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First World Trade Dispute on Green Energy Settled -with the Next Already in Line

Photo credit: Sebastian KirschThe United States and China solved their dispute over wind energy subsidies. But further cases about green technology could pile up at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the next years without specific regulations between states.

By Sebastian Kirsch

United States officials celebrated, when they announced on June 7th that China had eliminated subsidies for its domestic wind energy sector. The United Steelworkers Union (USW), which initiated the WTO complaint with a 5,800 page petition last year, was relieved to hear about the dispute settlement.

Leo W. Gerard, USW International President, said: “The Steelworkers Union petition and the Obama Administration’s pursuit of our complaint on the Special Fund provisions brought the Chinese to the table with a commitment to end this program.  That’s good news for our members, U.S. companies and American workers”. US Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk joined the ovations, promising, that from now on, “American manufacturers can produce wind turbine components here in the United States and sell them in China”. But the winner of this first WTO dispute on green energy might still be the Chinese.

The case was officially filed in December 2010 by the US, and later joined by Japan and the EU, against Chinese subsidies for domestic wind energy producers. Such measures are prohibited, according to the WTO Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement Article 3.1 b. Subject of the dispute was the Chinese “Ride the Wind” program that endowed localized wind power equipment with special loans between US$6.7 million and $22.5 million per case.

Furthermore, export subsidies for Chinese manufacturers and the “Special Fund for Wind Power Manufacturing” were criticized, supporting domestically produced wind turbines with $92.55 cents/KW. On June 6th, after nearly six months of negotiations under guidance of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), China agreed to intermit the measures criticized by the US.

It is a case that goes deeper than the achieved settlement appears at first sight. The green technology cases US vs. China and Japan vs. Ontario, CA are the first two, brought up to be consulted by the WTO, as no formal guidelines are applicable apart from the Kyoto Protocol, yet. They might set the guidelines, on where the WTO can bring cases of this sector and go beyond simple industrial cases for the benefit of environmental protection.

And even though the United States declared “victory” on this dispute against China, they could have actually lost the battle on the Chinese wind energy market. Marie Wilke, international trade law program officer at the non-governmental organization ICTSD in Geneva said, Chinese officials presented proof in March and April that their criticized “Ride the Wind” program and the export subsidies had already expired in 2009. After cutting down the “Special Fund” over the first quarter of 2011, the last program that would have counted as prohibited subsidy under WTO law was eliminated this year and the dispute settled out of court. And while the official announcement might have been a surprise to the US, it appears to be only a minor issue for the Chinese.

China already world leader in wind energy

Sticking to their programs would have been counterproductive for the Chinese government, Wilke went on to explain. “Subsidies are distorting the market and they are extremely expensive for the government.” And it turns out that these subsidies had already reached their desired effects, long before the United States officially filed the WTO complaint. As in 2009, China became the world leading producer of wind turbines. And with 17GW newly installed wind power last year, is now the biggest market worldwide, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Shi Pengfei, Chinese Wind Energy Association vice-president, told China Daily: “It is understandable that the Chinese government is ending subsidies to an industry that is strong enough to compete with international players.” His statement underlines that the US-American win of the WTO dispute is far less than an actual improvement for foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market. A fact that could quickly weaken Ron Kirk’s and Leo W. Gerard’s expectations for successful integration of US companies on the Chinese market.

In 2009, six domestic wind turbine producers dominated the Chinese market, with 73.8% cumulative market share. The European producers Gamesa and Vestas – the biggest foreign companies on this market in China – combined for a total of 14.9%, according to the 2010 China Wind Power Outlook. The American GE Wind Power played a minor role with 3.7%.

Simone Menshausen, Asia/Pacific consultant of Germany Trade and Invest, the foreign trade association of Germany, evaluated the outcome of the dispute settlement for foreign producers of wind technology. “While equal treatment of foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market is genuinely positive, we have to wait how this will effectively influence the market share of these manufacturers over the next few years.”

