PARIS — On July 1, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, a role it will exercise for the next six months. It’s a moment that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been preparing for since last year, and anxiously awaiting since at least January, when his popularity among French voters suddenly plummeted. With the impact of his domestic reforms stymied by the increased cost of fuel and food commodities, and his image tarnished by personal excesses and professional lapses, Sarkozy was counting on using the parallel track of the EU presidency to reinject some dynamism into his […]

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Sultanahmet courthouse, in the heart of medieval Istanbul, is a drab 1960s building, with the pedestrian look of a place where unexceptional bureaucratic business is conducted. The courtroom, with its peeling gray walls, looks like a dusty schoolroom. But the courthouse’s unremarkable appearance belies the importance of the decisions being weighed there. It was there, in May, that members of a leading Islamist creationist organization, the Science Research Foundation (SRF), were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of engaging in illegal threats and creating a criminal organization. The protracted trial, bookended by the 1998 banning […]

On June 5, Turkey’s Constitutional Court struck down a proposed amendment that would have allowed Muslim students to wear headscarves in the country’s public universities. According to the court’s judgment, the entirety of which has not yet been released, such an amendment would have undermined one of the pillars of the Turkish state — the constitutionally unalterable provision that the country remain a strictly secular republic. On the face of it, the court’s ruling was a legal matter, a question of how far the state could go in limiting religious expression. And in most other circumstances a decision of this […]

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Still today, whenever there are elections in the small Balkan country of Macedonia, the alarm bells start going off in the EU. Nowadays, however, the principal conflict in Macedonia is not between ethnic Macedonians and the ethnic Albanians who constitute some 25 percent of the population of the country. The violence that broke out on election day earlier this month was the result of a worsening power struggle within the local Albanian community itself. Despite heavy security and the deployment of some 13,000 police, the parliamentary elections on June 1 were yet again marred by irregularities. Armed […]

CHITWAN and KATMANDU, Nepal — Four years ago, Hardik dropped out of his university-level science studies in the Nepali capital, Katmandu, to join Maoist insurgents in the bush. Admittedly scared sick at first, he said the rigors of guerilla warfare hardened his resolve to oust a ruling monarchy hopelessly out of touch with Nepal’s poverty. Today Hardik is one of more than 23,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army idling in U.N.-monitored ceasefire camps, where weapons are locked away and his free time is spent doing English grammar exercises or playing the flute. “There is no such thing as perpetual […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Opinion polls indicate that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono remains Indonesia’s most popular politician. This is not little comfort for the man who has helmed the country for the last four years and is set to contest for a second term in 2009. But it is not all good news for the former four-star general. Accusations of religious intolerance have continued to gain ground in Indonesia and, in the next few days, Yudhoyono is expected to make two potentially contentious rulings on religious matters. Yudhoyono has been called on to decide whether to ban Ahmadiyah, a religious sect […]

With a whimper went President Bush’s last, best chance for a positive legacy in international affairs. Last week administration officials conceded to the Financial Times that India would not approve a nuclear cooperation pact with Washington during Bush’s tenure. In March 2006, President Bush signed a nuclear agreement in New Delhi designed to pull the world’s largest democracy closer to the world’s last superpower and dramatically alter Asia’s balance of power. With Asia’s economic rise, it is widely assumed that the continent’s political emergence will follow in the coming decades. By agreeing to cooperate with India on nuclear issues — […]

Today (June 15) the government of Kosovo will enforce the territory’s constitution, which aims to pass authority over the territory from the U.N. to the EU. The U.N. secretary general’s attempt last week to square this move with international law creates the potential for institutional conflict, de facto partition and prolonged insecurity over Kosovo’s status. The U.N. has administered the territory under resolution 1244 since 1999, when a NATO bombardment drove out Serbian forces brutalizing Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Serbia, with the backing of Russia, a U.N. Security Council member, have since resisted any move towards independence, with most Serbs […]

