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Arab Spring bites into Beijing Consensus

Since the end of the cold war the rise of China has been the major global phenomena most talked about in the international arena. For despotic regimes wishing to hold on to power with their tyrannical methods the emergence of China has offered a glimmer of hope from the previous models that demanded that economic development could only happen hand in hand with democracy and liberal trade.

This was the Manthra preached to the developing world for decades. If you want to improve the economy of a country that country needs to transform itself into a democracy, it should accept liberal free trade and open up their economies, the state should minimise its role in business and allow the private sector to lead the charge towards economic development. In what was unofficially termed the ‘Washington Consensus’ this liberalised trade was championed as the panacea for third world development during the 1980’s.

The notion that only democracies can sustain growth and development has been nullified by the phenomenal economic strides made by China since it reformed its socialist economy in the early 1980’s. China has instead offered a model where strong centralised governments guide an economy through a state controlled process where even individual rights can be crushed for what is argued to be the ‘greater good’ of the whole of society. This school of thought argues that China has managed to achieve its goals only because of state suppression and limitation of democracy and rights of its citizens.

Despotic regimes
When political theorist Francis Fukuyama declared, at the end of the Cold War, that it was the ‘end of history’ since liberal trade and liberal democracy have finally triumphed over alternative forms of government and economic models, he and many others envisioned that the last bastions of communism like China and Vietnam would soon democratise along with their economic liberalisation. It was inconceivable that a raising middle class that was economically empowered would accept anything short of democracy from its government. But yet history has proven them wrong. China remains a non-democratic state with little signs of political reform in that direction even while it steams ahead rising hundreds of millions out of poverty into a vibrant middle class.
Many despotic regimes across the world have latched on to this theory to argue limiting rights in exchange for rapid economic development. These despots have benefited enormously from China’s own economic growth and its insatiable appetite for natural resources. From Zimbabwe to Myanmar there are no longer conditions imposed for doing business, at least with China. As long as these nations have something to sell to China they are rewarded with seemingly unlimited bundles of credit, massive infrastructure projects and access to markets.

Chinese model
Unlike the many western nations that place demands on these countries regarding their form of government, human rights and rule of law, China really doesn’t care much about such international norms. Many despots from Africa, Middle-east, Latin America and Asia have found new lease of life due to Chinese aid and have enthusiastically professed a ‘Chinese model’ for development. In return for their tyrannical rule they have offered the people a chance of economic empowerment. This phenomenon seemed to be sweeping the globe in the early decade of the 21st century. Liberal democracy was on a fast track of retreat. The power of western nations to impose their writ in developing countries diminished, along with their own economic troubles and the increasing clout of China.
Yet the events in the Middle East this year have put breaks on the tyrannical steamroller. Just as democracy looked like in desperate retreat the youth led uprisings against established dictatorships have once again demonstrated that despite promises of economic development it is not possible to suppress a population through tyranny. Despite Chinese money and decades old repressive state structures the dominos of tyranny are falling.
From Tunisia and Egypt early this year to the latest victim of the Arab Spring, Mahmoud Gaddafi of Libya last week, despots are losing power across the Arab world. This week Libyan rebels entered the country’s capital signalling the end of the 42 year reign of Gaddafi. The dictator and his sons who ruled that country as their personal fiefdom are now on the run, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The man once called the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’ now being hunted like an animal would be a good eye opener for dictators and aspirant tyrants across the world about the fragility of their state even while it may seem as they are all powerful and safe in their current positions.

Growing uneasiness
The fate of Hossnei Mubarak, the ruler of Egypt for thirty years before getting disposed in January this year, is no better. From the all powerful pharaoh to accused criminal facing trial and possible death, Mubarak too shows that the fall can be great to those who assume absolute power. While the Syrian regime is brutally crushing a people’s uprising and looks like will prevail over protesters, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh would likely feel the added pressure to leave his office. The Arab Spring that has already taken three dictatorial victims shows no signs of easing.
The effects of the Arab Spring have been felt across the non democratic world. Even in China, which has been projected as the ultimate model of a country that has achieved economic development through suppression of its citizen’s freedoms, there is a growing uneasiness that its 1.2 billion people will rise in protest demanding greater liberties. A nervous government has censored the Internet and social media sites. Economic models that do not address the basic human needs for freedom and justice will eventually lead to catastrophic implosions. The lessons of the Middle East should at least settle the debate over whether liberty could be bartered for economic development.


