Tent city: Thousands of opposition protesters rallied this week against President Mikheil Saakashvili, setting up tents in front of the presidential residence. Saakashvili blamed Russia for the protests and said Russia was once again building up troops in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But opposition leaders say Saakashvili has become more authoritarian, muzzling the press and interfering with the courts. The U.S.-educated Saakashvili, 41, came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, a peaceful democratic movement.
Pyongyang, North Korea
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Nuclear talks canceled: Calling U.N. condemnation of its recent missile launch “an unbearable insult,” North Korea said this week that it would restart its plutonium plant and stop participating in disarmament talks. “We will never again take part in such talks,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “and we will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.” The U.S. called North Korea’s announcement “a serious step in the wrong direction,” and urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks involving North and South Korea, China, Russia, the U.S., and Japan. Those talks have been stalled since last December.
Protesters give up: A massive anti-government protest in Bangkok ended this week when the ringleaders turned themselves in, saying they wanted to avoid further violence. Thousands of red-shirted protesters broke into the site of the annual East Asia Summit last week, forcing its cancellation after some of Asia’s top leaders—including China’s Wen Jiabao and Japan’s Taro Aso—had already arrived. The government responded by sending in troops and tanks, and more than 100 people were injured. The protesters were calling for the restoration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saying current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was a puppet of the military. Thailand has been in turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup three years ago and convicted of abuse of power.
Punjab Province, Pakistan
Extremists uniting: The Pakistani Taliban is joining forces with local militant groups and becoming a bona fide threat to a region that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, The New York Times reported this week. The joint efforts of the burgeoning alliance has already resulted in some deadly assaults, including the recent attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and the bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad, which left more than 50 people dead. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public,” said former CIA official Bruce Riedel. Authorities fear the alliance puts the stability of the entire nation at risk, since it combines the Taliban’s money, training sites, and suicide bombers with the logistical support and grass-roots ties of the local militants. “I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the situation,” a senior police official in Punjab said.
Don’t misquote me: An Iraqi general is trying to shut down the Iraq office of a major Arab newspaper because he says he was misquoted. Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta filed a lawsuit seeking to close Al Hayat, a pan-Arab paper based in London, complaining that it falsely quoted him as saying the government would rearrest detainees released from U.S.-controlled prisons. The U.S. is planning to release most of the 20,000 detainees as part of the handover of authority to the Iraqis. “I haven’t spoken to Al Hayat in six months,” Atta said. He also filed suit against Al Sharqiya, an Iraqi television station that carried the Al Hayat story. Al Hayat published a correction, saying it had confused Atta with another, unnamed source.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Middle-aged man weds little girl: Saudi Arabia announced plans to regulate the marriages of young girls this week after an international outcry over the practice. The U.N. and several human-rights groups protested after a Saudi court refused to nullify the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The court said the marriage was legal as long as the husband did not consummate it until his wife reached puberty. Justice Minister Mohamed al-Issa said that while the practice would not be abolished, his ministry would enact regulations to do away with “the negative aspects of underage girls’ marriage.” Critics were not satisfied. “Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child’s rights,” said Ann Veneman, head of UNICEF.
Bird flu mutates? A strain of bird flu infecting children in Egypt could be a sign of person-to-person transmission, the World Health Organization said this week. Of 11 infections in the past few weeks, almost all were in children under age 3. Experts said that could mean adults are acting as carriers without falling ill, giving the virus a chance to mutate. “I hope to hell they are wrong,” said bird flu expert Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee. Earlier strains of bird flu in Asia killed most victims so quickly that the virus didn’t have time to mutate into a contagious strain.
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