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THE INDEX — January 27, 2010

International talks are being held in London to discuss how to handle Yemen’s growing instability and long-term problems that foster Islamic extremism. Twenty-one world leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives from the EU, UN, World Bank, and IMF are attending, hosted by Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, with the goal of preventing Yemen from becoming a failed state. The meeting marks the one-month anniversary of the failed Christmas Day airplane bomb, which drew the world’s attention to Yemen’s Al Qaeda problem. Yemen’s domestic issues, as reported by the New York Times, are severe: 42 percent of the Yemeni population lives on less than $2 a day, the official illiteracy rate is 45 percent, less than half of those between the ages of 15 and 24 are employed—and outside of major cities, water, electricity, and health services are scarce. Aid cannot be easily provided in Yemen, where a corrupt and unproductive government bureaucracy and the remoteness of populations hamper the delivery of assistance. Compounding the problem, there is sporadic war in the north spurred by rebel Shiites and a growing secessionist movement developing in the south. Undeterred, Yemen’s government has promised “urgent political and economic reform to help fight Al Qaeda.” Britain's Foreign Office minister, Ivan Lewis, likewise expressed a note of optimism: “We want to see Yemen’s neighbors make a more significant contribution and we want the international community to come together and recognize that supporting the government of Yemen is crucial to the stability of the world.”
 
To read more about the growing secessionist movement in Southern Yemen, see World Policy Journal’s online feature, THE BIG QUESTION: "How Big is the Threat of Yemen’s Southern Secessionist Movement?"
 
The fraught relationship between North and South Korea escalated today for the second time in three months when the two nations exchanged artillery fire along their disputed sea border. Reportedly, North Korea fired dozens of shells into the water near the sea border (known as the Northern Limit Line, an UN-established boundary accepted by the South but contested by the North) as part of an annual military drill. The South Korean military responded with 100 warning shots from anti-aircraft guns. Hours later, the North Korean navy fired another round of shots towards the Northern Limit Line; Pyongyang warned in advance of the second barrage. Analysts believe the fire exchange is another act of provocation but will not escalate any further. Today’s clash came amidst signals from Pyongyang about its desire to return to the Six-Party Talks between the Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States that aim to stand down its nuclear weapons program.
 
Sri Lankans went to the polls this Tuesday in the country’s first presidential election since the close of its bloody civil war in May 2009. While the country’s incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was declared winner of the contest with a 17-point lead over his main contender, reports of voting irregularities—including assaults at polling stations—marred Rajapaksa’s victory. (As of yet, the names and party affiliations of the alleged culprits have not been made public.) Rajapaksa’s main presidential challenger, former army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, responded to allegations of voting irregularities by saying: "We ask him [Sri Lanka’s election commissioner] to declare null and void the results. We have asked him not to release the results as we are going to go to the courts. Our strength is people and their franchise has been disregarded." Until recently, Rajapaksa and Fonseka were political allies, having both worked together in the fight against Sri Lanka’s northern insurgent group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However, the political alliance between the two men fell apart over the course of the past several months, as the presidential campaign became particularly intense. In the hours after the election, government troops surrounded a hotel in which Fonseka’s campaign had gathered, with the intent of arresting several military officials who had assisted the former general with his campaign. Fonseka has alleged that Rajapaksa was using government troops to intimidate his supporters, but a spokesman for the incumbent claimed that Fonseka's large gathering of military figures and attachés posed a coup threat. Regarding the demographic complexities of the vote, preliminary election polling predicted Fonseka had secured a majority of the Tamil ballots, though both Rajapaksa and Fonseka have been accused of war crimes for their involvement in putting down the long-standing Tamil insurgency in the north.
 
Honduras installed a new president today, formally ending the interim presidency of Roberto Micheletti, who held office since the June 2009 military coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya. Honduras’s new president, Porfirio Lobo, a member of the center-right leaning National Party, has promised to pursue national reconciliation in the aftermath of Zelaya’s ouster. The first step in this plan, according to Lobo, will be to formally escort the left-leaning Zelaya out of the country. Zelaya—who has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa over the past five months—has apparently agreed to the request and will travel to the Dominican Republic as a political refugee. Currently, there is an outstanding warrant for Zelaya’s arrest, although President Lobo has signaled an interest in granting amnesty to the former leader. In a recent statement, Zelaya said: “I have an invitation...to go to the Dominican Republic and I will accept...obviously with the approval of the new government.” Lobo, for his part, is eager to have Zelaya removed from his virtual prison within the Brazilian embassy: “Can you imagine starting a government with a president imprisoned in an embassy? It wouldn't be fair.”
 
For more details on the politics and controversy surrounding the Honduran Coup of 2009, see World Policy Journal’s online feature, THE BIG QUESTION: "Will the Honduran coup have broader implications for democracy in Central America?"

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