The Index — March 10, 2009

In a grim State-of-the-Union-style speech, the Dalai Lama called for greater autonomy for Tibet and condemned the Chinese for making his homeland a “hell on earth.” The 73-year-old exiled Dalai Lama addressed some 10,000 people from the main Buddhist temple in Dharamsala in north India today, marking the 50th anniversary of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. He mentioned the burgeoning support for Tibet in China saying, “more and more Chinese (are) now starting to acknowledge” there is a problem. In preparation for potential unrest, China tightened security in key Tibetan ethnic areas by blocking roads with riot police and turning away foreign journalists from areas where many monks are reportedly under state surveillance. The Chinese press has been harsh toward the Dalai Lama and his words, calling any references to autonomy or a lessening of Chinese presence “sabotage.”

Northern Ireland has seen a sudden and dangerous escalation in violence over the last four days. A police officer was killed and another injured Monday night in a “republican strong hold” in Ulster while responding to a “suspicious activity” call. The killing—claimed by an IRA offshoot, Continuity IRA—placed the delicate peace process in jeopardy and heightened fears of a reaction from loyalist paramilitaries. This incident happened just two days after another IRA dissident group, the Real IRA, took credit for the weekend murder of two British soldiers. Tensions in the area will probably continue to rise despite the peace agreement between the IRA and the British government. Over the last year dissident groups have carried out almost 20 gun and bomb attacks.

American soldiers take part in an annual joint exercise with South Korea in March 22, 2007.

The saber-rattling continues on the Korean peninsula as North Korea announced an impending satellite launch and severed—temporarily—all contact with South Korea in response to the annual South Korea-U.S. military drills that began yesterday. Seoul and Washington suspect that the launch is actually a test-firing of a long range missile, and North Korea said that any attack on its launch will result in war. Military contact between the two countries will resume once the military drills end on March 20. About 650 South Koreans were briefly stranded at an industrial complex where they work in the North due to the breakdown in communication.

Abu Ghraib—the town made famous by the military jail—was struck Tuesday by a suicide bombing that killed 33 people, including two Iraqi journalists, as tribal leaders and army officers met with civilians in a local market “as part of efforts at national reconciliation.” This bombing followed an attack just outside the Baghdad policy academy that killed 28 and injured more than 50 more. Attacks on military and police have become more frequent since 2007 as the civilian death toll fell. The Abu Ghraib bombing happened on the same day as Baath party “hardliners” refused to talk about reconciliation with people they call“traitors” of new government.

The British Foreign Ministry warned Fiji ruler Frank Bainimarama that full suspension from the Commonwealth could be in store for the Pacific island nation if the military leader didn’t finalize plans for democratic elections before May 1. But Bainimarama, who took control of the country in a 2006 coup d’etat, rejected pressure from the Commonwealth and neighbors like Australia saying that the electoral system needs to be changed in order to have racially accurate results and that a premature vote would probably “make things worse.” British Foreign Minister said that the threat of suspension is “a very rare event fortunately but we’re dealing with a fairly recalcitrant player here.”

All the economic growth that Africa saw over the last decade, largely attributed to strong commodity prices, could be erased by the global economic crisis warned the International Monetary Fund. Of the 21 countries most vulnerable to the deepening effects of economic slowdown a recent report said 15 of those were in Africa. Growth across the continent is predicted to fall to 3.25 percent in 2009, which is about half of what observers expected a year ago. The African poor are most vulnerable according to the IMF because they have few opportunities for work and education, relying largely on aid donations from foreign countries.

After years of unparalleled economic prosperity, the Celtic Tiger faces a 6 percent contraction and 11 percent unemployment in an “an unprecedented contraction”, said John Hurley, the head of the Irish central bank. If the predictions are accurate then Ireland—which until recently was a technology and innovation leader—will be among the European countries hardest hit by the global economic slowdown. Thousands of people have protested the government’s handling of the worsening domestic situation over the last few weeks.

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