The Guardian: Tunisian Prime Minister and former lackey of Ben Ali Has Resigned

Tunisia was thrown into turmoil once more after Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned as prime minister of the post-revolution government amid further clashes between police and protestors. The interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, named the former government minister Beji Caid-Essebsi as Ghannouchi’s replacement.

Ghannouchi said he felt forced to stand down “because I am not willing to be a person that takes decisions that would end up causing casualties”. He made the announcement after three people died on Saturday and nine others were injured during outbreaks of violence on the streets of the capital, Tunis.

Tunisia’s interim coalition has struggled to assert its authority since a wave of protests that started in December sparked what was called the “jasmine revolution”, leading to the overthrow in January of president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 23 years.Protestors have targeted Ghannouchi, accusing him of being too close to the former government. They have also become frustrated over the slow pace of change since the revolution despite the interim government’s pledge to hold a general election by 15 July this year.

Ghannouchi, 69, who since 1989 had held various ministerial posts under the old regime, told a news conference he had thought carefully about the decision. “I am not running away from responsibility,” he said. “This is to open the way for a new prime minister.” He added: “This resignation will serve Tunisia, and the revolution and the future of Tunisia.”

On a third day of clashes, police fired tear gas and warning shots in an effort to disperse stone-throwing youths and protesters shouting anti-government slogans around Habib Bourguiba avenue in central Tunis. More than 100 people were arrested and accused of “acts of destruction and burning”, according to a statement by the Tunisian interior ministry put out by the state-run news agency Tunis Afrique Presse.

Demonstrators want the interim government disbanded along with the current parliament. They also seek the suspension of the constitution and the formation of an elected assembly that can write another, organise elections and oversee the transition to democracy.


Sovereigns of the Week: Indian Students from Bihar India

As reported on BBC.

Devendra Ram was overjoyed when he first saw a factory being built near his village in Bihar.  It was an asbestos factory and the villagers were told it would provide jobs in Muzaffarpur district, an area where farm incomes had long been dwindling. But then the children of the village got involved.

Mr Ram’s teenage son, Hare Krishna, told him about what he had learned in school. In his biology and chemistry lessons at the government-run school, he found out about the harmful effects of asbestos. On hearing that an asbestos factory was going to be built in their village, Hare Krishna and other students launched a protest. They told their farmer parents about the potentially deadly nature of asbestos.

Then they too got involved in the campaign against the factory. The protests against the factory have been so fierce that construction work has come to a temporary halt.

Protest movement

It has been an acrimonious battle. Police fired on protesting villagers last month, injuring three farmers. More than 24 people have been injured in baton charges. Campaigners say this could be the first time that students have launched a protest movement on the back of lessons learned in school. It is remarkable, not just for the vociferous nature of the protest but also because this is a poor, remote area with high levels of illiteracy.

Villager Vinod Kumar Singh said his teenage daughter, Sonam, took the lead in convincing her mother and other women in the village. “She literally forced us to oppose the set-up of the factory,” he said.

 Sonam says she will not stop educating villagers “until everybody comes out to oppose” the factory. “If the government allows the factory they should first burn our school books in which they teach us about the deadly effects of asbestos,” said Sonam. Villagers surrounding her clapped and nodded vigorously in agreement. The movement has caught the attention of India’s environmentalists and prominent social workers, including Medha Patkar.

And India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has sought details about the factory from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Mr Kumar said a consensus must be built across the country on the use of asbestos. Meanwhile, the schoolchildren of Muzaffarpur are demonstrating every day to make people aware of the hazardous effects of the “asbestos dust”.

Fears unfounded

But a manager at the company setting up the factory says the fears of the villagers are unfounded. “There are no protests against the factories in these areas. Unlike blue asbestos, white asbestos is harmless. The villagers are being mis-informed,” he said.

One form of asbestos, white asbestos, is widely used in the developing world, but is banned on health grounds in many industrialised countries. The World Health Organisation says it too is associated with diseases such as mesothelioma, lung and other cancers, but its promoters say it is safe if used properly.

