The Commonwealth Update

An authoritative, nation-by-nation review of events across the Commonwealth, with an update now published six times a year in an issue of The Round Table.

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From 2008, the review is being written by Oren Gruenbaum, the Commonwealth Update editor, and currently Senior Sub-Editor at The Guardian in the UK

In 2007, the review was written by Judith Soal, a journalist who has worked extensively in South Africa and is currently deputy night editor at The Guardian in the UK.

Until 2007 the review was written by Derek Ingram, who was the Founding Editor of Gemini News Service until 1993, and is the author of a number of books about the Commonwealth and is active in the CJA, CPU, CHRI and the RCS, as well as a member of the Moot.

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Commonwealth Update - Issue 417

Oren Gruenbaum

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in what has been seen as an attempt to carve out a sphere of influence in the war-torn country. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed more than 100 people in Nigeria. Attempts to reform the Commonwealth largely failed after the Chogm summit in Perth rejected proposals of the Eminent Persons Group. Despite calls at Chogm to decriminalise homosexuality in Commonwealth countries, two Malaysian states are set to increase penalties. As Australia was named as host of the 2018 Commonwealth games, it emerged that 30 foreign contractors are still owed $80m for the recent Delhi games, which were marred by corruption. Hopes of campaigners that Uganda was finally acting on corruption were dashed. Michael Sata, a former cleaner at a London train station, became president of Zambia. The ANC suspended Julius Malema, firebrand leader of its Youth League and seen as a future president of South Africa, for five years.


The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab threatened to bring the "flames of war" to Kenya after Nairobi sent 2,000 troops, plus tanks and armoured cars, over the border to attack the militia, which controls most of southern Somalia. Kenyans braced for further revenge attacks after two explosions in Nairobi killed at least one person, two people died in a grenade attack at a church in Garissa and a French resident of Kenya died after being kidnapped by Somali gunmen. Somalis fled 10 towns, including the port of Kismayo, an al-Shabab stronghold, after Kenya listed them as targets for air strikes. An air raid on the Somali town of Jibil killed five and injured 45, mostly refugees, the aid group Médecins sans Frontières said.

Kenya's intervention marked a departure from its support of the African Mission in Somali (Amisom), which is backed by Ugandan and Burundian troops under the aegis of the Africa Union, and took Ethiopia—which also intervened in Somalia from 2006-08—by surprise. Le Monde reported: "It is thought that both countries want to carve out zones of influence [in Somalia]. Nairobi plans to set up a semi-autonomous region, Jubaland. A puppet government would be used to control resources and facilities, starting with Kismayo, a port used by smuggling networks with Kenyan links, according to a UN report published in July."

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's deputy prime minister, denied claims that he orchestrated violence after the 2007 election, in which more than 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 fled their homes, in a preliminary hearing at the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta, a supporter of President Mwai Kibaki, is accused of organising a campaign of violence, including murder and rape, against supporters of the rival candidate, Raila Odinga, through the Mungiki criminal gang. Son of the country's first president, Kenyatta could be a candidate for the presidency in elections due next year.

Kenya banned female genital mutilation, making it illegal to cut, take a girl abroad for cutting, or even make derogatory remarks about those who have not undergone the practice. Linah Kilimo, of the Kenyan Women Parliamentary Association, called it "independence day for women". Sierra Leone is the only Commonwealth country where it is still widespread, according to the Pan African news agency. The government, a state oil company and residents of a Nairobi slum blamed each other for a pipeline explosion that killed 82 people.

More than 100 people were killed in bomb and gun attacks claimed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Bombs hit several targets in the north-eastern town of Damaturu, including churches, mosques and the Yobe state police headquarters. Boko Haram, which seeks strict sharia law across Nigeria, said it planned to strike at further government targets. It also admitted murdering Alhaji Zakariya Isa, a reporter for the state-owned Nigeria Television Authority, who was shot several times near his Maiduguri home. It claimed he was a police informant. In another attack on press freedom, editors at the Nation were detained over publication of a letter purportedly from former president Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan.

The "underwear bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is from Katsina state, pleaded guilty in a US court to conspiring to blow up a plane over Detroit in 2009. At least 19 people were killed in Zamfara state in a long-running feud over cattle and herding rights, and 16 people were killed when several Christian villages were attacked in Plateau state. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the past two years in sectarian violence.

An oil industry pressure group, Platform, and other organisations accused Shell of fuelling a decade of human rights abuses in the Niger delta with "routine payments to armed militants [that] exacerbated conflicts" as well as relying on government forces that have "perpetrated systematic human rights abuses against local residents, including unlawful killings, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment". Their report, Counting the Cost, said one case of paying armed militants led to the destruction of Rumuekpe town, where an estimated 60 people were killed.

