News & Current Affairs

June 29, 2009

New Honduran leader sets curfew

New Honduran leader sets curfew

Interim President Roberto Micheletti has imposed an overnight curfew in Honduras, hours after being sworn in.

The Congress speaker took office after troops ousted elected leader Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica.

The removal of Mr Zelaya came amid a power struggle over his plans for constitutional change.

Mr Zelaya, who had been in power since 2006, wanted to hold a referendum that could have led to an extension of his non-renewable four-year term.

Polls for the referendum had been due to open early on Sunday – but troops instead took him from the presidential palace and flew him out of the country.

New Honduran President Roberto Micheletti

Roberto Micheletti will govern until elections are held, Congress said.

The ousting of Manuel Zelaya has been criticised by regional neighbours, the US and the United Nations.

In the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were said to have set up barricades, while troops were at key sites.

Mr Micheletti told a press conference that a nationwide curfew was being imposed for Sunday and Monday, running from 2100 (0300 GMT) to 0600 (1200 GMT) on each night.

Days of tension

The swearing in of Roberto Micheletti – constitutionally second in line for the presidency – was greeted with applause in Congress.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica on Sunday 28 June 2009
This was a plot by a very voracious elite, which wants to keep this country in an extreme level of poverty
President Manuel Zelaya

In a speech, he said that he had not assumed power “under the ignominy of a coup d’etat”.

The army had complied with the constitution, he said, and he had reached the presidency “as the result of an absolutely legal transition process”.

Congress said he would serve until 27 January, when Mr Zelaya’s term was due to expire. Presidential elections are planned for 29 November and Mr Micheletti promised these would go ahead.

Both Congress and the courts had opposed Mr Zelaya’s referendum, which asked Hondurans to endorse a vote on unspecified constitutional changes alongside the November elections.

Tensions over the issue had been escalating for several days, with the army refusing to help with preparations for the referendum.

Just before dawn on Sunday, troops stormed the president’s residence. There was confusion over his whereabouts for several hours before he turned up in Costa Rica.

Mr Zelaya called his ouster “a plot by a very voracious elite, an elite which wants only to keep this country isolated, in an extreme level of poverty”.

He urged Hondurans to resist those who had removed him and late on Sunday flew to Nicaragua for a meeting of regional leaders.

Congress said it had voted to remove him because of his “repeated violations of the constitution and the law and disregard of orders and judgments of the institutions”.

In Tegucigalpa, groups of Zelaya supporters were setting up roadblocks around the presidential palace, Reuters said.

One man told the news that he had been in the city’s main square all day, along with 2,000 Zelaya supporters. Jeronimo Pastor described the situation as tense and called on the international community to get involved.

But another resident of the capital said people were relieved at Mr Zelaya’s removal. “Now we have a new president and will have elections and things will go back to normal,” Kenneth Bustillo told the news.

The removal of Mr Zelaya has drawn criticism across Latin America and the wide world.

The Organization of American States held an emergency meeting, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country”.

US President Barack Obama urged Honduras to “respect the rule of law” and a State Department official said America recognised Mr Zelaya as the duly elected president. The European Union called for “a swift return to constitutional normality”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, blamed “the Yankee empire”, and threatened military action should the Venezuelan ambassador to Honduras be attacked.

September 8, 2008

Thai leader in court over TV show

Thai leader in court over TV show

Thai PM Samak Sundaravej. File photo

Mr Samak was a TV chef before becoming prime minister

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has defended himself in court for appearing on a TV cooking program.

In the latest of a series of problems to beset Mr Samak, he is accused of violating the constitution by working for a private company.

Protesters have now spent nearly two weeks occupying Mr Samak’s office complex, demanding his resignation.

Mr Samak will have to quit if found guilty in this case, which might indirectly end the impasse.

Possible way forward?

Before taking office seven months ago, Mr Samak hosted a popular TV cooking show called Tasting, Grumbling.

He continued to make a few appearances on the show after becoming prime minister.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand’s king
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one dead. Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns
4 Sept: Samak proposes a national referendum

A group of senators filed a petition against Mr Samak, saying that a prime minister is barred by the constitution from working for private companies.

Mr Samak told the Constitutional Court on Monday that he had been paid for his appearances on the TV show, but was not actually employed by the television company.

The court is due to give its verdict on Tuesday.

Local newspapers have speculated about the case being a possible short-term solution to the current political stalemate in Thailand – although some analysts point out that even if Mr Samak stepped down, his party could always vote him back in again.

For the past two weeks, protesters have been camping outside Government House, refusing to leave until Mr Samak quits, but despite pressure from several military leaders the prime minister has refused to go.

