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NightWatch 20100315


For the Night of 15 March 2010

North Korea: The Daily Telegraph published information from unidentified South Korean intelligence officials that Kim Chong-il has a $4 billion "emergency fund" hidden in secret accounts in European banks that he will use to continue his lavish way of life if he is forced to flee the country.

The officials said that the Kim family favored Swiss banks but have switched to Luxembourg banks because the Swiss have begun to tighten regulations on money laundering.

Note: The amount represents one tenth of the North Korean GDP, measured in parity purchasing power or about one seventh of the GDP at the official exchange rate. It is a scandalous amount for an impoverished country, but is typical of the practices of oriental despots. Actually, $4 billion probably represents just one of several funds.

Concerning the leadership succession, a Japan-based NGO reported that the official portrait of Kim Jong-un, the third son of and presumptive heir to Kim Chong-il, is ready for public distribution. Over the weekend Yonhap published remarks by Lee Young-hwa, president of "Rescue the North Korean People! Urgent Action Network" (RENK) who said that the regime has copies of the heir apparent's portrait ready, and "we assume that these will be distributed on Kim Il-sung's birthday, which falls on April 15. …This means that the regime is getting closer to announcing Jong-un's succession," Lee said.

The Great Leader and President Forever's birthday is one of the three top national holidays, along with that of his son Kim Chong-il on 16 February. This year 8 January, the birthday of Kim Jong-un, was designated one of the North's "biggest holidays.

Too good to omit: Last month, Radio Free Asia also reported the regime began to restrict the use of the name "Jong-un," instructing people with the same name to change it. Celebrity has a different meaning in North Korea.

Thailand: Prime Minister Abhisit ordered security forces to increased alert so as to ensure law and order after six M79 grenade rounds were fired into the First Infantry Regiment compound in capital Bangkok. Two soldiers of the First Infantry Battalion of the First Infantry Regiment were wounded. This is the installation where the Prime Minister has been residing during the protests of the past two days.

The prime minister's directive was relayed by acting government spokesman Panithana Watanayagorn as saying, according to the National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT).

Later today, The Nation reported Thai police arrested a man believed to have fired the M79 grenades.

Comment: One of the worst developments in a mass opposition protest movement in a partial democracy is an escalation to violence. A single small act has huge ripple effects in undermining the legitimacy of the mass assembly and deflects attention from the substance of the protest itself. Possibly the only worse development is violence directed against one of the foundations of the state, the monarchy or, in this instance, the Royal Thai Army. Thaksin's Red Shirts know this better than anyone, but the perpetrator is insignificant after the shots are fired.

The moment the shots were fired the chances for political change, even dialogue, dissipated. The side with the most guns wins. This is a study in democracy.

India: Update. The Home Secretary, Gopal Pillai, said evidence indicates that Indian Islamists are responsible for the bombing in Pune, north of Mumbai, on 13 February that killed 16 people. Pillai said the evidence indicates that the Indian Mujahideen (IM) militant group was involved in the bombing, and not a Hindu militant group.

Pillai also said that IM agents are trained in Pakistan and have links with Lashkar-e-Taiba. "The handlers are the same, the set of handlers which was involved in Mumbai," Pillai said. Over the weekend authorities arrested two suspected IM operatives in Mumbai, who were believed to be planning bomb attacks, including in the offices of energy firm Oil and Natural Gas Corp.

Pillai is the top civil servant in the Home Affairs Ministry of Minister Chidambaram. Chidambaram has promised swift and decisive response if the attack is found to have been planned and executed from Pakistan.

Note: Secretary Pillai's statement is the first officially to identify the perpetrators of the Pune attack. It lays the ground work for the next round of accusations and discussions about Pakistan's security lapses, in Pakistan as well as against India.

India-Russia: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says his talks with Russian Prime Minister Putin on Friday (12 March) went beyond the 22 agreements they signed. "There is much that India and Russia can do together to advance global peace and stability and the process of global economic revival. We've agreed to intensify our consultations on Afghanistan and the challenges posed by terrorism and extremism in our region," he said.

The centerpieces of Putin's brief visit were energy and weapons. To help India meet a shortage of electricity for its booming economy, Russia is to build between 12 and 16 nuclear power plants; six of them by 2017. Russia is already building two units in Tamil Nadu State, in southeastern India.

During a video tele-conference with Indian business leaders, Putin said Russia would also supply India with fuel for the reactors and cooperate on disposal of nuclear waste from the new plants. He called Russia's nuclear technology among the safest in the world.

Probably the most significant agreement was that about the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, to settle the protracted dispute over the cost of the sale and refurbishing of the ship. The original price was about $1 billion, owing to incompetence by the Russian bidders and Indian naval engineers. The final price was renegotiated to about $2.3 billion because the ship was in poorer condition than first reported. Still, at that price, it is about half the cost of a new construction carrier and will be available in 2012.

India also agreed to buy 69 additional combat aircraft from Russia and to work with the Russians to develop a 5th generation fighter.

Comment: Some of the commentators have warned about the significance of Russia's reemergence in South Asian affairs and so on. The agreements signify that India remains in no one's camp and that Russia never left South Asian affairs. Even with respect to Afghanistan, Russia has been involved for more than a century and always is just over the horizon.

Afghanistan: Today, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the weekend suicide-murders in Kandahar that killed 36 and injured 73 people. "According to the details, armed attacks accompanied by a series of heavy explosions were carried out by the hero mojahedin of the Islamic Emirate in the heart of Kandahar city on Khad [national security] headquarters; the security command; Khojak Baba; the residence of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of the council, near the residence of the governor; the foreign forces' base near Dand intersection; and the town's Sarpuza prison."

"According to the source, these bloody and successful attacks - whose aim was to respond to the warning of the invading forces' commander McChrystal, and also to show to the world public that the mojahedin have the ability to carry out such attacks with God's assistance under any conditions wherever and whenever they want and that the enemy cannot stop them - were carried out on specific targets in an organized manner and in accordance to plan."

Comment: As a warning, the attacks fall short because the Taliban, or sympathetic Pashtun clans near Kandahar, have demonstrated this capability repeatedly. Rather, they have exposed the continuing ineptitude of all Coalition forces responsible for security the most important city in the Pashtun heartland. At least the Canadians prevented another mass jail break this time.

Security and Kandahar have become a cruel joke and the Karzai family is in the middle of the problems.

Iran: Iran confirmed that death sentences were given to at least six protesters for their role in anti-government demonstrations in December, Fars news agency reported 15 March. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted as saying that the six cases were going through the appellate court and the sentences had yet to be finalized. Freedom of speech is not free in the Islamic Republic.

Mexico: For the record. Suspected drug gang "hit teams", in coordination, killed two Americans and a Mexican linked to the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez on Saturday. The Chihuahua state government said Mexican and US agencies believe a gang known as "The Aztecas", which works for the Juarez Cartel, is behind the drive-by killings.

For the record. Action 4 News reported that a Mexican Navy helicopter made an unauthorized landing in Zapata County last week. Witnesses said the helicopter had a Mexican Navy logo, armed men inside and the cargo ramp down. The US government has intervened to settle the issue, but a local resident said, "That's kind of scary knowing that any aircraft can fly over us, and anything

could happen to any of us," said a concerned citizen. "It's scary for us because we're closer to the border…"

It appears to be easier for a foreign military aircraft to make an unauthorized landing in Texas than it is in Afghanistan or Iraq.

End of NightWatch for 15 March.

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