Weekly Briefing

Somalia: extra troops

The recent attacks in Kampala by the Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab shook Uganda and the other countries that provide the African Union (AU) troops stationed in Somalia. But Africa's leaders have now voted to send an extra 2,000 soldiers to the mission, taking numbers to the maximum mandate of 8,000. In its efforts to bring peace to the region, the AU is considering raising that ceiling, but troops' requests that they be permitted
to attack insurgents (at present, they only respond to violence) have been turned down.

With or without additional powers, there are fears that the AU troops' presence is not improving Somalia's situation. Over the years, US soldiers, UN forces and the Ethiopian army have all tried to bring peace by similar means, without success.

Cuba: Castro memoirs

As Cuba celebrated Revolution Day on 26 July, the 90,000 people who gathered in Havana for the official celebrations had to do without Fidel Castro, although he sent messages of goodwill via the state media. Following an unusually high number of public appearances lately, the
83-year-old former president's absence was surprising.

Instead, Castro celebrated by announcing that his memoir, The Strategic Victory, focusing on the overthrow of the Cuban army in 1958, comes out in August. A second volume, the less snappily titled The Final Strategic Counter­offensive, is still in the works.

These are not his first memoirs: a book compiled from interviews with the editor of Le Monde diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, appeared in 2008. But this time, Castro worked with the Cuban journalist Katiuska Blanco.

Kashmir: normality

“Kashmir has a normal day", ran a headline in the Greater Kashmir newspaper on 27 July. In this part of the world, having "no reports of any untoward incident from anywhere" really is news.

Strikes, violence and curfews were catalysed in recent weeks by the deaths of separatist protesters opposed to Indian rule. The Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of political, social and religious groups in Kashmir, had called for a day of peace.

Faced with calm, tens of thousands of shoppers flocked to markets, forming long queues outside bookshops, ATMs and beauty parlours. Schools and businesses opened, too. Some say the state government plans to release imprisoned separatist leaders in an attempt to staunch the violence. In the meantime, more strikes are expected.

France: particles

The first results from the Large Hadron Collider, unveiled at the Paris International Conference on High-Energy Physics, were less than revelatory, at least for non-physicists. The collider is "making steady progress" in the search for the elusive Higgs boson particle. In three years, there might be more evidence of its existence.

But there were thrills for those present, not least President Sarkozy's guest spot. Unpopular with voters, Sarko skirted a science faux pas, confiding that: "Many people have asked me why I went to your conference." But he won them over: "advancement of science", he said, is humanity's means "to really progress".

Canada: for dog's sake

“I don't recall the Scripture saying anything about Jesus dying for the salvation of our pets," Cheryl Chang, the Anglican Network in Canada's director, told reporters. Chaos - or mild indignation - erupted in Toronto when a priest, Marguerite Rea, gave communion to a dog. An unbaptised dog.

A parishioner complained after Rea, while giving communion, offered a wafer to a churchgoer's dog. "It is a strange and shocking thing," agreed Patrick Yu, the bishop. Peggy Needham, the deputy people's warden, was sanguine. Critics thought "Christ wouldn't have liked it," she said. "But in my opinion, Christ would have thought it was neat."

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