Praia, Cape Verde
Finally, a winner: A former leader of Cape Verde has become the fourth person to win the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The prize, given by Sudanese-born telecommunications executive Mo Ibrahim, is awarded to African leaders who do not exceed their constitutional terms in office and who voluntarily relinquish power, either by resigning or by accepting an electoral defeat. Pedro Verona Pires became eligible when he stepped down from office last month at the end of his second term. Pires, credited with improving the economy of the tiny archipelago nation, will get $5 million now, plus $200,000 annually for the rest of his life. The award is supposed to be given annually, but there were no winners for the past two years because no African leader qualified.
Nobel Peace Prize: Liberia celebrated this week as two of its countrywomen won the Nobel Peace Prize. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and activist Leymah Gbowee won for their work in bringing peace to a nation ravaged by years of brutal civil war. They share the prize with another woman, Tawakkul Karman, a pro-democracy activist in Yemen who has been among the leaders of the uprising there against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” said Thorbjorn Jagland, former Norwegian prime minister and head of the Nobel Committee.
Shalit to be freed: After more than five years in captivity in Gaza, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is to come home. Shalit, now 25, was patrolling the Gaza border in 2006 when militants emerged from a tunnel and ambushed his crew, killing two soldiers and taking him hostage. After extensive negotiations, Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, agreed this week to exchange him for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including more than 300 serving life terms for killing Israelis. Many Israelis criticized the deal as unbalanced and unjust, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the deal as the best possible at this “stormy time in the Middle East.” Palestinians were jubilant. “This is a national achievement for the whole Palestinian people,” said Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. He said the militants released would “return to the national struggle.”
Pro-Assad rally: In a rebuke to Syria’s pro-democracy forces, tens of thousands of Syrians rallied in Damascus this week in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Demonstrators carried pictures of Assad and chanted, “America, out, out, Syria will stay free.” Many waved Russian and Chinese flags, in a gesture of thanks to Russia and China for blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria for its bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters. The opposition, which has recently coalesced from an array of disparate groups into the umbrella Syrian National Council, dismissed the rally as a show staged by the regime. Security forces have killed some 3,000 people since the uprising began in the spring.
Please stay: Iraqi leaders have asked the U.S. to leave at least 5,000 troops in the country through next year to train Iraqi local police and national security forces. The arrangement would require a new security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, as the current one expires on Dec. 31 and all troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by then. The sticking point for a new agreement is immunity: Iraqi leaders say they will not allow the trainers who remain to be protected from prosecution for abuses or war crimes. “Americans misuse immunity,” lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told The Washington Post. “Sometimes they killed people, attacked people, captured people, and no one could tell them anything. Iraq doesn’t want a repeat of that.”
Torture found rampant: Afghan police routinely torture suspected insurgents in prison, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in a report this week. Prisoners have been given electric shocks, been hung from their hands, and had their genitals twisted until they passed out. The report said the abuse occurred at the instigation of individual security officers rather than as a policy of the Afghan government, which it said was cooperating with torture investigations. U.S. forces stopped transferring prisoners to Afghan jails implicated in the report after they were given an advance copy last month. The U.S. Embassy is now working on a monitoring program for Afghan detention sites.
Huge amnesty: In an unprecedented show of good will toward the international community and its own people, the Myanmar junta announced that it would release more than 6,000 prisoners—almost certainly including hundreds of political prisoners. Western countries have long demanded the release of political prisoners as a condition for lifting the economic sanctions that cripple Myanmar. Some activists have been in prison since 1988, when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led a peaceful uprising for democracy. The announcement is the second encouraging sign from the junta in a month; a few weeks ago Myanmar authorities bowed to public pressure and halted construction of a massive Chinese-financed dam.
Tauranga, New Zealand
Oil spill: Hundreds of tons of heavy fuel oil are gushing into the sea from a grounded ship, in New Zealand’s worst environmental disaster ever. The Liberian-flagged cargo ship Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef, about 14 miles off the coast of New Zealand, a week ago, but the oil leak was relatively minor until the ship shifted position this week. Bad weather has prevented a salvage crew from pumping the oil out safely, and if the rough seas continue, the ship could break apart altogether. Gobs of oil washed up on beaches this week, and dozens of birds were found dead. “If they don’t manage to get that oil off and it ends up in the ocean, then that’s going to be a disaster for marine wildlife, for people, and for New Zealand,” said World Wildlife Fund official Jen Riches.