Backlash Brewing in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s transitional government, backed by Ethiopian troops, is credited with pushing out the hard-line Union of Islamic Courts. But residents say the new mayor’s harsh tactics have made life even more unbearable than before. More than 1,500 government critics have been detained, many without charges, the Los Angeles Times reports, while longtime “squatters shopkeepers” have been violently evicted, and the streets clear for fear of muggings after 5 p.m., despite house-to-house searches and the destruction of thousands of weapons. This is seen as creating sympathy for the Islamists, but Mogadishu mayor Mohammed Dheere, a militia leader credited with reducing crime in his home city of Jawhar, denies that his tactics are creating terrorists. His citywide disarmament program, backed by a 1,200-member police force, is meant to enforce “law and order,” he told the Times.

The Promises and Pitfalls of Darfur’s Salvation

An international charity is pulling out even as Sudan grudgingly accepts a bolstered peacekeeping force in the Darfur region, home to mounting ethic violence and fears of genocide. The new peacekeeping force comes too late for Oxfam, which has decided to permanently close its operations in on Darfur town over Sudan’s “reluctance” to protect aid workers against roving militias. The United States said the biggest challenge is for Sudan to move beyond good words and fully implement the peacekeeping plan. But the Guardian reports that a failure by the U.S. to deliver as much as $1 billion in support to the peacekeepers may doom such efforts. In the United Kingdom, major investors in Sudanese petroleum, including Barclay’s and the Church of England, are subjects of a new divestment campaign which says oil profits are used to support the murderous Janjaweed militias at the heart of Darfur’s strife.

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.

The Slums: A Boom in Urban Poor Defies Solutions

Experts predict that by 2030 two billion people will live in urban squatter and slum communities with no services, sanitation or running water. The growth of slums and economic disparaties are spurring poitical debate and legal crackdowns, even as new social movements emerge within the communities themselves. reports that today 80 percent of Nigerians — that’s more than 40 million people — live in slums, as do 158 million Indians, or 56 percent of the population. The Economic Times in India puts that sum closer to 70 million, accounting for 45 percent of Delhi’s population, and more than 50 percent of Mumbai’s. In an editorial, the newspaper says that the huge influx of rural poor to cities has changed voting patterns, which are now divided along economic rather than caste lines.

Carbon Trading Beset by Fraud and Doubt

A new report finds the most common system for trading carbon emissions, which allows rich European countries to continue polluting while also investing in environmental projects in developing countries, has major flaws. The report finds that as many as a third of the “green” projects approved in India are actually regular commercial ventures, wrongly approved by fraudulent middlemen. Those concerns led British airline Easyjet to cut out the middleman entirely, buying U.N.-backed carbon credits on the open market and selling them directly to passengers. The Guardian reports that scientists have doubts about how effective carbon credits actually are. Widely-used carbon offset schemes, such as tree planting, may ironically increase global warming by trapping heat, the newspaper reports.

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.

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.

Mines, Factories and the Cost of Asian Growth

Investors breathed a sigh of relief when Indonesia dismissed charges against Newmont Mining, a U.S. firm accused of dumping mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay that locals say causes skin rashes and tumors. But numerous tests found pollution within “normal” levels there, the BBC reports. In Vietnam, rivers are “choking” on industrial waste, Edie News Center reports. Pollution from rapid growth is creating “dead” areas with no plants or animals, where water supplies are “not at all suitable” for domestic use or agriculture. China admitted that pollution is a “severe threat” to its food supply as well.

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.

Le Pen Gains Ground Over (And Among) Arabs

Polls suggest that far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen could do even better in the first round of presidential voting this Sunday than in the 2002 election, when he came in second. Le Pen’s views that North African immigrants cause crime and should be deported even resonate with French Muslims, who say he represents “wholesome values” and will deal with extremists, the BBC reports. In Marseille, children of North African immigrants don’t know who to vote for but agree with Le Pen that immigration has caused mass unemployment that could cost them their jobs. Sources:
“In Marseille, North Africans want brakes on immigration”
Agence France-Presse, April 16, 2007
“Le Pen urges halt to immigration”
BBC (U.K.), April 17, 2007