The Sudanese government has agreed to a deal giving the 9,000 strong UN-led peacekeeping force unrestricted movement in Darfur in their attempt to combat attacks from Janjaweed rebels. This means the government will now permit night flights, restrictions on communications will be reduced and the force will have full access to the Western Sudanese province. While the UN force is meant to be 26,000 strong, currently only one-third of the mission has been deployed as key African units are still not being allowed into the region by the Sudanese government.
Chad’s government has placed a dusk-till-dawn curfew in much of the country following rebel attacks in the capital city of N’Djamena that have killed at least 100 civilians. President Idriss Deby has asked the European Union to deploy peacekeepers in the region as quickly as possible. An EU spokesman said he hopes forces will be deployed by next week. There have been indications that France, Chad’s former colonial power with military bases still in the country, has been launching aerial attacks against the rebels. The French denies aiding the government. Chad’s government accuses Sudan of backing the rebel advance because it does not want western peacekeepers near Darfur, a charge the Sudanese government denies.
After securing the release of two hostages held by the Colombian Marxist rebel group FARC in January, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says his government has taken the first steps towards securing the release of three other hostages. Chavez said the deal involves the release of three politicians among dozens being held by the group since 2001. Chavez urged the relatives of those named to remain calm as there has been no indication when the release will happen, but he said information his government has received indicates all three are in good condition.
Once again a vote to elect Lebanon’s president has been delayed. Due to a division between the pro-Western ruling majority and the pro-Syrian opposition party Hezbollah, the country that has been without a president since Nov. 23 has for the 14th time been told it has to wait a bit longer.
The rival parties agree on the candidate to be elected, General Michel Suleiman, but disagree over constitutional details and the proportional make-up of the cabinet. Hezbollah insists on obtaining veto power in the government which would create a three-way power split between the two parties and the ministers appointed by the president.
Serbian President Boris Tadic warned that if Kosovo were to declare its independence it could result in the escalation of many existing conflicts, the reactivation of a number of frozen conflicts and the creation of new conflicts in a speech in Munich Friday.
Speaking to the world’s top security officials he urged international talks stating, “there is still time to prevent the situation from spiralling needlessly out of control.” Many diplomats in Munich expect the declaration of independence to be made around Feb. 17.
Turkey took a major step towards lifting the ban of women’s headscarves in universities. Turkish lawmakers voted Saturday in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing citizens the right to attend post-secondary institutions regardless of their dress. However, tens of thousands of people crowded the streets on the same day to support lawmakers opposed to the amendment, and called for the resignation of the government in protest. Citizens in the largely Muslim, but secular state remain concerned that lifting the ban puts secularism at risk and women under pressure to wear headscarves. It has been reported that male family members shave women’s heads to force them to wear headscarves. The headscarf ban was enacted in the 1990’s amid concern the growing number of covered women in colleges threatened secularism. Despite the opposition, Turkish President Abdullah Gul is bound by law to sign the constitutional amendment.
Just over a month after Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack, at least 25 people have died following a powerful explosion hit an opposition election rally in North-Western Pakistan Saturday. The suspected suicide blast occurred at a rally for the secular Awami National Party (ANP) as campaigning began for the Feb. 18 elections. Suspicions will likely fall on Islamist groups as the ANP is seen as an anti-Islamist party. Fazal-ur-Rehman Atakhail, a senior member of the party, was shot dead Thursday by an unknown assailant which triggered widespread protests.
After being widely criticized for not handing over power to the democratically elected National League for Democracy party in 1990 and more recently for suppressing political demonstrations, Burma’s military leaders announced Saturday they will hold a constitutional referendum this year and an election in 2010.
Government officials say a national referendum to approve a new constitution will be held in May. However, critics question whether the proposed constitution will be fair and democratic and wonder how the government can announce the 2010 elections before even knowing the results of the referendum.