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The next round in Gaza

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The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.

Features | International Crisis Group | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 20

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Nigeria’s missing $20bn oil money

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More than a month after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan suspended the country’s Central Bank governor for blowing the whistle on the missing $20 billion oil money, a forensic audit team designed to investigate the missing funds has still not been formed, Franklin Adesegha writes. Lamido Sanusi lost his job after he told a senate committee that out of $67 billion worth of Nigerian oil sold between January 2012 and July 2013, $20 billion had not been accounted for. He then accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of either diverting or stealing the missing funds. The governor provided a dossier containing hundreds of pages of data, expert and legal opinion in the form of contracts to Senate investigators, in support of his allegations of major fraud at the NNPC. The NNPC’s response was that the allegations demonstrated “little understanding of the technicalities of the oil industry.”

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 20

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Is Egypt worse off now than during Mubarak?

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Egypt is worse today in violation of human rights than it was under the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, an Egyptian court last month sentenced 529 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death on charges including murder, in a sharp escalation of a crackdown on the movement. The next day, 682 others went on trial including the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie. The ruling was the biggest mass death sentence handed out in Egypt’s modern history, lawyers said, pointing out that the ruling can be appealed. Turmoil has deepened since the army overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi in July. Security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood members in the streets, and arrested thousands. More than 1200 people have been sentenced for violence in August in the province of al-Minaya, 250km south of the capital, Cairo.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 16

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Security and fraud threaten Afghan presidential poll

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Afghanistan is preparing for a poll on 5 April that if successful will prepare the way for the country’s first ever peaceful and democratic transfer of power, Franklin Adesegha writes. The Taliban had earlier called the election a waste of time, but issued a more explicit statement threatening violence against anyone associated with it. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan encourages all its countrymen to avoid becoming victims of the enemy conspiracies in the upcoming elections process; reject it wholly and do not put yourselves in danger,” the statement said. “If anyone still persists on participating then they are solely responsible of any loss in the future.” There have already been several attacks against election workers.

Features | Franklin Adesegha | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 17

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Libya facing ‘unprecedented violence’ and weapons proliferation

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Libya acknowledged for the first time last month that “terrorist groups” were behind dozens of attacks against security services and foreigners. “The cities of Benghazi, Derna and Sirte and others are facing a terrorist war carried out by Libyan and foreign elements with hostile intentions,” the government said in a statement published after a cabinet meeting in the southern town of Ghat. “The nation finds itself in a confrontation with terrorist groups, and it falls upon the government to mobilise its military and security forces to fight this scourge,” the statement said. Libyan authorities did not mention any particular group, but these cities are strongholds of Ansar al-Sharia, one of the groups allied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic maghreb (AQIM). The government indicated it would turn to “the national military force as it is of now” in its fight against terrorism.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 15

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China warns of the danger of Russia sanctions

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China, which has not made any announcement on the Ukraine crisis, has warned that sanctions against Russia would be counterproductive. The Chinese ambassador to Germany warned the West against punishing Russia with sanctions for its intervention in Ukraine, saying such measures could lead to a dangerous chain reaction that would be difficult to control. In an interview with Reuters days before the European Union was threatening to impose its first sanctions on Russia since the Cold War, ambassador Shi Mingde issued the strongest warning against such measures by any top Chinese official to date. “We don’t see any point in sanctions,” Shi said.

Features | Alan Brown | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 18

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Countering the Lord’s Resistance Army

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Over the last several years, the people and governments of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan have worked to put an end to the ongoing threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In May 2010, the American President Barack Obama signed into law the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which reaffirmed the US commitment to support regional partners’ efforts to end the atrocities of the LRA in central Africa.

