The week at a glance...International


Ankara, Turkey

Fire the cops: Under pressure over a corruption investigation that implicates his government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged the police force in the capital city. Some 350 detectives were exiled to rural areas or downgraded to traffic cops this week, joining more than a dozen of their top commanders who were fired earlier. Erdogan’s critics say the dismissals are an outrageous attempt to interfere with the judicial process. “This is a panic attack by a government acting in haste to prevent further corruption probes,” Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel told The New York Times. The corruption probe alleges that ministers accepted bribes to help a construction tycoon with ties to Erdogan.

Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan

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Girl bomber: The 10-year-old sister of a Taliban commander said this week she was given a suicide vest and sent to blow up a police checkpoint. But the girl, identified as Spozhmai, had to cross an icy river to reach her target, and was detained when her screams drew the attention of police. President Hamid Karzai condemned the Taliban, saying that “using a child as a suicide bomber is un-Islamic and goes against Afghan culture and beliefs.” Unfortunately, it’s not that rare: Last year, Afghan police intercepted 41 children being trained or outfitted as suicide bombers, all between 6 and 11 years old.


Dark arts: China and Japan’s war of words over the Japanese stance toward its war record turned childish this week after China invoked the evil mastermind of the Harry Potter books. China is angry over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where some of the top Japanese leaders from World War II are buried. “If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan,” wrote Chinese diplomat Liu Xiaoming in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.), “the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of Horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.” A Japanese diplomat responded by saying that China was the one acting like Voldemort by claiming other countries’ islands.

Pyongyang, North Korea

Rodman defends dictator: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman went further than ever this week in his defense of the Stalinist North Korean regime, which starves its people and runs slave labor camps. Rodman, leading a team of former NBA players to play an exhibition game, sang “Happy Birthday” and bowed to dictator Kim Jong Un, whom he called his “best friend.” When asked by CNN whether he would try to free American missionary Kenneth Bae, imprisoned in 2012 after a closed trial, Rodman said, “Do you understand what he did in this country?” The comment appalled Bae’s family. “He clearly doesn’t know anything about Kenneth, about his case,” said Terri Chung, Bae’s sister. “This isn’t some game. This is about a person’s life.”


Puppet accused: The Egyptian regime has accused a puppet of sending coded messages to the Muslim Brotherhood. Prosecutors are investigating allegations that a Vodafone commercial featuring the popular Muppet-like character Abla Fahita contained symbols and code words encouraging Muslims to attack Coptic Christians. The bizarre theory, widely mocked in the press and blogosphere, first surfaced on the blog of “Ahmed Spider,” a strong supporter of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and the military. Vodafone called the allegations “sad” and “irrational.” British-Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr said it was appalling that the government would investigate a puppet “while nobody has been charged for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people at Rabaa,” the mosque where supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi staged protests in July and August.

Benghazi, Libya

Gitmo blowback: U.S. officials suspect a former Guantánamo Bay detainee of leading the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Abu Sufian bin Qumu, an Osama bin Laden associate who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, was released in 2007 to the Libyans, who set him free a year later. He now leads a branch of Ansar al-Sharia, the Islamist group that claimed responsibility for the raid, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. While there is no evidence that al Qaida’s leadership ordered the attack, Qumu does have a personal history of ties to al Qaida as one of the original Arabs to accompany bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Lusaka, Zambia

President is touchy: A Zambian opposition leader has been charged with defamation for comparing the country’s president to a potato. Frank Bwalya, head of the Alliance for a Better Zambia party, faces five years in prison for calling President Michael Sata a chumbu mushololwa, which means a potato or, metaphorically, someone who doesn’t listen to advice. “President Sata is the same old man who was on all radio stations defaming former Presidents [Rupiah] Banda and [Levy] Mwanawasa, and nobody arrested him,” said ABZ Secretary-General Eric Chanda after Bwalya was charged. Sata was elected in 2011 on a pledge to improve freedom of speech and of the press in the former British colony.

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