Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Critical Alert- Venezuela: Death of President Chavez

Critical Alert


The Venezuelan government announced the death of President Hugo Chavez Frias on the afternoon of March 5. Memorials will likely take place in major cities throughout Venezuela in the near future, especially in Caracas. Large crowds are likely to converge on the capital before Chavez's funeral, the date of which has not yet been announced. Expect increased traffic on highways and inner-city roads, long lines and delays at airport, and high demand for taxis in the capital. Road closures and traffic disruptions are likely throughout Caracas, particularly along Avenida Bolivar in the city center. Palacio Miraflores, which is at Avenida Norte 10 and Avenida Urdaneta, may be a focal point for speeches and memorial events. Increased security is expected at these gatherings, but violent clashes involving opposition supporters are unlikely.

The Venezuelan constitution mandates new presidential elections must be held within 30 days. Opposition leaders will likely begin a major protest campaign if the government or the judiciary interferes with this process or attempts to delay a vote, but significant unrest is unlikely in the immediate future.


Chavez was reelected in October, but departed for Cuba Dec. 11 to undergo his fourth cancer surgery since his 2011 diagnosis. He had not been heard from since that time, prompting the opposition to repeatedly call for new elections during this long period of silence from Chavez, claiming that the ruling party was lying to the public about the president's condition. The National Assembly supported the Supreme Court's decision to postpone Chavez's January inauguration indefinitely, maintaining that the ceremony was merely a formality. Maduro assumed the role of acting president while Chavez convalesced. This arrangement caused considerable tension between the government and opposition groups. Government officials may have prolonged the suspense regarding Chavez's health to maintain control and foster public support for Maduro, knowing that elections would inevitably have to take place to avoid major political fallout when Chavez died.

Current Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who belongs to Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), will probably run for president. Current Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski will likely run as the opposition candidate.


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kidnapping in Cameroon.... Leading Analysis

Cameroon: A family of seven French tourists was kidnapped at gunpoint near Waza National Park by Nigerian Islamic extremists. 

There hasn’t been a direct claim on the attack and consequently no ransom has yet been demanded. Therefore, the authorities have found it difficult to be sure that the abduction in Cameroon had a political dimension, linked to the threats made by Islamic extremist groups before the French intervention in Mali. Nevertheless, it is suspected that  Boko Haram is behind the abduction. 

Unity Analysis: Waza is in a remote part of Cameroon where the poorly secured borders are porous and criminal and terrorist groups are able to operate freely. This abduction has fuelled fears that Western civilians living and working in parts of Africa are becoming specific targets of Islamist militant groups. Altogether, 15 French citizens are now being held by various groups in the region, 7 in the Sahel and 1 in Nigeria. 6 of them by groups aligned with AQIM. Some 6,000 French citizens live in Cameroon. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Domino Theory into Tunisia? [..... what might be next !?]

Our initial assessment is as follows:

Western governments and the wider international community are cognisant of the growing threat of militancy across North Africa. Last month's hostage crisis in Algeria was an ominous preview of threats facing the international community in the region.

AQIM have branched out, helped along by porous border areas, ungoverned spaces and the domino collapse of Middle East and North African governments.

Present day we are very aware of the growing unrest in Tunisia and hard lessons learnt from Libya and Syria. In the city of Tunis, the movement of radicalised Salafists are gaining traction and thus attempting to create problems for Hamadi Jebali's transitional government. Clan based violence is on the rise. Demonstrations have turned violent and have been suppressed by the heavy-handedness of a security apparatus that are not quite under government control.

Rewind also to September last year when angry demonstrators attacked an American school in Tunis, and then targeted the US Embassy before being repelled by security forces. Anti-western sentiment is high in the country and taking on an increasingly Islamic and violent form. This downward spiral in events will undoubtedly reflect the nervousness of western actors projecting forward in the country.

More triggers:
- lack of a constitution
- referendum on the the complete absence of a draft
- elections scheduled for June

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Third successive day of suicide bombings in Iraq

For a third successive day Iraq has played witness to a suicide bombing that has targeted the security forces and prison facilities close to the capital and in the north of the country. According to the Ministry of Justice and a number of Iraqi media sources, all three attacks have been linked to attempted jailbreaks. The initial bombing, which targeted the Kirkuk provincial police HQ, was much more conspicuous in this regard.

It seems obvious that these attacks have been carried out by AQI or affiliated groups. But why the recent trend in prison attacks. The answer may lie in Iraq’s use of the death penalty. Looking back at a report from October 2012, Iraq had executed 119 people in the last quarter of the year. Present day and western media report that 91 people have been executed since the start of the year – 88 men and 3 women, and this is only the second month of 2013.

