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THE INDEX — August 10, 2009

Delegates from Morocco, Algeria, and the Polisario Independence movement will meet today in Austria for a two-day session dealing with the the status of the Western Sahara. United Nations negotiator Christopher Ross will host the meeting, the first gathering of the three parties since talks on the status of the territory failed last year in New York. UN officials are hopeful that the talks will be "productive" and "clear the way" for formal negotiations. Negotiators have neither revealed the exact location of the talks nor scheduled any press coverage for the meeting after last year's negotiations were allegedly "marred with grandstanding." The Western Sahara, a territory along the Western coast of Africa between Mauritania and Morocco, was annexed in 1975 by Morocco, which has since offered autonomy to the region. But the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) movement, backed by Algeria, has demanded a referendum on the territory that would lead to complete Independence. Western observers have complained that strained relations between Algeria and Morocco limit anti-terrorism efforts designed to curb activities of Al Qaeda operatives in Mali, Mauritania, and across the Sahara. Syria has a daily electrical shortage of up to 1,000 megawatts (MW) attribute to U.S. sanctions and rising birth rates, according to Syrian daily Al-Thawra. The newspaper, which notifies citizens in Damascus of electricity cuts by the government, published a report yesterday detailing the shortfall and forecasting a greater shortage in the future. Currently in Damascus and its neighboring regions, power is cut by the government for two hours in the morning and two hours at night. According the report, the government's energy generating capacity of 7,188 MW exceeds peak demand of 6,500 MW. However, with their energy generators aging, power stations have had to lower peak output by as much as 20 percent in some instances. The report claims that U.S. sanctions have prevented international companies from building new power plants in Syria. Last week, President Barack Obama extended sanctions against the Arab nation, arguing that several parties in Syria continue to meddle in the political and economic affairs of neighboring Lebanon. A committee of four Malagasy leaders—including ousted president Marc Ravalomanana and his successor Andy Rajoelina—agreed to terms for new presidential elections before the end of next year. The negotiations, mediated by former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano, mark the first time Ravalomanana and Rajoelina met since the latter seized control of the government in a coup last March. The two are still negotiating details for a transitional government that will hold power until the elections. Ravalomanana, who is currently exiled in South Africa because of an arrest warrant that the Rajoelina administration issued for him, has said he will not ask for power in the transitional body, though he is seeking representation for his supporters. Some analysts are skeptical that there is enough oversight in the current deal to keep Rajoelina and his friends in the military from delaying or manipulating an election. But as a Western diplomat told Reuters, the agreement may lead the international community to help finance the elections and resume aid to Madagascar that had been frozen in the wake of the coup. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Angolan leaders to pursue democratic reforms and harness the momentum of their peaceful 2008 legislative elections as she visited the coastal nation on Sunday. The strategic U.S. relationship with Angola has become more important in recent years as the OPEC nation, which vies with Nigeria for the title of Africa's largest petroleum producer, has developed increasingly close ties with China. Angola supplies more crude oil to China than any other nation. In return, China has flooded Angola, still ravaged by two decades of civil war, with billions of dollars in infrastructure investment. But unlike the United States, China has not taken a stance on democratic and human rights issues. Clinton championed plans for a new Angolan constitution and called for leaders to move ahead with new presidential elections. She also announced new plans for U.S. investment in renewable energy projects in Angola. A day before a summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the Colombian military of illegally crossing into Venezuelan territory, saying on his weekly television show "Hello President" that Colombian troops carried out an "incursion" into Venezuela. Chavez accused the United States of directing the Colombian armed forces. His comments came after a new agreement between Colombia and the United States that allowed American use of seven Colombian military bases. The Venezuelan president compared himself with Manuel Noriega, the former ruler of Panama who was arrested by the United States in 1989 on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Chavez also said he might end preferential pricing on Venezuelan oil for Colombia. Last month, Chavez froze relations with Colombia after it accused Venezuela of supplying weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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