Zimbabwe: Crises In Climax

With inflation at over 4,500 percent and hospitals, water, power and food access close to collapse, Zimbabwe faces its worst crisis since independence from Britain, reports the Associated Press. In June, the government of President Robert Mugabe accused store owners of fueling the inflation and ordered 50 percent price cuts on commodities such as bread, eggs and milk. Some stores are now refusing to re-order because prices are so low. Many Zimbabweans are coping with the food shortage by traveling to South Africa for goods, but Mugabe’s government will soon put a stop to that with a new law to limiting the import of food. Thousands of other Zimbabweans are simply leaving the country, looking for work and housing in South Africa.

Schwarzenegger: on the Wings of Charity

Government watchdogs are concerned that a shadowy nonprofit that finances Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lavish international trips may also allow special interests to donate big bucks to the governor in return for political favors — and all without any public accountability. The Los Angeles Times reports that a 501c(3) charity, the California State Protocol Foundation, spent $1.3 million in 2006 alone to pay for the governor’s private jets and luxurious hotel suites when Schwarzenegger travels abroad, even though he is personally wealthy. The group is closely connected with the California Chamber of Commerce, and pays all the bills the governor submits without itemization. The foundation won’t reveal who its donors are, but a spokesman suggested the charity was actually sparing taxpayers from having to foot the governor’s travel bill. Watchdogs say the public ought to pay for such official trips, since it would keep Schwarzenegger from spending so much money.

Net Neutrality Tempers Flare, and Cross Borders

Tensions and voices are rising over a push by Internet carriers such as AT&T to charge content providers — such as Google — for access to their networks. John Kneuer, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s assistant secretary for communications and information, got in a shouting match with delegates at a San Francisco technology conference after giving a speech in which he said the government ought not step in to protect internet access and innovation. He said that the market had created a wealth of broadband providers to choose from, which provoked shouts of “There is no marketplace!” from attendees. Their point, according to The Register, is that the few large corporations controlling the “lion’s share” of broadband Internet access do not constitute a competitive market.

Democracy, Too, Slides in Bangladesh

Even as Bangladesh reels from lethal mudslides, the nation’s political establishment is in chaos following the suspension of the legislature, and the arrest of thousands by the military as part of an alleged anti-corruption campaign. Now the European Union has expressed “deep concern” over rights violations and claims of the extra-judicial killing of almost 100 individuals, Agence France-Press reports. Those arrested include leaders of two of Bangladesh’s main political parties, as well as the son of a former prime minister. An editorialist writing under a pseudonym for United Press International says the crackdown follows two years of political discord, strikes and unrest that caused the most harm to average citizens through failing social services and economic decline. Most of all, he says, Bangladeshis are confused.

In Nigeria, an Election Gives and Takes

UPDATED 5.30.07
Labor unions across Nigeria went on a two-day strike in protest of the recent presidential election, which was condemned by observers as “massively rigged.” The BBC reports that results were announced even for regions where no voting took place. On the heels of the inauguration, which was boycotted by seven outgoing state governors and the former vice president, the government announced a windfall of more than $700 million in crude oil profits. The funding is to be distributed to incoming federal, state and local administrations around the nation. The new president called for an end to oil-related strife in the impoverished Niger River Delta region, where kidnappings and violence are on the rise.

Pakistan: Taliban Follows Democracy’s Retreat

Even as President Pervez Musharraf’s dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry continues to shake up Pakistan, Islamists along the fractious border with Afghanistan are extending their territory and evading government efforts to bring them to heel. In Lahore on May 6, tens of thousands turned out to greet Chaudry, who critics say was ousted for refusing to support Musharraf’s bid to extend his military rule. But bloody street fighting erupted in Karachi six days later in advance of Chaudry’s speech before the Karachi Bar Association, taking the lives of 48 opposition party members. Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif claimed that the killings were “masterminded” by Musharraf and his allies in the Muttahida Quami Movement, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports. Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly says that the MQM is the party of ethnic north Indians who immigrated to Karachi after 1947, and were involved with “communal wars” there that left “thousands” dead in the 1980s.

From Iraq to Nepal, Child Militants Swell the Ranks

Thousands of Iraqi children earn $3 to $7 a day making bombs, cleaning guns and transporting weapons for Shiite and Sunni militias in Baghdad. The chlorine bombs burn the children and sometimes detonate, but insurgents say they can’t be blamed for something that parents have consented to. Iraqi parents blame a lack of work, or say their children are threatened if they don’t follow orders. One father justified sending his sons to make bombs by saying it puts food on the table and helps fight the Americans. In India, militias are recruiting hundreds of child soldiers to fight rebels along the India-Myanmar border.

DISSENT: Critics Quickly Jailed in Cuba, China, Turkey

A renowned Chinese clean-water campaigner in the industrialized Shanghai watershed was taken from his home last week by undercover police officers on charges of blackmail. Although pollution there is bad enough to have brought visits by top Communist Party officials, Wu Lihong’s family says his work upset local officials who profit from factory taxes. Critics say Chinese harassment and detention of activists is commonplace. In Cuba, journalist Oscar Sanchez Madan was arrested, tried and jailed all on the same day; a week later, human rights advocate Rolando Jimenez Posada was given a 12-year sentence after being held without charges for four years. Both trials were held in secret, and neither had defense lawyers present.

Conscience is the Question at a Time of War

Writing in the Guardian, columnist Henry Porter says Western forces may have triggered the violence in Iraq, but that “the great majority of casualties are caused by Arabs killing Arabs.” In particular, he condemned “the Muslim world” for silence over Islamist use of chlorine gas in civilian attacks, which turns to acid when contacting the skin, lungs, eyes, throat and nose. Accountability is topic No. 1 in Canada as well, where critics called for the resignation of Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor after reports blamed Canadian troops for the torture of more than 30 Afghan prisoners. O’Connor says he will investigate, but his detractors say that government awareness and acceptance of torture is equivalent to complicity in “war crimes,” the Canadian Broadcast Service reports.

The Arab's Gambit

Perennial anti-immigration candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen is again gaining ground in France’s upcoming presidential election — even among French Arabs and Muslims, who share his social conservatism.
Photo Source: Fr@ncois