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March 10, 2009
Public dissent on the rise in Russia as economy declines

As Russia’s ruble has gone down, protests have shot up.

As Russia experiences its worst financial crisis in a decade, Prime Minister Vladmir Putin has warned the government’s opposition against using the economy to incite protest. 

“We won’t allow events to happen like in some other countries, to which I will not point a finger now,” Putin said. “At the same time, we won’t limit lawful forms of protest.”

Indeed, Russia has seen a number of protests spark across the country in recent months — the largest in Vladivostock, where thousands voiced criticism of the government’s handling of the economy. The Kremlin flew in special forces from Moscow to help quell the protests. 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Brian Whitmore writes at “The Power Vertical” blog about growing public dissent, arguing that managing the protests is increasingly difficult for the Russian government.

Dissent Goes Mainstream In Russia

Forty-one percent understand their concerns. Nineteen percent respect their actions. Twenty-six percent are indifferent to them. And seven percent are interested in them.

They are anti-government demonstrators protesting falling living standards in Russia. And a surprising new poll by the Moscow-based Levada Center shows the Russian public warming up to them considerably. Of the 1,600 respondents polled across Russia between February 20-23, a shocking 60 percent say they sympathize with anti-government protests and 23 percent say they are ready to join them.

And check this out as a point of contrast: Asked their attitudes toward pro-government demonstrations organized by the Kremlin, 41 percent said they were indifferent, just 31 percent expressed support, and 11 percent said they were opposed.

The Levada Center has a stellar reputation as an independent polling outfit — and these numbers must be causing some lost sleep in the Kremlin. Speaking to the daily “Vedomosti,” Levada-Center Assistant Director Aleksei Grazhdankin suggested the results show that the public appears to be souring on the authorities:

“I would say that the results of the opinion poll indicate the general mood of society and its attitude toward the government’s anti-crisis policy and the actions supporting it.”

This, of course, means the Kremlin will have  a much harder time marginalizing and discrediting the protesters, as they were effectively able to do in the past. 

It is also becoming increasingly clear that the protests in Vladivostok over a controversial increase in auto-import tariffs were a watershed of sorts in that they attracted a wider cross section of the population, drawing in people who were otherwise not inclined to take to the streets.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user suburbanslice under a Creative Commons license.

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March 6, 2009
Actresses stage gender quality in rural Nepal

A woman in Nepal.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, a group of Nepali women announced that they would climb the world’s highest mountains in a symbol of female empowerment.

Nepal has made strides toward democracy in recent years, and a number of women were elected to the country’s new assembly last year. 

But discriminatory attitudes persist, and daily life for women in Nepal remains difficult. Domestic violence against women is common, and the United Nations reports that beating, slapping, kicking, hair-pulling, verbal abuse and use of sticks, knives and acid are also frequent. During menstruation, some women are confined in dirty huts. 

Nepal was ranked 120 out of 130 countries [PDF] on the World Economic Forum’s measure of gender equality. 

Jannie Kwok is a program officer at The Asia Foundation’s office in Kathmandu, Nepal. She writes at the “In Asia” blog to describe how one theater group in rural Nepal is using drama to combat gender-based violence and work toward equality. 

In Nepal: Countering Violence against Women in Post-Conflict Nepal

I recently watched a local Nepali theater group skillfully combine theater with politics to explore gender-based violence in conflict-affected communities.

Developed in the 1970s by a Brazilian political activist and director, “The International Theater of the Oppressed” is a method that has been practiced in theaters across the globe to help communities address social injustices. A drama is acted out in scripted mode until it reaches the climax; then, at that moment, the audience is asked to collectively reflect on the problem and is invited into the drama to “rehearse” the preferred ending they envision for their communities.

When I arrived to see the first performance at Aarohan Theater in a Tharu village in the Kailali district of mid-western Nepal, the midday sun was beating down. The actors were dressed in colorful traditional Tharu costumes and were dancing and singing to attract an audience. I was particularly pleased to see a large number of women and their small children already gathered for the performance.

