A dike breach sent waist-high water surging into a Montreal suburb this week, causing some 5,000 residents to flee with their children and pets. Sirens blaring, police, firefighters, and soldiers drove through the streets of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, banging on doors to tell homeowners to leave immediately. Other floods forced some 4,000 people elsewhere in Quebec to evacuate, and parts of Ontario and New Brunswick were also inundated. Much of the flooding was caused by an abnormally high amount of snowmelt swelling the Ottawa River, together with heavy rains. The government says the floods are linked to climate change.
Stopping the caravans
Mexican authorities have begun cracking down on the caravans of Central Americans journeying through the country toward the U.S. border. Mexican immigration agents and police detained en masse a migrant group of 371 people last week, the largest single raid on a caravan since migrants last year began making the trek north in large groups for safety. “They waited until we were resting and fell upon us, grabbing children and women,” said Arturo Hernández, 59, who fled into the nearby woods with his grandson. The roundup signals a reversal of Mexico’s previous tolerance of the caravans. Meanwhile, more than 1,300 mostly Cuban migrants escaped an immigration detention center in southern Mexico last week, and 600 of them are still at large. The migrants said the center, which held twice as many detainees as it was built for, was far too crowded and lacked sufficient bathrooms.
MS-13 picks off police
San Salvador, El Salvador
After the car bomb
The MS-13 street gang killed two off-duty Salvadoran police officers and three off-duty soldiers this week, in retaliation for a recent police crackdown. Gang members also put a fake body in a car on the outskirts of San Salvador and then detonated explosives in the vehicle when police arrived to investigate, wounding two officers. The wave of attacks comes just weeks after police arrested 117 gang members from 11 separate MS-13 cells for a range of crimes, including murder and extortion. Ricardo Sosa, an expert on the gang, said the attacks may be an attempt to intimidate the incoming president, Nayib Bukele, who takes office June 1. “They are sending a message,” he said, “saying that they control certain parts of the country.”
Rioters burn city center
Burning tires in Tegucigalpa
A demonstration against government reforms turned violent this week when a small group of masked activists hurling Molotov cocktails set the Honduran capital’s historic center on fire. Hundreds of people were evacuated as at least four buildings burned, including Tegucigalpa’s city hall. Riot police fired tear gas and charged at protesters with batons, injuring dozens. The demonstrators—most of whom were peaceful—want to stop the government’s plan to restructure the education and health ministries, because they fear that teachers and doctors will be laid off. The government denies that the changes will lead to privatization or layoffs.
Prison for Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced to nearly a year in prison this week for jumping bail. Assange, an Australian citizen, broke his bail in 2012 when he fled to the Ecuadoran Embassy in London after Sweden requested his extradition in a rape case. Assange said he feared Sweden would extradite him to the U.S. for his role in leaking classified government cables. In a letter to the court, Assange apologized, saying he’d been terrified of rendition. But in sentencing him to 50 weeks, Judge Deborah Taylor said he had exploited his privileged position and flaunted his “disdain for the law of this country.” Assange now faces a hearing on extradition to the U.S., on charges of helping Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal secret U.S. government documents.
Russia’s Arctic agent?
Norwegian fishermen found a tame beluga whale last week that may have been trained by the Russian navy to be used in special operations. The whale, which approaches people to be petted and knows how to fetch, was wearing a harness that read “Equipment of St. Petersburg” in English and had a mount for a camera, although no camera was attached. “A Russian researcher I have spoken to says she knows that the Russian defense has such whales in captivity for military training,” marine biologist Audun Rikardsen told the Norwegian daily Aftenposten. In the mid-1990s, a tame beluga—a species native to the Arctic—was found swimming in the Black Sea, where Russia has a naval base. Its teeth had been filed down, possibly so it could hold a magnetic mine in its mouth.
Hitting back at Putin
Zelenskiy: Passport offer
Ukraine’s President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy won’t take office until next month, but the comedian turned national leader is already getting tough with Russia. In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent attempt to destabilize Ukraine by granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians in the breakaway, Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Zelenskiy made an offer of his own. He pledged to give citizenship to people from “all nations that suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes, but first and foremost to the Russian people, who suffer most of all.” In a Facebook post written in both Ukrainian and his native Russian, Zelenskiy said: “We know perfectly well what a Russian passport actually provides. This is the right to be arrested for peaceful protest. It is the right not to have free and competitive elections.”
ISIS leader alive
Somewhere in Iraq or Syria
Al-Baghdadi: Call for jihad
The leader of ISIS appeared in a video this week for the first time in five years, evidently in good health despite numerous reports in recent years that he’d been badly wounded in combat or by an airstrike. Sitting against a cushion with an AK-47 at his side, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi acknowledges defeat at Baghuz—his jihadist group’s last stronghold in the Middle East—and accepts pledges of allegiance from militants in Burkina Faso and Mali. In an audio-only recording at the end of the video, al-Baghdadi praises the terrorists who recently bombed Sri Lankan churches and hotels, and exhorts his followers to continue killing non-Muslims, saying, “The jihad will continue until Judgment Day.” Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts are a mystery, with some experts speculating he is in Iraq’s western Anbar province or Syria’s eastern Homs province.
Warmbier in detention
The Trump administration has admitted that one of its officials signed a document pledging to pay North Korea a $2 million hospital bill to release comatose American student Otto Warmbier, though it says no money was actually handed over. Warmbier fell into a coma in 2016 while serving a 15-year sentence for stealing a propaganda poster during a tourist trip to Pyongyang. His family believes he was tortured in detention. The 22-year-old died in 2017, just days after being flown home to Ohio. The State Department’s former special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, said this week that he signed the payment pledge with the backing of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Yun said it was his “understanding” that President Trump also approved the decision.
Japan entered a new imperial era this week when Emperor Akihito abdicated for health reasons and his son, Naruhito, ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne. In a brief ceremony, Naruhito, 59, was presented with a sword and a jewel, which along with an eight-sided mirror are Japan’s “Three Sacred Treasures.” The Naruhito era will be known as Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony.” Japanese workers got an unprecedented 10 days off to mark the occasion. Naruhito is the 126th emperor of Japan, part of an unbroken line that stretches back 14 centuries. But the royal family now faces a threat to its survival. Women are not allowed to ascend the throne and only three male members are left in the line of succession: Naruhito’s 83-year-old uncle, his 53-year-old brother, and his 12-year-old nephew.
Suicide over botched grades
At least 20 Indian students have killed themselves after wrongly receiving failing grades on high-school final exams. Nearly 1 million students in the southern state of Telangana took the tests between February and March, and some 325,000 were failed, causing widespread protests by parents and students. Officials had outsourced the grading to a private firm, which apparently used faulty software. Some students who took the test were marked absent, while others were given a zero for subjects they completed. One 17-year-old girl set herself on fire after getting her results. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao ordered free regrading of answer sheets for all the failed students, and he appealed to them not to commit suicide.
More attacks feared
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Despite a massive crackdown and scores of arrests, Sri Lankan officials say they have not destroyed the entire terrorist cell suspected of carrying out the Easter suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people. Radical preacher Zahran Hashim, believed to have been the attacks’ mastermind, blew himself up at a Colombo hotel, and when police approached his family home, explosions and a shoot-out left 15 people dead, including Hashim’s father and two brothers. Many Sri Lankans fault the government for failing to act on tips. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said it had repeatedly warned the intelligence agencies about Hashim, and Catholic Church leaders said Sri Lankans would take the law into their own hands unless the government did more to prevent further atrocities. “All the security forces should be involved and function as if on war footing,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo. ■