The world at a glance . . . International
MoscowBeefing up the military: Russia will begin a “large-scale rearming,” including updating its nuclear weapons, to counter the threat posed by NATO enlargement, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said this week. “Threats remain that can bring about local crises and international terrorism,” he told Russian generals. “NATO is not halting its efforts to widen its military infrastructure near the borders of our country. All of this demands a quality modernization of our armed forces.” Since the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO has admitted several former Warsaw Pact countries as members, as well as three former Soviet republics. Last year’s conflict with Georgia exposed some of the weaknesses of Russia’s aging military equipment.
Pyongyang, North KoreaKeep your food: North Korea has rejected shipments of U.S. food aid, despite its chronic food shortage. As part of a 2008 aid agreement, the U.S. has delivered 169,000 metric tons of food to North Korea, but the most recent shipment was refused. “We’re obviously disappointed,” said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. “Clearly, this is food assistance that the North Korean people need.” While Pyongyang gave no reason for refusing the aid this week, it has been increasingly bellicose since the U.S. warned that its planned rocket test would bring U.S. sanctions. North Korea routinely confiscates farmers’ produce and gives it to the military, leaving markets empty and the people starving. A famine in the 1990s killed an estimated 2 million people—10 percent of the population.
TehranOut of the running: The main challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pulled out of the presidential race. Former President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate, gave no reason for his decision, but said he would support former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi in the June election. Iranian analysts said Khatami, who had been leading in opinion polls, was discouraged by blatant government obstruction of his campaign. Officials had ripped down his posters in some areas and banned his rallies in others. Some analysts said Khatami’s withdrawal would consolidate the opposition vote and increase the chances of ousting Ahmadinejad.
IstanbulWorld needs water: The planet faces a crippling shortage of fresh water unless urgent measures are taken, U.N. officials declared this week at the World Water Forum. The number of people living under “severe water stress” will rise to 3.9 billion—nearly half the world’s population—by 2030, the U.N. predicted. The forum, which brings together governments, civic groups, and water companies, is held every three years. At the opening of this year’s event, protestors threw rocks at police, saying the forum promotes the privatization of water resources. Almost 80 percent of diseases in developing countries are associated with a lack of clean water, and at least 5,000 children die every day of diarrhea alone.
JerusalemNo deal on Israeli captive: Israel and Hamas failed once again to agree on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid from Gaza in 2006. Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that after several days of negotiations in Cairo, Israel had agreed to release more than 300 Hamas prisoners, but balked at releasing another 120 who had been convicted of mass killings. “We spared no efforts, but Hamas is a murderous and unscrupulous group,” Olmert said. “The State of Israel has red lines. We will not cross them.” Hamas negotiator Osama Hamdan said that Israel had excluded so many prisoners from the release list that it did not amount to a “serious offer.” Israel said its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, would continue until Shalit was released.
Wellington, New ZealandSubpoenaed on Facebook: New Zealand has become the second country to allow the serving of court papers via the social-networking website Facebook. A Kiwi judge approved the serving of documents informing a man accused of embezzling money from his family’s business that he was being sued. The man had fled New Zealand and was believed to be in Britain, but he was still posting updates on his Facebook page. The judge was inspired by a recent Australian case in which Facebook was used to notify a couple that they had lost their home after defaulting on a loan. After that case, Facebook issued a statement saying: “We’re pleased to see the Australian court validate Facebook as a reliable, secure, and private medium for communication.”
Antananarivo, MadagascarCoup topples president: Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana stepped down this week after troops stormed his official residence. His rival, Andry Rajoelina, who has led anti-government protests for two months, moved into the presidential compound and announced he would lead a transitional government while the constitution was being rewritten. Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, is only 34, and the constitution requires that the president be at least 40. Ravalomanana, who came to power after a disputed 2001 election, was accused of corruption and mismanagement of the country’s newly tapped mineral mines and oil fields. Most of the population lives on less than $2 a day.