Martin Fletcher

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For two months tens of thousands of courageous protesters have taken to the streets of Iran, defying the savagery of the security forces and risking limbs, lives and liberty to resist a coup d’état by a hardline regime that had almost certainly been voted out of office.

How utterly dispirited they must have felt, then, how demoralised, to see the ambassadors of Britain and other Western nations attending President Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in ceremony yesterday. The converse is also true. How inspiring it would have been if they had had the guts to stay away, or to send their most junior diplomats, like Germany did.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iran's presidential election was not supposed to be like this - days (and nights) of giddy excitement and political mudslinging and anarchic scenes of a sort that the tightly-controlled Islamic republic has not seen since the revolution.

It was meant to be a formality. The Guardian Council, a body of senior conservative clerics, would select a handful of candidates with impeccable Islamic and revolutionary credentials. The country would go through the motions of democracy to impress the outside world and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would duly be re-elected, as every other incumbent president has in the republic's 30-year history.

How could the Israel-hating, US-bashing, nuclear weapon-chasing President lose when he was backed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, by the Revolutionary Guard and its volunteer Basij militia, by state-controlled television and a nationwide government machine?…  Seguir leyendo »

Long after you leave Zimbabwe images linger in the mind, harrowing and ineradicable. An emaciated old woman making “soup” from weeds for her orphaned grandchildren; desperate parents foraging in the bush for a handful of desiccated berries; young men defying crocodiles to catch a handful of tiny fish in the Zambezi; the corpses of cholera victims trussed up in black plastic sheeting; the ubiquitous and debilitated Aids victims; perfunctory funerals in Harare's cemetery while, all around, fresh graves are dug.

The pathetic attempts to grow vegetables on scraps of common land; the queues desperate to withdraw a few pennies from banks before their money loses all its value; the listlessness and despair of a crushed and broken people, the anguish of priests, doctors and aid workers overwhelmed by this tsunami of suffering...…  Seguir leyendo »

As President Bush prepares to leave office, the pundits will start to produce their balance sheets. It is hard to know what they will list under “achievements”, but easy to predict their “disasters”: Iraq, Afghanistan, economic meltdown, soaring debt and America's loss of global stature.

One other debacle should feature prominently in that second column, but probably won't because it has occurred in a faraway country that most Westerners know only through the film Black Hawk Down - or from recent reports of rampant piracy including the seizure early on Sunday of a Saudi tanker, carrying more than two million barrels of oil, which had an immediate effect on crude prices.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the magnificent new stadiums of their capital, in front of their fanatical compatriots, China's Olympians have walloped their American counterparts this past fortnight, capturing 16 more gold medals and ending the global supremacy that US athletes have enjoyed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is an outcome that will only deepen the United States' present funk, with pundits sure to compare China's inexorable rise with America's decline, asking when the lines will cross.

The answer is not for a long time - if ever. By almost any measure the US remains in a different league. Its gross domestic product was $13.8trillion last year, dwarfing China's $3.2 trillion.…  Seguir leyendo »

My colleague Rosemary Righter wrote last week that the defeat of Somalia’s Islamic courts by Ethiopian forces was the “first piece of potentially good news in two devastating decades”.

As one of the few journalists who has visited Mogadishu recently, I beg to differ. The good news came in June. That is when the courts routed the warlords who had turned Somalia into the world’s most anarchic state during a 15-year civil war that left a million dead.

I am no apologist for the courts. Their leadership included extremists with dangerous intentions and connections. But for six months they achieved the near-impossible feat of restoring order to a country that appeared ungovernable.…  Seguir leyendo »