St. Petersburg, Russia
Celebrants attacked: Young people who gathered this week to celebrate spring by blowing bubbles at the annual “Soapy Peter” celebration in St. Petersburg were attacked by neo-Nazis who mistook the gathering for a gay pride event. At least 500 people, most of them teenagers, were using plastic wands to blow soap bubbles in Alexandrovsky Park when some 30 skinheads shouting anti-gay slurs began beating them with batons and firing rubber bullets. “Soap bubbles are rainbow-like and iridescent, and that’s why people use a lot of rainbow symbolism at bubble events,” said Valery Sozayev, a local gay activist. “But it has nothing to do with the LGBT community.” The attack was halted when riot police arrived to break up the event. “Put away your bubbles,” police yelled through megaphones.
President flees: The Kyrgyz lawmakers who took power in a bloody coup earlier this month say they will seek to put deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on trial. In a deal brokered by Russia and the U.S., Bakiyev fled to Belarus, an authoritarian former Soviet republic. Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva was furious that Belarus took in Bakiyev, who allegedly ordered riot police to fire on protesters during the April 7 uprising. “Anyone who suffered at his hands will think there should be no refuge anywhere in the world for this sadist,” she said. “This criminal must be handed over back to our country.”
World leader in hashish: Afghanistan is now not only the world’s biggest producer of opium but also the biggest producer of hashish. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghanistan surpassed Morocco last year in hashish production, generating up to 3,500 tons of hash. Traditionally, cannabis was grown in the north of the country. But in recent years, cultivation has shifted to the south and east, where the Taliban is strongest. The Taliban banned cannabis farming when it governed Afghanistan in the 1990s, because smoking hash, a common pastime among Afghans, was seen as un-Islamic. But analysts say the group’s need for funds has forced the Taliban to re-examine its priorities.
Al Qaida leaders killed: In what Vice President Joe Biden called a “potentially devastating blow” to al Qaida in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed two top insurgent leaders this week in a raid near Tikrit. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, was the leader of al Qaida in Iraq, while Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was head of the group’s umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq. Both men have been reported killed in the past, but this time the military produced photographs of their bodies and confirmed their identities through DNA testing. The two were directly responsible for numerous attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis and Americans. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the news in a nationwide broadcast.
Sunnis tortured: A new wave of ethnic strife threatens Iraq following revelations that scores of Sunnis had been tortured by Shiite forces. The Human Rights Ministry recently learned of a secret prison—run by forces under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki—where Sunni detainees were abused. “More than 100 were tortured,” an Iraqi official told the Los Angeles Times. “They beat people, they used electricity. They suffocated them with plastic bags, and different methods.” Al-Maliki said he hadn’t known of the prison, and he ordered it closed. In a separate incident, Shiite forces brutally beat dozens of Sunni men in a village near Baghdad after five soldiers were killed at a checkpoint. “These things can destroy the whole security situation,” said Hamid Obaid Sahar al-Hamdani, a Sunni tribal leader. “We can see the collapse on the horizon.”
Give us back our treasures: Egypt’s top archaeologist is leading an international campaign to shame foreign museums into returning ancient artifacts looted from Egypt and other countries over the years. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said looted countries would begin working together. “Greece was fighting alone, and Italy was fighting alone,” Hawass said at a conference of archaeologists. “Now, for the first time, we are united.” The treasures Hawass wants returned include such icons as the Rosetta Stone, in the British Museum, and a bust of Queen Nefertiti, in Berlin’s Neues Museum. “I warn you,” he said, “some of us will make the life of those museums that have our artifacts miserable.”
Human sacrifice: Indians reacted with shock this week after a report of a human sacrifice to a Hindu goddess. A priest found the beheaded body of a 25-year-old man, adorned with red paint and surrounded by flowers and incense, at a temple to the goddess Kali in a remote village in eastern India. The sacrifice occurred during the Makar Sankranti, a Hindu festival celebrating the changing of the seasons. “The slain torso had new clothes on the body,” a local official said. “There was no indication of resistance.” The multi-armed Kali, revered as a slayer of evil, is a rare example of a Hindu deity who demanded human sacrifice, although the practice was outlawed centuries ago. Nowadays, most Kali worshippers use pumpkins to represent human bodies in sacrifice.