News & Current Affairs

September 15, 2008

Insight: Who runs Russia?

Insight: Who runs Russia?

Vladimir Putin (L) and Dmitri Medvedev

Vladimir Putin (L) and Dmitri Medvedev must agree policy decisions

Getting to the bottom of the shadowy depths of Kremlin decision-making is tricky. Machiavellian power struggles, dark paranoia of security chiefs and long fingers of corruption can turn seemingly rational and transparent explanations inside out.

But even public signals are instructive, and in the wake of the Georgia crisis, Russia’s leadership is taking stock and has several messages for the West.

The first key question about Russia is – who is really in charge?

The standard answer is President Medvedev as Commander in Chief. He, and only he, ordered Russian troops across the border to hit back when Georgia attacked on South Ossetia.

But presidential power is now the tip of an iceberg. What murky currents swirl beneath the surface is less clear.

Dmitry Medvedev says he was caught unawares and admits his relative inexperience.

“I was on holiday on the Volga when the defence minister called,” he said at a conference of the so-called ‘Valdai Club’ of foreign academics and journalists who specialize in Russia.

“I’ll never forget that night, knowing the consequences there would be when I gave the order to return fire… especially when I’d only been president for 95 days,” he said.

But what about Russia’s ex-president, now his prime minister, who was also at the conference?

“However much authority I have, whoever I may be talking to, none of the troops or tanks would have moved an inch until President Medvedev’s order,” was Vladimir Putin’s attempt to deny his own importance when we asked about his role, thereby indicating that his clout and involvement were considerable.

Bridget Kendall
1998 to present: BBC diplomatic correspondent
1994-98: Washington correspondent
1989-94: Moscow correspondent

What is more, at the outset of the crisis, when Mr Putin was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, he was already thinking about Russia moving swiftly to recognize the two enclaves at the heart of the crisis.

He had taken the time, he told us, to inform the Chinese leadership that Russia would understand if Beijing chose not to react.

Double act

It begs the question – who is really driving policy, the president or the prime minister?

The choreography and timing of our audiences with both were instructive.

A pair of three-hour meetings, two elegant luncheon settings, two declarative statements for Russian TV cameras at the start, and even two carefully informal blue suits with matching ties.

All to signal, perhaps, that their status is equal – a dual leadership exercising power in tandem.

I never thought I’d need to use harsh rhetoric when I began this job. But there are some moments as president when you are left with no choice
Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev

Indeed one senior government official made a point of emphasizing the duality, constantly referring to them in the same breath.

Policy decisions had to be cleared with both, he said. And what was wrong with that? A double act surely strengthened, not muddled governance, requiring a green light from two instead of one.

We met Mr Putin first. Almost the entire discussion was devoted to foreign policy.

He was burning to give his point of view. He seemed supremely confident, engaged and in charge. His anger at the way he felt Russia had been treated in recent years blazed through, as though it was his own personal animosity which is now firing and fuelling current policy.

It was hard to remember he was no longer president.

Economic policy, supposedly at the heart of his new job as prime minister, came up sporadically and he admitted he is still mastering his new brief.

When he did comment directly on Dmitry Medvedev, the impression he left was curious.

Mr Putin seemed to want to play up the differences between them, as though suggesting a “good cop, bad cop” routine.

He described himself as “conservative” and with an uncharacteristic flash of self-deprecation admitted his penchant for blunt speaking was sometimes a liability.

Whereas he described Dmitry Medvedev as bright, young and highly educated, with modern and – he stressed this twice – liberal views.

“He’s a good lad,” said Mr Putin a touch condescendingly, as though recommending his young protege to a would-be employer for a new job.

The aim, it seemed, was to send a signal to the West that Dmitry Medvedev is indeed more flexible and reformist than Putin himself – and was forced to act tough because the crisis left him no option.

Moral high ground

So the US and its allies should understand they had made a big mistake by allowing this conflict to happen – and they would make an even bigger mistake unless they made the compromises Russia now wants.

When we met Dmitry Medvedev he underscored the point.

“I never thought I’d need to use harsh rhetoric when I began this job. But there are some moments as president when you are left with no choice,” he said.

