Slovakia: protests over government’s authoritarian tilt

Slovakia¬†has seen mass protests in recent weeks over new authoritarian measures by the ruling populist government of¬†Prime Minister Robert Fico. The government has¬†dissolved the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which had indicted Fico’s chief of staff and¬†imprisoned his former prosecutor general for corruption.¬†The government¬†is also proposing to dissolve the state broadcaster¬†Slovak Television & Radio, and replace it with a new official media body that would be under closer government control. Critics see the move as facilitating propaganda for the ruling coalition, as well as disinformation and Russian influence. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch

Ukraine war portends new oil shock

Long-depressed oil prices are suddenly soaring in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with impacts already being felt globally. Exports from Kazakhstan and the Caspian Basin are virtually paralyzed, as the Black Sea¬†pipeline terminal delivering the crude to Western markets is incurring a prohibitive “war risk insurance premium.”¬†Berlin has suspended the¬†Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany‚ÄĒand¬†Russia has retaliated by threatening¬†to cut gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 line.¬†In his executive order barring Russian oil and gas imports to the US, President Biden issued a warning to the oil companies, urging that the war should not serve as an excuse for¬†price-gouging.¬†But¬†it is actually the oil futures market that plays a determinant role in fixing the international price. There’s a big psychological element involved, which is why every escalation in the Middle East (without fail)¬†jacks up oil prices. A war in Europe will almost certainly mean another oil shock, with grim implications for the world economy and Biden’s political chances. (Photo of Kazakh oil-field via Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch
Ghana soldiers

Growing police-state measures in face of COVID-19

As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets.¬†Police have opened fire on lockdown violators in Nigeria, Ghana and Peru. In Tunisia, remote-controlled wheeled robots have been deployed to accost lockdown violators. States of emergency, including broad powers to restrict movements and control the media, have been declared from the Philippines to Serbia.¬†Amnesty International warns¬†that the restrictive measures could become a “new normal.” (Photo: Pulse, Ghana)


Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: “Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project.” Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting dominated by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.¬†The notable absentees from the¬†summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. ¬†(Photo:¬†Ma’an)


Car industry behind Hungary’s ‘slave law’

In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orba''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment. (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)

Watching the Shadows

DoD announces transfer of Gitmo detainees

The US Department of Defense  announced  the transfer of five detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Slovakia and Goergia, leaving 143 prisoners at the facility.