to Kenya last month, drawing the ire of the ICC, which could only report it to the UN Security Council, and the disappointment of its supporters, including a U.S. president whose father was born in the east African country. But as the court added the charges of genocide in July, the African Union instructed its members not to apprehend Bashir.

Earlier in the year Bashir had also travelled to Chad unhindered, an indication of the court's impotence, and impunity of those labelled for the worst crimes and atrocities on the long-suffering continent.

As for Congo, the UN was in little position to lecture Rwanda, one of its senior officials admitting peacekeepers had "failed" the victims of mass rape in the country. Atul Khare told the UN Security Council up to 500 women and children were believed to have been raped in recent weeks, and called for the prosecution of Rwandan and Congolese rebels blamed for many of the attacks.

Moyen-orient: c'est reparti
Des échéanciers fixés par la Maison blanche pour 2011, du retrait d'Irak au début du retrait d'Afghanistan, celui des premiers pourparlers directs entre les principaux intéressés de la crise israélo-palestinienne n'est pas des moins ambitieux. Barack Obama donnait à ses invités Benjamin Netanyahou et Mahmoud Abbas douze mois pour parvenir à une entente sur les éternels tiraillements de la sainte contrée, du statut de Jérusalem à la question du retour des réfugiés en passant par le tracé des frontières. Du moins assez pour déboucher sur un accord de paix.

Est-ce trop demander même s'il se donnait le temps d'un second mandat, qu'Obama aurait à remporter l'an suivant? Or, chose étrange, le tout n'est pas si dénué d'espoir selon certains. Parmi eux un des principaux intéressés, Abbas lui-même, qui, même s'il peine à contrôler une bonne moitié de son territoire, qualifiait l'ambitieux calendrier de réalisable: "Un an, c'est très long" a-t-il fait entendre à la veille des premiers pourparlers directs entre les deux côtés en deux ans, déjà matière à réflexion.

Du côté israélien, alors que certains se bernent à remettre en branle une autre menace à toute entente digne de nom, la reprise de ces constructions si destructrices au processus de paix, d'autres laissaient entendre un soupçon de compromis susceptible de laisser croire au miracle si nécessaire à l'implantation d'une paix durable: la division de la sainte ville pour y permettre le partage de Jérusalem entre est palestinien et ouest israélien; un concept parfois à lui seul digne du partage des eaux.

C'était ce que fit entendre le ministre de la défense et ancien premier ministre Ehoud Barak à un journal israélien à la veille de la réunion de Washington. "Les quartiers arabes avec près d'un quart de million de Palestiniens peuvent leur revenir" laissait-il entendre, une déclaration qui, on le fit vite savoir, était sans l'aval du premier ministre israélien dont la position ferme reste celle d'une Jérusalem unie et juive.

Car la droite essentielle au soutien du gouvernement ne saurait accepter un tel dénouement, Nentanyahou lui-même n'osant pas encore se prononcer sur l'allongement du moratoire sur les constructions en Cisjordanie qui doit venir à terme plus tard ce mois-ci; une reprise menaçant de mettre un terme immédiat à toute  participation palestinienne à ce Xème processus de paix enclenché.

En attendant, suite à leur poignée de main, les deux principaux intéressés se sont engagés à partir du bon pied, Abbas se disant prêt à "faire tous les efforts" afin de mener ce titanesque projet à bien, tandis que Netanyahou précisait: "Nous ne voulons pas un simple intermède entre deux guerres... nous cherchons une paix qui va mettre fin à notre conflit une fois pour toutes."

Selon un représentant palestinien les partis ont engagé le premier volet sur les frontières et, autre signe encourageant, s'entendent de se retrouver à nouveau dans deux semaines puis ainsi deux fois par mois. Mais les revendications n'ont pas tardé, Netanyahou, après avoir reconnu qu'il y aurait "des concessions douloureuses des deux côtés" a demandé à son homologue de reconnaitre "Israël comme l'Etat-nation du peuple juif". De son côté Abbas a exigé que Netanyahou fasse "cesser complètement la colonisation et l'embargo à Gaza", ce dernier ayant notamment défrayé la manchette plus tôt cette année lors du raid sanglant d'un navire cherchant à briser le blocus de la bande de terre palestinienne.

Evidemment l'attaque la veille des pourparlers revendiquée par le Hamas en Cisjordanie, tuant quatre Israéliens dans un territoire à priori contrôlé par le Fatah, n'a en rien aidé à partir la machine de la négociation, qui devra rouler à plein régime pendant les mois à venir pour entretenir quelque espoir d'entente à terme. Obama a qualifié l'attaque de "massacre insensé" tout en rappelant que la sécurité du pays hébreu devait être au coeur des pourparlers, cherchant du coup à rassurer un camp israélien toujours un peu méfiant de l'administration Obama.

"Ceci est très clair, les Etats-Unis conserveront un soutien inébranlable pour la sécurité d'Israël," a déclaré le président, une déclaration qui a plutôt plu au premier ministre israélien.

La presse israélienne a conservé son habituel scepticisme face au lancement de cette nouvelle ronde de négociations, mais quelques voix ont tout de même su se distinguer au coeur de ce pessimisme régnant: «Le contexte politique n'a jamais été aussi favorable à un dénouement positif», estimait de son côté le journaliste israélien Aluf Benn, qui juge que la menace iranienne pourrait peser sur les négociations de manière à permettre des concessions israéliennes afin d'obtenir un soutien sans équivoque face au pays qui, lors des dernières semaines a procédé au dévoilement d'un drone bombardier et à l'inauguration d'une centrale nucléaire.

Mais même le ministre des affaires extérieures de Netanyahou, le politicien de droite Avigdor Lieberman, évitait de parler de lumière au bout du tunnel, ne croyant pas "qu'une entente avec les Palestiniens soit possible à l'intérieur d'une année, ou même de la prochaine génération" quelque soient les sacrifices.

Rare succès contre les cartels au Mexique
Alors que les Etats-Unis dépêchent des troupes à la frontière pour tenter d'y enrayer la contagion de violence liée à la meutrière guerre entre les cartels de la drogue, et que la police fédérale à Mexico annonce la mise à pied de 10% de ses effectifs pour corruption ou lien aux groupes criminels, il est facile d'éclipser les quelques succès de cette violente lutte au narcotrafic.

Parmi eux, le deuxième grand coup des autorités mexicaines en autant de mois, l'arrestation du narcotrafiquant américain Edgar Valdez, aussi connu sous le nom de Barbie à cause de son teint. Valdez livrait une chaude lutte à Hector Beltran Leyva pour le contrôle du cartel Beltran Leyva, une des organisation criminelles les plus redoutables au pays.

Aussi connu sous le nom d'"El Comandante", Valdez, un des hommes les plus recherchés du Mexique, faisait l'objet d'une rançon de $2 millions. Les cartels rivaux en voulaient également à Barbie. Plus tôt en août la police avait fait la macabre découverte - comme il se doit dans le cas de la guerre au narcotrafic au Mexique - de quatre cops décapités accrochés à un pont accompagnés du message: voilà ce qui attend les supporters de Valdez.

Claironnée par les autorités mexicaines, l'arrestation de ce haut-placé "représente un succès énorme pour le gouvernement mexicain au niveau tactique et celui des relations publiques" estiment les analystes de Stratfor. "Voilà ce qui représente un coup dur à son organisation, ajoutent-ils, et pourrait s'avérer une mine de renseignement à propos du fonctionnement de l'organisation et de ses rivaux".

Mais alors sans nécessairement mettre fin à la violence dans les villes chaudes telles Ciudad Juarez ou Monterrey. D'ailleurs, faut-il le rappeler, la rivalité au sein du cartel avait explosé suite à la mort de l'homme qui était à la tête de Beltran Leyva, le frère de Hector, Arturo en décembre. Entre temps les autorités avaient pu signer un autre succès, en juillet, lorsque les forces de l'ordre ont tué Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, membre important du cartel Sinaloa et bras droit de l'homme le plus recherché au pays, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

Il était temps que le gouvernement signe quelques succès étant donné le nombre de morts ahurissant relié à cette sale guerre, soit 25,000 depuis 2006, l'année de l'élection du président Felipe Calderon et de l'annonce d'une nouvelle ligne dure contre les cartels. Puis les moyens employés par les groupes criminels font frémir, dont notamment l'utilisation d'engins explosifs tels ceux qui font tant de victimes contre les troupes alliées en Afghanistan. Puis les autorités ont dû entre temps faire un nettoyage sans précédent des institutions corrompues par les narco-dollars, la police fédérale annonçant récemment le renvoi de non moins de 3200 agents cette année pour corruption, incompétence ou lien aux criminels.

Environ 1000 agents supplémentaires font également face à des mesures disciplinaires et pourraient également être licenciés. Une opération mains propres en 2008 avait notamment permis d'arrêter sept haut fonctionnaires, qui recevaient des frères Beltran Leyva entre 150 000 $ et 450 000 $ par mois pour s'assurer leur appui.

Calderon a depuis le début de son mandat dû faire intervenir l'armée au sein de la crise, malgré les critiques de l'opposition. La semaine dernière une fusillade entre les soldats et un gang de la drogue dans l'état de Veracruz a fait sept morts dont un soldat. De l'autre côté de cette frontière chaude, lieu de passage de la drogue aux clients des cartels, les consommateurs américains, on annonçait alors l'arrivée d'une trentaine de troupes de la garde nationale, afin de garder un tracé de plus en plus militarisé.

Ce n'était qu'un début puisque plus de 530 troupes américaines doivent y être déployées dans les prochains mois, la violence dépassant souvent la démarcation pour s'étendre aux Etats-Unis. Plus tôt en août le président Obama avait voulu faire taire les critiques de sa politique frontialière en signant un projet de loi prévoyant 600 millions $ pour resserrer la frontière, ainsi que 1,500 agents de l'ordre supplémentaires, des drônes aériens ainsi que de l'équipement de communication dernier cri.

"Son arrestation clos un chapitre du narcotrafic au Mexique" disait de Barbie Facundo Rosas de la police nationale. Mais la trilogie de sang se poursuit pour les milliards de narcodollars générés par ces activités. Comme pour le rappeler, le lendemain de l'arrestation, huit personnes périssaient dans une attaque contre une boite de nuit à Cancun qui avait fait l'objet de taxage de la part d'un autre cartel.

Cette semaine la secrétaire d'état Hillary Clinton comparait la situation au Mexique à "la Colombie il y a 20 ans," un pays qui est pourtant lui aussi loin d'être au bout de ses peines. Pris entre les feux, la population civile fait souvent les frais de ce violent conflit, fait rappelé cette semaine lorsqu'un jeune de 15 ans et son père ont été accidentellement tués par les militaires, le deuxième incident du genre cette année.

L'incident a à nouveau soulevé la condamnation de groupes humanitaires qui ne finissent plus d'accuser les militaires d'abus de tous genres. La commission nationale des droits de l'homme accuse notamment les soldats d'avoir tenté de faire passer la mort par balles de deux jeunes de cinq et neuf ans en avril sur le dos des cartels en manipulant la scène du crime.

Alliée de Mexico dans la luttle au narcotrafic, l'administration Obama retient cependant une aide de 26 millions $ destinés au Mexique, exigeant que le gouvernment Calderon donne davantage d'autorité à la commission des droits de l'homme et serve une leçon aux soldats abusifs. Ainsi la guerre reste loin d'être gagnée sur plusieurs fronts, mais de l'avis de certains, avec Arturo, Coronel et Barbie en moins, voilà au moins de quoi trinquer sur un verre de téquila, en attendant la prochaine offensive.

Le moine fou a-t-il eu raison de la première PM?

La lune de miel n'a guère duré pour Julia Gillard, première femme premier ministre d'Australie et chef du Parti travailliste. Etait-ce parce qu'après avoir évincé son prédecesseur, le populaire Kevin Rudd, elle a imaginé une époque où le pays-continent pourrait en faire de même avec sa majesté?

A moins d'une semaine de l'élection du 21 août, une déclaration proposant que le pays dont le drapeau reste orné de l'Union Jack rompe ses liens avec la monarchie britannique à la fin du règne de reine d'Élisabeth II, ne l'a certainement pas aidé à se distinguer de son opposant conservateur Tony Abbott, fervent monarchiste, et sa Coalition libérale nationale dans les sondages.

La campagne la plus serrée depuis des décennies a même donné lieu à des affrontements dans les rues qui exigèrent que les deux candidats demandent aux électeurs, qui sont obligés de voter par la loi, de "bien se comporter." Dans le Queensland notamment un bénévole des libéraux s'en est pris à un membre de l'équipe du jeune candidat travailliste Wyatt Roy, un affrontement qui a donné lieu à des échanges de coups.

Etonnant tout de même pour un pays, ce "lucky country", qui a été largement épargné par le pire de la crise économique et dont la croissance se porte pourtant bien. Ainsi la grande finale dut se décider au photo-finish, et ce plusieurs jours après le jour de l'élection.

Les libéraux cependant se déclaraient prêts à "nettoyer le gâchis" laissé par le gouvernement, et selon Abbott "mettre fin au gaspillage, rembourser la dette, mettre fin aux impôts excessifs et arrêter les bateaux" de réfugiés clandestins. Le soir du vote, trop serré pour délier gagnant du perdant, Abbott, surnommé "moine fou" pour le temps qu'il a passé au séminaire dans sa jeunesse, s'est déclaré prêt à former un gouvernement, estimant que le gouvernement de sa rivale avait perdu sa "légitimité".

"Il n'existe pas de résultats clairs ce soir. Ce qui est clair en revanche, c'est que le Parti travailliste a définitivement perdu la majorité, ce qui signifie que le gouvernement a perdu sa légitimité", a-t-il dit. Alors que la défaite d'un gouvernement fraichement élu serait une première depuis 1931, un gouvernement de coalition, comme celui qui siège en Grande-Bretagne, serait également une première en 70 ans.

Triste dénouement pour Gillard, si les chiffres devaient confirmer la tendance, qui serait alors la Kim Campbell australienne, déchue lorsque présentée aux élections, malgré un bref mais historique rôle dans l'histoire politique du pays.

La monarchie est-elle donc sauvée? Il faut rappeler qu'en 1999 les Australiens avaient déjà rejeté la république lors d'un référendum, avec 55% refusant le changement. Evidemment les travaillistes ont peut-être parfois raison d'en vouloir à la monarchie, le gouverneur général s'étant interposé lors d'une impasse constitutionnelle en 1975 pour faire remplacer le premier ministre Gough Whitlam par son opposant libéral, dont le parti a dominé la scène politique depuis plus de 50 ans.

Mais en fin de compte, malgré le remplacement du God save the Queen par un hymne national proprement australien en 1984, une autre femme semble conserver le sourire, soit Quentin Bryce, première femme au poste gouverneure général, depuis 2008, qui a un rôle capital en cas de gouvernement minoritaire.

Autres facteurs importants alors que les partis se battent à former une coalition: une poignée d'indépendants qui tiennent l'avenir de la politique ozzie en main, ainsi que les votes anticipés du million d'Australiens vivant à l'extérieur du pays.

The merchant and the warlord
They were brothers in arms, so to speak. One sold them, and no arms embargo was tight enough to prevent it, the other used them to cause inhumane mayhem by any means necessary, prosecutors say. Now the former alleged associates both face international justice in separate cases.

While the glam of a Hollywood star contradicting a world famous fashion model made the international media focus on the war crimes trial of former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, half a world away, in Thailand, his former business associate was facing extradition to the U.S. for fueling wars in Third World countries from Angola to Afghanistan, and of course the Sierra Leone Taylor was trading in blood diamonds with.

The warlord and merchant of death answering for their crimes at the same time, and Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better, although Tinseltown had once told their tale in the 2005 movie Lord of War, where Nicholas Cage played a character inspired by Bout. In a case of life intermingling with art, director Andrew Niccol boasted to Newsweek an Antonov used in a major scene in the movie had belonged to Bout, who had himself panned his portrayal in the movie: "I'm sorry for Nicholas Cage," he once said. "It's a bad movie."

Right now the very real Bout is the sorry one, sitting in a Thailand prison after having been arrested two years ago on a joint U.S.-Thai sting by agents posing as arms buyers for Colombia's Farc rebel group. At least according to one version of a real-life story which itself sometimes slips into airs of fiction.

By other accounts presented to the Thai court the arrest was during a trip in connection with a project involving the sale of a Russian nuclear submarine to Thailand. Behind the scenes the expected U.S. extradition is causing rage in Moscow, which has been calling for the release of the former Russian military translator, who probably knows a great deal of secrets that could spill into court.

Certainly the arms trade gradually became no secret to him according to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, authors of Merchant of Death, for whom Bout represented a new breed of Soviet-bloc entrepreneurs after the wall came down who "had easy access to the massive inventories of weapons and ammunition that had been manufactured for decades to sustain a vast military that was suddenly shrinking," and desperately hungry for cash.

While Bout had many competitors, he developed a rare fleet of Soviet transport planes that could deal with the worst African airstrips - or clearings in the bush that substituted for them - and any UN imposed arms embargo. The two characters were very much alike in a way, letting few scruples trouble them, Bout furiously selling to both warring sides of the mercenary-fueled Angolan conflict, and even al-Qaida and the Taleban, while Taylor made no qualms of assisting Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front to recruit and put child soldiers on the front lines of the civil war he is on trial for being involved with.

UN investigators who looked into the arms embargo violations in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s found that Bout was "key to such illicit practices, in close collaboration with the highest authorities in Liberia," Farah and Braun write. Interesting it should come from a world body Bout assisted by flying UN peacekeepers into Somalia in 1992, among other of the less dubious operations.

Now both in the prisoner's box, they are looking on as others tell their sordid stories. During her much-publicized testimony in early August, supermodel Naomi Campbell told the court in The Hague that she couldn't be sure a pouch of "dirty-looking stones" - understood to be rough diamonds - that she was given came from Taylor. Later actress Mia Farrow, who had been at the same party honouring Nelson Mandela in 1997 where this allegedly took place and is a lifelong militant against so-called "blood diamonds" (incidently that have also been the subject of a recent Hollywood movie) said she clearly heard Campbell boast that Taylor had given her a "huge diamond."

Taylor denies he traded in the conflict diamonds, an argument he would lose if the story is true, and help the cause of prosecutors implicating him in the mess in neighbouring Sierra Leone, fomenting a conflict that claimed more than 100,000 lives. Never prosecuted at home, Taylor was formally indicted by the Special Court of Sierra Leone and ordered extradited out of exile in Nigeria by Liberia's current president before being handed over to the UN where he now faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He denies them like he denies trading in diamonds. "Never, ever did I receive, whether it is mayonnaise or coffee or whatever jar, any diamonds from the RUF," he told the court last year. "It is a lie, a diabolical lie."

Likewise Bout denies being any more than someone who runs a successful cargo company, far he claims, from the monicker of "merchant of death" he was given in 2000 by the British Foreign minister Peter Hain. "The UN has exposed Bout as the centre of a spider's web of shady arms dealers, diamond brokers and other operatives, sustaining the wars," Hain said.

Following his Bangkok arrest a U.S. grand jury indictment stated that Bout told the agents posing as Farc rebels he could supply them with enough to start a little war: 700-800 surface-to-air missiles, more than 5,000 AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition, as well as C4 explosive, landmines and unmanned aerial drones. He was indicted on four charges, including conspiracy to kill Americans and conspiracy to provide material support to a proscribed terrorist group. Then prosecutors brought six new charges including money laundering and electronic fraud, but some may be dropped to expedite his extradition.

"We will face the trial in the U.S. and win it," he said, defiant. His wife Alla meanwhile has been as critical as Moscow about the pressure the Thai court system has faced leading to the decision. "This is the result of constant pressure from the U.S. government," she said in the courtroom. "This is an unfair decision because the initial court already said it's a political case."

The Thais deny politics have anything to do with what is a purely judicial matter, but more hints by Moscow this week that extradition of "the Russian businessman" who can count on Moscow's "firm support... may inevitably affect Russian-US relations" showed the matter comes with a little Cold war chill that goes way beyond the court house.

Mission accomplie?
Il y a presque 20 ans les GIs Américains prirent la frontière entre le Kowéït et l'Irak d'assaut pour repousser chez lui l'envahisseur mésopotamien baasiste. En août la dernière brigade de combat américaine quittait l'Irak par la même frontière. Entre les deux il y eut le début d'une toute nouvelle guerre du golfe, avec pour but de mettre véritablement fin à la première, et trois changements de président américain.

C'est le dernier, Barack Obama, qui promit de mettre fin au rôle militaire américain en Irak, et avec le départ de plus de 6,000 GIs ces derniers jours pour respecter l'échéancier de l'administration américaine, laissant un peu moins de 50,000 troupes pour poursuivre un rôle d'assistance et de soutien, voilà bien plus de 90,000 troupes qui ont quitté le pays lors des 18 derniers mois, un exploit inespéré il y a quelques mois à peine.

Evidemment des éclats sont venus rappeler la délicatesse de cette transition, un kamikaze faisant des douzaines de morts quelques jours avant le retrait de cette brigade d'environ 4,000 soldats de la 2e division d'infanterie. Puis le chiffre est presque symbolique car près de 4,400 soldats qui ont laissé leur vie sur le front irakien depuis la seconde invasion, celle de 2003 qui mit enfin fin au régime de Saddam Hussein et permit la restructuration des institutions du pays.

"Nous avons versé notre sang, notre sueur et nos larmes depuis les 12 mois que nous sommes ici, nota le spécialiste Don Lanpher à la veille de ce départ, nous savons que nous avons executé notre travail et nous savons qu'il n'a pas été en vain." En pleine période de campagne précédant les élections au Congrès cet automne, le président pouvait presque accrocher cette banderole jadis ridiculisée, celle de "mission accomplie." Mais fort heureusement un tel mauvais goût n'était pas à l'ordre du jour.

Le président n'a pourtant pas raté l'occasion de rappeler son ancienne promesse électorale, quelque peu repoussée. "Nous gardons la promesse que nous avons faite lorsque j'ai commencé ma campagne pour la présidence, déclara Barack Obama. D'ici la fin du mois notre mission de combat aura touché à sa fin." Le reste des troupes devrait avoir quitté d'ici la fin 2011, rappellait-il, un échéancier plus réaliste, selon les analystes et militaires eux-même du front afghan, qui a connu une recrudescence de la violence.

Mission accomplie peut-être, et encore il faut voir, en Irak, mais en Afghanistan, la dite "guerre d'Obama" est loin de connaitre le même dénouement, malgré à la fois son ancienneté et la nouvelle poussée offensive des alliés.

Evidemment l'éclat sanglant de Bagdad, avec 60 morts le plus meurtrier contre l'armée depuis le début de l'année, alors même que les Etats-Unis confirmaient l’arrêt de leurs «missions de combat» - et il ne s'agit pas de coïncidence - avait pour but de rappeler la lourde tâche qui attend les autorités irakiennes, alors que le gouvernement peine encore à être formé malgré les élections de mars dernier.

