Buried by blizzard
St. John’s, Newfoundland
The Canadian military was deployed to help dig out residents of Newfoundland and Labrador this week after a howling blizzard dumped mounds of snow in a matter of hours, burying cars and houses. The storm underwent a process known as bombogenesis, its central air pressure dropping like a bomb and generating furious winds of up to 90 miles an hour. Those winds slammed snowdrifts up against houses and businesses, and residents posted images online of their open front doors blocked by solid walls of snow. On some highways, the drifts were up to 15 feet high. St. John’s and other cities declared a state of emergency. “Newfoundlanders are going to be talking about this for a very, very long time,” said meteorologist Ashley Brauweiler.
A weeks-long series of paralyzing national strikes over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plan has largely petered out, as cash-short employees reluctantly head back to work. But now furious protesters have begun targeting Macron personally. Last week, after journalist and activist Taha Bouhafs tweeted that Macron was attending a play at a Paris theater and asked if he should throw his shoe at the president, protesters besieged the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Police said they had to briefly “secure” Macron and his wife, Brigitte; the couple then watched the play to its end. That same night, La Rotonde, a restaurant Macron frequents, was set on fire by arsonists. Protesters also broke into and trashed the headquarters of the moderate CFDT union, which supports Macron’s pension plan.
Turning back migrants
Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico
There were violent scenes on the Mexican-Guatemalan border this week as Mexican security forces pushed back hundreds of Central Americans trying to enter the country and head north to the U.S. National Guard officers wielding plastic shields blocked the migrants when they tried to cross a bridge over the river that separates Mexico and Guatemala. Migrants then tried to ford the river but were repelled by troops firing tear gas. Mexico once let caravans of migrants freely traverse the country, but changed the policy following threats of sanctions from President Trump. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said migrants should only enter the country legally, because if they go undocumented, “the criminal gangs grab them and assault them.”
Huge prison break
Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay
At least 75 inmates, including members of Brazil’s most notorious cartel, have escaped from a Paraguayan prison on the Brazilian border. Authorities said inmates dug a long tunnel out of the prison but noted that the tunnel may have been a ruse to cover the complicity of prison officials who let the inmates walk out of the main gate. “We are certain that there was a scandalous conspiracy with security guards,” said Justice Minister Cecilia Pérez. The escapees belong to the violent crime syndicate First Capital Command, which has some 30,000 members in Brazil and traffics in weapons and drugs. A day after the Paraguayan jailbreak, another 26 cartel members escaped from a Brazilian prison.
Anger over ISIS wife
Norway’s government was close to collapse this week after the populist Progress Party quit the ruling coalition over its decision to repatriate from Syria a woman with suspected links to ISIS. The unnamed 29-year-old—who left Norway in 2013 and married twice in Syria—was brought back to Norway from a Kurdish-controlled detention camp so that her seriously ill 5-year-old son could receive medical treatment. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen said his members were prepared to welcome the woman’s two children but opposed letting in “people who have voluntarily joined terrorist organizations” and want “to tear down all the values Norway is built on.” The government said the mother was arrested upon arrival in Norway and that the children were in state care. Hundreds of European jihadists and their families remain in Syrian detention camps.
American reporter charged
Brazilian prosecutors have charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes for his alleged role in obtaining damning messages from the cellphones of several Brazilian officials. The messages, published on Greenwald’s website The Intercept Brazil, showed that Sérgio Moro—the judge who presided over the corruption investigation that brought down former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva—was in improper contact with prosecutors. Moro is now justice minister under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Prosecutors claim Greenwald didn’t merely report on the hacked messages but actively assisted in the hack. “I did nothing more than do my job as a journalist—ethically and within the law,” said Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro with his husband, city council member David Miranda, a socialist.
New government, same problems
After three months of deadlock, Lebanon announced the formation of a new government this week—and it has a lot on its plate. The country is deeply in debt, and the massive anti-corruption protests that led Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign last October are still raging. Hassan Diab, a former education minister, will now serve as prime minister; his candidacy was supported by Hezbollah—the Shiite militia and political movement—and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Diab said the new government “represents the aspirations of the demonstrators.” Lebanon’s governance is based on quotas for different religions and has resulted in a patronage system with an entrenched ruling elite. Protesters said those same elites chose the new government, and hours after the cabinet was announced, thousands took to the streets, throwing fireworks at riot police, who hit back with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.
Angolan authorities have seized the domestic assets of Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, saying she and her husband looted the state of more than $1 billion. Documents obtained by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa revealed how Dos Santos acquired stakes in the country’s diamond industry, its biggest cement maker, two of its biggest banks, and state oil giant Sonangol through her father, José Eduardo dos Santos—strongman president of the resource-rich nation from 1979 to 2017. His hand-picked successor, João Lourenço, launched an anti-corruption drive soon after taking office. He fired Dos Santos as chair of Sonangol; hours after her sacking, $38 million was transferred from the oil firm to a shell company in Dubai run by one of her friends. Dos Santos, who lives in the U.K., denies the allegations and says she is the victim of a “witch hunt.”
Virus goes global
A new respiratory illness that has killed at least 17 people in China and sickened hundreds more is spreading rapidly at home and abroad just as China’s busiest travel season gets underway. The disease, which broke out in the city of Wuhan, is a coronavirus, like SARS, and likely came from animals but is now being transmitted from person to person. At least 15 health-care workers have contracted the illness, which can cause pneumonia. China’s Lunar New Year holidays began this week, and some 400 million people are expected to crowd airports and pack into buses and trains to visit relatives; no one is being allowed in or out of Wuhan. Cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. A Washington state resident who fell ill after returning from Wuhan last week has been placed in isolation at a hospital north of Seattle. He is faring well, and authorities are tracing people with whom he might have been in contact.
China has a history of covering up epidemics—notably in 2003, when it underreported deaths from SARS and falsely claimed that the virus was under control. SARS killed nearly 800 people. This time, authorities are promising to be transparent and honest with the World Health Organization. A government agency said anyone who concealed new cases would “be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity.”
Casualties from Iran attack
Al-Asad Air Base, Iraq
After saying that no Americans were harmed in the Iranian ballistic missile attack on a U.S. military base in Iraq in early January, the Pentagon has reversed its position, saying some two dozen personnel are being treated for possible concussions. Eleven service members were transported last week to U.S. medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait—where they can be screened for traumatic brain injuries—and another group followed this week. President Trump said he’d heard that some troops had “headaches,” but “it’s not very serious.” The perceived lack of casualties was believed to have played a role in President Trump’s decision not to further escalate the conflict. The Iranian attack was retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Plague of hail
Australia can’t catch a break from the weather. Even as wildfires continued to blaze across much of the drought-parched country, a series of strong storms blew through the southeast this week, dumping baseball-size hailstones that smashed office windows and car windshields in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne. “It was like Armageddon,” said Canberra resident Hilary Wardhaugh. Powerful winds whipped up giant dust storms in rural parts of New South Wales, darkening the daytime sky. And in some areas, an inch of rain fell in only 30 minutes, causing flash floods. Despite the welcome rain, the fire danger continues. Since September, bushfires have killed at least 30 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and consumed 38,000 square miles of land, an area nearly the size of Virginia. ■