“I very much don’t want the Caucasus crisis to destroy Russian co-operation with Europe and the United States,” he elaborated, and suggested he felt frustrated at his new role of “President of War”.

He’s a good politician, I think I have a better opinion of George than most Americans
Vladimir Putin on George W Bush

“A whole month has been lost on this war… I’d rather have been doing other things,” he said. “Yesterday when I met the defence and finance ministers, instead of talking about car and tractor production, we had to discuss where to deploy the Russian army. Priorities have had to change.”

So what, then, at this juncture does Russia want from the West?

The first message is that the Russian government is in no mood to compromise.

It insists it occupies the moral high ground in this crisis and sees no reason to give way.

This was tantamount to Russia’s 9/11, President Dmitry Medvedev declared to us, a defining moment in national policy and in relations with the outside world.

That conviction was echoed from top to bottom in our discussions with government officials, mainstream academics and journalists, all of them insisting Russia had no choice but to respond militarily and take South Ossetia and Abkhazia under its wing.

Any suspicion that Russia cunningly laid a trap that Georgia rashly walked into was dismissed as an outrageous lie.

The idea that by deploying troops deep inside Georgia and unilaterally recognising the two disputed enclaves’ independence Russia had gone too far was rejected out of hand.

The suggestion that by invading Georgian territory, and asserting its right to redraw the map, Russia made itself look like a bully, was also thrown out.

Instead President Saakashvili was blamed for triggering the conflict.

The United States had nudged him into it and rashly armed and trained his men while Europeans had looked the other way.

Any Western criticism to the contrary was hypocritical, given interventions in Kosovo and Iraq, and yet another example of anti-Russian hysteria and unfair stereotyping, based on prejudices left over from the Cold War.

Red line

Curiously both Mr Putin and President Medvedev were carefully respectful when it came to President Bush.

“He’s a good politician, I think I have a better opinion of George than most Americans,” said Mr Putin, at the same time complaining that he had twice tried to get the US president to intervene.

Instead it was Vice-President Cheney and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with their Soviet expertise, who were targeted as villains, suspected of fueling anti-Russian sentiment in the US administration and egging Georgia on.

“We need to get rid of stereotypes. The US president has too many Sovietologists in his entourage,” observed Dmitry Medvedev caustically.

A Russian tank crosses a main route in Georgia

Russia is keen to avoid accusations of annexing Georgian territory

The second message that came through clearly was that Russia’s “red line” – any move to extend Nato to Russia’s borders by seeking to incorporate Georgia or Ukraine – still stands.

What Russia really wants is a new discussion on European security arrangements to replace Nato with something else entirely.

But short of that, attempts by the United States or Nato to rearm Georgia or to extend formal invitations to either Georgia or Ukraine to join the alliance seem likely to prompt a furious Russian response.

“Russia has zones that are part of its interests. For the West to deny it is pointless and even dangerous,” said President Medvedev.

“It’s unjust, it’s humiliating, and we’ve had enough. It’s something we are no longer prepared to endure,” he said. “You have a very clear choice here. Let there be no doubt about it.”

What exactly Russia would do to try to prevent this further Nato enlargement was left unclear.

“We’ll do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Mr Putin carefully, talking about Ukraine.

Although on Georgia he noted Russian tanks had been within 15 kilometres of Tbilisi and could have taken the capital in four hours.

Economic concerns

So the hints of a threat, but not exactly – and that is interesting. Because the third message that came through was that Russia would like to think a major East-West confrontation can still be avoided.

There may well be powerful forces in Russia’s military and security elite, ultra nationalists who would like to see their country retreat from global integration and rely once more on internal resources – economic and military – as in Soviet days, to reclaim influence geographically and show the outside world Russia’s might can no longer be ignored.

Roubles being sorted at the Goznak mint in Moscow

Russia’s stock market value has fallen by 50% since May this year

But diplomatic and economic isolation does not seem to be what the Kremlin leadership currently wants to embrace.

The haste with which both Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev shrugged off the notion that Russia might have to pay a price for this crisis was telling.

