Weekly Briefing

Koreas: conflict

North Korea has never recognised the western sea border drawn by the UN after its conflict with South Korea in the 1950s. The imaginary line has been the setting for several clashes in recent years. After months of tension, violence and gunfire have erupted once again.

First, Pyongyang warned Seoul to halt military drills being held in the area. When the South refused, the North shelled Yeonpyeong, a small island nearby, killing two marines and sparking further retaliation. The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, has threatened to strike a North Korean base in response to any further artillery fire.

The New York Times reported that satellite images showed no sign of "preparations for general war". But the US and the South have agreed to a co-ordinated response to Pyongyang.

New Zealand: miners

Barely a month since Chile celebrated the rescue of 33 of its miners, tragedy has struck New Zealand. A second underground blast at the Pike River mine on 24 November has sealed the fate of 29 men who had been trapped underground for six days following a first explosion.

The group included 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

“It is our belief that no one has survived and everyone will have perished," Gary Knowles of the police told reporters on the scene. The prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, described the loss of life as a "national tragedy". He added: "The 29 men whose names and faces we have all come to know will never walk among us again. We are a nation in mourning." It was the country's worst mining disaster since 1914, when a gas explosion left 43 dead.

Sudan: voting

“The rhetoric by all parties must be toned down - I repeat, the rhetoric by all parties must be toned down," a worried Benjamin Mkapa, chair of the UN's Panel on the Referenda in Sudan, warned at a press conference in the southern Sudanese capital, Juba. With the referendum on
the south's independence due in January, voters have been registering at home and in countries including the UK, the US, Egypt and Uganda.

But there have been reports of southern leaders encouraging those outside the south not to vote, as well as intimidation and violence. Funding, too, is said to be short: the Khartoum and Juba governments have reportedly supplied the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau with only $179m of the $370m required.

US: drug trade

Another trade association! And another involved in health care! Just what America needs. What is surprising, however, is the industry in question: medical marijuana, its growers, dispensers and consumers.

The new National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), based in Washington, will act as lobbyists. Fifteen states have legalised the drug for medical use but the NCIA has high hopes for cannabis's future. Its top goals, according to its executive director, Aaron Smith, are "to end prohibition on a federal level" and "for the federal government to stop kicking in the doors of these legitimate businesses".

Russia: bank hard

“Bruce Willis is power. He works much better than cabbage," Dmitry Chukseyev of the Russian bank Trust explained.

A leather-jacketed Willis gruffly peers from Trust's billboards beside the slogan: "Trust - it's just like me, only [it's] a bank."

Until 2009, Vladimir Turchinsky, a bodybuilder and TV star, lent the bank a manly image. But after his death, Trust tried a new approach - adverts featuring cabbage, Russian slang for cash. But its rival, SKB, had come up with the idea first and won exclusive rights to use the
much-loved vegetables. Luckily, Willis, also popular with Russians, was available.