Footage of a gang rape by university students became a national issue after a blogger revealed the existence of a video of the incident. The National Assembly called on police to investigate the rape amid widespread anger at the attack on the woman and the perceived failure of state authorities to take the case seriously.

Baba Suwe, one of the country's most popular actors, was freed from jail on suspicion of smuggling drugs in his stomach when three weeks of closely scrutinised faeces failed to show any sign of drugs.

South Africa
Julius Malema, former leader of the Youth League of the ruling African National Congress and seen as a challenger to South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, was suspended by the ANC for five years for bringing the party into disrepute after he called for regime change in Botswana, unfavourably compared Zuma to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, and stormed into a meeting of ANC leaders. Derek Hanekom, head of the ANC disciplinary panel, said: "Malema damaged the standing of the ANC and South Africa's international reputation."

Malema became embroiled in another controversy after South Africa's Minority Rights Equality Movement brought charges against him for alleged defamatory remarks about Indians. Two months earlier, a judge ruled that his trademark anti-apartheid song, Dubhula ibhunu (Shoot the Boer), constituted hate speech. Malema has won support among the poor by calling for job creation (the youth unemployment rate is more than 50%), threatening Zimbabwean-style land appropriation without compensation, and demanding mines be nationalised. His rhetoric has been blamed for helping cut foreign investment by 70% in 2010 from a year earlier. The suspension of Malema should help Zuma secure a second term as ANC leader—and hence as president—at a party conference next year but the harsh sentence imposed on Malema could provoke an anti-Zuma backlash.

Meanwhile, Zuma sacked co-operative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka, amid allegations of unauthorised spending, and public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. The president also suspended police chief Bheki Cele, who—with Mahlangu-Nkabinde—is implicated in alleged illegal property deals. The ombudsman found Shiceka spent $68,000 of government money on unauthorised luxury travel and hotel bills, including visits to a girlfriend jailed in Switzerland for smuggling drugs. Cele, a close ally of Zuma, and Mahlangu-Nkabinde are accused of leasing police buildings from Roux Shabangu, who has close links to government figures, at inflated prices.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared the Zuma government unfavourably with the apartheid regime after the Dalai Lama said he was unable to give a speech at Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations because he had not been granted an entry visa after five months of waiting, allegedly because of pressure from China. "Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you would expect it with the apartheid government," an angry Tutu told press in Cape Town. "You, President Zuma and your government, do not represent me. I am warning you, as I warned the [pro-apartheid] nationalists, one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government." Meanwhile, Lindiwe Mazibuko, 31, became the first black parliamentary leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. A former DA spokeswoman, she beat the incumbent, Athol Trollip.

A deluded belief in Vietnamese and Chinese traditional medicine that rhino horn cures cancer has led to record poaching this year, the wildlife charity WWF said, with 341 rhinos killed up to November. Horns fetch $35,000 a kilo. In the five years up to 2005, an average of 36 rhinos were killed each year in South Africa. South Africa is considering legalising the trade to save the critically endangered black rhino.

Hopes that the government was finally tackling corruption faded after a court dropped all charges against former vice-president Gilbert Bukenya days before his trial was due to begin. He was briefly jailed in October after being accused of abuse of office and profiting from a $3.9m deal to supply luxury cars for the 2007 Commonwealth summit in the capital, Kampala. Bukenya had also lost his parliamentary seat after a judge ruled that he had bribed voters during the disputed elections in February. However, Bukenya said President Yoweri Museveni had backed him throughout. Three other top officials—foreign minister Sam Kutesa, chief whip John Nasasira and junior labour minister Mwesigwa Rukutana—were still facing charges over a $4.8m deal to refurbish a hotel for the summit. Oil finds by the UK company Tullow and the 2007 Commonwealth summit, which cost more than $130m, increased opportunities for corruption, analysts said, with parliamentary and auditor-general reports implicating several politicians in "influence peddling" and stealing funds. MPs suspended all pending oil deals following allegations that energy companies bribed ministers. The World Bank put annual losses from corruption at $100m and said last year: "Corruption in Uganda is endemic, and we have seen no signs of improvement."

The opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested near Kampala on a "walk-to-work" protest against surging prices and wasteful government spending. Inflation has risen from 5% to 30% this year.

Barack Obama is sending 100 US military advisers and support staff to help Uganda hunt rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, a fanatical militia that has killed 30,000 civilians, abducted thousands of children, and displaced some two million people in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, a court freed a senior LRA commander, ending Uganda's first war crimes trial. Thomas Kwoyelo had been charged with 53 counts of murder and other crimes. But the constitutional court said he should be given an amnesty in line with other LRA rebels.

