Saudi teen gets asylum
A Saudi Arabian teenager who fled her family, claiming her life was in danger, has been granted asylum by Canada. Rahaf Alqunun, 18, had tried to escape to Australia earlier this month, but when Thai authorities threatened to deport her during a stopover, she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room and took to social media to plead for asylum. She said she had been beaten and abused by her relatives and that they would kill her for renouncing Islam, charges her family denies. After Alqunun’s application for asylum in Australia dragged on too long, the United Nations resettled her in Canada this week. Alqunun says she hopes her story will lead Saudi Arabia to grant women more freedoms. “This might be the agent for change,” she said.
Guac shortage for Super Bowl
The ongoing fuel crisis in Mexico may prevent truckers from shipping enough Mexican-grown avocados to the U.S. in time for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Gas stations across Mexico have faced shortages and rationing for two weeks, since the government began a crackdown on the rampant theft of gas from pipelines and started delivering fuel by tanker truck instead. “If there are limitations or delays in transport, significant losses may occur,” the Association of Avocado Producers and Export Packers of Mexico said this week. Americans typically consume about 8 million pounds of guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday, which works out to about 24 million avocados.
Opposition leader emerges
Juan Guaidó, the brash new head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, is challenging the legitimacy of President Nicolás Maduro. The leftist president was sworn in last week for his second six-year term after an election boycotted by the opposition and declared unfair by international observers. Guaidó, a 35-year-old industrial engineer who was mentored by jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, says he has the constitutional right to assume the presidency because Maduro is an illegitimate “usurper,” and he called on the army to support him. The legislature has little real power but wields moral authority. Guaidó was briefly detained this week by what the government said were “rogue intelligence agents.”
Countering the Left
Colombian President Iván Duque wants to create a new, conservative regional bloc to counter the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the 12-nation body founded in 2008 by leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. Colombia and five other countries where conservative leaders have come to power in recent months—including Argentina, Brazil, and Chile—distanced themselves from Unasur last year, saying the body did nothing to stop Venezuela’s slide into authoritarianism. Duque says his new group, Prosur, will promote free markets and democracy and “curb the dictatorship” in Venezuela.
New ultra-right party
A lawmaker who left his leadership role in the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) last year after a racist tirade is setting up a new party that will be even further to the right. André Poggenburg, 43, led the AfD to its strongest state election showing yet, when it won a quarter of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt in 2016. The party censured him last March after he called German Turks “camel drivers” and spoke of “expanding the external borders” of Germany. Poggenburg says that the AfD has become too soft. His new party, called Uprising of German Patriots, has a logo sporting a blue cornflower, the symbol Austrian Nazis used to recognize one another in the 1930s.
The beloved longtime mayor of the Polish port city of Gdansk died this week after being stabbed in front of thousands of supporters at a public charity concert. Mayor since 1998, Pawel Adamowicz, 53, championed the rights of gays, Jews, and immigrants and presented Gdansk as a liberal city that defied the xenophobic nationalism of the ruling Law and Justice party. The attacker, an ex-convict who rushed the stage and plunged a knife repeatedly into Adamowicz’s heart and stomach, shouted that he had been wrongly jailed under a government led by Civic Platform, a centrist party Adamowicz left last year. Doctors operated for five hours before declaring the mayor dead. Thousands of grieving residents turned out as the Polish government declared a national day of mourning.
New nuke warning
Russia is developing an underwater nuclear drone that could create a 1,600-foot-high tsunami after being detonated at sea, potentially wiping out entire coastal cities, Russian media reported this week. The 32 planned Poseidon drones would be able to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads and could be used to destroy coastal bases or aircraft carrier groups. They would travel too fast and too deep to be intercepted. Such a weapon would “render the entire multibillion-dollar U.S. missile defense system absolutely helpless,” said Moskovsky Komsomolets, and make Russia a “global dictator.” The project, still in development, was first announced by President Vladimir Putin last year. It’s far from clear whether Russia actually has the technology to produce such drones.
Zimbabwe’s cities descended into mayhem this week after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a 140 percent increase in the price of gas, to $12.53 a gallon, by far the highest price in the world—and then jetted off on a trip to Russia. Mnangagwa, an ally of former leader Robert Mugabe, was installed as Mugabe’s successor after a 2017 military coup. He said the price hike was intended to combat shortages and illegal trading. But Zimbabweans were outraged, and the streets quickly filled with protesters, looters, riot police, and armed gangs, with police helicopters firing tear gas from the sky. “We have a national crisis,” said opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, “which is descending into a humanitarian crisis.”
ISIS kills U.S. troops
ISIS claimed responsibility this week for a deadly attack that killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers and two American civilians, in the Syrian city of Manbij, just weeks after President Trump said he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria because the jihadist group had been defeated. Residents said that a suicide bomber struck a restaurant where U.S. soldiers would sometimes stop to eat during their patrols. Before this week, two U.S. service members had been killed in action in Syria since the start of the campaign in 2014 and two others in noncombat accidents. U.S. troops stationed there provide local allies with weapons, training, and crucial air support, helping direct airstrikes against ISIS targets.
Canadian sentenced to death
A Chinese court abruptly sentenced a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling to death this week—apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest last month of a top Chinese telecom executive. Robert Schellenberg, 36, who has multiple drug convictions in Canada, was arrested in China in 2014 and accused of planning to smuggle 500 pounds of methamphetamines to Australia. He was sentenced in November to 15 years in prison, and when he appealed, saying he was an innocent tourist who’d been framed, his sentence was changed to death. “It’s unheard-of” for a Westerner to be executed for drug dealing, said John Kamm, head of the detainees’ rights group Dui Hua. “It’s never happened.” Analysts suspect the sentence is payback for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted in the U.S. for breaching Iran sanctions.
Sexual abuse in sport
The South Korean sports world has been shaken by a series of rape and abuse accusations by athletes against coaches. It started last week, when speed skater and Olympic gold medalist Shim Suk-hee, 21, said her coach had repeatedly raped her since she was 17. The coach, Cho Jae-beom, 37, was fired ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last year, and in September he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for beating Shim and other skaters. He denies the rape allegations. Shim’s courage prompted former judo competitor Shin Yu-yong, 24, to accuse her former coach of having repeatedly raped her since she was a high school student; a skating group said at least two other athletes were preparing to come forward.
Deadly terrorist attack
Escaping the assault
Gunmen from the Somali-based jihadist group al-Shabab stormed a Nairobi complex housing a luxury hotel, restaurants, and foreign companies this week, setting off suicide bombs and gunning down people in cafés and offices. After a gunfight lasting 18 hours, which left at least 14 people dead, all five attackers were killed. The terrorist raid on the 14 Riverside Drive complex came a day after a judge approved a trial for three Somali men accused of abetting al-Shabab’s 2013 siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, during which 67 people were killed. Kenya is an al-Shabab target because it has sent troops to neighboring Somalia to battle the al-Qaida linked group. ■