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News in Brief: 5 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Resourceful Taliban milk the land. Unlike Afghanistan’s Taliban, which depends on the poppy trade for revenues, the robustness of the Pakistan Taliban’s financial strength depends on a variety of sources, ranging from the timber trade, precious stone mining and now, the imposition of a religious/protection tax collected from minority religious communities. (Asia Times / Jamestown Foundation)

Pakistan urges evacuation of Taliban-controlled Swat valley. Pakistani authorities urged residents of the Taliban-infested Swat valley to evacuate immediately this morning under the threat of a return to full-blown fighting as a peace deal neared collapse. A Pakistani minister said the government expected up to 500,000 people to flee fighting between the army and the Taliban. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a government information minister, said authorities are preparing six camps to accommodate those expected to flee the valley in the coming days. (Guardian)

Pakistani army flattening villages as it battles Taliban. The Pakistani army’s assault against Islamic militants in Buner, in northwest Pakistan, is flattening villages, killing civilians and sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes, residents escaping the fighting said Monday. (McClatchy)

Defying the Economic Odds. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a new world order is emerging — with its center gravitating towards China. The statistics speak for themselves. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink by an alarming 1.3% this year. Yet, defying this global trend, China expects an annual economic growth rate of 6.5% to 8.5%. During the first quarter of 2009, the world’s leading stock markets combined fell by 4.5%. In contrast, the Shanghai stock exchange index leapt by a whopping 38%. In March, car sales in China hit a record 1.1 million, surpassing the U.S. for the third month in a row. (TomDispatch)

Nepal Politics in Choppy Waters. While India is preoccupied with elections, Nepal risks throwing away the chance of peace that its own successful polls delivered just a year ago. The immediate crisis stems from the Maoists’ attempt to oust army chief General Rookmangud Katwal for disobeying government orders, a controversial move opposed even by their own coalition partners. President Ram Baran Yadav countermanded the sacking, arguing that he has the right to accept or reject government decisions – a step which prompted Prime Minister Prachanda to resign in protest at what he called the president’s ” unconstitutional and undemocratic” effort to establish himself as a parallel power centre. (ICG / Mail Today)

Pakistan: Govt announces relief package for displaced Sikhs. The Federal Minister for Minorities condemned the Jizia tax and said the govt would safeguard minority rights. (Dawn)

Georgian army revolt ‘was Russian-backed coup attempt’. A mutiny has broken out at the Mukhrovani army base near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in what Georgian officials described as an attempted coup with Russian backing. “The main aim of this uprising was to disrupt the Nato military exercises,” the defence minister, David Sikharulidze, told Reuters. “We are in negotiations with the soldiers at the Mukhrovani base and I hope this uprising will end soon.” (Guardian)

Georgia: Tbilisi Protests Produce a Mobile Parliament. Tbilisi’s anti-government demonstrations have gotten Georgia’s parliament on the move. For the past three weeks, no plenary sittings have been held, and no laws passed. The shutdown has been presented as a measure to protect lawmakers from angry protesters, but some observers caution that it is a sign of the legislative branch’s weakness. (EurasiaNet)

US Military Gearing up on Guam. DID has covered a number of base improvement efforts and other contracts related to the USA’s pacific territory of Guam, including construction of an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV complex for the Pacific Rim, and extensive base improvements/ expansion for Guam’s airfield, harbor, et. al. (Defense Industry Daily)

Ban: UN report on Gaza war not legally binding. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said a damning UN report on Israel’s conduct in its recent offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip was not legally binding. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Tuesday morning that the probe accuses the Israel Defense Forces of deliberately firing at UN institutions as well as using disproportional force and causing unnecessary harm to civilians. (Haaretz)

4th-Grader Questions Rice on Waterboarding. Days after telling students at Stanford University that waterboarding was legal “by definition if it was authorized by the president,” former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was pressed again on the subject yesterday by a fourth-grader at a Washington school. (Washington Post)

Iran takes a stand over Kurds. Iran’s hot pursuit of Kurdish rebels from Iraq, and the subsequent bombing of border villages, has sent a signal to the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Administration about Tehran’s unhappiness with Kurdish inflexibility in post-occupation Iraq. Looming over the recent conflict is how to settle Kirkuk, an oil-rich area where the Kurds have vowed to retain control. (Asia Times)

RIGHTS-IRAN: Damaging Forced Confessions. Iranian political refugees living in India say there is an all too familiar ring about the supposed confessions of arrested journalist Roxana Saberi, which they expect to see footage of on television soon. (IPS)

RIGHTS-US: Obama Considers Revamping Military Trials. Reports circulating in Washington suggest that President Barack Obama may try to revive the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which Obama himself criticised during the administration of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. (IPS)

‘Hybrid War’ to Pull U.S. Military in Two Directions. The type of “hybrid warfare” that defense experts predict the United States is increasingly likely to face will pull the military in two directions, the Defense Department’s top policy official said today. Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said America’s conventional dominance gives incentive to its enemies to use asymmetric means to undermine U.S. strengths and exploit its weaknesses. (Small Wars Journal / American Forces Press Service)

Hamas and Hizbullah Reach out to Obama. The New York Times interviews Khalid Mishaal, who reiterates Hamas’ desire to fit into a two state solution without formally recognizing Israel. On Hizbullah, Gary Gambill explains that there is no compelling reason for the Obama administration to try any “disarm Hizbullah quick” schemes. The present arrangement is working well enough, he argues. (Syria Comment)

Erdoğan to visit Azerbaijan, Russia to discuss Caucasus peace. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel to Azerbaijan and Russia this month to discuss the efforts being made towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, which have been welcomed by the United States and Europe but that risk alienating Azerbaijan. (Today’s Zaman)

Turkey: Ergenekon case resumes after 12-day break. The trial against Ergenekon, a shadowy crime network that has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government, resumed yesterday after a 12-day break. Yesterday’s hearing was the 80th of the trial, which is being held at Silivri Prison, where most Ergenekon suspects are being held. (Today’s Zaman)

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