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Look who’s back

Solomon Islands [POLITICS]

The appointment of former Solomon Islands militant leaders to ministerial posts is being seen as a setback for the Australian-led peacekeeping mission there. Jimmy Lusibaea, the former commander of an ethnic militia that controlled the capital until the 2003 foreign intervention, has been appointed minister of fisheries in the new government. His fellow ex-combatant Manasseh Maelanga – who, like Lusibaea, was jailed for his crimes during the conflict – has been named deputy prime minister.

Both hail from Malaita, the largest island in the Solomons, and their rise is predicted to ­inflame the inhabitants of neighbouring Guadalcanal, who fought the Malaitans during the four years of “the Tensions”. “It will reactivate some of the sources of the troubles,” says Professor Kevin Clements, director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

New prime minister Danny Philip (right) has said he can work with RAMSI, the 15-nation, 600-strong “regional assistance mission”, which has secured law and order in the Solomons for seven years at the expense of some local resentment. But he says changes need to be made to its mandate.

Clements believes Philip’s government, which includes members with close links to ­lucrative gambling and logging concerns, will “give RAMSI a rough road”. “If RAMSI affects those personal commercial interests, then I think it’s highly likely they’ll start whipping up popular discontent with the mission. There’s a lot of potential for this to sour,” he says.

Three challenges posed by the new government:

  1. The election of a former warlord to a ministerial post is tipped to rekindle ethnic tensions.
  2. The new prime minister’s “forgiveness bill” to exonerate ex-militants threatens to undermine the nascent reconciliation process.
  3. The Australian-led intervention force will prove an easy political target if it acts against new MPs’ commercial interests.

Time for change

Samoa [TIME ZONES]

Samoa is considering shifting the international dateline to make it one see in the new day. If adopted, it will be the latest in a series of schemes to bring the island nation closer in line with former colonial ruler New Zealand, currently nearly a full day ahead. But the shift of dateline would spell an end to one of Samoa’s most famous claims: being the last place on Earth to watch the sun set.

Do the walk

Sydney [TRANSPORT]

Sydney’s transport system is set for a major overhaul over the next five years after the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, signed off on a new pedestrian-friendly plan for the city centre. Pedestrians will be given priority at busy intersections in peak hours, countdown timers are to be installed at crossings to decrease waiting times and the speed limit is to be lowered to 25mph. But the key change will be to the city’s light rail system (right), which will be extended to cover busier routes. It currently only covers tourist attractions and the city’s Inner West, meaning it is largely ignored by locals.

Petrol in paradise

New Zealand [OIL & GAS]

New Zealand may be sitting on a sea of oil. While the country itself is slender, it controls a 5.7 million sq km undersea area that has been called Zealandia. Oil companies now believe that 20 per cent of it may hold significant oil and gas reserves. There is already one producing field, off Taranaki on the North Island, and drilling is due to start off the coast of Northland, to the north of Auckland.

But environmentalists fear a mishap, such as that which took place in the Gulf of Mexico, could ruin the country’s unique wildlife, while others worry about the impact on the country’s “100% Pure” tourism brand.

Dangling carrot

New Zealand [POLITICS]

Tax-free apples and avocados could soon be on kitchen tables across New Zealand. In an effort to promote healthy eating, the country’s opposition Labour Party has promised to scrap the 15 per cent tax on fruit and vegetables. Some economists doubt it will make food cheaper though – supermarkets may just pocket the difference.

Militant Maori mum

New Zealand

The members of New Zealand’s Harawira family are the country’s most militant advocates for Maori rights. Titewhai, the matriarch, once reduced the then prime minister Helen Clark to tears, while her son, Hone, attacked a group of students with a baseball bat for drunkenly performing the Maori haka war dance. He’s now an MP.

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