The World

10 ESSENTIAL STORIES

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1 | Sudan

Voting for a New Nation

Southern Sudan's much anticipated referendum on whether to secede commenced Jan. 9 with a high voter turnout and much rejoicing. Yet there were also reports of deadly violence in the north-south border areas, and tensions remained high in Africa's largest country. The weeklong vote, expected to lead to the formation of the world's newest nation, is a result of a 2005 peace agreement between the Sudanese government and southern rebels after decades of civil war between the predominantly Arab Muslim north and mostly Christian and animist south. Despite the relative ease of the vote, many key issues, such as precise borders and the status of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region, have yet to be resolved. The new nation may also have to reckon with up to half a million southerners returning home from the north.

2 | Tunisia

Protests Hit North Africa

Tunisia has seen weeks of strikes and riots triggered by anger at unemployment and the perceived corruption of the rulers. A crackdown on demonstrations throughout the small North African state led to at least 21 confirmed deaths, though rights groups claim casualties are more than double that figure. The government of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who has ruled for more than 23 years, ordered universities and schools shut in a bid to halt further protests and instituted curfews, while police arrested hundreds. Despite those measures, the unrest, unprecedented in this relatively stable and affluent country, continued apace.

3 | Pakistan

An Assassin Celebrated

Rather than mourn the death of Salmaan Taseer, Punjab's progressive governor, tens of thousands showed their support for his murderer. Crowds cast Taseer's confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, as a hero and rallied in support of the blasphemy laws Taseer had criticized. The laws, which make insulting Islam a crime punishable by death, have been used to persecute Christians and other minorities, but Islamabad vowed not to amend them--not least because of the strength of Islamist sentiment in the country.

4 | Iraq

Anti-American Cleric Returns

Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Shi'ite militia led bloody uprisings against American forces in Iraq, made a triumphant return from more than three years of self-imposed exile in Iran to assume a central (if unofficial) role in the newly formed Shi'ite-led Iraqi government. The return of the radical cleric, who was greeted by rapturous crowds, is a sign of Tehran's influence in Baghdad and further evidence that Iraq may insist on U.S. troops' departure from the country by the end of 2011. Sadr vehemently opposes the continued American military presence.

5 | Lebanon

Crisis in Beirut

Lebanon's national unity government collapsed Jan. 12 after 11 Ministers from Hizballah and its allies resigned. Hizballah is disputing the likely verdict of a U.N. tribunal that is expected to indict some of its members for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The resignations arrived just as Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Obama met in Washington for urgent talks on the future of the fragile Lebanese government.

6 | Australia

Brisbane Succumbs To Floods

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