Weekly Briefing

Chile: rescue

With dark glasses to protect him from the glare of the rescue lights, the 31-year-old Florencio Ávalos became the first of 33 Chilean miners to be winched out of the small copper mine in which they had been trapped. Onlookers gathering around had been told not to celebrate until all the men were safe. But the cheers began as soon as Ávalos appeared.

President Sebastián Piñera called the rescue a miracle; but now the question is what his government will do about safety in small mines. The amount of minerals they yield is minimal and accidents are fairly common. But many Chileans rely on these mines for their livelihood.

Yemen: new army

On 11 October, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda followed two bomb blasts in the city of Aden with the announcement that it was creating a new "Aden-Abyan army" to work towards its long-held goal of overthrowing the country's president, Ali Abdallah Saleh.

In a message released on the internet, Qassim al-Rimi, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, vowed to rid the country of "crusaders and their apostate agents" by means of “a war of attrition". Al-Qaeda is known to have a strong presence in the area around Aden and Abyan, which is set to host the Gulf Football Championship in November and December.

As Barack Obama marked the tenth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole, he noted Yemen's role in the terrorist group's "murderous agenda".

Sudan: disarming

With a nominal date now set for the referendum on South Sudan's independence - 9 January - concerns that war may return are being voiced. The UK and US have indicated that maintaining calm has become a top priority, arguing that stability requires the vote to be held on time. China, which has major oil interests in Sudan, argues that immediate secession, the likely outcome of the vote, would spark a crisis.

Meanwhile, a UN-backed disarmament drive has been launched in Sudan's far south, as a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the north-south civil war in 2005. Several states are already involved and 2,600 former combatants are expected disarm. But civil war is only one source of instability in Sudan. Some fear that the south's secession will leave the north volatile and under government repression.

Philippines: condoms

The contraception issue has helped overthrow two Filipino presidents. Eighty per cent of the country is Catholic and bishops hold serious sway, arguing that birth control is a form of abortion, which is banned. So President Benigno Aquino's announcement that his government would supply contraceptives to help control the country's high birth rate and desperate poverty was bound to provoke a reaction.

Sixty-eight per cent of Filipinos believes that the government should provide birth control. But the church has announced that protests are coming.

For now, though, all seems calm. Having met with the bishops, Aquino reported that he had had a "very pleasant" conversation and had not been excommunicated. But, as yet, no formal dialogue on the issue has been set up.

Russia: inflatables

“Our products are the most peaceful," Viktor Talanov told journalists - an unusual sentiment for a man employed by a weapons manufacturer. However, the tanks, radars and anti-aircraft missile launchers that Rusbal produces are all inflatable decoys.

Russia has used bouncy-castle technology before. But Rusbal's use of heating systems and metal linings to fool radars and thermal imaging is new. The decoys look authentic and come in at a hundredth of the cost of the real thing - though with none of the firepower. The only question
is why Russia has decided to publicise its fakes.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?