Police said that a former Russian spy and his daughter who were found unconscious on a park bench in southern England this week had been exposed to a nerve agent. Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, had visited a pub shortly before passing out. A former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence agency, Skripal was convicted in 2006 of revealing Russian agents to British intelligence, but was released in a 2010 spy swap. The father and daughter are critically ill; a police officer who responded to the scene is seriously ill in hospital. The case resembles that of Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium; Scotland Yard said that hit was likely ordered by President Vladimir Putin. U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia has proved itself a “malign and disruptive force in the world.”
Child sex law
The French government said this week it will set the age of sexual consent at 15, following a public outcry last year over two cases involving sex with minors. In November, a court acquitted a 30-year-old man of raping an 11-year-old girl after concluding the child had not experienced “constraint, threat, violence, or surprise” during the sex act. In a similar case, a 28-year-old man was charged with having sex with a minor, not rape, because it was concluded that his 11-year-old victim had not been forced into the act. The new law, said Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa, will mean that “there can be no debate, ever, on the sexual consent of a child.” France previously had no statutory rape law, although adults could be prosecuted for sexually abusing children.
Arrest in activist’s murder
Honduran police have arrested the head of a hydroelectric company in connection with the 2016 murder of Berta Cáceres, an activist who led the fight against a dam project on a river sacred to indigenous communities. Police say Roberto David Castillo Mejia, president of Desarrollos Energéticos, the firm behind the project, was detained as he tried to flee the country. Cáceres, 43, was shot dead in her home. A former military intelligence officer, Castillo has been charged as the “intellectual author” of the murder; he denies any wrongdoing. He is the ninth person arrested in connection to the shooting, and the fourth with ties to the military.
Trump Org booted from hotel
Panamanian police scuffled with and finally evicted Trump Organization employees from a Trump-branded luxury hotel in Panama this week, a victory for the majority owner after a two-week standoff. Miami-based investor Orestes Fintiklis, who bought a majority stake in the tower last year, said the Trump brand had lost its cachet because of Donald Trump’s presidency and that he could not fill the rooms. But employees with the Trump Organization, which managed the buildings, refused to leave their offices. Workers for Fintiklis pried the Trump name off the building with a crowbar this week, but the organization, which is run by the president’s sons, says the dispute is not over.
A former Communist-era police officer in the Czech Republic has resigned as chairman of national legislature’s police oversight group after thousands of protesters rallied against his appointment in cities across the country. Zdenek Ondracek, a Communist Party lawmaker, served in a police unit that beat up pro-democracy demonstrators before the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Outraged by his appointment, protesters chanted, “Communists are murderers!” They accused Prime Minister Andrej Babis of making a deal with the Communists: Ondracek’s appointment in exchange for their support for a coalition government led by his ANO party. Ondracek said he has no regrets about his past.
Millions lose homes
At least 7.6 million Brazilians, or one every minute, have been forced out of their homes since 2000 by droughts, floods, and the building of dams and other infrastructure projects. An analysis released this week by Brazil’s Forced Migration Observatory found that 6.4 million lost homes because of natural disasters, and another 1.2 million were relocated for massive construction projects. Dam companies often resettle the newly homeless in shoddily built housing. Some 30,000 indigenous rain forest dwellers displaced by the Belo Monte dam in 2014, for example, have ended up in slums in the nearby city of Altamira, where the murder rate has skyrocketed more than 1,000 percent since 2000. “They tossed us into a field of violence,” fisherman Raimundo Braga Gomes told TheGuardian.com.
The backlash against sexual harassment hasn’t reached Russia, where lawmakers are making light of groping allegations against a senior politician. BBC journalist Farida Rustamova this week accused Leonid Slutsky, who heads the State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, of sexually harassing her during an interview in his office last year. Slutsky asked Rustamova if she’d like to quit her job to work for him, she said, and then began “running his hand, the flat of his palm, up against my nether region.” She is the third journalist in two weeks to accuse Slutsky of sexual harassment. Slutsky shrugged off the allegations. “I don’t feel people up. Well, OK, just a little,” he said. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said female reporters shouldn’t complain. “You think working in the Duma is dangerous?” he said. “Change your job.”
Gruesome attack on athlete
Durban, South Africa
A top South African triathlete was attacked while training this week by three men who tried to cut off his legs with a chainsaw. Mhlengi Gwala, 27, was bicycling when the men hauled him into some bushes and began sawing into his right calf. “He was screaming and crying, but there was no help from no one because it was the early hours of the morning,” said his training partner, Sandile Shange. The attackers stopped when they hit bone, and Gwala managed to crawl to a road and flag down a car. His right leg was severely damaged, with the muscle and nerves cut through; doctors think they will be able to save the leg, but it’s unclear whether Gwala will ever race again. He was due to compete in the South African national championships this month.
China has gone into censorship overdrive after a wave of online criticism greeted the Communist Party’s decision to abolish presidential term limits, which will let President Xi Jinping stay in office indefinitely. Authorities have scrubbed Weibo, China’s popular social media platform, of words and phrases such as “incompetent ruler,” “shameless,” and “emperor,” and even temporarily nixed the letter “N,” possibly because the mathematical equation n > 2 could be used to refer to Xi’s number of terms as president. Mentions of George Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and 1984—which skewer communism and authoritarianism—are banned, as is any reference to Winnie the Pooh, because Xi’s critics have mocked his resemblance to the beloved bear.
Aid convoy flees
Eastern Ghouta, Syria
The first aid convoy in months reached the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta this week, but pro-regime forces stripped it of most of its medical supplies and then resumed shelling, forcing the convoy to leave before it had unloaded all its food and water. Some 400,000 civilians are trapped in the area with no supplies, surrounded by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, and at least 800 noncombatants have been killed in Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks. The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, blamed Assad for “indiscriminate, brutal attacks.” Meanwhile, in Afrin in northwestern Syria, tens of thousands of civilians have fled a Turkish offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish militants.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency and blocked social media to try to stem a wave of anti-Muslim riots. Incited by extremist Buddhist monks, mobs of majority Sinhalese Buddhists burned Muslim-owned businesses and homes in and around Kandy, the country’s second-largest city. The attacks were sparked by reports that a group of Muslims had killed a Sinhalese man in an altercation. At least two people have died in the riots, and eight others have been injured. Religious tensions have increased over the past year, as hard-line Buddhists have opposed the resettling in Sri Lanka of a few hundred Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Muslims make up 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s population.
Elephant parts to U.S.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The Trump administration has quietly scrapped the ban on importing body parts of African elephants and other animals hunted for sport. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last fall it would lift an Obama-era ban on the import of lion and elephant trophies. But after an outcry, President Trump intervened for the elephants, tweeting that he was unlikely to be convinced that “this horror show in any way helps conservation.” On March 1, however, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—an avid hunter who had the arcade game Big Buck Hunter Pro installed in the Interior Department’s cafeteria—ordered that importation be allowed. Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are big-game hunters; photos from a 2011 safari to Zimbabwe show Eric with a dead leopard and Donald Jr. holding up the severed tail of a dead elephant.