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NightWatch 20100407

NightWatch

For the Night of 7 April 2010

South Korea: President Lee said that South Korea will investigate the sinking of its warship in cooperation with international experts and the United Nations so that nobody can take issue with the results, Yonhap reported 7 April. Lee said if the investigation into the cause of the sinking is loosely carried out, those who committed offenses may refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing. He added that Seoul will take "stern measures" against those responsible.

Prime Minister Chung Un Chan said Seoul plans to invite naval disaster experts from the United States, Britain and France for a more "objective and scientific" investigation.

Note: The tone suggests South Korean authorities suspect North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the frigate Cheonan and intend to compile an unassailable case. South Korean investigators must have discovered something they judge to be incriminating.

Thailand: Today, 7 April, the government imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok and in adjoining districts of five provinces, all north and east of the capital, after anti-government protestors broke into the Parliament compound. Members of Parliament were forced to cancel a session and some scaled a wall to escape, The Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Abhisit left Parliament before protesters breached the compound, but some members of parliament as well as Cabinet members, including Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, were stuck in the buildings, according to local media. A Black Hawk helicopter evacuated the trapped members, The Associated Press reported. The government security agency, known as CAPO, sent the helicopter and armed commandos to retrieve the trapped lawmakers.

The Prime Minister cancelled a planned trip to the United States from 10 to 15 April for the nuclear security summit. He also plans to commute from Bangkok to Hanoi to attend the summit of the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Thursday and Friday.

The government promulgated three documents implementing the emergency decree. The first is a regulation authorizing five sets of controls:

- public gatherings may not exceed five people and may not engage in behavior that promotes unrest;

- press censorship is authorized;

- controls on vehicle movements and road blocks are authorized;

- building controls are authorized; and,

- area denial controls are authorized.

An anti-government radio station already has been taken off the air.

The second is an announcement of the decision by the Council of Ministers to vest all ministerial powers and duties in the Prime Minister, exclusively relating to the state of emergency. The third is the Prime Minister's appointment of Deputy Prime Minister Suthep as the Supervisor and Chief Official in Charge of the Emergency Decree.

During this Watch, on 8 April no news services have reported disturbances.

Comment: Bangkok is now in the control and under the discretion of the Deputy Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's orders contain no review provision and no limit as to the duration of the emergency. Habeas Corpus and other legal procedures remain in effect. The Red Shirt leadership over reached, lost control of the hotheads who broke into Parliament, and may have lost the movement for now.

Nepal: The Unified-Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) said it began a movement to topple the "puppet" government to "draft a timely statute" and end the peace process, The Himalayan Times reported April 7.

UCPN-M chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" said his party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament, would not support the coalition government that took over when the Maoist-led administration fell last year. One key issue is the integration of 20,000 Maoist fighters into the regular armed forces. The government has delayed and hamstrung the integration process for three years.

Prachandra also said it is the beginning of a decisive movement that will continue until the government falls and a new national unity government is formed. He repeatedly claimed that the movement was not against India and that the party had no differences with the Nepal Army.

Comment: Prachanda's Maoists, who have around 40% of the seats in parliament, want the ruling coalition government disbanded, followed by the formation of a new coalition led by them. His comments punctuate international concern about the state of the peace process that began in 2006, after ten years of civil war between the Maoists and the state. An estimated 16,000 people died in the fighting.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lankans vote for a new parliament on 8 April - two months after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to power by a clear majority. This will be the first parliamentary election since the end of the war with Tamil Tigers.

More than 7,000 candidates have campaigned for 225 seats in the Parliament. President Rajapaksa's coalition now holds 128 seats, but hopes to obtain a two-thirds majority, the threshold for amending the Constitution.

Comment: After the electoral defeat and arrest of General Fonseka, the opposition is in disarray. Most Sinhalese - the majority ethnic group - credit Rajapaksa for the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the end of the civil war. His coalition should sweep the elections.

Kyrgyzstan: The opposition has formed a 14-member government called the People's Trust, led by former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva. Only four members have been identified in Western reporting, including Otunbayeva. The others are Bolotbek Sherniyazov who is appointed Interior Minister; Keneshbek Dushebayev who heads the State National Security Service; and Turat Maldybekov who heads the Bishkek Police Department. Otunbayeva said the prime minister in President Bakiyev's government had given her a letter of resignation.

Former Defense Minister Ismail Isakov has been released from prison and appears to be taking charge of the Defense Ministry.

Otunbayeva called for President Bakiyev to resign and announced her intention to run an interim government for six months so as to create conditions for free and fair elections and to draft a new Constitution. She said she plans to retain many officials in the Bakiyev government.

Opposition-appointed Interior Minister Sherniyazov told Kyrgyz TV the police have sided with the opposition protesters. He said that he has re-appointed as his first deputy General Sadyrbek Dubanayev and has retained other officials from the Bakiyev administration.

President Bakiyev reportedly flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and then to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, according to RIA Novosti and Kabar news agency. His top ministers flew to Osh, which was Bakiyev's base in the 2005 "Tulip Revolution" that brought him to power.

Comment: The situation is not yet stable for multiple reasons. The protests surged quickly and the opposition top political leaders did not seem prepared to organize and run a government today. They looked ready for negotiations.

