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THE INDEX - July 6, 2010

Strikes spread across India on June 5th on the heels of the pro-Congress government’s end to state-provided fuel subsidies Friday. Estimated costs of the ‘bandh’ were huge, with more than 100 flights canceled, 250 trains disrupted, and the equivalent of at least $2 billion lost nationwide. In Mumbai, police detained supporters of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for rioting, breaking store windows, throwing stones at trains, and staging a rail blockade.

The BJP claims that to keep fuel affordable for average Indians it was necessary to retain the $5.5 billion-a-year subsidies of petrol, diesel, and kerosene, which the Congress Party eliminated citing the need to leave the next government a stronger budget picture and lower rates of inflation caused by rising fuel costs. --David Black    

 

The Australian government has introduced a new mechanism for processing asylum seekers—a regional processing center in East Timor. The regional center would replace the Pacific offices established in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Thus far, overcrowding and disorganization have plagued the Pacific posts. In some cases, asylum seekers have even been moved to mainland Australia, while the details of their specific cases remain unsorted.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard sees the new center as a solution to the issue of illegal immigration. ''A regional approach … effectively eliminates the onshore processing of unauthorized arrivals and ensures that anyone seeking asylum is subject to consistent process of assessment in the same place,” she recently stated.

However, Gillard is facing quite a bit of internal opposition. Opposition leader Tony Abbott believes that said solution would be impossible to implement, arguing that it would require too much coordination with external players, such as the United Nations and other Pacific countries.

 Many Australians are skeptical of Abbott, though. They believe his opposition to be motivated by self-interest in the heat of a critical election year. Phillip Coorey, of the Sydney Morning Herald, phrased it as such, “Abbott, no longer prepared to vacate the stage for Gillard, sought to ruin her big day.” --Yaffa Fredrick    

 

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has returned from a trip to the South Caucasus where she called for an end to Russia’s “occupation” of Georgia’s breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian Prime Minister Putin replied, “Some believe that South Ossetia is occupied, others [believe it is] liberated,” and advised Georgia to keep at arm’s length with Washington.

Despite warming relations between the U.S. and Russia, Clinton reassured Georgians in a joint press conference with Georgian President Saakashvili that stability in the South Caucasus is a high priority of the Obama administration.

However, the region is very much Russia’s backyard and the Kremlin remains the main powerbroker in the post-Soviet periphery; the U.S. must tread lightly in the South Caucasus, and Clinton’s visit met with lackluster results because of it. 

Secretary Clinton also visited Armenia and Azerbaijan to encourage the nations to settle their territorial dispute over Nagorno Karabakh. The U.S. has a strategic interest in the outcome of the issue, since approximately a quarter of non-military U.S. supplies to Afghanistan pass through Azerbaijan.   --Nestor Bailly   

WPJ’s Summer issue, on newsstands next week, features an article on Abkhazia and its relationships with Russia and Georgia.

 

Despite the fact that reports of xenophobia in South Africa are being called “baseless,” foreigners residing in South Africa are on the move. It was reported that at one gas station, over 200 Zimbabweans were seeking rides out of Cape Town and that Somali store owners are leaving their shops understocked for fear of theft. The movement is caused by rumors that xenophobic actions might take place across Cape Town after the conclusion of the FIFA World Cup this upcoming weekend.   --Seth Walder    

 

Thailand called upon Montenegro to review the legality of former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s current residency in the small Balkan country. Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya met for the first time his Montenegran counterpart, Milan Rocen, to discuss the matter on his tour of Europe, which includes visits to Berlin, Sweden, and Lithuania concerning the strengthening of economic ties between the countries and anti-corruption measures.

A deal over billionaire Thaksin, found guilty of corruption by Thai courts and sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2008 - then accused of terrorism and warranted for arrest in 2010 - could lead to his extradition to Thailand. The Thai foreign ministry seeks to displace Thaksin’s promise of large investments in Montenegro with a set of bilateral trade agreements and to appeal to the country’s similar recent memories of violence and executive injustice - for Montenegrans, at the hands of the Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.

The meeting comes a month after the new Thai government’s widely reported plan for national reconciliation, which includes attempts to control the country’s news media accused by the state of inciting much of the recent turmoil. --David Black    

 

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed a customs code on Tuesday adding Belarus to the set of greater economic ties and standards among the countries. Critics claimed that Belarus was not to gain much from it --David Black    

 

A South African court has found Jackie Selebi, former National Commissioner of the South African Police Service and President of Interpol, guilty of corruption.  Of particular concern to the court were payouts amounting to over $150,000 that Selebi received from alleged drug lord Glen Agliotti, whom he has described as a “friend.”  There is ample evidence that Selebi performed favors for Agliotti, protecting him against investigation and prosecution.

Another close friend of Selebi’s is Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa from 1999 to 2008 and hired fellow African National Congress (ANC) member Selebi as chief of police.  Mbeki at first tried to protect Selebi from a trial, preventing him from being charged in 2007.  The chief prosecutor who ultimately charged Selebi in 2008 was fired for doing so without consulting his superiors.

Corruption is a serious problem in South Africa.  The Selebi case has brought a lot of publicity to the issue, and it is hoped that it will catalyze some positive change.  The South African daily BusinessDay ran an editorial with one good suggestion to prevent a repeat incident: South Africa should hire police commissioners based on their professional merit rather than political clout.

Selebi will be sentenced on July 14, and it is expected that he will receive 15 years in prison.   --Caroline Soussloff

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