World News Brief, Wednesday December 17

ANC faces first political challenger as "non racial" COPE launches; China resumes website bans; India "pauses" peace process; US Fed cuts rates to near zero; and more

Top of the Agenda: South Africa's New Party

After months of friction within the ranks of South Africa's longtime ruling party, the African National Congress, or ANC, an offshoot faction of former ANC members will today form a rival party, the first major challenge to the ANC since it came to power in 1994. The new party, which will be called the Congress of the People, or COPE, officially comes into existence (BBC) today in the South African city of Bloemfontein, at the party's first convention.

The rise of COPE seems likely to shake the political landscape of southern Africa's geopolitical heavyweight, though the precise ramifications remain uncertain. Additional information about the policy agenda of the group may emerge as the convention continues. Today, COPE installed its core leadership team, appointing Mosiuoa Lekota, a former high-ranking ANC official and former South African defense minister, to be its president. In his acceptance speech, Lekota called the rise of COPE a defining moment in South African history and called COPE a "truly non-racial party" (SA Independent). The Mail & Guardian profiles the COPE leadership team, which will steer the new party into general elections against the ANC in March 2009.

News articles have indicated that the ANC potentially faces large-scale defections (Reuters). The power base of COPE consists of political centrists loyal to former South African President and former ANC party chairman Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted earlier this year. Many analysts see Mbeki's successor as ANC party chairman, Jacob Zuma, as a likely presidential successor, though the post of president is currently held by Kgalema Motlanthe, a trade unionist and the ANC's deputy president. The BBC article cited above says one of the main challenges for the newly formed COPE party will be to distance itself from Mbeki and not seem "like a group of embittered losers from last year's ANC national conference."

The South African paper Business Day reports the ANC is planning a "show of force" aimed at stomping out the opposition movement. The Times, another South African paper reports COPE is already calling for international election monitors to ensure the fairness of the vote.


- previews South Africa's upcoming general elections.


Pacific Rim: Thai Challenges

The Bangkok Post reports on looming challenges for Thailand's new coalition government, including mending the country's fragile economy.

CHINA: The BBC reports that the Chinese government has blocked several websites--including the BBC's Chinese language site--which it had unblocked during the Olympics.



India says it will "pause" peace process with Pakistan.
Federal Reserve meetings in Washington; analysts mull potential rate cut. UPDATE: Interest rates cut to "near zero".

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