Ivory for sale: Four African countries are selling off 120 tons of elephant tusks over the next two weeks, the first legal sale of ivory in nearly a decade. The sale of ivory was banned in 1989 to protect dwindling elephant populations from poachers. But the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has authorized Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe to sell their government stocks of tusks, mostly harvested from elephants that either died naturally or were killed in controlled culls to prevent overpopulation of specific herds. The legal market for ivory is confined to China and Japan, where it is used to make trinkets and family seals.
Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo
War heats up: Congo’s long-simmering civil war boiled up again this week, as Tutsi rebels advanced on the regional capital of Goma and hundreds of protestors hurled rocks at a U.N. compound in frustration that peacekeepers had not halted the rebel advance. Tens of thousands of people fled the refugee camps around Goma, saying the U.N. could not protect them from the rebels. The Spanish general leading the U.N. peacekeeping mission apparently agreed: He resigned in disgust this week after just three weeks on the job, after reportedly criticizing the lack of a clear U.N. mandate or adequate resources. A peace deal reached in January between the government and the Tutsi rebels collapsed in August. Since then, some 250,000 people have been driven from their homes.
No more French: Rwanda is giving up the language of its former Belgian colonizers. The government announced that schools will now begin teaching in English rather than French, and that all government employees will have to learn English. Officials insisted the decision was not meant as a slam against France, a country Rwanda accuses of arming Hutu militias during the 1994 genocide. “When you look at the French-speaking countries—it’s really just France, and a small part of Belgium and a small part of Switzerland,” Education Minister Theoneste Mutsindashyaka said (in English). “Most countries worldwide, they speak English. Even in China, they speak English.”
New elections: Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni called for early elections this week, after she failed to put together a governing coalition. Livni last month seemed on track to become prime minister, after Ehud Olmert was found guilty of corruption and announced his resignation as party leader. But she was unable to amass a ruling coalition because she refused to make concessions to smaller niche parties, particularly the ultra-orthodox Shas Party. Still, her stance has already paid off politically: Kadima is now more popular than the Likud Party, which had been leading in the polls until this week. Olmert will continue to serve as prime minister until the elections are held next February; Livni will remain foreign minister.
Ahmadinejad’s health: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canceled several planned appearances last week, saying he was exhausted from overwork. “Sometimes he works more than 22 hours a day,” said his media advisor, Mehdi Kalhor. But Ahmadinejad’s political opponents said the entire matter was a political ploy aimed at making Ahmadinejad appear to be a selfless leader just as his re-election campaign is set to open. Ahmadinejad’s approval ratings have been plummeting recently, as the Iranian economy has been battered by falling oil prices. Rumors are rife in the Iranian press that Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatami, intends to compete against him in the election next spring.
South Waziristan, Pakistan
U.S. attacks with drones: A U.S. drone airstrike on a militant compound in Pakistan this week killed 20 people, including two Taliban commanders, government officials confirmed. One of the commanders, Eida Khan, was a key leader of attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The other, Wahweed Ullah, was a liaison between the Taliban and al Qaida. The strike was part of a growing campaign of drone attacks on Pakistan by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. has halted ground attacks in Pakistan because of intense Pakistani opposition, and has instead ramped up strikes by Predator drones, which can carry cameras and missiles and pinpoint targets dozens of miles inside Pakistan.
Pyongyang, North Korea
We will bury you: North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into “debris” this week, following a series of South Korean actions the North considered provocative. South Korean activists have been showering the North with propaganda leaflets dropped by hot-air balloons, and the South this week welcomed a North Korean defector. But it was a recent remark by a South Korean general, speculating about the possibility of conducting a pre-emptive military strike against the North, that most angered Pyongyang. “The puppet authorities had better remember,” Pyongyang’s state news agency said, “that the advanced pre-emptive strike of our own style will reduce everything opposed to the nation and reunification to debris, not just set them on fire.”