Monday, February 11, 2008

International News Summaries


Turkey's parliament has voted in favor of overturning a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.
In the 1980s the headscarf was also prohibited at all universities, declared a symbol of political Islam.

Turkey's current government, led by religious conservatives, has long pledged to overturn that.

But it is a highly controversial and divisive issue.

[BBC News]

[Related Story at Yahoo/UK: FACTBOX - Policies on Muslim scarves and veils in Europe]

Dutch Cabinet wants school burqa ban
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) The Dutch Cabinet said Friday it wants to ban burqas from all schools and prevent government employees from wearing the head-to-toe Islamic robes, but said it was impossible to outlaw them altogether.
In a policy letter to Parliament, the Cabinet said it would send a proposal to lawmakers within a few months on banning burqas in schools and said it would push government offices to forbid burqas in their staff dress regulations.

The move is largely symbolic as only around 150 women are believed to wear burqas in this country of 16 million. But it is another sign of the turning tide of Dutch tolerance as the nation seeks to assimilate its Muslim population of about 840,000.

"I value being able to look somebody in the eye," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said, referring to the fact that the robes cover a woman's face. "I find it unpleasant."

Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said the Cabinet concluded there was no need to legislate a total burqa ban. "Many organizations already have tools with which they can prohibit the wearing of a burqa," she said.

The government has been under pressure from conservative parties to ban burqas outright and Friday's announcement is unlikely to satisfy those calls. But legal experts have said that a total ban would be unconstitutional and breach international agreements.



Russia ready for re-match over Kosovo
A far more confident Russia now is poised for a re-match on behalf of its Serb ally, after Kosovo Albanians declare the province independent of Serbia on Sunday.

Russia can't stop independence but has blocked recognition by the United Nations, where it plans a legal challenge. This could help Serbia deprive the new state of the Serb-majority enclave in the hinterland of the northern city of Mitrovica.


Serbia Worries over Kosovo
Slobodan Samardzic08 February 2008 Belgrade _ Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo has said that, according to intelligence reports, UN-administered Kosovo is to declare its independence from Serbia on February 17.

"Information we are receiving indicates that [Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim] Thaci will illegally declare Kosovo’s independence on February 17," Slobodan Samardzic, said after meeting senior EU official Stefan Lehne on Friday.

Earlier this week the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore said independence would be declared on February 17, a day before EU foreign ministers are due to meet. Read more

Samardzic, a close associate of conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said that "the European Union cannot expect Serbia to sign off on Kosovo’s independence" by signing a political and trade agreement, offered by the 27-nation bloc.

Kostunica is opposed to the agreement, arguing that it would amount to Belgrade’s implicit endorsement for the EU’s policy of backing Kosovo’s forthcoming independence with a police and justice mission.

Serbia's government has been on the verge of collapse this week after both the cabinet and parliament were blocked from meeting by rival supporters of the prime minister and the much more pro-European President, Boris Tadic.

[Balkan Insight]

Russian proposes new U.S. dialogue
Russia on Sunday proposed a new strategic dialogue with the United States with the aim of re-starting arms control talks and establishing closer cooperation in combating terrorism. The proposals, outlined in a speech by Sergei Ivanov, Russia's deputy prime minister and a former defense minister, marked a shift in tone and content, compared with a speech last week by President Vladimir Putin and a speech Putin delivered at the Munich Security Conference here a year ago. In both cases, Putin had spoken of a new arms race, laying the blame squarely on the United States, particularly its plans to base pieces of an anti-ballistic missile shield in Eastern Europe. But Sunday, Ivanov, speaking in English in the presence of Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, and scores of foreign and defense ministers, adopted a new style.


Bosnian Serbs Meet on Constitution
February 2008 Banja Luka - The six main Bosnian Serb parties have adopted a joint platform on planned changes to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution.

The platform envisages keeping the key elements of the Dayton peace accord that ended the 1992-95 war, and left the country divided into two entities, initially arranged along ethnic boundaries. [..]

[..] After meeting representatives of the six parties on Monday, the recently-elected Bosnian Serb President, Rajko Kuzmanovic, said that "the Dayton peace accord must be the basis for further talks about constitutional changes."

The international community has been pressing for amendments to the constitution since 2005.

[Balkan Insight]


Burma promises democratic elections
Military leaders' plans for a new constitution, followed by democratic elections, is met with skepticism and international criticism.

[Christian Science Monitor]
[Related story at BBC News]


Elmo Has a Question: Who Voted For the Kurd? by Weam Namou - 2/10/2008
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that participation had "exceeded all expectations." Meanwhile, President Bush remarked, "By participating in free elections .. [Iraqi] men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of freedom and peace." Typical Bush administration, an American would say.

These elections no more reflected the will of the Iraqi people than did the elections held between 1925 and 1958 under the British occupation. During that time, the British struggled to end the violence while teaching Iraq democracy and keeping their foot in the door. They came up with this solution: place on the throne an Iraqi king, foreign born, and surround him by expatriate military officers who had spent most of their adult lives elsewhere. Sounds familiar?

The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties. Already in the colonial period before 1776 most adult white men could vote. American women have had the right to vote since 1920, and they’re almost equal in number to American men, but their political roles have been minimal. Not until 1984 did a major party choose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro of New York, to run for vice-president. And it wasn’t until 1965 that the United States arrived to a complete form of democracy, allowing African-Americans to vote.

In America, there are 81.7% whites and 12.9% blacks. (2003 est.), nearly the same figures as Arabs vs. Kurds in Iraq. But while after hundreds of years of democracy, America hasn’t yet voted a black man for president, Iraq, a tribal nation, has appointed an outsider, a former enemy, as its leader? That’s like America, on the basis of him speaking English, electing someone with an Arabic accent as U.S. president.

[Global Politician]