A ‘die-in’ at the museum
More than 1,000 people have been arrested in the British capital during a week of climate change protests by a group calling itself Extinction Rebellion. The demonstrators, who want the government to declare a climate emergency, brought central London to a near standstill last week, blocking Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, and Parliament Square and causing commuter chaos. Camping out in parks around the city, they continued their disruptions this week with a mass “die-in” at the Natural History Museum. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has inspired protests by young people across Europe, joined the demonstrators. “We are the ones making a difference,” she told a cheering crowd.
Murder rate soars
A horrific massacre at a birthday party has ramped up the pressure on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to rein in Mexico’s skyrocketing murder rate. Gunmen opened fire on a family celebration at a Minatitlán bar last week, killing five women, seven men, and a 1-year-old boy. The target was apparently a bar owner who had missed an extortion payment. The slaughter was yet another sign that violence is spiraling out of control in the country. A total of 8,493 people were killed in Mexico in first three months of the year, up nearly 10 percent over the same period in 2018. López Obrador angered many by initially seeming to downplay the birthday-party massacre, saying his critics were hypocrites for attacking him while being “quiet as mummies” about violence during previous administrations.
Ecuador’s former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has skipped the country after a judge ordered his arrest on “instigation” charges. In an online video message filmed at an undisclosed location, Patiño said he was being persecuted for daring to call for demonstrations against centrist President Lenín Moreno. The ex–foreign minister is an ally of former leftist President Rafael Correa, who in 2012 granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Patiño has accused Moreno of being a “CIA asset” for revoking Assange’s asylum and handing him to British police. Moreno said Assange “repeatedly violated” the terms of his stay by hacking private accounts and by secretly spreading allegations of corruption against the president and his family.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has pledged that his government will soon introduce legislation to make it easier for people to carry guns in public, and to give legal cover to those who kill in self-defense. The far-right president had campaigned on repealing the country’s strict gun laws, and he is pushing forward despite rampant gun crime and a rare school shooting in March, in which seven people were killed. Bolsonaro said that the new gun law would “treat collectors, shooters, and hunters with the due respect they deserve.” If a home or farm is broken into, he added, “the owner can defend himself by firing, and if the other side resolves to die, it’s his problem.”
New IRA murder
Political leaders from all communities in Northern Ireland expressed revulsion and outrage after a 29-year-old reporter was shot dead by an Irish nationalist while covering a riot in the city of Londonderry last week. Lyra McKee was standing near a police van when a masked gunman opened fire on security forces, hitting her in the head. The New Irish Republican Army, a relatively new terrorist group, apologized for the murder, saying it had accidentally shot McKee “in the course of attacking the enemy.” Police said the riot erupted when they began searching a Catholic neighborhood for guns and explosives they thought could be used in attacks on the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a rebellion against British rule.
Anti-Semitic rite condemned
Polish authorities are investigating a Good Friday ceremony in a Polish town that saw children beat and then burn a large, straw-filled effigy that was supposed to resemble Judas but was dressed to look like a Hasidic Jew. Footage of the event showed a bystander shouting that the blows against the doll—which had side curls, a Hasidic hat, and a hooked nose—were for Jewish attempts to get compensation for property lost during the Holocaust and now in Polish hands. Prosecutor Agnieszka Kaczorowska said her investigation into potential hate speech charges would focus on identifying those involved. Pruchnik Mayor Waclaw Szkola expressed his regret and said he’d work to prevent a repeat of such a ceremony. Mock trials of Judas, once a common part of Poland’s Easter traditions, are now rare.
Trump and Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will name an Israeli settler community in the Golan Heights after President Trump out of gratitude for the U.S.’s recent recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested region. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 in the Six-Day War, but the U.S. did not officially recognize it as part of Israel until Trump’s declaration last month. Syrian authorities said the declaration “makes the U.S. the main enemy of the Arabs.” The high plateau of the Heights is strategically important, as it overlooks much of Israel, but is sparsely populated. It is home to about 20,000 Syrians—most of them Druze Arabs—and some 20,000 Israeli settlers.
Gorillas imitate humans
Virunga National Park, Congo
A park ranger’s selfie with two female gorillas standing up like humans went viral around the world this week, helping to raise awareness of gorilla poaching. The image was taken at a gorilla orphanage in Congo’s Virunga National Park, where the great apes were raised after poachers killed their parents. Innocent Mburanumwe, the park’s deputy director, said he and the other staff have looked after the two gorillas since their mothers were killed in 2007. The gorillas, he said, think of the rangers as their parents and try to behave like them, including by walking erect. There are only about 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world.
Kim meets Putin
Welcome to Russia
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a rare trip abroad this week for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The outreach to Russia comes amid an impasse in the nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. North Korean foreign ministry official Kwon Jong Gun last week blamed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of talks between Kim and President Trump in Hanoi in February. Kwon said Pompeo has been “letting loose reckless remarks and sophism of all kinds against us every day,” and said a future dialogue partner should be someone more “careful and mature.” Officials also said Kim had recently overseen the test launch of a new “tactical guided weapon,” thought by analysts to be a short-range cruise missile.
Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 people convicted of terrorism-related offenses this week, 34 of them minority Shiites, in the largest mass execution of Shiites in the majority-Sunni kingdom’s history. Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed, who runs the Gulf Institute in Washington, said the killings were intended to send a message to Shiite Iran. “This is political,” he said. “They didn’t have to execute these people.” At least three of those executed were minors at the time of their offenses and confessed under torture, the international human rights group Reprieve said. The body and severed head of one of the executed, a Sunni extremist, were publicly displayed on a pole as a warning to others.
Cleaning up Agent Orange
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The U.S. has launched a $183 million cleanup operation at an air base in Vietnam where it once stored the defoliant Agent Orange. U.S. forces sprayed more than 11 million gallons of the chemical during the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1971, to deprive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces of jungle tree cover. Dioxin-based Agent Orange lingers in the environment and has been linked to cancers and mental and physical disabilities in children. Vietnam says several million people have been affected by the chemical, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects such as missing limbs, spina bifida, and hydrocephaly. The 10-year project to clean up Bien Hoa Airport is the second major U.S. decontamination project; Da Nang Air Base was finished last year.
Women leading protests
Sudanese activists continued their nationwide protests this week to press the military to hand over power to a civilian authority after the overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month. Women activists, who have been in the forefront of the protest movement since it began last December, said they want gender parity in a new civilian transitional authority as well as in a future parliament. “We have suffered a lot. More than men in many cases,” activist Marsiliya Yakub told AlJazeera.com. “Women should be at the center of any government.” Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes against the population of Darfur, where government forces and government-allied militias used mass rape as a weapon. ■