The play began with a very typical scene in these villages: the wife doing household chores and the husband shouting to her to make him tea and breakfast. It continued to depict the daily hardships in the village and the struggles of the Tharu people. Then one night, the husband came home drunk and began belligerently shouting at his wife. During this scene, one woman in the audience, sitting near me, commented out loud to all of us (including the Aarohan director), that this scene frequently played out in her own house. She softly laughed, but her eyes were sad.

The narrator stopped the play at a dramatic point when the husband was about to beat his wife. He then asked for comments from the audience. The woman seated near me loudly suggested from her seat that he should not beat his wife. The narrator asked her to join the drama and act out what the wife should say next to the husband. At first she refused, but after some encouragement from the Aarohan director and other audience members she approached the “stage” and proceeded to speak out against the abuse. Although her moment in the spotlight was short, she had a chance to rehearse what she wanted to do in real life; to fight against the violence she faced.

The audience also shouted out other ideas and solutions, such as asking neighbors to intervene or going to a mothers’ or women’s group for assistance. After more than an hour of discussion and debate, the husband in the play finally signed an agreement stating he would not beat his wife. This action was facilitated by the local mothers’ group members. Through these exercises developed by “Theater of the Oppressed,” the audience not only got to suggest the outcome they wanted for the play; they also got to practice how to make that outcome a dramatic reality, in essence learning how to deal with gender discrimination and oppression in real life in the process.

As the group performed, I was surprised by the boldness of these village women in the audience and their courage to speak out against their own oppressive situations. While tradition and religion have long relegated Nepali women to a lower status than men, the decade-long armed conflict in Nepal has severely exacerbated the inequality in male-female relationships, increasing women’s vulnerability to exploitation and violence. Things that have contributed to the disproportionate impact of the conflict on women include damage to traditional social and economic networks, loss of male heads of household, forced displacement, and reduced access to health and educational facilities. The breakdown of community safety networks has also resulted in marked increases in the incidence of threats, rape, sexual harassment, and exploitation perpetrated against women.

Even today, women in the most conflict-affected areas of Nepal continue to encounter high incidences of domestic violence in their homes. According to a local survey taken in Mid-Western Nepal, of the 190 married women interviewed, 91 percent reported domestic violence perpetrated by their husbands in the past two years. Survey results also revealed that 86 percent of respondents were forced into non-consensual sex, 70 percent reported physical injuries such as slapping, arm twisting, hitting with fists or other objects, pushing, kicking, or choking, and 50 percent reported injury with a weapon at least once.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user farmingmatters under a Creative Commons license.

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March 5, 2009
Financial crisis upsets global economic order

European leaders are working towards economic cooperation.

As the financial crisis has spread throughout the globe, leaders in Asia and Europe have increased efforts to band together, coordinating economic action.  

Over the past few weeks, several regional meetings have taken place, bringing together leaders from a number of countries with vastly different economic systems. Ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as China, Japan and Korea agreed to work together to maintain stable currency values. In Europe, several leaders agreed to double the resources of the International Monetary Fund to $500 billion.

These multilateral agreements come ahead of the scheduled G20 summit in April, featuring both advanced and developing economies.

Peter A. Petri is a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu and former dean of the International Business School at Brandeis University. He writes at the “East Asia Forum” blog that this level of global cooperation is unprecedented, and will change the face of the world’s economic order. 

Global response to economy in works

What do Berlin, Germany and Hua Hin, Thailand, have in common? Not winter weather, for sure. But this week, briefly, both offer a little sunshine for the world economy. European and Asian leaders meeting in these cities are pledging hundreds of billions of dollars for international financial rescue plans.

The bad news is that their actions reflect a rapidly deepening global crisis. The “other shoe dropping” in the downturn could be collapsing currencies and bankruptcy in several countries. This happened in Iceland, and it could happen soon in Hungary, the Baltic countries, Pakistan and others.

The good news is that leaders are beginning to fashion a global response to the crisis. This still faces many obstacles, but a “yes, we can” attitude is starting to emerge. It could bring benefits not just in stemming the meltdown, but also on other global decisions, like trade and climate change.

In Berlin, European leaders agreed to double the lending capacity of the International Monetary Fund to $500 billion. In Hua Hin this weekend, Asian leaders agreed to improve the structure of the Chiang Mai Initiative, the region’s emergency lending pool, and increase its size to $120 billion.

This is a sea change. A year ago, the IMF looked headed for extinction. Turkey was its only client and one-quarter of its staff opted for early retirement. The CMI, created after the 1997-98 Asian crisis, had never lent any money, and stood instead as a silent reminder of the difficulties of Asian cooperation. Now both are springing back to life.

It’s high time for global cooperation — but it has been hard to find a leader. The world’s economies need to work together to stop the “adverse feedback loop” that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke highlighted in his Senate testimony on Tuesday. Every economy in recession buys less from others, and every bank that collapses puts others at greater risk.

China was one of the first countries to act, with a stimulus package of nearly $600 billion. The U.S. has now joined with its $800 billion package, and other countries are moving, too.

But most countries have stimulus packages well below 2 percent of GDP, much smaller than those of China and the U.S. Many still hope a world recovery will save them. Unless they act together, it won’t.

[…]In the ashes of the old economic order, a new one is taking shape. It will be based on a coalition of countries perhaps led, but not dominated, by the United States. It will require joint policies inconceivable in simpler times. With luck — and time — these could help to turn the global economy around and lead to more effective ways to govern our incredibly complex world.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user viZZZual.com under a Creative Commons license.

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March 4, 2009
Fiji approaches a crossroads as elections fail to materialize

Government buildings in Fiji, where the political situation is becoming tense.

Fiji’s military-backed interim government, lead by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is coming under increased pressure to restore democratic elections.

Bainimarama and the military seized power in a 2006 coup, and have since failed to come through on promises to hold elections. 

Member states of the Pacific Island Forum have given the island country a May 2009 deadline for elections, threatening to suspend aid. 

Jenny Hayward-Jones is director of The Myer Foundation Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute. She writes at “The Interpreter” about Fiji’s uncertain future. 

Fiji: The long road down

March 2009 was once promised as the month that the interim Government of Fiji would hold elections and restore democracy to the country. There is still no election date in sight in Fiji and the interim Government’s own reform agenda is looking shaky. 

I spent the week of 16 February in Fiji, conducting some research on the political situation and the state of the economy. The sense of frustration, exhaustion and disenchantment with politics I encountered in Suva, combined with the obvious economic malaise in both the capital and in the business-focused western towns of Nadi and Lautoka, did not give me much cause for optimism about the future of Fiji. Three recent significant events, which coincidentally occurred in the week I was in Fiji, have revealed some stresses and strains within the interim Government, which indicate Fiji may be approaching a crossroads.

Firstly, in an extended interview with Radio Australia broadcast on 18 February, interim Prime Minister Commodore Bainimarama refused to propose a timeframe for elections but promised to support the President’s political dialogue process, which will be facilitated by the Commonwealth Secretariat and United Nations. Many in Fiji regard this dialogue as the last hope for a return to democracy, so the Commodore’s public commitment to it takes on greater importance at this time.

Secondly, Fiji Television footage screened on 17 February showed Police Commissioner Teleni threatening to sack Indo-Fijian officers if they spoke out against his Christian crusade against crime. The majority of Indo-Fijians are Hindu or Muslim. Bainimarama endorsed Teleni’s approach, apparently contradicting his earlier comments to Radio Australia that the coup had resolved much of Fiji’s racial tensions and that ‘everyone is treated the same here.’

Support for the interim Government is greater among Indo-Fijians than among indigenous Fijians (64 per cent of Indo-Fijians interviewed in a December 2008 Fiji Times-Tebutt poll approved of Bainimarama’s performance, as opposed to only 35 per cent of indigenous Fijians). If the outrage expressed by many prominent Fijians at Commissioner Teleni’s behaviour is a measure of wider discontent, this incident may prove a turning point in the Fiji public’s relationship with the interim Government.

