For the night of 30 September 2013
North Korea-Panama: Update. Last week, the Canal Authority fined the owners of the North Korean cargo ship up to $1 million for failing to disclose the cargo accurately and for putting the canal and canal workers at risk. The owners of the ship must also pay a $650,000 bond before it is allowed to leave the canal, according to the head of the Authority.
The amount is a proposed sanction of up to $1 million and may be challenged or clarified.
Comment: The ship probably is not worth the amount of the fine. The North Korean crew is living better in a Panamanian lock-up than the men lived aboard the ship. This issue is essentially closed, except for the crew and cargo. No news service has reported on the eventual disposition of either.
India-Pakistan: For the record. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif met in New York on the 29th. Shivshankar Menon, Indian national security affairs adviser, said that the talks were useful and constructive and that both sides agreed on the need to promote the realization of a complete ceasefire in Kashmir and accepted invitations to visit each other's country.
Comment: Although meetings at the UN General Assembly session are mostly symbolic, they become substantive when they do not take place. The reciprocal invitations stake out a way ahead for more substantive exchanges.
The fundamental obstacle to a durable peace is Kashmir. Pakistani governments must at least pay lip service to Kashmiri independence in some form in order to mollify powerful security and political interests. India cannot alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir State without amending its constitution, wherein the state is listed as one of the constituent Indian states.
There is little room for compromise except to agree to combat terrorism, maintain trade and a ceasefire along the Line of Control and the borders and not permit provocations to escalate. Yet there are hotheads on both sides that do and will violently oppose peace.
Syria: Update. Twenty chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Beirut on 30 September en route Damascus. They are an advance team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons who will plan and prepare for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Work begins on 1 October.
An additional 20 inspectors will join them next week when formal verification of the weapons and actual disabling and destruction are to begin. A spokesman for the Organization said it has nothing to complain about in terms of Syrian cooperation.
Sudan: Yesterday, Sudanese police dispersed protests in Khartoum and Port Sudan. Over 1,000 people protested in Khartoum. Demonstrations on Saturday included more than 5,000 people in Khartoum.
The security service arrested a number of activists in different regions in a bid to quell protests that sparked across the country over subsidies cuts. Activists said that National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) personnel carried out a new wave of arrests in Wad Madani, Khartoum and Port Sudan in the past two days.
Comment: Demonstrations have continued for nine days. Those on Friday after prayers and on Saturday during funerals for dead protestors were particularly large and violent. The government claims 33 people have died in clashes, but the Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate said 210 people have died.
One news source described how the youth, mainly, are using cell phones to organize demonstrations. In response, the government has tried to limit communications, closed the largest newspaper and tried to control youth by closing schools for a month. The government also promised to hand out cash to half a million families to offset increased fuel costs.
Increases in fuel or energy prices always have ripple effects on the prices of all other commodities and economic activity. As a result protests over energy quickly become protests over rising prices in general and bad government. The civil disorders cause prices to rise higher, feeding an upward cycle.
At this point, economics become politics, as they have in Sudan. The demonstrators continue to call for the ouster of President al Bashir and for freedom.
This is an example of the process whereby economic stress translates into political instability. This process with only slight variations has occurred in every state involved in the so-called Arab Spring.
Bashir calls the protestors ungrateful for the improvements he has provided in the past 24 years. Thus far the protests still show no signs of organization or direction which are essential for sustained pressure. Some news services report protestors have been joined by defectors from the security forces, but the numbers are small. This looks like a movement waiting for a leader.
The loyalty and responsiveness of the security forces are the key behavioral indicators of Bashir's survival. He is likely in more danger from his presidential guard than from the protests themselves, but thus far the forces and the chain of command are following his orders.
Tunisia: Over the weekend, the Islamist-led coalition government agreed to resign in an attempt to resolve the political crisis and stalemate that followed the assassination of MP Mohamed Brahmi, a leading opposition figure, on 25 July.
The Ennahda Party agreed on Saturday to resign after negotiations begin with secular opposition parties to form a caretaker administration and prepare for new elections.
Officials said the resignation should happen once the major parties along with the UGTT labor union agree on a roadmap for the new government, its make-up and its mandate and a timetable for the election. The UGTT, mediating between the two sides, proposed the ruling Ennahda agree to three weeks of negotiations, after which it would step down and make way for an independent transitional administration and set a date for parliamentary and presidential elections.
The road map would require the National Constituent Assembly to complete a new constitution within a month. A new election authority also will be formed to oversee future elections.
Comment: Anti-government demonstrations have occurred almost daily since Brahmi's murder, the second political assassination this year. The political system and the economy were deadlocked. The labor union's backing of a new government and parliamentary elections was a critical factor in the government's resignation without a more violent upheaval.
The Tunisian outcome stands in stark contrast to political developments in Egypt over the summer. Ennahda's willingness to resign rather than stand on the results of the October 2011 election almost certainly was influenced by the Egyptian Army's ouster of Mursi.
The Tunisian Islamists were forced to accept their lack of readiness to govern a modern state and selected a moderate path among the choices of national fragmentation, breakdown of civil order and military takeover, which other Arab states have followed. As a result, Tunisia's Islamists will continue to have influence in Tunisia's political evolution, but Tunisia's revolution has swung back towards political balance for now.
Mali: Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for a car bombing on 28 September at a Malian army barracks in Timbuktu in northern Mali, according to the Mauritanian independent news agency Al-Akhbar.
An AQIM spokesman said that 16 Malian soldiers died and dozens were injured. The spokesman said the operation was done by two of its fighters and that the car used in the bombing had over a ton of explosives, which caused "significant losses of life and equipment." A government source reported only damage to the camp gate and the death of the attackers and some Malian soldiers and civilians.
Comment: This attack is a reminder that the Islamic terrorists in the north remain active and ready to take advantage of lapses in security. France still has over 3,000 soldiers in Mali.
Meanwhile in Kidal, also in northern Mali, reconciliation talks between the government in Bamako and the Touareg separatists have not gone well. Talks broke down over Touareg accusations that the government is reneging on its promises. On Friday two Malian soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack in Kidal, presumably by Touareg fighters.
On Sunday shots were fired near a Malian army camp in Kidal. On 30 September, Touareg fighters attacked the army position at Malian Bank for Solidarity in Kidal.
Comment: Malian sources claim the rebels are putting on a show of strength to remind the government that peace in the north hinges on the Touaregs. To make that point, the Touareg fighting groups condemned the AQIM attack in Timbuktu, but remained silent about the incidents in Kidal.
End of NightWatch for 30 September.
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