The Global Report: March 8, 2012

By Michael J. Lockhart

We give you this week's top international news from America to Asia and everything in between.

Welcome to the Global Report: our weekly column of the most important issues happening across the planet. From politics to war, monarchies to dictatorships, and everything in-between, we’ve got it covered. It’s world news, style.

In the United States this week, Super Tuesday fueled the Republican race as the final four candidates struggled towards the 1144 delegate count needed to cinch the nomination. As we reported, it’s quite possible the GOP may end up without a firm nominee at August’s convention, leading the way for an open-floor showdown that could produce some interesting results (Read: Sarah Palin is paying attention).

In Brazilian news, President Dilma Rouseff announced on Tuesday that the South American country would take part in recapitalizing the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s coffers, after the recent slew of European bailouts.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Sunday that the recent operation he underwent in Cuba was to remove a malignant (cancerous) tumor and he will recover well in advance of his October re-election. Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos visited the country yesterday in order to strike a trade deal with Chavez and discuss Cuban President Raul Castro’s presence at the Summit of the Americas next month.

In Greece today, officials have been racing against the clock as they attempt one of the largest debt restructurings ever attempted. Though by the 8PM GMT deadline, it was apparent that the minimum threshold for the deal to pass had been met.  As part of the European bailout package from weeks ago, Athens was required to convince private holders of its debt to cut losses of up 107B euro ($140B USD), and swap their current Greek bonds for replacements, losing up to 74 percent of the value on their investments.  It’s a necessary step to be made, but at what cost?

The ongoing financial woes of Greece have also affected the EU’s anti-piracy task force off the coast of Africa as Greece slashes its military budget and is recalling its warship from surveillance in the region. Though the loss of one ship may cost the union up to 2.5M a month for a replacement frigate, the number of US warships traversing the area en-route to the Iranian border should be a logical repellant for pirates.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama on Friday, as the two nations discussed the best course of action to take with regards to Iran. While the US has been making progress with the reputed, ‘country on a mission to acquire nuclear weapons,’ Israel has made threats to preemptively strike Iranian nuclear facilities. This action would not only violate international law without UN sanctioning; but could not be claimed as being enacted in self-defense as most experts believe Iran to be lacking WMD or the capability to deliver them.

The BBC reported earlier this week that if this was carried out the Hamas Islamic political entity that controls parts of the Gaza Strip (disputed territory next to Israel) would not take action. This is now being disputed by senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Zahar (as reported by intelligence agency STRATFOR), that Hamas would, “retaliate with utmost power against Israel and any other complicit party if Israel invades Iran.” It’s a very delicate situation which could balloon into a much bigger crisis if Israel attacks without cause, leaving the US and its NATO allies to decide how to respond in both the Gulf region and the Mediterranean.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, at least 200 people died due to a number of explosions on Sunday in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. The blasts, which were the apparent result of a fire breaking out in an arms depot, was strong enough to shatter windows and cause panic across the river in neighboring Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The reaction is understandable due to the amount of corruption and foul play seen in both of these African nations.

The Russian elections took place on Sunday with former President and current PM Vladimir Putin being re-elected for a third term (served previously 2000-08). This comes as no shock to the rest of the world with recent Duma (parliament) election protests. The Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) who Russia invited to monitor the election, noted that irregularities in voting came predominantly from “restrictive candidate requirements,” and “state resources mobilized in (Putin’s) support.” While it’s refreshing to see that actual tampering and possibly no fraudulent behavior in terms of polling booths, it’s most likely due to the fact that intimidation by following the status quo is often much stronger than given credit for. Putin and his party, United Russia, don’t need to rely on low-level sabotage to win an election; they allow their reputation and their allowance of foreign observation to do it for them.

It may not be a fair election, but it does speak to the influence this man has over a country that was just as much an empire 20 odd years ago. Protests are new for the citizens, largely spurred by the younger generation who didn’t grow up in the Soviet Union. With that, a fair amount of the population is used to taking orders and following in line; the mentality to speak your mind, or run for office as an independent candidate was once a very dangerous option for a potential politician. This is evident in the fact Putin commanded 63.64 percent of the vote, a far cry from the nearest candidate’s 17.14 percent.  With current President Dmitry Medvedev taking on the PM role, Putin has everything he needs as he goes forward with a renewed focus. It will be interesting to watch how this may strain US relations.

Last week North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment in exchange for food aid. This week the isolated state was back to trading threats with South Korea as King Jong-un visited soldiers who were potentially involved in a 2010 attack on one of South Korea’s islands. This exchange, while largely symbolic (the Korean War of the 1950’s ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty), saw the North attempting to provoke over lack of respect given to recent leader’s Kim Jong-Il’s death. To which South Korean Defense Minister responded that any provocation would be met with “devastating retaliation.”

Eels invaded a small town in New Zealand due to heavy rainstorms in the region. This follows a recent trend of flooding in the Australasian region as of late. Hope the hobbits are fine.

Check out Global Report next week for our coverage of the hottest news around the world.


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