News From Abroad

Continental Affairs

Fitch Ratings cut Spain’s credit rating Friday, saying its government’s efforts to reduce debt would weigh down economic growth. The ratings agency dealt a blow to state efforts to shore up confidence in its finances by cutting the country’s rating one notch from AAA to AA plus. It said Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s efforts to close the budget deficit “will materially reduce the rate of growth of the Spanish economy over the medium term.” Lower growth would also mean gathering less in tax revenues, it said. The decision echoed economists’ concerns that efforts to cut state debt would hinder growth.

The left-wing Social Democrats eked out a slim victory in the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election Saturday but center-right parties won more votes overall, the country’s election agency reported. The results indicated the Social Democrats, lead by former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, will not be able to govern alone and may not even be able to successfully form a new government. That gives smaller parties that cleared the five-percent threshold needed to gain parliamentary representation potential prominence as possible coalition partners. The Statistics Office said the Social Democrats won 22.1 percent of the vote while their major rival, the conservative Civic Democratic Party, received 20.2 percent.

A lone gunman killed a magistrate and a clerk in a Brussels courthouse Thursday, then fled on foot, setting off a manhunt in the center of the Belgian capital. Officials were unable to give any details about the gunman’s identity or a possible motive for the slayings, which took place at 11:23 a.m. as the gunman attended a morning hearing. “He was present at the outset of the hearing,” said Jean-Marc Meilleur, the spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office. “Toward the end of the session, he pulled a gun. Shots were fired, after which the killer fled.”,_clerk_in_brussels_courthouse

The surprise resignation of German President Horst Koehler has plunged Europe’s largest economy into a severe political crisis. There were tears in his eyes when Koehler informed the public Monday that he would resign. Over the past days, German politicians from all parties had harshly criticized the 67-year-old for comments he made while in Afghanistan. In a May 22 radio interview Koehler had said that Germany, Europe’s largest economy and one dependent on exports and free trade, must be prepared to use military force to “protect our interests, for example, free-trade routes, or to prevent regional instability which might negatively effect our trade, jobs and wages.”

Ukraine’s Parliament, prodded by pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, approved a bill on Thursday that cements the country’s neutrality and prevents it from joining NATO. The bill, which is expected to sail through more readings before making it to the president’s desk for signature, bars Ukraine’s membership in any military bloc but allows for cooperation with alliances such as NATO. “The main element of predictability and consistency in Ukraine’s foreign policy is its nonaligned status,” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told lawmakers while submitting the bill.

Near East

THE Greek government has been advised by British economists to leave the euro and default on its €300 billion (£255 billion) debt to save its economy. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), a London-based consultancy, has warned Greek ministers they will be unable to escape their debt trap without devaluing their own currency to boost exports. The only way this can happen is if Greece returns to its own currency. Greek politicians have played down the prospect of abandoning the euro, which could lead to the break-up of the single currency.

Kurdish rebels launched a rocket attack on a military vehicle near naval base in southern Turkey early Monday, killing six soldiers and wounding seven, the military said. The rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle carrying soldiers to a naval logistics base in the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, officials said. Three of the wounded were in serious condition, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said. It was the largest attack by the rebels in recent weeks and came after imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan announced that he would abandon efforts to seek dialogue with Turkey starting Monday, accusing the government of ignoring his calls for peace.

South of the Border

All but a handful of the roughly 980 Jamaicans detained during raids by security forces in gang-heavy Kingston slums have been released, police said Saturday. Detainees had been held at the Kingston’s National Arena, where dozens of concerned relatives had congregated outside a security gate in recent days, holding up pictures of their sons. On Saturday, the stadium was empty and police said 10 suspects were still being held elsewhere. Hundreds of heavily armed troops, meanwhile, occupied the bullet-pocked Tivoli Gardens complex on Saturday following a bloody, four-day assault of the slum stronghold of reputed underworld boss Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is wanted in the United States on drug and gun-trafficking charges. Coke was nowhere to be found, but Jamaica’s top cop insisted that security forces will capture him and that their “best intelligence” indicates he is hiding somewhere on this tropical island.

The waters of Falcon Lake normally beckon boaters with waterskiing and world-record bass fishing. But this holiday weekend, fishermen on the waters that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border are on the lookout for something more sinister: pirates. Twice in recent weeks, fishermen have been robbed at gunpoint by marauders that the local sheriff says are “spillover” from fighting between rival Mexican drug gangs. Boaters are concerned about their safety, and the president of the local Chamber of Commerce is trying to assure people that everything’s fine on the U.S. side of the lake. At the fishing camp his family has owned for 50 years, Jack Cox now sleeps with a loaded shotgun at his feet and a handgun within reach.  In the American waters, Cox said, “you’re safer, but you’re not safe.” Mexican commercial fishermen regularly cross to set their nets illegally, why wouldn’t gunmen do the same? he asked.

The Great Game

The question looms over this raggedy hillside town, a place where ancient mysticism constantly brushes against the realities of modern geopolitics. The monks who fled across the Himalayas ask it quietly, as do the exile politicians. Even the angry young activists are careful how they raise the issue. But as the man at the center of the Tibetan exile movement approaches his 75th birthday, the question has become impossible to escape: What happens after the Dalai Lama dies? The issue echoes far from Dharmsala, the Dalai Lama’s home since he fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. It ranges from policy decisions in Beijing to widespread fears inside Tibet and among the 150,000 exiles that their struggle for autonomy may collapse with the death of their icon.

Down Under

THERE are only two sitting weeks of parliament before the long winter break and, perhaps, they will be the last sitting weeks of the first Rudd government because there is the distinct possibility of an election being called before parliament resumes on August 24. Even if parliament briefly resumes before an election is called for October, the tone will be set in those two final weeks of June for the “election season”, as Kevin Rudd calls it. According to Labor’s plans at the beginning of the parliamentary year, climate change would provide a threat for an early double-dissolution election and would split the opposition regardless of whether the threat was carried out; the takeover of public hospitals would dominate the debate after the budget; and the government’s economic credentials would be extended beyond its success in combating the global financial crisis by laying out long-term tax reforms.

Far East

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) announced his resignation today, just nine months after winning an historic mandate.  More significant, the “shadow shogun,” kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa, stepped down from his post as DPJ secretary general.  The ruling party is in disarray ahead of crucial upper-house elections next month. The dramatic developments occurred just days after Hatoyama said he had abandoned his campaign pledge to move Marine Air Station Futenma off crowded Okinawa. Instead, he would, with the United States, build a new American facility in Henoko, a less populated part of the island.  For months, the prime minister had been unable to make up his mind as to what to do, signaling change after change in his views. As a result of the controversial decision, announced Friday, the Social Democratic Party left the ruling three-party coalition. That triggered fresh calls for the increasingly unpopular Hatoyama to resign. Hatoyama is the country’s 92nd prime minister — and the fifth in four years. Since the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi left office in September 2006 after serving a half decade, the country has endured a series of weak leaders, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and Taro Aso. Last August, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled the country almost without interruption since 1955, lost to Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan in a landslide. Since then, the LDP has splintered and the DPJ has sunk in the polls.

Authorities in a devoutly Islamic district of Indonesia’s Aceh province have distributed 20,000 long skirts and prohibited shops from selling tight dresses as a regulation banning Muslim women from wearing revealing clothing took effect Thursday.  The long skirts are to be given to Muslim women caught violating the dress code during a two-month campaign to enforce the regulation, said Ramli Mansur, head of West Aceh district. Islamic police will determine whether a woman’s clothing violates the dress code, he said.

  1. Week in review « Craig W. Wright

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