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Home »Current Affairs» International Current Affairs of April 2010

International Current Affairs of April 2010


Interim government formed by Opposition in Kyrgyzstan

Opposition alliance headed by former Foreign Minister Ms Roza Otunbayeva formed an interim government in Kyrgyzstan on April 8, 2010, dissolving Parliament and asked the toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to quit as they shored up global diplomatic support for the new regime.

Announcing that they would run the turbulent Central Asian nation for six months, Ms Otunbayeva said the new alliance proposed to hold new elections within this period.

In her first action, Ms Otunbayeva, designated the head of the interim government, said that a US airbase outside the capital Bishkek, which is seen vital to the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan would remain open despite the shift in power.

Historic Bill to clip powers of Pakistan’s President

On April 19, 2010, President Zardari signed into law sweeping constitutional reforms relinquishing key powers designed to bolster parliamentary democracy weakened by military rule. The 18th Amendment had earlier been cleared by Pakistan’s Parliament and sent to him for his signature.

The amendment removes the head of State’s power to sack the Prime Minister and dissolve Parliament. It also removes many of the sweeping powers amassed by military dictators Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq. The Bill also abolishes a clause barring the election of a Prime Minister for more than two terms. This would allow the Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in 1999, to become Prime Minister again.

The amendment effectively makes the President of Pakistan a titular head of State who can only formally appoint heads of the armed forces, dissolve the National Assembly and appoint Provincial Governors on the advice of the Prime Minister. The law also takes away the President’s power to appoint and dismiss the heads of the Election Commission and the Public Service Commission.

UPFA returns to power in Sri Lanka

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's UPFA impressively returned to power on April 9, 2010, bagging 117 of 225 seats in the first post-LTTE era Parliamentary polls in Sri Lanka, with its closest rival UNF securing just 46 and detained ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka's DNA failing to touch even a double digit mark.

In Sri Lanka, the general elections directly decide 196 seats while the remaining 29 members are chosen based on the percentage of votes secured by each party.

The UPFA, which campaigned to get a two-third majority in the House, fell short of just six members to get the magic figure which is needed to bring about constitutional changes that the President wants to put in place. These changes include the scaling down of the executive powers vested with the President, as well as a change in the country’s proportional representation (PR) system of elections.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) saw much of its voter base eroded in the poll, the first since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, winning only 60 seats, down from the 82 it had won in the 2004 general election.

A third party led by detained former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka won seven seats, including one for the retired general, while the majority of the seats in the north and east were won by the Tamil National Alliance.

Civil strife in Bangkok

Thailand has been sliding to anarchy for the last few months with the capital Bangkok turning out to be a virtual battlefield. The current violence is the culmination of a political strife that has been brewing ever since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup in September 2006.

The protests looked like they had ended when Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva became the Prime Minister in December 2008. But in March, the pro-Thaksin group launched a new wave of protests to bring down the government.

The tension has escalated in recent months as the protesters laid siege to the capital Bangkok. As security forces launched a crackdown, violence escalated, leaving many dead.

Apart from the pro-Thaksin angle, the protests are also seen as an initiative to bring in more participation for the common people—read rural mass—in government formation.

In the December 2007 elections, held 18 months after the coup, Thaksin's vote bank remained loyal, though he was in exile. His allies came to power but fell following sustained protests by Yellow Shirts and unfavourable court rulings. In March 2009, Thaksin's supporters in red shirts poured into the streets of Bangkok, forming the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.

Though it was mostly made of the rural poor, students and pro-democracy activists joined them. Claiming that the judiciary was biased against Thaksin, they question the legitimacy and credibility of the current government. What began as innocuous sit-in protests outside government offices quickly turned violent when they stormed the venue for ASEAN summit, forcing its cancellation.

The Yellow Shirts, called the Peoples' Alliance for Democracy, who are bitterly opposed to Thaksin, were behind the street protests that led up to the military coup of September 2006. They were also instrumental in forcing Thaksin's allies out of power in 2008.

