The Index – March 24, 2009

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu have reached a agreement on a coalition, creating a “broad-based government committed to regional peace.” Next for Barak: convincing his fragmented Labor Party to back the accord. If Labor members do agree to the deal, the resulting coalition government—led by Netanyahu—will be more broadly based, rather than a “narrow, right-wing” cabinet drawn largely from Netanyahu’s Likud party. While the government platform is committed to regional peace, it also stresses that economic relationships need to be improved with the occupied West Bank before any effort is put into the creation of a Palestinian state. First, however, the Labor party is to convene and vote on Barak’s decision in what is expected to be “a stormy extraordinary” session on Tuesday. Reportedly, at least seven of the party’s thirteen MPs are opposed to the agreement between Barak and Netanyahu.

Just a week after Andry Rajoelina took control of Madagascar, some 3,000 people protested in support of deposed leader Marc Ravalomanana Monday in the capital, Antananarivo. Rajoelina and Ravalomanana sparred for months before the military’s action last week when Ravalomanana ceded power to the army, which in turn handed the country over to Rajoelina. Supporters of the ousted president vow to continue protesting the whole week as the island nation faces international sanctions over the takeover. The African Union suspended Madagascar from membership, while the United States and Norway halted their aid.

The two American journalists who were arrested last week on the Chinese-North Korean border have been moved to Pyongyang for interrogation by military intelligence officers, according to reports fromt the South Korean capital, Seoul. This latest incident has only heightened the tension that is already pervasive on the Korean peninsula. Next week the North is looking to “test-fire a long range rocket” which it claims to be a peaceful satellite—a claim that has only caused more doubt and concern in South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The journalists, who are thought to have entered into the North by crossing the frozen Tumen river, were apparently working for Current TV, a U.S.-based online news company co-founded by former-vice president Al Gore. A cameraman and his Chinese guide were also detained by Chinese authorities, but were released and left the country. An American arrested crossing into the North in 1996 was detained for three months before he was released.

Chinese authorities arrested about 100 monks after an estimated 2,000 Tibetans protested the suicide of a monk in police custody over the weekend, one exile said. The Chinese News agency Xinhua reported that several hundred people, including monks, attacked government officials and a police station, threatening security in the region. A Tibetan exile with family still in the monastery town of Ragya said 2,000 protested the death of the monk who supposedly drowned himself to escape police interrogation. There was an explosion Monday at a vacant police station in Sichuan province, an area where many Tibetans live.

Calling it a “hell on earth,” Simon Jenkins of the Evening Standard weighs in on the latest G20 Summit that will descend on London next week. According to Jenkins, the day-and-a-half of summitry that will result in the leaders of the largest 20 economies “agreeing on nothing but the urgency of meeting again” will cost Londoners £19 million in security and other costs.” The United Kingdom, like the rest of the world, is in the grip of recession, so it’s ironic to spend huge sums of public money to discuss the financial crisis, according to Jenkins. These talks, he suggests, could be used to make a point about safer and smarter spending if the leaders stayed in the “Canning Town Holiday Inn.” These meetings—and the protests and chaos they bring—are worth less then they cost and “London hardly needs these antics just now,” writes Jenkins, who asserts that less talk and more action is needed in these tumultuous economic times.

Pakistan provincial officials are arming local residents in the North West Frontier Province to fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, an Afghan news agency reported. The local government promised to hand out about 30,000 rifles and establish a police station in the region that has become a stronghold and haven for insurgents. The report hinted that this could signal a suspension of the government truce with militants earlier this year. Talibani and Al Qaeda fighters continue to seek refuge in the rural north west region and cross over into Afghanistan with impunity.

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