Must-Reads from Around the World

Kidnapping ransoms are funding extremists in western Africa, some Mexican Mennonites consider moving back to their ancestral homeland of Russia and Hugo Chavez in delicate condition following cancer operation

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Miraflores Palace / Handout / Reuters

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks next to his inner circle members during a national broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas Dec. 8, 2012.

Chavez Cancer – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is said to be in a delicate condition following his most recent surgery for cancer, writes Reuters. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro urged Venezuelans to unite in prayer for the 58-year old president. Maduro, who is Chavez’s preferred successor, spoke of “difficult” times ahead, indicating a possible end to the president’s 14-year leadership. The operation is Chavez’s fourth in Havana, Cuba since 2011 for a recurring cancer in the pelvic area. The president is due to begin his next six-year term on January 10 following his victory in the October elections.

West African Extremists — In West Africa, kidnappings are financing the activities of extremist Islamist groups, notes the New York Times. “Kidnapping is such a lucrative industry for extremists  in western Africa, netting them tens of millions of dollars in recent years,” writes the Times. In northern Mali, the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghre is believed to have collected at least $90 million in ransoms over the past ten years. Wealthy and well-armed militant groups have complicated plans for an African-led military intervention to take back territory now controlled by extremists.

Turkey in Somalia — The World Policy Journal examines Turkey’s campaign to boost its presence in war-stricken Somalia. In 2011, the Turkish government and private sector collectively donated $414 million to Somalia, more than any European country except for the U.K. Turkey offers $70 million in scholarships to Somali students and its humanitarian organization Kızılay (Red Crescent) has been establishing a permanent settlement for displaced Somalis in the capital Mogadishu. In April, Turkish President Abdullah Gül emphasized the need for “virtuous power.” According to the WPJ, “With its unrivaled on-the-ground rebuilding effort and generous scholarship program, Turkey is using Somalia as the first great display of ‘virtuous power.'”
Mexican Mennonites — In Mexico, the descendants of Mennonite farmers who left Russia in the 19th century are now considering returning to the land of their ancestors, notes Reuters. This summer a group of 11 Mexican Mennonites visited Tatarstan in southwestern Russia to survey the land and determine if they could protect their way of life and secure enough farmland to cope with their population growth. About 60,000 Mennonites live in the state of Chihuahua, where the first settlers arrived in the 1870s.

Thai Murder – The former prime minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva has been charged with murder, reports Aljazeera. He was charged over the death of a civilian during a crack-down on anti-government rallies in 2010. At least 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 injured during the “Red Shirt” street clashes between protestors and security forces. Vejjajiva has been charged for the fatal shooting of a taxi driver. The former Thai leader and former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, was also charged but both deny the charge, Thavorn Senniem, a senior Democrat Party lawmaker, told the AFP.

Superstorm Sandy Concert – Despite being aired around the world, according to the BBC, the 12-12-12 concert held on Wednesday in Madison Square Garden in aid of Sandy victims was actually a “Brit night.” With a line-up including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Chris Martin, the event reminded the British news broadcaster of the “good old days” of the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. However, it was New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen who opened the concert dedicated to those affected by Superstorm Sandy. Around $32m has already been raised from ticket sales and sponsorship with entry for the night’s event ranging from $150 to $2,500, writes Sky News. Promotors have estimated that as many as 2 billion people were able to experience the show through live screening, notes TIME.

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