Falklands referendum results, UK-Russia talks, and a new Chinese President make for busy week ahead

March 8, 2013

By Jasper Wenban-Smith, international editor of ForesightNews.

A round up of world news in the week ahead from journalist resource ForesightNews.

Monday 11 March

On Monday, a two-day referendum on the political status of the Falklands Islands wraps-up, with the results due that evening. The referendum is largely symbolic, since the islanders overwhelmingly favour retaining their status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The Argentine government, predictably, has already said it considers the poll a farce and it that it will continue to pursue its claim to sovereignty regardless of the outcome. Expect some chest-beating in Buenos Aires.

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Also Monday, the US and South Korea are scheduled to begin an annual joint military exercise called Key Resolve. The exercise, which runs until 21 March and involves about 13,500 troops from the two nations, comes at a particularly tense time in the peninsula following the 12 February nuclear test in North Korea and the subsequent tightening of UN sanctions against the secretive communist state, which were approved on 7 March.

Monday is also a big day at the UN Human Rights Council session taking place in Geneva. Reports on North Korea, Syria, Myanmar (Burma) and Iran are all due to be considered on Monday. There is a press conference with the  Commission of Inquiry on Syria scheduled. It follows the announcement last week that the number of refugees from the conflict has surpassed the million-person mark.

EU Foreign Ministers are also due to meet Monday, with Syria a particular focus. Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi will brief ministers at a lunch before the meeting.

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Finally, Silvio Berlusconi’s trial over alleged payment for sex with 17-year-old call girl Karima el Mahroug (aka Ruby) is due to wrap up with the final hearing taking place on Monday in Milan. It follows the enfant terrible of Italian politics’ latest conviction – this time on wiretapping charges – last Thursday (7 March).

Tuesday 12 March

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On Tuesday, a controversial law passed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg banning the sale of large soft drinks – over 16 ounces – takes effect. The law has been portrayed by some as a fundamental assault on consumer freedoms and an example of government overreach, but it will be watched closely by lawmakers both within and beyond the US given the global obesity epidemic and the associated healthcare costs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, will host the leader of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia for talks in Moscow. He is also due to meet today with the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan who is making his first visit abroad since securing re-election last month. This choice of location for the trip is a clear affirmation of the close – and geo-politically significant – ties between Yerevan and Moscow.

Finally Tuesday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is scheduled to arrive in Algeria where she will pay a three-day visit.

Wednesday 13 March

On Wednesday, British Foreign and Defence Secretaries William Hague and Philip Hammond will be hosting their Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu for talks in London, the first talks in this ‘2+2’ format. Syria is likely to be high on the agenda, although cynics might suggest the UK has little influence over Russia in this, or any, regard. Another topic that may be discussed privately is the ongoing inquest into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (a procedural hearing in that inquest takes place on Thursday).

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In Beijing, following an adjournment on Tuesday, the 12th National People’s Congress will continue with a crucial four day session at which elections to key posts – including that of Xi Jinping to replace Hu Jintao as President of the world’s second largest economy – will take place. The congress will close on 17 March. Once President, Xi will make his first foreign travel to Russia, at some point later this month.

Finally, in the United States the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold what is expected to be a highly emotive hearing on sexual assault in the military, with three of the witnesses giving testimony at the hearing being victims of abuse themselves.

Thursday 14 March

EU leaders will descend upon Brussels again on Thursday for their second meeting of the year, and the first since the Italian elections that failed to produce a clear victor and threaten to derail what was looking like a significantly more positive year for the region. It will also be UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s first opportunity to meet with counterparts since his Chancellor George Osborne failed to extract any significant concessions on the proposed cap on bankers’ bonuses that is scheduled to take effect in 2014.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Also Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights is scheduled to hand down its ruling in a case involving former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has recently hinted at a return to political life. The case was brought by Herve Eon, who is appealing his conviction for insulting Sarkozy by waving a placard reading “Casse toi pov’con” – which roughly translates as “Get lost, you sad prick”. Sarkozy had previously said those same words to a farmer who had refused to shake his hand.

Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council and has said it wants to make progress in the Middle East Peace Process a priority of its presidency.

Friday 15 March

The Italian parliament is scheduled to reconvene on Friday following the elections held at the end of February. Discussions on possible coalitions will begin in earnest the following week – likely on 21 March – hosted by outgoing Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Many fear further elections later in the year are inevitable.

Friday also marks two years since the start of the Syrian uprising which has since descended into a horrific bloodbath which the international community appears powerless to stop.

Weekend

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On Saturday, Zimbabweans will head to the polls to vote on a proposed new constitution. Elections are expected later in the year, with the 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe likely to seek re-election.

Saturday also marks the deadline for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition, after he was forced to seek a two-week extension on March 2. Although both Israeli and US officials have issued public declarations suggesting a failure to form a government would not imperil the visit the following week by Barack Obama, others are not so sure.

Finally, as noted earlier, the 12th National People’s Congress closes in Beijing, with votes on draft resolutions and a closing ceremony, marking the culmination of the once –in-a-decade leadership transition in China.

Some images courtesy of Vasily Smirnov / Shutterstock.com