World Peace Update

By Henry Langston

Last week, the police in Belgium found a new and unorthodox way to get their daily supply of calcium, the gendarmes in France failed to evict a bunch of airport-hating hippies from an airport building site, and the whole of Egypt felt the revolution hangover kicking in as President Mubarak—sorry, Morsi—got a worrying hard on for autocracy.

This week's World Peace Update doesn't veer too far from its default distress curve on the bruised and bloodied axes of planetary suffering: some Slovenians got really angry with their government, a group of Tunisian protesters were blinded, and the Syrians were booted off the internet.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

SLOVENIA

Slovenia was the first Yugoslav republic to announce its independence in 1991. And, according to the Global Peace Index, it's now the eighth most peaceful nation on the planet. However, the violence-provoking protests against austerity cuts and corruption that took place in the capital Ljubljana and the city of Maribor over the past week have, I imagine, had the GPI's compilers scurrying around recalibrating their data in tears.

To begin with, thousands of protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Ljubljana on Friday and fought with police, after trying to force their way through the cordon guarding the building. On Sunday some more people fought each other in Maribor because incumbent mayor Franc Kangler was refusing to resign, even though no one can take him seriously any more because he's facing allegations of corruption. The fact that the Slovenian economy has shrunk by 8 percent since 2009 doesn't seemed to have helped the situation.

Considering that the Slovenians are quite adept at badass, citizen-driven revolutions, the government might want to be wary of just how many budget cuts they make, lest they want a mini-Greece springing up in Central Europe.

TUNISIA

Tunisia's was the first dictatorship to fall in the Arab Spring, and as democracy was ushered in through the back door everyone expected things to change for the better. Except that's not what's happened, with the "democratically"-elected Ennahda party continually managing to be so inept as to coax the average Tunisian out onto the street to scream a lot about their profound unhappiness.

This week, crowds aggravated by the widespread government corruption and poverty clashed with the national guard in the town of Siliana. The authorities were quick to bring out the tear gas and live ammunition, and so far 252 protesters have been injured from gunshot wounds, 17 of whom have been blinded. The U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pilay, is not too happy about all this.

This tactic of shooting people in the face with shotguns brings back particularly unhappy memories for the Tunisians—it was one of the country's former dictator Ben Ali's signature moves.

BELFAST

Belfast made the news for all the wrong reasons again this week when a mini-riot erupted outside the Town Hall after someone decided to fly the Union Jack above its main dome. About a thousand loyalist protesters gathered outside the building as the City Council voted to fly the Union Jack year round, but eventually it was agreed it would only be flown for 15 days every year. That did little to appease the crowd.

The police presence wasn't great, or prepared, for that matter, and so when the crowd tried to break into the building, 15 police officers were injured. As they struggled to clear the area, the protesters redirected their anger toward a large Christmas tree in the center of town and after that toward the Catholic community in East Belfast, where a bus was hijacked and yet another stand-off with police took place.

SYRIA

In last week's column, we discussed the pressure put on Bashar Assad's beleaguered regime by the mounting successes of the rebel Free Syrian Army. That pressure came to a head this past week, when on Thursday the regime flipped the internet kill-switch and Syria disappeared off the face of the web.

Commentators speculated wildly about the reasons for the sudden comms blackout, but it was probably no coincidence that at the same time fighting so fierce was taking place near Damascus International Airport that airlines were forced to cancel all flights. Rumors were going around that Damascus had finally been surrounded by the FSA and that the regime was so close to collapse, they were desperately trying to stop this information from getting out.

Another rumor suggested that Assad could be about to use his arsenal of chemical weapons to finally put an end to the rebellion, a whisper fueled further by intelligence reports that government troops were preparing Sarin gas warheads for use in artillery shells. This provoked a response from the US, who cautioned Assad that he would be crossing a "red line" if he used chemical weapons.

The situation in Damascus has deteriorated enough for the UN to pull out all non-essential staff, and to put the rest on standby with orders to leave immediately if the fighting worsens. Which it undoubtedly will.

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