The Hague, Netherlands
Liberian dictator on trial: Gruesome tales of rape and dismemberment dominated the first day of testimony at the war-crimes trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor this week. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court allege that Taylor orchestrated the smuggling of “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone and used the profits to arm the brutal rebels in that country’s 1991–2001 civil war. The court watched a video of maimed survivors telling how the rebels, many of them children themselves, hacked off the limbs of women and children and forced people to labor in diamond mines. One survivor said the Sierra Leonean rebels who held him referred to Taylor as “boss.” Taylor was forced into exile in 2003 and arrested in Nigeria in 2006.
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Diamond billionaire relocates: Israel’s richest man moved to London last week for tax reasons. Lev Leviev joined a growing list of Israeli billionaires who have resettled in Britain, where—unlike in Israel—they don’t have to pay tax on income earned abroad. Leviev, who emigrated to Israel from Soviet Uzbekistan in 1971, made his $4 billion fortune by buying up diamond mines in Russia, Angola, and Namibia, single-handedly breaking the De Beers company’s hold on the diamond industry. He has purchased a $70 million bulletproof mansion in a posh London suburb where at least two of his neighbors are also Israeli billionaires.
Sarkozy’s new bride: President Nicolas Sarkozy, who divorced his second wife just three months ago, this week confirmed that he intends to marry model-turned-singer Carla Bruni. “There is a strong chance that you will learn about it after it’s already done,” Sarkozy said of the wedding. His comment came after Le Journal du Dimanche broke the story of the impending nuptials. The French don’t seem to approve of their president’s whirlwind love life; Sarkozy’s approval rating stands at 48 percent, seven points lower than just a month ago. “The French people did not elect him to be a rock star,” said L’Est Républicain in an editorial. “He forgot that he should have a romance with France and not with himself and his paramour.”
The Dutch have peaked: The Dutch, believed to be the world’s tallest people, have stopped growing, the Netherlands’ Central Bureau for Statistics said this week. From the early 1980s to 2000, the height of the average Dutch man increased by more than 3 centimeters, to just over 180 centimeters (slightly under 5 feet 11 inches) in 2000, while Dutch women reached an average of 5-foot-6. But those heights have remained unchanged since 2001. “They’ve probably reached their genetic limit,” said researcher John Komlos of the University of Munich. The average American man is 5-foot-9, while American women average 5-foot-4.
Trash piles up: Naples residents fed up with the stink of uncollected garbage mounted violent protests this week, setting piles of waste on fire and clashing with police. City garbage collectors stopped picking up trash last month because, they said, all the dumps were full. They blamed Naples residents for blocking a plan to create new dumps. But Naples officials blamed the Mafia, which they say controls the waste-management industry. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has named a new trash commissioner, a former national police chief, to tackle the crisis. But he said that ultimately Naples’ chronic trash problem should be solved locally. Naples fills up with uncollected garbage every couple of years. The pile is currently growing at a rate of 800 tons a day.
Zoo horror: Germans were appalled this week when the Nuremberg Zoo announced that two polar bear cubs, which the zoo had refused to hand-raise, had probably been eaten by their mother. The cubs may have been ill, said the zoo, and the mother’s response was a natural one when “the surroundings make a successful upbringing unlikely.” German animal activists retorted that all zoo surroundings are unnatural environments for polar bears, and that the zoo had a responsibility to save the cubs. Germany went polar bear–crazy last year, after the Berlin Zoo hand-raised a cub named Knut, who became an unofficial national mascot.
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