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NightWatch 20120422

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NightWatch

For the night of 22 April 2012

North Korea-South Korea: North Korea broadcast another denunciation of South Korea because South Korean President Lee said the celebrations in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung were a waste of money.

Comment: The North is exhibiting hypersensitivity to even minor slights from any source. The prickliness is worse than when Kim Chong-il was alive. That is a sign of weak leadership. It is dangerous and a warning indicator.

China-North Korea:  For the record. Wang Jiarui, the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's International Department, met Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers' Party director of international affairs, for "strategic" talks.

"Both sides thoroughly exchanged views on developing exchanges and cooperation between the Chinese and North Korean parties, on developments on the Korean peninsula, and on other international and regional issues of common concern," said the official report of the talks.

A senior Chinese official Dai Bingguo, State Councilor, met Kim Yong-il and said China has confidence in the new North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un. (This turn of phrase usually means the talks did not go well.)

Comment: The political geometry and timing of the North Korean visit to Beijing following the failed space launch suggest Kim Yong-il was the representative of the North Korean leadership who was chosen to be taken to the Chinese woodshed. The Chinese want to know why North Korea did not notify China before attempting to launch a dangerous rocket only a few dozen miles from the Chinese border.

For example, under other conditions, should the Allies have decided to destroy North Korea's west coast launch complex - as a different set of allies are now threatening Iran - Chinese airspace almost certainly would have been violated and Chinese border towns damaged. The Chinese have a right to notice from North Korea because of geographic proximity as well as strategic partnership and a right to an accounting for the North's irresponsible behavior.

Kim Chong-il always gave the Chinese some notice, if only to keep the Chinese from kvetching.

The Chinese also want to know what is going on and who really is in charge in Pyongyang.  There is now strain in the relationship.

Sudan-South Sudan: Update. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan completed its withdrawal from Heglig oil field on 21 April, SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said on the 22d. Aguer added that despite the SPLA's withdrawal, Sudanese forces continued to bomb the area.

Comment:  The South Sudanese withdrawal while under Sudanese fire reinforces the judgment that this situation is headed for mediation or arbitration.

Uganda-South Sudan: Uganda will have to intervene if war breaks out between Sudan and South Sudan, Ugandan Chief of Defense Forces General Aronda Nyakairima said on 18 April.

Comment: Ugandan military forces are trained to US /NATO standards allowing for different terrain and budgetary constraints and are working with US Special Forces in chasing down rebel leader Joseph Kony. Ugandans forces are effective in combat; are Christians like the South Sudanese, and can whip Sudanese forces loyal to Khartoum.

Sudanese leader General Bashir appreciates the implications of the Ugandan threat of intervention and will back down. 

Sudan: On 22 April, a Muslim mob set fire to a Catholic church in Khartoum's Al-Jiraif district that is frequented by Southern Sudanese citizens, citing reports from witnesses and the media.

Comment: Attacks against Christians by government supporters have taken place in Egypt, Iraq and Sudan, but not in Syria. Apparently in some communities, some people do not understand or refuse to accept that politics and religion are not the same.

Readers and investors need to appreciate that in the countries mentioned religion is politics and economics.

Egypt: Tens of thousands of pro-Islamist Egyptians demonstrated in Tahrir Square in Cairo last Friday. They called for an end to military rule and protested the disqualification of their presidential candidates.

One of the new front-runners for the presidency is Amr Musa, who served as foreign minister for Mubarak 11 years ago and is a former head of the Arab League. He said on Sunday he would give the military a voice in key policies via a national security council, a move to reassure ruling generals about their status after a power transfer.

He said the national security council, to be chaired by the president, would include senior cabinet ministers plus top military officers. It would have a broad national security brief, he told a news conference.

"It has to consider all issues pertaining to national security and not only issues of defense or war, but issues like water, issues like relations with neighbors," said Musa.

Musa, a self-described liberal nationalist whose main election rivals are Islamists, also said Egypt needed a president with lobbying skills to work effectively with the Islamist-dominated parliament and other institutions after decades of autocratic government.

Asked in a news conference about the differences between him and his Islamist rivals, Musa replied: "I believe it is a religious background, that's right, and for me it is a nationalist background. … I believe that Egypt has been injured and Egypt has been mismanaged, and Egypt should not get into an experiment that has not been tried before in order for us to enter into a period of confusion.

Comment: Musa is careful in his speeches, but he is a member of the old guard that is acceptable to the armed forces. He left office before Mubarak started promoting his son, Gamal, as an almost hereditary successor, which caused the army generals to overthrow Mubarak.

Musa's popularity with the electorate suggests the electorate wants continuity, stability and economic progress, over theological purity.

News services that report Musa as the front runner fail to cite the evidentiary and geographic bases for that assertion. He does seem to have implied military backing in that he was not disqualified by the election commission and his public statements about the military are borderline pandering.

His rise reinforces the NightWatch hypothesis that the process is rigged to achieve an outcome the military finds acceptable. Without a new constitution, if Musa were elected president, he would have all the powers of a Mubarak-style presidency. Islamists and devout Egyptians would not accept that result.

Mali: Update. Some 200 army soldiers have returned to northern Mali to take back towns seized by the Tuaregs. They are likely to find the people living in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal more sympathetic than before. The luster of living under a Sharia regime has faded so that Tuareg fighters fired on crowds protesting their rule in the northern towns.

Comment: No one but the Tuaregs wants to break up African states and redraw boundaries because once begun that process would be endless. That issue was settled by the Nigerian civil war, 1967-1970.

The Tuaregs cannot control northern Mali. A well-supported, -trained and -disciplined, small and mobile military force can retrieve the main towns of the north and restore national unity. Reportedly, the pro-government counteroffensive is being led by a Mali Army colonel who is a native Tuareg. More later.

France: The socialist Francois Hollande won the first round of presidential elections, over Sarkozy. The National Front rightists, however, made an impressive showing, achieving 20% of the first round vote and have emerged as the spoiler.

The National Front advocates that France abandon the euro, bring back the franc and ban immigration, among other positions. This means that the front runner who is closest to supporting National Front positions has a good chance of winning the presidency. The rise of the National Front is symptomatic of a wider European backlash against the European Union bureaucrats in Belgium and the German bankers and a revival of nationalism.

Hollande is the front runner over Sarkozy, according to latest polls, by a large margin. Readers and investors should expect a rocky period ahead, significant political change and strain in French-German relations. The next round of elections will be held on 6 May.

End of NightWatch for 22 April.

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