The US has called home its ambassador to Syria in protest of Damascus' supposed links to the Hariri assassination before the facts are even in. In response, Syria and Iran—traditional rivals, but both fearing they could be next for US aggression—have forged a "united front," said media reports today. "We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref said after meeting Syrian PM Naji al-Otari. Denying any links to the killing, Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban said: "To point to Syria in a terrorist act that aims at destabilising both Syria and Lebanon is truly like blaming the US for 9-11." Throwing down the guantlet in unsubtle terms, US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, visiting Beirut for Hariri's funeral today, called for a "complete and immediate withdrawal" of Syria's 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon. (BBC, Feb. 16)
Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (and 11 others) were killed in a Beirut car bomb attack Feb. 14. Because he had been an outspoken opponent of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, suspicion immediately fell on Damascus and Damascus-backed armed factions. A previously unknown group, Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria, has apparently claimed responsibility, and authorities are said to be hunting down a Lebanese-based Palestinian refugee, Ahmed Tayseer Abu al-Ads, who is said to have appeared in a video taking credit for the attack. (Lebanon Daily Star, Feb. 16)
Here's what's really sad: the Kyoto treaty on global climate change which takes effect this week--minus the US, the world's major producer of greenhouse gases by far--doesn't even significantly address the problem, activists charge. In fact, some measures are downright counter-productive and could "open up a Pandora's box of impacts we can't even guess at," according to Anne Petermann of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project.
Robert Jensen of the Univeristy of Texas at Austin has a piece on CommonDreams entitled "Ward Churchill Has Rights, and He's Right," arguing that "The main thesis Churchill put forward in [his controversial essay] is an accurate account of the depravity of U.S. foreign policy and its relationship to terrorism. "
Madrid's landmark Windsor office tower was gutted by fire the night of Feb. 12, and much of downtown Madrid remains closed off by authorities. The fire (apparently caused by a short-circuit) resulted in only seven injuries, none serious--but several of the building's top floors have collapsed, and it is feared the entire 30-story tower could implode unless it is quickly demolished. (EITB24, Spain, Feb. 14)
The NY Times notes today that when accused Serbian war criminal Vladimir Lazarevic surrendered himself to the UN tribunal at The Hague last month, he was hailed in his own country as a national hero. Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica hailed Gen. Lazarevic's decision to turn himself in as "patriotic, highly moral and honorable." The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church gave him an audience and praised him as a defender of the nation. When he flew to The Hague, he was accompanied by Serbia's justice minister. Rights groups were aghast at such pomp for a man accused of overseeing the killing of 700 ethnic Albanians and the forcible expulsion of 800,000 more when he was military commander in Kosovo in 1999. (NYT, Feb. 14)
In the men-only elections for half the seats on Saudi Arabia's municipal councils--a landmark step towards democracy by Saudi standards--results are in from the capital, Riyadh, and over 30 losing candidates are claiming the seven winners violated campaign guidelines. The winners, predictably, were all affiliated with Islamist organizations backed by the government, and are accused of violating the ban on electoral alliances by portraying themselves as a de facto alliance backed by prominent reglious sheikhs. Results are still pending in other municipalities. Reuters says the principal opponents of the government-backed Islamists in the races are "businessmen" (presumably more liberal and globalist technocrats) and "tribal" leaders (presumably representing local sheikhs who resent the ostentatious power of the Saud clan, but are not likely to be more progressive on such questions as women's rights). (NYT, Feb. 14; Reuters, Feb. 11)
In a case being compared to that of Chico Mendes, the Amazon defender killed in 1988, US missionary Sister Dorothy Stang was shot dead by unknown assailants at a remote jungle settlement near Anapu in the Brazilian state of Para Feb. 12. Stang, 74, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had been a campaigner for human rights and forest protection in the Amazon for three decades, and had reported receiving numerous death threats from land speculators and cattle barons.