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May 2013

May 1  According to a survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than three-quarters of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia want sharia courts to decide family law issues such as divorce and property disputes. About half favor sharia courts deciding punishment for crimes such as thievery. And most Muslims do not favor sharia law being applied to non-Muslims.

May 1  In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah declares that he will not let the Assad regime fall to "the US, Israel or Islamic extremists." Syria's anti-Assad coalition (SNC) denounces the threat. Also today, the Washington Post reports that "President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive US leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad."

May 2  The deaths of garment workers in Bangladesh raises the issue of retail companies caring about the conditions in which those who make their clothes work. But Scott Nova, of Workers Rights Consortium, told the NewsHour yesterday that, "The reality is, it's the brands and retailers who have the most power in the system. If they want to ensure their factories are safe, they have the power to ensure their factories are safe. They haven't chosen to exercise that power." Workers themselves are the best watchdogs and advocates concerning working conditions, and in a Huffington Post article back in 2009 he wrote, "Repression of unionization efforts at apparel factories is rarely challenged, either by the brands that buy from these factories or by local governments."

May 6  A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the globe finds a widespread majority believing that Islam is the one true faith and that to be a moral person one must believe in God. The survey also found of the Muslims it interviewed in the United States that 81 percent believed violence against civilians in the name of Islam is never justified. This leaves 19 percent of those surveyed in the US believing that violence against people might at least sometimes be justified (i.e. moral) when Islam is threatened.

May 7  Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse Equatorial Guinea of serious human rights violations and denial of fundamental freedoms as the country moves toward legislative elections on May 26. They cite politically motivated arrests, harassment of the political opposition, voter intimidation and denial of free speech. The country's president, Obiang, has been in power since 1979. His ruling party, according to Human Rights Watch, "benefits from a virtual monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media." According to Wikipedia, "Equatorial Guinea is one of the continent's largest producers of oil, but ranks very poorly in the United Nations human development index; the vast majority of Equatorial Guineans hardly have access to clean drinking water."

May 8  Yesterday, Russia and the US agreed to convene an international conference that would encourage the Assad regime and his enemies in Syria to negotiate a peaceful settlement to their war. The hope is that Assad can be pressured into offering the Syrian people something close to democracy. Assad has not done so yet, and some believe that only greater military pressure will end the Assad dictatorship. The chances of getting Iran to withdraw its military support of Assad to induce steps toward democracy in Syria appears remote. But hope springs eternal.

May 9  Richard Haas, May 5 on Zakaria's GPS: "Second of all, we're not going to have a negotiated settlement here [Syria]. We've long, long, long since passed the line where the lions are going to lay down with the lambs. This is a fight to the finish, initially, between the Alawites and the majority, secondly, between – among the majority."

May 9  Denmark (considered socialist by some US conservatives) is concerned about creating a more healthy business environment for small businesses in its capital city, Copenhagen. The challenge, it is being said, is to create growth and jobs. The Copenhagen Post writes that, "the capital is lagging far behind cities like Stockholm, Berlin and Hamburg. Between 2001 and 2011, Greater Copenhagen had an average growth rate of 1.4 percent. The growth rate in Stockholm during the same period was 3 percent."

May 10  The head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, expresses optimism about receiving the "game changing" weapons that the Israeli airforce has tried to prevent Hezbollah from having. Receiving these weapons, says Nasrallah, would serve as Syria's reaction to Israeli air raids. The Assad regime threatens an immediate response to any new Israeli strike. A regime spokesman says, "Our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel." Israel, meanwhile, is reported as determined for the sake of its survival to keep "game changing" weapons from the hands of Hezbollah.

May 11  Rios Montt, age 86, a former president of Guatemala, is found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is sentenced to 80 years in prison – the first time a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. In court, Montt said he "never had the intent to destroy any national race, religion, or ethnic group. ... The commanding officer in charge of the units in El Quiche region is accountable for the actions." In July 1982, the New York Times reported Montt announcing, "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you."

