The Commonwealth Observer

Commonwealth Observer News Briefs

Murray Burt
Written by Murray Burt

From a ruckus in the Kenyan parliament to nationalist pressure in India to Cyprus unification talks – NIBs from across the Commonwealth.

Controversial anti-terror laws cause ruckus in Kenyan Parliament

Fistfights and scuffles broke out in the Kenyan parliament on Thursday as members approved sweeping anti-terrorism laws that rights activists warn pose a draconian threat to civil liberties and freedom of speech. The House speaker, Justin Muturi, was pelted with books, documents and other objects by opposition MPs as emotions ran high over the bill. Outside, on the streets of Nairobi police fired warning shots and eight demonstrators were reportedly arrested. President, Uhuru Kenyatta says the legislation is needed to tighten national security and combat Islamist militants responsible for last year’s Westgate shopping mall siege and more recent massacres. But critics say the government is exploiting fear of terrorism as a pretext for cracking down on dissent in civil society and the media. They argue that existing laws are sufficient and the true scourge is corruption within the police.

Dozens die in clashes on anniversary of Bangladesh’s disputed 2014 vote —

The anniversary of Bangladesh’s disputed 2014 elections saw dozens killed in clashes between government and opposition groups, and marked the start of a new phase of the political deadlock between the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh National Party.

Escaped kidnapped girls ponder return to school

Four months after Boko Haram shocked the world by kidnapping more than 200 students, a small group of schoolgirls who narrowly escaped from the Islamist extremists were facing a new dilemma: Should they go back to school? It was an agonizing decision for the girls from Chibok and their nervous parents, who were afraid of another horrifying attack if they let their daughters go to school again. —Source: G&M

Singapore Defence Minister sees Pacific region powder keg

The build-up of defence and military forces in the Asia-Pacific region is occurring amidst a dearth of institutions and channels for countries to communicate with one another, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen warned at the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany last month. This has the worrying potential to create a powder keg situation in the region, especially since there is no shared historical conviction among Asian countries against military conflict, like in Europe. But Dr Ng, said that there are several defusing factors that give cause for optimism. These include growing trade links among Asia-Pacific countries and the rise of an Asian middle class that would not support hegemonic aspirations. —Source: Singapore Straits Times

India development promises stalled by nationalist pressure

Entering 2015 with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power at the federal level in India, there appears to have been a metamorphosis in India’s social, political and economic environment. The BJP and its coalition was voted into power in 2014 in a landslide victory, promising ‘development’ for India. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda has been held back by attempts to promote Hindu nationalism. The BJP’s role as the home of right-wing conservative Indian nationalists can be traced back to the pre-1947 era when Hindu nationalists not only demanded an independent India, but one completely dominated by Hindus. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the historical antecedent and parent organization of the BJP, still wishes for a ‘land of the Hindus. Economic development agenda as promised by the BJP has become more rhetoric. To be sure, Modi is expounding slogans like ‘Clean India’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Act East’, ‘the business of government is not business’. And the drive towards cleanliness and sanitation at a national level has still been a high point of the prime minister’s rhetoric. —Source: Deepanshu Mohan

Nigeria oil and interest bounce to 13%, naira dips

Nigeria’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate from 12% to 13% and devalued the naira. Like Russia’s, Nigeria’s currency has come under pressure from speculators as the price of oil, the mainstay of the economy, has plunged. With its foreign reserves dwindling, the governor of the central bank described Nigeria’s fiscal outlook as “not too impressive” —Source: The Economist

Cyprus unification talks stay stalled in drilling rig dispute

Turks leave seismic research vessel at work off the Cypriot coast over Cypriot objections, but stalling settlement talks. The area under dispute is close to Turkish Cypriots in areas close to an international rig hired by Republic of Cyprus. The UNSG’s Special Adviser on Cyprus negotiations Espen Barth Eide voiced concern about impasse in talks, and said were things “moving in the wrong direction”. As a result UNSC extended the stationing of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until 31 July. Cyprus said there would be no talks while Turkish ships mount a challenge on gas drilling —Source: Reuters.

Photo credit: Bernt Rostad / cc

About the author

Murray Burt

Murray Burt

Murray Burt has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, starting as a cadet reporter in New Zealand, and doing two stints with wire services on Fleet Street before settling in Canada in the newspaper business. He is a retired managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and former city and national editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He is a past-president of the CJA and has been a life member since 2003, participating in each of its conferences and CPU’s conferences since 1990. He is a director of the Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in New Delhi; president of Manitoba’s newly-reconstituted Royal Commonwealth Society; and has directorships in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (western Canada).

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