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A BIG POLITICAL YEAR IN EUROPE — Politically, 2007 promises to be an action packed year in Europe, and here’s a sampling: In May, the French presidential elections will bring to a close the Chirac era and perhaps see the installation of France’s first woman president, the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. In Britain, another political career reaches its twilight when Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair makes way for his successor-in-waiting Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, either in September or earlier. Fresh trouble looms in Kosovo after the U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari in January presents his recommendations on what […]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Old-fashioned political graffiti still shouts calls for social change on the walls of Latin American cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Young idealists still preach the virtues of revolution, and an occasional taxi driver can startle you with an excited display of admiration for Colombia’s Marxist rebel leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda. Observing this scattered evidence of wishes to overthrow the system, one could easily be fooled into thinking democracy in Latin America is on shaky ground. A closer look, however, points to strong evidence that democracy is throwing deep roots in Latin soil. A few decades […]

MOSCOW — On Dec. 14, President Vladimir Putin flew by helicopter to personally inspect Russia’s first Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) unit equipped with the new mobile Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Three mobile Topol-Ms entered into operational deployment with the SMF division based in the town of Teikovo, about 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, on Dec. 10. Russia’s political and military leaders have long awaited the coming of the road-mobile Topol-M. The Votkinsk Machine-Building Plant manufactures both silo-based and road-mobile versions of the missile. Russia began deploying silo-based versions of the Topol-Ms in 1997 and now has about 45 of […]

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BRADFORD, England — Fogbound airports, a Christmas shopping frenzy and sordid headlines about a serial prostitute strangler conspired to blur the disclosure in Britain that a Somali man wanted over the murder of a police officer escaped the country disguised as a veiled Muslim woman. To the comfort of the London government and immigration authorities, national preoccupation with seasonal festivities has failed to trigger the level of controversy that ensued when a Muslim woman recently lost her job for refusing to remove her veil while working in a junior school. And yet the improbable masked escape of the wanted man […]

World leaders reacted with outrage to a Libyan court’s decision Dec. 19 to again sentence to death six medical workers charged with deliberately infecting of over 400 children with HIV. The continuing saga threatens to derail Moammar Qaddafi’s delicately crafted attempts to re-engage with the international community. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice said the United States was “very disappointed with the outcome” and would like to see the medical workers released and “allowed to go home at the earliest possible date.” Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called the decision “exceedingly cruel.” “I am shocked by this kind of decision. It’s […]

On Dec. 22, the Russian government succeeded in its long-standing campaign to wrest control of the country’s largest single foreign investment project — the $22 billion natural gas development on the Russian Pacific island of Sakhalin. The project includes the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and related export facilities built in Russia. According to the deal, Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., and Mitsubishi Corp. will each surrender half of their shares in the Sakhalin Energy consortium. In their place, OAO Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly, has taken a majority (50 percent plus one share) stake in […]

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TALKING TURKEY TO THE TURKS — European Union uncertainty about whether Turkey will ultimately make the cut and join the union continues. One senior European diplomat in Washington said outright Friday that, in his opinion, it will not happen. He said the Turks are beginning to come to the same conclusion, although “they tell us to keep saying that their application for membership is under consideration.” Following last week’s EU summit, a document called “Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2006-2007” was circulated among member governments listing areas where Turkey and other aspiring countries, including Croatia and Albania, need to improve […]

Iraqi Shiite politicians and religious leaders are meeting in Najaf this weekend in the hope of overcoming factional differences and reaching agreement on at least a temporary halt in violence by their militias. The key figure in the negotiations is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite spiritual leader who lives in Najaf and who was recently reported to be furious with the record levels of attacks by Shiite Muslim militia and Sunni insurgents. Sistani, who hardly ever makes public pronouncements, was recently reported as calling for a joint effort by Shiites, Sunni, and Kurds to halt Iraq’s sectarian strife. […]

MOSCOW — The Russian government has resumed its attacks on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), criticizing it for focusing too much on democracy and human rights to the neglect of security and economic issues. The United States, meanwhile, is resisting functional changes to the organization while calling for increased attention to the area of the former Soviet Union. The OSCE is perhaps Europe’s most comprehensive security institution in terms of both membership and areas of responsibility. It has 55 member states — including Canada, the United States, Russia and most European and Central Asian countries — […]

