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NightWatch 20110209


For the Night of 9 February 2011

South Korea-North Korea: Preliminary military talks between North and South Korea ended without any progress 9 February. The two sides failed to agree on the agenda and other key terms of the higher-level talks, and did not agree on a date for future working-level talks, the official said

In a bulletin carried by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, the North's delegation to the two-day colonel-level talks said its South Korean counterpart "unilaterally withdrew" after refusing to compromise on ways to set up higher-level defense talks.

"Our military and people no longer feel the need to meet (with the South) under the condition where the traitor's group is entirely refusing to talk while being reluctant to improve inter-Korean relations," the North Korean delegation said in the bulletin.

Comment: What actually happened is the North's delegates "unilaterally walked out of the meeting room without a remark" after exchanging words over their disputes. There are no surprises in this outcome. The South wanted the North to take responsibility for its attacks. The North wanted "unconditional" talks.

North Korea is out of ideas and resources. Without the new Chinese assistance and state-supported illegal activities, including currency counterfeiting and illegal drug manufacturing and sales, the regime could be toppled by skillful economic strategies. Red Cross talks will not be scheduled for now. The North is likely to resort to coercive tactics or a provocation to get attention and aid … that seems to be the pattern.

North Korea-US: North Korea has asked the United States to resume food aid that it suspended two years ago and has pledged to allow international monitors to oversee the food's distribution to the public, according to JoongAng Ilbo.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the United States has no plans to resume food aid to North Korea and that it has made clear to North Korea what is necessary in order for food aid to be restored. The criteria for resumed food aid includes assessing North Korean needs as well as having the ability to monitor the program to ensure that the food reaches the neediest people and is not diverted to those within the government, the spokesman said.

Comment: This overture showcases the continuing failure of the national ideology of self-reliance and the Kim Chong-il leadership team who ended UN food aid programs a few years ago. The shortage of resources is only matched by the incompetence of the highest leaders. Apparently prosperity will not be reached by the 100th birthday of the late Kim Il-sung in 2012, nor will food sufficiency.

Russia-Japan: On 9 February, President Dmitri Medvedev ordered Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to deploy additional weaponry on the disputed Kuril Islands claimed by Japan, saying Russia needs to expand its presence on a vital piece of its territory, AFP reported. The weapons must be sufficient and modern to ensure the security of Russia, Medvedev said. Serdyukov said the ministry would review what additional arms were needed on the islands and submit a report by the end of the month.

Comment: This is a deliberate affront to Japan. Both China and Russia are uninterested in peaceful or compromise resolution of island disputes lingering from the World Wars.

Egypt: Protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are asking citizens to take part in demonstrations on 11 February, for the "Day of Confrontation," Al Arabiya reported. One news service reported tens of millions of text messages about the event. According to a report in the Indian Express, "organizers" want a "big push" on Friday that could include storming parliament and the state television station in Cairo.

On 9 February, about 8,000 protesters, mainly farmers, set barricades of flaming palm trees in Assiut province in complaint of bread shortages, blocking the main highway and railway to Cairo, The Associated Press reported.

In Cairo, about 10,000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, 2,000 protesters gathered near the parliament and hundreds of state electricity workers stood in front of the South Cairo Electricity Co. demanding that its director step down.

Public transport workers at five of the Cairo's 17 garages also protested, calling for President Mubarak to step down and vowing that buses would be halted on 10 February. Public Transport Authority (PTA) drivers and employees said they demand better incentives. Several hundred workers demonstrated at factories in Cairo's industrial suburb of Helwan and strikes entered a second day in the city of Suez.

About 5,000 workers at various state companies -- including textile workers, medicine bottle manufacturers, sanitation workers and a firm involved in repairs for ships on the Suez Canal -- held separate strikes and protests at their factories.

Roughly 3,000 Egyptian National Railways (ENR) employees went on strike and demanded Transport Minister Atef Abdel Hamid re-evaluate their incentives, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported 9 February. The employees sat on railway lines and said they would not move until their demands are satisfied. ENR had instructions to answer demands and end the strike peaceably, a Transport Ministry official said.

About 3,000 protesters near Port Said, northeast of Cairo, torched the Port Said governorate headquarters after finding a complaint they had sent to the governor in a garbage can, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Protesters also clashed for several hours with security forces and police in Al-Wadi Al-Gadeed in the early morning hours, Ahram Online reported. The incident began outside of the police station, and security and fire personnel were sent to defend the city's police headquarters as the confrontation intensified. Protesters managed to set the station, as well as an adjoining prison, on fire, destroying it.

Comment: The significance of the incidents outside Cairo is that the movement is changing. Important stakeholders in the system - farmers, factory workers, drivers, port and canal workers, railroad workers - have finally appeared in the protest mix. In Cairo and in the towns where government buildings and police stations were attacked, that was the old protest movement still at work.

The new protests involve people with a lot to lose from job actions. Their complaints are different too, consistently about economic conditions. They have the power to steer the protests in a very different direction than the educated urban youth in Cairo.

The workers groups simply could be taking advantage of the stress in the system to bargain for better working conditions. On the other hand, if strikes and workers' job actions persist and expand, today's protests will represent a turning point that could lead to a bottom-up revolution. And if merchants and professionals stop work, Readers should expect marches on Cairo, vice in Cairo, and violence. In any event, the lull was short-lived and the confrontation is heading towards escalating violence. This is a warning.

Note: al Jazeera is note cited as the source of any of the above reports of protests.

Politics. Senior Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member Essam el-Erian said MB talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman have yet to tackle the central issue of the transfer of power, Reuters reported. El-Erian said the talks were a struggle over the stubbornness of President Mubarak. MB member Saad el-Katatni said a second meeting of preliminary talks would happen within days and that the MB must be serious when real talks do begin.

Vice President Omar Suleiman said during an interview President Mubarak will remain in office until September 2011, during which he will implement reforms, Al-Ahram reported. A presidential election will be held on 14 October under judicial and international observation, and Mubarak has promised that no one in his family will run for the office, Suleiman said. Suleiman added that the Muslim Brotherhood should engage in talks with the government because it is a political force with a social agenda.

Comment: In this interview, Suleiman legitimated the Brotherhood in national life, contrasting with the constant harassment and roundups that have characterized the government's handling of the Brotherhood during every election campaign. This is a red flag for a deal between the Army and the Brotherhood.

President Mubarak will not travel to Germany for a medical check-up, Vice President Suleiman said, adding Egypt is thankful for the German offer but the president does not need medical treatment, according to the German news service DPA.

Libya: Leader Qadhafi in a private meeting warned activists, journalists and media personalities that they would be held responsible if they participated in disturbances of the peace, witnesses said. The National Conference for the Libyan Opposition and political activists called for a Libyan "Day of Rage" on 17 February. Most of the attendees at the private meeting were from eastern Libyan cities, witnesses said.

Comment: The strength of the Qadhafi regime has been questionable for many years, but not put to the test … yet.

Correction: Special thanks to a brilliant and diligent Reader who provided more accurate information on the Erdogan quote. In 1995 Prime Minister Erdogan said, "Democracy is like a streetcar, when you come to your stop you get off." Democracy as a tool is a different view of democracy from that which Americans and most Europeans hold. It accurately describes what Hamas did and maybe a guide for what other groups will do or have begun to do.

End of NightWatch for 9 February.

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