Weekly briefing

Croatian novice

Inexperience is not usually an advantage in a presidential race, but it is working in the Croatian Ivo Josipovic's favour. Following an inconclusive first vote, he is expected to beat Zagreb's mayor, Milan Bandic, in a run-off.

The economy - estimated to have contracted by 5 per cent in 2009 - is a major election issue. But in a country ravaged by organised crime and high-level shady dealing, corruption is just as important. The Social Democrat Josipovic, a scholar, composer and the director of Music Biennale Zagreb, has been described as politically inexperienced and lacking in charisma. But in comparison with the independent candidate Bandic - who is accused of fixing bids for public contracts and trying to escape police after driving drunk - Josipovic seems like a very attractive option.

Five wives Zuma

Tentative congratulations to Thobeka Mabhija, the Durban socialite who has become the fifth Mrs Jacob Zuma. The polygamous president isn't exactly famous for his forward-thinking attitude to women. During his abortive trial for rape in 2006, he described his accuser as asking for it, and referred to her genitals as "her father's kraal" (a term for an animal enclosure). His late wife Kate Mantsho, who committed suicide in 2000, described her marriage to Zuma as "24 years of hell".

But despite Zuma's appalling behaviour towards women, gender equality in South Africa has leapt forward under his leadership. His cabinet is 42 per cent female, women have a stronger role in the labour force and the country has shot up to an enviable sixth place on the Global Gender Gap index (Britain languishes at number 15). It seems there has never been a better time to be a woman in South Africa, as long as you're not romantically involved with the president.

God is in the detail

Just days after Malaysia's weekly Catholic newspaper the Herald had won the right to use the name Allah for the Christian "God" in its Malay-language edition, the decision was suspended when the government filed for a stay of execution. For three years, non-Muslims, who make up 40 per cent of Malaysia's population, have been banned from using "Allah", on the basis that proselytising to Muslims is illegal. Allowing its use was a landmark decision for Malaysia, where religion and language are highly sensitive. But the suspension is significant, too. The country's lower courts have shown growing independence in recent decisions, leaving the government to flex its muscles only after the event.

Hardware porn

What do you get if you cross unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - remotely piloted military aircraft carrying laser-guided bombs and so-called "fire-and-forget" missiles - with YouTube? An internet sensation known as "drone porn", that's what!

Filmed from aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, the clips, posted by the US defence department, have titles such as "UAV kills six heavily armed criminals" and "Hellfire missile hitting a tank". They live up to the gory promise of these lines, and have received more than ten million views so far. Apparently intended to promote the drones' work, among a certain audience the clips appear to be doing just that: "It's a bit like burning ants with a magnifying glass," muses one thoughtful YouTube commenter.

Mother Russia

Just days before Vladimir Putin hit the slopes of south Russia for some holiday snowmobiling - wearing the recommended safety garb of helmet and goggles at all times, even during a backie from a woolly-hatted President Medvedev - the prime minister presented Russia with some astonishing news. In 2009, for the first time in 15 years, the country's population was found to have grown. Or at least, it will be found to have grown when the official statistics are released, which they haven't been just yet. It makes sense: the government has made strenuous efforts to raise Russia's low birth rate, offering bumped-up child benefits and prizes such as fridges and TVs to those who give birth on Russia Day. Besides, Putin made his announcement with "a high degree of confidence". And who would doubt a politician offering that? l

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