Rights and hope inside secret Libyan rebel prison

Hundreds of alleged fighters for Moamer Kadhafi sit quietly in a secret prison near Tripoli, their placid murmurs breathing hope into the dream of free Libya’s newfound respect for human rights.
The 375 male prisoners being held behind locked doors in an elementary school around 20 kilometres (13 miles) from Tripoli appear well-treated, although some of them are barely teenagers, captured during recent days fighting.
Their wounds have been bandaged, and some wave at the sight of foreigners. Some read the Koran, but most just stare at the ground. Many have shaved heads, a medical measure to prevent the spread of lice.
Simply establishing the existence of the prison has been difficult. Rebels and doctors refused to say where prisoners are taken.
Then, a fighter who laid down his arms after the battle for Tripoli was essentially won on Tuesday, called a friend who mentioned a prison to him.
The friend said we could come to this prison, in a small town where a revolutionary committee now holds sway, pending the establishment of a centralised government in Tripoli and the drawing up of a new constitution.
The prison’s location cannot be revealed because “we do not know what Kadhafi’s people are still capable of,” said Yacoub Amar Mohammed, who heads the town’s legal committee charged with investigating the prisoners’ alleged crimes.
He says that 371 prisoners are yet to be investigated, 30 have been freed and four have been deemed chargeable.
“From the first day we have tried to find a legal system and avoid what the ex-regime did for 42 years,” said Mohammed. “We are trying to establish standards of human rights and to follow them in the new, free Libya.”
Asked if conditions elsewhere are as good as here, or if he is concerned about rebels exacting revenge on prisoners, as alleged by rights groups, he said, “you cannot always control personal behaviour, there may be one or two cases.”
He said that some of those freed had asked to come back to prison for their own safety “because they did horrible things to the Libyan people.”
“Tripoli is 95 per cent free, so we will wait for the National Transitional Council to start work and give a legal structure so that they can get the sentence they deserve. We have strong evidence against many of the people here.” Some in the West have voiced concern that fundamentalist Sharia Islamic law may be established in Libya, but Mohammed says that “our Islam is simple and modern.”
“The rebels are young people who like the West and support European football teams, they are moderate and want to build a new Libya, worshipping God and feeling free, with respect for other people.”
“We are trying to avoid the negatives, of which there are many after 42 years outside of the modern world, so we have to catch up. The negatives will soon be gone, through education.” A man who gave his name as Dr Khayree pointed out that, conveniently, even Kadhafi-built elementary schools “look like prisons.”
Steel mesh covers all the windows, and doors inside have bars. “Even the hospital looks like a military installation,” sneered Khayree.
The prisoners are mostly locals, “so we try to give them the best,” said Mohammed. They will be moved to a proper prison in two days and cannot be photographed “because of the Geneva Convention,” he said. (AFP)


