Friday, September 14, 2007

Around the world: China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Germany, and Japan

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another entry in our ongoing series -- some stories from around the world that might be of interest to you:

1) China: "China's Supreme Court has ordered judges to be more sparing in the imposition of the death penalty. An order on its website said execution should be reserved for 'an extremely small number of serious offenders'."

This is a very positive step in the right direction -- and I say that as an ardnet opponent of the death penalty and as a long-time critic of China on human and civil rights. One hopes that there is something to it, that it isn't some charade of justice to bolster the country's image as it develops into ever more of an economic superpower, seeking ever more international investment, and as it prepares to host next year's Olympic Games.

For more on China and the Olympics -- and on support for China from Bush and Spielberg, among other such complicit luminaries -- see Eric Reeves's important piece at TNR: "How... can the premier event in international sports be hosted by a nation complicit in the most heinous international crimes? The Chinese regime is guilty of perpetrating the ongoing destruction of Tibet, supporting the vicious Myanmar junta, engaging in gross domestic human rights abuses, and, perhaps worst of all, facilitating genocide in Darfur."

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2) Russia: Vladimir Putin, the country's autocratic president, is set to step down next year. But don't count him out just yet -- "Putin has said he expects to remain an influential figure in Russian politics after he steps down next March. Speaking to Western journalists and academics, he did not rule out standing for president again in 2012 or 2016."

At least he's not pulling a Chavez... yet.

Or... is he? Putin picked the relatively obscure Viktor Zubkov to be Russia's prime minister this week. Zubkov is, needless to say, Putin's man, and "Putin also gave a heavy hint that... Zubkov might emerge as a candidate to succeed him as president". Putin's caretaker president, perhaps, for '08 to '12, the puppet to Putin's puppeteer.

Vladimir the Terrible, who doesn't think much of dissent and opposition, will not give up power anytime soon.

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3) Zimbabwe: How bad are conditions in that tyrannized African country? "Pets are being slaughtered for meat in shortage-stricken Zimbabwe and record numbers of animals have been surrendered to shelters or abandoned by owners no longer able to feed them, animal welfare activists say. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it could not feed surrendered animals or find them new homes and was being forced to kill them and destroy the corpses."

Horrible. (For our previous posts on Zimbabwe, see here.)

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4) Germany: Troubling news from the former GDR -- "The eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, which had the highest incidence of far-right attacks in Germany last year, has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the region's police force following accusations that it has failed to investigate racist assaults properly. The probe comes at a time of heightened public awareness of right-wing extremism in the east of Germany..."

Such right-wing extremism is never good, but German neo-Nazism, rightly or wrongly, seems particularly troubling, given that country's past. To its credit, though, it has a good record combatting neo-Nazism -- the West, that is, not so much the East, and now united Germany is contending with long-dormant extremism in the latter. At least the state government seems to be taking action.

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5) Japan: "After a 17-year hiatus between lunar missions, Japan launched an unmanned orbiter today that carries the hopes of a nation looking to claim its place as a serious space power."

We are only at the beginning of what will be a long and likely contentious battle to dominate space.

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