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NightWatch 20110227

NightWatch

For the Night of 27 February 2011

North Korea-South Korea: On Sunday, 27 February, the North's military warned that it would fire directly at South Korean border towns and destroy them if Seoul continued to allow activists to launch propaganda leaflets toward the communist country.

In a separate statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), it accused South Korean activists and lawmakers of flying balloons carrying hundreds of thousands of leaflets critical of North Korea's government, one-dollar bills, DVDs containing corrupt animation files and other materials on the North's most important national holiday, an apparent reference to leader Kim Chong Il's birthday, which was 16 February.

Comment: The North made two statements this weekend. One was about Allied training that is scheduled to being on 28 February. The other is the statement summarized above.

The US press has guessed wrong. It treated the anti-exercise statement as the real provocation from the North. That was routine Communist cant. The anti-propaganda statement is the more important.

Last year, after the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan, the North vowed that it would shell with artillery and attack by other means those sites in South Korea that were the launching point for balloons that carried anti-Kim Chong-il propaganda. The South resumed propaganda attacks after the loss of the Cheonan.

In light of the precedent of the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea must be prepare for shelling across the Demilitarized Zone and the next escalatory step. If the South fails to respond to the next attack, it must expect other escalatory steps.

Finally, it was predictable and predicted that North Korea would make some statement or threaten some action that would attempt to shift international attention back to Northeast Asia. The North Korean leadership has no imagination. Expect a provocation.

If South Korea fails to respond to North Korean shelling, then the government will and should resign.

Bahrain: The 18 members of parliament belonging to the Shiite opposition group Al Wefaq submitted resignation papers on 27 February to the parliament's speaker. In so doing, they demanded political reforms, the release of political prisoners, jobs, housing and democracy, according to a statement by Al Wefaq member Mattar Ibrahim Mattar.

After the resignation, 18 of the parliament's 40 seats have been vacated. The members of parliament resigned two days before the weekly parliament session convenes on March 1, but law states that the parliament can function if more than half of its members attend the session.

Comment: The chances are better than even that the Sunni monarchy will try coercion in the protestors at least one more time.

Saudi Arabia: On Sunday, King Abdallah ordered government sector workers employed under temporary contracts be offered permanent jobs with major benefits. That order followed multiple measures last week, financed by a $36 billion package, which include interest free loans to Saudis for needs such as marriage, starting a business or buying furniture.

A key test of the regime's flexibility will come next month. Social media sites have called for protest rallies in Saudi Arabia on 11 March.

Oman: Omani police killed two people on 27 February as they fired rubber bullets at demonstrators armed with stones demanding political reform, local witnesses said. Protesters reportedly set government buildings and cars on fire. According to witness accounts, more than 2,000 protesters gathered in Sohar Square for continued anti-government demonstrations before the police dispersed the crowd with tear gas, batons and rubber bullets

Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 26 February reshuffled his Cabinet in "the public's interest," according to the Oman News Agency. The reshuffling came as about 500 protesters calling for democracy and jobs stopped traffic and damaged streetlights in Sohar, the largest industrial city.

Comment: News experts report that Oman rarely sees protests and political parties are banned. Apparently no ruler in Arab lands is to be spared the effects of cell phone demonstrations. That means Syria and even Lebanon must get ready.

Yemen: Anti-government protests were held in cities across Yemen on 27 February, including Sanaa, Taiz and Aden. Some 18 protesters were injured in clashes with security forces in Malla, in the east. Opposition parties said they were joining the protesting youth in their efforts to end the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. They also said they plan to hold rallies 1 March to show solidarity with the protesters

Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) called on Muslims to rebel against Arab rulers and set up governments based on Sharia, according to a 10-minute audio tape posted on jihadist websites, SITE monitoring group said.

Comment: AQAP's cheerleading is belated and misguided. The youth stand for changes that are incompatible with anything AQAP has ever advocated, including womens' rights and modern, accountable government.

Egypt: Early on 25 February, Egyptian army soldiers fired shots into the air and used batons to break up a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The demonstrators were demanding the expulsion of former President Mubarak's allies from the interim Cabinet. Police also assaulted demonstrators and used tasers to break up a gathering in front of parliament in Cairo, a producer for Al Jazeera said. Protesters want the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq's government, the immediate freeing of political prisoners and a general amnesty to be issued.

On 26 February, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) apologized for the clashes between military police and protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The clashes resulted from "unintended confrontations," the SCAF said, adding that it had not and would not issue orders to assault the youth.

Steps are being taken to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future, the military council said. In a later statement, the SCAF said it would immediately free all youth detained on 25 February in Tahrir Square, although it was not specified how many detainees there were. Activists called for new protests to denounce the violence.

Comment: The revolution in Egypt remains in limina… it has not occurred yet, but in on the way.

Libya: Update. Leader Muammar Qadhafi's nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, returned home to Ukraine, RIA Novosti reported 27 February. Kolotnytska was among 185 people that were removed from Libya on a plane sent by Ukraine's Defense Ministry.

News services reported more shooting in Tripoli, with clashes between rebels and Qadhafi loyalists in Zawiyah. Most news services indicate Zawiyah is a liberated city and that neighborhoods of Tripoli are also joining the rebellion.

Comment: In Tripoli, the pro-Qadhafi forces appear to be shrinking their perimeter, neighborhood by neighborhood, still trying to find the perimeter they can hold. They have not yet given up, but that is only a matter of ammunition, an ersatz measure of time. Qadhafi's bastion remained intact on 27 February, but not for much longer. When the ammunition runs out, the mercenaries, above all others, will sense it is time to bolt … Iike Galyna.

In the eastern part of the country, rebel leaders announced the formation of the National Libya Council, calling it the face of the revolution rather than an interim government, Reuters reported on 27 February. A former Justice Minister heads the new council in Benghazi. A spokesman for the council said there is no room for negotiations with the Qadhafi regime.

Comment: This is overdue, but has occurred at last. One source claims NATO military advisors have already arrived to help the Benghazi government. One would hope that report is accurate.

Tunisia: Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced his resignation 27 February on state television following a wave of protests.

Ghannouchi resigned after Tunisian security forces clashed on 26 February with about 300 anti-government protesters in Tunis. Police fired warning shots and tear gas while demonstrators threw stones. Riot police and masked plainclothes police pursued demonstrators through the streets after they gathered outside the Interior Ministry building.

Comment: Ghannouchi was a protégé of Ben Ali. Everyone knew his tenure would be short. A problem is that the next step is unclear. More demonstrations are certain.

End of NightWatch for 27 February.

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