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Wide Angle Blog
March 6th, 2009

Asian markets tumble a day after Wall Street’s drop to a 12-year low.

NATO revives full diplomatic relations with Russia, which were cut off in August 2008 on account of Russia’s war with Georgia.

The wife of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is killed in a car accident; the prime minister himself suffers slight injuries.

Mauritania expels its Israeli ambassador in response to the recent military offensive in Gaza.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman is expected to arrive in Syria tomorrow, for the highest-level diplomatic talks between the two nations in the past four years.

March 5th, 2009

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announces an unprecedented stimulus package — 4-trillion yuan (585.5 billion U.S.dollars) over the next two years — to combat the impact of the global economic crisis. Wen says he anticipates that China’s economy will grow by 8 percent in 2009.

In response to the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, Sudan expelled ten aid agencies from the country including Doctors Without Borders, CARE and Oxfam. The African Union says that it will send a delegation to the ICC to request a one-year suspension of the indictment to “give a chance for peace in Sudan.’’

The European Central Bank cuts interest rates to 1.5%, the lowest in the bank’s ten year history. The Bank of England of England cuts interest rates to a record low of 0.5%.

March 4th, 2009

The International Criminal Court orders the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, marking the court’s first ever arrest warrant issued for a sitting head of state.

Twenty prisoners die in a gang fight amidst a rising wave of drug-related crime in Mexico’s most violent city, Cuidad Juarez.

Visiting the West Bank, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticizes Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and says she pressed Israel to open border crossings to Gaza.

In an uplifting address, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown tells the U.S. Congress: “now more than ever, the world wants to work with you.”

March 3rd, 2009

President Obama wrote a secret letter to Russian President, Dimitri Medvedev, saying that the U.S. will back off on plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Russia will help deter Iran from developing long-range missiles. Medvedev indicated that he is willing to cooperate on the Iranian nuclear threat.

The Sri Lankan cricket team is attacked while traveling on a bus in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistani officials say that the attack bore the hallmarks of the November 2008 attack in Mumbai, India.

The International Criminal Court is expected to announce the indictment of Sudan’s President, Omar al-Beshir, on Wednesday. Al-Beshir dismisses the indictment saying that the West are trying to prevent development projects in Sudan.

March 2nd, 2009

Jeff Seelbach

A Chinese man who claims to have been the anonymous highest bidder on two Qing Dynasty sculptures at a Paris auction now says that he will not pay the money. The Chinese government says that the bronze artifacts were stolen and should be repatriated, and it appears that Cai Mingchao, the supposed buyer, disrupted their sale in a crafty bit of auction sabotage.

Mingchao is affiliated with a government-supported organization that seeks to retrieve stolen Chinese artifacts, and he says that his anonymous and fake phone bid was a patriotic act. “I think any Chinese person would have stood up at that moment,” he said. “I was merely fulfilling my responsibilities.” The hijinx teaches a lesson that the French should be familiar with: beware of unknown phone callers.

The sculptures, of the heads of a rabbit and a rat, were part of the private collection of the late iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, and fetched 15.8 million euros ($20.3 million) each at the Christie’s auction. The pair were originally part of the Zodiac Fountain of the Emperor Quianlong’s Summer Palace outside Beijing. Dating from the 18th century, they disappeared around 1860, when British and French soldiers attacked and looted the palace. The fountain originally included twelve heads, seven of which have been found, and five of which have been returned to China.

The Chinese government tried to shut down the auction entirely, but a French court denied their claim.

Eminent cultural ambassador Jackie Chan rose to China’s defense, saying, “This behavior is shameful….It was looting yesterday. It is still looting today.” In a handy bit of cross-promotion, Chan also happens to be working on a film about the theft of cultural relics. If I were to pick someone to defend my national honor, Chan would be a good candidate.

In response to China’s criticism, Bergé retorted, “I’m absolutely ready to give the two heads to China. The only thing I ask is for China to give human rights, liberty to Tibet and to welcome the Dalai Lama.” Ouch. Kinda seems like apples and oranges to me, but at this point, who’s counting?

March 2nd, 2009

Two rivals in Guinea Bissau — its president and army chief — are both assassinated within hours of each other.

The international community pledges $5.2 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza, with the U.S. pledging $900 million. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is adamant that none of this money will go to Hamas.

A report by the Israeli group Peace Now says that Israel is planning 73,300 new homes in the West Bank.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown travels to Washington to persuade President Obama of the importance of a coordinated response to the global recession.

February 27th, 2009

Buzzwords appears each Friday on the Wide Angle blog and breaks down the lingo, jargon and hot topics of the world’s headlines.

Erin Chapman

While Swat Valley may sound like the training grounds for an elite tactical unit of hot-shot cops that bust up crack houses and neutralize high-risk hostage situations, it’s actually quite a lovely region in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Its verdant medows and snow-covered mountains used to be one of Pakistan’s most popular tourist attractions. But in recent months, the Pakistani Taliban have taken over the area and nearly half of Swat Valley’s actual police force have deserted or taken “extended leave” due to the threat of violence from Islamic extremists. A former ski resort – Pakistan’s only haven for slope bunnies – was burnt down by Islamic militants in 2008.

The valley’s peaceful roots date back thousands of years to a time when it was one of the cradles of Buddhism. Like Bamiyan, Swat had its own oversized rock carving of the Buddha and unfortunately, also like Bamiyan, the Taliban decided that serenity writ large was too much of an abomination and blew off the Buddha’s face. Thank goodness the Taliban haven’t thought of attacking some of the U.S.’s most treasured giant statues. Surely, a nation without its corn-shaped water towers would be a nation demoralized.

Although inhabitants of the Swat Valley have been adherents to the Islamic faith for some time, it wasn’t until 2004 that radicalism encroached in the form of a cleric named Maulana Fazlullah. His popular radio broadcasts promoted Wahabist values, decried the vulgarity of music, dancing and television (and probably puppies and warm woolen mittens), and “discouraged” girls from attending school. Fazlullah and his father-in-law and fellow hard-line cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, have stirred up enough conflict and gained enough power to cow the government in Islamabad into implementing Sharia law for the area in exchange for a ceasefire. It’s a truce that may be tenuous.

(Christian Science Monitor, DAWN, Jamestown Foundation)
February 27th, 2009

President Obama announces that he’ll pull most troops out of Iraq by August 2010; his former opponent Sen. John McCain supports the plan.

Forty-two bodies are found in a canal and mass grave in Bangladesh Friday, after 33-hour mutiny.

South Africa will provide bulk of US $2 billion for Zimbabwe recovery; newly sworn-in Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai says US $5 billion is required.

February 26th, 2009

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas begin reconciliation talks in Cairo.

Mutineers have surrendered their arms in Dhaka; nearly 50 people are believed to have died in 33 hours of fighting.

Former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, charged with the murder of hundreds of Kosovar Albanians and forcible deportation of about 800,000, has been acquitted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

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