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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

Subway terror

Muscovites did not panic; they bought flowers, according to Russian novelist Olga Grushin. "Flowers in Moscow are very expensive," she wrote in The Wall Street Journal after female suicide bombers killed 39 and injured dozens more in two separate March 29 attacks, "but both stations are drowning in flowers, and there are flowers on the streets above as well: Every passerby carries at least one flower." But there is little popular sentiment for Moscow's government, as calls for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's resignation have increased since the attacks, and respected pundits like the Hudson Institute's Andrei Piontkovsky warn that the bombings may lead to further government oppression, and could even have been staged to counter growing street demonstrations against the government.

Past and prologue

The United States once had 6,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo-a now mostly forgotten conflict. But on March 29 U.S. peacekeepers patrolled Kosovo's border with Macedonia for the last time, handing over the task to the local police force. The region was a scene of clashes during ethnic Albanian uprisings of 2001-10 years after gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia, whose breakup launched the 1992-95 Bosnian Civil War. Serbs took a further step toward closure March 31, when the Serbian parliament narrowly passed a resolution apologizing for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The resolution "strongly" condemned the incident, when Serb militants kidnapped and killed about 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys from the city in eastern Bosnia, which had been a UN safe haven.

Breach of peace

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American evangelist Shawn Holes was preaching to a crowd in Glasgow, Scotland, when some same-sex couples asked what he thought about homosexuality. Holes said he answered, "Your homosexuality is the least of your problems. Your problem is your heart." He added that homosexuality is a sin deserving of hell but that all sinners, including himself, deserve God's wrath but are offered salvation. Afterwards, police officers arrested him and took him to jail-a surprise since his fellow preachers had just hours earlier asked a duty officer if it was acceptable to preach freely and to answer questions about homosexuality. The officer told them yes.

Holes spent the night in a damp cell with only a mat for sleeping on the hard floor. The next day he pleaded guilty to breaching the peace by "uttering homophobic remarks" that were "aggravated by religious prejudice," choosing not to fight the charges so that he could come back to the United States to care for his ailing father. The court fined him £1,000 pounds (about $1,500)-the highest fine ever levied against a street evangelist, according to Christian Institute's Simon Calvert on Christian Premier Radio. A prominent gay-rights activist, Peter Tatchell, defended Holes' freedom of speech and called the fine disproportionate.

Be prepared

In a state facing a $20 billion deficit, officials worry that California will limit resources for the next earthquake. On April 4, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico and Southern California, damaging water storage facilities and water mains, disrupting telecommunication, and buckling roads. A recent study by the state's Emergency Management Agency found that many residents are unprepared: Fewer than 20 percent had structurally reinforced their home or purchased earthquake insurance, and less than 40 percent stored the recommended minimum of three gallons of water. The state recently cut its emergency preparedness budget to $1.4 billion.

Bipartisan fringe

Tea Partiers can be a diverse group, not simply the right-wing fringe as they are portrayed: 40 percent of those surveyed in a recent Winston Group poll identified themselves as either independents or Democrats-13 percent called themselves Democrats and 28 percent called themselves independents, while a majority still identified themselves as Republicans. Most said they rallied to the movement over concern about the economy and government spending.

Violent vacuum

Americans may be more impatient for Iraq to form a new government than Iraqis: "We mustn't sacrifice the quality of the government in consideration of the time it takes to form that government," Qubad Talabani, a spokesman for the Kurdish Alliance in Washington, said recently. That could change with the recent rise in violence, as lead political factions scramble to form a winning coalition. Election officials announced March 26 that challenger Ayad Allawi had defeated incumbent Nouri al-Maliki by two parliamentary seats in last month's elections. The close finish set the stage for jockeying among parties who represent Iraq's minorities, like the Kurdish Alliance, and the radical Shiite movement led by Moktada al-Sadr. While Kurdish leaders met with both sides to shore up their role in an eventual coalition, Sadrists went the other way, rejecting both leaders in an informal April 7 poll. Insurgents are taking advantage of a perceived power vacuum, exploding at least seven bombs in Baghdad on April 6, killing more than 30 people and wounding 140 others. It was the latest in a series of attacks that killed more than 100 people in five days.

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