Weekly Briefing

Pakistan: assassin

The bloodthirsty world of Pakistani politics has claimed yet another life. Salman Taseer, the influential governor of Punjab Province, was shot dead on 4 January by one of his own bodyguards in the country's most high-profile assassination since the killing of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Taseer, a leading moderate and a senior member of the Pakistan People's Party, was shot several times at close range by a member of his elite-force guards as he entered his car at a market in Islamabad.

The guard, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, told police that he had killed Taseer, 66, because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Many were angered by his outspoken defence of a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly criticising the Prophet Muhammad.

The beleaguered prime minister, Raza Gilani, announced three days of national mourning and appealed for calm.

Australia: floods

The city of Rockhampton was cut off by water as floods continued to overwhelm the state of Queensland. The overflowing river systems have already killed three people and are infested with snakes and crocodiles.

While some areas of Queensland - a state the size of France and Germany combined - are beginning the process of recovery, others are bracing themselves for further floods. More than 20 towns have been cut off or inundated, affecting more than 200,000 people.

Anna Bligh, Queensland's premier, has warned that the water may not recede for weeks.

Côte d'Ivoire: deadlock

After five weeks and at least 179 deaths, the incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has still not ceded power to Alassane Ouattara, his presidential rival. There appeared to be a breakthrough when he agreed on 4 January to negotiate a "peaceful end" to the crisis and promised to lift the blockade around Ouattara's temporary headquarters.

But this can be taken with a pinch of salt. Ouattara, recognised as the winner of the 28 November elections by the UN, accused Gbagbo of playing for time. Gbagbo has still not accepted the election result.

The Ecowas group of West African states stresses that military intervention is still an option - though one that it is reluctant to use.

US: health care

It looks as though President Barack Obama's appeal to Republican leaders to put aside partisan politics for the sake of rebuilding the US economy has fallen on deaf ears.

A bill to overturn his flagship health-care law was formally unveiled on 3 January, two days before Republicans assume control of the lower house of Congress. A vote will take place on 12 January.

This will be primarily symbolic, as the Democrats retain a majority in the Senate and can block the move. But there are concerns that it could set the tone for months of bipartisan acrimony ahead of the presidential election in 2012.

If the attempted repeal fails, as expected, the Republicans will attack the health-care law by other means, such as using congressional committees to cut off funds.

Greece: wall

The government announced a drastic plan to counter illegal immigration - building a wall along a short section of the border with Turkey.

The proposed 12.5 kilometre stretch in the Orestiada area of far north-eastern Greece is a favourite entry point for migrants from Africa and Asia. Figures for October 2010 showed that, on average, 245 people entered through there every day.

But given that Greece has a long border with great stretches of coastline, the European Commission's criticism that this is a short-term fix for a long-term problem may just prove correct.

This article first appeared in the 10 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Here comes the squeeze