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News in Brief: 4 June 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Pakistan: 220 schools destroyed in Swat by militants, reveals report. A total of 220 schools were blown up by the militants in Swat, during the ongoing wave of militancy while more than 10 private institutions were also destroyed. (The News)

Ukraine Asks Russia For Documents On 1930s Famine. Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) has officially asked Moscow to provide classified archival documents on the famine of the 1930s in Ukraine that killed millions… The famine of 1929-1933 is officially known as genocide in Ukraine, which launched a new investigation into the tragedy on May 25. (RFE/RL)

Lebanon: Bring it Aoun. When General Michel Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), took to the stage at a campaign rally in south Beirut two Saturdays ago, a sea of citrus-coloured flags – the orange banners of his own party alongside the yellow standards of Hizbollah – churned before him… Like his electoral ally Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun is a deeply polarising figure in Lebanon. A Christian general who led the Lebanese Army against various adversaries during the civil war – including the PLO, Lebanese Christian militias and the Syrian Army – he has, since 2005, locked horns repeatedly with the March 14 coalition, an alliance of several parties backed by the United States that holds a slim majority in parliament. Now Aoun – whose career in politics stretches from his days as the leader of the resistance to Syria’s occupation of Lebanon to his rapprochement with Damascus two decades later – is at the helm of an opposition campaign that vows to replace the corrupt structures of a troubled republic with a new order. (The National)

The odd couple: Hizbullah and the general. In Lebanon’s legislative elections on 7 June, two members of the national unity government will be pitted against 
each other. Saad Hariri and his 14 March group face the Maronite general, Michel Aoun, who has formed 
a strong and surprising alliance with Hizbullah. (Le Monde Diplomatique)

Iran rivals spar in live debate. Iran’s leading presidential candidates have clashed during a televised debate ahead of next week’s poll. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, accused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, of driving the country towards “dictatorship” during the one-on-one televised broadcast debate. (Al Jazeera)

A fine European farce. abstentions have risen from 37% to 54% since 1979, the first time members of the European parliament (MEP) were elected by universal suffrage. But the parliament’s powers have increased and its decisions now affect 495 million people (compared with 184 million 30 years ago). Europe holds the stage but it isn’t getting across to the audience. Why is this? Probably because there is no continent-wide political community. Anyone who hopes that 27 simultaneous national elections, almost all fought on domestic issues, will produce a European identity is living in cloud cuckoo land. (Le Monde Diplomatique)

Kosovo President Excluded From Balkan Summit. A summit of Balkan leaders in Montenegro will include the presidents of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria, but the president of Kosovo was not invited. (RFE/RL)

Moldova: Deadlock Over a Successor. President Vladimir Voronin failed in Parliament on Wednesday to secure the election of an ally, Zinaida Greceanii, as his successor. Many believe that her election would have allowed Mr. Voronin to effectively continue running the country. Opposition parties boycotted the vote for Ms. Greceanii, who like Mr. Voronin is a Communist, and her bid for the presidency failed by one vote. The outcome should set off a new general election. (New York Times)

Video details Afghanistan insurgent group’s prowess. Sitting in an open field, three Taliban-allied insurgents carefully pore over a map of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan… The fighters in the video, which was purchased in Quetta, Pakistan, had detailed intelligence of the area. They knew how to slip through police checkpoints, and they had people in the Afghan government telling them exactly where Karzai would be standing on the parade ground. (McClatchy)

Iraq-Kuwait spat over war payments threatens ties. Iraqi and Kuwaiti lawmakers traded accusations on Wednesday over U.N.-imposed reparations Iraq must make to its smaller neighbour, which it invaded in 1990 under former leader Saddam Hussein. Kuwait insists Iraq remain under United Nations chapter seven rules, meaning Iraq must continue to pay 5 percent of its oil revenues to Kuwait and other claimants in war reparations. The spat has prompted some Kuwaiti politicians to call for the withdrawal of their ambassador to Baghdad, whose appointment last year was hailed as a breakthrough in hitherto frosty ties between the two countries. (Khaleej Times)

Stability in Iraqi Kurdistan: Reality or Mirage? Despite the mixed report card on Iraqi progress, one consistent theme is that Iraqi Kurdistan has been a quiet success story. Kurdistan is a snowy oasis, free from the sectarian strife that has marred the rest of the country. Its leadership is unified after decades of disarray, and former rebels now hold the highest government posts. Iraq’s Kurds finally have the respect they crave after having been relegated to the status of the forgotten stepchildren of the Middle East. They have forged strategic alliances with powerful Shi’i groups in Iraq, won the trust and support of the United States, and co-opted other, smaller political groups beholden to their patronage. In the process, they have become the kingmakers of Iraqi politics—no important appointment has been made without their approval. (Brookings)

Shortcut on the Roadmap to War. Last Friday, The New Republic’s website published a remarkable but thus far little-noticed article by Michael Makovsky and Ed Morse. Makovsky is an alumnus of Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans and younger brother of former Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) director David Makovsky, while Morse is a former energy analyst for the now-defunct Lehman Brothers. More to the point, both were key players behind last year’s ultra-hawkish Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report on Iran’s nuclear program, which Makovsky wrote with Michael Rubin and which was characterized here as a “roadmap to war”. (LobeLog)

Gaza building project experiments with clay, rubble. In the face of the ongoing Israeli ban on imports of building materials Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are looking at new building methods, and one project is using clay and rubble. (IRIN)

Deaths in Fatah-Hamas clashes. One Palestinian policeman and three Hamas fighters have been killed in the town of Qalqilya in the West Bank, officials have said. The clash erupted after police from the Palestinian Authority (PA) surrounded a house on Thursday to arrest suspected Hamas fighters, Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the security forces, said. (Al Jazeera)

GERMANY: Conflict Builds Up With Obama Over. When U.S. President Barack Obama visits Germany this Thursday and Friday, he is likely to get a reception as warm as the demonstration of sympathy he enjoyed in July last year. And yet, Obama’s high standing among Germans is likely to fall if he asks the German government to send more military personnel to Afghanistan. (IPS)

Three US soldiers killed in convoy attack in Afghanistan. Three US soldiers were killed today when their convoy was attacked by a roadside bomb and small-arms fire in the eastern Afghan province of Kapisa. (Gulf News)

Barack Obama pledges new beginning between US and Muslims. Barack Obama today appealed for a new beginning in relations between America and the world’s Muslims in a much-anticipated speech in Cairo. (Guardian)

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: 2009-2010. The F-35 Lightning II is a major multinational program which is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role strike fighter that will have three variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the $300 billion F-35 program… (Defense Industry Daily)

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