June 16, 2004
World Media Watch
by Gloria R. Lalumia
BUZZFLASH NOTE: WMW provides BuzzFlash readers foreign views and perspectives that are not usually available from the media here in the U.S. The presentation of these articles from these international publications is not an endorsement of their viewpoints.
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WORLD MEDIA WATCH FOR JUNE 16, 2004
1//Asia Times Online, Hong Kong--NEW TWIST IN THE AFGHANISTAN STORY (And now the war is intensifying. One clue: there are 20,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan today. Two months ago there were 13,500. Another sign is that the US television networks have also returned. They left practically as soon as the B-52s had done their job, the Taliban government was overthrown, and Hamad Karzai was brought back from his exile in the US to serve as interim president...Why have the US media returned to Afghanistan? "I don't know why, but they think Osama bin Laden is about to be captured," says UN spokesman Manoel de Almeyda, a Brazilian national. That is another thing keeping Bush awake at night: he wants bin Laden captured before the November elections in the US.)
2//The Jordan Times, Jordan--US HELPING NORTH AFRICAN NATIONS TRACK DOWN EXTREMISTS (The United States is giving advice, training and information to north African states to help them track down extremists in the vast Sahara Desert, according to high-ranking officials and the press in Morocco and the United States... And according to articles in the US press, the desert, which stretches from Africa's eastern Horn region across the top of the continent to the Atlantic coast, has become a "new Afghanistan," where extremist groups move about freely...In late 2002, Washington launched the Pan Sahel initiative, aimed at helping "Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation," according to the US State Department...There are also plans afoot to extend the initiative to take in Senegal and other African states.)
3//Inter Press Service News Agency, Italy--KURD
UNREST SPREADS TO SYRIA (Kurds within Syria are
beginning to demand increasing recognition in the
face of the autonomy enjoyed by Kurds within Iraq...
Syrian officials fear the new demands could lead
to a push for Kurd autonomy or even to Kurds breaking
away to join an Iraqi Kurdistan...The Syrian government's
concerns are reinforced by the fact that Kurds
live in the area that is the source of most oil
and gas resources. The area, a fertile plain between
the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is known locally
as Al Jazeera, or The Island.)
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Times Online, Hong Kong June 16, 2004
NEW TWIST IN THE AFGHANISTAN STORY
Kabul is an intense, vibrant city. Trucks, buses, cars, bicycles, street vendors, people pulling carts, and donkeys, sheep and even camels have to navigate around each other and soldiers and guards carrying Kalashnikov rifles in an ongoing series of traffic jams. They kick up an ever-present, lung-clogging dust cloud. Reconstruction efforts are evident, although Kabul continues to be a showcase of bombed-out buildings and missile-destroyed houses.
According to insurance companies, this is a country at war, despite the fact that talk is of peace, and, in September, the country is to hold its first presidential elections in 25 years.
In less than a month, US-led coalition forces claim to have killed more than 80 suspected Taliban fighters and detained 90 others in the southern province of Zabul. About 20,000 US-led coalition forces are currently hunting Taliban and their allies in the al-Qaeda terrorist network, mainly in south and southeastern Afghanistan.
Since early this year, more than 320 people have been killed and more than 250 others injured in different attacks and clashes across the country, including a number of aid workers, and most recently 11 Chinese working on rebuilding a road in the north.
The elections are to take place a couple months before the US vote that will either re-elect President George W Bush or put his likely rival from the Democratic Party, John Kerry, in the White House.
It is the US elections in November that make the Afghan vote credible, because it is believed that Bush will want to announce in his campaign effort that he has "pacified and democratized" the Central Asian nation, invaded by US forces shortly after September 11.
The US was looking in Afghanistan for the man thought to be the mastermind behind the attacks, Saudi national Osama bin Laden, and, on the way, sought to liquidate the Taliban regime and capture its leader, Mullah Omar. Both men remain at large.
And now the war is intensifying. One clue: there are 20,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan today. Two months ago there were 13,500. Another sign is that the US television networks have also returned. They left practically as soon as the B-52s had done their job, the Taliban government was overthrown, and Hamad Karzai was brought back from his exile in the US to serve as interim president.
