The week at a glance ... International


Novozavidovo, Russia

‘Russia’s Obama’: Russia has its first black elected official. Jean Gregoire Sagbo, a native of Benin, won one of the 10 city council seats in Novozavidovo, a small town just north of Moscow. Sagbo’s election has caused a nationwide sensation, with the media calling him “Russia’s Obama”—a nickname first given to another West African who ran unsuccessfully for a local office last year. Sagbo, 48, came to Russia as a college student during the Soviet era and has a Russian wife and kids. “His skin is black, but he is Russian inside,” said Vyacheslav Arakelov, the town’s mayor. “The way he cares about this place, only a Russian can care.”

Dalian, China

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Rapid oil cleanup: Chinese authorities said this week they have successfully cleaned up China’s biggest oil spill in just 10 days, using decidedly low-tech methods. After a pipeline exploded at the Yellow Sea port of Dalian, authorities mobilized thousands of fishermen and local residents—not outfitted in protective gear of any kind—to spray chemical dispersants and oil-eating bacteria. Many of the workers used their bare hands to scoop oil into buckets. Greenpeace’s China chapter, which helped with the cleanup, said that while most of the oil had been removed, the environmental damage was extensive. The Chinese spill was around 400,000 gallons; the BP Gulf spill is at least 100 million gallons.

Pyongyang, North Korea

Fury at U.S. exercises: North Korea is threatening an unspecified “physical response” to this week’s joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises. The four-day exercises are the first such drills since an international investigation blamed North Korea for torpedoing South Korea’s warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. “The U.S. should stop at once its criminal hostile policy that escalates the military confrontation and tension on the peninsula,” the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun declared. South Korea put its government agencies on alert, saying it had intelligence that the threatened response could take the form of a cyberattack. An alleged North Korean cyberattack last year paralyzed hundreds of government websites in the U.S. and South Korea.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Torturer sentenced: Thirty-five years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the first top official from the brutal regime that killed 1.7 million men, women, and children has been convicted of crimes against humanity. The U.N.-backed tribunal this week sentenced prison director Kaing Guek Eav, a former math teacher known as Duch, to 35 years in prison for overseeing the torture and deaths of some 15,000 people during the regime’s killing spree, from 1975 to 1979. Because he was incarcerated for 16 years before his trial, Duch, 67, will serve only 19 additional years. Prosecutors did not seek life in prison, arguing that Duch had pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his crimes. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, but four other top officials are in custody awaiting trial.

Islamabad, Pakistan

Crash kills 152: A Pakistani plane crashed while landing in Islamabad this week, killing all 152 people aboard, including two Americans. The Airbus A321, operated by Airblue, was arriving from Karachi and trying to land in a monsoon when it crashed into mountains near the airport, scattering burning wreckage through the trees. Rescuers recovered burned and mutilated bodies. “All we could see were charred hands or feet,” said rescue official Arshad Javed. “I collected two heads, two legs, and two hands in a bag.” Officials said there was no indication of terrorism, and they speculated that the bad weather contributed to the crash. Pilots describe the Benazir Bhutto International airport as one of the most challenging to fly into even during calm weather, because of unpredictable wind patterns around the mountains.

Logar, Afghanistan

U.S. sailor may be hostage: The Taliban killed one U.S. sailor and apparently took another hostage last week after the two left their Kabul base and drove to a remote eastern province. Military officials said they had recovered the body of the dead sailor, Petty Officer Justin McNeley, but did not say how or where—or what the two were doing alone in a single SUV in the Taliban-dominated area. Military procedure requires soldiers to travel in convoys in that region. Officials launched a massive search for the other sailor, Petty Officer Jarod Newlove. Troops set up road checkpoints throughout the province and went door to door with leaflets offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to Newlove’s location.

Bloemfontein, South Africa

Students abused maids: Four white South African men were convicted this week of humiliating black housekeepers at their university, in a case that sparked international outrage. To protest racial integration in student housing, which was just being introduced at the University of Free State in 2007, the four made a video in which five black workers—four women and a man—are seen being subjected to student initiation rites, including chugging beers and doing athletics. In the most infamous clip, a white man apparently urinates on food and forces the workers to eat it. When the video hit the Internet in 2008, the four men were expelled. This week, they pleaded guilty to “crimen injuria,” or impairing another’s dignity.

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