Tout comme la date, la cible ne laissait rien au hasard, le terroriste s'en prenant à un centre de recrutement de l’armée irakienne, autrement dit la relève. "La dernière chose que nous voulons, c'est qu'apparaisse une nouvelle occasion d'envoyer des troupes en Irak et que nous devions mettre fin à notre phase de combat une deuxième fois", déclara le porte-parole du département d'Etat, Philip Crowley, notant que les Etats-Unis y ont engagé mille milliards de dollars.

L'attaque, tout comme la douzaine d'éclats qui ont à nouveau causé la mort de 50 personnes cette semaine, a à nouveau semé des doute sur la capacité des forces irakiennes d'assurer la sécurité du territoire, les dirigeants ayant même émis des doutes à ce sujet. Parmi eux le général Babaker Shawkat Zebari, commandant de l'armée irakienne, admettait récemment que ses troupes ne seraient pas prêtes à défendre le pays avant 2020.

C'est loin des projets américains même plus réalistes du front babylonien. Et pour cause, selon les chiffres du gouvernement, contestés par certains, juillet a été le mois le plus sanglant depuis plus de deux ans, avec plus de 500 personnes tuées. Pas étonnant que cette semaine un diplomate américain ne parlait pas d'abandon américain du pays, mais d'"évolution" dans la relation...

Sri Lanka: the unfinished war
As Sri Lanka's defence chief defended the country's human rights record recently at a government appointed reconciliation commis- sion, Tamils being processed in Canada after arriving by ship in B.C. said they had been fleeing persecution, echoing complaints earlier heard at the war commission by Tamils alleging their loved ones were abducted or detained by the army.

Groups defending the Tamils in Canada meanwhile said the arrival of 490 people on the MV Sun Sea on the coast of British Columbia was a sign the Sri Lankan government had failed in its post-war reconciliation efforts, while other experts said the leniency of Canada's immigration rules promised more ships of the sort would be landing on Canada's shores.

But during a speech in Ontario last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned that Canada may not be as welcoming in the future, as it “will not hesitate to strengthen the laws.” The ship was the second in less than a year to ferry Tamils into the country, some 76 Tamils having landed last year in October.

“We are responsible for the security of our borders, and the ability to welcome people, or not welcome people, when they come,” Harper said. “This trend gives us some significant concern, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary going forward,” Harper added, reiterating concerns of human smuggling and that some of those travelling had been part of the Tamil Tigers, the group blacklisted in Canada which was at the losing end of the 25-year war that ended on the island nation a year ago.

But in letters released by the Canadian Tamil Congress allegedly penned by the newly-arrived would-be migrants, they claim they were fleeing mass murders, disappearances and extortion in their native Sri Lanka. "We would like to ask the Canadian people and the Canadian Government to have faith in us to believe that we are innocent civilians who have been affected by the conflict. We are not terrorists," one of the letters states as the Tamils awaited their detention hearings in a holding facility.

The migrants claimed in their letters to be escaping persecution after government-led military operations in northern Sri Lanka, which ended in May 2009, a conflict that killed at least 7,000 people in the last few months alone and displaced over a quarter million people. "Innocent Tamil people detained in prison have not been released. Displaced civilians have not resettled in their own homes. Instead, there is widespread occurrences of disappearances, mass murders and extortion," one letter stated.

While abuse in Sri Lanka has been widely reported by human-rights agencies around the world, including an Amnesty International report citing cases of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial executions of people suspected to have links to the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, said on the contrary his troops had suffered heavy losses to avoid civilian casualties during last year's assault on Tamil Tiger rebels, adding foreign diplomats and aid agencies had lauded his measures to protect civilians during military campaign.

"We took great care to avoid civilians. It was a difficult period for us. Our military had to stop operations and give protection to people, food convoys," he told the country's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The commission is looking into why a 2002 truce between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels collapsed and led to more fighting.

Queen's University law professor Sharryn Aiken says reports by groups such as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group all note continuing problems in Sri Lanka "and the failure of the government to take the necessary steps to achieve genuine reconciliation." She added the reports note the security situation is particularly dangerous for women, children and anyone with suspected links to the Tamil Tigers, no matter how tenuous.

While public security officials contend at least a few of the Tamils are members of the rebel group, advocates for the Tamils note that authorities had previously said the same of the 76 Tamils who landed in 2009 but eventually all were released after the government failed to produce evidence to back the claims. Sri Lanka is among the countries with the most refugee claimants to Canada in the last decade, and 85 percent of claimants from the country are usually accepted, more the twice the acceptance rate of other countries.

Un autre mandat pour Kagame

Certes Paul Kagame n'a pas connu des résultats aussi élevés que ceux de 2003 lors de sa ré-élection à titre de président rwandais cette semaine, mais avec environ 93% des suffrages en sa faveur, car sans véritable opposition politique, il n'a pas fallu attendre longtemps avant de confirmer la victoire de l'ancien rebelle qui a fait fuir les génocidaires du pays en 1994.

Depuis, celui qui domine sans conteste la politique de son pays - de manière étouffante selon certains - a bien su ramener le calme et une certaine croissance au pays des milles collines qu'est le Rwanda. Mais voilà qui est peu étonnant, selon ses adversaires politiques et ONGs, qui lui reprochent un style autoritaire bien dans ses moeurs militaires, l'accusant de museler la presse et de restreindre les libertés politiques, limitant toute véritable liberté d'expression. Puis le vote a été précédé par l'assassinat d'un opposant, André Kagwa Rwisereka, ainsi que d’un journaliste, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, louches - mais sans preuve d'implication du pouvoir.

Tandis que trois partis d’opposition exclus du vote dénonçaient la « farce électorale » des derniers jours, Human Rights Watch accusait le gouvernement d'actes d'intimidation, de harcèlement et d'autres abus, tandis qu'Amnistie Internationale tranchait: «Ces derniers mois, le climat de peur a encore été renforcé par des meurtres, des arrestations et la fermeture de journaux et de stations de radio, selon Tawanda Hondora, du programme Afrique d'Amnestie. Le gouvernement rwandais doit veiller à ce que les enquêtes sur ces meurtres soient exhaustives et à ce que les médias qui ont été fermés puissent reprendre leurs activités."

Voyant les résultats de ce vote, largement tenu sans incident, comme un triomphe de la démocratie rwandaise, Kagame cependant rejette toute accusation d'intimidation. "Les Rwandais avaient le droit de se présenter aux élections - ceux qui le voulaient - et de tenter de se qualifier, je ne vois aucun problème, dit-il après avoir voté, certains membres des médias semblent voir les choses autrement."

Mais la décision du gouvernement de suspendre la parution d'une trentaine de journaux, qualifiés de «problématiques», a tout de même été critiquée par plusieurs capitales, et bailleurs de fonds, traditionnellement sympathiques au régime. Mais si certaines organisations internationales critiquent celui-ci, d'autres le citent à titre de modèle pour l'Afrique, dont Transparency International, qui salue ses efforts de transparence, y jugeant la     corruption «négligeable». Le pays est également applaudi pour ses efforts en matière d'environnement ou de politique en faveur des femmes. Et surtout, les chocs ethniques qui ont violemment marqué le pays dans le passé, et notamment la jeunesse de Kagame, ont largement disparu.

Pourtant certains voient dans ce refus de "l’ethnicisme" l'utilisation fréquente de "l’idéologie génocidaire" comme prétexte pour écarter les partis qui gênent, ce qui laisse les autres partis largement avec le même teint, étant notamment regroupés au sein d’un forum dirigé par le FPR du pouvoir, et ne proposant comme plateforme que la poursuite des politiques engagées par Kagame.

"Alors que la campagne a été assez active, quoique dominée par le plus important parti, le fait que les quatre candidats étaient tous issus du gouvernement de coalition signifie qu'il y avait un manque de voix critiques d'opposition", regrettaient les observateurs électoraux du Commonwealth, estimant qu'alors que le scrutin "s'est bien déroulé" par contre "la liberté d'association n'a peut-être pas été totalement respectée".

Le jour de la confirmation du vote, les résultats n'ont pas tardé à être contestés lorsqu'une grenade a explosé dans la capitale Kigali, faisant au moins sept blessés.

Pakistan: When it rains, it pours
Singled out in a massive U.S. intelligence leak on Afghanistan, a regime it is accused of undermining while fueling the insurgency, devastated by a plane accident and deadly floods, all the while dealing with political killings daily, bad news seems to stick to Pakistan like one of those disclosed guided missiles to the harware of the NATO troops.

To the Economist magazine, disclosure that the Afghan insurgency possessed such aircraft dooming arsenal was the most significant detail of the 90,000 pages of Wikileaks that had governments scratching their heads for days from Washington to Kabul as well as Ottawa and Europe. But other documents detailing the role Pakistan's ISI intelligence has been playing supporting the insurgency in the rugged mountain areas against the international force, including a U.S. that largely finances Islamabad's military - although downplayed by analysts who only see a confirmation of suspected ties - has done nothing to ease tensions between Pakistan and Washington, not to mention Kabul and Islamabad.

Of course the U.S. military's support will continue, albeit not without extra scrutiny, and certainly humanitarian assistance was forthcoming as the South Asian country dealt with a battery of tragedies, starting with the downing of a passenger jet that killed 152 people on board, quickly followed by devastating floods that have claimed ten times that number of victims and threatened 14 million people overall.

U.S. President Barack Obama assured Pakistan that his administration stood ready to help them deal with the terrible floods that have swept villages during a devastating monsoon season. “Our relationship with Pakistan goes far beyond our shared commitment to fight extremists,” said a statement issued by the White House. “The US government stands ready to continue to assist Pakistani authorities address the difficult challenges posed by this natural disaster.”

While Washington was announcing an initial $10 million in aid to meet urgent requirements for meals, shelter, clean water and the like, U.S. helicopters were assisting rescue operations and had rescued more than 730 people while transporting over 11,000 pounds of aid to victims trapped by flood waters.

But sometimes the tragedy in Pakistan, from the political violence to the Taleban and Al-Qaida elements having free rein in the mountains, has little to do with natural disasters. Pakistan remains very much on the radar in Washington as an annual U.S. terrorism report released last week said Al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan and its chapters in Africa represent America's biggest threats. While Iran remains the largest source of "state-sponsored" terrorism, the report singled out Pakistan and Yemen as risks.

Helpless against Al-Qaida elements, when it isn't assisting them, Pakistan also has domestic political violence to contend with. Last week the assassination of a senior politician was followed by a wave of violence that left dozens dead in Karachi. President Asif Ali Zardari ordered an immediate inquiry into the assassination of Raza Haider, a provincial lawmaker, which was promptly followed by mobs setting fire to businesses and vehicles.

The city has a long history of sectarian violence, and so does the contested area of Kashmir, which once again erupted in flames in the last weeks, causing over 40 deaths near the line of control. After a slight lull, demonstrations started again last week against what Kashmiris say is the Indian occupation of part of the territory. While the violence has mostly taken place on the Indian side, that makes for a continuing border situation Pakistan would rather do without, expressing concern over the "escalation of violence against Kashmiri people" and urging India to "exercise restraint" in handling the situation.

But Pakistan has been amply criticized for the handling of its crises, critics citing a range of issues from the lack of early response by the military to President Asif Zardari's absence from the country, choosing to keep his itinerary unchanged in Europe. And this lack of response may only compound problems down the road, natural disaster leading to possibly more security issues. Because quicker to respond have been some Islamic charities, including hardliners such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group linked to 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which may, like others like it, only gain in popularity for its quick intervention while the government fumbles critical early response.

But Islamabad's inability to cope may also have something to do with the unprecedented scale of the disaster, which grew with reports of devastating landslides this week. According to the U.N. the number of people affected is greater than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The summer of immigration
As long as there are imbalances that will draw some workers to other countries to make a living there will be immigration and a debate in industrialized countries around it. But there's nothing like an economic slowdown in First World countries to intensify the debate, as it has on both sides of the pond over the summer.

While respective camps cheered or condemned a federal judge's decision to step in and block an Arizona law - which has sparked demonstrations, created fodder for the fall election campaigns and further raised tensions with Mexico -  in a case that is probably headed for the Supreme Court, France has followed its decision to ban the Islamic veil with a controversial plan to strip naturalized citizens of their French nationality if they commit serious crimes.

A long exposure to the debate in these respective parts have led to the planned legislation, Arizona sharing a border with Mexico preferred by millions of illegals over the years to get into the U.S. - one that has intensified with the bloody drug war south of the border-, while France is the European country with the largest Muslim population and a seasonal recipient of immigrants from the former colonies of West Africa perilously crossing the Mediterranean to escape the poverty back home to make a living there.

In France, recent riots following the police shooting of a young immigrant, which sparked fears of a return to the tragic scenes of burning suburbs in Paris in 2005, has prompted the latest aggressive push by the gaullist government, right on the heels of a debate on the Islamic veil which has crossed over to our shores as well. Last week the video of fully veiled women boarding an Air Canada flight to London unchecked has sparked concern even among Muslim groups and launched the latest round on Quebec's eternal reasonable accommodations debate.

France's citizenship bill quickly created outrage in the Muslim world while sparking accusations of racism at home. The veil issue alone had prompted Al-Qaida's No. 2 to slam the ban, Ayman al-Zawahri saying in a recording last week Muslim women should become "holy warriors" in the defense of their headdress against the "secular Western crusade". Belgium and Spain are also debating legislation that would ban the veil.

The citizenship bill would apply to people who have been French for less than 10 years and who commit crimes punishable by more than five years in prison, immigration minister Eric Besson explained last week, detailing it for the first time. The opposition socialists have raged about the legislation, leader Martine Aubry saying the president “hurts France and its values with special laws that are unfair and potentially unconstitutional.”

But Besson says all he was doing was restoring legislation that existed until 1998, but was only then limited to people convicted of terrorism. “There is no reason to get all agitated and raise issues of constitutionality,” Besson said. “I don’t see why the constitutional court would reject in 2010 what it accepted until 1998.”

In the U.S., changing the Constitution, or at least the interpretation of the 14th amendment, is on the minds of some Republicans similarly looking to restrict access to citizenship. Last weekend House Minority Leader John Boehner said changing the U.S. Constitution, to prevent automatic citizenship for babies born to illegal immigrants, "is worth considering."

"There is a problem. To provide an incentive for illegal immigrants to come here so that their children can be U.S. citizens does, in fact, draw more people to our country," he told NBC's Meet the Press. "I do think that it's time for us to secure our borders and enforce the law and allow this conversation about the 14th Amendment to continue," adding: "In certain parts of our country, clearly our schools, our hospitals are being overrun by illegal immigrants."

Separately, opponents of Arizona's contentious immigration law are certainly questioning the constitutionality of moves to, for instance, allow warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants for crimes that can lead to deportation. "State immigration laws like SB 1070 necessitate unconstitutional racial profiling, hurting legal as well as illegal immigrants," argued Helen Kim Ho, executive director of the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center of Georgia, in a Journal Constitution op-ed that shows the debate has blossommed across the country.

Provisions of the law also required immigrants to carry their papers and banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places. "Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," wrote district judge Susan Bolton, whose temporary injunction right before the law was to go into effect was deemed "a temporary bump in the road," by law proponent Gov. Jan Brewer.

The clash is also one between federal and state legislation, a familiar one in the U.S. Federal authorities say if such laws were allowed to trump federal laws it would complicate foreign relations by allowing for different immigration laws across the land, disrupting relations with Mexico. Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza called the ruling "a first step in the right direction," but it's hardly the last we'll hear of it as the case could be headed to the top court in the land, which incidently has recently welcomed its first hispanic judge. But the Arizona ruling hasn't stopped the tougher stance on immigration from surfacing elsewhere in the country.

This week Florida's attorney general proposed toughening immigration laws there beyond suggestions made in Arizona. The law envisioned by Bill McCollum, who is running for governor of the state, would have judges take violations of immigration rules into account when setting bail and sentencing.

En attendant les autres
La condamnation du bourreau de la prison S-21 du régime Khmer rouge n'a certes pas satisfait tout le monde, mais qui a-t-elle satisfait exactement? Principalement des énergumènes portant des robes noires il faut le croire. Une première, certainement; symbolique, peut-être; exemplaire, allez voir.

A l'âge de 67 ans Kaing Guek Eav, dit le “camarade Doutch”, passerait sans doute le restant de sa vie derrière les barreaux pour les atrocités qu'il a fait subir à ses victimes entre 1975 et 1979 en purgeant une peine de 35 ans. Mais le tribunal ayant décidé de retrancher 16 ans de la peine en tenant compte du temps déjà passé en prison, les familles des victimes et ces dernières elles-même redoutent l'idée qu'il pourrait un jour retrouver la liberté avant de s'éteindre.

Les victimes de la violence ne pouvaient plus contenir leur émotion après l'annonce de la sentence en fin juillet: « Si Douch sort de prison après dix-neuf ans, est-ce que le peuple khmer sera content ? Et les victimes ? Est-ce que le monde sera content ? Moi je ne suis pas content ! J'ai déjà été victime du régime des Khmers rouges et aujourd'hui je suis victime encore une fois, » déplorait Chum Mey, une des rares survivantes de la machinerie de la torture de Tuol Sleng qui aurait fait plus de 16,000 victimes, dont femmes et enfants.

Une libération conditionnelle ferait tomber le temps passé derrière les barreaux davantage. En attendant le prochain procès, peut-être plus attendu, Douch fera porter le jugement en appel, un examen qui cependant ne s'attarderait que sur la possibilité d'erreurs de droit, sans refaire tout le procès. L'absence de réparations n'a évidemment en rien calmé les ardeurs des victimes et de leurs familles.

Mais les procureurs, malgré une certaine déception, ne pouvaient s'empêcher d'évoquer l'importance de ce premier procès tant attendu, reconnaissant les terribles crimes institutionnels du passé, parlant même de « journée historique pour toute la nation cambodgienne ».

«C'est un jugement qui paraît équilibré dans son raisonnement juridique. Certes, la peine est moins lourde que ce que nous avions requis. Mais la défense demandait soit l'acquittement, soit la libération, compte tenu du temps que Douch avait déjà passé en prison, estime Vincent de Wilde d'Estmaël, substitut du coprocureur international et procureur adjoint. Ce verdict est important car il est la reconnaissance du caractère criminel du système mis en place par les Khmers rouges. Douch est reconnu coupable à l'unanimité de toutes les charges qui pesaient sur lui - crimes contre l'humanité, crimes de guerre ».

Puis, souligne-t-on, ce n'est que le début d'un long et pénible processus pénal qui doit faire passer des plus haut placés devant la justice, même si de Wilde estime que Douch était autre chose « qu'un simple rouage.» Après tout la collaboration de Douch, elle qui a amoindri sa peine mais a été si contestée par les familles des victimes, fera de ce premier détenu un témoin dans le procès qui doit suivre et concerne les plus haut dirigeants du régime Khmer rouge, fait remarquer l'avocat Alain Werner, dont l'ancien président Khieu Samphan, le « Frère numéro deux » Nuon Chea, l'ancien ministre des Affaires étrangères Ieng Sary et l'épouse de ce dernier, Ieng Thirith.

Il faudra à nouveau prévoir délai car le réquisitoire final aura lieu le mois prochain en vue d'audiences l'an prochain seulement. Comme s'il fallait davantage de dramatisation, un documentaire gagnant du prix spécial du jury à Sundance cette année intitulé "Enemis du peuple" mettait déjà les mots dans la bouche de Nuon Chea au moment de son procès. "Je vais leur en parler (des crimes de guerre) au procès pour leur ouvrir les yeux" déclare l'acteur qui incarne un « Frère numéro deux » cinématographique qui décide de tout avouer sur l'engrenage de la terreur du régime qui aura fait environ 2 millions de victimes.

Le documentaire prenait place sur les grands écrans la semaine même de l'annonce de la peine de Douch. Selon les observateurs, c'est la condamnation de celui qui, dans l'appareil de la mort, se rangeait seulement derrière Pol Pot lui-même dans la hiérarchie, qui saura mieux satisfaire une population cambodgienne qui saisit encore mal cette sombre période de l'histoire du pays.

D'autant plus que le régime ne s'est pas gêné de trainer la patte lors des différentes étapes du procès, des membres du gouvernement étant eux-mêmes d'anciens khmers qui ont quitté le parti, dont le premier ministre Hun Sen lui-même, qui s'était déclaré plus à l'aise de voir la cour - elle qui est parrainée par les Nations unies - échouer, que condamner d'autres personnes.


The long shadow of Somalia

Once again the debate had a familiar echo as an international summit considered the latest strategy to try to stabilize a country decimated by years of war, where the feeble government hardly controls all regions of its territory: how to enforce security without catching the suffering local population in the crossfire with a rebounding islamist insurgency and turning the locals against the multinational force.

This isn't Afghanistan but Somalia, a country many have over time used to define a "failed state", and as African Union leaders met to discuss the troubles that ail the continent, the crisis there took centre stage after bomb attacks in neighbouring Uganda, the host of the summit and source of most of the AU soldiers in Somalia, possibly showed al-Shabab's growing reach; its ability to strike outside Somalia.

The attacks killed over 76 people and the discovery of an explosives-laden vest in a Kampala nightclub days later signalled that the insurgents had the ability to strike again using the methods preferred by Islamist terrorists. Al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabab, the insurgent group threatening to topple the government in Mogadishu and which controls vast areas of the south and central Somalia, claimed responsibility for the earlier attacks which they said were meant to retaliate against the actions of Uganda's troops in Somalia.

AU leaders observed two minutes of silence for the victims of the 11 July bomb attack as the summit started, and Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni told the assembly the fight against the group had to be stepped up so they are "swept out of Africa".

This week African Union Commission president Jean Ping blamed the lack of a global response to the Somali crisis for creating fertile ground for threats to regional peace, stressing African agree Somalia has been largely forgotten by the U.N. Security Council.

The council "had an obligation to send a peacekeeping mission to Somalia to help bring back stability," Ping said. "The international community appears to be only preoccupied with the issue of piracy off Somalia. We are all members of the U.N., and we pay our contributions to the U.N."

The proximity of the attack to the date of the summit guaranteed Somalia would be the focus of the talks, being held under tight security, despite the summit's official theme of "Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development". The summit was also supposed to focus on China, which is increasingly busy commercially on the continent. Soon after the continent held its first, and highly successful, World Cup, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he wanted to see Africa achieve its full potential, calling it a source of growth in the world.

But the Ugandan attacks, which occurred as the locals were joining millions across the world watching the World Cup final, quicky made obvious the struggles the continent still faces as it tries to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Al-Shabab also threatened to attack Burundi, another country of origin for many of the AU soldiers. Up until now heavily Christian Uganda had largely been spared by the type of attacks seen in neighbouring countries, and fears of reprisal quickly took hold of the many refugees living in the country, especially Somalis, who managed to flee the conflict at home under Kampala's usually more lax immigration policies.

While the development of the five-nation East African Community should keep the borders open, authorities have started a clampdown on immigrants entering the country in the wake of the attacks, showing again how conflict keeps threatening the increased flow of goods and people on the agenda of African leaders.