Michael Sata, a former London train station cleaner, ousted Rupiah Banda, leader of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) party, which has run Zambia since one-party rule ended in 1991, to become president in polls marred by violence. Sata, 74-year-old leader of the Patriotic Front (PF), won 45% of the vote, while Banda, also 74, won 35%. Guy Scott, an indigenous white Zambian and PF deputy leader, was named as vice-president. He is believed to be the first white person to hold such high office in Africa since apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994.

Nicknamed King Cobra because of his harsh rhetoric during the election campaign, Sata had denounced foreign mining firms, especially from China, in Africa's biggest copper-producing nation. Copper prices and output have risen this year but resentment of multinationals led to Sata promising to make 25% Zambian ownership of all companies compulsory. Human Rights Watch has accused Chinese-run copper mines of labour abuses, including illegal safety practices, hostility to trade unions and dangerously long shifts of up to 18 hours. HRW urged Sata to honour promises to crack down on illegal Chinese labour practices. However, the copper industry provides two-thirds of central government revenue.

One of Sata's first moves was to send independent Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, to apologise to Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos for Zambia, under then president Frederick Chiluba, backing Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels. He also cancelled the sale of Finance Bank to South Africa's First Rand, and sacked the head of the central bank, as well as a string of other appointees of the previous government, including the anti-corruption authority chief.

Zimbabwe (Left Commonwealth, 2003)
The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, condemned the Zimbabwean regime of President Robert Mugabe ahead of a meeting with him, by attacking the country's lawlessness and comparing it to the "greed of colonialists and imperialists" in a sermon to 15,000 Anglicans at Harare's national stadium. A power struggle between the Mugabe-allied and excommunicated bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, and his replacement, Chad Gandiya, has resulted in Anglicans being arrested, beaten and locked out of churches.

The diamond industry's watchdog, the Kimberley Process, lifted an international ban on Zimbabwe selling diamonds. The country could earn more than $3bn a year from the three Marange mines. The ban was imposed in 2009, following allegations that some mines were controlled by Zimbabwe's military, which channelled funds to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, forced people to dig and badly assaulted some of them.

The prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, reversed his opposition to gay rights, saying he now wanted them enshrined in a new constitution as a "human right". In 2010, he joined Mugabe in opposing decriminalising homosexuality. Zimbabwe is drafting a new constitution, which will be put to a referendum before elections next year.

The British businessman Richard Branson wanted to bankroll a diplomatic effort to remove Mugabe from power, according to a leaked US embassy cable. Branson was due to hold a secret meeting with South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela and other senior African statesmen in 2007 to discuss persuading Mugabe to step down, the secret memo released by WikiLeaks said. The initiative, reportedly brokered by the Zanu-PF politician Jonathan Moyo, never came to fruition.

Human remains thought to belong to some of the 20,000 victims of the 1980s' "Gukurahundi" massacres in Matabeleland carried out by Mugabe's Fifth Brigade were discovered after a football pitch caved in. Meanwhile, three women were charged with drugging and raping male hitchhikers, purportedly to steal their semen for use in rituals.

Botswana should decriminalise homosexuality and prostitution to prevent the spread of HIV, ex-President Festus Mogae told the BBC. Mogae, who heads the government-backed Aids Council, also called for condoms to be distributed in prisons. More than one in six Batswana is HIV positive.

The World Health Organisation said Cameroon was facing one of the biggest cholera epidemics in its history with nine out of 10 districts affected. The epidemic has killed nearly 90,000 people in west and central Africa.

President Paul Biya won a sixth term of office after reportedly winning 78% of the vote. Biya, 78, has been in power for 29 years. His main rival, John Fru Ndi, who received 11% of the vote, said the election had been rigged. US and France also said the polls were marred by widespread irregularities. Fru Ndi's Social Democratic Front said people had been caught voting three times and opposition supporters prevented from casting their ballots.

President John Atta Mills rejected the UK's threat to cut aid to countries criminalising homosexuality. He said the UK could not impose its values on Ghana and he would never legalise homosexuality—a recommendation of the Eminent Persons Group report into the future of the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, heavy floods swept through the capital, Accra, killing nine people.

Plans for Africa's biggest renewable energy project were announced, with hopes that the $15bn wind and hydropower schemes will be, according to Monyane Moleleki, natural resources minister, "the saviour for our country's economy". The 10,000MW highlands power project, which will be 80% funded by Chinese loans, will generate about 5% of neighbouring South Africa's electricity needs and create 25,000 jobs.

Malawi refused to arrest Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes in Darfur, on his visit for a trade summit in Lilongwe. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2008 and Malawi is a signatory to the ICC. Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika is a staunch critic of the ICC.

Dharmanand Dooharika, editor of the weekly Samedi Plus, was imprisoned for contempt of the supreme court, which also imposed fines averaging nearly $9,000, over an editorial suggesting allegations of partiality by a supreme court judge should be investigated. A local website,, said he was the first journalist to be imprisoned on the island.

