The week at a glance...International
Moscow Reporter threatened: Russia’s chief federal investigator has apologized after being accused of kidnapping the editor of an independent newspaper, taking him to a forest, and threatening to have him beheaded. Aleksandr Bastrykin, a key aide to President Vladimir Putin, was apparently drunk when he made the alleged threat against Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Sergei Sokolov, adding with a laugh that he would personally lead the inquiry into his death. After Novaya published an account of the incident, Bastrykin apologized but did not admit making the threat. “I shouldn’t have snapped,” he said. Sokolov has left the country. Under Putin, dozens of reporters have been murdered, most notably Novaya’s Anna Politkovskaya.
Astana, Kazakhstan No more Borat song: Fed up with people mistaking the Borat theme song for the national anthem, Kazakhstan this week stiffened its penalties for disrespecting state symbols. The new law, which threatens offenders with a year in prison, was prompted by a mix-up at a sports tournament in Kuwait. Kazakh athletes were mistakenly saluted with the spoof anthem from the 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which begins “Kazakhstan greatest country in the world / All other countries are run by little girls.” Borat, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a cist, obnoxious Kazakh, offended many Kazakhs.
Tehran Deadlock on nukes: High-level talks in Moscow on Iran’s nuclear program failed this week, throwing the future of negotiations into doubt. The U.S. and five other nations repeated the three demands they had made at the last round of talks: stop the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, export the enriched uranium Iran already has, and close the heavily fortified Fordo facility. Iran demanded an easing of sanctions first. “Diplomacy is now on a respirator,” said Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group consultancy. New European Union sanctions that take effect in two weeks will hurt Iran’s oil revenues by denying insurance coverage to oil-bearing ships, although China and Japan, two key buyers of Iranian oil, have already arranged other insurance.
Islamabad Court dumps PM: Pakistan’s Supreme Court threw the country into political disarray this week by ousting the prime minister. The court ruled that Yousuf Raza Gilani has been in office illegitimately since April, when he was found in contempt of court for refusing to reopen a corruption investigation of President Asif Ali Zardari, who leads Gilani’s party. The Pakistan People’s Party will pick a new prime minister, but that person will have to negotiate with coalition partners, so Pakistan is in for weeks of political uncertainty. The ruling came as the Supreme Court itself was embroiled in a corruption scandal. Last week, a billionaire property tycoon with links to the army said he had given a son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry millions of dollars to influence court cases.
Beijing Outcry over forced abortion: Outrage that a woman was forced to have an abortion in her seventh month of pregnancy has prompted a rare apology from Chinese officials. Feng Jianmei was beaten and dragged to a hospital to undergo the procedure because she could not pay the fine due under China’s one-child policy for having a second child. After photos circulated on the Internet of her lying in a hospital bed with the corpse of her baby, the Shaanxi Population Commission conceded that the procedure had “damaged the image of family planning work and caused extremely harmful social impact.” Three officials were suspended, and Feng’s husband, Deng Jiyuan, was given $785 in compensation. “I am not satisfied with the result,” Deng said. “I want the real killer responsible to be punished.”
Gaza Raid leads to airstrikes: Palestinian militants crossed from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Israel this week and killed an Israeli Arab construction worker. The incident touched off days of Israeli strikes on Gaza and Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. A previously unknown jihadist group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahideen in the Holy Land claimed responsibility. Airstrikes on suspected Gaza militant bases killed six men, including one of the men who allegedly carried out the attack. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on the incoming Egyptian president to “take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel, and to ensure security arrangements are in place in Sinai to stop these kind of attacks.”
Kaduna, Nigeria Churches attacked: Religious warfare spread in northern Nigeria this week after militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram blew up three churches, killing at least 20 people. Christian revenge attacks against Muslim sites across Kaduna state killed scores more, and in Yobe state, a Boko Haram stronghold, militants battled police. The Christian Association of Nigeria said the bombings were Boko Haram’s declaration of war. “The pattern of bombings and gun attacks suggests to us a systematic religious cleansing which reminds Christians of the genesis of a jihad,” it said.