Weekly Review — December 31, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

War and peacekeeping in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, a brief truce in the Syrian civil war, and bells hell in Manhattan

Saluting the Town (Weekly)The United Nations Security Council voted to increase the number of peacekeepers stationed in South Sudan from the current 7,600 to more than 13,000 following two weeks of fighting between forces loyal to Salva Kiir, the country’s ethnically Dinka president, and Nuer backers of the former prime minister, Riek Machar, whom Kiir fired in July and accused of planning a coup to unseat him. “He must go, because he can no longer maintain the unity of the people,” said Machar. “Especially when he kills people like flies.” The bodies of 34 Dinka were found in a mass grave in Unity State, and U.N. officials said that thousands of others had died in the past week, and that at least 80,000 people had fled their homes. “This is not,” said human rights activist Biel Boutros Biel, “a place to be.”[1][2][3][4][5][6] Rwanda agreed to send a peacekeeping contingent to supplement French and African Union forces in the Central African Republic, where at least 650 people have been killed and more than 600,000 displaced by fighting that began after the country’s parliament elected as president the Muslim leader of a coup that unseated a Christian president last spring. Chadian peacekeepers were accused of firing on Christian protesters, and the African Union announced the discovery of a mass grave on Panthers’ Hill, near the presidential palace. “You found five bodies in one hole, three in another, two in yet another,” said a spokesman. “And so on.”[7][8][9][10][11][12] The Israeli government released an archival letter claiming that its Mossad intelligence agency had unknowingly given paramilitary training to Nelson Mandela, and held a pre-Christmas event with a Greek Orthodox priests as part of a new campaign designed to recruit Christian Arabs into military service.[13][14] Pope Francis delivered his first Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi address at St. Peter’s Basilica, calling for an end to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Syria. “I invite even nonbelievers,” he said, “to desire peace.”[15]

The Syrian government and opposition forces agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire in the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham to allow aid workers to bring food and supplies to civilians. “If they honor the conditions, then very well,” said an opposition councilman. “If not, then it will be back to fighting.” In Aleppo, government helicopters barrel-bombed a vegetable market and several other targets, extending a series of airstrikes on the province that has killed more than 500 people in two weeks. [16][17][18] The Egyptian government designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and sent riot police to break up a student strike at Cairo’s Islamic University, where they were accused of shooting live rounds indiscriminately and setting fire to the Faculty of Commerce.[19][20] On consecutive days, suicide bombers attacked a trolley bus and a train station in Volgograd, Russia, killing 32 people.[21] It was reported that Kim Jong Un’s execution of his uncle earlier this month had been over a struggle for control of North Korea’s clam, coal, and crab industries.[22] China formally abolished re-education labor camps and celebrated the 120th birthday of Mao Zedong.[23][24] Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, died at the age of 94 and was given a state burial in the “alley of heroes” at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery near Moscow.[25][26] Queen Elizabeth posthumously pardoned computer scientist and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexuality and forcibly injected with estrogen to reduce his sex drive.[27] Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of the punk band Pussy Riot criticized the Russian government after being granted amnesty and released from prison, where they were serving sentences for hooliganism. “They put me in; they let me out,” said Tolokonnikova. “One thing was funny and the other no less funny.”[28]

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The crew of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian research vessel icebound off the coast of Tasmania, exchanged Christmas presents and gave each other knot-tying lessons while awaiting the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, which was called in after unsuccessful rescue attempts by China’s Snow Dragon and France’s Astrolabe.[29][30][31] A school of carnivorous palometa fish bit off the fingers and toes of several bathers as they cooled off in Argentina’s Paraná River.[32] Arsonists burned a ceremonial Christmas straw goat in the Swedish town of Gavle for the twenty-seventh time since 1966.[33] Judges ruled legal a New Year’s Eve Possum Drop in Brasstown, North Carolina, and a coyote- and wolf-hunting derby in Salmon, Idaho.[34][35] At the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York, a new fence was reportedly built around a sculpture by the Icelandic artist Thordis Adalsteinsdottir that portrays a bear tackling a naked man who has an erection. “The man is depicted,” said the park’s executive director, “[in] an involuntary reflexive response at the moment of being attacked.”[36] A Manhattan church criticized for ringing its bells all day was accused of retaliating by ringing them all night.[37]


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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

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