Especially the local infrastructure makes it easier for domestic producers to supply new wind energy farms with their products. And according to Simone Menshausen, open tender on the Chinese market, still largely favors domestic companies. While foreign investors have to bear immense additional costs to ship in their material from overseas.

To eliminate these disadvantages, first foreign companies are starting to install their own production sites in China. Like Vestas, the leading global manufacturer of wind turbines, which is equipped with two manufacturing plants in wind energy centers in Tianjin and Hohhot.

But at the same time, the expansion of Chinese manufacturers continues. Two years ago, they started exporting their turbines. The biggest producer Sinovel sold 10 sets of their turbines to India, and Goldwind has set foot on the US market with three sets.  “The subsidizing policies have been running for several years, and they were quite successful. So, the Chinese wind industry became extremely competitive in China, but also in other countries. Whether this development would have occurred, without the subsidies, in the same way, cannot be evaluated at this point”, said Marie Wilke, from ICTSD in Geneva.

Subsidies as common support for global wind energy

While they were highly criticized due to their effectiveness, the Chinese subsidies for wind energy are by no means the only ones granted by governments worldwide. For them, the renewable energy sector is attractive; developing rapidly and promising large numbers of newly created jobs. And above all: it is green.

The loans by the Chinese Development Bank for domestic products under the “Ride the Wind” program proved to be WTO inconsistent. But loan support for the renewable energy sector is a prevalent technique in several other countries, as well. Germany for example, still one of the leading countries in the renewable energy sector, is granting low-interest loans for green technology projects. In 2009, the German development bank of the Federal Republic, KfW, granted specified loans for 54% of all newly installed wind energy generators on the German market.

The difference to the Chinese program however: these loans are not restricted to domestic or local content. Still, 60% of the newly installed turbines in Germany in 2009 were mounted by their domestic manufacturer Enercon, while the Danish competitor Vestas came in second with 19.5%, according to the German Wind Energy Institute.

Explicit data about loan support for domestic or foreign companies are not available from KfW. But Marie Wilke, trade law expert from ICTDS stresses, “These loans are no illegal subsidies under WTO law. They are granted in several countries, specifically promote the wind energy sector and are regular support measures for the economy”.

Feed-in tariffs on the edge of legal subsidies

Apart from low-interest loans, governments are trying to stimulate their renewable energy sector with so called feed-in tariffs. These are surcharges on the market price of wind energy for the producers.

From the US perspective, they were illegally awarded in the Chinese case, for local and domestic content only.  But without this specific restriction, they are applied as large-scale support measures worldwide, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Group.In Europe, feed-in tariffs combined for $19.5 billion in 2009 with Germany alone, spending $9.6 billion of tax money on these subsidies. The United States totaled $18.2 billion.

“The really interesting question for all green technology cases at the WTO is now, if green energy support measures, including feed-in tariffs, as such, are prohibited subsidies under WTO law”, said Marie Wilke. Most governments appear to be operating in a legal grey area, to stimulate the renewable energy industry in their country. And even more so, they are steadily increasing their public debt. Leading European economies like France, United Kingdom and Germany are already indebted for more than 72% of their GDP, 12% above the EU-wide allowed maximum.

Local content – Japan versus Ontario

This connects the second WTO green energy dispute to the US-China case. Japan requested consultations at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body in September 2010, over feed-in tariffs, granted in Ontario, Canada for local content requirements in their “Green Energy Act”.

Local, or domestic content requirements are governmental supports for goods that are produced or sold in a specific country and contain a certain amount of its local or domestic production. These subsidies are inconsistent with WTO law, specifically Article III, 4 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In Ontario, they are granted for local community power projects with additional payment of up to 1.5 CAD-¢ per KW. After a dissatisfactory consultation period, Japan requested the installation of a panel on June 1st, to solve the dispute.

