No rush to thaw relations: After Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration was ready to “press the reset button” on relations with Moscow, and President Obama himself said he wanted the two countries to “lead the way” in reducing nuclear stockpiles, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev issued a notably tepid reply. “The Kremlin responds positively to the latest comments of U.S. administration members on the future of U.S.-Russia relations,” the bland statement read. Relations between the two countries suffered last year after Russia invaded U.S. ally Georgia.
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Drought threatens 15 provinces: China is struggling to save crops as the worst drought in half a century bakes the north of the country. The military fired rockets loaded with cloud-seeding chemicals into the skies over the worst-hit areas this week, but only a few showers resulted. “Now is the critical period for the growth of winter crops,” said Water Resources Vice Minister E. Jingping. “If in the next 15 days, there is no effective rain, the situation will be more severe.” The drought affects 15 provinces, many of which have had no rain for three months. More than 3 million people face shortages of drinking water, and hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died of thirst.
North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan
Polish hostage beheaded: The Taliban released a video this week of the beheading of a captive Polish geologist and threatened to kill other foreigners unless the Pakistani government freed dozens of Taliban prisoners. Piotr Stanczak was kidnapped four months ago in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. On the video, he is shown asking the Polish government not to send troops to Afghanistan; then three hooded men cut off his head. The Taliban said it would hand over Stanczak’s body only after 60 Taliban detainees were released. The last time militants beheaded a Westerner in Pakistan was in 2002, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed.
Shoe monument razed: An 8-foot-long fiberglass sculpture of a shoe—a monument to Muntazar al-Zaidi, the reporter who nearly beaned President Bush with his shoe last year—was taken down in Tikrit this week just a day after it was erected. Iraqi sculptor Laith al-Ameri made the shoe for a Tikriti orphanage. “The orphans who helped al-Ameri in building the monument are the victims of Bush’s war,” said orphanage director Fatin Abdulqader al-Naseri. “This monument is a gift to the next generations, as a reminder of al-Zaidi’s courage.” After Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heard of the sculpture, he ordered it destroyed. Tikrit’s police supervised the demolition.
Arson kills hundreds: Police believe that arsonists set at least some of the wildfires that killed more than 200 people in southern Australia this week. They said finding the perpetrators would take weeks if not months. The fires roared across miles of parched land north of Melbourne, engulfing people in their cars as they tried to outrace the flames. Some bodies were incinerated to ash, making identification impossible. Fire chiefs said they simply could not protect people in the fire zone. “We can’t be the safety net all the time. Our resources are stretched and we won’t be there,” said New South Wales Fire Commissioner Greg Mullins. “If this is the way of the future, savage winds, high temperatures, and low humidity—it is clear it is going to get worse.”
Expanding HIV/AIDS treatment: South Africa this week announced it would more than double the amount of anti-retroviral drugs it provides to citizens with HIV/AIDS. Health Minister Barbara Hogan said the government wants to provide the drugs to 1.5 million people over the next three years, up from 700,000 today. The announcement marked a dramatic break with the policies of Hogan’s predecessor, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The former health minister, who left office in September, was notoriously skeptical of the efficacy of Western medicine in treating HIV and prescribed garlic and lemons in lieu of anti-retroviral drugs. An estimated 5.7 million people in South Africa are infected with HIV, more than in any country in the world. Nearly 1,000 South Africans die of AIDS every day.
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