The world at a glance ...
Rhino poached in zoo: An endangered white rhino was killed for its horn in a French zoo this week. Poachers forced open a zoo gate late at night, broke into the rhino house, and shot Vince, 4, three times in the head before sawing off one of his horns. “This odious act was perpetrated despite the presence of five members of the zoological staff living on the spot and surveillance cameras,” the Thoiry Zoological Park said in a statement. “I wish I was surprised, but these animals are so brutally targeted,” said CeCe Sieffert of the International Rhino Foundation. “Wildlife crime is run by organized crime syndicates.” Rhino horn, prized in parts of Asia for medicine and as an aphrodisiac, is worth more than its weight in gold, and poachers kill more than 1,000 rhinos each year in South Africa alone.
Deadly turf war: In the wake of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s extradition to the U.S. in January, a bloody gang war has broken out for control of his empire. More than 2,000 people were killed in January alone, many of them in Sinaloa, El Chapo’s home state, where schools have been shuttered as residents dodge gunfire. El Chapo’s sons, Jesús Alfredo and Ivan Archivaldo, have accused their father’s former lieutenant, ex–police officer Dámaso López, of leading a faction against them. They say he ambushed them last month and killed El Chapo’s sister. “It appears that we are seeing a gener ational transition from El Chapo to his sons,” Mexican security expert Alejandro Hope told USA Today. “All hell is breaking loose.”
Insulting Peru: Venezuela’s government is displeased with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. During a recent trip to Washington, Kuczynski said in a speech that the U.S. didn’t pay much attention to Latin America because it was like a well-behaved dog—except for Venezuela, which he called a “big problem.” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez hit back this week, calling Kuczynski—a 78-year-old former investment banker—a “nice dog” who “cheerfully wags his tail” for his “imperial masters.” She also accused the Peruvian leader of being a “coward” and of insulting the memory of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during a summit in Colombia. Peru asked for an official apology and has recalled its ambassador.
Worst recession ever: Brazil is mired in its longest and deepest recession, which has now lasted two years. The country’s economy shrank 3.6 percent last year; the contraction worsened in the fourth quarter, when the economy dropped 0.9 percent, compared with a 0.7 percent decline in the previous three months. A record 12.9 million Brazilians are now unemployed, a rate of 12.6 percent. With interest rates still above 12 percent and nearly the entire business and political class mired in a massive bribery and kickback scandal surrounding state-owned oil firm Petrobras, few expect a turnaround. “We should not see any big recovery this year,” said Carlos Kawall, chief economist at Brazil’s Banco Safra.
George Michael didn’t OD: Pop singer George Michael, who was found dead in his home on Christmas Day, died of a heart condition, not an overdose, a coroner ruled this week. Michael, 53, had dilated cardiomyopathy and a fatty liver, both of which might have been caused by alcohol abuse. The British singer, who shot to fame with Wham! in the 1980s and later enjoyed a successful solo career, had a history of hard living. He lost his driving license in 2007 after falling asleep behind the wheel of his car while under the influence of drugs. The following year, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing crack cocaine. Family members told The Sun that Michael had been in rehab for an addiction to crack, marijuana, and alcohol.
Boyfriend vetoes abortion: Uruguay is enmeshed in a fierce debate over abortion after a court forbade a 24-year-old woman from having an abortion because her ex-boyfriend said he wants to raise the child. Judge Pura Concepción Book ruled that the woman’s decision to terminate her 10-week pregnancy against her expartner’s wishes ran counter to international child-protection treaties and the Uruguayan constitution. The woman is appealing, but she faces a looming deadline. Abortion was legalized in Uruguay in 2012, but only up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is illegal in all other South American countries.
ISIS caliph flees: As Iraqi government forces this week pushed deeper into ISIS-held western Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi officials claimed the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had fled the city and is now hiding out in the desert. While the exact whereabouts of the self-declared ISIS caliph were unknown, officials told Reuters that they believe the extremist had found sanctuary among sympathetic civilians in desert villages. U.S.-backed Iraqi troops captured eastern Mosul in January and this week took control of the main government buildings in the city’s western half. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabouri estimates only 900 militants remain in Mosul, ISIS’s last major stronghold in the country. The advance has come at a civilian cost: Some 60,000 people have fled the city in recent weeks.
Pretoria, South Africa
Anti-Nigerian violence: Nigeria’s national legislature has warned of potential “retaliation” against South Africa over a bloody new wave of attacks on Nigerians in that country. Xenophobic attacks have been a recurring problem in South Africa, where the unemployment rate is 26 percent and demonstrators frequently accuse foreigners of taking local jobs. Over the past month, protesters have looted and burned Nigerian-owned homes and businesses in Pretoria. One group attacked a pastor outside a Nigerian church, slashing his arm with a machete. Nigeria says South African law enforcement is not doing enough to prevent the attacks or to arrest those responsible.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Targeting U.S. bases: North Korea launched four missiles simultaneously toward Japan this week, saying it was conducting a training exercise for an attack on U.S. bases there. Some missiles landed as close as 190 miles from Japan’s northwest coast. In response, the U.S. said it had begun deploying a missile defense system in South Korea to shoot North Korean missiles out of the sky. China, which strongly opposes the U.S. missile defense system as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent, warned that Beijing would “take the necessary steps to safeguard our own security interests.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the U.S. and North Korea were hurtling toward war. “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other,” Wang said. “The question is, ‘Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?’”
BDS travel ban: Israel has banned entry to foreigners who have called for a boycott against Israel or its West Bank Jewish settlements. The Knesset passed a law this week denying visas to supporters of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, a left-wing effort among academics and pro-Palestinian activists to single out and condemn Israel because of its occupation of the West Bank. The ban would not apply to foreign nationals with a residency permit, and the interior minister can make individual exceptions. Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the law “allows Israel to protect itself against conspirators.” But critics say the new ban is an attempt to squash political dissent, including by American and European Jews and by British politicians. Some Palestinian activists say Israel has already begun denying them entry.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Another Kim surfaces: The son of Kim Jong Nam, the murdered half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, addressed his father’s assassination in a 40-second video released online this week. Kim Han Sol, 22, shows his North Korean passport and says, “My father has been killed a few days ago. I’m currently with my mother and my sister.” It’s not known where the video was recorded. He is the first family member to speak publicly since Kim Jong Nam was fatally poisoned last month at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Paris-educated Kim Han Sol has spoken in the past of a wish to lead North Korea to freedom. “I’ve always dreamed that one day I would go back and make things better,” he told Finnish television in 2012.
Unlikely cover boy: Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has featured White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on the front page of its newspaper, Al Masra, because he shares the group’s belief that the West is locked in an existential war with Islam. Citing past comments by the top Trump adviser, the paper says Bannon believes that “Islam cannot be stopped by peaceful means” and that Muslim immigrants have sped a decline in traditional Christian values in Europe. That such a story was featured so prominently suggests that AQAP believes it can use Bannon’s views as a recruitment tool, says University of Oxford researcher Elisabeth Kendall. “It plays entirely into their narrative that they were right about the West’s war on Islam all along.”