- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 4 …

Could the Germans be ready to switch their vote at the United Nations? Word from Berlin says that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's trusted political consultant Reinhard Hesse has penned an op-ed piece for Berliner Tageszeitung that calls for Germany to repair its relations with Washington by abstaining or even voting yes on a second U.N. resolution. The article, which has yet to get Schroeder's final go-ahead, would be seen across Europe as reflecting the chancellor's own views and signaling a dramatic reversal of Germany anti-war stance. Other well-informed German sources say that after Schroeder's talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin last week, the German leader fears that both Russia and France will back off from a final confrontation with the United States in the Security Council — and leave Germany isolated and exposed. The question would be how Schroeder could justify such a U-turn to his own party and voters.

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Oman is taking very seriously the growing hints from both Riyadh and Washington that the U.S. military is pulling out of Saudi Arabia once the Iraq war is over — and is ready to step in and help fill the breach. Construction has begun of an air base at al-Musana in the Batina province, 60 miles north of Muscat, with medium-length runways for U.S. and British jet fighters and short runways for attack helicopters. The Omanis saw no point in competing with Qatar's al-Ubeid Air Base, which boasts the longest runway in the Middle East, to host tankers and heavy transports. The new base will boast hardened communications and refueling facilities along with hangers built to NATO standards.

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The real complication in the Turkish parliament vote is an internal power struggle within the ranks of the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party, where a new opposition group of some 60 mainly Arab and Kurdish deputies has become a key player in a three-way tussle for leadership. Taking advantage of their opposition, Parliamentary Speaker Bulent Arinc made it clear to other MPs that he was content to see the Parliament revolt against the Cabinet decision to approve the staging of U.S. troops. Arinc never wanted the Speakership, reckoning he was being sidelined, and sees the parliamentary revolt as a way to boost his own leadership chances. Then comes the supposedly interim Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, who likes the job to much to give way easily to the party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in turn will not be eligible to take over the prime minister's post until he gets elected to Parliament in a by-election Sunday in Siirt. But Siirt is in the southeast of the country, the hotbed of the opposition to the war on Iraq — so Erdogan does not want to be seen bullying his party MPs into a new vote to approve the U.S. troops before the by-election. After their landslide victory in last year's elections, the moderate Islamist AK Party is simply too big, too new and too vague in its politics for the usual party disciplines to mean much. One U.S. official who has been dealing with the Turks says the AK Party is "a split waiting to happen."

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Here comes Chechnya East. China is preparing a massive military operation to crush the "East Turkistan" separatists in the Xinjiang province with combat helicopters, armored brigades, aerial surveillance drones and bomb-dismantling robots. Gen. Mei Xingrun, paramilitary police commander in Xinjiang, briefed fellow-deputies to China's 10th National Peoples Congress in Beijing Monday on the operation he described as "a major campaign against separatism." So far the authorities had been able to maintain stability and deal the separatists "hard blows," Mei said, but the time was now ripe for a full scale assault "with helicopter-borne rapid-reaction squads armed with high technology and state-of-the-art equipment against terrorism." China's crackdown against the Muslim Uighurs of Central Asia has not been known in the past for its squeamishness, but the rough new measures are being justified as part of the global war on terrorism after Uighurs were found among the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

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Nobody is expecting any triumph of democracy in Wednesday's scheduled run-off presidential election in Armenia, where more than 150 opposition members have been rounded up and charged with "unauthorized demonstrations" by police loyal to incumbent President Robert Kocharian. Most of these arrested — usually in their homes - are campaign aides of Kocharian's opponent Stepan Demirchian. More than half of them have been held in custody and given 15-day sentences — enough to keep them out of the way until the election is over. Human rights groups are appalled. The Armenia branch of the Helsinki Group talks of "a reign of terror," and sign are after the blatant ballot-rigging of the election's first round that the Council of Europe observers will condemn the election process.

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