Weekly Briefing

Russia: bombings
On 29 March, two suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro killed 39 and injured 70. The attacks are the first in the city since a bomb exploded at Paveletskaya Station in 2004.

Like the Paveletskaya attack, the blasts have been attributed to Islamist suicide bombers from the North Caucasus. The head of the Russian Federal Security Service, (FSB), Alexander Bortiknov, reported that: "Fragments of the bodies of two female suicide bombers were found earlier at
the scene of the incident and examinations show that these individuals came from the North Caucasus region."

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, vowed to "find and destroy" the perpetrators, calling on chairmen from the Supreme Court to "perfect" terrorism laws.

Sierra Leone: strikes
Health-care workers in Sierra Leone, whose strike began on 18 March, were in an unusual position: the government agreed that their demands were fair. “The only unfortunate thing," said President Ernest Bai Koroma, "is that not all of them can be afforded now. But, meanwhile,
go back to work." However, the doctors and nurses refused, until they were awarded a sixfold pay increase on 28 March.

Before the new deal was agreed, doctors were paid £67 a month, and nurses just £27 - nominally, at least. A 2009 Amnesty International report suggests that many are not paid at all, and end up charging patients instead.

Sierra Leone will soon introduce free medical care for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under five, which health workers estimate will quadruple their work. In light of that, the sudden pay hike seems somehow less extravagant.

Egypt: succession issue
Commentators used to debate whether 2011 might see Egypt's first truly democratic poll since Hosni Mubarak became president in 1981. Or would Mubarak's son Gamal just be handed the mantle? Now, the more pressing concern is whether Mubarak Sr - 81 years old and fresh from surgery on his gall bladder and small intestine - will step aside at all.

If he does, Mubarak Jr is still his likely successor. But a growing movement is calling for Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to stand. He has shown some interest; but constitutional change would need to happen before ElBaradei, an independent, could even stand. And after years of unfair elections, less than a quarter of Egyptians vote.

China: toon army
The popularity of the Japanese animation style known as anime may be on the wane in much of the world, but in China it is taking off. At Tokyo's annual Anime Fair, Chinese participants have trebled in number since last year. In November, the government set up the China Animation Comic Group, offering subsidies and planning a "Game City" in Beijing as part of its efforts to enhance the country's reputation as a cultural hub. And by outsourcing work to China, Japanese animation studios have in effect taught China the art - helping to create its own biggest rival, but also a huge new market in a time of economic strain.

France: Sarko père
Poor Nicolas Sarkozy: rumours of marital strife and his popularity at its lowest level since his election in 2007. (The magazine Le Point avoided any risk of confusion by explaining that his unpopularity rating is also up by 6 points.) Now his father, Pal, has written an autobiography, countering claims that he was a bad parent.

Evidence of Pal's nurturing skills was on show at France's annual book fair. He questioned whether his son should even run for re-election in 2012. If he doesn't, he will "have a lot fewer worries than he has now", Pal pointed out helpfully. You can almost hear Nicolas sighing, "Thanks, Dad."

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