International Papers

Singapore’s Flying Flowerpots 

The end to Fiji’s 56-day hostage crisis Thursday was greeted with sighs of relief rather than cheers. (For more background on the crisis, see this “International Papers” column from May 22 and this “Explainer.”) Rebel leader George Speight released the last 18 hostages, including deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, after seeing all his demands met, including the removal of the elected administration, abolition of Fiji’s multiracial constitution, the effective disenfranchisement of the country’s ethnic Indians, amnesty for the rebels, and the appointment of his choice of president and vice president. Australia’s Age decried the actions of Speight’s group in a strongly worded editorial:

They have … trashed Fiji’s democracy, trampled on their citizens’ civil rights, [and] unleashed their gun-carrying, often drunken supporters to invade homes, set up roadblocks, occupy tourist resorts, and humiliate the local Indo-Fijians, who make up 44 per cent of the population.

Papers agreed that the political emergency was far from over. The Deccan Herald of India, appalled that Speight’s gang got away with such blatant violations of human rights, predicted that Indo-Fijians will continue to flee the country. Since Indo-Fijians dominate the country’s commerce and exports, this will further damage Fiji’s economy, which the country “is not in a position to survive given the setback suffered already by its tourism industry and in the light of likely international economic sanctions.” The Khaleej Times of Dubai, which recently impressed us with its wise takes on the Mexican and Mongolian elections, said that events in Fiji seem all the more reprehensible because they fly “in the face of the modern trend against racism.” Fiji is reverting “to its past pattern of racism after a brief experiment with a multiracial constitution.” It continued:

This is not to deny that there are underlying causes and animosities. As the large ethnic Chinese communities have learned to their cost in South-east Asia, relative prosperity of an immigrant community excites jealousy and it is often only too easy to incite racial hatred by individuals and political parties with an axe to grind.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the Indo-Fijian former minister for commerce said that his main concern after eight weeks in captivity—without pay—was finding a new job. He told the paper, “I have a big mortgage. My wife works, and the bank is very understanding, but I have not been contributing.”

Three weeks after the election in Zimbabwe, newspapers in southern Africa seemed unimpressed by Robert Mugabe’s announcement of his new Cabinet this weekend. Mugabe named only 19 ministers to the new government—a sharp reduction from the last Cabinet which numbered 52 (though some deputies are still to be named)—10 of whom are serving at this level for the first time. In the Zimbabwe Standard, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai described the shuffle as “putting new oil into an old engine.” Conspicuously absent from the Cabinet are “war veterans” leader Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi and Mugabe’s “right-hand man” Emmerson Mnangagwa, who, according to South Africa’s Independent, was widely seen as a likely successor to the 76-year-old president. The demotion of Hunzvi and the failure to name a minister for veterans’ affairs was described as “risky,” especially since invasions of white-owned farms by vets continues to be the most high-profile and controversial political issue in Zimbabwe.

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung applauded the approval Friday of a plan “designed to lure foreign computer specialists to the country and fill thousands of vacant jobs.” The scheme would allow in 10,000 workers from outside the European Union each year. Although the new visas were described in several articles as being equivalent to U.S. “green cards,” which confer the right to permanent residence, they would only allow non-EU workers to stay in Germany for a maximum of five years. The paper estimated that 100,000 jobs currently exist in the computer and telecommunications sector and predicted that the number will rise to 300,000 by 2005.

Three years after the Hong Kong handover, an academic dispute over censorship is raising concerns about freedom of expression there. Robert Chung Ting-yiu, a pollster at Hong Kong University, claims that he was told, through a middleman, that the university’s Beijing-sympathetic vice chancellor wanted him to stop conducting polls about the popularity of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa because of unfavorable results. An editorial in the South China Morning Post established its take on the still-unfolding dispute:

[W]hen the displeasure of the high and mighty is cited to back up [a perceived lack of “academic detachment”], it is difficult to find any other category under which to classify the incident, apart from straightforward political interference.

Perverse habits: An editorial in the Straits Times of Singapore attacked a peculiar, and very dangerous, phenomenon: “killer-litter incidents.” Apparently, even though authorities have repossessed the flats of three families convicted of littering, a wave of injuries and deaths caused by objects being thrown out of apartment windows continues. In the last two months, passers-by have been hit by bottles, glasses, flowerpots, and chairs. The paper speculated about the cause of the incidents:

Domestic quarrels are commonly cited as the trigger in court testimony, but are not known to be the dominant cause. … Can stress induced by cramped conditions cause patience to snap? Too much noise from playful children? Does extreme afternoon heat in west-facing blocks alter moods? Negative effects can be mitigated by design improvements and having more recreational space. … Every bit of refinement helps, but there is no denying that punitive measures must remain the weapon of choice against a perverse habit.