Apart from special treatment of local communities, the Canadian Green program attracted foreign investors, as well. In 2010, South Korean Samsung C&T Trading and Investment Group and Siemens signed an agreement in Ontario – Samsung guaranteeing 16,000 jobs with its project, 300 of which will be created by a new Siemens blade production facility. The Japanese Mission to the WTO would not comment on this issue, but was rather confident of eliminating Canadian subsidies with the help of the WTO.

Industry over environment?

After the first WTO green technology case could be solved out of court, the question is now, whether the WTO is able to handle future cases like this. It will firstly be portrayed this year, when the Japan-Ontario dispute ends with a panel decision of the DSB.

The trade law expert Marie Wilke is quite optimistic. “There are no special regulations in the WTO system regarding climate change issues, but from what we have seen so far, it is well-equipped to handle these disputes”, she said.

But these first cases were only scratching the surface of what might come to court in future disputes. US-China and Japan-Ontario are mainly treated as regular industrial WTO inquiries. They did not tackle the aspect of environmental protection through local content measures.

Robert Howse, international law professor at the New York University presented in March, that the Chinese subsidies for local content were not as easily to be recognized as prohibited subsidies, if the WTO panel and Appellate Body considered Article XX, GATT. This allows exceptions for certain measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

His idea was debated heavily by international law experts. But ultimately, this thinking will determine future cases in front of the WTO. Even the Chinese Ministries of Finance and Energy realized the possibility of this regulatory exception, according to their first statements after the official US complaint in December 2010. They declared that their measures were necessary, due to the high demand for clean energy in China.

The question evolves, how international trade law and environmental protection can be combined, without any binding agreements, so far. The Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of 2012 – the only treaty that demands Annex I countries to implement policies against climate change in concordance with international trade law. The international community will have to take this issue seriously, instead of turning green energy into a carte blanche for national economic success.

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Climate Games: India and China

Photo credit: rajkumar1220 (CC-BY)

By Anna Isaac

Far from the pandemonium of the main plenary at the Bella Centre in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, twenty five of the world’s top leaders and officials are gathered at a small room named ‘Arne Jacobsen’.

It’s December 18, 2009 – the last day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). There’s a sense of unease in the air. Ten days of back and forth negotiations among 192 countries have boiled down to this.

French President, Nicolas Sarkozy is the first to crack under pressure of the climate talks in disarray. “This is utterly unacceptable. This is about the essentials and one has to react to this hypocrisy,” says Sarkozy, venting out his frustration.

After a few minutes of controlled silence, China’s top climate change negotiator, He Yafei counters the French President. In a tone that hides any emotion, Yafei states, “I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I think I’m trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into the arguments and debate about historical responsibility.”

China is not alone in this room full of Western heads of state. China’s arguments are backed by its Asian neighbour – India. Together with his Chinese counterpart, Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister is quick to block any suggestion of global targets for reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

India’s stance in the climate change negotiations is both clear and similar to that of China’s. Ramesh asks the West “not to prejudge options” for developing countries like India and China.

India and China are accused of ‘sabotaging’ the climate change negotiations after an audio clip of this 90 minute meeting was released months later.

These accusations are also fuelled by the fact that just hours after this meeting, another one took place not far from the Arne Jacobsen room.  This one saw French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Britain’s Gordon Brown forced to sit out.  What transpired between Brazil, South Africa, India, China (BASIC countries) and the United States went on to be recognised as the Copenhagen Accord.

Copenhagen has become a sign of the shift in the global balance of powers from the West to the East. The mini-summits at Bella Centre demonstrated the emergence of the BASIC countries. It was at the Arne Jacobsen room that rivals China and India forged closer ties, pushed on by the West to strike a climate deal.

Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, India and China have moved in-step with each other. The two Asian giants speak in a unified voice on issues like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) principle of common but differentiated responsibility, historical responsibility and the Kyoto Protocol. The two governments refuse to accept binding emission reduction targets claiming doing so would harm their economy and prevent it from lifting millions out of poverty.