Thirdly, Savenaca Narube, the highly regarded Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji, gave an interview reported in the Fiji Times on 19 February in which he expressed grave concerns for the state of Fiji’s economy. The interim Government has been talking up the economy, despite the fact that Fiji’s declining foreign reserves (official reserves at the end of February were approximately FJ$672.2 million – sufficient to cover only 2.7 months of goods imports) have revealed serious problems in the Fiji economy, caused by falling tourist arrivals, declining remittances, a drop in demand for Fiji exports and reduced investor confidence.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ~maseikula under a Creative Commons license.

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March 4, 2009
China, India differ on accountability in wake of tragedies

Aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake.

Aftermath of the attacks on Mumbai.

In May, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 87,000 people in China. In the aftermath of the quake, victims complained that corrupt officials weren’t properly dispensing aid and relief supplies. Last month, villagers attacked police, claiming they had been cheated out of relief.

Following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November, there was also public outcry in India that led the government to admit to lapses in security.

A blogger at “2point6billion” compares the two countries’ attitudes toward transparency and their different approaches in the aftermath of these tragedies.

Dealing With Tragedy – China & India’s Differing Perspectives

Within just six months of each other, both China and India experienced tragedies that impacted each of the respective nations nationally and internationally. While China lost over 60,000 people in the Sichuan earthquake, India was confronted with a vicious terrorist attack in its financial capital that left close to 200 dead and over 500 wounded. Yet the ways in which the two countries have responded could not be more markedly different.

The Sichuan quake, a natural disaster, lead directly to accusations of corruption and shoddy building work across the region. The immediate response from the Government in terms of pragmatism was to send in the troops – many of whom remain there today assisting with reconstruction work and stabilizing the living conditions of the living and wounded.

International aid too began to pour in. However, in terms of dissatisfaction with the quality of buildings, locals were prevented from raising issues with the media. Additionally, aid could only be sent through official, Chinese sanctioned channels.

Today, the country has loans from the World Bank to assist with reconstruction work, but those most affected – people living there – are as effectively cut off as ever. Tourism and traveling journalists are discouraged on the grounds that it is dangerous. In more damning news, courts in China were instructed not to hear any lawsuits brought by victims of the disaster, and that the government itself would handle compensation. Any accusations of shoddy construction or corruption would therefore be kept out of the picture. The people would rely solely on the government for support, with it remaining their voice and sole provider.

Compared with Mumbai, the very nature of the event was entirely different. Terrorists landed, and machine gunned locals and visitors in hotels and bars, in a siege that lasted nearly three days. Yet the political and social aftermath was very different.

Within days, Indian government ministers had been forced to resign on charges of incompetence and the lack of any security to repel what was essentially an invading, aggressive military unit. The public, shocked and outraged, found their voice through the media. Government was held accountable by the people, and they had to respond. They did, troops were sent in and an entire reshuffle of coastal defenses and security put into place. Money was made available for victims, rebuilding and national security.

Today, Mumbai has made great strides in recovering, affected hotels and bars have re-opened. It’s an act of defiance that anyone would find it hard to imagine under similar circumstances in China. Hotels and bars where victims perish in China are shunned; superstitions still die hard in this emerging giant.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photos courtesy of Flickr users Remko Tanis and USELESSNANO under a Creative Commons license.

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March 2, 2009
U.S.-Mexican drug violence is deadlier than Afghanistan war

Watch Laura Ling’s documentary, “Narco War Next Door.”

Drug violence in Mexico killed more than 6,000 people in 2008, and has killed 1,000 so far this year and spilled over the border into the U.S.

Despite growing fears on both sides of the border that the cartels are out of control, Mexican President Felipe Calderon rejected the notion that Mexico is a “failed state.”

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discussed the results of “Operation Xcellerator,” an anti-drug initiative targeting Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. The U.S. has arrested 750 people in connection with Mexican drug cartels over the past two years.

Andrew Bast has reported from four continents for several magazines and newspapers and writes at “World Politics Review” about the state of the drug war and what can be done.

