Birthday boy absent: North Korea celebrated the 68th birthday of its Dear Leader this week with performances ranging from gun salutes to synchronized swimming—but the ailing Kim Jong Il himself did not attend. The state news agency released footage of Kim giving out cookies to children, but there were no photos of him at the massive military parade in his honor. Kim suffered a stroke in 2008 and has appeared in public only rarely since. His regime has been under unprecedented internal pressure because of his recent revaluation of the country’s currency, which wiped out most North Koreans’ savings and sent food prices soaring. But according to the state-run media, Kim is “praised by mankind as the most outstanding political elder and the peerlessly brilliant commander of the present era.”
Obama statue relocated: A public outcry has forced Jakarta authorities to remove a statue of Barack Obama from a city park. The three-and-a-half-foot bronze statue depicts Obama at age 10, when he lived in Indonesia with his mother and his Indonesian stepfather. It was commissioned by Obama supporters at a cost of $10,000 and put up in December. But opposition quickly mounted, as nationalists said statues in the capital’s parks should honor only native Indonesians. Officials said they would relocate the statue to the elementary school that Obama attended.
Who murdered Hamas commander? Mystery surrounds the assassination of a Hamas commander alleged to be in charge of smuggling arms from Iran into Gaza. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed last month in a luxury hotel in Dubai. The hotel has released surveillance camera footage of 11 suspects who apparently trailed Mabhouh or entered his room, but all were wearing disguises. This week, Dubai authorities identified the suspects through the passports they had used, and it put out warrants for the arrest of 11 Europeans, including six from Britain. But the British government said the passports were fraudulent and that some of them seemed to be forged copies of actual people’s passports. That allegation immediately placed suspicion on Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, which is believed to have used fake passports in carrying out assassinations in the past. Israel would neither confirm nor deny any Mossad involvement.
Sunnis barred again: Iraq’s election commission said this week it was standing by its disqualification of some 500 candidates, mostly Sunnis, in next month’s parliamentary elections. The commission’s initial announcement last month that it was banning hundreds of prominent politicians for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party sparked weeks of backroom negotiations, which evidently came to nothing. Now some Sunnis are threatening a boycott, and U.S. officials fear that the legitimacy of the election could be undermined. “This political campaign is a fake,” said Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of the disqualified candidates. “The international community should not recognize any government that emerges from it.”
Fatwas against technology: Egyptian clerics are cracking down on the sinful uses of modern technology. Egypt’s highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, recently issued a fatwa banning the use of the Muslim prayer call or any verse from the Quran as a cell phone ringtone. “Picking up the phone is sure to interrupt the verse, and this is disrespectful to the holy book,” he said. Another Egyptian cleric called for a ban on Facebook, saying that the social-networking site was breaking up marriages by encouraging people to reconnect with former flames. He was responding to reports of a study that found that one in five Egyptian divorces is the result of Facebook; the study turned out to be an Internet hoax.