Gorbachev Speaks Out — Ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has criticized new laws passed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as “attacks on the rights of citizens” in an interview with the BBC. The new laws include stricter punishments for libel, fines for organizing unauthorized protests and a looser definition of treason and restrictions on the Internet. Gorbachev also told the British broadcaster that Putin’s inner circle consists of “many thieves and corrupt officials.”
Australia-North Korea Relations — The Australian government has rejected North Korea’s proposal to reopen an embassy in Canberra because of Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month, notes Reuters. Australia is among the few Western countries that have diplomatic ties with North Korea, which opened its first embassy in Canberra in May 2002. The embassy was closed in 2008 and Pyongyang submitted a proposal to reopen it this year. Australia, a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, has condemned North Korea’s nuclear tests and has called for tougher international sanctions against the pariah state.
Prison Camps — Staying with North Korea, and a new report by Amnesty International shows that the nation is blurring the lines between its prison camps and surrounding villages, notes VOA News. Commercial satellite images indicate that North Korea has expanded the perimeters of the sprawling Camp 14 which lies 43.5 miles (70 km) north of Pyongyang. The rights group said the regime has expanded prison check points and guard towers over the past seven years and tightened its control over the camp’s surrounding villages, blurring the status of local inhabitants. Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are believed to be held in prison camps where torture, rape, forced labor and executions are common. A session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee meets Monday in Geneva and delegates are expected to receive a special rapporteur report on serious and systematic human rights violations that are reportedly taking place.
Egyptian Election Delay – Judges in Egypt have postponed the country’s parliamentary elections, which were due to take place next month, reports the Guardian. Cairo’s Administrative Court ruled that the law governing the elections, which were expected over four stages from April 22, should be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court. Nominations were meant to open at the weekend. The elections have already been boycotted by the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition, which said it would not participate because the electoral law favored Islamist allies of president Mohammed Morsi. The decision is likely to deepen the political crisis between Morsi and his opponents. Several cities are experiencing civil unrest, writes the Daily Telegraph, which points out that the latest ruling has already led commentators to fear Egypt is becoming a “failed state.”
Japan Shake-Up – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in an attempt to revive Japan’s sluggish economy, is showing an increasing willingness to take on sections of the country’s establishment, reports the New York Times. Abe has already forced out the head of the central bank, and his replacement has vowed to fight crippling deflation that has eroded profits and wages and stifled spending, writes the Times. Abe is also expected to announce that Japan will negotiate on an American-led Pacific free-trade pact. The Obama administration hopes the pact will temper China’s growing economic and political power, but it could also force Japan to open its markets – potentially upsetting its politically influential farmers, notes the NYT.
Kenya Election Claims – A leading candidate in Kenya’s general election has accused Britain of trying to manipulate the result, reports the BBC. An official from Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition accused the British High Commissioner, Christian Turner, of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated” meddling. The official said Turner had been “canvassing” in an attempt to deny the coalition outright victory. Britain has denied the claims. Early results put Kenyatta ahead of his rival Raila Odinga, writes the BBC, but there have been delays in counting as the electronic system has crashed. Kenyatta is due to stand trial at the International Criminal Court next month, after being accused of fuelling violence which broke out after Kenya’s last general election in 2007, killing more than 1,000 people.