The Index — April 7, 2009

Italians are still reeling from the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit the Italian city of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo province, on Monday. The rescue efforts, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced, would continue for another 48 hours as the chances for survival fade. At the last count, more than 200 people had died and another 1,000 were injured. At least 15 people are still missing. Citizens in Rome, just 60 miles away, felt the initial quake; subsequent aftershocks are still rattling the region. As of this point, the Italian government has set aside 30 million euros to assist the region though Berlusconi has refused aid offered by foreign countries, saying Italians are “able to respond alone…we’re a proud people.” Berlusconi, it should be noted, is facing a waning public image. 

Despite a large—and increasing—foreign warship presence in the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirates hijacked five ships over the weekend with at least two seized in the Indian Ocean, a signal that the pirates are leaving their comfort zone of the Somali coast for waters far offshore. The ships—seized in separate attacks—will be held for ransom. Between 15 and 20 warships from a variety of countries, including the United States, Russia, China, and Europe, patrol these sea lanes, but with some 1,000,000 square miles of open water, pirates still attempt near-daily attacks, with around 50 successful hijackings in 2008. The pirates have adapted to the increased military presence in the waters by arming themselves more heavily and seem largely undeterred, reports The Times.

The latest country gripped by popular protest is Moldova, but this time the financial crisis isn’t taking center stage. A crowd of mostly students attacked Moldova’s parliament in Chisinau, the country’s capital, today in response to the governing Communist Party, which won the country’s general election on Sunday with a reported 50 percent of the vote. The protesters, as well as the opposition Liberal Party, believe the results to be fraudulent; independent observers called the election “fair.” Dorin Chirtoaca, the mayor of Chisinau and deputy head of the Liberal Party, said “people did not vote for the Communists in such large numbers.” The current president, Vladimir Voronin, will step down today after serving two terms while the new government attempts to form a coalition to elect a new president. Voronin’s successor will inherit the poorest country in Europe (average monthly wage: $250 per month) and a dispute over the breakaway region Trans-Dniester.

The corruption charges that have been hovering over the head of Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), linger no more. Prosecutors in South Africa formally dropped the charges against Zuma a day after announcing that “the process had been interfered with.” The case was intended to spoil Zuma’s run at leading the ANC party, said Mokotedi Mpshe, the acting director of public prosecutions. Zuma, accused of taking bribes “to thwart an investigation” of Thales, a French arms company, had the charges dropped last year but an appeals court reinstated them in January. Although he is expected to win the South African presidency on April 22, Zuma isn’t quite out of hot water yet. Opposition parties may still file civil cases against him, and his party’s image is sullied by the myriad of court cases surrounding its leader, yet hundreds of supporters celebrated in Johannesburg after hearing the latest decision.
In his first in-person address in a Muslim-majority nation, President Barack Obama told the Turkish parliament that America seeks friendship, not hostility, and engagement, not war, with the Middle East. Obama proclaimed that the United States “is not and will never be at war with Islam.” He continued, noting that “I am one of them,” referring to Americans who have Muslim relatives or haved lived in Muslim countries. Obama’s bold oratory seeks a new connection with the Middle East though it risks reigniting old rumors that he is secretly a Muslim. Middle Eastern leaders greeted Obama’s comments with optimism.

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