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NightWatch 20111031

NightWatch

For the night of 31October 2011

North Korea-Libya-Tunisia-Egypt:  Kim Jong-il has issued a decree to North Koreans in Libya: don't bother coming home, according to South Korean media outlets. With this decree, Kim has stranded some 200 North Korean doctors, nurses and construction workers who were working on various Qadhafi projects in order to remit hard currency to Pyongyang.

To their domestic audiences, the North's media outlets have not reported the Arab uprisings, Qadhafi's death, the activities of the Libyan National Transitional Council or events in Tunisia or Egypt. North Korean workers in Tunisia and Egypt also are not permitted to return to North Korea and are essentially stateless.

Comment: Qadhafi's Libya was an important customer of North Korean ballistic missile systems and other weapons. North Koreans also worked on housing construction projects.

The bans are aimed at preventing contamination of the North's population by exposure to news and ideas about the Arab uprisings. It is typical of North Korean information control strategy.

The late Kim Il-sung reacted similarly to the Chinese adoption of controlled-capitalism and to the collapse of the Soviet Union. After both events, thousands of North Korean students and professionals were recalled and placed in re-education camps until their deviant attitudes were re-educated correctly.

In fact, even in North Korea outside news cannot be blocked, especially to Party members and along the borders with China, Russia and South Korea. The effect of the information control measures is to enable authorities to punish arbitrarily any public mention of these international events. Information control is no longer possible, but information terror is easy.

China-Europe: China remains confident Europe can solve its crippling debt crisis even though it continues to balk at requests for it to use its financial firepower, according to President Hu Jintao.

President Hu told reporters on Monday that China is following closely developments in Europe as the 17 countries in the Eurozone struggle with their debt crisis. During an official visit to Austria, Hu said, China is "convinced that Europe has the wisdom and the competence to conquer its momentary difficulties."

Comment: Some European leaders, notably President Sarkozy of France, appealed last week to Chinese leaders to use some of their cash reserves to help prevent the region's debt crisis from spilling over into increasingly shaky economies, such as Italy and Spain. President Hu gave them an official brush off.

Chinese leaders promised business as usual with Europe and continue to see US Bonds as no risk relative to the sovereign debt of many Eurozone members. Europe has no Chinese safety net because the Chinese do not consider European sovereign debt to be risk free. The Chinese will not bail out Europe.

Vietnam-Japan: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung agreed to build nuclear power plants in Vietnam using Japanese nuclear technology, Nguyen said during a joint news conference in Tokyo. Both countries agreed to jointly mine for rare earth metals in Vietnam.

Comment: Nuclear power would make Vietnam less vulnerable to carbon fuel blackmail by China, in the continuing confrontation over seabed development rights in the South China Sea. The discovery of significant rare earth metal deposits in Vietnam would more than repay Japanese investments in nuclear energy in Vietnam by reducing Japanese dependence on Chinese supplies.

Bangladesh-Russia: Bangladesh and Russia are expected to sign agreements for the construction of Bangladesh's first nuclear power plant, Rosatom Chief Sergei Kiriyenko said in a television interview on 31 October.

Comment: Bangladesh is desperate to expand its energy supplies without increasing its dependence on fossil fuels and hydro-power. The Russians have never had much influence in Bangladesh, but this project offers the prospect of pride of place because it could enable the Dhaka government to use Russian aid to blunt Chinese pressures. A Russian option for Bangladesh would be good news.

Libya: Politics. Libya's leaders on Monday elected a US-educated electronics engineering professor to serve as interim prime minister. In a televised session, the members of the National Transitional Council elected Abdur-raheem el-Keib, a dual US-Libyan citizen, as prime minister by depositing ballots in a see-through ballot box. This action was unprecedented in Libyan history.

Comment: According to news services' research, El-Keib is a resident of Tripoli who earned his PhD at North Carolina State University in 1984 and was a longtime professor at the University of Alabama. He joined the interim council last spring.

Colleagues described him as a technocrat who appealed to a variety of factions and was considered intelligent and charismatic. "He's not from any ideological faction. He's just a nationalist," said Abdur-razag Mukhtar, a council member for Tripoli.

He replaces Mahmoud Jibril, a US-educated political scientist, who has been seen as divisive and criticized for frequent overseas travel. Jibril did not seek re-election. Nor did the Council elect a jihadist.

Security. Tripoli Military Council head Abdel Hakim Belhadj said the Libyan National Transitional Council's soldiers will hand over their weapons to government officials as soon as possible to avoid the weapons being dispersed throughout the streets. Belhadj said that the weapons will be stored in interior ministry depots and that a transitional government will be formed within one month of 23 October, the Libyan liberation date.

Comment: Belhadj's timetable for a new government precisely matches the Constitutional Declaration's schedule. The election of a new prime minister is a positive sign that the interim government is adhering, at least initially, to the political development schedule contained in the Constitutional Declaration. The key point is the date and actions are not random or lacking in context.

The movement towards a new government is just beginning, but the beginning conforms to the schedule that the National Transitional Council published. That is a good tactic for reassuring international backers and retaining strong international support.

End of NightWatch for 31 October.

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