Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Bibi’s back as flak

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Saying he was answering a request from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to help out with Israel’s “PR”, or public relations, during its current Gaza offensive against Hamas, right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave a series of interviews to foreign media on Tuesday, including Reuters in
Jerusalem.

It’s not every day that a leader of a country’s main opposition party serves as what journalists call a “flak”, or PR spokesman, in support of political rivals.

With Israeli military forces in action against Hamas, it’s a time for unity, Netanyahu explained, six weeks before Israel’s national election.

Since Israeli air strikes began in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Bibi, as Netanyahu is popular known, has been taking a back seat to Defence Minister Ehud Barak of Labour and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the ruling Kadima Party.

A Braveheart Christmas in the Holy Land

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In the big battle scene in the movie Braveheart, terrified whispers ran up and down the ragged ranks of sword-waving Scots that the English were ranged before them with “500 heavy horse” – armoured cavalry of devastating power in those days.

But the wild-haired hero-general William Wallace (actor-director Mel Gibson) rode his pony up and down the front ranks shouting: “We don’t have to beat them. We just have to fight them!”

China’s elusive land reform

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It is ironic that 30 years after they gave birth to the reforms that transformed China into an economic powerhouse, the country’s vast hinterlands are still dogged by poverty.

The breathtaking growth of the economy since the pro-market reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping has led to an extraordinary increase in real living standards and an unprecedented decline in poverty. According to World Bank estimates, more than 60 percent of the population lived under the $1 per day poverty line at the beginning of economic reform. This had fallen to 10 percent by 2004, so - on this narrow measure at least – about 500 million people were lifted out of poverty in a single generation.

Gaza breakfast turns to horror

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Saturday is my day off from being Reuters correspondent in Gaza and I usually sleep until noon.  This Saturday things didn’t go to plan.

My 7-year-old son Abdel-Rahman and his sister Dalia, who is 12, came home early from school, as they have been doing their mid-term exams, to wake me up and ask me to take them for breakfast at a seafront restaurant not far from Gaza’s port.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

One year on, same questions swirl around Bhutto’s murder

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The anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination has reminded everyone just how much we still don't know about her killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
 
The same questions that transfixed the shocked country in the days after her death, such as why was the crime scene hosed down so quickly, was she killed when the blast smashed her head into the lever on her vehicle's escape hatch or by a bullet, why was no autopsy performed, are again being raised.
 
Investigations by the previous government and the U.S. CIA accused an al Qaeda-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud, of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
 
That would seem logical enough but, as we've seen with the Mumbai attacks, any militant attack on or linked to Pakistan seems to raise questions about possible links to old allies in the powerful intelligence services.
 

The News newspaper published a report citing unidentified people privy to the investigations as saying unravelling the mystery could led to "startling revelations ... with serious political implications".
 
Irfan Husain, writing in Dawn, said Bhutto was unacceptable to both the military establishment and the militants, though for different reasons.
 
"For the military establishment, she was simply unacceptable because she was a Bhutto and a Sindhi ... the jihadis and their sponsors did not want to face a popular leader who was against everything they stood for," Husain said.
 
"Benazir Bhutto understood that this was a war to the end, and no negotiated settlement was possible with a foe that wanted to impose its stone-age views on the rest of us."
 
Not surprisingly, the anniversary of Bhutto's murder has also raised a lot of "what if" and "what next" questions.
 
Veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai believes Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) would not have won the general election without the sympathy vote her murder generated.
 
Instead, Yusufzai says in a column in the News the election would have brought a balance of power between the PPP and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's party, which would have been a better arrangement for the country.
 
Of course, Bhutto's death also catapulted her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, into power and the presidency after former army chief Pervez Musharraf stepped down in August.
 
Journalist Shaheen Sehbai wrote a provocative piece in the News newspaper entitled "Asif Zardari given enough rope to hang imself" looking at how the PPP has fared and how long Zardari and his government would remain in power.
 
He says "the Zardari group" has taken over Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party "outmanoeuvring the others through opportunities created by circumstances followed up cleverly by a web of deceit, chicanery and in some specific cases simple lies and cheating".
 
He doesn't think the Zaradri-led set up will last long.
 
"How and on what issue the party cracks up is moot, but pressure from the opposition, a wink from the right quarters and one major blunder by Zardari is all it will take."
 
A former journalist and Zardari loyalist, Aniq Zafar, published a rebuttal in the same newspaper the next day denouncing what he said was an unwarranted attack on Zardari and adding: "The Zardari is nothing but the Benazir Bhutto group."
 
Bhutto's old friend, Mark Siegel, told the Daily Times he disregarded the "speculations" over Bhutto's death, which he said was obviously an attempt to create instability.
 
