Far right aims at EU
Far-right parties across Europe are banding together in a bloc to contest the European Parliament elections in May, with the aim of becoming the biggest faction in the multinational legislature. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the anti-immigrant League party, told a news conference in Milan this week that the goal of the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (ENF) would be the promotion of nationalism and the hampering of closer European Union integration. “For many Europeans, the EU is a nightmare,” Salvini said. “We hope to change that.” The far-right Alternative for Germany, France’s National Rally, Austria’s Freedom Party, and populist parties from Finland and Denmark have already joined the ENF, and others are expected to do so.
MLB deal nixed
The Trump administration has killed a four-month-old deal between Major League Baseball and its Cuban equivalent that would let Cuban athletes play in the U.S. without having to defect. At the moment, Cuban players hoping to play in the MLB have to pay criminal gangs to smuggle them to the U.S., and then end up giving a big chunk of their signing bonuses to those traffickers. Under the now-canceled agreement, first negotiated by the Obama administration, an MLB team would pay a release fee to the Cuban Baseball Federation to sign a Cuban player. The Trump administration said the deal was unacceptable because it enriched Cuba’s communist regime.
Ex-presidents get security
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been forced to rethink his decision to scrap security for his political predecessors. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to cut official perks, AMLO dismantled the Mexican equivalent of the Secret Service after taking office in December. Former Presidents Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox suddenly lost the millions of dollars they were allocated annually to pay for up to 80 security personnel each. But this week, Fox complained on Twitter that armed thugs had tried to break into his house, and said he would hold the president “directly responsible” for the safety of his family. AMLO now says he will allot each ex-president $265,000 a year to cover eight guards apiece. Calderón and Fox launched wars against drug cartels and are considered prime targets for vengeance or kidnapping.
Iran to Venezuela
In a sign of growing ties between Iran and Venezuela—two countries under heavy U.S. sanctions—an Iranian airline opened a direct route from Tehran to Caracas this week. An Iranian delegation aboard the first Mahan Air flight to touch down in the Venezuelan capital met with officials from the regime of President Nicolás Maduro. Ostensibly a private airline, Mahan was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2011 because of its links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. France and Germany banned the airline’s planes early this year, accusing Mahan of transporting troops and matériel to Syria and other war zones. Russia, China, Cuba, and Turkey also continue to back Maduro over opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is supported by the U.S. and most of Europe and Latin America.
The Netherlands is famous for its permissive attitude toward prostitution—and for Amsterdam’s red-light district—but that may change. A youth movement has collected 42,000 signatures on a petition to force the national legislature to debate whether to penalize men who seek the services of sex workers, as is done in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. In the Netherlands, it’s legal for “consenting adults” to buy and sell sex. The anti-prostitution Exxpose movement, which includes Christians and feminists, says that the Nordic model cuts down on human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable girls. But one sex worker, who goes by the name of Foxxy, told the BBC, “If this happens, sex workers will work illegally. Then we’re more likely to be victims of violence.” The legislature will hear the issue in coming weeks.
American warlord attacks
Libya’s most powerful warlord and his self-styled Libyan National Army have launched an all-out attack on the capital, Tripoli, home to the country’s fragile United Nations–backed government. Khalifa Haftar, 75, rose to become a colonel in the army of Muammar al-Qaddafi, but fell out with the dictator in the 1980s and exiled himself to the U.S., becoming an American citizen. He returned to Libya to take part in the NATO-backed uprisings that toppled Qaddafi in 2011, and now his forces control most of the country. His offensive, which has killed dozens so far, is seen as a bid to grab more power and territory before a U.N. peace conference next week that aims to end the infighting between the war-torn nation’s many militias. Haftar is backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
Iran reacted angrily this week after the Trump administration declared the regime’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. It’s the first time the U.S. has hit part of another country’s military with that designation, which will allow Washington to apply sweeping economic and travel sanctions to the IRGC and affiliated organizations. In a fiery rebuttal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the U.S. the “leader of world terrorism” and declared U.S. Central Command a state sponsor of terror. The IRGC, which covertly controls many Iranian businesses, has long been known to support terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and is active in Syria and Yemen. The U.S. previously chose not to label it a terrorist organization out of fear Tehran might retaliate against American troops and intelligence officers.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
An American tourist and her tour guide were rescued by Ugandan security forces this week, five days after being abducted at gunpoint in Queen Elizabeth National Park. California resident Kimberly Sue Endicott and Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo were on an evening safari drive with an elderly Canadian couple when they were ambushed by four gunmen in military uniforms; the men snatched the keys to their vehicle and fled with Endicott and Remezo. The kidnappers used Endicott’s cellphone to contact authorities and demand a $500,000 ransom; it was unclear whether any money was paid. The attackers fled when Ugandan security forces, working with U.S. military intelligence, moved in on their location. Ugandan authorities have arrested eight people and said security has been tightened in all national parks.
Deadly IED blast
At the attack site
Three U.S. Marines were killed this week when their convoy hit a roadside bomb outside the main American air base in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. Fighting between the militant group and the U.S.-backed Afghan government forces has raged in recent weeks even as the Taliban and the Trump administration attempt to negotiate an end to the nearly 18-year war. Seven American troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year; 13 died there last year. Among those killed in the latest attack was Christopher Slutman, 43, a Marine Corps reservist and 15-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.
Chan, Tai, and Chu
In a victory for Beijing, a Hong Kong district court has found nine activists guilty of public nuisance crimes for organizing the massive Umbrella Movement pro-democracy rallies in 2014. The activists—who include sociology professor Chan Kin-man, law professor Benny Tai, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming—opposed an edict that said only Beijing-approved candidates would be allowed to run in elections for the semiautonomous region’s government. Umbrella protests paralyzed Hong Kong’s financial center for 79 days. The nine activists have been released on bail and could be sentenced to seven years in prison each.
Saudi Arabia is within a year of finishing its first nuclear reactor, according to new satellite images, but has yet to sign on to international regulations intended to prevent civilian atomic programs from being used to build nuclear weapons. The kingdom insists the reactor on the outskirts of Riyadh will be used only for “peaceful” research, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year that his country would build a nuclear weapon “as soon as possible” if its archrival, Iran, did the same. Members of the U.S. Congress condemned the Trump administration last month for secretly approving permits for U.S. companies to sell sensitive nuclear technology to the Saudis. Referring to the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi hitmen, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said, “If you cannot trust a regime with a bone saw, you should not trust them with nuclear weapons.”
At least 20 people were killed this week and dozens more wounded in the Sudanese capital after pro-government militias opened fire on protesters who are calling for an end to the three-decade rule of President Omar al-Bashir. As bullets and smoke grenades hit the crowds outside the presidential palace and the military headquarters in Khartoum, regular army troops tried to protect the crowds, even opening up official buildings to allow demonstrators to shelter from snipers. Protests began in December after the government tripled the price of bread, but the movement has since transformed into a general call for a new government. Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 coup, won’t go quietly: He faces genocide charges at the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses in Darfur.