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News in Brief: 8 June 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

March 14 coalition retains majority after parliamentary elections. Lebanon’s opposition conceded defeat against the March 14 coalition in pivotal polls Sunday after weeks of fierce campaigning… The opposition source said the March 14 coalition is expected to ensure between 69 and 70 seats in the 128 parliament. (Daily Star)

Anatomy of a Victory. The blogosphere is already buzzing with interpretations of M14’s electoral victory. Abu Muqawama (Andrew Exum) attributes it to a combination of Christian animosity towards Hizbullah for its takeover of West Beirut last year; Saudi money; and a few well-placed words by the Maronite patriarch a couple of days before the election. Robert Satloff, writing at MESH, says that Joe Biden was the real hero, sweeping into Beirut to remind voters of the consequences for Lebanon’s alliance with the U.S. if Hizbullah and its allies won, with the result that Christian voters “cast their ballots in droves for candidates opposed to the Hezbollah-backed alliance.” (Qifa Nabki)

LEBANON: Hizbullah Punching Above Its Numbers. Understanding Lebanon’s complex political system is no easy task. In a relatively small country of about four million, Lebanon has more than 18 religious communities and dozens of active political parties. The sectarian political system divides the 128 seats of parliament between 10 of those religious sects, leaving one for minorities. The United States considers Hizbullah a terrorist organisation. Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice offended many Lebanese on a visit to Lebanon during the Israeli war in 2006 when she referred to Israel’s attacks aimed at weakening Hizbullah as the “birth pangs” of a new Middle East. Nashabe says many countries have an interest in the Lebanese elections. Countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are interested in the elections as any country is concerned with the government of their neighbours, he said. But the U.S. has a strong interest too, he said, pointing out that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden had recently visited Lebanon where he met with March 14 leaders behind closed doors. (IPS)

Syrians Silent and Disappointed but Ready to Put Lebanon Behind Them. The fairly resounding loss for Hizbullah and Aoun comes as a shock to many Syrians, who having been following the polls in Lebanon carefully. (Syria Comment)

Conservatives sweep European elections. Center-right parties from France, Italy and Germany have emerged as the strongest grouping in the European Union parliamentary elections, at the expense of the Socialists who suffered heavy losses. A record low voter turnout — 43.4 percent — in voting that ended Sunday pointed to enduring voter apathy about the European Union. (Deutsche Welle)

In Iran, Harsh Talk as Election Nears. The leading candidates are accusing each other of corruption, bribery and torture. The wife of the strongest challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to sue him for defaming her. And every night, parts of the capital become a screaming, honking bacchanal, with thousands of young men dancing and brawling in the streets until dawn. The presidential campaign, now in its final week, has reached a level of passion and acrimony almost unheard-of in Iran. (New York Times)

China unveils aircraft centre. Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC) has unveiled its manufacturing and assembling centre here, the latest step towards the goal to manufacture homegrown large aircraft. The Final Assembly Centre of the COMAC was based on the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co., with a registered capital of two billion yuan ($292.7 million), said COMAC’s general manager Jin Zhuanglong. By 2010, it would be able to produce 30 ARJ21-700 model planes a year, and the capacity will be expanded to 50 jets by 2012, he said. (The Hindu)

Why the Maghreb Really Matters. The Maghreb is again a major talking point in the United States. In the perceived interests of fighting terrorism and promoting trade, a group of politicians and pundits are urging the Obama administration to side with Morocco and against self-determination for the Sahrawis of Western Sahara. They also urge a regional union for the Maghreb. Yet reaching for a quick fix that supports Morocco’s campaigns in any of these areas would set such a Maghreb Union back years. Those who see the Sahrawi’s decades-long reach for freedom as an obstacle to the perceived bigger picture often have high profiles. Among them are a wrong-headed group of U.S. members of Congress who wrote to President Obama in April. Their letter suggested that the president should set in stone an extraordinarily flawed solution promoted by Western Sahara’s illegal occupiers — Morocco — to entrap the Sahrawi in an autonomous structure rather than offering self-determination, which is their just and legal right. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Police Fire on Protesters in Indian Kashmir. Security forces opened fire on protesters in Indian Kashmir, wounding at least seven people in the worst clash since unrest broke out last week over the deaths of two young women. Locals claim the women were raped and killed by Indian soldiers and have staged angry demonstrations that have spread across the Kashmir valley. Monday’s protests came a day after police released forensic reports confirming that the two women were raped. Police were investigating the rapes but no one had been charged. The cause of death had not yet been determined, the statement said. (New York Times)