Two elderly people were lynched after being accused of witchcraft, Radio Mozambique reported. A local charity, Forum of the Elderly, said at least 20 old men and women had been killed this year in Inhambane province alone.

Rwanda (Joined November 2009)
Two former ministers were acquitted by the UN war crimes tribunal of genocide charges in the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 mostly Tutsi people. Casimir Bizimungu, former health minister, and Jérôme-Clément Bicamumpaka, former foreign minister, were released but Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza were convicted on genocide charges and jailed for 30 years. Meanwhile, a French court ruled that France must not extradite the widow of the former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana. Two years ago a Rwandan prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for Agathe Habyarimana on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1994. The court's reasoning was not known but she had previously been refused asylum by France because "she was at the heart of the genocidal regime". Cambridge academic Dr Andrew Wallis said it was because: "She knows too much about the complicity of France and its military in the lead-up to and during the Rwandan tragedy, when François Mitterrand's government fully supported the genocidal government of her husband."

Armed drones began patrolling Somalia from a US military base on the islands. The flights are ostensibly to tackle Somali pirates, who have raided shipping as far as the Seychelles, but US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed that the drones also flew over Islamic militant bases in Somalia.

More than 3,000 people marched in Siteki, said Sikelela Dlamini, of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, a coalition of pro-democracy groups, while a further 5,000 confronted police in Manzini. The country's budget deficit has swollen to 14% of GDP—similar to Greece—while a $360m bailout from South Africa was in doubt because of the autocratic King Mswati III's refusal to accept political change.

Nearly 200 people drowned and more than 600 were rescued when an overloaded ferry capsized between Zanzibar and Pemba island. It was Tanzania's worst maritime disaster in 15 years.

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Two states are to increase Islamic penalties for homosexuality, raising the prospect of gay Muslims being punished under federal and state religious laws and fuelling fears of rising intolerance in the country. Homosexuality is punishable by caning and up to 20 years in prison, but amendments planned by Pahang and Malacca religious authorities could see state governments add a consecutive jail term.

The government of the prime minister, Najib Razak, promised to repeal the draconian Internal Security Act and emergency ordinance, under which 6,000 people are detained indefinitely without trial, in a move seen as an attempt to rally flagging support for the ruling National Front coalition before elections. The move comes two months after police detained hundreds and fired teargas as 20,000 demonstrated for electoral reform in Kuala Lumpur in the biggest political rally for years. Najib promised: "No Malaysian will ever be arrested or detained because of their political affiliations or ideas." Tony Pua, an opposition MP, warned: "We've seen sufficient U-turns when Najib comes under pressure from right-wing groups that we won't be surprised if the same happens again."

Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, became the first suspect charged by a war crimes tribunal investigating the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Sayeedi faces 20 counts including crimes against humanity, genocide and torture. Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed an estimated 3 million people, raped 200,000 women and forced millions to flee their homes during the war. Sayeedi is implicated in the killing of more than 50 people, torching villages, rape, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. He was arrested last year with four other leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami accused of war crimes, including party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami. Two leaders of the opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party are also facing trial. Police arrested more than 600 Islamists for inciting violence after clashes during protests demanding the release of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders.

The first visit to Bangladesh by an Indian prime minister for 12 years ended without agreement on two crucial issues: sharing river water and an overland transit route through Bangladesh to India's landlocked north-eastern states.

Russia will help build two nuclear power plants to ease Bangladesh's acute energy shortage. Moscow will supply fuel and funding, and take back depleted fuel rods for safe storage. Bangladesh currently relies on dilapidated gas-fired plants for its power supplies and experiences daily electricity shortfalls of about 2,000MW. Three areas in the Sundarbans mangrove forest are to become sanctuaries to protect the freshwater Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins.

More than two million people were affected and more than 80 killed by floods after torrential rains lashed Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states. Earlier, a powerful earthquake in Sikkim killed more than 90 people. Some 6,000 troops were deployed in the north-eastern state to dig through mudslides and clear away rubble.

Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress Party, cancelled her first speech since undergoing surgery for cancer in the US in August but her party refused to comment on her illness. The 64-year-old leader is the de facto head of the government, despite holding no official post.

Foreign governments found that only two of 32 international contractors hired for the 2010 Commonwealth games in Delhi had been fully paid, with debts totalling $80m. A recent World Bank survey put India 134th out of 183 countries for ease of doing business and second from last in enforcing contracts. Meanwhile, prosecutors began questioning Jayaram Jayalalitha, controversial chief minister of Tamil Nadu state, in a corruption case that accuses her of illegally amassing $14m as chief minister between 1991 and 1996. Jayalalitha led her AIADMK party to a spectacular victory in state elections this year. Another politician, former BJP chief minister of Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa, was jailed for accepting 1.9bn rupees ($39m) in bribes for selling government land. The authorities allege that the land deals cost Karnataka state 4.7bn rupees.

