For the Night of 17 May 2010
South Korea-North Korea: The South Korean unification ministry announced that it has suspended funding for government-level exchanges with North Korea. The Ministry has asked 10 other ministries and organizations also to suspend spending on their exchanges.
Comment: South Korea incrementally is tightening sanctions on North Korea for sinking the patrol ship Cheonan. Apparently its discussions with Japan at the Foreign Ministers' meeting encouraged additional steps. Asahi Shimbun news service reported today that during bilateral talks, South Korea informed Japan that it has strong circumstantial evidence that the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The South asked for Japan's support and received it. Japan is the first country to be informed of the South's conclusion, barring the US.
The South also intends to present its findings to the United Nations as soon as the investigation is ready so as to bring world-wide pressure on the North. The South Korean-led international civilian and military joint investigation team is expected to release its final report on the incident on 20 May.
North Korea: The Korean Central Broadcasting Station ran a short announcement on the morning of 18 May: "On convening the DPRK's Supreme Peoples Assembly (SPA): The DPRK's SPA Presidium makes the following decision. The 12th SPA of the DPRK convenes its third session in Pyongyang on 7 June, Chuch'e, 2010."
The Supreme Peoples Assembly is the supreme government authority of the communist state, functioning as a policy and appointment approval body above other state institutions. It usually meets twice a year in April and in December. The April session approves the budget. December sets national priorities. The 12th SPA convened its first session in April 2009 after national elections in March 2009. The second session convened in April 2010.
A June session is unusual and might be unprecedented. The agenda was not announced - it never is - but some natyional policy issues must be pressing and important to convene the 687 deputies so soon after the April session. The top issues are the state of the economy, relations with South Korea and the Six Party nuclear talks and the state of the leadership.
Thailand: Clashes continued on the 17th and the government backed down a bit. It extended its deadline for Red Shirt protesters to leave the rally area.
Comment: The fact is that government was unable to enforce today's earlier ultimatum and still is not. Two threats have been reported to be growing. First is that the north and northeast will join the protests and overextend security forces' capabilities. The other threat is that the police and possibly army elements will waiver if the siege of the rally site continues much longer without measurable progress in reducing it.
Pakistan, Israel and Hamas all use bulldozers to clean up situations like the rally site in Bangkok.
Pakistan: Politics. President Asif Ali Zardari granted a pardon and remitted two prison terms given to Interior Minister Rehman Malik hours after the Lahore High Court dismissed Malik's appeal of his conviction in two corruption cases, according to The News.
The pardon was granted under Article 45 of the Constitution on the advice of Prime Minister Gilani which "was tendered late on Monday night", a spokesman said. Article 45 of the constitution empowers the President to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by a court. The development occurred late in the night.
Comment: Malik is a confidant of Zardari, but left Pakistan when his sentences were restored last year. He is in London, but still serves as Interior Minister.
His two corruption convictions were suspended under Musharraf's National Reconciliation Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional last year. Readers might recall that the Chief Justice held hearings that required the government to "show cause" as to why it was not restoring sentences that had been unconstitutionally suspended.
Many political luminaries remain liable to restoration of their sentences. They include President Zardari himself. As to the President, the Chief Justice required that the government officially request the Swiss government to reopen its corruption cases against him. He is suspected of hiding government funds in Swiss accounts. The cases had been suspended under the Ordinance. Today, the Defence Minister announced the government had no authority to make such a request of a sitting President, because of his immunity.
The significance is that the political crisis is not settled. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the press that the "architect" of the National Reconciliation Ordinance should be prosecuted, referring to Musharraf. The message is that Gilani does not want Musharraf to return and run for office. Musharraf replied that the elected government is ruining the country.
In defense matters, Defence Minister Mukhtar on Sunday said the government was neither granting an extension to Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani nor had the general sought it.
This means Kayani will retire this summer. His departure could put in jeopardy the continuity of the generally pro-US policies he has supported among the Pakistan Army's leadership. US Defense leaders carefully cultivated Kayani who used the relationship to rebuild the armed forces' capabilities and public image.
End of NightWatch for 17 May.
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