25 March, 2012

Coup in Mali

There was a time when half the world was run by military regimes, with the leaders of the other half having to permanently worry that their soldiers would decide to overthrow them and seize power themselves. But the world has changed over the last few decades and now military rule is uncommon. While the world still boasts many dictatorships, the leaders of authoritarian regimes now typically wear civilian clothes and often legitimise their rule through sham elections.

So it is that there is something oddly retro about the news from Mali, where soldiers have seized the TV station and stormed the presidential palace, announcing that President Amadou Toumani Touré has been overthrown and the constitution suspended. Some government ministers have been arrested, but the President himself has escaped the rebels' clutches and is reputedly being protected by the presidential guards.

The coup in Mali is shocking, in that the country had previously been thought of as having made a reasonably successful transition to democratic rule, despite its relative poverty. Touré himself had originally come to power in a 1991 coup against a brutal dictatorship, but he oversaw a transition to representative government, relinquishing power to elected civilians in 1992. Touré later re-entered politics, winning election to the presidency in 2002 (and re-election in 2007).

So, why the coup? It seems that President Touré's rule had become a lot less popular recently, thanks largely to an insurgency in the north of the country. Some ethnic Tuaregs there had become disaffected with the central government of Mali and had taken up arms against it. Malian armed forces had performed badly against the rebels (many of whom seem to have been veterans of the civil war in Libya) and the army's poor performance was blamed on President Touré.

Still, it seems odd that simple disaffection with the President has led to the coup. Touré was due to step down next month when elections for a new president where scheduled – if his removal was the real goal then the putschists could simply have waited till then. It may be that the coup leaders are hoping to install a security regime that will funnel resources to the army to fight the insurgents in the north, or it could that they simply seized the opportunity to take power that Touré's weakness presented.

It is unclear whether the coup will succeed in overthrowing the constitutional government of Mali. Although the putschists seem strong now, they have failed to capture the president. The rebellious soldiers appear to be undisciplined and ill-equipped, while the president's own guard are a well trained and well equipped force. Furthermore, the rebels are led by a junior officer, Captain Amadou Sanogo, and do not seem to have the backing of the entire armed forces. It may be, therefore, that the coup will fizzle out, or perhaps we will be hearing a lot more of Captain Sanogo over the next few years.

Amadou Toumani Touré image source


Mali soldiers loot presidential palace after coup

In pictures: Mali coup

From Hunting Monsters

24 March, 2012

Ironic Juxtaposition

A new law in Israel has banned the use of underweight models in fashion photography and on catwalks. Supporters of the law hope that it will help to combat eating disorders in girls and women.

Meanwhile, in an Israeli prison, Hana Shalabi is reported to be close to death. Ms Shalabi has been held in "administrative detention" since February but has not been charged or convicted of any crime (and is neither an Israeli citizen nor resident). She is on hunger strike in protest against her imprisonment.

From Hunting Monsters

20 March, 2012

Palestinian Solar Panels Face Destruction

The occupied West Bank is divided into three Areas. Area C comprises those parts of the territory that are under full Israeli control. Some of the villages in this territory are not connected to the electricity grid, but the Spanish and German NGOs have brought electricity to them with solar panels paid for by European governments. Unfortunately, these solar panels are now about to be demolished by the Israeli authorities, as they were built without the necessary planning permission.

It seems to be very difficult for Palestinians in Area C to get planning permission for anything, let alone solar panels. The Israeli campaigning group, Peace Now, reports on the basis of civil administration figures that from 2001 to 2007, just 91 permits for Palestinian construction projects were issued in Area C, while 663 Palestinian structures were demolished. In the same period, some 10,000 Israeli settlement units were built in that territory, even though Israeli settlement activity in Area C is illegal under international law.

Figures in the localities that will lose electricity when the solar panels are destroyed report that this will trigger an exodus from those areas, as people have become used to the modern comforts that energy provide. This will of course leave the areas more open for further Israeli settlement, which might just be the reason for the solar panels' destruction.


From Hunting Monsters