The crushing of a rally for the restoration of democracy in Nepal Feb. 10 rated a tiny blurb of wire copy on page 10 of the next day's NY Times. Meanwhile, the crisis in the Himalayan kingdom rapidly deepens. Security forces are hunting down the 150 inmates liberated from a prison in an attack by Maoist rebels, and pledge to break up road blockades the guerillas intend to launch throughout the country to resist the state of emergency. Concerned about reports of detention of political leaders, rights activists and journalists, Amnesty International is sending a special high-level team to Kathmandu, led by the group's secretary general Irene Khan. (Indo-Asian News Service, Feb. 11)
The BBC reported a glimmer of hope Jan. 27 from Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, where Taliban-inspired movements have won local political control over the semi-autonomous Tribal Areas. Two local kids, Tariq Hussain Bacha and Zeeshan Khan (respectively 12 and 11), have formed a musical duo and are defying the ruling mullahs' ban by performing in public. They initially played secret gigs in back rooms, but since their album Joora Guloona ("two flowers" in the Pashtun language) has become a success they have become bolder. Stocked at first by a few shops in Peshawar's famous Choor Bazar (Thieves Bazaar), copies started flying off the shelves and soon there were orders from the US, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
The Basque separatist group ETA reportedly claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded outside a Madrid convention center Feb. 9, injuring at least 40. The blast went off hours before Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were to arrive there to preside over the opening of an arts fair with Mexico's visiting President Vicente Fox. In the aftermath of the blast, police arrested 14 suspected ETA militants in coordinated raids across Spain. (Electric New Paper, Singapore, Feb. 11)
A front-page story in the Feb. 10 NY Times notes that Saudi Arabia is holding its first national election that day--albeit with an "asterisk": women are barred from the vote, and even men only get to elect half the members of municipal councils. The other half will remain appointees, and no national leaders will be elected.
The first public protest for restoration of democracy in Nepal since King Gyanendra suspended civil government Feb. 1 was predictably shut down by police Feb. 10, as 12 members of the Human Rights and Peace Society were arrested upon arriving at the gathering point. As the detainees were hustled into vans, police set up a cordon around the rally site to prevent other activists from gathering.
The FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force is investigating twin vandal attacks on Army recruiting centers in New York City--one in Manhattan's Flatiron section, the other in the Parkchester district of the Bronx. David Seigel, 19, of Litchfield, CT, was arrested for throwing a burning rag at the Parkchester facility, causing minor damage, and news reports have said that he is an "anarchist." In the Manhattan incident, a rock was thrown at the recruiting center, cracking the door, and graffiti left --including a slogan against the Iraq war an an anarchist symbol. (NY Post, Feb. 1)
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel responded angrily to charges by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega that his government's new arms deal with Russia is intended for trafficking to Colombian guerillas. "Venezuela is a sovereign country," Rangel said. "We are only accountable to Venezuelans and the country's institutions," adding that the arms are intended only for "purposes of national defense" and accusing the State Department of "provocations." The State Department expressed concerns about Venezuela's deal to buy 100,000 AK-47 rifles and several military helicopters from Russia. (Venezuelanalysis, Feb. 8)
With most of the international community condemnding King Gyanendra's suspension of civil government and democratic rights in Nepal, Pakistan's embassy in Kathmandu released a statement of support for the king, saying "Pakistan and Nepal share the objectives of combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" and invoking the principle of non-interference. The People's Republic of China is the only other nation to refrain from criticizing the king's power seizure.