The world at a glance ...
Russia stirs pot: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing passports issued to separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The decree amounts to a partial recognition of the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk—two breakaway regions that have declared independence from Kiev. “This step by the Kremlin completely destroys the Minsk process,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, national security adviser to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The 2015 Minsk agreement, which has not been implemented, gives Ukraine’s government full control over the country’s eastern border. Kiev says Moscow has sent more Russian fighters to the eastern regions of Ukraine in recent weeks as fighting has flared between pro-government and separatist forces.
Former Gitmo inmate joined ISIS: British family members have identified a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner as an ISIS suicide bomber who targeted Iraqi government troops. Jamal al-Harith, 50, a convert to Islam of Jamaican descent, was picked up in Afghanistan in 2002 and released from Guantánamo in 2004 after it was determined he had no connection to al Qaida. Born Ronald Fiddler in Manchester, al-Harith was one of a dozen U.K. citizens who alleged that British agents were complicit in U.S. torture at the camp, and he received some $1 million in compensation from the U.K. government. Though he was supposed to be monitored, he traveled to Syria in 2014, and this week drove a truck bomb into an Iraqi army base. It’s unclear whether he caused any casualties.
Water crisis: Mexico’s capital is in perennial need of water, but as it drills into its aquifers, the city is sinking, The New York Times reported this week. The Aztecs established the city on an island surrounded by lakes, but the conquering Spaniards, in order to expand it, drained the area, adding landfill and cutting down forests. The result is a city of 21 million that sits on unstable clay beds and volcanic soil. As Mexico City taps more water from the fast diminishing aquifers underneath it, the ground contracts, causing streets to buckle and buildings to collapse. To satisfy its thirst, the capital has to import 40 percent of its water from outside the city limits, yet 20 percent of residents still can’t count on getting water on any given day. If a prolonged drought comes, “we’re facing a potential disaster,” said Ramón Aguirre Díaz, director of the city’s water system.
Defying Trump: Venezuela’s Supreme Court upheld the 14-year prison sentence of opposition leader Leopoldo López last week, the day after President Trump demanded his immediate release. López, a Harvard graduate, was convicted of inciting violence during protests in 2014 in which 43 people were killed; in fact, he had given a speech calling for nonviolent demonstrations. Trump demanded his release after meeting with López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, at the White House. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez promptly denounced Trump’s “meddling and aggression,” saying he was trying to “give orders in our fatherland.”
Immigrant riots: Sweden’s mockery of President Trump has backfired. At a rally last week, Trump checked off a list of terrorist attacks by Muslim migrants in Europe, including “what’s happening last night in Sweden.” Baffled Swedes quickly noted that there had been no recent attack. “What has he been smoking?” tweeted former Prime Minister Carl Bildt. Trump later clarified he’d been referring to a Fox News broadcast about an immigrant crime wave in Sweden—and two days later, a riot actually did break out in an immigrant neighborhood of Stockholm. At least 10 cars were burned and several storefronts looted. Still, Swedes said that while integrating tens of thousands of refugees has been a challenge, crime has not risen appreciably. They continued tweeting under the hashtag #lastnightinsweden, posting anodyne photos of caribou caught on night-vision cams and plates of leftover meatballs.
Nail-biter: Ecuador’s presidential election was thrown to a runoff this week after leftist candidate Lenín Moreno came within a hair of winning outright. Moreno, the presumptive heir of President Rafael Correa, needed 40 percent of the vote and a 10-point lead over his closest rival to avoid a second round. He ended up with a lead of nearly 11 points over right-wing ex-banker Guillermo Lasso, but just 39.21 percent of the overall vote. Lasso may benefit from consolidated opposition support in the April runoff, which is expected to be close. He has vowed to cut taxes and kick WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
Le Pen refuses headscarf: The leader of France’s far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, canceled a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti this week because the Sunni Muslim cleric would not see her unless she wore a headscarf. Le Pen was in the country, a former colony of France, to seek Franco-Lebanese votes in the upcoming presidential election. Some French media said Le Pen had staged the incident to play to her xenophobic base back home, but Le Pen said there’s a double standard. “When Marine Le Pen refuses to don the headscarf, it is criticized,” she said, “but when Michelle Obama refused to do it in Saudi Arabia, it was considered admirable.”
Bentiu, South Sudan
Famine declared: Some 5 million people are facing severe food shortages in South Sudan because of an ongoing conflict in the world’s youngest country. The United Nations declared a famine there this week, saying 100,000 people in the northern Unity State are at risk of starvation. South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, is a fertile country, but a civil war has displaced millions of people and all but destroyed agriculture, as farmers lost their livestock and equipment. People are eating only what they can forage, “whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch,” said U.N. official Serge Tissot. “Our worst fears have been realized.”
Mattis reassures Iraqis: U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Baghdad this week on a mission to reassure an Iraqi government alarmed by President Trump’s recent statements and actions. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis said, in a rebuttal of Trump’s remark last month that the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil after its 2003 invasion—and still might. He also said he believed that a new executive order barring immigration to the U.S. from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Iraq, would make an exception for Iraqis who assisted U.S. troops and had been guaranteed admission. Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in Mosul this week launched an offensive against ISIS’s stronghold in the city’s western half; eastern Mosul has largely been cleared of militants.
President bombed mosques: A former death squad leader said this week that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte personally ordered the killing of suspected criminals and the bombing of mosques during his two decades as mayor of Davao City. Arthur Lascañas, a 56-year-old former police officer, broke down in tears as he confessed during a press conference. He said he received “personal orders” from Duterte and was paid for each suspected criminal and drug user he killed. As president, Duterte has urged police and vigilantes to kill suspected criminals, and at least 7,000 have been murdered since he took office in June.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Murder mystery: North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s halfbrother had been asked to lead a government in exile before he was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last week, The Korea Times reported. Kim Jong Nam, 45, turned down the request from North Korean defectors in Europe and the U.S., but the offer alone may have sealed his fate. This week, there was a break-in at the morgue where his body is being held, and authorities said they were seeking a North Korean embassy official and a North Korean airline worker for questioning. A Vietnamese and an Indonesian woman are being held in connection with the murder; police dismissed their story that they thought they were participating in a prank when they sprayed a mysterious liquid in Kim’s face at the airport. “These two ladies were trained to swab the deceased’s face,” said Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.
Soldier sentenced: An Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker has been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Elor Azaria, 20, was serving as a medic in the West Bank last year when two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier. One assailant was shot dead; the other, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was shot and wounded. When Azaria arrived on the scene, he shot the immobilized al-Sharif in the head. Azaria and his family celebrated the sentence— military prosecutors had asked for three to five years—and some lawmakers called for him to be pardoned. Palestinians were outraged, saying that Palestinian teenagers had received harsher sentences for throwing rocks that injured nobody.