If the Red Shirts are mostly rural poor, the Yellow Shirts comprise royalists, businessmen and the urban middle-class. They wear yellow because it is the Thai King's colour. Media-baron Sondhi Limthongkul and General Chamlong Srimuang are seen as the leaders of this outfit. In 2006, as the Yellow Shirts shut down the capital, the army ousted Thaksin.

US, Russia ink pact to cut N-arsenal

On April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia signed a landmark strategic nuclear disarmament treaty. Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the pact at a ceremony in the mediaeval Prague Castle after talks that covered nuclear security, Iran's atomic programme and an uprising in the Central Asian State of Kyrgyzstan, where both major powers have military bases.

The treaty will cut strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War foes by 30 per cent within seven years, but leave each with enough to destroy the other.

Obama said the agreement had “ended the drift” in relations between Moscow and Washington and sent a strong signal that the two powers that together possess 90 per cent of all atomic weapons were taking their disarmament obligations seriously.

Icelandic Volcano causes air travel mess in Europe

Europe saw air traffic chaos in April 2010 as a plume of ash from the Icelandic volcano that erupted under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, made northern Europe a no-fly zone. An estimated 63,000 flights were cancelled, effecting more than five million passengers who were trying to get in and out of major cities of Europe. The eruption of the volcano caused the greatest air travel chaos since the Second World War II.

Goldman Sachs, another US financial behemoth in trouble

Goldman Sachs, the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history, released more than 70 pages of email and other documents on April 25, 2010, ahead of a US Senate sub-committee hearing on the firm’s actions throughout the mortgage meltdown. The firm disputes the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) claim that Goldman Sachs misled investors in a 2007 collateralised debt obligation (CDO) about the role played by hedge fund Paulson & Co, which bet the CDO would collapse.

SEC has accused Goldman Sachs of “making materially misleading statements and omissions” in connection with a synthetic collateralised debt obligation (CDO)—Abacus—that the firm structured and marketed to investors.

Goldman Sachs is said to have created marketing material about Abacus and invited its clients—investment managers of banks, insurance companies, pension funds, etc—to invest in the CDO. It is said to have given an impression to the investors that the residential mortgage-backed securities that made up the CDO were hand-picked by ACA Management—then seen as a reputable fund manager, looking after dozens of CDOs. Goldman clients invested in the CDO, believing these loans were of good quality.

SEC claims Goldman deliberately hid from its clients John Paulson’s involvement, which was a huge conflict of interest. Since Paulson was looking to short the sub-prime market, he was most likely to have picked the worst possible bonds.

Within a year, 99 per cent of the assets within Abacus were downgraded. Paulson, who was by this time betting against Abacus by buying $15 million worth of credit default swaps (CDS) on Abacus, earned around $1 billion from the trade.

Bonn climate talks

Delegates to the first UN climate talks after Copenhagen met in April 2010 in Bonn and agreed to intensify their negotiations on curbing greenhouse gases before 2010’s decisive ministerial conference in Cancun. As representatives of the 192 countries that are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they had a messy task. In the end, the parties to the UNFCCC merely “noted” the existence of the accord, as some were utterly opposed to it.

The aim of the negotiators was to pick up the broken pieces of the Danish meeting and see what could be salvaged and turned into a proper global agreement at the next UNFCCC conference, in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010.

The United States seems to be the only country that still sees the Copenhagen accord as having a life of its own. Almost all the rest, including countries that have “associated” themselves with the accord have insisted that the UNFCCC remains the only agreed decision-making forum. Hence the discussions in Bonn revolved around which bits of the accord could be brought into the UNFCCC and how.

The Bonn talks were mainly about procedures—for example, which texts to start with, how many meetings to hold before Cancun, whether to mandate the chair to prepare draft text, and so on—but there was also much informal stock-taking about which pieces could be put together by Cancun.

While some countries continued to call for an all-or-nothing approach, most feel that it is more realistic to aim for a number of less ambitious, partial agreements on several elements. These include ways to transfer climate-friendly technologies and funds for adaptation to climate change from rich to poorer countries, as well as a deal that would compensate countries for keeping their forests intact.

This would mean delaying the more difficult decisions on ambitious targets for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and an overall legally binding agreement to the conference in South Africa at the end of 2011 or beyond.

