Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

In line of fire at Bangkok protests

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A man is dragged to safety after being shot on Rama IV Road during clashes between army soldiers and anti-government ‘red shirt’ supporters in Bangkok on Sunday. (Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

may 16 7It was 2 a.m. on a Friday morning and we were stuck in the Reuters office on the 35th floor of the U Chu Liang Building. Thai anti-government protesters had begun rioting after their military strategist, a flamboyant major-general known as  “Commander Red” was shot in the head as he was being interviewed by the New York Times at the “red shirt” protest encampment that occupies a huge chunk of expensive real estate in the Thai capital.

The protesters had swarmed into our parking lot, troops hot on their heels. One red shirt was shot dead, taking a bullet through his eye, outside our office.  Our managers  had ordered us to evacuate, but we had to wait until the violence died down outside.  I strapped on a 10 kg flak jacket and helmet emblazoned with “press stickers”, took a ride down the cargo elevator in a building under emergency power, and stepped carefully into the parking lot, looking around to see if it was safe for the remaining people in the newsroom to leave. It was quiet, as I crept around the parking lot, dodging from car to car, feeling slightly ridiculous. A taxi was parked just outside. I was beginning to understand what gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson meant when he said in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:  ”When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

I was about to enter the taxi,  when BOOM! The sound of a grenade maybe 50 metres away, followed by the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic gunfire. I jumped into the taxi, and told the driver to take me to my hotel. Quickly please. “Boom!”, he said, and laughed. “Boom, boom,boom,” he added, mimicking the act of firing a gun. And laughing once more we drove off into the terrifying night.

For the past four days, journalists have been moving out of their offices into hotels, and then out of their hotels into ones further from the combat zone, as violence escalated across the city of 15 million people in random urban warfare. The military was firing at groups of protesters setting up barricades of burning tyres, behind which they hurled petrol bombs and projectiles with slingshots. At least five journalists have been among the seven foreigners shot. One journalist took a bullet in the chest, but since he was wearing a heavy flak jacket, he just fell down and hurt his back.

Playing with inflated numbers

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Most people would agree that the European Union and the euro single currency are part of a grand political and economic vision. But at times they are also a bit of a numbers game.

As Greece has shown with its less-than-reliable economic statistics, numbers can be fiddled to get budget deficits and debts down and meet the criteria to join the euro.

The incredible shrinking Kim Jong-il

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KOREA NORTH/KIMNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il emerged from his reclusive life last week for a rare visit to China looking every bit the part of a man nearing 70 recovering from serious illness. Kim, who was widely suspected of suffering a stroke about two years ago, walked with a slight limp, had a thinning head of hair and shed the trademark paunch that once pressed snugly against his jumpsuits. The most telling pictures of his change can be seen in the posed shots he took with Chinese President Hu Jintao, born just 10 months after Kim in 1942, and looking much younger  today.  Pictures taken in October 2005 when Hu visited Pyongyang and from earlier this month when Kim was in Beijing show how much the North Korean leader has changed.

The world has few chances to see Kim free from the filter of his state’s official media and the trip to China reminded people just how frail the man known at home as the “Dear Leader” is.  He is a man of diminished physical stature whose policy blunders have caused the state’s economy to grow smaller since he took over in 1994 when his father died.  His pursuit of  nuclear arms and a missile arsenal have driven his state further into isolation. While Soviet satellites crashed down to earth with the end of the Cold War, Kim’s North Korea just plodded along as a historical anomaly, planting even more propaganda banners proclaiming the brilliance of its socialist system.KOREA NORTH HU

Managing in a crisis, EU style

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EU cube

 

Never let it be said that the European Union doesn’t get things done.

It may have a slightly maddening way of going about it — last-minute, late-night summits, hours and hours of sweaty, closed-door negotiation, multiple conflicting plans put forward by the likes of the Finns, the Italians and, who knows, the Estonians – and then, hey presto, like the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, at 2 in the morning, a $1 trillion deal to haul the world back from the debt-crisis abyss. All in the name of European unity.

As one Brussels policy analyst put it somewhat delphically : “The EU is not crisis resistant, but perhaps it is crisis proof.” 

from Tales from the Trail:

The coming conflict with China

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2008 was the last presidential election when voters didn't know or care about the candidates views on China, argues political risk analyst Ian Bremmer.

