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Bahrain braced for new wave of repression

Staff, Guardian
Bahrain is braced for a fresh bout of violent repression as new arrests and the alleged death of a female student fuel sectarian tensions in the tiny Gulf state.

Armoured vehicles and security forces were reported to be gathering in the streets of the capital, Manama, and in surrounding suburbs and villages.

Meanwhile, evidence has emerged that Saudi forces have been involved in violence against the opposition in the mainly Shia villages and suburbs around Manama.
(16 April 2011)

President Assad’s promises fail to quell Syrian protests

Alexandra Sandels and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
In a rebuke of concessions made by their ruler a day earlier, thousands of Syrians took to the streets Sunday for another day of anti-government demonstrations, clashing with club-wielding plainclothes government operatives in cities around the nation.

President Bashar Assad had vowed a day earlier to enact reforms and remove decades-old emergency laws which have given security forces free reign to monitor and arrest suspected dissidents. At the same time, Assad warned a seething political movement inspired by revolutions across the Arab world to end their campaign of civil disobedience.

Neither his promises nor warning appeared to appease a protest movement that still seems to be gathering steam. Nor have they halted the actions of security forces that have allegedly killed 200 people in weeks of unrest.
(17 April 2011)

If Ollanta Humala wins a run-off vote in June, he could align Peru with Latin America’s political left

Greg Grandin, Al Jazeera
Last week, in Peru’s presidential election, Ollanta Humala, a 48-year old former military officer, pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory.

Beating his four main rivals with over 30 per cent of the vote, Humala, who has called for a fairer distribution of Peru’s enviable economic growth, scares Washington and Wall Street.

Peruvians have committed “political suicide”, declared a former US ambassador to the country following the vote.

Equally unnerved is Peru’s Noble Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, who often uses his considerable descriptive talents to render in subtle hues the anxieties of Lima’s upper-class whites.

Since Humala didn’t get 50 per cent of the vote, he will face Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, in a June run off – a choice Vargas Llosa describes as akin to one between “AIDS and terminal cancer”.

Many Peruvians, though, have worse fates in store for them than those two diseases. Despite Peru’s impressive macroeconomic performance, including low inflation, over the last decade, well over thirty per cent of Peru’s thirty million people live in poverty, and eight per cent in extreme poverty.

In the countryside, particularly the indigenous countryside, more than half of all families are poor, many desperately so.

Central areas in Lima, the capital, are booming. Profits skimmed off the high price of precious metals – silver, zinc, copper, tin, lead, and gold make up sixty per cent of the country’s exports and finance the rise of luxury condos and malls.

But the city is also sprawling outward. Mining and other high-capital, low-labour export industries – among them, logging, petroleum, natural gas, and biofuels plantations – are ripping up the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands, throwing a steady number of families into Lima, where they add block after block to its perimeter.

… News of Humala’s first-round victory sent Peru’s currency and bond prices sharply down. Opinion and policy makers in Lima and the US rushed to their keyboards to warn of “class warfare”, as did the former US ambassador cited above.

The “outcome”, he said, “could not have been worse”. There is a saying in Latin America to describe the hysteria that overcomes elites when they hear someone suggesting a more equitable distribution of wealth: “when they sit down to dinner, they see Hugo Chavez in their soup.”

Can Humala win in June? According to The Economist, polls taken before last week’s election found that “more than 77 per cent of voters expressing an opinion wanted to modify the country’s development model”. And 37 per cent wanted radical change.
(15 April 2011)

Furious Greeks press for country to default on debt

Helena Smith, The Observer
Violence on the streets as backlash grows over Greece’s austerity package and €110bn bailout

A growing chorus of voices is urging the Greek government to restructure its debt as fears grow that a €110bn bailout has failed to rescue the country from the financial abyss and is forcing ordinary people into an era of futile austerity.

“It’s better to have a restructuring now … since the situation is going nowhere,” said Vasso Papandreou, whose views might be easier to discount were she not head of the Greek parliament’s economic affairs committee.

Other members of prime minister George Papandreou’s party have said that Greece is locked in a “vicious cycle”, unable to dig itself out of crisis with policies that can only deepen recession.

International fears of a Greek default rose last week after the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, refused to rule it out and markets, sensing upheaval, sent Greek borrowing costs soaring.

… Amid speculation over the country’s ability to avoid default, a wave of civil disobedience is causing many to wonder if Greece is becoming ungovernable.
(17 April 2011)