World Peace Update

By Henry Langston

What with India and Pakistan risking a nuclear war by trading bullets all last week, it became obvious that the world would have no problem falling back into its comfort zone of terrorizing itself in the new year.

And—true to form—it did, with angry, underpaid South African farmers, Greek anarchists with a fetish for home-made explosives, and French air strikes launched against Islamist rebels in northern Mali. Old habits die hard, I guess.

MALI

Everyone's new favorite African clusterfuck made headlines this week, after French fighter jets rather unexpectedly launched a bombing campaign against the Islamist rebels who had threatened the Malian army. In the unlikely event that any of you care, last year saw a Taureg rebellion morph into an Islamist insurgency that took northern Mali, followed by a rather unhelpful coup by the Malian army. This left Mali at a severe risk of falling into the hands of Islamists and therefore transforming into a haven for terrorism and organized crime.

At some point, the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), in accordance with the UN, tried to plan an intervention for September. But before this could take place, the Malian army took to fighting the rebels. Rebels who happen to carry decades of combat experience and a cache of weapons after fighting for Gaddafi in the Libyan civil war. No wonder the Malians ended up crying to France for help.

As soon as the rebels began their advance on the capital on Friday, France decided it'd be a wise move to send fighter jets to bomb rebel bases and convoys and troops to bolster the Malian army in the center of the country. However, that didn't stop the rebels from taking over the town of Diabaly. They've also already managed to take out a French Mirage fighter jet.

SOUTH AFRICA

You'd think if you only earned $17 a day you'd be entitled to a raise, but not in South Africa. Striking vineyard workers were shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed by police in the town of De Doorns, which is situated in South Africa's Western Cape—a region famous for its wineries. Demanding an increase in their wages, the strikers blocked the Johannesburg/Cape Town road, causing severe traffic disruptions, and started throwing stones at the police, who eventually pushed them off the road.

The incident is just one in a long series of worker disputes that took place in South Africa last year, which included the shooting of 30 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine by police. After more mine closures were announced on Tuesday, strikes and violent clashes with police are likely to continue. Let's just hope the police aren't as trigger happy as they were last year. 

GREECE

Things in Greece took an explosive turn, with a series of terror attacks against journalists and government buildings in the capital, Athens. On Friday morning, a series of explosions went off outside the homes of renowned Greek journalists. No one was injured in the attacks and a statement released soon after by a group called the Lovers of Lawlessness (!) claimed responsibility.

The statement read: "The media are the official representatives of the system. Under the new conditions, their role will be changed—from keepers of the balance between society and the political system into main leaders of the repressive state plans, by means of social manipulation." 

At the moment, the attacks are regarded as a reaction to the violent eviction of the residents of the Villa Amalia squat, which is one of the oldest squats in the city. On Sunday, 10,000 anarchists marched through the streets of central Athens in further protest at the eviction and, as expected, some minor clashes followed.

Finally, to make absolutely sure the government were getting the message, gunmen armed with AK47s opened fire in the office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Monday morning. Samaras was not in the office at the time and no one has come forward to take responsibility for it, but the method and timing of the attack points to the same group that carried out the bombings.

SYRIA

An explosion in Aleppo University, which is situated in a part of the city controlled by the regime, killed 52 students yesterday. With both sides blaming each other for the attack, it is still unclear who the perpetrators were. Yet the protests against the regime that have sporadically happened on campus in the past year have some journalists thinking the obvious.  

The air force base of Taftanaz has finally fallen into rebel hands after a long period of operating under siege, and once the FSA were able to take control of the base, they managed to seize a number of ammunition, tanks, and helicopters. But don't be quick to fantasize about a Free Syrian Air force; as soon as they realized they were losing the base, the regime bombed it in an attempt to stop the rebels from taking the equipment. 

The capture of Taftanaz is a major victory for the rebels in the north of the country and will hopefully ease the pressure on those communities that are constantly under aerial bombardment. Credit for this can only go to Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Islamist group that was labelled a terrorist organization last year. It also happens to be one of the most effective fighting groups in the opposition—the taking of Taftanaz being a prime example. However, the group has also come into conflict with other opposition fighters who are worried of JAN's growing influence and power. For instance, just a year ago, a senior commander with the Al Farouq brigade was assassinated by JAN fighters in retaliation for the killing of a JAN leader. This highlights the highly fractured nature of the opposition and the possibility of further fighting when Assad is finally toppled. 

Check back next week to see whether the FSA ever managed to start a kamikazi helicopter unit.

Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston

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