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THE INDEX — February 10, 2010

Political tensions in Sri Lanka escalated this Wednesday as protesters took to the streets in the capital city of Colombo in response to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision on Tuesday to dissolve parliament and the arrest of his defeated presidential opponent, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. A correspondent for al Jazeera who was stationed in Colombo observed: “When they [the opposition] were assembling, basically, there was a counter-demonstration that was put together by pro-government supporters. There was a lot of tension between both groups and clashes broke out. Subsequently, the pro-government supporters have dispersed, but the opposition protesters remain.” In the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s January 26 election, which saw the incumbent, Rajapaksa, defeat his main challenger, Fonseka, by over 18 percentage points, a war of words erupted. Fonseka accused Rajapaksa of election tampering, while Rajapaksa accused Fonseka of plotting to overthrow his government in a coup. The dissolution of parliament and the arrest of Fonseka, however, threaten to push the small island nation into a full-scale political crisis. “We will keep agitating, because there is no basis for his [Fonseka’s] arrest," said opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. “We demand his release immediately.” Rajapaksa and Fonseka were political allies in the government’s recent closure of its violent, decades-long civil war with Tamil separatists in the north. However, the alliance between the two men ruptured during a particularly intense presidential campaign, with some observers questioning whether the military’s strong show of support for Fonseka posed a threat to Rajapaksa’s rule.

The presidential crisis that threatened to stall the bureaucracy of Africa’s most populous nation may finally be coming to a close, as Nigeria’s vice-president, Jonathan Goodluck, assumed the responsibilities of the government’s highest office yesterday. “The circumstances in which I find myself assuming office today as acting president of our country are uncommon, sober, and reflective,” Goodluck said during a speech that aired on Nigerian television Tuesday evening. For the past 79 days, Nigeria’s president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, has been out of the country receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. Yar’Adua left Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, without temporarily handing over power to his VP, which had the effect of stalling all manner of business—from approving the government’s FY 2010 budget, to attending to the security crisis that befell Nigeria in the aftermath of the attempted Christmas day bombing of a U.S.-bound flight, which was undertaken by a Nigerian national. In mid-January, Yar’Adua released a brief recording that aired on BBC and Nigerian radio, in which he assured the public that he was alive and well, and would return to Nigeria as soon as his doctors permitted. But with the growing need for government business to once again resume at full capacity (and an increasingly worried citizenry), judges and lawmakers in Lagos this past week paved the way for Goodluck to take over the reins of power. In his speech to the nation, which lasted approximately five minutes, Goodluck acknowledged the difficulties of the past several months, but urged all Nigerians to join together in attending to the business of the country. “The events of the recent past have put to the test, our collective resolve as a democratic nation,” Goodluck said. “I am delighted to note that our nation has demonstrated resilience and unity of purpose. Today affords us time to reconnect with ourselves and overcome any suspicions, hurts and doubts, which had occurred.”
Officials in Iran are preparing for possible protests on Wednesday as the country celebrates 31 years of the Islamic Republic, marking the anniversary of the overthrow the U.S.-backed shah on February 11, 1979. Earlier this week, Iranian authorities arrested several individuals whom they claim were preparing to disrupt the official festivities in Tehran. “We are closely watching the activities of the sedition movement, and several people who were preparing to disrupt the February 11 rallies were arrested,” said Tehran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam. No details of the backgrounds or identities of those in custody were offered. Opposition leaders have reportedly encouraged their supporters to attend all government rallies “silently, but as strongly as before,” while warning supporters to avoid provoking government authorities in ways that could lead to violent clashes. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities released public statements about their intent to continue enriching stockpiles of uranium. While the government assured domestic and international audiences that such enrichment was for medical research only, the announcement prompted President Obama to formally seek strong sanctions against the republic. “What we are going to be working on over the next several weeks is developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to them [the Iranian government] how isolated they are from the international community as a whole,” Obama said Tuesday. “Despite the posturing that the nuclear power is only for civilian use...they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization, and that is not acceptable to the international community." He also noted that the United States would be joined by Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany in sanctions negotiations. Obama’s mention of China was particularly significant, given Beijing’s previous reluctance to restrict trade with the Islamic Republic. Currently, China is Iran’s largest trading partner.
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