Tom Rouse looks back at the week’s main stories from around the world, including the latest from Burma, Bahrain, Syria and the US Presidential elections.
To receive The World Outside Westminster in your inbox before it appears on the website, sign up to the email service
President Obama has gone on the offensive again, this time over the budget proposed by House Republicans which would see an axe taken to social security spending in an effort to support defence spending and vested interests.
The debate over House proposals stands in stark contrast to the Senate Appropriations Committee which has voted in favour of the spending allocations for the next year. The bi-partisan committee voted 27-2 in favour of approving the allocations, with only two freshman Republican senators dissenting.
The President’s aggressive attacks have done little to distract from the scandal that has engulfed the secret service. Agents in Colombia preparing for the President’s visit are alleged to have invited prostitutes back to their hotel rooms and a dozen have been suspended while the allegations are formally investigated.
• France decides (round 1) Tom Rouse
• World must act now to prevent Sahel famine killing millions Lord McConnell
Despite the Cartagena sex scandal, Obama’s poll ratings continue to be favourable. Gallup places his approval ratings at 47%, to 46% disapproving. The latest Real Clear Politics Average of other major polls puts the President 2.2 points ahead of Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
Although Romney looks certain to be the GOP nominee, there are 19 states still left to vote and Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich remain in the race. Although neither man looks remotely likely to mount a serious challenge to Romney, they do present a potential thorn in his sides.
If a substantial swath of registered Republicans are still unhappy with Romney as their candidate there is a real chance they could vote for either Gingrich or Paul in protest.
Such protest voting would harm the Romney campaign as it seeks to put the primary process behind it and build a ground campaign ahead of November’s contest with Obama. Research by Nate Silver suggests Obama has already deployed far more resources in establishing forces on the ground and Romney has already been forced into playing catch-up.
If either Gingrich or Paul represents a serious threat in any of the remaining primaryies this will force the Romney campaign to expend resources they would rather utilise targeting Obama.
The UN and Syria have come to an agreement over international observers entering the war-torn country. The deal comes a week after a ceasefire which has been flagrantly ignored by government troops with international broadcasters regularly showing footage of gunfire.
Three hundred observers are due to be deployed across the country and are expected to enter the country in the next few weeks, subject to agreement by the security council. In a letter to the UN Security Council, General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said progress had been made, but Syria had yet to send a clear signal about its commitment to ending the violence which had led to the deaths of more than 11,000 people in the last year.
“I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country, however, without underestimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build.”
The EU has reached a preliminary agreement to lift the majority of sanctions placed on Burma. The final decision is due on Monday and needs to be approved by foreign ministers from member states.
The lifting of sanctions is a response to the reforms introduced by the Burmese military junta over the past year. These included the release of political prisoners – like pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – and subsequent elections which saw her NLD party win 43 seats in the country’s parliament.
David Cameron made clear in a visit last week that the lifting of sanctions must be accompanied by further reforms and the reform process could not stop just because sanctions have been lifted.
The prime minister said:
“This country really matters. For decades it has suffered under a brutal dictatorship. It is also desperately poor. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a government now that says it is committed to reform, that has started to take steps, and I think it is right to encourage those steps.”
Finally this week, events in Bahrain have been to the fore, with mounting protests against the Bahraini regime centred around today’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which went ahead despite the disruption.
The body of a protester was discovered yesterday. According to the opposition party Wefaq, the body of 36-year-old Salah Abbas Habib Musa, a father of five, was found on a rooftop in the Shia village of Shakhoura the day before the race. He was allegedly abducted from his village by the military and beaten to death.
As The Observer explains, the uprising began on February 14th last year to coincide with the 10th anniversary of a referendum in which 98.4% voted for constitutional rule – security forces used rubber bullets to stop demonstrations that killed four and injured 600 at the Pearl Roundabout; as the uprising continued, the 2011 Bahrain grand prix was cancelled.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered on March 9th this year calling for the end of the monarchy and the release of political prisoners.