Recently in International News Category

Swiss minaret ban prompts criticism of Sarkozy

            The Swiss decision to ban minarets has sparked criticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's attitude toward Muslims.

            Sarkozy responded to accusations that a government-sponsored debate on French national identity sparked the ban of minarets in Switzerland on Nov. 29, the Washington Post said.

            Sarkozy called for tolerance of Muslims among native French, but suggested that arriving Muslims adapt to a "French Islam," the Washington Post said.

            Last summer, Sarkozy said that burkas are not welcome in France, according to the Los Angeles Times.  After three months of debate, a parliamentary panel is studying whether or not the burka should be banned in public.

            The conversations about Islam in Europe reflect a growing concern about its visibility, especially in France, according to the Washington Post.


EU enacts Lisbon Treaty

by Greta Kaul

            After a lengthy ratification process, the European Union's Lisbon Treaty came into effect Tuesday, uniting the 27-state bloc in the hopes of systematizing EU decision-making, according to VOA News.

            The treaty also formally changed the name of the former World Trade Organization (WTO) to the EU, according to Xinhua News Agency.

            Former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy will take office as the first permanent EU president in January under the treaty, according to VOA News.  Catherine Ashton, the former EU trade commissioner, has been appointed to EU foreign policy chief.  Both are relatively little-known in European and international spheres.

            Van Rompuy declined lengthy commentary, but emphasized the importance of a strong agreement on climate change at the Copenhagen climate summit this month, VOA News said.

            The Lisbon Treaty will allow the bloc to speak as a unified entity on the international stage, Xinhua said.

U.S. and Russia wait on Iranian energy action

by Greta Kaul

            President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said they wouldn't wait much longer for Tehran to accept an Iranian energy proposal at an APEC summit in Singapore Sunday, the Los Angeles Times said.

            The proposal, brokered by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, called for Iran to send 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be converted to fuel for a Tehran medical research reactor, Reuters said.

            Iran agreed to the proposal last month, but has since created obstacles.  If Iran does not act by year's end, it will face harsher economic sanctions, according to the LA Times.

            Some Western countries, including the U.S., allege that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.  The proposal to outsource uranium would not leave Iran with enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb, the LA Times said.

            Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is waiting to determine the sincerity of the Western countries in talks before it responds to Sunday's comments, Reuters said.

Germany celebrates the fall of the Wall

by Greta Kaul

            Berlin celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall Monday.  Despite bad weather and heavy rain, thousands attended the celebration, NPR said.

            The anniversary is important because it marks a generation of young Germans who have lived without the twelve-foot wall that separated East and West Germany for nearly 100 miles, NPR said.  It stood for 28 years.

            One thousand plastic foam dominoes were toppled on the remnants of the wall to symbolize the fall of the Iron Curtain and communism in Eastern Europe, The New York Times said.

            At least 130 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall from East Germany to West Germany before it fell in 1989, NPR said.  In the days following the fall, 3 million East Germans visited West Berlin, the NY Times said.

            German chancellor Helmut Kohl said that after the shame of the Nazi rule in Germany, the reunification 11 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall gave Germans something to be proud of, according to the NY Times.

U.S. to be blamed for climate negotiation delay

by Greta Kaul

            The U.S. is likely to be blamed for a six-to-12 month delay in climate change deal negotiations to take place at the U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen in Dec., Reuters said.

            The deal is also expected to suffer because the countries with the most greenhouse gas emissions are refusing to commit to any legally binding reductions, the Times said.

            The U.S. is being criticized for failure to meet a Dec. deadline on a carbon emission reduction target, Reuters said.

            The best to be hoped for at Copenhagen, according to British officials, are non-binding political agreements on emission cuts and establishing payments to help reduce poor countries' emissions, the Times said.

            American negotiators said the U.S. should be judged, rather,  on Obama's commitment to $80 billion in clean energy funds, Reuters said.

Medvedev breaks from Putin

by Greta Kaul

            Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev called for the construction of museums and monuments to the victims of Josef Stalin's purges Friday, the New York Times said.

            The comments were made on Medvedev's video blog on Oct. 30, a day of remembrance of victims of political repression in Russia, Bloomberg said.

            Medvedev is distancing himself from his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg said.  Under Putin, Russian opinion of Stalin balanced atrocities with achievements, such as the Stalin's defeat of Hitler.

            Medvedev condemned the revisionist history that glosses over national atrocities, the New York Times said.

            Last month, Medvedev published an online manifesto promoting the modernization of Russia by uprooting corruption.  In it, he advocated fighting alcoholism, and reducing Russia's dependence on natural resources, Bloomberg said.


Deadly train crash in Egypt

by Greta Kaul

            At least 25 were killed when two trains collided Saturday outside of Cairo, Egypt, Sky News said.

            A passenger train headed from Cairo to Aswan, a popular tourist destination for its ruins, collided with a near-empty train that had stopped unexpectedly en route from Giza to Fayyoum, CNN said.

            Around 55 were injured, according to Sky News.  No foreigners were among the casualties, Sky News said.

            The location of the wreck posed an issue in recovering bodies of the dead and injured because its proximity to a canal made it hard to reach them, CNN said.

            Egypt has many train accidents annually, which are usually blamed on poor maintenance of equipment, Sky News said.  The Transportation Ministry has ordered an investigation of the incident, CNN said.

U.S. reaffirms commitment to fight growing world hunger

by Greta Kaul           

            The United States reaffirmed its commitment to reduce world hunger through sustainable agricultural development on World Food Day (Friday), according to Xinhua.

            According to U.N. figures, more than one billion, or one in every six people worldwide, are estimated to suffer from chronic hunger, Xinhua said.

            In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that making sure enough food is available is a big part of the Obama Administration's foreign policy program, Xinhua said.

            The current economic crisis has had a major effect on a recent increase in the number of hungry people, as wages and access to food decrease, VOA News said.

            Nine years ago, world leaders set a goal to cut the number of hungry people worldwide in half by 2015, but the numbers continue to rise, according to VOA News.

Herta Mueller wins Nobel in Literature

            Herta Mueller, a Romanian-born German novelist, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday.

            Mueller, a political exile in her native country of Romania, immigrated to Germany in 1987 after facing persecution and censorship in Romania, according to the New York Times.

            Her novels focus on themes of oppression, dictatorship, and exile that factored into her own life, the Christian Science Monitor said.

            Mueller is relatively unknown outside of German literary circles, the New York Times said.

            According to the Christian Science Monitor, Mueller's novels' denouncement of the Soviet regime is important, as the current economic situation causes some Germans to favor Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hamas makes video for prisoner release

by Greta Kaul


            Palestinian Islamist group Hamas released a proof-of-life video of a captive Israeli soldier Friday.

            In the video, Gilad Shalit, 23, smiled briefly, and looked calm and healthy, according to Reuters.  Shalit held a newspaper dated September 14, 2009, proof of his being alive, Reuters said.  The Shalit video is Hamas' first proof-of-life video, according to CNN.

            Hamas released the video in exchange for Israel's release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners, Reuters said.            

            Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh expressed hope that the swap would be a step on the way to reconciliation, according to Reuters.

            In return for the release of Shalit, Hamas seeks release of hundreds of prisoners held by Israel.  The United Nations has called for the release of Shalit on humanitarian grounds, according to CNN.

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