Next, it is not clear that the southern half of Kyrgyzstan, around Osh, has sided with the opposition. Most of the reports of riots and takeovers occurred in the north.

Finally, the armed forces have remained silent and in garrison. They represent a potential wild card, but thus far have shown no inclination to rescue the Bakiyev government. They either received no orders from the President, which is difficult to believe, or refused to obey them. Their inaction over time favors the opposition-led government.

US Reaction. The US has a logistics transit facility at Manas International Airport that supports US operations in Afghanistan. All reports state that logistics operations are normal.

The State Department issued a curious statement that the United States believes the Kyrgyz government still is in power despite opposition claims. A spokesman said the United States has no information to back up the opposition's claims. He also repeated that the transit center at Manas airport is functioning normally.

Russian Reaction. President Medvedev said he considers the crisis in Kyrgyzstan an internal affair, RIA Novosti reported, citing Presidential Press Secretary Natalya Timakova. The protests are indicative of extreme indignation on the part of the people, Timakova said, adding that Medvedev believes the prevention of casualties and restoration of governance are paramount concerns.

Prime Minister Putin was more pointed in a press conference on 7 April. He said Kyrgyz President Bakiyev repeated the mistakes of his predecessor Akayev. As Akayev was thrown from power for corruption and nepotism, Putin said, the same allegations have "trailed" President Bakiyev. Putin also said that Russian authorities have had no role in the unrest, RIA Novosti reported.

Comment: The Russians behaved as if they think the overthrow favors their interests. Russian inaction, compared to its aggressive meddling in Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the past three years, suggests, at a minimum, that Russian leaders welcome the demise of the Bakiyev government. Bakiyev's government is the last of the pro-Western governments on Russia's periphery that were installed by "a color or flower revolution" to collapse.

That partly explains the barely hidden glee in Prime Minister Putin's sardonic remarks about Bakiyev being toppled by a popular uprising in the same way as his pro-Russian predecessor, Akayev. Before the Kyrgyz government collapsed it officially protested Russian coverage of the unrest for encouraging the crowds.

Beyond Putin's humor, Russia and its Collective Security Treaty Organization allies have the mandate and the resources to intervene, if they wanted to save Bakiyev, but they did not. The protests, by former President Akayev among others and by senior Russians themselves, that there is no Russian involvement in the opposition were ill-timed. No press coverage had hinted that.

Pressure had been building against Bakiyev for his proclaimed end of political reform and for his increasingly authoritarian manner. Protests had become more frequent, but remained ineffective.

Today's action looked coordinated, with good lateral communications between cities, but without prominent leaders directing the crowds on the street. Nevertheless, the crowds moved quickly to seize the TV station and the government buildings. They paid no attention to security agencies or military installations. Most important, the Kyrgyz Army and security forces sat on the sidelines, almost as if they had been warned or bribed, just like in Soviet times.

Iraq: Update.  A spokesman for the Sadrist Trend announced results of the weekend referendum for a new prime minister, Aswat al-Iraq reported. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaffari received 24 percent of the votes, the most of any candidate. In second place with 23 percent of the vote was a leader of Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law bloc. Al Maliki obtained 10 percent of the vote. Former prime minister Allawi got nine percent. Some 1.4 million people participated, according to the Sadrist spokesman

Saudi Arabia: Several Shi'ite community leaders have reportedly been arrested recently in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province for conducting religious services in their homes last December, VOA News reported 7 April. Official sources indicated that the detained men will serve one-month prison sentences.

Saudi police have also shut down nine Shi'ite mosques in Khobar, Ras Tanura, Khafji and Abqaiq, according to the Jafariya News Network. This looks like a crackdown on sources of subversion, while Iraq lacks a government.

Russia: President Medvedev ordered the creation of a special anti-terrorism task force in the North Caucasus Federal District, RIA Novosti reported. The new group should be operational by 19 April, the Kremlin press service said.

The president ordered officials to prepare a proposal by the end of the month on a new program to combat crime and militant acts in the North Caucasus. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Security Council chief Alexander Bastrykin and the head of Kremlin administration, Sergei Naryshkin, were given until 15 May to submit proposals to toughen punishments for militant accomplices.

Medvedev is acting quickly to keep the promises he made after the 29 March Moscow subway bombings to exact harsher punishments.

Russia-South Ossetia: For the record. Russia and South Ossetia signed an agreement establishing a permanent Russian military base in the breakaway region of Georgia, according to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, RIA Novosti reported. With the signing of this agreement, Russia assumes full responsibility for the protection of South Ossetia.

Whatever hope Georgian leaders may have had of recovering South Ossetia in the future is gone.

Somalia: Reuters reported today that at least 12 al Qaida members have crossed from Yemen into Somalia in the last two weeks, bringing money and military expertise to Somali rebels battling the Western-backed government, according to a senior Somali official.

Treasury Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman attributed the information to a briefing by Somalia's intelligence agencies. He said the militants were sent to assess the situation to see if al Qaida might relocate its assets to southern Somalia because they are facing a lot of pressure in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Comment: If this is true, it is good news for Afghanistan and Central Command. Bad news for Africa Command and Somalia.

End of NightWatch for 7 April.

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