Monthly Archives: May 2012

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

An opposition activist during a protest on May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Vladimir Putin’s popularity ratings are likely to be causing a bit of concern in Russia’s ruling circles, as a March election bump in his approval scores appears to be evaporating – and the president’s rating has fallen back to territory seen early in the last decade.

On Thursday, the Public Opinion Foundation, a respected polling agency that works for the Kremlin, published figures showing the number of Russians answering “Do you trust Vladimir Putin?” with ‘Yes’ stood at 48 per cent at the end of May, down from 55 per cent March when he won re-election with 63 per cent of the vote.  Read more

Some renewed interest in this perennial surprise fact, which apparently busts national stereotyping WIDE OPEN – the diligent Greeks work more (average 2109 hours/year) than the OECD average (1749 hours/year), second only to the South Koreans. And the idle Germans are among the lowest (1419 hours a year).

Amazing? Not really. These numbers clump together part-time and full-time workers, and Greece has proportionately more full-timers than part-timers (89.8%) compared with the OECD average (84.4%), which bumps up the number. Read more

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

How much infrastructure does a European country need? The question occurs to me every time I hear about the European Union’s plans for a “growth pact” to complement “austerity”. One invariable component of these well-intentioned plans is extra investment in roads, railways, airports and so on.

The assumption seems to be that austerity-asphyxiated European countries, many of which are in the Mediterranean, will breathe more freely if they receive funds to build more infrastructure. If so, it is a lazy assumption. Read more

A still from the BBC Panorama documentary Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. BBC/PA Wire

A still from BBC Panorama's 'Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate'. BBC/PA Wire

These are sensitive times in Poland.

Polish media spent most of Tuesday in hand-wringing outrage over a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting the problems of football-related racist violence in both Poland and Ukraine – little over a week before they host the Euro 2012 championships. Read more

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Donald Trump in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images

Anyone wondering if there is well-concealed method behind the Romney campaign’s continued fraternisation with Donald Trump should watch the following video. Compiled by a Democratic group after Mr Trump’s return foray into “birtherism” this week, it shows what a whopper of a gift the tycoon presents to the Obama campaign. The ad ends with a clip of Mr Romney’s declaration that he likes “to be able to fire people who provide me with services”. The man with the perfect hair should start by firing the man with the imperfect hair. Read more

A UN observer takes pictures of bodies of people killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

A UN observer photographs the bodies of some of those killed in Houla. Reuters/Shaam News Network

As images of the victims of last week’s Houla massacre were broadcast around the world, and the stories of their deaths began to be told, the wave of outrage and horror in the international community gained force. The White House denounced an act of “unspeakable and inhuman brutality”; the UK foreign secretary spoke of an “appalling crime”; the UN security council condemned the “outrageous use of force against [a] civilian population”, and said it constituted a “violation of applicable international law”.

Yet for all this, the next step is troublingly unclear. The killing of 108 civilians, among them 49 children, was only the latest in a series of atrocities that have taken place under the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in the past 14 months. More than 9,000 Syrians are thought to have died in this period, including members of the security forces or suspected regime sympathisers who were killed by the armed opposition. While UN envoy Kofi Annan says that a “tipping point” in the crisis has now been reached, the UN security council itself remains hindered by the positions of Russia and China, both of whom have dug in their heels against external intervention. So what are the arguments for and against action, and what form could it take? Read more


Gerard Cerles/AFP/Getty Images

The latest Pew poll on Europe has been given the provocative headline “European unity on the rocks”. And the survey results do indeed show that in six of eight countries surveyed, majorities believe that European integration has damaged their economies.

This is now true even of Spain (by a narrow majority) – and of France, Italy and Britain by large majorities. The only two places surveyed where majorities still think the EU has been good for prosperity are (predictably), Germany and Poland. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Is this the moment when the world moves from “we can’t do anything” to “we have to do something”? The shock of the massacre of more than 100 people in the Syrian town of Houla, accompanied by horrifying pictures of dead children, is reminiscent of the impact of the shelling of Sarajevo market in 1994. The next day, the UN secretary-general called for air strikes on Serb positions surrounding Sarajevo.

Costas Mitropoulos, chief executive of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, otherwise known as Greece’s privatisation agency, is the most eloquent advocate of selling off state property I have ever met. Once he actually starts doing it, he will be an unchallenged master of his craft. Read more

A mass burial for victims killed in Houla. REUTERS/Shaam News Network

Will the massacre in Houla prove a tipping point in the Syrian crisis? International action has so far been ineffective. Now there is fresh talk of action from the Security Council.

But I am still sceptical. The factors that have prevented effective international intervention to date are still in place. They include big-power rivalries, a divided opposition and a powerful Syrian army. Certainly talking to people last week in Turkey – which is the base for most of the Syrian opposition – I got the sense that people were increasingly resigned to a long and bloody conflict. Read more

Shakeel Afridi in July 2010. RAUF/AFP/GettyImages

This was the week when the US and Pakistan were supposed to start patching things up. Instead, it has ended in a new round of mutual recriminations, including a rare bipartisan bout of indignation from the US Senate.

