The world at a glance . . . International


Grozny, Russia

Chechen war ends: Russia officially ended its decade-long “counterterrorism operation” in Chechnya last week, saying the Muslim separatist region was ready for “normalization.” About half of the 40,000 remaining Russian troops are expected to be pulled out. The war, the second in Chechnya since 1990, began in 1999 under President Boris Yeltsin and was run by Vladimir Putin, who was then prime minister, later president, and is now prime minister again. In 2007, Putin handed over control of the province to Ramzan Kadyrov, a greatly feared son of a late Chechen warlord. Kadyrov, who is still in power, used brutal methods—including kidnapping, torture, and summary executions—to subdue the population. Still, “the number of bombings, terrorist attacks, and murders as in the past remains high,” said Chechen journalist Grigory S. Shvedov. “They occur every week. It is a fairy tale that Chechnya has become a stable region.”


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Unusual names banned: China is planning to release a list of “approved names,” and people whose names aren’t on it will have to change theirs. Authorities said the restrictions are necessary because the government is switching from handwritten ID cards to computer-readable cards with photos and microchips. The computers will only be programmed to read a certain number of characters, so exotic names will be unacceptable. China has a limited number of surnames—for example, some 92 million people are named Wang. So Chinese parents in recent years have been giving their children unusual first names, as a way to make them feel special. “The computer cannot even recognize them and people cannot read them,” said linguistics professor Wang Daliang. “This has become an obstacle in communication.”

Swat Valley, Pakistan

Islamic law imposed: As sharia officially took effect in the Swat Valley of Pakistan this week, emboldened Islamic militant leaders vowed an aggressive campaign to expand religious authority. Speaking to thousands of followers in an address aired on national television, cleric Sufi Mohammed openly defied the Pakistani constitution and said he would not allow Swat’s 1.5 million residents to appeal local rulings to state courts, which he said enforce “infidel law.” In Islamabad, another radical cleric called for strict Islamic law to be imposed nationwide. Many analysts were alarmed. “The government made a big mistake to give these guys legal cover for their agenda,” said Pakistani professor Rifaat Hussain, referring to the peace agreement with militants in North-West Frontier Province that allows them to govern according to Islamic law. “Now they are going to be battle-ready to struggle for the soul of Pakistan.”


Journalist sentenced: Iran has sentenced Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. But after an international outcry, authorities may be reconsidering. Iran’s judicial spokesman said this week that an appeals court would quickly review the case. Human-rights organizations say the spying charges appear to be bogus, noting that prosecutors have released no evidence against the 31-year-old reporter. And they fear for her safety: A Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, arrested in 2003, was raped and beaten to death in the same prison in which Saberi is being held.

Indian Ocean, near Somalia

What to do with pirates: The U.S. and the Netherlands said this week they would seek authority for NATO to arrest pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. NATO forces are already actively combating pirates in the region. In the past two weeks, French naval forces raided a pirate “mother ship” and also freed a hijacked yacht, while Dutch forces raided a different mother ship. But in those cases, the European crews let the pirates go, because they were unsure whether they had the authority to arrest them. Releasing pirates “sends the wrong signal,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


Zuma is president: A populist politician dogged by scandal became South Africa’s president this week, when the African National Congress won elections in a landslide. ANC leader Jacob Zuma was under investigation for corruption until just a few weeks ago, when the ANC-dominated government got a top prosecutor fired and dismantled the police unit that was investigating the allegations. During a 2006 trial for rape—he was eventually acquitted—Zuma admitted having unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV-positive. He once proposed that the babies of teen mothers be seized by the state, and has said he believes that the ANC has divine blessing to rule until the Second Coming. Born in rural Zululand, Zuma joined the ANC as a teenager and rose through the party’s ranks during the anti-apartheid struggle. He was imprisoned for a decade alongside Nelson Mandela.

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