The world at a glance ...
Macron meets Merkel: France’s newly elected centrist President Emmanuel Macron began his tenure this week by meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and pledging to protect the European Union from the forces of populism. Macron was welcomed in Berlin with full military honors and clearly hit it off with his German counterpart. “There is magic in every beginning,” a smiling Merkel said. The leaders said they would work together on major reforms, including changes to EU treaties to allow greater integration of the Eurozone. Macron’s picks for his cabinet highlighted his eagerness to work with Germany. His choice for prime minister, Le Havre Mayor Édouard Philippe, is from the center-right, like Merkel, and is a fluent German speaker. The current French ambassador to Berlin, Philippe Étienne, will be his diplomatic adviser.
Journalist assassinated: An award-winning Mexican reporter who covered the drug war was dragged from his car and shot dead this week near the office of Ríodoce, the newsweekly he founded. Javier Valdez Cárdenas, 50, spent three decades writing about the violence that has racked his state of Sinaloa, where the cartel formerly headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán holds sway. Recently, he told the nonprofit group Index on Censorship that he had been threatened many times. “The government couldn’t care less,” Valdez said. “They do nothing to protect you.” Last week in Tamaulipas state, a woman who doggedly tracked down the Zetas cartel members who killed her 14-year-old daughter in 2012 was shot dead on Mexico’s Mothers Day. Miriam Rodríguez Martínez had been under protection since March, when one of her daughter’s killers escaped from prison.
Coca boom: The government’s plan to give tens of thousands of coca farmers incentives to switch to other crops has produced a perverse boom in coca planting. The program, part of a peace deal made with FARC rebels, will pay residents in areas that once produced coca leaves— the key ingredient of cocaine—when they start planting other crops. But to qualify for the aid, you have to be a coca farmer, so now everyone is getting in on the action. Colombia is today blanketed with more than 460,000 acres of coca, more than was grown at the height of the drug trade under cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. “We’ve never seen anything like it before,” says Defense Minister Carlos Villegas. Colombia produced 780 tons of cocaine last year, up from 260 tons in 2013.
Bouaké, Ivory Coast
Mutiny succeeds: Some 8,400 Ivorian soldiers mutinied last week, terrifying residents by riding around major cities shooting into the air. The mutineers, former rebels who fought in the 2011 civil war and were then absorbed into the nation’s army, said they would not return to their barracks until they received the remainder—some $12,000 each—of the bonuses they had been promised after a January mutiny. After a four-day standoff, the government caved to their demands. But the agreement risks sparking countermutinies by other army factions, which could also demand bonuses.
Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Italy
Mobsters steal from migrants: In a series of dawn raids, Italian police this week busted an organized-crime ring they said was running one of Europe’s largest reception centers for asylum seekers. At least 68 people, including a parish priest in the Calabrian town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto, were charged with stealing millions of dollars in funds meant to help new arrivals. “The welcome center was the cash machine for the ’Ndrangheta”—Calabria’s mob—said Carabinieri General Giuseppe Governale. Hundreds of law-enforcement agents worked on the case, many of them undercover for months, to expose the alleged mob infiltration. They say the ’Ndrangheta skimmed off about $40 million of the roughly $114 million the center received from the EU and Italy from 2006 to 2015.
Rio de Janeiro
Yellow fever returns: Brazil is grappling with an outbreak of yellow fever that has so far killed nearly 250 people. The disease, which can cause high fevers, vomiting, and multiple organ failure, was a major public health threat in Brazil in centuries past, before vaccines were available. So far, the illness is restricted to jungle areas, where it leaps from monkeys to humans via mosquitoes, but if it reaches a big city like Rio de Janeiro it may kill thousands. Rio is now scrambling to vaccinate its 12 million residents. The virus is even more deadly in monkeys than in humans, and this outbreak is decimating endangered species like the golden lion tamarin.
Burning the bodies: The U.S. has accused Syria’s government of secretly executing thousands of prisoners and burning their bodies at the notorious Saydnaya military prison near Damascus. The State Department said some 50 detainees, many of them political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, are being hanged at the site every day. Satellite photos show a building modified for use as a crematorium, apparently so the regime can cover up its mass murder. Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, has “sunk to a new level of depravity,” said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. An Amnesty International report in February said 13,000 prisoners were secretly killed at Saydnaya from 2011 to 2015 and buried in mass graves. Syria called the report “baseless.”
Pique ahead of Trump visit: President Trump next week will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, but preparation for the trip has been marred by gaffes and insults to his hosts. Israeli media reported that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to accompany Trump to the Western Wall, a U.S. official said Israel did not have jurisdiction over the site because it was in the West Bank. The statement marked a sharp break with Trump’s campaign promise that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Netanyahu demanded an explanation. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made comments referring to “Palestine” rather than “the Palestinians,” implying that the U.S. recognized Palestinian statehood; officials said he misspoke. Trump will also visit Saudi Arabia and the Vatican on his first trip abroad.
New Silk Road: China hosted 29 world leaders in Beijing this week at a summit to promote its massive new global trade and infrastructure project. The One Belt, One Road initiative, inspired by the Silk Road trading route that once linked Asia and the West, is envisioned as a network of land and sea routes connecting China to Europe. Over the past four years, China has poured some $1 trillion into building roads, ports, and rail lines in countries including Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Laos and Ethiopia. Several trillion more dollars in investment is planned. “What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in attendance; the U.S. and most European countries sent only low-ranking officials.
Should women rule? The announcement of Princess Mako’s engagement to her college boyfriend this week has kindled a national discussion about changing the status of women in the Japanese royal family. Currently, only men can rule, and succession to the throne goes only through the male line. When 25-yearold Mako, the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito, marries her commoner boyfriend, law firm worker Kei Komuro, she will lose her royal status, and any son she may have will not be eligible for the throne. But more than 85 percent of the Japanese public supports changing those rules. The Diet is already mulling whether to amend the law so that Akihito, 83, can abdicate, as he has asked to do because of ill health.
Anti-ISIS show: A new TV drama that reveals the horrors of life under ISIS will air across the Arab world every night during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins May 27. Black Crows portrays the lives of Yazidi slaves, mothers who lost sons to the terrorists, and children brainwashed to fight for the jihadists. “ISIS is an idea and a narrative,” said Ali Jaber, the director of TV for the Dubai-based satellite station MBC. “And the only way to fight an idea and a narrative is to create another idea and another narrative that is better, more compelling, and more progressive.” Many Muslim families watch television at night while breaking the daily Ramadan fast.
Huge arms deal: President Trump will announce what may be the largest weapons deal ever during his trip to Saudi Arabia this week, White House officials said. The U.S. intends to sell more than $100 billion worth of armaments to the Saudis, including warships, missile defense systems, bombs, and munitions. While in Riyadh, officials said, Trump will also announce his support for an “Arab NATO”—a pan-Arab military alliance that Riyadh has long wanted to form as a counterpoint to Iran and to coordinate the fight against Islamist terrorism. President Barack Obama had halted some sales of weapons to Riyadh over concerns that Saudi-led forces intervening in Yemen were killing large numbers of civilians. Under Trump, says Princeton professor emeritus of international law Richard Falk, “the U.S. has reinforced its support for Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen.”