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News in Brief: 12 June 2009

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A brief list of news clippings for the day:

Iranians begin voting in key presidential election. Iranians began voting Friday in a crucial presidential election pitting hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against a pro-reform candidate who is more open to improving relations with Washington. The rowdy campaign reached a crescendo in the past few days with dueling rallies by supporters of Ahmadinejad and his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, that drew tens of thousands into the streets of Tehran. Fervent, youthful supporters of Mousavi accused the president of undermining Iran’s international standing with his confrontational style and of devastating the economy. The stakes are extremely high for Iran — the new leader must decide how to respond to President Barack Obama’s offer for dialogue after a nearly 30-year diplomatic chill. The Obama administration is cautiously watching the vote for signs the Islamic Republic may be willing to engage, but U.S. officials have meager expectations for change. More than 45,000 polling stations around the country opened Friday morning. (AP)

A bigger struggle lies ahead. Whoever becomes the next president, the current institutional order – especially the watchdog and oversight mechanisms employed to control politics – will struggle to handle the tensions and political conflicts that lie ahead. The only viable solution is to go beyond factional politics and encourage the establishment of genuine political parties in Iran. (Asia Times)

Iran: Mesbah Yazdi’s Decree to Rig Votes. Following the discovery of a “Fatwa” (“religious decree”) issued by ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi which sanctions cheating in Friday’s presidential election and was published in an open letter written by a group of Ministry of Interior employees, the heads of the Election Supervision Committees established by reformist candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi sent a letter to the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Jannati, warning about the possibility of manipulating election results. (From the Field)

Could there be a Mousavi Effect? I’m riveted by the unfolding Iranian election campaign. Back in April, I organized a panel discussion on the election with a number of very keen observers of Iranian politics, and came away even more confused than before (not their fault!)… and I’ve been following the ups and downs of the debates and the energized public discourse as closely as I can. I don’t know what’s going to happen any more than anyone else does. But suppose that Mir Hossein Mousavi wins — what might that do to regional politics? (Marc Lynch)

Iranian Elections Could Shape U.S. Engagement. Washington is waiting anxiously on the outcome of Friday’s Iranian presidential elections, as incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attempts to fend off challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi in a contest with significant implications for the diplomatic atmosphere between Iran and the U.S. (IPS)

NATO data shows Afghanistan violence reaches record levels. Insurgent violence hit record levels in Afghanistan last week, reaching its highest level since 2001 as the commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan warned Thursday that he expects “tough months” ahead. Attacks soared 59 percent from January through May from the first five months of 2008, according to a report by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). All told, insurgent violence climbed 33 percent in 2008, they said. (Deutsche Welle)

US House passes bill to triple aid to Pakistan. The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved tripling US aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for each of the next five years in a key part of a strategy to combat extremism with economic and social development. (Dawn)

Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations under mounting debate. Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations issue is under mounting debate as some politicians and lawmakers keep on criticizing Kuwait. (Alsumaria)

Sino-Russian baby comes of age. After eight years, the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization has evolved from being “little more than a discussion forum” into a powerful bloc, with China and Russia its main drivers. From economic clout to gatecrashing the United States’ AfPak strategy, the group demands attention, so much so it is being talked of as an emerging military alliance. This is not the case, but the SCO’s leaders are ensuring that security in Central Asia and beyond is in trusted hands. (Asia Times)

Georgia: Is the Bell Tolling for UN, OSCE Missions? The chances of preserving international observer missions in the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia look slim, as Russia continues to insist that their respective mandates be amended to reflect “new realities” that Moscow contends arose from recent military hostilities with Georgia. The UN Security Council is due to meet behind closed doors in New York on June 12 to decide on the fate of the 156-strong UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), whose mandate expires on June 15. A formal vote is expected to take place that day. UNOMIG’s present mandate was decided in 1994 to verify compliance with the Moscow agreement on a ceasefire and separation of forces that formally put an end to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Negotiations on the future of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Georgian field operations have been suspended since May 14 amid persisting disagreements among the Vienna-based organization’s 56 participating states. The mandate of the OSCE mission to Georgia, whose duties include monitoring implementation of the 1992 Dagomys Georgian-South Ossetian truce, expires on June 30. (EurasiaNet)

China adds brick to censors’ firewall. China says a desire to protect its citizens from “harmful content” is behind its decision to force PC makers to install Internet filtering software designed to block pornography. The move could give the government unprecedented control over how its citizens use the Internet. (Asia Times)

The Terminators. Police Death Squads in the Philippines. Police death squads are out of control in The Philippines say human rights campaigners, murdering slum children, the poor and political enemies with impunity. They came to kill her children one by one. First was Richard in 2001, then his brother Christopher. Bobby was taken from her the following year, and Fernando in 2007. Now Clarita Alia lives in fear that Arnold, her last remaining son is next. And far from protecting her shattered family, it is the police who are behind the killings, she says. (Japan Focus)

India hopes to increase its influence. The news in May that the Congress party had won India’s elections by a big margin electrified the political establishment and sent shares soaring. Manmohan Singh, back as prime minister, still needs coalition partners, but no longer relies on Communists for his majority, and needs not pay so much heed to small, venal regional parties. At home, he pledges to forge ahead with liberal reforms. Abroad, too, says Shyam Saran, a special envoy for Singh on climate change, his government “will enjoy greater room for manoeuvre than in its earlier incarnation”. (Gulf News / Economist)

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