Prince Andrew announced this week that he was stepping down from all public duties “for the foreseeable future” after his attempt to explain away his friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein in a BBC interview bombed spectacularly. The prince showed no concern for the young women abused by Epstein, a financier who stocked his homes with girls who provided sexual services. Andrew conceded it was a mistake to stay at Epstein’s Manhattan home in 2010, after Epstein had served 13 months in prison for procuring an underage girl for prostitution. He said he visited to end the friendship in person, because of “my tendency to be too honorable,” and slept there merely because “it was convenient.” The prince, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, said he had no idea Epstein was a sex trafficker, adding that he wouldn’t have noticed the presence of many young women because he was used to life in palaces, where servants are always coming and going.
The prince denied sleeping with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, an American woman who says Epstein forced her to have sex with Andrew twice in 2001 when she was 17, and Andrew insinuated that a photo showing him with his arm around Giuffre’s waist might be faked. Andrew said he was having pizza with his daughter the day Giuffre says they had sex in London, and he said her claims that he was sweaty show that she has the wrong man, because he had a medical condition that prevented perspiration. Companies affiliated with Andrew’s entrepreneurship projects immediately began cutting ties with the prince.
Áñez asserts herself
La Paz, Bolivia
Tens of thousands of Bolivians marched this week to protest the new government led by self-declared President Jeanine Áñez. The former senator, a conservative, took office last week after President Evo Morales fled to Mexico following protests over a disputed election and the resignation of top officials from his socialist party. Áñez had said she would be a caretaker leader while new elections were arranged. But in her first week she swore in a cabinet that included no indigenous members—three-quarters of Bolivians are indigenous—cut Bolivia’s ties with Venezuela, and kicked out Cuban doctors. When Morales supporters blocked fuel plants and roads, Áñez issued a decree exempting the military from criminal prosecution for actions taken to maintain public order. The next day, security forces shot dead nine indigenous protesters.
Killing the Amazon
Deforestation in the Amazon rain forest has soared 30 percent under the watch of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, according to a new Brazilian government report. Satellite data show that from August 2018 to July 2019, the forest lost 3,769 square miles of tree cover—an area about 12 times the size of New York City. Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has cut funding and personnel at government agencies responsible for enforcing environmental regulations, and has rolled back efforts to fight illegal logging and mining. “We are approaching a potential tipping point,” said Oyvind Eggen of the Rainforest Foundation Norway, “where large parts of the forest will be so damaged that it collapses.”
Assange case dropped
Swedish prosecutors have abandoned an investigation into a 2010 rape accusation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying too much time has passed for evidence to be gathered reliably. Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said the accuser’s statement was “credible and reliable” but that “the evidential situation has been weakened.” Assange, who denies the accusation, avoided extradition to Sweden by taking refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012. Evicted in April, he’s now in prison in London for breaching bail and is fighting U.S. attempts to extradite him on charges including conspiring to hack government computer networks.
In a win for anti-inequality protesters, Chile’s main political parties have agreed to hold an April referendum on replacing the country’s junta-era constitution. President Sebastián Piñera hopes that the plebiscite—in which voters will be asked if they want a new constitution, and how it should be drafted—will end more than a month of often violent demonstrations that have left at least 22 people dead. Former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet privatized large parts of Chile’s pension, health care, and education systems, and the constitution he imposed in 1980 means any changes to laws in those areas have to be passed by a supermajority. Pinochet left office in 1990, but attempts by succeeding center-left governments to pass reforms have been easily frustrated by a conservative minority.
Iranian security forces have killed more than 100 demonstrators in a ruthless attempt to crush widespread protests against a steep hike in fuel prices, Amnesty International said this week. The uprising began after officials announced that the price of state-subsidized gas would jump 50 percent, to about 52 cents a gallon, stressing the wallets of Iranians, who are already suffering under U.S. sanctions. Drivers abandoned their vehicles on highways, and protesters set up barricades of burning tires, and torched dozens of government buildings, including religious schools, municipal offices, and state-run banks. Kayhan, a newspaper linked to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the “thugs” rioting in the street should be executed by hanging. Authorities shut off internet access in an attempt to prevent protesters from sharing video of the crackdown.
Israel appeared headed for its third election in less than a year after would-be kingmaker Avigdor Liberman this week refused to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or opposition leader Benny Gantz in their attempts to form a new government. Liberman, head of the small nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, announced his decision just hours before time ran out for Gantz to assemble a coalition. Netanyahu had been given first chance at forming a government after inconclusive elections in September, but failed. Liberman said he would not join a government with Gantz’s Blue and White party, because it might partner with Israeli Arab parties, or one with Netanyahu’s Likud, because of the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies. All members of the Knesset will now be given a shot at forging a government. If no coalition has been formed by early December, as is likely, Israel will vote again.
Lashing out at Trump
North Korea has rebuffed President Trump’s offer of a fourth meeting with dictator Kim Jong Un, saying that as Pyongyang got nothing from the earlier summits, “we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can brag about.” The put-down came just hours after Trump responded to a North Korean state news commentary that called Joe Biden, the former vice president and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, a “rabid dog” who should be “beaten to death with a stick.” Trump tweeted that Biden was “somewhat better than that,” but that only he, Trump, could “get the deal done. See you soon!” North Korea wants the U.S. to lift sanctions incrementally in exchange for gradual denuclearization, while the U.S. wants a grand bargain.
The U.S. has broken off talks with South Korea over how to share the costs of stationing U.S. troops there, after Seoul balked at President Trump’s demand that it pay $5 billion a year. That’s five times the amount South Korea currently contributes to keep 28,500 American military personnel in the country. South Korea says it already gives the U.S. land for bases rent-free and buys large amounts of U.S. military equipment. The current cost-sharing agreement expires at the end of this year. A group of 47 South Korean lawmakers said in a statement that the U.S. didn’t seem to realize that the troops don’t just protect the South against North Korea. “U.S. forces are here also for their own interests,” they said, “as an outpost aimed at keeping China and Russia in check.”
City in chaos
Riot police laid siege to a Hong Kong university campus where pro-democracy protesters were holed up this week, arresting more than 1,100 people as months of violent clashes appeared to be reaching a brutal crescendo. Student protesters had turned Hong Kong Polytechnic University into a fortified base, barricading themselves inside the complex with bows and arrows and homemade Molotov cocktails and catapults. But it was a doomed effort against far greater numbers and firepower. In one day alone, police blasted the campus with 1,458 rounds of tear gas, 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 beanbag rounds and 265 sponge grenades. Hundreds of young protesters were injured, and some tried to escape the mayhem with homemade rope ladders, dropping from a bridge connected to the campus to supporters with escape motorcycles on the road below.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to require an annual review of Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S. and to allow sanctions to be imposed on anyone who abuses human rights in the semi-autonomous city. Beijing said the law “blatantly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s other internal affairs.” Meanwhile, the U.K. demanded an explanation after a former employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong claimed that he was tortured by Chinese secret police during a visit to mainland China in August. Simon Cheng, 29, said police demanded that he confess to inciting the protests on behalf of the British government. Over two weeks of interrogations, he was shackled, beaten, and hung spread-eagled for hours at a time. Cheng said his experience showed that protesters’ fear of Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s independent judicial system “was not ungrounded.”
AP, screenshot, AP, Reuters, Getty, Reuters ■