A court jailed 31 Hindus for life for burning alive 33 Muslims, including 20 women, in 2002. They had taken shelter in a building during a pogrom in which nearly 1,000 people died in Gujarat state. Another court convicted 269 police and forestry officials of torturing and abusing more than 100 low-caste tribespeople in a 1992 raid in Tamil Nadu state. Over two days, 18 women were raped, at least 100 Dalits (formerly "untouchables") abused, homes destroyed and cattle looted.

Maoist rebels kidnapped 15 construction workers in Bihar state; a Maoist landmine in Chhattisgarh state killed four paramilitaries and injured several others, while Maoists said they had begun a month-long ceasefire in West Bengal. Meanwhile, a 92-day blockade of two highways in Manipur by the Kuki ethnic group was lifted after the government agreed to create a new district for them. But the rival Naga ethnic group then blockaded the same roads to oppose the move. The blockades led to shortages of food, fuel and medicine. In Assam, four farmers blocking a road to demand higher prices for their jute were shot dead by police.

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, signed a strategic pact with India, and the Vietnamese president went to Delhi to formalise a plan for one of India's state energy companies to explore areas of the South China Sea claimed by both Vietnam and China. India unveiled the world's cheapest tablet computer: the Aakash, developed by DataWind and backed by the government, will be sold for $35 to school students.

There was outrage across the country after three of cricket's leading players were jailed in London over a match-fixing scam. Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt, former world No 2 bowler Mohammad Asif, rising star Mohammad Amir and an agent were jailed for between six months and nearly three years over their part in a betting conspiracy to bowl deliberate no-balls in a Test match against England last year.

Gunmen attacked a bus carrying Shia Muslims in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, killing 12 people and injuring six others. A similar attack on Shia pilgrims in the province killed 26 people weeks before. A Sunni militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility.

An anti-terrorism court charged two senior police officers with security breaches and failing to protect the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack while campaigning for election in 2007. Five Taliban militants were also charged with criminal conspiracy.

Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, was reported to have warned the US to think "10 times" before taking any unilateral action in the border region of North Waziristan and focus on stabilising Afghanistan instead of pushing Pakistan to attack militants. He dismissed as "baseless" US accusations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency helped insurgents carry out attacks in Kabul. Weeks before, relations between Pakistan and the US deteriorated after Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, accused an Islamist militia, the Haqqani network, of being a "veritable arm" of the ISI to fight a "proxy war" in Afghanistan. Despite claims that the Haqqanis were responsible for a recent attack on the US embassy in Kabul, Pakistani officers said they would take no action against insurgents operating along their border. Meanwhile, Afghanistan accused Pakistan of firing 300 shells and rockets into Kunar and Nuristan provinces. Despite this, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if Islamabad were at war with the US. Pakistan was planning to expand its nuclear capability to non-deterrent roles, a report for the British American Security Information Council thinktank warned, including smaller warheads that could be used for tactical roles.

Hundreds of people were killed and 300,000 left homeless by monsoon flooding across 1.7m hectares of Sindh province. The floodwater reached Karachi, the commercial capital, and estimates put those affected at up to 5 million. To compound the crisis, Pakistan faced an outbreak of dengue fever, which infected thousands and killed several dozen.

Imran Khan, former Pakistan cricket captain and the only MP of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, addressed a rally of 100,000 in Lahore as he called for political "revolution" and vowed to fight corruption and negotiate with the Taliban.

Pakistan granted India most-favoured-nation status in a boost for the peace process between the two countries that restarted in February. India granted the same status to Pakistan in 1996 but the balance of trade has tilted in India's favour since then.

Sri Lanka
A curfew was declared in a suburb of the capital, Colombo, after a battle erupted between factions of the ruling party, with at least three people killed and dozens wounded. Supporters of Duminda Silva, an MP and adviser to the president's brother, defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, allegedly killed an adviser of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The violence was connected to local elections in 23 districts, including Colombo. Meanwhile, the government said Menik Farm in the north, one of the world's largest refugee camps, would close shortly.

Doctors at Freedom from Torture, a human rights group that treats victims, said examinations of Sri Lankan patients showed torture was still going on two years after the 26-year civil war that saw the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels ended, and called on the British government to halt deportations. The group handed a dossier of evidence to the UN.

The government ordered websites covering Sri Lankan affairs to register with the government or face legal action. Several websites had been blocked for engaging in "character assassination" of the president. Access to at least six news websites was blocked, including a new website of the main opposition United National Party. Critics say the move intensified web censorship.