Late last week, Mr Samak proposed to hold a referendum on his rule, but the opposition has rejected the offer.

The demonstrators, from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an army coup in 2006.

One man was killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government groups in Bangkok last week, prompting the government to impose emergency rule in the capital.

July 30, 2008

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

Radovan Karadzic extradited to The Hague

BELGRADE, Serbia – Authorities extradited ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to the Netherlands to face genocide charges before the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Wednesday, hours after a violence-tinged protest by thousands of his supporters in downtown Belgrade .

U.N. spokesman Liam McDowall confirmed Karadzic was transferred to the U.N. detention center near The Hague, where he will stand trial.

A jet with Serbian government markings landed at the Rotterdam airport Wednesday morning, AP Television News footage showed. The plane with Serbian government markings taxied into a hangar, out of view of reporters and television cameras before anyone disembarked.

Less than an hour later, a helicopter landed behind the high wall of the detention center while another helicopter hovered overhead. Two black minivans drove through the prison gates moments earlier.

The Serbian government said in a statement issued early Wednesday that its justice ministry had issued a decree that allowed his handover to the U.N. court, despite a violence-tinged protest hours before by thousands of his supporters.

Karadzic is accused by the tribunal of masterminding the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. He is also charged with spearheading the three-year siege of Sarajevo that left 10,000 people dead.

Karadzic spent nearly 13 years on the run before being arrested last week in Belgrade, where he lived under the assumed identity of a health guru — sporting a long white beard and hair, and large glasses.

He is expected to be summoned before a judge within a day or two and will be asked to plea to each of the 11 charges he faces, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. He may postpone his plea for up to 30 days.

Karadzic’s lawyer, Svetozar Vujacic, said his client will not enter a plea but will instead ask for the full 30-day period.

Vujacic also acknowledged Wednesday that he has never filed an appeal against Karadzic’s extradition. Vujacic had claimed he sent the appeal by registered mail from Bosnia before a midnight Friday deadline.

The days-long uncertainty over the appeal helped stall Karadzic’s handover, Vujacic said.

Despite the war crimes allegations, Karadjic is still revered by many as a wartime hero for helping to create the Bosnian Serb mini-state.

Hours earlier, a demonstration against Karadzic’s extradition turned violent on its fringes as stone-throwing extremists clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

While most of the 15,000 demonstrators sang nationalist songs and waved posters of their “Serb Hero,” a few hundred hard-liners broke away from the gathering and threw rocks and burning flares at police in downtown Belgrade.

Later, police fired tear gas at large groups of protesters while pushing them from the square after the rally. Police blocked off several neighborhoods, stopping traffic and the passage of the demonstrators.

Belgrade’s emergency clinic reported 46 people injured, including 25 policemen and 21 civilians. Most were lightly injured, doctors said, adding that only one civilian and one policeman were hospitalized.

Streets looked like battlefields, with smashed shop windows and overturned garbage cans. Ambulance sirens blared through downtown. Police Chief Milorad Veljovic said the area was “under control” by midnight.

Riot police had taken up positions across the capital and heavily armed anti-terrorist troops guarded the U.S. Embassy as busloads of ultranationalists arrived from all over Serbia and Bosnia for the anti-government rally dubbed “Freedom for Serbia.”

Many protesters carried banners and wore badges with Karadzic’s name and picture. Some chanted slogans against President Boris Tadic and called for his death.

“Thank you for showing that Serbia is not dead, although it is being killed by Boris Tadic,” said Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which organized the rally. “Thieves and bandits are ruling Serbia.”

“We will fight for Serbia and Serbia will be free,” he added, setting off thunderous applause and chants of “Uprising! Uprising!”

Still, police estimated the turnout at only 15,000 people — far fewer than expected. The last major nationalist rally, in February after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, drew 150,000 people and led to an attack on the U.S. Embassy amid a violent looting spree.

Tuesday’s protest was seen a test for Tadic’s government, which is much more pro-Western than its predecessor. The president warned the right-wing extremists to remain peaceful.

“Everyone has the right to demonstrate, but they should know that law and order will be respected,” Tadic said.

The U.S. Embassy had predicted that up to 100,000 protesters could show up and advised Americans to avoid downtown Belgrade. The embassy was heavily guarded during the rally by special troops armed with machine guns wearing masks.

After February’s mass rally, the U.S. Embassy was partly burned and protesters went on a looting spree, smashing shops and McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s was targeted again Tuesday night, and three people were arrested for smashing windows at one of its hamburger shops, police said.

Serbia’s new, pro-Western government hopes Karadzic’s arrest will strengthen the country’s bid for membership in the European Union. Serbia had been accused of not searching for war crimes fugitives sought by the U.N. tribunal.

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