10 Dead in Libya after further cartoon protests

An Italian minister takes it upon himself to affirm his right to free speech by wearing a t-shirt, and this is what happens:

At least 10 people have been reported dead in Libya following clashes over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The clashes in the city of Benghazi follow reports that Italy’s Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli had worn a t-shirt of one of the cartoons.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi publicly demanded that Calderoli step down, but acknowledged that he did not have the power under Italy’s constitution to force the far-right minister out of office.

A tragedy indeed, and one that probably could have been prevented if clerics in Libya had shown some restraint and decided not to whip up the protests into a fervour.

But the actions of the Italian minister were also reprehensible.

It’s one thing to to express one’s freedom of speech in an appropriate forum such as a newspaper, which is a recognised forum of debate.

It’s completely another thing to do it on a t-shirt.  Calderoli’s decision to emblazon pictures of Muhammed across his chest added nothing of substance to any debate.  It was purely calculated to insult.

Laura Bush forces Latvian Hockey team to train

Laura Bush did her bit for international diplomacy on Saturday after her Secret Service protection team forced the Latvian ice hockey team to wait in their training arena in full gear for 40 minutes.  All because she was watching the US women’s hockey team play Switzerland in the next arena:

“That’s not normal,” Latvian forward Aleksandrs Semjonovs told the newspaper Diena. “The third period is only half way done and she was not yet ready to leave. Why couldn’t we leave the arena?”

Commenters at All About Latvia are incensed:

And who the hell do they think they are putting people to inconvinience in a foreign (not USA) country! Our presient should make am official protest.

But, let’s look on the bright side – the Latvian hockey team got 40 minutes of extra practice time.  Think how well prepared they’ll be for their next match.

The 2nd Satin Pajama Awards

Those nice people at A Fistful of Euros have – after an agonising three week delay – launched the 2nd Annual Satin Pajamas awards.

First – some shameless self publicity.  My old weblog – siberianlight.net – is up for the award of Best CIS Weblog, despite having been closed for the last few months.
I managed to sneak past Nathan’s registan.net last year by a mere seven votes, and I’d love to not only make it two wins in a row, but be able to claim that I’m the author of the first ever dead blog to win an award.

So, go vote.  For siberianlight.net in the Best CIS blog category, if you could. You could make history.
(I suppose you could vote for someone else if you feel strongly that dead blogs shouldn’t win awards.  But I wouldn’t recommend it).

Then, so I feel less guilty, go and vote for registan.net to win the Best Weblog and Best Political Weblog categories.

And then check out all the other categories, for the best roundup of the best European weblogs that you will find anywhere.

“Dude, who stole my tank?”

That’s the question the Belgian military are asking today, after it emerged that 15 of their Pandur armoured personnel carriers were stolen from under the UN’s noses.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning at this point that 15 Pandur APCs actually represent fully one-quarter of Belgium’s total inventory. Or a third of its remaining inventory, take your pick.

They’d lent the Pandur (such a good name) APCs to the UN, for a peacekeeping operation in Africa.  This is pretty standard practice for Western nations, who want to seem like committed international citizens – they supply the equipment for peacekeeping missions, while Third World soldiers risk their lives.

Anyway, the ship carrying the Pandurs seems to have been diverted to a port in Equatorial Guinea, where the crew and soldiers guarding them were arrested, and the Pandurs were nicked.  The soldiers (from Benin, not Belgium) were released, but no-one knows where they are now.

The Guinean President denies all knowledge, the UN Secretary General will be sending a team of investigators to… investigate and meanwhile, the Belgians are understandably a little annoyed – but only a little, as they’ve clearly decided that invading Equatorial Guinea would be an over-reaction.

“Army spokesman Nick Van Haver confirms that the ship is still kept under embargo and that the UN is looking for a diplomatic solution. He added that Belgium is only lending the material to the UN and that it is the UN that has to deal with the matter now.”

I guess the bottom line is that someone will have to pay for it.  Most likely, the money isn’t going to come from Belgium, or the Equatorial Guinea.  No, it’s the UN’s beleaguered peacekeeping division that will no doubt have to foot the bill.

Story via Joe at Winds of Change who, like me, was big enough to refrain from suggesting that now might be a good time to invade Belgium.

The trade for Kosovo’s independence

One of the biggest issues in global politics this year is likely to be the future status of Kosovo.

The US and EU will want, if not full independence, then at the very least enough autonomy for Kosovo to become a de facto independent state.

But Russia is still pushing for Serbia to retain significant influence in and over Kosovo. The two countries have significant historical ties and, while I think Vladimir Putin will be prepared to do a deal over Kosovo, I think he’ll want to extract a very high price for any concessions.

Biggest among those concessions, will be Western acceptance of the independence claims of at least one (and preferably all) of the following Russian puppet statelets: Transdneister (of Moldova), Abkhazia or South Ossetia (both of Georgia).

Putin has already been hinting strongly at links between the two:

As Vladimir Putin began to hint at his marathon press conference yesterday, in return for agreeing to grant full independence to Kosovo, Moscow might ask in return that the countries of the West recognize the independence of pro-Moscow republics such as those of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, thus putting further pressure on Georgia.

But now he seems to be taking concrete steps via the UN Security Council to ratchet up pressure on Georgia.  Joel at Neweurasia.net notes that Russia has ruled out any reference to the Boden paper in the Security Council’s latest resolution.  The Boden paper was a framework document for discussions, which saw Abkhazia remaining an integral part of Georgia, rather than an independent state.

Russia has always encouraged the Abkhaz rejection, but refrained from vetoing references to it during UN negotiations. Now, however, Moscow no longer finds it necessary to mask its rejection of the document (Eurasia Daily Monitor). The confirmation of Russia’s long time de facto alignment with Abkhazia is cause for serious concern in Tbilisi, and begs the question: Will the expiring UNOMIG now be on the chopping block? This would leave Georgia in an undesirable head on situation with Russia in Abkhazia.

