The world at a glance . . . International


Pikalyovo, Russia

Putin intervenes: Injecting himself into a local dispute, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo last week and publicly rebuked the owners of a cement factory. Workers there had taken over the mayor’s office and were blocking highways, to protest not having been paid in months. In a dressing-down broadcast on state television, Putin ordered the owners to pay the workers with money transferred from state coffers. “You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism—or maybe simply your trivial greed,” Putin said. Analysts said Putin’s public show of anger was intended to reassure workers in other towns with similar problems of unpaid wages.

Shanghai, China

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New Orleans mayor quarantined: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, his wife, Seletha, and a member of his staff were placed under quarantine in a Shanghai hotel this week because a French passenger on their flight to China had swine flu. Nagin was in China for trade-related meetings and was scheduled to give a speech in Australia next week, but it was unclear when he’d be allowed to leave the hotel. A spokesman said Nagin did not have any flu symptoms. Several American students are also under quarantine in Egypt, where swine flu broke out at a university. Worldwide, more than 25,000 people have been infected with H1N1 virus, half of them in the U.S.

Peshawar, Pakistan

Hotel bombed: A massive truck bomb ripped through the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar this week, killing at least 16 people, including a U.N. official. The hotel, located in a heavily secured area near a military base, caters to foreigners in the region, including diplomats, journalists, and aid workers. The State Department had been negotiating to buy the structure and turn it into a U.S. consulate. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was retaliation for the Pakistani military’s offensive in the nearby Swat Valley. President Asif Ali Zardari said the offensive would continue. “Such incidents will not deter the government from its resolve to eliminate this scourge from the country,” he said.

Abuja, Nigeria

Shell will pay: Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to the families of Nigerian environmental activists executed in 1995, in a deal that settles several lawsuits out of court. The lawsuits sought damages from Shell for allegedly backing Nigeria’s jailing, torturing, and killing of nine people who protested oil drilling in the Niger Delta. Nigeria’s then–military government convicted protest leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others of murder, in a trial that international human-rights groups called a farce. Since Saro-Wiwa’s death, Shell has paid billions into a fund that is supposed to help local people, but most of the money reportedly has been siphoned off in government corruption. Shell said it had agreed to settle the lawsuit in the hope of aiding the “process of reconciliation,” but acknowledged no wrongdoing.


Promising news on AIDS: The number of new HIV infections among South African teens has dropped significantly, prompting hope that national efforts to tackle the epidemic have finally turned a corner after years of denial. A new report from a health research group said that although young people continue to have multiple sexual partners—which drives South Africa’s epidemic—they are increasingly heeding advice to use a condom. “There is clearly light at the end of the tunnel,” said Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi. “There is real light.” South Africa has the world’s largest HIV-positive population, at 5.2 million. One-third of South African women ages 20 to 34 are HIV-positive.

Libreville, Gabon

Longtime president dies: President Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled Gabon for 41 years, died this week in Spain, where he was being treated for cancer. Bongo was respected across Africa as an elder statesman who unified his country, a former French colony, and negotiated the end to several conflicts in central Africa. But while Gabon has great oil wealth, most of its people live in poverty, and a French judge has been investigating Bongo for alleged embezzlement. Bongo’s son Ali Ben Bongo, 50, Gabon’s defense minister, is the favorite to succeed him. An election will be held next month.

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