Over 110 nations back Copenhagen climate deal

More than 110 nations, including top greenhouse gas emitters led by China and the United States, back the non-binding Copenhagen Accord for combating climate change, according to a first formal UN list.

The list, of countries from Albania to Zambia, helped to end weeks of uncertainty about support for the deal, agreed at an acrimonious summit in the Danish capital in December 2009. The list was compiled by the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

The accord, falling short of a binding treaty sought by many nations, sets a goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. But, it does not spell out what each nation has to do.

It also promises almost $10 billion a year in aid for poor nations from 2010-12, rising to at least $100 billion from 2020, to help them slow emissions growth and cope with impacts such as floods, droughts and rising sea levels. Apart from China and the United States, the list also includes top emitters such as the European Union, Russia, India and Japan.

The accord was merely “noted” by the 194-nation summit after objections by a handful of developing nations, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Sudan. The United Nations then asked all countries to say if they wanted it to be listed. Many big emerging economies were initially reluctant to sign up after the deal failed to gain universal support, even though the original text was worked out by President Barack Obama with leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Nations not on the list include many Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries nations such as Saudi Arabia, which fear a loss of oil revenues if the world shifts to renewable energies, and some small island States which fear rising sea levels.

BASIC countries seek environment treaty by 2011

India, China, Brazil and South Africa, jointly called BASIC countries, have said that the legally binding climate treaty on reduction of carbon emission should be finalised latest by 2011 as the “world could not wait indefinitely”.

The third meeting of BASIC ministers concluded in Cape Town April 25, 2010.

The statement also said that the developing countries strongly support international legally-binding agreements, as the lack of such agreements hurts developing countries more than developed nations.

The ministers said that negotiations should follow a two-pronged approach. One track is on long-term cooperative action to combat climate change. The other is for developed countries to commit to what extent they will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, when the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs out.

The next BASIC ministerial meeting will be held at the end of July 2010 in Brazil, followed by one hosted by China at the end of October 2010.

International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament

Iran hosted an international conference on nuclear disarmament on April 17, 2010. Delegates from more than 60 countries, including as many as 25 foreign ministers or deputy foreign ministers, attended the conference, ignoring attempts by the West to dissuade them from attending the meet.

The presence of so many countries came as a pleasant surprise to Iran itself. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the response to the conference was overwhelming. He said the conference would go a long way in achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament and presenting to the international community the true nature of his country’s nuclear programme.

Even as the US was making a strong pitch for further sanctions against Iran, China and Russia, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, attended the meet. India, another key global player, was also present at the conference, though it was only represented by the Joint Secretary (Disarmament) in the External Affairs Ministry.

Iran showcased the two-day event to demonstrate that its nuclear programme was aimed at meeting its growing energy needs and that it has no military agenda.

Iran moots establishment of independent global group under the UN to plan nuclear disarmament and suspension of membership of the US and others which from the board of governors.

India opposes sanctions against Iran and feels that Tehran should enjoy all rights to develop N-energy for peaceful purposes.

Plot to sell Uranium foiled by Georgia

Georgian security forces have foiled a criminal plot to sell weapons-grade uranium in the black market, the country’s President told a gathering of world leaders on April 13, 2010.

The revelation brought a sense of urgency to the Washington summit on nuclear security, where Barack Obama called on the rest of the world “not simply to talk, but to act” to destroy vulnerable stockpiles of nuclear material, or to safeguard them against theft by terrorists.

Georgian sources said the highly-enriched uranium HEU was intercepted in a sting operation carried out by the Tbilisi authorities in March 2010. They said the uranium was more than 70 per cent enriched and appeared to have been pure enough to use in a crude nuclear weapon.

The amount seized was small, but Georgian officials said the gang was offering the HEU as a sample of a bigger quantity available for purchase.

“The Georgian ministry of interior has foiled eight attempts of illicit trafficking of enriched uranium during the last 10 years, including several cases of weapons-grade enrichment. Criminals associated with these attempts have been detained,” the Georgian President said.

Visit of Chinese President to USA

Chinese President Hu Jintao, during his visit to USA in April 2010, told US President Barack Obama that their two nations should defuse economic strains through negotiations, but neither leader touched on the yuan dispute. Hu also covered the Iran nuclear dispute and China’s demands over Tibet and Taiwan, two areas that recently flared as sore-spots in US-China relations.

