THE INDEX — July 22, 2009

Venezuelan officials have rejected an expulsion order issued on Tuesday by Honduras’s interim government, which gives Venezuelan diplomats until Friday to  leave the country. Venezuela’s foreign ministry called the expulsion order an “absurd communication” and said it would not recognize the “illegitimate authorities” currently in power in Honduras. Honduras claims that Venezuela had threatened to use military force and interfere in the nation’s affairs. As a result, the interim government told diplomats they had 72 hours to leave the country.  The expulsion order arrived after negotiations concerning ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s reinstatement came to a standstill. The staff of Honduras’s embassy in Caracas has announced that all diplomats accredited to Venezuela would leave in a short period of time.

Ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement. He was also convicted of giving his one-time spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, nearly $15 million from government coffers as a sign of gratitude. A former anti-corruption prosecutor of Peru, Jose Ugaz, estimates that Fujimori might have embezzled as much as $1.2 billion of government funds. He says that Peru has managed to salvage $275 million, some $48 million of which was located in Switzerland. The rest of the money was retrieved from different bank accounts of Fujimori’s many accomplices in the United States and the Cayman Islands.

The supreme spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s selection for the position of vice president. The leader notified Ahmadinejad, in writing today, that Esfandiar Rahim Mashai must be removed from the position of first vice president. Hard-line conservative critics in Iran have called for Mashai’s resignation since his appointment last week, condemning the vice president’s lenient position towards Israel. While serving as vice president for tourism and cultural heritage in Ahmadinejad’s last cabinet, Mashai called Iranians “friends of the world…even Israelis.” Last week, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashai, his son’s father-in-law, to the position of first vice president. Though there are 12 vice presidents, the  first vice president is the individual who runs cabinet meetings in the absence of the president. Ahmadinejad has not yet responded to Khamenei’s order, although under the velayat-e-faqih governance system (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) in Iran, the ruling of the Ayatollah trumps all other officials, including the president.

Human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi government of using its “international clout” to “get away with” thousands of human rights abuses and deaths. A new report released by the organization says that abuses in Saudi Arabia have increased dramatically since September 11, 2001 and that thousands of individuals have been arrested in secret or killed in “uncertain circumstances” under the guise of national security. Amnesty claims that the majority of detainees are suspected of supporting terrorist activity aimed at Saudi Arabia or Western nations with close ties to the Arab state, although others have been arrested for criticizing government policies. While Amnesty also accuses the government of holding detainees without charge or ever reaching a court, Saudi authorities have said that trials are in fact held, although admittedly undertaken in secrecy to prevent detainees from using a public trial as a means of preaching radical ideology.

In his first public response to the renewed calls for his impeachment on Tuesday, Zambian president Rupiah Banda could not help but come off as confident. “Do I look like someone who is scared?” the leader, barely into his first year in office, asked the press, even as he admitted that the impeachment proceedings are democratically legitimate. After weeks of threats about such a move by the opposition coalition of the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development, an official letter calling for a trial was sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly on Tuesday. But as some of Banda’s supporters in both the media and government have noted, the opposition’s allegations, mainly related to money laundering operations supposedly condoned by Banda, are vague. Banda and others contend that Michael Sata (who narrowly lost to Banda in the October 2008 presidential elections) and Hakainde Hichilema, the leaders of the PF and the UPND respectively, are simply using the impeachment as a back route to power.

“Peace Mission 2009”, the name bestowed on the joint Russian-Chinese military exercise along the shared border between the two nations, began on Wednesday and is scheduled to last through this weekend. The exercise will mimic a joint counterterrorism program designed to protect Russia and China in the areas closest to Central Asia, where both nations fear they are most vulnerable. China has recently had to deal with ethnic strife in its northwestern Xingjiang region, centering on the capital of Urumqi, where early in July, rioting broke out among Muslim Uighurs. Nikolai Marakov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, invoked the riots in explaining the importance of the joint exercises. “The latest incident shows that more and more separatist, extremist, and terrorist forces are emerging,” he said. Russia and China have held such exercises twice before, in 2005 and 2007.

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