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THE INDEX — July 13, 2009

Zimbabwe's inaugural constitutional conference descended into chaos on Monday, as militant supporters of President Robert Mugabe forced Parliament Speaker Lovermore Moyo to leave the stage before any official work could begin. Mugabe was supposed to have provided opening remarks for the meeting, but when he did not arrive on time, Moyo (a prominent opposition politician) took it upon himself to start the hearings. His plea to begin a peaceful conference—convened to establish a new constitution in Zimbabwe and resolve ongoing issues of contention within the current unity government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai—was drowned out by pro-Mugabe militants, who began singing revolutionary songs. Some are accusing Mugabe of having planned the stunt to flex his political muscle and prevent a reworked constitution that might strip the executive branch of many of its powers. Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since 1980, is reportedly worried that the proposed constitution would require a new round of elections. If Mugabe were to lose, he might face lawsuits stemming from his government's numerous injustices against Zimbabwean civilians. The U.S.-backed Nabucco pipeline project took a significant step forward on Monday, as Turkey and four European Union nations—Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary—signed a deal to let oil flow across their borders. The project has been underway for several years though talks accelerated in the first half of 2009 after the winter's oil crisis, in which Russia (in a squabble with Ukraine) cut off oil flows to many EU nations. The Nabucco pipeline will bypass Russia and Ukraine, instead siphoning oil from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan through Turkey into the European Union. Some political observers note that this deal should translate into closer Turkey-EU relations and, perhaps, the possible and long-awaited membership for the Muslim state in the European bloc. After a crushing defeat of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in this weekend’s Tokyo metropolitan election, prime minister Taro Aso announced today that he will dissolve the lower house of Parliament and hold new, national elections later this summer. On Sunday, the LDP won only 34 seats, while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 58 seats, ending over four decades of LDP rule in the Tokyo municipal assembly. Analysts commented that the weekend results were an indication that Aso’s popularity has “severely” waned, noting that if national elections were held today, “it’s near 100 percent certain that the LDP would be defeated.” The lower house of Parliament will be dissolved on July 21, and the election will be held on August 30. Aso’s call for new elections is seen as an attempt to placate LDP officials who have called for his resignation over his handling of the economy and a series of ministerial resignations. Many analysts believe the August vote could spell the end the LDP’s half-century dominance of Japanese politics. Read more about Aso's LDP and the intricate workings of the Japanese political system in Aurelia George Mulgan's article, Why Japan Can't Lead, in the summer ‘09 issue of World Policy Journal. European foreign policy chief Javier Solana has called upon the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state, regardless of whether Israel agrees to do the same. In a lecture given in London on Saturday, Solana said that if Israeli-Palestinian peace talks remain in deadlock, UN mediators should draft a resolution that would declare a fixed deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Such a solution, Solana notes, would make Palestine a full member of the United Nations, and “mandate the resolution of remaining territorial disputes, and legitimize the end of claims.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rebuffed Solana’s statements this morning, saying that the EU official “is about to retire” and that the international community “should not overstate the importance of his statement.” Lieberman also noted that if the United Nations does create this “artificial deadline,” it could undermine the prospects of reaching a feasible agreement between Israel and Palestine.

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