May’s exit offer
Prime Minister Theresa May this week tried to rescue her plan for Britain’s departure from the European Union by pledging to step down if Parliament passes the deal. May has twice failed to get her plan past hard-line pro-Brexit lawmakers in her Conservative Party, who claimed it will keep the U.K. beholden to EU rules. But many of those lawmakers now fear that, if the plan doesn’t pass, Brexit may not happen at all, and May wants to win their votes by offering to let a new leader take over the second phase of Brexit negotiations. “I know there is a desire for a new approach,” May told a meeting of Conservative lawmakers. “I won’t stand in the way of that.” May gave no timetable for her departure, and it’s still not clear her plan will be approved on a third vote. The U.K. is set to leave the EU on April 12 if no deal is approved.
German police used pepper spray and tear gas last week to break up a mass brawl involving rival supporters of two YouTube stars. The two social media influencers—named by German media as “ThatsBekir,” a 20-something from Stuttgart, and Bahar Al Amood, 17, from Berlin—reportedly urged fans to gather for a face-off in Alexanderplatz in central Berlin, following weeks of mutual goading. Some 400 turned up, and about 50 of them were involved in the battle, which spilled over into the square’s U-Bahn station. Thirteen people have been charged with various offenses, and ThatsBekir claimed he was injured in the melee. Online influencers, a police spokesperson said, are “sometimes very negligent with their influence.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded this week that Spain and the Vatican apologize for human rights violations committed during the “invasion” of the Americas 500 years ago. “There were massacres,” López Obrador said in a video address. “They raised churches on top of temples.” Catholic Spain ruled Mexico for some 300 years and made the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity part of its mission; Mexico won independence in the early 19th century. The government in Madrid rejected López Obrador’s request for an apology. “The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory,” it said, “cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations.”
The U.S. accused the Kremlin of propping up the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro this week after two Russian air force planes carrying about 100 troops landed at Caracas airport. Russia has long been an ally of Venezuela, lending its leftist government billions of dollars and backing its armed forces. Officials in Moscow said the troops were in the country solely to discuss equipment maintenance, training, and strategy. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said their presence risked “prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support” opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó. Meanwhile, Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, was arrested and accused of being part of a terrorist cell of “diabolical pro-imperialist puppets” plotting to overthrow Maduro.
Cruise from hell
Hundreds of people had to be airlifted to safety in a helicopter rescue this week after a luxury cruise liner lost power off the Norwegian coast during a massive storm. Dramatic footage posted on social media showed chairs, pianos, and potted plants sliding across the floor and icy water smashing through broken windows as the Viking Sky was battered by 43 mph winds and 26-foot waves. Twenty people suffered broken bones and other injuries, and rescuers winched 479 people to safety one by one. The ship narrowly avoided a far greater disaster: It was only 330 feet from hitting rocks in shallow waters when it recovered power and was steered into the port of Molde, where the remaining 900 passengers disembarked.
The former president of Brazil, Michel Temer, was arrested last week on corruption charges less than three months after leaving office, making him the latest politician to be caught up in the country’s sprawling Operation Car Wash probe. Prosecutors accused Temer of heading a “criminal organization” that pocketed up to $500 million from a nuclear power plant construction project in 2014, when Temer was Brazil’s vice president. He described his arrest as a “barbarity.” Another ex-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently serving 12 years in prison on charges stemming from the Car Wash investigation. Temer, 78, took office after Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016, and held power for two years. As president, he was under investigation, but enjoyed immunity from arrest.
Thumbs up for Mueller
Thumbs up for Mueller: Russian lawmakers cheered special counsel Robert Mueller this week after his 22-month-long investigation concluded that Donald Trump didn’t conspire or collude with Moscow to intervene in the 2016 U.S. election. “Adherents to the theory of collusion have been discredited,” said Sen. Alexei Pushkov. “Now only an idiot would believe them.” Although Mueller’s inquiry led to the indictment of two dozen Russian citizens, including intelligence officers who ran an online “troll farm” that spread election misinformation, state TV hailed the report as a thumbs-up for Russian foreign policy. Sen. Konstantin Kosachev said the U.S. and Russia should now work together to defuse rising nuclear tensions. “There is a chance to reset much in our relations,” he wrote on Facebook, “but will Trump risk it?”
The first of what could be many cases of cholera were confirmed this week in the cyclone-ravaged Mozambican city of Beira, further complicating an already immense relief effort in the southern African nation. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the port city have been living in squalid conditions since Cyclone Idai struck on March 14, killing at least 468 people in Mozambique, 259 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi. Five cases of cholera, a waterborne disease that can kill in hours if left untreated, have so far been detected in Beira, and officials expect the disease to spread fast. Mozambique and neighboring countries could also suffer food shortages in the coming months because Idai flooded some 1,158 square miles of land, destroying vast tracts of farmland.
Hundreds of women from war-torn parts of Myanmar are being trafficked to China each year, sold as brides, and raped until they become pregnant, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. This grim trade is being fueled by China’s chronic shortage of women: A cultural preference for boys, the one-child policy, and gender-selective abortions are thought to have reduced the country’s female population by up to 40 million. To make up for the lack of brides, young women from Myanmar’s Kachin and Shan states are being lured to China with the promise of jobs and then sold for $3,000 to $13,000 to Chinese men, Human Rights Watch found. The women are typically locked in a room and sexually assaulted by their “husbands.” Those who escape are often forced to leave their children behind.
At least 78 people were killed and 566 more injured after a pesticide plant exploded on the outskirts of Yancheng city last week. The massive blast generated a tremor equivalent to a magnitude-2.2 earthquake; windows in buildings 4 miles away were blown out by the force of the explosion. A resident of a community 3 miles away said her neighbors were injured by shattered glass. “At the time of the explosion, I was almost deafened and I was terribly frightened,” said the woman. The plant, located in a cluster of chemical factories, had an abysmal safety record: it was cited for 13 types of safety hazards in February 2018, including mishandling of tanks of toxic benzene, the source of the explosion.
Thailand’s first election since a military junta took over in 2014 was denounced by international monitors this week as neither free nor fair, with reports of thousands of “ghost” ballots being cast at polling stations. The country’s election authorities fueled vote-fixing rumors with the surprise announcement that a full result wouldn’t be announced until May 9. So far, the Palang Pracharat party, which backs coup leader turned prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, has the most votes. But Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, said it had forged a coalition with six other parties accounting for 255 seats in the 500-member lower house of parliament. “We want to stop the regime from hanging on to power,” said Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate, Sudarat Keyuraphan.
A Hamas site hit by Israel
Hamas vs. Israel
The Israeli air force struck sites used by Gaza’s Hamas rulers this week after a house north of Tel Aviv was hit by a rocket fired from the Palestinian territory, injuring seven Israelis. The attack came just weeks before Israel’s national election and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who is locked in a tight re-election race—to cut short a visit to Washington to deal with the crisis. Israel said it hit a Hamas military compound, a weapons manufacturing warehouse, and a multistory building used by Hamas military intelligence. “I can tell you, we are prepared to do a lot more,” Netanyahu said. Hamas said seven Palestinians were wounded; the Islamist group responded by firing dozens of rockets into southern Israel. ■