The week at a glance...International


Damascus, Syria

Rebels press attack: The Free Syrian Army set off a massive explosion this week near a hotel used by U.N. monitors, but said its real target was a nearby meeting of 150 Syrian military officials. The rebels claimed that they had bribed Syrian officers to plant eight explosive devices inside military headquarters; the extent of casualties was unknown. In his first public appearance since defecting to Jordan, Syria’s ex–Prime Minister Riad Hijab said that President Bashar al-Assad now controls less than one third of the country. “The regime is on the verge of collapse morally, financially, and economically, in addition to cracks in the military,” Hijab said. But the regime is not without assistance: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. had evidence that Iran was building and training a militia to help Assad’s forces.

Varzaqan, Iran

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Deadly earthquakes: Iran has appealed for international help in digging out from two deadly earthquakes that struck the country’s northwest, killing more than 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Buildings collapsed in hundreds of towns, and at least 12 villages were completely destroyed. For two days after the earthquakes, Iran rejected foreign offers of aid, but after legislators criticized the government for its slow response to the earthquakes, officials announced that they would accept help from “any country.” The U.S. State Department said it was making an exception to the sanctions on Iran to allow Americans to donate food and medicine. The 6.4- and 6.3-magnitude quakes hit near the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Strait of Hormuz

Ships collide: A Japanese oil tanker crashed into a U.S. destroyer patrolling the Persian Gulf this week, tearing a 10-foot hole in the destroyer’s side. The Navy said there were no reports of spills or leakages from either the USS Porter or the Otowasan, and both ships made it to port. “We’re just happy there were no injuries,” said Navy spokesman Greg Raelson. “An investigation is under way.” One fifth of the world’s crude oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman, and Iran sometimes threatens to close it in retaliation for Western sanctions over its nuclear program. Next month the already crowded waterway will be the site of military maneuvers by ships from the U.S. Navy and 20 American allies.

Da Nang, Vietnam

Agent Orange cleanup: Almost four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. has for the first time begun a major cleanup of Agent Orange contamination. The U.S. military sprayed some 20 million gallons of the herbicide, which is also toxic to humans, to clear jungles over an area of Southeast Asia the size of New Jersey. The poison lingers in the soil and water, and since the war, tens of thousands of Vietnamese children have been born with severe birth defects, including spina bifida. The U.S. government has not acknowledged that Agent Orange caused the birth defects, but in addition to the $43 million cleanup program, it said it would donate $11.4 million in aid to disabled Vietnamese. “We’re cleaning up this mess,” said U.S. Ambassador David B. Shear.

Chongqing, China

Massive manhunt: The biggest manhunt in Chinese history ended after four days when police shot dead the fugitive known as “China’s most dangerous man.” Thousands of police officers and soldiers were involved in the search for Zhou Kehua, accused of killing 10 people and committing a rash of armed robberies over eight years. The manhunt was sparked by Zhou’s alleged mugging and murder of a woman in Chongqing last week. Chinese state-run media covered the search with unusual intensity, perhaps in an effort to show that Chongqing has a firm grip on crime despite the recent downfall of its party boss, Bo Xilai.


War wounds still raw: Tensions flared between Japan and its neighbors this week with the approach of the 67th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II. Japanese authorities arrested 14 South Korean and Chinese activists after they landed on disputed islands in the East China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan. In a speech, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak demanded an apology for Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea as well as official compensation to the thousands of Korean women used by Japanese troops as sex slaves. Japan’s Foreign Ministry called Lee’s speech “difficult to understand and extremely regrettable.” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda did apologize in general for Japanese wartime atrocities, saying his people “sincerely mourn” the victims. But several cabinet members visited a shrine to Japanese war dead, including war criminals.

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