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NightWatch 20100408

NightWatch

For the Night of 8 April 2010

North Korea-South Korea: The Korean Central News Agency published a statement that North Korea has decided to freeze assets and facilities owned by South Korean firms at its Mount Kumgang resort in eastern North Korea and will expel all South Korean personnel.

Itar-Tass reported that the list of assets frozen includes the center for meetings of Korean families split by the Korean War, a cultural center, and a South Korean duty-free store, among others. Their workers will be expelled from North Korea. In addition, the government has denied access to the resort by a number of South Korean companies, including Hyundai Securities which financed it.

The authorities warned that the North also might revise a bilateral agreement on the joint industrial zone in the city of Kaesong if the South Koreans continue fanning tensions, the KCNA statement said. "Pyongang has no intention to be an idle voyeur (sic!) at a time when the marionette conservative forces in South Korea have unleashed a dirty propaganda campaign against this country," the statement said.

Comment: Reports last week indicated South Korean firms had complied with the North's ultimatum to visit their property at Mount Kumgang, but evidently other terms, including guarantees of security for tourists, appear to have prevented agreement on restoring the tours. The North's behavior suggests preparations for a significant downturn in North-South relations and an increase in tension.

Note to new analysts: Decisions to curtail outside contacts, especially during a period of significant domestic need, often portend a crisis. However, the warning about possibly denying access to Kaesong indicates the North is open to persuasion, for the right price.

Thailand: Update. Prime Minister Abhisit decided to cancel his plans to attend the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Vietnam, according to a government minister. Yesterday, he announced a plan to commute to Hanoi for the summit.

The Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for seven Red Shirt opposition leaders in connection with storming Parliament on Wednesday. The court said their action violated the law under the Emergency Decree on three counts -- intruding into a government office, detaining and causing others to lose freedom, and forcing others to do or not do something. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Red Shirt protesters are led by popular singer-turned-activist Arisman, who is the subject of one of the warrants. They have vowed to ignore the state of emergency and continue their demonstrations.

Meanwhile, today Red Shirt protestors rallied in 17 provinces in the north and the northeast to support their fellow protesters in Bangkok, according to Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul. The Nation online quoted the minister as saying that protests are sprouting up, but there are no reports of any "danger." Local security forces were instructed to avoid clashes with protesters if a raid was staged on provincial halls.

Note for analysts: It would seem to be a worthwhile study to compare Thailand's execution of its state of emergency with what happened in Kyrgyzstan in the same week. The situation in Bangkok, however, is not stable and is moving in slow motion. Expect more clashes.

Pakistan: Update. The National Assembly on 8 April unanimously passed the 18th Amendment, which restores the 1973 Constitution to its original form, the Daily Times and most Pakistani media reported. The bill under which the amendment passed contained 102 amendments that were adopted after a clause-by-clause approval.

The major change is the restoration of parliamentary government in which the prime minister in cabinet wields executive power, including to dissolve the parliament; to appoint the chiefs of armed forces and provincial governors, and to impose emergency rule in a province. Former President General Musharraf had those powers during his time in office.

Another important change is that the executive branch no longer has a role in the appointment of judges. A judicial commission will have that authority, giving Pakistan an independent judiciary, a primary objective of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The National Assembly approved the renaming of Northwest Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa - meaning "Khyber side of the land of the Pakhtuns."

Comment: The next step is passage by the Senate, which also is likely to be unanimous. Presidential assent completes the amendment process. Senate and Presidential approvals are almost pro forma because the reform package was submitted to Parliament only after all parties reached a consensus before hand. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Nawaz Sharif insisted on the consensus as a condition to supporting the package so as to ensure it would pass quickly once submitted to parliament. That is precisely what happened.

A Pakistani correspondent for BBC observed today that for the first time since Pakistan became a nuclear weapons state, the elected prime minister has his finger on the nuclear button.

Constitutional change around the world is frequent and usually in the direction of ending term limits and strengthening the powers of the chief executive. Mauritania, Venezuela, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan before the coup, Pakistan under all its military rulers, to name a few. Pakistan is almost alone in using lawful processes to restore a parliamentary system.

Unmentioned in the news coverage of this development are the generals of the Pakistan Army, especially Chief of Army Staff General Kayani. Despite misgivings, they have supported Kayani who has worked closely with Prime Minister Gilani and concurred in the dismantling of a Presidential system of government and in the installation of Constitutional safeguards against military intervention in domestic politics. This is a study in democracy and tonight's good news, for as long as it lasts.

Kyrgyzstan: The new regime moved to consolidate control today. Some disturbances resumed in Bishkek, but this time police forces acting under orders from the new regime dispersed the crowds. Manas International Airport near Bishkek reopened and flights resumed. However, at a press conference, opposition spokesman said that all Bakiyev government leaders are banned from traveling abroad.

During the day, Interim Leader Roza Otunbayeva said that the interim government controls all of Kyrgyzstan except the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, Reuters reported. By day's end most provinces were under new governors appointed by the new regime, including Osh. Nevertheless, conditions are not normal because security is not well organized and many volunteer militias have emerged to protect neighborhoods and districts, according to blogs.

