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North Korea: North Korea announced on Monday it will continue its space development efforts for "peaceful purposes. In an interview carried in English by the Korean Central News Agency, a spokesperson from North Korea's Foreign Ministry also vowed the country would strengthen its nuclear deterrence against what it calls the "hostile policy" of the United States.

Comment: North Korea is suffering from a devastating drought and severe shortages of everything. Today's statement is intended to redirect international attention towards the North. The North has no resources to do much beyond throw tantrums.

Iran: Iran took defiant steps on Monday in response to the intensified Western sanctions aimed at halting its oil exports, announcing legislation intended to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. and testing missiles in a desert drill apparently intended as a warning to Israel and the United States.

The legislation calls for Iran's military to block any oil tanker heading through the strait en route to countries no longer buying Iranian crude because of the European Union embargo, which took effect on Sunday.

Comment: The full impact of economic sanctions on Iran became effective on 1 July. One rather naïve US news commentator opined tentatively that the US looked like it was waging economic warfare against Iran, as if that were a profound insight! That is precisely what is taking place and it is more effective to date and cheaper than using soldiers.

Egypt: President Mohammed Mursi took the oath of office before the General Assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court on 30 June. Mursi is the first freely elected head of state in Egyptian history.

Among his first acts of state he asked the US to release a notorious jihadist, known as the blind sheikh. Sheikh Omar, who is blind, is serving a sentence in a North Carolina jail for having masterminded the 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center. That attack failed.

Comment: It is difficult to imagine why the fate of the blind sheikh would top the agenda of Egypt's new president, unless he is a true believer of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptian economy is in collapse. The political system is unsettled. The roles of the Army and of Sharia in national life are begging for resolution. Nevertheless, Mursi focused on the fate of the blind sheikh as a first order of business, deliberately provoking the US.

This man does not seem to be in touch with the depth of the wound Egypt has suffered because of the apocryphal Arab spring. Alternatively he deliberately is pursuing an Islamist agenda which he did not disclose and which considers the present travails of Egyptians to be the path to redemption. In either case, the regional security situation is being altered fundamentally.

Mursi appears to have been deceptive about his true beliefs, suborning the democratic process. He is pursuing an Islamist revolution, not a democratic revolution.

Egypt-Iran: For the record. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is prepared to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt at the ambassadorial level when Egypt is ready, Mehr news agency reported on 2 July.

Comment: Iran's overtures of friendship are not conducive to regional stability but do respond to overtures from President Mursi. Egypt, in other words, took the first step.

Mali: The fighters from the Ansar Dine group, which controls much of northern Mali and is affiliated with al Qaida, are methodically destroying the 16 historic Islamic shrines in the city of Timbuktu. They destroyed mausoleums of Sufi saints with guns and pick-axes for a third day, according to witnesses on the scene.

The salafist Ansar Dine members believe in strict application of Sharia, Islamic law, and consider the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam in Timbuktu to be idolatrous. They deride and ignore that some very respectable Muslims, especially Sufis, regard the shrines as sacred and acceptable in Muslim worship.

Last week UNESCO, the UN cultural organization, put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites, fearing damage following the coup which toppled the Malian government in March. That decision and announcement appear to have infuriated the Islamists.

Ansar Dine spokesman Sanda Ould Boumama told Agence France-Presse the shrines would be destroyed, "all of them, without exception." He went on: "God is unique. All of this is haram (forbidden in Islam). We are all Muslims. UNESCO is what?"

In addition to the shrines, Timbuktu is the repository for some 700,000 ancient manuscripts preserved in about 60 private libraries.

The International Criminal Court denounced the destruction as a crime against humanity comparable to the Afghan Taliban's destruction of ancient Buddhist structures in Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan, in 2001.

Comment: This is another example of the ignorance and barbarism of the jihadists. Ansar Dine in Mali are cultural savages, indistinguishable in beliefs and actions from the hard core Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mexico: Preliminary results show the Institutional Revolutionary Party's candidate, former Mexico state Governor Enrique Pena Nieto is the president-elect of Mexico.

Comment: Initially it appeared that Pena Nieto would obtain a strong, double digit majority, based on exit polls. As the count continued, his margin of victory narrowed to about six percent. His opponent, a leftist named Lopez Obrador, refused to concede and announced he will not do so until the final, official vote count is tallied.

Mexican political pundits wrote today about how the PRI has managed to contain drug cartel violence through a combination of agreements and pressure, usually involving various forms of corruption. The PRI victory appears based on its record of managing the internal instability, compared to former President Calderon's confrontational tactics involving the armed forces. Calderon leaves office with no clear record of successes against the drug cartels operating in northern Mexico.

Pena Nieto has promised the PRI has reformed and rebuilt itself. He has vowed to continue the struggle against the drug cartels. The drug cartels may be relied on to test his promises. Pena Nieto takes office in December 2012.

End of NightWatch.

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