Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Steinmeier’s uphill battle to oust “Angie”

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If keeping his fractured party together was the main goal, Frank-Walter Steinmeier passed his first big test as the German Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor with flying colours.

   Unveiling the SPD’s election campaign programme at a party conference on Sunday, Steinmeier (who is also Germany’s foreign minister) tried hard to satisfy everyone gathered at the Berlin Tempodrom – and by and large succeeded.

   For the restless left-wing of the party, there were promises to tilt tax rates in favour of low earners, plans for a new levy on stock market transactions and calls for a 7.50 euro minimum wage for all German workers.

   Party centrists, on the other hand, could take comfort in Steinmeier’s decision to veto a new wealth tax that SPD leftists had been pushing for.

from Africa News blog:

Will Mandela effect help ANC?

Nelson Mandela, a global symbol of reconciliation after the end of apartheid in 1994, appeared at the ruling ANC's last election rally before Wednesday's vote, delivering a last minute campaign boost for party leader Jacob Zuma.

Wearing a Zuma t-shirt, he sat beside the ANC leader, who has been fighting corruption allegations for eight years. The case was just dropped on a technicality and some South Africans still question his innocence.

Hollywood props, deployed by the U.S. Army

There was no one there but us and the fake chickens.

I visited the U.S. Army’s training center at Fort Polk in Louisiana this month with some fellow foreign correspondents to see soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division training for a mission in Afghanistan. For 21 days, the soldiers are meant to live and operate as if they had already deployed to the war zone. (You can see the story here.)

The center goes to great lengths to recreate the experience that troops will face in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means fireworks to simulate bomb explosions, fake blood to make casualties look realistic, and Afghan or Iraqi role-players to act as civilians, security force members and interpreters.

Bizarre details emerge in Bolivian plot

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Terrorists tried to blow up Bolivia’s President Evo Morales on a naval boat on Lake Titicaca. Mercenaries, including a veteran of the Balkan wars, were plotting against Morales and his political opponents at the same time. A Roman Catholic cardinal was among their targets. Reuters correspondent Eduardo Garcia reports that these are just some of the bizarre allegations made by the Bolivian government after police killed three men in a shootout at a hotel. The government said the police foiled a plot to assassinate the leftist president.

The strange tale began on Thursday when Bolivian police killed three alleged terrorists or mercenaries and arrested two others in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. Morales said he ordered the men detained because they were plotting to kill him.  When police stormed the hotel, a gunfight broke out and three suspected were killed. Where the dead men came from is still a mystery. Government officials said they traveled from either Ireland or Croatia to kill Morales and trigger a spiral of violence in the poor South American country. Morales said two of the men killed were Hungarian. But local media cite police sources saying one of them was from Ireland and one from Romania.

The third man killed was identified as Bolivian Eduardo Rozsa Flores, who the government says fought in separatist movements in the former Yugoslavia. In his blog, Rozsa describes himself as Muslim and in one entry he calls Morales’ hero, Argentine revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara a racist and mass murderer. He also had this site.

from Africa News blog:

Will South Africa’s poor always back ANC?

It’s one of the biggest ironies in South African politics -- the most loyal ANC voters are often those the party appears to have let down most bitterly.

For millions of poor, mostly black South Africans, life has barely changed since the African National Congress defeated apartheid under Nelson Mandela in 1994.

Growing sense of fin de siecle in Brussels

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    There is a growing feeling of “fin de siecle” in Brussels  these days, a sense of degeneration, of euro-depression.
    But people across the European Union do not seem to care.

Speakers’ Corner, Moscow Style?

