The Index – March 31, 2009

The arrest of a man the Iraqi government alleges is aligned with Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party led to clashes over the weekend that left at least a dozen people dead and more injured. Adil al-Mashadani, the leader of the Sunni Sons of Iraq, and his U.S.-backed militia enforced security in Fadhil, but the area erupted into violence following his arrest. The Sons of Iraq is part of an alliance of Sunni groups called the Awakening movement that helped quell Sunni unrest during the period of intense sectarian violence. The reliance on the strength of one man and his followers is emblematic of how Iraq gravitates toward “strongman” politics, according to Ned Parker, a longtime Baghdad correspondent, in the World Policy Journal’s spring issue.

The Japanese government will draw up plans for a third stimulus package as Japan continues to be one of the countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, officials said today. Decreased consumer demand crushed Japan’s export reliant economy and the latest package will be an effort to stymie the country from spiraling into the worst recession in 50 years. Although official details won’t be released until mid-April, media reports estimate it would inject roughly $600 billion into the economy and aim to create 2 million jobs. The Japanese economy shrank 12.1 percent in the last four months of 2008 and the government said that there are only 59 jobs available for every 100 people. Before the global economic crisis, the Pacific island nation was just beginning to recover from a decade of economic stagnation in the 1990s.

The two American journalists seized by North Korean guards for border-crossing last week will face trial on suspicion of spying, Pyongyang officials said. Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who work for Current TV, an online media organization, are being held indefinitely. A Swedish delegation, on behalf of the United States, was allowed contact with the women, but didn’t publicly comment on their condition. A South Korean newspaper reported the journalists crossed into North Korea while filming a documentary, but initial reports suggested that North Korean guards may have entered China to detain them. The arrests come amid a sharpening row over North Korea’s plans to launch a satellite next week, which is widely believed by observers to be a long-range missile test. All North Korean soldiers are on-call in preparation for the rocket launch.

Haiti may seem grim from the outside looking in but there is hope on the horizon for the impoverished Caribbean nation, wrote Ban Ki-moon yesterday in a New York Times op-ed. For the next nine years Haiti will receive almost entirely free access to American markets for their exports of t-shirts and mangoes, a luxury that no other country enjoys, which Moon predicted could lead to the creation of many more jobs. While Ban and experts see opportunity for longterm growth in Haiti, the American recession could immediately lead to increasingly desperate conditions as people receive fewer remittances, Macollvie Jean-François explains in the spring issue of the World Policy Journal. Battered by several destructive hurricanes last summer and afflicted by years of internal political strife, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and its citizenry largely depends on remittances from expats living in the United States for daily necessities, writes Jean-François.

A Pakistan-based cell of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on a police training school in Lahore on Monday that killed at least eight recruits, plus four attackers, said Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. Pakistani officials said that seven attackers scaled a wall early in the morning then began firing on unarmed police recruits during their morning drills, injuring 89 people. Police apprehended three gunmen, one died in a gun battle, and three blew themselves up in what the New York Times called a “gory finale” that shows the strengthening capabilities of militants. This was the second attack in less than a month that was carried out by militants from Waziristan, a lawless tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

Last week’s arrest of a Croatian national living in Mombasa, Kenya, on charges of war crimes was a case of mistaken identity, police said. Authorities acted on a tip that a man of Yugoslav origin, possibly Ratko Mladic, worked at a luxury hotel resort and arrested him Thursday but fingerprints sent to Interpol revealed the error. Mladic is one of two men who remain wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges of war crimes and genocide for involvement in the 1990s conflicts. The man arrested, Igor Mejaski, has lived in Kenya for more than 20 years and was released.

A regional African organization suspended Madagascar as the international backlash continues after a government takeover about 10 days ago ousted the president. The Southern African Development Community voted at summit to suspend the island nation—and threatened greater sanctions—if elected president Marc Ravalomanana is not restored to power. Madagascar’s ongoing internal chaos that resulted in an opposition takeover of the military and presidency already prompted suspension from the African Union and a halt in aid from the United States and other European nations.

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