The world at a glance . . . International
MoscowPresidential successor: President Vladimir Putin has named Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev as his choice to run for president when Putin’s second term ends next spring. Medvedev, 42, the chairman of the Russian gas company Gazprom, is a longtime protégé of Putin’s who is seen as completely loyal to the president. Medvedev immediately said that his first act as president would be to appoint Putin prime minister. “I consider it of fundamental importance for our country to retain Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in the most important position,” Medvedev said. Given Putin’s extreme popularity, Medvedev’s pledge to install him as premier all but ensures a Medvedev presidential victory. Putin first floated the idea of becoming prime minister last October, when he announced he would head the parliamentary ticket of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. That party swept elections earlier this month.
Algiers, AlgeriaTerrorists kill dozens: Two powerful car bombs exploded in the Algerian capital this week, killing at least 60 people in the city’s worst attack this decade. The first bomb exploded near the Constitutional Court building, while the second detonated near a U.N. compound; some U.N. staffers were among the dead. Police could not immediately say whether the bombings were the work of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a terrorist outfit linked to al Qaida and long active in Algeria. The group has conducted sporadic attacks in Algeria since 1992, when the army staged a coup to prevent an Islamist election victory.
Basra, IraqWomen killed for sharia breaches: Dozens of women were murdered in the southern Iraqi city of Basra this year for failing to wear Islamic dress, the Basra police chief said this week. Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf said sectarian vigilante groups have been patrolling the city, attacking women not wearing veils. Khalaf said that while at least 40 women were reported murdered, “we believe the number of murdered women is much higher, as cases go unreported by their families who fear reprisal from extremists.” At least 18 barbers who shave men’s beards have also been slain. Before the U.S.-led invasion, Basra was known as a secular, cosmopolitan city with a vibrant nightlife. The city has been the base for the British contingent of coalition forces.
BeirutGeneral assassinated: One of Lebanon’s top generals was killed this week in a car bombing, the first attack to target the army in two years of political assassinations. Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj, a Maronite Christian, was considered the leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman, if Suleiman is elected president. The finger-pointing began immediately. One government minister accused the “Syrian-Iranian axis” of the murder, but the Syrian- and Iranian-backed party Hezbollah condemned the killing. Others suspected Sunni militants, whom Hajj targeted in a major military campaign at a Palestinian refugee camp over the summer. Lebanon is currently in its worst political crisis since the 1975–90 civil war. Parliament has been unable to agree on a replacement for President Emile Lahoud, whose term expired last month.
Demilitarized Zone, Korean PeninsulaTrain links two Koreas: North and South Korea started their first regular train service since the 1950–53 war this week, sending freight cars across the heavily armed border. A 12-car train carrying raw materials for shoes crossed from South to North and returned later the same day. “With this service, a clogged blood vessel between North and South Korea has become unblocked,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said. The daily train service will terminate just 12 miles inside North Korea. Eventually, South Korea hopes to establish a train service across North Korea into China and Russia.
Queensland, AustraliaHorror at rape leniency: The Australian government has appealed a judge’s decision not to jail any of the nine young men who gang-raped a 10-year-old girl in an Aboriginal community. Legal authorities said they were appalled at the verdict by Judge Sarah Bradley, who told the defendants that the girl “was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you.” The judge said that because six of the nine men were under age 16 (the others were 17, 18, and 26), the sex, while technically rape, was culturally acceptable in the Aboriginal context. Aboriginal and children’s rights activists disagreed. “If that girl had been a white child living in suburban Brisbane,” said children’s advocate Hetty Johnson, “there is no way that nine defendants would have walked out of the court.”