But the failures sometimes have less to do with armed groups than ill will according to a scathing "State of the Union" report on member countries released before the summit began. “African politics is now characterised by broken promises. There is a vast gap between the words of our leaders and the reality of our citizens, and we hope holding governments accountable can be the tipping point to bring real change," Irungu Houghton, a Pan-Africa Director of Oxfam, told Kenya's The Nation. "Huge sums of money are being spent on the AU Summit in Kampala – but it may as well be thrown into the Nile if the only outcome is yet more empty rhetoric that is never turned into action.”

The first of its kind report, based on studies from 10 members of the 53-nation AU, considered previous commitments to invest in health care and agriculture and improving human rights and tackling corruption, and found the host of the World Cup scoring gold overall and ending on top, closely followed by Algeria, Egypt and Senegal, but ranked Nigeria and Cameroon last.

On health care the host of the AU fared poorly, Uganda joining countries such as Tanzania reducing spending over the years while AU states had committed to investing 15 per cent of their national budgets on healthcare nearly a decade ago: only six have: Rwanda, Botswana, Niger, Malawi, Zambia and Burkina Faso. Most governments also failed to provide adequate food security for their citizens, and remain under the agreed target of 10 per cent of national budgets.

Still some noted a positive change of attitude on the health and education, seeing a growing acceptance of free primary schooling and health care and free access to treatment for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. Baby steps on some issues are leaving some to echo Brown's optimistic view the century could be Africa's. “Africa’s potential is enormous. This year, eight of the word’s 20 fastest growing economies will be African," Paula Monjane, director of Mozambique’s Civil Society Learning and Capacity-building Centre, told The Nation. "What matters is how this increasing wealth is invested – will AU leaders spend it on making the rich elite even richer, or on delivering real development for all of their citizens.”

Early announcements Guinea and Djibouti, two Muslim nations, were sending troops to Somalia to bolster AU efforts there were however an early indication of the summit's security focus. But activists urged leaders to use the same urgency to tackle other key issues threatening Africa. “We are calling on leaders to be serious this time,” South African public health advocate Beatrice Were told the New York Times. “Look at how they react to the terrorist attacks here in Kampala. Our leaders should act the same way towards AIDS.”


Kosovo: la cour ne dit pas non
La déclaration d'indépendance du Kosovo il y a plus de deux ans a peut-être brûlé les ponts avec la Serbie, mais elle n'a pas violé le droit international, selon la Cour internationale de justice. L'avis avait beau être non-contraignant, il a obtenu le même accueil sulfureux réservé par Belgrade il y a deux ans, et au-delà des Balkans, multiplie les craintes de déclarations semblables de populations minoritaires dans diverses régions.

Ainsi alors même que les dirigeants kosovars se félicitaient de cet avis, qui selon eux affirme "le droit d'être un Etat", les dirigeants d'un autre état pas encore tout à fait reconnu, l'Abkhazie, une enclave entre la Russie et la Géorgie qui s'est déclarée indépendante de Tbilisi en 1992, étaient tout autant aux anges, le président Sergueï Bagapch estimant que l'avis "confirme le droit à l'autodétermination" de l'Abkhazie et de l'Ossétie du Sud, autre région séparatiste de Géorgie.

"Cette décision a également montré que la position de la Russie, qui a reconnu la première l'indépendance de l'Abkhazie et de l'Ossétie du Sud, était parfaitement juste", a-t-il ajouté. Or la Russie, qui redoute pourtant les nationalismes sur son propre territoire, ne comptait en rien changer son appui envers Belgrade, estimant que le geste de la cour d'ailleurs "n'examinait pas dans l'ensemble la question du droit du Kosovo à la séparation d'avec la Serbie de manière unilatérale." La cour d'ailleurs avait elle-même souligné qu'elle n'était "pas chargée de dire si le Kosovo a accédé à la qualité d'Etat".

La Serbie, où la déclaration il y a deux ans avait donné lieu à des éclats de colère dans les rue contre les ambassades de pays reconnaissant le Kosovo, n'a pu que réitérer que Belgrade ne reconnaîtrait "jamais" le Kosovo, considéré comme le berceau de l'histoire serbe. Il fallait bien s'y attendre puisque c'est elle qui avait exigé de l'Onu qu'elle saisisse la cour sur la légalité du geste.

Pays dont l'ambassade avait été la cible des éclats en 2008, les Etats-Unis n'ont pas seulement réitéré leur soutien à la cause kosovare mais ont appelé tous les pays, y compris la Serbie, à reconnaître le Kosovo. "L'avis de la cour affirme la légalité de la déclaration d'indépendance du Kosovo. Nous soutenons cette décision", a déclaré le porte-parole du département d'Etat. "Le moment est venu pour l'Europe de s'unir pour un avenir commun", a-t-il ajouté.

L'Europe, quant à elle, tentait de réunir les deux voisins balkans en soulignant que "l'avenir de la Serbie se situe dans l'Union européenne, celui du Kosovo aussi", tout en ajoutant que l'UE se "tient prête à faciliter un processus de dialogue entre Pristina et Belgrade", favorable à la paix et la stabilité dans la région.

Mais du coup la stabilité de quelques autres pays semblait quelque peu ébranlée par l'avis, certains craignant voir là de quoi donner de l'élan à la reconnaissance d'autres nationalismes. Mais selon certains experts l'avis de la cour, approuvé par 10 des 14 juges de la CIJ, est parvenu à conserver un certain équilibre qui pouvait permettre aux deux camps de crier victoire: il ne reconnaissait pas du coup l'indépendance du Kosovo, mais seulement le droit de se déclarer indépendant.

Selon l'expert des Balkans de la London School of Economics, James Ker-Lindsay: "La cour a essentiellement dit que la légitimité du Kosovo serait décidée par les pays qui choisissent de la reconnaitre". Or à la veille de l'avis, seuls 69 des 192 membres de l'Onu l'avaient fait, d'où l'appel aux autres d'emboiter le pas.

«Le Kosovo fonctionne en tant qu'État indépendant depuis deux ans et demi. J'encourage tous les autres Etats qui ne l'ont pas encore fait à reconnaître désormais le Kosovo. Le Kosovo est un cas unique et n'établit pas de précédent», a déclaré William Hague, ministre britannique des Affaires étrangères, dans un communiqué.

Alors que les ministres des affaires étrangères de l'UE mettaient cette semaine faisaient du Kosovo un seujet prioritaire lors de leur réunion, Belgrade gardait ne changeait pas de ton, les parlementaires serbes ont approuvé une résolution dans laquelle ils jurent que leur pays ne reconnaîtra jamais le Kosovo en tant qu'état indépendant.

Or avec cette indépendance vient une certaine responsabilité, et la veille de l'avis ce rappel provenait d'un autre tribunal, le Tribunal pénal international  pour l'ex-Yougoslavie, qui ordonnait la tenue d'un nouveau procès pour l'ancien premier ministre kosovar Ramush Haradinaj, qui avait été acquitté de crimes de guerre et contre l'humanité après que des témoins aient été intimidés.

Celui-ci avait été reconnu non coupable en 2008 des persécutions, meurtres, tortures et viols commis contre des civils serbes dix ans plus tôt lorsqu'il était un dirigeant de l'Armée de libération du Kosovo. Belgrade avait alors salué la décision du TPI, indiquant qu'elle pouvait mener à une meilleure coopération entre le trinbunal et la Serbie. 

Le lendemain de l'avis de la cour, autre rappel lorsque la police a fait une descente et a arrêté le gouverneur de la banque centrale Hashim Rexhepi lors d'une opération anti-corruption. En avril c'était au ministre des transports Fatmir Limaj, de se faire questionner lors d'une enquête sur la construction d'une autoroute. Transparence européenne oblige.


Cameron goes to Washington
While BP may have triumphantly announced it successfully capped its polluting oil well in the Gulf of Mexico a few days before the British prime minister's first trip to Washington since taking office, David Cameron's visit was nonetheless headed for the recently muddied waters of UK-US relations since the Deepwater Horizon incident and previous controversy over the oil company's lobbying for a transfer agreement between the U.S. and Libya.

Sure BP were to blame for the disaster in the Gulf, said Cameron at a White House conference with Obama, conceding he understood the U.S. "anger" surrounding the catastrophic spill, but as far as the "completely wrong" decision to release the only person charged in the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am jet in 1988, that was the doing of the Scottish parliament, using powers granted under devolution.

Setting the stage for the PM's visit was the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee's decision to hold hearings this week 29 on the circumstances surrounding the release last year of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who was eight years into his life sentence for his role in the bombing of flight 103 over Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

Cameron has asked for a review of government papers about the release of the man on humanitarian grounds but ruled out U.S. demands for an inquiry. "Releasing the Lockerbie bomber, a mass murderer, was completely wrong," he said, a matter on which both were in "violent agreement". "He showed his victims no compassion. They were not allowed to die in their beds at home."

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel, senators from New York and New Jersey, home to many of the bombing victims, later met Cameron to discuss the issue.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer, Megrahi was given months to live at the time of his release, but he remains alive today, doctors admitting they may have been wrong with their prognosis.

"Let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan bomber," Cameron urged.

This week, as news surfaced BP CEO Tony Hayward was being banished to Siberia, or at least transferred to Russia, committee member Senator Robert Menendez requested any Scottish government documents "relating to BP's negotiations for or interest in oil exploration in Libya". A request to which the Scottish first minister responded : "There are no such documents."

But the British PM was during his visit more apologetic about the much more public anger on the oil spill, the worst man-made natural disaster in history. "I completely understand the anger that exists right across America. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe for the environment, for the fishing industry, for tourism," Cameron said. "BP should rightly be blamed for what has happened in the Gulf and have real responsibilities to cap the well, to clean up the spill, to pay compensation — all of which they are getting on with."

But Cameron, who seemed to be enjoying greater rapport with the U.S. president than predecessor Gordon Brown, also expressed concern the outrage could go too far and stressed the importance of the company for both countries' economies.

"Thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic depend on it," he said. "So it's in the interest of both our countries, as we agreed, that it remains a strong and stable company for the future." The company meanwhile announced it would sell some of its assets to pay for a $20 billion U.S. victim compensation fund. Ironically that's the same estimated value of an oil deal BP was said of pursuing with Libyan authorities in the transfer affair. BP was set to begin drilling off Libya as a result of the 2007 contract.

The two matters overshadowed a major issue Cameron hoped to discuss, withdrawal from Afghanistan. And as dozens of foreign ministers, including Canada's, agreed on 2014 as a new target date for Afghanistan's military and police to become self-sufficient, the second murder of NATO instructors implicating a recently-trained member of the Afghan security forces in a month made that deadline seem rather optimistic. On the same day, in a separate incident, Canada was losing its 151th soldier in the war.

For the record, Britain is anticipating a withdrawal from combat role in 2015, but could start removing troops next year, as the U.S. is hoping it can, leaving Washington and London on the same page on the bloody conflict: both may have to review those dates as they have reviewed past deadlines.  

Dur repli pour les Iroquois
Faut-il le rappeler, ce n'est pas en remportant l'or à Vancouver que le Canada réaffirmait sa domination du sport national. L'occasion à ce sujet se présentait à Manchester ce mois-ci, où avec le coup d'envoi du championnat du monde de crosse en Grande-Bretagne le Canada tentait de défendre son titre remporté à London, en Ontario, il y a quatre ans. Cause perdue, les unifoliés ont dû s'incliner 12-10 contre les Etats-Unis en grande finale. Mais certains avaient connu la déception bien plus tôt.

En cette ère qui suit le 11 septembre 2001, une formation à la fois binationale mais ne représentant pas un état de L'ONU, peut en dire long sur les nouvelles restrictions en matière de déplacements transfrontaliers. Quatrièmes lors des trois derniers championnats, les membres de la nation iroquoise, représentant un territoire qui s'étend sur une partie du Québec, de l'Ontario et des Etats-Unis, n'auront pas eu l'occasion faire mieux, puisqu'ils n'ont même pas pu quitter le territoire nord-américain.

Le problème ne s'était pas présenté il y a quatre ans, puisque le tournoi avait eu lieu ici, ou en 2002, trop tôt après le 11 septembre encore. A l'origine de l'empêchement le document prisé par les membres de la nation iroquoise pour effectuer le déplacement depuis des décennies, soit un passeport iroquois qui ne respecterait pas les dernières normes rigoureuses en matière de documentation et de sécurité internationale.

Le tournoi de crosse a par conséquent dû débuter par un 100m. haies pour les 23 membres de l'équipe, dont une dizaine issus du Canada, et leur entourage. En fin juin, les Etats-Unis estimaient le passeport non-réglementaire au départ d'un séjour en avion qui devait transporter la troupe de New York à Londres. Malgré l'interdiction, le directeur exécutif des Iroquois Nationals refusait de plier sur la question du document alors même que le club, par son absence le jour du début de la compétition, devait déclarer forfait contre la Grande-Bretagne. "Nous ne présentons pas de passeport américain, nous ne présentons pas de passeport canadien, nous présentons des passeports Haudenosaunee," déclara haut et fort Percy Abrams.

Cherchant à éviter l'incident diplomatique, Hillary Clinton elle-même, ministre des affaires étrangères et ancienne sénatrice de l'état de New York, donna l'autorisation d'émettre un laisser-passer spécial. Mais c'était sans consulter la reine, les autorités de sa majesté jugeant les documents non-conformes aux lois internationales et aux exigences en matière de sécurité. Ottawa et Washington avouaient qu'ils n'étaient pas en position de convaincre Londres d'autoriser l'entrée de l'équipe en Grande-Bretagne.

Ce n'était pas tout. Un parlementaire du Bloc Québécois a laissé entendre qu'une exception dans le cas de la nation iroquoise aurait ouvert une "boîte de Pandore" aux autres nationalités de créer leurs propres documentation en matière de déplacements internationaux. "Si c'était toléré de manière générale, demain le nombre de personnes d'autres nations exigeant leur propre passeport exploserait, insista Marc Lemay, vous verrez un passeport québécois, un passeport écossais, catalan ou corse."

Les autorités britanniques étaient formelles et sans fléchir, il leur fallait présenter un passeport soit canadien ou américain suivant les normes, un choix inacceptable qui, selon les Iroquois, porterait atteinte à leur identité. Le club dut par conséquent abandonner la compétition. Pénible réalité de l'après 11 septembre pour la nation qui a inventé le sport il y a environ 1000 ans.

Campeones

Velazquez, Picasso, Andres Iniesta? Certes le seul et unique but de la grande finale n'était pas un chef d'oeuvre en particulier, mais rien n'empêche son auteur d'atteindre le panthéon de la gloire éternelle sur la péninsule ibérique. Le but à la 116e minute, en temps supplémentaire, est le seul qui sut séparer les rivaux européens et mettre fin à la fête de la 19e édition de la coupe du monde.

En fin de compte ce sont les champions d'Europe qui ont capturé leur premier titre mondial lors de cette deuxième finale tout européenne de suite. Il faut dire qu'à part le Brésil, depuis 20 ans seuls des clubs du vieux continent se présentent en finale. Pourtant tout s'annonçait bien pour l'Amérique du sud, un nombre record de ses sélections, soit cinq, ayant passé le premier tour en Afrique du sud. Mais l'Allemagne ne fit qu'une bouchée de l'Argentine 4-0, son deuxième match de suite avec autant de buts, tandis que le Brésil ne put conserver son avance (un but à la 10e minute) et s'inclina face aux Pays-bas.

Alors que ces derniers pouvaient s'estimer plus expérimentés dans la grande finale, les deux occasions du passé étaient des occasions manquées qui rendait la necessité d'une victoire d'autant plus urgente, tandis que les Espagnols se présentaient en finale pour la première fois. Consolation pour les bataves? Le foot pratiqué par la Furia Roja doit tout à l'héritage d'un certain Johan Cruyff, qui développa ce "foot total" tout en mouvement et en passes courtes. Le style semblait toutefois faire défaut lors de ce match plutôt terne et truffé de fautes.

Le doublé est le dernier depuis le triomphe français 1998-2000. Première étoile pour les Espagnols, toujours un événement historique, mais un fait marquant parmi d'autres en Afrique du sud où les deux finalistes précédents et le pays hôte ont été évincés après le premier tour et première victoire européenne en dehors du vieux continent.

L'Espagne est également le premier pays à remporter le trophée doré après avoir perdu son premier match, une défaite contre la Suisse, sa deuxième seulement en 55 sorties, qui aura somme toute servi d'avertissement. Invaincus, les Pays-bas n'avaient pas connu une similaire période de réflexion.

L'euphorie en Espagne permettait du coup de consoler un pays troublé par la crise financière, où le chômage n'a rien d'encourageant et les sévères mesures d'austérité du gouvernement, n'annoncent rien de plaisant dans les prochains mois. L'occasion était donc belle de tenir une petite fiesta en période le choléra... économique. L'occasion après tout est bien rare. Non seulement le tournoi a-t-il lieu chaque quatre ans, l'Espagne est seulement la 8e équipe à apporter une étoile à son uniforme.

Ainsi en fin de compte Paul le poulpe aura eu raison de prédire le doublé. Peut-il faire usage de sa boule de crystal pour prévoir une sortie de la crise économique? Le ministre de l’Industrie Miguel Sebastian aurait souligné que le pays pourra revoir à la hausse le produit intérieur brut espagnol pour 2010 après la victoire, le secteur touristique entre autre pourrait subir un impact positif de cette victoire, vue comme une importante campagne de publicité gratuite.

Aussi la victoire permet-elle au pays de s'unir alors que les tiraillements régionaux se faisaient encore sentir. La veille en effet une immense foule aux couleurs de la Catalogne avait déferlé dans les rues de Barcelone, pour proclamer l'indépendance et protester la décision du tribunal constitutionnel espagnol de refuser le droit à la Catalogne de s'appeler « nation » ou que la langue catalane puisse être préférée au Castillan dans les actes administratifs et l'enseignement.

Cette unité temporaire autour du sport, comme il y a deux ans, ne pouvait pas mieux tomber  pour les instances politiques. «Les rois du monde», titrait le journal catalan La Vanguardia, notant que l'Espagne remporte son premier Mondial grâce à une «génération de virtuoses du football» menée notamment par le joueur du FC Barcelone Andres Iniesta.

The great game continues
The most significant spy exchange between Moscow and Washington in years and a Canadian intelligence chief's slip about foreign interference in domestic politics has given us a whiff of Cold War that served as reminder that while all three countries are business partners and members of the G8, the great game remains being played out. And in the post 9-11 era, as rendition operations and London's call for a judicial inquiry of MI6 and MI5 operations indicated, this has led to allegations of abuse in the shadows.

The swap, involving 10 Russians charged of spying in the U.S. - some on whom claimed to be Canadian - for four people pardoned for spying in Russia after confessing their guilt, was the largest exchange of its kind since 1985 involving 25 prisoners in Poland and East Germany and four in the United States.

"The network of unlawful agents operating inside the United States has been dismantled," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "The United States took advantage of the opportunity presented to secure the release of four individuals serving lengthy prison terms in Russia, several of whom were in poor health."

The swift agreement was no doubt intended to avoid the matter from further tarnishing relations between Moscow and the U.S. already frayed by Washington's latest initiatives to speed the development of a missile shield with bases in Europe near Russia. Reports of the exchange emerged after the family of Igor Sutyagin, an analyst at the U.S.-Canada Institute arrested in Russia in 1999 for spying for the CIA, said he and others would be exchanged.

His brother said Sutyagin signed a confession while reiterating his innocence all the while a top US diplomat met the Russian ambassador to Washington. During a press conference, which perhaps would have been unlikely in the old days, the brother said Sutyagin was shown a list of people who would be included in the swap, remembering among them the name of Sergei Skripal, a Russian colonel sentenced in 2006 to 13 years on charges of spying for Britain.

In the U.S. meanwhile Indictments were unsealed against the Russians, who were charged before being swiftly deported, all in a matter of hours, even though one of them, who claimed to be Canadian, escaped after jumping bail in Cyprus. It was later revealed Christopher Metsos was travelling with a genuine Canadian passport obtained using the identity of a dead five year old, sparking concerns of abuse of the passport system. Other so-called Canadians later admitted they were in fact Russians to the FBI.

A pair going by the false names of Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills who had been arrested in Arlington told investigators they are really Mikhail Kutzik and Natalia Pereverzeva, the first admitting he wasn't American, and the latter that she wasn't Canadian.

This week the U.S. deported an 11th suspected agent, while Russia was promising to screen the others, fearing a double agent was among them. 
The group was charged for acting as unregistered foreign agents while the more serious charges of laundering money were dropped.

To combat future intrusions the U.S. government is launching a sweeping program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies, according to the Wall St Journal, one that is sparking some concerns it will end up being used to infringe on privacy.

Ensured by the eavesdropping National Security Agency, the program would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks. Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. won a contract for the program's initial phase, and an email obtained by the WSJ indicated that company's perception of Perfect Citizen. "The overall purpose of the (program) is our Government...feel(s) that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security... Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."

But as Canada's spy chief, Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, reminded in a June media interview and later repeated when summoned to explain himself in Ottawa, "foreign interference" poses a threat to Canada just as well. While he told the House of Commons public safety committee last week he regretted letting too many intelligence details slip, he added: "I stand by my general message on foreign interference. It is a concern and a threat, it is more common here and elsewhere than many think, and it is desirable that this threat should be known and discussed," he said, in fact wondering what the fuss was really all about.

"If you look at our website, if you look at our annual reports, if you look at a variety of things that both I and other officers of the service have done over the years, this is not quite as extraordinary as everyone is making it out to be." Fadden had told the CBC foreign governments hold influence over at least two cabinet ministers in two provinces, and are also involved with municipal politicians in B.C. and federal public servants, implying that China was one of those foreign governments.

Allegations of Chinese espionage in Canada had previously been the subject of a rare joint investigation between the RCMP and CSIS a decade ago, Project Sidewinder, which was later derailed by the agencies' superiors. Fadden said China regularly infiltrates university campuses and organizes demonstrations against Ottawa, but wouldn't name the people he claimed were being influenced.

Meanwhile last week in a case some say illustrates China's use of vague secrets laws to restrict business information, an American geologist tortured by Chinese security agents was sentenced to eight years in prison for gathering data on the Chinese oil industry. Xue Feng was found guilty of spying and collecting state secrets in a Beijing court that described his actions "endangered our country's national security."

This weekend, in another TV interview, Fadden reiterated the threats Canada faced, and the problem posed by "unfriendly countries or terrorist entities that seek to acquire or produce weapons of mass destruction" singling out Toronto as a "scientific, industrial, technological base." While back in Canada the government indicated the CSIS boss could still count on its support, the opposition raged Fadden was tarnishing the reputation of politicians across the country, and pressed for the agency's investigation into foreign influence to be expedited.

Politicians in Britain were also calling for an investigation, but this time domestic intelligence agencies were under the microscope as Prime Minister David Cameron announced a judicial inquiry into accusations MI5 and MI6, the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, colluded with other agencies, notably the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, in the torture of terror suspects held abroad after 9-11.

