Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top political adviser and close friend Gerald Butts resigned this week over corruption allegations. The Globe and Mail, citing anonymous sources, reported that Trudeau and Butts tried to pressure the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to abandon the criminal prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company. The case against SNC-Lavalin, which is accused of corruption and fraud relating to its business dealings in Libya, has continued. Wilson-Raybould was demoted to veterans affairs minister in January and resigned from the cabinet last week. She says attorney-client privilege prevents her from discussing the allegations. Trudeau and Butts both deny any improper influence or that Wilson-Raybould was removed as attorney general for refusing to go easy on SNC-Lavalin.
Eight British lawmakers quit the country’s opposition Labour Party this week, accusing party leader Jeremy Corbyn of mishandling Brexit and tolerating anti-Semitism. While most members of the center-left party support holding a second referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, Corbyn—a hard leftist—has declined to back a do-over. Breakaway lawmaker Chris Leslie said it would be “irresponsible” to let Corbyn become prime minister. Another rebel, Luciana Berger, who is Jewish, said she had come to the “sickening conclusion” that the party was “institutionally anti-Semitic.” The eight will sit in Parliament as the Independent Group. Three Conservative lawmakers also joined the bloc, saying their party had been hijacked by hard-line Brexiteers.
Teen rape victim freed
San Salvador, El Salvador
El Salvador’s supreme court has overturned a 30-year prison sentence for a teenage rape victim who was accused of murder after a 2016 stillbirth. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, then 18, said she had been repeatedly raped by a gang member but didn’t realize she was pregnant until she gave birth into a toilet. Medical experts couldn’t determine whether the baby died in her womb or after being born, but prosecutors said she was guilty of murder because she did not seek prenatal care. Hernández was released this week after serving nearly three years of her sentence; she faces a new trial in April. Human rights activists are asking that at least 20 women in jail for abortion also be released. Abortion is illegal in all circumstances in El Salvador, and women who have stillborn babies can be convicted of murder.
Aid for Venezuela
U.S. military planes delivered more than 180 tons of humanitarian aid for Venezuela to the Colombian border city of Cúcuta this week, setting up a showdown with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has vowed to block the supplies. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made a surprise visit to Cúcuta and told Venezuelan troops stationed at the border that it was their patriotic duty to let aid through. “Will you prevent the food and medicine from reaching your own people?” he asked. President Trump, speaking to Venezuelan expats in Miami, warned members of the military that they “will lose everything” if they continue to back Maduro.
Thousands of people marched in cities across France this week to condemn a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, some of which have emanated from the Yellow Vest anti-government movement. Yellow Vests screamed “Dirty Jew!” and “Go home to Israel!” at noted Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Paris demonstration last weekend; Finkielkraut had been one of the few French intellectuals who supported the movement. Meanwhile, about 100 graves at a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg were vandalized with swastikas this week. The government recorded 541 anti-Semitic incidents last year, up 74 percent from 2017. “Anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
U.S. cardinal defrocked
Pope Francis expelled the disgraced ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the Catholic priesthood last week, making the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., the highest-ranking American cleric to be defrocked in the church’s global sex-abuse scandal. McCarrick, 88, was found guilty in a church trial on numerous counts of sexually abusing minors and sexual misconduct with adult seminarians and priests—including soliciting sex during confession. He was forced to resign as cardinal last year. “Nothing can give me back my childhood,” said James Grein, who accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him for decades from age 11. “With that said, today I am happy that the pope believed me.” In the past few decades, more than 1,000 priests worldwide have been defrocked for sexual misconduct.
Toxic black snow
Coal dust from open pit mines has turned the snow in Siberia’s Kuzbass region black. The sludge has blanketed cars, courtyards, and children’s playgrounds. Residents say that the dust, which contains highly toxic elements, including arsenic and mercury, is in the air all the time—the snow just makes it visible. Life expectancy in the region, which is home to 2.6 million people, is three to four years lower than Russia’s average of 66 for men and 77 for women. Cancer, child cerebral palsy, and tuberculosis rates in Kuzbass are all above the national average. “The government bans smoking in public,” one resident fumed on social media, “but it lets us inhale coal dust and lets it reside in our lungs.”
‘Ivory Queen’ convicted
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
A Tanzanian court has sentenced a Chinese businesswoman and two Tanzanian men to 15 years in prison each for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants to Asia. Yang Feng Glan, 69, nicknamed the Ivory Queen, was secretary-general of Tanzania’s China-Africa Business Council and ran a Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam as cover for her illegal business. The court found she had delivered nearly 2 tons of ivory. Conservationists celebrated the verdict but wanted a longer sentence. “She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants,” said Amani Ngusaru of the World Wildlife Fund. Soaring ivory demand from China and other Asian countries has caused a spike in poaching: Tanzania’s elephant population dropped from 110,000 in 2009 to around 43,000 in 2014.
Purge of wealthy
Short of cash because of international sanctions, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has over the past few months exiled, jailed, or executed up to 70 officials accused of corruption and seized their assets. Those targeted include senior members of the military who amassed millions of dollars and other officials accused of low-level bribery, in keeping with Kim’s New Year’s speech calling for a crackdown against “both serious and trivial instances of abuse of power.” Many of those purged were suspected of having opposed Kim’s diplomatic outreach to the U.S. and South Korea. The international sanctions are also hurting ordinary Koreans: North Korea recently asked the U.N. for food aid, saying that it had been forced to slash food rations for workers’ families.
Trump for Nobel?
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is refusing to confirm or deny that he nominated President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting dialogue with North Korea. Trump boasted last week that Abe had shown him a “beautiful copy” of his five-page letter to the Nobel Committee, and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Abe had nominated Trump following an “informal” request from the White House. Trump has previously griped that former President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office, and he has been lobbying for his own award. It seems to be paying off: Two right-wing Norwegian lawmakers have nominated Trump as well.
Australia’s government said this week that a “sophisticated state actor” had hacked Parliament’s computer network, penetrating systems of the ruling Liberal and National parties and the opposition Labor Party just three months before a general election. The government didn’t name the perpetrator, but China—Australia’s largest trading partner—is the likeliest suspect. A government report in 2017 found that Chinese agents had infiltrated all levels of government. “From taking over Chinese associations, buying political influence, promoting Beijing-loyal people into elected political positions, buying influence in universities by sponsoring think tanks, cyberintrusion operations,” says political scientist Clive Hamilton, “you name it, they’re doing it.”
Last ISIS stronghold
Women and children flee Baghouz.
ISIS, which once controlled some 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria, is down to less than half a square mile of land in one Syrian town. An estimated 300 militants and hundreds of civilians are holed up in a tiny enclave of tents surrounded by the U.S.-backed, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which says the militants must surrender or be killed. In the past few weeks, the SDF has evacuated more than 20,000 hungry civilians from the area, including the wives and children of ISIS militants. The survivors described a monthlong hell of constant shelling and gunfire, with bodies left rotting in the streets because it was too dangerous to collect them. They also said ISIS fighters hoarded all the food while the children starved. ■