The President's Take
In my second monthly column to accompany CrisisWatch, our unique conflict tracker, I look at how outside actors are now openly fighting not for Syria, but over it. I also note more bad news from Venezuela, and flag our upcoming report on how the outside world and regional governments can avert disaster there. Read more …
President & CEO
July 2004 saw deteriorations in eight conflict situations worldwide, according to August's CrisisWatch bulletin. The 30 July simultaneous suicide bombings of the U.S. and Israeli embassies and the general prosecutor's office in Tashkent aggravated the situation in Uzbekistan. In Kashmir, violence increased in the run-up to Indo-Pakistan peace talks, leaving over 200 dead, including numerous civilians. Sri Lanka's February 2002 ceasefire grew increasingly fragile with the 8 July suicide bombing in Colombo, which killed four police officers. Throughout the month, Thailand saw almost daily killings of policemen, officials and village administrators in the south of the country. The situations in Guinea, Madagascar, Moldova and Peru also deteriorated in July.
On the positive side, four potential conflict situations showed some improvement last month. After intensive negotiations, months of stalemate in Côte d'Ivoire ended with a potential breakthrough, as the opposition agreed to rejoin President Gbagbo's government following compromises on both sides. However, considerable scepticism on implementation of the deal remained. In Nigeria, recent flare-ups of ethno-religious violence, which had left hundreds dead in previous months, subsided. Algeria and Bolivia also showed improvement in July.
For August 2004, CrisisWatch identifies Sri Lanka and Georgia as Conflict Risk Alerts, or situations at particular risk of further conflict in the coming month. The only Conflict Resolution Opportunity identified for August is Nagorno-Karabakh, where reports of new Armenian flexibility have raised hopes of progress in negotiations with Azerbaijan.
Majority Hutu Forces for the Defence of Democracy rebel group said 27 July would rejoin interim power-sharing administration. Final power-sharing talks in Pretoria ended without agreement 21 July, but subsequent trip to Bujumbura by South African mediator Jacob Zuma 26-27 July broke deadlock. Six minority Tutsi parties boycotted talks. Constitutional agreement necessary if 31 October election deadline stipulated in 2000 Arusha accords to be met. UN peacekeepers deployed throughout Bujumbura Rural province.
Despite 11 July Sudan-Chad agreement on joint border patrols, Chad remains at risk of destabilisation from Darfur crisis. Deteriorating conditions in Farchana and Breijing refugee camps led to violence among some of Chad’s 180,000 Sudanese refugees, causing brief closure of camps to aid agencies. Major food aid shortage for 27,000 refugees from Central African Republic. France announced 200 troops to deploy to eastern Chad.
Sporadic violence continued across eastern Congo, prompting calls for strengthening of UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC). Mission extended to 1 October in 29 July review, with thorough revamp planned for coming months to boost effectiveness, possibly including troop increase. Estimated 35,000 displaced from Kalehe, 35km north of Bukavu, as struggle between General Nkunda’s Tutsi Congolese rebels and army continues. UN report claimed Rwanda backed Nkunda’s forces in June occupation of Bukavu, supplying arms in spite of embargo; denied by Rwanda. Congolese army continued to fight Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe rebels, killing 23 North Kivu 12 July. Elsewhere, 50 killed in ethnic militia struggle for Djalasiga gold mine Ituri province despite 14 May Act of Engagement peace deal and UN military presence.
Government responded angrily to UN panel report claiming it broke Democratic Republic of Congo arms embargo, supplying weapons to RCD Congolese rebel group, which briefly took Bukavu, eastern DRC, in June. Former finance minister Emmanuel Ndindabahizi 15 July became 20th convicted of genocide of 81 indicted.
UN Special Representative Joseph Legwaila warned UN could not police 2-year border dispute indefinitely. Ethiopian PM Miles Zedawi stated willingness to negotiate; Eritrea said matter had already been resolved by 2003 ruling. Indian General Singh replaced British General Gordon as commander of UN military force. Fifty militia killed on Sudan-Ethiopia border 29 July; Ethiopia said men trained by Eritrea.
Somali national reconciliation conference failed to meet 30 July date for Nairobi inauguration of transitional parliament with hitches in allocating seats to Darod and Dir clans. Missed 31 July deadline for end of Phase III of peace process set by regional IGAD mediators, but discussions continue.
Growing but still inadequate international response to crisis in Darfur. UN Security Council voted 13-0, with 2 abstentions, in support of long-awaited - but watered-down - resolution 30 July, imposing immediate arms embargo on non-government entities, threatening further action in 30 days if Sudan fails to rein in Janjaweed militias. Following visit of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sudan and UN issued joint communiqué 3 July promising to alleviate crisis in Darfur; UN observers will report back to Joint Implementation Mechanism 2 August. U.S. Congress voted to label situation “genocide” 22 July. UK hinted at possible 5,000-strong troop deployment, with Sudan rejecting notion of foreign intervention, calling for “balance” and time, and claiming 5,000 police deployed to Darfur. Africa Union (AU)- backed talks in Addis Ababa between government and Darfur rebels collapsed 17 July after 2 days. AU summit meeting in Ghana 30 July mooted strengthening of AU mission beyond planned 300. AU observers reported ongoing Janjaweed atrocities 28 July. Sudan accused Eritrea 31 July of backing alleged alliance between Darfur rebels and eastern Free Lions Association insurgents.
Government claimed Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels increasingly weak as result of Operation Iron Fist II in southern Sudan: numerous defections and 14 July capture of Brigadier Kenneth Banya, key member of LRA high command. Ugandan army says nearly caught LRA leader Joseph Kony with raid on Sudanese town of Juba 29 July, killing 120. LRA active, killing 100 in southern Sudan raids near Moti. International Criminal Court began investigation into LRA war crimes in northern Uganda.
Moves towards renewed talks on setting election date between government and UNITA despite fears SPLA government hoping to delay till outside limit of 2006, as suggested by Council of Republic Presidential advisers; UNITA calling for 2005 date. Meanwhile, Angola signed up to regionally-backed African Peer Review Mechanism.
Continuing spate of grenade attacks totalling 17 since 26 June: attack on former President Albert Zafy 8 July and on Taomasina port 19 July. Police arrested 17. Deteriorating economic conditions, including soaring inflation, have sparked widespread dissatisfaction with President Ravalomanana’s government.
President Mugabe, 80, opened parliament 20 July promising reform of electoral laws before March 2005 elections; greeted with surprise, scepticism and disagreement with opposition MDC over how to proceed. Meanwhile, government introduced bill to increase state power over NGOs and churches. UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) continued to underline famine risk, predicting 325,000 ton grain shortfall.
After months of stalemate, opposition agreed 30 July to return to President Gbagbo’s government after intensive negotiations at UN-Africa Union summit in Accra. Gbagbo agreed to push through amendment on eligibility for presidential elections without recourse to National Assembly or referendum; Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebels agreed to general militia disarmament starting mid- October. But scepticism remained over implementation. UN human rights investigators arrived 16 July planning to probe abuse since 2002. Underlying anti-UN and anti-French sentiment remains; Ivorian soldier charged 14 July with murder of French peacekeeper in Yamoussoukro.
Highly unstable situation as escalating rice prices continued to cause anger against government of ailing President Lansana Conté, particularly in capital Conakry. Fear of political void and regional implications should Conté die. Initially ethno-religious tensions around Nzérékoré in far south- east compounded by presence of mostly LURD ex- combatants. Tensions rising with Sierra Leone over Guinea- occupied town of Yenga; Sierra Leone locals claim harassment from Guinean army.
Disarmament and reintegration program continued as UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) extended its control towards border areas; claimed 54,000 ex-combatants disarmed. Fears of cross-border smuggling prompted UN probe 21 July.
Tensions remained high in Nigeria, but flare-ups of ethno-religious violence that left hundreds dead in central states in recent months have subsided. In southern oil-rich Delta province, Ijaw militia leader Asari Dokubi said 11 fighters killed in Port Harcourt shoot-out. Dokubi disputes June peace agreement with Itsekiri and claims Delta independence. In positive development, Nigeria and Cameroon began land transfers along disputed border.