Kadhafi hometown bombed, rebels poised to attack

British warplanes bombed a bunker in Moamer Kadhafi’s birthplace of Sirte as rebel fighters prepared to attack the town, one of the last major regime holdouts east of Tripoli.
As insurgent leaders moved into Tripoli to begin a political transition, the African Union called Friday for that process to be “inclusive”, while the UN human rights chief warned against assassinating Kadhafi, whose whereabouts are unknown and who has a $1.7 million rebel price on his head.
On the ground, the rebels claimed a new military success Friday with the capture of Ras Jdir, a post on the border with Tunisia, which it was feared Kadhafi might use to escape Libya.
A Tunisian government official said Kadhafi loyalists fled as more than 100 rebels arrived at Ras Jdir and raised their flag.
A representative of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Tunisian television from Ras Jdir that four pro-Kadhafi fighters surrendered.
On the Sirte front, “a formation of Tornado GR4s... fired a salvo of Storm Shadow precision-guided missiles against a large headquarters bunker in Kadhafi’s hometown” on Thursday night, Britain’s defence ministry said.
Speculation that Kadhafi might have found refuge in the town, which lies 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli, has not been confirmed.
NATO said on Friday its planes had hit 29 armed vehicles and a “command and control node” near Sirte as they advanced toward the rebel-held port of Misrata, about 140 kilometres away.
Regime forces in Sirte have been regularly targeted since the start of the campaign, an official said, but now “it’s one of the last places he (Kadhafi) has control of.”
“It has always been a stronghold of the regime and now the remnants of the regime are using it to launch attacks,” the official said.
“This is an extremely desperate and dangerous remnant of a former regime and they are obviously desperately trying to disrupt the fact that the Libyan people have started to take responsibility for their own country.”
On Thursday, the NTC moved many of its top figures from their Benghazi base to the capital, just days after rebel fighters overran Tripoli and captured Kadhafi’s headquarters.
NTC official Ali Tarhuni said their leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, would arrive as soon as the security situation permitted.
Abdel Nagib Mlegta, head of operations for the takeover of the capital, said his fighters now controlled 95 percent of Tripoli, with just a few pockets of resistance left. (AFP)
India MPs to debate graft in bid
India’s parliament was to debate measures to fight rampant corruption on Saturday as the government struggled to end a high-stakes fast by a 74-year-old social activist whose health was weakening.
Doctors said they were worried about the health of Anna Hazare as his hunger strike entered its 12th day, saying they would soon decide whether the self-styled Gandhian reformer should continue his protest.
“Today is the 12th day of his fast, his weight has gone down further and there is considerable weakness,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, head of the medical team monitoring Hazare’s health.
“The weight loss is slightly more than seven kilos (15 pounds). That’s why we’re worried,” Trehan said.
The veteran activist is staging his water-only fast in a large open-air venue in New Delhi where huge, flag-waving crowds have gathered each day to show their support.
The corruption issue has snowballed into a full-blown crisis for the Congress-led government, with huge protests across India in support of Hazare’s campaign.
Hazare has said he will fast until parliament adopts and passes his version of a new anti-corruption bill that would create the post of a national ombudsman to monitor senior politicians and bureaucrats.
The giant groundswell of public support for Hazare has rocked the government which was already on the defensive over a series of multi-billion-dollar scandals that have implicated top officials.
In recent days, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to reach out to Hazare with conciliatory gestures aimed at ending the hunger strike. (AFP)
Strauss-Kahn in Washington for IMF ‘reconciliation’
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrived in Washington late Friday for a visit with his onetime colleagues which his successor Christine Lagarde said would be “a sort of reconciliation.”
Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested in May on sexual assault charges but saw those charges dropped this week, made no statement to journalists outside his home in an upscale district of Washington, waving them away with his hand.
The French politician, who was seen as a frontrunner for his country’s presidency before a New York hotel maid accused him of trying to rape her, was accompanied by his wife Anne Sinclair.
The couple had left New York earlier in the day.
Strauss-Kahn resigned as the International Monetary Fund’s managing director after he was arrested and charged.
This week, a New York judge approved a request by prosecutors to drop the charges, after they said they could not pursue the case because the accuser’s lies had made it impossible to prove her accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.
Lagarde, who took up the IMF’s top job in July, told French television that Strauss-Kahn would meet former colleagues, but did not indicate whether she herself would meet with him during his visit.
“Dominique Strauss-Kahn asked to meet his former colleagues, and any staff members who wish to (see him), in order to simply say good-bye and to have I suppose a sort of reconciliation before leaving the United States,” she said.
“All former directors of the IMF can come to the IMF,” added the former French finance minister.
IMF spokesman David Hawley said Thursday that a visit by Strauss-Kahn to the Fund was expected “as early as next week.”
US, Israel concerned about Syrian ‘weapons of mass destruction’