On her legacy, Siegel said: "She was the voice of modern Islam; she was a symbol of what a Muslim woman can accomplish; she was a modern force, she was committed to technologically moving the country to the 21st century; she was committed to human rights, student unions, labour unions, electrification of villages; these were the steps towards modern Pakistan. Her legacy would be a moderate tolerant Pakistan."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

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India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, "India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan's key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting..." The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

Cheers for Africa’s new military ruler. For now.

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Fifteen years ago this month, Guinea’s late ruler Lansana Conte made clear what form democracy would take under his rule.

We answered a summons to a late night news conference to hear the result of his first multiparty election, speeding through silent streets where armoured vehicles waited in the shadows. The interior minister announced that ballots from the east, the opposition’s stronghold, had been cancelled because of irregularities. Conte had therefore won 50.93 percent of the vote. There was no need for a run-off because he had an absolute majority.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

War clouds over South Asia

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There is a strange dichotomy in Delhi at the moment. If you read the headlines or watch the news on television, India and Pakistan appear headed for confrontation - what form, what shape is obviously hard to tell but the rhetoric is getting more and more menacing each day.

Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani promised a matching response 'within minutes" were the Indians to carry out precision strikes against camps of militants inside Pakistan, whom it blames for the Mumbai attacks.

from Tales from the Trail:

To salute or not to salute, that’s Obama’s question

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Barack Obama went to a gym at a military base in Hawaii the other day and did something positively Reaganesque -- he returned a Marine's salute.
 
In so doing, he wandered directly into the middle of a thorny debate: Should U.S. presidents return military salutes or not?
 USA-OBAMA/
Longstanding tradition requires members of the military to salute the president. The practice of presidents returning that salute is more recent -- Ronald Reagan started it in 1981.
 
Reagan's decision raised eyebrows at the time. Dwight Eisenhower, a former five-star general, did not return military salutes while president. Nor had other presidents.
 
John Kline, then Reagan's military aide and now a Minnesota congressman, advised him that it went against military protocol for presidents to return salutes.
 
Kline said in a 2004 op-ed piece in The Hill that Reagan ultimately took up the issue with Gen. Robert Barrow, then commandant of the Marine Corps.
 
Barrow told Reagan that as commander in chief of the armed forces, he was entitled to offer a salute -- or any sign of respect he wished -- to anyone he wished, Kline wrote, adding he was glad for the change.
 
Every president since Reagan has followed that practice, even those with no military experience. President Bill Clinton's saluting skills were roundly criticized after he took office, but the consensus was he eventually got better.
 
The debate over saluting has persisted, with some arguing against it for protocol reasons, others saying it represents an increasing militarization of the civilian presidency.
 
"The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform," author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003.
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"But there is more to this than a decline in military manners," he added. "There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president's military role."
 
Garry Wills, the author and Northwestern University professor, echoed those remarks in the Times in 2007.
 
"The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements," he wrote.
 
"We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of Marines."
 
What do you think? Is returning a salute a common courtesy? Or should Obama reconsider the practice?
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry (Obama waves after leaving a gym at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii Dec. 23); Reuters/Pool (Bush salutes at a ceremony in New York Nov. 11)

Algerians despair despite country’s wealth

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Two Algerians were detained by Egyptian authorities recently while trying to obtain a work visa from the Israeli embassy in Cairo, a local newspaper has reported, despite the fact that Algeria and Israel are still officially at war.
 
A survey, published by an Algerian newspaper, showed that up to half of Algeria’s young men are tempted by the idea of fleeing to Europe as illegal migrants to escape misery at home.
 
Why do so many people from a country – renowned by many in the Arab world for sacrificing up to one million people in a war to end 130 years of French rule – want to escape to Europe?
 
Algeria is a rich nation but its people are poor. It is the world’s fourth largest gas exporter and the tenth of oil. Foreign currency reserves have soared to $138 billion at the end of Nov. 2008 from $41 billion at the end of 2004.
 
Yet, the UNDP’s human development index, which measures quality of life, puts Algeria in 104th place, behind countries such as Cape Verde and Belize.
 
High unemployment, estimated at 70 percent among people under 30 – though official statistics give far lower figures – is driving many Algerians to desperate measures.
 
Earlier this year, police in the town of Chlef fought angry youths who had burned shops and buildings in the latest in a series of protests against lack of housing and jobs and what critics call an unresponsive political elite.
 
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led his North African Arab country out of a brutal civil war by combining military force with an amnesty for militants, but getting Algerians out of poverty appears to be proving more difficult.
 
He looks well placed to stay in office after his allies pushed through a law that allows him to seek a third term in office when his second term ends next year.
 
High oil prices over the past few years have helped the country of 33 million launch a $140 billion five-year national economic development plan and repay a large part of its foreign debt.
 
The Algerian government has promised a $100-150 billion national development drive from next year. But many Algerians ponder how to cope until such a plan takes off.
 
“We are desperate,” said Mohamed Tegar, a 32-year-old resident of Chelf. “We are six men living in a very small flat and all of us are unemployed. We don’t understand the local authorities’ reaction.”

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