The world at a glance ...
The world at a glance
Russian meddling? French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has been the target of “fake news” spread by Russian media, and the victim of thousands of cyberattacks by Moscow-backed hackers, his campaign manager said this week. Kremlin-run outlets RT and Sputnik News have recently claimed that the election front-runner is supported by a “gay lobby” and is a “U.S. agent” for U.S. banking interests. The attacks began when polls showed the centrist Macron beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the election runoff. The Kremlin is believed to prefer Le Pen, who has accepted Russian financing for her National Front party and supports taking France out of the EU. “We want a strong Europe,” said Macron’s campaign manager, Richard Ferrand. “That’s why we are suffering attacks from [the] Russian state.” The election’s first round will be held in April.
Hitting U.S. in the wallet: Mexico could retaliate against any protectionist move by President Trump by boycotting U.S. corn. Mexican Sen. Armando Ríos Piter said this week that he would introduce a bill to require Mexican importers to source the food staple from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States. Mexico buys more than a quarter of all exported American corn, and a boycott would hurt the U.S. agricultural industry. The bill is a “good way to tell [Trump] that this hostile relationship has consequences,” said Piter. U.S. farmers exported $2.3 billion of corn to Mexico in 2015; in 1995, the year after the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented, corn exports to Mexico were $391 million.
U.S. sanctions veep: Venezuela reacted with anger this week after the U.S. blacklisted Vice President Tareck El Aissami as an international drug trafficker. The designation allows the U.S. to freeze El Aissami’s assets and deny him access to American banks. The U.S. Treasury Department says that El Aissami, a former interior minister who became veep in January, was paid by Venezuelan “drug kingpin” Walid Makled García to coordinate shipments to Mexico’s brutal Los Zetas cartel. The sanction, the first against Venezuela under the Trump administration, had been in the works for months. “We shall not be distracted by these miserable provocations,” said El Aissami. “We will see this vile aggression dispelled.”
Museum of me: Bolivian President Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous leader, has opened a $7 million museum dedicated to his own glory, paid for by Bolivian taxpayers. The Museum of the Democratic and Cultural Revolution, in Morales’ tiny hometown of Orinoca, displays the president’s childhood soccer jerseys and his many honorary doctorates, which were awarded to him although he never finished high school. The museum gives more fodder to the opposition, which has begun calling the president “Ego” Morales. Last year, Bolivia’s Ministry of Communications published a book of poems dedicated to the president. Morales is in his third and final term; he lost a referendum last year that would have allowed him to run for a fourth term in 2019.
Riots over police brutality: In a bid to calm riots that have rocked the Paris suburbs for days, French President François Hollande has visited the hospital bed of a young black man allegedly raped by police. The 22-year-old youth worker, identified only as Théo, claimed he was brutalized during a routine stop-and-search operation, and doctors said he had severe internal injuries consistent with being sodomized by a police truncheon. Residents of Paris’ immigrant-dominated suburbs rallied in support of Théo, and dozens were arrested in clashes with police. The officer at the center of the case has been charged with rape and his three colleagues with assault. “Justice must be served,” Hollande said. National Front leader Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, called the rioters “scum” and launched a petition to support the police.
Rio de Janeiro
Troops on streets: Fearing a repeat of the anarchy that recently reigned in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo, Brazilian President Michel Temer has deployed 9,000 troops to Rio to keep order during Carnival in case of a police strike. Earlier this month, officers’ wives in Espírito Santo demonstrated outside police stations demanding higher wages for their spouses, and for eight days the cops refused to cross the picket lines. The result was a crime wave: Buses were burned, shops were looted, and dozens of people were killed. With the approach of the Carnival season, when thousands of Rio residents party in the streets for days, authorities can’t risk a breakdown of law and order.
U.S. ultimatum to NATO: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned NATO countries this week that if they don’t draw up a plan to increase their defense spending by the end of the year, the U.S. will “moderate its commitment to the alliance.” NATO requires all of its 28 members to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, but most fall short. “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis told NATO defense ministers in Brussels. Mattis cited Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea as a reason for NATO to take its commitments seriously. The U.S., the U.K., and just three other allies currently meet the goal. Germany would have to nearly double its spending, to $75 billion, to do so.
Caterpillars ravage crops: A plague of armyworms is threatening food crops across southern Africa. Experts from 16 nations met in Zimbabwe this week to discuss how to combat the invasive pest, the caterpillar of a moth from South America. In just eight weeks, the species has spread through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, and Mozambique, destroying much of the corn crop. “It has come in like one of the 10 plagues of the Bible,” Zimbabwean farmer Ben Freeth told South Africa’s Sunday Times. “It can lay up to 2,000 eggs, and its life cycle is very quick.” The region is already suffering food shortages caused by drought. Last year, Zimbabwe said 4 million of its people were at risk of starvation.
Missile treaty violation: Russia has secretly deployed a new ground-launched cruise missile that violates a key arms control treaty, U.S. officials said this week. Moscow now has two battalions of the SSC-8 missiles, which appears to run counter to the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That deal eliminated all U.S. and Soviet land-based, midrange nuclear-capable missiles like the ones deployed in or near Europe during the Cold War, which could have wiped out European capitals on short notice. “I take this news as evidence that the U.S. should build up its nuclear forces in Europe,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). In the past two weeks, Russia has also positioned a spy ship outfitted with advanced intercept equipment off the U.S. East Coast, and Russian jets have buzzed a U.S. Navy warship in the Black Sea.
Assad gassed children: Syrian military helicopters dropped canisters of chlorine gas on civilian neighborhoods of Aleppo at least eight times last November and December, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report this week. The forces of President Bashar al-Assad used the banned chemical weapon systematically, the report said, to drive civilians out of rebel-held areas where government troops were about to advance. At least nine civilians, including four children, died from the gas, and more than 200 were injured. Another research group, the Atlantic Council, released a study this week that said the Syrian government also targeted hospitals with cluster bombs.
Hard-liner as leader: Hamas has named one of its most hard-line military commanders as its new leader in Gaza. Yehiya Sinwar, 55, was released from an Israeli jail in 2011 as part of a prisoner swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Sinwar had been serving four life sentences after being convicted in 1989 of a number of offenses, including involvement in the murder of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. A founder of Hamas’ military wing, Sinwar replaces Ismail Haniyeh, who is a candidate to become the Islamist terrorist group’s supreme leader. Sinwar’s ascension in Gaza is expected to herald a more aggressive posture from the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kim brother assassinated: The older half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was murdered this week in a brazen attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Kim Jong Nam, 45, was waiting for a flight when a woman sprayed his face with some kind of chemical and then another woman held a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. He died en route to a hospital. One woman bearing a Vietnamese passport has been arrested; she told police that four men approached her at the airport and asked her to spray Kim Jong Nam as part of a prank. “I did not know it was meant to kill him,” she told police, according to Chinese media. After being passed over as heir to his father, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Nam spent most of his time abroad, gambling, running up large bills, visiting his multiple girlfriends and children in China, and occasionally criticizing his brother’s regime.