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/Bremmer's new book "The End of the Free Market" argues that the Chinese economic model -- which he calls state capitalism -- is so fundamentally different from Western free market capitalism that tensions and economic conflict are inevitable in the years ahead.

Finding your inner Neanderthal

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Now that we know that many of us carry a little Neanderthal — click here  if you missed that one — you may wonder what great-great-great grandma would have looked like.   NEANDERTHAL-CROATIA/MUSEUM

The Smithsonian can help you – check it out here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Nikola Solic (new museum dedicated to Neanderthals in Croatia)

Ordinary Indonesians mourn loss of Finance Minister Indrawati

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By Sunanda CreaghSri Mulyani Indrawati

The decision by Indonesia’s reformist Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati to move to the World Bank must have thrilled those politicians who lobbied hard to dethrone her and derail her anti-corruption drive. But if letters to the editor in the local media are any guide, Indonesia’s ‘wong cilik’ or the little people, as the man on the street is called here — are in mourning.
“It was a black Wednesday in the history of our nation,” read one reader’s letter to the Jakarta Post.
“One of the most honest and qualified people and someone who is known as the hope, finally succumbed to political pressure by the political elite that prefer to remain.”
Many letter-writers have begged her to return in 2014 to run for president, while others have expressed fears that, without her, Indonesia will return to the bad old days of cronyism.
“We didn’t want to see you driven out. Take pity on the people of Indonesia!” one reader, Daslam Al Maliki, wrote on the Indonesian-language news website Tempo Interaktif.
Indrawati, as well as being a widely respected economist, is a notoriously tough cookie who stood up to powerful businessmen and politicians who wanted the rules bent in their favour.
In retaliation, she was made the target of an inquiry into the 2008 decision to bail out the ailing Bank Century.

Chief among her detractors was Golkar, the party of former President Suharto, now headed by business magnate and politician Aburizal Bakrie.
Her departure has also been met with a deafening silence from the country’s business elite. Few among Indonesia’s tycoons seem sad to see the back of a politician who made it her mission to end collusion between powerful businessmen and crooked officials and lawmakers.
Several have paid lip service to her abilities as an economist but no-one — except the distressed letter-writers — appears to be pleading for her to stay.
The yawning gap between the reponses of the public on the one hand and the political and business elite on the other underlines how out of touch those in power are with their constituents.
Last year’s elections were fought over the issue of reform, the fight against corruption, as means to deliver better economic growth and more jobs in a country of high unemployment and underemployment.
A recent poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute found that those parties that pushed hardest to investigate Indrawati and the Bank Century bailout decision have actually lost support.
Political analysts and economists are now wondering if her departure is a sign that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s commitment to institutional reform is flagging.
“What is wrong with Indonesia? While the top brains are needed to run this country, even the President approves this brain drain,” one reader, ‘Walt’, wrote in the Jakarta Post.
Not all letter-writers are Indrawati fans; several are suspicious she is leaving the country to avoid further questioning over the Bank Century case, an allegation Indrawati has dismissed.
But to many Indonesians, her bruising political battles have turned her into a national heroine while her new job on the international stage will bring prestige to Indonesia
Indrawati herself appears relieved and happy she is moving on to a job that will, hopefully, involve a little less mud-slinging.
“Don’t cry for me, Indonesia. I go for the good of all,” read one headline in the Jakarta Post, a wry reference to Argentinian leader Evita Peron.

Deja vu? EU ministers meet on Greece

Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou kisses French counterpart Christine Lagarde

Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou kisses French counterpart Christine Lagarde

 

How many meetings does it take for the European Union to
solve a problem? Quite a few — at least in the case of Greece’s
debt crisis
and preventing it from spreading to other euro zone
countries.

from Afghan Journal:

America expanding its undeclared war in Pakistan?

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The car packed with explosives at Times Square

(The car packed with explosives at Times Square)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Pakistan of  'severe consequences" if a future attack on the U.S. homeland is traced back to Pakistani militant groups.

It's the kind of language that harks back to the Bush administration when they threatened to  "bomb Pakistan to the Stone Age" if it didn't cooperate in the war against al  Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks.  Pakistan fell in line, turning on militant groups, some of whom with close ties to the security establishment.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

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marjah"The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience."

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

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