Hong Kong (Left Commonwealth, 1997)
Secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks were cited by the Chinese government as proof of American plotting with a "Gang of Four" leading pro-democracy figures in the autonomous territory, the Washington Post reported. The China Daily accused Martin Lee, a lawyer and Democratic Party founder; publisher Jimmy Lai; former civil servant Anson Chan, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, of collaborating with the US in "dirty tricks" and "fomenting anti-government sentiment". Lai dismissed the claims as "nonsense" and said they were merely "friends ... concerned about keeping Hong Kong's fundamental values of freedom of speech and religion and the rule of law".

Hong Kong is to resume subsidising home-buying amid public anger over record property prices, providing 5,000 apartments a year between 2016 and 2020. However, there are 150,000 families on the waiting list for subsidised housing. Meanwhile, the famous cross-harbour swim, which began in 1906 but was suspended for 33 years because of pollution, was revived. Some 1,000 competitors took part in the 1.8km race from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

The Maldives became the first country in the world to "crowdsource" its renewable energy strategy online as part of ambitious plans to be the world's first carbon-neutral nation. Experts are invited to provide technical advice on low-carbon energy generation, storage and financing via a special website.

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United Kingdom
Unemployment in Britain rose to a 17-year high of 2.57 million with the loss of 154,000 more jobs confirmed since October. With GDP growth at just 0.5% in the third quarter, and the Bank of England governor, Sir Mervyn King, declaring that the UK was in the grip of "the most serious financial crisis at least since the 1930s, if not ever", the central bank added £75bn ($118bn) to its asset-purchase programme, known as quantitative easing, bringing the tally to £275bn so far. The fragility of the UK's economic recovery was underscored by the biggest monthly fall since 2001 in a survey of the service sector, which accounts for three-quarters of GDP. The decline—even steeper than the slump following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008—came amid renewed calls for the government to slow the pace of cuts in its austerity programme.

Liam Fox resigned as Britain's defence secretary following a scandal involving a conflict of interest with Adam Werritty, a Scottish businessman and close friend of Fox. London's St Paul's cathedral closed to visitors for the first time since the second world war, after anti-capitalist protesters who had targeted the nearby London Stock Exchange as part of the worldwide Occupy anti-capitalist movement refused to move their campsite from the cathedral's precincts. After several weeks, moves to force the protesters out divided the church authorities and led to the resignation of two senior clerics but the church and the City authorities backed down from threats to forcibly remove the camp until the new year. Canary Wharf, the London Docklands headquarters of some of the UK's biggest banks, erected barriers to stop protesters moving in. However, Occupy camps spread to Bristol, Bath, Birmingham, Bradford and Edinburgh.

The prime minister, David Cameron, suffered the biggest parliamentary rebellion since 1945 within his ruling Conservative Party and needed the support of his coalition partners and the Labour opposition to defeat nearly half his backbenchers, who wanted a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. The phone-hacking scandal at News Corporation's British newspapers, sparked by revelations of 5,700 cases of illegal surveillance at the now-defunct News of the World, continued to dog the Murdoch family. A third of investors voted against the re-election to the board of the octogenarian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's sons, James and Lachlan. James Murdoch faced a second grilling by British MPs over about questionable testimony he gave in July, and a group of US investors broadened a lawsuit against another subsidiary, accusing News Corp's board of ignoring "improper practices".

Ministers were forced to seek approval for at least 12 government bills from the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, through constitutional privileges granted him through his hereditary ownership of the $1.1bn Duchy of Cornwall property empire, the Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the UK government will change the rules of succession to the monarchy after Commonwealth leaders at the Perth summit approved ending males' automatic precedence in the succession to the throne. The ban on Catholic monarchs will also end. MPs' proposals to reduce the number of ministers to correspond to a reduction in the number of constituencies was rejected by the government, which was accused of being "patronage-driven" by using ministerial jobs to secure crucial parliamentary votes.

A dissident republican group, the Real IRA, admitted bombing two banks and a British government office in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Gangs did not play the leading role in the August riots that was widely believed, an analysis of police data found. Just 13% of those arrested were identified as gang members. Meanwhile, a government study concluded that the young looters were motivated by opportunism, resentment of the police and the sheer "thrill of getting free stuff—things they wouldn't otherwise be able to have".

Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden to face rape charges. Meanwhile, the publisher of Assange's autobiography released the book without the Australian's consent. Canongate Books said Assange had co-operated over the work before changing his mind and declaring: "All memoir is prostitution."

A 100-year-old Punjab-born Londoner, Fauja Singh, completed the Toronto marathon to become the oldest runner of the race.