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So President Medevedev would like to create a “Speakers’ Corner” in Central Moscow for Russians to vent their political passions.******”It looks cool,” Medvedev told a group of human rights activists. “I need to speak with the Russian authorities and build our very own Hyde Park.”***Was this just a rhetorical flourish to impress his guests, a signal that he would loosen the reins that his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, has pulled so tight? Free speech, say the rights activists, is not something Russian authorities have prized, whether on the streets or in the media. Would it, could it, work in Moscow? Where ever would you put it in that crowded, bustling city? Who would go there? What would they do there?***Singaporeans, not know for a culture of dissent and protest, have led the way, setting up their own speakers’ corner to protest over economic hardship. Hundreds meet there every Saturday to demand government help. No trouble reported yet.******The London speakers’ corner is held up by some as a symbol of British democracy, a place where anyone can stand on a box and say (more or less) whatever he wants without fear. Yes, in their day, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx haunted the place, touting ideas that would have had them dragged away by police in their own countries. Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, wrote in her memoirs that the Bolshevik leaader was most impressed watching speakers “harangue the passing crowds on diverse themes”. All jolly stuff and not something he himself encouraged when he set up the dictatorship of the proletariat back at home.******These days though, for the most part, London’s speakers’ corner is a gathering place for quirky exhibitionists and comedians, political oddballs of left and right and religious eccentrics of all ilks warning sinful tourists of hell and damnation. The occasional thoughtful soul will read through Shakespeare’s sonnets or expound the virtues of a forgotten philosopher. Heckling seems to be a central part of the fun. A policeman may be at hand in case things turn nasty, but they rarely do.******Possibly, the spot in the north-east corner of Hyde Park was chosen for its closeness to Tyburn gallows where once the condemned would make their last declarations. The Moscow equivalent to Tyburn, I suppose, would be Red Square, where villains were put to death by the axe – though, in the Russian tradition, without those last words. Perhaps, then, Moscow’s Speakers’ Corner might fit nicely nearby at Alexandrov Gardens, at the Kremlin Walls. Arguably, though, a bit too close to***Medvedev’s seat of power. My proposal would be a few hundred metres up Tver Avenue, on Pushkin Square where the Soviet Union once maintained its own bizarre and macabre form of speakers’ corner. Perhaps I should call it the hat-takers-offers corner.******Every Human Rights Day, a keen crowd of journalists and plain-clothes KGB officers would gather in the winter cold around the perimeter of the square named after the great liberal poet Alexander Pushkin. As the hour of eleven approached, a tense hush would descend. A single figure would eventually appear, walk to the centre of the square, stand for a moment, and then take his hat (usually a rabbit-skin ‘shapka’) off; a symbolic protest against the suppression of human rights in the communist state.******In an instant, the KGB officers would swoop down upon him, drag him across the square, bundle him into a van and speed him off to the Lubyanka prison. A few minutes would pass and a second dissident would arrive, take off his hat and stand to attention before being likewise borne away by the forces of order. And so it went on.******Pity though the ‘innocent’ citizen who strayed unwittingly onto the square on that December day, carrying perhaps a magazine or a string bag of potatoes, and found himself suddenly the focus of this hawkeyed gathering. He would break his step and look around, of course, in wonder at his sudden and unexplained celebrity. Me?***That was more enough. Hat or no hat, he followed the rest, bundled into the van and away. It happened, sadly.******Finally, I ask myself who would pitch up at Moscow’s speakers’ corner and in what frame of mind? Memories of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the coups, the civil wars, the anger and the hardship, are still fresh. Economic crisis raises fears of another plunge into uncertainty and the eternal search continues. Kto Vinovat? Who is to blame?******What makes London’s Speakers’ Corner possible, amid all the mockery and sometimes quite pernicious views, is that most people just don’t take it seriously. They laugh, make fun. There may be anger but it knows its bounds. People throw up their hands and walk away, triumphant or humiliated before their peers.******How would Speakers’ Corner take root in Russian soil? Would liberal literati feast on Pushkin and Gogol, while the preachers invoke the fires of hell? Would it become a platform for Muscovites nursing private grievances against uncaring state institutions, the police, big business, the President? Could a Chechen malcontent plant his flag alongside angry nationalists and red-banner waving Stalinists?***Are Russians ready yet to laugh at profanity?

Mixed emotions six years after Saddam’s fall

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In 2003, when U.S. troops stormed into Baghdad and the statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down, I think I must have been elated like many other Iraqis. Today, after the six years of bloodshed and slaughter set off by the U.S.  invasion, it’s hard to remember that feeling, which must have been one of enormous relief and joy.  Instead I am left with mixed emotions, grateful that the horror of Saddam’s rule ended but also deeply saddened by the horrors that followed his fall.


  I was eager to live in an Iraq without Saddam. I always hated his brutal rule of Iraq. He had taken us into wars in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Iraqis might also easily face death if they spoke out against Saddam or criticized his government. But if you kept your mouth shut and did not join any political party other than his now outlawed Baath party, you most probably would have been left alone.
    When Saddam was ousted by the invasion, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003, I thought then that Iraq would finally be at peace after a long period of tough times. I never imagined what followed. It never crossed my mind that tens of thousands would be slaughtered simply for being a Shi’ite Muslim or a Sunni, the two Islamic sects in Iraq. Millions would flee their homes. And that bombs laid by insurgents would mow down thousands more.
    I sometimes wondered why did we get rid of Saddam if the killing continued, although for different reasons?
    The violence has begun to ebb, but still my relatives and friends are scattered to the winds.
    As an Iraqi journalist I have explored the social impact of war on my country. I have interviewed orphans and widows, and people whose limbs were blown off by bombs. It has left my heart full of more pain than I ever thought it could bear.
    I have also seen Iraq, amid the violence and fear, embrace new freedoms in politics and also in life: we have cellular telephones and satellite television, both restricted or banned in Saddam’s time. Saddam’s government had long lists of forbidden items.  One of them was satellite television. Anyone caught watching international news shows could be sent to prison for six months.
    It is clear to me that Iraqi society would not have been allowed to develop had Saddam remained in charge. Now despite the dark years that have passed, we can at least cling to hopes of better times. We have a parliament that we elect, and not one-man rule.
    This week, an Iraqi appeals court reduced to one year a three-year prison sentence handed to an Iraqi journalist who dared to throw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush. I was impressed and had to raise my hat to the independence of the judiciary. I asked my parents what they thought the journalist’s sentence would have been had he committed the same offence during Saddam’s times. My mother answered: “He would not only have been executed without trial but all of his family would have been erased from the Iraqi map.”

ASEAN seeks to create one big village

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ASEAN/ A pink dragon-like alien from outerspace (who for some odd reason is called “Blue”) is driving through space one day when he gets into a traffic accident with some space debris and falls to earth. The creature lands in Southeast Asia (where bizarre traffic accidents are commonplace) in a place called “ASEAN Village”. It is here, waiting for his spaceship to be fixed, where Blue learns about ASEAN and its acheivements over the past 40 years, and its aspiration to become one big happy ASEAN Community.

Environmental activists dressed in orangutan suits at the ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, Feb. 28, 2009. REUTERS PHOTO/Adrees Latif

Indonesia: To hell and back

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By Dean Yates

(The author lived in Indonesia from 1992-1995 and 2000-2005, with various assignments in between)

It was not that long ago that Indonesia was lurching from crisis to crisis, even drawing some (misplaced) predictions it could go the way of the former Yugoslavia and break apart. These days it rarely makes the front page. It has a steady president in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, probably the freest press in Southeast Asia and political violence appears to be a thing of the past. The last major bomb attack blamed on Islamic militants was in 2005.

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