Just as the US and Nato are trying to sketch out long-term strategy to keep Afghanistan stable once most troops leave at the end of 2014, the never-ending downward spiral in US-Pakistan ties is casting those plans into ever-further doubt.

The latest signs of ill-feeling came as a Senate committee voted unanimously on Thursday evening to cut $33m from next year’s foreign aid budget for Pakistan; $1m for every year in the jail sentence that Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi was awarded earlier this week. Read more

Posters depicting Mohammed Morsi. AP Photo/Pete Muller

Posters depict frontrunner Mohamed Morsi. AP Photo/Pete Muller

According to unofficial vote counts, Egyptians will face a choice next month between a “feloul” (a remnant of the old regime), and a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist movement and largest party in parliament.

Assuming the results are confirmed, the run-off will be seen by many as a race between the past and an Islamist future.

Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood candidate, was said to have secured 26 per cent of the vote in the presidential election, followed by a 24 per cent share for Ahmad Shafiq, a former air force commander whose campaign played on Egyptians’ yearning for security. Read more

Egypt’s presidential election

Egyptians are voting in the first democratic presidential election in their nation’s history this week, but with the powers of the office that the winner will hold still unclear and the economy in tatters, many questions remain. Heba Saleh and Borzou Daragahi, FT correspondents in Egypt, and Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, join Shawn Donnan to discuss.

A boy checks the list of voters' names inside a polling station in Cairo on May 23. AP Photo/Manu Brabo

A boy checks the list of voters' names inside a polling station in Cairo on May 23. AP

Egypt’s “pioneering” role is hailed this morning by the press in the Arab world. And for good reason: the Egyptian presidential election is a historic moment for the region, the first time that Arabs are allowed to genuinely and freely choose their president. What happens in the largest Arab nation matters elsewhere – Egypt influences Arab public opinion and points to political trends.

I’ve heard much talk in recent months about how Egypt’s chaotic transition is damping hopes for political change and frustrating those who want to put pressure for political reforms in other Arab states. Between Egypt’s messy transition and Syria’s violence, many have lost faith in the Arab awakening. Read more

When Iran proposed a few weeks back that a meeting with world powers to discuss its nuclear programme should take place in Baghdad, US and British diplomats were not exactly thrilled by the idea. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Courtney Weaver, a correspondent for the FT in Moscow, visited Azerbaijan ahead of the Eurovision song contest – the final of which is being held in the country’s capital, Baku, on Saturday.

Why now? The fact that Azerbaijan is hosting Eurovision this year has shone a light on the Caspian country of 9 million people – and in particular, its human rights record. The event itself is typically a festival of kitsch in which contestants from 41 European countries, clad in sequins and tights, sing their hearts out for their nation. Azerbaijan has embraced the contest as a chance to shape the West’s opinion of the country and what defines it. Read more

By Tony Barber, Europe Editor

Greece, teetering on the precipice of the eurozone, is to hold a parliamentary election on June 17. This will be its second such vote in 43 days. A depressing insight into the country’s political paralysis was provided by transcripts of discussions that President Karolos Papoulias, Greece’s head of state, held with party political leaders on May 13 in an attempt to resolve the impasse.

These transcripts (made public by the president’s office) would make you roar with laughter – if you weren’t weeping in despair at the petty-mindedness, stupidity and shamelessness of some of Greece’s politicians. Read more

John Moore/Getty Images

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi at an election rally. John Moore/Getty Images

On Wednesday and Thursday, Egyptians will go to the polls to vote in the first democratic presidential election in their country’s history.

Coming some 15 months after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the vote is a pivotal step for Egypt; a moment that the demonstrators in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir square could only have dreamed of when they first called for the overthrow of Mubarak in early 2011.

The result remains impossible to predict. There are twelve candidates, of whom five are considered the main contenders, but polls vary wildly as to their chances, and many voters are undecided. Unless one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote – which seems unlikely – a second round between the top two candidates will be held on June 16 and 17. Meanwhile the actual role and powers of the President have yet to be spelled out. Here’s your background reading: Read more

Anders Behring Breivik in court, May 21, 2012. REUTERS

By Martin Sandbu

The terror trial against Anders Behring Breivik – now in its sixth week – may have slipped away from the attention of the world press.

But in Norway, there is little respite from proceedings that have now passed the halfway mark. While the court took a two-day recess for the national holiday – ‘Constitution day’ – on May 17, it will now keep working until the trial concludes on June 22. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

As I read the umpteenth article on the “Grexit”, a phrase from the film ‘Marathon Man’ ran around my head. In this cult-thriller, Laurence Olivier plays a war criminal turned dentist who tortures Dustin Hoffman by drilling through his dental nerves without anaesthetic. As he does so, he asks repeatedly “Is it safe?”