Country relatively stable, despite lingering border tensions with Liberia around Dawa, where LURD rebels remain; and rising disagreement over Guinean presence in town of Yenga. UNHCR repatriation program saw last of 178,000 refugees returned to Sierra Leone 22 July.
Outspoken Hong Kong radio host forced to resign under pressure from management amid concerns of diminishing press freedom in former British colony.
Impasse continued as Pyongyang reiterated position that freeze of nuclear facilities, possibly leading to their eventual dismantling, only to occur after U.S. gives energy aid, lifts economic sanctions, and stops accusations of sponsoring terrorism. Fourth round of 6-party talks expected by end of September. Naval incident with South Korea 14 July setback to recent détente. North Korea responded by skipping scheduled 19 July meeting of military officers in Seoul. South granted asylum to 460 North Korean refugees; Pyongyang accused South of “abduction and terrorism”. U.S. to donate 50,000 tons of food aid in gesture independent of nuclear negotiations.
Sabre-rattling continued on both sides of Strait as China and Taiwan each held military exercises simulating Chinese attack; U.S. appealed for caution. China said U.S. policy on Taiwan issue threatening bilateral relations and warned against arms sales to Taipei.
Parliamentary elections, originally to run in parallel with 9 October presidential election, rescheduled for April 2005 due to lack of authoritative population data and progress on disarmament. Junbish party leader Abdul Rashid Dostum resigned from nominal post as President Karzai’s military adviser to stand for presidency. FM Abdullah to support former education minister Yunus Qanuni’s bid for presidency. Karzai dropped powerful defense minister Mohammed Fahim as running mate 26 July. Fahim also to support Qanuni. In bid to accelerate disarmament, Karzai reassigned 3 recalcitrant militia leaders, including Atta Mohammad in Mazar-e Sharif, from army corps command posts to civilian posts as governors and police chiefs. Médecins Sans Frontières announced withdrawal from country citing lack of security and inconclusive investigations into June killings of MSF personnel. Attacks continued on election workers. Widespread clashes between U.S./Afghan forces and Taliban fighters killed at least 40. Factional fighting also continued. NATO approved deployment of 1,800 additional troops by September to reinforce election security. President Karzai signed 14 July decree stating that refusal to disarm, remobilising troops, or maintaining unofficial militias would be punished.
Two general strikes called in reaction to 21 June explosion at opposition Awami League rally caused disruption throughout Dhaka. Reportedly 24 killed in multiple shooting incidents of Indian northeast separatists in Dhaka 17 July. Monsoon floods engulfed two thirds of country.
Foreign Minister Natwar Singh met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in first bilateral talks with India’s new government 23 July. Elsewhere, talks began between several northeast separatist groups and New Delhi, but 2 main groups, United Liberation Front of Asom and National Democratic Front of Bodoland, not participating. National Socialist Council of Nagaland leaders met government negotiators in Thailand 29 July extending lapsed ceasefire for another year. In positive move, government in southern Andhra Pradesh state lifted 12-year ban on Maoist People’s War Group. Opposition National Democratic Alliance continued anti-corruption campaign against government, focusing on 6 “tainted” ministers.
Violence worsened in run-up to Indo-Pakistan peace talks; over 200 killed including numerous civilians. Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf 23 July. India expressed disappointment with Pakistani statement stressing “time-frame” for settling Kashmir dispute. Current round of talks to culminate in New Delhi foreign ministers’ meeting 5-6 September.
Ongoing violence, with Maoist rebels increasingly attacking targets within Kathmandu: police, municipal and government officials shot dead; bomb blasts 15/18 July wounded 12, killed 1. Three mayors outside Kathmandu also killed. Elsewhere at least 45 died in separate clashes between Maoists and government troops/police. PM Sher Bahadur Deuba announced new coalition government 5 July, but does not include influential Nepali Congress Party. PM to control crucial defence and foreign ministries. Maoist chief Prachanda issued statement saying no immediate possibility of talks but reiterated preference for UN mediation.
