The world at a glance ...
Refugees from America: Scores of desperate immigrant families are trekking through the snows of North Dakota, New York, and Vermont into Canada, fleeing President Trump’s immigration crackdown. Some 70 migrants, mostly Somalis and Ghanaians who fear the U.S. will deny their asylum applications, arrived in the tiny town of Emerson alone last month. “I have this feeling that we’re going to see big numbers coming across once the weather gets better,” said Emerson’s mayor, Greg Janzen. Migrant advocates say Canada should withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which bars migrants who enter Canada through an official border crossing with the U.S. from claiming asylum—a mechanism intended to stop “asylum shopping.” Asylum seekers who cross into Canada at other spots on the border, like the current wave of migrants, and then call the police can make a claim legally.
ELN keeps bombing: Colombia’s biggest remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, has claimed responsibility for several bombings over the past two months, including one near Bogotá’s iconic bullring last week that killed a security officer and injured nearly 30 people. President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for clinching a deal with FARC rebels last year, began peace talks with the ELN in early February, but hostilities have continued. The ELN said the Santos administration was ultimately to blame for the bombing because it insisted on negotiating before a cease-fire was reached. The ELN, a Marxist group, has been fighting the government for decades and finances its war through extortion and kidnapping.
Save the castles: Quito’s kitschy castles, a hot trend among wealthy Ecuadorans in the 1930s, are under siege by developers, and the city is trying to fight back. The garish mansions, a mix of medieval, neo-Gothic, and neo-Moorish styles, were designed by Mexican architect Rubén Vinci, and they sport turrets, spires, and even moats and faux drawbridges. Developers razed some to put up high-rises, and after historic preservation laws were enacted, owners who chafed at remodeling restrictions sometimes destroyed the homes themselves. Now Quito is reviewing its laws to find ways to give owners incentives to keep them up. “These castles are unique and exceptional architectural works,” said architecture critic Rómulo Moya Peralta.
Taps run dry: Rainstorms and landslides across central Chile have contaminated the Maipo River, forcing authorities to temporarily cut off drinking water to at least 4 million people in the capital, Santiago. At least three people were killed and 19 missing in the floods after rivers overflowed and bridges were washed away. Regional governor Claudio Orrego said the downpours were “absolutely anomalous” for the summer, adding, “We had many landslides in a very short space of time.” Chile had already endured months of drought and wildfires, so when storms hit the Andes Mountains, rainwater just rushed down slopes rather than getting absorbed into the ground.
Fillon won’t quit: Center-right presidential candidate François Fillon said this week he will not quit the race despite being placed under investigation over allegations that he gave fake parliamentary jobs to family members. Judges have summoned Fillon to answer questions regarding his history of keeping his wife and two of his five children on his official payroll as assistants, paying them more than $1 million for work that nobody else can testify that they did. Fillon called the payments “an error” and said earlier he would drop out of the race if a judge launched a formal investigation; now he refuses, saying the investigation is “a political assassination.” Polls put Fillon in third place in the race, after independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Military massacres: The Nigerian military has been slaughtering civilians, survivors say, in the name of fighting the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In one such attack last summer in Ngubdori, soldiers in uniform ordered villagers to turn over any Boko Haram members. When the villagers said none among them were jihadists, the soldiers simply gunned down 22 men and then burned the village. Four days later, soldiers allegedly ordered 80 men in the nearby farming village of Alamderi to lie on the ground, and then executed them and torched their homes. Nigerian generals said attacking civilians was not their policy, and blamed the deaths on insurgents. In the past two years, the military has made huge gains against Boko Haram, retaking territory and liberating tens of thousands of people.
Russia attempted coup: The Kremlin was behind a failed attempt last October to derail tiny Montenegro’s bid to join NATO by assassinating then–Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, Montenegrin officials said this week. Montenegro is planning to indict two Russian military intelligence agents who it says spent months training a small force of Serbian nationalists. Disguised as police, the recruits were supposed to seize the parliament building and kill Djukanovic, allowing an opposition figure to take over. About 20 mostly Serbian citizens were arrested in Montenegro before the plot could be launched. U.S. and U.K. intelligence assisted Montenegro in foiling the assassination and uncovered clear evidence of Kremlin involvement, including phone calls, emails, and plotter confessions. Moscow has called the accusations “absurd.” Montenegro is due to join NATO in May.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kim regime behind hit: An Indonesian and a Vietnamese woman were charged with murder this week for allegedly smearing toxic VX nerve agent on the face of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, killing him within minutes. The women, who apparently each carried a different component of the chemical, say they thought they were participating in a prank, but South Korean officials say the assassination at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last month was almost certainly planned by North Korean officials. VX, an oily liquid, can only be produced in a sophisticated weapons laboratory. Two North Korean men accused of involvement in the murder have holed up in Pyongyang’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and are refusing to cooperate with police.
War crimes: Both sides in the Syrian civil war committed massive war crimes during the battle for Aleppo, the United Nations said this week. The Syrian government dropped banned chlorine bombs multiple times, causing hundreds of civilian casualties, while it and its Russian backers repeatedly bombed schools and hospitals, often using cluster bombs, and even attacked aid convoys. The rebels, meanwhile, targeted civilians in regime-held areas with improvised mortars called “hell cannons.” Also this week, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that would have sanctioned the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. The veto drew stern criticism from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, who said Moscow and Beijing “put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.”
Al Qaida No. 2 killed: A CIA drone strike in Syria this week killed Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, al Qaida’s second-in-command, who was once a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Masri, an Egyptian, was one of the few remaining original leaders of the al Qaida organization and the deputy to bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Iranian authorities are believed to have jailed him following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, before releasing him in a prisoner exchange with al Qaida’s Yemen branch in 2015. His presence in Syria is a sign of the strategic importance al Qaida has placed on the war-torn nation. The U.S. has increased drone attacks on terrorist groups in Syria over the past two months, killing some 150 suspected jihadists.
Samsung leader charged: South Korea’s top tycoon, Samsung head Lee Jae-yong, has been charged with bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye last December. Prosecutors say Lee, 48, hid assets and concealed profits to funnel some $37 million to entities controlled by Park’s adviser and confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in order to secure government support for the merger of two Samsung affiliates. Lee claims the payments were coerced. The merger caused a $123 million loss for the national pension fund, which held stakes in the two affiliates. Lee, grandson of Samsung’s founder, has run the conglomerate since 2014, when his father became too ill to manage the firm. Four other Samsung officials have been indicted on the same charges as Lee.
HIV rate soars: The Philippines has killed a plan to distribute condoms in schools even as HIV infections are soaring among youth in the heavily Catholic country. HIV infections in neighboring countries fell 30 percent from 2010 to 2015, but rocketed by more than 50 percent in the Philippines. Among gay youth, the rate rose a staggering 230 percent. The Health Department developed a plan to educate high school students on how to avoid HIV and other diseases, including by using condoms, and to offer voluntary HIV testing. But the church and conservative lawmakers opposed the program, and the Education Department scrapped it last month. Now, says Steven Kraus of UNAIDS, “the Philippines runs the risk of letting the infection get out of control.”