The world at a glance
‘Germans only’ charity:
A food bank in the city of Essen sparked a national debate about xenophobia when it started requiring all new applicants to show a German passport to receive free groceries. The charity Essener Tafel—which serves some 16,000 poor people in the area—said it instituted the rule because it had been giving more than 75 percent of its food to migrants, and elderly Germans had become afraid to show up for their boxes. Vandals promptly spray-painted “Nazis” on its vans, and German politicians criticized the policy. “I hope they can find good solutions that do not exclude groups,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week. The number of senior citizens on food assistance in Germany has doubled over the past decade, partly because of a 2005 reform that reduced state benefits.
No trip to D.C.:
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has scrapped a tentative plan to meet with President Trump in Washington, after a phone call between the two this week ended in acrimony. During the 50-minute call, Trump said he would not back off his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall, The Washington Post reported, and Peña Nieto won’t meet him until that issue is settled. Mexico has a presidential election in July, and while Peña Nieto can’t run again, he doesn’t want his PRI party to be painted as weak in the face of Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric. Trump’s attitude toward Mexico is “personal, driven by motivations and triggers,” said former Mexican diplomat Arturo Sarukhan. “It could end up with the U.S. asking itself, ‘Who lost Mexico?’”
Kicking out Trump?
The owners of the Trump International Hotel Panama are trying to evict a Trump Organization team from the building, saying the Trump brand has become toxic for business. After majority owner Orestes Fintiklis moved to terminate the Trump Organization’s contract to manage the 70-story luxury hotel, Trump employees barricaded themselves in a room and refused to leave. Police handcuffed a Trump security guard this week, and the Panamanian government said it is investigating the matter. Fintiklis and other owners voted to fire Trump’s management company last year, alleging financial misconduct and saying the hotel was performing poorly.
‘Beast From the East’:
Europe was blasted with extreme cold this week, bringing rare snow to Rome and the French Riviera and disrupting travel across the continent. Schools and government offices shut down from Belgium to Bulgaria. In Poland, at least 18 people died from hypothermia; in Romania, the cold caused at least three deaths. Meteorologists said the cold snap came from Siberia, leading British media to call it the “Beast From the East”—although one commentator, moaning about Britons’ lack of hardiness, labeled it “hysteria from Siberia.” Several European cities opened extra shelters and sent police to round up the homeless, saying it was too cold to allow anyone to sleep outdoors. In parts of Germany, temperatures dipped to minus 5.
Velka Maca, Slovakia
A Slovak journalist and his fiancée were murdered in execution-style shootings in their home near Bratislava this week, and Slovak police say the crime may be related to the reporter’s investigation into corruption. Jan Kuciak, 27, had been reporting on the fraudulent payment of European Union subsidies to Italian nationals in Slovakia with alleged ties to the ’Ndrangheta, the powerful mafia group from Calabria. The killings have renewed criticism of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has called journalists “filthy prostitutes” and said they smear politicians by accusing them of corruption. Fico says authorities won’t rest until Kuciak’s killer is found.
Argentine police have busted an international drug-smuggling ring operating out of the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires. Acting on a tip from Russian Ambassador Victor Koronelli, authorities found nearly 400 kilos of cocaine hidden in diplomatic luggage in December 2016. After replacing the drugs with flour and adding a tracking device, Argentine agents were able to catch the criminals who met the shipment in Russia. A yearlong investigation has netted the ringleaders, authorities say, including two Russian-Argentines arrested in Argentina this week and a former Russian embassy official, Ali Abyanov, arrested in Moscow. “This has been one of the most complex and extravagant drug-dealing operations that Argentina has faced,” said Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.
Erdogan’s young ‘martyr’:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew widespread condemnation this week after he told a 6-year-old girl that her death would be a glorious martyrdom. During his speech at a party congress, Erdogan spotted the girl dressed in camouflage and a maroon beret—like those worn by the Turkish special forces currently fighting Kurds in Syria—and brought her up to the stage. “If she becomes a martyr, God willing, they will drape the flag on her,” he said, kissing her on the cheeks. The girl began to sob. “But Maroon Berets don’t cry,” Erdogan said. Critics on social media lambasted the Turkish leader, accusing him of glorifying child soldiers. But Turkey’s mainstream press, which is under Erdogan’s control, portrayed the girl as a proud patriot and claimed that the president had consoled the youngster.
More girls taken:
Suspected Boko Haram militants roared up to a Nigerian boarding school in jeeps last week and kidnapped more than 100 girls, some as young as 11. The Islamist terrorist group gained international notoriety three years ago with the kidnapping of 276 Christian girls from a school in Chibok, about 170 miles away from Dapchi. More than half of the Chibok girls have since been rescued, many of them pregnant or with infants, and they told of being forcibly married to militants. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called the Dapchi kidnapping a “national disaster” and ordered the army to search. “Boko Haram needs women in its ranks and will look to put them in a secure location,” said Yan St.-Pierre, a counterterrorism adviser at the Berlin-based security firm Mosecon.
The Chinese Communist Party announced this week that it plans to abolish its two-term limit for presidents, which means President Xi Jinping could remain in office indefinitely. The proposed change to the country’s constitution would make Xi, 64, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Term limits were introduced to ensure China would never return to the cultish days of Mao, who ruled from 1949 until his death in 1976. Xi’s first five-year term, which ends next month, saw him purge potential rivals from the party leadership. “There are now almost no checks or balances,” Xi’s biographer, Hong Kong professor Willy Lam, told The New York Times. “Essentially, he has become emperor for life.”
North Korea has been sending chemical weapons equipment and expertise to Syria. A United Nations report leaked this week said Pyongyang sent some 40 shipments of acid-resistant tiles and pipes to Syria from 2012 to 2017, and three North Korean weapons experts visited there in 2016. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been accused of using banned chemical weapons, including sarin gas and chlorine, multiple times in the seven-year civil war, even after Damascus claimed it had destroyed all of its stockpile in 2013. Both Syria and North Korea are under stringent international sanctions. But those sanctions, the U.N. report says, are not backed “by the requisite political will” and international coordination to make them effective.
Escort wants to talk Trump:
A Belarusian escort arrested in Thailand this week has offered to provide “information” about alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign if U.S. investigators secure her freedom. Nastya Rybka was at the center of a recent exposé by Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who posted a video showing her on a yacht in 2016 with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko and oligarch Oleg Deripaska—a Russian billionaire who once employed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. In a series of Instagram posts, Rybka, who was arrested for running a sex seminar without a permit, said she fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will have her killed if she is extradited to Russia. “Please USA save us from Russia!” she wrote in English.
Protest for Africans:
Some 20,000 people marched in Tel Aviv this week to protest government plans to deport half of the roughly 40,000 Africans in Israel illegally. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the migrants, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, “infiltrators,” saying they are economic migrants, not refugees fleeing political repression. About half are single men, and the government has offered each of them about $3,500 and relocation to a third country, such as Rwanda or Uganda. Officials have warned that the migrants will be arrested if they don’t leave by the end of March. Some African demonstrators painted their faces white and carried signs saying “I’m white, will you deport me now?”