A few interesting things from the last few days:
Franco-Russian energy tie-up. Ever wonder why Jacques Chirac decided to give Vladimir Putin the Légion d'honneur, France's highest decoration? Or why he invited him to his birthday dinner in Riga? Could it be anything to do with this? So much for the EU speaking with "one voice" on Russia...
Democracy- Iran style. For an interesting analysis of the recent Iranian elections check out the Head Heeb. The author Jonathan Edelman cautions against seeing the result as a victory for the reformers, despite their gains. Instead it should be seen as a victory for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who managed to stop President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his spiritual mentor Ayatollah Mohammed Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi from taking control of the Assembly of Experts, which would have allowed them to replace Khamenei and concentrate power in the hands of the President. His tactics? Simple: just use the Guardian Council to block two-thirds of candidates - particularly those who were pro-Ahmedinejad.
"What a sorrow has fallen the Turkmen people": President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan has died of heart failure. The colourful but oppressive Niyazov was known for spending his country's considerable energy wealth on grand schemes such as a huge, man-made lake in the Kara Kum desert, a vast cypress forest to change the desert climate, and an ice palace outside the capital. He gave himself the title of Turkmenbashi "Great Leader of all Turkmen." He ordered the months and days of the week named after himself and his family, and had statues of himself erected throughout the nation. He even built a statue of himself on top of the capital's neutrality arch which rotates 360 degrees so that it is always facing the sun. Modestly, he said “I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want.” Children pledged allegiance to him every morning in schools before studying from books he had written. His writings were also required reading for driving tests and for all adults on Saturdays.