June 23, 2007

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On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at

Abandon hope

June 14, 2007

The Palestinian civil war has put paid to hopes for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

The more moderate Fatah movement has been over-run in the Gaza Strip, with the Islamist Hamas taking key security posts all across the region. It has now captured Fatah headquarters in Gaza.

The image of the green Hamas flag flying above the building is possibly the most defining of the day.

All too late, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has ordered his presidential guard to strike back. Yesterday, Fatah officials said there had been confusion: were they allowed to fight back or not?

Their resistance has crumbled; I have a feeling the claims of confusion were a desperate attempt to explain away just how easily Hamas has crushed its rivals.

“We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return, ” Islam Shahawan, a spokesman for Hamas’ militia, told Hamas radio. “The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived.” (AP)

Given that Hamas is apparently executing Fatah policemen the definition of “justice” seems rather elastic, wouldn’t you say?

There is no hope for a negotiated solution between Hamas and Israel. Fatah’s decline, which began with an election drubbing fueled by a widespread perception of corruption and inefficiency, is complete (at least in the Gaza Strip).

The ambition had been for a two-state solution in the Middle East. The Palestinian state would consist of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, both of which are fenced off from Israel.

The only viable way for such a split Palestinian state would be a highway crossing Israel; this was planned but there is no way Israel will allow militants such easy access to its territory.

And it must be pointed out that not all Palestinians back either Hamas or Fatah. One wrote to al-Jazeera earlier today: “Hamas and Fatah should go to hell and leave the Palestinian people alone.”

Hamas is unlikely to repeat its success in the larger and more populous West Bank, where Fatah is taking the initiative. I actually laughed when I read an AP report saying Abbas was considering withdrawing from the ruling coalition with Hamas. Strikes me as the first thing he should have done this morning.

The likelihood of an Israeli incursion into Gaza, which it evacuated in 2005, has soared. Hamas are not going to sit back on their Gazan victory, they will press an attack on Israel. It does not recognise the nation’s right to exist and has been firing rockets over the border for some time.

We now face the possibility of separate Hamas and Fatah states. EU humanitarian aid has been suspended. The UN can not distribute the aid which so many Palestinian people rely on. Egypt should be bracing itself for a flood of refugees and the formation of an Islamist nation on its northeastern border.

The dream of peace which was fostered by the 1993 Oslo Accords is shattered. All hope is lost.

Hypocrisy in action

June 12, 2007

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says Iran is sending weapons to the Taliban. It is the first time (to my knowledge) a senior American official has made such a claim.

The likes of Tony Blair have said “elements” within the Iranian regime were sending arms to Afghanistan, but this looks like a direct accusation against the government as a whole.

What really gets to me though is that the US is busy arming Sunni Arab groups to fight al-Qaida in Iraq.

“(Iran is)  a country that’s trying to flex its muscles,” Burns said, “but in a way that’s injurious to the interests of just about everybody else in the world. I think it’s a major miscalculation.”

And how the US flexes its muscles is in everybody’s best interests? Arming militants to fight militants is a perfect calculation?

Iran has denied aiding the Taliban, saying it makes no sense for a Shi’ite regime to back a Sunni group.

With patience already frayed on both sides regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Burns’ comments are only adding fuel to the fire. Sometimes I wish politicians would just shut the fuck up.

Movement at last

June 12, 2007

Sudan has agreed to the deployment of a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. The mission will consist of 17,500-19,600 soldiers and 6,000 police.

Not only that, but the Sudanese government has backed the need for a ceasefire and a more inclusive political process.

Now, those are all pretty words but of course there’s no guarantee the plan will be fully enforced. The UN is always stretched and strapped for cash, and the AU has long said its resources were fairly thin. But the fact that Khartoum is weighing in behind the deal is cause for celebration.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in the last four years, while about two million have fled their homes. Khartoum says only 9,000 have died since the conflict erupted and denies enlisting the Janjaweed militia to crush the rebellion.

BBC said there was no concrete timetable for deployment, which would not be before next year. There is also no definitive decision on the make-up of any such force, although it is likely to have as many African soldiers as possible. Sudan wanted nothing to do with an all-UN force as it considered that a Western invasion.

I am cautiously optimistic. This is huge news, but the follow-through may be sorely lacking. There’s no guarantee Sudan will fully co-operate with the mission, although the fact it has agreed to the force implies it should have government backing. The phrase is a cliché, but we will have to wait and see.

Fingers crossed that there could be a (relatively) happy ending to this one.

The power of pork

June 12, 2007

Soaring pork prices are fueling Chinese inflation.

The cost is up 40% in the last year (while meat prices generally are up 26.5%), largely because of a blue-ear disease epidemic which has seen at least 18,000 pigs slaughtered. With pork a staple of the Chinese diet, and farmers no longer rearing the animals for fear of the illness, the shortages are having a knock-on effect.

Food prices in general are up about 8.3%, although consumer prices as a whole rose 3.4% in May. The government’s target is 3%, and so another interest rate hike is on the cards as the authorities try to cool an 11% annual economic growth rate.

And Reuters/Financial Times make an interesting observation:

Savers earn 3.06 percent on 12-month certificates of deposit, meaning that after a 20 percent tax is deducted, the value of their money is failing to keep pace with inflation.

This has encouraged millions of Chinese to cash in their deposits and punt on the stock market, which jangled government nerves by falling sharply last month after almost quadrupling in 2 years.

Communist in name only.

Inflation is a tricky bugger to quantify as different countries use different products in their calculations. For instance, Ireland is the only country that I know of in Europe which includes mortgage payments in its figures. This means the Irish inflation rate is above 5%, whereas if mortgage payments were stripped out it would be closer to 2.7% (the eurozone target is just under 2%).

Nonetheless, headline figures spook investors and jittery investors can instigate sell-offs that wipe billions off a stock market in just a few hours. It seems that, as with so much in life, confidence is everything.

He’s one to talk

June 10, 2007

It makes me laugh when Vladimir Putin describes an institution like the World Trade Organisation as “undemocractic”.

Because he knows all about democracy, you see.