The big story of the week has to be the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday. Since then, President Obama has been moving quickly to make sweeping changes to U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including announcements that he was suspending the military tribunal system established to try terrorism suspects, closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay and other secret detention facilities, mandating that all U.S. interrogators comply with the Army Field Manual, and issuing orders to national security team that they should develop a plan outlining a “responsible military drawdown in Iraq.” And that was his first day in office.
Here’s five important stories from the past week you might have missed if you were only focused on the Obama transition.
1. Seeking to improve deteriorating relations with India, Pakistan announced on Friday that it would prosecute militants with links to the November Mumbai terror attacks. The government of Pakistan is hoping to amend its constitution to permit trials for acts of terror committed outside its borders. In the meantime, it has announced its intention to try several militants with links to the Mumbai attacks for cyber crimes. Last week, the Pakistani government arrested 124 alleged militants. The United Kingdom, the United States, and other western powers have made an effort to improve relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, which have been particularly tense since the November, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the new prime minister of Pakistan, is facing considerable domestic and international pressure.
2. The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seems to be holding, but tensions continue to rise. On Sunday, Hamas announced that it would terminate the ceasefire if Israel continued to maintain its blockade on Gaza. Israel maintains that the blockade is intended to prevent the shipment of weapons into Gaza, but the blockade also prevents the shipment of food, energy, and reconstruction materials into the territory. Both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama have called on Israel to reopen its borders with Gaza.
3. Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested last week. A central player in the ongoing civil war in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nkunda was believed responsible for the destabilization of the region which has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and an estimated 5.4 million deaths—half of whom were children—during the past ten years. Nkunda’s arrest presents an opportunity for peace in the eastern DRC. It also represents a fundamental shift in relations between the Congo and its eastern neighbor, Rwanda. The two countries have had tense relations since the mid-1990s, but Nkudna’s arrest was part of a joint operation and Rwandan troops are currently cooperating with the Congolese military to track down remnants of guerilla forces operating in the region.
4. A national referendum on a new constitution in Bolivia is currently underway. The constitution, promoted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is widely expected to pass given Morales’ popularity. However, several groups are campaigning against the constitution, including the Christian groups and the country’s relatively wealthy. If passed, the new constitution would introduce “community justice,” provide for the election of judges, remove Catholicism as the official state religion, and cap landholdings at 5,000 hectares.
5. Europe continues to struggle with the fallout from the global economic crisis. On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a new €600 million stimulus package targeting the French newspaper industry. The Spanish government has called on its citizens to engage in “patriotic” shopping, buying Spanish products as a way to address the economic downturn in that country. Meanwhile, Iceland became the first county to witness a government collapse as a result of the crisis. The prime minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, resigned on Friday, paving the way for early elections and a potentially dramatic shift to the left after nearly twenty years of liberalization in the country. In November, Iceland became the first developed country to have to turn to the International Monetary Fund since 1976.