But the villagers are not satisfied with Mr Tiwari’s explanations. They say that school text books approved by the Bihar government itself show that all forms of asbestos are not only harmful but also cause deadly diseases such as cancer. “Come what may, we will not allow the factory to come up,” the villagers chanted in unison.

Foreign Policy: Inside the Secret US-Pakistan Meeting in Oman

A host of top U.S. military officials held a secret day-long meeting with Pakistan’s top military officers on Tuesday in Oman to plot a course out of the diplomatic crisis that threatens the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The United States was represented by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, Stars and Stripes reported. The Pakistani delegation included Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, and Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations.

The meeting was planned long ago and covered various aspects of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, but a large portion was dedicated to the diplomatic crisis surrounding Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, last month after fatally shooting two armed Pakistani men.

“Where do you go to think seriously and bring sanity to a maddening situation? Far from the madding crowd to a peaceful Omani luxury resort of course. So that’s what the military leadership of the US and Pakistan did,” wrote Gen. Jehangir Karamat in a read out of the meeting obtained by The Cable and confirmed by a senior Pakistani official. Karamat is a former chief of Pakistan’s army, and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2004.

“The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled,” Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.

In Oman U.S. officials implored the Pakistani military to step up its involvement in the Davis case, following the Pakistani government’s decision to pass the buck to the judicial system on adjudicating Davis’ claim of diplomatic immunity. However, their concerns also went beyond this most recent diplomatic spat.

“[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures,” Karamat wrote. “These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.”

“The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.” A senior Pakistani official confirmed the accuracy of Karamat’s analysis to The Cable. The official said that the Davis incident would hopefully now be put on a path toward resolution following a feeding frenzy in the Pakistani media, which has reported on rumors of an extensive network of CIA contract spies operating outside of the Pakistani government’s or the ISI’s knowledge.

“The idea is to find a solution whereby the Davis incident does not hijack the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,” the official said. The most probable outcome, the official explained, is that Davis would be turned over to the United States, following a promise from the U.S. government to investigate the incident.

The United States would also compensate the families of the two Pakistani men killed by Davis, and a third man who died after two other U.S. embassy personnel ran him over while racing to the scene of the shooting. Negotiations between U.S. officials and the family members are already underway, the official said.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said that it was the responsibility of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, led until recently by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to resolve the Davis case. Qureshi was removed as Foreign Minister after reportedly refusing to go along with the government’s plan to grant Davis immunity.

It’s really the Foreign Ministry’s responsibility,” said Nawaz, “But in the absence of action by the civilian government, if the military can help persuade them to resolve this matter and find the way, that’s all for the better.”

But once the Davis case is resolved, there’s still much work to be done in repairing the relationship between the CIA and the ISI. The ISI is widely suspected of airing its anger with the CIA in both the Pakistani and U.S. media. The latest example was Wednesday’s Associated Press story that featured a never-before released ISI “statement” that said the Davis case was putting the entire ISI-CIA relationship in jeopardy.

The CIA and the ISI are talking, the Pakistani official said, but the path toward reconciliation will be a long one.

“It’s a spy game being played out in the media and the CIA has told the ISI to cut it out,” the official said. “The relationship remains testy. But after the meeting between Mullen and Kayani the likelihood of some resolution has increased.”

Inside the Pakistani government, the Davis case has exacerbated internal tensions between the civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the ISI. Pakistani news agencies have been reporting that the Pakistani embassy in Washington has approved hundreds of visas for American officials without proper vetting, increasing the ease with which covert CIA operatives could enter the country.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani has denied that any visas had been issued from his embassy without proper authorization. An analysis of Pakistani visas granted to U.S. government employees, conducted by the Pakistani government, shows there has been no significant increase in the number of visas issued since 2007.

