With the U.K. due to leave the European Union on March 29 and British lawmakers still unable to agree on divorce terms from the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May said this week that she would give Parliament the power to delay Britain’s exit. May had previously called the leave date immovable, but facing a cabinet rebellion over a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit said Parliament would get to vote on three choices on March 12: approving the divorce package she negotiated with the EU, crashing out of the bloc without a deal, or asking the EU to delay Brexit by up to three months. EU officials hinted they would approve a delay. May’s about-face came a day after opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn gave in to critics in his Labour Party and promised to demand a second Brexit referendum.
Wounded anti-Maduro protester
San Antonio del Táchira, Venezuela
Soldiers and paramilitaries loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro used brute force this week to stop convoys of humanitarian aid crossing from Brazil and Colombia. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his allies had hoped that the military would let the desperately needed food and medicine through, weakening Maduro’s hold on power. Instead, the blockade remained intact and at least five protesters were killed and hundreds more injured in clashes with security forces along the border, and several aid trucks were apparently set on fire. Guaidó, appointed interim president by the elected National Assembly in January, called on the international community to consider “all measures to free” Venezuela from Maduro’s authoritarian rule. But the Lima Group, a bloc of nations from Argentina to Canada working to find a solution to Venezuela’s crises, stopped short of approving a military intervention or even sanctions at a meeting this week in the Colombian capital, Bogotá. “The use of force, in any of its forms, is unacceptable,” said Peru’s Assistant Foreign Minister Hugo de Zela Martínez.
The Lima Group said it would take Maduro to the International Criminal Court, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told assembled dignitaries that the U.S. would tighten sanctions on the Venezuelan regime. He urged the other regional leaders to freeze Venezuela’s oil assets and transfer control to Guaidó. “We are with you 100 percent,” he told Guaidó.
Chief rabbi assaulted
Argentina’s chief rabbi was brutally beaten in front of his wife during a nighttime break-in at his home this week. Gabriel Davidovich, 62, suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung and is recovering in the hospital. The attackers, who also stole money and valuables, tied up Davidovich’s wife and reportedly told him, “You are the rabbi of the AMIA,” referring to the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. The group’s Buenos Aires community center was bombed in 1994, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds. Iran and its Lebanese militant proxy, Hezbollah, were suspected in the bombing, but no one was ever convicted. Argentina is home to nearly 200,000 Jews, one of the world’s largest Jewish populations outside Israel and the U.S.
Salvini: Russian aid?
Kremlin cash claims
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini sought funding from Russia for his hard-right League party’s campaign in upcoming European elections, L’Espresso alleged this week. The arrangement, the newsweekly said, would have seen a Russian company close to the Kremlin sell millions of dollars of diesel at a discount to Italian state energy company Eni. Profits from the resale would then be diverted to the League. The magazine said it did not know if the deal was ever concluded but reported it was negotiated last October when Salvini—an outspoken fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin—visited Moscow for a business convention. Salvini disappeared for 12 hours during the trip, allegedly to meet with Russian operatives. Salvini denies the allegations.
Funeral directors in South Africa are suing a self-declared prophet who claims to have resurrected a dead man. Footage of the Sunday service shows Pastor Alph Lukau shouting “Rise up!” to a man in a coffin who promptly jerks upright, causing worshippers to cheer. The video, which went viral and sparked resurrection memes on South African social media, has opened a national debate over fake pastors. Lukau charges congregants up to $360 to attend a service and asks attendees for extra donations; the Congolese televangelist owns a 12-seater jet and a Bentley, a Ferrari, and other luxury autos. The three funeral companies suing Lukau say they were tricked into participating in his resurrection stunt and suffered damage to their reputations.
Nuke the U.S.
In the wake of the Trump administration’s pullout from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Kremlin has launched an explosive propaganda war. State television this week ran a segment detailing which U.S. targets would be hit with Russian nukes if America were to deploy ground-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. “Our response will be instant,” said anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, adding that Russia would place hypersonic nuclear missiles on submarines so they could flatten the Pentagon, West Coast military bases, and other sites in under five minutes. The U.S. currently has no ground-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles to deploy, since they were banned under the Cold War–era INF, and Russia does not yet have any hypersonic missiles.
U.S. troops to stay
In a reversal of his earlier announcement of a total pullout of U.S. troops from Syria, President Trump said last week that a “tiny fraction” of the 2,000-strong force would in fact stay in the war-torn country for an undetermined period of time. The Pentagon confirmed that 400 troops would remain to help British and French forces prevent ISIS, now almost totally destroyed, from re-forming. Critics had warned that a total U.S. withdrawal could invite a Turkish attack on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Washington’s main ally in the fight against ISIS, and give ISIS space to regroup. “The U.S. decision is a good thing,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. “We will continue to operate in the region within the coalition.”
War over Kashmir?
Open conflict broke out this week between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan. First, Indian jets crossed the Line of Control—the border that separates the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir into Indian- and Pakistani-administered zones—and bombed a suspected terrorist camp in Balakot. The airstrike came weeks after a suicide car bombing by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which killed 40 Indian paramilitary police. The attack on the camp was the first time India has used airstrikes inside Pakistan since 1971, when fighting broke out in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India called its strike a “nonmilitary pre-emptive action,” to underscore that the Pakistani military was not the target and that the strike was not retribution but an effort to prevent another attack from Jaish-e-Mohammed militants in the camp.
But Pakistan did retaliate, for what it perceived as an act of war, claiming its own planes had struck six targets inside India but without crossing into Indian airspace. When the Indian Air Force responded by crossing into Pakistani airspace, the Pakistani military said, Pakistan shot down two Indian aircraft, capturing one pilot, who was paraded in front of cameras. India confirmed it had “lost” one MiG-21 and said it had shot down a Pakistani aircraft. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had no desire for further escalation. “I am talking to India: We need to use wisdom and sagacity,” he said. “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation?”
Foreign minister quits
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shocked his government and the diplomatic world by abruptly resigning this week. The U.S.-educated Zarif was Iran’s main negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal, which lifted some sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program. The deal should have brought Iran prosperity, but Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact last year and reimposed sanctions. Iran’s currency has since plummeted in value, prices have soared, and Zarif and other pro-reform Iranian leaders have lost influence. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei failed to include the foreign minister in last week’s meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the dictator’s first visit to his backers in Tehran since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. President Hassan Rouhani said he would not accept Zarif’s resignation.
Pell: Abused children
The Vatican’s third-most-powerful official, Cardinal George Pell, has been found guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in his native Australia in 1996. The court found that Pell, now 77, forced oral sex on one altar boy in the sacristy after Mass and molested another. Pell, who oversaw finances for the Catholic Church, was expelled from his role as top adviser to the pope in December, when he was convicted. The verdict wasn’t made public at that time because a judge feared that knowledge of Pell’s guilt would prejudice a second trial, in which he was accused of molesting three young boys in the 1970s, while a priest in his hometown of Ballarat. It has been made public now because the second trial was dropped after prosecutors determined they could not get a conviction. ■