In the political minefield that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue of Jerusalem hangs like a hornet’s nest on a limb over a pile of unexploded ordnance. That’s why many people caught their breath last week when Sen. Barack Obama, fresh from securing the Democratic nomination, walked through that field and stood face to face with the humming problem. Obama grabbed the Jerusalem hornet’s nest and shook it hard. Or at least it seemed that way for about 24 hours. Speaking before the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee June 4, the pro-Israel lobby, Obama reassured Israel […]

It’s a sign of the weakness of the Republican Party and its nominee that Sen. John McCain’s best chance of victory may lie in championing the hugely unpopular war in Iraq. Polls indicate that most Americans wish the war had never started, and would like to see American troops pulled out of the country sooner rather than later. At the same time, though, Americans have a much more positive impression of the conduct of the war since early 2007. The troop surge, which which began that January, saw not only a temporary increase in American troops but also the introduction […]

On June 12, Irish voters will go to the polls to say “yea” or “nay” to the proposed Lisbon Treaty to reform the workings of the European Union. To say that the Irish electorate has been unenthusiastic about the debate on this treaty would be an understatement. For one thing, a huge majority have not read this treaty. This is hardy surprising: A troupe of constitutional lawyers would be required to make sense of this dense, jargon-laden document, which cannot be read at all without reference to earlier, equally complex, European treaties. Ireland’s taoiseach, or prime minister, Brian Cowen, has […]

Part I: Series Introduction PARIS — Since the time of Gen. De Gaulle, France’s posture towards the United States can be summed up in the familiar expression, “Friend, ally, non-aligned.” A source of French pride and American distrust, the formula has haunted France’s historically stormy relationship with NATO, and served as the geopolitical expression of l’exception fran├žaise, France’s cultural identity of exceptionalism. It took on added significance since the emergence of the European Union, of which France was and remains a driving force. The need to balance its two principle relationships — one a strategic alliance with political implications, the […]

SEOUL, South Korea — Massive demonstrations have forced South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to renege on a trade agreement made with Washington in April. Lee had pledged to lift his country’s five-year-old ban on American beef that was first imposed after an outbreak of mad cow disease in Washington state. For the past month, tens of thousands of South Koreans have held almost nightly candlelight vigils to express their opposition to the beef deal. They say Lee has put the nation’s health at risk because too many restrictions were eased on cow parts that they think are more likely to […]

NAIROBI, Kenya — “We hurriedly buried the seven in the shallow grave and fled due to fears of attacks,” explained cattle farmer Joseph Mwangi-Macharia last month as armed police accompanying him went through the motions of unearthing the bodies of his entire family, unwitting victims of the violence that followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 election. “This was my lovely wife. They decapitated her when she pleaded that they spare her 18-year-old granddaughter,” said the 52-year old Mwangi-Macharia amid sobs, “Why in God’s name did they have to kill her in this fashion?” As the seven bodies were interred in Kenya’s […]

This year, American children born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, literally a generation ago, will vote in a presidential election for the first time. They will join a group of voters born and raised during the long struggle against communism and now entering retirement. On Feb. 12 of this year, the nation’s first baby boomer — born on January 1, 1946 — collected her first social security check. In 2008, the long shadow cast by the Cold War will finally start to recede. Both baby boomers and so-called “millennials” seek a president that can address the most obvious […]

The visit last month to China by Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung was the clearest example so far of the recent thaw in relations between the mainland and the island it claims as its own. The shift in atmosphere is in marked contrast to the tensions evident under the eight-year rule of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, during which both sides would periodically ratchet up tensions — China by threatening the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and Chen by pressing for independence. China appears determined to capitalize on the new mood since incoming Taiwanese […]

The situation grows more perilous by the day in the small nation of Yemen, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Every day come new reports of mosque bombings, attacks on Western embassies, regrouping of terrorist organizations, and rebel advances towards the capital, Sana. In the face of such threats, the government has toughened its stance — against journalists. Yemen has been freeing convicted terrorists, while imprisoning journalists. The most troubling case involves the respected Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, an outspoken advocate of democracy and press freedom, who faces a possible death sentence when he returns to court on June […]

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