Insider notes from United Press International for Sept. 27...
The Sept. 20 political coup attempt against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat led by Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Abu Mazen threatens to unleash a small-scale civil war among Palestinians. After death threats from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's heavy mob, Abu Mazen himself has fled his home outside Ramallah and is now in Jordan, apparently planning an extended "working tour" to Egypt and Russia. Over the last two days, Arafat's Al Aqsa enforcers have launched armed attacks on the homes of two more of the anti-Arafat plotters, former Cabinet minister Nabil Amir and West Bank security chief Zuhair Manasrah. Amir, one of Arafat's sternest critics who mourns the loss of "a historic opportunity" at President Bill Clinton's Camp David talks two years ago, was unhurt when his house in Ramallah's al-Tira suburb was raked by automatic fire. Manasrah's house got the same treatment Thursday. Palestinians say these were warning shots, rather than assassination attempts.
Cult of personality, what cult of personality? President Vladimir Putin's 50th birthday on Oct. 7 is not going to feature rolling parades of tanks in Red Square nor throngs of loyal young Russians singing the "We love Putin" song nor even a TV special. According to Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, there are "no budget funds" for any special celebration, nor even a birthday present for "this very modest man." But the Russian state can apparently afford a bunch of flowers for the birthday boy.
Pakistan is watching nervously as the Indian and U.S. navies start their biggest-ever joint exercises Sunday, a weeklong mission called "Malabar-4" involving subs, maritime aircraft and a U.S. cruiser that will include U.S. warships refueling from an Indian tanker. India's Chief of Naval Staff, Adm. Manvendra Singh, spent last week in detailed talks at the Pentagon discussing prospects for future joint operations in the Indian Ocean. Not on the agenda, but reportedly featuring markedly in the discussions, was the shared threat perception of China's naval ambitions after Beijing's $1.6 billion agreement in June to purchase from Russia eight more Kilo-class submarines, equipped with the long-range Klub anti-ship missile system. As a result, planning has started for future joint U.S.-Indian exercises in sub-hunting.
As preparations for the NATO summit in Prague, Czech Republic, in November get under way, the venerable Czech Skoda auto manufacturer (now owned by VW) has pulled off a PR coup, arranging to be the summit's official transportation provider. Under a contract just signed with the Czech government, Skoda Auto will provide the following vehicles for NATO Summit delegates:
- 55 personal cars of the type Audi A8, of which 10, maximally 12, will be armored;
- 171 personal cars of the type Skoda Suberb;
- 25 personal cars of the type Skoda Octavia;
- 55 minivans of the type VW Caravella and 15 minivans of the type VW LT.
There are 19 NATO member states, and seven candidate members who are expected to get the formal go-ahead to join the alliance in Prague. That means 26 heads of government for just 12 armored limos. This is going to be quite a challenge for the Czech government's Protocol Department. Say they make things simpler by ruling out the candidate members. That still leaves them having to explain which seven current heads of NATO government are deemed expendable.
Expect a Cabinet reshuffle Monday in Japan, as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi uses the new political capital accrued from his high-profile trip to North Korea. It boosted his poll ratings from 45 percent to 66 percent, the sharpest monthly rise in approval ratings since the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun began the poll 24 years ago. The real question is whether Koisumi will deploy his new Cabinet, and his new popularity, to tackle Japan's bad-debt banking crisis -- as he privately assured fellow G8 summit members this summer.
The coalition negotiations are under way in Berlin between Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, who lost votes and seats, and the Greens, who gained just enough of both to ensure that Schroeder stayed in office. So the Greens will get a fourth minister in the new government, replacing the hapless justice minister who incautiously compared President Bush with Adolf Hitler. But the real battle is over the Green demand for the control of Germany's energy policy to be shifted from the Economics Ministry, which happens to be run currently by the former energy lobbyist Werner Müller, to the Environment Ministry, traditionally under Green control.