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NightWatch 20110303


For the Night of 3 March 2011

Philippines-China: The Philippine military on 2 March sent two military aircraft to patrol the ocean and air space near Reed Bank, a long time Philippine-occupied territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines took the action in response to the behavior of two Chinese patrol boats which harassed a Philippine ship searching for oil, according to Philippine military commander Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban.

A Philippine OV-10 aircraft and an Islander light patrol aircraft were deployed after the incident was reported, Sablan said. The Chinese boats appeared ready to ram the Philippine vessel on two occasions before turning away, a military official said. No warning shots were fired and the ships later left, officials said. A Philippine navy patrol vessel was sent to secure oil exploration activities at the Reed Bank, and the Chinese Embassy would not immediately respond to Philippine requests for an explanation.

Comment: The significance of this incident is that it shows that China intends to assert its claims to sovereignty of the South China Sea to the shores of the Philippines. Incidents involving the Japanese are neither unique nor isolated. Ship ramming appears to be an approved Chinese tactic.

Prior to this incident, the Japanese complaints about Chinese behavior appeared anecdotal, idiosyncratic and racial. This incident shows the Chinese claim everything in the South China Sea, regardless of race, color, creed or national sovereignty.

Pakistan: A Pakistani court ruled Thursday it would proceed with the trial of an American CIA contractor arrested for killing two Pakistanis, but held off on charging him, lawyers for both sides said. The court also said there was no evidence that Raymond Allen Davis had diplomatic immunity as his lawyers and Washington insist, they said.

Comment: The trial court is proceeding although it expects a ruling from the Lahore High Court about the diplomatic status of the accused. Threats against the government in the event it releases the accused have politically charged the atmosphere and limited the options available to the Pakistani government for releasing the accused.

Jurisprudence in Pakistan is no longer politically neutral. The Lahore High Court will not make a ruling that incites anti-government rioting and terrorist attacks.

Bahrain: Opposition groups, including dominant Shiite party, Al Wefaq, have issued demands responding to the crown prince's call for dialogue.

They want the release of all political prisoners, electoral changes, an interim government and an independent investigation into the deaths of protesters. The groups said the opening of direct talks would depend on the government's acceptance of the opposition's framework and protesters' safety.

The regime must agree in principle to abolish the 2002 constitution and to establish a "new assembly on one man, one vote," an opposition leader said, and the need for an elected parliament and judicial oversight.

Comment: The start of a dialogue might help drain momentum from the youth protestors. However, despite their comments, the protestors have not presented a framework for serious talks.

The regime will hold talks but will not make the concessions the protestors demand.

Yemen: Several thousand anti-government protesters marched in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on 3 March, an almost daily occurrence.

Witnesses in the southern town of Sadr said security forces fired tear gas and shot at hundreds of protesters, killing at least one person. Protesters set two police vehicles on fire and reports indicate armed men might have attempted to seize government-subsidized housing buildings. Ahelbarra also reported 30 injured in clashes between protesters and police in al-Hudaydah province.

President Saleh said he would respond positively to the opposition parties' five-point plan for political reforms, which include Saleh stepping down from power after ruling for 32 years. The two sides reportedly are discussing details and will announce a final position at a later date.

Comment: The government is continuing to use a mix of power sharing offers and coercion to restore order. Those tactics create internal dissonance and are not sustainable for long.

Egypt: Interim Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resigned 3 March, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera reported. Former Transportation Minister Essam Sharaf has been selected by the military government to form a new government.

Revolutionary Youth Coalition member Ziad el-Elaimy said he was glad the ruling military council finally listened, as opposition leaders had asked for Shafiq's resignation from the very beginning. However, he said, planned protests will continue on 4 March, despite the military's wish otherwise, as the democracy movement will not stop.

Another youth movement leader, Shadi al-Ghazali, said the opposition was pleased because it had suggested Sharaf to the military on 27 February, as he was one of the few ex-ministers to join the Tahrir Square protests before Mubarak stepped down.

Comment: Field Marshal Tantawi insists that the Army leadership "has heard the demands of the people." He selected interim prime minister Sharaf, he said, because the people wanted him. Selection by a Field Marshal is hardly the same as running for office and winning an election. Tantawi is doing his best, but he does not seem to get it.

Libya: Rebel Libyan army units traveling in pickup trucks armed with machine guns and rocket launchers have deployed around the strategic oil facility at Brega. The units are in a position to control the city, an unnamed rebel army officer said.

According to witnesses, government aircraft launched another airstrike on the oil port city, presumably targeting an airstrip that belongs to an oil complex there. There were no reports of casualties.

Comment: The situation changed very little. The Libyan Air Force attacks are scary but even less effective than the inept ground attacks. The pro-Qadhafi mercenaries are being chased away by citizen/revolutionaries with no military training. This would be a farce were the outcome not so serious.

Libya-Netherlands: Libyan authorities are holding three Dutch marines after they were captured while attempting to rescue Dutch workers, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry. Dutch officials are negotiating their release and have been in contact with the crew of the frigate, the HNLMS Tromp, that deployed a Lynx helicopter which the marines used to land near Sirte. Two people the marines were attempting to rescue have since been released and have left the country.

Comment: As tragic as it is, the incident has value. First, it shows that the town of Sirte remains under the control of pro-Qadhafi loyalists. That is the easternmost extent of the pro-Qadhafi regime.

The Dutch have poor helicopter maintenance and apparently poor intelligence about the status of their own nationals as well as the presence and capabilities of hostile forces in a non-permissive rescue environment.

End of NightWatch for 3 March.

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