A frigid wind swept through Moscow's central square on March 4 as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proclaimed victory in the country's presidential elections. The win extends Putin's rule to 18 years: He served eight years as president then four years as prime minister before running for president again.
Supporters chanted victory cheers, but the square turned colder the next day as thousands of Russians protested the results. Citing fraudulent parliamentary elections in December and years of corruption in Putin's regime, protesters say they're determined to contest the results. Others seemed less optimistic about challenging Putin's power. One protester carried a sign reading: "Bye future."
Long lines of destruction
The National Weather Service identified at least 45 separate tornadoes in a deadly outbreak across the Midwest and South affecting millions of people in 10 states. The system killed 41 people: 23 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia. The strongest of the twisters hit Henryville, Ind., March 2 with maximum winds at 175 mph. It stayed on the ground for 49 miles, while another tornado that struck Kentucky and West Virginia stayed on the ground for 95 miles. Weather officials say 95 recorded tornadoes in January alone well outstrip a 10-year average of 35 for that month-and the first week of March may signal a record-setting spring tornado season as well.
Spring break alert
Violence between competing criminal organizations in Mexico isn't new, says a report by Stratfor, but students on spring break and other tourists ignore the threat to resorts and other hot spots at their peril. In the last five years murders related to organized crime in Mexico have gone from 2,119 to 15,273. "Nothing in the behavior of Mexican cartels indicates that they would consciously keep tourists out of the line of fire," the report says. Los Zetas cartel tried to burn down the Casino Royale in Monterrey last August, sending a message to its owner that killed more than 50 in the blaze.
Out of Egypt
The Muslim Brotherhood denounced Egyptian officials' March 1 decision to lift travel bans on seven Americans facing criminal charges related to their work with NGOs. Six of the Americans left Egypt after the U.S. government posted nearly $5 million in bail. (One chose to stay.) U.S. officials had lobbied for their release after Egyptian authorities accused several NGOs of accepting foreign funds to conduct anti-government activities in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan accused Egyptian officials of "answering to Washington."
Christian groups at Vanderbilt University have one more month to persuade school administrators to drop a policy change that would prevent them from picking leaders who share their beliefs.
Last year, Vanderbilt removed a clause in its nondiscrimination policy that allowed religious organizations to require leaders to sign a statement of faith. Despite appeals, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos is not backing down. All organizations must comply with the new policy by mid-April or lose their status as official student groups. The Christian organizations challenging the policy have said they will not submit new constitutions and are making plans to move off the Nashville campus.
Pattern of violence
As a U.S. delegation prepared a report for the UN Human Rights Council on Islamist attacks in northern Nigeria, the latest assault came on Feb. 26 in the Plateau state capital city of Jos. Terror group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the Sunday attack bombing, which killed four and severely injured over 50 at local headquarters for the Church of Christ in the Nations. The dead included an 18-month-old and a woman recently displaced by similar violence further north in Yobe state. On March 4 the group announced it planned a "war" on Christians.
Hopeless in the hands of the law
Two Pakistani Christians were injured and one remains in critical condition after armed "extremists" attacked a church and the pastor's home in Faisalabad. Pastor Altaf Khan, who was home with his wife and son at the time of the attack, is now facing police accusations that he was the assailant.
According to Khan, a group of 15 to 20 armed men broke into the church, where a group of widows and orphans have been living. Khan called the police, who came but didn't arrest any of the assailants. Instead, Khan said local police arrested the church's security guards and demanded bribes in exchange for protection. The assailants left but returned a few hours later, after midnight, to attack the pastor's home, throwing bricks and stones at the house. "They started to accuse me of converting people and proselytizing," Khan wrote in an email. When church security guards sought to protect the house, the assailants opened fire, shooting one in the chest. The assailants also beat one of the church workers and threw him from the roof of the home, breaking his foot. The church guard who was shot remains in the hospital in critical condition.
Police have named the pastor as the "prime suspect" in the case and accused his son as a terrorist, and listed accusations against "more than 20 believers of our congregation and family members," Khan said. "This tragic event has taken us by surprise and we feel hopeless at the hands of law and local police."
A mob of about 200 people attacked a team of seven U.S. missionaries as well as a local pastor in rural Bangladesh Feb. 29, as the Christians were driving to a local church property. The mob surrounded the missionaries' van and smashed its windows, but the Christians, who prayed together under the onslaught, sustained only minor injuries. The missionaries, not identified for security reasons, reported that the mob eventually left to destroy some temporary structures on the church property. Bangladesh is a majority Muslim country, but missionary activities are officially legal.
Protecting North Korean defectors
The Chinese government arrested about 40 North Korean defectors last month, causing the South Korean government to protest to its usual ally. South Korea depends on China economically as its largest trading partner, and generally keeps quiet about Chinese oversteps. But now South Korea's parliament has passed a resolution demanding that China not repatriate the defectors, and lawmakers have brought the issue to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Crowds of South Koreans also have gathered at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul to speak out against China and possible repatriation.
This is the first arrest of North Korean defectors in China since Kim Jong-un has been in power, and South Korean activists fear what will happen to those who are repatriated. "The new leader in North Korea has said that if people try to escape, three generations of their relatives should be killed," Park Sun-young, a member of the South Korean parliament, told The Wall Street Journal. She and a prominent North Korean defector have been on a hunger strike across the street from China's embassy since last month. At Day 11 of the strike, Park passed out but recovered in a hospital.
Chinese officials stand by their decision to repatriate the defectors, saying they were in the country illegally to make money, not because they were refugees. China's Foreign Ministry said the South Korean media was hyping the issue for "political purposes."
A Houston jury on March 6 found Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford guilty of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme that defrauded nearly 30,000 investors in over 100 countries. Those bilked by the Baylor University graduate included charity organizations like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, amid allegations he also used some of the funds to promote evangelical outreach.
Gay marriage march
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a staunch gay-rights advocate, on March 1 signed a bill making his state the eighth in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. The legislation narrowly passed the state's House of Delegates on Feb. 17 and the Senate less than a week later. But a referendum drive by opponents is likely to put the issue to a public vote in November. Washington state lawmakers passed same-sex marriage last month, but it also faces a referendum challenge. And February passage of a law legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
Authorities in Pakistan on Feb. 25 demolished the house in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden lived for years and died last May in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs. The destruction of the home where bin Laden lived for the previous five years kept authorities from having to manage it as a tourist site or shrine. According to The Wall Street Journal, local property dealers valued the home, which included the three-story house and garden and grazing areas, at $300,000. Polls show most Pakistanis don't support al-Qaeda, but some locals sought to commercialize the site to bring tourist revenue into Abbottabad.