The world at a glance . . . International
Harare, ZimbabwePresidential runoff: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes than President Robert Mugabe, but not enough to avoid a runoff, Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said last week after a delay of more than a month. Tsvangirai took 47.9 percent to Mugabe’s 43.2 percent; 50 percent is required to win outright. The U.S. State Department was skeptical. “That final tally, I think, has rather serious credibility problems, given the inexplicably long delays,” said spokesman Tom Casey. No date has been set for the runoff, and Tsvangirai has not said whether he will participate. Since the original vote, Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has been trying to reassert control over rural areas through violence and intimidation, sending militias to beat up opposition activists.
Dusa Marreb, SomaliaU.S. kills militants: Cruise missiles launched from a U.S. naval vessel killed militants in central Somalia last week, including a top insurgent leader with ties to al Qaida. The attack, on the town of Dusa Marreb, obliterated the house of Aden Hashi Ayro, who was present with at least one of his top commanders. Ayro was a leader of al-Shabab, the military wing of the Islamic Courts movement, which has been fighting Somalia’s Ethiopian-backed transitional government. He trained with al Qaida in Afghanistan and is believed to have introduced suicide bombings and roadside bombings to Somalia. The U.S. recently declared al-Shabab a terrorist group.
Hainan Island, ChinaNew nuclear base: China is building a new naval base for warships and submarines in the South China Sea, satellite photos acquired by Jane’s Intelligence Review confirmed this week. Analysts said the new base could eventually be home to half of China’s nuclear warheads and could pose a threat to Taiwan, the Philippines, and even India. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang refused to confirm or deny construction of the new base. “There is no need for the Western countries to be worried, or concerned, or make any irresponsible accusations,” Qin said. “China’s national defense and military building will not pose a threat to any countries.
Yangon, MyanmarCyclone kills thousands: A huge tidal wave touched off by a cyclone devastated several seaside villages in Myanmar this week, leaving at least 23,000 people dead and up to 1 million homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people are now in desperate need of clean drinking water, and the country’s reclusive, authoritarian leaders made a rare plea for international aid. The cyclone struck just as the country, ruled by military juntas since 1962, was preparing for a referendum on a new constitution intended to solidify the military’s control. U.S. first lady Laura Bush, who has been an outspoken critic of the regime, this week urged the junta to cancel the vote, saying it would “give false legitimacy” to its “inept” rule. The U.S. increased sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, after last year’s repressive crackdown on Buddhist monks.
Ashgabat, TurkmenistanEnding a cult of personality: Turkmenistan is taking down a giant, rotating statue of its late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died last year. The 40-foot-tall, gold-plated statue has dominated the center of the capital since 1998, slowly rotating atop a 250-foot tower so that Niyazov always faces the sun. This week, Niyazov’s successor as president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, ordered that the tower be moved to an outlying suburb. It was just the latest in a series of decrees dismantling the cult of personality around the megalomaniacal dictator. Berdymukhamedov has also restored the names of the months, which Niyazov had renamed after himself, his mother, and other favorite people. Berdymukhamedov may soon allow car radios, which Niyazov had banned because they annoyed him.
TehranNo talks on Iraq: Iran this week broke off talks with the U.S. on Iraqi security, saying it would resume them only when the U.S. stopped killing Shiite civilians. “We are witnessing indiscriminate bombardment of Iraqi residential areas by the U.S. occupying forces,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said. The announcement came as U.S. and Iraqi officials ramped up anti-Iranian rhetoric. An Iraqi government spokesman said there was “concrete evidence” that insurgents were using Iranian-made weapons. And the U.S. said it had evidence that Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese group, was training Iraqi militants in camps on Iranian territory. The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, and the talks on Iraq, which began last May, have been the two countries’ only face-to-face meetings in years.