Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dalai Lama and Chinese President visits to coincide

In what could be a great opportunity for Asia, the Dalai Lama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will both visit the United States at the same time during late April.

Although the two are not scheduled to meet, China has recently stated that it does not rule out a visit by the Dalai Lama to China. And for the Dalai Lama's part, he has over the past decade made it clear that he is seeking true autonomy rather than independence from Beijing.

The Tibetan religious leader will be attending inter-faith meetings in San Franciso before heading on a two-week trip to South America.

Hu is slated to meet with President George W. Bush and many believe that the U.S. will use the visit to pressure China on various issues.

The 70-year-old Dalai Lama fled Tibet after the invasion of 1959 and has said that he would like to return and live the rest of his days in his home country.

Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, capital of exiled Tibetan nation in March, 2006. AFP photo from Yahoo Asian News.

Iran enriches uranium, claims peaceful use

Iran claimed today that it had acquired the capability of enriching uranium enabling the country to produce nuclear energy.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the process would only be used for the peaceful production of energy and not to make nuclear weapons.

Iran has said it desires to operate nuclear power plants following the regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iranian official holds capsule of uranium gas. AP Photo from Yahoo News

The U.N. Security Council under pressure from the U.S. called on Iran to stop uranium enrichment as it felt that Iran is intent on using radioactive by-products to make weapons.

Legally the argument is weak as no hard evidence has been brought forward of any Iranian nuclear weapons program. The country is developing advanced ballistic missiles in cooperation with North Korea.

These weapons though need not be armed with nuclear warheads.

We've already seen in Iraq how such accusations of WMD programs can have no basis in reality.

While it may be hard for some to accept it is possible that the ayatollahs could simply be interested in nuclear power. They might use this power to build more non WMD weapons, but that is within their rights.

Many feel the moment of a U.S. or Israeli airstrike is not far off. But Iran doesn't seem overly worried.

They have at least two major allies -- Russia and China. The former in particular has been doing most of the work on Iranian nuclear sites. Both countries have said they would oppose U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.

The West would probably be wiser to engage the Iranians and accept international oversight of their program. Unless real evidence, rather than accusation, is brought to the fore a consensus on action is not likely to occur. And as long as Iran has Russia and China in their corner, they are unlikely to cede to Western pressure.

Nepal unrest continues, curfew extended

Police fired on stone-throwing protesters at the mountain resort of Pokhara west of the Nepalese capital of Katmandu Tuesday.

Unrest continues as the government extended daytime curfews to quell the protests. The location of Pokhara is significant as this is an old recruiting stronghold for Gurkhas, the traditional defenders of the monarchy.

Pokhara's Gurung population has long offered its sons to Gurkha units in large numbers. The Gurung ethnic group together with the Magars, Rai, Limbu and Chettri have traditionally made up the vast bulk of Gurkha troops.

Although the king is envisioned by some Nepalis as an incarnation of the god Visnu, the recent massacre of the former royal family has tainted the monarchy.

Unlike his brother Gyanendra, the former king Birendra enjoyed some popularity especially after he ceded to street protests calling for the dismantling of the traditional Panchayat governing system.

Both sides are digging trenches with the government conducting house-to-house searches, and the seven party opposition vowing to continue the strike indefinitely.

Schools, transportation, stores and other services have been shut down by the strike.

Pakistan bombing relates to Iraq

At least 45 people were reported killed and an unknown number were injured after a bombing of a Sunni Muslim gathering near Karachi, Pakistan.

The blast follows one in February that targeted Shi'a worshippers and killed 40.

Pakistan is similar to Iraq in that both countries have deep divisions between Sunni and Shi'a followers.

Shi'ites compose about 23 percent of the population of Pakistan and are a majority in Iraq making up 60 percent of the populace.

The two groups regularly target each other's religious sanctuaries and events in both countries.

In Iraq, this religious division threatens to prevent any near-term stabilization of the government. With Iran, the world's largest Shi'a nation in between Iraq and Pakistan, the situation is even more volatile.

Ironically, after overthrowing the relatively secular Saddam Hussein, a Baath socialist, Iraq is now in danger of falling into the hands of truly sectarian Shi'ite forces.