Famous pedophile on trial
French prosecutors this week asked possible victims of author Gabriel Matzneff to come forward and testify in an investigation into his promotion of pedophilia. Matzneff, 83, won fame in the 1970s and ’80s for his essays in which he described stalking schoolgirls and seducing teenagers. In an appearance on a literary TV show in 1990, he boasted about having sex with 11- and 12-year-old boys in the Philippines. The French seemed to realize only last month that Matzneff was describing crimes, after one of his victims, Vanessa Springora, published a memoir telling how Matzneff groomed her when she was 14 and he was 50. Matzneff is now hiding out on the Italian Riviera. The investigation, he told The New York Times, has made him feel like “a dead man walking.”
Critic destroys artwork
She says it was an accident. Art critic Avelina Lésper was leading a tour group through the Zona Maco art festival in Mexico City last week when she set her soda can down beside a $20,000 glass sculpture she had just panned—and the installation shattered into tiny pieces. “It was like the work heard my comment and felt what I thought of it,” said Lésper. The installation by up-and-coming Mexican artist Gabriel Rico, titled Nimble and Sinister Tricks, featured found objects, including a soccer ball and a stone, suspended in a sheet of glass. The OMR Gallery said Lésper displayed an “enormous lack of professionalism and respect” by coming too close to the artwork and “without a doubt caused the destruction.” It’s unclear whether Lésper will have to pay for the work.
President storms congress
San Salvador, El Salvador
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele led heavily armed soldiers and police into the country’s Legislative Assembly building this week, to demand that lawmakers approve a $109 million loan to buy equipment for security forces. Taking the seat reserved for the head of the congress, Bukele led a prayer for the troops and threatened to dissolve the legislature unless it approved the funds within a week. The sight of troops in the assembly—in a country that suffered a military dictatorship and civil war in the 1980s and early ’90s—drew a rebuke from the nation’s supreme court. Bukele, who was elected as an outsider last year, says his policy of increasing police and troop deployments has substantially lowered El Salvador’s homicide rate, which had been one of the world’s highest.
Is France the enemy?
A leaked Brazilian military document names France as one of the country’s biggest threats, warning that the French might one day invade the Amazon. The Folha de São Paulo newspaper published excerpts this week from the paper, titled Defense Scenarios 2040. One such scenario has France building up troops in neighboring French Guiana to support indigenous Amazon tribes if they declare independence from Brazil. The French Embassy in Brazil tweeted that it “saluted” the military’s “limitless imagination.” Relations with France turned sour last year after French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s late response to wildfires consuming the Amazon.
Merkel protégée quits
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handpicked successor abruptly quit her post as head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union party this week and announced she would not run for chancellor in the 2021 election. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, stepped down after local CDU officials in the eastern state of Thuringia voted with the far-right party Alternative for Germany to install a state premier, defying a CDU ban on working with a party many regard as fascist. It was just the latest example of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s lack of control over her party. Her absence clears the way for candidates who are further to the right to vie for the party leadership. Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, gave up party leadership in December 2018.
Suspected assassin killed
A former member of an elite Brazilian police unit who was accused of assassinating a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman was shot dead while resisting arrest this week. Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega was a key suspect in the 2018 murder of Marielle Franco, a local lawmaker and activist for Afro-Brazilians and LGBTQ rights. Nóbrega is believed to have headed the Office of Crime gang—a criminal militia made up of serving and former police officers—and had been a fugitive since early 2019. He refused to turn himself in to police, telling his lawyer that he would be killed “to make evidence disappear.” Nóbrega was named last month in a criminal investigation into allegations of money laundering and racketeering involving President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio.
Activists accused of terrorism
A Russian military court has convicted seven anti-fascist activists of terrorism and sentenced them to prison terms of six to 18 years, despite compelling evidence that the charges against them were entirely made up. Russian authorities claimed that the men, arrested in 2017, belonged to a group called the Network that was plotting attacks on the 2018 presidential election as well as World Cup matches. Prosecutors said the men, who played airsoft, a sport similar to paintball, used the game as a cover for paramilitary training. But Amnesty International said that the Network terrorist group never existed and that the men were tortured into making bogus confessions. “Any minister in the Russian government is 10 times more of a criminal and a threat to society than these guys,” said opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Al-Bashir to face justice
Sudan’s transitional government has agreed to hand former dictator Omar al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity, torture, rape, and genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir, 76, ruled for three decades and was forced from power last April after mass protests ended in a military coup. The charges against him stem from the brutal 2003 to 2008 crackdown against a rebel insurgency in the mostly black western region of Darfur. Al-Bashir used aerial bombings and sent in the Janjaweed, Arab militias who pillaged, raped, and slaughtered their way through villages and towns. Some 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million others forced from their homes. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir in 2009, its first for a sitting president, but he continued to travel freely around Africa until he was deposed.
Drones vs. coronavirus
Chinese authorities are using drones equipped with loudspeakers to enforce strict health-safety practices amid the growing coronavirus epidemic, barking orders at people who fail to wear face masks in public or who violate quarantines. In a video that went viral online, a police drone shouts, “Hey, handsome guy talking on your mobile, where is your mask?” In another, a drone harangues an elderly woman: “Yes, Auntie, this drone is speaking to you! You’d better go home, and don’t forget to wash your hands.” The state-run Global Times newspaper praised the drone use as “creative” and said the videos have “cheered up Chinese netizens who have not been able to indulge in outdoor entertainment events.”
Virus rips through ship
The number of people infected with the new coronavirus on a cruise ship in the port city of Yokohama more than doubled this week to at least 175—meaning the ship now hosts the highest number of cases outside China. The 3,700 people on board the Diamond Princess are mostly confined to their rooms; those who test positive are evacuated for treatment. Passengers are allowed out a few minutes a day to breathe fresh air on deck, where they must remain masked and stay at least 6 feet away from others. Some experts said that Japan’s decision to quarantine the entire ship put healthy passengers at higher risk of catching the respiratory illness. “This is almost like a shooting gallery for the virus,” said Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It doesn’t make sense and is almost cruel.”
Malala plotter escapes
An Islamist militant linked to the attempted assassination of girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai claimed last week that he has escaped Pakistani custody and is living in Turkey with his family. Ehsanullah Ehsan was spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 when one of the group’s gunmen boarded a bus and shot Yousafzai, then 15, in the head. Ehsan turned himself in three years later. In an audio recording released this week, Ehsan says he struck a deal with Pakistani security forces to live under house arrest in exchange for a big payout but that authorities never delivered the money, so he has now left the country. “In the near future,” Ehsan said, “I will make more revelations about the deal and people involved in it.”
No to married priests
Pope Francis has nixed a proposal to allow married men to become priests and women to become deacons in the Amazon, a region with so few clergy that Catholics there can go years without the opportunity to attend Mass. Last fall, after a three-week summit, Amazonian bishops had recommended those changes, triggering criticism from conservative Catholic groups who warned that such reforms would weaken the priesthood’s celibacy requirement and damage church traditions. In the new paper titled “Beloved Amazon,” Francis didn’t even mention the proposals, instead urging bishops to send missionaries to alleviate the shortage of priests, and to incorporate indigenous traditions into local rites. ■