Global Snapshot – March edition
By Rachel Hankey
The March issue of Global Snapshot, which brings current international issues and news from around the world. The new year saw continued economic troubles in Europe, rising concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, and renewed tension over the Falkland Islands.
Greece's on-going debt crisis
Greece continues to struggle to find a solution to its on-going financial difficulties. Late last month Eurozone finance ministers approved the terms of a second rescue package for Greece, worth €130bn (£108bn). It had been warned that if the rescue package was not agreed Greece would have defaulted on its loans by the end of March.
The Greek Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, praised the deal, claiming that it would quell any fears that Greece would be forced to leave the Eurozone. However, in order to receive the rescue package, the government must introduce further austerity measures, which have proven to be very unpopular. Violent clashes between police and protestors, who were campaigning against further cuts have marred the approval of the new deal. Rioters set fire to a number of buildings in Athens, invoking memories of the anti-austerity riots in May 2010, in which three people were killed.
Snow in Europe
A extreme cold spell has affected much of Europe. Eastern Europe and the Balkans were most severely affected, experiencing the heaviest snowfall in “decades”. In Ukraine and the Czech Republic temperatures of -38C recorded. Many remote villages have been cut off from power and essential supplies. It is believed that the cold weather has caused the death of over 650 people in Eastern Europe and Russia. There are now mounting concerns that the thawing snow will cause extensive flooding in the region.
In Italy, the first heavy snowfall for 26 years caused widespread disruption and even damaged parts of the Colosseum.
Alleged vote rigging in the December 2011 Parliamentary elections sparked some of the biggest anti-government protests in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Protests have been ongoing since late last year and on February 4th alone there were four political demonstrations in Moscow. The protests appear to have temporarily united several opposing groups, with Communists, Nationalists and Western-leaning liberals all turning out to protest against alleged corruption. The protests have been largely peaceful, although over 1,000 people have been arrested, including key protest leaders such as the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny.
Putin won his third-term in the March 4 Presidential elections, despite the anti-Putin sentiment. Although the result was anticipated, international monitors have criticised the conduct of the elections and called for an investigation of voting irregularities.
Kosovo Celebrates their Independence
On Feburary 17th, Kosovans celebrated the fourth anniversary of their declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. The celebrations came a day after the Serbian population voted overwhelmingly to reject Kosovan rule; 99.7% of the regions voters rejected the legitimacy of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian led state. Although the referendum is not legally binding, the result is significant, and further complicates ongoing efforts to reduce ethnic fuelled tension in the region.
Tension between Iran and the West continue to escalate. In late January the European Union, along with United States, imposed a further round of harsh economic sanctions on Iran, in an effort to force the country to comply with international demands to end its efforts to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. Observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been denied permission to inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, many commentators believe that Western action is unlikely to prevent Iran’s long-term nuclear ambitions. However, the sanctions, resulting in spiralling inflation, are impacting upon Iran’s citizens.
The political tension is beginning to push up oil prices, as Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz unless the EU and US lift their sanctions. 20% of the world’s oil supply currently passes through the stretch of water between Iran and Oman.
Widespread violence is ongoing in Syria, as the government continues its attempt to violently supress a popular uprising. Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, has been appointed as the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy, as part of the international effort to end the crisis. The Syrian opposition groups are demanding that President Assad step down, however he has rejected the calls, and continues to use security forces to violently suppress opposition protests.
Thousands of Syrians are now fleeing the country – it’s estimated that 70,000 people have fled to Jordan alone. There is growing concern about the humanitarian situation in Syria, particularly the besieged towns of Homs, Deraa and Idlib. Aid agencies and many concerned governments are calling for the opening of humanitarian corridors to border towns such as Deraa.
Political unrest in Egypt
There is increasing dissatisfaction with the on going military rule in the country, resulting in violent protests against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Former President Mubarak was forced out of power in a popular uprising a year ago. Since then, many Egyptians have become increasingly critical of the slow pace of the transition to civilian power.
Violent protests occurred in the run up to Parliamentary elections in November and December last year. Last month the protests were renewed when violence erupted at a football match; over 70 people were killed at the match in Port Said. The largest protests have been occurring in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
Nigeria and Boko Haram Militants
Boko Haram militants have been increasing their violent campaign in northern Nigeria since late last year. The Islamist militants have been carrying out an extensive bombing campaign; in January, 185 people were killed in a series of bombings single day. Most of the violence has occurred in Borno State and Yobe State, fuelling violent confrontations between Muslim and Christian groups.
Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group, trying to overthrow the Nigeria government and establish an Islamic state. The group strongly opposes Western education, and the loose translation of their name is "Western education is forbidden".
On December 31st, the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in parts of Borno, Niger, Plateau, and Yobe states in response to the actions of Boko Haram militants.
Political Violence in Senegal
The first round of Presidential elections in Senegal took place late last month. The incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade is seeking election for a third term in office, despite the two-term constitutional limit. A second round of elections will take place in mid-March, after neither Wade, nor his main rival, former prime minister Macky Sall, achieved a majority in the first round of voting.
In late January opposition party supporters staged large demonstrations in Dakar to protest against a decision by the Constitutional Council to allow Wade to stand as a candidate in the elections. Since then, demonstrations have continued sporadically, often resulting in violent clashes between protestors and security forces; six people have been killed in the protests.
There has been international concern over the Presidential election. Senegal has been a stable democracy since becoming independent from France in 1960; it is the only country in West Africa where the army has never seized power.
In February Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected President was forced from office in a political coup. Nasheed has claimed that he was forced to resign after being threatened at gunpoint; his successor, former Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, denies the claim. The former President lost the support of the military and police, after an alliance of opposition parties and NGOs, supported by hard-line Islamist groups, tried to force him from power. The Maldives was experiencing several months of protests against rising living costs, and alleged economic mismanagement. Nasheed was also seen to be acting undemocratically, by ordering the detention of a senior judge and threatening to postpone presidential elections. The former President has demanded that an early election takes place, but Hassan has refused to call elections before his term ends.
The on going political turmoil has sparked widespread protests, which have remained generally peaceful, although there are concerns that a crackdown on protests could send the country back into authoritarian rule.
The nation’s economy is heavily dependant on tourism, but there have been clear signs that the industry has been affected by the political unrest. The Maldives’ tourism industry has warned that the country stands to lose $100 million in revenue due to the cancellation of visitor bookings.
There has been increasing political tension in Nepal. In late February, a bomb exploded near a government office in Kathmandu, sparking concerns as this is the first major terrorist incident in Nepal, since the civil war ended six years ago.
The Constituent Assembly, lead by the Maoists, has been struggling to reach an agreement on what form of government the country should adopt, and how much power the different regions of the country should be given. Various different ethnic groups in the country are demanding special rights, and that the composition of the provinces be based on ethnicity. The Maoists came to power in the 2008 elections, which ended the country’s monarchy.
Washington DC Terror Plot
In late February, a Moroccan man was arrested near the Capitol building in Washington, carrying what he believed to be a loaded gun and a suicide vest primed for detonation. The man was arrested in the latest of a series of FBI sting operations carried out against suspected terrorists.
Amine El Khalifi, who entered the US in 1999, had believed that the gun and bomb had been provided by al-Qaeda. They had in fact been given to him by undercover FBI agents, who had had him under surveillance for over a year. Several Muslim and civil rights groups have expressed concern about the way in which the FBI uses sting operations against suspected terrorists.
Tensions between Argentina and the United Kingdom are increasing in the lead up the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.
Argentina has been angered by both the posting of Prince William, a RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, to the islands, and a visit by MP’s who are members of the Defence Select Committee to inspect military facilities. The Argentinian government has accused Britain of "militarizing the South Atlantic". Late last month Argentinian authorities stopped two British-linked cruise ships from docking in Tierra del Fuego, increasing tensions with the UK.
Britain asserts that it will continue to defend the islands according to the principle of self-determination for the residents; the 3,000 residents want to belong to the United Kingdom. Argentina maintains that the islands belong to them. In 2010 a large oil field was discovered north of the islands.
Farc to end kidnappings
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has announced that it will stop abducting people for ransom.Farc, the largest rebel group in Columbia, was once responsible for most of the world’s kidnappings.
The rebel group is still holding 10 policemen and solider hostage; some have been held in captivity in the jungle for the past 14 years. All will now be released, although no date has yet been set. Last year the group announced that it would free five policemen and one soldier. However Farc postponed their release, blaming increased military activity in the area for the delay. The latest announcement also makes no reference to civilians who have been kidnapped by the group.
It is hoped that the announcement may pave the way for negotiations between the government and rebel group. In November the leader of the rebel group, Alfonso Cano, was killed by the army. His successor, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as Timochenko, has repeatedly called for peace talks with the government.