May 12  The people of Africa are losing benefits from the mining of resources there because of deals that amount to tax avoidance, writes Kofi Annan. He writes of secret mining deals, financial transfers and firms that shift profits to lower tax jurisdictions and concludes that "Africa loses twice as much money through these loopholes as it gets from donors."

May 14  Billionaire industrialist Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League wins big in Pakistan's elections. He is headed for his third time as prime minister. Sharif promised economic recovery, more highways, bullet trains, good relations with India and the US. He is a moderate free-enterprise conservative who has been in conflict with the left-of-center People's Party, historically led by the Bhutto family, which nationalized his properties, which he later undid.

May 15  In Bangladesh, the rubble turning is finished. Yesterday, thousands attended an Islamic prayer service for the 1,127 people now counted as having died in the collapse of the garment factory building on April 25. Also yesterday, WalMart announced it will pay for inspections at 279 factories in Bangladesh and will publish the results on its website by June 1. Inspections heretofore are being described as terribly superficial.

May 15  The economy of the 17-nation eurozone shrank 0.2 percent in the January to March quarter, according to European Union statistics. Nine of these 17 nations are in recession, including France, France's second recession in four years. Germany's economy grew by just 0.1 percent.

May 17  In Norway, gypsies (officially called Romani) demonstrate against the Oslo city council's plan to ban outside sleeping.

May 17  The New York Times reports that Russia is sending Yakhonts cruise missiles to Syria, missiles with advanced radar and a range that can strike against ships supplying the opposition forces with weapons and other supplies. "Ship-killers' they are called. Today there is more talk from UN General Secretary Ban ki-moon while he is visiting Russia. He warns against losing the "momentum" for peace in Syria generated by talks between Kerry and Putin on May 7. Secretary Ban proclaims that "A negotiated political solution is the only way to end the crisis," while some are aware that many conflicts across history were settled by one side defeating the other. Some of us wish the UN could conduct or moniter national elections for Syria. That would require the approval and participation of the Assad regime. Why such elections are not likely to happen soon is being revealed from day to day and will be described on this world news page in the days ahead.

May 18  The first Saudi woman, age 25, makes history by reaching the top of Mount Everest. She is Raha Moharrak, a university graduate based in Dubai. Her team included the first Qatari man and the first Palestinian man to attempt the summit. "I really don't care about being the first," she says, "So long as it inspires someone else to be second."

May 19  Assad tells an Argentinian newspaper that "to resign would be to flee." While some of us see his continuing in power as an obstacle to the reconciliation in Syria that will someday come, Assad portrays his manner of rule, which has alienated the majority of Syrians, as righteous. And he portrays himself as hero. Regarding the coming international conference initiated by the US and Russia, as he has many times before he speaks approvingly of more talk, but he adds that "we do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria."

May 21  Opposition groups meeting in Spain oppose negotiations with the Assad regime unless it is aimed at his departure. The battle for control of the strategic town of Quazar, near the Lebanese border, rages into its third day. It's a showdown of sorts. Winning the area is a must for the Assad regime. Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters are there, backed by Assad's artillery and air strikes. The anti-Assad forces are hanging on and claim they will not abandon the anti-Assad civilians there.

May 22  Iran's Guardian Council has disqualified a former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, from running for the president. Rafsanjani is thought of as someone who might have won the support of pro-reform and centrist politicians. The Guardian Council is appointed by and is loyal to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran remains a theocracy, not to be confused with democracy.

May 22  In truly democratic Sweden, rioting continues for a third day in largely immigrant (Middle East and Somali) neighborhoods near Stockholm. Someone was shot while threatening a policeman with a machete. Police say they tried negotiating with the man. A youth defending the rioters charges police brutality. Yesterday, Prime Minister Reinfeldt told reporters that Sweden would not be intimidated by rioters. The Justice Minister, Beatrice Ask, invites anyone who has felt mistreated to file a complaint.

