The world at a glance . . . International
Deir ez-Zor, Syria
Nuclear inspections: Syria this week announced that it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit the site of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike last September. Israel and the U.S. have said the facility was a nuclear reactor, built with North Korean help, but Syria has denied that. “This fabricated story by the U.S. administration will deconstruct from within and without,” the Syrian government said in a statement. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his team would “verify, to the extent possible at this stage, the veracity of the information available.” ElBaradei also criticized Israel for acting “unilaterally before the agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts.”
Fewer deaths: Fewer Americans died in Iraq in May than in any month since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. There were 19 American fatalities, down sharply from 52 in April. Officials said the number of Iraqi civilian casualties dropped to 532 from more than 1,000 the month before, and that there were fewer insurgent attacks last week than in any period since March 2004. “The security situation is much better than in the past three or four months,” said Falih Radhi, a Baghdad shopkeeper. But commanders warned that violence could flare up again. As if to prove that point, tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites this week staged protests in opposition to any long-term U.S. presence in the country.
Danish Embassy bombed: A suicide bomber this week killed at least six people and injured 35 outside the Danish Embassy in Pakistan, just a month after al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri called for attacks against Denmark for “aggression against Muslims by repeatedly slandering the Prophet.” In 2005, Danish newspapers published unflattering cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, touching off violent protests in the Muslim world; the cartoons were republished earlier this year. Pakistani officials blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban, a group currently negotiating a truce with the government. “It appears to be a one-off attack which has little relevance to the ongoing negotiations,” one official said. Nearly all of the victims were Pakistani.
Parents lash out: Grieving Chinese parents this week turned an annual national holiday celebrating childhood into an extraordinary day of unauthorized public protest. Demanding an explanation for why so many schools collapsed in last month’s earthquake while buildings around them were undamaged, parents in cities throughout the quake zone held marches and sit-ins. At one school, 600 people wore shirts that read, “We firmly ask for justice for the dead students. Severely punish the corruption in the ‘tofu’ construction.” More than 10,000 students and teachers died in the quake. Government officials, seeking to focus on stories of heroism and fortitude, pleaded with the parents to end their protests and ordered the media not to cover them.
Protesting U.S. beef: Riot police this week clashed with 40,000 people who rallied in central Seoul to protest a government plan to resume beef imports from the U.S. South Korea banned most American beef in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in the state of Washington. Previously, the U.S. exported $815 million worth of beef annually to South Korea, and the ban has become an obstacle to the approval of a new free trade agreement. But President Lee Myung-bak’s announcement last week that the imports would resume was met with fierce protests. Mobs chanting, “We don’t want crazy cows” attacked police, and more than 200 people were arrested. In the wake of the protests, South Korea said it would indefinitely extend the ban.
Myanmar under pressure: Myanmar’s military junta is guilty of “criminal neglect” in refusing to accept aid following last month’s devastating cyclone, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week at a meeting of international defense ministers in Singapore. Other national representatives were equally blunt, but the group rejected any plan to use military force against the country, formerly known as Burma. Despite recent promises, the junta has continued to bar virtually all foreign aid workers from the country. Gates said the U.S. might soon be forced to withdraw four Navy ships that have been waiting vainly off the coast of Myanmar to deliver supplies. “Unless the regime changes its approach, changes its policy, more people will die,” he said.