The week at a glance...International
Tripoli, LibyaQaddafi’s missed chance: Libyan rebel authorities said this week that they had offered Muammar al-Qaddafi a chance to remain in Libya if he ceded power, but the dictator failed to take them up on it and the deal expired. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the rebel Transitional National Council, said his group had been willing to let Qaddafi live “under international supervision,” but now the offer “is no longer valid.” Meanwhile, Britain officially recognized the rebels as Libya’s legitimate government, expelled diplomats from the Qaddafi regime, and freed up millions in frozen Libyan assets for rebel use. The decision reflects the rebel council’s “increasing legitimacy, competence, and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Blantyre, Malawi African Spring? Malawian troops opened fire last week on demonstrators protesting against high food and fuel costs, killing at least 19 people. President Bingu wa Mutharika had banned the protests, saying citizens should not be “inspired by Egypt.” He accused the demonstrators of committing treason, and deployed the army and riot police in the capital, Lilongwe, and in the commercial hub, Blantyre. Civic groups that called the protests say Mutharika has become dictatorial, imposing austerity measures that have sent prices of food and fuel soaring in this desperately poor nation. About 75 percent of Malawians live on less than $1 a day. The U.S. suspended a $350 million aid package in the wake of the violence.
Sharm al-Sheikh, EgyptMubarak won’t eat: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not eating solid food and is suffering “weakness and severe infirmity,” Egyptian media reported this week. It was unclear whether the 83-year-old—who has been in the hospital in the resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh since he had a heart attack during interrogation in April—was refusing food because of depression or was on a hunger strike. Many Egyptians believe his illness is a ruse to allow him to delay his trial on charges of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering a crackdown that killed more than 800 protesters. Protests continue in Tahrir Square against the slow pace of reform.
Tel AvivTent city: Tent camps have sprung up in Tel Aviv and in cities and towns across Israel in the past two weeks as a protest against the country’s serious housing shortage. In an effort to appease the protesters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a package of measures including subsidies for developers who build affordable housing and discounts on public transportation so students can live farther from the city center. But the protesters quickly rejected his proposals, saying they would benefit developers, not the poor. A poll this week by Ha’aretz found that 87 percent of Israelis support the tent demonstrators, and that public approval of the Netanyahu government has fallen to 32 percent, from 51 percent two months ago.
Damascus, SyriaToo little, too late: In an effort to quell the four-month-long uprising, the Syrian regime this week offered to allow the formation of political parties, but anti-government protesters rejected the step as completely inadequate. The draft law would allow only parties that had no religious or ethnic component, in effect ruling out the two main sources of opposition in Syria, Sunni Islamist groups and ethnic Kurdish ones. “A new law is not going to stop the government from violating our personal and political freedoms,” said Louay Hussein, a prominent opposition figure. Meanwhile, the army continued its brutal crackdown. The U.S. State Department denounced as “reprehensible” the regime’s “barbaric shootings, wide-scale arrests of young men and boys, brutal torture, and other abuses of basic human rights.”
KabulYour tax dollars at work: American money intended to promote Afghan businesses has ended up in Taliban hands, a U.S. military investigation has found. The investigation, leaked to The Washington Post, found “documented, credible evidence” that four of the eight Afghan trucking companies that got U.S. government contracts were involved in “a criminal enterprise or support for the enemy.” It’s a tangled skein of corruption: In one case, U.S. money went to a company, which paid a subcontractor, which paid another subcontractor, which bribed a police officer, who gave money to insurgents. Trucking is critical to the war effort in Afghanistan, where food, fuel, and ammunition are brought to U.S. troops overland after being shipped to Pakistani ports. Pentagon officials said they had taken steps to improve oversight and were working on a new trucking contract.
Wenzhou, ChinaCrash sparks questions: A train crash that killed 39 people and injured 210 others is raising questions about the safety of China’s hastily built high-speed train system. Authorities said lightning shorted out equipment, causing one passenger train to slam into the rear of another, which sent another four cars plummeting off a bridge in eastern China. But rail experts doubted that explanation, especially given that Beijing officials were already looking into corruption allegations against railway officials accused of skimping on construction. China’s version of Twitter, Weibo, was inundated with outraged comment over the scandal, which hit home in a nation where most people use trains as their primary means of transport. “When a country is corrupt to the point that a single lightning strike can cause a train crash, the passing of a truck can collapse a bridge, and drinking a few bags of milk powder can cause kidney stones, none of us are exempted,” said one Weibo user.