The week at a glance...International
Lockerbie bomber dies: Maintaining his innocence until the end, the only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing died this week. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of planting the bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. Most of the victims were Americans traveling home for Christmas. Al-Megrahi spent eight years in a Scottish prison and was returned to Libya in 2009 on humanitarian grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a gesture that upset many victims’ families. The case against al-Megrahi was circumstantial, and many Libyans believe he was scapegoated.
Historic vote: For the first time ever, Egyptians have cast votes in a free election to choose their leader. Separate lines for men and women stretched for blocks outside polling stations as voters waited to cast ballots for one of 13 candidates for president. “Before, there was no point voting, there was only one candidate,” said Mohamed Ahleen, 34, a Cairo fruit seller. “Today I am so proud to be voting.” The top two candidates after the first round will face each other in a runoff in June. The top three in most polls are Amr Moussa, a foreign minister under autocrat Hosni Mubarak and former head of the Arab League; Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who calls himself a “liberal Islamist”; and Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak crony who is favored by the ruling generals.
Suicide bombing: A Yemeni soldier blew himself up during a military parade rehearsal this week, killing more than 90 people and injuring more than 200. The bomber was a member of a security unit headed by a relative of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al Qaida’s Yemeni branch claimed responsibility, saying it had been targeting Defense Minister Mohammed Naser Ahmed, who was unharmed. The parade for Yemen’s national day was rerouted, spectators were kept away, and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi watched from behind bulletproof glass. “The war on terrorism will continue until it is uprooted and defeated completely, whatever the sacrifices,” Hadi said.
Talking with Iran: Diplomats from the U.S., Iran, and five other countries met in Baghdad this week to kick-start stalled negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is under severe economic sanctions because of its refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to verify that its nuclear program is not geared toward producing nuclear weapons. The world powers are concerned about Tehran’s efforts to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity, a level at which it could relatively easily be converted into weapons-grade fuel. Ahead of the meeting, Iran agreed in principle to let inspectors into one military site, but Western diplomats were not impressed. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington would “make judgments about Iran’s behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements.”
CIA informer jailed: The doctor who helped the U.S. locate Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound has been sentenced to 33 years in jail. Shakil Afridi claimed to be running a vaccination program so he could gather DNA samples from people in the compound in Abbottabad. Those samples are thought to have helped U.S. intelligence confirm bin Laden’s presence ahead of the Navy SEAL raid that killed the al Qaida leader last year. Afridi was arrested shortly after the raid, and this week a tribal court convicted him of treason. U.S. officials have called for Afridi to be released, saying his work served both Pakistani and American interests.
Mount Everest, Nepal
Four climbers die: On one of the mountain’s most lethal days ever, four people died last week near the crowded summit of Mount Everest. The victims, from China, Germany, Canada, and South Korea, all died on their descents from apparent exhaustion and altitude sickness. Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said a factor in the deaths may have been a “traffic jam” of more than 200 climbers trying to reach the world’s highest summit in a short window of good weather. The climbing season usually runs from late March to early June, but this year the weather was bad through March, April, and half of May.
Death Railway to reopen: As part of its new economic outreach to the world after shedding its rogue-state status, Myanmar announced that it would restore the railroad to Thailand that was built by Japanese-held prisoners of war during World War II. The 258-mile line, laid through jungles and mountains, is known as the Death Railway because more than 100,000 people died building it, including 16,000 Allied POWs. Their tale was featured in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. Japan built the track to move military supplies; the Allies bombed it in 1945.