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September 25, 2008
Indonesians battle over anti-pornography bill

People protest against pornography in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Robin Bush is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Indonesia and writes for their blog, In Asia. She is the author of the essay “Regional Sharia Regulations in Indonesia: Anomaly or Symptom?

Fighting for Indonesia’s Cultural Diversity

Indonesia’s rich cultural diversity is on display in full force once again this week as activists, intellectuals, dancing musicians, and women dressed in brightly colored lace dresses have taken to the streets to protest a shoddy piece of legislation that just won’t go away. The poorly-named “Anti-Pornography Bill” was first introduced by legislators in early 2006. After nearly a year of protest, heated debate, demonstrations, and conflict, the bill was sent to committee where it essentially got shelved until a couple of weeks ago when a legislator from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) decided to revive it as what he called a “Ramadan gift” for Indonesia.

But Indonesian women’s groups, cultural groups, and civil society have rejected the “gift” in no uncertain terms. Detractors of the bill reject it on the following grounds: (1) it is badly written legislation and its terms are poorly defined, (2) it duplicates existing protective legislation in the criminal code that outlaws pornography and, especially, protects children; (3) it criminalizes artistic and cultural expression that is part of Indonesia’s diverse ethnic heritage; (4) it wasn’t one of the 286 bills that the Parliament was scheduled to decide on in this session – out of which they have only produced 124 pieces of legislation.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr user squid697 under a Creative Commons license.

September 24, 2008
Is Northern Sudan the next Darfur?

Helba Aly reports on the escalating situation in northern Sudan. This story was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A delegation from the northern Sudanese village of Selem visits the mayor’s office to complain of services in their village. Photo: Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

Sudan: A Second Darfur?

It’s a flashy headline, but a question that some people are legitimately asking themselves. Could there be a rebellion in the north, as there was in Darfur, to the west?

The answer depends on who you ask.

Northerners certainly complain of marginalization. They say they are worse off than Darfur, in fact.

“We should have taken up arms before the Darfurians,” one village leader told me, “because we are in more need. But our values don’t allow us to use violence.”

I heard that line many times during my time in villages of the Nubian desert. “We are peaceful people. Rebellion is not the answer.”

That’s not to say northerners are happy about their situation. Many of them live without clean water or electricity; they’ve had to build their schools and health clinics themselves; and they lack any economic opportunities in their villages. But many seem to feel powerless to do anything about it. “What can we do?” they often ask.

If you ask government officials, the answer is certainly no. The idea of a rebellion in the north is something they brush off easily, almost as if to say, “Don’t be silly; that would never happen.”

But it is exactly this kind of quick dismissal that angers northerners, who seem to have been forgotten among Sudan’s many other problems.

Ask analysts, and people who have worked in Sudan for years, and the answer is more ambiguous.

One UN official who studies risk management said the Northern State could easily be the next problem spot. Until now, the region has not received much attention, but he said it should be studied before it explodes. Darfur, the south, the east have all rebelled due to perceived marginalization. “It’s like when you try to stop a bush fire. You think you’ve stopped it and then it pops up in another area. There aren’t many there areas it can pop up in Sudan, except Northern State.” They may be peaceful people, he told me, but they’ve seen that in the west, the east, and the south, people got something out of rebellion. “When their backs are up against the wall…” He didn’t need to finish his sentence.

To read the rest of this post at the Pulitzer Center’s blog, “Untold Stories,” click here.

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

September 24, 2008
Returning from the bomb site in Mexico

Officials inspect the bomb site in Morelia.

Deborah Bonello is a multimedia journalist based in Mexico City and works for The Los Angeles Times Mexico Bureau. She blogs at

Morelia: Informality characterizes bombing investigation

It’s been a few days since I returned from the bomb site in Morelia, Michoacán. I visited there on Wednesday; two days after a double-grenade attack in the city’s centre during its Independence Day celebrations killed eight people. The death toll rose from 7 to 8 at the weekend when a 13-year-old boy died from him injuries.

During that trip, my colleague and I visited both sites where the grenades detonated. One went off in the city’s central plaza – the other a few blocks away on a street corner.

Since then, I’ve had some time to reflect on the question everyone is asking: who is responsible for those bombs? And perhaps more importantly, I’ve had time to speak to ordinary Mexicans about their thoughts on what it going on.

I’ve always felt, during my time here in Mexico that because I was a foreigner there was always a fog hanging over the world of politics and public life. That maybe there are subtleties that I just don’t get because Spanish isn’t my first language.

