Madrid's landmark Windsor office tower was gutted by fire the night of Feb. 12, and much of downtown Madrid remains closed off by authorities. The fire (apparently caused by a short-circuit) resulted in only seven injuries, none serious--but several of the building's top floors have collapsed, and it is feared the entire 30-story tower could implode unless it is quickly demolished. (EITB24, Spain, Feb. 14)
The NY Times notes today that when accused Serbian war criminal Vladimir Lazarevic surrendered himself to the UN tribunal at The Hague last month, he was hailed in his own country as a national hero. Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica hailed Gen. Lazarevic's decision to turn himself in as "patriotic, highly moral and honorable." The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church gave him an audience and praised him as a defender of the nation. When he flew to The Hague, he was accompanied by Serbia's justice minister. Rights groups were aghast at such pomp for a man accused of overseeing the killing of 700 ethnic Albanians and the forcible expulsion of 800,000 more when he was military commander in Kosovo in 1999. (NYT, Feb. 14)
In the men-only elections for half the seats on Saudi Arabia's municipal councils--a landmark step towards democracy by Saudi standards--results are in from the capital, Riyadh, and over 30 losing candidates are claiming the seven winners violated campaign guidelines. The winners, predictably, were all affiliated with Islamist organizations backed by the government, and are accused of violating the ban on electoral alliances by portraying themselves as a de facto alliance backed by prominent reglious sheikhs. Results are still pending in other municipalities. Reuters says the principal opponents of the government-backed Islamists in the races are "businessmen" (presumably more liberal and globalist technocrats) and "tribal" leaders (presumably representing local sheikhs who resent the ostentatious power of the Saud clan, but are not likely to be more progressive on such questions as women's rights). (NYT, Feb. 14; Reuters, Feb. 11)
In a case being compared to that of Chico Mendes, the Amazon defender killed in 1988, US missionary Sister Dorothy Stang was shot dead by unknown assailants at a remote jungle settlement near Anapu in the Brazilian state of Para Feb. 12. Stang, 74, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, had been a campaigner for human rights and forest protection in the Amazon for three decades, and had reported receiving numerous death threats from land speculators and cattle barons.
Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan was hit with devastating floods when torrential rains burst the Shadikor Dam near Pasni, sweeping people, homes and livestock into the Arabian Sea. A smaller dam also burst elsewhere in the province, while landslides also claimed casualties in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The confirmed death toll has reached 360, with 1,500 more missing. (The Scotsman, Feb. 14)
Ecologists protested at the US embassy in London Feb. 12 over President Bush's refusal to join the Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gases and tackle climate change. The long-stalled treaty goes into effect this week, committing 136 countries to reduce gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels in the next decade. Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared climate change "the biggest, long-term challenge the global community faces". But the US, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases by far, is the only major industrial country not to have signed.
The UK Independent reports Feb. 14 that over 5,000 neo-Nazis swarmed the official 60th anniversary commemoration of the Allied bombardment of Dresden, effectively "hijacking" the event in the east German city. Bused in from all over Germany, they overwhelmed the proceedings outside the rebuilt Semper Opera House, which had been destroyed in the bombing. They violated German law by singing the Nazi-era national anthem. It was the largest Nazi rally in Germany since the fall of the Third Reich.
International Solidarity Movement volunteer Pat O'Connor has been held for over two weeks in Israeli prison in awaiting deportation. O'Connor was denied entry in 2003, and since gained entry on another passport. Israel is expelling him because he is an exceptionally valuable resource for non-violent activists in Palestine, with his fluent Arabic, and years of work as a humantatian aid worker in Africa and Gaza. Here he notes that while Israel insists Palestinians stop the violence against Israel, it greets legitmate Palestinian non-violent protest with tear gas, bullets, and stun grenades. This is about Israel demanding nothing less than total submission from the Palestinian people. He writes the following Feb. 14 in Ha'aretz while still in Israel's Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle.