Activists say Hezbollah fights openly among Syrian soldiers, tensions spike in Iraq, and Asia’s giants meet to make up. Today is Monday, May 20, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @clarerrrr.
Boys walk along a damaged street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Gun culture in the United States carries a reputation abroad. Although the stereotype of trigger-happy Americans is perpetuated largely by Hollywood, near-constant media reports of shootings across the U.S. lend credence to the notion of a country obsessed with firearms.
Statistically, the perception’s not too far off. Forty-seven percent of Americans reported owning a gun in a 2011 Gallup poll, and data compiled by the Guardian from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime shows there are nearly nine guns for every 10 people in the United States, the highest level of ownership in the world.
In the early hours of March 20, 2003, an air raid siren and ten-minute round of explosions in Baghdad punctuated the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. A 13-year-old Iraqi who witnessed the ensuing war, which killed an estimated 176,000 to 189,000 people and forced millions out of the country, would be 23 this year. On the tenth anniversary of the invasion, a generation that grew up amid war now faces a future in a country plagued by political crisis, human rights abuses, and violence.
The stated goal of the invasion was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction – which never materialized – and topple dictator Saddam Hussein, who turned up in a farmhouse cellar later that year and ultimately was hanged for his role in a massacre of Iraqis in 1982.
She’s been called principled, tough-minded, competent, and a dictator’s daughter. Park Guen-hye, a career politician and child of South Korea’s deceased military ruler Park Chung-hee, is a conservative known for her steadfast leadership. And when South Korea inaugurates its first-ever female president in a ceremony on Monday, Park’s reputation could hinge on her ability to handle her troublesome neighbor to the north.
North Korea exasperated world powers this month with its third nuclear test. Yet media reports and Park’s campaign pledges suggest her administration will seek a softer approach toward Pyongyang than that of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Although her campaign offered few specifics, her criticism of Lee’s foreign policy indicates she could walk a middle line between his administration’s hardline approach and the peaceful “Sunshine Policy” of engagement and economic assistance her opponent and human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in hoped to reintroduce.
If the Vatican chose the next pope based on demographics, there would be a clear regional frontrunner. Forty-two percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday could be an opportunity for the Holy See to elect its first non-European pope.
Media organizations in several Latin American countries are focusing their attention on possible home-grown candidates. Yet, as this article by my colleagues at Reuters notes, the most likely candidates for the papacy from Latin America are from Brazil and Argentina:
If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA’s future role.
Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.
Russia has had a busy year clamping down on dissent, and now the Kremlin’s got something to show for it. The international non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on Wednesday, knocking six points from Russia’s 2012 score and ranking the country 148th out of 179 in the world for respecting media freedom.
According to the report, an “unprecedented” number of protests following Vladimir Putin’s return to a third term as president prompted Russia to respond by introducing more repressive measures. Let’s take a quick look at where Russia lost points. The report first provides context for the government’s response:
The French intervention in Mali this week raises the specter of another first-world nation’s rather recent mission to weed out Islamic militants. As France’s jets pummel the desert and its troops face ground battles against al Qaeda-linked rebels, a troubling analogy has presented itself in media reports and analyses: Will Mali become France’s Afghanistan?
Military personnel attend a mass to pray for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Six presidents from five different countries in Latin America have been diagnosed with cancer over the past few years. Yet Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez stands apart from the others, keeping details about his health shrouded in secrecy. His neighbors in the region have announced their diagnoses and treatments, stamping out speculation and allowing media coverage to get on with it. Both critics and supporters of Chavez, whose idea of medical updates has included declaring himself “completely cured” twice, claim his illness has been used for political gain. However, Chavez’s reluctance to share information about his cancer is hardly unique for a leader poor in both health and transparency.