Karzai, widely seen as lacking political power, wants to extend his mandate - and he has Bush's support for that aim.
"If the elections are in September, [Karzai] will achieve his goal, because there will be no mature alternatives capable of negotiating with the United States," says Shahir Zahine, a former mujahideen who fought the 1979 Soviet invasion that lasted for 10 years. He is now head of a non-governmental organization that publishes three weekly magazines, two of which are leaders in national circulation.
What could postpone the elections? "If insecurity increases and the United Nations fails to complete the voter lists," Zahine, who also directs one of Kabul's top radio stations, said in an IPS interview.
In May, three workers carrying out an electoral census were murdered. The voter rolls do not include even half of the potential electorate, estimated at 10 million.
The increase in troop presence serves to prevent a civil war and to fight the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, where they remain a strong presence. Furthermore, the International Security Assistance Force under NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) command, has Kabul under control but is incapable of ensuring law and order in the rest of the country, where warlords prevail.
Why have the US media returned to Afghanistan? "I don't know why, but they think Osama bin Laden is about to be captured," says UN spokesman Manoel de Almeyda, a Brazilian national.
That is another thing keeping Bush awake at night: he wants bin Laden captured before the November elections in the US.
Another "Western" dream is to allow Afghan women to be free of the burqa, the head-to-toe shroud, with its embroidered mesh that hides their eyes. Thousands of burqas are seen on the streets of the capital. Most are light blue. Crossing the city by car, one sees many women dressed in this attire. It can be disturbing to see so many faceless humans moving about.
US HELPING NORTH AFRICAN NATIONS TRACK DOWN EXTREMISTS
'The desert, which stretches from the eastern Horn region across the top of the continent to the Atlantic coast, has become a new Afghanistan, where extremists move about freely'
Rabat (AFP) - The United States is giving advice, training and information to north African states to help them track down extremists in the vast Sahara Desert, according to high-ranking officials and the press in Morocco and the United States.
General Jim Jones, commander of the United States European Command, said recently that the US military was actively helping north African states fight radical groups in the Sahara.
And according to articles in the US press, the desert, which stretches from Africa's eastern Horn region across the top of the continent to the Atlantic coast, has become a "new Afghanistan," where extremist groups move about freely.
But up until now, there have been few concrete sightings of fighters in the Sahara that is, admittedly, very difficult to monitor, even from states it cuts through.
A small group from one extremist organisation, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) from Algeria, has been spotted in the desert and, according to Ndjamena, a dozen GSPC fighters have been "put out of commission" by the Chadian army.
In late 2002, Washington launched the Pan Sahel initiative, aimed at helping "Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation," according to the US State Department.
The initiative also supports "two US national security interests in Africa - waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security."
The budget for the Pan Sahel initiative was originally set at $7 million but is expected to be increased to $125 million over five years, according to the New York Times.
There are also plans afoot to extend the initiative to take in Senegal and other African states.
And if the fears of the Moroccan press are anything to go by, then the initiative should certainly include the north African kingdom, where newspapers have accused the Polisario Front of having ties with Al Qaeda. Polisario wants independence for western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 and over which the two sides have fought a war.
"Polisario flogged weapons and explosives [to Al Qaeda]," the weekly Gazette du Maroc has accused, alleging that the secessionist group obtained in exchange the backing of Ben Laden's group for the creation of an state in western Sahara.
Newspaper Al Ahdath Al Maghribia took the western Sahara link further, saying that the bomb attacks in Madrid on March 11 were planned in the desert region, which lies in southern Morocco, bordering Mauritania.
SDF TO HAVE AUTONOMY IN IRAQI MISSION/WILL BE
ALLOWED TO REJECT REQUESTS FROM INTL FORCE
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday the Self-Defense Forces would participate in a multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq subject to four conditions, which include a stipulation that they maintain their own chain of command, government sources said.