In Cancun (COP16) last December, India and China both agreed to international verification of domestic climate change mitigation efforts. The two countries also formally agreed last year to continue their cooperation in green technologies and their consultation on climate change negotiations. The warming of ties between the two neighbours has also gone a long way in promoting trade between them. China is India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade moving up to $60 billion in 2010.

But their relationship is not all that rosy. Rivals for several decades now, the two countries went to war in 1962 over a border dispute in the Himalayan region, to the north of India. Issues over the border continue to weigh down upon the Sino-Indian alliance.  New Delhi’s support for the Dalai Lama, and China’s political nearness to Pakistan, India’s arch-rival have also strained their relationship in the past.

The making of Chindia

Much has changed since the Copenhagen summit. The coming together of these former rivals has shaken up the global architecture so much so the Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh refers to India and China together as ‘Chindia’.

There are some key questions however that need answering from the marriage of these two neighbours. Is this alliance one for the long-run? Do India and China have the same shared destiny both on the climate change front and otherwise?

The answer lies in scratching beyond the surface of this relationship. China and India’s alliance grew stronger only after the formation of the BASIC group of countries. Brazil, South Africa, India and China formally agreed to cooperate on the climate change negotiations prior to the Copenhagen Summit in November 2009.

Jorgen Pedersen, an Associate Professor at the Aarhus University in Denmark notes that the BASIC group of countries was created in assertion against the West’s dominance in the climate change negotiations. “What they have in common is in trying to negotiate the strong western culture in the international negotiations. It is hard if you are isolated, it’s better if you are in a group. And they do seem to value that collaboration quite highly,” argues Pedersen.

The dynamics within the group however are entirely different. “India and China have more in common with each other than they do with Brazil and South Africa. The most Brazil and South Africa have in common with India and China are their ratio of rich and poor are largely the same. They also all happen to be major developing economies,” says Pierre Fitter, an Indian journalist who covers climate change for a private television news channel in New Delhi.

With similar population sizes, geopolitical and economic ambitions, as well as a similar energy demand India and China appear to be natural allies.  Fitter points out that Brazil and South Africa are however more willing to take on binding emission targets during climate change negotiations than their Asian counterparts. And it is this diverging interest that has brought India and China closer still.

For India posturing behind a giant like China is beneficial. While both India and China were at the receiving end of much criticism for failing to come up with a legally binding agreement on emission targets at Copenhagen, most of the blame was pinned on Beijing.

Mark Lynas, a climate change advisor to the President of Maldives who was present during negotiations at COP15 says, “Certainly in Copenhagen I got the feeling that China was in the driving seat and India was a passenger.”

Despite New Delhi toeing the same line as Beijing during the negotiations, China attracted more blame given that its total carbon dioxide emissions outpace all the developed countries. Hiding behind China, helps India not only deflect attention from its own emissions but also prevents it from getting isolated.

But what is in it for China to team up with India? Pedersen calls the relationship between the two neighbours “a marriage of convenience.” He says, “you might say India is hiding behind China, but China is also hiding behind India, in the sense, China is using – ‘we are also a developing country’ argument. And that is easier for them if they go together with India and Brazil for that matter.”

According to World Bank figures, one-third of global poverty is located in India. Although China continues to have a large number of poor people, World Bank estimates that the Chinese helped reduce poverty by 475 million people between 1990 and 2005. And this has been achieved through rapid economic progress. In grouping with India, China uses the ‘developing country’ tag to shed much of its global responsibility in tackling climate change.

Both India and China have however become more fearful of the effects of climate change on their countries in recent years. The long summer months of drought together with the floods during the monsoon have pressed the Indian and Chinese leadership to act swiftly on the climate front.

As the world’s fourth largest economy and the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, India came out with an eight-point national action plan on climate change in 2008. The plan includes specific targets for solar energy, expanding forest cover and improving energy efficiency among others.

