With a growing number of Yellow Vest protesters suffering gruesome injuries during demonstrations, French police have been urged to stop using weapons that can maim. Police have freely fired golf-ball-size rubber bullets during the three months of protests, as well as “dispersal” grenades, which spray smaller rubber pellets. Human rights groups say the weapons have wounded or mutilated at least 350 people—including dozens of journalists—and up to 17 have lost eyes. Other protesters and bystanders have suffered fractured jaws and crushed hands. Video footage of one incident shows an officer firing at the heads of retreating protesters, badly injuring one. Authorities say only four people have suffered serious eye injuries, and note that protesters have hurled glass bottles, metal bars, and cinder blocks at officers.
Find the bodies
Mexico is creating a forensic institute dedicated to identifying the more than 40,000 people who have gone missing during its decades-long drug war. Alejandro Encinas, Mexico’s undersecretary for human rights, said Mexico has become “an enormous unmarked grave” with at least 1,100 unexplored mass-grave sites, many of which are thought to contain hundreds of bodies. Most of the missing are young people who were likely murdered by drug cartels, and about 10 percent are migrants, mainly from Central America. The government will devote some $20 million to the recovery and identification of remains, Encinas said—and actually spend it. In the past, similar sums have been allocated, but little of the money spent.
U.S. anarchist murdered
An American anarchist on the lam from drug charges in the U.S. was shot to death in his Acapulco home this week. The 20-something man went by the name John Galton—an apparent homage to the hero of Ayn Rand’s individualistic novel Atlas Shrugged—and in a 2017 YouTube post said he fled to Mexico with his girlfriend Lily Forester to avoid serving up to 25 years in prison on marijuana-related charges. In another video, Galton described Acapulco—now considered Mexico’s murder capital—as one of the world’s “pockets of freedom.” Last week, gunmen stormed into the couple’s home, shooting Galton dead and injuring his friend Jason Henza. Forester posted a frantic video to Facebook calling for help. Police said marijuana cultivation supplies and lamps were found at the home.
San Salvador, El Salvador
In a shocking upset, anticorruption candidate Nayib Bukele won the presidency of El Salvador this week, ending three decades of control by the country’s two main parties. The 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador, who leads a new center-right party, took a resounding 53 percent of the vote in the election’s first round. Salvadorans hope Bukele can end the rampant gang violence and corruption that have plagued the country since the end of its civil war in the 1990s—a major reason Salvadorans head north to the U.S. Bukele has promised to establish a commission to investigate corruption, modeled on a U.N.-backed effort in Guatemala. “El Salvador has turned the page on the postwar era,” Bukele said in his victory speech. “Now we can start to look toward the future.”
The Swedish crown jewels that were stolen from a cathedral in a brazen heist last year have turned up in a Stockholm suburb. Police said a security guard found the royal artifacts, two crowns and an orb, on top of a closed trash can. Experts are now trying to verify the treasures, made in 1611 to be placed in the tombs of King Karl and his second wife, Kristina, to be sure their jewels haven’t been swapped out for fakes. Thieves grabbed the items from Strangnas cathedral in July and ran to a speedboat waiting on a nearby lake. A 22-year-old man is now on trial for theft, having admitted to stealing the boat used as the getaway vehicle, but authorities are still looking for additional perpetrators.
Guaidó: Rising power
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro looked increasingly isolated on the world stage this week after opposition leader Juan Guaidó was recognized as the country’s rightful interim president by 13 European nations—including Spain, Germany, France, and Britain. The U.S. and most of Latin America recognized Guaidó, head of the country’s National Assembly, in late January when he declared himself president, arguing that Maduro’s re-election had been rigged. And Maduro suffered his first loss of support from the top ranks of the Venezuelan military last week when Gen. Francisco Yanez, a member of the air force command, urged his comrades to defect. Yet the leftist president remains defiant. After President Trump refused to rule out military action in Venezuela, Maduro warned that any U.S. intervention would be “a repeat of Vietnam.”