Under the Influence: Demand and the Mexican Drug War

The war looks eerily familiar: beheadings, assassinations of police and public officials, terrorized businesspeople, extorted schoolteachers, and in five years more than 230 American civilians dead in the crossfire. All this could easily describe the battle in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but the reality is closer to home, where an increasingly gruesome and threatening war is threatening to boil over the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

Summing up decades of policy, three former Latin American heads of state last week declared, “The war on drugs has failed.” Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, working together on the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, argued, “Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. . . . Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.”

Considering the money and resources committed to the War on Drugs over the years, the claim is mind-boggling. Pinning down exact figures is difficult, but some experts estimate that nearly $1 trillion has been spent in total. In 2009, $14 billion more has been budgeted to programs spanning 12 agencies of the U.s. federal government, from the Small Business Administration and Veterans Affairs to State, Interior and the Department of Defense. Every one of them, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is an “important partner.” Some experts say that the actual money spent this year will be twice as much.

Last week, a coordinated sweep cracked down on cartels operating in Canada, Mexico and across the United States, demonstrating that this is still the same old war. Without a doubt the 755 arrests yanked offenders off the streets. But the strategy of stemming supply has, over the long run, proven shortsighted.

More money and guns abroad will prove ineffective in increasing U.S. influence over cartels and drug supply routes flowing into the country. Instead, American influence over the scourge of international narco-trafficking will be best leveraged domestically: Quelling what is rapidly becoming an imposing foreign policy issue depends on increasing treatment at home rather than waging a bigger battle abroad.

Arresting traffickers and aiding the Mexican government to combat the cartels focuses on the supply side of the problem. Accordingly, Congress passed the Merida Initiative last June, providing a half-billion dollars in aid annually to Mexico as a partner in trying to shut down the supply chain. As the cartels grow more capable, as well as more brazen, it seems that taking them down is a logical first step. But a few harsh realities suggest that stepping up the offensive will do little, if anything, to actually cut the flow of narcotics into American cities.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user dream2life under a Creative Commons license.

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February 27, 2009
Crime changes perception of Brazilian immigrants abroad

Brazilian immigrants march in California.

Recently, a Brazilian immigrant in Switzerland made headlines when she claimed to have been attacked by skinheads, and the initials SVP (representing the right-wing Swiss People’s Party) were carved into her chest though she was pregnant.

The case drew media attention in both Switzerland and Brazil, television screens broadcasting the graphic images of the injured woman.

However, police say that she was not pregnant and may have carved the symbols into her own skin.

Natalia Viana is an investigative journalist who lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She writes at the “Frontline Club” about how Brazilian immigrants are seen abroad after such instances.

The changing image of Brazilian immigrants

Last week pictures of 26-year-old Brazilian Paula Oliveira, with the initials of Switzerland’s main right-wing party cut into her body were printed all over the world. She claimed to have been attacked by skinheads in Zurich, but later reportedly confessed to self-mutilating. Now she is being investigated for misleading the police.

The fact is that Brazilians are committing more crime abroad — and being more noticed for that. Today there are about 3.5 million Brazilians living abroad, including a proportion of illegal migrants. About half of them go to the U.S., but Europe and Japan are also key destinations. In London where I lived, it was common for Brazilian to be involved in all sorts of scams, from recruiting illegal workers to arranged marriages to Europeans.

Only this week, 50 Brazilians were arrested on suspicion of faking and selling fake passports in Mantova, Italy. A similar operation had taken place in Spain in January, with 33 Brazilians arrested as fraudsters.

As a consequence, the image of Brazilian immigrants is now changing. For many, they are no longer seen as the smiling hard working types, but as potential criminals, fraudsters or illegal workers. More than that, such perception has started to influence the attitude of several foreign authorities towards Brazilians.

When I first lived in the UK in 1999, saying that you were from the land of football and samba always meant a warm welcome. Nowadays, any Brazilian travelling abroad must expect to be treated as a criminal until proven otherwise.

