Weekly Briefing

West Bank: freeze
Tony Blair has been keeping it upbeat as the Middle East peace negotiations creep on. "There's no doubt at all that both parties are absolutely serious about finding an agreement," he told anyone who cared to listen.

Israel's partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank is due to expire at the end of September. Mediators from the US, EU, UN and Russia are urging Israel to extend the ban, arguing that it has had a positive impact. Not to mention that the Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if building is resumed. So far, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, seems willing to consider limiting construction but he has refused to extend the freeze. After almost 20 years of talks, this latest round, like so many before it, seems doomed to fail.

Somalia: resignation
With only a few of Mogadishu's districts under the control of the Transitional Federal Government and the rest controlled by militant groups, the resignation of the country's interim prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake, is not expected to change much on the ground. But his departure, due to "unresolved differences" with the president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, may help to end the political chaos that has allowed the insurgent groups to flourish.

The two leaders had been in deadlock over a new constitution and a vote of confidence in the prime minister had been planned. With unrest worsening and two radio stations seized by militants in late September, any change that may improve things will be welcome. But Somalia's condition is still too serious and complex for much optimism.

Sweden: far right
“There is no need to use words like chaos," insisted the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, less than reassuringly, as protesters demonstrated in their thousands in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

In 2006, the election of his party, the centre-right Alliance for Sweden, ended almost 70 years of centre-left governance. On 19 September, the party lost its majority, to the benefit of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who won 20 seats and are now in a position to help form a coalition.
Minority government is one option. Reinfeldt has said that he will seek the Green Party's support, even though the party is currently allied to the Social Democrats, whom he knocked out of power in 2006. Reinfeldt is hoping to resolve the situation before the Swedish parliament opens on 4 October, when another protest is planned.

Thailand: schools hit
Four months after the violent anti-government protests were suppressed, supporters of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok to mark the fourth anniversary of the coup that ousted him.

The demonstrations were peaceful but, elsewhere in the country, political violence persists. A new Human Rights Watch report on separatist attacks in the south finds that schools have become targets for Malay insurgents. Buildings have been burned in protest against the Thai state, while teachers have been killed and students terrorised.

But the separatists are not the only ones disrupting education by using schools as bases. Thai government troops have been doing the same.

US: bedbugs bite
Tourists aren't the only ones swarming through New York this autumn. The US is fighting what its environmental health services are calling "an alarming resurgence in the population of bedbugs" with its first Bedbug Summit.

Crowds of entomologists and exterminators alike attended, and entrepreneurs offered protective plastic sheets, dissolving laundry bags and heating devices costing up to $75,000. But none had quite the charm of the bedbug beagle. Trained much like police sniffer dogs, even the department store Bergdorf Goodman now has one.