The three-member inquiry, which has a year to produce a report, would also look into allegations the agencies were aware of the secret flights operated by the CIA to transport terror suspects to third countries where they might tortured. This is the latest gesture of transparency by the government since last month's tabling of the report on military wrongdoing during the Bloody Sunday incidents.

Cameron made the announcement stressing there was ``no evidence’’ that British agents had been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees but said it was important to ``clear up’’ the air "once and for all." "Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights and the rule of law... risks being tarnished," he said.

Meanwhile in Canada the Toronto Star was reporting that "an unprecedented RCMP probe into the (Maher) Arar torture affair has gone global, with the possibility the Mounties will lay charges against U.S. and Syrian government officials involved in the case." The Canadian was arrested in 2002 by U.S. officials and then transferred to a Syrian jail where he was tortured for 10 months. For a profession made for the shadows, it is certainly getting a lot of public attention. 

A familar name takes over
If you don't find the name familiar, perhaps the fact Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino was elected largely due to a sympathy vote following the death of a family member will ring a bell.

The inauguration of the Philippines' newest president at the end of June, a largely unimpressive senator who failed to move the crowds before the death of his mother Corazon “Cory” Aquino last fall restored a nostalgia to the name behind the people-power revolution of 1986, had other familiar moments, such as crowds chanting “Noynoy! Noynoy!” just like they had chanted “Cory! Cory!” decades before as the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos gave way to democracy.

The incoming administration would have you think a bit of the same is happening today as Aquino sweeps into Manila on a promise of overcoming a past marked with its own brand of corruption, beginning with a 2004 election of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in which she was accused of cheating her way to victory, with the incoming leader promising "the end of a leadership that has long been  insensitive to the suffering of the people” and setting up a “truth commission” to investigate corruption.

But the tasks ahead remain challenging in a country seeing sluggish growth and widespread poverty while insurgencies persist in the south. A reminder of the persisting crisis there came last week when police commandos  rescued a Chinese national held captive for about 18 months by a group of Abu Sayyaf Islamist militants on the remote southern island of Jolo. He was the last remaining foreign captive held by the Muslim rebel group with links to al-Qaida and nearby Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah.

The simmering Muslim insurgency in the mainly Catholic country is one of two fundamental security problems facing the new Aquino government, considering the country is also facing one of the world's longest-running communist insurgencies, responsible for some 40,000 deaths, crises that survived the previous Aquino administration.

While the president has let it be known he will not tolerate extra-judicial killings in his administration, in response to two killings - that of a journalist and politician- soon after his election some analysts have hinted were to embarrass him, he wasted no time announcing the military would get the weapons and equipment it needed to end insurgencies troubling the country, stressing that without stability the Philippines could not attract much-needed investment to fund development.

The new leader of the 130,000-strong military set a rather optimistic three-year deadline to defeat the Maoist and Muslim insurgencies, the former seeking to overthrow the government while the latter are trying to establish a homeland. During the campaign Aquino promised an increase in spending to 2% of GDP for the influential military, which had played a role both in the removal of Marcos and Joseph Estrada 15 years later.

Aquino is also aware his mother faced half a dozen coup attempts, and his predecessor three. In fact one of Arroyo's accused coup plotters surrendered last week after three years on the run following a failed 2007 bid to topple the president. In an unexpected vote of confidence for the incoming administration, Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon said he gave himself up because he believed in Aquino. "There is no reason for me to stay unaccountable now," he said. "We have a new government that has the mandate of the people."


Un nouveau président en Pologne
Le vote the sympathie envers le frère jumeau du président défunt n'aura somme toute pas suffi, mais aura néanmoins rendu les choses intéressantes tant le résultat de la présidentielle polonaise s'est fait attendre. Jadis un des politiciens les moins populaires de Pologne, l'eurosceptique de droite Jaroslaw Kacyznski avait recentré son message après avoir surpris au premier tour avec 36% des voix.

Le soir du second tour, le frère du président Lech Kacyznski avait reconnu sa défaite lors d'un discours devant ses partisans juste avant que les chiffres remontent de manière à atteindre 51% des bulletins de votes dépouillés, malgré des sondages qui avaient régulièrement donné Bronislaw Komorowski vainqueur.

En fin de compte, c'est bien le président de la chambre Basse du parlement et président par intérim, un conservateur modéré, qui l'emporta, mais avec une bien mince marge, soit 53% à 47%. "La démocratie a gagné! Notre propre démocratie polonaise a gagné!" s'est-il exclamé. Voilà qui rassurait du coup des investisseurs qui redoutaient un trop important écart philosophique entre le poste de président, et celui de premier ministre, Donald Tusk étant un allié de Komorowski, qui risquait de brouiller les plans de réforme.

L'élection de ce dernier a permis au drapeau du palais présidentiel d'être hissé tout au haut de son mat pour la première fois depuis le terrible accident d'avion du 10 avril en Russie, qui avait emporté la vie de Lech Kaczynski, de sa femme et de près d'une centaine de représentants du gouvernement, laissant le pays en deuil et précipant des élections. Kacyznski avoua lui-même que le drame avait plutôt aidé sa candidature.

Seul pays de l'UE à ne pas connaitre la récession l'an dernier, l'ex-membre du Bloc de l'Est se bute cependant à un sévère ralentissement, faisant grimper le déficit public à 7% du PIB. "A partir de maintenant il faut commercer à travailler encore plus dur que dans le passé, déclara Tusk après les résultats du vote. Je vais demander à mes partenaires politiques et aux parlementaires d'aider à mettre en place une discipline dans nos finances publiques."

Des analystes soulignent que le gouvernement n'a désormais plus d'excuse de ne pas mener à bien ses projets de réforme du secteur financier. Mais l'écart du vote et la proximité des élections régionales pourraient ralentir l'élan réformiste du gouvernement lors des prochaines semaines.

Quatrième président démocratiquement élu en Pologne depuis 1989, Komorowski bénéficiait du soutien des précesseurs Lech Walesa et Aleksander Kwasniewski. Son élection fut bien accueillie en Europe ainsi qu'à Moscou, après une période de 2006-7 où Jaroslaw Kaczynski, à titre de premier ministre, avait semé des tensions en matière de politique extérieure.

Moscou ne pouvait pas cependant aussi bien accueillir la mise à jour d'une entente sur l'installation de missiles intercepteurs américains en Pologne, signée la veille de l'élection. Celle-ci prévoit l'implantation d'une base américaine en Pologne dès 2018 afin d'y implanter un des pôles de son bouclier anti-missile. Washington a cru bon faire avancer le projet après avoir ré-évalué la menace de missiles iraniens capables de frapper l'Europe. La ministre des affaires étrangères Hillary Clinton a répété que le projet n'avait pas pour but de menacer la Russie, alors que les deux pays traversent des tensions liées à la découverte d'espions russes résidant aux Etats-Unis.

Moins proche des Etats-Unis que son adversaire, plusieurs estiment que l'élection du nouveau président rapprochera davantage la Pologne de l'Europe, Varsovie cherchant toujours à intégrer la zone euro, malgré ses récents déboires.

La Guinée aux urnes

Il aura fallu attendre plus de 50 ans après l'indépendance, et plus récemment le massacre de plus de cent personnes manifestant dans un stade de la capitale, afin de tenir des élections libres en Guinée-Conakry.

"Nous ne pouvons plus vivre comme si nous étions dans la jungle, comme si nous étions un état sans autorité," servit d'avertissement le général Sekouba Konate la veille du scrutin, estimant que les 24 candidats devaient à choisir entre "la paix la liberté et la démocratie" et "le désordre et l'instabilité".

Un étonnant discours de la part de la junte à la tête de la transition depuis la fuite de Moussa Dadis Camara, un militaire pourtant accueilli à la fin de l’année 2008 avec acclamation par plusieurs qui espéraient voir là la fin du pénible chapitre des années du despote Lansana Conté. Camara a pris la fuite après une tentative d'assassinat suite aux événements sanglants de septembre dernier.

L'opposition avait alors organisé un rassemblement pour dénoncer "l'usurpation du pouvoir par les militaires" faisant appel à la démission immédiate de Camara. L'intervention des militaires avait fait plus de 150 morts et 1000 blessés, sans parler des nombreux cas de viol de femmes participant au rassemblement. La condamnation internationale n'a pas tardé, ni les tiraillements au sein de l'armée afin d'y trouver un bouc émissaire.

Lors du branle-bas le chef de la garde présidentielle atteint Camara d'un tir à la tête. Le chef de la junte survécut mais s'imposa l'exil tandis que son bras droit, Konante, choisit comme premier ministre un civil, limita les pouvoirs présidentiels prescrits par la constitution puis prépara les élections du weekend dernier.

Victime des violences en septembre, l'ancien premier ministre Cellou Dalein Diallo faisait partie des favoris. Revenu d'une convalescence en France ou il s'était remis de ses blessures, celui-ci estima le pays transformé. Le pays, dit-il à l'AP vit "une vraie révolution" qui 'il faut à tout pris protéger, celle-ci ayant été obtenue au coût de plusieurs vies.

Egalement au titre des favoris Sidya Toure, est un autre ancien premier ministre, et Alpha Conde la bête noire de l'opposition. Seule véritable crainte: que les électeurs, pourtant nombreux, réagissent mal en cas de fraude, puisque ceux-ci votent traditionnellement sur une base ethnique, les Peuls (40%) préférant Diallo tandis que les Malinke (30%) auraient le choix entre Conde et un antre ancien premier ministre, Lansana Kouyate.

Mais déjà avant l'annonce des résultats provisoires, certains voyaient le pays gagnant: « Cette élection est un soulagement pour l'ensemble du peuple de Guinée qui voit enfin les principes démocratiques appliqués », estimait l'historien guinéen Boubacar Barry, sur les ondes de la radio privée Guinée FM. Egalement satisfaite de la tenue du vote, la commission électorale nationale indépendante déclarait : « Il ne nous a pas été signalé d'incidents, ni aux abords des bureaux de vote ni dans les bureaux de vote ».


Planête complètement foot!
Adieu les bleus, Arrivederci l'Italie, mais, faut-il se le rappeler, le foot soulève de rares passions. Le mondial à peine débuté, une semaine après le coup d'envoi, les joueurs de l'Equipe de France se mettaient en grève, l'équipe britannique tenait des Etats généraux tandis que le joueur du Nigéria Sani Kaita ne comptait déjà plus les menaces de mort. Le monde était vite devenu complètement foot, et la tyrannie auditive des vuvuzelas y était peut-être pour quelquechose.

Il faut dire qu'après la défaite allemande contre la Serbie et celle de l'Espagne contre la Suisse, sans parler du match nul Italie-Nouvelle Zélande, on ne comptait plus les surprises en ce mondial, à l'image de l'hémisphère, presque complètement viré à l'envers. Mais le tournoi réservait sa plus grande surprise pour les partisans des Azzuris. L'Italie s'est inclinée 3-2 contre la Slovaquie par la suite, sortant non seulement les champions en titre mais bien les deux finalistes de 2006 du tournoi au premier tour. Le lendemain, sur toutes les pages romaines, ce terme qui blesse tant il est répété: La Vergogna, la honte.

Mais c'est un terme que l'on retrouve également en français dans le texte. Car pendant plusieurs jours c'est la zizanie au sein de l'équipe de France qui a retenu l'attention internationale, marquée par le renvoi de Nicolas Anelka suite aux propos pour le moins disgracieux dirigés à l'endroit de l'entraineur Raymond Domenech. Cette décision a entrainé les joueurs à... ne pas s'entrainer, eux qui en voulaient à cette fuite des propos colorés dans les médias: une fuite en une de l'Equipe où on a pu lire en version non censurée:  «Vas te faire enc..., sale fils de p...».

Comme si un brin de paranoia collective est tout ce qu'il manquait à la recette des bleus, le capitaine Patrice Evra est allé jusqu’à évoquer qu’il y aurait «un traître à éliminer» au sein du club. Le refus de participer à la pratique a par la suite amené le directeur général délégué auprès de l’équipe, Jean-Louis Valentin, à rendre sa démission. Une intervention de la ministre des sports était à l'ordre du jour alors que les titres parlaient d'"implosion" ou d'"imposteurs". "Avoir l’équipe la plus nulle du Mondial était déjà insupportable. Avoir la plus bête est juste intolérable, signe Le Parisien. La mutinerie de Knysna restera à tout jamais comme le Waterloo du football français."

Comme s'il fallait couronner le tout, la France a perdu son dernier match, où un bleu a été exclu par carton rouge. Le capitaine Patrice Evra, qui avait mené la révolte des joueurs, n'a d'ailleurs pas participé au match. Une réflexion s'impose, mais la sortie fut même accueillie avec soulagement: "Ça y est, son calvaire, notre calvaire est terminé, signe l'Equipe. On n'aura plus besoin de supporter cette équipe dont les caprices avaient fini par nous épuiser."

Certains ont retrouvé quelquechose des élans de 1789 dans ce mouvement de contestation des joueurs, du moins, un certain héritage du passé contestataire qui forme des grèves et des manifestations fréquentes dans les rues de l'hexagone: "Les Français sont fondamentalement méfiants envers le pouvoir et la discipline, note Jean-Philippe Mathy de l'université de l'Illinois, et estiment que son exercice est rarement justifé. Voilà qui rend toute organization ou institution difficilement gouvernable, que vous soyez le président ou un entraineur de ligue peewee".

Le chef de l'Etat, le président Sarkozy, devait prendre en main la situation au retour des joueurs, mais la FIFA insiste qu'il ne doit pas y avoir ingérence politique au foot. Ah oui?

On n'était pas à faire appel à l'audience de sa majesté, mais les membres de l'équipe britannique on de leur côté jugé nécessaire de faire le point après une nulle contre les Etats-Unis et l'Algérie, qui risquait de sortir le club de la compétition au premier tour pour la première fois depuis 1958. Le sélectionneur Fabio Capello faisait face à sa manière à une véritable révolte de joueurs furieux de ses choix, à la veille d'un match crucial contre la Slovénie. Les Anglais ont su garder leur calme mais ont tout de même été humiliés 4-1 en huitièmes de finale par l'Allemagne.

Par contre rien n'allait plus dans le camp du Nigéria, après avoir subi un second revers, celui-là aux mains des Grecs, match au courant duquel le milieu Sani Kaita a été évincé par carton rouge. On apprenait quelques jours plus tard que celui-ci a vite fait l'objet de menaces de mort, au compte d'un millier, selon le porte-parole de l'équipe. Le courriel du joueur aurait été publié sur Internet accompagné de l'instruction «Cet homme doit mourir». Ce genre de menace est pris très au sérieux depuis l'exécution du joueur colombien Andres Escobar après avoir marqué dans son propre but au mondial de 1994.

La sortie du Nigéria, comme celle du pays hôte, faisait craindre l'exclusion du continent entier en huitièmes. Alors que la Côte d'Ivoire n'a pas pu calmer ces craintes, c'est le Ghana qui a sauvé l'honneur du continent en se glissant en 8e de finale puis en battant les Etats-Unis 2-1 en temps supplémentaire, devenant du fait seulement le 3e club africain à se rendre en quarts de finale.

Change of leadership in times of crisis
During the bloodiest month for foreign forces since 2001, in a war that has arguably become America's longest-lasting campaign, a change of leadership at the top has only caused more concern on the Afghan front, where a surge of troops have failed to break the insurgents' back and plans of a major summer offensive in Kandahar have been postponed until the fall. Like plans to have U.S. troops completely withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, hopes to start removing them from Afghanistan by then remain faint.
 
Like the U.S., Canada has changed its top soldier in the country amid controversy, not for making disparaging remarks about the commander in chief, but for engaging in improper relations with a fellow soldier in uniform, and the government is coming under increased pressure to maintain at least some symbolic presence in the country after the designated withdrawal date one year away, if only to keep mentoring Afghan soldiers and police officers, as suggested by a recent Senate committee report. Hardly encouraging, this week a damning new report hinted the allies vastly overestimated the current capability of Afghan military and police units.
 
Coming shortly after Canada's 148th casualty in the war, the U.S. change of command following the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal for insubordination, was endorsed by the Canadian military brass, stoically announcing it would have no impact on the field. But while NATO said it would maintain its approach in Afghanistan despite the change, the dismissal caused some unease in the military organization which is putting its reputation on the line in the country which claimed over 80 of its troops this month. Canada has lost 150 soldiers since they arrived there in 2002.
 
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen had after all, right before the dismissal, backed the commander, giving him "full confidence" according to a NATO spokesman. After the change of command, Rasmussen sought to assure the general's strategy would survive him. "While he will no longer be the commander, the approach he helped put in place is the right one. The strategy continues to have NATO's support, and our forces will continue to carry it out," he said. "The Afghan people should have no doubt that we will continue to carry out our mission in partnership with them."
 
But critics wondered whether the move had not emboldened the Taleban further, as they await a long-announced major coalition offensive in the south. Like his predecessor, incoming commander General David Petraeus, is concerned the 2011 withdrawal start date will only hamper plans the turn the situation around in the country. This week he told the Senate armed services committee the U.S. should prepare for several more years of war in Afghanistan, with fighting becoming "more intense" in the next months.
 
Both commanders swore by counterinsurgency strategies, Petraeus being largely credited with writing the book on the matter in Iraq, believing in the surge, and a combination of building a better governement, army and aid worker pool. But Petraeus is to gradually review the controversial doctrine of "courageous restraint" that some have blamed for the death of troops, the U.S. having lost over 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, by preventing soldiers from defending themselves, without however changing overall policy.
 
But some fear this will only make less popular a potent military machine previously criticized for catching civilians in the crossfire of heavy weaponry, and making winning hearts and minds all the more difficult. President Hamid Karzai stressed that in order to maintain fragile levels of support for the NATO mission, the incoming general had to maintain efforts to minimize civilian casualties. "If the new commander will change the strategy, then things will not work properly," he said.
 
Kabul, which enjoyed good relations with McChrystal accepted his replacement with some regret. Officials are however starting to be concerned about a security vacuum - as Petraeus awaited this week's confirmation by the Senate - since, in addition to changes at the top of Canada's military, NATO, the interior ministry and intelligence service were all being led by acting heads, after Karzai sacked his most senior security aides last month.

Rethinking the European social model
It's hard not to read something wider into the sign outside the palladian-style building on College street in central Dublin: Bank of Ireland. Way Out. It's supposed to direct traffic but the entire country is looking for a sense of direction out of the current economic and financial mess. After all, how did the Celtic tiger so quickly become a member of the infamous club of Pigs? The awful acronym refers to the heavily-indebted countries of Portugal, Ireland, (Italy?) Greece and Spain, threatening to undo the rest of the Eurozone.

The first country of the currency zone to enter recession in 2008 after a property bust, Ireland pumped billions into its main banks, which includes the Bank of Ireland, to cover bad debt, and while the recession officially ended last year, bitterness remains over the austerity measures the country has taken, including spending and pay cuts and reduced social welfare, including child benefits.

As he barrels his taxi toward the Custom House, which at this time of day is gracefully reflected in the nearby flowing Liffey, Phil Maeg says all this talk of locals cutting down on the Guinness because of tighter times is a bit overdone. "It's not that bad, not any more, I just read a report saying car sales were up again," he says, then reflects. "But we did have it a bit too good. We'd never had a boom like that before," he says of the years Ireland surpassed growth across the continent. "Everything just shot up, we were like kids in a candy store. It couldn't last."

But as authorities in Spain sought to calm fears that country would become the next Hellenic-style financial burden, by announcing a new set the measures that will add to protest in the streets there as well, and as France (not a member of the acronym) almost simultaneously announced it was rising its retirement age from 60 to 62, there is a sense much more than the latest boom is at stake in Europe, known to some as the "lifestyle superpower."

Across the Channel tunnel unions are preparing for a fall period of demonstrations after the announcement the country with one of the lowest retirement ages on the continent finally moved it a bit closer to the others, but only after another long summer of vacations that usually start in mid-June and stretch into August. The French usually roll their eyes when told North Americans have to live on a mere two or three weeks of paid holiday a year, something that would have quite upset Benoit Levaillant's plans for an extended, paid, leave of absence in the next few months. With the accumulated holidays over the years, the France 3 reporter is getting set to take off for a few months, family in tow, into the overseas department of La Reunion, off Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Generous benefits and early retirement, the modern day "contrat social" is taking a beating as the continent's population ages and the birth rate plummets and the next generations gear up to pick up the tab. “The easy days are over for countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain, but for us, too,” French lawyer Laurent Cohen-Tanugi tells the New York Times. “A lot of Europeans would not like the issue cast in these terms, but that is the storm we’re facing. We can no longer afford the old social model, and there is a real need for structural reform.”

Some would in fact worry about the future state of their pensions, if they had a job to begin with. With an unemployment rate near 20% after the collapse of its construction industry, Spain is proving to be a daunting market for designer Rosio Moyano, who hopes to pick up some side business in the field of photography in the mean time. "There's nothing out there," she says, beyond discouraged. The Spanish government has had to act quickly to usher in cuts and prepare labour reforms to reassure investors the country will not be the latest to need the rest of Europe's help to stay afloat. Its austerity drive includes a 5% cut in public sector pay, with both pension and pay freezes for the near future, measures that have been met harshly in Greece and have sparked demonstrations on the peninsula as well.

In the birthplace of democracy, things were said of being so bad the government is preparing to sell or offer long-term leases on some of its 6,000 islands to repay some of its Olympus-sized debt. According to the Guardian, popular Mykonos is among them. But correspondent Nicolas Vayatis, who spends his time between Athens and Paris, says such moves have been rumoured in the past and have not come to pass. "Sure things are grim," he concedes about the Greek situation, "but some people are starting to see a way out with these necessary measures, they're starting to be optimistic again."

Washington cautioned however that too drastic cuts could very well put economic recovery at risk. In a letter to G20 leaders, Barack Obama said while "credible plans" were necessary to cut deficits (11% of GDP in Spain) and debt (125% of GDP in Greece) too much austerity could choke much-needed economic stimulus, making survival in the eurozone quite a difficult balancing act. "[In the past] stimulus was too quickly withdrawn and resulted in renewed hardships and recession," Obama cautioned, last week, a statement reiterated during the weekend's G8 summit in Canada.

The cuts however herald a long hot fall of social discontent after the torrid summer, but while union leaders argue measures, such as France's move to raise the retirement age (which remains below Greece's new age of 65 and Britain's of 67), are an assault on acquired and progressive social rights that have been the legacy of postwar governments across the continent, Canadian historian Timothy Smith is quick to point out there is “nothing progressive” about baby boomers taking early retirement “on the backs of young people, who face unfavourable work conditions, unaffordable housing, and declining levels of social mobility.” “The truly unfair thing is that young French workers have been paying, through high taxes and unemployment, for one of the lowest retirement ages in the rich world.”

The French seemed to be coming to their senses. In a poll last week 58% of respondents approved the change to 62, which will only be fully implemented in 2018. But the next day two million union members protested the move in the streets, promising a summer of discontent, and resistance to any similar moves to affect other jealously-guarded acquis sociaux.

The criminal case against a disaster

Six weeks, half a dozen failed bids to cap the oil leak and millions of gallons later, U.S. authorities opened a criminal investigation into the worst oil spill in U.S. history, sending BP's stock plunging as an irate U.S. public and a now "furious" Obama administration failed to see the light at the end of the barrel.

