The Index — January 22, 2009

While the world’s attention was focused on Obama‘s inauguration on Tuesday, the financial crisis was moving in a familiar direction—a downward spiral. The new president’s arrival did not immediately boost confidence in the markets and, just after the inauguration, the Dow Jones plummeted “largely affecting the share prices of major financial institutions,” explains Michel Chossudovsky in Global Research.ca.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan confides in The Independent his emotion in seeing Barack Obama become the new president of the United States. “It is difficult to hold back a tear,” he admits, and stresses that the United States is now about to “re-engage with the international community in a much more constructive way.”

According to Glenn Kessler in Thursday’s Washington Post, the Obama administration is set to announce two “high-profile” appointments: former Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D-Me.) as Middle East envoy and Richard Holbrooke (former U.N. ambassador) as envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, “and related matters.” Mitchell will be charged with reestablishing the Middle East peace process after three weeks of conflict between Israel and Hamas, while Holbrooke will have his hands full trying to ease border tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Noam Chomsky, the well-known U.S. foreign policy critic and favorite resource of high-school American history papers everywhere, weighs in on the Gaza conflict from his ZSpace page. In true Chomskyian form, he sees the Gaza attacks and the contradictions behind their motivation as nothing new, just more of the same Israeli “preference for expansion over security.” Is Israel making itself the most hated country in the world? Mr. Chomsky seems to think so.

After years of reforms aimed at meeting Europe‘s demands toward becoming a member of the EU, Turkey seems to have changed directions. As negotiations with the West stall, Istanbul looks towards the Middle East. Recently, Turkey has involved itself in several issues concerning Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and in doing so has scored points with the Arab world, reports Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) in Istanbul, in Today’s Zaman.

The United Nations seeks a greater role for its Congo mission as violence in the north continues to spread. The Congolese and Rwandan armies have waged a tenuous joint campaign against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) but have denied the UN’s access to observe operations, despite the UN’s commission to protect civilians and a promise to “not participate in any action against the (FDLR),” said a spokesman.

Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who made headlines for making anti-Muslim remarks in March 2008, will be charged with inciting hatred towards Muslims, officials in Amsterdam said. Wilders produced a short film that prosecutors said was “so insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute.” Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Dutch Freedom Party, said the charges were not just an attack on him but also an attack on the freedom of speech.

Iceland‘s government is facing some of the largest protests the country has seen in 60 years due to public concern over the effects of the global financial crisis. Amid chilling temperatures, more than 2,000 people demanded that Prime Minister Geir Haarde resign over his handling of the nation’s financial collapse, which caused major banks to be nationalized and the krona to lose about three-fourths of its value since October. The Finance Ministry predicted Tuesday that Iceland’s economy will shrink by about 10 percent in 2009.

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