Ukraine cease-fire agreed
Ukraine cease-fire agreed
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine this week, as they met in person for the first time at Paris peace talks. The two also agreed that Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels would pull back from three areas in the Donbass region by next April. The agreement was not a breakthrough, because there have been more than 20 cease-fires over the course of the five-year conflict. Still, the outcome was impressive for the novice politician Zelensky—a former comic actor who took office six months ago—up against Putin, a KGB veteran who has led Russia for 20 years. Some 13,000 combatants and civilians have been killed in the war in the Donbass. “We didn’t find the miracle solution,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the talks, “but we have advanced.”
El Chapo’s ally?
A former top Mexican security official has been arrested in the U.S. on cocaine-trafficking charges. From 2006 to 2012, Genaro García Luna was the frontman of then–President Felipe Calderón’s crackdown on the cartels; more than 200,000 people have died in violence linked to the drug trade and the crackdown. García Luna helped create Mexico’s federal police, a supposedly incorruptible force modeled on the FBI. But U.S. prosecutors say that at least twice he was handed briefcases containing up to $5 million by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. In return, the cartel got safe passage for drugs and information about rivals. The arrest is a win for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has long argued that previous administrations were in the pockets of the cartels.
Young women lead
Finland has a new coalition government made up of up five parties led by women, four of whom are younger than 35. At 34 years old, Sanna Marin is the world’s youngest sitting prime minister. The former transport and communications minister was picked as leader of the Social Democratic party this week, after Prime Minister Antti Rinne, 57, resigned because of criticism over his handling of a postal strike, and she also won a vote of confidence. Asked about her trailblazing coalition, Marin said, “I have not actually ever thought about my age or my gender. I think about the reasons I got into politics.” Women now make up 47 percent of the Finnish Parliament.
Cana Brava, Brazil
Two indigenous leaders were killed and two more wounded in a drive-by shooting on an Amazon reservation this week, not far from where an indigenous “forest guardian” was shot dead last month during a confrontation with illegal loggers. Members of the Guajajara tribe were returning from a meeting with power company officials when they were shot at by assailants in a moving car. Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council said that in the first nine months of 2019, 153 indigenous territories were invaded by illegal loggers and miners—more than double the number in 2018. The council blamed President Jair Bolsonaro’s push to open up the Amazon to commercial interests, and his open hostility to protections for indigenous land.
Myanmar in court
The Hague, Netherlands
Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, appeared at the International Court of Justice in the Hague this week to defend her country’s military against accusations of genocide. Myanmarese troops launched a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against their country’s Rohingya Muslim minority in 2016, allegedly using mass killings, rape, torture, and arson against civilians. The ICJ case was brought by the African nation of Gambia, on behalf of dozens of other Muslim countries. Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize by defying Myanmar’s ruling junta to champion democracy, but has since faced intense criticism over attacks on the Rohingya. She blamed Muslim militants for starting an “internal armed conflict,” and denied that Myanmar’s campaign had a genocidal intent.
Military flight disappears
Punta Arenas, Chile
A Chilean military transport plane with 38 people aboard has disappeared on its way to Antarctica and is presumed to have crashed in the Drake Passage, an icy region where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. The plane, carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, did not send a distress signal, but air traffic controllers lost contact when it was about 450 miles into its 770-mile flight to one of Chile’s bases on Antarctica. It was transporting personnel to perform maintenance work on a floating oil pipeline that supplies the base with fuel. Chile has four permanent and five seasonal scientific bases in Antarctica, and its military often assists in activities there.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned Russia from participating in all global sports events for four years—including the 2020 Summer Olympics and the 2022 World Cup—for repeated violations of its rules. Multiple investigations have shown that Russian officials at all levels colluded to cover up the systematic illegal use of banned substances by Russian athletes, even substituting urine during drug tests at the 2014 Winter Games in the Russian resort of Sochi. Athletes’ groups said the ban did not go nearly far enough. Russian athletes will still be allowed to compete in all events as long as they do not do so under the Russian flag. And Russia will still field a team at the 2020 European soccer championship, because that isn’t classed as a global event. “The perception of this being a stiff punishment, it’s just that: a perception,” said Bruce Baumgartner, president of USA Wrestling. “It’s not the reality.”
After three years in an Iranian prison, American grad student Xiyue Wang was released last week as part of a prisoner exchange. Wang, 38, had been doing research in Iran’s national archives on the 19th-century Qajar dynasty for his Princeton doctoral degree when he was arrested and baselessly accused of espionage. He was traded for Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist held in the U.S. on charges of evading U.S. sanctions, in the first such swap by the Trump administration. Iran frequently arrests Westerners to hold as leverage in negotiations with the U.S. and Europe. At least six Americans are still being held, including Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent arrested in 2007 who is the longest-held hostage in American history.
War of words
North Korea ramped up its hostile rhetoric against the Trump administration this week, as its self-declared end-of-year deadline for significant U.S. concessions neared. Pyongyang announced it had conducted a “very important test” at a missile-engine site and said America would receive an unpleasant “Christmas gift” if Washington did not lift sanctions. It added that complete denuclearization—a key U.S. demand—was “off the table.” In response, President Trump tweeted that dictator Kim Jong Un risked voiding the two leaders’ “special relationship.” A top North Korean official reacted to that message by calling the U.S. president a “heedless and erratic old man.” In an apparent effort to placate Kim, the Trump administration this week blocked a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korean human rights violations, drawing bipartisan criticism in the U.S.
No asylum for Muslims
India has passed a law that gives amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—but not to Muslims, who could be expelled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government says Muslims are excluded because they can find refuge in neighboring Muslim countries like Pakistan, while Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs cannot. Critics say the law is unconstitutional because India was founded as a secular state with equal rights for all religions. Once India implements its National Register of Citizens, another Modi project, millions of Muslims who cannot prove that they or their forebears were living in India before 1971 could be deported.
Some 800,000 demonstrators marched through Hong Kong this week to mark the six-month anniversary of their pro-democracy campaign. Dressed in black and roaring protest anthems—including “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables and “Glory to Hong Kong,” a Cantonese song written by a protester—the crowd stretched for miles. The peaceful demonstration came just two weeks after pro-democracy candidates swept local elections. One of their key demands is an independent investigation into police brutality against protesters. Hong Kong authorities said in September that the police watchdog would investigate with the help of a group of foreign experts, but those experts quit this week, saying the watchdog had no real independence.
White Island, New Zealand
Every burn center in New Zealand was at full capacity this week, after a tour group was trapped in a deadly volcanic eruption on the country’s White Island. A group of 47 people were exploring the popular tourist destination when the volcano blew, blasting a superhot plume of ash, sulfur gas, and steam 12,000 feet in the air. Six people have been confirmed dead, 27 have been hospitalized, and the rest are presumed to have died. The survivors, who include an American couple on their honeymoon, have severe burns, including in their lungs, and doctors have ordered 1,300 square feet of donor skin from abroad for grafts. The government has opened an investigation into why tourists were allowed on the island when in recent weeks volcanologists had raised its “alert level” to “moderate to heightened volcanic unrest.” ■