The World Today for August 30, 2016


The Kingdom of Crackdowns

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain has remained relatively stable in a region upended by turmoil, especially since the so-called “Arab Spring” five years ago.

Even so, widespread riots rocked the country in 2011 when activists and Bahrain’s Shiite majority took to the streets, demanding political reforms from the island’s Sunni-led monarchy.

Then, Bahrain moved to quash the protests. But in the years since, sporadic outbursts of unrest have continued.

Now Bahraini leaders are losing patience, observers say. The country has been intensifying a crackdown on civil society groups and the country’s political opposition.

A number of Shiite clerics have been arrested in recent months for allegedly inciting followers to participate in illegal gatherings.

The most prominent among them, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, has been put on trial for money laundering and illegally collecting donations after authorities found millions in accounts held in Qassim’s name.

Qassim, regarded as the spiritual voice of the country’s Shiite majority and an outspoken critic of the government’s repressive tactics, has butted heads with Bahraini authorities before. But now he faces expulsion after his citizenship was revoked for his alleged “foreign links” and for fomenting sectarian violence.

Those same charges were levelled against the main Shiite political opposition group, al-Wefaq, when a court ordered the group’s dissolution and imprisoned its secretary general earlier this summer.

Meanwhile, the Bahraini government is also targeting civil society leaders: Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in a raid on his home for unspecified reasons in June, while another well-known activist recently fled the country to avoid being jailed again.

Some question how much longer Bahrain can maintain this repressive course without serious consequences.

US officials, with an eye toward the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet based there, are understandably concerned. A State Department report commissioned by Congress this summer noted, “The government of Bahrain continues to charge and prosecute individuals with offenses involving political expression, including some who have not advocated violence.”

But legislation to stop US military support to the tune of $6.6 million failed to gain traction.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, has warned that moves against Shiite leaders would eventually trigger armed resistance.

That is something almost no one wants to see in a region already plagued by devastating brutal conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

But by cutting off outlets for citizens to air their grievances peacefully, many say Bahrain is leaving its people with few other options.


A March of Desperation

Following days of walking and hitchhiking, thousands of Venezuelans are descending on the capital of Caracas this week in a last-ditch effort to force President Nicolas Maduro to hold a referendum on his rule.

Their efforts are scheduled to culminate in a mass rally Thursday that opponents of Maduro hope will bring hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to the streets of Caracas to protest a government that has overseen the worst economic collapse in Venezuelan history, writes the Wall Street Journal.

The country has suffered widespread food shortages, protests and electricity outages in recent months against the backdrop of rampant inflation and the collapse of the price of oil – Venezuela’s chief export.

Maduro has resisted calls for a referendum – polls suggest it would lead to his removal – and has instead banned all private planes and drones, which opponents say is an attempt to block images of anti-government protests from circulating.

But marchers are determined to force Maduro’s hand this week.

“Either the president fixes an immediate date for a constitutional referendum or he resigns,” one priest who made the 400-mile walk from his parish town to Caracas, told the Wall Street Journal.

The Kyrgyzstan Connection

A suicide bomber in Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishek exploded a car Tuesday after ramming it into the gates of the Chinese embassy in Bishek, killing himself and injuring three embassy employees.

The bombing took place just before the country celebrates its Independence Day, said embassy officials.

Chinese nationals have been targeted in previous attacks in Kyrgyzstan, including one in 2000 when a Chinese official was shot dead, allegedly by a member of China’s Uighur minority group, writes the BBC.

No group has claimed responsibility yet for the bombing, but officials in Kyrgyzstan say that about 500 Kyrgyz nationals have joined Islamic State (IS) – one of the three bombers in the attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk airport in June was reportedly from Kyrgyzstan.

Striking Out at Home

South Korean media reported Tuesday that two senior North Korean officials were publically executed earlier this month as part of North Korea’s ongoing purge of officials deemed a threat to the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Former agriculture minister Hwang Min and a senior official in the education ministry, Ri Yong-jin, were executed by anti-aircraft guns at a Pyongyang military academy, said a conservative South Korean daily.

Hwang was reportedly killed for making still undetailed policy proposals considered a threat to Kim’s regime, while Ri was allegedly executed for falling asleep during a meeting chaired by Kim, writes the Guardian.

Kim has ordered the execution of several perceived enemies since becoming leader of North Korea in 2011, including his uncle and second-in-command Jang Song-thaek, who was killed in December 2013 after being denounced as a traitor.

But South Korean media is speculating that the executions were held to send a message to the North Korean elite following recent visible, high-level defections such as that of Thae Yong-ho, deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in London.


Revisionist Degrees

Marxism may have fallen out of favor at many a US university over the past few decades but that didn’t stop Bolivia from recently opening a military academy with the explicit goal of encouraging “anti-imperialist” thinking among its recruits.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said at the inauguration of the Juan Jose Torres Anti-Imperialist Commando School in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this month that the new military academy would teach Bolivians to free themselves from “imperial oppression.” It would serve to counter US policies and influence in Latin America, he added.

“We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas,” said Morales, referring to the former US-based military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, that trained Latin American officers who later committed atrocities against indigenous peoples.

The academy in Santa Cruz, where 200 cadets will study history, geopolitics and military strategy, is named after General Juan Jose Torres, the de facto president of Bolivia in 1970 who expelled the Peace Corps for allegedly sterilizing indigenous women.

Still, cadets will have to get acquainted with Mr. Marx if they want to improve their rank: A semester-long course taught by Argentine Marxist intellectual Atilio Boron is a must if they want to advance to captain.

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