Pakistan protests begin; Japan's economy shrinks 3.2 percent; US and Japanese may shoot down North Korean rocket; Palestinian unity talks progress; France to rejoin NATO military command
Top of the Agenda: Pakistan Protests
Pakistan's much anticipated "long march" began today in several Paksitani cities, despite a government ban on the protests and sweeping crackdowns on lawyers and opposition leaders over the past day. The BBC reports police in Karachi used sticks to assault protestors outside the country's high court building, and that dozens of demonstrators have been arrested. Dawn has a new blog tracking the march. The paper's correspondent is live-blogging from Lahore, where he says parallel protests are gaining momentum. The News reports lawyers have also gathered at the high court in the city of Quetta, and that they plan a sit-in in the capital Islamabad on Monday.
The protestors are calling for Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate judges deposed under former President Pervez Musharraf. Despite campaign pledges to reinstate the judges, Zardari has resisted the move since gaining power, due to fears that a less favorable judiciary will seek to change the country's constitution and potentially oust him. The planned march has escalated into a political crisis, analysts say, particularly since opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for demonstrators to turn out in force and foment a "revolution." Over the past day, Zardari's government has launched a massive crackdown (NYT), banning the protests and placing opposition leaders under house arrest.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani says he is attempting to mediate (Daily Times) the crisis through discussions with Zardari on restoring the judges and implementing legislative reforms in Punjab province, where Sharif's PML-N party dominates. The Daily Times also reports British and U.S. officials in Pakistan have met privately with Gilani to express their concerns about the turmoil.
- A new CFR.org Backgrounder explains Pakistan's tense political dynamic.
PACIFIC RIM: Japan GDP Contraction
Tokyo confirmed that Japan's economy shrank 3.2 percent (Reuters) in the final quarter of last year, marking the most rapid economic contraction in the country since the oil crisis of 1974.
N.KOREA: Yonhap reports North Korea notified international agencies that it plans to launch a satellite between April 4 and 8. The article says U.S. and Japanese officials are still weighing whether to shoot down the rocket.