Regardless, the gentlemen’s agreement between the ISI and the CIA that the two organizations would keep each other informed on each other’s actions in Pakistan has now broken down. “It’s a vicious circle. Davis was in Pakistan because Pakistan can’t be trusted. But Davis getting caught has increased the mistrust,” the Pakistani official said. “Their interests are no longer congruent. Eventually the ISI and the CIA will have to work out new rules of engagement.”

BBC: Tripoli protesters ‘under fire’

Anti-government protesters in Tripoli have come under heavy gunfire, latest reports from the Libyan capital say
. Protests in the city resumed as protesters seeking the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi emerged from mosques following Friday prayers. There has been a heavy security presence around the city’s mosques in recent days.

Libyan TV says medical sources in Tripoli are denying reports that three people have been killed. The UN has said reports from Libya indicate thousands may have been killed or injured in recent days during the government crackdown.  International efforts to co-ordinate a response to the Libya crisis are clearly gathering pace, after some criticism that it’s taken too long.

A number of European nations have been mobilising their militaries to assist in evacuation efforts. With increasing military assets arriving on the scene, some Nato members clearly think co-ordinating and supporting these efforts is something that perhaps Nato could and should do.

Any alliance involvement is likely at first to be limited to that. But international concern over events has been mounting, and questions are being raised about what contingencies – including military ones – are being planned, should the situation on the ground deteriorate further, and foreign nationals become stranded.

There continues to be talk of a possible no-fly zone. Would Nato become involved in that? The obstacles include whether there is an appetite or a consensus to establish one, whether it would really have much impact, and who might enforce it. For Nato, Italy and France probably have the nearest suitable air bases, or perhaps Greece. Otherwise, it might be a case of the United States, France, Italy or Spain deploying aircraft carriers. Clearly, that would be a major step.

For the past week, fighting has raged outside the capital between anti-government forces and troops loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, who has been in power for 42 years. Around Tripoli, an elite brigade commanded by Col Gaddafi’s son Khamis is believed to be dug in. In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council is meeting in special session for the first time to discuss the crisis in Libya. Libya is an elected member of the council but some members have called for it to lose its seat.

“In brazen and continuing breach of international law, the crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters,” said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN World Food Programme has said Libya’s food supply chain is at risk of collapse because imports have not been not getting into the country and food distribution is hampered by violence. Nato ambassadors are currently holding emergency talks on the situation in Libya, bu t Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the Western military alliance has no intention of intervening in Libya.

Thousands of foreign nationals from Nato member states have been fleeing the violence in Libya, which has gripped much of the country in the past week. The evacuations posed a “massive challenge”, Mr Rasmussen said.

‘Long memory’

Evacuations by sea continued on Friday, somewhat hampered by rough weather. “The violence we have seen is appalling and unacceptable,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “People working for this regime… should remember that international justice has a long reach and a long memory.”

In Paris, Libyan opposition supporters occupied the Libyan embassy. Both the ambassadors to France and to the UN cultural agency Unesco have announced they are joining the opposition. Libyan state TV has said the government will give each family 500 dinars (£250; $400) to cover increased food costs, while some public sector workers will receive a pay rise of 150%.

However, much of the country is now in the hands of anti-government forces. Col Gaddafi has blamed the uprising on al-Qaeda, saying young people have been given hallucinogenic drugs to incite them to revolt.

BBC: King of Saudi Arabia attempts to buy his way into the people’s hearts

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has announced increased benefits for his citizens, as he returned after months abroad getting medical treatment. There will be extra funds for housing, studying abroad and social security, according to state television.

King Abdullah has been away from the country for three months, during which time mass protests have changed the political landscape of the Middle East. There have been few demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional sword dance at Riyadh airport and dozens of princes gathered to greet the king on his arrival – including Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa.

