Hero cop dies
France paid tribute this week to a police officer who was fatally shot after he volunteered to swap places with a supermarket employee being held hostage by an Islamist extremist. ISIS sympathizer Radouane Lakdim, 25, began his rampage in the southern French town of Carcassonne, where he hijacked a car and killed the passenger. He then drove to a supermarket in nearby Trèbes, where he killed two more people and took hostages. Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame traded places with a female employee and left his cellphone on so that police could hear his conversations with the attacker. He was shot in the neck by Lakdim before police stormed the store and killed the Moroccan-born French national. At a packed special mass for Beltrame at the Saint-Étienne-de-Trèbes church, the bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne, Alain Planet, hailed the officer’s “extraordinary act, extraordinary devotion.”
An Iowa couple and their two children died from inhaling toxic gas while vacationing in Mexico last week, local authorities have revealed. The bodies of Kevin and Amy Sharp, and their son Sterling, 12, and daughter Adrianna, 7, were found at a rental condo in the popular beach resort of Tulum. An investigation revealed that a “high charge of gas” had escaped from the condo’s hot water boiler, possibly because of a lack of maintenance, said local prosecutor Miguel Ángel Pech. Authorities have not said whether the condo was equipped with carbon monoxide detectors or alarms. Jana Weland, a relative, said the Sharps had arrived in Tulum on March 15; the last contact she had with the family was a photo Sterling posted online of his feet by the water.
Protesting Puigdemont’s detention
Protests erupted across Catalonia this week after the Spanish region’s former separatist leader was detained in Germany on an international arrest warrant. Carles Puigdemont has lived in self-imposed exile in Belgium since October, after he organized a referendum on whether Catalonia should split from Spain. Madrid said the referendum—in which 90 percent of ballots supported independence but only 42 percent of voters took part—was illegal, and called for Puigdemont’s arrest for rebellion, sedition, and misuse of funds. He was stopped this week in Germany while traveling from Finland to Belgium; a German court must now decide whether to extradite Puigdemont. Following his arrest, thousands of Catalan separatists marched in Barcelona and clashed with riot police.
Banker president quits
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned in disgrace last week, just days after video evidence was released showing his allies attempting to buy the support of opposition lawmakers ahead of an impeachment vote. A former World Bank economist, Kuczynski was accused last year of receiving illegal payments from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht while serving as a cabinet member in the early 2000s. Kuczynski, 79, said he had done nothing wrong. The release of the secretly recorded tapes—which showed lawmakers being offered the chance to appoint government officials and keep some public money in return for their support—doomed his presidency. “I don’t want to be an obstacle for our nation as it finds the path to unity,” Kuczynski said in his resignation speech.
Holocaust survivor murdered
Two men were arrested this week for the brutal murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, a killing that prosecutors said was motivated by anti-Semitism. Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times in her apartment in a working-class Paris neighborhood, and her body partly burned. One of the suspects, a neighbor of North African origin whom Knoll had known since he was a child, “said that Jews have money, and that was the reason he attacked her,” said Francis Kalifat, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France. As a child in Nazi-occupied France, Knoll narrowly escaped being rounded up with some 13,000 French Jews in 1942—almost all were subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
Rape victim dies in childbirth
A 14-year-old Paraguayan girl who had become pregnant as a result of being raped died giving birth last week, in a case that has highlighted the country’s high levels of sexual violence and fueled debate about its strict abortion laws. Abortions are illegal in Paraguay unless the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life. The girl had been hospitalized for 20 days before she went into labor because of pregnancy complications. She suffered an embolism and three cardiac arrests during an emergency caesarean section; the baby boy survived. “The body of a minor is not prepared for a pregnancy,” said the hospital director, Dr. Hernan Martinez. A 37-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the rape.
A Ukrainian war hero turned lawmaker has been arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up the parliament. Former military helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko became a national icon after she was captured fighting pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014; she was handed over to Russia and jailed for killing two Russian journalists, charges she denied. After being released in 2016, she entered Ukrainian politics and became an outspoken critic of government corruption. But last week, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, claimed that Savchenko had been secretly trying to buy weapons from the rebels so she could launch a coup. Savchenko, 36, didn’t deny the allegations outright, saying undercover agents had encouraged the plot and that she had played along so she could go public and expose the government’s “ridiculous” schemes.
Freed by Boko Haram
More than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped in February by Boko Haram were reunited with their families this week after being released by the jihadist group. In total, 110 girls were snatched from their boarding school in the town of Dapchi. Five died while in captivity and one, Leah Sharibu, is still being held by the extremists; the 15-year-old Christian has refused to convert to Islam. Nigerian officials said the girls were released following “back-channel” negotiations, but insisted that no ransom had been paid. Boko Haram—whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language—freed the children with an ominous warning for parents: “Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”
Kim visits Xi
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing this week, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping just weeks before planned summits with the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. Kim traveled to China aboard a heavily armored train in what was his first foreign trip since becoming leader in 2011. The North Korean despot told Xi that he was open to talks with the U.S., including a possible meeting with President Trump in May, and was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, so long as the U.S. and South Korea agreed to “synchronized measures to achieve peace.” Following the summit, Trump tweeted that Xi had told him the visit “went very well,” adding that until a breakthrough is achieved, “maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!”
Analysts said Kim’s visit had been staged to show that the China–North Korea alliance is back on track. The relationship had faltered in recent years as Kim ignored Beijing’s entreaties to halt his nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. But Kim and Xi put on a friendly display at their meeting, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. “Divisions between Beijing and Pyongyang were a major asset to Trump’s pressure campaign” on North Korea, said U.S. defense analyst Adam Mount. Renewed ties weaken “Trump’s hand in negotiations and diminish further the effectiveness of U.S. military threats.”
Deadly mall fire
At least 64 people, including 41 children, were killed this week when a fire ripped through a shopping complex in Siberia. Russian investigators said an electrical short circuit likely caused the blaze. Serious safety violations at the Winter Cherry mall heightened the death toll: The fire alarm hadn’t worked for a week, and fire escapes were blocked at a movie theater where an entire school class was watching a film. Children sent frantic texts to parents as smoke filled the building. “We are burning,” said one. “Maybe goodbye.” Russian President Vladimir Putin met survivors and blamed “criminal negligence” for the fire. But some victims’ families accused the president of complicity in the tragedy. “I no longer have a family,” said Igor Vostrikov, whose wife, three children, and sister died in the blaze. “Every bureaucrat dreams of stealing like Putin. Every state functionary treats people like garbage.”
Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels fired a barrage of seven missiles into Saudi Arabia this week, killing one civilian in Riyadh and wounding two others. The casualties were the first in Saudi Arabia’s capital since the kingdom launched its anti-Houthi military campaign in Yemen three years ago, although Houthi mortars and short-range missiles have killed people elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. A Houthi-run satellite channel identified the type of several missiles fired as the Burkan, or Volcano, which the United Nations says is similar to Iran’s Qiam ballistic missile. Shiite-majority Iran denies supplying the Houthis with arms. The U.N. says 10,000 people have died in the war in Yemen. ■