I ts beaches are a dream destination in the Indian Ocean, promising serenity and sunshine. However, politics in the Maldives is a completely different affair, as this week’s dramatic events showed. On February 1, the island nation’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a former president who remains in exile and ordered several opposition politicians to be released from prison. The next day, hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital Male in support of the verdict, where police met them with tear gas and batons.
The ruling would give the opposition a majority in Parliament and allow former President Mohamed Nasheed the chance to challenge incumbent Abdulla Yameen in next year’s election. The court stated the trials against Mr. Nasheed and the opposition members had violated the constitution. Mr. Nasheed’s conviction was condemned by large parts of the international community. President Yameen, however, has refused to obey the court, plunging the country into crisis mode. He declared a state of emergency on Monday.
The Maldives transformed into a multi-party democracy in 2008, but observers have noted a decline in freedom under President Yameen who has kept a firm grip on power. After last week’s verdict, the government suspended Parliament and sacked a police commissioner who said he would apply the Supreme Court’s ruling. Attorney General Mohamed Anil said he had received information that the court might attempt to move against the president. “Any Supreme Court order to arrest the president would be unconstitutional and illegal,” he said.
The government did not seem to take any chances and swiftly moved to arrest the head of the Supreme Court and another judge, as well as former longtime ruler Abdul Gayoom, President Yameen’s half-brother. After the two judges’ arrest, the Supreme Court revoked its verdict to free the prisoners.
The opposition has since pleaded for international help, with Mr. Nasheed calling for New Delhi and Washington to intervene. India is watching events with concern, as China has increased its influence in the Maldives under President Yameen, in December signing a free-trade agreement. India supports former President Nasheed.
Whereas the chances of a direct military intervention by India appear “remote”, wrote Ankita Panda for The Diplomat, a publication specialising in the Asia-Pacific region, some “show of force… might not be out of the question.”
The Berlin wall was one of the starkest symbols of division in modern history, separating Soviet-aligned East Germany from the rest of the country and the West. “Nobody has the intention to build a wall,” German Democratic Republic (GDR) chief Walter Ulbricht infamously said in June 1961. Two months later, his assurance turned out be one of the greatest lies in German history since the end of WWII. On Monday, Germany marked the day when the wall was longer gone than it existed; 28 years, two months and 27 days of freedom.
The wall was more than just a dividing line. In Berlin, 139 died at the wall, many of them shot by border guards. At least 327 people in total died at the inner-German border.
It all ended when Günter Schabowski, a high-ranking East German official, announced new temporary travel regulations for GDR citizens on November 9, 1989. When asked when the new regulations, granting passage through all border crossings, would take effect, Mr. Schabowski paused and looked through his notes. “As far as I know - effective immediately, without delay.”
East Germans had already been able to enter the West via other countries like Hungary, but the news - the press conference was broadcast live - sent thousands of East Berliners to gather at various border crossings. Border guards were caught by surprise by the news and initially did not know how to handle the masses. At some point before midnight, they opened the gates and thousands flooded the streets of West Berlin.
Less than a year later Germany was reunited. However, while officially one country again for over 27 years, divisions between East and West remain to this day. Unemployment in East Germany is over two percent higher than in the West; underemployment numbers are similar. No company listed in Germany’s main stock exchange has its headquarters in the former GDR. Many young East Germans are forced to try their luck in the West due to a lack of opportunities.
A solidarity tax established to spur economic growth in the East is likely to be scrapped by the next government. Richer regions have long complained about having to shoulder an additional economic burden.
The divide also plays out in the political arena, with many voters in the east supporting Die Linke, a radical left-wing party, and Alternative für Deutschland, a right-wing anti-immigrant party which won over 12% in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Nevertheless, memories of the fall of the wall remain a proud and inspiring moment for many Germans.
What’s in a name?
“Hands off Macedonia,” people chanted. These were not protesters in the landlocked Balkan state trying to assert their independence, but Greeks demonstrating in Athens. On Sunday, the Greek capital’s main square was filled with over 100,000 people protesting against a potential compromise between Greece and its Balkan neighbour, officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), over the latter’s name.
The point of contention concerns a province in Greece also called Macedonia. Athens believes Skopje's use of the name implies territorial claims over Greek land. Macedonia was also the name of an ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, which Greeks see as a key part of their heritage.
"We are trying to show the politicians... that they must not give up the name 'Macedonia’,” one participant in the rally told media.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Macedonia joined the UN in 1993 with the provisional name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - despite protests by Athens. The name dispute has prevented Skopje from joining Greece as a fellow member of the EU and NATO.
This year, however, could bring a breakthrough. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, speaking to reporters in Skopje, said on Tuesday that his country was ready to add a geographical qualifier to its name, a solution proposed by the Greek government. The Macedonian prime minister added that an airport and a highway named after Alexander the Great would be renamed. "With today’s decision... we are confirming our step toward building friendship and confidence with Greece."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini earlier this week further raised the prospect of six Western Balkan states, including Macedonia, joining the bloc. “Let’s make it happen,” Ms. Mogherini said in Strasbourg. “Let’s bring the Western Balkans inside the European Union not in a faraway future but in our generation.”
Recent opinion polls, however, showed that a majority of Greeks opposes a solution that let’s Greece’s northern neighbour keep the name Macedonia in any shape. Another protester at Sunday’s rally said, “no one can take this name, no one can use it.”
The Syrian war continues
Despite ongoing diplomatic moves by the UN and a push by Russia to forge a political settlement, the war in Syria rages on. In its bid to seize all opposition-held areas around the capital Damascus, the Assad government repeatedly struck targets in Eastern Ghouta this week, reportedly causing dozens of casualties.
On Wednesday, airstrikes killed 36 civilians including 12 children in Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. One day later, news of more airstrikes killing 21 and injuring 125 more people emerged.
In a tactic used in other parts of the country, the government keeps a tight siege on Eastern Ghouta while shelling the area. In the past, rebel-held areas under siege eventually made withdrawal agreements with the Assad government, which subsequently took over the area. Those leaving the area often ended up heading to northern Syria’s Idlib province, a frequent target of regime and Russian airstrikes.
As The World Weekly went to press, the UN Security Council was set to hold a meeting to discuss a possible ceasefire in Syria. Earlier in the week the UN called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for at least a month. The last time the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta received inter-agency aid was in November 2017.
Elsewhere in the country, fighting raged on as Turkey and local allies continued their operation to seize territory in northern Syria controlled by a Kurdish-led force allied with the US. In eastern Syria, the US-led coalition said it killed around 100 pro-regime fighters in “self-defence” on Wednesday. Around 500 pro-government fighters employing artillery and Russian-made tanks attacked the local headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces where coalition advisers are training fighters.
A direct military threat to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s power in large parts of Syria remains remote, but the opening up of new fault lines has brought many uncertainties.
Editor-in-Chief, The World Weekly
Editor-in-Chief / Middle East Editor: Manuel Langendorf firstname.lastname@example.org Associate Editor: Sam Courtney-Guy email@example.com Staff writer: Alexander Izza firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer: Anna Grace email@example.com Managing Director: Rory O’grady firstname.lastname@example.org