Turkish Offensive Against Kurds Carries Political Risks

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Barack Obama of the United States meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 7, 2009
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Barack Obama of the United States meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 7, 2009 (White House/Samantha Appleton)

Turkish soldiers this week killed 26 Kurdish rebels in an offensive that began Wednesday night and involved more than 2,000 troops as well as F-16 fighter planes operating on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border.

This summer has been one of the bloodiest in Turkey since Kurdish separatists took up arms against the government in 1984. In the fifteen months to August, some eight hundred people were killed, including about five hundred Kurdish fighters and more than twee hundred security personnel, according to estimates by the International Crisis Group think tank.

The situation represents a dilemma for the Turks who must suppress the Kurdish insurgency in their borders while supporting the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria which is, in part, Kurdish. Read more “Turkish Offensive Against Kurds Carries Political Risks”

Libyan Eastern Province Declares Semiautonomy

Tribal leaders and militia commanders declared the oil rich east of Libya a semiautonomous state on Tuesday, a unilateral move that was condemned as a foreign “conspiracy” by the North African country’s interim leadership.

Thousands of representatives of major tribes and militias along with politicians made the declaration at a conference in the main eastern city of Benghazi which was the hotbed of resistance against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s military dictatorship last year. They said that they wanted the region to remain part of a united Libya but insisted the increased autonomy was needed after decades of discrimination against Cyrenaica, or Barqa as it is called in Arabic, under the old regime.

Libya’s former strongman used oil revenue from the east to finance development and largess in the west where he was from.

The move underscored the institutional weakness of Libya’s National Transitional Council, headquartered in western Tripoli, which has struggled since the fall of Gaddafi to maintain order in the nation of six million.

The interim leadership suspected that semiautonomy of Cyrenaica would ultimately lead to secession and suggested that other Arab nations were conniving to divide Libya. Just which countries were involved in such a plot, the NTC couldn’t say.

On Friday, there were protests in Benghazi too of easterners who fear the breakup of their country.

Less than a third of Libyans lives in the eastern province. The population is split between an Arab majority in the north which is largely urban and spread across different tribes and a black nomadic minority that dwells in the desert south. Both groups are Muslim.

Scotland Can Have Referendum on Independence

Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland, July 27, 2006
Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland, July 27, 2006 (Dave Conner)

David Cameron’s government will give the Scottish Parliament eighteen months to hold a referendum on independence.

A spokesman for the British prime minister said on Monday that uncertainty about the future of the union between England and Scotland “can have a detrimental impact on the economy.” Read more “Scotland Can Have Referendum on Independence”

Splitting California in Half

The skyline of Los Angeles, California, November 15, 2009
The skyline of Los Angeles, California, November 15, 2009 (Keith Skelton)

There’s a proposal to split the state of California in half.

The fifty-first state would be called South California and encompass the city of San Diego as well as conservative countries while Los Angeles, San Francisco and the more liberal northern parts of the state would continue to be governed from Sacramento.

This new state would be the fifth largest by population, more populous than Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. South California would take nearly a third of the population away from California, making the Golden State the second largest after Texas. Read more “Splitting California in Half”

Flanders Favors Nationalist Newcomer

Elections in Belgium on Sunday are set to push the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) to the forefront of federal politics. The party that promotes the secession of Flanders won nearly a third of the vote in the Dutch-speaking northern part of the country. In the south, the socialists were on the rise, winning more than 40 percent of the vote in French-speaking Wallonia. In spite of losing slightly in Flanders, the socialists are expected to deliver the next prime minister.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s second government, formed by a coalition of five parties, including conservatives, liberals and socialists, collapsed last April, tumbling the country into yet another round of political uncertainty. Belgium has had three different governments since the end of 2008, two of which were chaired by Leterme.

After the last cabinet tendered its resignation, many voters on the right evidently switched to N-VA which was founded in 2001 and is running for parliament independently for the first time in this election. The conservative party, traditionally dominant in Flanders, lost over 10 percent of its share of the vote. The right-wing Vlaams Belang, infamous for its staunch positions on immigration, lost over a third of its 2007 votes to N-VA.

Tensions between north and south have grown evermore fierce in recent years up, sometimes culminating in downright hostility. Flanders is the economic powerhouse of Belgium while Wallonia remains impoverished and plagued by unemployment. With the socialists in power there, the Walloons enjoy a welfare state for which the Flemish say they are footing the bill.

N-VA promises greater autonomy for Flanders and would ultimately like to see it separate from the French-speaking south. The Walloons on the other hand want Flanders to surrender a largely French-speaking district that surrounds the capital of Brussels to their control. Unsurprisingly, Belgian media are wondering about their country’s very future these days.

A federal government formed by N-VA, conservatives and socialists appears likely at this stage. Such a coalition already governs in Flanders in spite of significant differences in opinion about economics and Belgium’s political future. The negotiations that should lead to the formation of a new government will probably drag on for many months. The last formation took almost two hundred days.