Who’s in charge? Thousands of protesters marched on the National Assembly building in the Nigerian capital this week, demanding to know who was running the country. For the past seven weeks, President Umaru Yar’Adua has been in a Saudi Arabian hospital undergoing treatment for a heart condition, and there were rumors he had died. Yar’Adua gave a BBC interview this week to assure his countrymen that he was “getting better,” but he offered no indication when he would return. In the meantime, Nigeria has been in a constitutional crisis, because Yar’Adua has not officially turned over power to the vice president. “Who can approve our military’s defense of the country, if there is an invasion?” the Vanguard newspaper asked in an editorial.
A new wall: Israel will begin building a fence along the Egyptian border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week. The wall is intended to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country, as well as to block Palestinian militants and illegal drugs from coming in. More than 100 non-Jewish immigrants, mostly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan, cross into Israel from Egypt every week, and Netanyahu said the flow has been diluting Israel’s Jewish majority. “We are talking about a strategic decision to guarantee the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said. Egypt voiced no objection. Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and its eastern border with Jordan are already fenced.
Diplomatic soap opera: The latest row in the falling out between longtime allies Israel and Turkey took another turn this week, when an Israeli official apologized for publicly humiliating the Turkish ambassador. Angry over a Turkish TV series that depicts Israeli agents as baby snatchers—as well as over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attacks on Israel’s actions in Gaza—Israel summoned the Turkish ambassador for an official reprimand. But in addition to his issuing a complaint, the Israeli official took Turkey’s flag off the table and pointedly sat the ambassador on a very low sofa—all in front of TV cameras. In response, Turkey summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation, but it said it did not require him to sit on a low chair.
Nuclear scientist murdered: An Iranian nuclear physics professor was assassinated this week by a remote-controlled bomb placed near his car. Iranian authorities claimed that “counterrevolutionary elements” backed by the U.S. and Israel were behind the murder of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, whom they described as a staunch supporter of the regime. But reformist groups said Mohammadi had been vocal in his support of opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi, raising speculation that the Iranian government had killed him. “Since two months ago, he has been venting his frustration with almost everybody in the system,” a student activist said. “He was openly criticizing high-ranking officials in classes.” The U.S. State Department called Iran’s accusation that the U.S. backed the murder “absurd.”
Happy days? Afghans are in a remarkably optimistic, pro-American frame of mind, according to a new poll. The survey, conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and Germany’s ARD, found that 70 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction, up 30 percentage points from last year. Nearly the same percentage support the U.S. troop presence, while more Afghans now blame the country’s violence on the Taliban than on the U.S. and NATO. “I believe we are on the way to convincing the Afghan people that we are here to protect them,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Peace first: North Korea said this week it would return to nuclear talks if the U.S. signed a peace treaty and lifted all sanctions, a proposal the U.S. immediately rejected. “We’re not going to pay North Korea for coming back to the six-party process,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. North Korea left the talks—involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.—last spring to protest U.N. sanctions imposed because it had tested nuclear weapons. But North Korea said asking it to give up its nuclear capabilities before it concludes a formal peace treaty would be “like a gangster trying to disarm us at gunpoint.” The 1950–53 Korean War ended without a formal treaty, so the parties are still technically at war.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hallowed be thy name: At least nine churches were firebombed in Malaysia this week after a court ruled that Christians could use the word “Allah” for God in their publications. Allah was the Arabic word for God long before the Prophet Mohammed was born, and it is used by Arabic- and Malay-speaking Christians. But the government in the Muslim-majority country said it feared that if churches used the word, they could trick Muslims into converting. The government is appealing the ruling. “This is a low point for Malaysia’s image as a moderate Muslim country,” said Azmi Sharom, a professor at the University of Malaya.