The potentially touchy issue of China’s currency, the yuan, did not appear in either country’s public account of the chat. Domestic US political pressure has been building on the Obama administration to label China a “currency manipulator”.

The relationship between Beijing and Washington has been dragged down in recent months by disputes spanning China’s currency and internet controls, US arms sales to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, and Obama’s meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Both leaders agreed to work hard to ensure positive results at a second round of their Strategic and Economic Dialogue in May.

The United States welcomed Hu’s decision to attend the nuclear security summit, saying it would allow them to address a “shared interest in stopping nuclear proliferation and protecting against nuclear terrorism”.

SAARC Summit, 16th

The 16th SAARC summit began at Thimpu, Bhutan, on April 28, 2010, with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of seven other member nations pledging to combat extremism and terrorism, launch joint initiatives to deal with climate change and boost intra-regional trade.

The Summit ended on April 29, 2010, with leaders adopting the ‘Thimphu statement’ on climate change, signing an agreement on trade in services and expressing their firm resolve to stamp out terrorism from the region. The next summit would be held in the Maldives in 2011.

Facing criticism for the slow pace of development in the region, the SAARC leaders reiterated their commitment to implement the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) in letter and spirit to boost intra-regional economic cooperation for the prosperity of their people. The closing ceremony of the summit was attended by leaders from all the eight SAARC countries—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Representatives of nine observer countries—Mauritius, South Korea, China, Japan, Iran, the US, the EU, Australia and Myanmar—were also present.

The seven-page ‘Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration-Towards a Green and Happy South Asia’’ emphasised the importance of reducing dependence on high-carbon technologies for economic growth and hoped promotion of climate resilience will promote both development and poverty eradication in a sustainable manner.

In line with India’s position, the SAARC countries underlined that global negotiations on climate change should be guided by the principles of equity, and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities as enshrined in the UN framework convention and conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner. They also underscored the need to initiate the process to formulate a common SAARC position for the Mexico conference on climate change in December.

The SAARC leaders agreed to establish an inter-governmental expert group to develop clear policy directions for regional cooperation as envisaged in the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change. The leaders directed the SAARC Secretary-General to commission a study aimed at accreditation of SAARC with the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund as a regional entity for undertaking adaptation projects in South Asia.

IBSA Summit

The 2nd India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Summit was held in Brasilia on April 15, 2010. Speaking at the Summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the grouping of leading developing economies must speak against the protectionist policies, “which are only short-sighted and self-defeating in the long run”. IBSA can contribute to the shaping of the global agenda and highlighting the issues of concern to developing countries, he added.

Underlining that the world must ensure that “we do not repeat the mistakes of the past”, the Prime Minister said for the global economic recovery to be sustainable, it must be anchored in the real economy.

He also underlined the need for the IBSA to coordinate its positions in the G-20 and continue to pursue the early conclusion of the Doha round of trade negotiations “because a fair and rule-based multilateral trading system is in our interest”.

Nuclear Security Summit

World leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C., on April 12, 2010, set a stiff four-year target to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in the world to prevent terrorists from laying their hands on any of them.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the summit, the leaders emphatically stated: “Nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security” and agreed that “strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals or other unauthorised actors from acquiring nuclear material.” Another summit would be held in 2012 in South Korea to review the progress.

At a press conference after the summit, US President Barack Obama, under whose initiative the summit was convened, acknowledged that the task was tough but had to be done. Obama said: “This is an ambitious goal, and we are under no illusions that it will be easy. But the urgency of the threat, and the catastrophic consequences of even a single act of nuclear terrorism, demand an effort that is at once bold and pragmatic. And this is a goal that can be achieved.”

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said he was satisfied with the outcome of the summit and that it had endorsed what India had been pressing for at various international forms in the past several years.

The summit also recognised that even as nations fulfil their national responsibilities these could not addressed by countries working in isolation. What was needed was a sustained, effective programme of international cooperation. The leaders agreed that at the international level the need was for compliance with existing key conventions and initiatives.

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