But what I’ve found this week is that the fog is there for everyone – Mexican or not. Not many people have much of a clue of what’s going on in this country, and are reduced to speculating or drawing up their own hypothesis based on their own, limited, personal experiences to provide answers.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Photo courtesy of the blogger.

September 17, 2008
Bolivia unrest intensifies

Jim Shultz directs The Democracy Center’s Blog from Bolivia, based in Cochamba, Bolivia and San Francisco, Calif.

Updates in the Bolivian political crisis

Here’s a quick review of the events over the past couple of days surrounding Bolivia’s political crisis. For readers wanting more background we refer you to our special report posted Monday.

Morales and Two Key Governors Sign Agreements on Talks

In La Paz today, President Morales and two key state governors, Rubén Costas of Santa Cruz and Mario Cossío of Tarija, signed an agreement to begin a new round of talks aimed at resolving the country’s deep political crisis. The agreement will launch talks starting on Thursday in Cochabamba, and will focus on four main issues of contention: the division of gas and oil revenue (IDH); the proposed new Constitution; regional autonomy; and pending appointments to the nation’s judicial bodies. The agreement was also signed by Bolivia’s Catholic Cardinal, Julio Terrazas.

Nothing in the agreement changes the difficulties that Morales and the Governors have had up to now in finding agreement on these issues, but the fact that talks will happen at all indicates that, as in Cochabamba in January 2007, the country’s fall into deep violence has created pressure to back up and try another way, for now.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Jorge Ferrufino under a Creative Commons license.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Bolivia, visit our extended coverage page: On the Ground in Bolivia.

September 17, 2008
Northeast Asia’s interests heighten on Korean peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have fallen ill.

Lee Byong-chul is a citizen journalist for OhMyNews, based in Seoul.

Why Kim Jong-Il’s health remains the elephant in the room

Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, caught the greatest attention outside North Korea as he fell ill. He is apparently about to disappear but his country now appears to be immune to facts that the absence of his ‘absolute power’ can bring about a crisis from the very highest levels of the Kim regime. Apparently, the durability of the regime has been proved as strong as the grim-faced stepping goose soldiers on parade. The probability looks very low that North Korea, which is revving up the military first politics with much fanfare, will be unable to handle the shock of a leadership crisis. Improbable as it might seem, perhaps the most important thing for non-North Koreans to remember is: the regime can survive longer than they expect.

Designated as successor of the late Kim Il-sung in 1974, Kim Jong-il is likely to orchestrate the communist regime by seizing control of the military that shows endless loyalty toward himself, unless another grave stroke decisively weakens his leadership. Just as the crisis of North Korea can be developed into the tragedy in the region of Northeast Asia, so no countries surrounding the Korean peninsula — South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia — want to see North Korea collapsing suddenly, though some of them may hope to let it fail more slowly.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Photo courtesy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

September 11, 2008
Juan Cole
The original Al Qaeda is defeated

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Michigan and writes about the Middle East for Informed Comment.

On the seventh anniversary of September 11: Time to declare the original al-Qaeda defeated

The original al-Qaeda is defeated.

It is a dangerous thing for an analyst to say, because obviously radical Muslim extremists may at some point set off some more bombs and then everyone will point fingers and say how wrong I was.

So let me be very clear that I do not mean that radical Muslim extremism has ceased to exist or that there will never be another bombing at their hands.

I mean the original al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda as a historical, concrete movement centered on Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s at their core. Al-Qaeda, the 55th Brigade of the Army of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban. That al-Qaeda. The 5,000 fighters and operatives or whatever number they amounted to.

That original al-Qaeda has been defeated.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of the Department of Defense.

September 11, 2008
U.S. and Israel differ on Iran

Robert O. Freedman is Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science at Baltimore Hebrew University, Visiting Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University and contributes to Harvard’s Middle East Strategy blog.

Growing U.S.-Israel gap on Iran

In recent months, a growing gap has become evident between the United States and Israel on policy toward Iran. While the Bush Administration seems increasingly reluctant to use force to stop the rapidly expanding Iranian nuclear program, the vast majority of Israelis, who see the Iranian nuclear program as a mortal threat, are increasingly willing to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, especially the centrifuge plant at Natanz, the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, and the nuclear reactor under construction—with the help of Russia—at Bushehr.

