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May 4, 2008

Cyclone kills 350 in Burma

At least 350 people died in Burma during a powerful cyclone that destroyed thousands of homes, USA Today reported Sunday.

International aid is desperately needed, but many worry that the country's leaders, who tend to be secretive and xenophobic, will be reluctant to ask for help.

An election is scheduled for May 10. How the junta, the ruling party in Burma, reacts to the storm could spell the end of their grasp on power. Voters already blame the regime for "ruining democracy and squashing democracy," USA Today said.

The military-run television station reported that Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which packed winds of up to 120 m.p.h, killed at least 351 people and that at least 75 percent of the buildings in the country's Irawaddy region had collapsed.

The United Nations tried to send in teams on Sunday, but were unable to enter the country because of roads clogged with debris.

"The Burmese are saying they have never seen anything like this, ever," Shari Villarosa, an American diplomat in Burma, told The Associated Press. "Trees are down. Electricity lines are down. Our Burmese staff have lost their roofs. There is major devastation throughout the city."

The storm has already had an effect on the nation's economy. The price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped from $2.50 to $10 on the black market and many other goods have tripled in price.

May 1, 2008

U.S. missiles strike Somali targets

The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that it carried out missle attacks in Somalia aimed at killing the leader of an Islamic militant group, the BBC reported.

A spokesman said the attacks were carrie out in the Somail town of Dusamareb where an al-Qaeda leader was known to be staying.

The strike hit the home of Aden Hashi Ayro, who controls al-Shabab, another militant group in Somalia that may have ties to al-Qaeda.

The attack may have killed as many as 30 people.

"It was an attack against a known al-Qaeda target and militia leader in Somalia," military spokesman Bob Prucha told the Associate Press.

The U.S. considers al-Shabab to be a terrorist group, but it is unclear whether it is connected to al-Qaeda or is a purely Somali group.

The missles were launched from a vessel in the Indian Ocean and his Ayro's home at 3 a.m. Somail time.

"We heard a huge explosion and when we ran out of our house we saw balls of smoke and flames coming out of house," a local resident told the BBC.

A spokesman for al-Shabab warned there would be revenge for the attacks. "I am letting the citizens of the US and the allies know they are not going to be safe in this area," he said.

April 16, 2008

France outlaws media promoting eating disorders

French legislators adopted a bill on Tuesday that would levy a $700,000 fine against any website promoting eating disorders and offering starvation tips, the New York Times reported.

The bill has passed in the Parliament and now faces a Senate vote.

The measure comes in the wake of the 2006 anorexia death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.

“We have noticed,? Valérie Boyer, the bill's sponsor, told The Associated Press, “that the sociocultural and media environment seems to favor the emergence of troubled nutritional behavior, and that is why I think it necessary to act.?

The French Federation of Couture has criticized the bill, saying that is unreasonble to legislate a person's body weight.

The French Socialist Party, which has also criticized the legislation, claims the bill was rushed too quickly through Parliament and that the wording is vague.

Eating disorder officials worried that news of the bill would publicize the eating disorder Web sites, worsening the problem.

The law does not specify whether the site creator or the Internet service provider would be responsible for any fine that would be levied on its provisions.

April 13, 2008

Power-sharing deal ends Kenyan vote crisis

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki named rival Raila Odinga as prime minister on Sunday, ending months of power struggles that began with the national presidential elections in December, CNN reported.

More than 1,000 people died and 300,000 more were displaced during violence caused by the disputed results of December's election.

The two men are expected to create a power-sharing government as soon as parliament passes laws to legalize their actions.

Kibaki also nominated 40 people to the nation's Cabinet. The posts are divided equally between Kibaki's Pary of National Unity and allies, Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

The Kenyan public is growing impatient. Scuffles broke out several days this week in Kenyan's slums between police and citizens protesting the delays.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the two leaders Monday, pressuring them to reach an agreement this week.

April 6, 2008

Protests disrupt Olympic torch relay in London

At least 35 were arrested Sunday after having successfully disrupted the Beijing Olympic torch as it traveled across London, the London Times reported.