A crisis erupted between Cyprus, Turkey and Israel over rights to what could be the world's biggest discovery of natural gas in years after the divided island instructed a US company, Noble Energy, to begin exploratory drilling off its southern shores. Turkey responded by deploying a seismic research vessel to the same zone of the Mediterranean with an escort of gunboats. Israel, which has begun to search its own territorial waters, then scrambled F-15 fighter jets to intercept the Turkish ship, which prompted Turkey to send F-16 fighters to chase the aircraft away—heightening tensions between two erstwhile allies. Natural gas deposits estimated at 300bn cubic metres could lie off Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot government has mapped out 12 offshore blocks for exploration, saying Turkish Cypriots in the island's breakaway north would also benefit ultimately. Ankara is staunchly opposed to the drilling, arguing that Cyprus, which is split between Greeks in the south and Turks in the north, should be reunited first. Turkey, the only country to recognise northern Cyprus, retaliated by signing an underwater exploration agreement with the territory. Cyprus has been partitioned since Turkish troops, prompted by a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, invaded in 1974.

President Demetris Christofias was blamed by an official investigator for negligence leading to a huge explosion that killed 13 people in July. Polys Polyviou told a news conference that Christofias bore a "serious, and very heavy personal responsibility" for the blast. He said the way the "time-bomb" of 100 containers of seized Iranian munitions was stored at a naval base in Mari was "completely irresponsible". Cyprus's defence and foreign ministers resigned over the affair. The explosion, when the decaying gunpowder blew up, was the island's worst peacetime military accident. The dead included the head of the Cypriot navy and six firefighters. The explosion also destroyed Cyprus's largest power station, leading to severe power cuts across the island that damaged the already weak economy. As the eurozone debt crisis enveloped more countries, Russia was reported to be bailing Cyprus out with a $3.4bn loan to help it deal with maturing debt obligations and its budget deficit.

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The Obama administration added Belize to its list of major narcotic producer or transit countries amid evidence that the jungles and poorly patrolled coastline of the central American state has become a favoured route into the US for Mexican drug cartels, the Washington Post reported. Belize has no radar, military helicopters or means to intercept mobile phone communications. A sign of the effect of the trafficking is the record murder rate in the capital, Belize City, where more than 100 people have died so far this year—the fifth highest per-capita rate in the world, according to the UN. Law-enforcement officials, working with US agents, made the largest drug seizure in Belize's history, worth $131m, or 10% of the country's GDP.

George Price, architect of Belizean independence, died aged 92. He led negotiations for independence from London, and in 1981 became the first prime minister, and foreign minister, of the independent nation. He lived a simple life: his residence as premier was a one-room home and he drove around in a battered old Land Rover.

The government of the Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, is spending more than C$60bn ($59bn) on new military jets and warships while slashing more than C$200m in funding for research and monitoring of the environment, including its renowned ozone monitoring network, the Inter Press Service reported.

North America's only legal drug-injection site won a battle to stay open, the supreme court ruled, in a defeat for the government. The court ruled that the Vancouver clinic's closure would violate its users' constitutional rights. Canada said it was concerned that the European Union was seeking to "stigmatise" Alberta's oil-sands industry, as the EU appeared to move closer to classifying such oil as heavy polluting, the Economist reported.

The Obama administration is to reassess the route of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, delaying a decision to beyond the 2012 US presidential election. Stiff opposition has come from Nebraska and environmental groups as the 2,700km pipeline's route would take it through a major aquifer in the state. The US state department's handling of the $7bn project is already under review for alleged wrongdoing.

Andrew Holness became prime minister, replacing Bruce Golding, who resigned after criticism of his refusal to extradite a notorious gang leader, Christopher "Dudus" Coke, to the US. Golding blocked any move to arrest Coke for nine months before launching an operation to capture him in which scores died. Holness, 39, is Jamaica's youngest ever leader, and the first to be born after independence from Britain. The former education minister promised to tackle corruption, violent crime and end a culture of "garrison politics"—a reference to the slum areas controlled by crime bosses and closely linked to one of the two rival political parties. He also focused on the national debt; at more than $11bn, it is more than twice Jamaica's annual budget.

The soaring price of gold, which has jumped 40% in the last year, has led to a spate of murders in remote Amazon mining camps amid warnings that there could be a repeat of the killings of 2,000 Yanomani Indians during a similar gold rush in the 1980s.

St Kitts and Nevis
Australia's Gold Coast will host the 2018 Commonwealth games, it was announced in St Kitts. The Queensland city saw off competition from Hambantota in Sri Lanka, which had hoped to use the games to spur reconstruction after it was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. The Commonwealth Games Federations' general assembly voted 43-27 in favour of Gold Coast. It will be the fifth time Australia has hosted the games, following Sydney in 1938, Perth in 1962, Brisbane in 1982 and Melbourne in 2006.

