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News in Brief: 6 May 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Dozens killed in Afghan air strikes: ICRC. Dozens of people including women and children were killed in US-led coalition air strikes in western Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday. President Hamid Karzai ordered his government to investigate amid reports that more than 150 people were killed in Tuesday’s strikes in the western province of Farah. (Dawn)

Hamas feels the heat from Syria. News has emerged that Hamas’ political leadership, based in Damascus, is to be asked to cease public statements and, over time, leave Syria. A source in the Syrian capital said this week that Damascus is keen to be seen as complying with demands from Washington and European capitals, while reiterating that Hamas and Fatah must work to unite to strengthen the position of the common Palestinian cause. (Asia Times)

What if Hezbollah wins? The Lebanese parliamentary elections are just over a month away, and the race between the two dominant coalitions is too close to call. But it’s clear that the “March 14” coalition, a Western-backed alliance that swept into power following former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in 2005, has suffered a string of political setbacks during the past year… What this means is that the Lebanese opposition, which includes Hezbollah, has a decent shot at becoming the new majority on June 7. Both Britain and France have said that they will work with either side. Still, many fear a tougher response from the United States and the Sunni Arab regimes if the opposition wins — something akin to the reaction to Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. (The Argument)

Georgia: Saakashvili Administration Puts Down Alleged Anti-NATO Mutiny. On the eve of controversial May 6 exercises to be held by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Georgian government quickly suppressed a military rebellion that it claims was backed by Moscow. According to officials in Tbilisi, the revolt supposedly aimed to oust President Mikheil Saakashvili from power, and to redirect Georgia’s foreign policy orientation back toward Russia. (EurasiaNet)

NATO holds Georgia war games, Russia critical. NATO started military exercises in Georgia on Wednesday that have angered neighboring Russia, which fought a brief war with the former Soviet state last year. (Hurriyet)

Russia to Expel Canadians in NATO Response. Russia will expel two Canadian diplomats in retaliation for NATO’s recent expulsion of two Russian envoys from the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. (New York Times)

Why Are You Paying for TV No One is Watching? Arabs are watching news and entertainment programmes from Arabic satellite channels like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, MBC, and LBC. But they are not watching the news stations Western governments are funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year: BBC Arabic, the American Al Hurra, France 24 Arabic, and Deutsche Welle Arabia. The stated goal of these channels — to win the battle for “hearts and minds” of Arabs — has not worked. These channels simply do not play a significant role in the daily lives of the Middle East’s 320 million Arab viewers. (ICG / Huffington Post)

US not to support military coup: Holbrooke. The United States on Tuesday quashed all speculations of a military takeover in Pakistan, saying that it would be terrible if it happened and Washington would oppose it strongly. (Dawn)

Afghanistan: Karzai Defends His Record During Washington Appearance. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, along with his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, is in Washington for meetings with top US officials, including President Barack Obama. During a public appearance May 5, Karzai defended his administration’s record and offered a stout defense of his choice of a former warlord to be one of his running mates in Afghanistan’s August presidential election. (EurasiaNet)

Wife joins Iranian presidential candidate on campaign trail. She preserves her modesty underneath an all-encompassing black chador and has written essays urging Muslim women not to renounce the veil. But now Zahra Rahnavard is heralding a sexual transformation in Iran’s male-dominated politics by capturing the limelight in her husband’s bid to become president. In a radical departure for the Islamic republic, Rahnavard has accompanied her husband, Mir Hosein Mousavi, to a succession of rallies as he seeks to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential election on 12 June. (Guardian)

Dishonesty Foils Cultural Diplomacy. Interview with Mohammad Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi, head of the Center for Islamic Great Encyclopedia on cultural diplomacy. (Iranian Diplomacy)

China-India equation still uncracked. With their deep-rooted cultural and religious ties and historic struggles against colonialism, India and China could put aside their differences and unite to boost their economies and deflect Western influence in South and East Asia. But the wounds of the 1962 border war are still raw, with neither prepared to take the first step towards reconciliation. (Asia Times)

India looks on as the East integrates. India, blinded by security concerns, is a mere onlooker as neighbor China step-by-step integrates its economy with other countries in the region, to the benefit of all parties. (Asia Times)

More than 40,000 people flee Pakistan fighting. More than 40,000 civilians have fled a own in Pakistan’s Swat region as fears grow of a fresh military offensive against Taliban militants, officials said on Wednesday. (Gulf News / Agencies)

PAKISTAN: Entering a “Bloody Phase”. Alarm bells are ringing in Washington, with the U.S. fretting over what could happen if the “worst, the unthinkable” were to happen and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), toppled the country’s year-old democratic government and got hold of its nuclear arsenal. (IPS)

Bomber strikes in Baghdad market. Explosion at a market in a Sunni area of the capital follows spike in violence. (Al Jazeera)

Should Israel’s nukes be negotiable? Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 80 warheads is seldom discussed in Washington, yet it is the reality of that arsenal that helps to provide a rationale for other regional powers seeks a nuclear weapons capability. When the idea of a Middle East nuclear free zone is mooted, it is typically dismissed by U.S. officials and analysts as implausible given Israel’s refusal to comply. This piece suggests that it is possible the Obama administration will be more open to the idea of an arms control regime in the Middle East that will include Israel Frankly, the evidence is little more than suggestive, although some officials are known to favor the idea. (From the Field)

A crisis foretold. The world economic meltdown was foreshadowed in many countries by food riots, protests against unemployment, government ineptitude and failure to address the needs of the poor. That anger and fear may outlive the end of the current crisis. (Le Monde Diplomatique)

Gates in Egypt: two false notes. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in the middle of an important trip to the Arab world, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, reportedly accompanied by Dennis Ross and with a focus on Iran and Gulf security issues. I’m generally very impressed with how Gates has performed as Secretary of Defense in both the Bush and Obama administrations. But there are at least two discouraging notes in his reported remarks in Egypt which caught my attention. (Marc Lynch)

Bitter Oranges. Ukraine is one of the countries worst affected by the present crisis. The steel industry plays a very important role in the country’s balance of trade and the fall in the price of steel has hit Ukraine’s economy harder than those of its eastern European neighbours. Steel accounts for some 40% of the country’s exports (around $10bn per annum).

Nabucco Chief: Partner States To Sign Agreement In 2009. Reinhard Mitschek, the managing director of the Nabucco gas-pipeline consortium, says that the consortium’s member states will sign an agreement on their respective gas-supply shares at the end of 2009. (RFE / RL)

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