Clashes continued in South Waziristan as military hunted al-Qaeda suspects and local supporters; at least 12 killed in separate incidents. Government continued to close South Waziristan Afghan refugee camps, alleged to be militant strongholds. As of 21 July, approximately 25,000 refugees had fled back to Afghanistan. PM nominee Shaukat Aziz survived assassination attempt 30 July; 7 killed. Attack by militants claimed 6 in western province of Baluchistan 31 July. Karachi explosion killed employee of hardline Islamic charity 24 July. Fighting between Solangi and Jagirani tribes 25 July in Khairpur left 8 dead. Bilateral talks and confidence building measures continued with India.
Tension increased as violence erupted in capital. February 2002 ceasefire increasingly fragile following 8 July Colombo suicide bombing, which killed 4 police officers. Attack reportedly aimed at Hindu Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda, who had publicly said was in contact with breakaway rebel leader V. Muralitharan, aka Karuna. Tamil Tigers (LTTE) denied responsibility for bombing, but warned that Sri Lankan military connections with Karuna jeopardising peace process. Eight Karuna aides killed in Colombo safe house 25 July. Almost daily killings of Karuna supporters continued in eastern province. LTTE leaders renewed calls for their October 2003 proposal for Interim Self Governing Authority to be basis for restart of peace talks. In surprise move President Kumaratunga indicated she would hold talks on LTTE proposal but coalition partner, leftist People’s Liberation Front, threatened to pull out of government. Talks unlikely to resume until feud over rebel split resolved. Norwegian mediation efforts unsuccessful to date.
Opening round of first ever direct presidential elections proceeded smoothly. Former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) polled highest; to face incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri in second round 20 September. Election results gave SBY 34%, Megawati 27%, former general Wiranto 22%. Constitutional Court ruled new anti-terrorism law, used retroactively to convict Bali bombers, violates constitution, but ruling will only apply to future cases: police dropped plans to charge cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir over Bali bombings (though still to be charged with heading Jemaah Islamiah). Aceh province governor Abdullah Puteh suspended from duties while being investigated over graft case. Over 230 people described as “suspected terrorists” killed in Aceh since martial law lifted in May. Protestant minister killed in church shooting Palu city, Central Sulawesi.
Thailand called on Myanmar to attend second “Bangkok process” - multinational talks to discuss transition toward democracy. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and deputy chairman Tin Oo remain under house arrest.
Peace talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) further delayed due to disagreement over presence of government troops in former rebel base on Mindanao and failure to drop terrorism charges against MILF leaders. President Arroyo received domestic praise, international criticism for withdrawing 51 peacekeepers from Iraq to save hostage.
Approximately 100 former guerrillas demonstrated outside main government building demanding more reform 20 July. Vital revenue from Timor Sea oil/gas fields at stake in continuing border dispute with Australia.
Security deteriorated in restive south with almost daily killings of policemen, officials and village administrators. PM Thaksin Shinawatra warned of increased violence. Deputy PM Thamarak Isarangura, previously replaced as defence minister in March due to heavy-handed approach, appointed to supervise military operations. Defence Minister Chettha Thanajaro announced 20 July he had sent officials to Malaysia to open talks with separatist leaders.
Dispute over land on which a United Arab Emirates- funded airport is to be built continued in impoverished north.
Opening of reconstructed Old Bridge in Mostar 23 July attracted much regional and international attention. Destroyed by Croat forces in November 1993, bridge seen as symbol of reconstruction and reconciliation. Roman Catholic bishop, Ratko Peric, boycotted ceremony, demonstrating his continuing opposition to re- integration. Rajko Banduka, former aide to Ratko Mladic, arrested 23 July; Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic remain at large.
Parliament challenged UN by adopting changes to constitution 8 July; included right to call referendum on independence and to assume control of international relations and public security from UN. To become law amendments must be signed by Head of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Senior figures from Serb and Albanian communities called for establishment of new ministry for refugees and human rights, surprising UN. Tensions reported inside President Rugova’s LDK party over election list and emergence of shadowy internal security structure: “Homeland Security”. New UN head of mission, Soren Jessen-Petersen, scheduled to take office 3 August. Drastic summer electricity and water cuts possibly worst in 5 years of UN governance.