King Abdullah left for New York on 22 November and had two operations to repair spinal vertebrae and a herniated disc. After a period of convalescence at his New York home, the 86-year-old flew to Morocco on 22 January and had been recuperating there since. By that time, Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had become the first leader in the region to be ousted after weeks of mass protests – and he had fled to Saudi Arabia.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of King Abdullah, was the next to go. The younger generation were prominent in both protest movements and among the measures announced ahead of the king’s return were plans to tackle unemployment. Among the 15 – 24 age group, unemployment in Saudi Arabia is reported to be almost 40%.

Paul Krugman: Wisconsin Power Play

Last week, in the face of protest demonstrations against Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor, Scott Walker — demonstrations that continued through the weekend, with huge crowds on Saturday — Representative Paul Ryan made an unintentionally apt comparison: “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.”

It wasn’t the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn’t mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did — after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away. In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.

But Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.

The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning — are exempted from the ban; it’s as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power. In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions. You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

BBC: Gaddafi faces a deafening opposition, leaders and diplomats of regime defecting to Opposition

Pressure has mounted on isolated Libyan ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi after a chorus of international condemnation and resignations by top officials. The man considered the colonel’s number two, Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, is among senior figures who have joined the opposition.

The UN Security Council demanded an end to the violence on Tuesday, while the Arab League suspended Libya. Protesters greeted an angry speech by the veteran leader with defiance. The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says people there believe the government now controls just a few pockets of territory including parts of the capital Tripoli and the southern town of Sabha.

Gunfire in Tripoli

After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units are thought to have almost the entire eastern half of Libya under their control. At least 300 people have died in the uprising, although Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters in Rome a death toll of 1,000 was more “credible”.

Mr Frattini also told Corriere della Sera newspaper he feared an immigrant exodus on a “biblical scale” if Col Gaddafi was toppled, predicting up to 300,000 Libyans could flee. French President Nicolas Sarkozy meanwhile called for the European Union to adopt “swift and concrete sanctions” and to suspend ties with Libya.

He spoke as France’s Total became the latest oil company to announce that it was suspending its operations in the North African nation. The Associated Press news agency reports that Gaddafi supporters and hired foreign mercenaries opened fire on the streets of Tripoli on Wednesday. There are also unconfirmed reports that protesters have seized control of the north-western city of Misurata, and have been raising pre-Gaddafi flags in celebration.

Mass evacuations

Meanwhile, European countries have been evacuating their citizens from Libya. France, Turkey and Russia are among the nations which have sent planes and frigates to pick up thousands of their stranded nationals. A UK warship, HMS Cumberland, has been sent to the Libyan coast ahead of a possible evacuation.

The US, China and India are also making arrangements to rescue their citizens from Libya. The UN Security Council’s statement in New York late on Tuesday came amid reports that foreign mercenaries have been attacking civilians and warplanes bombing protesters.

Its 15 members said the Libyan government should “address the legitimate demands of the population”, act with restraint, and respect human rights. Libya’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi – who called on Monday for Col Gaddafi to quit – said the statement was “not strong enough”.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mr al-Abidi – head of the powerful Thunderbolt commando brigade – read a resignation statement from his desk, urging the army to support the people and their “legitimate demands”.  The Libyan ambassador to Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei became the latest figure to quit on Wednesday, in protest at the crackdown on demonstrators in his country.

A senior aide to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, has also quit, Reuters news agency reports.  A number of senior Libyan officials, including ministers, diplomats and military officers, have swung their support behind the protesters.  Col Gaddafi’s speech on Tuesday, when he referred to the protesters as rats and cockroaches, has been greeted with a mixture of anger and mockery.

During the rambling 75-minute address on state TV, Col Gaddafi – who has ruled the country since taking power in a 1969 military coup – vowed to crush the revolt and die as a martyr. In the eastern opposition strongholds of Benghazi, Libya’s second city, and Tobruk, demonstrators poured scorn on the veteran ruler. In Tripoli, bursts of gunfire and blaring of car horns rang out, although it is not clear if protesters or Gaddafi loyalists were responsible.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Col Gaddafi’s speech was “very, very appalling” and “amounted to him declaring war on his own people.”