World Briefs

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on January 11, 2011

SOMALIA – Islamists forbid men, women to shake hands

Mogadishu | Somalis say Islamist insurgents have banned unrelated men and women from shaking hands, speaking or walking together.

Residents of the southern Somali town of Jowhar said Saturday that the al-Shabab insurgents threatened to whip, imprison or execute anyone found breaking the recent edicts.  [The militant group has already banned music in areas that it controls, which include most of central and southern Somalia.]

Resident Hussein Ali says he will no longer greet women he knows for fear of punishment.

Student Hamdi Osman says she was once beaten for wearing Somali traditional dress instead of the long, shapeless black robes favored by the fighters.

THAILAND – Thai demonstrators say they’re smarter this time

Bangkok | Thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched Sunday in Bangkok, saying they had learned lessons from chaotic violence last year and had a new strategy for the new year.

About 10,000 “Red Shirt” protesters gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument and clogged traffic as they marched to an upscale shopping area where massive crowds of protesters had camped for weeks last year before soldiers swept through and arrested top protest leaders.

Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader who avoided arrest because he has parliamentary immunity, vowed to have “frequent and symbolic gatherings” twice a month – a change from the large sit-in last year that lasted 10 weeks and prompted a violent crackdown.

“We have learned a lesson that big gatherings will not lead to the result we want,” Jatuporn said.

ISRAEL – Comatose Sharon’s stay at home is a short one

Jerusalem | The comatose former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quietly returned to the hospital just days after he was moved home in November, officials said.

Two months ago Sharon was moved with fanfare to his family ranch in southern Israel, but Tel Hashomer Hospital spokesman Amir Marom said Sunday the plan was always for a brief stay and that after 48 hours he was returned to the long-term care unit of a Tel Aviv hospital.

Sharon, 82 is a former war hero who led Israel from 2001 until the 2006 stroke that left him in a vegetative state. Doctors say there has been no change in Sharon’s condition.

PAKISTAN – Marchers support law

Karachi | Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Pakistan’s largest city on Sunday to oppose any change to national blasphemy laws and to praise a man charged with murdering a provincial governor who had campaigned against the divisive legislation.

The rally of up to 50,000 people was one of the largest demonstrations of support for the laws, which make insulting Islam a capital offense. It was organized before the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead on Tuesday in Islamabad by a bodyguard who told a court he considered Mr. Taseer a blasphemer.

Although courts typically overturn blasphemy convictions and no executions have been carried out, rights activists say the laws are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities.

TUNISIA – Tunisia’s unemployed riot

Thala | Tunisian police opened fire on rioters in two cities, killing at least eight and wounding nine, in the worst violence in the North African country since unemployment protests began last month.

The shootings took place in the central cities of Thala and Kasserine, the state-run Tunis Afrique Presse [TAP] news agency said, citing an Interior Ministry statement. Several policemen were also injured.

In Thala, demonstrators late Sunday attacked a police station and two government buildings, TAP said. The rioting spread to Kasserine, where a bank was attacked, it said. Al Jazeera TV said 14 people were killed in the unrest.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at: and


SOMALIA:  SOMALIA'S GOVERNMENT AND AL-SHABAAB: (The U.S. State Department has identified al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.)

  • Since the collapse of Somalia's government in 1991, various groupings of Somali factions sought to control the national territory (or portions thereof) and fought small wars with one another.
  • Efforts at mediation of the Somali internal dispute were also undertaken by in national conferences as well as many regional states.
  • In 1997, the Organization of African Unity and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) gave Ethiopia the mandate to pursue Somali reconciliation. In 2000, Djibouti hosted a major reconciliation conference (the 13th such effort), which in August resulted in creation of the Transitional National Government (TNG), whose 3-year mandate expired in August 2003.
  • A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was created in Somalia in 2004.
  • In July 2006, Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia and defeated the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In January 2009, Ethiopian forces completely withdrew from the country.
  • U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization al-Shabaab, formerly the military wing nominally under the ICU, became independent of the Courts and launched a multi-faction insurgency after the Courts scattered as a result of the 2006 invasion.
  • Al-Shabaab and other extremist forces garnered power in subsequent years through their effective fighting of the Ethiopians, intimidation, and harsh implementation of shari'a law.
  • Al-Shabaab forces now control most of south-central Somalia and parts of Mogadishu, significantly hampering the TFG's [Transitional Government's] ability to provide public services as well as affecting the delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable Somali populations. (from
  • Al-Shabaab is an Islamist insurgent group fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia.
  • As of summer 2010 the group is said to control most of the southern and central parts of Somalia, including "a large swath" of the capital, Mogadishu, where it is said to have imposed its own "harsh" form of Sharia law.
  • The group describes itself as waging jihad against "enemies of Islam" and is engaged in combat against the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).
  • It has reportedly "declared war on the U.N. and on Western non-governmental organizations" that distribute food aid in Somalia, killing 42 relief workers in the past two years of 2008 and 2009.
  • It has been designated a terrorist organization by several western governments [including the American, Australian, Canadian and British] and security services [including Norwegian and Swedish], and described as having "ties to Al Qaeda," which their leaders denied until early 2010.
  • Because of its opinions and methods, Al-Shabaab, has been compared with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (from wikipedia)

