Furor over Muslim rapper
Politicians in France are protesting plans for a Muslim rapper to play two shows at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where ISIS terrorists massacred 89 people in 2015. Rapper Médine describes himself as an Islamo-hooligan and is critical of both Islamic fundamentalism and France’s policy of secularism. But more than 15,000 people have signed a petition started by the far-right National Rally party—formerly the National Front—that says it would be “the height of indecency” for Médine to perform at the venue. The petition cites lyrics such as “I put fatwas on the heads of idiots” as evidence of his extremism. Letting Médine’s October shows go ahead, Eric Ciotti of the center-right Republicans said, would be an “intolerable insult” to the massacre’s victims.
Piedras Negras, Mexico
A Mexican congressional candidate who had vowed to battle organized crime was shot dead while posing for a selfie this week, becoming the 112th politician murdered in Mexico since September. Fernando Purón had just left a debate in the border city of Piedras Negras when a woman with a selfie stick asked for a photo. Surveillance footage shows a man in a baseball cap approaching the pair as they pose and shooting Purón in the head. The politician had received death threats during his 2014–17 stint as Piedras Negras’ mayor for defying the Zetas cartel. Candidates from all parties, and at all levels of government, have been killed in the run-up to the July 1 election. “Violence is so widespread and so vicious,” said journalist Esteban Illades, “that it doesn’t matter how many bodyguards you have.”
An Iowa teenager was killed just three weeks after being deported to Mexico. Manuel Antonio Cano-Pacheco, 19, was brought to America illegally at age 3 and grew up in Des Moines. Iowa “was the only home he knew,” his mother, who didn’t give her name because she is undocumented, told CNN. Cano-Pacheco was granted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status in 2015, which allowed him to stay in the U.S. But his status was revoked two years later because of two misdemeanor convictions. He opted for “voluntary departure” rather than forcible deportation, which would have meant he could never return to the U.S. Soon after he arrived in the gang-plagued state of Zacatecas, where he knew almost no one, his throat was slit.
San Salvador, El Salvador
Salvadoran prosecutors ordered the arrest of former President Mauricio Funes and 30 members of his inner circle last week for allegedly stealing some $350 million in state funds. Prosecutors say Funes, who governed as a leftist from 2009 to 2014, looted $292 million from the country’s main mortgage bank, much of it carried out as cash in plastic garbage bags. El Salvador’s current president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén—who served as Funes’ vice president but is not suspected of involvement in the racket—said his government “won’t tolerate anyone who has betrayed the trust of the people of El Salvador.” Funes fled to Nicaragua in 2016 and now lives in a posh neighborhood in the capital, Managua; he claims the allegations are political attacks orchestrated by conservatives.
Kremlin backed Brexit?
A British businessman who bankrolled one of the main campaigns for Brexit secretly met with Russian officials several times before the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on exiting the European Union. Citing leaked emails, The Sunday Times reported that Arron Banks, who funded the group Leave.EU, was introduced to a Russian businessman by Moscow’s ambassador to the U.K. and offered the chance to buy six Russian gold mines. Banks also admitted this week that he gave the Russian ambassador a phone number for President-elect Trump’s transition team. David Lidington, a top Conservative lawmaker, called for an investigation into Banks’ ties with the Kremlin. Banks called the revelations “fake news,” noting that nothing came of the gold deal.
Turning away migrants
Italy has refused to allow a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants to dock at its ports, drawing fierce criticism from France. The French charity SOS Méditerranée saved the migrants—most of them sub-Saharan Africans—from leaking boats off the coast of Libya, and brought them aboard its ship Aquarius. But both Italy and Malta, the nearest countries, refused the Aquarius entry, and it headed to Spain, after the new Socialist government in Madrid agreed to let it dock. French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy’s new populist and far-right coalition government of “cynicism and irresponsibility” and of breaking international maritime law. But Italy said it had the right to block the ship. “Rescuing lives is a duty,” said Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. “Transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not.”
As HIV rates fall across much of the world, Russia is seeing its infection and death rates surge, because the government of President Vladimir Putin rejects most methods of combating the disease as Western decadence. Russia has at least 1 million people infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and the rate of HIV infection is increasing 10 to 15 percent a year—comparable with the U.S. at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. “This is a public health crisis,” said Vinay Saldanha of UNAIDS. Russian authorities oppose needle exchanges and methadone programs, which can reduce the number of heroin users who contract the disease, and have effectively banned any public discussion of homosexuality, scuttling HIV-education efforts. Many international health-care charities have left Russia because of a 2013 law requiring them to register as foreign agents.
World's oldest trees die
Eight of Africa’s 13 oldest baobab trees have abruptly died over the past 12 years, and researchers believe climate change may be to blame. Baobabs can live for up to 3,000 years and are known as the “tree of life” because they produce nutritious fruit even during the dry season. With massive trunks and spindly branches, the trees look like they’ve been uprooted and placed upside down. But a new study has found that baobabs are dying off across Southern Africa in unprecedented numbers. Among those that perished is Panke, a baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 84-foot-wide trunk. “It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said study co-author Adrian Patrut of Romania’s Babes-Bolyai University.
Name spat ends at last
Skopje, Northern Macedonia
The Balkan nation formerly known as Macedonia has changed its name to end a 27-year dispute with Greece. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced this week that his country would now be called the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Since Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has refused to recognize its neighbor’s name, claiming it implies a territorial claim to the Greek province of Macedonia—the birthplace of warrior king Alexander the Great. Athens has blocked Skopje’s entry into NATO over the issue. Zaev paved the way for the deal earlier this year by removing Alexander’s name from the airport in its capital, now called International Airport Skopje.
Is it an embassy?
The U.S. opened a new building that will serve as its de facto embassy in Taiwan this week, strengthening ties with an island nation that China claims as its own. The five-story Taipei complex houses the American Institute in Taiwan, which manages U.S. interests in the absence of a formal diplomatic presence. Officially, the U.S. considers Taiwan part of China and does not have formal relations with it. Unofficially, the U.S. treats Taiwan as an ally, and last year the Trump administration sold it $1.4 billion worth of arms. Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce attended the opening with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, prompting a Chinese protest. “We urge the U.S. to honor its words on the Taiwan issue,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry, “to avoid doing harm to China-U.S. ties.”
A Saudi-led coalition launched a major operation to recapture Yemen’s main port this week—an offensive that the United Nations says could result in a humanitarian catastrophe. The attack is aimed at tipping the balance in Yemen’s years-long civil war, which has pitted the country’s Arab-backed government against Iran-supported Houthi rebels, who control the port of Hodeida. Most international aid arrives in Hodeida, and any slowdown in supplies could be devastating for the country. Eight million of Yemen’s 28 million people are already at risk of starvation, and up to 250,000 in the port could be killed or wounded if the fighting drags on, the U.N. says. The U.S. supports the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and air-to-air warplane refueling.
U.S. soldier killed
An American special operations soldier was killed and four more were wounded in an attack by al-Shabab extremists in Somalia last week. Sgt. Alexander Conrad, 26, an Arizona resident who had served in Afghanistan twice, died after being hit with a mortar round. The Americans were serving as advisers with a force of 800 Somali and Kenyan troops when they came under fire from the al Qaida–linked Islamic militant group. U.S. troops have been training and assisting Somali troops in the battle against al-Shabab for more than a decade. After seemingly being pushed back, the militants have carried out attacks that killed more than 150 people—including Kenyan troops and Ugandan peacekeepers—over the past two months.