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NightWatch 20111121

NightWatch

For the night of 21 November 3011

China-North Korea: On 18 November, a Chinese official said China would strengthen military ties with North Korea. The statement came at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the North by the Chinese military's top political commissar, Li Jinai, during which he told North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il that the People's Liberation Army wanted to enhance understanding and mutual trust and strengthen practical exchanges with the North Korean military.

"This would promote the all-around development of China-DPRK relations, which are neighborly and friendly," China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported. No details were given on what practical steps the sides intend to take. The promise appeared to be more of a political symbol of continuing Chinese support for the regime than a blueprint for real cooperation.

Comment: The statement appears to be a response to the US statement about basing US Marines in Darwin, Australia, based on the timing. Nevertheless, the Chinese have no interest in strengthening significantly the North Korean armed forces because they do not control them and will not risk being dragged into a war not of their choosing. 

The message to the US allies is that China also has pressure points it can push. 

Pakistan: The Pakistan government has engaged in preliminary talks with the Pakistani Taliban in search of a peace arrangement.

"Yes, we have been holding talks, but this is just an initial phase. We will see if there is a breakthrough," said a senior Taliban commander, who asked not to be identified. "Right now, this is at the South Waziristan level. If successful, we can talk about a deal for all the tribal areas," he said.

Comment: At this stage, these talks have little substance. The threat of large Pakistan Army operations could give them greater weight.

The Pakistan Army has resisted engaging in any operations that would support US objectives in the region, especially the border zone.

Pakistan Army operations in support of Pakistan government talks, however, would support Pakistani security policy objectives. Should they achieve no breakthrough the Army would be justified in punishing the recalcitrant tribes without reference to the US or Afghanistan. Thus the opening of preliminary talks with the Pakistani Taliban is potentially a positive development for Pakistan's internal security.

Ethiopia-Somalia: Update. Witnesses reported on Sunday, 20 November, that hundreds of Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia with armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery and tanks, opening a new front in the fight against the al-Shabaab Islamic militant group.

Thus far, the reaction among Somalis has been the polar opposite of what happened a few years ago, when Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 and occupied parts of the country for about two years. At that time, the presence of the Christian Ethiopian troops turned the population against them and fueled the rise of al-Shabaab.

Now, Somalis just want an end to the violence. "What we need right now is only peace, and we don't care about the identity of the peacemakers," said a resident in the town of Guriel. This time, many Somalis say they welcome anyone who can get the Shabaab out, even their historic enemy, the Ethiopians.

Al Shabaab militants began to withdraw from at least two strongholds in central Somalia after the Ethiopian troops crossed the Ethiopian-Somali border, residents of Somali border towns Beledweyne and Ceelbuur said on 21 November. The residents said the militants left their battle stations and tax extortion checkpoints.

Ethiopia denied sending its troops into Somalia.

Comment: The Kenyans lack the military power to destroy al Shabaab and its Somali tribal supporters. They might not be capable of taking Kismayo in the south. With the Ethiopians again exerting pressure on al Shabaab, both Kismayo and Mogadishu stand a reasonable chance of liberation from Islamic extremists and their Somali tribal supporters.

Egypt: Update. Egyptian police fired tear gas canisters and clashed with protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 21 November, for the third day. According to a TV correspondent, the police responded with the tear gas after some protesters directed their efforts along Mohammad Mahmoud Street, where the Interior Ministry is located.

Army forces have not been deployed to Tahrir Square, Egyptian Central Command deputy chief Major General Saeed Abbas said in a news conference. Troops only are securing the Interior Ministry, Abbas said. The Egyptian military will protect protesters if requested, he said, although such forces would likely be unarmed. Abbas denied reports that security forces used live bullets to suppress protests over the past two days and said the military never broke into Tahrir Square to end the sit-in.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) called for talks with political forces and assigned the Justice Ministry to investigate the causes of protesters' deaths. The Justice Ministry is to submit the results as soon as possible so the SCAF can take legal action against those responsible. According to a statement, the SCAF regrets the latest violence and ordered security forces to protect the protesters and to practice restraint within the legal framework. The council also guaranteed civilians the right to demonstrate as long as they stay peaceful.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party will not participate in any sit-in or protest that could lead to further confrontations, according to a statement issued by the party. According to the statement, the party will work with other parties to end the unrest caused by the Interior Ministry and bring to justice those responsible for killing protesters. The clashes in Tahrir Square are linked to ongoing attempts to stop the process of parliamentary elections, the statement said.

Comment: Parliamentary elections are to be held on 28 November. The latest uprising is surprisingly similar to and nearly coincident with the "Occupy …" demonstrations in the US. With the implied backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is under no threat from a popular uprising. The Brothers and the Army appear to be working together to prevent a genuine revolution from taking place.

Lebanon: In a joint statement on 21 November Hezbollah and its ally Amal said they will continue to support Syria and Iran against international conspiracies. The groups said that current Syrian events were the product of an international conspiracy against Syrian support for regional Arab and Islamic resistance movements and that Lebanon would never participate in a conspiracy against a sister state. Hezbollah and Amal also emphasized their support for Iran against U.S. and Israeli threats.

Comment: With this statement all of Iran's allies and proxies have fallen into step in support of Syria and Iran.

Greece-EU: For the record. The European Commission is helping Greece negotiate an agreement with Switzerland to repatriate as much as $81 billion believed to be in Swiss bank accounts, a high level European Union executive body official said on 17 November. The European Commission is working with Switzerland and Greece to stop what it believes is an ongoing exodus of money from Greek bank accounts into Swiss and other offshore banking centers, the EU official said.

Comment: Greek account holders broke no laws in safeguarding their wealth in Swiss bank accounts, but they stand to lose a great deal under a repatriation agreement, which amounts to national expropriation.

End of NightWatch for 21 November.

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