A Halloween Brexit?
The European Union last week extended the U.K.’s deadline to leave the EU from March 29 until Oct. 31, buying Prime Minister Theresa May more time to get some kind of exit deal through Parliament. Whether she will be able to do that is far from clear. The divorce agreement May negotiated with the EU has been blocked by members of her Conservative Party, and she is now negotiating with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who favors a Brexit that would keep the U.K. in a full customs union with the EU and maintain current protections for workers’ rights. Corbyn said those talks had already stalled because the government was under pressure from hard-line Conservative Brexiteers who want “to turn this country into a deregulated, low-tax society which will do a deal with [President] Trump. I don’t want to do that.”
Tough on Cuba
The Trump administration announced this week that it is tightening restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reversing the engagement policies of the Obama era. U.S. residents will now only be allowed to travel to Cuba for family visits. That could spell the end of U.S.-to-Cuba cruises, which began under President Obama. The new limits on remittances will be “generous,” a senior administration official told the Miami Herald, “because we don’t want to hurt the families.” The Trump administration also said it would let lawsuits be filed against foreign firms that use Cuban properties seized from U.S. citizens—including naturalized Cubans—following the island’s 1959 revolution. Canada and the EU threatened to sue the U.S. at the World Trade Organization if it interferes in their business ties with Cuba.
Storming the border
Some 350 people broke through a locked gate at the Mexican-Guatemalan border this week and crossed into Mexico to join a caravan of 2,000 migrants headed for the U.S. Mexican authorities said the migrants were “aggressive” and accused them of attacking the police. A group of several hundred Central American, Cuban, and African migrants have been waiting for weeks at immigration offices in Tapachula, where they say immigration officials have been slow to process documents that would allow them to head north. The World Bank says climate change is fueling the exodus from Central America, where farmers are losing cropland to unusually extreme droughts and floods.
García: Accused of corruption
Former Peruvian President Alan García fatally shot himself in the head this week just moments before he was about to be arrested for alleged bribery and money laundering. When police arrived at his home at 6:30 a.m. to execute the warrant, García asked them to call his attorney and went to his bedroom, officials said. After hearing the gunshot, officers broke down the door and rushed the 69-year-old to a Lima hospital, where he died. García, who served as president from 1985 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2011, was accused of taking kickbacks from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in a contract to upgrade Lima’s transit system, part of a vast corruption scandal that has implicated politicians and business leaders across South America. The day before his suicide, he tweeted that there was “no shred of evidence” against him.
A far-right provocateur who has been trying to stir unrest among Danish Muslims sparked a riot this week when he threw a copy of the Quran to the ground in a multicultural Copenhagen neighborhood. Lawyer Rasmus Paludan has spent the past few months staging offensive protests against immigrants across Denmark, saying he is exercising his free-speech rights. Police have spent $900,000 protecting the events. After Paludan dropped the Quran in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district, counterprotesters began throwing rocks, setting trash cans on fire, and clashing with police. Some two dozen people were arrested. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said Paludan’s provocations should be met “with arguments, not with violence.”
U.S. won’t be investigated
The Hague, Netherlands
The International Criminal Court last week dropped plans to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, citing a lack of cooperation from the U.S. and other parties. That probe would have looked at civilian killings, torture, and other abuses in the 18-year Afghan War, including by U.S. soldiers and intelligence officers, the Taliban, and Afghan government forces. President Trump hailed the decision as “a major international victory.” His administration has vowed to deny U.S. visas to any ICC staff who investigate or rule on war crimes cases involving Americans, and recently revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Afghan human rights campaigner Hadi Marifat decried the ICC for abandoning the probe, saying, “The court was a last hope for all of us in a country which is completely lacking justice.”
Priest banished for wife’s sin
A Russian Orthodox priest has been removed from his parish and sent to minister to a remote village because his wife won a beauty contest. Oksana Zotova performed a Brazilian dance in a skimpy costume at the Miss Sensuality pageant during Lent, and when Father Sergei Zotov’s superiors saw the photos of his beautician wife on social media, they were not amused. “It is a great sin when the wife of a priest exposes herself for show,” said Archpriest Feodor Saprykin. “What kind of a priest is he if he cannot control his own family? How does he intend to control his congregation?” Zotov will serve the rural congregation in Fershampenuaz, 45 miles from his home city of Magnitogorsk, until church authorities decide his atonement is complete.
Sickened by the disease
Measles cases in Africa are up 700 percent so far this year, compared with the same period in 2018, the United Nations reported this week. The worst outbreak is in Madagascar, where tens of thousands of people have been sickened and 800 have died since September. Measles cases have quadrupled globally in the past year, largely because of difficulties obtaining vaccines in poor countries and unfounded safety concerns in rich ones. Worldwide, there were 112,163 measles cases reported to the World Health Organization in the first three months of this year, compared with 28,124 cases during the same period in 2018. But the WHO says the true number of cases is much larger, because only about 1 in 10 infections is reported. Measles kills about 100,000 people, mostly children, every year.
El-Sissi sticks around
In power until 2030?
Egypt’s Parliament this week overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to remain in power until 2030. The amendments would also give the military greater influence in political life and hand el-Sissi more control over the judiciary. The amendments must go to a national referendum. Since coming to power in a 2013 coup that ended the brief rule of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist, el-Sissi has built a cult of personality and returned Egypt to the authoritarianism of its longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Banners and billboards across Cairo exhort Egyptians to vote for the amendments; there is no free press.
All work and no play
Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma came in for rare state criticism this week after he enthusiastically endorsed a 12-hour workday. The founder of Alibaba said in a blog post that the so-called 996 schedule—working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days a week—that is increasingly the norm at Chinese tech firms allows employees to enjoy “the happiness and rewards of hard work.” But Chinese internet commenters complained that such a schedule prevents workers from having a personal life, and the state-run newspaper People’s Daily agreed. “Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” the paper said, calling 996 culture “unfair and impractical.” China adopted the two-day weekend in 1995.
Widodo and Amin
Indonesian President Joko Widodo looked set to win a second five-year term this week after fending off a challenge by a hard-line Islamist. Widodo’s election rival, Prabowo Subianto, is a onetime son-in-law of Indonesia’s former dictator Suharto, and a much-feared ex–special forces commander with strong backing from Islamists. To counter Prabowo’s appeal to pious Muslims, the president, who goes by “Jokowi,” named a conservative cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate and made a pilgrimage to Mecca days before the vote. He also touted his infrastructure achievements, including new roads, ports, and airports. Indonesia’s presidential election is the largest single-day election in the world, with 190 million eligible voters.
Ivanka touts aid
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
A Trump tries weaving.
President Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump traveled to Ethiopia and Ivory Coast this week to promote a $50 million U.S. initiative to boost women’s employment in developing countries. In Addis Ababa, Trump signed a joint statement with the African Union Commission on fighting child marriage, human trafficking, and sexual abuse and attended a summit on African women’s economic empowerment. “Investing in women is a smart development policy,” she said, “and it’s smart business.” Ethiopia has made great strides in women’s inclusion. Half the ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who took office last year—are women, and in October the legislature elected Sahle-Work Zewde to be the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial post of president. ■