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NightWatch 20110717


For the Night of 17 July 2011

Afghanistan: Five gunmen shot and killed Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior aide to President Hamid Karzai, and deputy of the lower chamber of the Afghan parliament, Hasham Atanwal, on 17 July in Kapisa Province, a source at the Afghan Ministry of Internal Affairs said.

A suicide bomber killed the men in Jan Mohammad Khan's home. During the attack and subsequent fighting, at least three of Khan's guards and one of his sons were killed. Several family members are said to be held hostage. Afghan security forces, with the aid of Coalition forces, have cordoned the area to deal with the hostage situation.

Comment: This is the second high profile assassination in a week. The Taliban have not yet claimed responsibility for this attack. According to one credible study, Khan helped President Karzai build the strength and relative prosperity of the Popalzai Pashtuns, as did Wali Karzai, but in a different province.

Yemen: A group of Yemeni protesters formed a transitional council of 17 opposition figures on 16 July to lead efforts to try to force President Saleh from power.

Youth groups, which have been at the forefront of the protests, told a news conference that the 17 member council would include former Yemeni President Ali Nasser Mohammed and leaders of several opposition groups, including exiles. The protesters named former Defense Minister General Abdullah Ali Aleiwa as their choice for armed forces commander.

The Joint Meeting Parties, the first opposition leadership group to form, said it does not recognize the transitional council as legitimate.

Comment: If a fracturing of the opposition has taken place, as the above report indicates, President Saleh's position has strengthened. The new group might be a government initiative intended to weaken the opposition.

Syria: On Friday Syrian protest demonstrations were the largest reported since the demonstration began, with estimates ranging from hundreds of thousands to up to a million people in widely separated cities and towns. One or more occurred in a neighborhood of central Damascus.

The government maintained its crackdown, killing 32 people in efforts to disperse demonstrators. On Saturday thousands marched in the funeral processions.

Comment: The Syrian ban on outside news reporters makes it difficult to assess the status of this uprising or reports on the size of the demonstrations. The international news coverage is biased against the Asad government and tends to accept uncritically what anti-government sources report.

Few news outlets have reported the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition. More than two-dozen so-called Syrian opposition leaders in exile held a meeting in Turkey to form a united front, but activists from within Syria apparently did not participate.

The movement still lacks leaders and remains a Friday afternoon event, followed by Saturday funerals. As yet the demonstrations have not strained the capabilities of the security forces. The occurrence of moderately large demonstrations - supposedly crowds in the thousands - in Damascus suburbs and neighborhoods is potentially an important indicator that unrest is finally reaching the capital.  However the details remain unconfirmed.

Egypt: For the record. Zahi Hawass, Minister of Antiquities, resigned. Hawass described himself as the "Indiana Jones of the East," and was featured in every film documentary about any significant new discovery. He was forced him to resign in the weekend cabinet shuffle because of his support for ousted President Mubarak.

Hawass was a fixture in his ministry which he ran as a tyrant. He probably is vulnerable to an investigation for corruption.

End of NightWatch for 17 July.

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