The week at a glance...International
Freetown, Sierra Leone Taylor gets 50: Survivors of the Sierra Leonean civil war celebrated this week as former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. “That makes me the happiest person on earth,” said Alimami Kanu, who had his right hand hacked off at age 11 by the brutal rebels Taylor funded and trained. An international court in April found Taylor guilty of war crimes for aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front rebels, who murdered and mutilated tens of thousands of people during the 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Judge Richard Lussick said the rebels’ atrocities, which included hacking off villagers’ arms and legs and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their babies, were “some of the most heinous crimes in human history.” Taylor, 80, will be held in the Netherlands until his appeal is over and will serve his sentence in the U.K.
Gaza Palestinian Airlines flies: Palestinian Airlines has resumed flights after a hiatus of seven years. When it first started up, in the late 1990s, the carrier was a symbol of Palestinian dreams of statehood, flying tens of thousands of passengers a year to Middle Eastern cities from its base at Gaza International Airport. But after the uprising of 2000, Israel bombed the airport, and the airline moved operations across the border to El-Arish, Egypt, before finally closing. Now it has reopened with two 48-seat turbo-prop planes flying two flights a week to Jordan from El-Arish. “We want the Palestinian flag to continue flying,” said regional director Azmi Samaan, who acknowledged that the carrier is operating at a loss. “This is part of the independent state, to have an airline, no matter what it will cost us.”
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Taking on the vice squad: A YouTube video of a woman talking back to the religious police is a sensation in Saudi Arabia. The video, taken by the unidentified, fully veiled woman, shows a police officer telling her to leave a mall because she is wearing nail polish. “You are not in charge of me,” she shouts. “The government has barred you from coming after us.” Earlier this year, King Abdullah appointed a relative moderate as head of the vice police, and the squad is no longer allowed to arrest women for minor infractions. The video got more than 1 million hits in less than a week. Most of the thousands of comments on it denounce the woman, and many call her a whore.
Baghdad Let’s meet again: Iran and the six powers discussing its nuclear programs made next to no progress at a meeting in Baghdad last week but agreed to meet again. Analysts said that alone was a good sign, given that the two sides had gone a year without talking before negotiations resumed in April. The U.S. and other powers want Iran to close an underground plant devoted to 20 percent enrichment, offering in return to provide fuel for a medical reactor and to end the embargo on aircraft parts that has crippled Iran’s airline fleets. Iran’s top negotiator, Saeed Jalili, insisted that his country has an “inalienable right” to enrich uranium. Iran dismissed a U.N. finding of uranium traces enriched to 27 percent as a technical glitch.
Tehran Hack attack: A massive computer virus is stealing sensitive data from computers all over the Middle East, particularly in Iran, a Russian cybersecurity firm said this week. The “Flame” virus is more versatile and complex than the Stuxnet worm that crashed Iranian centrifuges in 2010, and it appears to be a tool of espionage. The virus can take screenshots, log keystrokes, and turn on a computer’s audio systems to eavesdrop on Skype calls or office conversations. The Russian firm, Kaspersky, said the programmer was probably working for a national government. Suspicions quickly turned to Israel, which did little to discourage them. “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat is likely to take various steps, including these, to hobble it,” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said. “Israel is blessed with high technology, and we boast tools that open all sorts of opportunities for us.”
Beijing Online censorship: China’s largest microblogging service has started policing what users say online. Weibo, a Twitter-like service with more than 300 million users, is seeking to limit posts that “are untrue,” “harm national unity,” or “destroy societal stability.” Users will be given 80 points to start with. Points will be deducted for each offending post—flagged by other users—and when all points are gone the account will be terminated. Sina, the company that owns Weibo, said the new system “is about not censorship but order.” The new regulation is the latest attempt to rein in public discussion ahead of the once-in-a-decade Politburo leadership changes later this year.