“We will closely examine the actions of those involved in the spill. If we find evidence of illegal behaviour, we will be extremely forceful in our response,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. By then experts had already calculated the spill was much worse than that of the Exxon Valdez, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading this week to Mississippi and Alabama, even threatening Florida, and killing hundreds of dead birds and other species all the while soiling Louisiana's marshlands. And with a hurricane season forecasting turbulent months ahead, it was even hard just to see the end of the beginning of the ecological nightmare on the southern coast of the U.S.

Even using the most conservative estimates of 12,000 barrels a day, gushing 5,000 feet underwater for days, experts said the spill easily surpassed the 1989 Alaska disaster, this time in an area much more populated where everything from the tourism industry to the fisheries have come to a standstill. Tensions between the White House and BP grew with every failure to attempt to plug the leak, in what some are calling "Obama's Katrina", the administration facing growing criticism it wasn't doing enough to put an end to the disaster since an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people and sprung the leak.

On the day BP launched the ill-fated top kill attempt to cap the flow, the Obama administration extended a moratorium on offshore drilling for another six months and delayed lease sales off the coast of Alaska pending the results of a presidential commission's investigation into the spill. The news of a moratorium spelled relief to some following concerns oil companies did not have the resources to act on such a catastrophe in the Arctic.

At the heart of the crisis, BP CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged in a Forbes interview oil companies had to develop their undersea capabilities. "Clearly, as the story is told one of the big lessons will be that we need to create the same sort of capability for subsea intervention, he said. "The industry will want to and should and will probably be required to put in place the same sort of capability to respond in the subsea as we have created on the surface."

The failed "top kill" was considered the best chance to halt the flow of oil before August, when the company projects it will complete drilling two relief wells that will provide a more permanent solution, but to Obama, who had reportedly lashed out at aides "plug the damned hole", the incident underlines literally to what depths countries are desperate to drill in their search for oil.

"We’re not going to transition out of oil next year or 10 years from now," he said during a California visit. "But think about it. Part of what’s happening in the Gulf is that oil companies are drilling a mile underwater before they hit ground and then a mile below that before they hit oil," he said. "We’re not going to be able to sustain this kind of fossil-fuel use. This planet can’t sustain it."

Nor was nature going to make dealing with the aftermath of the spill much easier because, as opposed to the Alaska spill - previously considered the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history - the Gulf is soon to be reminded it is constantly battered by the elements during hurricane season. And the forecast in store for 2010 is anything but helpful in the area battered by Katrina.

"The 2010 hurricane season is not looking good," says Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, noting the year may turn out to look like 2005, the worst hurricane year on record. "Overall conditions are very similar, with one important difference: they are actually a bit worse."

In the mean time, while BP keeps pumping money to the tune of $700 million to deal with the oil spill, legal experts said they were not surprised the Obama administration started looking into a criminal investigation into the disaster, as had been the case following the Exxon Valdez spill, pointing to possible violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, or  failing to abide by drilling regulations. In addition to BP, Transocean Ltd. could come under fire for operating the Deepwater Horizon rig drilling the well, as could Halliburton for cementing the well and Cameron International for providing the blowout preventer designed to stop an uncontrolled flow of oil.

Administration officials first hesitated before looking into the charges, realizing that while they wanted to exert extra pressure on BP to plug the hole, they depended on the oil giant to resolve the crisis, the government lacking expertise in the field. But the White House insisted it still called the shots, such as allowing BP to carry on with the top kill following the initial impact assessment.

"From the moment the disaster began the federal government has been on top," Obama said last week, ultimately taking responsibility for the disaster. "BP is operating at our direction," he added, pledging the company would be held accountable. "Every day I see this leak continue I am angry and frustrated," he said.

Obama also said he sought to end the "scandalously close relationship between oil companies and agencies that regulate it," as detailed by a recent report. As he spoke Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum stepped down after her agency came under criticism from lawmakers over the cozy ties with industry.

Meanwhile the aftermath of the disaster was already becoming obvious to wildlife officials who estimated over 300 sea birds, nearly 200 turtles and 19 dolphins have were found dead along the U.S. Gulf Coast during the first five weeks of the spill, the dead birds having been collected in a wide area along the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida; but some are fearing this is only the tip of the iceberg. Obama said the ongoing cleanup effort was the largest of its kind in history, involving some 20,000 people and over 1,000 vessels.

A sign of growing public impatience, a group calling itself Seize BP said this week it was organizing demonstrations in more than 50 U.S. cities to protest the damage from the leaking oil. The group wants BP's assets to be seized and held in trust to pay compensation for the spill. "The greatest environmental disaster with no end in sight! Eleven workers dead. Millions of gallons of oil gushing for months (and possibly years) to come. Jobs vanishing. Creatures dying. A pristine environment destroyed for generations. A mega-corporation that has lied and continues to lie, and a government that refuses to protect the people," Seize BP said in a statement.

Other countries such as Canada meanwhile considered the risks of offshore oil drilling, former senior government scientist William Adams warning a major oil spill in the Beaufort Sea could have a “catastrophic” impact on Canada’s Arctic ecosystem and even worsen the effects of climate change. He urged government to conduct major studies in deeper waters before Canadian regulators approve exploratory drilling in the Beaufort, current projects only having stimulated an oil spill of roughly 1,000 barrels per day in water about 10 metres deep.


Israël à nouveau isolé
Une nouvelle visite à Washington par le premier ministre israélien a été gâtée par une initiative controversée du pays hébreu, l'assaut d'un navire d'aide humanitaire tentant de pénétrer le blocus de Gaza se soldant par une dizaine de morts. Cette fois Benjamin Netanyahou a dû, afin de faire face à la toute dernière crise isolant davantage son pays, écourter sa visite au Canada et annuler celle prévue à Washington, alors que la Turquie rappelait son ambassadeur et plusieurs capitales exigeaient des explications, sur fond de manifestations anti-israéliennes.

Avant de quitter Ottawa, Netanyahou avait "regretté" les morts mais également donné son soutien au commando visant le navire turc Mavi Marmara, estimant que les troupes israéliennes s'étaient défendues après avoir été sauvagement attaquées par des manifestants qui auraient selon lui préparé une véritable ambuscade sur les eaux internationales, Israel ayant annoncé son refus de laisser le convoi de six navires se rendre dans la bande de Gaza à plusieurs reprises. Mais certains témoins du vaisseau prétendent qu'à part quelques bâtons, les passagers du navire n'avaient rien pour s'en prendre aux soldats.

Le conseil de sécurité de l'ONU a condamné le geste d'Israel  le jour-même, le secrétaire-général exigeant une enquête formelle et indépendante, tandis que plusieurs capitales, dont Paris, estimaient le geste du pays hébreu "démesuré". Plus discrets, Washington et Ottawa ont déploré les morts et exigé plus de détails sur le raid du Mavi Marmara, les autres navires de la flotte ayant été redirigés sans heurts vers un port Israélien afin d'être soumis à une inspection.

Le pays hébreu estime que le convoi n'avait rien d'humanitaire mais cherchait au contraire à provoquer les autorités. La crise a cependant mis sur la sellette le blocus de la bande de Gaza qui perdure depuis plus de trois ans, les membres de la flotille estimant que les 10,000 tonnes d'aide humanitaire transportées permettraient aux habitants du territoire de mieux répondre à leurs besoins.

Israel avait de quoi se sentir davantage isolé, quelques jours après le soutien sans précédent des Etats-Unis à l'accord de la Conférence de suivi du Traité de non-prolifération, qui montrait du doigt les activités nucléaires de l'Etat hébreu, et faisait appel à "un Moyen-orient dénu- cléarisé" sans cependant mentionner les intentions nucléaires iraniennes.

La crise du raid vient davantage gâter les relations entre Israel et son traditionnel allié du monde musulman, la Turquie, puisqu'une entente nucléaire récente entre Brasilia, Ankara et Téhéran avait déjà créé un froid diplomatique sur l'autre rive de la Méditerranée. Le premier ministre turc a qualifié l'opération israélienne de "massacre sanglant". Le ministre les affaires extérieures a utilisé un langage encore plus virulent, comparant le raid aux attaques du 11 Sept. et exigeant une condamnation en bonne et due forme des Etats-Unis, demandant en somme Washington de trancher entre ses deux alliés.

Mais en fin de compte certains analystent estiment que les relations turco-israéliennes réussiront tant bien que mal à se remettre de la crise. "Nous trouverons bien une solution diplomatique, estimait pour sa part le vice-premier ministre Bulent Arinc, personne ne s'attend à se qu'on parte en guerre contre Israel à cause de ça". Ankara tient par ailleurs toujours à un contrat de drones israéliens évalué à 183 millions$.

L'annulation de la visite de Netanyahou aux Etats-Unis suit celle du premier ministre en avril, qui avait préféré ne pas assister à une conférence sur le nucléaire où certains pays, dont la Turquie, prévoyaient de discuter à propos de l'arsenal israélien. Plus tôt dans l'année l'accueil de Netanyahou à la Maison blanche avait été plutôt froid suite au dévoilement de plans d'expansion des colonies en Cisjordanie quelques jours plus tôt. 

Une nouvelle ronde de confrontation semblait se pointer avec l'annonce cette semaine du départ de nouveaux navires promettant de briser le blocus, qui selon Israel seront accueillis comme les précédents. En attendant l'Egypte ouvrait sa frontière avec le territoire pour tenter d'alléger le blocus en vigueur depuis la prise de Gaza par le Hamas en 2007, Israel craignant notamment l'entrée d'armes dans la bande qui servirait d'arrière base contre l'Etat hébreu.

Mais pour certains pays dont la Turquie, la fin du blocus semble la seule façon de mettre un terme à la nouvelle impasse au Moyen-orient, où toute discussion sur la reprise des pourparlers a été replacée au placard.


Tensions on the Korean peninsula
Sixty years later, the Korea conflict manages to keep that region of Asia on edge and world powers concerned, a fact reminded when international inves- tigators confirmed the March 26 sinking of a South Korean ship was the doing of a North Korean torpedo. The latest incident had all the makings of the wost crisis in the peninsula in decades when the regime in Seoul, usually full of restraint to keep the frail channels of communication going, halted trade with its northern neighbour and vowed "it would pay the price" for the unprovoked attack which claimed 46 lives.

Pyongyang's early indications were that it wasn't blinking, choosing to take its armed forces on full alert following what some experts say was an incident with the intentions to secure the position of the son of frail Kim Jong-il as successor to the family dynasty in charge in the hermit kingdom.

Saying South Korea would refer matters to the UN Security Council, President Lee Myung-Bak warned of a possible change of stance after years of turning the other cheek, threatening military response to any aggression after years of tolerating the North's "brutality." "But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts," he said, demanding an apology for the sinking of the Cheonan, a 1,200-tonne corvette. "From now on, (South) Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence," Lee said. "If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defence."

World leaders urged restraint as the war of words intensified over the demilitarized zone, particularly six-party talks members, such as the U.S. and China, which sought to defuse the situation and urged restraint but resisted international pressure to up sanctions on the regime. "China hopes the parties will maintain calmness and restraint and properly deal with relevant issues," said foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu after talks with the U.S. Japan said it supported Seoul's push for UN punishment and was also studying the possibility of more sanctions of its own against Pyongyang, a move also announced by non six-party members, such as Canada.

North Korea is already facing UN sanctions for testing nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, actions that have only made the stakes on the peninsula that more critical. While North Korea has reacted angrily to Seoul's latest declarations, and promises to shoot at new South Korean audio equipment being installed on the DMZ to hurl propaganda across the border, few analysts expect the latest crisis will lead to actual war, noting Seoul was still stopping short of launching any sort of retaliation.

"South, North tension is certainly not positive, but given historical trends, losses that markets suffer over this will be brief, unless a drastic situation takes hold. By drastic, I mean war. I do not think war is likely though," said Kwak Joong-bo, a market analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities.

One of the reasons Seoul may not risk war is because it would further unnerve financial markets already reeling from the crisis, which has also hit its currency hard. Reports North Korea's poorly-trained and equipped but million-strong army was on alert "chilled investor sentiment as it highlighted South Korea’s geopolitical risks. And timing for such news could not be worse, as market sentiment was already shaky with renewed euro zone financial fears," told Reuters Hwang Keum-dan, a market analyst at Samsung Securities. This week a North Korean diplomat did nothing to lessen tensions by declaring "war may break out at any moment" during a disarmament conference.

Nor was this the only cause for tension on the peninsula. Last week a United Nations panel accused North Korea of continuing to export nuclear and missile technology in defiance of a UN ban. Pyongyang, they said, managed to sell weapons and provide valuable knowhow to other troublesome regimes: Iran, Syria and Burma.

The rap sheet was enough to make South Koreans pensive as they headed to the polls to vote in local elections this week. In a vote seen by many as a mini referendum on his handling of the crisis, the president's party suffered surprising setbacks, winning only six of 16 crucial races, and leading the party's chairman to announce he was stepping down. The opposition won seven races after a campaign during which it blamed the president's hard line stance for the latest crisis.

Décompte pour le mondial
Certes les clubs européens sont favoris pour l'emporter sur le vieux continent et les footballeurs des Amériques chez eux ou en Asie... mais que dire de l'Afrique, continent jusqu'à présent inexploré par la grande fête du ballon rond? L'Italie pourra-t-elle conserver son titre ou le Portugal remporter son premier?

L'Allemagne pourrait-elle triompher sans son capitaine Michael Ballack, ou l'Argentine s'imposer avec Maradona à la barre? Puis peut-on compter sur une trêve du tournoi le plus anticipé pour calmer les ardeurs sur la péninsule coréenne, les deux pays étant de la partie?

Au départ, c'est l'Afrique entière qui semble partir gagnante, accueillant son premier tournoi d'envergure mondiale, même si certaines critiques préfèrent déclarer haut et fort: non, l'Afrique du sud, ce n'est pas l'Afrique.

Le pays hôte n'aura pas la vie facile dans le premier groupe, y retrouvant l'Uruguay, la France et le Mexique. Les bleus sortent d'ailleurs d'un camp de préparation encore plus intense qu'en 2006, où ils étaient de la finale, selon leur entraineur Raymond Domenech. Mais le Mexique n'est pas à ignorer, lui qui n'a, depuis l'entrée de Javier Aguirre au poste d'entraineur, perdu qu'un match officiel en 25 rencontres, avec un 5-0 catégorique contre la bête noire américaine.

Dans le groupe B l'inexpérience de l'ancien 10 argentin au poste d'entraineur sera mesurée à celle du vieux Otto Rehhagel, qui à 71 ans tentera de causer la dernière surprise hellène. La Corée du sud et le Nigéria seront sans doute d'un comparable niveau, les deux sélections tentant d'oublier les tensions que leurs pays respectifs traversent à domicile.

A présent réguliers sur le circuit de la coupe du monde, les Américains se mesureront à des britanniques qui ont faim d'une percée dans un groupe C qui regroupe également la Slovénie et l'Algérie, qui conserve un triste souvenir d'une terrible défaite de 4-0 en coupe d'Afrique contre une Egypte qui manque pourtant à l'appel au mondial.

Bourrée de joueurs du Bayern, l'Allemagne tentera de se reprendre après une défaite en finale de l'Euro et un mondial à domicile manqué, dans un groupe D retrouvant une redoutable Serbie, qui a terminé à la tête de son groupe devant la France, le Ghana et l'Australie, sortie en ronde éliminatoire en 2006 par les futur champions lors d'un pénalty controversé.

A moins de décevoir, les Pays-bas devrait laisser le Cameroun, le Japon et le Danemark se livrer le combat de la seconde place dans le groupe E alors que dans le groupe F l'Italie demeure l'équipe à battre dans un groupe comprenant le Paraguay, la Nouvelle-Zélande et la Slovaquie.

Plus équilibré, le groupe G opposera la colonie contre la métropole lorsque le Brésil affrontera le Portugal, mais la Côte d'Ivoire pourrait livrer une chaude lutte pour la deuxième place, laissant la Corée, en sport comme en diplomatie, en véritable outsider.

L'heure de l'Espagne a-t-elle sonné au mondial, deux ans après son triomphe en Euro? Terminée à la tête de son groupe, la Suisse, et le Chili, qui a fini second derrière le Brésil en Conmebol, devraient se battre pour la seconde place.


Les barricades en feu

Il n'y a aucun doute que lorsqu'une manifestation est rendue au point de parler d'intervention des Nations unies, elle a atteint un degré plutôt alarmant. Et le terme est bien choisi pour décrire la situation en Thaïlande, après la mort de plus de 30 personnes lorsque l'armée a procédé à mettre un terme aux défilés des "chemises rouges" qui paralysaient la capitale depuis deux mois.

L'intervention des derniers jours a doublé le nombre total de victimes, la plupart des civils. Le gouvernement n'a pas hésité à rejeter la proposition d'un chef manifestant de faire intervenir l'ONU, pas les casques bleus mais des médiateurs internationaux, choisissant d'envoyer les tanks écraser les barricades des manifestants.

"Nous rejetons leur demande de médiation de l'ONU, a déclaré un porte-parole du gouvernment, aucun gouvernement thaï n'a jamais permis que l'on intervienne dans nos affaires internes". Mais pour un pays qui a connu une si longue liste de coups d'état, il faut quand même remonter bien loin pour retrouver un aussi sanglant bilan. Et l'étendue de la crise n'était plus à douter après l'annonce cette fin de semaine que plus de 20 provinces faisaient dorénavant l'objet d'un état d'urgence, notamment les régions du nord d'où proviennent les manifestants.

Mais un dirigeant parmi eux, qui jusqu'au 19 mai campaient au nombre de 5,000 dans le centre de la ville pour exiger la chute du gouvernement, ne se gênait pas de parler de guerre civile si le gouvernement ne plie pas. "Il y a de fortes chances qu'on se dirige vers une guerre civile, déclarait Karkaew Pikulthong, pourtant ce n'est pas ce que j'ai envie de voir."

Mais en déclarant la zone où les manifestants étaient encerclés et bouclés, une zone "de tirs", citant la présence d'une clique armée de manifestants considérés "terroristes" par le gouvernement, celui-ci passait à tabac les normes démocratiques, selon les groupes de droits de l'homme. Il n'était cependant pas question de laisser les chemises rouges garder la ville et le centre du pays en otage, selon le premier ministre Abhisit Vejjajiva, dont les propositions avaient été rejetées il y avait quelques semaines.

De véritables opérations de guérilla urbaine de la part de manifestants vêtus en noir, avec cocktails Molotov, pierres, engins incendiaires et parfois armes à feu, ont fait durcir le ton du gouvernement, qui s'engagea à assainir le centre commercial de la capitale assiégé par les manifestants. L'intervention musclée fit une demi-douzaine d'autres victimes, sans, selon des observateurs, réellement régler une crise, qui semble en fait s'étendre à l'extérieur de la capitale.

Car si la médiation fait défaut, c'est notamment en raison du silence de la monarchie, font remarquer certains analystes qui notent les interventions du roi lors de crises antérieures lors des années 70 et plus récemment en 1993. Certains chefs manifestants le présentent d'ailleurs à titre de "seul espoir" pour mettre fin à la crise. "Nous ne pouvons considérer d'autre possibilité" que "d'en appeler à la bonté" du roi, a déclaré Jatuporn Prompan.

Mais le pauvre roi de 82 ans Bhumibol Adulyadej, symbole d'unité même pour les manifestants qui contestent le régime, reste cloué à un lit d'hôpital depuis septembre alors que son pays, un des mieux nantis d'Asie, traverse une crise qui menace son statut de dragon économique, sans parler de destination touristique importante.

Certains pays, dont les Etats-Unis et la Grande- Bretagne, en plus de déconseiller à leurs ressortissants de se rendre en Thaïlande, ont dû temporairement fermer leurs ambassades. Malgré tout, l'économie semble résister même à ce plus récent choc selon Edgardo Torija-Zane dans une note de Natixis datée du 6 mai. «Malgré l'aggravation de la crise politique, les fondamentaux macro- économiques et financiers semblent bien orientés... La hausse récente de l'incertitude n'est pas en mesure d'affecter la situation macroéconomique globale ... A moins que les tensions politiques ne débouchent sur une crise institutionnelle ouverte…»

Certains craignent qu'on y soit presque, alors que les manifestants promettent de poursuivre la lutte.


Does security necessarily trump privacy?
Could the failed car bombing of New York's Times Square have sparked America's latest security lockdown, one that with the looming G8 and G20 summits in Canada is slowly creeping over the border? If so governments may have to learn how to better balance the need to secure the homeland with concerns from a public increasingly wary about privacy issues.

Days after Faisal Shahzad admitted to trying to avenge U.S. attacks in Pakistan by launching an attack in the U.S. after undergoing more or less successful bomb-making training in Pakistan, three Pakistani men said to have supplied funds to the man responsible for early May's botched attack were arrested as U.S. officials extended their investigation to other states.

With the matter just entering the U.S. court system, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who may have barely avoided his own 9-11 because Shahzad had purchased the wrong type of fertilizer for the attempted attack, was travelling to London to visit the city which is probably the most widely covered by CCTV cameras, the legacy of decades of terror attacks during the Troubles.

Bloomberg was no doubt looking to bring the big brother security concept to the busiest area of the Big Apple, which had escaped tragedy after a local salesman reported an abandoned vehicle. While London has not been spared by terror attacks since tensions over Northern Ireland have died down, notably in 2005's subway attacks, Bloomberg toured the 12,000-camera Tube surveillance system on his brief jaunt to London in early May, visiting a monitoring center in Westminster station.

"There is always the threat of terrorism. And that's what really this is all about in being able to deter, prevent and if God forbid something happens, apprehend the people that caused it," he said during his visit alongside London Mayor Boris Johnson. Though he conceded, cameras alone may not have deterred the attack: "It's not clear that they would have helped in Times Square, other than if the perpetrator knew there were cameras, he might not have tried to come into Times Square," he said. "But certainly cameras help after the fact and they help as a deterrent."

But increased security cameras is an idea spreading north of the border as well, amid reports the Mounties were looking to beef up security on Parliament Hill following a Greenpeace operation last year where police appeared slow to respond to banners being hung over buildings scaled by members of the protest group. Key in the upgrades are 3,000 video cameras, 1,500 “panic” buttons, 3,000 alarm sensors and motion detectors as well as new biometric identifying tools and more. The upgrades would cover the Centre Block, with its iconic Peace Tower, and the other Parliament buildings that make up what is known as the Parliamentary area.