They denied that the loss of nearly 50% of Russia’s stock market value from its all time high in May had much to do with the Georgia crisis.

A far more likely cause, they argued – with some justification, given what is happening on Wall Street – was the impact of global financial instability.

In comparison to many other countries, they insisted, Russia’s economy was in good shape – signs of capital flight were temporary. Foreign investors would be back. Russia’s energy resources were needed by everyone and it had weathered economic storms before.

The fact only Nicaragua had joined Russia in recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia was also dismissed as unimportant, even if the glaring lack of overt diplomatic support for Russia’s actions appears to be a sensitive point.

When the leader of South Ossetia told us he intended to follow up independence by amalgamating his tiny republic with North Ossetia and becoming part of the Russian Federation, he was hurriedly slapped down. Within hours he had issued a retraction.

Outright annexation by Russia of what is, after all, legally speaking Georgian territory is an accusation Moscow seems anxious to avoid.

Yes, Russia wants to claim that the ball is now firmly in the court of the US and its allies – that it is up to them, not Russia, to decide how this geopolitical crisis plays out.

But behind all the moral outrage, I felt there was also a nervousness, a worry that if Russia’s bluff is called and further tensions with the West ensue, it might force a stand-off from which neither side could back down.

“There is a chill in the air and a loss of trust,” said Dmitry Medvedev, “but I don’t think this is a corner turn that will lead to a long confrontation. This is not what we want. And it’s not what you want either.”

August 15, 2008

Two more athletes fail dope tests

Two more athletes fail dope tests

Kim Jong Su

Kim Jong Su was stripped of a silver and a bronze medal

A North Korean shooting medalist and a Vietnamese gymnast have been kicked out of the Olympic Games after testing positive for banned substances.

Shooter Kim Jong Su was stripped of his silver medal in the 50m pistol and bronze in the 10m air pistol, the International Olympic Committee said.

Gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do finished in 82nd in the women’s floor exercises.

The incidents follow the expulsion on Monday of Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno, who tested positive for EPO.

August 14, 2008

Protests still unwelcome in Beijing

Protests still unwelcome in Beijing

Courtesy BBC

China has set aside three parks during the Olympics, to allow people to demonstrate. But, as the BBC’s Michael Bristow finds out, the parks are empty and those who apply for permission to protest are even finding themselves arrested.

Model of the Capitol building in Washington DC, Shijie Park

Shijie Park is full of tourists admiring model buildings rather than protesters

Just before the Olympic Games began, officials said ordinary Chinese people would be able to apply for permission to vent their feelings.

But several would-be demonstrators appear to have been detained by the authorities after trying to apply for that permission.

This is just one way in which China is attempting to restrict embarrassing protests during the Olympic Games.

“The protest application process clearly isn’t about giving people greater freedom of expression, but making it easier for the police to suppress it,” said Sophie Richardson, from Human Rights Watch.

One of those detained is Zhang Wei, who was held after applying to stage a protest about her family’s forced eviction from their courtyard home.

map

Her son, Mi Yu, said she was initially supposed to be held for just three days for “disturbing social order”, but that that had now been extended to 30 days.

Ms Zhang, forced to move to make way for redevelopment in Beijing’s Qianmen district, made several protest applications.

“She went every two or three days after seeing a report about the parks. But the police did not give their approval,” Mr Mi said.

His mother was taken away last week. The family have not heard from her since.

Many obstacles

Another activist held after making a protest application was Ji Sizun, who was detained on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 58-year-old, from Fujian province, wanted to call for greater participation by ordinary people in the political process.

Citing witnesses, the rights group said Mr Ji was taken away shortly after entering a Beijing police station to ask about his application.

This application process is a taxing one. Would-be protesters even have to tell police what posters and slogans they intend to use.

There have been reports of others who have been prevented from staging protests in the designated areas.

Some have just had their applications turned down, one was sent back to her home province and yet others have been stopped from travelling to Beijing.

Confusion

The parks designated as protest zones – Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan – do not seem to have been inundated with protesters.