Two factors have intensified Israeli concern. The first is that despite occasional Iranian denials, Iran appears to be receiving the long-range SAM-300 anti-missile system from Russia, with installation of the missiles around Iran’s nuclear sites expected to be completed between March and September, 2009. Once these missiles are installed and operational, an attack by the Israeli air force against the Iranian nuclear installations will be much more difficult. Second, the recent deterioration of Russian-American relations which resulted from the Russian invasion of Georgia makes it even less likely than before that the UN Security Council will vote serious economic sanctions against Iran.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Hamed Saber under a Creative Commons license.

September 11, 2008
Ethiopian troops retreat from Somalia

David Axe is freelance war correspondent who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, East Timor and Somalia and blogs at Africa is Boring for From the Frontline.

Ethiopians withdrawing from Somalia?

Thousands of Ethiopian troops reportedly are retreating from Mogadishu after nearly two years of bloody fighting. The withdrawal, which still leaves sizable Ethiopian and A.U. (pictured) forces in the city, coincides with two separate peace talks: one, U.N.-brokered, aiming at reconciling all of Somalia’s armed parties; the other, encouraged by Ethiopia, meant to prevent a split in Somalia’s struggling “transitional government.”

The Ethiopians aren’t quitting without exacting a toll. In the last week, Ethiopian troops have killed at least 39 people in shootings, many of them civilians.

Insurgents, too, aren’t going away quietly. This weekend gunmen killed two U.N. aid workers in Mogadishu, apparently continuing an insurgent strategy of targeting foreign humanitarians.

The apparent (partial) Ethiopian withdrawal hasn’t made headlines in the West … nor has it appeared to cause much of a stir in Somalia. The last email I got from one of my Somali contacts, on Sunday, said only that “the situation in Mogadishu is not good:”

On August 15, more than 55 civilians have been killed [on the] outskirts of Mogadishu. The people in Mogadishu are between two fires, mean[ing] the Ethiopian [and their] allies and Islamic insurgents.

Withdrawals or no, to the average Somali, it’s business as usual in Mogadishu.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of the blogger.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Ethiopia, visit our extended coverage page: Ethiopia Past and Present.

September 11, 2008
Gearing up for Indonesian elections

Max Lane works at the School of Languages and Cultures at the University of Sydney and writes about Asian affairs in his blog.

2009 Indonesian elections: Reflections

The Indonesian election campaign has started, following the announcement of the 44 political parties that passed the electoral verification process. The most obvious signs have been the waves of TV and newspaper political ads broadcast by the most well-healed parties, particularly the new parties established by ex-general Wiranto (HANURA) and ex-general Prabowo (GERINDRA). In reality, however, electoral politics has been ongoing now for at least two years. This has been the result of the new laws passed a few years ago to allow direct elections for the positions of Governor and Vice-Governor as well as for Bupati and Vice-Bupati. Bupatis are head of Kabupaten, the administrative region below governor. The Kabupaten are important administrative units because following the passing of decentralization laws in 2001-2, the Kabupaten administrations have had significantly enhanced budgetary powers.

Elections for governors and bupatis have been staggered throughout the last two years. This means that it is possible to identify some general trends and features of electoral political activity.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user zsoolt under a Creative Commons license.

September 11, 2008
Prime Minister’s departure paralyzes Thailand

John Brandon is The Asia Foundation’s Director for International Relations programs and blogs for In Asia.

In Thailand: Is an end to the political paralysis in sight?

On September 8, Thailand’s constitutional court rendered the decision that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign after being found guilty of violating a ban on ministers for taking money from a private company.  Article 267 of the constitution prohibits ministers from taking money from outside interests.  In this case it was for accepting money from a TV station to appear on his popular cooking show, “Tasting and Grumbling.”   Some may argue that rule of law has won the day as Samak has become the first Prime Minister to ever have to resign by court order.  Most former Thai prime ministers have fallen from power by military coup.  To Samak’s credit, which he has earned little as of late, he has agreed to accept and abide by the court’s verdict.

But does the constitutional court’s decision end the political paralysis Thailand is facing?  The country will be ruled by the same cabinet for the next 30 days until Parliament elects a new prime minister.  Although the ruling calls for Samak to step down as prime minister, it does not prohibit him from standing as prime minister again.

To read more, visit the original post.

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

Associated thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user pnp! under a Creative Commons license.

Perspectives highlights the best of the blogosphere by cross-posting columns culled from a network of contributors. We cut through the noise of tens of millions of bloggers worldwide and bring you commentary from experts and voices on the ground.

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