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THE INDEX — July 27, 2009

Leaving commuters stranded and garbage uncollected from Johannesburg to Capetown, thousands of South African public service workers went on strike Monday, expressing dissatisfaction with the Zuma administration's recent handling of unemployment and wage increases. Led by the 150,000 member South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU), the strike comes on the heels of violent protests in the nation's poor townships, where workers have been particularly hard-hit by the first recession in South Africa since the end of apartheid. The negotiators for SAMWU are demanding a 15 percent wage increase to help workers deal with the nearly double digit inflation that South Africa faces. The government has offered an 11.5 percent increase, but in view of an unemployment rate approaching 25 percent, said it cannot raise its wage offer further. Some analysts say that the strikes, while a challenge for Zuma, should not be considered an exceptional circumstance, as many of South Africa's public contracts come up for renewal mid-year and, as shown by strikes amongst doctors and construction workers last month, employees are prone to unrest. But Zuma's campaign success and large margin of victory in the April presidential elections were largely a result of his promise to fight poverty, a promise many now see as being quite visibly tested by those who were previously his closest allies. Moldovans head to the polls again this week in a parliamentary election that some see as an existential test for the future independence of the former Soviet republic. It will be the second time in three months that citizens try to elect a parliament. In the last vote, on April 5, the Communist party held its majority, though the balloting was deemed unfair by an opposition center-right coalition. Tensions increased when violent post-election protests were met with severe government crackdowns. Last month, the political battle continued when President Vladimir Voronin failed twice to have parliament elect his communist successor, ultimately causing him to dissolve the body and call new elections. Voronin and Communist party members have claimed that the opposition coalition, which is well-liked by neighboring Romania, may actually be seeking to reunite the two states under the Romanian flag for the first time since 1940. But opposition leaders pin the economic struggles of Moldova, Europe's poorest country, on the inept policies of Voronin and his followers. Refusing to give up its largest share of Nile water resources, Egypt has threatened to withdraw from the Nile Basin Initiative for development. The Egyptian announcement came during an emergency session of the two-day Nile Council of Ministers (NILE-COM) summit, which seeks to establish a permanent body to control Nile water allocation across the Nile river basin. Egyptian daily Al Masry al Yawm reports that Egyptian officials threatened to withdraw from the agreement if Egyptian interests regarding Nile water shares were ignored by the majority of the NILE-COM. The council's officials are meeting in Alexandria in the second round of talks aimed at finalizing the initiative, after first round talks failed in Kinshasha, Congo last month with Egypt refusing to give up its historic control of the Nile. In 1929, Britain, acting on behalf of the east African colonies, granted Egypt the right to veto any Nile projects, and in 1959, Egypt and Sudan agreed to give Cairo the largest share of Nile water resources. A new basin initiative would eliminate such a veto and allow for the "equitable utilization and benefit of the Nile." Many experts find the initiative to be pointless, however, even if passed, since Egyptian use of water resources is not inhibited by any upstream dams or regulatory projects in the nine other Nile Basin states—Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Israel and the United States are nearing an agreement to freeze settlements in the West Bank, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Citing sources close to Israeli and American officials present at the Sunday meeting between U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak, Haaretz reports that Israel has "softened its stance considerably" and that the gap between the two nations has "narrowed significantly" on the settlement issue. An official agreement is not expected to be signed during Mitchell's current visit to Tel Aviv. Still, Israeli and American officials have agreed to halt settlement construction after the completion of 700 buildings, currently under construction in the West Bank. Israel has also pledged to evacuate 23 illegal outposts built after 2001, if Arab nations agree to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

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