Free Tibet

There has been the occasional protest by pro-Tibet campaigners

At Shijie (“World”) Park on Wednesday one worker said there had not been a single demonstration since the Olympics began.

Potential protesters might have been put off by the police car and van parked directly outside the main entrance of the park, which houses large models of famous world sites.

No one seemed to know where a protest could be held, even if Beijing’s Public Security Bureau gave its approval.

“I don’t know anything about that,” said a ticket collector when asked where protesters could express their opinions.

It was a similar story at Ritan Park, where there seems to have been no protests either.

Dissuading people from protesting is just one tactic being used by China’s security forces to prevent demonstrations.

Beijing’s streets are full of police, other security personnel and volunteers, wearing red armbands, on the lookout for trouble.

Eight pro-Tibet demonstrators from Students for a Free Tibet were quickly detained on Wednesday after staging a protest.

Some well-known Chinese activists have also been told to keep a low profile during the Olympics. The friend of one said she had decided to leave the city during the Olympics to avoid trouble.

August 8, 2008

Georgia offers rebels ceasefire

Georgia offers rebels ceasefire

Georgian troops are expected to observe a three-hour ceasefire to let civilians leave the besieged capital of separatist South Ossetia, say reports.

Georgia has launched a major offensive against rebel strongholds and claims to have surrounded the capital Tskhinvali.

Russia, who Georgia accuses of arming the rebels, has warned aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian peacekeepers based in Tskhinvali.

Nato, the US and the European Union have all called for an immediate end to the hostilities.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns – claims denied by Moscow.

Residents of Tskhinvali were reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rocked the city. Both sides blamed each other for breaking a ceasefire on Thursday.

Georgia says the three-hour ceasefire would come into force from 1100GMT to allow civilians to leave Tskhinvali.

The international Red Cross had earlier said it wanted to see “humanitarian corridor” to the area to take in ambulances to retrieve wounded civilians.

ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson said they had received reports that hospitals in Tskhinvali were having trouble coping with the influx of casualties and ambulances were having trouble reaching the injured.

Sheltering

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close on Tskhinvali

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian passports

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev later convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The defence ministry issued a statement saying: “We will not allow the peacekeepers and citizens of the Russian Federation to be hurt.”

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have been rejected by Russia and have not been independently confirmed.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

President Musharraf in Islamabad in April 2008

President Musharraf has said he would rather resign than be impeached

Pakistan’s ruling coalition parties say they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf.

Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif made the announcement after three days of talks. They would need a two-thirds majority to impeach.

Mr Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

He gave up control of the army last year and his allies were defeated in February’s elections but he retains the power to dissolve parliament.

Mr Musharraf has previously said he would resign rather than face impeachment proceedings.

But late on Thursday, aides said the president would respond to the allegations in parliament.

The BBC’s Mark Dummett in Islamabad says an impeachment would take Pakistani politics into new territory, since no Pakistani leader has faced it before.

Sacked judges

Mr Zardari, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the PML-N’s Narwaz Sharif announced the impeachment move at a press conference in Islamabad.

STEPS TO IMPEACHMENT
Impeachment proposers need 50% majority in Senate or National Assembly
President given notice of impeachment, and has three days to respond
Joint session of Senate and Assembly must be held between 7 and 14 days later to investigate charges
If resolution presented, joint session must approve with two-thirds majority

Mr Zardari said: “We have good news for democracy. The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf.”

Mr Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, derided Mr Musharraf’s economic policies, adding: “He has worked to undermine the transition to democracy.”

He also warned Mr Musharraf not to dissolve parliament, saying: “If he does it, it will be his last verdict against the people.”

Mr Sharif said: “Pakistan cannot afford to see democracy derailed, this is not the same Pakistan as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s. People will not accept it now.”

The leaders say they will also move to have Mr Musharraf face votes of confidence in the national and four provincial assemblies.

Our correspondent says these will not be enough to dislodge President Musharraf but might weaken him ahead of any impeachment showdown.

Impeachment would need a two-thirds majority in the upper and lower houses of parliament but, our correspondent says, getting those numbers might be difficult.

The two leaders also promised to restore judges sacked under Mr Musharraf’s emergency rule once impeachment was successful.