There has been criticism however that the plans have not been reviewed or monitored. Promode Kant, Director of New Delhi based Institute of Green Economy, a Non-Profit Organisation says, “By nature we (Indians) are not good reviewers of our plans. Our plan of action is always very mysterious.”

Promising to voluntarily cut emissions by 20-25% by 2020 from 2005 levels, Indian journalist Fitter argues that despite its weak efforts, the country is on track to meet its targets. “India charges a very high price for electricity from industries. And industries are anyway on a mission to reduce their energy consumption, thereby it saves costs for themselves – making it more efficient and reducing the emissions of carbon.  And that is the main driver that India has realized to reduce its intensity in the past,” says Fitter.

Contrary to popular opinion, China has devoted much time and money on efforts to mitigate climate change. As China is the world’s largest energy consumer according to the International Energy Agency, its main emphasis has been on reducing energy intensity.

Reports suggest China fell just short of achieving its energy intensity target of 20% by 2010. In its 12th Five Year Plan released this March, China hopes to increase non-fossil energy to 11.4% of its total energy use.

A leader in green technology, a Pew report indicates China outspent the United States in terms of investments in renewable energy in 2010. China spent $54.4 billion dollars on wind energy, solar power and other forms of renewable energy last year. In comparison India spent $4 billion.

Fitter says, “India has not realized it’s an economic opportunity. India has been improving energy efficiency and reducing waste. But it’s not comparable to China. China is in the race to win it and India is in to compete.”

The End Game?

So will India and China’s new bonhomie withstand both time and pressure? It appears this new convergence of interest may not last forever. Lynas suggests, “As the renewable workshop of the world, a time will come I think when the Chinese leadership realizes it is in the interest of both China and the rest of the world to take on much stronger emissions targets and then for the Chinese to sell their technologies to enable to meet them. So it’s possible the Chinese are playing on a game and India will be left at the backwater because it has been less aggressive in terms of how it meets its climate change challenge.”

Kant however argues that the two countries never had a common climate change destiny to begin with. “China and India’s interests are far apart. China is a middle income country and has ambitions of a higher developed country which means it is set on the course of development both economically and strategically,” he says. Kant also points out that while nearly half of India’s population has no access to electricity, China’s energy demands are for reasons beyond alleviating poverty.

So if indeed the Chinese are playing a game and have one-upped India, what then happens to New Delhi’s climate change position? India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has hinted at taking on binding targets in the future. But with India’s per capita emissions negligible in comparison to countries like the United States, New Delhi may not give in to pressures of a binding agreement anytime soon.

Those like Lynas fear there is danger of India being isolated both from its BASIC partners and the developed world if China takes the lead in climate change efforts. Whether India has painted itself into a corner by playing for the wrong team is something its leaders need to ask themselves. For now, it appears that India and China have the same interests but whether or not they have a common climate change destiny is something only the future can tell.

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The Mystery of Syrian Unrest

Demonstrations in Banyas, Syria, May 6th 2011. Photo credit: Syria-Frames-Of-Freedom (CC-BY)

By Elsy Melkonian

Also published on EMAJ Magazine

Syria has boasted a remarkable stability over the last 40 years. Unlike most Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, Syria knew no sectarian rivalries that struggle for power or discrimination policies against minorities or conflicts to set the stage for terrorist groups. People with different beliefs and belongings lived harmoniously maintaining peace and security for many years. However, skirmishes that started in Deraa, March 2011, moved across the country and changed the image upside down. Protesters weren’t pleased with their life in Syria anymore.

For the last three months, revolts have sparked on Fridays after the Muslim prayer at mosques. Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters in Syria demand a greater democracy. While the capital and the main cities remained quiet to date, skirmishes and most violent events took place in villages and smaller towns. Dozens of civilians have fled to the neighboring countries while thousand sought refuge in Turkey.

