North Korea: On 3 March, leader Kim Jong-un ordered a front-line military unit to be alert during his first tour of Panmunjom. He apparently restated the need for vigilance during the Allied exercises in South Korea.
Kim told "the soldiers on the outpost duty at Panmunjom to always maintain the maximum alertness as they are standing in confrontation with the enemies at all times," the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Comment: The contrast between last week's supposed breakthrough announcement about US food aid in return for a suspension of nuclear and missile activities makes Sunday's comments look farcical.
There is an element of consistency in the two behaviors. The kid is playing a role that is aimed internally at maintaining the morale of the armed forces and the people. The diplomats are in a desperate struggle aimed at North Korea's enemies to extort aid from them. In their different ways, they both are supporting national goals.
China: Comment: China's annual National People's Congress is under way in Beijing. This is a 10-day meeting to render an accounting for the last years and set the national goals for the coming year. It is the last parliamentary session under the current leadership.
Next year's economic goals will focus on internal stability and building a middle class of consumers. "We aim to promote steady and robust economic development, keep prices stable, and guard against financial risks by keeping the total money and credit supply at an appropriate level, and taking a cautious and flexible approach," Premier Wen said in his annual work report to the NPC.
The economic growth target is 7.5%, a significant drop from growth targets of 9% or more in recent years. This is a direct reflection of the downturn in the European economy and the inability to develop profitable markets in less developed countries. Wen's strategy minimizes risky investments.
The official defense budget is to increase by 11.2%, compared to over 12% increase last year. Official defense spending will exceed $100bn for the first time. Because of the growth of the economy, the expenditures on defense will surpass last year despite a slightly lower rate of growth. Moreover, the official defense budget is a fraction of total spending on defense as calculated in the west.
The parliament's spokesman Li Zhaoxing told a press conference on the eve of the opening of National People's Congress, "We have a large territory and a long coastline but our defense spending is relatively low compared with other major countries." Li told reporters it accounted for 1.3 % of 2011 gross domestic product compared with more than 2% in the United States and Britain.
China's limited military strength is aimed at safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity. It will not in the least pose a threat to other countries," he said.
India-Iran: India's Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. (MRPL) announced today it will cut its imports from Iran to 80,000 barrels per day (bpd), as much as 44 percent, in 2012-13. MRPL will begin its cuts in April at the start of the fiscal year.
Comment: MRPL is India's largest importer of Iranian oil, at 150,000 bpd. This will drive higher world prices for refined products and increase the hardship on the Iranian people. It will have no direct effect on Iran's nuclear program.
Afghanistan: A suicide bomber killed at least two Afghan civilians and wounded four others after detonating explosives at the gates of the US military base at Bagram, just north of Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was revenge for the burning of Qurans several weeks ago at the Bagram Air Base.
In eastern Afghanistan, authorities reported a suicide bomber killed a member of the Afghan security forces and wounded 11 others in an attack on a police checkpoint in the city of Jalalabad. This also looked like an attack related to the burning of Qurans.
On disposing of religious materials, in 2009 the Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, published a detailed Information Paper providing guidance for all major religions and denominations. The relevant paragraphs concerning the Quran are reproduced below as published in the Information Paper.
Disposing of Unusable Copies of the Qur'an
As far as old and unusable copies of the Qur'an are concerned, it is not permitted
to burn them unless there is no other way to dispose of them.
The great Hanafi Imam, Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:
"If a copy of the Mushaf (qur'an) becomes old and it is difficult to read from it, it should not be burnt in fire. This is what Imam Muhammad (m: student of Imam Abu Hanifa) pointed out and this is what we take.
It will not be disliked to bury it. It should be wrapped in a pure cloth, and a Lahd grave (m: grave that has an incision in the side wall, customary in hot climate countries where the earth is solid) should be dug, because if a Shiq grave (m: grave with a straight opening, common in cold climate countries due to the earth being soft) is dug and the copy of the Qur'an is buried, it will entail the soil falling on top of the Qur'an which is a form of disrespect, unless a slab is placed as a roof. .. " (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/271)
In light of the above, there are two methods of disposing of an unusable copy of the Qur'an:
(1) Wrapping it in a pure piece of cloth and burying it respectfully in a place where people (normally) do not walk about in cold climate countries (such as the UK), one may dig a Shiq grave, but a slab should be placed first and over it the soil.
(2) Fastening the Qur'an with a heavy object like a stone and then placing it respectfully in flowing water.
If one is able to implement the above two methods, it would not be permitted to burn the copy of the Qur'an. However, if the above two methods are difficult to carry out, then one may burn the Qur'an and bury or drown the resulting ash.
If the pages of the Mushaf have become old and worn out and thus torn due to reciting/reading them much, for example, or it becomes non-conducive to benefit from (that particular copy), or if there are found therein mistakes due to negligence when writing it, or printing and/or publishing errors, all of which cannot be corrected; then it is permitted to bury it without burning it. It is also permitted to burn and then bury it in a place that is far removed from rubbish, trash, paths and walkways.
