Parliament still has no plan.
With the U.K.’s March 29 exit date from the EU only weeks away, Parliament this week overwhelmingly rejected for a second time the divorce deal Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the bloc. Hard-line Brexiteers in her Conservative Party said they were not persuaded by last-minute concessions from the EU intended to prevent the U.K. from being trapped indefinitely in the European customs union by the deal’s so-called Irish backstop. The backstop is an insurance policy to stop a hard border from going up between Ireland and the U.K. province of Northern Ireland. Parliament also ruled out leaving the EU without a deal, and as The Week went to press, it was preparing to vote to ask the EU to delay Brexit for a few months, which is far from a sure thing. “I don’t see reason to give any extension if first of all we don’t know what the majority position is of the House of Commons,” said EU Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt.
Pretty in pictures
Residents of Paris’ prettiest street are begging tourists to stop thronging their doorsteps and taking photos. Rue Crémieux, a cobbled lane with pastel-painted townhouses, is closed to cars. Professional photographers use it to stage wedding and fashion shoots and rappers to film music videos, while visitors do yoga poses in doorways for their Instagram feeds. “Frankly, it’s exhausting,” said one homeowner. The residents’ association wants the city to close the street to visitors on evenings and weekends.
U.S. pulls diplomats
After a days-long blackout led to looting and riots across Venezuela, the U.S. said this week that it would remove all remaining diplomatic staff from the country. The presence of American diplomats, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “has become a constraint on U.S. policy.” Most of the country was left without electricity following the failure of a major substation in central Venezuela last week. Dozens of people—including babies—died when hospitals lost power, taps ran dry as water pumps stopped working, and already-scarce food rotted in refrigerators. “We’re going to arrive at a moment when we’re going to eat each other,” said Caracas resident Zuly González. President Nicolás Maduro insisted the blackout was the work of the U.S.
Bolsonaro’s obscene tweet
Carnival: President not a fan
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum for tweeting an obscene video shot during last week’s Carnival parades. The video showed a man dancing lewdly while another man urinated on him. “This is what many of the street parties in Brazil’s Carnival have turned into,” Bolsonaro said. The next day, he tweeted, “What is a golden shower?”—the term for that act. His office said he was trying to demonstrate that the Mardi Gras festivals in the country have grown too risqué, but critics said he was just angry that so many floats and dances poked fun at him. Bolsonaro describes himself as “homophobic and very proud of it” and is pushing for a ban on discussion of gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.
Poisoner gets life
Schloss Holte-Stukenbrock, Germany
Klaus O. in court
A German machinist who sprinkled poison in his co-workers’ sandwiches was sentenced to life in prison this week—a rare punishment in the country. Managers at the ARI-Armaturen valve factory were mystified when a 23-year-old trainee suddenly fell into a coma, having apparently ingested mercury, and two other workers suffered severe kidney damage. Police eventually asked the company to install a camera in its breakroom, and a worker identified as Klaus O., 57, was caught tampering with lunches. Officials are now reviewing 21 deaths in and around the company since 2000 for “any indication of foul play that would justify an exhumation.” The court heard that the defendant had been experimenting with poisons for years and had a home lab stocked with mercury, cadmium, and lead.
Fury after child gives birth
Demanding abortion reform
Thousands of Argentine women demanded changes to the country’s strict abortion laws after authorities there effectively denied an abortion to an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her grandmother’s boyfriend. The procedure was repeatedly delayed, and when the girl was given the go-ahead at 23 weeks, doctors said an abortion would be too risky and performed a C-section instead. The baby died a week later. Celebrities posted photos of themselves at age 11 on social media, with the hashtag #NiñasNoMadres (“Girls, not mothers”). Abortion is legal in Argentina only in cases of rape or to prevent a mother’s death, but it is often denied even in those cases. Medical professionals who assist in an illegal abortion can be imprisoned for up to 15 years, while the woman can be sentenced to up to four years.
The U.S. warned Germany’s government this week that it would curtail intelligence sharing with Berlin if Chinese tech giant Huawei were allowed to build the country’s next-generation 5G mobile internet network. U.S. intelligence officials say that Huawei shares data with authorities in Beijing and could compromise the national security of any country that contracts with it, by supplying equipment with “backdoors” that would allow unauthorized surveillance. Germany and the U.K. have said they can handle any potential cybersecurity threats that come from using Huawei 5G equipment. FBI Director Chris Wray said last year that Americans should not use phones from Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTI, because they could be used to “maliciously modify or steal information” and “conduct undetected espionage.”
Bouteflika won’t run
Clinging to power
After weeks of protests, Algeria’s longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has agreed not to run for a fifth term—but there’s a catch. Bouteflika, 82, has delayed elections that were scheduled for next month, even though his term ends on April 28. Instead, he’s appointed a new prime minister and announced that a national conference will be held to reschedule the election and rewrite the constitution, which could allow him to hold power at least through the end of the year. The hundreds of thousands of Algerians who have been protesting across the country for weeks were not appeased. They continued to march in the streets, calling for Bouteflika—who has held power for 20 years and was left paralyzed by a 2013 stroke—to step down now.
Jail for snarky tweets
Protesting for online freedom
About 15,000 people demonstrated for internet freedom in Moscow this week after the national legislature made it a crime to disrespect the government online. The law, which is similar to Soviet-era rules used to repress dissidents, forbids social media posts that show a “blatant disrespect for society, the country, Russia’s official state symbols, the constitution, or the authorities.” A first offense will bring a $1,500 fine, and repeat offenders will be punished with fines up to twice as large, or 15 days in prison. Protesters were also upset at Kremlin plans to seal off the Russian internet from outside servers, which will make censorship much easier. In Chechnya, meanwhile, the speaker of the region’s parliament declared a blood feud against a popular exiled blogger.
ISIS bride’s baby dies
A British teenager who was stripped of her citizenship by the U.K. government after she joined ISIS watched her third baby die in a Syrian refugee camp last week. Shamima Begum, 19, fled London to join ISIS at age 15, married a Dutch fighter, and bore and lost two children before ending up in the camp after ISIS was routed. Close to her due date and largely unrepentant, Begum had asked to return home to give birth, but the U.K. denied her request, saying that since her parents were of Bangladeshi origin she could claim citizenship there. Left stateless, she gave birth to a son last month in a squalid refugee camp without heat, where temperatures drop below freezing at night. Her 3-week-old boy, Jarrah, died of pneumonia.
Lawyer to be lashed
In a verdict that is extreme even by Iranian standards, renowned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for charges believed to include “encouraging corruption and prostitution.” Sotoudeh, 55, devoted her career to representing opposition activists. Arrested last June while defending women arrested for removing their headscarves in a public protest, she was convicted in a secret trial on charges that were not made public. Her husband, Reza Khandan, was sentenced to six years in January for posting updates about Sotoudeh’s case on Facebook, but he remains free with their two young children. Amnesty International called Sotoudeh’s punishment “obscene.”
Pell: Guilty of sexual abuse
Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic priest to be convicted of sexually abusing children, was sentenced to six years in prison this week, far short of the 50-year maximum. The Australian cleric, 77, will be eligible for parole in less than four years. Victims groups called the sentence too lenient, and one of the two men Pell was convicted of abusing as a child—who wasn’t named, to protect his identity—said through a lawyer, “It is hard for me, for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome.” Accusations of child sexual abuse had dogged Pell since he was a seminarian in Australia in the 1960s, yet he rose to become archbishop of Melbourne, the Vatican’s CFO, and a senior adviser to Pope Francis. He will appeal the conviction. ■