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Eric Weiner: News Stories Off the Map


Now it's time for our occasional look at international stories that have not received much attention in the US media. We're calling this feature Off the Map. And we're going to look at a story about oil fields in Libya, and then off to Switzerland to check out skating police officers. Joining us to talk about these and other stories not making the headlines is NPR's Eric Weiner.

Hi, Eric.

ERIC WEINER reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: So first, we're going to the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostock, where some unusual war games are about to take place.

WEINER: Well, that's right, Madeleine, unusual in terms of the participants, China and Russia. Now these are two countries that have had, well, let's say, frosty relations for many, many years. They even fought a brief border skirmish back in 1969. This is more than just police maneuvers or anything on a small scale; it will, in fact, involve a hundred thousand troops, Russian paratroopers and possibly Chinese nuclear subs, as well. Really, it's symbolic, though, Madeleine. War games are essentially sabre rattling or chest thumping on an international level. That has some people in the region worried, especially the Taiwanese, who are very concerned about these.

BRAND: Well, a former chest-thumper, Libya, is now less of a chest-thumper now that we've welcomed them into the international community. I understand the oil is flowing again.

WEINER: It is. And as you mentioned, this is a remarkable makeover for former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. I guess we don't call him strongman anymore now that he's been made over. This is a man who Ronald Reagan once called the mad dog of Tripoli. Now he's being welcomed back into the international fold. He has, of course, agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program. The US has responded in kind by lifting most sanctions. And now, as you mentioned, the oil floweth, and it floweth to one company in particular, a US firm called Occidental Petroleum. It says it has now received approval from the Libyan government to resume operations. That makes it the first US firm to get back into Libya since 1986.

BRAND: OK. Let's go to Switzerland, where they're not using any oil at all for these police officers. Right? They're on roller skates.

WEINER: Indeed, they are. Now you would think this is something that you folks out in Southern California would dream up, but, no, leave it to the Swiss, the inventors of the Swiss Army Knife and the Swatch, to come up with this one. They call themselves the Roller Cops, and they started skating on their patrols about three weeks ago. They say they can get around more quickly than walking and less expensively than on horse or motorcycle. And best of all, Madeleine, they get to wear these really nifty outfits. And here is Sergeant Marcel Schaeffer, head of Zurich's Roller Cop unit.

Sergeant MARCEL SCHAEFFER (Head of Zurich's Roller Cop Unit): We have protections. We have light on skates. We are wearing polo shirts. We are wearing short trousers. It's nice to look. It's--Yes?

BRAND: I certainly hope so. They may look great, but have they made any arrests?

WEINER: They have. In fact, two arrests, one involving a high-speed chase--well, OK, maybe not a high-speed chase, but a chase of a culprit who was on a bicycle. Of course, being on roller skates does have one drawback; in a word, `stairs.' Here's Sergeant Schaeffer again.

Sgt. SCHAEFFER: There are some problems, maybe some steps down or some steps up. If somebody runs away, we try to follow them. And if he's gone, he's gone. That's our problem.

WEINER: `If he's gone, he's gone.' Apparently, Madeleine, the Swiss police force is every bit as neutral as the rest of the country.

BRAND: OK. Thank you for that, NPR's Eric Weiner.

WEINER: Thanks, Madeleine.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner is a national correspondent for NPR.org. Based in Washington, DC, he writes news and analysis for NPR's website.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).