NAIROBI, Kenya — Three years after the African Union began planning to establish a robust African Standby Force for peacekeeping missions, progress continues despite funding challenges and the reality check of a difficult AU peacekeeping mission in Sudan. The AU peacekeeping mission deployed in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has failed to prevent violence against civilians, and that conflict has now spread into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. The dilemma facing Gen. Luke Afrazi, the Nigerian commander of African peacekeepers in Darfur, highlights the resource demands placed on peacekeeping missions. Afrazi has watched from the sidelines as Sudanese militias, […]

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Angarsk, a city of about 270,000 in southeastern Siberia, is the home of the Angarsk Electrolyzing and Chemical Combine, a plant created to enrich uranium for the Soviet nuclear program. Throughout its history, the plant has been a restricted area — closed to all foreign visitors. On Nov. 28, 2006, however, the state-funded Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that the Russian government has decided to remove the Angarsk plant from its list of restricted areas. Soon, according to the report, Angarsk will become the site of the world’s first “international uranium enrichment center” (IUEC). Enriched uranium fuel is required by […]

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazil defies definition. Its contrasts and contradictions are everywhere — from the Europeans of the south to the African heritage of Bahia, the megalopolis of Sao Paulo to the untouched remoteness of the Amazon, the joyous samba amid the chronic gun violence of the shanty settlements. It has world-class companies like energy giant Petrobras, but in many ways is a highly uncompetitive economy. But the most overwhelming contrast is between the fabulously wealthy and the desperately poor. By every international measurement, Brazil is one of the most unequal societies on earth, a condition that has […]

Kenyans heaved a collective sigh of relief this month following President Mwai Kibaki’s rejection of a huge pay raise given to him by the country’s sleaze-ridden parliament. Kibaki, the country’s third president, caved in to public pressure Dec. 13 and declined a hefty salary increase that would have netted him more than $44,000 a month. But Kenyans remain suspicious of their corrupt politicians, always scheming to rob the public purse. The country has reportedly lost over $1 billion — nearly a fifth of its state budget — to corruption since Kibaki took office in 2002. Elected on an anti-corruption ticket […]

On Dec. 18, President George Bush signed into law the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act (H.R. 5682). On Dec. 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang had resolved months of ambiguity by indicating Beijing’s acceptance of the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. In response to a question about the proposed legislation, Qin Gang said: “We consider the cooperation between countries to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will be beneficial to maintain the principles and effectiveness of international nuclear nonproliferation.” U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Singh announced in July 2005 they would pursue a bilateral […]

PIRIƁPOLIS, Uruguay — Workers in this Uruguayan town have been busily crafting the finishing touches on beachfront shops and restaurants. The Southern Hemisphere’s summer is arriving to this time-travelers’ destination, a place oddly reminiscent of a mid-century resort in the South of France. With summer’s arrival, hordes of tourists from neighboring countries should start rolling in at any moment. As laborers toiled here, somewhere else in the continent a modern brand of Latin American professionals wrapped their work on a more ambitious project. South America’s new crop of leftist leaders met in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to chart a course of regional […]

DAMACUS, Syria — The Iraq Study Group report said what Damascus wanted to hear about the urgency for a change of U.S. policy in Iraq and the need to engage both Damascus and Tehran in Iraqi affairs to minimize, if not end, the rising sectarian violence. Speaking to Al-Jazeera television recently, Buthaina Shaaban, Syria’s minister of expatriate affairs, said that the report was a “very important step because it means ending this era of American meddling in the region and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.” Damascus has long objected to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and it has […]

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TONY’S LONG GOODYE — Until recently the received wisdom in Whitehall was that British Prime Minister Tony Blair would announce his resignation in early May, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown stepping into his shoes in June. But political developments have forced the pace of his departure, says a knowledgeable insider in London, and he will very probably quit 10 Downing Street in early March.<<ad>>Some time around May, the Labor government faces a very difficult election in Scotland where its strength is being challenged by the Scottish Nationalist Party; and the last thing Brown — a Scotsman — wants […]

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