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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Widespread Protests over  Shutdown of Greece’s State Public Broadcaster

On Wednesday, Greece’s fragile coalition government abruptly shut down the state public broadcaster, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), laying off 2,900 workers. Thousands of protesters rallied outside ERT’s Athens headquarters; private television channels suspended their news coverage in solidarity and the country’s two main labor unions declared a 24-hour strike on Thursday. ERT journalists continued to defy the shutdown, broadcasting over a live web feed from a suburb outside Athens and Thessaloniki.  The unexpected decision to close ERT was made after representatives from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund returned to Athens on Monday to discuss overhauling Greece’s economy. Although the EU Commission says it did not seek the closure of ERT, Greece’s pledge to lay off public workers was high on the agenda. The decision to shut down ERT was made by ministerial decree, meaning it could be implemented without immediate reference to parliament. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faced a revolt from his center-left coalition partners, who claimed they had not been consulted about the decision and would propose a law to reverse the move. Coalition party leaders hinted that they could force Samaras into a confidence vote to bring him down. Samaras has refused to back down and plans to press ahead with his planned overhaul of the ERT. In another blow to Greece’s economic confidence, MSCI, which compiles world stock indexes, downgraded Greece to “emerging market” status from “developed market.”

Malian Peacekeeping Deal on Thin Ice

Mediators flew back to Bamako on Wednesday, hoping to salvage a ceasefire agreement between the Malian government and the Tuareg MNLA rebels.  The two sides had reached an agreement “in principle” that would allow elections to move forward in July, and both flew back to Mali to consult with their respective bases. The representatives from the Malian government did not return, however, raising concerns that the deal may be unraveling and that the UN peacekeeping force scheduled to deploy in three weeks would be delayed . While the army has forced the rebels out of most of Mali’s cities, the deep divisions in its northern communities remain, exacerbated by the 10-month Islamist rule. During the occupation of Timbuktu,  many Tuaregs and Arab Moors used their shared ethnic backgrounds with the Islamists to further assert themselves over their black neighbors, often enslaving them.  Fearing reprisals, they fled the city with the Islamists, leaving black Malians free but jobless, and a city in ruins. Fourteen of Timbuktu’s famous mausoleums are severely damaged, over 4,000 scrolls have been lost – many, burned – and the city’s emblematic El Farouk monument has been razed to the ground.

Turkish Prime Minister Heightens Fears of a Violent Crackdown

Istanbul police cleared most of Taksim Square overnight and fought running battles with protestors through the surrounding streets, resulting in some of the worst clashes since the protests began. Several hundred protesters remain in a tent city in Gezi Park, while thousands of black-robed lawyers left courthouses around the country to protest the police’s behavior and the detention of their colleagues.  While President Abdullah Gul struck a conciliatory tone, urging dialogue with the protesters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains defiant. Erdoğan heightened worries at home and abroad by declaring that he would end all anti-government protests, saying, “We haven’t replied to violence with violence. From now on we’ll handle this differently. The issue will be over in 24 hours.” Protesters leaders vowed to remain in the park. The strongest voice in the rising tide of international criticism over Erdoğan’s behavior has been the European Union. It contradicted the prime minister, saying the largely peaceful protesters had been subject to indiscriminate violence and calling on Erdoğan to investigate uses of excessive force and hold those responsible to account. Top EU officials have also suggested that a violent end to these weeks of protests could seriously hinder Turkey’s acceptance into the EU.

Final Day of Campaigning Before Iran’s Presidential Elections

After the only reformist in Iran’s presidential race withdrew on Tuesday, moderates and reformists seemed to be coalescing around cleric and former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rouhani. In a slate of six candidates, Rouhani is the most moderate, as most of the other five are conservative with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. While he has received endorsements from two popular ex-presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the race remains extremely close, with strong conservative support for hardline candidates like top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Friday’s election is Iran’s first since the protests of 2009 and will determine who will replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Although Ayatollah Khameini has announced that it is every Iranian’s duty to vote, Iran has cracked down on foreign journalists, denying visas to almost all of those who have applied.

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