The week at a glance...International
Istanbul Tunnel to Europe: Four years late and still unfinished, the world’s deepest underwater train tunnel opened this week, linking the continents of Europe and Asia. Construction was often delayed as workers kept encountering Byzantine and even older ruins under the Bosporus strait, and archaeologists had to be called in. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the route to coincide with Turkey’s 90th birthday, saying the tunnel was part of an “iron Silk Road” that will revive ancient trade routes. But many say the tunnel is not properly fortified to withstand the region’s many earthquakes. Suleyman Solmaz of the Chamber of Architects and Engineers said, “It would be murder to open it under these conditions.”
Damascus, Syria Don’t come back: President Bashar al-Assad has fired his deputy prime minister for meeting with U.S. and Russian officials about a planned peace conference. The official Syrian Arab News Agency said Qadri Jamil was sacked after an “unauthorized absence from his post.” Assad appointed Jamil, a Soviet-educated economist from a tolerated opposition party, last year in an attempt to show his government’s inclusiveness. According to Lebanese media, Jamil has been living in Moscow for the past few weeks, and is seen as “Russia’s man.” Some speculated that he may have tried to defect, while opposition activists said that the apparent firing was actually a ploy that would allow Jamil to infiltrate the peace conference from the opposition side.
Jerusalem Prisoner release stirs protests: Israel this week released 26 Palestinian prisoners, most convicted of murder and jailed for more than two decades, as part of a U.S.-brokered deal to get the two sides talking. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to free a total of 104 prisoners rather than to make a concession on freezing settlement construction or to recognize Palestinian borders, but his decision is not popular. Hundreds of Israelis, many of them relatives of the prisoners’ victims, protested outside the prison. “We are no longer the victims of terrorism,” said Merav Osher, whose father was murdered by one of the released prisoners in 1991. “We are now the victims of the actions of an Israeli government that releases such prisoners.”
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Women drive in protest: Saudi authorities arrested and fined around a dozen of the more than 60 women who participated in a driving protest across the country last weekend. The women were forced to sign a pledge not to drive again, although it’s unclear whether they actually broke any law. Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving is informal: Authorities simply refuse to issue them licenses. Activists said the women who drove in the protest all had valid licenses issued by other countries. To coincide with the protest, Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh released a satirical song, “No Woman, No Drive,” a play on a Bob Marley classic, and the video has garnered more than 6 million views.
Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan Aussies’ war ends: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott paid a surprise visit to Uruzgan province this week to declare an end to Australia’s combat operations in Afghanistan. “Australia’s longest war is ending not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that’s better for our presence here,” he said. Australia, which had the largest non-NATO contingent in the U.S.-led coalition, kept some 1,500 troops stationed in the country, and 40 Australians have been killed there since 2002. Most of the troops will be home by Christmas, Abbott said.
Patna, India Bombing the vote: A deadly terrorist attack on a campaign rally has Indians fearing violence in the run-up to next spring’s elections. Seven small explosions killed seven people and wounded scores at a rally for Hindu nationalist opposition leader Narendra Modi that drew hundreds of thousands of people. One of the three suspects arrested said he belonged to the banned Muslim group Indian Mujahedeen, which has ties to Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba rebels. Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, has been blamed for failing to prevent the Hindu mob attacks in 2002 against Muslims that killed more than 1,000 there. Many worry that his rise to national power could exacerbate tensions between majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
Beijing Uighur attack? A car slammed into crowds of tourists and burst into flames near Mao Zedong’s portrait in Tiananmen Square this week in what officials are calling a terrorist attack. The driver, Usmen Hasan, and his wife and mother, who were in the car, were killed, along with two tourists. Authorities said the Hasans were ethnic Uighurs, Muslims from Xinjiang province. A separatist movement there has sometimes used violent tactics and has been brutally put down several times since the 1980s, most recently in 2009. Police said they found “religious extremist content” in the car and have arrested five Uighurs in connection with the attack.