Must-Reads from Around the World, July 30, 2012

Today's selections include self-immolations in Israel and the trial of punk-artist-feminist-protesters in Russia.

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KCNA / Reuters

Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju attend the opening ceremony of the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang on July 25, 2012

No Reform Here — North Korean authorities responded to recent allegations that they may be softening their ways with an emphatic “No.” In an interview with state-run KCNA on Sunday, a spokesperson for the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea mocked calls of recent reform as “ridiculous” and “ignorant.” Speculation that the isolated country may be on the verge of reform began as soon as Kim Jong-Un took over the reins for his father, but it recently intensified with the firing of military head Ri Yong-ho and the disclosure that Kim is married. Still, the spokesperson had choice words for those who saw a glimmer of liberalization: “The puppet group [the South] … tried to give [the] impression that the present leadership of the DPRK broke with the past. This is the height of ignorance,” he said.

Israeli Immolations — A rash of self-immolations  — seven attempts in the past two weeks — throughout the country has shocked Israeli authorities and rallied activists for psychological support services. As Haaretz reports, one man died six days after lighting himself aflame at a mass social protest demonstration, and his fellow activists have now taken up the cause of the development of “support groups to provide psychological as well as legal assistance to people in severe socioeconomic straits.” Meanwhile, these seven incidents could be evidentiary of a larger trend: one Israeli suicide prevention hotline reported a 25% increase in calls over the last two weeks.

Pussy Riot on Trial — The trial for three members of the all-female punk protest group Pussy Riot is set to begin Monday in Moscow, and the press is scrambling to define the brightly-colored balaclava-wearing group. The Guardian has a lengthy take on what it says “aren’t just the coolest revolutionaries you’re ever likely to meet. They’re also the nicest.” But the English-language Moscow Times had a different view on the ladies who could face up to seven years in prison for their participation in an anti-Putin rally: Writing of a December 2011 event featuring two of the Rioters, author John Freedman concludes that “these people knew what they were doing; they seemed to understand why they were doing it; and they gave the impression that they knew how it could best be done.”

Syria‘s Desert Refugees —The BBC examines Jordan’s first official refugee camp: a “pitched city of tents” in the desert, which has become the “only safe haven from the growing violence at home” for “hundreds of Syrians fleeing across the border every day.” Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, said,”We tried for months to delay the opening of official camps.’ He added, “We have our conscience … but we also have our realities on the ground,” claiming that 142,000 Syrians had fled Jordan over the past year. Jordanian authorities are now “carefully vetting those who cross legally, and keeping on eye on the many more Syrians who enter illegally, including defectors and activists.” However, sources claim the delay was due to fears by Jordanian authorities of further straining the country’s relationship with the Syrian government.

Failed Impeachment — “The Romanian government’s controversial attempt to unseat the head of state failed as too few people turned out to vote over the impeachment of President Traian Basescu,” the Guardian writes. Since coming into office in May, Prime Minister Victor Ponta had been moving to remove President Basescu from power. 85% of those who voted favoured the removal of the President, however the vote failed to attract the 50% turnout necessary for the impeachment to pass. Basescu praised the high abstention rate. He said, “Romanians have rejected the coup initiated by Victor Ponta. Today, Romanians decided their own fate by invalidating the referendum.” Nevertheless, he also recognized his loss of popular support.