THAILAND:  excerpted from a May 2010 article at

  • "Red- shirt" protests against the Abhisit government commenced in early 2009, leading to the disruption of a major Asian summit in Pattaya and riots in Bangkok in April.
  • [In April 2010, the [Red Shirts] called fresh protests in Bangkok aimed at toppling the government.]  (from
  • [They occupied Bangkok's historic and commercial districts and at one point stormed parliament, forcing MPs to flee. They also stormed a satellite transmission base, in a bid to restart a television station which had been shut down by the government.] (from
  • [The protests turned violent on April 11, 2010, when at least four soldiers and 17 civilians were killed in clashes as the army tried to disperse the red-shirts.]  (from
  • [Although current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offered protesters an early election [which they at first accepted], he retracted that offer this week after the demonstrators refused to call off their two-month long rally [and instead made new demands of the government as a condition for leaving their protest site]. (from

ISRAEL:  Ariel Sharon

  • Ariel Sharon is an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel's 11th Prime Minister.
  • He is currently in a permanent vegetative state after suffering a stroke on January 4, 2006.
  • Sharon was a commander in the Israeli Army since its inception in 1948.
  • He participated in the 1948 War of Independence, 1956 Suez War, Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973.
  • After retiring from the army, Sharon joined the right-wing Likud party, and served in a number of ministerial posts in Likud-led governments in 1977-1992 and 1996-1999.
  • He became the leader of the Likud in 2000, and served as Israel's Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006.
PAKISTAN:  Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most-populous province, and a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, was assasinated by one of his bodyguards, who said he was angered by the governor's opposition to the country's blasphemy laws. Mr. Taseer had become a leading opponent in recent weeks of a court decision in November 2010 to sentence a 45-year-old Christian farm laborer and mother of five, Asia Bibi, to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

Responding to Gov. Taseer's murder, the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan group of scholars, seen as a relatively moderate school of Islam in Pakistan, announced "More than 500 scholars of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat have advised Muslims not to offer the funeral prayers of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer nor try to lead the prayers. Also, there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the Prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy."

  • Read Gov. Taseer's story here.
  • Read about Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death after being accused of blasphemy here.

TUNISIA:  Protests in Tunisia are demonstrations over unemployment, and the high cost of living, which began in December 2010. Protests are rare in Tunisia and these protests constitute the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in three decades.

  • During a national television broadcast on December 28, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali criticised people for their protests calling the perpetrators "extremists and mercenaries" and warned of "firm" punishment.
  • President Ben Ali also accused "certain foreign television channels of broadcasting false allegations without verification, based on dramatisation, fermentation and deformation by media hostile to Tunisia."
  • In January 2011, President Ben Ali said 300,000 new jobs would be created, though he did not clarify what that meant.
  • He also described the protests "the work of masked gangs that attacked at night government buildings and even civilians inside their homes in a terrorist act that cannot be overlooked."
  • Ahmed Najib Chebbi, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, then said that despite official claims of police firing in self-defense "the demonstrations were non-violent and the youths were claiming their rights to jobs" and that "the funeral processions [for those killed on January 9] turned into demonstrations, and the police fired [at] the youths who were at these .. processions."
  • He then criticised Ben Ali's comments as the protesters were "claiming their civil rights, and there is no terrorist religious slogans," while accusing Ben Ali of of "looking for scapegoats." He further criticised the the additional jobs offered as mere "promises."
  • On January 10, the government announced the indefinite closure of all schools and universities in order to quell the unrest. (from wikipedia)

For background information on Tunisia and its government, go to