The World in Brief: Global round-up

Russia, Gaza, Afghanistan and Europe

The World Today
2 minute READ
President Putin leads the Siberian cranes on their migration. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

President Putin leads the Siberian cranes on their migration. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

RUSSIA: Moscow broadens NGO crackdown

A Russian bird sanctuary and a self-help organization for cystic fibrosis sufferers have been caught up in Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on civic society organizations. A law passed last year requires all political NGOs which receive funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’ and describe themselves as such in all their literature. Olga Alekhina, director of Cystic Fibrosis Support, based in Istra near Moscow, said authorities told her that defending the rights of sufferers of the disease amounted to ‘political activity’. She had received a grant from abroad to buy equipment to take part in web-based medical seminars. Staff at the Muraviovka Park for Sustainable Land Use, which provides nesting sites for cranes and other endangered birds in Russia’s Amur region, said the organization did not engage in politics, though it had received a grant from the International Crane Foundation. It was, of course, Putin himself who brought rare birds into politics, by climbing into a deltaplane last year to lead Siberian cranes on their migratory routes. Penalties for failure to comply with the law include fines and potential prison terms.

GAZA: Finger-lickin’ good for the new super-rich

Israeli restrictions on imports into the Gaza Strip have produced a new class of super-rich, more than 1,000 dollar millionaires who profit from smuggling goods through tunnels under the border with Egypt. While almost half of Gaza’s 2 million population depends on food hand-outs, the new rich are spending up to $3 million on fancy villas. Estate agent Essam Mortaja told the Channel 4 documentary, Gaza’s Property Ladder, that a rising population and destruction of property wrought by Israel in the 2008-9 war ‘created the conditions for the boom. It’s what started prices rising.’ For those who thought there was nothing to Gaza but war, a cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen, by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt, has just been published. It coincides with news that the tunnels are now used to smuggle KFC takeaways in from Egypt.

AFGHANISTAN: Ambassador raises eyebrows as he signs off

Spymasters tend to speak more candidly than diplomats. So it was little surprise when the outgoing French ambassador to Kabul, Bernard Bajolet, at a leaving party before taking up his new post as the head of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE, raised a few eyebrows. ‘I still cannot understand,’ he said, ‘how we, the international community, and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014 – elections, new president, economic transition, military transition and all this – whereas the negotiations for the peace process have not really started.’ The year 2014 is when Afghanistan supposedly regains its sovereignty. He continued: ‘A country that depends almost entirely on the international community for the salaries of its soldiers and policemen, for most of its investments and partly on it for its current civil expenditure, cannot be really independent.’

EUROPE: Poland could be the new France

For decades Germany and France have tried to move in lock step as the joint ‘motor’ of the European project. But after fi ve years of economic crisis, Berlin seems to be fi nding another partner – Poland. According to a survey of opinion in eight European countries by the Pew Research Centre, France seems more in tune with the debt-ridden economies of southern Europe than with Berlin. While dissatisfaction with the EU project is widespread, Poland is the most favourable country towards the EU, at 68 per cent, ahead of Germany at 60 per cent. France, at 41 per cent is now even more Eurosceptic than Britain. No less than 77 per cent of French believe at the economic integration is harming their economy (against 43 per cent for Germany) while 67 per cent believe Francois Hollande is doing a bad job of handling the crisis. Angela Merkel, however, retains a reasonably high rating, with only 25 per cent believing she is doing a bad job. ‘The French think more and more like southern Europeans,’ says Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes, Pew Research Centre.