The world at a glance ...
Clean Brexit: After months of caginess, Prime Minister Theresa May finally announced her vision this week for Britain’s departure from the European Union: a full divorce and a new trade agreement to be finalized within two years of the exit talks starting this March. May indicated that the U.K. would leave the EU customs union and the European Court of Justice. Her finance minister, Philip Hammond, warned that if the EU didn’t agree to a free-trade deal, Britain could slash its business taxes and become Europe’s corporate tax haven. “The British people,” he said, “are not going to lie down and say ‘too bad, we’ve been wounded.’” The pound, which had slid to near parity with the euro, rallied on the news, but EU leaders were less impressed. “Where is the give for all the take?” asked the Czech Republic’s EU minister, Tomas Prouza.
Desperate refugees: Two men from Ghana risked freezing to death by hiking for seven hours in waist-deep snow from North Dakota to Canada after they were denied asylum in the U.S. Seidu Mohammed, 24, and Razak Iyal, 35, were rescued, severely frostbitten, by a Canadian truck driver on Christmas Eve and have been hospitalized since then. They will likely lose all their fingers and some toes. Mohammed, who is gay, said he can’t return to Ghana, where homosexuality is illegal and gays are persecuted. “To go back, I lose my life,” he said. Both men are now seeking asylum in Canada.
Trudeau’s first scandal: Canada’s federal ethics office is investigating whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest rules for taking a post-Christmas vacation on a Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan, a billionaire philanthropist and Shiite Muslim spiritual leader. The conflict could arise because the Aga Khan Foundation is a registered lobbyist with the government. Trudeau’s supporters said the jet-setting Aga Khan, 80, is a longtime family friend; he has known Trudeau since he was a toddler, and he was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “Aga Khan” is the title of the leader of Ismaili Shiites.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Festival murders: An American teenager was crushed to death this week as she tried to flee a mass shooting at an electronic music festival on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The attack occurred on the final night of the BPM Festival at a Playa del Carmen nightclub after security guards turned away an unidentified man because he was carrying a weapon. He opened fire, killing four people and sparking the stampede in which Alejandra Villanueva Ibarra, an 18-year-old from Denver, died. State Attorney General Miguel Ángel Pech Cen said the attack was being treated as an ordinary crime, not a terrorist event. The Yucatán area has been largely free of drug gang violence and is Mexico’s main tourist draw.
U.S. challenges Russia: Some 3,500 U.S. soldiers last week began deploying in Poland and six other eastern European countries as part of NATO’s Operation Atlantic Resolve, a show of force launched after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In a separate mission, some 300 U.S. Marines arrived in Norway this week to train and help reinforce NATO’s northernmost border with Russia. Moscow reacted angrily to the deployments on its doorstep, saying they “endanger our interests and our security,” and some analysts wondered whether President Trump would reverse outgoing President Obama’s action to curry favor with Russia. But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “confident that the commitment of the U.S. is rock solid” because “Trump told me so.”
Massive bribery scandal: Brazil’s huge Operation Car Wash investigation, which has implicated much of the country’s political and business class in corruption, has now spread to Colombia. Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant, has admitted to paying $788 million in bribes from 2001 to 2016 to secure lucrative construction contracts in 12 countries, including Colombia. As part of a plea bargain with the U.S., Brazil, and Switzerland, Odebrecht agreed to pay some $3.5 billion in fines and to release documents showing its payouts. So far, two Colombians have been arrested: former senator Otto Bula, accused of taking $4.6 million in bribes, and Gabriel García Morales, a former vice minister of transport, accused of pocketing $6.5 million.
Go ahead, beat your wife: Russia is in the process of lifting criminal penalties for hitting family members. The country implemented its first ban on domestic violence last year, when the law on battery was amended to include a jail term of up to two years for people found guilty of striking a spouse or child. Arch-conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina—who previously drafted Russia’s notorious ban on “gay propaganda”—said the amendment was a “baseless intervention into family affairs” that meant mothers and fathers could be arrested for causing just “a scratch.” She has proposed a new law that would decriminalize some domestic violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his blessing to the idea at his annual press conference recently, which means it is sure to pass.
Army bombs civilians: Seeking to target Boko Haram militants near the Cameroon border, the Nigerian military mistakenly bombed a refugee camp this week, killing more than 100 refugees and Red Cross aid workers. Human rights groups say many civilians have been killed in Nigerian airstrikes, but this is the first time the military has acknowledged civilian casualties. The fight against Boko Haram has devastated northern Nigeria. At least 20,000 people have been killed and 2.1 million displaced, while up to 5 million people face starvation. Boko Haram has used children as suicide bombers: This week police killed a 12-year-old girl who was wearing a suicide bomb vest in an attack on the University of Maiduguri.
Putin defends Trump: President Vladimir Putin this week called the dossier about alleged links between Donald Trump and Russia “complete rubbish.” Compiled by a former British intelligence agent, the dossier claimed that Russian agents had footage of the new U.S. president cavorting with Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013. Putin said that because Trump consorted with “the world’s most beautiful women,” he would have no need of paid companionship. He added that Russian prostitutes are “the best in the world, obviously. But I doubt that Trump fell for it.” Putin said the dossier was part of an attempt by the outgoing Obama administration to “undermine the legitimacy” of Trump despite his “convincing” electoral victory.
Samsung scion freed: A South Korean court denied a request from prosecutors this week to arrest Lee Jaeyong, the de facto head of the Samsung Group, over his role in the corruption scandal surrounding embattled President Park Geun-hye. Lee, 48, is accused of funneling $36 million to Park’s confidante and power broker, Choi Soon-sil, to support a merger of two Samsung affiliates. That deal helped Lee cement control of the company after his father fell ill in 2014. Lee admitted making the payments, but denied they were bribes. The court’s decision means that the Samsung boss, who was being held in detention pending the ruling, will go free and that prosecutors will continue their investigation of him.
Terrorist captured: Turkish police have captured the man they say shot dead 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve. Uzbek national Abdulkadir Masharipov, 34, was arrested with four others in a hideout near Istanbul after police reviewed some 7,200 hours of security camera footage and 2,200 tip-offs from the public. Photos taken after Masharipov’s arrest show him bruised and bleeding, apparently from wounds inflicted by police. “He’s a well-trained terrorist,” said Vasip Sahin, governor of Istanbul province. “He was trained in Afghanistan and can speak four languages.” Sahin also said Masharipov had pledged allegiance to ISIS. This week ISIS released a new video that threatened more attacks on Turkey and showed one of its militants casing Istanbul’s most popular tourist sites, including the Blue Mosque.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hunt for Flight 370 ends: After three fruitless years and $150 million spent on overflights and underwater sweeps, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been called off. The jet was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it went off radar in the early hours of March 8, 2014. Experts believe the plane crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but a search of a 46,000-square-mile zone of water has revealed nothing. The decision to end the search “has not been taken lightly nor without sadness,” said the Joint Agency Coordination Center, the search body composed of authorities from Malaysia, China, and Australia. The announcement was immediately criticized by passengers’ families, who pointed out that just last month investigators had analyzed ocean currents and concluded they’d been searching 200 miles too far south.