Monthly Archives: August 2011

Is the world about to witness another epic manhunt? It took almost ten years to hunt down Osama bin Laden. The search for Saddam Hussein took nine months, during which the Iraqi insurrection took hold. The fear must be that if Colonel Gaddafi remains at large for too long, he too will be in a position to severely damage the new Libya. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Is there such a thing as a global mood? It certainly feels like it. I cannot remember a time when so many different countries, all over the world, were gripped by some form of street protest or popular revolt. 2011 is turning into the year of global indignation.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn popped back into the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund Monday afternoon to say goodbye to staff. I am as supremely unqualified to comment on the events in New York which led to his resignation as were many of those who did chip in. But, with his successor making waves in Europe with a pointed speech on bank capital, here is a brief thought on his tenure.

The standard view (which I largely share) is that a smart political operator seized the opportunity of the global financial crisis to turn round an organisation bereft of purpose and beset by drift. But having adroitly manoeuvred the fund into involvement in the Greek bail-out, DSK also risked it being dragged along in a rescue programme driven – incompetently – by the eurozone. Read more

Here we go again. Japan has a new prime minister. This is a truly momentous event – momentous, that is, for anyone who has managed to maintain a smidgen of interest in who runs the Japanese government these days. So this one goes out to all three of you.

Yoshihiko Noda will be sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday after being elected leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan on Monday afternoon. Read more

Drum roll. Tan-Tan-Tan-Tan. And the winner is…Tony Tan. After the tightest of electoral races, Dr Tan was on Sunday declared the president-elect of Singapore, beating out three other candidates who also happen to be called Tan.

The post is largely ceremonial. But the slimmest margin of victory for the government’s preferred candidate – just 0.34 percentage points over his closest rival – suggests there is something stirring in Singapore’s once predictable political scene. Read more

Just what the world needs – another think tank. Except that maybe, just maybe, this is a good idea. This week saw the launch of the Fung Global Institute, a self-styled Hong Kong-based independent research institute that wants to be the Brookings of Asia. Its mission is to produce “business-relevant research on global issues from Asian perspectives”. 

There are a few red flags here, of which later. But the idea itself is timely. If Asia continues to grow at anything like its current pace, it will play an increasingly important role in the global economy. Yet it lacks anything like a coherent, intellectual voice. The global dialogue is being held in Washington, New York and London. Asia’s views deserve to be heard more – and not just in cacophony of a forum like the G20. Read more

Gaddafi, gold, Gaza

In this week’s podcast: Is the conflict in Libya finally coming to an end? The world’s new craze for gold; and, Gaza, renewed violence dashes hopes for ceasefire. Read more

Watching Oana Lungescu on the BBC’s Newsnight last night, I was grimly amused by a slip of the tongue from NATO’s spokesperson. Colonel Gaddafi, she proclaimed, was now “part of Libya’s blood-spattered future, I mean past.”

An unfortunate slip, which I will forebear from calling “Freudian”. Still, it does raise the question – is Nato close to saying “mission accomplished” in Libya; or is western involvement only just beginning? Read more

Libya’s opposition move into Tripoli and say they will leave no stone unturned to find Muammer Gaddafi, arrest him and put him on trial. Look at our slideshow with some of the most striking images from Libya over the past 24 hours.

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It was six months ago to this day that Muammer Gaddafi delivered his defiant rant against a popular rebellion, vowing to hunt down his opponents in every corner, inch by inch and, famously, “zenga (alleyway) by zenga.”

So hysterical was his outburst that it inspired a “zenga zenga” auto-tune that became all the rage in the liberated east of Libya, even though it was produced by an Israeli artist.

In the end, however, it was the fractious, rag-tag army of revolutionaries he had promised to pursue who swept, from zenga to zenga, into the leader’s stronghold of Tripoli, in a lightening journey that is drawing the curtain on his 42 year rule. Read more

I have just returned from a trip to Tohoku, the north-east region of Japan pulverised by the worst tsunami and earthquake to hit the country in decades. More than 20,000 people are dead or missing and some of the coastal towns in the worst-affected areas lost up to 10 per cent of their inhabitants. Some 200,000 homes and shops have been washed away, nearly 80 per cent of the buildings in some places.

There had been hope that the shock would jolt some sense into Japan’s politicians. Sadly, that seems not to have occurred. Read more

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi on August 14, 2011. Getty Images.

