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NightWatch 20100519

NightWatch

For the Night of 19 May 2010

South Korea: The government's official findings about the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan will be announced during this Watch. Leaks and off hand comments on 19 May have prepared the public to expect to learn that North Korea is to blame for the ship's sinking.

North Korea published a commentary yesterday that accused South Korea of exploiting the sinking of the patrol ship for its own advantage.

Comment: The sinking is a violation of the armistice as blatant as any that occurred in earlier decades. At a minimum, the North's action validates the hard line policies of President Lee. If North Korea does not apologize -- as it has in the past for less serious atrocities - the South will intensify the freeze in relations with the North. A prolonged period of heightened tension is likely to be punctuated by acts of retaliation against the North for the loss of the 46 South Korean sailors. The opening acts will be at the UN.

The North might welcome a period of relative isolation so that it can sort out the dynastic succession process in a communist state.

China: The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported today (19 May) that South Korean President Lee Myung Bak told Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on 19 May that South Korea will present definitive evidence related to its warship sinking in March, citing a South Korean presidential press release.

The Xinhua report stated, "Investigators have concluded that North Korea attacked the naval ship with a Chinese-made torpedo, Yonhap reported, citing an unnamed senior government source. There was Chinese writing on torpedo fragments collected from the scene, the source said; the weapon appeared to be a heavy acoustic homing torpedo, known as a Yu-3G."

The significance is that the Chinese news agency report establishes that the Chinese leadership cannot help but be aware of South Korea's accusations that a Chinese-made torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine sank the Cheonan.

Thailand: A government spokesman said the operation to disperse the Red Shirts has ended today, but Red Shirts went on a rampage in which they torched 27 buildings and fought with security forces. The government imposed a curfew in Bangkok and surrounding provinces and 23 provinces in the north and northeast where clashes have been reported.

During the day, Red Shirt leaders announced their demonstration was ended and called on supporters to leave. Seven leaders surrendered to the government. The arson and rampages began after that. Security forces will continue the crackdown against violent protest throughout the night in Bangkok, the government's Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) announced.

Upcountry. Anti-government Red Shirt protesters ignored a curfew in the northern town of Chiang Mai, attacking bank branches and setting fire to car tires and at least two fire trucks, the Bangkok Post reported, citing website Thai Rath. Police and troops were dispatched to confront the protesters, and the situation was under control by late evening, Agence France-Presse reported. However, troops reportedly retreated after being attacked by mobs in Ubon Ratchathani, in the northeast.

Thaksin wanted for terror. The Criminal Court approved the request of the Department of Special Investigation to issue arrest warrant against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and nine other people on charge of terrorism. Thaksin indirectly encouraged his supporters in the north and northeast to wage a guerilla war against the government. He is now wanted for terrorism as well as corruption.

Pakistan: The government ordered all internet service providers to suspend access to Facebook today after one user invited others to participate in a contest to draw caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Comment: Today's action is a reminder that there are only two countries whose national identity is based on religion: Israel and Pakistan. Special thanks to a brilliant and extremely authoritative Reader for this reminder.

Kyrgyzstan: The interim government imposed a curfew in the city of Dzhalal-Abad (also spelled Jalalabad) and in Suzak District in southwestern Kyrgyzstan. This is one of the cities that supported ousted president Bakiyev, along with Osh.

"In connection with ongoing clashes between people in Dzhalal-Abad Region and in the interests of ensuring security and to restore the situation back to normal, it has been decided to impose a curfew until 1 June 2010 from 2000 to 0600 [local time].

"Acting Interior Minister Baktybek Alymbekov is to be appointed commandant of the city of Dzhalal-Abad and Suzak District.

"All the interim government's envoys to the country's southern part are to use the necessary means of the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Border Service, and take every measure to prevent mass riots that are fraught with violence and a threat to people's lives, the official decree said.

Comment: The significance of the decree is that it is an admission that the interim government still has not consolidated its control. The unrest in the south does not appear to be a threat to the government. Nor does civil war seem likely.

Russia-Somalia-piracy: The Russian ambassador to NATO urged a new legal regime to deal with piracy. "I turn to NATO and to the secretary general personally with a proposal to show political will and exert influence on certain Western states that are currently skeptical of ... Russia's resolution sent to the UN, which refers to the fact that the UN secretary general should present within three months various options for prosecuting pirates," Dmitry Rogozin told RIA Novosti.

Rogozin warned that without the proper legal framework, the fight against piracy will always be "a game of cowboys and Indians" in which the pirates are caught and then released. Many NATO ambassadors consider piracy not just a regional, but an international problem, Rogozin said after a Russian-NATO discussion on ways of fighting piracy in Brussels.

"Piracy is not just about those who seize the vessels," he said. "This is a complete organized crime network, which has its customers, executors and 'cleaners' for laundering dirty money and legitimizing the ransoms received for releasing hostages."

Comment: Even a cursory study of admiralty law would show that maritime nations, until recently, have had no trouble dealing with pirates. The confusion about what to do with pirates bespeaks a lack of knowledge of history or, more likely, a lack of will to deal with the problem because of money. The legal precedents for dealing with pirates are well established and worked.

Rogozin is on the mark when he describes Somali piracy as a criminal syndicate that is well organized and highly profitable with low overhead. A few Somali fisherman engaged in piracy might be trying to feed the family, but most are criminals, by all press accounts, who help enrich piracy cartel leaders in Cairo and London.

France: The government has approved a draft law to ban the wearing of face-covering garments, specifically the burqa and niqab, in public, Agence France-Presse reported 19 May. The bill, which carries a 150-euro fine or possible citizenship training for violators, will now go to parliament.

Comment: French logic is impeccable. Westerners in Islamic countries must conform to local customs and laws. France, to its credit, requires people from Muslim countries to conform to French customs and laws.

End of NightWatch for 19 May.

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