THE INDEX – April 2, 2009

A new law in Afghanistan subjects women to conditions—including a ban on refusing  sex with their husbands and leaving the house without male permission—that some critics say are worse than life under Talibani rule. President Hamid Karzai is said to have signed the bill in late March but, as The Guardian reported, what the law actually stipulates is unclear as it’s being kept largely underwraps. Women’s rights advocates are outraged by its blatant discrimination and denial of basic freedoms but one Afghan parliamentarian who supported the bill said that “men and women have equal rights under Islam but there are differences in the way men and women are created.” Afghanistan will likely come under more fire for the legislation as details are released but some diplomats are wary of crossing the line between condemning the law and attacking the local culture. Women and girls still live as second-class citizens in much of Afghanistan, writes Mary Crane in the spring issue of the World Policy Journal which also includes photographs by Teressa Rerras.

Thousands of Thai protesters surrounded government buildings in Bangkok for the eighth day, calling for the dissolution of the current government and changes in the Thai political system. Supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra—the ousted leader who has lived abroad since 2006—besieged the capital, blocking government officials from their offices and rejecting an offer from the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to meet with Thaksin in an effort to end the riots. So far the government opted to refrain from the use of force to control the protests, but the riots are stoking national fears about deepening unrest over the political and economic situation.

Venezuela is prepared to take Guantánamo prisoners when the United States closes the camp at the end of the year, President Hugo Chavez said. In an offer that the Pentagon will probably reject. Chavez said that “we wouldn’t have any problem in taking in human beings,” at an Arab-South America summit in Qatar. Although the Obama administration wants other countries to open their doors to the soon-to-be released inmates, a Venezuela-U.S. collaboration is probably unlikely. Chavez also said he wants Guantánamo Bay returned to Cuban control to put an end to “that miserable prison.”

After five and a half years of “largely ineffectual rule,” Malaysia’s prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi submitted his resignation today to Malaysia’s king (Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, who serves as the constitutional monarch). Taking his place will be Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is to be sworn in on Friday as the County’s sixth prime minister, but not if the Malay Parliament has its way. Razak is steeped in “allegations of corruption and links to a murder case,” and lawmakers are looking for a leader whose “integrity is not questionable.” Abdullah was forced to step down after his ruling party, the National Front, failed to get a two-thirds majority vote in the March 2008 elections. It was the most dismal showing for the party in forty years. Critics in Abdullah’s own coalition blamed the party set back on his efforts as prime minister “to provide greater freedom of speech and to allow criticism of the government.” Abdullah’s predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, was well-known for his semi-authoritarian leanings.

In a move to quell what is considered a severe unemployment and social problem, Japan is offering 300,000 yen ($3,000) to “unemployed overseas workers” to be used to buy plane tickets home. The program targets the “hundreds of thousands” of South Americans of Japanese decent who reside in the country on special visas strictly for factory work. There is a hitch, however. To be eligible to receive the payment, the workers must “resign their rights” to work in Japan, and could only return with either a tourist visa or a renewed work visa. Those hoping to stay might win permission by taking Japanese language classes provided by the government.

Officials in Beijing have denied any Chinese government involvement in what’s been dubbed “GhostNet” computer spy ring that was announced earlier this week. Allegedly having infiltrated more then 1,000 computers around the world, GhostNet was discovered by a group of Canadian researchers who were asked to examine the computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization. While the spy net cannot be directly linked to the Chinese government, the Canadian group did conclude that GhostNet’s servers are “almost exclusively located in China, and its targets are political, including NATO, the Indian Embassy in Washington and Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels and London.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang claims that these allegations are coming from people who “are bent on fabricating lies of so-called Chinese computer spies” and that the focus should be on confronting those individuals.

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