The week at a glance ... International


Gay activist kidnapped: Russia’s most prominent gay-rights activist said he was kidnapped and held for two days last week by people he believes were government agents. Nikolai Alekseyev said he was stopped by airport security before boarding a plane in Moscow and was handed over to four men in suits who took his cell phone. News agencies received text messages from that phone saying that Alekseyev had fled abroad and had dropped his case against the Moscow city government, which he is suing at the European Court of Human Rights for the right to hold gay marches. Reporters who doubted the authenticity of the texts began to ask probing questions of authorities. “They let me go, as I understand, because of the noise that was raised over my detainment,” Alekseyev said.

Spat with Japan: China curtailed diplomatic contacts with Japan this week in response to Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing captain. Japanese officials said the trawler piloted by captain Zhan Qixiong had rammed two Japanese coast guard boats in disputed waters claimed by both countries. Chinese officials said the Japanese caused the collision to force a confrontation over sovereignty. Anti-Japanese sentiment has been rising in China since Zhan was detained, two weeks ago, prompting protests in several cities and vitriol on Chinese Internet forums. Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshito Sengoku, appealed for calm, saying both governments should avoid “fueling narrow-minded, extreme nationalism.”

Meghalaya, India
Kids in coal mines: Tens of thousands of children are forced to work in the coal mines of northeast India, an Indian children’s-rights group charged this week. The group, Impulse, said that some 70,000 children ages 7 to 15, most of whom are trafficked in from Nepal and Bangladesh, work as indentured servants in the mines for little or no pay. Locals call the area the “rat mines of Meghalaya,” after the narrow tunnels the children must crawl down to reach the coal seams. Child labor is illegal in India, but in the northeast, tribal and native communities have exclusive rights over their land and heavy influence over local courts. Mine owners disregard child labor laws with impunity.         

Another flawed vote: Violence, fraud, and low turnout marred Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections last week. Taliban militants blew up some polling centers and commandeered others, disenfranchising thousands of people. Fewer than one-third of the country’s registered voters braved Taliban threats to cast ballots, though they can’t be sure their votes will count, given widespread reports of ballot-stuffing. In some regions, ink that was supposed to indelibly mark voters’ fingers instead washed off easily, and there were allegations of repeat voting. Still, the death toll of 11 civilians was lower than during previous Afghan elections. Election results are expected in three weeks.

La Mohammed Kalay, Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers accused of murder: Five U.S. soldiers have been charged with murdering innocent Afghan civilians and keeping their bones as trophies. Between January and May of this year, Army prosecutors say, members of the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, killed at least three people for sport while high on hashish. Seven other members of the brigade were charged with lesser crimes, such as covering up the murders. The father of one platoon member said he had phoned an Army hot line after his son e-mailed him about the killings, but that the sergeant he’d spoken to refused to take action. “He just kind of blew it off,” said Christopher Winfield, an ex-Marine. “I was sitting there with my jaw on the ground.”

Hawta, Yemen
Battling al Qaida: Thousands of people fled Yemen’s southeastern province this week as the military launched a massive assault on the village of Hawta, an al Qaida stronghold. Officials said the offensive was a response to last week’s al Qaida attack on a natural gas pipeline. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemen branch is known, drew international attention last Christmas after U.S. officials said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane with a bomb in his underwear, had been trained by the group. Yemen’s Interior Ministry said the fighting was proceeding slowly, in part because al Qaida militants were using villagers as human shields.

Save the wildebeests: A planned highway through Serengeti National Park will cause the “collapse” of the world’s largest mammal migration system, leading to “environmental disaster,” international scientists warned this week. Writing in Nature, a group of 27 experts on biodiversity urged the Tanzanian government to reroute the highway, which was approved earlier this year. They said the road would disrupt the annual migration of more than 1 million wildebeests, causing the herd to drop by two-thirds. As a result, they said, the grasslands the animals feed on would be more prone to fires, leading to a complete breakdown of the ecosystem that sustains the country’s tourism industry.

Sadat’s poison cup? Egyptians are buzzing about a recent intimation that President Gamal Abdel Nasser died, in 1970, after being poisoned by Anwar Sadat, the man who succeeded him. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, an Egyptian journalist and former Sadat aide, hinted as much last week on Al-Jazeera television. He said that after the two men had a bitter argument, Sadat personally made Nasser a cup of coffee, and Nasser died three days later. Sadat’s family responded furiously to the insinuation. One of his daughters, who is suing Heikal for slander, said the allegation could not possibly be true, since her father didn’t know how to make coffee. Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists in 1981.


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