The world at a glance ...
Nuclear scandal: Prime Minister Theresa May was facing accusations of a cover-up this week, after it was revealed that an unarmed British nuclear missile malfunctioned during a test and began rocketing toward the U.S. British media reported that the Trident missile veered in the wrong direction after launching from a submarine off Florida last June, but self-destructed when its onboard computers recognized the error. The following month, May addressed Parliament and urged it to spend $50 billion on a new generation of Trident-armed submarines to replace the U.K.’s aging fleet. She failed to mention the botched test, and British politicians are now asking why they weren’t informed before they voted to renew the Trident program. “The British public deserve the facts on a matter as important as Britain’s nuclear deterrent,” said Nia Griffith of the opposition Labor Party.
Peña Nieto lays out terms: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto pledged this week to fight for Mexico’s interests during upcoming talks with President Trump. The Mexican leader unveiled a list of 10 goals Mexico will seek in the negotiations, including a commitment to preserve tariff-free commerce under the North American Free Trade Agreement—which Trump has vowed to renegotiate—and the continued free flow of remittances from Mexican nationals in the U.S. to their relatives back home. During the presidential campaign, Trump threatened to seize those remittances—which total about $25 billion a year—and use them to pay for a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border. Mexico’s economic minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, said his nation was prepared to quit NAFTA if it was offered a bad deal. “There may be no other option,” he said.
President leaves, takes loot: Forced to flee the country after 22 years in power, former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has taken a good chunk of the nation’s wealth with him. Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow, a property developer, in a December election. But Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 coup, refused to step down until West African troops marched into Gambia last week and occupied the presidential palace. Jammeh left for exile in Equatorial Guinea, but Barrow’s administration says the former president looted at least $11.4 million from banks and drove a fleet of luxury cars into his cargo plane. “Gambia is in financial distress,” said Barrow’s special adviser, Mai Ahmad Fatty. “The coffers are virtually empty.”
Wall of fire: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called out the army to evacuate citizens as the worst wildfires in memory ripped through the country. Some 4,000 emergency workers are battling the flames, which have ravaged at least 500 square miles of land and killed three people. Most of the 42 fires are burning in sparsely populated areas, and are destroying precious forests and century-old vineyards vital to Chile’s wine industry. “We are encountering the greatest forest disaster in our history,” said Bachelet. The fires are especially severe this year because Chile has experienced eight years of drought, which scientists attribute partly to climate change.
Brexit ruling: The U.K.’s Supreme Court has ruled that only Parliament, not the prime minister, has the authority to withdraw Britain from the European Union. The government said the decision wouldn’t delay Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge to invoke Article 50—the clause for exiting the EU—by the end of March, and that it would send a Brexit bill to Parliament within days. May has already outlined a plan for a break from the EU, saying she intends to take the country out of the bloc’s single market for goods and services, while working to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal. Opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party wouldn’t block the Brexit process, but would seek to ensure Britain keeps “tariff-free access to the single market.”
Justice dies in crash: Brazil was aswirl with conspiracy theories this week after a Supreme Court justice who was presiding over a massive corruption investigation died in a plane crash. Justice Teori Zavascki, 68, and four other people were killed when their small turboprop plane plunged into the ocean off Rio de Janeiro state. A preliminary analysis of flight recordings suggested that the crash was not caused by a mechanical failure, authorities said, a revelation that added to the already wild speculation over the incident. Zavascki had been overseeing Operation Car Wash, an investigation of corruption involving senior politicians, Brazilian construction companies, and the state-run oil firm Petrobras. President Michel Temer, who has been named in several Operation Car Wash plea bargains, will choose Zavascki’s replacement.
Landslide not a joke: Italian authorities are being condemned for their slow response to an avalanche that buried a mountain resort last week, killing at least 14 people. Two people escaped and called police after a landslide dumped some 130,000 tons of snow and trees on the tiny Hotel Rigopiano. But the prefect’s office thought they were joking, and it was nearly two hours before a rescue was mounted, and eight hours before workers could reach the site. A criminal investigation is now underway. Nine people were found alive, including all four of the children staying at the resort. The landslide was triggered by extraordinary conditions: three days of heavy snow followed by four earthquakes.
Iran profits from civil war: The Iranian government signed lucrative contracts with Syria last week, reaping the rewards for helping President Bashar al-Assad regain control of parts of his war-torn nation. The elite Revolutionary Guards, which dominate much of Iranian industry, are expected to profit from the deals, which will see Syria give Iran land for farming and for new oil and gas terminals. Iran also secured phosphate-mining contracts and a license to operate a cellphone service in the country, which will “allow Iran to closely monitor Syrian communications,” said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Assad’s regime is financially dependent on Iran: Tehran has lent it some $4.5 billion during the six-year Syrian civil war.
Pope vs. Knights: The Vatican took over the Knights of Malta this week after the head of the Catholic charitable order openly defied Pope Francis. The feud began when Grand Master Matthew Festing fired his deputy, German aristocrat Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, accusing him of allowing the distribution of condoms in Myanmar for a health campaign. Boeselager protested that he canceled the project as soon as he heard about the condoms, and Pope Francis appointed a commission to investigate the dispute. But Festing claimed that because his 900-year-old order is a sovereign entity, with its own passports and diplomatic corps, it didn’t have to listen to the pope. The Vatican insisted that it did, because the pope is the order’s spiritual leader, and Francis forced Festing to resign. The Knights will now have to elect a new leader.
Vice president accused: A former Afghan provincial governor says the country’s vice president, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, had him kidnapped, beaten, and raped with a rifle. Ahmad Ishchi, a 63-year-old elder from Dostum’s own Uzbek ethnic group, claimed he was abducted and tortured over five days in November, and this week Afghan authorities arrested nine of Dostum’s bodyguards. Ishchi alleges that Dostum, who is under investigation, ordered the abduction because the vice president was fearful of Ishchi’s growing popularity with Uzbeks. Aides to Dostum have called for mediation by tribal elders to resolve the issue, rejecting the judicial process. But President Ashraf Ghani has told Western diplomats that he is fed up with officials flouting the law, and sees Dostum’s case as a make-or-break moment for his government. AP (3), Newscom
Inviting Trump: Hoping to instill in President Trump a sense of the gruesome suffering that nuclear weapons inflict, a former mayor of Hiroshima has invited him to come to Japan to meet survivors of the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on his city in 1945. “I believe that the encounter would most likely change your view about war and the meaning of survival,” Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor from 1999 to 2011, wrote in a letter to the president. The bomb killed tens of thousands of women, men, and children instantly and left as many others gruesomely wounded, their skin burned and peeling. During the presidential campaign, Trump refused to rule out using a nuclear weapon against ISIS and has since called for the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal to be increased.
Bull wrestling banned: Hundreds of people were arrested in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu this week for protesting a ban on bull wrestling. The Supreme Court recently banned the sport of jallikattu—an ancient Tamil tradition at harvest time in which men compete to hang onto a bull as it runs through a crowd—saying it violated animalcruelty laws. Thousands of ethnic Tamils staged a protest on a Chennai beach, and clashes erupted when police tried t o remove them. In response to the demonstration, the Tamil Nadu legislature this week quickly passed a bill allowing jallikattu, a law the Animal Welfare Board of India has asked the Supreme Court to strike down.