With pitched fighting in Damascus, Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is down across Syria, and mobile phone services also disrupted in some areas. Syrian state TV denied the blackout is nationwide, but Renesys, a US-based network security firm that studies Net disruptions, said Syria has effectively disappeared from the Internet. There is some talk that the Net blackout may be due to insurgent attacks, but the regime seems to be conniving in it, at the very least. Recall that when Mubarak pulled the same stunt in January 2011, it proved to be the 10-day countdown to his overthrow.
Now isn't this interesting. Keane Bhatt of the Manufacturing Contempt blog on the website of the venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) calls out the mainstream media, e.g. The Economist and the Los Angeles Times, for hypocrisy in pointing out that Rafael Correa's Ecuador, where Julian Assange is seeking asylum, has a less than stellar record on press freedom. By contrast, Bhatt notes, no eyebrows were raised when Emilio Palacio, an editor at the Guayaquil daily El Universo who was convicted of libel against Correa in Ecuador, fled to Miami last year—despite the fact that the USA doesn't have a stellar record on press freedom either. Bhatt points to the case of Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman who was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay for over six years before being released without charge. He also points to Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist imprisoned on dubious charges of al-Qaeda collaboration after reporting on US missile strikes. According to Jeremy Scahill in The Nation, Obama pressured the Yemeni regime to keep him locked up.
At least seven police officers were killed Aug. 19 in a suicide bomb blast in the Russian Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. The blast occurred in Sagopshi village of Malgobek district in northwest Ingushetia, at the funeral of a police officer who was killed in a shootout with militants the day before. According to Ingush Security Council, all the dead except the bomber were police officers. The attack came hours after gunmen in Dagestan, another Russian republic of the North Caucasus, opened fire in a mosque, injuring several people who had gathered to celebrate Eid, the holy day marking the end of Ramadan. A bomb discovered at the site was deactivated. (Voice of Russia, RIA-Novosti, BBC News, Aug. 19) (See map.)
The controversial trial of three members of the Russian feminist activist group Pussy Riot ended Aug. 17 with the announcement of a guilty verdict and two-year prison sentence for each of the three women. The Khamovnichesky District Court of Moscow found Pussy Riot members Natalia Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich guilty of "hooliganism" characterized by the court as driven by religious hatred. The three women were tried for their "guerilla performance" of a protest song in February at the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, a space maintained to be sacred to the Russian Orthodox Church. Defense counsel for the women lambasted the prosecution and reiterated their intent to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights both the verdict and alleged rights violations that have occurred throughout the trial.
Regional security has been seen as the biggest challenge for the planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline—officially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which would pass the war-torn Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar as well as Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province. But recent reports of a rival pipeline project being negotiated between China, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan may pose a more fundamental threat to the TAPI. On June 6-8, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperations Organization summit in Beijing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) head Jiang Jiemin to discuss the proposal. CNPC offered to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for the proposed project on Afghan and Tajik territories. That the route would avoid the conflicted Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, making the project more attractive for investors. India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses says the Chinese pipeline could undermine the TAPI "akin to the manner in which TAPI played spoiler to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." (IDSA, July 31)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 1 called upon NATO to remain in Afghanistan until it has prevailed over the jihadist insurgency. "It is regrettable that many participants in this operation are thinking about how to pull out of there," Putin said at a meeting with paratroopers in Ulyanovsk. "They took up this burden and should carry it to the end.. If there is no order in Afghanistan, it will not be calm on our southern borders. The current [Afghan] leadership will have difficulties keeping the situation under control. NATO member states are present there, and are performing this function. We need to help them [NATO]. We should not be fighting there again. Let them sit there and fight."