U.K. to suspend Parliament
Prime Minister Boris Johnson took the extraordinary step this week of suspending Parliament, just weeks before the U.K. is to leave the European Union. Johnson says he needs the five-week break, which will start about Sept. 11, so he can “bring forward an ambitious new legislative program” to be unveiled with great pomp in a Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14. But lawmakers say his decision is designed to block them from finding a way to avert a no-deal Brexit. The Brexit deadline is Oct. 31, and Johnson has vowed to take the U.K. out of the union on that day even if no deal has been reached with the EU to govern such issues as customs duties, food inspections, and the status of EU citizens in the U.K. A no-deal Brexit is widely seen as inviting economic chaos and recession, and lawmakers had planned to cancel their upcoming three-week recess in order to pass a law forbidding it.
Parliament Speaker John Bercow accused Johnson of “an offense against the democratic process,” while others called his actions “dangerous and irresponsible” and even “what dictators do.” With the maneuver, Johnson risks a no-confidence vote that would bring down the government. If that happens, a caretaker government would try to negotiate an extension of the Brexit deadline with the EU and then call a general election. The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator condemned the move as “sinister” and said it raised the chance of a tumultuous no-deal Brexit.
A court in Mexico has ordered the country’s health authority to allow two unidentified people to possess and use cocaine, but not sell it. Under Mexican law the ruling does not create a precedent or strike down current laws that make possession of cocaine illegal in Mexico, and it could be overruled. But if it is upheld, and if four similar cases can be brought and upheld, then decriminalization would be the law of the land. That legal strategy is how activists decriminalized marijuana in Mexico in 2018, and pot is expected to be officially legalized later this year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to reform the “prohibitionist approach” toward drugs that generates “violence and poor public health outcomes.”
Crusading police chief fired
In his three years as director of the Haiti National Police, Michel-Ange Gédéon busted a top gang, rooted out corruption, and won the praise of human rights activists for resisting the politicization of the police. Many foreign diplomats whose countries fund Haiti’s police had lobbied President Jovenel Moïse to appoint Gédéon to a second term, but this week Moïse said he would choose someone else. Supporters of Moïse have criticized Gédéon for his refusal to crack down hard on protesters. The change in police leadership comes at a precarious time for Haiti, as the U.N. is preparing to end its peacekeeping mission in October after 15 years in the country.
A Chechen exile shot dead in a Berlin park may have been assassinated by a Russian agent on a bicycle. Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, 40, was a commander in the second Chechen war—the one launched by President Vladimir Putin that lasted from 1999 to 2009—and later lived in the former Soviet country of Georgia. Targeted in an assassination attempt there, he moved to Germany to claim political asylum. German police arrested a Russian man, 49, soon after the shooting, saying they had the pistol and the bike they believe he used. Militants who fought in Chechnya have been killed wherever they have sought refuge, including Turkey and Austria.
Chile has declared a state of emergency because of drought stretching across the country, including in the capital, Santiago. Skeletal cattle are collapsing and dying on ranches, while boats have been left abandoned in dried-up marinas. The region has been suffering from drought since 2010, and scientists say it will only get worse. “We are talking about a process of desertification rather than a temporary drought or absence-of-rain problem,” Felipe Machado, director of the country’s resilience institute, told The Santiago Times. The government is developing a plan to provide water to copper mines in order to support Chile’s main export industry.
Eight Iranian scientists studying the endangered Asiatic cheetah across seven Iranian provinces have been charged with espionage. The scientists—there were nine, but one died in custody—had secured all necessary permits to set up camera traps to find the elusive cheetahs, believed to number fewer than 50. But because their group, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, received funding from abroad, they drew the attention of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps and were arrested last year. Four face the death penalty, while the others could get 10 years in prison. The researcher who died, Kavous Seyed-Emami, was the foundation’s chairman. Iran said he committed suicide, but his family believes he was tortured to death.
Murder, accident, suicide?
A prominent South African tycoon accused of bribing top government officials died in a car crash on the way to the airport this week. Gavin Watson, 71, was driving a company car when he hit a bridge support at top speed. Police said there were no skid marks indicating braking. His logistics company, Bosasa, is alleged to have paid millions of dollars to officials of the African National Congress, the ruling party, in exchange for lucrative government contracts, and the case is the subject of a wide-ranging judicial inquiry. Watson was also scheduled to testify later this week in a separate case involving his company’s taxes. The opposition Democratic Alliance called for an investigation “to ensure that other witnesses are not intimidated by this incident.”
Chinese authorities have charged an Australian author and pro-democracy blogger with espionage. Yang Hengjun has been detained in China, mostly in solitary confinement and with no access to lawyers, for seven months. Yang was a Chinese diplomat before getting Australian citizenship in 2002. He became a novelist, publishing under the pen name Wei Shi, and has agitated for democratic reforms in China. In January, while he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in the U.S., he flew to Guangzhou with his family for a visit and was arrested at the airport. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said there was “no basis” for the spying allegations, and she demanded that Yang be released or at the very least have the conditions of his detention improved.
Lam won’t budge
The Hong Kong democracy protests turned increasingly violent this week, with protesters hurling bricks and Molotov cocktails and police responding with water cannons and shooting live ammo into the air. The leaderless protests began in March over a bill to extradite Hong Kong suspects to Communist Party–controlled courts in mainland China, and some 900 people have been arrested. Chief Executive Carrie Lam this week refused to accede to protesters’ demands to formally withdraw the now-shelved extradition bill and open an investigation into police brutality, saying the government would not give in to violence. But her intransigence may increase protesters’ willingness to use force. “Peaceful protests are not effective,” demonstrator Michael Leung told Vice. “A lot of us are willing to die for Hong Kong.”
Indonesia has announced an ambitious project to move its capital from Jakarta, a sprawling coastal city of 10 million with another 20 million in its suburbs, to a sparsely populated site on the island of Borneo. Relocating the government from Java will cost some $34 billion and take about 10 years. Jakarta has been sinking into the Java Sea because of overextraction of groundwater, and sea-level rise from climate change is expected to swamp it further. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that Jakarta is overstressed, as the center of government, finance, and business as well as the site of the country’s largest airport and seaport. The planned new seat of government would be surrounded by Kutai National Park, known for orangutans and rain forests.
Striking at Iran
Israel attacked three countries in two days this week, targeting Iranian proxies across the region. Israeli forces struck a military site in Syria to prevent what officials said was a planned attack by Iranian forces. An Israeli drone attack in Iraq killed two members of an Iranian-aligned militia. In Lebanon, an Israeli drone hit a base used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and another drone hit close to a Hezbollah office on the outskirts of Beirut. The strikes come as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares for an election in mid-September, campaigning on his ability to keep Israelis safe. Multiple times in the past year, Iranian forces have attempted to launch rockets and missiles at Israel from Syria.
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