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Rubber-stamp parliament: Belarus has elected a parliament made up entirely of supporters of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. The beleaguered opposition parties in the repressive former Soviet state boycotted the vote to protest their total lack of coverage by the state-run media and the detention of many of their members. Lukashenko’s landslide win in the fraudulent 2010 presidential election sparked a mass street protest that was brutally suppressed, and many of the hundreds of opposition figures arrested then are still in prison. European observers declared this week’s election to be undemocratic; Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, declared it “free and fair.”
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Assad’s sister flees: Pressure mounted on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week, as his sister fled to Dubai and rebels bombed the army headquarters in Damascus. The blasts left the building in flames and underscored the rebels’ growing ability to strike at the heart of the capital. According to the Saudi-funded TV network Al Arabiya, Assad’s sister, Bushra al-Assad, began to fear for her five children after the death of her husband, one of three top defense officials killed in a July bombing. Bushra was also alarmed over rifts in Assad’s inner circle. Some Alawite religious leaders have reportedly turned on Assad because they fear their entire sect—to which he belongs—will be blamed for atrocities committed by his forces. Meanwhile, heavy fighting also continued in Aleppo, and food began to run short in many cities.
U.S. bases targeted: If Israel attacks Iran, Iran will retaliate by targeting U.S. bases in the Middle East, a top Iranian commander said this week. “There will be no neutral country in the region,” said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, aerospace commander for the Revolutionary Guard. “To us, these bases are equal to U.S. soil.” He said that Iran would assume that any Israeli attack had the support of the U.S. Last week, Iran unveiled an air-defense system that it said is more advanced than the previous, Russian-made system and able to shoot down fighter jets and cruise missiles.
No math for girls: Iranian women are no longer allowed to pursue certain majors—including engineering, computer science, and accounting—at the country’s top universities. Iran has long been a leader in women’s education in the Middle East, and women now make up more than 60 percent of undergrads. The government gave no reason for the new restrictions, although it has expressed alarm at declining birth and marriage rates. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said the regime was trying to “restrict women’s access to education and to return them to the home to weaken the feminist movement.”
North Waziristan, Pakistan
Drone use questioned: Drone attacks in Pakistan kill far more civilians and low-level fighters than known terrorists, according to a new report by researchers at New York University and Stanford. Only 2 percent of those killed are high-level targets, while most of the rest are low-level fighters or civilians. The report said the CIA frequently uses “double strikes,” which kill medics and relatives who come to help those wounded by the first strike. The legal basis for the strikes is shaky, The Wall Street Journal reported this week. It said the CIA notifies Pakistan in advance about the general area of a strike and interprets the government’s silence as “tacit consent.” Officially, though, Pakistan has asked the U.S. to end the strikes.
Film riots continue: Pakistan’s attempt to channel Muslim rage over a U.S.-made film mocking the Prophet Mohammed has backfired tragically. The government declared a national holiday for peaceful protest against the film, but riots broke out and at least 23 people were killed. Rioters set fire to a church, and several banned militant groups joined the protests. As the mayhem subsided, Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offered to personally pay $100,000 to anyone who kills the filmmaker, and he appealed to al Qaida or the Taliban to follow through. The Pakistani government said it did not endorse the bounty.
Foxconn workers riot: A massive riot broke out among some 2,000 workers at a Foxconn manufacturing plant in China this week, injuring at least 40 of them. The brawl was sparked by a rumor that security guards had beaten up one of the many new assembly-line workers who recently arrived from other Foxconn plants. “The guards often abuse their power over the workers,” said Foxconn recruiter Wang Zhiqian. “It’s not a happy place.” Reports on China’s Weibo social networking site claimed that the workers had come to assemble the Apple iPhone 5, but that could not be confirmed. Foxconn makes products for Apple, Sony, and other companies, and has faced criticism for poor working conditions at its factories.
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