There are some strange things going on in Burma, the country renamed Myanmar by the generals who have ruled it since 1962. On Sunday, Aung San Suu Kyi returned to her home after leaving Rangoon, the former capital, for the first time since she was released from seven years of house arrest in November.

The 66-year-old Nobel prize winner opened a library, donated food to some flood victims, and made a couple of speeches to several hundred supporters in which she asked for their patience. Read more

The French debate about their national debt seems to have taken a new and faintly alarming turn. The lead article on the front page of yesterday’s Le Monde was headlined: “States and their debts: a brutal struggle since the Middle Ages”.

In a sub headline, the paper proclaimed: “Declare war or liquidate your creditors …some historic methods of freeing yourself from debt.” It also noted cheerily that France’s debt passed 80% of GDP in 1788. Both numbers are meant to be significant. French debt is now roughly at the 80% level and 1788 was, of course, the year before the French Revolution. As the paper notes, the whole beastly mess kicked off when Louis XVI ran out of cash and convened the Estates-General to try to deal with the state’s mounting debts. You have been warned.

Middle Eastern autocrats are having a field day with the UK riots, taking pleasure at the mayhem in a western capital and interpreting it the way that suits their propaganda.

One hardline newspaper in Tehran blamed the violence on rising student tuition fees; another put the responsibility on the US and its economic policies. In Libya, the Gaddafi regime, once a friend of Britain but now a sworn enemy, also took aim at London. A presenter on state television on Wednesday hailed the rioting youth whom he said were demonstrating against a “fascist” government. Read more

H Rap Brown of the Black Panthers made the famous remark that “violence is as American as cherry pie”. For those who are baffled by the looting in London and elsewhere, I would add – “and riots are as English as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding”.

The historically-minded could cite the Gordon riots of the eighteenth century. But you really don’t need to go all that way back. There were riots in Notting Hill and Brixton in London in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Toxteth in Liverpool, Handsworth in Birmingham, Moss Side in Manchester. Then were the Poll Tax riots in London towards the end of the Thatcher era. And just recently we had the student riots in LondonRead more

A parallel between the eurozone debt crisis and the London riots: calls on leaders to eschew holiday to “take control”. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero delayed his vacation – patriotically taken, like a good Spaniard, in Andalusia – while David Cameron was forced to rush back from his summer holiday – patriotically taken, like an authentic Englishman, at a villa in Tuscany.

Cameron in particular, already getting a lot of public flak for the phone-hacking scandal, must have hoped the riots would blow over. Unfortunately he had to be seen to be doing his job, and that meant coming back into the thick of it, if only to mouth platitudes about the awfulness of crime. Read more

James Wilson, in our Frankfurt office, has compiled a guide to the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme as policymakers struggle to contain the contagion in eurozone debt markets.

What is the ECB doing?

The ECB has reopened what had become a dormant programme of buying the debt of various eurozone countries in the secondary market. It’s a fire-fighting measure to try to calm markets. Having bought Greek, Irish and Portuguese bonds, they are for the first time this week now buying Italian and Spanish debt.

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US debt, Greek debt, and Indonesian growth

In this week’s podcast: Obama and the US debt limit – the president avoids default at the 11th hour; Greece, we ask whether the second bail-out package is enough to stem contagion across the eurozone; and, Indonesia’s growth trajectory attracts foreign investment. Read more

France’s Cour de Justice de la République, a special court that exists to investigate, prosecute and try cases of ministerial wrong-doing has decided to investigate Christine Lagarde, the newly-appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund. She is accused of acting illegally when French finance minister in the case of Bernard Tapie, a businessman and friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In 2007 Ms Lagarde set up an arbitration panel that later awarded €285m in damages (plus €100m in interest) from the state to Mr Tapie. Read more

People follow the trial of Hosni Mubarak

People follow the trial of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Getty Images.

Who needs Ramadan soap operas when you can watch live, second by second, an Arab ruler on trial?

Until the moment Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into the iron cage this morning on a hospital bed , there were widespread doubts that he would appear in court to face charges of killing protestors during the 18 day revolution that ended his 30-year rule. Some said the trial of the deposed autocrat would be postponed, others speculated Mubarak would prefer to die than be dragged to court. Read more