Take the UK, for instance. It is estimated that about 200 thousand Brazilians live in the country, half of them illegally. Since 2006, about 6 thousand Brazilians are deported every year – making Brazil the leader in “returned” citizens. Last year the Home Office included Brazil in a list of 11 countries whose citizens should require a visa before travelling to the UK.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user unsure shot under a Creative Commons license.

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February 26, 2009
Protests erupt after Georgia detains ethnic Armenians

Demonstrations at the Georgian Embassy in Yerevan. Photo: Onnik Krikorian

Georgia has detained two ethnic Armenians on charges of espionage. In the past, some of the ethnic Armenians who largely populate Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region have complained of poor treatment or gotten into conflicts with police.

Onnik Krikorian is a freelance photojournalist and writer from the United Kingdom based in Yerevan, Armenia. He writes at the “Frontline Club” about attending a protest in Armenia’s capital and discusses what the anger means for regional relations with both Georgia and Russia. 

Demonstration outside Georgian Embassy

To be honest, I hadn’t particularly planned on attending today’s demonstration staged outside the Georgian Embassy in Yerevan to protest the detention of two ethnic Armenian activists in Georgia’s Samtskhe Javakheti region – or rather, I was in two minds about doing so. To begin with, a friend in town from Tbilisi told me on Saturday that the region could hardly be considered a hotbed of separatist nationalism seeking autonomy or unification with Armenia, a sentiment also shared by a foreign journalist based in the Georgian capital. 

True, socio-economic conditions aren’t particularly good either, but that’s pretty much the case for most ethnic Georgian or Azerbaijani-populated regions in the country as well as pretty much anywhere outside the center of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Nevertheless, after a phone call from one of those publicizing various other protests staged outside the Embassy informing me that the demonstration had been rescheduled for three hours later than originally planned, I jumped in a taxi and headed downtown.

Perhaps the main reason for going was to see how many people turned up. My taxi driver, for example, had heard about the protest on Radio Free Europe’s broadcast the day before and guessed why I was heading there. However, he seemed quite concerned that blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan, problems between Yerevan and Tbilisi would be the end of Armenia. With over 70 percent of the country’s trade going through Georgia, and still at war with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, he had a point.

As it was, about 100 people turned up, a third of which were reporters — an unnaturally high level of media interest for a demonstration which could hardly attract more than 70 people mainly from Samtskhe-Javakheti, a region populated by a little over 100,000 ethnic Armenians (54 percent of its total population). What was also notable was that while some did hold up plackards of the two detained activists charged with espionage, most seemed more interested in screaming out “Javakhk,” the Armenian name for the region.

Staging the demonstration in Yerevan also raises a few questions as to why it wasn’t held in Tbilisi. Some argue that it could be for internal political consumption a few days before the first anniversary of the 1 March post-election clashes in the Armenian capital during which 10 people died, or to whip up emotions among the population which would indirectly lead to the rejection of any normalization of ties with Turkey and a possible future settlement of the Karabakh conflict. It could also directy lead to increased support for Russia, already accused of stirring up trouble in Georgia.

[…]The police moved in to clear the way when Gachechiladze arrived and the protest organizers entered the Embassy to voice their demands, handing over a letter in Armenian which the Embassy promises to pass on to the authorities in Tbilisi once translated into Georgian. Typically for any demonstration in Armenia, they promised to fight until the end, but judging from the chants and the lack of any slogans calling for the release of the detained activists, it’s seems more likely that their main hope was to whip up anti-Georgian sentiments among the public.

To read more, see the original post.  

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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February 25, 2009
Rumors circulate in Liberia that water will turn to blood

Rumor and superstition surrounds water in Liberia.

Liberia’s water supply was crippled during the country’s civil war when the main water treatment plant was destroyed. A 2006 report found that the majority of Liberian rely on untreated wells, rivers, ponds, creeks and swamps for drinking water.

But the water supply, already crippled by war, has been further harmed by widespread superstition and rumors.

Myles Estey is a journalist based in Monrovia, Liberia. He writes at “Esteyonage” about a recent scare there, when people became worried that the water would turn into blood.

