The week at a glance...International
Was it an accident? A Mauritanian soldier says he shot President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz by mistake. The soldier, 1st Lt. Elhaj Ould Hamoudi, appeared on national TV to explain that he opened fire on the unmarked car the president was riding in last week because it did not stop at an army checkpoint. That story departs from the army’s initial statement, which many Mauritanians believe, that called the shooting an assassination attempt. Abdel Aziz, who was wounded in the arm, has many enemies. Pro-democracy forces oppose him for seizing power in a military coup in 2008, while many in the military resent him for purging officers who did not support the coup. He has also become a target of al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb because of his forces’ attacks on suspected terrorist camps in neighboring Mali.
Bani Walid, Libya
Qaddafi loyalists defeated: After a three-week siege, pro-government militias this week took the town of Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of supporters of ousted Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The pretext for the assault was the murder of Omran Shaban, the man who discovered Qaddafi hiding in a drain pipe and hauled him out to be killed. Shaban was tortured to death in late September by Qaddafi loyalists. In response, a militia surrounded the town, cut off electricity and water, and began indiscriminate shelling, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. Thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, have fled. “This is worse than it was during the civil war,” one resident told TheDailyBeast.com.
Hamas gets a visitor: Gaza’s diplomatic isolation is over. Amid cheering crowds, the emir of Qatar this week became the first head of state to visit Gaza since the Islamist militant group Hamas took power there in 2007. “Your visit today officially announces the break of the economic blockade and political blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by the forces of injustice,” Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said. Palestinian officials in the West Bank denounced the visit, as did Israel. “Hamas is internationally recognized as a terror group,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “By hugging Hamas publicly, the emir of Qatar has thrown peace under the bus.”
Leaders squabble publicly: A long-simmering power struggle between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s powerful judiciary burst into public view this week as both sides challenged each other’s authority. The judiciary denied Ahmadinejad permission to go to Evin prison to visit his press secretary, who in a humiliating slap to the president was imprisoned in September on charges of insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad responded with an open letter saying he didn’t need the clerics’ permission and insinuating that at least one of the brothers of Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, head of the judiciary, was corrupt. “Ahmadinejad, with his shrewd moves and games, is every day inciting the centers of power,” said Iranian journalist Mehdi Mahdavi Azad.
Claims of torture: A leading Russian opposition figure says he was kidnapped and tortured by Russian security agents. Russian authorities say Leonid Razvozzhayev, a top aide to a leader of the opposition Just Russia party, voluntarily confessed to planning the riots and demonstrations that took place in May, the day before President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated. But Razvozzhayev has told human rights activists that he was kidnapped in Ukraine, where he was trying to apply for political asylum, and then forced by masked men to sign a confession. “They tortured me,” he yelled this week as he was led from a courtroom into a police van. “They tortured me for two days.” Razvozzhayev fled Russia in early October, after the Kremlin aired a documentary that purported to show him and other opposition figures plotting with a Georgian official.
Paju, South Korea
Propaganda and socks: Activists in South Korea have sent tens of thousands of balloons carrying socks, candy, and anti-regime messages over the border into North Korea. The activists, mostly defectors who escaped from North Korea, were forced to abandon their announced launch site, Imjingak park in the border town of Paju, after North Korea threatened “merciless strikes” on the town. But police made only cursory attempts to stop the activists when they boated to an island off the coast and launched from there. Balloon launches are usually not announced ahead of time, but occasionally activist groups broadcast their plans to attract attention to their causes.