World Peace Update
Last week's World Peace Update may have looked at the riots engulfing Slovenia, the trigger-happy Tunisian policemen who tried to blind the citizens of Siliana and the looming possibility of Bashar al-Assad gassing what remains of his population to death with nerve agents, but Christmas is fast approaching, so the world should be gearing up to take a quick break from all the skull-crashing, right?
Not so fast, friends. While the Christmas cheer is gradually taking over my flat and driving me to madness every time I walk into any single shop in central London, the loyalists in Belfast (yes, again), a few Bangladeshi politicians and some Chilean pigs have been vying to take Scrooge's crown as the biggest festive downer. Mind you, all Scrooge did was be a bit of grumpy dick to people – he never got round to throwing petrol bombs at police – so any one of these probably pips him to the post.
If you thought the spontaneous violence that took over Belfast last week (people got really angry at the prospect of flying the Union Jack at City Hall, remember?) was a one-off, then you were very wrong. Since last Monday, barricades have been set up sporadically across Belfast, followed by clashes between citizens and police, resulting in about 29 injured cops and 38 arrests. Friday saw the frenzy climaxing in a 200-strong crowd gathering near the city centre to set up roadblocks and be chased by police. Cars were hijacked and set alight, causing the PSNI to deploy their water cannon to deal with the rioters.
However, the weekend was relatively quiet. I guess the loyalists needed to gather some strength before petrol bombing that unmarked police car on Monday. (The policewoman inside the vehicle fortunately managed to escape unharmed.) The car in question was monitoring the office of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long, who, along with other Alliance members, has faced death threats for siding with left-wing party Sinn Fein in the vote to take down the flag. Politicians from both sides have been vocal about putting an end to the violence, but their calls have so far gone unheeded, with more protests set for the rest of the week. Merry fucking Christmas, Belfast.
This column has been running for 29 weeks, which is seemingly enough time to cover every single possible way people can fuck each other up. We've seen political parties being shut down, MTV parties being taken over by riots, strikes, revolutions, people fighting over football and fish, and even milk being used as a weapon.
I figured I'd seen it all, but this week people from the city of Freirina, Chile fought over pig shit. Local residents fought police over the planned re-opening of a pig processing plant ("processing" means systematic slaughter, btw) because of the smell that comes from hundreds of thousands of pigs wallowing in their own shit
The government closed down the site in May after fears of a potential health risk and decided this week that all was safe again. Residents who didn't want to be subjected to the smell once again came out in protest, blocked the roads, clashed with police and launched raids against the plant's guards with explosives. So I'm guessing the smell must be pretty bad.
It's not been a brilliant few weeks for Bangladesh. First there was news of a horrific clothes factory fire that killed 120 workers, and now political upheaval has seen central Dhaka turn into a battlefield. Trouble started last Wednesday when thousands of Islamist protesters fought with police after protesting against the trial of their leaders in the Jamaat e Islami party for war crimes during the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence. Protests took place across the country and, in some instances, police were forced to use live ammunition to quell the crowds, resulting in one protester being killed, dozens injured and 69 protesters being arrested.
You'd think that might put protesters off from hitting the streets for a while, but in Bangladesh there's always another crisis worth getting shot at for. On Sunday, thousands of opposition (Bangladeshi National Party – the BNP, lol) supporters flooded Dhaka in protest at the government's decision to scrap the independent administration that oversees elections and ensures they're conducted impartially. The capital was in virtual lockdown as 10,000 police were drafted in to keep order, but it was apparent pretty quickly that more cops were needed.
Opposition and government supporters engaged in a stone-throwing battle, with the odd petrol bomb and homemade explosive thrown in for good measure. Eventually the trigger-happy cops intervened – again resorting to live ammunition and tear gas – to keep the two warring groups apart. Once the dust had settled, four people were dead and a staggering 600 wounded, which kind of makes me wonder what the point in scrapping the independent administrators was in the first place. Vote rigging, perhaps?
The media were in a frenzy last week over the possibility of Syria readying its chemical weapons for use against rebels, which was a little reminiscent of another time when the West got uppity over another Middle Eastern dictator's arsenal of WMDs. However, the likelihood of Assad using the weapons is very slim. If he were to blanket an area held by the rebels with Sarin or VX gas, he'd almost certainly face an invasion or some sort of intervention by Western military forces. He's nuts, but maybe not that nuts.
This collective fear has led the West to consider hurrying on Assad's exit from Syria. David Cameron convened the heads of military to draw up plans to support the Free Syrian Army, though only if the US acted first. Jesus, Dave, try not to throw your back out while you're digging your head up there. The plan might be put on the back burner, though, after the US labelled one of the most effective and well organised Syrian rebel groups, the Jabhat al Nusra Front, a terrorist organisation linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
JANF have claimed responsible for a number of suicide and car bombings against regime targets and has been suspected of taking part in massacres against Syrian army captives. The designation will have little practical effect and is mostly an effort to side-line the group diplomatically in order to halt its influence in post-Assad Syria. But it also plays into the hands of the regime, who, from the start, have labelled the armed opposition as "gangs of terrorists".
If intervention is going to come, it needs to come fast. With the conflict becoming more protracted and hateful, extremism is taking hold among opposition groups. A perfect example is this video, which – for the squeamish – shows a young child behead a captive Syrian army soldier. According to analysts, the boy's family were killed in the infamous Houla massacre earlier in the year and the two men who are beheaded were the commanders who ordered the attack. This is clearly an isolated incident, but not one that should be ignored, and highlights the ever-worsening downward spiral Syrian society has taken as the war goes on.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston