The world at a glance ...
Mass and a Big Mac: Over the objections of senior Catholic leaders, McDonald’s has opened a restaurant just steps from the entrance to the Vatican. The McDonald’s is in a Vatican-owned building that also houses apartments for clerics. When the plan was announced last fall, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia called it a “disgrace” and said the property should be used for the needy, not to serve “unhealthy” burgers and fries to tourists. A residents’ association, already upset at the proliferation of vendors hawking Vatican souvenirs in the area, said opening a McDonald’s was the “decisive blow on an already wounded animal.” But the battle is lost. Vatican officials have also approved a new Hard Rock Cafe to replace a religious bookstore on the main street leading to St. Peter’s Square.
Send cash now: Mexicans in the U.S. are scrambling to send money home before Donald Trump enters the White House. During the presidential campaign, Trump threatened to halt wire transfers of money from Mexican nationals unless Mexico agreed to pay for a border wall. While it’s unclear whether he has the power or even the intent to do so, Mexicans are taking no chances. In November, the month that Trump won the presidency, Mexicans sent $2.4 billion home—a 25 percent jump from a year earlier. Remittances are crucial for the Mexican economy, and many unemployed people depend on income from relatives working in the U.S. In 2015, remittances totaled $25 billion, compared with $19 billion in revenue from oil exports.
President won’t leave: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh lost his re-election bid last month, but he says he won’t step down, and now the electoral commissioner who declared property developer Adama Barrow the winner has fled. Security forces loyal to the president took over the electoral commission headquarters this week, but they didn’t arrest the agency’s head, who is reportedly hiding abroad. The Economic Community of West African States is trying to mediate and is reportedly considering sending troops to force Jammeh from office. “We are ready to defend against any aggression and there will be no compromise,” the president said. Jammeh, 51, has ruled Gambia since taking power in a 1994 military coup.
Venezuelan refugee wave: Tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelans are pouring into Colombia and Brazil seeking food and medical care. The collapse of Venezuela’s economy under President Nicolás Maduro has left grocery shelves empty and hospitals without supplies. Pregnant women who need caesarean sections to deliver their babies are told to go to Colombia or risk death, as Venezuelan hospitals lack the materials to safely perform surgery. Colombian law forbids hospitals from turning away patients, but towns near Venezuela say vital services are being overstretched. “At some point the health system here is going to implode,” said Juan Alberto Bitar, medical director for the border state of Norte de Santander, “because there’s no one to pay the bills.”
Racial profiling? German police are being accused of racial profiling for their efforts to prevent a repeat of 2015’s mass groping of women on New Year’s Eve. Germans tend to celebrate the evening outdoors in town squares, and a year ago in Cologne and other cities hundreds of women were assaulted by coordinated mobs of immigrant men, mostly from North Africa. This time police turned out en masse, stopping and questioning hundreds of North African men and arresting about 100. Amnesty International said the tactic was racist. But many Germans expressed satisfaction that women were able to celebrate safely.
Inmates decapitated: Brazil’s bloodiest prison riot in decades left 56 people dead this week, as inmates of the Anísio Jobim facility butchered one another, lobbing heads and other body parts over the penitentiary’s wall. The battle between rival drug gangs—allegedly over territory outside the prison—went on for 17 hours, and 12 guards were taken hostage. The federal government sent forensic teams to help identify bodies that were mutilated and burned beyond recognition, and authorities said they would transfer leaders of the Family of the North and First Command gangs to separate prisons. Dozens of inmates from the prison and from another lockup nearby escaped in the confusion, and several posted selfies of themselves on the run on social media.
Nightclub massacre: ISIS has claimed responsibility for a New Year’s Eve attack on an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, most of them foreigners, and wounded nearly 70 more. The gunman, whom government media identified as a Kyrgyz national, shot a policeman guarding the venue and then stood by the DJ booth, firing an AK-47 methodically into the crowd and reloading several times. He escaped, but authorities arrested more than 30 suspected ISIS militants, all foreigners, who are believed to have assisted him. Turkish authorities said the gunman had been in contact with ISIS in Syria, where he received training. Before the attack, some government supporters had denounced New Year’s celebrations as Western decadence, causing outrage among secular Turks.
Netanyahu questioned: Police read Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his rights and questioned him for three hours this week in a corruption investigation that threatens to bring down the long-serving leader. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who proceeded slowly with the case over many months and was seen as reluctant to charge the prime minister, now says that Netanyahu is suspected of receiving illegal gifts and perks. Netanyahu called the allegations “complete gibberish,” but if he is indicted he will have to step down. Also in Israel this week, soldier Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian attacker in the head last year as the terrorist lay wounded on the ground; the case sharply divided the country.
No more ivory: In a win for environmentalists and elephants, China says it will shut down its commercial trade in ivory by the end of this year. China is the world’s largest market for ivory products, and though officially only stockpiled ivory can be sold there, Chinese demand has fueled widespread poaching in Africa, where more than 100,000 elephants have been illegally killed for their tusks over the past decade. In recent years, though, Chinese activists such as basketball star Yao Ming have called for an end to the trade, and President Xi Jinping saw a ban as a way to boost his country’s global clout. “They know it’s not worth damaging China’s international image to be involved in this business,” said Peter Knights of WildAid, a U.S. NGO that sponsored an advertising campaign in China against ivory.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Aiming at U.S.: In a New Year’s message, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said his country had reached the “final stages” of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear weapon and reach the U.S., a breakthrough the secretive regime has long sought. But Presidentelect Donald Trump tweeted that the North Korean breakthrough “won’t happen!”—although he didn’t make clear how the U.S. would stop the test. Trump then criticized China for failing to restrain its ally, tweeting, “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Chinese state media in turn accused Trump of “pandering to irresponsible attitudes,” and noted that China has joined tough U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang.
Killings continue: At least 6,870 civilians were killed in Iraq in 2016, the United Nations said this week. Many of the dead perished in bombings and attacks by ISIS, which has wiped out whole villages as it retreats to a few strongholds. In the past week alone, ISIS car bombs in Baghdad killed more than 50 civilians. The U.N. said its death estimate was “the absolute minimum” and did not count the many Iraqis who lost their lives due to “secondary effects of violence” such as lack of shelter, water, and health care. It also did not count the thousands of Iraqi soldiers and militants who died in the fighting last year; the Iraqi government has not yet released those figures.
Cease-fire crumbles: A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey has failed to take full effect in Syria because forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continue to batter the suburbs of Damascus. Ten rebel groups said this week they would not participate in talks to set up a planned peace conference in Kazakhstan until Assad’s forces stopped bombing and attacking besieged civilians. In the Wadi Barada valley near Damascus, some 100,000 civilians have been under siege since July, and the new surge of bombings has cut them off from their only water source. The failure of the pact shows that neither broker can deliver its partner: Turkey can’t control the rebels, and Russia can’t force Assad to heel