Features | Alan Brown | 2 April 2014 | Hits: 17

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Syrian presidential election law excludes opposition leaders

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As the civil war in Syria enters its fourth year -It erupted in March 2011 in the southern town of Deraaand there is still no end in sight, Syria’s parliament has set residency rules for presidential candidates, according to state media, a move that would bar many of President Bashar al-Assad’s foes who live in exile. Assad has not yet announced whether he will stand for a third term in defiance of rebels fighting to overthrow him and Western leaders who have demanded he should go to help end Syria’s civil war and make way for a democratic transition. But in state-controlled parts of the capital Damascus, preparations for his candidacy are unmistakable. UN -Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has warned that the Syrian opposition will probably

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 17

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South China Sea: A volatile region

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China’s leader Xi Jinping (now on a visit to the EU) has recently strengthened his own position by taking the chair of three vital committees: state security, economic reforms, and cyber control. Meanwhile, on his visits to various parts of China, he has adopted the habit of taking walkabouts, calling unexpectedly upon people in their homes and, following this friendly gesture, asking whether they would like a group photograph! Perhaps it is still too early to judge but the indications suggest that Xi will be both flexible and decisive. Meanwhile, leaving aside the Crimean saga, the world would like to know in which direction US long-term policy is heading. The US use of drones aimed at Al-Qaeda targets along the Pakistan-Afghan border region has

Features | Guy Arnold | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 18

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Algeria accused of protest crackdown before presidential elections

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Human Rights Watch says authorities have arrested protesters in bid to prevent rallies ahead of presidential elections. Algerian authorities have been deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters in a bid to prevent rallies and protests in the capital Algiers ahead of the upcoming presidential elections due on 17 April, according to Human Rights Watch. The New York-based rights group said that officials have recently targeted a movement opposed to a fourth term for the ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The 77-yearold president will be running after 15 years in power, despite having a stroke last year that has made his speech and movement difficult.

Features | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 13

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Russian economy hit as US and EU sanctions bite

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Russian shares fell sharply and lost some $50 billion after the annexation of Crimea as investors took fright at tougher than expected US sanctions against President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The United States added 20 names to its sanctions blacklist, including Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who are linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putin’s chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief. A Russian lawmaker and a sanctioned Putin adviser both floated the idea of creating a national system for payments linked with the Chinese system UnionPay, according to R ussian media reports.

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 18

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Crimea’s troubled past

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The Crimean peninsula, which has a Russian-speaking majority, has now returned to Kremlin rule following a referendum on 16 March that Ukraine and the West deem illegal, writes Franklin Adesegha. Annexation by Russia means the authorities in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital; no longer have control over Crimea. In early 2014 Crimea became the focus of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, after Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power by violent protests in Kiev. Separated from Russia to the east by the narrow Kerch Strait, Crimea lies on a peninsula stretching out from the south of Ukraine between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Cover Stories | Franklin Adesegha | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 19

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Will economic pressure hurt Russia or Europe?

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Since the row over unpaid bills between Ukraine and Russia led to the disruption of gas exports to Western Europe, European countries have made progress in improving their energy security since the gas crises in 2006 and 2009. However, they have not yet managed to reduce Russia’s share of European energy supplies. Russia provides around one third of the European union’s (EU) oil and gas and some 40 per cent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine. Paradoxically as it may seem, EU reliance on imported oil and gas, especially from Russia, has been rising, not falling, according to the EU statistics office Eurostat’s energy dependence indicator. The EU reliance on imports crept up to 65.8 per cent in 2012 from 63.4 per cent in 2009.

Cover Stories | Ali Bahaijoub | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 15

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Tug of war over Crimea

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This small territory that juts out into the Black Sea from mainland Ukraine has become the centre of a storm between Russia and an alliance of the United States and the European Union. Almost an island, the Crimea is linked to mainland Ukraine by the Pericop isthmus and is separated from the Sea of Azov by a long sandspit, the Tonka of Arabat. It covers 10,000 square miles of territory. Its southern coastal plain has a warm climate and is a major health and holiday resort. The port of Sevastopol has long been Russia’s southern naval base.

Cover Stories | Guy Arnold | 1 April 2014 | Hits: 19

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