ICJ awards Pedra Branca to Singapore

The International Court of Justice has awarded sovereignty of a strategic rocky outcrop in the Singapore Strait/South China Sea called Pedra Branca to Singapore, ending a 28-year dispute over the islet. Singapore, which has maintained sovereignty for over 150 years (including under the British colonial government), had argued that it should continue to hold sovereignty.

The ICJ’s 16-member bench voted 12-4 in favour of awarding Singapore sovereignty, although they also voted 15-1 to award sovereignty over two of Pedra Branca’s outcrops, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, to the country in whose territorial waters these lie. In the case of Middle Rocks, it is Malaysia, although the waters around South Ledge, remain under negotiation pending the delineation of the maritime boundaries surrounding Pedra Branca (which Malaysia calls “Pulau Batu Puteh” — both names mean “White Rock”) and the Middle Rocks.

This is a major blow to Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister, Mr Abdullah Badawi, who has come under a lot of pressure in recent days. It will be interesting to see how the two countries react.

Tropical Cyclone Nargis — the aftermath

Will update with latest news on the aftermath of Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Nargis, which hit Burma (Myanmar)1 last weekend.

1800 UTC Friday May 16: State media is now reporting an official death toll of near 78,000 people. Another 56,000 are missing.

1140 UTC Wednesday May 14: The tropical disturbance previously located in the Gulf of Martaban has moved over the Irrawaddy delta and could become a cyclone in the next 24 hours. However, while it will bring more rains and some gales to the delta, it will more likely make landfall in Bangladesh.

0825 UTC Tuesday May 13: Burma continues to insist that no foreign aid workers are required in the country. A new tropical disturbance has developed over and south of the Irrawaddy delta and is moving north. It is likely not to have enough time to develop into a cyclone, but will bring heavy rains to the delta.

1430 UTC Monday May 12: BBC News ticker: “LATEST: Burma says 31,938 died in this month’s devastating cyclone.”

0945 UTC Monday May 12: That U.S. aid plane has now landed in Rangoon.

0630 UTC Monday May 12: The BBC reports that the first U.S. aid flight to Burma has taken off from Bangkok. Three Doctors Without Borders (MSF) flights are also due in Burma today.

1345 UTC Sunday May 11: A cargo ship carrying enough aid for 1,000 survivors has crashed into a submerged tree and sunk in the Irrawaddy delta, dealing a blow to relief efforts. All on board survived.

1325 UTC Sunday May 11: New toll from the junta: 28,458 dead; 33,416 missing.

1250 UTC Sunday May 11: Reports that the Burmese junta has let the WFP distribute 38 tonnes of its aid which had been impounded in Rangoon upon arrival. If this is true and the junta are no longer controlling the distribution it’s good news.

0720 UTC Sunday May 11: Daily Mail journalist reports that two trucks of UN aid were driven to an abandoned pagoda and left there without distribution. Shameful.

0100 UTC Sunday May 11: The UN says that it fears only a quarter of aid has reached survivors of the cyclone. The ICRC has said it hopes seven more flights will arrive before Monday — but will they all be impounded?

1525 UTC Saturday May 10: Two more WFP aid planes have had their cargo impounded upon arrival in Rangoon. The junta continues to insist it will control aid distribution, severely hampering relief efforts. This also means that the eastern states of Burma bordering Thailand will likely see little to no aid, as there is an uprising against the junta there.

0755 UTC Saturday May 10: There’s a new official toll. The BBC is now reporting the official toll to be 23,335 dead; 37,019 missing.

0145 UTC Saturday May 10: CNN’s Dan Rivers — now out of Burma — reports that there was a massive police effort to find him while he was in the country. If the junta are now going after foreign journalists, they are wasting crucial resources and time on this instead of helping survivors. Another reason to pressure the junta more.

0130 UTC Saturday May 10: BBC reports “There are reports that a senior general over-rode requests from his officers to divert army resources to help the cyclone victims – in order to maintain security for the [constitutional referendum].” Two correspondents in the Irrawaddy delta are now reporting outbreaks of dysentery. The Burmese UN envoy now claims that his country is ready to accept help from anyone.

(Older updates after the jump)
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Elections in Malaysia, Spain, France, U.S. and Iran

Quite a weekend this has turned out to be, and the week ahead bears more elections to come. There’s been elections in Malaysia, Spain, France, and in the U.S. state of Wyoming, while tomorrow there will be primaries in Mississippi and Iran will hold parliamentary elections on Friday.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, won the general elections but suffered a major setback as they lost their parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1957, leading to his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahatir Mohamad, to call on Mr Badawi to resign. However, Mr Badawi has since been sworn in for a new term as PM.

BBC News: Malaysian prime minister sworn in

His Spanish counterpart, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, fared similarly in Spanish polls. Despite his Socialist Party hanging on to power, Mr Zapatero’s team failed to gain enough seats in Parliament for an absolute parliamentary majority. Across the border in France, however, there was a different story in local elections. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP has taken a hit from the opposition Socialists and is currently trailing in the first round of elections. This vote is the first real chance for the French people to judge Mr Sarkozy, and it appears that his constant appearances in the press about his private life has lost his party support and votes.

BBC News: Socialists win Spanish elections
BBC News: Poll setback for Sarkozy’s party

On to the continuing race for the Democratic nomination for the United States Presidency. On March 8, Democratic caucuses were held in Wyoming. Senator Barack Obama convincingly won the vote, by 23 percentage points, picking up seven delegates in the process to Sen Hillary Clinton’s five. This win is crucial for Sen Obama as it takes some wind out of Sen Clinton’s three wins on March 4. Also, this was his first real test following the departure of a key foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, over comments she made calling Sen Clinton a “monster”. He appears to have survived his aide’s outburst.

BBC News: Obama defeats Clinton in Wyoming

Tomorrow, the two candidates will once again go head-to-head in the Mississippi primaries, which will provide 33 pledged delegates. The Republicans will also hold a primary, although that will (excuse the poor pun) primarily be a voting exercise, as Sen John McCain has already won his party’s nomination and has no real challengers left in the race. Mrs Clinton will be looking to win tomorrow to avoid Sen Obama picking up new steam.

And finally, to Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be looking for a strong mandate in parliamentary elections this Friday, ahead of next year’s presidential elections. As always, this election will be a fight between the hardliners and the reformists. If Mr Ahmadinejad’s hardliners win well, as they are expected to do (many reformist candidates have been disqualified), it will be a sign that the nuclear issue is nowhere close to being solved.

Iran vote may strengthen Ahmadinejad

Moscow somehow loses bid for 2010 Games

It’s happened. The unthinkable. WE BEAT MOSCOW. The Games of the First Summer Youth Olympiad in 2010 have been awarded to Singapore.

I always felt Moscow had the stronger bid for the Games. As has been pointed out, the IOC were in favour of Singapore probably because we’ll never get a chance to host the full thing – Moscow hosted in 1980. So there’re celebrations at the Padang at City Hall tonight while up in the bitter cold and snow in Moscow they’ll be sore and disappointed.

I just find it funny that we probably won’t win a single medal in an event we’re hosting…

CHINA RELEASES CHING CHEONG

The Beijing government has surprisingly released Singapore Straits Times Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong today, according to the Hong Kong Journalists’ Union.

This comes very much as a surprise and was unexpected, but it is being seen as a goodwill measure by the Chinese government ahead of this week’s Lunar New Year. Mr Ching’s family has not yet commented.

The BBC reports that Mr Ching is now on his way back to Hong Kong and his family.

This is truly great news.