How to proceed on that issue had caused deep divisions between the two coalition parties since the elections.

Military role

Mr Musharraf had been scheduled to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing but has cancelled his trip and will be replaced by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

Mr Musharraf was elected president for a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary vote.

One presidential source told AFP news agency Mr Musharraf was discussing a course of action and had the options of dissolving parliament or imposing emergency rule again.

The president is still thought to have heavy influence over the military and its reaction will remain crucial.

Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for more than half of its existence since Partition in 1947.


What is your reaction? Should President Musharraf be impeached? Send us your comments

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Beijing ready for Olympic opening

Olympic volunteers in Beijing, 08/08

Officials are concerned that hazy conditions may affect the ceremony

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is preparing to open the 2008 Olympic Games with a lavish ceremony, amid hazy skies and ongoing pollution concerns.

The event will involve about 10,000 performers, and will be watched on TV by an estimated one billion people.

The lead-up to the Games has been dogged by issues such as China’s rights record, internet access, and pollution.

US President George W Bush was among several world leaders to express concern over a crackdown on dissidents.

Mr Bush told an audience at the US embassy in Beijing on Friday: “We continue to be candid about our belief that all people should have the freedom to say what they think and worship as they choose.”

Meanwhile, 40 Olympic athletes wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao expressing their concerns over Beijing’s handling of anti-Chinese unrest in Tibet.

And Tibetans have held angry protests in Nepal, with hundreds reported to have been arrested in the capital, Kathmandu.

China frequently dismisses criticism over its domestic policies – particularly in Tibet – as interference in its internal affairs.

Muted city

The 2008 Olympics have been described as the most politicised Games since the boycott era of the early 1980s.

Pollution graph

But after a succession of controversial issues in the build-up to the Games, the focus is now shifting to the opening ceremony.

It has taken seven years of planning, and costs are estimated to have hit a record-breaking $40bn (£20bn).

Film director Zhang Yimou has been charged with portraying 5,000 years of Chinese history in one show.

It will be staged at China’s new national stadium – known as the Bird’s Nest because of its steel lattice construction – and some 10,000 performers will take part.

Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, who has repeatedly defended the decision to let China host the Olympics, said he hoped the Games would help the world to understand China, and China to understand the world.

But human-rights groups have continued to condemn curbs on journalists covering the Games.

In a statement issued on Friday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said: “As the 2008 Olympic Games open in Beijing, foreign journalists in China face a host of severe restrictions, ranging from harassment to a censored internet.”

With the authorities determined to clamp down on any possible security concern, some 100,000 extra troops and police have been deployed in the capital over recent weeks.

The BBC’s Michael Bristow, in Beijing, described the mood in the city as muted.

He said streets had been blocked off, there were few cars on the roads and Olympic volunteers seemed to outnumber ordinary people.

China’s ‘extraordinary’ effort

On the morning of the opening ceremony, a BBC reading suggested Beijing’s air quality remained below World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

Visibility was also very poor on Friday, with one official warning that the cloud could interfere with the ceremony.

HAVE YOUR SAY

We hope the games will show our guests China today, not China thirty years ago

Roc, China

“There are clouds covering Beijing and we are really concerned that will have an influence on tonight’s ceremony,” said Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Observatory.

But Mr Guo is predicting that heavy rain over the weekend will clear the skies, and he warned that hazy conditions should not be confused with high levels of pollution.

“If the visibility is not good it does not mean the air quality is not good,” he said.

On Thursday, Mr Rogge said if the pollution was bad, events which lasted more than an hour could be shifted or postponed.

But he also praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts to cut pollution ahead of the Games, saying there was no danger to athletes’ health.

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia says its troops have surrounded the capital of separatist South Ossetia as Russia warns further aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

Fighting around Tskhinvali resumed overnight, breaking a ceasefire deal, and bombardments are continuing.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili has called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian troops.

Residents of Tskhinvali are reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rock the city. Both sides blame each other for breaking the ceasefire.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

Russian fighters

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

SOUTH OSSETIA
Map of South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have not been independently confirmed.

