Weekly Briefing

Weekly Briefing

Israel: poor relations
As Israel's prime minister in the 1990s, Binyamin Netanyahu's poor relationship with the US saw him voted out of office. Now, amid a row over 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, ties seem even more fragile. Relations with Palestinians have also hit a low: unrest is at its worst for years.
Netanyahu has stressed that "no government in the past 40 years has limited construction in neighbourhoods of Jerusalem". His office calls on Palestinians to "enter the tent of peace without preconditions". Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, has said that ties between the two countries are at their lowest point for 35 years, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, warns the events may "permanently derail peace talks".

Sudan: election hope
Next month's Sudanese election will be the country's first multi-party vote in decades, and signals that the interim period since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005 is coming to an end. But in south Sudan, the election is not the most vital part of the country's transformation.

On 9 March, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) met for the first time since 2005 to discuss remaining disputes, including the north-south border demarcation and the referendum on south Sudan's autonomy, due in 2011. Several Igad members proposed delaying the referendum, but Salva Kiir, the south's president, was clear: it remains the major issue for the still-violent region. "The conduct of the elections is not a prerequisite to the conduct of the referendum," he said.

UN: human rights
The UN Human Rights Council has always had its critics. Indecisive, overly bureaucratic and inappropriately political it may be, but its recent condemnation of human-rights abuses in Burma and North Korea has been unflinching. Its envoy to Burma, Tomas Quintana, warned that human-rights abuses, including the detention of political prisoners, mean the country's elections later this year "cannot be considered as credible". He also noted widespread deprivation.

As a response, he suggested “a commission of inquiry" into possible crimes against humanity. The UN envoy to North Korea was even less equivocal. Vitit Muntarbhorn described the country as "one big prison", and called for the UN security council to protect the population. Both countries reject the UN reports. It remains to be seen whether the council will bite anything like as fiercely as its envoys bark.

Turkey: babies
Of all things to ban, artificial insemination while abroad might seem a niche choice. But in Turkey, where the practice is already illegal domestically, users of foreign sperm banks - there are fewer than 100 a year - are threatened with criminal charges. Irfan Sencan, of Turkey's health ministry, said the plan was to "protect the ancestry, to make the newborn's father and mother known", but insisted the law "has nothing to do with race".

This may sound unconvincing; women's rights campaigners are also unimpressed. Then again, as one legal expert told the newspaper Aksam, the law cannot be enforced if treatment is legal in the country in which it is received.

Taiwan: babies II
In 2009, Taiwan's birth rate hit a record low, and officials clearly decided it was time to reverse it.

With one of the world's lowest rates, Taiwan's government offers medical subsidies, education coupons and two years leave as parental incentives. To no avail.

Now, it wants a slogan to plant a seed in the public consciousness; its author wins a million Taiwan dollars (£21,000). What's needed? "A creative slogan [to] appeal to the public and make everybody want to have children," officials say. Cheerier, then, than Russia's "Love for your nation starts with the family". And snappier than 1980s Singapore's "Have three or more, if you can afford it".

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