The week at a glance...International


Kinshasa, Congo

Election chaos: Congo’s first attempt to organize its own presidential election descended into rioting and chaos this week. At many polling places, there were no ballots at all, and millions of people were turned away. At other sites, gangs beat election officials and burned the ballots. The election commission, which is run by a friend of President Joseph Kabila, has threatened to annul the vote in opposition strongholds, while at least four candidates have said that the results are bound to be fraudulent and should be thrown out. International observers fear that electoral disputes could lead to a renewal of fighting in a country that has been at war for almost all of the past two decades. If counting does proceed, Kabila is expected to win easily, as the opposition vote was split among 10 other candidates.

Sanaa, Yemen

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Is he really gone? Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally stepped down last week, signing a deal in Saudi Arabia to hand over power to his deputy. But a few days later, Saleh was back in Sanaa, issuing a general amnesty and chairing a meeting of his ruling party. Protesters who have been calling for his ouster for 10 months refused to accept the deal in any case because it grants Saleh and his relatives immunity from prosecution. His son and three nephews continue to hold powerful positions in the security services. Still, there is some movement toward a national unity government. The vice president has named an interim prime minister to form a cabinet of half opposition members and half members of Saleh’s party.

Damascus, Syria

Unprecedented sanctions: International pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop killing his people reached a new high this week with a wave of sanctions from his former allies. The Arab League cut all ties with Syria’s central bank and froze all government assets, potentially crippling the Syrian economy. It also banned Syrian officials from traveling to other Arab countries. Turkey followed suit with similar measures. “Collective punishment methods, besieging cities, bombing mosques, using excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators, and killing tens of people every day are manifestations of the Syrian administration’s lack of understanding of legitimacy,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.


British Embassy stormed: Britain cut almost all diplomatic ties with Iran after a mob of militant students attacked the British Embassy in Tehran this week, smashing the offices and burning the flag. Diplomatic staff fled and were airlifted home, leaving the embassy abandoned. Britain retaliated by kicking out Iranian diplomats and ordering the Iranian Embassy in London closed. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the attackers were the youth wing of the Revolutionary Guards, making the Iranian regime’s claim that it had not supported the action “fanciful.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack as “an affront not only to the British people but also the international community.”

Naypyidaw, Myanmar

Historic U.S. visit: Acknowledging a recent easing of political repression in Myanmar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week became the first top U.S. diplomat to visit the country in more than 50 years. The army has brutally dominated the country since a 1962 coup, but last year the junta held an election—albeit one that was tightly controlled—and allowed a civilian government to take power. Since then it has released political prisoners, legalized protests and labor unions, and held talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate. “We and many other nations are quite hopeful that these ‘flickers of progress,’ as President Obama called them in Bali, will be ignited into a movement for change that will benefit the people of the country,” Clinton said.


AIDS rate up: The number of new HIV/AIDS cases in China is soaring, state media said this week. The number of officially registered HIV carriers rose by nearly 50,000, to some 780,000, although activists say the true number could be much higher. HIV began to spread in China in the 1990s through tainted blood transfusions. Hundreds of thousands of poor farmers became infected by selling their blood plasma, and Chinese authorities initially tried to cover up the problem. Now, though, they are more open. Health officials say heterosexual sex is now the main method of transmission.

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