The world at a glance . . . International


Tbilisi, Georgia

Biden’s gaffe: Vice President Joe Biden offended Russians this week when he told The Wall Street Journal that Russia is in such bad shape, it has no choice but to cooperate with the U.S. At the close of a trip to Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics that are breaking away from Russia’s sphere of influence, Biden said of Russia: “They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.” The Kremlin called the remarks “incomprehensible,” especially in light of recent efforts by President Obama to “reset” relations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to soothe the hurt feelings, calling Russia a “great power.”


Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Talking to Taiwan: Chinese and Taiwanese leaders have made direct contact for the first time in 60 years. The milestone came when Chinese President Hu Jintao sent Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou a telegram congratulating him on his election as chief of the Nationalist Party. “I hope our two parties can continue to promote peaceful cross-strait development, deepen mutual trust, bring good news to compatriots on both sides, and create a revival of the great Chinese race,” Hu said in his telegram. Hu is also chief of China’s Communist Party, and the communication sparked speculation that the two men could meet as heads of parties—which would avoid the problem of having to treat one another as heads of state. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, to which the Nationalists fled in 1949 after a civil war.


Losing the war on crows: A plague of crows has returned to Tokyo. Bigger and meaner than North American crows, Japanese jungle crows are known for dive-bombing people who inadvertently get near their eggs and for ripping up fiber-optic cables to use in their nests. The city first declared a war on jungle crows in 2001, after one of the birds attacked the mayor on a golf course; more than 100,000 were exterminated. But this year, the city switched from using mayonnaise as bait in crow traps to using cheaper lard, and it doesn’t seem to be working. “The older, more clever crows never go near those traps,” bird expert Hiroshi Kawachi told The Washington Post. “They are catching only young, stupid crows, not the breeders.”

Western Pakistan

Bin Laden son reportedly killed: One of Osama bin Laden’s sons may have been killed in a Predator strike in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border, unnamed U.S. officials said. Saad bin Laden, a minor al Qaida figure believed to be in his late 20s, had returned to Pakistan last year from Iran, where he had been held under house arrest for six years. It was unclear whether he escaped or was released, nor was it known whether he had made contact with his father. Officials said they were “85 percent sure” had been killed. Taliban commanders told the Islamabad News that they hadn’t heard of Saad’s death.


Death prompts prisoner release: Iran has released 140 of the hundreds of people detained during the protests following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested re-election. Most of those arrested were sent to Evin prison, which is notorious for its sadistic guards. Last week, the son of an advisor to a conservative presidential candidate died of a severe beating in the prison. “How can it be that the leaders of our country do not cry out and shed tears about these tragedies?” said reformist opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. “These things are blackening our country.” Soon after Mousavi’s speech, the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, ordered the release of those detained on minor charges and a quick resolution of the remaining cases.

Irbil, Iraq

Kurds vote for change: A new opposition group made it into Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament this week, offering a challenge to two parties that have dominated the region for 20 years. The ruling Kurdistani List—made up of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—still has a majority, with 61 of 111 seats. But the new Change Party won a respectable 25 seats with its campaign against corruption. Nearly 80 percent of voters in Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces turned out for the election. “This is the first time the Kurdish people saw a new agenda from a list without police, without the military, and without money,” said Shorsh Haji, a Change Party leader. “People learned they can say ‘no’ to authority.”

Maiduguri, Nigeria

Islamists battle police: At least 80 people were killed in northern Nigeria this week in clashes between police and a fundamentalist Islamic sect that wants to impose strict Islamic law. Militants from the group, Boko Haram, attacked police stations in several states with machetes, motorcycle bombs, and bows and arrows. Dozens of Boko Haram members were arrested. “We do not believe in Western education,” said the sect’s Abdulmuni Ibrahim Mohammed. “It corrupts our ideas and beliefs. That is why we are standing up to defend our religion.” Religious violence in Nigeria usually pits Christian mobs against Muslim mobs. Attacking the police is a new phenomenon.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.