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NightWatch 20110221

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For the Night of 21 February 2011

Japan-Russia-US: Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned the US Ambassador about "recent official statements" from the State Department and US Embassy in Moscow that supported Japan's claim to the southern Kuril Islands/Northern Territories. US officials said the incident was a misunderstanding, but repeated the official US position on the islands since 1952, which encourages dialogue but supports Japan's claim.

Comment: This is a sensitive issue with the Russians, but oddly their pressure on Japan encourages China in asserting claims against Japanese-held islands that the Chinese claim. The continental countries dislike the archipelago country.

North Korea: Minister of the People's Armed Forces Vice Marshal Kim Yong Chun requested high-level military talks between Pyongyang and Washington in a statement delivered to US Secretary of Defense Gates at the US Embassy in Beijing, Joon Gang Daily reported 21 February, citing a South Korean government official. After requesting similar military talks with South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin on 20 January, North Korea suggested Washington and Pyongyang meet to discuss denuclearization, the recovery of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War and measures to ease military tensions along the Northern Limit Line. According to the official, North Korea's request was flatly refused by the United States.

The big story over the weekend was South Korean reporting that North Korea has resumed drilling at its nuclear test site in far northern North Korea.

Comment: This is the third time in the past year that the workers have been active at the site. The leadership in Pyongyang relies on its 60-plus year record which shows that provocations are the surest path to negotiations and extorting aid from South Korea and the US. With the US distracted by the turmoil in the Middle East, the North Korean leaders will be prone to perceive the timing is perfect time to threaten to whipsaw the US administration while seeking bribes… er… incentives for good behavior.

North Korea-South Korea: Changing inter-Korean relations into trust and reconciliation to realize national unification is the persistent position of North Korea, which makes efforts to this effect constantly, according to North Korea's paper Rodong Sinmun on 21 February.

Recent tensions between the Koreas are at odds with both the age and the will of the whole nation, the paper said, adding that confrontation between the Koreas can only bring about division and war. The political and military confrontation should cease and South Korea should immediately stop its anti-North Korea policy, which is an obstacle to reconciliation and unification.

Comment: The North Korean leaders consider it hostile and confrontational for South Korea to require an apology and reparations for the North's murder of South Korean sailors last March and island citizens last November.

China: Senior domestic security official and member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, Zhou Yongkang said improving social management through forward-looking, active and effective innovations should be Chinese authorities' top priority. China needs to detect conflicts and problems in a fast-changing society and try to ease them at the grassroots level, China Police Daily and Xinhua reported on 21 February. Zhou also said China needed to adapt to new social and economic trends and maintain the people's rights in solving social contradictions while they are "still embryonic."

Regional Chinese authorities clearly understood Zhou's message. They detained dozens of political activists after an anonymous online call for people to start a "Jasmine Revolution" in China by protesting in 13 cities-just a day after President Hu Jintao called for tighter Internet controls to help prevent social unrest.

Only a handful of people appeared to have responded in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities at 2 p.m. local time on 20 February. The call was first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website and circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Chinese authorities took it seriously, while its was "still embryonic," deploying extra police to the planned protest sites, deleting almost all online discussion of the appeal, blocking searches for the word "Jasmine" on Twitter-like microblogs and other sites and temporarily disabling mass text-messaging services.

The protest appeal urged people to "take responsibility for the future" and to shout a slogan that encapsulated some of the most pressing social issues in China: "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness!"

Comment: The upshot of Zhou's statements in light of police action is the communist precept that the best uncontrolled protests are those that never get started. That is one apparent lesson the Chinese are drawing from the bungled handling of protests in the Arab states.

A second lesson is that there should be at least one policeman for every protestor. This force ratio is achievable when protests are "still embryonic" and in China.

Cambodia-Thailand: For the record. Local Cambodian Governor Hem Sophal says soldiers from the two countries were separately patrolling the border on Saturday when dogs accompanying them began fighting. He says that led the soldiers to briefly exchange fire, though no one was hurt.

Hem Sophal expressed regret at the incident Monday, saying Cambodian soldiers normally have good relations with their Thai counterparts. Some dog fight.

Bahrain: Bahraini opposition group Youth of 14 February, named for the first day of protest marches, released a statement calling for the complete overthrow of the ruling monarchy, according to the Associated Press on 21 February. The statement also called for authorities to be put on trial for attacks against protesters that resulted in at least seven dead and hundreds injured.

On the other hand, thousands of government supporters demonstrated in Manama on 21 February and allegiance to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The demonstrators gathered around the Sunni Fateh mosque for evening prayers, carrying posters with pictures of King Hamad, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa and Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.

