The world at a glance . . . International
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Multiple first ladies: South Africa now has three first ladies, as President Jacob Zuma got married yet again this week. It’s the fifth wedding for the 67-year-old—who lost one wife to divorce and one to suicide—but it probably won’t be the last. Zuma has another fiancée for whom he has already paid a dowry, and there are rumors that he plans to become engaged to another woman as well. “There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children that they hide so as to pretend they’re monogamous,” said Zuma, the father of 19 children. “I prefer to be open.” Polygamy is legal in South Africa, and is still practiced among Zuma’s fellow Zulus.
Islamists derail food aid: The U.N. food agency stopped feeding 1 million hungry Somalis this week after Islamist militants in the south demanded that the agency remove all its female employees. The World Food Program said the al-Shabab militants also insisted that it pay protection money to ensure safe passage for aid workers delivering food. “The threats and attacks on our operations and harassment of our staff was getting too much,” agency spokesman Peter Smerdon said. Al-Shabab, which has ties to al Qaida, controls much of the southern part of the country and is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s weak transitional government. The U.N. program said it would continue to provide food for 1.8 million people in and around the capital, Mogadishu.
World’s tallest tower: Dubai opened the world’s tallest building this week and named it after the man who recently bailed the emirate out of debt. The skyscraper, which at 169 floors and 2,716 feet is nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building, was known as the Burj Dubai while it was being built. But now it’s to be called the Burj Khalifa, after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the emir of Abu Dhabi, to thank him for forking over $10 billion last month when Dubai was drowning in debt and at risk of insolvency. The tower has its own economic woes, though. The developer presold most of the units in 2004, during the real estate bubble. Now, the retail and residential units are worth half what they went for, and most are still unoccupied.
Happy new year—not: A top Iranian soccer official has resigned in disgrace after accidentally sending a New Year’s greeting to Israel’s soccer federation. Mohammad Mansour Azimzadeh Ardebili, head of foreign relations for the Iranian Football Federation, sent the e-mail through FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. It was meant to go to every FIFA member except Israel, but was evidently forwarded to Israel. Iran does not acknowledge the sovereignty of Israel, which it calls the “Zionist entity,” and Iranian athletes refuse to compete against Israelis—even at the Olympics. Israeli soccer officials sent a reply wishing a “happy new year to all the good people of Iran”—and added the emoticon for a wink.
Double agent kills CIA agents: A suicide bomber who killed eight people at a CIA base in Afghanistan last week was an al Qaida double agent, officials said. Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was arrested more than a year ago by Jordanian intelligence and was thought to have been flipped. He was reportedly brought to the Khost CIA outpost because he said he had information on Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaida’s No. 2. A trusted operative, al-Balawi was not searched upon entering the base. He detonated his explosive in the middle of his debriefing, killing seven Americans as well as the Jordanian intelligence official who’d recruited him. The attack highlighted both the key role played by the CIA in Afghanistan and the extent of Jordanian cooperation in U.S. efforts against al Qaida.
Americans deny terroristic intent: The five Americans arrested in Pakistan last month on suspicion of trying to join a militant group said in court this week that they had no intention of harming anyone. The suspects—Muslim men from the Washington, D.C., area ranging in age from 19 to 25—told a Pakistani judge that they simply wanted to travel to Afghanistan to help fellow Muslims. “The five men didn’t come to Pakistan for terrorism, and intended to go to Afghanistan to help those displaced by the war,” said their lawyer, Amir Abdullah Rokri. “They have no ties with al Qaida.” Prosecutors say the men had been in touch with an al Qaida agent over the Internet.
Crackdown on Internet porn: Chinese police arrested more than 5,000 people last year in a crackdown on Internet porn, officials said this week, four times the number arrested in 2008. The Ministry of Public Security said it would aim even higher in 2010. “Lewd and pornographic content seriously pollutes the online environment, depraves social morals, and poisons the physical and psychological health of the masses of young people,” the ministry declared. “It must be firmly controlled.” Critics said officials were using the porn crackdown as an excuse to tighten controls on all independent websites; activists say political sites were also shut down in the anti-porn sweep.