IRAQ: Disappearing paddy fields. Rice is only grown in certain central and southern regions of Iraq, but the area under cultivation appears to be diminishing rapidly due to low water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris and resulting higher levels of soil salinity. (IRIN)

Iraq set to monitor borders with neighbors. In a major meeting with military chiefs, Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki discussed the measures to be taken for the withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraqi cities and their pullout from camps in northern, western and southern Iraq as well as in Baghdad to specified camps agreed upon between Baghdad and Washington in compliance with the Status of Forces Agreement.
Meanwhile, parliamentary sources pointed out to intensified endeavors to ensure and control Iraq borders with neighboring countries. (Alsumaria)

Iraq arrests five US security contractors. Cabinet spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh told the AFP that five US security contractors were arrested on Friday in a joint Iraqi-US crackdown in the green zone as part of investigations in the murder of an American. Al Dabbagh noted that Americans are investigating detainees who if convicted will be transferred to Iraq judiciary for trial. (Alsumaria)

IRAQ: Over 20 percent of Iraqis live below the poverty line. Some 20-25 percent of Iraq’s estimated 27 million population lives below the country’s poverty line, a government survey released on 21 May has found. Though wide disparities were found between northern and southern provinces, the government said the results were better than expected… It found that the highest poverty rate was in the southern province of Muthana with 49 percent, followed by the central provinces of Babil with 41 percent and Salaheddin with 40 percent. The lowest poverty rates were in the three northern provinces that make up Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdistan Region: Dahouk, with 10 percent living below the poverty line, and Erbil and Sulaimaniyah with 3 percent each. (IRIN)

EUROPE: Big Plans, But Little Money to go Nuclear. Eastern Europe is promoting nuclear energy as the only way to tackle climate change and reduce dependence on Russian gas, in spite of costs of going nuclear that it cannot meet. (IPS)

Obama challenges Sarkozy’s EU vision. U.S. President Barack Obama urged Europe on Saturday to reach out to Muslims around the world as he again disagreed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy over Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. The U.S. president, who was praised this week for a speech seeking a new beginning in Western relations with the Islamic world, was asked about France’s opposition to Turkish EU membership and the country’s ban on Muslim veils in schools. (Hurriyet)

Japan: Article Nine in Context – Limitations of National Sovereignty and the Abolition of War in Constitutional Law. When we discuss Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, we have to take into account the history and purpose of postwar constitutions in other countries as well, with regard to peace, disarmament and an international order that would be based on principles of justice and enforceable law. Central issue here is the collective security of the United Nations that would enable all countries to disarm, and resolve their conflicts peacefully. (Japan Focus)

AFGHANISTAN: Child labour risk ever present – new report. Poverty, community pressure and the low quality of education mean 25 percent of children in Afghanistan aged 7-14 are at risk of leaving school and drifting into exploitative work situations, according to a new report by a Kabul-based think-tank. (IRIN)

A scientific ‘first’ by robot Adam. A laboratory robot called Adam has been hailed as the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators. Adam formed a hypothesis on the genetics of baker’s yeast and carried out experiments to test its predictions, without intervention from its makers at Aberystwyth University. The result was a series of “simple but useful” discoveries, confirmed by human scientists, about the gene coding for yeast enzymes. The research is published in the journal Science. (Gulf News / FT)

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