The torch had to be detoured at least once after police announced they could no longer maintain order among the multitudes of protestors.

The New York Times reported that the protestors attempted to break through police barriers and grab the torch. Other tried to douse it with fire extinguishers.

The protestors gathered to voice concern over its recent use of force in Tibet and its human rights practices, including labor camps and crackdown on free speech.

The torch made its way across London as it travels around the world en route to the Beijing Olympic games being held from Aug. 8-24.

Police estimated 80,000 spectators came to watch the torch relay across the city.

Several British celebrities intentionally avoided the torch relay as sign of solidarity with Tibetan independence activists.

April 3, 2008

NATO backs U.S. missile defense system

Members of NATO have agreed to back U.S. plans for a missile defense system based in Europe, the BBC reported Thursday.

The member nations will endorse the creation of missle defense bases in countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Documents circulated by U.S. officials cited "an increasing threat to allied forces, territory and populations," as the reason the bases should be allowed to be built, and said the new plan would "make a substantial contribution to the protection of allies."

The BBC's diplomatic correspondant, Jonathan Marcus, called the plan a "significant" achievement for George W. Bush, who hoped to get the project started before he leaves office early next year.

Russia is opposed to the new system, believing it to be designed to weaken its military power and upset the balance of power in Europe, the Associated Press reported.

The United States has agreed to allow Russia to monitor the new missile defense sites.

March 29, 2008

Darkness sweeps the globe during Earth Hour

Cities across the world went dark Saturday night for Earth Hour, a global "lights-off" campaign to highlight the threat of climate change, the Associated Press reported.

The event, hosted by the environmental group WWF, entailed turning off the lights for at least an hour starting at 8 p.m. in every time zone.

Earth Hour started last year in Australia and trailed the setting sun to Europe and some American cities.

Event organizers hoped 100 million people would observe Earth Hour, cutting down on electricity use.

Last year, the event cut 10.2 percent of Australia's carbon emissions for that hour.

The Star Tribune did not publish any information on whether the event would be observed locally.

March 16, 2008

Violence in Tibet

Tibetan protests have spread from the region's capital of Lhasa to other areas of China, the BBC reported Sunday.

Tibetan protesters attacked cars and a police station in Sichuan province.

The violence came after Tibetan leaders in exile said that the Chinese authorities had killed 80 people in Lhasa on Friday. Officials in India said several sources confirmed those numbers, although the official Chinese estimates are much lower.

The Chinese military deployed 200 military vehicles filled with soldiers to the region to secure the peace.

China invaded Tibet in 1950, claiming that it was always part of its territory. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, has been in exile since 1959.

March 6, 2008

Eight dead in attack on Israeli school

A guman killed eight and wounded at least nine others in an attack on a downtown Jerusalem school, the New York Times reported.

The attack was the deadliest on Israeil civilians in nearly two years. The victims were all in their 20s and 30s.

The lone gunman, thought to be either a Palestinian or an Israeili Arab, was killed at the scene by a part-time student and security officers.

The attack came during a time of increased tension in the region, following violence in Gaza which led to 130 Palestinian deaths.

Both President Bush and the United Nations denounced the attacks.

The radical Islamic group Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, but praised it, saying they "bless the operation."

March 2, 2008

Venezuela-Colombia tensions escalate

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is sending thousands of tank and troops to the Colombian border, the BBC reported Sunday.

Chavez's actions are a response to an incident in which Colombian forces crossed into Ecuador on Saturday and killed sixteen members of the rebel group FARC.

Chavez called the event "a cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated."

Venezuela sees Colombia's actions as an infringement of Ecaudor's sovereignty and will be sending troops to secure its border. Chavez also ordered the Venezuelan embassy in Colombia to be closed.

The White House called Venezuela's efforts an "odd reaction" to the Colombian strike, CNN reported.

FARC is a terrorist group that has been struggling for 40 years to overthrow the Colombian government.

February 26, 2008

Philharmonic in North Korea

The New York Philharmonic played an unprecedented concert in North Korea on Tuesday, the New York Times reported.

