Weekly Briefing

With Pakistan's government unable to cope, Islamic groups both mainstream and extreme have filled th

Pakistan: chaos

As President Asif Ali Zardari prepared for his visit to the UK - presumably doing a spot of packing as well as interviews with the press - the city of Karachi, Pakistan's business hub, erupted into violence. On 2 August, a prominent opposition politician, Raza Haider, was shot dead; the Taliban and the banned militants Sipah-e-Sahaba have been blamed. Forty-five people died in ensuing clashes. The city's recent stability may be ebbing away.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has suffered its worst floods in 80 years; 300,000 people have been displaced and 1,500 killed. With the government unable to cope, Islamic groups both mainstream and extreme - such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, thought to be a front for Lashkar-e-Toiba - have moved in to fill the civic gap.

Switzerland: bomb ban

On 1 August, more than two years after discussions began, the Convention on Cluster Munitions came into force, banning cluster bombs from the 108 states that have signed up. So, it's goodbye to the weapons that kill 300 people a year in Laos alone . . . or goodbye, sort of. Several of the biggest weapons stockpilers - including the US, Russia, China, Israel and India - have not signed. And the UK seems to have decided that the "smart" weapons called "ballistic sensor fused munitions", which it says are less harmful to civilians, don't count. Meanwhile, ships registered in the UK and managed by British and German shipping companies were being used to transport cluster munitions components from South Korea to Pakistan as recently as February.

Kenya: referendum

“It is a fabulous and elastic set of rules that will govern a prosperous Kenya," announced Kabando wa Kabando, a junior minister and member of the committee campaigning for a new Kenyan constitution. "Songs of equity, freedom and justice will rock Kenya, to the paranoia and chagrin of naysayers whose fate now lies with the blessed day!"

Backed by Prime Minister

Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, the new constitution, designed to create a second chamber of parliament, give more power to local politicians and let voters recall unsatisfactory MPs, has public support. Some churches, however, have fought against it, arguing that it favours Muslims, and there have been threats of violence. Odinga says he expects to see improved opportunities for marginalised groups and to usher in "a
second republic".

Iran: stoning

For a moment, it looked as if Sakineh Ashtiani - the Iranian woman who received 99 lashes in 2006 for "illicit relations" with men after her husband's death, but was then sentenced to death by stoning - might have a way out. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, whose relations with Iran have been good, offered her asylum, saying: "If she is causing unease there, we will willingly receive her here."

But the effect of his offer has been slightly different from the one intended. Conveniently, reports have appeared on Iranian news services that Ashtiani was guilty of her husband's murder as well as adultery, but the details of her crime had been judged "too horrific" to release.

Japan: old timers

Even in long-lived Japan, Tokyo's 4,800 centenarians are unusual. Unusually wily, too, it seems. After Tokyo's oldest man, 111-year-old Sogen Kato, was found to have died 30 years ago, the city's oldest woman, Fusa Furuya, was declared missing. Three more are unaccounted for.

The Japanese hope to rectify things before September's Respect for the Aged Day. Either Tokyo types have more respect for relatives' pensions than for the super-old, or centenarians are showing less respect for social conventions - like not going on the run - than expected.