Coalition government agreed crucial yet controversial part of 2001 Ohrid peace accord granting greater rights to ethnic Albanian minority; must now be approved by parliament. Opposition nationalist World Macedonian Congress started collecting signatures to initiate referendum against proposals; 150,000 signatures needed by 23 August deadline. Long-delayed decentralisation plan would hand more powers to local councils and make Albanian second official language in municipalities with Albanian population of at least 20%. Draft law on territorial organisation foresees municipalities decreasing first from current 123 to 76 by 2008. Skopje would expand to include 2 more Albanian majority areas, pushing capital above 20% threshold. Widespread demonstrations followed government agreement, notably in Struga 22 July, where Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski had to be rescued from Social Democrat Party headquarters.
Serbian President Boris Tadic inaugurated 11 July. Visited Washington 19-21 July; held high-level meetings with Bush administration discussing stability of Serbia and cooperation with Hague tribunal. Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic called for war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic to surrender to tribunal. Former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic indicted 13 July, escaped detention prompting internal police investigation. Dejan Milenkovic, key suspect for assassination of Serbian PM Djindjic, turned self in to Greek police 17 July after 16 months on run. Representatives of ethnic Hungarians, largest minority in multi-ethnic province of Vojvodina, called on Belgrade to stop rising tide of inter-ethnic violence in region.
Group of opposition parties said would not abandon 6-month boycott of parliament, despite having suspended campaign of public demonstrations aimed at ousting President Robert Kocharian. (See also Nagorno-Karabakh below.)
Authorities closed Juma mosque in Baku and detained dozens of worshippers, saying congregation occupied mosque illegally. Mosque’s imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, prominent government critic. Aydin Guliev, editor of opposition daily, said was abducted my masked men, beaten, and told to cease journalistic activities, while second opposition journalist, Eynulla Fatullayev, attacked by 2 men Baku 26 July. Political manoeuvring behind scenes continued, as Minister of National Security Namik Abbasov dismissed by President Aliyev. (See also Nagorno-Karabakh below.)
Risk of conflict remains high as Tbilisi continues to pressure breakaway region of South Ossetia in hopes of reuniting it with rest of country. Sides exchanged small arms and artillery fire 29-30 July. Georgia intercepted Russian military convoy in region and confiscated equipment 7 July. Several dozen Georgian troops captured by South Ossetia next day; all but 3 later released. Armed skirmishes and war of words continued throughout month. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili threatened to renege on 12-year-old agreement that ended original conflict, and called for change in mandate of Russian peacekeepers, who he accused of bias toward South Ossetia. Georgia seeking to apply economic pressure on Ossetian leadership through control of Roki tunnel, major trade and smuggling route connecting Russia and South Ossetia.
Rumours circulating about possible softening of Armenian position in internationally mediated negotiations with Azerbaijan. Turkish paper reported Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul as saying Armenia willing to discuss return of occupied Azerbaijani territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
Seven candidates registered for Chechnya’s 29 August presidential election, including Chechen interior minister and Kremlin favourite Alu Alkhanov. Businessman Malik Saidullaev, lone serious threat to Alkhanov, disqualified by Moscow on technicality. Major clash between rebels and forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, son of assassinated president Akhmad Kadyrov, left dozens dead 12-13 July. Rebel leader Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for - and reportedly participated in - June attack in neighbouring Ingushetia, which killed close to 100. Assassination attempt on acting Chechen president Sergei Abramov failed 13 July.
Moldovan government suspended participation in 5-party peace talks on Transdniestria conflict after Tiraspol ordered closure of all Moldovan schools teaching in Latin script. Estimated 40% of Transdniestrian population native Moldovan/Romanian speakers. Tiraspol authorities evicted 60 orphans from school 27 July, forcing them to spend night in street, and stormed second school 29 July after parents, teachers, and students barricaded themselves inside. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus called Transdniestrian move “linguistic cleansing”. EU and U.S. said would consider sanctions against Transdniestria.
Parliamentary enquiry continues into claims previous government deliberately misled public in blaming Basque separatists for 11 March Madrid bombing. Four ETA suspects accused of planning attacks on Basque police arrested 24 July. Basque and Spanish leaders resumed official relations after 3-year break.
Subdued celebrations in North 20 July for 30th anniversary of Turkish invasion. EU Commission proposed trade and aid package for Turkish Cyprus to reward “yes” vote to UN reunification plan. Decision on package reportedly postponed until September following Greek Cypriot objections. Greek Cypriot government announced series of measures to unilaterally ease trade between North and South and build confidence in security on island.
