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The world at a glance . . . International

Patuakhali, Bangladesh; Jerusalem; Kabul; Nikolskoye, Russia; Guwahati, India; Shimonoseki, Japan

Patuakhali, Bangladesh Deadly storm: A powerful cyclone battered Bangladesh’s southern coastline for four days last week, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands stunned and homeless. As rescue workers this week dug furiously through the rubble of entire villages that had been flattened by the storm’s 150 mph winds, the death toll of more than 3,000 was expected to climb much higher. Many of the dead apparently had ignored an alert issued by authorities. “Just before midnight the winds came like hundreds of demons,” said Dhalan Mridha, a 45-year-old farmworker. “Our small hut was swept away like a piece of paper.” During the ensuing chaos, Mridha lost contact with his wife, mother, and two children. He found their bodies the next day. 

JerusalemPeace gestures: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced this week that 441 Palestinian prisoners would be released from Israeli jails and that dozens of unauthorized Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be torn down. The moves were apparently designed to soften Arab resistance to a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference, set for next week. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states had said they would not send high-level delegations to the conference without Israeli concessions. But Arab and Palestinian leaders were hoping for the release of 2,000 prisoners, and they complained that Olmert had declined to pledge a freeze on all construction in existing settlements. The summit, scheduled to start Nov. 27 in Annapolis, Md., marks the first substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in seven years.  

KabulDeadly panic: Panicked by a suicide bombing, bodyguards protecting Afghan lawmakers began shooting wildly into a crowd of schoolchildren and other civilians earlier this month, killing as many as 50, a U.N. investigation concluded this week. The report said the gunmen fired blindly into thick black smoke for up to five minutes. “Armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them,” the U.N. report said. The children had been welcoming politicians visiting a sugar factory in Baghlan province when the bomb detonated and the guards began firing. Afghan officials had no immediate response to the report.  

Nikolskoye, RussiaThe end is near: Members of a doomsday cult barricaded themselves in a cave this week and threatened to ignite 100 gallons of gasoline if authorities tried to evict them. The 29 disciples of self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, who is in custody, refused to listen to priests and relatives who begged them to leave their bunker. Kuznetsov’s so-called True Russian Orthodox Church bans followers from watching TV, listening to radio, or handling money. In the afterlife, he preaches, followers will get to decide whether others should go to heaven or hell. “My son was kind and now he is mentally ill,” said the mother of one follower.

Guwahati, IndiaMonkey mayhem: India is in the midst of a crime wave, and the culprits are monkeys. As the nation’s forests give way to development, thousands of monkeys have been relocating to urban areas, where they have grown more aggressive. “Monkeys are wreaking havoc,” said Assam state legislator Hiren Das, noting that they have “even been slapping women who try to chase them.” It’s no laughing matter. About two dozen people were injured last week after monkeys rampaged through a New Delhi neighborhood. That city’s deputy mayor died last month after falling from his balcony following a monkey attack. The government has formed a panel to study the problem, but there are religious complications. Devout Hindus view monkeys as the incarnation of the god Hanuman, who symbolizes strength.

Shimonoseki, JapanWhale showdown: A Japanese whaling fleet set sail this week for waters off Antarctica, where it planned to kill up to 50 humpbacks and hundreds of other whales. The expedition marks the first large-scale hunt for the once nearly-extinct humpback in more than 40 years, and some environmentalists vowed to disrupt the hunt. “It’s a large ocean, but we’re going to track them down,” said Greenpeace’s Dave Walsh. The International Whaling Commission allows only whale hunts that are “scientific” in nature; Japan’s Fisheries Agency says this hunt qualifies, since researchers plan to study whales’ reproductive and feeding patterns. But critics say the science is merely a cover for commercial whaling. A Japanese official called the protesters “violent environmental terrorists.”

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