May 23  Iran's Rafsanjani (See May 22) says of the Guardian Council, "I don't want to stoop to their propaganda and attacks but ignorance is troubling... They don't know what they're doing." He says he doesn't think "the country could have been run worse." The BBC reports: "The 78-year-old will not contest his disqualification [in running for president], his campaign manager was quoted as saying [yesterday]."

May 24  A BBC poll has surveyed more than 26,000 people around the world, asking them to rate 16 countries and the EU as to whether their influence in the world was "mainly positive" or "mainly negative." (Rating the more than 200 countries in the world would have been asking too much.) Germany was ranked as most respected and Canada second. The EU ranked 6th. The US was 8th of 17, just ahead of China. Russia was 13th, Israel 14th, North Korea 15th, Pakistan 16th, and at the bottom was Iran. (BBC News, May 23)

May 26  Yesterday in Lebanon, Shi'ite Hezbollah leader Nasrullah, declared war against opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. "The battle is ours," he said, "and I promise you victory." Since May 19, Hesbollah has lost dozens in the battle of Qusair just inside Syria. Today two rockets of the type with a five-mile range were fired from within Lebanon and exploded near offices of Hesbollah in Beirut.

May 27  Britain and France are asking the European Union for permission to send weapons to opposition fighters in Syria. They believe that military pressure from opposition forces will encourage the Assad regime to negotiate an end to its war. But some EU members, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden, remain opposed to EU countries helping Syria's opposition defend itself from a murderous dictatorship – state terrorism – armed by Russia and supported by Iran and Hezbollah. They say, the EU should remain "a peace community." In a word: pacifist. Sanctions against arming Syrians ends on June 1, and If the EU fails to agree to continue these sanctions, in the words of the Austria foreign minister, "everybody is entitled to deliver weapons to the Assad regime or to the opposition."

May 28  Russia's foreign ministry complains of the European Union failing to renew its arms embargo for Syria. Meanwhile Russia announces that it is going ahead with delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime in order to deter "hotheads" from involvement in Syria's rebellion. This threatens Israel's ability to continue its airstrikes against advanced weaponry supplied by the Assad regime to Hezbollah, which believes that israel has no right to exist. Israel complains that its Ben Gurian airport would be in range of the S-300 missiles. The Times of Israel writes: "Using unusually harsh language, Minister of Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told reporters the Russian decision to press on with the deal was an 'odd' and unjustifiable move, which he said was 'totally wrong' on moral and strategic grounds."

May 29  Encouraged by what it sees as military successes, the Assad regime is going into June peace talks with the announcement by Assad's foreign ministry that Assad will remain as Syria's president at least until elections in 2014. The peace talks that the Obama administration has been looking forward to appears to be an illusion. Meanwhile the head of Germany's intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, has reversed himself. Last summer he predicted that the Assad regime would collapse in early 2013; now he reports that the opposition is in trouble and the Assad regime is poised to make significant advances.

May 30  Today, in an interview with Hezbollah-link television, Assad boasts that his military has scored "major victories" and now holds "the balance of power." Speaking in Instanbul, George Sabra, the interim head of the opposition Syrian Nation Coalition, proclaims that talk of diplomatic conferences is farcical. He says, "The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria."

May 30  In Saudi Arabia, anachronistic interpretations of Islamic proprieties show signs of more slippage. On twitter, Saudi cleric Abdullah Mohammed al-Dawood has called on men to harass women cashiers. His purpose has been to discourage them from leaving home so as not to lose their chastity. The cleric is being lambasted on twitter, and the cashiers have substantial public support.

May 31  Miners in Kyrgyzstan are dispersed in widespread clashes with police. Government has declared a state of emergency. The miners want better pay. The Canadian mine owner, Centerra Gold, complains that it is the biggest payer of taxes in Kyrgyzstan and is funding social projects. A state commission claims the company is paying too little. Miners call for nationalization. Some in government worry that nationalization would discourage more foreign investment.

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Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.