Putin’s fabulous wealth: Russian President Vladimir Putin is spending billions of dollars on outrageously opulent palaces, yachts, and jets for his personal use, opposition leaders said this week. “His lifestyle can be compared to that of a Persian Gulf monarch,” said Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk in a report detailing the president’s unprecedented expansion of leadership perks since he was first elected in 2000. To travel among his private palaces, coastal villas, and luxury ski lodges, Putin can choose from his fleet of 15 helicopters, four yachts, and 43 airplanes, including one with gold-plated bathroom fixtures.
Hundreds of bodies: Government forces killed some 400 people in the town of Daraya last week, in the worst single massacre in the 17-month conflict. One survivor said the Syrian army and pro-regime militias stormed through the streets, ordering people up against walls before spraying them with machine-gun fire. The onslaught caused tens of thousands of Syrians to flee. Some 80,000 are already in Turkey, tens of thousands are in Jordan, and U.N. refugee officials said thousands more try to leave each day. “The international community must make a move before it’s too late,” said Abdelbaset Sieda of the opposition Syrian National Council.
Corrie death ruled accidental: An Israeli court has ruled that the military was not responsible for the 2003 death of American activist Rachel Corrie. Corrie, then 23, was crushed to death as she stood in front of an Israeli military bulldozer to try to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. In the wrongful-death suit brought by Corrie’s parents, the judge called the death a “regrettable accident,” adding, “She chose to put herself in danger.” Her fellow activists said Corrie was wearing an orange vest and should easily have been seen by the driver. Corrie’s family said they would appeal the judge’s ruling.
Don’t touch Syria: Iran scored a public-relations win this week by hosting its largest-ever event, the summit of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement. Despite U.S. pressure to boycott the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended, and dozens of foreign ministers agreed to support a document, drafted by Iran, calling on nations to stay out of the conflict in Syria. “Our objective is to facilitate the resolution of Syria’s problem and to help resolve the problem without others’ interference,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. NAM was formed during the Cold War as a group of nations not allied with the U.S. or the Soviet Union; it has struggled for relevance since the end of the Cold War.
Taliban atrocity: The Taliban beheaded 17 people, including two women, in Helmand province this week, apparently for attending a mixed-gender party with music and dancing. The Taliban rigidly enforce segregation of the sexes in areas where they still hold sway. When they ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S. invasion, mixed dancing was illegal and girls couldn’t go to school. Elsewhere in Afghanistan this week, an Afghan soldier opened fire on U.S. troops, killing two. It was the latest in a rash of what the Pentagon calls “insider attacks,” which have undermined morale and trust in the coalition.
Sit to pee: Taiwan’s government wants men to sit down to urinate in the interest of cleanliness. The country’s Environmental Protection Administration has directed local governments to put up signs in public restrooms requesting that men sit so they are less likely to leave a mess. “We want to learn from Japan and Sweden,” said the EPA’s Yuan Shaw-jing. “In Japan, we heard 30 percent of the men sit.” A Swedish political party recently published research showing that men empty their bladders more thoroughly while sitting.
Muslim cleric murdered: Muslims rioted and ransacked Christian churches in Kenya’s second-largest city this week after a radical cleric was killed in a drive-by shooting, the fifth Islamist cleric to be murdered in four months. “There’s been shops set on fire, looting, police trying to control the situation with tear gas but so far apparently failing,” said Ben Lawrence of Human Rights Watch. The preacher, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, was accused by the U.S. of supporting al-Shabab, an al Qaida–linked terrorist group in neighboring Somalia. Human-rights groups accuse the police of killing the clerics, while the police accuse al-Shabab, saying the group is trying to radicalize Kenyan Muslims.