The world at a glance ...
Blasphemy law in spotlight: Ireland’s 2009 defamation law, which also bans blasphemy, came under fire this week after police opened an investigation against British comedian Stephen Fry. A citizen brought a complaint over a remark Fry made on a 2015 episode of an Irish talk show: “Why should I respect a capricious, meanminded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” Police soon dropped the investigation, saying nobody had been harmed by the comment, but the case alarmed many Irish citizens who had not realized their country even had a blasphemy law. “It’s a bit embarrassing,” said Health Minister Simon Harris. “It needs to be changed.” The Irish government said it might hold a referendum on the issue.
Far-right murder plot: At least two German soldiers have been arrested for plotting to kill German officials and frame refugees for the crimes, raising fears that a right-wing extremist network is operating within the country’s military. Authorities said Lieut. Franco Albrecht falsely registered himself as a Syrian refugee at a shelter in central Germany; another soldier, identified as Maximilian T., aided Albrecht and covered for him while he was away from his base. With the assistance of a third man, a student, the group amassed weapons and began staking out possible victims, including former German President Joachim Gauck and Justice Minister Heiko Maas. In 2014, Albrecht had expressed far-right, racist views in the dissertation he wrote as part of his officer’s training, but he was let off with a warning. The common room in his unit’s barracks was decorated with Nazi memorabilia.
War zone: Mexico is now the deadliest conflict zone in the world after Syria, an actual war zone. The war on and between drug gangs killed 23,000 people last year, more than died violently in Iraq or Afghanistan. The carnage was particularly surprising, as Mexico’s is a war “marked by the absence of artillery, tanks, or combat aviation,” said John Chipman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which chronicles conflicts around the world. The deaths “are nearly all attributable to small arms.” Mexican drug cartels earn some $25 billion a year selling drugs in the U.S.
Violence in the streets: Opposition groups this week rejected Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, as hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand new elections. Record-high inflation and food shortages have left Venezuelans desperate, and clashes between police and protesters are now routine. At least 37 people have been killed since protests began in March, and hundreds have been injured. One protester caught fire last week as demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces; another was run over by a police armored car. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Maduro’s “disregard for the fundamental rights of his own people has heightened the political and economic crisis in the country.”
Swiss spying: The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service has been spying on Germany to try to determine how the Germans got details of secret Swiss bank accounts, German media reported last week. For years, the German state of North Rhine–Westphalia has been buying stolen data containing the names and bank account details of Germans who evade taxes by stashing their money in Swiss accounts. Now the Swiss are trying to figure out who has been squealing to the Germans. German media say a Swiss mole was planted in the state’s government, and police recently arrested a 54-year-old man on suspicion of spying. “You could hardly imagine a spy thriller like this taking place, not on the big screen, but on our doorstep,” said state Finance Minister Norbert Walter- Borjans, adding that the case showed how Switzerland was determined to protect its secret banking system.
Chibok girls home: Nigerians celebrated this week after 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014 were returned to their families. In a negotiation brokered by the Red Cross, Nigeria freed three top Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the release of the girls, ages 16 to 18. The young women, many of whom now have children and have undergone brainwashing by their captors, will likely spend some months in government care to be deprogrammed and helped to reintegrate into family life. The girls were among 276 boarding-school students Boko Haram forced from their beds in the middle of the night three years ago. Some of the captives esc aped and others were released earlier by the jihadists; 113 are still being held.
Arming the Kurds: President Trump has authorized a Pentagon plan to arm Syrian Kurdish rebels to fight ISIS, drawing a strong rebuke from Turkey, which sees the Kurds as a threat to its own territorial integrity. The weapons will go to the YPG, a Kurdish militia that is part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organization with ties to the PKK, the main Kurdish separatist group in Turkey. “Every weapon that they deliver is a threat to Turkey,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet with President Trump next week and is expected to demand a reversal of the new policy.
Coligny, South Africa
Racial tensions erupt: Riots broke out in the small South African town of Coligny this week after two white men accused of killing a black teen were granted bail. Pieter Doorewaard, 26, and Phillip Schutte, 34, allegedly caught Motlhomola Mosweu, 16, stealing sunflowers from a farm. They said he jumped out of their truck as they were taking him to the police, but a witness said they assaulted him and then hurled him from the moving vehicle. He died of a broken neck. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets after bail for the men was set at $370 each, and some set fire to white-owned homes. White owners then attacked the journalists covering the riots. A reporter with the South African Times, Shenaaz Jamal, said Coligny is segregated and backward and appears to be “stuck in an apartheid time warp.”
U.S. troop surge? The White House is considering sending up to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan and giving the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. National security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis are both reportedly in favor of the plan, while chief strategist Stephen Bannon is opposed. U.S. troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, and as a candidate Donald Trump criticized the American presence there. There are currently 8,450 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in addition to some 6,500 from other NATO members. The war costs the U.S. an estimated $23 billion a year.
Kushner family business: The family of President Trump’s son-inlaw has been using its connections to the administration to promote its business. Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, held seminars around China this week urging attendees to participate in the U.S. EB-5 visa program and qualify for a path to U.S. citizenship by investing at least $500,000 in a New Jersey luxury apartment building, a construction project Kushner ran before he became a senior White House adviser. In Beijing, a slide presentation included a photo of Trump and a mention of Kushner’s new role. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the offer was a “stark conflict of interest” and called for an end to the EB-5 visa program, which offers residency to wealthy foreigners. Kushner Cos. apologized, saying it had not intended to imply a connection to Trump.
Sunshine’ for the North: On his first day in office, South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered to travel to Pyongyang to hold talks with North Korean President Kim Jong Un about the tense security situation on the peninsula. Moon, 64, the son of North Korean refugees and a former human rights lawyer, won 41 percent of the vote in this week’s election; Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative who promised to get tough with North Korea, came in second with 24 percent. Moon, a liberal, plans to restart the “sunshine policy” of wooing North Korea with trade and talks, including reopening a joint industrial park that gives jobs to North Koreans. The policies will put him at odds with President Trump, who wants to increase sanctions to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Ahok jailed: An Indonesian court has found the country’s most popular Christian politician guilty of blasphemy, and sentenced him to two years in prison. The ruling against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, drew international condemnation. Ahok, a Christian who became the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta, was running for re-election in this spring’s vote when he told a rally not to listen to Islamic hard-liners who were misinterpreting a Quranic verse to claim that Muslims are prohibited from voting for non-Muslims. Hardliners said he had insulted Islam and led mass rallies calling him an infidel; he lost the election. The Jakarta Post said judges had ignored the law and followed “mob pressure.”