It was the first time that a major American cultural organization appeared in Pyongyang, the communist nation's capital.

The concert is seen as an opening for warmer relations between the United States and North Korea. The two have been at political odds in recent years over North Korea's nuclear program.

Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic's music director, said as many as 200 million people may have watched the broadcast.

Though Kim Jong-il, North Korea's leader, was not at the performance, many political figures, including the vice-president and the cultural minister, were in attendance.

The orchestra played works by Wagner, Dvorak, Bernstein and Gershwin, as well as a traditional Korean piece and the two nations' national anthems.

February 21, 2008

U.S. Embassy in Serbia attacked

Serbian rioters, upset over U.S. support for Kosovo's independence, attacked the U.S. Embassy in the Serbain capital of Belgrade on Thursday, CNN reported.

The rioters attacked the building by throwing rocks, breaking windows and setting fire to the U.S. flag flying outside. Police responded by throwing tear gas at the demonstrators.

Kosovo delcared independence Sunday, and the United States was one of the first nations to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty.

Police found one charred body inside the Embassy, presumably one of the rioters. The only people inside the building at the time of the attack were U.S. Marines, all of whom are accounted for.

A Serbian magazine reported that 32 people were injured, including 14 police officers. Other sources, however, put the number of injured people as high as 107.

Other groups tried to attack the Turkish and British embassies, but those efforts were not successful.

Serbian officials called the attacks "regrettable."

February 12, 2008

Swiss art theft

Armed robbers stole four paintings worth $163 million on Sunday from a collection in Zurich, the BBC reported.

The theft of the four works, by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, and Cezanne, is considered to be one of the largest art thefts in the last 20 years.

One man entered the gallery Sunday and threatened the guard with a pistol while the other two nabbed the paintings. The paintings were behind glass and an alarm went off as soon as they were touched. Nevertheless, the thieves got away.

The works are so well-known that they would be impossible to sell in the open market, the museum director said.

The FBI estimates that $6 billion in stolen art is sold each year, reports USA Today.

Zurich has a legacy of art thefts: two Picasso paintings were taken from a gallery last week, seven Picassos worh $44 million were stolen in 1994, and 21 paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars were taken from another Zurich gallery in the late 1980s.

February 4, 2008

Rebel violence in Chad

The New York Times reported that violence between the government and rebels erupted in Chad's capital Monday, causing thousands to flee the city.

The United Nations Security Council decried the violent action of the rebels, demanding an end to their hostile actions.

Chad is currently home to thousands of refugees fleeing ongoing genocide in neighboring Sudan. The violence in Sudan has also spilled into Chad, displacing 200,000 Chadians. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on foreign aid because of the violence in the two countries.

The rebel army entered Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, on Saturday with the intent of deposing the president. The government successfully fought back the rebels to the outskirts of the city, but they returned on Monday.

The government deployed tanks and helicopter gunships, while the rebels fought with automatic weapons and truck-mounted machine guns. Tens of thousands of people left Chad for Cameroon to escape the gunfire.

Chad has a history of unstable government. Chad's current president, Idriss Deby, is believed to have ordered the torture and murder of thousands of people in the past eight years of his presidency.

January 31, 2008

Australia admits past wrongs, apologizes to Aborigines

The New York Times and the BBC reported today that Australia's government will issue a formal apology to the nation's Aborigines for decades of mistreatment.

In colonial Australia, tens of thousands of Aborigines died from disease brought by European settlers. The government then removed Aboriginal children from their families and placed them with white families or in institutions. The Aborigines were not even given the right to vote until 1962.

Public opinion on Aboriginal issues, however, remains split. The Aborigines, who have the backing of several university professors, are hoping to receive monetary reparations for the past abuses. Australian whites, on the other hand, widely refuse to assume responsibility for the plight of the nation's native peoples.

Aborigines have a lower life expectancy and higher incarceration and unemployment rates than other Australians.

Many hope to see next month's apology coupled with more funding for Aboriginal health care and eduaction.