Some violence in Belfast 12 July during Orange order marching season; Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) appeared ready to guarantee stable power- sharing arrangement if deal on decommissioning can be struck at intensive September talks with Irish, British governments and Sinn Fein.
Bomb attack on local governor killed 3 in Turkey’s eastern Van province 2 July; blamed on Kongra-Gel Kurdish separatists. Further attack in Diyarbakir police station killed one 28 July. Kongra-Gel cancelled 5-year ceasefire in June.
Press freedom remained hot issue ahead of September parliamentary elections as court ordered closure of independent paper Assandi-Times, and opposition complained media only covering campaigns of pro-government parties. Opposition journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov died 20 July after reportedly being hit by car; colleagues questioned circumstances.
Jailed opposition leader Feliks Kulov threatened hunger strike - and supporters country-wide protests - if authorities refused to consider Kulov request for early release.
President Rakhmonov signed controversial new election law despite criticism it does not ensure independence of electoral commissions and requires high cash deposits from candidates.
Government silenced last foreign news source in country, shutting down transmitter for Russia’s Mayak radio station for “technical reasons”. Move leaves vast majority of citizens without information from abroad. EU protested strongly over failure of government to approve extension of accreditation of OSCE ambassador, Paraschiva Badescu, despite recent improvement in EU-Turkmen relations. Between 10 and 20 people reported arrested in Ashgabad, possibly connected to reports of anti-government leaflets being distributed in capital.
Three suicide bombers struck simultaneously 30 July outside U.S. and Israeli embassies and in lobby of Uzbek prosecutor’s office in Tashkent, killing 6 including bombers. Violence occurred just days after opening of trial of 15 suspects arrested in connection with March and April attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara, which left 47 dead. Government blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir, radical Islamic group that officially eschews violence. State Department 13 July announced freeze of $18 million in aid, saying Uzbekistan failed to make adequate progress on human rights and democratic reforms.
In boost for government, Bolivians unequivocally backed President Mesa’s 18 July referendum proposals to increase state control over Bolivia’s gas reserves and allow exports. Voters ignored calls to burn ballots from radical indigenous leaders who wanted total nationalisation of reserves. Results showed average 58% support rate for Mesa’s proposals.
Government peace talks with right-wing AUC paramilitaries in northern province of Cordoba underway following May “Ralito II” accord. Senior AUC members given safe conduct to address Congress in Bogota 28 July. Leader Salvatore Mancuso stated willingness to work towards permanent ceasefire. Leftist FARC killed 13 government soldiers in 22 July attack on bridge in southern Putumayo province; ruled out possibility of peace with President Uribe. At least 20 killed in eastern Colombia in 8-9 July due to infighting between rival right-wing paramilitary groups.
President Hugo Chavez declared would stand for immediate re-election if he loses 15 August recall referendum, raising tensions as opposition insisted this would be illegal.
Donors conference in Washington 19-20 July resulted in pledges totalling $1.1 billion. Police-rebel tensions rising: gunmen killed 2 policemen and injured another in Port-au- Prince 15 July. Police responded with 20 arrests. 3,000 Aristide supporters celebrated his birthday in capital 15 July. PM Gerard Latortue announced measures will be taken after 15 September to disarm gangs with illegal weapons; rebels denounced plan. Former Chilean foreign minister Juan Gabriel Valdes appointed UN special representative to Haiti.
Protesters overran southern city of Ayacucho 1 July, setting fire to buildings after police used tear gas to break up demonstration by teachers. Government blamed followers of Shining Path rebel group for mayhem. CGTP labour union called 1-day general strike 14 July in protest at government’s economic policies; 76 arrested. President Toledo’s approval rating reportedly remains below 7%.