While thankfully fancy acrobatics by an environmental group were primarily responsible for the scare rather than terrorism, the continuing trial of the Toronto 18, a group which had plotted to attack institutions in Toronto as well as Parliament Hill, provided a reminder possible plots against Canada were not so far-fetched. On May 10 the so-called ringleader of the group Fahim Ahmad, 25, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, in the first terrorism case in Canada to be decided by a jury. Ahmad and his associates plotted attacks against Parliament and nuclear power plants, and holding politicians hostage with the intent of demanding Canada to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

In addition, Shahzad's near-escape from New York - he was arrested shortly after the doors of his Emirates plane were shut - have prompted new airline security measures that will have an impact on both sides of the border. While the last-minute arrest brought on requirements that airlines check air manifests with the latest intelligence information in the U.S., airlines in Canada flying over the U.S. will soon have to comply with U.S. regulations. Under the U.S. Secure Flight program, Canada will have to provide data on passengers on non-domestic flights over the U.S., such as to Mexico or other points south, sparking the "concern" of Canada's privacy commissioner.

The commish has been a busy bee these last few months, forcing the social network site Facebook to change security settings, and when word came out the site was making information available to third party groups, millions decided to terminate their accounts. The security mindset now has to consider a public wary of protecting its privacy in the Internet age. Google's Street View vehicles became the target of members of the public last year when they visited major cities to map them with cameras mounted on their roofs.

Last week Google was facing more fire, revealing its vehicles had mistakenly collected data about websites people were visiting over wireless networks in the neighbourhoods they visited. Bloomberg's model has also been scrutinized after British police secretly investigated the travel habits of 47,000 innocent people last year who bought tickets to fly in and out of Britain, sparking the fury of civil liberties groups. But security was the operative word as Canada prepared to host the G8 and G20 summits, especially after anarchists who firebombed an Ottawa bank promised more trouble ahead.


China's growing pains
Beslan, Columbine, Polytechnique, no countries east or west have been spared by the tragedy of school attacks, but China's recent rash of bloody incidents have managed to set themselves apart, first by involving weapons other than guns, and second by coming in close succession in what are mostly rural areas, prompting authorities to look at the wider social issues behind every gruesome case.

In all at least 17 people have been killed in half a dozen school attacks in the country in the last two months, last week's stabbing by the landlord of a local kindergarten in Shaanxi Province resulting in the death of seven students and two teachers and wounding more, prompting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to state the obvious: that the country has "social tensions" which must be addressed.

It was a difficult public admission at a time China is hosting its latest world party to show it has arrived as a major power: Shanghai's world expo. But perhaps the juxtaposition is judicious in that little embodies the dramatic transformations the country has undergone in the last few years like the mushrooming skyscrapers of the new city of Pudong, overshadowing the European concessions on the other side of the Huangpu river.

Sociologists have wasted no time pointing out the dramatic impact on the country's citizens of the rapid - and anything but official party-line "harmonious" - development of the country, transforming cities and rural areas alike, the latter representing a source of workforce, and source of tension, with environmental issues reaching deep into the countryside. Apart from general concerns about the explosive nature of economic development, specialists have pointed to certain particular failures to tackle social issues such as mental health, a number of the attacks having been perpetrated by people who had been struggling with mental difficulties or had attempted suicide.

This seemed to have been the case in Shaanxi, where Wu Huanming failed to raise red flags despite having been depressed and suicidal for weeks, before attacking his victims with a meat cleaver. Chinese officials started doing what they are always quick to do: boost security during crises - in this case making police presence felt around schools and nurseries. But Wen conceded that tackling the root of the problem would have to include "handling social problems, resolve disputes and strengthen mediation at the grassroots level".

It was a startling admission, for a regime usually more willing to censor reporting, which it did, and point to copycat motives, which was also the initial reponse. Reports some of the perpetrators had also recently lost their employment stirred the analysis toward social disparities, not to mention between cities and rural areas, in the country of well over 1.2 billion. In addition commentators have for years been documenting the stigma attached to the issue of mental health in China. According to a 2009 study published in the medical journal The Lancet: "Rural residents were more likely to have depressive disorders and alcohol dependence than were urban residents. Among individuals with a diagnosable mental illness, 24% were moderately or severely disabled by their illness, 8% had ever sought professional help, and 5% had ever seen a mental health professional." 

China's minister in charge of public security, Wu Heping, employed familiar language when speaking on the attacks, stressing the need to punish the perpetrators most severely - which can only mean one thing in China -, but also conceded the rapid transformation of Chinese society required adequate policies to deal with change. "Innovation in the management of society is not only essential but urgent," he said. "I have noticed the central government's demand for the public security bureaus, under the leadership of all levels of local government, to properly handle the various conflicts in society."

The attacks have not only shocked the west because of their eerie similarities, but they have shocked citizens of a country where this sort of violent crime is a rarity. The strict regulations on firearms have forces assailants to resort to knives, hammers and meat cleavers to carry their attacks. And the attacks have been all over the map. In March eight children were killed in Fujian, on the east coast, while a more recent one was in central China. In between, in April, 15 children and a teacher were injured in an attack on Guangdong, more to the south, while the following day three adults and 28 children were injured in Jiangsu, further up to coast. Again the very next day, it was with a hammer that five children were hurt in Shandong, even further up the coast.

In a country where single child policies and cases of infanticide already target citizens at their earliest stages, the attacks represent the latest assault on youth, easy targets for the violent, or those driven to violence. Some observers note that the inability to criticize the regime has perhaps left some with few other outlets than bloody revenge. In the case of the hammer-carrying individual, he had recently found out that his house was going to be demolished by the government. As for Huanming, he was said of owning the building which houses the kindergarten and was in a rental dispute with its manager. The lack of institutions to turn to is making Beijing's introspection all the more important if it is indeed sincere.

"We are making serious efforts in tackling social tensions, settling disputes and improving local governments' ability to smooth things out," Wen said in a TV interview. Even in state-controlled media such as Beijing News, the questioning is starting to crack the old walls of denial, the paper considering emerging social problems, like unemployment, land seizures and gap between rich and poor, referring to them as "the soil that breeds extreme activities of individuals."

And more questions will soon emerge after new reports of attacks this week, when knife-wielding attackers wounded 13 students at a vocational school in southern China, despite the additional security. Obviously, it would take more than force.

Des séries inespérées se poursuivent


Le rêve se poursuit en troisième ronde. Après avoir éliminé les champions de l'est, Montréal a sorti les champions de la coupe Stanley, encore en sept parties.

Pas si mal entamée la série entre les derniers qualifiés de l'est et les premiers, lorsque les Canadiens ont le 19 avril joué un premier match à domicile après avoir arraché un gain à Washington. Montréal avait attendu in extremis afin d'arracher le petit point qui allait le propulser dans l'après-saison.

Mais l'accueil au Centre Bell fut difficile, Jaroslav Halak accordant trois buts sur 13 tirs vers un gain des Capitals de 5-1, lors d'une série de trois victoires de suite d'Overchkin et Cie qui allait pousser les glorieux au bord du gouffre. Le 41 sur lequel tant d'espoirs avaient été bâtis, était retiré du match pour laisser sa place a Carey Price.

Le capitaine des Capitals avait-il eu raison en disant du gardien slovaque "J'ai regardé la reprise du but (de Eric Fehr dans le 2e match) et j'ai vu que son bras tremblait quand il buvait de l'eau ... Il est nerveux. Il sait que toute la pression est sur lui. C'est bon signe pour nous."? C'est donc pour ça qu'on s'était tant battu, une élimination en cinq rencontres?

Puis l'inattendu eut lieu lors du retour à Washington. Halak était de retour devant les filets et limitait les Capitals à un but, chose qu'il allait répliquer pour le reste de la série. Ce ne serait qu'un début en effet. Halak allait arrêter 131 des 134 derniers tirs de Washington, dont 53 lors du sixième match, pour s'arracher les honneurs de la série et étourdir les partisans de la capitale. Même avec un homme en plus Washington semblait manquer d'exploits, marquant une fois sur 33 lors d'avantages numériques pendant la série.

Déjà à la veille du match fatidique le n.8 avait plutôt nerveusement instruit les siens d'"oublier Halak". Mais lorsque le but qu'Overchkin pensait avoir marqué lors du 7e match a été refusé par l'arbitre, qui avait vu un gillet rouge dans la zone bleue, le jeune russe a dû penser à une malédiction, et les partisans du Canadien à l'édification du dernier mythe entourant un gardien du tricolore.

"Il ne manquait plus que le clin d'oeil" se permettait un commentateur sportif après la rencontre. La comparaison avec cette autre saison si mal partie, 1993, est revisitée à plusieurs niveaux, mais la tâche est lourde alors que Montréal passe des Capitals d'Overchkin aux Penguins de Sidney Crosby, champion par deux fois depuis l'an dernier si l'on compte les Olympiques, champion incontesté des deux prodiges du hockey des temps modernes.

Mais lorsque les glorieux ont réinvesti leur temple lors du troisième match de la série, encore une fois égale 1-1, il n'était pas facile à determiner si les partisans applaudissaient le tout dernier exploit à Pittsburgh ou n'ont fait qu'enchainer l'ovation du sixième match lorsque Halak a été choisi étoile de la rencontre, pas une des 21,000 convives ayant quitté son siège au Centre Bell.

Depuis la légende du gardien de 24 ans n'avait qu'été confirmée, déjà héros de chansons, sujet de portraits aux thèmes plutôt bibliques, et de prières même, comme on l'a seulement vu dans une province où un abbé avait orné sa tunique de saints CH en veille du sacre du 7e match. Quoiqu'il advienne, dit-on, l'année difficile du centenaire se terminait par un triomphe.

Mais loin de l'année du clin d'oeil, il n'y aurait aucun partage des eaux en ces séries mettant le tricolore à l'épreuve presque comme comme Caïn. Car s'il fallait progresser, ce serait en sacrifiant ce frère héros des JOs, qui poursuit, après Ottawa, sa tournée plutôt controversée d'un pays qui, il y a quelques mois à peine, l'édifiait à titre de sauveur de la nation.

Mercredi soir, comme les joueurs aterrés de Washington avant lui, Sidney Crosby mettait une croix sur sa saison, écourtée par une équipe qui s'est permise tous les espoirs.

Britain: rough seas ahead?


It's not unusual for a country with such a storied navy to enter unchartered waters, and at least politically that's what's happening in Britain after voters ended 13 years of Labour majority this week and chose their first hung parliament in 36 years. And what awaits the winner is anything but smooth sailing. The winner will have to work with other parties in its struggle with a sluggish economy and record deficits that analysts say will bring on the most serious cuts in a generation. But the uncertainty surrounding the hung parliament only drove markets lower as David Cameron's Tories and Labour sought to woo the 3rd-place Liberal Democrats to form a government.

Despite the horror stories coming out of Athens, where politicians voted for strict austerity measures, sparking bloody protests in the streets - measures that in no way prevent the country from eventually defaulting - Britain was facing the continent's deficit, just under $250 billion, roughly five times the Canadian federal government's projected $49 billion deficit in 2010-11, or roughly 12 per cent of the UK's entire economic output.

The election had become a three-way tie and too close to call after a strong first debate by Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats led them to tie in the polls and sometimes better Gordon Brown and his Labour party, notoriously hurt by the prime minister's off-camera microphone-on calling a Labour-supporting pensioner a bigot.

Brown nonetheless managed to rally the troops with strong speeches down the stretch to the point of leading to speculation he could perhaps still lead the country despite coming in second or third by forging an alliance with the Lib Dems. On election day Brown said he would gladly lead a coalition government if given the chance, something he repeated the following day as results confirmed the Tories failed to secure a majority, with 306 seats, with Labour second at 258 and the Lib Dems the possible kingmakers at 57.

Britain has not had an inconclusive election since 1974 and unlike other European countries does not have a tradition of coalition rule. The prime minister maintained his experience would help see Britain through the tough economic period, his rivals being 16 years his junior. But the record is not an unblemished one for the former chancellor of the exchequer whose tenure in addition led to demands for political reform following a parliamentary expenses scandal last year which left Britons disgusted with lawmakers, and prompting a movement to kick the bums out.

While some say a solution to tackle debt points to Canada for its handling of deficit crises in the 1990s, others are quick to stress the example across the pond is one not to follow in political terms. Conservative George Osborne noted "there are some interesting lessons there for Conservatives," pointing to restraints imposed by Jean Chretien's Liberal government in the 1990s and similar efforts to rein in spending in government-rich Sweden.

But some analysts fear other comparisons with Canada, where 13 years of Liberal rule gave way to Tory minority governments in succession since 2006. “I’m very concerned. I really fear we’ll go down the Canadian road,” said Robert Hazell, lead author of a 2009 report by the University College London that unfavourably compared Canada’s current situation to minority governments working well in Scotland and New Zealand. “The parliamentary culture and media commentary (in Canada) continues to be more about an ongoing battle to ‘win’ a coveted majority rather than a focus on achieving stable governance and policy — an experience that may soon be replicated” in Britain, noted the London School of Economics’ election campaign blog.

But this week the Economist magazine noted Canada is going to be far from a subject of ridicule in June as it hosts international summits. “When Stephen Harper, the prime minister, hosts the get-togethers of the G8 and G20 countries next month, he will be able to boast to his visitors that his country’s economy is set to perform better than that of any other rich country this year.”

As for Britain, the magazine noted, it has its work cut out: "It is not just that the budget deficit is a terrifying 11.6% of GDP, a figure that makes tax rises and spending cuts inevitable. Government now accounts for over half the economy, rising to 70% in N. Ireland," the magazine wrote in an editorial. "For Britain to thrive, this liberty-destroying Leviathan has to be tackled. The Conservatives, for all their shortcomings, are keenest to do that; and that is the main reason why we would cast our vote for them."

Cameron made it plain as the morning light dawned after election day that he was up to the challenge, and reach out to the Lib Dems. "What is clear from these results is that our country wants change," he said, adding that Labour "has lost its mandate to govern."

A military under fire
With just over one year left in Canada's military mission in Afghanistan, there's a sense the mission has hit the military hard, not only because of the devastating death toll, standing at 143 this week after the death of a bomb specialist, or the number of injuries accumulated since Ottawa made it the military's main overseas mission, but the fact that action in the field has sometimes resulted in very public hearings and investigations back at home.

The latest among them, launched last week by the increasingly busy Military Police National Investigative Service, involves allegations an unarmed Afghan teen was shot in the back of the head during a Canadian military raid in 2007. The incident involving the unarmed 17-year-old innocent boy prompted Canadian soldiers to "panick" and round up 10 innocent villagers, including a 10-year-old boy and a crippled 90-year-old man, according to preliminary reports.

The investigation was launched following very public testimony of Canadian-Afghan interpreter Ahmadshah Malgarai, who worked for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, during a parliamentary committee hearing last month. Such an incident, if proven true, would rank among the many other NATO blunders, notably incidents of friendly fire or accidental attacks of civilians, analysts fear are making earning the trust of Afghans that much more difficult in the insurgency-wracked country Canada has been trying to stabilize by pouring aid money and "model village" projects into.

At home, the hearings have created a political firestorm with opposition parties charging that government and military officials turned a blind eye to a risk of torture faced by detainees transferred to Afghan custody by the Canadian Forces. The debate over rights to see uncensored documents detailing the transfers have prompted a rare intervention by the parliament's speaker last week and, if unresolved, threatens to becomes the latest confidence issue threatening the minority government with collapse.

Upholding Parliament’s right to see uncensored documents, Speaker Peter Milliken gave the parties two weeks to work out a compromise that would make the necessary documents available for consultation by parliamentarians all the while protecting state secrets they may be holding. "Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built," Milliken said. "In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and, in fact, an obligation," the speaker said of documents on the detainees withheld by the government (aside from some 10,000 other pages made available but blacked out under Sec. 38 of the Canada Evidence Act) in a ruling members of the opposition hailed as: "a huge victory for democracy."

The acrimonious debate has stretched for nearly half a year, and if left unresolved, threatens to topple the Tory government and trigger an election. Allegations the military may have been aware of possible abuses of detainees handed over to the Afghans have, like other reports of wrong-doing on the battlefield, been a blemish to the Forces' image as it battles through the tough assignment of taking the fight to the Taleban and installing a semblance of civility in the rough areas of the south, in a country whose leadership has been put in doubt by foreign leaders.

Embattled President Hamid Karzai stunned his international backers last month by threatening to quit politics and join the Taleban if they didn't stop pressuring him on the need to make reforms, the sort of statements that are no help to the morale of troops trying to keep the war-wracked country from plunging into utter chaos or returning to the hands of the Taleban at the cost of many lives.

Reports of battlefield misconduct have also hit the military, notably the court-martial of a Canadian Forces captain who was on a team of mentors out to train members of the Afghan National Army. Capt. Robert Semrau is accused of the "mercy kill" of a wounded Afghan fighter found badly hurt on the field after he was hit by the potent gunfire of an American Apache helicopter in 2008.

"Just after we started walking, Capt. Semrau said he felt it was necessary," Cpl. Steven Fournier told the court martial last week. "He felt it was the humane thing to do. He couldn't live with himself if he left an injured insurgent or an injured human being in this condition." Semrau has pleaded not guilty to four charges, including second-degree murder, in connection with the incident.

Hardly sparing the top echelons, controversy has also dogged Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard, who commands the Canadian and American troops who make up Task Force Kandahar, who disclosed his C8 carbine had fired unexpectedly at Kandahar air base on March 25th, sparking an investigation. He could also face a court martial for his actions.

The toll is grim. In the past 18 months, more than 600 Canadian Forces soldiers have been convicted of negligently discharging their weapons, according to a the CBC. Even away from the Afghan conflict, or the mission itself, men in uniform have been under fire, and few cases have shocked more than the one involving the former head of the nation's largest airbase.

The former head of CFB Trenton was charged with 82 new break-and-enter, theft or attempted break-and-enter charges last week in addition to the stunning two counts of first-degree murder Col. Russell Williams is facing in connection to the deaths of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 37, and Jessica Lloyd, 27, and two counts of sexual assault charges linked to two home invasions. Reports of the Feb. 7 arrest and ensuing charges prompted reports, the military said were largely exaggerated, of members of the public spitting on officers in uniform.

Soon after the February arrest, Canada’s chief of defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk said he was "shocked" by the case and sought to prop up morale among the troops."I told (base peronnel) to stand tall, I told them to stand proud. We have to move forward, but at the same time we have to support the victims," he said. A message that resonates now more than ever.

As the Canadian mission in Afghanistan winds down, true soldiers, such as Army chief Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, argue that keeping the troops busy, say with challenging overseas missions, are one proven way of keeping morale up, and drawing new troops, citing high recruitment numbers. When the troops returning home manage to stay out of courts, inquiries and the news that is.

In the mean time some are lamenting that the detainee issue is casting a look back at some of the saddest days in modern Canadian military history by leaving the ghost of the 1994-97 Somalia inquiry to hang over the Military Police Complaints Commission. After all, notes Amnesty International lawyer Paul Champ, the military police watchdog was created as a result of a recommendation from the inquiry into the 1993 beating death of a Somali teenager in custody of Canadian soldiers.

"Many people forget that the Somalia affair was about a lot more than the tragic torture and murder of a detainee in Canadian custody," Champ said. "It was, if anything, even more about the obstruction and the coverup by the Canadian Forces."

Nouvelle chute en Belgique
Le premier ministre belge Yves Leterme n'en était pas à sa première démission, et la Belgique pas à sa première crise constitutionnelle, mais la décision du roi Albert II d'accepter la démission du chef de gouvernement, après plusieurs tentatives de prolonger des négociations de dernière heure, a montré à quel point la crise secoue et divise ce petit pays d'Europe qui doit assurer la présidence du continent tout entier cet été.

La décision du roi risque de précipiter une élection qui selon plusieurs observateurs, loin de corriger les problèmes affrontés par cette difficile union de 6 million de Flamands et 4.5 millions de Wallons, risque seulement de creuser les divisions en faisant briller les partis séparatistes.

La dernière crise existentielle du royaume n'était en fait que le plus récent chapitre d'un malaise politique remontant aux élections de 2007, suivies d'une période où le pays a dû évoluer sans gouvernement pendant 200 jours. Aujourd'hui comme ailleurs, se dressait l'épineuse question de la réforme des institutions, au sein de laquelle les néerlandophones réclament une autonomie accrue des régions.

En l'occurrence ces derniers contestaient le fonctionnement de l'arrondissement électoral de Bruxelles-Hal-Vilvorde, qui selon une cour constitutionnelle violait la stricte séparation entre les arrondissements franco- phones et néerlandophones en permettant les francophones d'y voter pour des listes francophones ou néerlandophones, en raison du statut mixte de cet ensemble comprenant Bruxelles, officiellement bilingue, ainsi qu'une vingtaine de communes flamandes autour de la capitale.

Suite à la période de non-gouvernement, en mars 2008, la coalition gouvernementale s'était donné jusqu'à Pâques cette année pour régler le dossier, mais a vécu son dernier jour lorsque les libéraux flamands ont refusé de nouveaux délais avant la scission de l'arrondissement. Pourtant le parti chrétien-démocrate de Leterme s'entendait sur le fond, malgré les désaccords entre les trois partis francophones de la majorité et les deux partis flamands, réclamant lui aussi cette scission mais après de nouveaux délais.

«Nous sommes au bout de nos efforts», avait lancé Guy Vanhengel, un libéral flamand. «Je crois que les tentatives pour parvenir à un règlement négocié n'aboutissent pas.» A présent la crise risque, plus que la seule chute du gouvernement, de provoquer une crise plus profonde rendant le dialogue entre les deux grandes "solitudes", version belge, plus complexe.

Dans un communiqué, le palais royal avait dès le début estimé qu'une crise politique serait «inopportune» et pourrait «nuire au rôle de la Belgique en Europe et à un niveau international». Sur un continent où d'autres petits pays comme la Grèce et l'Islande ont tant influé sur les affaires, voilà qui ne serait rien de nouveau.

Les divisions entre les deux communautés se sont faites sentir cette fin de semaine dans périphérie flamande de Bruxelles, où un drapeau belge a été démonté pendant la nuit par des personnes qui ont également vandalisé des panneaux en français.

Pourtant la semaine dernière les députés belges ont trouvé un sujet autour duquel ils pouvaient s'entendre: le rejet de la burqa dans les lieux publics. Celui-ci a été adopté à la quasi-unanimité, 136 votant pour un texte bannissant "tout vêtement cachant totalement, ou de manière principale, le visage", faisant du pays le premier à adopter une telle réglementation, également à l'étude en France. Cette interdiction restera comme l'un des derniers actes législatifs posés par la Chambre des  députés.

La Belgique n'est pas la seule à se pencher sur la question du voile islamique. Cette semaine une femme portant la burka dans le nord de l'Italie, fief des partis de droite, a été interpellée par les policiers pour avoir eu le visage couvert et devra verser une peine de 500 euros en conséquent.

Volcano clouds over travel plans, economy

The small nordic country which had sent economic ripples right across Europe at the height of the financial crisis this time literally sent dark clouds over the continent by shutting down continental and trans-atlantic air travel for days, causing airspace disruptions unseen at least since the Second world war and an economic impact on the ground some would rather have done without.

The latest eruptions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano sent ash darkening skies over parts of Europe, grounding thousands of flights as the continent's major hubs shut down for long costly days, stranding millions of passengers in an event unseen even during the worst security crises of the post-911 world. In all 20 countries were no-fly zones in an area of the world busy with global connections.

