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RUSSIA: Putin brandishes muscle

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that Russia must be strong to fend off foreign threats and lauded a long list of his own achievements, a show of muscle seen as a signal that the powerful leader intends to reclaim the presidency next year. Putin laid out an ambitious program of weapons modernization in an annual address to parliament that sounded much like a campaign speech, promising to spend the equivalent of $700 billion by 2020. The broad scope of the four-hour speech underlined Putin's role as the nation's No. 1 leader, though his successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, technically has far broader powers. Putin, 58, president from 2000 to 2008, groomed longtime aide Medvedev to succeed him.


CUBA: Caught in time warp?

Raúl Castro has begged for patience from those seeking a generational change in Cuba, saying the country still lacks young leaders with the experience to take the revolution forward, 52 years after he and his brother came to power. But observers say the Castros have only themselves to blame. "The lack of confidence Raúl feels in young apparatchiks is based on the fact he doesn't understand their impatience or the speed at which they want to accelerate the process [of economic and political change]," said Eduardo Bueno, a professor of international relations at Mexico's Iberoamerican University. The generation gap was never more apparent than at this week's Communist Party Congress, when Raúl named revolutionary veterans Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 78, as his principal deputies. Three relatively young politicians were elevated to the 15-member party leadership council, but in lesser roles.


NIGERIA: Religious strife in North

Neighbors again have become enemies over politics split along religious lines in northern Nigeria. At least 70 people died this week after Muslim mobs targeted supporters of the oil-rich nation's ruling party, while retaliatory attacks by Christians followed with a startling speed.

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