The world at a glance ...
Brexit triggered: The U.K. began the formal process of exiting the European Union this week, nine months after British voters chose to end four decades of integration with their Continental neighbors. Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, hand-delivered a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels declaring that the country was triggering Article 50—the mechanism by which member states can leave the EU, something no nation has done before. “This is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back,” Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament. Tusk said there was “no reason to pretend that this is a happy day,” because many Europeans and Britons “wish that we would stay together.” The U.K. and EU will now begin two years of negotiations over the terms of divorce, a sure-to-be messy process that will address trade, immigration rules, financial regulations, and many more subjects.
Wall-building ‘traitors’: The Catholic Church in Mexico has denounced President Trump’s proposed $12 billion border wall, warning that the owners and shareholders of Mexican companies that get involved in its construction will be considered “traitors to the homeland.” An editorial in Desde la Fe, a weekly publication by the Mexican archdiocese, blasted the “fanatic Trump’s wall” as “a monument to intimidation and silence.” It said it was “regrettable” that more than 500 Mexican companies had expressed interest in supplying cement, paint, and other materials for the project. Mexico’s government told steel companies last week that it would not ban them from working on the wall, but said any firms that do will be judged harshly by Mexicans.
Starving zoo animals: A malnourished elephant at a Caracas zoo has become a powerful symbol of economic hardship in Venezuela, once one of South America’s wealthiest nations. After photos of Ruperta the elephant went viral—her ribs showing through her sagging skin—Venezuelans launched a food drive for the starving beast. But when people brought food to Caricuao Zoo, they were turned away by officials, who cited sanitary concerns. The country’s leftist government denied that 46-year-old Ruperta was going hungry, saying instead that she’d lost weight because of a stomach bug. Ruperta’s plight resonated with recession-weary Venezuelans, many of whom skip meals because they can’t afford basic produce. If there’s not enough food for us, wrote one Twitter user, imagine what’s left for the animals “that can’t even complain.”
Riot after police shooting: China’s government demanded that France protect its citizens’ “security and rights” this week after Paris police shot dead a Chinese father of four, sparking violent protests that left three officers injured. Police said they were responding to reports of a domestic dispute when Liu Shaoyo, 56, opened the door of his home and attacked an officer with a sharp object. Another officer then opened fire. But Liu’s daughter said her father had gone to the door holding a pair of scissors only because he’d been preparing fish. Some 150 members of the French-Chinese community protested the killing outside a police station, and hurled projectiles and torched cars in clashes with riot police. At least 35 demonstrators were arrested; police have opened an inquiry into the shooting.
Stealing big money: German police are hunting a gang of crooks who broke into Berlin’s Bode Museum this week and stole the world’s largest gold coin: a 220-pound whopper known as the Big Maple Leaf. Although the Canadian-made coin weighs about as much as a refrigerator, the thieves hauled it through the museum and up one floor before pushing it out of a back window. The coin has the head of Queen Elizabeth II on one side and a maple leaf on the other, and has a face value of 1 million Canadian dollars ($750,000). But its gold content is worth up to $4.5 million at current market prices. Security experts suspect that the criminals have already melted the coin down.
Capoto-Jarina Indigenous Territory, Brazil
Compensation for curse: A Brazilian airline has agreed to pay $1.3 million in compensation to an indigenous tribe for a plane that crashed on its land in 2006 and, the tribespeople say, cursed the soil and air. All 154 people on board the Gol airlines flight died when their plane collided with a private jet over the Amazon forest and then fell into the Caiapó indigenous reserve. The private jet landed safely at a nearby airport. The Caiapó refuse to go back to the area where the wreckage fell, saying it is now a “house of the spirits” haunted by the dead fliers, and have had to rebuild nearby dwellings and a health center elsewhere on the reserve.
Anti-Kremlin protests: Tens of thousands of people joined anti-government protests in dozens of cities across Russia this week, the biggest such demonstrations in five years. The protests were fueled by accusations from anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has used oligarchs’ bribes and state loans to assemble a lavish property empire worth some $1 billion, including a 17th-century villa and vineyard in Tuscany and an 18th-century palace in St. Petersburg. Medvedev’s spokesman dismissed the report as “propaganda.” Navalny, who hopes to challenge President Vladimir Putin in elections next year, was arrested along with more than 1,000 demonstrators in Moscow. The U.S. State Department called the arrests of peaceful protesters “an affront to core democratic values.”
Mubarak freed: The former Egyptian dictator whose overthrow marked the apogee of the 2011 Arab Spring was released last week from the Cairo military hospital where he has been detained for much of the past six years. Hosni Mubarak, 88, returned to his mansion in a Cairo suburb, three weeks after being cleared of involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the revolt that ended his three-decade rule. Rights activists said Mubarak’s release showed how little their revolution had accomplished. “I feel a little pain in my heart,” said activist Mona Seif, “but it will not interrupt my day anymore.” Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012 and was ousted in a military coup a year later, remains in prison. President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who replaced Morsi, has jailed tens of thousands of opponents.
Civilian deaths: The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said this week that there was “a fair chance” that an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition caused the collapse of a building in west Mosul that left up to 200 civilians dead. The coalition is locked in a fierce battle to recapture the city from ISIS; Iraqi special forces said they called in the March 17 strike while under fire. Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said his forces “probably had a role in these casualties,” but added that ISIS might have rigged the building with explosives, which would have caused the structure to collapse. Amnesty International said a spike in civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria suggests the rules of engagement have been loosened under President Trump. The Pentagon denies making any change.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Kim a bank robber? U.S. investigators believe that hackers sponsored by North Korea have carried out a run of spectacular bank heists—including one in which $81 million was pilfered from an account belonging to Bangladesh’s central bank at the New York Federal Reserve—to raise cash for Kim Jong Un’s regime. Investigators said they had found similar code in malicious software used in both last year’s Bangladesh cash grab and the 2014 hack of Sony film studios, which the FBI blamed on Pyongyang. “If that linkage is true, that means a nation-state is robbing banks,” said Richard Ledgett, the deputy director of the U.S. National Security Agency. “That is a big deal.”
Manafort bank probe: A bank in Cyprus has investigated accounts associated with Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, for possible money laundering, NBC News reported this week. Manafort has been linked to at least 15 banks and 10 companies on the Mediterranean island nation, which has long been known as a hub for moving money in and out of Russia. At least one of those companies was paid millions of dollars by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. The Associated Press reported last week that Manafort began a $10 million–a-year consulting contract with Deripaska in 2006. The size of the payments to the Manafort-linked accounts triggered an internal investigation at Cyprus Popular Bank, but after questions were raised, Manafort closed the accounts. A spokesman for Manafort said the accounts were all used “for a legitimate business purpose.”
Arrest over U.S. threats: A 19-year-old Jewish man was arrested in Israel last week on suspicion of carrying out a wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the U.S., a spree that prompted dozens of evacuations and led some commentators to argue that fringe anti-Semitic groups had been emboldened by President Trump’s election. Michael Kaydar, who has joint U.S.-Israeli citizenship, is suspected of phoning in more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers and day schools in 33 states. He was arrested at his home in Ashkelon along with his father. Kaydar’s lawyer said his client has a brain tumor that could affect his behavior and had been rejected for military service because of his condition.