The United States and Israel are monitoring Syria’s suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, fearing that terror groups could take advantage of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad to obtain chemical agents and long-range missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.
Citing unnamed officials from both countries, the newspaper said US intelligence services believe Syria’s nonconventional weapons programs include significant stockpiles of mustard gas, VX and Sarin gas and the missile and artillery systems to deliver them.
United Nations investigators also recently concluded that Damascus had been secretly constructing a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before Israeli jets destroyed the site in late 2007, the report said.
US and UN nonproliferation officials continue to worry that Pyongyang may have provided Syria with additional nuclear-related equipment, The Journal noted.
“We are very concerned about the status of Syria’s WMD, including chemical weapons,” the paper quoted Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, as saying. “Together with the US administration, we are watching this situation very carefully.”
US and Israeli officials won’t disclose exactly how they are keeping watch on the Syrian weaponry, the report said.
But in the past, the United States and Israel have tracked activities at Syrian military installations using satellites and human spies, the paper pointed out. (AFP)

Malaysia recognises Libyan rebel authority

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia has recognised Libya’s rebel authority as longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi’s regime is collapsing.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement late Friday that the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country accepted the National Transitional Council (NTC) set up by the rebels who took control of Tripoli this week.
“We are hopeful that the National Transitional Council... will govern the interim administration towards national unity, reconciliation, inclusiveness and reconstruction that would bring lasting peace and stability to Libya and its people,” Anifah said.
“To prevent further bloodshed... Malaysia joins other international voices in calling for the Kadhafi forces to submit to the choices of the majority of the Libyan people,” he added.
Several Western countries have also recognised the NTC, but the African Union declined Friday to recognise it and instead called for forming an all-inclusive transitional government.

World’s oldest person celebrates 115th birthday

Bess Cooper celebrated her 115th birthday as the world’s oldest person in Monroe, Georgia, Friday, though there was no Elvis impersonator at the party like there was last year, reported local media.
A researcher from Guinness Book of World Records was on hand at Cooper’s birthday party to deliver the Tennessee native her second plaque that certifies her as the oldest person on the planet.
“We thought one was enough,” her son, Sidney Cooper, 76, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a daily newspaper based in the southern US city of Atlanta, Georgia.
“She still remembers things and thinks clearly and talks,” added Cooper. “But she has her good days and her bad days. I’d say she sleeps about 80 percent of the time.”
Born in Tennessee in 1896, Besse Cooper moved to Georgia during World War in search of work as a teacher. She married her husband Luther in 1924, and they had four children. Today she has 12 grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, reported the Journal-Constitution.
In the same year Cooper was born, the first Dow Jones Industrial Average was published, the first modern Olympic games were held and the first Ford vehicle was built.
“She never worried,” says her son. Local media reported that Besse Cooper adds her secret to longevity lies in two key tenets: “I mind my own business,” she said. “And I don’t eat junk food.” (AFP)  


China’s Sina warns bloggers to ignore rumours

A popular Twitter-like service in China has contacted millions of users warning them to ignore false reports, in a sign of growing official unease over the rise of social networking sites.
Sina’s micro-blogging site Weibo sent at least two messages on Friday to refute rumours, including one that the suspected murderer of a 19-year-old woman had been released on bail because of his father’s connections.
Sina said the bloggers who had posted the false reports would have their accounts suspended for one month and would not be able to send messages or be followed during that period. (AFP)

Singapore votes for new president

Singaporeans voted Saturday in the city-state’s first contested presidential election in 18 years following a heated campaign marked by calls for stronger checks on the ruling party.
Polls opened at 8:00 am (0000 GMT) amid rain showers and will close at 8:00 pm. The winner is expected to be known within hours after voting centres close.
Three months after a parliamentary election eroded the dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled since 1959, anti-government sentiment is still running high in the online forums that now shape political debate in Singapore.
Four candidates -- all of them formerly associated with the government or civil service during their careers -- are running as individuals in the non-partisan contest, and there are around 2.3 million eligible voters.
“They are all very good candidates,” auditor Andrew Ong, 26, told AFP after casting his vote.


Obama returns early due to Irene
US President Barack Obama returned here late Friday after cutting short his vacation to deal with Hurricane Irene, which is lining up a direct hit on the US East Coast.
Obama, originally due to leave Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday, left the Massachusetts resort island late Friday and arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 10:51 pm (0251 GMT Saturday).
Irene, a category two hurricane, is forecast to make landfall Saturday in North Carolina, where residents were fleeing normally bustling beach communities, and could score a direct hit on New York City. (AFP)