THE INDEX – February 3, 2009

Following the confrontation between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres last week at Davos, relations between Israel and Turkey have been put front and center. Amplifying the scuffle—and taking some of the more pronounced swings—are the Israeli media, according to this piece in Today’s Zaman. From false reports of a torched synagogue in northwestern Turkey to inflated migration numbers of Turkish Jews migrating to Israel, many in Turkey see these Israeli media outlets “a proxy” to further agitate relations.

The Sri Lankan government is urging civilians to flee areas where the military is intensifying the fight against Tamil Tiger rebels. As the offensive moves into its final stages, the government will only “guarantee the safety and security of those who enter a 35-square kilometer ‘safety zone’ in the northern Mullaitivu district.” Sri Lankan officials claim the LTTE (or Tamil Tigers) rebels, which have been fighting since 1983 for an independent Tamil homeland, are on the verge of defeat. However, some say not enough is being done to usher civilians out of harm’s way and Gordon Weiss, the United Nations spokesman in Colombo, said this latest push to eliminate the rebel group had “exacted a huge toll” on civilians.  

It seems that the flying shoe is the newest trend in protesting. On a visit to the University of Cambridge and in front of a hand-picked audience, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao managed to dodge both accusations and a thrown shoe. The student who tossed the shoe was upset with the university’s invitation of the prime minister, calling Jiabao a “dictator” and asking why the university was prostituting itself.” Jiabao was there to give the Rede Lecture, a 500-year-old tradition at the university, and took the opportunity to address the financial crisis and the benefits of closer ties between China and Britain.         

A significant number of the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic group from Western Burma, were found adrift off of Sumatra Island and rescued by the Indonesian navy, reports. Looking for economic opportunities and escape from persecution, the Rohingya have been increasingly fleeing to Thailand, where only small numbers of them are allowed to remain. The rest, it seems, are callously towed back out to sea by the Thai navy and left to fend for themselves. Hundreds of them have suffered this treatment since December.

The division between Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas will be the hot topic of conversation as the foreign ministers of nine Arab countries are set to meet today, according to Al Jazeera. Meeting in Abu Dhabi, many see this gathering as a sign of a Middle East reconfiguration with the supporters of Fatah (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) on one side and supporters of Hamas (Iran) on the other.

To combat growing unemployment, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd revealed a stimulus plan that hopes to increase citizen purchasing by $20 billion ($26b U.S.) before September, thus preempting an economic disaster. The plan includes a mortgage rate cut and a stipend for every school-aged child, but observers are skeptical about the impact the plan will have. The government also warned that 300,000 people could find themselves jobless over the next few years as trade partners like the United States and China continue to face economic uncertainty.

State-run schools in the United Arab Emirates are being pushed to provide intensive English classes in high school to decrease the amount of students who need remedial classes in college. On average, students are held back a year and a half or two years, said one Abu Dhabi administrator, adding that privately educated students are better equipped for English programs. University officials contend that “success in other areas” is “closely tied” with English fluency. Professor Abdul Sabouni, the vice chancellor at Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi, notes, that this is the “biggest single impediment to students who are seeking undergraduate or graduate university education…. It’s a fact of life here that many students from public and private schools don’t have the required English language” skills.

Pakistan wants increased U.S. financial assistance to help fight its economic downturn and asked a U.S. congressional delegation to swiftly pass the legislation. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza said that funding should go to a development strategy to address the underlying causes of terrorism. The six American legislators visiting Pakistan also discussed greater intelligence sharing between the two countries.

The trial of Jacob Zuma, the Africa National Congress and South African president, may finally see the light of day. After what some have called an egregious amount of delays, Zuma’s lawyers “have proposed August 12 as the date for his latest—and potentially last—court bid to quash the fraud and corruption case against him.” Zuma and company point the blame at the National Persecuting Authority (NPA) for the delays, while the NPA claim Zuma is responsible. So who deserves what in this political/legal back-and-forth? This article in The Star breaks down the case from either side.

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