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Childbirth in jail: A Russian lawyer was forced to give birth in prison last week after President Dmitri Medvedev ignored widespread calls for her to be pardoned. Svetlana Bakhmina, lawyer for former Yukos Oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been in custody since 2004 on embezzlement charges. Most international observers say those charges are trumped up and that Bakhmina is being punished as part of a government vendetta against Khodorkovsky. After she became pregnant during one of her husband’s visits, friends launched a campaign to free her, gathering more than 85,000 signatures on a petition and garnering the support of many Russian celebrities. But Medvedev did not respond to their pleas. Bakhmina, 39, gave birth to a girl.


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Government ousted: Anti-government protesters declared victory this week after Thailand’s high court dissolved the ruling party and brought down the government. The court said the People Power Party had committed electoral fraud during the December 2007 elections. Protesters had been occupying government buildings for three months and last week took control of two airports, demanding that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat step down. They saw Somchai as a stand-in for his brother-in-law, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from the premiership in 2006 after being charged with pocketing millions in dubious business deals. Until a new government is formed, Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul will act as interim prime minister.


Iraqis accept U.S. security pact: Iraqi lawmakers last week approved the Status of Forces Agreement, which sets a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for American forces to leave Iraq. “It’s a historic day for the great Iraqi people,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. “It represents the first step on the road to regain national sovereignty.” The pact, approved two weeks ago by the Iraqi Cabinet, restricts the powers of U.S. troops to search homes and detain Iraqis, and it gives Iraqi officials oversight of U.S. forces. Approval of the agreement was a setback for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who argued that it contained loopholes that would allow U.S. troops to stay indefinitely. Iran also lobbied against the pact, although Iranian diplomats said this week that they would accept the will of the Iraqi people.

Gulf of Aden

Cruise ship escapes pirates: Pirates in speedboats shot at a cruise ship in the Gulf of Aden this week, but the ship gunned its engine and outran them. The captain of the M/S Nautica, cruising from Rome to Singapore with more than 1,000 people aboard, ordered passengers to go into their cabins as he sped up. “It was a surprise that they attacked us, and they did fire shots,” said passenger Wendy Armitage of New Zealand. While piracy in the waters off Yemen and Somalia has become commonplace, this was only the second time pirates have attacked a cruise ship. In 2005, the Seabourn Spirit blasted pirates’ ears with a sonic weapon and escaped. The U.N. this week extended for another year its permission for countries to use “all necessary means” to combat piracy in Somalia’s territorial waters.

Gaza City

Israelis turn back Libyan ship: The Israeli navy this week turned back a Libyan ship that was trying to deliver supplies to Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade. Israel imposed the blockade last year, after the militant group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip by force. Last week, Arab foreign ministers said in a joint statement in Cairo that their governments would send food and medicine to Gaza; the Libyan shipment may have been the first attempt to do that. Israel has allowed aid agencies to ship medicine to Gaza, but it said the Libyan vessel had to be stopped because it could be carrying weapons. “Anyone wishing to transfer humanitarian aid into Gaza is welcome to do it in coordination with Israel and through the regular crossings,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Harare, Zimbabwe

Cholera epidemic: Hundreds of people have died in a cholera epidemic that is spreading rapidly throughout Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization said this week. Cholera is a highly contagious but easily preventable disease carried by tainted water. In parts of Harare, the capital, the water supply has been cut off for weeks because the government of Robert Mugabe has no money to buy the chemicals required to treat it. So residents have resorted to digging makeshift wells. Health Minister David Parirenyatwa recommended that citizens stop shaking hands. “Although it’s part of our tradition to shake hands, it’s high time people stopped,” Parirenyatwa said.

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