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News in Brief: 17 April 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Taliban Exploit Class Rifts to Gain Ground in Pakistan. The militants have organized landless tenants against wealthy landlords in a strategy that poses broad dangers for Pakistan. (New York Times)

Turkish court charges 8 in alleged coup plot. A Turkish court says it has charged eight more suspects, including a university president, over an alleged secularist conspiracy to topple the Islamic-rooted government. Prosecutors claim that dozens of military officers, police officers, journalists and academics plotted a coup. (Gulf News / AP)

Mary McCarthy in Vietnam, Barack Obama in Afghanistan. In 1967, outraged by the course of the Vietnam War, as well as her country’s role in prolonging and worsening it, Mary McCarthy, novelist, memoirist, and author of the bestseller The Group, went to Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam, to judge the situation for herself. The next year, she went to the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. She wrote accounts of both journeys, published originally in pamphlet format as Vietnam (1967) and Hanoi (1968), and later gathered with her other writings on Vietnam as a book, The Seventeenth Degree (1974). (TomDispatch)

“Leveling the playing field” in Afghanistan’s upcoming election. The Obama team isn’t planning a dump Karzai movement. It would, however, “like to level the playing field,” in advance of the elections currently scheduled for August, one administration South Asia hand said on condition of anonymity. (The Cable)

Cash-rich China courts the Caspian. China on Thursday agreed to loan Kazakhstan US$10 billion in return for the right to take a big stake in the Central Asian country’s energy sector. This follows similar initiatives with Russian energy giants and the financing of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan to China. The global financial crisis has provided cash-rich Beijing with opportunity, and it is grasping it with gusto. (Asia Times)

Russia, Azerbaijan hold talks on gas, Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on Friday for talks expected to focus on energy and the conflict over the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Hurriyet)

Karzai Backs down on Key Elements of Law on Shiite Personal Status. The Afghan government says that it will amend a recently passed law that puts Afghanistan’s Shiites under the law of their branch of Islam for personal status purposes. The law allowed marital rape and detracted from the rights of women in other ways, as well. (Informed Comment)

Tanks, Planes and UAVs for Lebanon. Michael Totten reports that the UN’s UNIFIL mission in Lebanon may be on the verge of disintegration, even as Russia moves to supply the country with 10 MiG-29 fighters, and the USA promised M-60 tanks in December 2008. As Hezbollah continues to get stronger, the US is also reportedly moving to supply the Lebanese army with 12 RQ-11 Raven systems. (Defense Industry Daily)

Georgia: Opposition Ready for Dialogue — On Its Terms. After seven days of protests for the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, some opposition leaders tell EurasiaNet that they are ready for dialogue with the government, even while others insist that nothing short of Saakashvili’s resignation will meet their goal. (Eurasianet)

Plan for Palestinian state is ‘dead end,’ Israel tells U.S. In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama’s commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations. (McClatchy)

A death in Gaza revisited. One year ago today, Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana set up his camera on a lonely dirt road in Gaza for what he expected to be a routine shot of an Israeli tank on a distant hillside. Instead, the 23-year-old Palestinian cameraman ended up filming his own death. (Checkpoint Jerusalem)

‘Israelis Prepared for Violations’. After the internal investigation into the misconduct of Israeli soldiers in the course of the Gaza assault was closed suspiciously fast, a brief overview of publications by army officials, published months before the start of the war, suggests the reported misconduct was policy and not coincidence. Human rights organisations B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights responded with a joint statement, saying “the speedy closing of the investigation raises suspicions that the very opening of this investigation was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead.” (IPS)

More Doors Closing Than Opening. Israel is digging in its heels. Government officials said Wednesday that Israel does not intend to cooperate with the upcoming United Nations investigation into whether Israel and Hamas both committed war crimes during the recent Gaza war. Another Middle East door was closed Wednesday – this time in Israel’s face – by Israel’s most prominent Arab peace partner: Egypt’s foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced that his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman was not welcome in his country. “His feet will not step on Egyptian soil as long as he maintains his positions,” he told Russia Today television. (IPS)

Shooting the messenger. Thailand’s spiraling political conflict took a violent turn on Friday when hitmen with assault rifles wounded Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul and prominent protest group leader. Some fear the assassination attempt indicates that supporters of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and their opponents aim to mete out justice as they see fit on the country’s increasingly mean streets. (Asia Times)

The Iran-Hezbollah-Egypt Imbroglio and the Lebanese state. The issue of the alleged Hezbollah cell formed on Egyptian soil continues to escalate. Asharq al-Awsat reports that Egypt has ratcheted up its security measures as Egyptian MPs and NDP officials continue to insinuate that there is direct Iranian involvement in the affair. While the above clearly reflects the nadir that relations between Hezbollah and Egypt have reached, it also highlights the precarious position the Lebanese state could soon find itself in. (Ex Oriente Lux)

On Iran’s Sincerity in Nuclear Talks. Reflecting on the history of nuclear negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran, Rubin finds the Iranians to have been as “insincere as European diplomats were greedy, gullible or both… One doesn’t have to agree with Iran’s nuclear program to acknowledge that from day one, Tehran has said publicly that it will not agree to the permanent suspension of its enrichment or enrichment-related programs. Even when it suspended its program in 2004-5, it said it would do so only temporarily and for the purpose of building confidence. (Informed Comment Global Affairs)

Russia Says Arms Talks With U.S. To Start Next Week. Russian and U.S. officials will begin negotiating a new deal next week to cut strategic nuclear weapons, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on April 16. (RFE/RL)

Pakistan secures $5bn in fresh aid. Pakistan gained more than $5 billion in fresh aid over two years at a donors conference after Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari vowed to step up the fight against militants. (Financial Times)

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