Political crisis in Gaza eased as PM Ahmed Qurei retracted resignation after receiving assurances from Yasser Arafat he would have authority to carry out security reforms. Crisis began with series of kidnappings by Palestinian gunmen protesting corruption in Palestinian Authority, followed by wider demonstrations when Arafat appointed cousin as head of revamped security services. Arafat later reversed appointment. Factional power struggle likely to continue ahead of Israel’s’ planned Gaza pullout in early 2005. Palestinians won diplomatic victory at UN as General Assembly voted 150 to 6 in favour of resolution urging Israel to abide by International Court of Justice opinion declaring Israeli security barrier in West Bank illegal. Israel said would ignore ruling, but planned to reroute section of barrier closer to 1967 border in line with Israeli Supreme Court decision. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei visited Israel 6 July for talks on ridding Middle East of nuclear weapons.
King Abdullah said Amman would consider sending troops to Iraq if asked by interim government - first Arab country to make offer. Militants in Iraq kidnapped 2 employees of Jordanian company working for U.S.; threatened to target Jordanian interests, including road to Iraq, unless Amman ceased cooperation with U.S. forces.
Hizbollah said bomb that killed senior member of guerrilla group in Beirut 19 July planted by Israeli agents. Heightened tensions followed attack, with sides exchanging fire 20 July, leaving 2 Israeli soldiers and 1 guerrilla dead, and with Israeli jets breaking sound barrier over Beirut.
EU and Syria reportedly close to signing landmark trade accord; sides still negotiating sensitive clause on Syria’s WMD program.
Tehran restarted construction and assembly of nuclear centrifuges, following through on threat made after critical June IAEA resolution. Paris meeting 29 July between Iran and France, Germany, and Britain failed to resolve differences - U.S. Sec. State Colin Powell said matter increasingly likely to be referred to UN Security Council. Iraqi interim government expressed growing concern Iranian agents infiltrating country to undermine democratisation. U.S. 9/11 Commission report indirectly linked Iran to hijackers, saying some crossed into Iran from Afghanistan. Canada rejected acquittal of Iranian intelligence officer accused of murdering Iranian-Canadian journalist while in police custody, and recalled ambassador.
Under pressure from UN, 3-day National Conference postponed to mid-August in effort to draw more representative range of delegates and improve security preparations. Several key factions, including that of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, threatened boycott. Conference to bring together 1,000 delegates to select 100-member National Council, designed to check power of interim government until scheduled January 2005 elections. Insecurity across much of Iraq continued. Over 100 killed 28 July in multiple attacks, including suicide bombing in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, that left at least 70 dead. Insurgents increasingly relying on hostage-taking as terror tactic: Philippine government ordered early troop withdrawal to secure release of kidnapped Filipino, drawing U.S. and Australian criticism. NATO announced vague training mission for Iraqi military personnel 30 July. 635 Coalition soliders, including 539 Americans, and thousands of Iraqis killed by hostile fire since declared end of combat operations on 1 May 2003.
Government amnesty for militants who gave themselves up expired 23 July, with only 6 suspected extremists having turned themselves in.
Fighting continued in northern Saada province between military and supporters of rebel Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi. According to government, death toll over past 6 weeks has reached 300.
In positive development, hardline Chief of Staff Lt. General Mohammed Lamari offered resignation, indicating President Bouteflika’s growing authority over defence ministry and security policy. Ongoing media crackdown, with Al-Jazeera temporarily banned 2 July; Le Matin editor’s appeal of 2-year sentence to be heard 11 August. Having admitted June power-station explosion was car bomb, security forces claimed success against Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat with death of 9 gunmen east of Algiers 23 July.
Atef Ebeid, PM since 1999, replaced 9 July by younger Ahmed Nazif - commentators said limited scope for reform, although new cabinet includes technocratic modernisers close to President Mubarak’s son, Gamal. Egypt extended possible offer of security training to Iraqi forces, leading to kidnapping of Egyptian diplomat Mamdouh Helmi Qutb in Baghdad 23 July; released 3 days later.
Morocco told Spanish authorities it had lost track of 400 al Qaeda-trained militants. Government moved to halt rise of radical Islam through construction of 20 state-sponsored mosques; agreed 22 July to set up joint security task-force with Algeria.
Spanish PM Zapatero, in Algiers, called for new negotiations between all sides in conflict over Western Sahara, including Algeria. Zapatero accused of shifting Spain’s support away from Baker plan and toward implicit backing of continued Moroccan sovereignty.