NATO’s standoff with Russia over Ukraine is coming to a head. Four star Air Force General Phil Breedlove, the top US General in Europe — who also holds Eisenhower’s WW2 title of “Supreme Allied Commander Europe” — has been given until Tuesday to propose measures to deal with the presence of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. Over the last week, NATO’s rhetoric has grown steadily more aggressive — releasing before and after satellite photos to demonstrate the buildup of Russian forces at more than 100 different locations. On Tuesday, Breedlove is scheduled to present a U.S. plan to redeploy assets in Europe as a response to the Ukraine crisis. It’s expected the plan will include increasing military exercises, forward deploying additional military equipment and personnel, and increasing naval, air, and ground presence.
After a week of crawling, sailing and rubbing noses with Maori warriors in New Zealand, next week the royal roadshow rolls across the Tasman Sea to Australia. Or floats to be precise! On Wednesday William, Kate and Prince George will sail into the majestic Sydney harbor. During their 10 day trip, baby George won’t be the only tiny star of the show. Next weekend the royals will officially open a new enclosure at Sydney zoo. It houses the Australian “bilby” – an endangered marsupial with large ears! The Australian Government made a donation to the zoo for its bilby preservation program when George was born, giving the young Prince an animal to adopt. Now the enclosure is to be named after him. And down under, to raise public awareness of the threat of extinction, a campaign has been launched to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby!
Four months after Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6000 people in the Philippines, one million volunteers next week will begin rebuilding homes, schools and conducting medical missions. 3.9 million people were forced from their homes when Haiyan – one of the strongest such storms to make landfall — struck the Philippines on November 8. Its powerful winds and enormous storm surge smashed buildings, destroyed roads and caused widespread power and water outages. In Tacloban – the worst affected area of the country – 90% of structures were damaged. The goal of the Bayani Challenge is to rebuild the Philippines after the damage caused by the storm.
In the Philippines, they take Easter very seriously — and next week marks the three holiest days in the Christian calendar. On Good Friday, devotees will reenact the crucifixion of Jesus. Participants include biblical characters in full costume, who replay events during the Siete Palabras or the Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ. It’s a decades-old practice that mixes Roman Catholic devotion and Filipino folk beliefs. The crucified penitents will spend several minutes nailed to crosses in Pampanga province while thousands of tourists watch. They undergo the hardships in the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God. The Church strongly disapproves of the practice, which took hold in northern Pampanga province about 60 years ago as a form of religious vow for Filipinos seeking forgiveness, to have illnesses cured even get wishes granted.
And it’s not just Boston that hosts a marathon next week. On Sunday. North Korea stages the annual Pyongyang marathon, which for the first time this year will include amateur runners from around the world. Known officially as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, the race has been held annually for 27 years. In the past, competition has been restricted to a select group of elite runners. Recreational jogging isn’t a part of ordinary North Korean life! Nearly 200 foreigners are said to have signed up for the event, which coincides with commemorations of the April 15 birthday of North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il-sung. The only requirement for marathon runners is that they finish in four hours. Those who don’t will be “escorted” back to the stadium – an incentive to achieve a personal best if ever there was one!