Georgia says its aim is to finish “a criminal regime” and restore order.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters on Friday the military operations would continue until there was “a durable peace”.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Appeal for talks

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax news agency his forces were still in control of the city, but Georgia claims to have Tskhinvali surrounded.

The Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, described Georgia’s actions as “treacherous”.

“The situation in the conflict zone has reached a dramatic line,” he told the emergency session, according to Russian Vesti TV news.

“Civilians, old people and children are under massive artillery shelling from Grad rocket systems, guns and large-calibre mortars.”

Despite failing to agree a text, many council members did call on the parties to pull back.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

A White House spokesman said “all sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully”.


Are you in South Ossetia or elsewhere in Georgia? Have you been caught up in events? Send us your comments

August 7, 2008

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Courtesy BBC

President Musharraf in Islamabad in April 2008

President Musharraf has said he would rather resign than be impeached

Pakistan’s ruling coalition parties say they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf.

Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif made the announcement after three days of talks. They would need a two-thirds majority to impeach.

Mr Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

He gave up control of the army last year and his allies were defeated in February’s elections but he retains the power to dissolve parliament.

Mr Musharraf has previously said he would resign rather than face impeachment proceedings but he has made no comment yet on the latest move.

Sacked judges

Mr Zardari, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and the PML-N’s Narwaz Sharif announced the impeachment move at a press conference in Islamabad.

Mr Zardari said: “We have good news for democracy. The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf.”

STEPS TO IMPEACHMENT
Impeachment proposers need 50% majority in Senate or National Assembly
President given notice of impeachment, and has three days to respond
Joint session of Senate and Assembly must be held between 7 and 14 days later to investigate charges
If resolution presented, joint session must approve with two-thirds majority
OTHER POSSIBLE SCENARIO
President dissolves parliament, placing country under emergency rule to prevent impeachment

Mr Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, derided Mr Musharraf’s economic policies, adding: “He has worked to undermine the transition to democracy.”

He also warned Mr Musharraf not to dissolve parliament, saying: “If he does it, it will be his last verdict against the people.”

Mr Sharif said: “Pakistan cannot afford to see democracy derailed, this is not the same Pakistan as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s. People will not accept it now.”

The leaders say they will also move to have Mr Musharraf face votes of confidence in the national and four provincial assemblies.

They also promised to restore judges sacked under Mr Musharraf’s emergency rule once impeachment was successful.

How to proceed on that issue had caused deep divisions between the two coalition parties since the elections.

New territory

Mr Musharraf had been scheduled to attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing but has cancelled his trip and will be replaced by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.

Mr Musharraf was elected president for a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary vote.

One presidential source told Agence France-Presse news agency Mr Musharraf was discussing a course of action and had the options of dissolving parliament or imposing emergency rule again.

The BBC’s Mark Dummett in Islamabad says an impeachment would take Pakistani politics into new territory, since no Pakistani leader has faced it before.

The president is still thought to have heavy influence over the military and its reaction will remain crucial.

Pakistan has been ruled by military leaders for more than half of its existence since Partition in 1947.

August 5, 2008

Bush to face S Korea protesters

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 am

Bush to face S Korea protesters

US President George W Bush is en route to South Korea where he is expected to get a less than wholehearted welcome.

Thousands of protesters plan to voice their anger over the agreement with the US to restart imports of beef.

Mr Bush is going to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, and will stop off in South Korea to discuss the military alliance with the US.

Talks will also focus on a planned free trade agreement and North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ programme.

But Mr Bush will also be given a taste of the public anger over the recent agreement to resume imports of American beef.

The deal sparked months of street protests because of fears that US cattle may be infected with mad cow disease.

The first shipments began arriving last week, but the demonstration organisers say that a large crowd will leave President Bush in no doubt about what they think of his government’s reassurances that US beef is safe.

In his summit meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, though, it is the situation north of the border that will feature prominently.

The US is planning to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a reward for stopping production of weapons grade plutonium.

But the communist state must first agree to allow international nuclear inspectors in, and there are intense efforts underway to try to secure agreement on how those inspections would work.

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