Blood water

Last night, two things startled me. The first was Nigerian-manned tanks rolling past my house as I stayed up late typing – tanks are rarely a sign of a good thing. The second came waking at 3:45, only to see the bridge outside my house full of with people, and people filing under my balcony.

The bridge, most people say, should not be crossed by foot anytime after 11, and certainly not past midnight. A little surprising then that a line of people streamed across the bridge, under some of the only streetlamps in the country, and that many seemed to be women and children, not typical Also strange that most of them carried the 5-gallon water jugs that people collect their water from local wells in (running water remains rare). I struggled to come up with a reason for any of this, before drifting back to sleep, listening to the wind and a light rain that started.

This hazy memory remained lay buried until speaking with some reporters. It became clear that a ‘crisis’ gripped the city yesterday. A ‘report’ circulated, claiming that all the city’s water supplies would turn to blood by morning, though other variations claimed the water would become bitter, or perhaps dry up. People acted quickly, with reports of long lines all night at wells becoming especially feisty as dawn approached.

Origins of the report seem mixed. Truth FM definitely aired the first story about it during the day, but they were responding to already widespread knowledge, and callers comments. It spread ‘virally’, in 2.0 terminology, though without any more technology than word of mouth/cell phone. Brothers called sisters called cousins called friends called coworkers all through the night, with virtually everyone aware of the problem by dawn. Many residents stocked up with water.

“People here just believe anything,” a local journalist said of the situation. “They believe in powers and forces that don’t actually exist, just because someone told them so.”

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user MikeBlyth under a Creative Commons license.

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February 24, 2009
U.S. expects Japan to elevate efforts in war and economy

Japanese merchandise depicts the relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso came to Washington on Tuesday, the first foreign visitor to the Obama White House. He and U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly discussed a range of topics, from the global financial crisis to new North Korean nuclear concerns.

Tobias Harris is a graduate student in political science at MIT who worked for a member of the Democratic Party of Japan in the national legislature for two years. He writes at “Observing Japan” to argue that the U.S.-Japan alliance is seeing rebirth, and that the U.S. has stepped up its expectations of Japan.

The birth of the post-1996 alliance

Prime Minister Aso Taro has arrived in Washington in advance of his meeting with President Barack Obama Tuesday.

Despite Obama’s welcoming Aso as the first foreign leader to meet with him in Washington, and despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tokyo last week, the Japanese establishment continues to fret about the new administration’s approach to Japan. Sankei, for example, notes the “exceptionally warm welcome” being bestowed on Aso by Obama — especially considering that the president is due to give a State of the Union address Tuesday evening — but wonders whether the Obama administration is as committed to Japan as appearances would suggest.

I have been somewhat irritated with the lengths to which the Obama administration has gone to demonstrate its commitment to the alliance (I still think this visit to Washington by Aso is a mistake). But looking at the agenda for the meeting between Obama and Aso, it appears that the new administration is preparing to embark on a new course for the alliance even as it preserves the old forms of alliance reassurance.

Obama is preparing to make winning in Afghanistan a top priority for his administration, making the war in Afghanistan, in Stephen Walt’s words, “Obama’s war.”

The expectation is that Japan will be a part of that effort. But unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration looks unwilling to praise Japan for marginal, symbolic contributions to the effort. While respecting Japan’s constraints on the use of force abroad, the administration appears ready to take Japan at its word. Japanese leaders talk of the need to contribute abroad even as they are reluctant to commit the Self-Defense Forces? Fine, then make a meaningful civilian contribution, the new administration has signaled. As Walt wrote in regard to NATO in Afghanistan, “Is Obama able to persuade our NATO allies to increase their own efforts there, or will they mostly free-ride on Uncle Sam? (And watch out for token deployments intended to signal that the rest of NATO is with us on this one, but that have no real effect on the ground).” The same applies to Japan, with a substantial civilian reconstruction contribution in place of military efforts.

The new administration will surely be watching, and it will surely not accept political instability at home as an excuse.

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