The week at a glance...International
Inauguration lockdown: Vladimir Putin began his third term as Russian president this week with a ceremony that featured a massive security crackdown rather than dignified pomp. The night before his inauguration, some 20,000 protesters marched through Moscow shouting “Putin out!” and clashing with riot police, who fired tear gas. Hundreds of people, including opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov, Boris Nemtsov, and Alexei Navalny, were arrested. To prevent a similar scene the next day, authorities sent thousands of police to block off entire Moscow neighborhoods with iron gates. Thirteen subway stations were closed, as well as most central parks and squares. Russia has seen large protests every month since December, when Putin’s party won legislative elections in a vote seen as rigged.
Pills of human flesh: South Korea’s customs agency has confiscated thousands of smuggled Chinese pills made from aborted fetuses and stillborn babies. The pills, marketed in the underground health-supplement trade as “infant capsules” or “fetus powder,” are said to increase energy and stamina. South Korean officials said forensic tests showed that the capsules were made of human remains that had been ground up and dried, and that they also contained contaminants. “Superbacteria and other viruses and bacteria which are harmful to the human body are detected in them,” said Shin Eul-Gi, an inspection official at Incheon Airport. China’s Health Ministry said it had investigated reports that smugglers were buying fetus remains, but found no evidence to support the claim.
Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan
Soldier dies while Skyping: A U.S. Army nurse at a base in Afghanistan dropped dead during a video chat with his wife back home in El Paso, Texas, and the family suspects foul play. Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark suddenly pitched forward onto his desk, and his wife is convinced she saw a bullet hole in the closet behind him. Frantic, Susan Orellana-Clark called Army authorities repeatedly, but it was two hours before military personnel arrived to check on Clark. Army investigators said the death was apparently a heart attack. “The important thing is that there was no bullet wound, no trauma,” said Army spokesman Christopher Grey.
Plot to bomb U.S. plane: A Saudi spy posing as a suicide bomber disrupted an al Qaida plot to blow up an American passenger plane. The Saudi agent, who infiltrated al Qaida’s Yemeni arm years ago, volunteered to wear a sophisticated bomb in his underwear, but instead handed it over to the CIA some time last month. “We had the device in our control,” said White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, “and we were confident that it was not going to pose a threat to the American public.” The device is an advance from the “underwear bomb” that failed to detonate on a 2009 flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, having been designed to fit in briefs and pass through airport security undetected; it also had two means of detonation in case one failed. Both bombs appear to be the work of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, an al Qaida member who is the son of a prominent Saudi military officer and who once used his own brother as a suicide bomber. U.S. intelligence sources say information from the Saudi undercover agent also led to a CIA drone strike this week that killed Fahd al-Quso, the man believed to be the head of al Qaida in Yemen, as he stepped out of his car. Al-Quso, 37, served five years in a Yemeni prison for abetting the 2000 suicide bombing of the Navy ship USS Cole, which killed 17 people. He is believed to have taken over leadership of the Yemen branch last year, after a drone strike killed American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Elections avoided: Israel has a new government. In a surprise announcement canceling early elections that had been planned for September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had formed a grand coalition this week between his right-wing Likud party and the centrist Kadima, the country’s biggest opposition party. Netanyahu said the new supermajority coalition, which controls 94 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, would pursue a “responsible” peace process with the Palestinians and “serious” talks about Iran’s nuclear program. Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who has said Israel should focus less on Iran and more on negotiations with the Palestinians, will become vice prime minister.