Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Passing the Olympic torch," Sept. 4, 2004

Russia Russian officials said the black boxes recovered from two airline crash sites did not immediately reveal the cause of an Aug. 24 air disaster that claimed 89 lives. Further analysis meant the results won't arrive until after contested elections in war-torn Chechnya.

Though government sources suggested bad weather or bad fuel as the cause, most Russians seemed convinced that the near-simultaneous crashes were the work of Chechen separatists. One of the airlines involved said its plane had sent a distress signal seconds before disappearing from radar. Eyewitnesses at the other crash site reported hearing explosions before the plane fell to earth. Fear of a Madrid syndrome may explain why Russian President Vladimir Putin hesitated to name terrorism as the cause, risking an upset for Moscow's candidate ahead of Aug. 29 voting.

Sudan The Sudanese government shrugged at an Aug. 30 UN deadline to dismantle militias terrorizing black Muslims in the western Darfur region. Displaced Darfuris-numbering more than 1 million-say attacks and killings continue. But the UN Security Council dragged its own feet toward a showdown, demonstrating little stomach for the economic sanctions it threatened a month ago. As the two parties fiddle, time ebbs for Darfuris confined to refugee camps and afraid to return home. The rainy season has washed out roads and brought water-borne diseases. Two million need emergency food aid. State Department interviews with 257 refugees chronicle "a pattern of atrocities" against Darfuris, with one-third hearing slurs such as "Kill the slaves" during attacks.

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Weather Typhoon Aere dumped 59 inches-that's almost 5 feet-of torrential rain on some areas of Taiwan before moving to China's southeast coast on Aug. 26, where 930,000 people had fled their homes to escape the Pacific storm's fury. The death toll after almost three days was 35.

White House Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the president will "pursue court action" to bring an end to attack ads by outside groups that have proved damaging to Mr. Kerry. Separately, Vice President Dick Cheney muddied campaign debate by announcing that he opposes a constitutional amendment to define marriage. "Protection of our values is made more difficult when mixed messages emanate from the White House," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Abu Ghraib Sen. John Kerry wasted no time politicizing the findings of two commissions charged with investigating abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "The time has come for our commander in chief to take charge," Mr. Kerry said on Aug. 25, renewing his demand that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld be replaced.

The reports themselves made no such demands, however. An independent commission declared on Aug. 24 that senior military officials may have been inattentive to problems at the Baghdad prison, but it stopped far short of blaming top Pentagon brass for the scandal. A separate Army panel report found 44 separate cases of abuse, including one that led to the death of a prisoner, but it said the majority of those cases occurred outside the interrogation process. Rather than seeking to elicit information, a small group of guards and intelligence personnel were amusing themselves with scenes of torture and sexual humiliation, according to the report.

Iraq Shiite Iraqis' grand ayatollah made a grand entrance to bloodied Najaf to talk peace with Shiite outlaw Muqtada al-Sadr after ultimatums from the cleric Ali al-Sistani failed. U.S. forces and the Iraqi government hope the reclusive Mr. Sistani can end the siege-which left over 95 Iraqis dead from bombings in one 24-hour period-but it will come with a price. Mr. Sistani favors Islamic law over Iraq and keeps close ties to Iran's theocratic leadership, and he is likely to call in those chips for agreeing to play the 11th-hour diplomat.

Afghanistan A 29-year-old Australian pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit war crimes in his efforts to defend the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The Aug. 25 arraignment in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of Daniel Hicks, a convert to Islam, marked only the second time since World War II that such a tribunal has been convened. The first came a day earlier, when Osama bin Laden's former chauffeur, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was arraigned on similar charges.

Homeland security A Virginia man with alleged financial ties to the terrorist group Hamas was detained by authorities in Maryland last week after videotaping support structures on the 4-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The incident further heightened fears of domestic terrorism during the GOP convention slated to open Aug. 30. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge insisted New York City was prepared for the convention onslaught, but others had reason to be wary.

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