Former US president turned painter George W Bush is to have his artwork featured in an exhibition called “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy”. It is not known exactly what the subjects of his paintings are - he is previously known to have painted dogs and self-portraits - but Bush’s art will supposedly provide an insight into his unique relationships with other world leaders.
Many thousands of civilians were killed, injured or remain missing as a result of the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka between government forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The conflict ended in 2009 but a UN human rights chief has criticised the government’s failure to investigate war crimes on both sides, and called for an international inquiry.
A Romanian politician has introduced a bill to parliament that would see dolphins granted the same rights as humans. Due to their highly developed intelligence, Remus Cernea wants dolphins to be recognised as “non-human persons” making them equal with humans before the law. If passed, the bill would see a ban on dolphins being used in entertainment shows and dolphin killers given the same sentences as murderers.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) has urged Hungary to reconsider plans to erect a monument commemorating the German occupation in 1944 and to seek greater dialogue with the country's Jewish community. Hungarian Jewish groups have condemned the monument as part of an official drive to obscure Hungary’s controversial role in the holocaust when some citizens aided the deportation and murder of Jews during World War Two.
Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi caused a storm of controversy recently when he announced that he paid someone else to write his music after going deaf – including his best known work, the “Hiroshima symphony”. Known as the “Beethoven of Japan”, Samuragochi has further complicated the story by revealing his hearing returned three years ago.
Europe's media freedom watchdog told Britain it believed political pressure applied to The Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a "chilling effect" on independent journalism. The Guardian began publishing the leaks of NSA contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013, revealing vast government spying at home and abroad. The UK government threatened the Guardian with legal action for damaging national security and forced Guardian staff to destroy computers containing files supplied by Snowden - acts condemned as harassment and intimidation.
A fisherman from El Salvador who was washed ashore on the Marshall Islands said he survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean by drinking turtle blood and catching fish and birds. Jose Salvador Alvarenga travelled 10,000 km on a 7.3 meter boat after he set sail on a shark fishing trip and was blown out to sea.
Scotland has become the 17th country to allow same-sex marriage after a historic landslide vote in the Scottish Parliament. Despite opposition from churches, the nation’s politicians voted overwhelmingly for a bill that paves the way for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The move was opposed by the Scottish Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland but the law will not compel religious institutions to hold ceremonies on their premises.
A Norwegian member of parliament has nominated former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, arguing that the American’s leaking of classified documents made the world a safer place. Snowden disclosed US government surveillance programs to expose extensive state spying both at home and abroad. Snowdon was granted temporary asylum in Russia because he faces criminal charges in the US.
China has banned smoking in schools in the latest move by the government to kick the country’s pervasive tobacco habit. The ban was imposed by the Ministry of Education. It covers kindergartens, elementary and middle schools, and vocational schools. Elsewhere, universities must set up smoking areas and forbid lighting up in academic buildings and schools can no longer seek sponsorship from cigarette brands or allow tobacco advertisements on campus.
South Africa's government is up in arms over a bronze rabbit crafted inside the ear of a large statue of former president Nelson Mandela unveiled last month. Artists Ruhan Janse van Vuuren and Andre Prinsloo added the animal when the government prevented them from engraving their signatures on the statue. However, the government has said the creature is to be removed to “restore integrity” to the commemorative statue.
The Philippines aims to recover three paintings – including one by French Impressionist Claude Monet – that a former aide of Imelda Marcos was jailed for trying to sell in the United States. As the pictures were bought with state funds, the Philippine government is claiming ownership and intends to pursue a civil case to have them returned.
A life-sized replica of the Titanic will become the centerpiece of a theme park in China, featuring a museum and a shipwreck simulation to give visitors a harrowing sense of the 1912 disaster. The Chinese version of the unsinkable ship will cost $165 million and is expected to open in 2016. Several hundred tourists at a time will get to experience what the shipwreck was like, although probably no one will actually drown.
Mikhail Kalashnikov – designer of the AK-47 rifle – wrote a letter to the Russian Orthodox Church before his death expressing concern that his weapon had killed so many people. Cheap to produce and easy to maintain, the rifle that bears the Russian’s name became a staple in warfare, often finding its way into the hands of terrorists and child soldiers. Indeed, the rifle has killed more people than any other firearm. Kalashnikov’s letter allegedly says he was in unbearable spiritual pain over his legacy.
A mission to put humans on Mars received more than 200,000 applicants. Mars One was set up by two Dutchmen with the goal of establishing permanent life on the planet by 2025. Of the 200,000 who applied, just over 1000 have been picked for the shortlist which will be whittled down to just 24 via a series of rigorous mental and physical tests. The final two dozen will establish a colony on Mars and take part in a documentary/reality TV programme to finance the mission. The 24 people who are chosen to go into space will never come back to Earth.
The Church of England has formally accepted a challenge by the Vatican to a game of cricket. Teams of priests and seminaries from both churches will settle old scores on the cricket pitch nearly 500 years after they split. It is hoped the game will improve relations between the churches and be umpired by a Muslim, a Jew, or even an atheist, in order to keep things fair.
After the city of Detroit, USA, was declared bankrupt last week it hired auction house Christie’s to put a price-tag on one of the city’s highest profile assets: its share of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection. The city’s share of the collection, which amounts to 3000 works, is worth between $452 million and $866 million. Whether the works will be eventually sold is unclear as Christie’s has stated that they will propose alternative means of monetising the artwork without outright sale.
Two years after NATO missiles helped rebels drive out Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is under siege from former rebel fighters who now flex their military muscle to make demands on the state, seize oilfields and squabble over post-war spoils. Now, outside of Tripoli, new recruits march and bark out slogans for the new Libyan army that western powers hope can take the rebels on. However, lack of modern equipment, basic skill levels and limited army facilities have made training difficult as the young recruits prepare to face hardened militiamen, Islamist fighters and political plots.
The Vatican has refused to provide a United Nations panel with information on the Church's internal investigations into the sexual abuse of children by clergy, arguing that its policy was to keep such cases confidential. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child put some tough questions to the Vatican relating to sexual abuse ahead of direct questioning in January. However, the Vatican’s response has been criticised by children’s rights groups as disingenuous and misleading.
US President, Barack Obama, has urged Americans not to be discouraged by the rocky rollout of his plan for free and reduced healthcare – dubbed Obamacare. Problems with the healthcare system’s website, starting at its launch in October, have seen the new law face criticism and Obama’s approval ratings drop. But during a speech this week the president promised that problems will be fixed and accused rival politicians of “rooting for this law to fail”.