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NightWatch 20110412

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For the Night of 11 April 2011

Turkey-Afghanistan: Turkey is willing to consider hosting a political office for Taliban militants in Afghanistan in order to facilitate peace talks, but there has been no official application to the Turkish government to host an office or peace talks, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official. Arsala Rahmani, a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, said Turkey is making plans for the office, but it will be some time before they are worked out.

Comment: This brief news item is significant for several reasons. It is the third Turkish offer in the past month to mediate or help ease an active regional conflict involving an Islamic country. Turkey is branding itself as an agent for peace among and between Muslims, excepting the Kurds. Turkey has about 1,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, mainly responsible for security in Kabul and explicitly not authorized to engage in combat operations.

Turkey has a history of providing limited respectability, in the form of office space and access to communications and propaganda facilities, for Islamic dissident groups, such as the East Turkestan insurgent movements in Xinjiang, China. Apparently it is willing to provide similar stature for anti-government elements from Afghanistan. The Turkish initiatives are about Muslims, however. They have not advanced peace in China and would not help the US mission in Afghanistan.

Finally, the Turkish offer carries an element of confusion because Pakistan unofficially allows the Afghan Taliban associated with Mullah Omar and the Quetta-Karachi Shura freedom of movement between Karachi and Quetta and points west. Omar and his cohorts do not need Turkish good offices.

However, there are at least three other major anti-government Afghan movements that would benefit from office space and communications facilities that were safe from US drone attacks. Thus far, the Turkish offer does not extend to them.

Yemen: On 11 April, tens of thousands of protestors resumed their marches and demonstrations to demand the immediate departure of President Saleh followed by his prosecution for crimes in office. They repeated their rejection of the Gulf states' compromise initiative. Marches took place in Sanaa, Taizz, Sadah City and al Hudaydah. The news did not mention any casualties or clashes.

Comment: The Gulf Arab states called on President Saleh to hand over power to his vice president. Saleh issued a statement praising the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to solve the current crisis in Yemen, but said he will transfer power peacefully within the framework of the constitution. Saleh's position seems cooperative and conciliatory, but actually represents no change. He is not leaving.

A major reason for the opposition's rejection is the GCC initiative would grant Saleh immunity from prosecution. Saleh's survival hinges entirely on the loyalty of the security forces in Sanaa. As yet the opposition lacks the guns it needs to remove him.

Syria: Students rallied in Damascus to show solidarity with the people killed in the 8 April protests in Daraa and Baniyas on 11 April, according to a human rights activist. Abdel Karim Rihawi, head of the Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights, said another group yelled slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar al Asad. Rihawi said security forces intervened and some were arrested.

Syrian security forces closed entry to the coastal city of Baniyas, after an armed group reportedly ambushed a Syrian army patrol on the Latakia-Tartous Road. One soldier was killed and several were wounded in the ambush. News sources reported on the 11th. Secret police blocked the main and side roads to the town, turning cars around.

Comment: The details of the ambush of an army patrol cannot be corroborated, but the news story alone is likely to prompt authorities to crack down hard on dissent in Baniyas. The isolation of the town is a reliable indicator of imminent -- or in progress -- harsh security operations.

The government has blamed armed groups supported by outside powers for the violence in pro-democracy protests during the past three weeks. The Baniyas incident will be cited as proof of foreign-sponsored subversion that requires a firm response. After this, whatever small steps the regime was about to take in the direction of reform will be minimized in favor of rooting out the subversives.

Egypt: On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand the prosecution of ousted President Mubarak. On what they dubbed the "Friday of Cleansing," protestors criticized the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for not following through on revolution demands.

Protestors are still calling for the resignation of remaining regime figures, including Cairo Governor Abdel Azim Wazir. They also called for the removal of Egypt's public prosecutor because they are unhappy with the slow pace of investigations of corrupt former officials. They hoisted banners that read, "Slow justice is injustice."

Comment: The issue underlying the calls for official prosecutions is the opposition's recognition that the old system survived and succeeded in preserving itself at the expense of fundamental political reform. The demands for official prosecutions are indirect attacks on the army-backed system that Mubarak headed and which derailed the revolution.

Many of the people in office are Mubarak appointees, cronies or associates. Officials who would be responsible for prosecutions could themselves be prosecuted as justifiably as those they would bring to trial. Prosecutions would undermine the interim government as well as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and expose the lack of basic reforms. That is why few, if any, prosecutions are likely.

The next test of Egypt's readiness for genuine political reform will be the elections in September. However, even with fair parliamentary elections, unless a new constitution is ratified that limits the powers of the president, the elections will be only a small step towards reform, but a great boost for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya: Security situation. During the weekend, Qadhafi forces sustained pressure on Misrata and drove the rebels from Ajdabiya, for a time. Timely NATO air attacks disrupted the attack on Ajdabiya and rebel fighters reportedly pushed Qadhafi forces out of Ajdabiya. At last report rebels still hold Misrata and Ajdabiya.

Comment: Misrata is under siege. Except for the increasing casualties that situation has not changed significantly in two weeks. The situation at Ajdabiya is more serious because a collapse there leaves Benghazi as the next target for ground forces. Qadhafi's forces face no effective ground opposition. The effectiveness of NATO air forces has been inconsistent.

Qadhafi's forces have the capability to reach Benghazi by the end of this week. NATO air strikes can slow but not stop Qadhafi's forces.

Political developments. After talks with Qadhafi on Sunday, South African President Jacob Zuma said Qadhafi accepted an African Union proposal for a ceasefire. Zuma said that all sides must give a cease-fire the opportunity to succeed.

The African Union delegation traveled to Benghazi to present the ceasefire proposal on Monday. The rebel leadership rejected the proposal and any proposal that allows Qadhafi to remain in Libya.

Comment: If Qadhafi agreed, then the ceasefire proposal had to be more advantageous to him than to the rebels. Qadhafi and his chief advocate, his son Saif al Islam, insist the Qadhafi family will never leave Libya and that such ideas are "ridiculous."

Saif told the press on 11 April, "He does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite onto the scene. We need new blood, but talk of 'the guide' leaving is truly ridiculous." The new blood is Saif and his brothers.

Ivory Coast: Forces supporting Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara have captured and taken into custody former President Laurent Gbagbo, according to a spokesman for president-elect Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo is being held in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.

French and UN forces blunted a counteroffensive by Gbagbo's remaining forces on 10 April, but denied they participated in his capture. French forces did not enter the gardens or grounds at any time.

Comment: Looting and sporadic shooting will continue for sometime.

End of NightWatch for 11 April.

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