Comment: A week ago the protestors were not anti-monarchy, just pro-reform, whatever that term means. It is not clear that coercion can suppress the demonstrators because the Arab armies are falling apart and eroding the police power of the state. It is clear that concessions cause the protestors to escalate their demands. That is always the case in internal instability problems.

If the armed forces remain loyal and have the stomach for suppression, the monarchy should survive. The GCC countries might be invited to reinforce Bahrain's forces to preserve the monarchy.

Yemen: Thousands of Yemenis began demonstrations in front of the University of Sanaa demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Al Alam reported 21 February. President Saleh rejected demands he step down and said the anti-regime demonstrations were unacceptable acts of provocation, according to an Associated Press account.

Saleh renewed calls for talks with demonstrators but also ordered the army to fire at protesters in cases of self-defense. Security forces opened fire on protesters in Aden on 21 February, Al Alam reported, citing medical sources.

Comment: Saleh's survival also depends on the loyalty and responsiveness of the armed forces. However, his is a balancing act to keep opposition tribes and al Qaida operatives out of the anti-government uprising. That means Yemen would not have enough forces to keep Saleh in power if all opposition groups gang up and work together.

Thus far only the Chinese have a successful coercion solution for handling these protests. The security forces must outnumber the protestors. Typical police, anti-riot rules of thumb do not work.

Egypt: Egyptian online democracy activists are calling for a demonstration on 22 February to demand the removal of the country's interim government because it contains too many of the same people that were in the government before, Reuters reported on 22 February. The march, which aims to rally a million followers, has been called "Tuesday of Challenge."

Comment: Too late, the kids are coming to understand they have been had by the army. This protest will be the first test of the Army's ban on demonstrations.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader Mohamed Badie said the group will create a new party called "Freedom and Justice," and the founders' names will be announced shortly, Ikhwanonline reported. Badie said membership will be open to all Egyptians who support the party's views.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rejected a government cabinet reshuffle on 20 February. Senior MB member Essam el-Erian said the MB was not offered any posts and it would have refused all offers because it demands the entire government resign as it is part of the former regime. El-Erian added that the MB wants a technocratic government with no connection to the old era.

Comment: The Brothers understand the power situation and have taken advantage of the government disarray to emerge in the open as a legitimate political actor. Everyday they test the limits of permissible political discourse under the martial law government. Three months ago, MB leaders would have found themselves in jail for criticizing a cabinet shuffle. Thus far they have gained more than any other political entity from the 18 days of demonstrations. The name of the new party resonates with Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party.

Sudan: President Omar al Bashir will not run for president in the next election in 2015, according to Rabie Abdelati, an official of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Abdelati denied al Bashir's decision comes under pressure from the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world, saying NCP's political strategy is to broaden participation

Comment: Bashir has led Sudan since the coup of 1989 and been its elected president since 1996. He was re-elected in April 2010 for a five year term. He apparently is trying to avert an uprising in Khartoum. Long time rulers in Arab states have had an amazing political epiphany since late January.

More on this later.

Libya: Libyan leader Qadhafi appeared on Libyan state TV late on 21 February to show and announce that he is in Tripoli, not France or Venezuela, as international news media reported.

The government's General Committee for Defense issued a communiqué on 21 February, according to state TV, which declared that gangs of terrorists are attacking citizens, blocking the movement of goods, frightening vendors and customers, threatening to shut down civilian services and trying to rob banks.

In response, military officers have been deployed along with security forces to clear gangs of terrorists with military force. The gangs comprise juveniles who have been exploited by others with foreign agendas and most of the individuals belong to al Qaida or other suspicious groups. The terrorists must be captured and tried, and all citizens, including the families of the gang members, must coordinate with the general security force to rehabilitate the youth. Telephone numbers will be provided for citizens to pass on evidence to the security forces.

Comment: One statement attributed to Qadhafi in reaction to the protests is that he created Libya and he will destroy it.

Tripoli. The ant--government movement marched on and entered Tripoli on 20 and 21 February. Several government buildings were set on fire, including the Hall of the People, where the legislature meets. Qadhafi's forces waved green flags in Tripoli's Green Square under the protection of police, witnesses said. Loyal security forces defended the state television headquarters and the presidential palace as they fell back in Tripoli, The Associated Press reported, but protesters looted state Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia radio offices and torched branches of the People's Committees, as well as police stations overnight, various news services reported.

Multiple news services reported Libyan air force jets attacked groups of protestors in the outskirts of Tripoli and in Benghazi, reportedly on Qadhafi's orders. Qadhafi's son Saif al-Islam Qadhafi denied that civilians were targets. He said the aircraft fired on military installations in order to ensure that the weaponry inside the installations did not fall into the hands of protesters. Saif also said the number of dead was 84 whereas all other open sources place it over 250, which 61 killed on Monday, 21 February.

