Weekly Briefing

Israel: fake passports

There was rare unity in the House of Commons on 23 March as David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, condemned the alleged counterfeiting of British passports by Mossad agents, suspected of killing the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai at the beginning of the year.

Miliband was explaining the British government's decision to expel an Israeli diplomat - assumed to be a Mossad member and un-named as we went to press - from Israel's embassy in London. The move was praised by MPs from all sides and followed discussions between Miliband and Israeli officials, including the country's ambassador Ron Prosor, over an inquiry by the Serious and Organised Crime Squad (Soca). Soca had concluded there are "compelling reasons" to believe that Israel was responsible for the "misuse" of 12 UK passports.

The Foreign Secretary described Israel as a "friend", emphasising the importance of "engagement" with what some MPs described as a "rogue" and "pariah" state. But, he said, "[We] have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports. The government takes this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable."

Bolivia: slogans

First Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, now Evo Morales. The Bolivian president has adopted the motto of Cuba's communist revolutionaries: "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome!" The Bolivian army chanted the slogan during the Day of the Sea ceremony, held on 23 March, commemorating the 1879-84 war in which Bolivia lost its coastal land to Chile.

The sentiment is a sea change for Bolivia's historically right-wing troops, responsible for Guevara's execution in 1967. The rebranding comes in the same week as the claim that Guevara's captor, the former general Gary Prado, was involved in a plot against Morales - which he denies.

Yemen: child brides

There is a saying in Yemen, a reminder of how to have a happy marriage: "Give me a girl of eight, and I can give you a guarantee."Marriage is not uncommon among under-tens, and a quarter of girls are wives before they turn 15. Poverty is a factor, but so is a culture that advises that young girls make dutiful wives.

However, a law has now been proposed that would make marriage illegal before 17. On 23 March, hundreds of women rallied outside the parliament in Sana'a in favour of the law. But just days earlier, thousands had protested against it, and some of Yemen's most senior clerics have issued a religious decree declaring the law's supporters as apostates.

Italy: president's men

Silvio Berlusconi hasn't had the best time lately, what with the sex and corruption scandals, trials for tax fraud and bribery, and his People of Freedom party excluded from standing in a key area at this month's regional elections.

But the Italian PM still has fans, some more creative than others. Thousands rallied in Rome on 20 March in his support. Then there's Anthony Boahene and his son, Silvio Berlusconi Boahene - born in Accra, Ghana, in 2005 - now living in his father's adopted city, Modena. "I like the way Berlusconi talks, the way he moves," Boahene said of Silvio Senior.

EU: excuse my French

How kind of the EU minister Pierre Lellouche to offer Jerzy Buzek, the Union's president, and its foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, French lessons! You might expect someone so fond of "the language of diplomacy" to be more tactful, but Ashton is reportedly "delighted".

The EU's Polish president, meanwhile, has declined. "Buzek already speaks fluent English, German and Russian as well as Polish. You don't hear Sarkozy speaking anything other than French," an official pointed out.

This article first appeared in the 29 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Hold on tight!