The sources said the government's position on the participation will state that the SDF can reject a request from the multinational force if the request is against Japanese policies, according to the sources.
The sources said the government already has explained this point to the United States and Britain, and the two countries have accepted it.
According to the sources, Koizumi said at an informal morning meeting with Cabinet ministers that the SDF would be allowed to join the multinational force subject to the four preconditions--the SDF would maintain its own chain of command; would operate only in noncombat zones; would operate within the scope of the special law supporting the reconstruction of Iraq; and would not be involved in the use of force.
The government is expected to adopt the four preconditions as the basis of its plan to allow the SDF to participate in the multinational force that will be formed after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda called for understanding and cooperation from the coalition parties over the plan for the SDF's participation.
"The SDF's activities are strictly limited to ensure they remain within the scope of the special law supporting Iraqi reconstruction," Hosoda was quoted as telling secretaries general and chairmen of the policy research councils of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito in the Diet Building Tuesday morning. "The SDF will be able to retreat at its own judgment and won't be involved in the use of force," he continued.
"It would take months to negotiate a new agreement with the Iraqi interim government (concerning the SDF activities), and the SDF could lose its right to operate in Iraq (during that time)," Hosoda added.
KURD UNREST SPREADS TO SYRIA
DAMASCUS, Jun 14 (IPS) - Kurds within Syria are beginning to demand increasing recognition in the face of the autonomy enjoyed by Kurds within Iraq.
Kurds number about 1.5 million in a Syrian population of 17 million. A total of 20 million Kurds are scattered across several countries. Turkey has about half the Kurd population, Iraq about five million, and the rest are distributed within Iran and Syria.
New Kurdish demands in Syria include citizenship for up to 200,000 Kurds living within the country. They are also demanding the right to register their land, and for the Kurdish language to be recognised.
Turkey too has accepted several Kurdish demands, including recognition for Kurdish language.
Syrian officials fear the new demands could lead to a push for Kurd autonomy or even to Kurds breaking away to join an Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Syrian government's concerns are reinforced by the fact that Kurds live in the area that is the source of most oil and gas resources. The area, a fertile plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, is known locally as Al Jazeera, or The Island.
The Syrian government has moved to contain Kurdish unrest by ordering all unlicensed parties to stop political activities or face a ban, according to a statement by a human rights activist obtained by IPS. The Syrian government has not officially announced the ban.
President Bashar Assad sent out several reformist signals since taking over as president from his father Hafez Assad who died in 2000 after 30 years of autocratic rule since taking power in a military coup.
Bashar Assad granted amnesty to more than a thousand political prisoners.. Political meetings known as salons flourished.
Civil rights activists and liberal lawmakers gather at these salons to demand more freedom and democracy, and to criticise corruption and nepotism. But a crackdown on reformists last year has curbed many of these activities. Syria is inching along the path of economic reforms but hopes for political reform have been effectively quashed.
The ruling clique seems in no mood to allow the extent of political reform demanded by the opposition. The government is emphatic in stifling new demands being made by Kurd groups.
The crackdown underlines the struggle for control in Syria between a well-entrenched old guard and a new generation of reformers. "There was a lot of hope before the crackdown," a liberal activist says. "But the way they came down on these groups has left the country depressed."
POWER STRUGGLE AS FRENCH UNIONS STAGE SERIES OF
Nicolas Sarkozy, the ambitious French Finance Minister, found himself embroiled in a power struggle yesterday that he would probably prefer to avoid.
Unions in the power industry organised politically targeted blackouts and demonstrations across the country to protest against what they claim are stealthy plans to "privatise" the state-owned electricity and gas companies, EDF and GDF.
M. Sarkozy, who wants to replace President Jacques Chirac as the leader of the French centre-right, insists no such plan exists.
Proposals put before parliament yesterday would make EDF and GDF into limited companies and ultimately open them to private investment, prompting unions to mount raucous protest marches and encourage targeted blackouts of the constituencies, and even the homes, of politicians. There were also "symbolic" power cuts, such as at a Phillips factory in Nancy in eastern France which makes light bulbs and street lights.