DENPASAR, Indonesia — The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines has broken her silence and called on Manila to end extrajudicial killings. On Feb. 27, U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney said that human rights are critical to every democratic country and asked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to do all she can to stop the murderous spree. “Let’s beef up the human rights in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and make every effort to investigate, prosecute those responsible, [and] exonerate the innocent,” she said when pressed by reporters. Ambassador Kenney did not say whether the United States will be involved in the […]

TOKYO — With his cabinet’s popularity hitting new lows according to a poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the opportunity of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit last week to highlight one of his pet issues — the abduction by North Korean agents of up to 20 Japanese citizens. Abe’s tough stance on North Korea has always been a political trump card for him, bringing him to prominence under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. During Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002, he led negotiations on behalf of the families of those abducted, and then […]

A string of sectarian attacks and arrests over the last month demonstrate Pakistan’s continuing battle to eradicate Sunni-Shiite violence is far from over, despite Pakistani authorities’ repeated calls for unity and public actions against militant groups over the last six years. Observers worry that Sunni-Shiite violence across Iraq is feeding into Pakistan’s decades-long sectarian conflict, threatening the South Asian nation’s already-troubled efforts to contain militant groups. Homegrown violence only adds to Pakistan’s already significant worries over continued conflict in neighboring Afghanistan, persistent Taliban and al-Qaida presence in Pakistan, and widespread discontent with President Pervez Musharraf’s rule. “Each attack, small or […]

Since it first came to light a few years ago, the kidnapping of up to 17 Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s has captured the attention of the Japanese nation, influenced its domestic politics and become a central concern of Japanese foreign policy. And now, an American folk singer is bringing his talents to bear in an effort to bring some resolution to the situation. On Tuesday, Noel Paul Stookey, a member of the legendary group Peter, Paul and Mary, debuted his “Song for Megumi” at a Tokyo press conference attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — China’s warming relationship with the Southeast Asian military regime the West loves to hate is emerging as a vital element in solving one of Beijing’s biggest problems — energy security. The jungles of Burma now seem certain to provide a shortcut for oil from the Middle East and Africa to the Chinese border. With China scouring the world for oil and gas supplies to replace its own rapidly decreasing reserves, strategists have pondered the potential security problem posed for Beijing by the Malacca Strait, wedged between Indonesia and Malaysia and through which between 70 and 80 percent […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — Soon after marking the first year since 2002 without suffering a large-scale bomb attack, a small town in the middle of the religiously divided province of Central Sulawesi has become the main battlefield in Indonesia’s latest offensive in the war on terror. Seventeen Islamic radicals, believed to be members of the al-Qaida linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — Southeast Asia’s largest terror group — were killed during two January police raids in the small town of Poso. Many more were arrested and large caches of weapons were seized in what is the toughest-ever police crackdown in the area. […]

The first major character test for Turkmenistan’s new leadership has produced inconclusive results. While prominent environmentalist Andrey Zatoka is back at home with family and friends after a six-week judicial ordeal, Turkmen authorities sentenced him to a three-year suspended sentence for illegal arms possession in what human rights activists term a politically motivated trial. “This case is a litmus test that will determine how the new leadership will deal with political dissent and civil society,” says Erika Daily, Director of the Open Society Institute’s Turkmenistan Project. “In terms of how Zatoka was treated, this leadership proved itself no better than […]

HONG KONG — As the ousted dictator Saddam Hussein swung miserably from the gallows there were no shortage of political leaders — past and present, East and West — who were willing to express their dismay or a touch of glee. The political point scoring has abated since the December hanging. However, among the least noted to comment on the execution was a former Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, who defended the former Iraqi president and claimed “Saddam Hussein had a spirit of national love.” His comments were not surprising. Like Saddam Hussein, Nuon Chea expects to face trial on […]

KABUL, Afghanistan — The broken elevator at the Ministry of the Economy was not unexpected. A rolling blackout the night before had hit my downtown hotel, where taps ran dry depending on the time of day. But the blunt honesty of Minister Mohammad Jalil Shams had a sobering effect on an otherwise pleasant day in Kabul: Taliban insurgents and narcotics were this year’s bumper crops, he said, and if all goes well it will take at least a decade or two to win back public confidence eroded by a corrupt government that has failed to make good on promises of […]