Jehovah’s Witness crackdown
A Russian court has sentenced a Danish Jehovah’s Witness to six years in a penal colony for “extremism.” His crime? Leading a Bible-reading group. The verdict against Dennis Christensen, 46, is one of the toughest punishments given to a Westerner in Russia in years. The U.S.-based sect, which says it has 170,000 followers in Russia, was officially outlawed there in April 2017, when Moscow declared it an extremist organization. Christensen was arrested the following month. The Orthodox Church, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has cast the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes traditional values. “Six years in jail for peacefully practicing your own religion,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, “is something that comes right out of the history book on Soviet dissent.”
No spying on Iran
The Iraqi government this week bluntly rejected a plan proposed by President Trump that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch” neighboring Iran. Trump told CBS News that the U.S. had spent a “fortune” on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, which he visited in December, and would retain it as an observation base. “We will not allow this,” Iraqi President Barham Salih said. “Iraq does not want to be a party or axis to any conflict between multiple countries.” Iran, a majority-Shiite Muslim country, has been a key ally of Iraq’s Shiites, who took power after Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime was toppled in 2003. Trump’s comment could jeopardize ongoing negotiations with Iraq over the possibility of relocating U.S. troops from Syria to bases in Iraq to continue the fight against ISIS.
No dogs allowed
Tehran has banned dogs from public places as part of the Iranian regime’s fight against Western cultural influences. Residents can no longer walk their pooches in the capital or even transport them in their cars. Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi said dogs “create fear and anxiety” in many people, and he warned that police would take unspecified measures against owners who don’t comply. “How are veterinarians supposed to treat dogs if their owners are not allowed to take them out in public or drive them in their cars?” asked veterinarian Payam Mohebi. Iranian clerics say that dogs are considered unclean in Islam, and in 2010 a powerful ayatollah issued a fatwa against keeping them as pets. Many Iranians have them anyway.
Soccer star’s plight
A refugee soccer star who was detained by Thailand is begging the international community to prevent his extradition to his native Bahrain, where he fears he will be tortured. Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, is a political dissident who fled his authoritarian country in 2014 after being arrested and tortured. He has legal refugee status in Australia, where he plays pro soccer, but was detained in Thailand while on his honeymoon last November after Interpol wrongly issued an international arrest warrant for him—such notices are not supposed to be given for refugees—on a request from Bahrain. The kingdom has sentenced Al-Araibi in absentia to 10 years in prison for vandalizing a building; Al-Araibi says he was playing a televised soccer match at the time of the alleged crime. “This is a politically motivated case,” said former Australia soccer captain Craig Foster.
Four feet of rain
The annual monsoon dumped a biblical amount of water on northern Australia last week, flooding cities and causing dams to overflow. In the coastal city of Townsville, nearly 4 feet of rain fell in less than a week, and thousands of people had to evacuate. “The volume of water is just incredible,” said Townsville resident Chris Brookehouse, who described his flooded home to broadcaster ABC. “Downstairs is gone; the fridge and freezer are floating.” Authorities warned returning residents that the water in their homes would be contaminated with toxins and could harbor snakes and crocodiles. One Mundingburra resident spotted a nearly-7-foot croc in front of her father’s house. The epic downpour has sent mud shearing down hillsides and into houses.
Francis meets the faithful.
Four feet of rain
Pope Francis celebrated Mass in front of more than 135,000 Catholics in the United Arab Emirates this week, making him the first sitting pope ever to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula. Many in the audience were migrants from India, the Philippines, and South America, who work in the UAE’s kitchens and construction sites, and as nannies and cleaners. “The Lord is faithful,” Francis said, “and does not abandon his people.” On his flight home, Francis was asked by reporters about recent revelations on the sexual abuse of nuns by priests around the world—a Vatican magazine said last week that some nuns were forced to have abortions—and alleged coverups by bishops. Francis said the church was addressing the problem, noting that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had dissolved one order of nuns after finding that they were subject to “sexual slavery.”