The week at a glance...International
Take a seat: President Vladimir Putin’s chronic lateness is turning into a diplomatic issue. Putin has long had a habit of showing up late for his appointments and making dignitaries—including foreign prime ministers, the queen of England, and the pope—wait, sometimes for hours. Last month, a delegation finally complained. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage stood in blistering heat for four hours waiting for Putin to come to an important summit about natural gas. Putin, it turned out, had stopped off to hang out with a group of Russian bikers. Putin “went to meet with motorheads and their friends, showing his priorities,” said Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloga.
Flood chaos: In an apparent concession to public opinion, Mayor Guo Jinlong of Beijing resigned this week after more than three dozen people were killed in a flood. A single massive storm dumped up to 18 inches of rain on the city, turning streets into rivers, tossing cars into buildings, and causing roads to cave in. Some 70,000 people had to be evacuated. Angry posts on China’s social media complained that authorities had modernized the city too fast for the 2008 Olympics and neglected to add an adequate sewer system. “Beijing’s glossy appearance can’t withstand the erosion of a bout of heavy rain,” one poster wrote. “In just a few hours, Beijing is washed back into the old days.” State media announced the mayor’s resignation without giving a reason.
A brother problem: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak apologized to the public this week over “disgraceful and scandalous” corruption charges involving his older brother, Lee Sang-deuk. The elder Lee was arrested on allegations of taking $500,000 in bribes from two bank chairmen, and prosecutors are investigating whether the money went to the president’s 2007 election campaign. “My whole world seemed to be collapsing as disappointing and regrettable incidents occurred to people closest to me,” said President Lee, whose term ends in a few months. “I can barely hold my head up from embarrassment and sorrow.”
Thousands flee ethnic riots: India has called out the army to quell clashes between indigenous Bodo tribes and settlers, most of them Bengali Muslims. Dozens have been killed over the past week in the conflict, which has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes in northeastern India. Rioting mobs on both sides torched houses and forced the railway to shut down, cutting Assam off from the rest of India. Police said some of the dead appeared to have been hacked with machetes. Bodos and Muslims have been at odds over land rights since the settlers arrived some 50 years ago from the former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
Muslims driven out: Weeks of ethnic violence against a Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have left more than 80 dead and up to 100,000 people warehoused in cramped, unsanitary camps. Attacks on the Rohingyas, Muslims who live in northern Myanmar but are not citizens, began in May after a Buddhist girl was allegedly raped by Rohingya men. Rakhine Buddhist mobs burned Rohingya villages and raped and killed villagers. The group has no defenders in the country. President Thein Sein said the Rohingyas should be expelled from his country and sent to refugee camps in Bangladesh, and Amnesty International says government forces have begun mass arrests of Rohingya men. Even some Buddhist monks’ organizations have blocked aid to the Muslim camps and put out leaflets telling people not to associate with them.
Assad bombs his people: The civil war in Syria escalated dramatically this week when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad sent warplanes to bomb and strafe the country’s largest city, Aleppo. Government forces reasserted control over most of the capital, Damascus, and sent troops marching on Aleppo, an Assad stronghold where rebels have only recently taken up positions. The regime also acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons, but said it would only use them if Syria were “exposed to external aggression.” Since Assad maintains that the rebels are foreign agents, the statement was seen as a threat. Syrian human-rights workers said that more than 2,750 people were killed in Syria in the first three weeks of July, bringing the death toll since the conflict began, last year, to more than 19,000.
Virunga National Park, Congo
Gorilla cease-fire: Rebels and government forces in Congo agreed to a pause in fighting this week to let wildlife rangers search for rare mountain gorillas. A new rebellion in the mineral-rich, perpetually war-torn country broke out in April, and the rebels quickly took territory that includes part of Virunga National Park. The rangers and scientists who monitor the park’s population of about a quarter of the world’s 800 remaining mountain gorillas had to flee. “We are delighted and relieved that all sides in the conflict have recognized the need to protect Congo’s only mountain gorillas,” said park director Emmanuel de Mérode.