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The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Spain waves white flag," March 27, 2004

Spain Government officials last week arrested 10 suspects in the March 11 terrorist attacks on a busy Madrid commuter rail line that killed more than 200 persons. Several of the suspects are Moroccan nationals, and investigators appear to be focusing on a Moroccan connection, even as the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, an al-Qaeda ally, claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Terrorism experts, meanwhile, worry that regime change in Spain will encourage more acts of terrorism against Western countries. Just days after the attacks, Spaniards voted Bush allies out of office and turned their government over to Socialists who vowed to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq (story, p. 18).

South Korea Chaos in Madrid overshadowed terror and political upheaval in Asia. South Korea's legislature voted on March 12 to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun over charges of election-law violations and incompetence. As stock markets in the world's 12th largest economy tumbled at the shocking news, the opposition-dominated National Assembly used security guards to drag out screaming and kicking pro-Roh lawmakers. Thousands took to the streets to protest the decision, even as Prime Minister Goh Kun took the reins as interim leader.

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Mr. Goh's first duty in office was to put South Korea on high alert for terrorist attacks. &quotThose countries which have their troops stationed in Iraq have become main targets for terrorist attacks," he said shortly after the Madrid bombings. South Korea is readying 3,000 troops to take up stations in northern Iraq.

South Korea's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold the impeachment or restore power to Mr. Roh. The interim president urged the court to act quickly. Instability, he said, is a luxury South Korea cannot afford. In addition to a global terror threat, South Koreans fear terror from the North. Pyongyang has in the past used political uncertainty to gain advantage over the South. It quickly called off trade talks after the impeachment because the South was allegedly &quotunsafe" for travel. Mr. Goh called for preparedness against &quotaccidental clashes" in disputed waters off the west coast and urged the South's Western allies to resume six-party talks early over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

War on Terror Iraqi terrorists stepped up their attacks last week with a March 17 suicide bombing of a Baghdad hotel that killed at least seven people, and a March 18 car bomb aimed at a British military patrol that instead killed three Iraqis and wounded 15 others. Rebels also killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded nine in a March 17 mortar attack on two U.S. military bases.

The attacks came just days after gunmen murdered four U.S. missionaries and critically wounded another in Mosul. The five missionaries, all affiliated with Southern Baptist International Missionary Board, were in a double-cab pickup driving back to their quarters on March 15 when gunmen in a passing car opened fire on them (story, p. 21).

Politics As the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq arrived last week, U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf nation took center stage in the presidential campaign. Democratic nominee John Kerry blasted President Bush for holding &quotto failed policies that drive potential allies away. What we have seen is a steady loss of lives and mounting cost in dollars with no end in sight." Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, questioned Sen. Kerry's fitness to be commander in chief, citing his contradictory votes on Iraq policy and suggesting that he makes U.S. policy beholden to foreign leaders: &quotHe speaks as if only those who openly oppose America's objectives have a chance of earning his respect."

But while the presidential race focused abroad, the eyes of political analysts turned to Illinois, where Democrats hope to pick up the Senate seat of retiring Republican Peter Fitzgerald. Former investment banker and inner-city schoolteacher Jack Ryan last week won the GOP nomination, while civil-rights attorney Barack Obama beat a wealthy and crowded field to earn the Democratic nod. One GOP concern: Mr. Ryan refuses to open the records of his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, leading some to fear a last-minute damaging leak. Democrats hope an Obama victory would help them erase the GOP's two-seat majority in the Senate (story, p. 22).

Abortion A direct legislative challenge to Roe vs. Wade failed to come to term in the South Dakota Senate last week, despite having won an 18-17 Senate majority last month. The bill would have outlawed most abortions and almost certainly led to closely watched litigation. But after Republican Gov. Mike Rounds issued a &quotstyle and form" veto, sending it back to the Senate for changes, Democratic Sen. Paul Symens switched his yes vote to a no, killing the legislation until next year (story, p. 23).

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