Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Memorial Day 2004," May 29, 2004

Israel Government forces raided the Rafah Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza Strip on May 18, and killed 40 Palestinians by the third day of the invasion, many teenagers and children.

The raid was in response to the Palestinian killing of seven Israeli soldiers on the Egypt-Gaza border a week earlier. Israeli tanks began demolishing Rafah homes suspected of covering underground weapons-smuggling tunnels.

President Bush signaled the Israelis had gone too far when it opened fire on thousands of mostly Palestinian youths protesting the raid. "I continue to urge restraint," he said. "It is essential that people respect innocent life in order for us to achieve peace."

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And to show its displeasure, the United States for the first time in two years abstained on a UN resolution criticizing Israel's actions. Israeli officials apologized for the civilian deaths, but continued to press deeper into Rafah.

India Manmohan Singh became India's new prime minister on May 19, following an election upset that saw the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ousted and almost saw the country's founding Gandhi family resume power. The country's Indian National Congress party flattened every pundit's predictions and took power again after an eight-year break. Muslims and Christians celebrated a return to state secularism.

But party president Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, declined to be prime minister herself, though. Mr. Singh, a quiet, Oxford-educated economist, will be the country's first Sikh prime minister. In the early 1990s he started the reforms that are transforming India from a socialist economy to a global powerhouse.

News of his appointment calmed a frantic stock market that worried the Congress' Communist allies would roll back economic reforms. But poor Indians who angrily voted the BJP out of office have been left behind by the country's technology boom. They'll want the Congress to lift their fortunes (story, page 20).

Iraq U.S. forces found their first evidence of WMD when an improvised bomb with deadly sarin gas exploded in a roadside attack. Five days later, on May 20, they went after the man who had sounded the alarm for years about Saddam Hussein's WMD programs. Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers, along with about 100 FBI and CIA agents, raided the Baghdad home and offices of Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress. They confiscated files and computers and reportedly told his aides they were looking for wanted officials in his party.

"I am America's best friend in Iraq,'" said a furious Mr. Chalabi. Political rivalries are fueling the furor over Mr. Chalabi, disliked by the State Department. In the last few weeks, State officials have leaked snide criticisms of him to journalists, saying he's sold "sensitive" information to Iran and is interfering with U.S investigations into the UN Oil-for-Food program. After the raid, Mr. Chalabi said he wanted nothing to do with the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Elsewhere, U.S. ground forces fired on a village on Iraq's border with Syria May 19, targeting a house thought to be harboring Syrian fighters. Villagers said they hit a wedding party, killing 40 civilians. The U.S. military said soldiers later discovered large stashes of Iraqi and Syrian currency and weapons, foreign passports and a two-way satellite radio.

Iraq's stability took another blow, too, with the May 17 assassination of Iraqi Governing Council President Izzadine Saleem in a bomb attack. He's the council's second member to be killed, and his assassination raised more questions about who-or what -would succeed the IGC when the Iraqis take power on July 1 (story, page 23).

Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked the governor and declared a state of emergency in the central state of Plateau, using his emergency powers for his first time since coming to office.

His move came after successive revenge attacks between Muslims and Christians. Taking revenge for February attacks, members of the Christian Tarok tribe killed hundreds of Muslims in Yelwa on May 2 and 4 and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing. Hausa Muslims retaliated in the neighboring state of Kano, killing scores of Christians.

The communal violence has killed 10,000 Nigerians since 1999. Josiah Fearon, Anglican archbishop of Kaduna State, blames local clerics and political leaders for fanning tribal and religious hatreds, while sidelined minority tribes are fighting for equality in a new democracy. But a main root cause of the violence is that 12 of Nigeria's 36 states have implemented Islamic sharia law since 2000.

Technology Perhaps Diebold's electronic voting systems aren't as bad as some thought. Ohio's governor liked them so much, he signed a bill requiring them in all counties by 2006. Even in California, where Diebold's machines were vilified, an exit poll after the state's primary revealed a 97 percent approval rating, which will get you pretty far in the world of elections (story, page 37).


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