In its coverage of the clashes, international media speaks of brutal acts committed by the Syrian regime against the civilians. On the other side, Syrian media talk of armed gangs and radical Muslim groups pouring money into the hands of the poor farmers in small town to win them to their side. Besides, terrorist groups (according to the narrative of the Syrian media) are aiming to divide Syria and weaken its spirit of solidarity.  In response to all this noise, Syrian government has pledged to answer the demands of the protesters. So where does Syria stand now?

New Reforms

The unrest that sparked in Deraa urged the Syrian administration to adapt serious reforms. Buthaina Shaaban, president’s advisor, announced that the government is keen on meeting the demands of its people. “We ensure that implementations of these reforms will start soon because the Syrian administration is eager to maintain peace on its territory,” said Shabaan in a press conference held on March 24 in Damascus. These include 20% salary raise for employees of the public sector, more funding for healthcare, increase job opportunities for youths,  democratize the ruling mono-party (Baath Party) system into multi-party system, issue a new media law that protects censorship-free practice of independent media, alongside many other considerations to restructure life in Syria.

Shaaban’s speech made Syrians happy. Everyone looked forward to see the fruitful results of her promises. “I’m impatiently waiting to receive the salary raise,” says M.T., a school teacher on condition of anonymity, “It would help the people to face high living expenses“.

In fact, reforms are not new to the Syrian society although to date they were only related to economy. When Bashar Al Assad became a president in 2001 he worked on moving the country from its older socialist style economy to a free market. In practice everything started in 2004 when private schools, banks and companies sprung up across the country.  The modest middle class emerged to run small and medium size businesses. Moreover, the government authorized foreign ownership to encourage investment, but investors were mainly Turks or Arabs from the gulf.

However, the recent reform promises are still questionable. Shaaban’s speech was given on the 24th of March. To date, not much change is visible. Minister Shaaban announced that a new media law will replace the current law soon.  Discussions are still ongoing with no consensus on a final version. The 20% raise of salaries wouldn’t empower the citizens to face the inflation storm.

In 2010, UNDP experts published The Third National MDGs Progress Report which gives the index for poverty line during the period of 1997-2007. The report aimed at gaining insights from the past to plan for the next ten years. People who live in extreme poverty fell from 14.24 percent to 11.4 percent in 2004. In 2007 this figure deteriorated to 12.7 which mean that 6.7 million people are considered to be poor out of 21 million of total population. Hence, reforms which started with Bashar AlAassad did not contribute much to the boost the economic climate.

President Assad has successfully created an image of himself within Syria as a reformer, but without delivering much,” says Christopher Phillips, Syria Specialist at the Economist’s Intelligence Unit in London. “Assad has talked of reforms while retaining political power and overseeing a growth in corruption. Even his economic reforms have served only to benefit a modest middle class, while poverty and unemployment have increased due to poor management, lack of planning and high levels of corruption,” Phillips continues.

Questioning Human Rights during unrest

When protests sparked in Syria to ask for greater democracy, much violence was involved. The government was accused of using gunfire and mass arrest against civilians in its attempt to end these riots. However, the Syrian government stressed, in its recent reform plan, that only peaceful demonstrations are allowed. This means that citizens should approach authorities in advance to obtain a letter of approval.

I participated in the demonstrations that support President Assad,” says Michael Bitar a Syrian citizen. “We marched the whole city with no problem with authorities, but those who use weapons against fellow civilians, of course, should be punished. They are harming humans and public property,” he argues. “To set an example, there were peaceful demonstrations in front of the residence of the French Council. The goal was to send Sarkozy a message regarding the sanctions he is trying to force on Syria. We were all safe,” Bitar says.

On the other side, Human Rights Organizations, such as Amnesty International and others ignored all peaceful demonstrations and reported only on riots and clashes between the government and the protesters. Syrian government’s use of violence to solve the trouble was strongly condemned and was described as “brutal”.

