The week at a glance...International


Tunis, Tunisia

Ex-president convicted: After a quick, one-day trial in absentia, a Tunisian court has sentenced the deposed president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, to 35 years in prison and a fine of $66 million for embezzlement. Ben Ali still faces multiple other charges, including possession of illegal drugs, firearms, and archaeological treasures, as well as ordering the killing of demonstrators during his effort to stay in power. From his exile in Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali issued a statement calling the trial “a false and shameful display of victor’s justice.” The popular uprising that ousted Ben Ali in January was the first of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Tripoli, Libya

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Fog of war sets in: NATO, which is operating in Libya under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, apologized this week for an errant airstrike—which killed at least nine civilians, including two toddlers—but then backtracked. Authorities initially said a “weapons systems failure” had caused a missile to go astray, into a residential neighborhood. But then they said the explosion may have been caused by a missile from a Libyan stockpile that was hit that night. Meanwhile, rebel forces are complaining about a lack of communication from NATO. “I never know what to tell my fighters,” field commander Sa’adun Zuwayhli told Time. “Advance, retreat, hold—they are all guesses until we see the bombs from NATO.”

Soweto, South Africa

Michelle Obama inspires: On a trip to South Africa this week, First Lady Michelle Obama urged young Africans to work to end AIDS and sexual discrimination. Speaking at a church that was central to the fight against apartheid, Obama invoked the sacrifices of the anti-apartheid generation, and asked the young female leaders in the audience what their own legacy would be. “You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time; the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease,” she said. “You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools.” The girls responded with chants of “Yes, we can!”

Canberra, Australia

Jailing the natives: Australia is facing a “national crisis” over the incarceration rate of Aborigines, a parliamentary committee said this week. Aborigines are just 2.5 percent of the general population, but make up 25 percent of the prison population and nearly 60 percent of the juvenile-detention population. The rates are particularly appalling given that sweeping reforms specifically aimed at keeping Aborigines out of jail were enacted 20 years ago. Since 2000, the incarceration rate has soared 66 percent. The report said two health factors were partly to blame: widespread alcoholism, which has led to an epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome, and the prevalence in the Aboriginal community of untreated deafness, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts with authorities.

Zhejiang province, China

Catastrophic floods: More than 2 million people have fled their homes in China over the past month as torrential rains have caused flooding across the south and east. At least 13 provinces are affected, and authorities say the economic loss is already nearly $5 billion, with no letup in sight. The flood zone includes the area around the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower plant, which was supposed to help prevent floods. In May, Chinese authorities warned that the dam was having “urgent problems” that could cause environmental and migration “disasters.” The floods closely follow the worst drought to hit southern China in 50 years.

Peshawar, Pakistan

Girl bomber: A 9-year-old girl was kidnapped by militants in Pakistan this week and ordered to serve as a suicide bomber. The girl, Suhana Jawed, was on her way to school when she was kidnapped and drugged by two armed men and two women in burqas. They strapped an explosive vest on her and told her to blow up a police checkpoint, but instead she ran to the officers, shouting and gesturing for help. Police said the vest contained 20 pounds of explosives. Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike in 2009, was notorious for kidnapping teenagers and training them as militants, but this is the first known case involving such a young child.


No contest: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said this week he’d love to run for a second term next year—but not if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is running. The two men, who jointly lead the country in an arrangement Russians call “the tandem,” have been keeping their countrymen guessing about which of them will be the next president. Medvedev said that going up against Putin would be “harmful” for the country—as well as pointless, since the two men represent, “to a large extent, one and the same political force.” Putin was barred from running for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008, and he named Medvedev to succeed him. Initially seen as a puppet, Medvedev has staked out his own political territory since then and is considered more pro-capitalist and pro-democracy than Putin.

Petrozavodsk, Russia

Plane crashes: An aging Soviet-built passenger plane crashed upon landing this week, killing 45 of the 52 people on board in an accident authorities are attributing to pilot error. Among the dead was Sergei Ryzhov, a top Russian nuclear scientist. The Tupolev Tu-134, flown by RusAir, clipped a tree and then careened onto a highway while trying to land at Petrozavodsk airport. “The pilot’s mistake is clear,” said Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. “In foggy weather conditions, he veered to the right of the runway.” Tupolevs have been involved in a string of similar accidents, including one last year that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

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