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NightWatch 20130624

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For the night of 24 June 2013

North Korea-US: Comment: Open sources have reported no US response to North Korea's pleas for talks. The only major diplomatic activity at this time related to Korea is the state visit to Beijing by South Korean President Park on the 27th. By not accepting the talks proposal yet, the US has thwarted the longstanding North Korean tactic of attempting to drive a wedge between the Allies, South Korea and the US.

Acceptance of the North Korean proposal just before President Park's visit would have caused serious strain in US relations and provided a strong incentive for closer South Korean relations with China.

China-US: Reacting to harsh US comments about Edward Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, the Communist Party's daily newspaper, the People's Daily, published a sharp commentary on the front page of the 25 June edition.

The commentary noted that the Chinese government had said it was gravely concerned by Snowden's allegations that the United States had hacked into many networks in Hong and China, including Tsinghua University, which hosts one of the country's Internet hubs, and Chinese mobile network companies. It also had said it had taken the issue up with Washington.

"Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, they instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with law," wrote Wang Xinjun, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science in the People's Daily commentary.

"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralized power over the international Internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks," the People's Daily said. "The world will remember Edward Snowden. It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask."

Comment: The commentary is not a statement by the government, but its prominence indicates it conveys official thinking and sentiment. Snowden's disclosures and US handling of them constitute a pivot point in relations with the US because they reinforce Chinese suspicions and prejudices about the US.

The public disclosures about US electronic spying on China convey to the world that China cannot defend itself from US electronic surveillance. Moreover, the issue of cyber intrusions was a top US agenda item in the meeting between the two Presidents in the first week of June. China has lost face. Relations with the US administration are in a crisis.

Pakistan: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday that the government will take legal action against former President Musharraf for past actions in which he usurped the constitution. The Prime Minister said, "Musharraf violated the constitution twice. He overthrew an elected government in 1999 and put everything into jeopardy. He sacked judges and imprisoned them….We will follow the process of law and all political forces will be taken into confidence."

The two main opposition parties, President Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan welcomed the remarks. PTI's Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his party would support the prime minister on "every move towards supremacy of the constitution and law."

Comment: The Prime Minister provided no timetable for filing charges.

As Chief of Army Staff in 1999, then General Musharraf overthrew the second government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and drove him into exile.

The Prime Minister's statement adds to Musharraf's legal troubles He faces another action before the Supreme Court of Pakistan on a charge of treason for having arrested Supreme Court Judges, including the Chief Justice, and for having suspended the constitution in 2007 on his own authority. In that action, a three-judge panel directed the Attorney General to provide the Court a brief on treason.

Musharraf could become the first military coup leader to be convicted. He also could become the first former Chief of the Army Staff to be executed for treason. At this point, however, the government only has stated a general intent to proceed. A trial might never be held because of the damage it would do to the public image of the Pakistan Army.

Afghanistan: During this Watch, news reporters and other sources in Kabul reported a series of explosions and gunfire in the center of the city, near the presidential palace and the minister of defense building. Witnesses said the presidential palace was under attack.

Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir said he could not locate the attack, but confirmed that an attack was in progress early on the morning of 25 June, local time.

A Taliban spokesman said the attack targeted the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Defense and the CIA headquarters.

Comment: This attack might be Taliban retaliation for President Karzai's refusal to join talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. It is not so much a show of force as an exposure of vulnerability. This is a sensational security breach in the most heavily fortified part of Kabul.

Latest reporting indicates only the four attackers were killed, but the outer perimeter of a US facility was breached

Iraq: Update. Today was a Shiite religious holiday, known as Shabaniyah.  Sunni militants chose it to stage attacks against Shiites in at least six cities, including Baghdad and Mosul. Ten bombs detonated in eight neighborhoods in Baghdad and three attacks took place in Mosul. At least 72 people were killed and 151 people were wounded.

Lebanon: For a second day, on 24 June Lebanese army units fought followers of a hardline Sunni cleric holed up in a mosque complex in Sidon, in southern Lebanon. Official sources said at least 16 soldiers have been killed.

A spokesman for the security cabinet said after a meeting on Monday, "The army has a duty... to continue its operations until it finishes with the armed men, brings Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir's headquarters under control, and arrests the army's attackers."

Comment: This is the same Sunni cleric who stirred up attacks against the small Shiite community in Sidon last week. The Syrian fighting has come to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army cannot cope.

Egypt: Four Egyptian Shiite Muslims were killed on Sunday when they were attacked by a Sunni mob in a village in Giza Province, near Cairo, the police said.

The four men were visiting friends to commemorate Shabaniyah. The mob threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at the home the four men were visiting. Mob members dragged the men into the street, beat them to death and then dragged one or more through the street. Videos of the atrocity have been posted to the web.

President Mursi condemned the "heinous crime" and promised swift justice.

Comment: The number of Shiites is estimated, variously, between 800,000 to 2.2 million or 1-3% of Egypt's total population of 85 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. They avoid public attention, making more precise figures difficult to obtain. The eyewitness descriptions indicate this attack was not spontaneous.

This is another ripple effect of the Syrian fighting.

Brazil: Update. President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a Constitutional amendment and referendum on political reforms as the latest initiative to stop the demonstrations. "The streets are telling us that the country wants quality public services, more effective measures to combat corruption ... and responsive political representation," Rousseff said.

She also promised to boost spending on public transport and focus on health and education as part of what she called "five pacts" with the people.

Some activists promised to carry on with the protests because they claim the promised reforms are not enough.

Comment: The size and number of demonstrations were reduced, but Saturday they disrupted access to a World Cup preliminary soccer match.

Some Brazilian analysts commented that the process of amending the Constitution would be lengthy and would generate political and financial uncertainty. It also does not respond to the demand of protestors who seem to want immediate changes.

The government has lost the trust of the street people and has not yet found a strategy for regaining it that would end the demonstrations. The economy is sluggish so the government lacks the financial resources for quick fixes, even if it had a plan.

End of NightWatch for 24 June.

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