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THE ONCE AND (ALMOST) CURRENT KING — Afghan President Hamid Karzai took time away from his country’s growing problems earlier this week to report to parliament on King Zahir’s improving condition following his hospitalization in India on Feb 4. King who? After living in exile in Rome for 27 years, 92-year-old former King Zahir Shah returned to Kabul in 2002 following the defeat of the Taliban. But for U.S. republican sensitivities he might well have ended up as Afghanistan’s restored monarch. In the loya jirga (tribal conference) that determined Afghanistan’s political future, the idea of restoration had strong support. Older […]

WASHINGTON — “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” may have prompted Americans to run and find Kazakhstan on a map. But another recent development appears to have a growing number of Washington insiders talking seriously about political discord in the massive former Soviet republic. A rising young Kazakh politician visited Washington recently trying drum up support from U.S. policy makers and journalists for his newly established and reform-minded Kazakh political party — the official registration of which he claims is being obstructed by his country’s “draconian law on political parties.” The second largest of […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — At precisely 7:09 a.m. on Feb. 24 Thailand will collectively hope for good luck. The army generals now running the country think the country needs uplifting and have decreed this date an apparently auspicious time for a bout of national “merit-making” to be led by senior Buddhist monks. The Land of Smiles, as the Tourist Authority of Thailand labels the country, has not had much to smile at recently. Since the military coup last September, the economy has slumped, bombs have killed people in Bangkok, cracks have appeared in the runways of the capital’s brand new $4 […]

Five years before the Islamic Revolution, Iran produced 6.1 million barrels of oil a day. By the end of 2006 the Iranian oil industry was only pumping 3.9 million barrels a day, 5 percent below its OPEC quota. Barely able to produce any oil for export or cope with escalating domestic demand, Iran’s energy industry has been sliding steadily toward crisis. Yet Iran’s oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s, and its gas supply is eclipsed only by Russia’s. Having vast energy reserves and the technology to extract and refine them, however, are two different things. A mega-deal struck […]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Former rebel turned governor, Irwandi Yusuf, stunned many with his victory in the first direct provincial election held in Indonesia’s once pro-secessionist province of Aceh on Dec.11, 2006. Yet, with post-election pleasantries now over, the former academic has a tough job ahead, as hefty expectations weigh on his three-year term, due to start on Feb. 8. Irwandi’s election is the direct result of the peace deal signed between the Indonesian government and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) in Helsinki, Finland, on Aug. 15, 2005. The peace ended a separatist war that had killed nearly 30,000 since 1976. […]

On Jan. 17, 2007, Philippines military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon confirmed that Abu Sulaiman, a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), died the previous day during a fierce gun battle with government troops on Jolo Island. His death represents a major blow to one of the world’s most notorious terror organizations. Abu Sayyaf (“Father of the Sword”) is primarily an indigenous movement based in the Muslim-dominated regions of the southern Philippines. Its stated goal is to promote an independent Islamic state encompassing western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, areas of the southern Philippines heavily populated by Moro Muslims, […]

Just two days after U.S. President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it was the turn of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lay out his government’s agenda. Abe’s policy speech to the Diet last Friday touched on similar themes — the need for stability in the Middle East, the character of the country’s children — and all against the back drop of troubling poll numbers. The key difference is that while Bush was making his speech after heavy losses in midterm elections, Abe is trying to avoid a similar routing in his country’s upper house […]

Since shortly before the inception of the Turkish Republic, in 1923, a journalist has been murdered on average every 1.5 years in Turkey, columnist Oktay Eksi recently lamented in the Hurriyet newspaper. In the last 15 years alone, according to a recent report of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “18 Turkish journalists have been killed for their work, making it the deadliest country in the world for journalists.” Like a blow from an axe, the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink two weeks ago has cut yet another deep gash into Turkey’s already embattled democratization and intellectual freedom. […]