President Hu Jintao urged faster reconstruction in Sichuan areas devastated by the May 12 earthquake. Millions of people are still living in tents and temporary housing with winter in full swing. Local governments warned that even food in some areas is scarce.
Conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip raised ire against Egypt in several Middle East countries, where some believe that Egypt aided Israel in blockading Gaza and may even have backed Israel's military action. Demonstrators attacked Egyptian embassies in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon while Egyptian officials denied backing the attack. Whether tensions over the Gaza conflict will produce any unrest in Egypt remains to be seen.
A three-hour strike by more than 500 baggage handlers caused major delays to scores of flights Dec. 27, and another strike could occur in the new year. Union officials refused an offer to reinstate half of the annual bonus usually paid to its workers but agreed not to strike again before negotiations resume Monday. Hong Kong Airport Services, one of three companies that provide ground services at the airport, intended to eliminate the bonuses entirely, prompting the workers to strike.
In addition to a planned New Year's Eve strike, baggage handlers are expected to strike Jan. 9 to protest a new policy that would outsource baggage services at Delhi and Mumbai international airports to foreign firms. During the strikes, baggage service may be limited, causing delays. Workers intend to continue striking until the policy is revoked. In other news, despite growing tensions between India and Pakistan over the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, the disputed region of Kashmir has experienced its lowest level of violence in two decades. Militant attacks fell by 40 percent in 2008, and civilian casualties dropped to fewer than 100 for the first time since 1989.
Once there were more than 80,000 Geisha throughout Japan, but now there are just 1,000, and many in the Gion district of Kyoto have complained about harassment from tourists. Visitors have tugged at their sleeves and snapped pictures with them as if the white-faced women in traditional silk kimonos were cast members in a theme park. To protect them from further harassment, local residents and restaurant owners have volunteered to patrol the neighborhood.