Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest on the week's biggest stories

Issue: "Looking at India," Dec. 9, 2006

Iraq

A four-day curfew in Baghdad to curb unprecedented violence ended Nov. 27, three days before President Bush arrived in Jordan to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After a lengthy meeting Bush said "certain key principles behind our strategy remain firm and they're fixed" and again rejected calls-including from his own bipartisan commission-to set a timetable for withdrawing troops.

The two heads of state expressed confidence in one another's leadership despite tension ahead of the meeting. Maliki backed out of an initial Nov. 29 meeting with the president, hours after The New York Times published details of a classified memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley expressing doubt about Maliki's ability to rein in Iraqi militias. Maliki, for his part, withstood a government boycott by radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr over his decision to meet with the president Nov. 30.

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A series of car bombings and mortar attacks begun by insurgents on Thanksgiving Day-the deadliest since the war began-has killed over 200 Iraqis and wounded more than 250. It sparked reprisal attacks locals said were not met with U.S. or Iraqi force for more than two hours, even though Defense Ministry offices were located in the vicinity. Nevertheless, with one month to go U.S. military deaths in Iraq in 2006 have surpassed any year since the war began.

China

Authorities secretly executed three leaders of the cultish Three Grades Servant church in Shuayashang City, Heilongjiang Province, without notifying their lawyers or family. Officials told one man's widow to pick up his ashes in a jar Nov. 28, reports the China Aid Association. The men were accused of aiding and abetting the murders of a rival cult, Eastern Lightning, though there was little evidence of that. The two groups often fight over members.

Meanwhile, a retrial for blind activist Chen Guangcheng ended Nov. 27 without an immediate verdict. Retrials are rare in China, but Chen has won international acclaim for documenting forced abortions and sterilizations in Linyi, Shandong Province.

London

The radiation scare following the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko widened as British officials reported they had found radiation on at least three airline jets and in at least a dozen sites. Three British Airways craft involved were on the London-Moscow route, potentially affecting 33,000 passengers and 3,000 crew on their flights. At the same time, speculation stirred that ex-Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar was also poisoned on a trip to Ireland, where he fell violently ill Nov. 24. The scare has focused world attention on Russian violence and aggressive intentions abroad.

Education

The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 27 passed up an opportunity to weigh in on the debate over school vouchers. The libertarian Institute of Justice had asked the court to take a case involving eight Maine families that want to send their children to religious schools. School districts in small Maine towns with no high schools pay tuition for 17,000 students to go to the public or private schools of their choice unless those schools are defined as religious. In April, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the program's exclusion of religious schools, which was ordered by the Maine Legislature in 1983.

Politics

The 2008 presidential campaign began to take shape last week as a high-profile Republican-outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist-declared that he would not run and a relatively low-profile Democrat-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack-announced that he would. Frist, under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading, has vehemently denied the charges but said he "will take a sabbatical from public life" as he leaves the Senate. Vilsack, meanwhile, launched his campaign on a platform of promoting alternative energy.

Religion

Calling for greater freedom for religious minorities in the Muslim world, Pope Benedict XVI made a dramatic visit to Turkey last week. The visit to the predominately Muslim nation came just two months after the pope sparked Muslim protests by quoting a statement from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor about Muslims spreading their religion through violence. As a "sign of respect," the pope visited the Blue Mosque, Turkey's most famous mosque, and bowed his head as Mustafa Cagrici, the head cleric of Istanbul, prayed.

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