The United Nations Secretary General has personally called on Iraq to put in place a moratorium on executions but PM Maliki has personally rejected it.

Iraq’s recent prison breaks have often been tied to executions. With a high percentage of the Sunni demographic feeling victimized by PM Maliki’s heavy-handed approach to mass arrest operations and the poor system of justice, AQI and other groups have set out to exploit this negative balance in the social equilibrium, and win backing from the more radicalized in society. With demonstrations currently taking a nonviolent approach, one might deduce that this strategy may be an alternative means to targeting the Shiite government whilst building on the support of the Sunni disaffected.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kidnapping of Eritreans in Sudan

Eritrea/Sudan: Eritrea's biggest opposition group and the UNHCR both called for urgent action to stop the rising abductions and disappearances against Eritrean refugees and other asylum-seekers sheltered at Shagarab refugee camp in Eastern Sudan. 

Unity Analysis: Excluding unconfirmed cases, the UNHCR has documented the disappearance and kidnapping of 551 Eritrean refugees in 2012 alone, an increase of 500% from the previous year. Eritrean refugees who arrive at the border in neighbouring Sudan are increasingly being kidnapped for ransom, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, forced labour or for extraction of their organs. The kidnapping, smuggling and human trafficking is carried out by a highly organised network that stretches from the borders of Eritrea to refugee camps in Sudan and the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. They are generally transferred to Sinai where they are sold to Bedouins, or they are held for ransom by different militant groups across the network looking for funding. These groups are known to directly try to extort money from them or their families with ransoms reported to reach up to $40,000 USD, mainly from the relatives in the Eritrean Diaspora. It is estimated that these industry generates more than $10m a year. 

According to the UN refugee agency, the Shagarab camp currently hosts almost 30,000 people. The latest incident reported was on 22 January, when armed men abducted five Eritrean refugees from Shagarab camp.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pakistan Election Watch

Pakistan Election Forecast and Political Situation:

The elections later this year will mark the first time a civilian government has completed a full five-year term and transferred power through the ballot box in Pakistan. Past governments have been toppled in military coups or dismissed by presidents allied with top generals. Although few expect a coup this time, there is widespread unhappiness with the ruling Pakistan People's Party's performance at a time when the country is plagued by high unemployment, rampant energy shortages and frequent attacks by Islamist militants.

An estimated 40 million young Pakistanis will be voting for the first time in the upcoming elections, out of a registered electorate of 90 million, this presents an engine for change according to a number of leading politicians. That said there is likely to be an epic battle by the political class and parties that have a vested interest in preserving the current crumbling system and status quo to stop change. One exception to these elections however is the Army won’t be involved for the first time in a campaign.

With only a couple of months to go before the nation heads to the polls, tensions are palpable throughout the political parties.  Party defections have been reported as personal agendas take over from political objectives. And a number of prominent politicians have shifted allegiance over the past weeks.

As the government completes its term in mid-March, reports are surfacing that a caretaker government will be appointed to organize and conduct general elections scheduled for 17 May.

With the opposition parties still in disarray, the potential for joint campaigns against the leading party are becoming increasingly apparent. Unlike the previous general elections held in 2008, where a number of parties contested the elections on independent agendas, the upcoming elections present a fairly different picture this time round. It is believed that no single party will gain enough support to win the elections, so a coalition government will be formed following a period of negotiation on seat adjustment and power sharing agreements.

On the external front, the United States’ contemplated withdrawal from Afghanistan will also cast its shadows on who forms the next government in Pakistan. Subsequently, there seems to be a state propaganda campaign done deliberately by parties that want to tell the U.S. they are moderate, pro-western, and against extremism.

Although electoral reform remains a widely reported subject in the Pakistan media, the main concerns of the population remain with the deteriorating security situation, worsening economy, and the fear of physical intimidation from armed political activists during the polls.

A number of key trigger points have the potential to exacerbate the security situation over the coming weeks, which could theoretically see the elections fall into a period of sustained violence.

Those catalysts include an increase in clashes between ethnic political parties in Karachi; the two most prominent of which is the Muthidda Qaumi Movement – MQM and Awami National Party – ANP. Any significant increase in sectarian conflict in Quetta, Karachi and Gilgit, would also see a regression in the security environment. And increased terrorist attacks on political personalities could further ignite an already tense situation between political groups in the country.

Irrespective of these security issues, political tensions and an invasive militant threat are likely to galvanize the masses across the main cities heading towards the elections.