The week at a glance...International
MoscowMuch ado about Mayans: Russian members of parliament have written to the country’s three main TV stations demanding that they stop airing programs about a Mayan doomsday prophecy that the world will end on Dec. 21. Many Russians have become so obsessed with the impending apocalypse that the Kremlin’s minister for emergency situations took the unusual step of issuing official reassurance last week that the world was not about to end. He did note, however, that Russians would remain vulnerable to blizzards and transportation problems—a prediction that rapidly came true on the weekend, with a 125-mile, three-day traffic jam on the snowbound motorway between St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Koshu, Japan Tunnel collapse: Nine people were killed this week after massive slabs of concrete fell onto cars in the Sasago tunnel, one of Japan’s largest. Survivors said fire broke out after the tunnel’s ceiling began to collapse on a stretch of road linking Tokyo to Nagoya. Rescue efforts were suspended for several hours as thick, black smoke issued from the tunnel, and another collapse was feared. Rescuers were criticized for reportedly taking three hours to reach the crash site. The accident has raised questions about the safety of the 1,500 road tunnels that cut though Japan’s many mountainous areas. Media reports said the firm operating the Sasago tunnel had relied on basic visual inspections since its construction in 1977; police raided the firm’s offices this week.
Hainan, China China asserts ‘right to board’: Provincial authorities on Hainan Island dramatically ramped up China’s territorial dispute with its neighbors by giving Hainan maritime police the right to board, search, and seize control of any vessel deemed to have “illegally entered” waters China claims in the South China Sea. Chinese patrol boats frequently chase foreign vessels away from disputed waters, but the new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, claims far more aggressive powers. Vietnam this week accused China of cutting a seismic cable linked to a Vietnamese vessel searching for oil and gas in the Gulf of Tonkin, and said it would send out patrols to keep Chinese fishing vessels out of what it says are Vietnamese national waters.
Compostela Valley, Philippines Storm kills hundreds: Typhoon Bopha ripped through the Philippines this week, leaving at least 283 people dead and 300 missing. Another 170,000 were driven from their homes. “Entire families were washed away,” said Manuel Roxas, the Philippine interior minister. The country’s southern island of Mindanao was hardest hit, with 160 killed in Compostela Valley, where villagers and soldiers had gathered in emergency shelters and in a military camp. “They thought they were already secure in a safe area, but they didn’t know the torrents of water would go their way,” said the provincial governor, Arturo Uy. The Philippines typically experiences about 20 typhoons a year, many of them deadly.
Cairo Clashes at the palace: President Mohammed Mursi had to flee the presidential palace this week after more than 100,000 people gathered outside to protest his assumption of nearly universal powers. When he returned a day later, his Muslim Brotherhood supporters rallied outside and clashed with the mostly secular protesters. Tensions have flared in Egypt since Mursi ruled last month that he was above judicial oversight. Protesters chanted slogans reminiscent of the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and accused the Brotherhood of hiring gangs to rape women and beat men who protest in Tahrir Square. “I believe thugs are being paid money to do this,” said Magda Adly, director of the Nadeem Center for Human Rights. “The Muslim Brotherhood have the same political approaches as Mubarak.”