Early Brit was black
Genetic testing of a 10,000-year-old skeleton found in an English cave has revealed that this early Briton had dark to black skin and blue eyes. Researchers from London’s Natural History Museum extracted DNA from the “Cheddar Man,” Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in Cheddar Gorge in 1903. At the time of the man’s death, the British landmass was connected to continental Europe, but as sea levels rose some 8,000 years ago, the peninsula became an island. Cheddar Man was a hunter-gatherer whose diet was rich in Vitamin D, but scientists believe that once his descendants began farming, evolution favored genes for lighter skin, which could absorb more Vitamin D from sunlight. Research shows he’s related to millions of Britons living today. “These imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions,” said archaeologist Tom Booth.
At least five people have been bilked out of a combined $4 million in a phone scam striking Toronto landlines. The scam callers pretend to be retailers, telling their targets that they’ve spotted fraud on their credit cards and that they should immediately call the police or their bank. The victims hang up and dial another number, but the scam artists appear to be using technology that lets them stay on the line. Pretending to be a police dispatcher or a bank employee, the scammer instructs the target to wire all assets into a new, “secure” account—where it disappears. “They’re pretty good pitchmen,” said Detective Sgt. Ian Nichol. “There is a foreign component to this investigation, but I’m not in a position to say where the calls are coming from.”
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Dozens of Americans have been injured and at least one killed at all-inclusive Mexican resorts, apparently by mislabeled or bootleg liquor. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel began an investigation last year, after Wisconsinite Abbey Conner, 20, drowned within hours of arriving at a Playa del Carmen resort with her family; her 22-year-old brother was found unconscious nearby. He has no memory of what happened. The paper found at least 140 more cases of American tourists blacking out after drinking small or moderate amounts of alcohol in Mexican resorts. Travelers said resort staff, police, and doctors did not help them. Wisconsin lawmakers this week asked the State Department to do more to help American vacationers who may be injured abroad.
The hunger crisis in Venezuela has grown so severe that parents are leaving their children at orphanages in hopes they will be fed. “They can’t feed their children,” said social worker Magdelis Salazar. “They are giving them up not because they don’t love them but because they do.” One recent study found that in poor areas of the country, more than two-thirds of children are going hungry. Mobs frequently ransack grocery stores and warehouses: In the first 11 days of this year, some 107 lootings or attempted lootings took place. In one city, thieves stole horses from a veterinary school and slaughtered them for meat. “We either loot,” said one looter, “or we die of hunger.”
Minister lied about Putin
Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned from office this week after he admitted to lying about hearing Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss his plans for a “Greater Russia.” While campaigning in elections in 2016, the foreign minister said that Putin had boasted of plans to incorporate Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states into Russia during a 2006 meeting with executives from Shell, where Zijlstra then worked. But after the Russian Embassy protested, Zijlstra said he’d lied about being present at the meeting to protect former Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, who had told him of the comments. Zijlstra said he had to resign to protect “the credibility of the foreign minister, domestically and abroad.”
Planning an invasion?
Venezuela’s government accused neighboring Colombia of plotting an American-backed invasion this week after Adm. Kurt Tidd, head of U.S. Southern Command, met with Colombian officials in the city of Tumaco. “They are planning military bombings, a military invasion, and the occupation of a peaceful country like Venezuela with fire and fury,” said Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab. He referred to President Trump’s refusal last year to rule out military action in Venezuela, calling that a “threat.” Bolivian President Evo Morales, a staunch Venezuelan ally, called Tidd’s presence in Colombia “suspicious.” Colombia has sent extra troops to its eastern border in recent months to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan economic refugees. But it says it has no plans for military intervention.
Saakashvili deported: Ukrainian opposition leader and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been kicked out of Ukraine. Saakashvili, who was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship last year and is now stateless, said he was grabbed last week by armed, masked men and deposited across the border in Poland; he has since flown to the Netherlands, where his wife was born. The ethnic Georgian Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013 and was later appointed governor of Ukraine’s Odessa province by then-ally President Petro Poroshenko. But in 2016 he criticized Poroshenko for corruption and joined the opposition. Now he is calling for a mass uprising. “The key to solving the problem of corruption in Ukraine lies in European capitals,” he said this week. “It must be made clear to [oligarchs] that Western banks will no longer launder their money.”
Zuma: Forced to resign
South African President Jacob Zuma resigned from office this week, ending a nine-year tenure in office during which he was dogged by corruption allegations and repudiated by the ruling African National Congress, which has seen its popularity slump. His resignation came after a week of escalating pressure, in which the ANC demanded his departure and said it would support a no-confidence motion if he clung on. In a televised address, Zuma said he was resigning even though he disagreed with his party’s calls for him to do so. “I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC,” said Zuma, 75, who is battling nearly 800 counts of corruption. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, who is seen as a reformist, immediately became acting president.
Canadian dies in prison
Canada is demanding answers regarding the suspicious death of Kavous Seyed-Emami, a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, in Tehran’s brutal Evin prison. A prominent environmentalist, Seyed-Emami, 63, was arrested last month on espionage charges. Authorities said he had confessed to spying and hanged himself in his cell, “since he knew that many had made confessions against him and because of his own confessions.” Amnesty International said Iran’s refusal to allow an independent investigation into the death suggested the regime was trying to “cover up any evidence of torture and possible murder.” Seyed-Emami appeared to have been caught up in a crackdown by hard-line regime elements against Iranians who hold dual citzenship in Western nations.
President threatens women
Human rights activists have condemned Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after he ordered his troops to shoot female rebels “in the vagina.” In a speech to some 200 soldiers last week, Duterte said that when he was mayor of Davao City many years ago he gave a directive on how the military should treat captured female communist insurgents. “There’s a new order coming from the mayor, ‘We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina,’” he said, explaining that the women would then be “useless.” Philippine women’s rights group Gabriela said the comments reveal Duterte to be a “dangerous macho-fascist.” Duterte’s spokesman said, “Do not take the president seriously.”
U.S. kills Russians
U.S. airstrikes are believed to have killed dozens of Russian fighters in Syria last week. Russian sources told Bloomberg.com that up to 200 mercenaries, most of them Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and Syrian Kurdish forces. The Kremlin played down the incident, saying that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were paid contractors and not Russian servicemen. But the Kremlin has previously made similar claims about Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine, saying they were volunteers, only to admit later they were enlisted soldiers. Alexander Ionov, a Russian businessman in Syria who offers security services, said Russians who died while fighting “terrorists” should be officially recognized for their sacrifice.
Trouble for Netanyahu
Israeli police this week recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery and breach of trust in two corruption cases. But Netanyahu’s governing coalition partners are standing by him, and the prime minister insisted that he will remain in his post, calling the allegations “biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese.” The decision now goes to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee, who could take months to either issue an indictment or quash the charges. One charge relates to allegations that Netanyahu accepted nearly $300,000 worth of gifts from two billionaires in return for political favors. The other relates to allegations that Netanyahu offered perks to newspaper tycoon Arnon Mozes in exchange for favorable coverage. ■