Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has been the swine flu outbreak, which now appears to be in decline. The Mexican government has announced that the outbreak that originated there appears to be easing. While governments around the world are responding with caution, the award for the biggest overreaction goes to the government of Egypt, which announced it would cull all 300,000 pigs in the country, despite the fact that there is no evidence that of the flu in the country. Pig farmers responded angrily to the proposal, sparking confrontations with police in the capital, Cairo. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is defending its reaction, which many have criticized as an overreaction, saying that a second wave of outbreaks could appear in the future.

In news from outside the area of H1N1 (swine) flu:

1. The conflict between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants continues. The government of Pakistan stepped up its offensive against Taliban forces in regions along the Afghan border last week. The intensification of actions against the Taliban by the Pakistani government follow criticisms raised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Pakistani government was “abdicating” power to militant groups inside the country.

2. Regional governments in Southern Africa, led by South Africa and Botswana, are attempting to raise funds to finance trade credits and business loans to support the new coalition government in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s economy continues to struggle, despite the government finally reigning in inflation last month. The power-sharing government has taken radical steps to bring the economy under control, including slashing government spending and permitting the use of foreign currencies for domestic transactions. As a result, the country had been struggling with an estimated 231 million percent inflation  over the past year. But so far Western donors, including the International Monetary Fund, have been hesitant to remove sanctions or increase aid to the impoverished country.

3. The European Union’s application for observer status on the Arctic Council was blocked by Canada last week. Canada is upset about proposed EU legislation intended to ban all imported seal products. Tensions over the status of the Arctic have intensified in recent years, as retreating sea ice resulting from climate change opens new shipping lanes and the possibility of extracting the Arctic’s vast stores of oil and gas. 

4. Despite experiencing a severe recession of its own, the government of Japan announced plans to expand financial assistance to other Asian countries. In a move intended to expand Japan’s influence in the region, the country will offer up to $100 billion in financial aid to Asian countries impacted by the global economic crisis. This announcement comes after other announcements that Japan would offer $100 billion in extra capital to the International Monetary Fund, $61.5 billion bilateral currency swap between Japan and Indonesia, and $38.4 billion in the multilateral Chiang Mai currency swap initiative. According to some observers, Japan is anxious to expand its influence in the region to counter the increasing influence of China.

5. May Day protests took place across Europe on Friday. Confrontations between police and protestors turned violent in Turkey, Greece, and Germany. The first of May is observed as International Workers Day (Labor Day) outside the United States. Increased unemployment resulting from the international financial crisis combined with growing social inequality raised concerns that protests may turn violent in countries like France and Spain as well, but no such outbreaks occurred.

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