A report entitled “We’ve Never Seen Such Horror” by the New York-based Human Rights Watch was issued to sharply criticize violations of human rights in Syria during the unrest. The 54 page report contains interviews with the citizens of Deraa, the town where protests began. In this book, beatings, torture, and killings were described by witnesses of riots, yet with no specificities. The explanation to that, as it was mentioned in the report, was because the government decided to bar international reporters from accessing needed information.

Syria has an authoritarian closed regime,” says Mohdi Mouzzaffari, expert on Middle Eastern issues and professor at Aarhus University, “Barring the international media from accessing the country sends mixed messages. If Syrian government claims that armed groups are creating terror, they should allow international reporters in to verify their claim.”

The Syrian problem through the eyes of media

International media dedicated a fair share of its pages to cover Middle Eastern uprisings and Syria had a fair share too. Replacing reality footage with amateur videos found on You Tube and other social media, CNN, BCC, Reuters and other international mainstream outlets reported on the brutality of the regime against its people. Conversely, most Arabic Televisions, better defined as state propaganda to all ruling governments, reported on how Syrian police are killed by armed gangs and terrorists.

Surprisingly, Reuters’ correspondent to Syria Khaled YAacob Aweis was accused of filing false news against Syria and by leaning on stories told by ordinary people as ‘the news to be broadcasted’ without checking the accuracy of these stories. This led to withdrawal of Aweis’s accreditation in Damascus. Australian channel ABC confirmed that Reuters’ reports on Syria were false as pictures of civilians being beaten by armed force belong to neighboring countries and non-Syrian streets. As a result Syrian authorities barred all international correspondents from accessing the country.

Obviously Reuters was not the only one. Aljazeera, which has proven itself as an emblem for independent media in the Arab World, filed similar reports too. “I was enjoying a Friday lunch and a sunny afternoon with my family as we usually do in Aleppo,” says Hala, a young pharmacist from Aleppo, Syria’s second city. “Watching the television while having my lunch I suddenly saw breaking news on Aljazeera reporting on riots in Aleppo. That’s unbelievable! Aleppo has remained very quiet during the entire period of revolts.”

News on Syrian state TV refers to enemies who endeavor to weaken Syria’s solidarity and spark sectarian rivals. In his speech President Assad describes demonstrations that broken out in the Deraa, Hama, and other Syrian cities as chaos. “We are for supporting people’s demands, but we cannot support chaos”,” The chaos that presidents spoke of resulted in dozens of people killed every day.”

I’m sad for what’s happening in Syria,” says Osama Al Tessini a Syrian expatriate based in Germany. “I know there are false reports, but I’m sure that there is some truth in it since I’m in contact with my friends in Syria. This way I’m able to get see the clear picture, while the International viewer doesn’t have the chance to hear the natives. Out there is the international media.”

Cloudy future?

The future of the Syria under the current circumstances is hard to predict. The regime is still able to control the situation and the army is showing full support. “In Egypt the army sided with the public leaving Moubarak alone to face his destiny, “says Professor Mouzzaffari. “The Syrian army maintains loyalty to Bashar AlAssad, and that’s what is empowering the Syrian administration to stand on a solid ground. Speaking of the sanctions, I think that the Europeans states want to have a similar reaction to Syria as they reacted to Libya, but sanctions against the Syrian regime are unlikely for the time being.”

Those who survived the revolution experience, such as the Egyptians, think it is the only way leading to democracy and that it should be repeated in Syria. “Let Syrians choose their leader through fair and transparent elections,” says Hanan Solayman, an Egyptian activists and journalist. “The road to democracy is not immediate, but we’re living a transitional period.”

With similar uprisings in the Arab region, however, there were no filed reports on Reuters or Aljazeera. International media’s coverage is outraging the international public opinion through streaming violent videos. For the Syrian viewer, who is able to hear both sides, it is confusing to reach a right judgment. He is torn between the urgent need for serious reforms of the political and the socio-economic make up of his country, waiting for the leader who showed willingness to reform and mourning the killed and the wounded people every Friday.

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