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NightWatch 20091228

NightWatch

For the Night of 28 December 2009

North Korea: Update. The Ministry of Public Security has imposed a "complete prohibition of foreign currency usage." The decree was issued on 26 December and went into effect on the 28th.

According to a Daily NK source inside North Hamkyung Province reported, "A declaration on banning the use of U.S. dollars, Yuan and the Euro was publicized on the 26th. The declaration was posted in public places and in every work place starting this morning (28 December)."

A source from Yangkang Province also reported, "From December 28, no foreign currencies can be used. The foreign currencies the declaration meant were dollars, Yuan and the Euro." According to the source, the cabinet decided this new regulation.

The title of the declaration is, "On punishing severely those who use foreign currencies within our Republic." The declaration stipulates, "Not for any reason may individuals or organizations possess any foreign currency, with the exception of banks." Trading enterprises or foreign currency earning organizations are directed to put earned foreign currency in the bank within 24 hours and, if they fail to do so, managers will be punished.

The declaration also states, "All the foreign currencies held by trading enterprises should be put in the bank and, when it is needed for trade, it can be withdrawn after obtaining approval." Foreigners, meanwhile, have to deposit their currency into a designated account and exchange it for North Korean won.

Apparently, one aim of the currency reform is to strengthen the North Korean currency, which is worthless outside North Korea. Those analysts who speculated that the currency reform somehow was intended to support a plan for opening the economy mistook opening for recentralization of the statist system.

North Korea-US: The Korean Central News Agency confirmed in a brief report, "A U.S. citizen illegally entered the country across the North Korea-China border and has been detained. The person is currently undergoing questioning by a related agency."

Robert Park, a Korean American fundamentalist Christian, has not been heard of since Christmas Day, when he walked across the frozen Tumen River that borders North Korea and China. Based on comments Park made to Reuters last week, he intended to be arrested and was willing to be executed, if necessary, to draw attention to human rights abuses.

North Korea eventually will expel him, after interrogation, and arrest and torture anyone who helped him inside North Korea.

Pakistan: Security. At least 30 people have been killed and dozens injured in a suicide bombing of a Shia Muslim procession in Karachi, officials said. Ashura on Monday was the climax of the holy period that commemorates the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

The attacker was in a procession with tens of thousands of people, according to the Interior Minister. After the explosion, marchers turned their anger on ambulance workers, security forces and journalists. Rioters torched dozens of shops and vehicles, while members of the security forces who had been guarding the procession were pelted with stones.

Pakistan's security forces have been on high alert as Shia Muslims marked the holy month of Muharram. Obviously this was another in a long line of security lapses. The Shiites will retaliate.

Iran: At least 15 people were killed yesterday during massive anti-government protests in Tehran when opposition supporters clashed with security forces in the streets, Iranian state television reported Monday.

The report said 10 people killed during Sunday's fierce clashes in the Iranian capital were members of "anti-revolutionary terrorist" groups, apparently referring to opposition supporters. The other five who died were killed by "terrorist groups" in a "suspicious act," the report said, without elaborating.

Iranian security forces stormed a series of opposition offices on Monday, rounding up at least seven prominent anti-government activists in a new crackdown against the country's reformist movement, opposition Web sites and activists reported.

Comment: An overreaction phase is in progress. One source reported the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is interested in making concessions to the opposition but is prevented by hardliners, presumably in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

The pattern conforms to the model. Every crackdown has been followed by a worsening of the opposition in terms of more and more daring outbreaks in more cities and then a relaxation of the restrictions. The sequence of crackdowns that have failed to suppress the opposition has fostered is expansion beyond the ranks of the university students and opposition clerics. A wider portion of the voting public appears to be sympathetic if not supportive.

Opposition blogs claim isolated incidents in which security force members have refused to fire on protestors or have joined them. The reports about refusals to obey orders are unconfirmed. However, this is a critical indicator of deteriorating internal instability conditions that always lead to power sharing.

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: Chinese state media say a hijacked Chinese cargo ship and 25 sailors have been rescued two months after they were seized by pirates off the Somali coast. Xinhua reported the ship and crew were rescued early Monday morning, but didn't say whether the ship was retaken by force or if a ransom was paid. A Somali pirate outlet reported China paid a ransom of $4 million.

The De Xin Hai was seized 19 October about 700 miles (east of the Somali coast. It is the first Chinese vessel to be hijacked since China deployed a three-ship squadron to the Gulf of Aden last year to join the international anti-piracy flotilla.

End of NightWatch for 28 December.

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