BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has never shied away from lambasting Iran’s foes. Now he has alienated Russia, which has long helped delay or dilute U.N. sanctions aimed at the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
The row between Moscow and Tehran reflects long-simmering tensions that came to the boil on Wednesday when Ahmadinejad berated Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for buckling under what he said was U.S. pressure for fresh sanctions.
BEIRUT, May 17 (Reuters) – For weeks Brazilian, German,
Spanish, Italian and Argentine flags have fluttered from cars in
Lebanon, where fans adopt top World Cup teams with an exuberant
passion most countries reserve for their national side.
When their favourites win, Lebanese supporters take to the
streets, hanging out of cars in honking, flag-waving cavalcades,
setting off fire-crackers or even shooting guns in the air.
BEIRUT, May 5 (Reuters) – Yemen can no longer feed its people as its economy buckles under the strain of declining oil and water resources, corruption and violent conflicts.
One in three of Yemen’s 23 million people suffer chronic hunger and more than one in 10 Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, U.N. aid agencies said on Tuesday.
Such bleak economic realities feed into the political challenges to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 31-year rule.
Secessionist unrest in the south looms as his gravest immediate problem now that a fragile ceasefire has calmed a long-running northern "Houthi" revolt — although that truce risks unravelling, with breaches reported on both sides.
Islamist militancy, fuelled by poverty, poses a lesser threat, analysts say, despite last month’s failed attack by an al Qaeda suicide bomber on the British ambassador in Sanaa.
"The south is the real challenge," said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani. "The regime is not dealing with the grievances of southerners, raising the spectre of a civil war. Arguably a low-level civil war is already in progress."
Southern discontent, rumbling since a 1994 civil war, has flared into mass protests and almost daily clashes with security forces. Secessionist groups are split and lack outside support.
"There is no doubt, however, that the Southern Movement has the potential to develop into a major challenge to the legitimacy of the government, the stability of the country and eventually to the integrity of the state," argued a paper published in April by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.
Instability or state collapse in Yemen, a small Arab oil producer, risks dire consequences for oil giant Saudi Arabia and its other neighbours in the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.
North and south Yemen united in 1990, but many in the south, home to most Yemeni oil facilities, say northerners usurp their resources, warp their identity and deny their political rights.
President Saleh has complained that southerners nurture a "culture of hate" against the north.
"Southern disaffection has gone beyond the point of no return," Victoria Clark, author of a recent book on Yemen, told Reuters. "Saleh’s biggest mistake would be to crack down on southerners as hard as he has tried to do on the Houthi rebels."
Southerners, comprising less than a fifth of the population, no longer have the tanks, aircraft and heavy weapons to fight a conventional war as they did in the 1994 secessionist revolt.
"My best guess would be that the break-up of the state will happen in the inevitable dust-up that will follow the removal of Saleh, which will happen when the money to pay the army and civil service runs out," Clark said.
The Sanaa government is already strapped for cash. This week it raised fuel prices to ease the burden of diesel subsidies which Central Bank officials say cost around $2 billion a year.
Yemen, whose rial has lost over 10 percent of its dollar value this year, said in January it needed $2 billion a year in aid to stay afloat and double that to turn its economy around.
"The regime pretends it’s just a matter of fine-tuning an otherwise well-running machine, but the machine is broken and without an overhaul we face disaster," said Iryani, listing economic woes such as tariff collection failures, declining foreign investment, diesel smuggling and capital flight.
Yemen lies near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption index, ranking 154 out of 180 countries last year.
Yemeni officials, however, blame falling oil income for aggravating economic, financial and security problems.
Western donors, alarmed by a Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner by a Yemen-based al Qaeda militant, say they want to improve governance and the capacity of Saleh’s government to spend $4.7 billion of aid pledged as long ago as 2006.
Throwing development money or counter-terrorism aid at Yemen will not correct what a Carnegie paper by Australian academic Sarah Phillips called "the heavily centralised system of power that keeps resources and political leverage in the hands of a select few and further entrenches Yemenis’ economic hardship".
