Margaret Thatcher’s son in prison

The wife and children of Mark Thatcher who has been charged in connection with an alleged coup plot have flown out of South Africa on a US flight via London. Texan-born Diane Thatcher and the couple's two children left their Cape Town home on Monday bound for Heathrow. A spokesman for the family said the children were to be enrolled in an American school. Sir Mark is under house arrest after being accused of financing a planned coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. It is unclear if Diane Thatcher plans to meet her mother-in-law, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when she touches down in London. Baroness Thatcher returned to Britain from a holiday in the US last week after her son's arrest. Sir Mark was arrested at his home and released on a two million Rand (Ј165,000) bail bond but ordered to remain in the country ahead of a hearing in November. He is accused of violating laws banning South African residents from taking part in foreign military action. Sir Mark says he is innocent and he is co-operating with the authorities, informs BBC News. According to Globe and Mail, the world press has had a field day ever since Mark Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, was arrested in South Africa for his alleged involvement in an attempted mercenary coup. Journalists cannot resist a story that connects, however tangentially, a mummy's boy and mercenaries, characters with silly nicknames such as Smelly and Scratcher, desperate missives from the bowels of an African prison, corrupt dictators, and large amounts of weapons and cash. But Mr. Thatcher's arrest on suspicion of financing a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea is a sideshow. Even if he's found guilty, and that's a big if, he would prove to be a bit player in the larger story, the attempt by powerful people to profit from Equatorial Guinea's oil. The same can be said of the 68 hapless mercenaries imprisoned in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, the 18 on trial in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, and the two in custody in South Africa. The cast list of the alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea reads as if straight out of a cold-war thriller: An aging mercenary determined to organize his last big job, the corrupt leader of a tiny oil-rich nation, and the playboy son of the former leader of a world power. The titillating story, which first came to light with the detention of 70 men on the runway of a Zimbabwean airport on March 7, hit international headlines again last week with the arrest by South African police of Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is accused of partially financing the overthrow of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the strongman of Equatorial Guinea, a small country on Africa's west coast. The plot allegedly planned the takeover of the continent's third-largest oil producer. To many observers, the tale is another example of Africa's political instability. But African security experts say that the foiling of the plot, which required intelligence cooperation among three different African nations, actually points to an end of a tolerance of the African coup. "We've entered a new era," says John Stremlau, head of the international relations department at the University of Witwatersrand here. "Around the region over the last few years, you've seen an increased willingness to be more assertive in the face of this kind of action." Postcolonial Africa has been hobbled by illegitimate political takeovers. According to research by Patrick McGowan, a professor of political science at Arizona State University in Tempe, in sub-Saharan Africa between 1956 and 2001 there were 80 successful coups, 108 failed coup attempts, and 139 reported coup plots. There have been 11 attempted or successful coups since then. Professor Stremlau and others say that there has been a marked change in the way Africa responds to unconstitutional changes in government, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

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