Soros forced out
Open Society Foundations, the pro-democracy group founded by Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros, is moving its Budapest operations to Germany because of a Hungarian government crackdown on civil society organizations that targeted it specifically. Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has railed against Soros, whose Jewish family fled Hungary in the 1940s to escape the Nazis, portraying him as a sinister financier intent on flooding Europe with Muslim refugees. Orban was re-elected last month on a pledge to pass a “Stop Soros” package of laws that would effectively outlaw the NGO. The Soros-founded Central European University, one of the country’s top schools, says it, too, may relocate. “You can’t run a university in legal limbo,” said rector Michael Ignatieff.
Surge in border crossings
Canada is facing an influx of refugees who are entering the country from the U.S. and using a legal loophole to seek asylum. Because the U.S. is considered a safe country, asylum seekers who try to enter Canada at official border crossings are supposed to be turned back. But under the loophole, those who cross illegally must have their asylum applications considered. As the U.S. tightened its immigration rules, some 20,000 refugees walked across the border last year—a tenfold rise over 2016. The government is now considering closing the loophole. Canadians have “always patted themselves on the back for being very open to immigration,” said Irene Bloemraad, a Canada expert at the University of California, Berkeley, but now they realize “it’s not so easy.”
Deadly ISIS attack
Shouting “Allahu akbar!” a Chechen-born French citizen stabbed five people in downtown Paris last week, killing one before police shot him dead. The attack happened in a neighborhood near the Paris Opera, and restaurant owners barred their doors and told guests to hide. “Even the bar owners know what to do now,” witness Alexis Bergoin said. “Actually, we all know what to do.” A day after the rampage, ISIS released a cellphone video of the attacker, 20-year-old Khamzat Azimov, pledging allegiance to the terrorist group and saying France is responsible for his actions because it is “bombing Islamic lands.” Azimov had been flagged as a potential terrorist risk on a French government watch list; police say they cannot possibly surveil all 20,000 people on the list.
$5 million for Assange
Ecuadorans were outraged to discover this week that their government has paid at least $5 million for security to keep fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the country’s London embassy. A report by investigative group Focus Ecuador and The Guardian found that since 2012 a secret intelligence fund has been used to pay a security company and undercover agents to monitor Assange’s visitors and all comings and goings at the building. The WikiLeaks founder sought sanctuary at the Ecuadoran Embassy after losing his legal fight against extradition to Sweden, where two women accused him of rape. He claims he risks being extradited to the U.S. to face trial for publishing state secrets if he leaves the embassy.
Dolphin hunger strike?
Ukraine said this week that its military dolphins stationed in Crimea refused to eat after Russia seized control of the peninsula, and have since starved to death. After the 2014 annexation, Ukrainian authorities gave the Russian military the whistles and other gear they had used to train some 10 dolphins in marine combat, Ukrainian official Boris Babin told the Obozrevatel newspaper, but the combat dolphins rejected their new masters. Russian lawmaker Dmitry Belik called the report “nonsense,” saying the elderly dolphins, left over from a Soviet-era program, had either died or been sold to private aquariums long before the Russians arrived.
Up for grabs
Losing control of oil
U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips seized key Venezuelan oil storage and refinery facilities in the Caribbean this week, a precedent-setting move that could result in a stampede of creditors rushing to take over the cash-starved nation’s foreign assets. Conoco recently won court orders saying it is entitled to $2 billion from Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA, to compensate for the 2007 nationalization of its assets in Venezuela. It has now grabbed control of PDVSA facilities on islands such as Bonaire and Curaçao that are used for exporting Venezuelan crude to Asia. Last week, Canada’s Rusoro Mining filed suit to seize assets of Citgo, the Venezuelan-owned U.S. refiner. “This is going to set off a domino effect,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst at research firm IHS Markit.
Bridge to Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin this week drove a big orange truck across a new bridge connecting Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The nearly 12-mile bridge, which cost $3.6 billion to build and is the longest in Europe, is intended to show that the peninsula is now an integral part of Russia. Putin said the project would bring Russia and Crimea, which is not linked to Russia by land, “closer to each other” and allow the peninsula to grow at a “new economic tempo.” Ukraine denounced the construction as a gross violation of its sovereign borders, and the U.S. State Department said it was an example of “Russia’s ongoing willingness to flout international law.”
Children as suicide bombers
A wave of deadly ISIS-inspired suicide bombings carried out by two families—including their young children—hit Indonesia’s second-largest city this week. A family of six, with children ages 9 to 18, killed at least seven people by bombing three churches; just hours later, another militant family of five riding two motorbikes blew themselves up outside police headquarters in the city, killing four of the family and two others. The family’s 7-year-old daughter was thrown clear of the explosion and survived. Another family of six accidentally blew up their apartment while making bombs; three of the children survived. All three fathers were believed to be members of the ISIS-inspired group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah.
Diplomatic car crash
A U.S. diplomat accused of running a red light and killing a motorcyclist has left Pakistan, two days after local authorities blocked him from boarding a military plane. Pakistani officials initially refused to let military attaché Col. Joseph Hall fly out of the country, saying he must face a criminal investigation for the car accident, but the U.S. insisted he had diplomatic immunity. The spat was just the latest tussle between the two countries, which have been at odds since January, when the U.S. froze all security aid to Pakistan after President Trump tweeted that the country had failed to crack down on terrorists and given the U.S. “nothing but lies and deceit.” The U.S. now requires Pakistani diplomats to get permission to travel more than 25 miles from their embassy; Pakistan is implementing similar restrictions on American diplomats.
Pilots’ midair scare
A Sichuan Airlines plane heading to Tibet had to make an emergency landing this week after its windshield shattered at 32,000 feet and a co-pilot was nearly sucked out of the cockpit. “Suddenly, the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang,” said pilot Liu Chuanjian. “The next thing I knew, my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window.” The co-pilot, who was wearing a seat belt, was pulled back into the plane; he suffered scratches and a sprained wrist. A flight attendant and 29 of the 119 passengers were also injured. The plane landed safely in Chengdu, and many Chinese social media users lauded the flight crew as heroes. “Give the pilot a raise!” said one. “Give the first officer a paid vacation!”
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has secured the release of the country’s most famous political prisoner: longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. For much of the 1990s, Ibrahim was seen as the heir to Mahathir, who led the country from 1981 to 2003. But after a falling-out in 1998, Anwar was sacked as Mahathir’s deputy premier and charged with corruption and sodomy. He spent nine of the past 20 years in prison, and the two men’s rivalry defined Malaysian politics. But the pair reconciled in 2016, and Mahathir, 92, deserted the ruling party. In a shock win, he led the opposition to victory in last week’s election—the first time Malaysia’s government has changed in six decades—by promising to fight corruption and free Anwar. The elder statesman says he will hand power within two years to Anwar.
Flight 370 mystery solved?
The pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, likely crashed the plane on purpose, killing all 239 people on board, aviation experts told Australia’s 60 Minutes this week. The Beijing-bound plane disappeared from radar screens less than an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur in 2014, and pieces of its wreckage washed up years later in Africa. Simon Hardy, a Boeing 777 pilot and instructor, re-created the plane’s flight plan using military radar records, and determined that Shah crisscrossed Malaysian and Thai airspace to evade detection. Hardy also noticed that Shah, 53, probably dipped the plane’s wing over the island of Penang, perhaps to take one last look at his birthplace. “He was killing himself,” said Canadian air crash investigator Larry Vance. “Unfortunately, he was killing everybody else on board, and he did it deliberately.” ■