That hardship is perhaps nowhere more acute than among the 270,000 people who fled battles between government forces and Houthi rebels in and around the northern city of Saada.
A February ceasefire halted six months of fierce fighting in the north, but U.N. officials say many of the displaced have sold their last livestock while waiting to see if it holds.
"People have three options after that — revolt, migrate or die," said World Food Programme spokeswoman Emilia Casella.
Senior Yemeni officials say al Qaeda recruiters can also thrive in a country with 35 percent unemployment, coupled with poverty affecting 42 percent of a young population.
Iryani, the Yemeni analyst, described al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is thought to have no more than a few hundred militants, as a minor concern that could be laid to rest if the grievances that helped it recruit were addressed.
"Poverty, injustice, callous disregard for the law and rampant corruption that have undermined the legitimacy of the regime: once we deal with these we can easily deal with AQAP." (Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s home-grown economic ills pose a knottier challenge for its hardline leaders than possible new United Nations or U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program.
Even so, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter is far from collapse, despite its economy underperforming and simmering discontent 11 months after a disputed presidential election.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s hardline rulers are keeping a tight grip on internal opposition and milking the nuclear standoff with the West to rally nationalist support, but hardly exude confidence that they enjoy wide popular backing.
“Iranian society is a powder keg of economic malaise, political outrage and social discontent, but the opposition currently lacks both leadership and a strategy,” said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
About 3,000 people marched in Beirut on Sunday to demand a secular system in place of the Muslim-Christian sectarianism that permeates politics, employment and family status matters in Lebanon. “Civil marriage, not civil war” was among the banners carried by the mostly young, educated protesters who gathered in response to a campaign on Internet social networking sites. It was Lebanon’s first such demonstration in favor of secularism.
Many wore white T-shirts with “What’s your sect?” written on the front and “None of your business” on the back.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – About 3,000 people marched in Beirut on Sunday to demand a secular system in place of the Muslim-Christian sectarianism that permeates politics, employment and family status matters in Lebanon.
“Civil marriage, not civil war” was among the banners carried by the mostly young, educated protesters who gathered in response to a campaign on Internet social networking sites. It was Lebanon’s first such demonstration in favor of secularism.
BEIRUT, April 23 (Reuters) – A bullet-scarred concrete hulk squats in the heart of Beirut’s rebuilt downtown area, a visual affront to those who prefer to forget Lebanon’s civil war.
A cacophony of car horns and construction clatter make the derelict former cinema a noisy place for contemplation. Lavish new buildings are growing around it to complete the restoration of a once-devastated city centre.
Lebanon is caught up in a property boom, which, along with an influx of tourists and bank deposits, is fuelling growth that hit 9 percent last year, despite a global economic downturn.
So if the good times are here again, why dwell on the pain of a conflict that erupted in April 1975?
To avoid repeating it, say the creators of war exhibits in the oval former cinema now known as the Dome.
"The problem about the war in Lebanon is its recurrence, the re-emergence of violence every year or so," said Alfred Tarazi, a 29-year-old artist and graphic designer whose eerie collages of civil war-era photos fill several walls in the exhibition.
"Violence is a social habit rooted in our society and it always seems a plausible option to resolve a political crisis," Tarazi said. "I am worried about what can happen."
Visitors can write on the walls or record the names of loved ones killed in the 15-year war. The audio clips are looped into a ghostly chorus accompanying a video projection of black cloths swaying above a beach, with the Dome itself apparently afloat offshore — echoing the exhibit’s title: "In a sea of oblivion".
NATION, WHAT NATION?
Lebanon has no national war memorial, perhaps understandably in a land where sectarian tensions remain so deep-seated and contemporary events so disputed that school history textbooks do not go beyond independence from France in the 1940s.
After a messy compromise ended the civil war in 1990 and ushered in an era of Syrian domination, many Lebanese, thirsting for normality, seemed to gloss over the cruelties of the past.
A formal amnesty made most warlords-turned-politicians safe from any accountability for the blood on their hands.