Airline companies, said of losing $250 million a day in lost business, were shuddering at the thought the last time this volcano erupted so massively, in the 1820s, the skies didn't clear for months before another series of eruptions well into the following year. This year's event sent air quality warnings over parts of Britain, where ashes landed on the ground, in addition to cancelling plans by the U.S. president, Canadian prime minister and other leaders to attend the state funeral of Poland's late president, killed in a plane crash which wiped out a large part of the country's government.

It wasn't just that the ash was disrupting trans-atlantic flight, after shooting some 10 kilometres into the air it hovered over the continent to the point of affecting Poland's entire airspace, and even a part of Russia's. Economic disruptions meanwhile affected everything from the transport of medicine usually flown into Britain to shipping lobsters out of Canada's Maritimes provinces.

But alternate means managed to cash in on the disruption, officials for the Eurostar Channel tunnel rail service - financially clobbered by a series of weather-related problems that shut down the service earlier this year - were only too happy to make thousands of more seats available to link Britain to the continent.

Meanwhile British press reports filled pages with stories of businessmen paying hundreds of pounds to be driven by taxi from Belfast to London, one report even taking a cash-carrying group from the islands to Switzerland. Actor John Cleese was said of having paid over $5,000 for a Mercedes taxi from Oslo to Brussels, a 900-mile journey that took about 15 hours.

Causing the flight ban were fears engines could become clogged by the ash, leading to failures during flight, events which have affected 80 flights in the last 20 years, nearly crashing two 747s and damaging 20 other planes. The hit came particularly hard on British Airways, which had just come out of a strike period which grounded a number of other flights. The travel industry in general was coming off its worst year.

The disruption spread to the continent's soccer competition as well, as it is heading down the wire, and left Norway's prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, one of thousands stranded at New York's JFK airport, to run his government using his iPad. The Internet has been helpful minimizing the disruption, from providing online alternatives to head-to-head meetings to substituting with a virtual wedding ceremony a very real marriage event. A British and Aussie couple who were married in Australia but wanted to hold another ceremony for friends and family in Britain read their vows online after they were stranded in Dubai due to the cancellations.

Even as flights started resuming this week, experts said the lack of proper volcano models made Iceland's impossible to predict, warning that periods of reduced ash clouds could give way to new bursts clogging the air. That's bad news for airlines pressured both by their upset passengers and worsening bottom line to get their planes in the air.

Some resorted to running test flights, which reported no incidents, questioning the need to ban flights for such a long period of time. “Following one of the worst year’s for financial performance the aviation industry has ever seen, a prolonged period of losses for an industry that is already in a difficult financial position could have serious repercussions,” noted accountancy firm Deloitte.

“If chains of economic value are disrupted for a long time in a globalized world, we would have a serious situation, because many of our industrial sectors depend on transport by air,” echoed German economics minister Rainier Bruederle, while the chief economist for the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, estimated that the grounded airplanes were costing German industry 1 billion euros a day. Brussels Airlines and British Airways wasted no time seeking government help but so far EU transport ministers have resisted calls for a bailout of the industry.

“The wider implications will add further costs to the economy, in terms of staff not being able to get back to work because they are stranded and cargo, such as fresh food and vital medicine supplies, not being delivered,” noted the spokesman of Lewis PR, noting the prevalence of just-in-time supply systems in which airlines play such an important role keeping business on the move. The TD Bank however said the overall effect to trade would be minimal, with most merchandise being transported by land and sea.

While European officials, coming under pressure by the airline and other industries, started resuming some of the continent's flights this week, the industry came down on the management of the crisis. “We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it — with no risk assessment, no consultation, no co-ordination and no leadership,” said Giovanni Bisignani, director general and CEO for IATA in a news release.

In the mean time ingenuity was helping some of those stuck in Europe and unable to secure popular rail or ferry tickets to the British isles get to their destination. A television presenter laid on five crossings from France to Dover, offering “first come first served” spaces on small boats to desperate travellers, representing a modern day Dunkirk rescue, a subject he had highlighted in a documentary last year. Eventually Britain sent Royal Navy vessels to retrieve stranded travellers, with aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the warship HMS Ocean sent across the English Channel.

As bad as stranded travellers have it, few come as close to ground zero of the problem as Iceland's citizens, waking up to desolate scenes of ash-covered towns. But even there, people have learned how to make do with the elements they repeatedly have to face. "What can you do, this is Iceland," one man told the BBC. "It's just nature and you don't think about it."

Pologne: trilogie de tragédie
Dur de ne pas croire à une malédiction après le tragique écrasement d'un avion présidentiel polonais qui transportait plusieurs hauts membres du gouvernement à une commémoration du massacre de Katyn en Russie. Le terrible accident survient quelques jours après le pardon officiel de Moscou à propos de l'exécution sommaire de 22,000 réservistes et intellectuels en 1940 par les services secrets de Staline.

Peu après le général Wladyslaw Sikorski, qui était à la tête du gouvernement, est mort lors d'un écrasement d'avion à Gibraltar à un moment où les Polonais étaient persuadés qu'il avait été éliminé pour vouloir faire de la lumière sur cette sordide affaire dont le blâme avait été porté sur l'Allemagne nazie.

"Le mot Katyn désignera une fois encore le malheur de ce pays" constate le directeur du quotidien Gazeta Adam Michnik. Bien que l'espace aérien russe soit parmi les moins sûrs au monde, la thèse de l'accident est bien avancée suivant la tragédie de Smolensk, l'avion désuet ayant tenté d'atterrir dans des conditions difficiles malgré les avertissements du trafic aérien.

Le lendemain des milliers de polonais ont dans la capitale accueilli la dépouille du président Lech Kaczynski un des 96 passagers, plusieurs des haut membres du gouvernement, et certains membres de l'opposition, à bord de l'avion. Le frère jumeau de Lech, Jaroslaw, a cependant évité le même sort, ayant accompagné le premier ministre Donald Tusk lors d'un premier voyage commémoratif plus tôt dans la semaine.

En attendant des élections prévues cette année, devient chef d'état le président de la chambre basse Bronislaw Komorowski, un candidat aux élections initialement prévues pour le mois d'octobre. Dans l'accident ont notamment péri deux candidats à l'élection.

Mais la succession fait dire au spécialiste Jérôme Heurtaux à l'Université de Paris que "si l'élite politique est directement et durablement affectée par cette tragédie, celle-ci ne risque pas de provoquer une crise institutionnelle. La Pologne est dotée d'une Constitution." Le fait que l'accident ait eu lieu à Katyn lui fait cependant répéter au journal Le Monde une maxime de Hegel, selon laquelle "les grands faits de l'histoire adviennent toujours deux fois. La première fois comme tragédie, la seconde fois comme farce... Non parce qu'il s'agit d'un accident mais parce que la raison de la venue de Kaczynski à Katyn était simplement de commémorer l'événement tragique."

Un professeur polonais de la région de Windsor, participant à une cérémonie religieuse commémorant les morts, parlait plutôt d'une "trilogie de la tragédie", faisant remarquer que le mois d'avril va désormais commémorer trois dates importantes de tragédie collective, Katyn, Smolensk, sans oublier le 2 avril 2005, date de la mort du pape polonais Jean Paul II. A Windsor des membres de la communauté polonaise en deuil ont d'ailleurs placé des gerbes et des fleurs sous une statue du pape à l'occasion.

Pour le premier ministre Stephen Harper, qui espérait accompagner une importante délégation aux obsèques, "une ironie cruelle" voulait que l'accident se produise à la veille de la commémoration et non loin de Katyn. Autre cruelle ironie, l'annulation de son vol, ainsi que celui de Barack Obama et d'autres dirigeants politiques du monde entier, incapables de voyager en Pologne en raison de l'irruption d'un volcan en Islande.

Ironie moins cruelle, le dernier incident entourant ce violent épisode des relations russo-polonaises pourrait rapprocher les voisins selon certains analystes, qui notent que Varsovie a été touchée par les gestes de Moscou depuis l'incident, parlant même de véritable réconciliation.

Mais les funérailles de dimanche n'ont pas eu lieu sans une certaine controverse, certains observateurs trouvant plutôt étrange que le président soit inhumé au château Wawel, véritable panthéon des héros de la nation. Encore une fois le rapport avec Katyn aurait peut-être suggéré ce choix que certains jugent plutôt présomptueux.

Blood on the red shirts
For the last months, nay years, protesters both red and yellow-clad had taken over the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities, sparking nationwide strikes and sending troops, even tanks, in the streets since the 2008 exile of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra by the military. But events in the country which has seen 18 coups since 1932 took their ugliest turn in nearly two decades this month when 17 civilians and four police officers were killed, while hundreds were injured, in the deadliest political violence to strike the constitutional monarchy since 1992, intensifying calls for the removal of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the dissolution of parliament.

The latest incidents come after a month of renewed protests by the "red shirts," who have occupied commercial parts of the capital calling for early elections, one year before they are due, and three days of a state of emergency in the capital and surrounding areas, following a brief protester invasion of parliament. Pressure has since mounted on the prime minister and his ruling coalition, as the army chief called for parliament to be dissolved while election officials ruled that Abhisit's party can be charged over illegal donations.

Both announcements bode well for the protesters, who alleged the prime minister's Democrat Party failed to declare more than $8 million in donations from a private firm during the 2005 election campaign. "The problem will be resolved with House dissolution, but when to dissolve depends on the outcome of negotiations," said Gen. Anupong Paojinda, adding he was reluctant to use further force to end the stand-off.

But as the red-shirts paraded coffins through Bangkok to remember the victims, both sides traded verbal shots accusing each other of triggering the gun fight, as Abhisit blamed "terrorists" for causing the violence. The prime minister said that in a bid to regain areas taken over by the protesters the troops had only fired live rounds "into the air and in self-defence" but conceded: "The government and I are still responsible for easing the situation and trying to bring peace and order to the country."

Some observers note infiltrators may have mixed among the protesters to make it appear as though they were firing at the troops to create a reaction. Although the bloodiest by far, this was just the latest in a string of colour-coded protests alternating between the red-shirted rural dwellers and urban poor, who support a return of Thaksin, and the middle-class and urban elite wearing yellow, both clashing as far back as September 2008 after massive yellow-shirt rallies against the government of the day. A change of government ensued following a blockade of the airport later that year that only triggered red-shirt protests, which made international headlines when they crashed a summit of Asean leaders a year ago, before a new round began last March.

Protesters say the current leadership lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote following a court ruling that dissolved a pro-Thaksin ruling party. In what they are calling the country's "darkest hour", Bangkok papers urged talks between the government and the red-shirts to end the violence, in order to "halt the slide towards anarchy." Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan called on King Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene "to prevent further deaths".

But protesters also ruled out negotiations with the government, saying they would not give up their fight. "The time for negotiation is up. We don’t negotiate with murderers," another red shirt leader, Weng Tojirakarn, said. "We have to keep fighting." This sort of defiance is making Thai political historian Charnvit Kasertsiri fear the chance of more violence remains high. "When the government is no longer the only user of force, then it spirals into anarchy."

This week the army returned to the streets, not to shoot at protesters but prevent them from taking over commercial spaces, it assured. It did so bearing in mind yellow-shirted protesters promised to put an end to the protests by staging their own, a showdown authorities feared could quickly degenerate. It did later this week when grenades tossed into a crowd made more victims, but signs of compromise also began to emerge, as the protesters made a first series of offers to the government.

Révolution bis au Kirghizstan
La petite dernière parmi les révolutions de couleur qui ont rapproché plusieurs anciennes républiques soviétiques de l'occident depuis l'écroulement de l'empire géré par le Kremlin, celle des tulipes, a vécu un nouvel acte au Kirghizstan où le héros de jadis a connu le même sort que son prédécesseur après avoir été à son tour accusé de corruption et d'avoir vidé les caisses de l'état, alors que le pays traverse une crise économique.

Or le réflexe du président évincé Kourmanbek Bakiev, face à ces foules réunies devant son palais, a été plus cruel que celui qu'il avait évincé, plusieurs douzaines de manifestants tombant sous les tirs des forces armées avant que de nouvelles foules en colère ne reviennent à la charge pour mettre fin au régime de Bichkek et faire fuir le président ré-élu il y a moins d'un an avec 76% des voix.

Révolution bis avec un air d'orange, c'est une ancienne alliée qui a pris le pouvoir provisoirement, Rosa Otounbaïeva, qui avait claqué la porte en allant rejoindre l'opposition mais est revenue à la charge en promettant des changements constitutionnels et préparer des élections lors des prochains mois. "Ce régime (déchu) est devenu l'ennemi du peuple car il a tiré sur des patriotes, les meilleurs fils de la nation et nous, nous ferons tout pour installer un pouvoir juste", a-t-elle déclaré alors que certaines des 79 victimes des fusillades étaient enterrées dans un cimetière près de la capitale connu pour son monument aux victimes des répressions staliniennes.

Bakiev de son côté a dans l'immédiat fui dans son fief du sud, région qu'il avait entre autre été accusé de privilégier, tout comme les membres de sa famille, lors d'une présidence où il avait pourtant promis d'importantes réformes et le respect des institutions démocratiques. Alors que le régime intérimaire refusait tout pourparler avec l'exécutif déchu, les autorités ont initialement hésité de mettre Bakiev aux arrêts, profitant plutôt des premiers jours de transition pour rassurer les bailleurs de fonds russes et l'administration américaine, cette dernière craignant d'y perdre une importante base militaire servant au ravitaillement en Afghanistan. "Nous n'intervenons pas pour ne pas verser davantage de sang" selon Otounbaieva.

La situation a cependant vite été condamnée par l'OSCE, jugeant inacceptable un état où "de facto le pouvoir est dans une main, de jure dans une autre". Le régime transitoire n'a pas caché son désir de voir Bakiev se réfugier dans un autre pays, l'accusant de chercher à reprendre le pouvoir par la force. "Les partisans (du président déchu Kourmanbek) Bakiev distribuent des armes, de l'argent et des alcools forts, en essayant de provoquer un conflit armé, une guerre civile", estimait Kenchbek Douchebaiev, nouvel homme à tête du service national de sécurité.

C'est le frère du président, Janych, directeur des services de sécurité, qui aurait donné l'ordre de tirer, et ferait face à une enquête pour assassinat. Bakiev a nié cependant vouloir provoquer une guerre civile, organisant quelques jours après sa chute des états généraux pour mesurer l'appui des troupes. Il ne semblait de toute évidence pas bénéficier d'un appui crucial, celui de Moscou, qui ne lui a offert ni asile ni sympathie, recevant d'ailleurs déjà les ambassadeurs du nouveau régime qui dépend presque totalement de la Russie en besoins énergétiques.

Selon certains analystes Moscou ne devait pas être très loin des tractations qui ont donné lieu à cette révolution "arrangée d'avance". Selon les renseignements du groupe Stratfor, des membres de l'opposition kirghize auraient visité la capitale russe quelques jours avant les événements de Bichkek, tandis que des services du renseignement russe auraient été sur place dans l'ex ancienne république durant la crise.

La situation géographique de ce pays sans ressources énergétiques expliquerait son importance, selon Stratfor, autant chez les Américains que chez les russes. Signe de l'importance stratégique du petit pays, le départ de Bakiev a éventuellement été négocié avec l'aide de Washington et de Moscou, celui-ci rendant sa démission et se réfugiant au Kazakhstan tandis que le pouvoir intérimaire tâchait de réparer les dégâts.

 

50 ans après les indépendances


Un demi-siècle après l'indépendance des colonies d'Afrique de l'ouest, la transition démocratique reste pénible, lorsqu'elle existe, à la sortie des isoloirs. Alors que l'annonce par la Cour suprême de Guinée de la confirmation de l'élection d'Alpha Condé à la présidence devait mettre un terme à l'état d'urgence qui régnait depuis le mois dernier, la Côte d'Ivoire, ancien modèle de démocratie et de développement dans la région, vivait de difficiles lende- mains électoraux, ses frontières ayant été fermées.

Car au lieu de confirmer la victoire de l'opposant Alassane Ouattara au second tour de la présidentielle avec 54,1% des voix, le président du Conseil constitutionnel ivoirien, Paul Yao N'Dré, allié politique du président Laurent Gbagbo, a estimé invalide l'annonce de la Commission électorale indépendante, renversant la donne en annonçant une avance de 51% en faveur de ce dernier.

Le conseil avait invalidé des résultats dans sept départements du nord, favorisant Ouattara, en raison d'"irrégularités". L'annonce n'a pas tardé à faire descendre dans les rues de la capitale des partisans furieux de Ouattara, plongeant le pays dans la crise et laissant imaginer les pires scénarios. "A partir de maintenant tout est possible, des manifestations à la guerre civile," estimait Rinaldo Depagne de l'International Crisis Group.

Repoussé par les tensions nationales depuis 2005, le vote devait permettre au pays de tourner une pénible page de son histoire - notamment marquée par la tentative de coup d'Etat contre Gbagbo en 2002. Mais le processus électoral avait été entaché par la violence, quatre supporters du camp Ouattara trouvant la mort alors qu'on attendait les résultats du vote. Alors que l'armée annonçait la fermeture des frontière et la suspension des chaines de télévision étrangères, l'ONU faisait appel à la transparence, le Conseil de sécurité indiquant qu'il était prêt à prendre des «mesures appropriées» contre ceux qui feraient obstacle au processus électoral.

En Guinée ce sont des requêtes pour irrégularités et fraudes qui avaient repoussé la publication des résultats officiels, annonçant Condé, la bête noire de l'opposition, vainqueur avec 52% des voix et cette fois mettant un terme à une bien triste période, marquée par le massacre de plus de cent personnes manifestant dans un stade de la capitale.

Loin de servir de modèle africain, le pays avait été marqué par une série de coups d'état depuis l'indépendance, et peut enfin au bout de 50 ans de tyrannie sous divers noms, respirer l'air frais d'une transition démocratique dans les normes. Le processus n'a cependant pas été épargné par les violences, celles-ci ayant eu lieu dans les fiefs de l'ancien premier ministre Cellou Diallo, après l'annonce de la victoire provisoire de Condé.

Les éclats avaient été durement réprimés, causant sept morts. Alors que Diallo demandait à ses militants de "rester dans leurs maisons", Condé faisait de pareils appels au calme, tout en préparant la transition: "Je serai le président de tous les Guinéens, le président du rassemblement et de la réconciliation nationale". A sa troisième candidature, le septuagénaire qui jadis enseignait le droit à la Sorbonne a la réputation d' "opposant historique" à toutes les dictatures. Malgré son âge, il prend la barre étant le capitaine d'une nouvelle génération qui espère en avoir fini avec les militaires.

Pendant ce temps les Ivoiriens craignent leur avenir prochain, étant donné la division à la fois institutionnelle et ethnique le lendemain du vote. Signe de la division qui règne, alors que les frontières étaient officiellement fermées, celles du nord avec le Mali, le Burkina Faso, le Ghana et le Libéria demeuraient ouvertes au long du tracé rebelle.

C'est dans cette région que règne depuis le putsch manqué de 2002, soit deux ans après l'élection controversée de Gbagbo, les anciens rebelles des Forces nouvelles, pour qui l'élection de Ouattara, à la fois soutenue par l'ONU et l'Union européenne, ne laisse pas l'ombre d'un doute. La une du quotidien l'Inter  laissait planer la possibilité d'un avenir plutôt malgache: Un pays, deux présidents bientôt ? Le lendemain en effet les deux présidents prêtaient serment, prolongeant la crise et précipitant dans la région l'ancien président sud-africain Thabo Mbeki, en tant que médiateur.

An open book on diplomacy?

Revealing calls by Arab nations to bomb Iran, concerns over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and China's growing impatience with North Korea's regime, the first of some 250,000 sometimes secret but redacted documents released by WikiLeaks mingled major policy issues with playground gossip and low-level name calling, such as when U.S. officials considered Nicolas Sarkozy "thin-skinned and authoritarian", Angela Merkel "risk averse" and David Cameron a "lightweight."

 

The release of the material, snagged from a U.S. army intelligence analyst now facing court martial and made public by a man in custody facing sex charges - in what the man himself calls a smear campaign - caused a red-faced Washington to apologise to allies, tighten security measures while decrying the disclosure as a threat to the nation and its allies.

 

There have been juicy details on all countries for civilian voyeurs to feast on, such as one diplomatic cable saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper was invited to a Remembrance Day ceremony in France last year because his government was facing political instability, according to one U.S. embassy cable out of Ottawa. Sounds pretty desperate, that may be because the country nurses its "habitual inferiority complex," according to another cable from the embassy, as another clamped down hard on what U.S. diplomats called a "feast" of taxpayer-financed anti- Americanism on the CBC, which can "twist current events to feed long-standing negative images of the U.S." in its programming.

 

Details abound on the veiled side of a profession known to keep its lips tight but caught with its guard down, detailing schemes and verbal exchanges such as Washington encouraging Slovenia - then seeking a meeting with Obama - to “do more” on Guantanamo Bay, perhaps by relieving it of a few detainees, in order to “attract higher-level attention from Washington”.

 

U.S. officials considered the release of the documents a threat to national security but America's top defender, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said that although the documents can be a bit embarrassing, their impact with foreign nations will be "fairly modest". That didn't prevent the State Department, in the first of a new set of security measures, to cut off one military access to its database of diplomatic cables to prevent future leaks while the White House set up a special committee to assess the damage of the leak.

 

While some foreign ministers rushed to assure Washington the leak would not upset relations, there is no doubt some revelations would prove more embarrassing than others. Chief among them perhaps were revelations U.S. embassies were urged to engage in espionage on the United Nations, information that, if traced back to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, should in the words of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange force her to resign. Washington was denying it was engaging in espionage, in an industry where "military attache" is often a cover for going undercover, when responding to cables revealing State Department personnel were asked to gather the credit card and frequent-flier numbers, work schedules and other personal information of foreign dignitaries.

 

Since the beginning of the trickle, WiliLeaks has come under constant attack, from losing its domain name to its ability to receive contributions by payment service PayPal. This week a Swiss bank shut an account belonging to its founder, but online allies calling themselves "hacktivists" have been striking back at companies, from Amazon.com to Mastercard and Visa, that have targeted WikiLeaks.

 

Meanwhile Assange had more immediate concerns after turning himself into police in Britain and being denied bail while awaiting possible extradition to Sweden where he faces rape allegations that had previously been withdrawn. Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens claimed the charges were "politically motivated" and by then WikiLeaks had already resorted to playing hardball, threatening to make the thousands of remaining files public raw and unredacted. Days earlier it had already sparked concerns in the U.S. by revealing a list of sites of strategic importance to Washington, involving locations across the world.

 

Most countries have denounced the disclosure of the cables as a criminal act that undermines global stability and diplomatic practice. Especially as a number of countries could be recorded engaging in the surprisingly common practice of publicly saying some things and thinking another. Among them Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told U.S. General David Petraeus he would lie to his countrymen about the perpetrators of drone strikes in his country's countryside: "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," he said according to a cable sent by the American ambassador at the time.