The Libyan navy attacked a residential area outside Tripoli, killing several people, a London-based spokesman for the National Front for the Salvation of Libya said, citing eyewitnesses.

Benghazi to Tripoli. Libyan Lieutenant General Mohamed Saber said in an interview with the German news service DPA on 21 February that he asks the United Nations and international community to intervene in Benghazi before the air force fires on them from airplanes. Saber helped protesters take control of Benghazi by defecting along with at least one army battalion.

One report indicated some protestors in Benghazi raised the flag of the Libyan monarchy under King Idris, whom a small group of junior officers led by Qadhafi overthrew in 1969.

Saber said the international community should interfere to at least save their oil interests and that Libyan leader Qadhafi had previously sent armed soldiers to Benghazi to damage buildings, cripple oil pipelines and poison the water. Saber said he is one of many members of the army who defected to join protesters in Benghazi and that he is helping locals to form popular committees to restore order and security in the city.

Protesters have taken over and seized weapons from the main security headquarters in Benghazi, Libya, The Associated Press. They found in the building the bodies of 13 security officers, who had been handcuffed, shot in the head and set on fire, according to a doctor at the local hospital. The doctor said the protesters believe the 13 were shot by other security forces for refusing to attack protesters.

Witnesses said the main airport in the city has been closed, police have disappeared from the streets, and youth volunteers and some army units have begun directing traffic and guarding homes and other buildings. Some army units have sided with protesters against pro-regime militias and security forces, according to a merchant. Reportedly an elite battalion that is commanded by one of Qadhafi's sons and was sent to Benghazi to suppress the uprising, has been surrounded by protestors and defecting army units.

The box score of towns reported under protestor control includes Benghazi, Sirte, Tobruk, Misurata, Khoms, Tarhunah, Zentan, al-Zawiya and Zouara, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Comment: The accuracy of the box score cannot be established yet. The meaning of control and the status of towns is not clear because the government has tried to isolate the country.

The movement to Tripoli, the center of power, and the importance of the guns conforms to the theory of internal instability for uprisings and revolutions. The protest movement has hammered on fissures in the leadership and broken its unity. That means the government and the government system is likely to fall.

Libya remains a tribe-based state to a degree not appreciated or understood well in most of the West. At least four major tribes, including the Touaregs, reportedly have declared for the protestors against Qadhafi. A tribal uprising is an important component of the Libyan instability.

The interesting difference between Qadhafi and other Arab strong men is that the regime and the system really is him and his delegations to family members. Only in the past ten years has Qadhafi allowed the government to pass laws that would make business ventures attractive and predictable.

His resignation and that of his family would be a de facto revolution and leave a political vacuum. For example, Libya has no constitution. Qadhafi really is known as "leader."

Diplomats and officials. Libyan diplomat Ahmad Jibreel said key cities near the Egyptian border are now controlled by protesters, and this may allow foreign media outlets to enter Libya. According to Jibreel, the Libyan security minister is currently in Benghazi, joining the protesters and fighting the mercenaries and regime guards.

Libyan army chief Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabir has reportedly been placed under house arrest after siding with the protesters, according to an unnamed Libyan official, BBC News reported. It also reported that Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud al Jeleil has resigned over violence against protesters.

Libyan police and customs officers have deserted the main border crossing between Libya and Tunisia in Ras Jdir, according to military and customs officers and local witnesses. One customs officer from Tunisia reported seeing no security personnel on the Libyan side at all. Tunisia alone is overseeing the border at Ras Jdir, according to a soldier

Ripple effects.

Two helicopters landed with two fighter jets at Malta International Airport on Feb. 21, Le Monde reported. The passengers were either Benghazi military officers or French citizens, Maltese government sources said.

Comment: Many Readers might not be aware that some European countries, notably Italy, have cultivated close economic ties to the Qadhafi regime, encouraged by Saif's management of economic development. (Saif has a PhD from the London School of Economics and is a professional architect.) China has tried to grab a share of Libyan wealth as well.

In the other direction, Libya has been investing in other Middle Eastern countries because Qadhafi wants to leave a grand legacy as an Arab leader. A revolution in Libya would generate significant economic ripples in Europe and the Middle East, especially if oil production is disrupted, which has not occurred.

Morocco: Morocco's King Mohammed VI said on 21 February that he would announce "deep reforms" after five people were killed in pro-democracy demonstrations on Sunday. The King made the pledge while announcing the newly formed Economic and Social Council to be chaired by former interior minister Chakib Benmoussa, which will advise the government on economic and social policy and includes representatives of trade unions, employers and political parties.

On Sunday, in response to a Back to NightWatch List