Politics this week
Jan 20th 2011
From The Economist print edition
From The Economist print edition
As protests persisted across Tunisia, its president for the past 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia, leaving his prime minister to try to cobble together a unity government including several former members of the opposition. It was unclear whether this would help restore calm. Several nominees refused to join the new government unless Mr Ben Ali’s party was completely swept from power. Officials said 78 people had been killed in street violence in the past few weeks; the opposition said the true figure was several times higher. See article
A wave of self-immolations, to copy the action of a young man who sparked Tunisia’s upheaval in December, took place in some Arab countries, including Algeria and Egypt. See article
Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who is the defence minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition in Israel, split from the Labour party, of which he had been the leader, to form a new party called Independence. He took four of Labour’s parliamentarians with him, while the other eight left the coalition in the hope of rejuvenating the peace camp opposed to the government. See article
In the most lethal attack against the authorities in Iraq since November, a suicide-bomber killed at least 60 people outside a police-recruitment centre in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, north of Baghdad. The next day another suicide-bomber used an ambulance to kill at least ten people in Baquba, a city north-east of the capital.
As the polls closed in South Sudan’s referendum on whether to secede from the north, preliminary results suggested that the yes vote would exceed 90%.
Italian prosecutors said they were investigating charges that Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, had paid for sex with an underage Moroccan-born dancer, among others, and had abused his office by securing her release from police custody. Extracts from the dancer’s wiretapped conversations were published in the press, including a comment from one woman that the prime minister had “even become ugly”. Mr Berlusconi denied the allegations. See article
Brian Cowen, Ireland’s beleaguered prime minister, survived a confidence vote in his leadership of Fianna Fail, the main governing party. He will now lead his party into a general election, probably in March, at which it is expected to take a pounding. See article
At a meeting of euro-zone ministers in Brussels, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, squashed hopes of an immediate relaxation in the rules governing the use of the €440 billion ($593 billion) rescue fund created last May. The European Commission had earlier called for an increase in its lending capacity.
It emerged that British and Russian police were investigating the activities of four Russian government officials assigned to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The bank said it had lifted immunity from prosecution for the four.
Doctors took congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords off the critical list, though she remains in a serious condition. After the Tucson shootings, and a well-received speech by Barack Obama calling for more civility in American politics, congressmen made an effort to tone down the rhetoric; some even urged their colleagues to abandon the usual party seating divisions at next week’s state-of-the-union address.
Republicans in the House voted to overturn last year’s health-care-reform act. The measure was largely symbolic and has no chance of advancing, but the party has vowed to introduce a steady drip of further bills to dismantle the reforms.
Reince Priebus won a ballot to become the chairman of the Republican national party, ending the gaffe-laden tenure of Michael Steele.
Some old hands in the Senate decided not to seek re-election in 2012: Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 but has since occasionally antagonised Democrats, notably over his staunch support for the Iraq war; Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota; and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas.
Hu Jintao visited America. After a fractious few months that have brought differences to the fore over arms build-ups, currency policy and other issues, the Chinese president and his American counterpart were at pains to stress the benefits of the relationship between the two countries. China agreed to $45 billion in trade and investment contracts during the trip. Mr Hu said that China and America should “respect each other’s choice of development path”.
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, agreed to a request by a special election court to delay the inauguration of a new parliament until February 22nd, to give it more time to investigate allegations of fraud at last year’s election.
The Communist Party in Vietnam wrapped up an important congress with an apology by the outgoing party chief for mishandling the economy. Yet the prime minister kept his job.
The Association of South-East Asian Nations called on Western countries to lift sanctions on Myanmar, now that Aung San Suu Kyi was free and a parliament about to convene.
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a former dictator, returned unexpectedly to Haiti, where he was questioned by prosecutors who charged him with embezzlement and corruption before releasing him. A judge will now consider whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. Mr Duvalier’s return coincides with a dispute over the result of a presidential election. Another exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, promptly said he too wants to return. See article
Barack Obama’s administration relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba by academic, religious and cultural groups and indicated that it would permit more charter flights to the island. Americans will now be allowed to send money to Cubans to support “private economic activity”. See article
The death toll from the recent flooding and mud landslides in towns located near the mountains behind Rio de Janeiro rose to at least 740. Another 21,500 people have been left homeless. See article