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The week at a glance...International

International

MoscowRussian rocket fails: A Russian rocket bearing two multimillion-dollar telecom satellites, one Russian and one Indonesian, failed to reach its target this week, stranding the satellites in a low orbit where they won’t work and can’t be recovered. It was the latest setback for the Russian space program after a string of accidents last year, including the failure of a mission to get samples from a Martian moon and the loss of a $265 million communications satellite. The recent failures, said Yuri Karash of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, “undermine Russia’s position as a country that provides space launch services.” Russia currently carries out 40 percent of global space launches, more than any other country. 

Hong Kong Thought control: Hong Kongers are fighting Beijing’s plan to mandate a school course extolling the single-party rule of the Communist Party. The pamphlet produced as a text for the course describes one-party rule as “progressive, selfless, and united,” while multiparty democracy is called “a disaster for citizens.” Tens of thousands of people marched recently in the semiautonomous former British colony to denounce the new “national education” lessons. It didn’t help that one of the booklet’s promoters, a pro-Beijing education official, defended brainwashing, saying, “If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients.”

Mount Tongariro, New Zealand Eruption in Mordor: A volcano that was quiet for more than a century erupted in New Zealand this week, spewing ash across the landscape that was cast as Mordor in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Mount Tongariro had a series of eruptions in the 19th century, the last one in 1897, and scientists said this eruption could signal a new cycle. “This could be the start of something,” said volcanologist Craig Miller. “I wouldn’t expect this to be just it.” New Zealand forms part of the Pacific’s Ring of Fire and has frequent geothermal and seismic activity. Nearby Mount Ngauruhoe, which played Mount Doom in the films, last erupted in 1977. 

Kabul Security chiefs booted: Afghanistan’s parliament has booted out the country’s defense and interior ministers over allegations of corruption and incompetence. The sackings come at a difficult time: NATO forces are to withdraw completely by the end of 2014, and NATO officials were working closely with Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi in handing over security to Afghan forces. The parliament declared no confidence in the two ministers in part because of their failure to stem weeks of rocket and artillery barrages raining down on Afghan villages from Pakistan. Militants in Pakistan are not believed to have either the skill or the weaponry to fire such attacks, although NATO has so far refrained from accusing the Pakistani military.  

Damascus, Syria Iran shows support: As his forces launched a ground assault on the major city of Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad showed that he still had Iran’s support by making his first public appearance in weeks together with a senior Iranian envoy. Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, promised that Iran would stand with Syria against its “international enemies.” Iran admitted this week that 48 Iranians captured by the rebels weren’t ordinary Shiite pilgrims, as Iran originally said, but members of the elite Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia; it still insisted that the group was on a religious, not military, mission. Iran’s display of support came just after Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab and his entire family defected to Jordan, smuggled out by the Free Syrian Army. “I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime,” Hijab said, “and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution.” Hijab joins a string of top Syrian generals and other officers who have defected in recent weeks. Last week Kofi Annan resigned as U.N. mediator in the ongoing crisis, saying that “finger-pointing and name-calling” in the U.N. Security Council were making negotiations impossible.

Sinai Peninsula, Egypt Airstrikes against militants: Trying to halt increasingly brazen militant attacks in Sinai, Egypt has launched its first airstrikes in the peninsula since the 1973 war with Israel. The strikes targeted a militant Islamist group, some of whose members stormed a checkpoint on the Gaza border earlier this week, killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, and tried to cross the Israeli border, before being killed by Israeli forces. President Mohammed Mursi promised to make the militants “pay dearly,” but he’s in a tricky position because he risks alienating his Islamist support base. Egyptian military authorities said the attackers were Bedouin extremists working in concert with Palestinian jihadists, and they began blocking off the smuggling tunnels that run from Sinai to Gaza. 

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