Fire and Fury in Lagos
Mystery and anger surround explosions at a military barracks and arms depot in Lagos, in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Nearly 500 others mostly children are unaccounted for. The blasts, in the residential district of Ikeja, lasted for hours, propelling shells and burning debris for miles around and sending thousands fleeing for their lives. In the stampede, hundreds of terrified people drowned in two canals. As the army and both houses of Nigeria’s legislature began inquiries into the disaster, anger rose over the government’s past failure to move the armory away from civilians’ homes. Hundreds of soldiers from the Ikeja barracks where no one was reported killed in the blasts jeered Vice President Atiku Abubakar, forcing him to abandon an attempt to address them. Early assertions that the explosions were set off by a fire spreading from a nearby market were "premature," said Defense Minister Theophilus Danjuma. As the shaken, rumor-filled city grieved for its dead, the commander of the Ikeja barracks appeared on state television and denied that the blasts were the start of a coup attempt against President Olusegun Obasanjo. As the week ended, the embattled leader’s troubles grew when national police citing pay and other grievances walked off the job in Lagos and other areas. After troops were ordered to assume police duties, the strike began to crumble.
"Second Class" Aid
Countries hoping to join the European Union in 2004 were dismayed to learn that they may receive only limited agricultural aid when they join. A plan put forward by the European Commission would give farmers in the 10 candidate countries only a quarter of the payments made to existing member states. Entrants would have to wait up to a decade to receive similar amounts. But the proposals, yet to be debated, provide for $35 billion in direct aid, rather than production subsidies.
Russian forces in Chechnya lost two Mi-8 helicopters within two days. The first exploded and crashed, killing 14, including General Mikhail Rudchenko, Deputy Interior Minister in charge of the North Caucasus, General Nikolai Garidov, commander of the interior troops in Chechnya, and three colonels. Conflicting versions emerged about the cause of the crash, including a missile fired by separatists, sabotage and an accident. The second chopper was downed by separatists’ automatic weapons, and caught fire when it landed. All 15 people aboard survived.
Interior Ministers from 17 Arab countries held a two-day meeting to discuss a common response to crime and terrorism. Delegates called for clearer definitions, condemning what they called Israeli "state terrorism" against the Palestinians.
Setback to Peace
Interim leader Hamid Karzai’s appeal for more international troops proved timely: heavy fighting broke out in the southeastern Afghan town of Gardez while he was visiting London. Reports said at least 60 people died as a Kabul-appointed governor, Pacha Khan Zadran, tried to lay claim to the Paktia town. Residents supported local Pashtun leader Haji Saifullah. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Karzai he could not expand his commitment beyond the U.K.’s promised 5,000 troops.
Police arrested two former Taliban ministers and a Muslim cleric, Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, who was thought to be linked to the abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. A little-known group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty demanded $2 million and the release of Pakistan’s former
Taliban ambassador in exchange for Pearl. In Quetta, police said they detained the Taliban’s former Chief Justice and Deputy Foreign Minister but that their subsequent whereabouts were unknown.
The jungle island of Basilan became the latest focus of the war on terrorism as U.S. and Philippine troops launched joint military exercises against Islamic extremists. The six-month mission, Washington’s first outside Afghanistan, will deploy about 600 U.S. personnel, including 150 special forces, to train and advise Philippine soldiers fighting Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. The group has been linked to the al-Qaeda network and has held two U.S. missionaries and a Filipino nurse hostage for eight months.
Another Nail in Democracy’s Coffin
As March presidential elections approach, Zimbabwe’s Parliament approved a bill that essentially gags independent journalists. Although clauses that barred criticism of President Robert Mugabe who is fighting for his political survival after nearly 22 years in power were dropped, the new law makes it illegal for reporters to work without government accreditation and allows foreign correspondents into the country only for specific events. It was part of a legislative package aimed at stifling dissent.
India test-fired a second missile in less than a week but denied it was linked to increased tension with neighbor Pakistan. New Delhi said its troops killed five Pakistan-based militants attempting to cross into Indian-held Kashmir in the first major incursion since Pakistan promised a crackdown on such groups. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee rejected calls by Pakistan for new talks.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi scrambled to replace Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka after impetuously sacking her and her deputy following parliamentary squabbles. When former unhcr chief Sadako Ogata turned down the post, Koizumi appointed Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi after temporarily holding the portfolio himself. The Prime Minister’s approval rating plummeted during the crisis.
New Challenges For Israelis
Thousands of Palestinians attended a symbolic funeral for Wafa Idris, the first woman suicide bomber to strike against Israel. An Israeli man also died in the Jerusalem blast. As Israeli officials considered plans to tighten security measures in the city, scores of military reservists criticized the army’s heavy hand in the Palestinian territories and refused to serve there.
Return to Sender
Asylum seekers at a detention center called off a two-week hunger strike after reassurances that their visa applications would be processed. But the standoff seemed likely to continue as lawyers for the mainly Afghan refugees said they would oppose a plan to offer them cash to leave the country. Prime Minister John Howard said his government would provide "resettlement assistance" since it was now "safe" for Afghans to return home.
Widening the War
President George W. Bush’s warnings to what he called "evil" states marked a turning point in the war against terrorism, broadening the scope from individuals or groups to "dangerous regimes." In his State of the Union address, Bush denounced Iran, Iraq and North Korea as states which "constitute an axis of evil." Despite furious responses from the three, Bush repeated his assertion that the countries were developing weapons of mass destruction and were on a "watch list."