 

If anything, the leaks spoke volumes about a business with few inclinations to kiss and tell. If you're thinking ahead the new, and no doubt furious diplomatic chatter generated by the leak will be something to see, you may not have to wait long. A diplomatic memo sent by Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan one day before the latest document dump and obtained by the National Post quoted William Crosbie fearing previous cable chatter, if exposed, could cost him his Kabul posting. Not that diplomats are lining up to sign up for the dangerous mandate.

 

 He was concerned disparaging comments he made about Afghan President Hamid Karzai to U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry earlier in the year could turn him into a liability, forcing him to bow out of the wartorn country Canada recently recommitted to. “If my own comments become the focus of attention ... then consideration should be given to replacing me so that the bilateral relationship is not unduly affected,” he wrote. “Needless to say I cannot retract my words (nor could I do so in good conscience).” Crosbie had stated the level of corruption in Afghanistan was making his "blood boil". Harper said he was standing by his envoy and the RCMP promptly launched an investigation into the leak at Foreign Affairs.

 

In addition to the documents themselves, comments about them have been causing embarrassment. Tom Flanagan, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told CBC he regretted a "glib comment" made on the  air calling for the assassination of Assange. Police in Canada have since been looking into whether the comments are grounds for charges.

 

WikiLeaks meanwhile says it is undeterred by the arrest of its founder, calling it an attack on media freedom. It says that a follow up to the diplomatic cables, and earlier military leaks on Afghanistan and Iraq, would target big business in the new year, something that might strike a chord within the general public where government bailouts of now profitable financial firms have been heavily criticized. zas

 

In the mean time, new documents on the diplomatic files continue to be released, some offering an interesting insight into the world of diplomacy, others looking more like high-level tabloid reading. The devil may not be in the details. In fact "the biggest secret to be revealed by WikiLeaks should have been the easiest to spot without the website’s classified document dump: U.S. hegemony is on the wane," writes Martin Hutchinson in the National Post. "It’s hard to avoid the overall impression from the disclosure of  250,000 secret State Department cables that the 1990s vision of U.S. supremacy and peaceful globalization is irrevocably ending."

Elections en temps de choléra

Même avec tout ce qu’on sait sur les élections antérieures à Haïti, les attentes étaient au minimum la veille du premier scrutin depuis le tremblement de terre de janvier. A la misère des lendemains de désastre devait s'ajouter une fraiche épidémie de choléra qui a, au dernier compte, fait plus de 2000 victimes après avoir gagné la capitale.

A première vue il n’y avait pas de quoi décevoir les cyniques, 12 des 18 candidats exigeant l’annulation du vote. Observateurs internationaux comme pays intéressés ont cependant retenu leur élan de déclarer l'exercice invalide. L'Organisation des Etats américains (OEA) et des pays du Marché commun de la Caraïbe (Caricom) reconnaissaient l'évidence qu'il y avait eu des ratés et des cas flagrants de fraude électorale, mais estimaient tout de même que les "irrégularités" n'étaient pas suffisantes pour invalider l'élection.

Alors que plusieurs candidats condamnaient la tenue du vote, et que certains qui avaient été exclus - dont le musicien Wyclef Jean - faisaient appel au calme vu l'évidence de "magouilles", le parti au pouvoir avouait pourtant qu’il sentait la défaite cuisante. La déclaration était plutôt surprenante puisque l'opposition estimait que les "fraudes" étaient à l'avantage du candidat d'Inité, Jude Célestin, considéré comme très proche du président René Préval. Le parti a d'ailleurs accusé les candidats réclamant l'annulation des élections de tenter "d'organiser un coup d'Etat électoral".

Estimant leurs chances prometteuses pendant ce temps, deux candidats parmi les favoris de la rue et des sondages, Mirlande Manigat, une ancienne première dame de la nation, et le chanteur Michel Martelly, qui avaient initialement exigé l'annulation du scrutin, ont du coup indiqué qu'ils se ralliaient au processus électoral, à présent confiants de se retrouver au second tour en 2011.

Après multes délais le conseil électoral annonça cette semaine qu'avec 31% et 22% des voix respectivement, Manigat et Célestin accédaient au second tour prévu pour le 16 janvier, soit quelques jours après le premier anniversaire du sinistre. Voilà qui avait de quoi faire chanter les blues dans le camp Martelly, arrivé troisième avec 21%. Mais le refrain dans la rue était plus brutal, de violentes manifestations à travers le pays faisant au moins deux morts.

Selon le Conseil électoral haïtien les incidents enregistrés ont conduit à l'annulation du vote dans 3,5% des bureaux de scrutin. Les organisateurs n'avaient eu aucune difficulté à reconnaitre qu'il y aurait des irrégularités, étant donné l'environnement précaire presque 11 mois après le terrible tremblement de terre qui fit 250,000 victimes et plus de 1.3 million de sans abri, et suite à une campagne violente ayant connu des morts, sans parler des nombreuses victimes dues à l'épidémie de choléra qui fait rage. Des analyses voulant que celle-ci, sur une île où la maladie n'avait pas été vue depuis plus d'un siècle, ait été importée par des membres de l'ONU, créa de nouvelles violences.

Les tensions s'étaient fait sentir le jour du vote, deux personnes y trouvant la mort tandis que quelques foules mécontentes s'en sont prises à des bureaux de vote déjà embarrassés par une bien médiocre organization du scrutin. Le manque de pièces d'identité des victimes du séisme a également ajouté à la confusion. Depuis le tremblement de terre, Préval, un ancien champion du petit peuple, a été fortement critiqué pour son manque d'initiative, une critique qui a déteint sur son bras droit Célestin, dont les posters couvraient plusieurs rues de la capitale. Certaines critiques estiment d'ailleurs que cette riche campagne a été faite à partir de fonds destinés à l'aide humanitaire.

«Haïti ne veut plus de vous! Vous avez fait assez de tort à ce pays. On ne veut plus de René Préval, encore moins la continuité, on veut du changement», s'est écrié Martelly, qui conteste les résultats provisoires. La reprise de la violence suite à la divulgation des résultats a semé de nouvelles craintes au sein de la communauté internationale, dont certains membres proposent un second tour à trois afin de calmer les ardeurs et d'éviter, selon les scénarios les plus dramatiques, une guerre civile.


 

L'élection sans démocratie

C'est une semaine après le simulacre électoral qui allait reconduire les favoris de la junte au pouvoir que traversa la Birmanie une bouffée de démocratie. Elle n'avait rien à faire avec le vote de la semaine précédente mais tout à faire avec la libération de "la dame de Yangon", fille du général qui fut le héros de l'indépendance birmane, enfin relâchée après des années de résidence surveillée, devant une foule immense. 


"Les gens doivent travailler ensemble, c'est ainsi que nous atteindrons notre but," lança une Aung San Suu Kyi toujours aussi militante. La date de sa libération ne laissait rien au hasard, la candidate élue en 1990 n'ayant pu suivre l'élection que depuis sa prison de toujours. Certains analystes estiment que le geste des militaires vise plutôt à faire oublier la manipulation aux urnes que de répondre de quelques façon aux appels de la communauté inter- nationale. 


Reprenant de plus belle les paroles qui avaient tant déplu aux militaires, Suu Kyi exhorta ses partisans à combattre pour la démocratie mais se déclara prête à discuter avec le pouvoir. "Le fondement de la liberté démocratique est la liberté d'expression, dit-elle. Même si vous ne suivez pas la politique, la politique vous touchera." 


Une semaine plus tôt des milliers de Birmans qui faisaient la queue n'allaient pas voter mais fuyaient la tyrannie du régime de Yangon qui après cet étrange exercice créateur de fausse légitimité assurait de nouvelles longues années au pouvoir pour les militaires. Un rappel qu'il y a des pays sans élection dont les régimes ne sont pas moins légitimes que certains pays organisant de faux scrutins. 


Entre 30,000 et 50,000 membres de la minorité Karen cherchaient refuge chez le voisin Thaï le lendemain du vote, fuyant les tout derniers échanges armés entre les troupes du régime au pouvoir et les rebelles enfouis au plus profond de la jungle birmane. 


Les capitales du monde entier par conséquent accompagnaient les notes de regret après cet exercice électoral manqué avec les appels au calme (tout en exigeant une Nième fois la liberation de la lauréate du Prix Nobel de la paix). Les deux événements n'étaient pas sans lien puisque les rebelles avaient menacé le régime de mettre fin à une trève de 15 ans si les élection n'étaient pas libres, un ancien rêve sur cette terre dirigée par la junte militaire depuis 1962. 


Pendant ce temps les groupes humanitaires et représentant des mouvements démocratiques birmans à l'extérieur du pays faisaient appel à l'intervention, et surtout, la générosité des capitales mondiales pour porter de l'aide à cette toute dernière vague de réfugiés. Situation sans espoir? 


Pourtant certains analystes, dont ceux de l'Economist, voyaient là un premier geste de liberté. Ne s'agissait-il pas des premières élections en 20 ans, et la campagne n'avait-elle pas donné lieu à un débat, embryonnaire soit-il, sur la gouvernance de ce pays de 50 millions d'habitants? Puis l'opposition, malgré la victoire de membres de la junte dans certains districts où leur candidature n'était même pas contestée, aurait remporté assez de sièges pour faire bloc avec la minorité ethnique et rendre le parlement un peu plus allergique aux médailles. 


Le Parti de la solidarité et du développement de l’Union (USDP), une création de la junte militaire, affirme tout de même avoir remporté 80 % des sièges. On a estimé un taux de participation de 70% malgré l'appel au boycott du parti de Suu Kyi, elle qui, étant jusqu'au weekend dernier encore et toujours en résidence surveillée, ne participait au scrutin. C'est son absence qui avant tout rendait ridicule toute déclaration de victoire électorale, d'autant plus qu'un quart des sièges étaient réservés aux militaires, évitant de recréer la surprise aux urnes de 1990. 


Par ailleurs le secrétaire général des Nations unies, Ban Ki-moon, estime fort généreusement que les élections ont été «insuffisamment transparentes, ouvertes et pluralistes ». Le lendemain de la libération de la grande dame, il joignait ses appels à ceux des autres dirigeants internationaux exigeant la libération des autres, nombreux prisonniers politiques au pays. 


Quelques partis ont bien dénoncé les malversations du pouvoir, dont la Force démocratique nationale et le Parti démocrate, mais sans retenir une grande attention. «Nous avons nos preuves. Des candidats se sont plaints… parce qu’il y a eu des tricheries», a déclaré le président de la NDF, Than Nyein. 


Seuls ces régimes bien douteux, dont la Russie et la Chine, un allié et un important investisseur, ont considéré le scrutin d'"avancée", alors que le groupe de l'Asean parlait étrangement d'"important pas en avant", alors que 2,200 prisonniers politiques croupissent encore dans les prisons birmanes.

These old hockey dreams

If Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland can do it at the World Cup in soccer, why not Quebec in hockey? Besides being a separatist's dream, it's long been a contention by some hockey analysts that Canada could easily dress more than one squad in international competition. The question is, does a single Team Canada represent more than the sum of these parts and offer a better chance of success. 


The success of an all-Quebec team could be ascertained soon enough after Quebec was given the go-ahead to assemble its own team for an international tournament the province will host next year. Hockey Canada is letting the home side form a Team Quebec that will host a number of other countries, though the visitors would strike purists as unlikely as the fleur-de-lys wearing squad. 


Hockey officials denied they were giving in to a separatist's dream, stressing: "We don't do politics -- we do sports," but longtime sovereignist hockey enthusiasts will be pleased to know the team will gather as many top players at it can, first choosing NHLers before looking to leagues elsewhere, including Europe. Politics or no politics, the provincial Parti Quebecois lawmakers were more than pleased by the move. "When we talk about Team Quebec, it's like talking about a dream," PQ opposition critic Etienne-Alexis Boucher said in a statement. 


"Scotland is not a sovereign country and they have the right, they have their own national teams on the soccer scene," pointed out party member Bernard Drainville. "You know, the federal Parliament recognized Quebec as a nation. Having Quebec forming its own hockey team would be a great, concrete and tangible way to give significance (to that)." 


Some of the province's sports analysts, such as La Presse's Rejean Tremblay, say the experiment will answer a question which had long lingered: how a team of the best Quebec players would do. From Vincent Lecavalier to Martin Brodeur, there is no lack of talent. 


Meanwhile another longtime dream in La belle province has been to see a return of the Quebec-Montreal NHL rivalry. Earlier this year tens of thousands of fans held a rally for a return of the the Nordiques on the Plains of Abraham. Now the return of a team in la vieille capitale is getting the all-important nod of a business authority. 


Days after more corporations stepped in to back the return of a franchise in Quebec City, the Conference Board of Canada said the city was among three in the country, with Hamilton and Winnipeg, meeting the criteria to support an NHL franchise, citing the current environment of salary caps and strong loonie, which is either near or at par with the greenback. 


Quebec City and the others have what Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies, calls “the four pillars” needed for a community to sustain a professional hockey team: a sizable fan base; a wealthy fan base; a sound corporate presence to offer support; and a level playing field, especially economically. “The league has a very different model now with the salary cap,” Lefebvre says. “And the field has been levelled with the dollar at parity and (we’re) predicting it will stay there for the foreseeable future.” 


The three have the blessing of sports commentator Don Cherry as well. “It’s guaranteed success with the (strong) dollar,” he says. “It’s our game and I’ve said this right from the start — why we ever went down in those southern cities is beyond me. You have to go where people love hockey, and Quebec, Winnipeg and Hamilton love hockey. It would be a success." 


NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly agrees the dollar and cap stars are aligned for expansion back to Canada. “I think we have been very consistent in confirming that the new (collective-bargaining agreement) and the relative strength of the Canadian dollar, among other factors, makes locating an NHL franchise in one or more Canadian cities in the future a viable alternative.” 


While not all three may end up with a team, Lefebvre says the front-runner is well known. “Quebec already has a strong corporation that’s willing to back up a team, and there’s already serious plans in the works for a new arena, so they’ve got to be considered . . . the front-runner for getting the next NHL franchise.”

Souvenir et départ

L'approche de la date butoir du retrait des Forces canadiennes d'Afghanistan a presque créé un mouvement de panique chez nos militaires, qui ont été nombreux à se précipiter pour s'inscrire sur la liste des derniers départs. Qu'il s'agisse de soldats aguérris ou de nouvelles recrues, ce genre de mission étrangère est une rare occasion de renflouer son expertise. 


Puis lorsque le premier ministre a confirmé cette semaine que 950 soldats canadiens resteraient en Afghanistan après 2011, une décision qu'il avouait prise "à contre coeur" après des semaines de pression de la part des autres membres de l'alliance atlantique, il a été accueilli par acclamation autant chez les militaires que les alliés. 


“Je le fais un peu à contre-coeur, mais je pense qu'il s'agit de la meilleure décision quand on étudie les choix, dit Stephen Harper lors de son passage en Corée à l'occasion du G20. Je ne vous cache pas qu'au plus profond de moi j'aurais préféré voir la fin de cette mission militaire. Mais alors que nous approchons de la date (juillet 2011) les faits sur place me donnent la conviction que les militaires afghans ont besoin d'un entrainement approfondi". Une tâche où les Canadiens, et plusieurs s'entendent à le dire, se sont plutôt démarqués. 


Déjà à l'état de rumeur, la nouvelle avait encouragé alliés et militaires. « Je crois que cette décision sera bien accueillie, surtout si on parle d’un mandat d’entraînement de la police et de l’armée afghanes », a déclaré le caporal Michel Goulet, en marge des cérémonies du souvenir. Même son de cloche même de la part d’Annie Roberge, qui a perdu son conjoint, le major Yannick Pépin, en septembre 2009: « Ce sont des militaires et ils se sont enrôlés pour faire des missions et c’est à nous de les soutenir. Il ne faut pas de les juger, il faut plutôt les encourager », a-t-elle dit en précisant qu’il fallait être fier de ceux qui faisaient ce choix. 


Bien avant l'annonce du premier ministre, David Crête avait fait son choix. Après une période intensive de préparation qui l'a trainé de St-Jean à Valcartier, puis des champs d'entrainement de Floride en Turquie, Crête, qui six ans plus tôt montrait aux civils les périples des mines anti-personnel lors d'exposés publics des Forces canadiennes, a préféré remettre à plus tard ses projets de matchs de football de la LNF aux Etats-Unis pour s'embarquer pour l'Afghanistan. 


"Départ pour l'Afghanistan. Juste deux semaines de congé. Pas assez de temps pour qu'on aille voir un match aux E.U., écrit-il à ses amis. Espérons une autre Coupe pour les Alouettes. Chaque fois qu'ils ont gagné, je n'étais pas à Montréal." Du coup les messages d'encouragement affluent vers ce militaire de 39 ans qui fête son anniversaire le 14 juillet, une date non sans symbolisme pour quelqu'un qui a passé un certain temps dans la légion étrangère. "Si tu peux nous donner des nouvelles à l'occasion ce serait super! Good luck Dave! Fait attention à toi," lui envoie Denis Gosselin, un ami de longue date de Montréal. 


Le jour du souvenir, alors que le premier ministre du Québec louait les sacrifices de tant de soldats, d'autres militaires, qui devaient à l'origine faire partie des dernières vagues, se préparaient à embarquer sur un vol à la base de Valcartier. "Le cérémonie a été très belle et solennelle, déclara Jean Charest. Nous perdons, malheureusement, plusieurs soldats et (la cérémonie) coïncide avec le départ de soldats de Valcartier qui quittent pour l'Afghanistan." 


Crête et les autres qui s'embarquent, le font après une période de paix relative au sein des Forces à Kandahar, qui n'ont pas connu de perte depuis la fin août. Puis l'automne coïncide avec l'accalmie des combats, dont la saison est notamment à son plus fort en été, une saison qui cette année a connu un renforcement allié suite au déploiement de milliers de soldats américains. 


Mais la destination reste l'Afghanistan, un territoire déjà truffé de mines saupoudrées au fil des guerres, en plus d'être le champ actif de la rébellion talibane. Et certains se demandent franchement comment la future mission d'entraînement parviendra à rester à l'abri dans un pays qui en connait bien peu.

Just in time for the holidays

From the failed underwear bombing of a U.S. plane to the averted Time Square and Yemeni package terror attempts, perhaps one should be thankful 2010 has seen a number of planned attacks prevented from taking place. But they have added to the post 9-11 air security legacy that has been making the skies less and less friendly. 


Barely a month ago European air officials were criticizing what they considered useless U.S. air safety regulations that include everything from removing one's shoes off at check points to checking laptops. British Airways' chairman in particular considered "completely redundant" the measures about laptops. 


So he could not have been pleased when the discovery of two cargo items that originated in Yemen brought on a new series of restrictions including the carrying of large toner cartridges, after two of them were found to have been rigged as bombs so they could explode on planes over North America. Britain, the U.S., Canada and other countries soon announced they were banning "office-sized" toner cartridges from being either carried onboard or in cargo, while other sweeping measures involved banning mail and cargo either originating from or transiting through Yemen and Somalia. 


This comes at a time when increasingly intrusive pat downs in the U.S. have caused controversy to the point of launching molestation complaints. Just in time for the heavy holiday travel season, those hoping security measures could be relaxed are only confronted with new restrictions. And some experts say the new "flavour of the day" measures hardly make the skies any safer. 


"I don't want to be dismissive and say they're unimportant, but they're kind of (the) flavour of the day," said Security expert Arne Kislenko of the new Canadian measures. "It's ridiculous for us to assume that any piece of technology or any kind of procedure is going to eliminate security threats all the time. (Threats) evolve too quickly, people are too inventive." The latest moves may in fact, he argued, only been put in place to reassure travellers their government is on the case, doing something. "I don't think we can do more . . . you can't ban everything and live your life normally," Kislenko said, adding: "These regulations are aimed to convince an uneasy public that the government is being vigilant. It's a political gesture." 


In at least one of the cases, the U.S. were tipped by Saudi intelligence, so experts credited intel sharing and international cooperation for averting disaster following the dispatch of the two parcel bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues. "International cooperation was key to diffusing this bomb, but intelligence alone is not sufficient to ensure that the next al-Qaida attack on our nation will be neutralized in the nick of time," said U.S. congressman Ed Markey, who has called for even more legislation requiring the screening of all goods carried on cargo planes. "The fact remains that aviation is still at the top of al-Qaida's terrorist target list. We have no guarantee that our allies will get advance warning of the next attack or pass it on to us in a timely fashion. There is no snooze button for an alarm clock strapped to a bomb." 


U.S. officials suspect the same operative who orchestrated the underwear bomb, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, in last year's Christmas Day incident, was behind the latest attempts, adding the sophistication of the devices point to al-Qaida's faction in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has a major foothold in Yemen.But despite these successes controversy in the U.S. and Europe over increased security measures were not about to go away. 


In the U.S. pilot unions have come out in full force against the deployment of full-body scanners, calling them untested and potentially unsafe because of the radiation they expose travellers to, and have slammed new hand search procedures at check points. While government scientists were quick to point out the radiation emitted by the new more complete scanners comes in tiny doses, some scientists are joining pilots contending not enough is known about the effects, putting the devices under renewed scrutiny. 


The risk of harmful radiation exposure from backscatter scans is quite small, David Brenner of Columbia's Center for Radiological research tells CNN, but there is concern about how widely the scanners will be used. "If you think the entire population of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners," notably skin cancer, a risk that increases with frequent flyers. In April scientists also warned White House officials there could be increased risks to more vulnerable members of the population, such as children and the elderly, as well as women at risk of breast cancer. 


The debate hit a clear nerve this week when the video of a passenger who refused to submit to a physical pat down became the rallying cry of security-wary travellers everywhere that sounded like this: “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested." The defiant tone of air traveller John Tyner got him thrown out of the airport and threatened with a 10,000 fine, but so managed to encapsulate  American annoyance and near outrage with the measures, it prompted the Department of Homeland Security to justify its controversial new measures. 


In a published letter, Sec. Janet Napolitano said the pat downs were necessary to "help detect hidden and dangerous items like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack" last Christmas. But while the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration, in charge of checking passengers, was standing by the controversial methods, a revolt was taking flight by passengers, and in at least one instance, an airport. Airport officials were gearing up for more trouble on the very eve of U.S. Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, a planned nationwide day of protest called "National Opt Out Day." Meanwhile the Orlando airport of Stanford said it was turning to a private security firm, not the TSA, to check passengers. 


Across the Atlantic meanwhile the EU submitted formal objections to a program that requires U.S.-bound travellers from 35 countries to complete online security clearance before departure, calling the measures burdensome and a violation of privacy. 


In Ottawa meanwhile the government admitted this week it had failed to obtain an exemption and would have to comply to new U.S. regulations requiring passenger data for people who board flights travelling over the U.S. to be surrendered to authorities there. "This is a sovereignty issue for the Americans and it is their airspace," Public Security Minister Vic Toews told Parliament. 


But travellers, at least in this country, still seem to look forward to going away this holiday season. Perhaps the high Canadian dollar is making Canadians decide to travel more, but the country's major airlines, from Air Canada to West Jet and Sunwing, say they're going on a recruitment drive to meet the demand of the high travel season.