Nevertheless, the families of an estimated 17,000 people still missing after the conflict refused to bury the issue.
Hundreds of photos of those victims, many of them young, are displayed at the Dome as part of a project by the private Lebanese group UMAM to research and document the civil war.
Among them is a haunting portrait of a young Palestinian woman and her four small children, in a Red Cross convoy to escape a siege of their Beirut shantytown in 1976.
"They never arrived," said Marie-Claude Souaid, a researcher at UMAM. "That phase of the war saw the first big waves of displacement. How to displace people without massacres?"
She believes it will take many years for the Lebanese to overcome their troubled past or even to abandon violence.
"There is still this fear," she said of a country prone to conflict. Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006. Lebanese factions flirted with renewed civil strife when Shi’ite fighters briefly seized mainly Sunni Muslim parts of Beirut in May 2008.
"Our wars are not over yet," Souaid said. "We have not yet taken the decision to use something other than weapons."
The Lebanese state has formally taken up the issue of the missing, but a solution would take time, she said, recalling the 30-year struggle of the mothers of Argentina’s "disappeared".
Bodies would have to be recovered from mass graves, either in cemeteries under Christian or Muslim religious authorities or in areas known to have been controlled by certain armed groups.
"That means pointing the finger at those responsible," Souaid said. "To reach reconciliation, one must admit responsibility."
Intellectuals often fret over Lebanon’s perceived failure to come to grips with its past, but this does not mean the Lebanese have simply forgotten the war, argues Sune Haugbolle, Danish author of a new book on "War and Memory in Lebanon".
"This idea of amnesia is problematic because there were a lot of ways in which people dealt with the memory of the war, but just not in the way the intellectuals would like them to."
Haugbolle cited the posters of "martyred" leaders that plaster certain Beirut neighbourhoods, reinforcing sectarian narratives. Those who constructed a memory of the conflict as a "war of others" often ignored the reality of communal violence.
"This war of others is not just the war of outsiders, as in Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis, Americans and so on," said Haugbolle, who is Assistant Professor in Modern Islam and Middle East Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
"It’s also the idea that a few militia leaders manipulated the whole Lebanese population, who then had no responsibility for what happened — a romanticised idea of the civil war."
The war cost an estimated 150,000 dead and many more wounded or displaced. Initially fought between Christian militias and leftists allied to Palestinians, it spawned a dizzying array of conflicts as Syria, Israel and others intervened.
Sectarian boundaries were briefly blurred in the mass protests that followed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination in 2005, but politicians soon reverted to business as usual, playing on communal fears when it suited them.
Yet overt sectarianism is frowned on and for now Lebanon is enjoying fragile political detente that has helped the economy.
Politicians, including some from rival wartime factions, played a soccer friendly on April 13, the civil war anniversary, to send a message that they are "all one team".
The slightly comic spectacle generally went down well. "We had a good laugh," said one newspaper vendor. "But if they run the country the way they play football, we have a big problem." Such displays mask underlying tensions and fears that obstruct any kind of reconciliation process from below.
"There isn’t a single Lebanese who doesn’t know how harmful the civil war was. If the war was over, everyone would engage in this process," said Tarazi, gesturing at the photos in the Dome. "But we also have this Lebanese way — we have terrible things happening and then we just keep going." (Editing by Andrew Roche)
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Long-range Scud missiles, which Israel has accused Syria of sending to Hezbollah in Lebanon, seem unlikely weapons of choice for a nimble guerrilla outfit, although they might pack a psychological punch.
“Hezbollah need to float like butterflies, sting like bees. They don’t need something that lumbers along like an ox,” British defense analyst Charles Heyman said.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United States looks short of Iran options. Even President Barack Obama acknowledges that new sanctions might fail, but has not laid out another plan.
Iran, which has had stormy ties with Washington since its 1979 revolution ousted the U.S.-backed shah, has sworn to defy any harsher measures over what it says is a peaceful nuclear program. The West suspects Tehran is seeking atomic bombs.