(Doing this) will safeguard it from any type of degradation and debasement, as well as a protection for the Qur'an so that there does not occur any confusion, distortion or dispute due to the spreading and circulation of copies of the Qur'an that have printing and/or publishing errors.
CH (COL) XXXXXXXXXX
Director, Center for World Religions
Chaplain Center and School
Fort Jackson, SC 29229
Feedback comment: Special thanks to a diligent, extremely well informed Reader for this reference.
Iran: The Principalist party of loyalists to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei won over 75 % of the seats in Iran's parliamentary elections on 2 March, according to election authorities. The turnout was over 64% of registered voters.
Comment: The turnout and the result of the elections have several implications. Despite the reformist faction's boycott of the election, the turnout was large enough to refute charges of fraud and to confirm that the government of Iran is the government the registered voters want. There is no ground swell of voters waiting for their chance to overthrow the religious clerisy.
The same cannot be said of the government of Ahmadi-Nejad. The victory of the conservatives neuters him, making him a lame duck until presidential elections in 2013.
The effect on foreign policy and response to sanctions is less clear. A hobbled Ahmadi-Nejad might be less vocal. A more conservative parliament might be less willing to risk the consequences of Ahmadi-Nejad's bombastic public statements. More conservative might mean more cautious about risking Iran's patrimony.
Syria: For the record. Syrian authorities are holding 13 French officers in a field hospital in Homs, unnamed sources said on 5 March, The Daily Star reported. It is not known why the officers were in the country, how long they had been there or whether they were part of a larger group.
Syrian forces continued sweeps in neighborhoods in Homs and started at least two new sweep operations, including in Daraa in far southern Syria. The opposition fighters fled the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, leaving behind some 4,000 civilians, who supported them.
Comment: The ability of the Syrian Army to continue to supply and sustain new operations after completing a month long operation against a neighborhood in Homs indicates the situation is more complicated than press reports indicate. Operations in Daraa require a long logistics chain from major bases. The Syrian Army apparently still retains the capability to support such operations.
Syria-Arab League: Comment: The Arab League declined last week to provide arms to the Syrian opposition. This looks like a rebuff to Saudi Arabia whose foreign minister said it was a good idea. Apparently, the opposition lacks the organization and infrastructure to receive outside support in quantity and the members could not agree on a policy.
Saudi Arabia and a few supporters seem likely to press ahead on their own. The Saudis still appear determined to roll back Iranian influence in the Arab world.
Egypt: Update. Egypt's newly-elected 678-member parliament held its first meeting March 3, AP reported. The meeting was called to determine how to choose the 100 individuals who will be responsible for drafting the country's new constitution. Members called on Egypt to cut ties to the United States.
Russia: Anti-Putin rallies occurred as promised in Moscow on 5 March, but signify little, especially considering the hundreds of closed circuit cameras at polling stations. They do not mean fraud is impossible, but make the allegations less credible.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Putin declared victory in the presidential elections and will resume his presidency, for a third term. Exit polls and preliminary results gave him about 64.71% (sic) of the vote, Russian sources claimed. Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov was second with 17.1%.
Comment: Reinforced by high oil revenues and a large electoral victory, Putin will be even more difficult to deal with during his third term of office.
Italy: Thousands of far-right activists, anti-rail protesters and construction workers rallied in the streets of Rome on Saturday, 3 March, in three protests against Prime Minister Mario Monti's government.
"Taxes are going up, petrol is going up, Monti's government is a robber government!" a few thousand far-right activists chanted at one demonstration.
Others chanted: "Social butchery, this is the government of big capital!" Organizers said around 20,000 people took part in that protest. The second protest was by campaigners against the construction of a high-speed rail line through the Alps between the northern city of Turin and Lyon in France which has become a focus for social protests.
"This has become the conflict point between institutional politics and social forces," one activist from the "No TAV" (No to High-Speed Rail) protest said at the demonstration in which a few hundred people took part. The protesters later occupied part of a highway around Rome.
Thousands of workers in plastic helmets also rallied for greater state assistance for the construction sector.
Official data out this week showed that the unemployment rate reached a monthly record of 9.2 percent in January from 8.9 percent in December, with the rate among young people aged 15 to 24 rising to 31.1 percent.
"We want to tell the government that if it continues looking at the markets and not at the country, it'll stay there looking because there won't be a country," Susanna Camusso, leader of the biggest Cgil union, told the crowd. "You can't save Italy without saving Italian workers," she said.
Comment: The demonstrations are manifestation of threat, not risk. Thus far they appear to be weekend warriors, who are relatively benign and lack any sense of organization or consistency of message. The message of some groups contradicted that of others. Weekend protestors usually are not desperate people, are relatively peaceful and are more or less thoughtful. Those conditions are likely to change if economic hardship starts to bite. .
End of NightWatch for 4 March.
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