Let Americans adopt: Thousands of Russians marched in the bitterly cold streets of Moscow this week to protest a new ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. Russia has more than 700,000 orphans and only some 18,000 Russian families willing to adopt. The Russian government passed the ban last month in response to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. travel ban against certain Russian officials accused of human rights abuses. The adoption ban has reignited the ire of the middle-class opposition toward President Vladimir Putin, whose re-election sent more than 100,000 people into the streets last year, but the ban is not unpopular among ordinary Russians. Russian media have widely publicized cases of orphans being abused or killed by their adoptive parents in the U.S.  

Pollution acknowledged: The smog suffocating Beijing has gotten so bad that Chinese media this week conceded that something must be done. Visibility in the city is so poor that flights have been canceled and some highways closed, and the level of particulates in the air soared to 35 times the World Health Organization’s safety limit. In a dramatic break with precedent, television news programs and state newspapers called for better environmental protection. China’s new leaders “appear to be sending a signal that they want to allow more criticism on the environment,” said Liu Jianqiang, editor of China Dialogue. “Leaders are aware that the people can wait 20 years or more for democracy, but they can’t wait that long for clean air.”

PM ordered arrested: In a boost for the opposition, Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a corruption case. Outside the parliament building, charismatic anti-government activist Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri led thousands of demonstrators in calling for parliament’s ouster, saying that only the judiciary and the military could be trusted. Opposition leader Imran Khan said the government should resign and call new elections. The turmoil comes at a delicate time, as hostilities broke out again last week between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, and two Indian soldiers were killed. 

The other side of the story: Offended by the accolades for Ben Affleck’s film Argo, Iran is making its own movie about the 1979 hostage crisis. Argo, which took Best Drama at the Golden Globes, tells the story of the CIA-orchestrated rescue of six U.S. Embassy employees who were hidden by Canadian diplomats while dozens of their colleagues were held hostage in the embassy. Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini said the making of Argo was “an offensive act” driven by “evil intentions,” and he has banned its release in Iran. Last week Iranian director Ataollah Salmanian said he will write and direct Iran’s government-financed response, to be titled The General Staff.

Damascus, Syria
Chemical weapons: The State Department believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas on his own people last month. Citing secret diplomatic cables, said U.S. diplomats in Turkey had thoroughly investigated Syrian rebel claims that a deadly chemical weapon was dropped on Homs just before Christmas, and concluded that the evidence was “compelling.” Videos circulating on the Web purportedly show the Homs victims gasping for breath and choking on their own vomit; at least five people died. President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would be a “red line” that would trigger an unspecified U.S. response. The attack is believed to have been a single shell of one of the less lethal gases in Assad’s arsenal. 

Mursi the anti-Semite: Three-year-old videos of Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi railing against Jews surfaced this week, prompting calls from Washington for him to firmly repudiate his words. In one 2010 video, Mursi, then head of the Muslim Brotherhood, said Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews. In another, he called Israelis “bloodsuckers and warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs,” and urged Palestinians to take up arms. The White House called on Mursi to make clear that the “deeply offensive” rhetoric is “not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt,” but added that Mursi should be judged on his actions, including his reaffirmation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Mursi had no immediate comment.

Bamako, Mali
France takes on Islamists: France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, launched airstrikes last week at Mali’s request, to bomb the country’s northern region, which was seized last year by an Islamist alliance of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and local Ansar Dine rebels. The militants have imposed sharia law and destroyed ancient shrines in the historic city of Timbuktu. French President François Hollande said France would increase its initial deployment of 750 troops to 2,500 and continue leading the fight against the rebels until African Union troops can take charge, a process that could take months. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. supports the French intervention. In retaliation for the French action, Islamic terrorists seized a gas field in neighboring Algeria, killing two foreigners and taking at least another 20 captive, including some Americans.