Fury at Trump
The French were appalled this week at President Trump’s insinuation that the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks would have been less deadly had the French victims been armed. Speaking at the NRA convention in Dallas, Trump slammed France’s strict gun control laws and then made a finger-gun to simulate the jihadist attackers’ slaughter of 130 people at cafés, restaurants, and a concert hall. “They took their time,” he said of the terrorists, “and gunned them down one by one—boom, come over here, boom, come over here, boom.” In a statement, the French government expressed “firm disapproval” of Trump’s remarks, adding that looser gun laws don’t stop terrorist outrages but instead “facilitate the planning of this type of attack.” Trump also blamed tough British gun laws for a rise in stabbings in London.
Who wears the uniform?
San Martín Texmelucan, Mexico
The Mexican state of Puebla has taken control of a local police force after authorities found that 113 of the 185 agents in the city of San Martín Texmelucan were not actually police officers. Some of the impostors had police training but had paid bribes to avoid testing or criminal-record checks, while others had no apparent police background. Puebla’s Interior Secretary Diódoro Carrasco said the city government had utterly lost control of security, citing several instances in which dismembered bodies had been left on the streets. The city is a center for the smuggling of fuel illegally tapped from oil pipelines.
Clowns vs. gangs
Some 50 clowns in makeup and costume marched through Acapulco this week to demand an end to the drug-related violence that has hurt their business. Homicides have soared in the resort town as drug gangs have battled for control there, and at least eight clowns and jugglers have been killed in Acapulco over the past decade. Clowns who once performed at parties every weekend now have little work, because residents are too afraid to host large gatherings, which give the impression of affluence and attract criminals. In one case, clown Salvador Francisco Alarcón Arizmendi said, the popping of a balloon at a mall performance caused the audience to flee in terror. “There is not a single citizen,” he said, “who hasn’t been touched in some way, through a friend or acquaintance, by this wave of violence.”
A Cuban man arrested in Colombia on allegations that he planned to assassinate U.S. diplomats claimed last week that he was in fact hired to kill leftist politicians running in this month’s election. Raúl Gutiérrez told a radio station that the Colombian far right and members of Miami’s Cuban exile community had hired him to kill Gustavo Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla who is the front-runner to succeed President Juan Manuel Santos. Gutiérrez was arrested in March because of his alleged ties to ISIS; he has no evidence to support his new claim. Right-wing candidate Iván Duque has also reported receiving death threats, while former President Álvaro Uribe said he was recently warned that “Colombian and foreign criminals” were plotting to kill him because of his support for Duque.
Two months after Italy’s parliamentary election, the populist and far right parties that won the most votes still can’t agree on a ruling coalition, so a new election is likely in July. The anti-corruption Five Star Movement took the largest single share with 32 percent in the March vote, while an alliance of three right-wing parties led by the nationalist League took 36 percent. Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio is willing to form a coalition with League, but not if it includes one of League’s partners, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Five Star despises the four-time prime minister, who was convicted of tax fraud and linked to many corruption scandals. But League won’t dump him. Both League and Five Star have rejected President Sergio Mattarella’s proposal of a “neutral” caretaker government.
Leaving the club
Venezuela has pulled out of the Organization of American States, saying the regional group headquartered in D.C. has returned to “its original condition as a colonial body, at the service of Washington’s ambition for dominance in our region.” Days earlier, Vice President Mike Pence had called on the OAS to suspend Venezuela, and asked Caracas to cancel its May 20 “sham” presidential election, in which leftist President Nicolás Maduro is seeking a second six-year term, and to “organize real elections.” Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Maduro a “dictator” who “cripples his economy and starves his people.” Some 1 million people fled Venezuela from 2015 to 2017 as the country’s economy collapsed and food became scarce.
President Putin, again
Vladimir Putin was sworn in for his fourth term as Russian president this week with a lavish ceremony in the same ornate Kremlin hall that was once used to crown czars. Before a cheering audience that included actor Steven Seagal and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder—now chairman of Russian oil giant Rosneft—Putin, 65, pledged to work for Russian families. Ahead of the ceremony, tens of thousands of people protested in Moscow and other cities under the slogan “He is not our czar.” At least 1,600 people, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were arrested, and clashes broke out between protesters and whip-wielding, pro-Putin Cossack militias who were there to provide crowd control.
Iran’s influence grows
Hezbollah was the big winner this week in Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade. Early results showed the Iran-backed militant Shiite group and its political allies taking about 67 seats in Beirut’s 128-seat parliament. But under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing rules, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, so that post will likely go again to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. His Western-backed Future Movement lost one-third of its seats but is still the largest Sunni-led bloc. Hariri is expected to preside over a unity government that includes all parties, but he will have little authority. “His ability to substantially tame or restrain Hezbollah,” said analyst Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “is going to be very limited.”
From protester to premier
Nikol Pashinyan, the ex-journalist who led mass protests that toppled Armenia’s government, has been named prime minister. Jailed for political protests in 2009, Pashinyan, 42, was elected to parliament in 2012 as one of just a handful of opposition figures. Six weeks ago, he started walking across the country to protest then–President Serzh Sargsyan’s attempt to skirt term limits and hold on to power by having the legislature name him prime minister. The march ignited nationwide demonstrations, and Sargsyan stepped down last month. After continued mass protests in Republic Square, a legislature dominated by Sargsyan loyalists elected Pashinyan leader. “Your victory is not that I was elected as prime minister of Armenia,” he told supporters, but “that you decided who should be prime minister of Armenia.”
North Korea has released three Korean-American prisoners as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the planned summit between President Trump and dictator Kim Jong Un. The release of the three—a businessman held for more than two years and two men affiliated with a tech school, all held on charges of subverting the state—came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the summit. Pompeo met with top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, who disputed Trump’s claim that U.S. pressure had forced Kim to the negotiating table. “This is not a result of sanctions,” he said. Pompeo said that if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, the country will “have all the opportunities [its] people so richly deserve.”
Raped and burned alive
India was grappling once again with its rape epidemic after two girls were raped and then set on fire in the same week in Jharkhand state. The cases were unrelated. One girl, age 16, was kidnapped from her home, gang-raped, and then, after four of her attackers were ordered by a village council to pay about $735 to her family and do 100 sit-ups each as punishment, they returned and burned her to death. The other girl, 17, was raped and set alight by a man who had been stalking her; she is in critical condition with burns over 95 percent of her body. Indian activist Ranjana Kumari said lenient punishments given out by village authorities had created “a culture of rape with impunity” and demanded an end to “this illegal parallel justice system.”
U.S. now disliked
Most young Arabs today consider the U.S. an enemy, a complete reversal of their opinion just two years ago. In the latest annual survey by PR firm Burson-Marsteller, which polled 3,500 men and women ages 18 to 24 from 16 Arab countries, 57 percent said the U.S. is an enemy and 35 percent called it an ally. In 2016, 32 percent called America an enemy and 63 percent, an ally. Nearly three-quarters of young Arabs said the election of President Trump had a negative effect on their countries. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, meanwhile, is immensely popular. Across the region, 86 percent of youth approve of his anti-corruption drive in the kingdom.