Interim leader Otunbayeva appointed four Deputies and announced a 10-point program for running the government. The four deputies are first deputy head, Almaz Atambayev, in charge of all economic issues; Temir Sariyev, in charge of finances and loans; third deputy, Omurbek Tekebayev, in charge of constitutional reform and amendments; and fourth deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, over public prosecution, courts and the financial police.

Most of the points in the program direct the civil bureaucracy at every level to continue business as before. She dissolved parliament until elections are held in six months. The Tenth point abolished the development agency that was headed by former President Bakiyev's son, who arrived in Washington, D.C. today and had talks at the Department of State.

Ousted President Bakiyev told al Jazeera, however, that he has not resigned and is still the President. He gave the interview from Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan according to al Jazeera.

The Armed Forces. Bishkek Kyrgyz Television 1 reported that in a news conference Ismail Isakov, the defense minister of the interim government, said that Kyrgyzstan's armed forces and border troops are under the command of the interim government. "Today, our country's national security is being ensured by special task forces, armed forces and border troops, which are completely under our command now. I talked to practically all commanders, and they are fulfilling their tasks in line with legislative acts," Isakov said.

He also said that some laws concerning armed forces would be amended. "The armed forces will not be used to resolve internal problems. This is the most important thing because special task forces and staff of armed forces were used against civilians, specifically in Bishkek city, Talas and others. That will not happen in the future."

Foreign Affairs. Interim Leader Otunbayeva, who speaks English and served as ambassador in London and Washington during the 1990s, said the interim government will ensure that all international agreements are observed, including that covering the U.S. Transit Shipment Center at Manas Airbase, Interfax reported.

Russia. Russian Prime Minister Putin was the first foreign head of government to telephone Otunbayeva and to address her as leader of the interim government. He reportedly said Russia is available to support the new Kyrgyz government in whatever manner is needed. Russia also sent 150 paratroopers to its air base in Kant, according to the Chief of the General Staff, General Nikolai Markarov, to ensure the security of the base and its servicemen.

Russian officials continue to deny any involvement in the overthrow and a senior US White House official backed those statements. However, Reuters quoted Kyrgyz Deputy Leader Tekebayev as saying "Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev." Georgian President Saakashvili was more pointed in describing the overthrow as a Russian-backed coup.

A Russian official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters in Prague on 8 April that Moscow wants the "American Transit Center" at the Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan to close and will pressure any new Kyrgyz government to do so, Reuters reported.

A senior, unnamed Russian official said on 8 April that ousted Kyrgyz President Bakiyev had not kept a commitment to close the U.S. air base at Manas. He said there should only be a Russian base in Kyrgyzstan.

Comment: Whether Russia arranged the coup or just encouraged it, Putin's telephone call signifies Russian backing and approval of the new regime.

It is a deliberate communication to the US and the West that he considers Kyrgyzstan to be back in the Russian fold, not that it ever strayed far. Russia supplies 44% of all imported goods. Switzerland is the largest trade partner for Kyrgyz exports, followed by Russia, according to the CIA Fact Book. Russia is also the primary source of other forms of assistance and investment, plus Russian is Kyrgyzstan's second official language.

The primary source of friction in Russian - Kyrgyz relations has been US access to Manas airport. The unnamed Russian officials are correct in accusing Bakiyev of reneging on an agreement with Russia to terminate US access to Manas. Last year, Bakiyev successfully played Moscow and Washington against each other. After extracting a $2 billion aid package from Moscow, he ordered the base closed to U.S. military aircraft.

Under US pressure and incentives, he reversed his decision. The Obama administration managed to negotiate continued use of Manas, after renaming the facility, in exchange for a reported $60-million annual rent payment, plus large payments for fuel, services and supplies. International news analysts claim the Kyrgyz opposition leaders oppose US access and accuse the Bakiyev family of pocketing all the payments.

US. Although the regime announced it will honor all existing agreements, Deputy Leader Tekebayev said "… now that Bakiyev is gone, there is a high probability that the United States' use of the air base in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened," Reuters reported. He is the only regime leader reported to have made such a statement.

No Readers should doubt that termination of the US military presence in the Russian Central Asian sphere of influence, as President Medvedev terms it, is a high priority.

Somalia anti-piracy patrol: Somali pirates warned a Republic of Korea destroyer shadowing a hijacked South Korean supertanker with 24 sailors on board not to get any closer or else risk endangering the crew, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry, as reported by The Associated Press.

All crewmembers are safe, the pirates said in the first contact since the hijacking on 4 April in the Indian Ocean, but they warned against being provoked. The hijackers demanded direct contact with the ship's owner. Formal negotiations over the crew's release have not begun, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

The destroyer carries a helicopter and a commando team. The problem with a rescue operation is the supertanker is carrying a volatile cargo of 1.4 million barrels of crude, according to the owners.

End of NightWatch for 8 April.

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