By JON WILLIAMS
Saudi Arabia is not exactly known for People Power. Activists intend to use President Obama’s visit to Riyadh to focus the world’s attention on the desert kingdom. Women in Saudi Arabia will defy their nation’s de facto ban on them driving by getting behind the steering wheel. Over the past six months, a campaign for change has gathered pace on social media. The activists say their long-term goal is not just to win Saudi females the freedom to drive, but to clear a path for broader democratic reforms. While it is still uncommon to see women driving in Saudi Arabia, they have been sending videos and photos of themselves behind the wheel to the campaign’s organizers, who then upload the footage to YouTube almost daily. Amnesty International urged the president to select a female Secret Service agent as his driver while in Saudi Arabia — a move that is highly unlikely, since Obama is coming to the kingdom for the first time since 2009 to repair strained relations between the U.S. and its Arab ally.
At the end of next week, the newest British royal gets his first taste of things to come. Baby George along with William and Kate head for New Zealand at the start of a three week tour down under. For William, it’s a case of déjà vu all over again. He first made the trip to Australia and New Zealand when he was just 9-months-old and accompanying Prince Charles and Diana. William and Kate are set to cover the length and breadth of both countries in just 18 days. While in Queenstown they will brave the world-famous 50 mph “Shotover Jet,” and will race each other across Auckland harbor in America’s Cup yachts. Both will also pay tribute to earthquake in Christchurch, and visit Australia’s sacred Uluru or Ayers Rock. The tour represents Prince George’s first royal engagements – he’s expected to appear at least once in both New Zealand and Australia, countries he’s likely, one day, to rule.
Millions of people around the world will switch off lights at 8.30 p.m. local time today for 60 minutes to mark WWF’s annual Earth Hour. Now in its eighth year, the mass participation event to show support for environmental issues comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to launch its latest report in Japan on Monday, outlining how global warming will affect wildlife, food supplies, water and the weather. Among the world’s famous landmarks that will dim their lights are London’s Buckingham Palace, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey – and the Empire State Building. Launched in Australia in 2007, WWF says Earth Hour has now grown to become the world’s biggest environmental event. Last year more than 7,000 towns and cities in 154 countries took part.
Nine months ago, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had dinner at the White House as President Obama welcomed “his friend” and said the visit reflected the “importance of the partnership with Prime Minister Erdoğan.” Within weeks antigovernment protests had begun in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Erdoğan has since been plagued by an ever-widening corruption scandal, fed by leaked wiretapped conversations of the prime minister, that cost several cabinet ministers their jobs. On Sunday, Turkey goes to the polls in local elections that have become a referendum on Erdogan’s rule. In the run up to the election, the Turkish government blocked YouTube, Twitter and restricted local media, drawing international outrage. YouTube and Twitter have become fronts in an increasingly public and bitter power struggle between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based imam and former ally who has in the past two years become the premier’s nemesis. Polls suggest Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, is still likely to win the local elections, but last summer’s harsh crackdown on protesters has undermined the popularity Erdoğan has enjoyed since taking office in November 2002. The outcome of Sunday’s election sets the tone for the subsequent presidential election in August.
Nest week the Formula 1 roadshow rolls in Bahrain – three years after protests began in the island nation. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets at the same time as demonstrations began in Egypt and Libya. But while the protests cost Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi their “thrones,” Bahrain’s King Hamad is still on his, despite continuing unrest in the gulf that just this month saw three policemen killed by a bomb outside the capital Manama. The kingdom’s Shiite majority have been protesting for greater rights from the Gulf-Arab nation’s Sunni monarchy. They’re planning to use the grand prix to focus attention on the regime’s human rights violations – threatening to burn tires on the streets while the drivers burn rubber on the circuit.