This looks to me like a clear statement of intent on Russia’s part.  And, perhaps more worrying, is the fact that neither the US, the UK or France have seen fit to oppose this Russian amendment to the resolution.

It’s beginning to look as though the US and EU are prepared to cut a deal which would effectively leave their ally Georgia out in the cold, for the sake of more stability on the EU’s borders.

Sweden to go become the greenest of the green

While this Swedish initiative is definitely one to watch, it’s not quite as innovative and daring as it sounds:

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years – without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.

For starters, Sweden is the kind of country that has oodles of potential to develop green energy – lots of coastline, mountains, lakes, wind, that sort of thing.  The article goes on to note that Sweden already takes 26% of its energy from green sources, as opposed to an EU average of 6%.

And lets not forget, Sweden already has plenty of nuclear power stations.  Although they say they won’t build any new stations, I doubt they’ll be taking down the old ones just yet either.

Finally, the article interestingly neglects to mention whether any use will be made of gas.  I’d put natural gas in the unrenewable category, but I wonder if it will slip into another category if the going gets tough.

Still, an initiative to be applauded, and one sure to be watched closely by every other developed country, including the United States, following George Bush’s recent statement that he plans to wean the world’s largest energy consumer off Middle Eastern oil over the next couple of decades.

Oh, and in case you were curious – Britain has pledged to produced the grand total of 10% of its electricity by 2012.

Alleged war criminals waiting for trial

Ever wondered what life is like for a man (and it’s usually a man) awaiting trial for war crimes?  Julian Davis Mortenson of the Independent writes about his visit to the UN detention centre in Holland, where the atmosphere isn’t quite how you would imagine it:

(Apologies for the long excerpt, by the way.  But this is quite possibly the most thought provoking article I’ve read in years.  I’d encourage you not just to read the except, but to take the time to read the whole article).

…as our small group was walking down one of the prison corridors, we heard the murmur of a small gathering. It turned out to be a cell-block celebration for a prisoner who was being released later that week. As we passed by the open door of the recreation room, McFadden leaned in and told the group that he would drop by for a chat once he’d seen us on our way. I glanced into the room while McFadden was talking, and there, plopped in the middle of about five other inmates, sat Slobodan Milosevic. His hair and casual clothes were rumpled, a piece of cake sat on a paper plate in front of him, and he was holding a bite halfway to his mouth on a plastic fork. Next to him at the low table, also sitting on the hard plastic seat of a primary-school-style chair, was one of the tribunal’s most prominent Bosnian Muslim defendants. The Yugoslav people, to the extent that they ever existed at all, have vanished from the face of the earth. But somehow an ersatz version lives on within the walls of this hi-tech jail, where Slobodan Milosevic – the Serb once known as the Butcher of Belgrade – can now share a quiet piece of cake with a Bosnian Muslim at a farewell party for their mutual friend.

I’d love to tell you what I do think about it, but to be honest, I’m really not sure at the moment.

I don’t have particular concerns about the guilt of these men, or nor do I belive that they shouldn’t face the harshest of punishmentss for their crimes.  But it does make me wonder – how do people work.  How do friends become mortal enemies, and then friends again.

Does this microcosmic example contain any lessons for future reconciliation between estranged peoples?  I hope so.

German Wikipedia closed down

Wikipedia has temporarily closed down in Germany, because of a legal dispute. The family of a dead German hacker, Tron, whose real name had been posted on the site, have claimed that Wikipedia is violating their right to privacy.

James Enck notes though, that the family’s efforts to protect their privacy have largely failed:

It’s all a bit silly when you can read all about it here (English). This is, of course, the US site of Wikipedia, where the same information is available, including in German. National litigation rendered nonsensical by a supranational web.

It’s good news in one sense, as it demonstrates yet again the difficulties of inhibiting the spread of information via the internet.   But, sadly, not such good news for the family in question, as by launching this ill-advised lawsuit they’ve spread their son’s identity so far and wide that even I’m writing about it.

I know it’s easy to say this in hindsight, but one really has to question the competence of the lawyers who led them into this case.

Bosnian Serb General Mladic to surrender?

The BBC reports that the family of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb General who masterminded massacres of thousands and who is currently wanted by the Hague for war crimes, have been in ‘secret negotiations’ with the Serbian government:

Zoran Stankovich, the Serbian minister involved, has denied that the talks are about Mladic’s surrender.

“I spoke with (his son) Darko and his mother just before New Year’s Eve, in this office. I can’t talk about it for obvious reasons,” he said.

“As you know, while something is still in progress any comment will be inappropriate. It would only interfere with the ongoing investigation.”

Serbia wants to join the EU at some stage, and won’t want to suffer the same embarrasment as Croatia, whose membership talks were delayed because they weren’t co-operating sufficiently with the Hague.

Even more pressing though, are the upcoming negotiations over the future status of Kosovo.  Demonstrating that they are acting in good faith, they will reason, can only help their cause, and decrease the chances of Kosovo gaining full independence.
So, I can see two potential reasons for releasing this story:

  • One, they are making it up, or making an inconsequential discussion seem like more than it is, in order to persuade the world that they really are looking hard for Mladic.
  • Two, they are actually negotiating his surrender.

The loudmouthed cynic who stands on my right shoulder would have me put my money on option one.

But the tiny voice of the optimist that stands wittering away on my left shoulder, seems to think that this is an opportunity for the EU and US to make it clear to the Serbian government that everything rides on the handover over Mladic and, more, on the handover of Radovan Karadzic.

I’m off to the bookies.