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The international community has quickly and strongly condemned the coup d’état in the West African state of Mali after soldiers overthrew the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré last week. The country, which had been regarded as a strong model of democracy, was preparing to hold elections in April, and Touré had already announced he would be stepping aside rather than seeking a thrid term in office. But frustrated with the handling of the Tuareg insurgency in the north of the country, a group of mid-level officers from the military and security forces took matters into their own […]

After months of aggressive debates over the Middle East, the U.N. Security Council is starting to calm down. Last week the council released a statement supporting Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria — which calls for a U.N.-supervised cease-fire and an “inclusive Syrian-led political process” — signaling the change of mood. The Western powers reached consensus with Russia and China on the text, toning down and cutting controversial passages, after Moscow called for daily cease-fires to let humanitarian aid reach suffering Syrians. The contrast with the mood at the United Nations in February, when the Chinese and Russians vetoed a […]

Two decades of unprecedented political, economic and social transformations in Eastern and Central Europe have produced outcomes that were hardly expected when the region emerged from communist rule. Despite initial pessimism about the prospect of establishing liberal democracy, several countries have developed consolidated democratic systems, functioning market economies and efficient democratic states with extensive welfare policies and relatively low inequality. Similarly, although there were well-founded doubts as to whether East European civil societies would ever be able to recover from decades of communist suppression, vibrant free media and well-organized associational life have emerged there as well. These countries are not […]

The recent collapse of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring provides a backdrop to reflect on Latin America’s democratic transitions from authoritarian rule during the “Third Wave of Democratization” as well as to review the current health of the region’s democracies. Compared to the paucity of democracies in Latin America at the start of the Third Wave in the mid-1970s, the near-universal presence of democratic regimes today highlights the tremendous democratic progress made in the region over the past three-dozen years. Nevertheless, within this broader regional success exists considerable country-by-country variation in democratic […]

HONG KONG — Trouble is brewing in Hong Kong ahead of the vote on March 25 to choose the city’s next leader. A series of missteps have hobbled the one-time frontrunner in the race for chief executive, raising disturbing questions about whether he knows or simply ignores the laws he would be required to execute, and revealing how removed Hong Kong’s elite are from average people. The situation has put Beijing in a bind and raises the specter of a worst-case scenario involving mainland security forces deployed to restore order in the event of popular unrest following the voting. The […]

BOGOTA — Government and economic think-tank estimates may differ on the potential economic benefits of the recently approved Colombia-United States Free Trade Agreement, but one of the FTA’s goals has already been achieved: It has allowed the United States to reaffirm support for the Colombian government, still waging a nearly 50-year-long civil war against the FARC guerrilla insurgency and a two-decade battle against drug cartels. Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute, described the trade agreement as “a geopolitical tool in the guise of an economic deal.” For Tim Stater, an economic counselor at the United States Embassy […]

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On March 5, the advocacy group Invisible Children uploaded a 30-minute documentary about Joseph Kony, the rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The film was an effort to raise awareness about the LRA, which originated in Northern Uganda more than two decades ago and has since become known for its extreme brutality — including the kidnapping, rape and killing of tens of thousands of victims. Invisible Children achieved its goal: The video went viral, racking up 76 million views and counting, as the #StopKony hashtag flooded Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. But it has since been the subject […]

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The wave of Arab Spring uprisings, and the regime violence that followed in countries such as Libya and Syria, has led to new flows of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, with those numbers increasing as the violence in Syria escalates. “The Arab Spring has affected a whole range of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, but the effect on refugees and IDPs is limited to a smaller number of countries,” said Khalid Koser, who heads the New Issues in Security Program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy. “The first reason for this has to do with […]

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Economic volatility and a restrictive political system have prevented Vietnam from fulfilling its potential as a significant Southeast Asian actor. But with the “China+1” effect — where rising costs in the Middle Kingdom push investment and manufacturing to other locations — likely to gather momentum, and amid unusually strong signals of reform emanating from Hanoi, there is renewed cause for optimism. The incentives to change have never been greater, and after several false dawns, the opportunity now being presented to Vietnam may be too compelling for even the hard-liners to resist. With a young […]

Two years ago, when he held the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged Myanmar to hold democratic elections with the participation of all political parties. In light of Myanmar’s recent political opening, the question arises whether the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) is willing to take similar steps toward democratic reform in Vietnam. To begin, the differences between Vietnam’s situation and that of Myanmar bear noting. Prior to its recent political changes, Myanmar was isolated and regarded as a pariah state. By contrast, Vietnam has made major reforms since its introduction […]

A string of self-immolations and a dramatic crackdown in China’s Sichuan Province has kept Tibet in the public eye in recent months. Yet the deaths of 20 people in violent clashes Tuesday in China’s other restive border region, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, brought Beijing’s other major domestic crackdown back into the international spotlight. Xinjiang is home to a large population of ethnically Turkic Uighurs, who refer to their homeland as East Turkestan and have long resented Chinese rule. In recent years, restrictions on the use of the Uighur language in schools, an influx of Han Chinese migrants and curbs […]