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Julia Gillard was forced to drop a controversial proposal to funnel the processing of people seeking asylum in Australia through Malaysia. It was a big defeat for the prime minister, who only a day before had successfully pushed her equally controversial plan for a carbon tax though the lower house of parliament. Gillard staked her government's future on introducing the most radical carbon price scheme outside Europe, despite fierce hostility from voters and the opposition. It sets a fixed carbon tax of A$23 ($24) a tonne on the top 500 polluters from July, becoming an emissions trading scheme from 2015. Companies from mines to airlines will need a permit for each tonne of carbon emitted. Australia accounts for 1.5% of global emissions, but is the developed world's highest emitter per capita as it relies on coal to generate electricity. "Today marks the beginning of Australia's clean energy future. This is an historic reform, a reform that is long overdue," the finance minister, Penny Wong, told senators.

Qantas offered free flights to apologise to passengers stranded when the national airline's fleet was grounded for two days during a dispute with trade unions. Women will be able to serve in frontline units of the armed forces as Australia becomes the seventh country to lift gender barriers. Australia is to become the first country to make plain packaging of cigarettes compulsory but tobacco companies promised to fight the new legislation in court. From December 2012, all cigarettes will be sold in olive-green packs, which research has shown is the least appealing colour to smokers.

New Zealand
Salvage teams assisted by 8,000 volunteers fought to contain 1,700 tonnes of oil and containers spilling from the Rena, a cargo ship that ran aground off Tauranga in what the environment minister, Nick Smith, called: "New Zealand's worst environmental disaster." Smith claimed the accident at the known reef was due to the captain and navigational officer—who appeared in court to face charges—taking a shortcut to port.

New Zealand condemned Japan's decision to resume whaling in the Antarctic. The government described the seas around Antarctica as its neighbourhood and called Japan's whaling plans "entirely disrespectful". Wellington also expressed concern at Japan's plans to increase security to protect its whaling fleet from environmental protesters. Japan catches about 1,000 whales a year in what it calls a scientific research programme but critics say is commercial whaling in another guise.

Some 250,000 fans lined the streets of Auckland as New Zealand's rugby players took part in a victory parade to mark the All Blacks' victory on home soil in the rugby World Cup.

Papua New Guinea
Rioters burned down homes in an ethnic clash in the second-largest city, Lae, killing at least six people, injuring 26 and leaving thousands homeless. Mobs attacked settlements of people from the highlands, whom they blame for the rise in crime, after a woman was allegedly raped. Meanwhile, 15 men in the highlands were hacked to death and their homes burnt down in clashes between the Kamano and Agarabi ethnic groups.

A $15bn ExxonMobil gas project is dividing opinion, with landowners' and workers' protests halting work, and the new prime minister, Peter O'Neill, having to reassure multinational companies about the government's attitude to foreign investment after his mining minister, Byron Chan, suggested ownership of resources would switch to traditional landowners.

A state of emergency was declared after a drought on the islands of Tuvalu and Tokelau neared its first anniversary. A severe La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific was blamed for the crisis, which has seen crops wither, schools close and islanders on Tokelau subsist on bottled water. The past 12 months have been the second driest since records began in Funafuti, capital of Tuvalu, 78 years ago, with families rationed to two buckets a day. New Zealand soldiers and the Red Cross set up emergency desalination plants after Tuvalu's hospital had to limit admissions. Underground reserves have been contaminated by salt water from rising seas linked to climate change.

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Commonwealth News
The Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) in Perth, Australia, was widely derided as a failure after it refused to publish a report by the Eminent Persons Group that called for greater emphasis to be given to human rights within the organisation. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a former Malaysian prime minister and chairman of the EPG, said the Perth Chogm had been expected to deliver "meaningful reforms of the Commonwealth" and the lack of any progress meant the summit would be seen as a "failure". Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former British foreign minister and a member of the EPG, called the decision a "disgrace" and said the 54-nation body faced a "problem of indifference … its purpose is being questioned, its relevance is being questioned."

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, walked out of the summit when the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, host of the next biennial meeting in 2013, was invited to speak. Harper said he would boycott the Colombo summit if human rights abuses linked to the bloody end of the Tamil insurgency there were not investigated. Meanwhile, calling the award of the 2013 Chogm to Sri Lanka a "nightmare in the making", Prof James Manor, of London University's Institute of Commonwealth Studies, warned of the irreparable damage to the Commonwealth if it went ahead there and urged a rethink.

Commonwealth Publications -

  • Anit Mukherjee, Marilyn Waring, Meena Shivdas and Robert Carr, Who Cares? The Economics of Dignity, ISBN ISBN 978-1-84929-019-7.
  • Commonwealth Education Partnerships 2011-12, ISBN 978-0-9563060-6-7.

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