The world at a glance ...
Preparing for Salvadorans: The Trump administration’s decision to end the temporary residency status of 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants has Canada scrambling to prepare for an influx. Last fall, when nearly 60,000 Haitians in the U.S. lost the special protected status given to immigrants from crisis-hit countries, thousands of them trekked across the border to Canada to apply for asylum, and authorities had to set up shelters in stadiums. Rumors that Canada would automatically accept such claims fueled many journeys, and authorities fear that the Salvadoran community in the U.S. may be similarly misinformed. Canada took in 43,500 refugees last year and has a backlog of 30,000 asylum applications.
Chihuahua City, Mexico
Punished for fighting corruption? A Mexican governor has accused the federal government of choking off his state’s finances in retaliation for corruption charges brought by the state against members of the ruling party. Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral Jurado said the federal government had withheld $40 million to try to force state prosecutors to squelch their investigation into allegations that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party had used millions of dollars in public funds to finance gubernatorial candidates in the 2016 elections. “It’s clear the money isn’t coming because of this investigation,” said Corral, a member of an opposition party. Peña Nieto denied withholding any funds, saying he works closely with governors “regardless of party affiliation.” The PRI denies misusing public money.
Ain Sefra, Algeria
Sahara snow: The weather condition that brought freezing Arctic air to much of the U.S. East Coast last week also made it snow in the Sahara Desert. Sand dunes outside the Algerian city of Ain Sefra were blanketed with 15 inches of snow that lasted for hours before melting. Experts said that snow in the North African desert—which is scorching during the day, but freezing at night—is rare. Nobody knows exactly how rare, because there are few weather stations in the vast sandy expanse. Kamel Sekkouri, a resident of Ain Sefra, told The New York Times that he had seen snow in the desert five times in the past 40 years—but the sight hadn’t lost any of its magic. “When you walk in the snowy dunes,” he said, “you feel like you are on Mars or Uranus.”
Gangs recruit hungry kids: As Venezuela’s economic crisis worsens, gangs have begun recruiting children by offering them baskets of food. “The bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods has been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” the Venezuelan Violence Observatory said in a report last week. It said widespread food shortages and high unemployment have led thousands of minors to turn to crime just to get fed. Hyperinflation has left Venezuela’s currency nearly worthless. “If you want to buy a can of tomatoes, you have to carry six bundles of 100-bolivar bills,” said Venezuelan crime reporter Javier Ignacio Mayorca.
Mafia sweep: Police arrested 160 people in Italy and 11 more in Germany this week in a crackdown on the southern Italian ’Ndrangheta crime network. “They controlled all the economic activity in entire towns,” said Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri. In the town of Cirò, for example, he said the gang forced out all rival bakeries, leaving the mob’s bakery as residents’ sole source of bread. The network’s reach extended to Germany, where it controlled the supply of wine, pastries, and olive oil to local Italian restaurants. Among those arrested in Italy were dozens of government officials—including the president of Crotone province, Nicodemo Parrilla, in Calabria—and the charges range from attempted murder to illegal waste transportation. The ’Ndrangheta has some 6,000 members, and also operates in the U.S.
Sick of Assange: Ecuador’s government wants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of its embassy in London, where he has been holed up for more than five years. Ecuadorean Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa said this week that the situation had become “untenable” and she was seeking a “third country or a personality” to discuss Assange’s future with the U.K. Assange originally hid in the embassy to escape extradition to Sweden, where he had been wanted for questioning in two sexual-assault cases. That investigation was dropped last spring, because police couldn’t interview Assange to get essential information. But British officials said they’d still arrest him for violating the terms of his 2010 bail. Assange fears he would then be extradited to the U.S. because of WikiLeaks’ publishing of secret American military documents and diplomatic cables.
Protests crushed: After some 3,500 arrests and a partial ban on social media, Iran has ended the weeklong anti-government protests that rocked Tehran and other cities. Tens of thousands of protesters—many of them unemployed young people—had thronged the streets, voicing their anger over rising fuel and food prices and demanding an end to corruption. The mullahs blamed the protests on foreign influence. “Once again, the nation tells the U.S., Britain, and those who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad that you’ve failed, and you will fail in the future, too,” tweeted the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But about half of Iran’s 80 million people are under 30 years old, and they chafe at the political repression. “The problem we are facing today,” said the reformist President Hassan Rouhani, “is the gap between us—the authorities—and the younger generation.”
Netanyahu’s scandal-hit son: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 26-year-old son was forced to apologize this week after a recording of him touring Tel Aviv strip clubs in 2015 was aired on national TV. While standing outside one club, Yair—who lives at home and doesn’t have a job—demands money for a “whore” from his friend Ori Maimon, the son of natural gas mogul Kobi Maimon. “My dad set up $20 billion for your dad, and you’re fighting with me about 400 shekels [about $115]?” Yair said, referencing a controversial gas deal approved by Netanyahu. He also said he could arrange for his friends to have sex with his former girlfriend. Yair apologized for what he said were drunken comments, but Israelis were furious, not least because a secret-service agent and a driver accompanied Yair on his night out.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Moving to détente? After taunting the U.S. and his southern neighbor with nuclear threats, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un this week agreed to hold military-to-military talks with Seoul and to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang. The agreements were clinched at talks in the Demilitarized Zone this week, the first such high-level dialogue between North and South in more than two years. “I am giving a lot of credit to President Trump” for pressuring the North to talk, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in. But he warned that the North would face stiffer sanctions if it resumed nuclear weapons and missile tests. South Korean analysts said Kim’s outreach could be an attempt to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington by reaching a deal without U.S. input.
Burning oil tanker: A huge tanker ship carrying oil from Iran to South Korea burst into flames last week after colliding with a cargo ship off the coast of Shanghai—and authorities say the fire could keep raging for a month. Thirty-one sailors, most of them Iranian, are missing and presumed dead; one body has been recovered. China’s Ministry of Transportation said up to 14 vessels were on-site and battling the blaze. But officials worry that, unless the fire is quickly contained, the Panama-registered Sanchi tanker—which is as big as an aircraft carrier—could explode and sink, releasing its 1 million barrels of oil into the East China Sea. The spill would be three times as big as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska.
Talk to the cutout: Mocking reporters’ attempts to hold his government to account, the leader of Thailand’s military junta has told journalists to address their questions to a cardboard cutout of him. Seventeen such cutouts, which show Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in the costumes of various professions, were set up around Bangkok for Thailand’s Children’s Day, when children are to learn about career options they might choose. At a brief press conference, Prayuth supervised the installation of one cutout before telling the assembled journalists, “If you want to ask any questions on politics or conflict, ask this guy,” and walking off. Prayuth, who took power in a 2014 coup and is now prime minister, has in the past boasted that he would execute journalists who “did not report the truth” about his government.
Refugees flee regime: A Syrian government assault on Idlib, the country’s last rebel-held province, has driven 70,000 civilians northward toward the Turkish border. Aid workers said the regime is systematically targeting hospitals, hitting at least eight in the past six weeks. “The major goals are to deprive people of health care, kill opposition medical workers, and push people to flee,” said Ahmad al-Dbis of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, which runs dozens of hospitals in Syria. “The medical situation is a tragedy.” Idlib, mostly controlled by Islamist rebels, has absorbed hundreds of thousands of displaced families from other parts of Syria during the seven-year civil war; now some of them are fleeing once again. ■