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- ISIS-allied militants in Libya released a video showing the execution of 21 Coptic Christian hostages taken from Egypt. Egypt quickly and violently retaliated with airstrikes over Libya, which has led to worries that this will destroy the fragile UN-brokered peace in the country. The executions are seen as evidence that the Islamic State’s influence is spreading and hardening far beyond Syria and Iraq.
- Former Thaliand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been indicted on criminal charges relating to a rice subsidy scheme in place while she was in power that critics say was corrupt. In response to Yingluck’s controversial removal from office in May 2014 and the demonstrations that followed, the Thai military imposed martial law which has been in place ever since. Yingluck’s supporters claim that the charges are purely political.
- Swine flu is sweeping through India in its worst outbreak since 2010. Cases have reached 11,000 since the outbreak began in mid-December, following a particularly devastating week.
- A gunman killed two people last week in two places in Copenhagen - one at a talk on free speech and the other outside a synagogue - in an attack reminiscent of those in Paris last month. The gunman, a Danish native with only only loose ties to Islam, was afterwards shot dead by police. The attacks intensified the spotlight on the problem of violent extremism, Europe’s integration of its immigrants and minorities (a challenging one, given Denmark’s reputation for tolerance) and the situation of Europe’s Jewish population. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu called in the attack’s aftermath for that population to leave en masse for Israel, a remark that drew criticism.
- Greece - which seeks more time and money before negotiating bailout terms that would require more austerity - and Germany - who wants to see the austerity up-front - having continued in their standoff with time running out fast. Greece’s current financial bailout expires next Friday, the event of which, without a deal, could mean that the country will run out of cash and be locked out the international lending markets. But talks are underway in Brussels between the two countries’ and the eurozone’s finance ministers, and a deal has been announced for a bailout extension. Markets and Europe in general are hopeful upon the announcement, with political repercussions remaining to be seen.
- Fighting in Ukraine was merely slowed by the cease-fire reached the previous week. Critically, the separatists strengthened their grasp of the town of Debaltseve, encircling thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and leaving President Petro Poroshenko with the difficult decision to retreat. In the violent process of breaking through enemy lines, many of the soldiers - although there is yet no clear account of just how many - lost their lives.
The Middle East
- Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman continues to make bold moves to strengthen his rule. After shaking up his government, he has now announced that he will dole out $32 million to a great deal of his citizenry in various ways, such as pay bonuses for public workers and increased grants to cultural institutions. Needless to say, the Saudi public is reacting ebulliently - and in one case, “making it rain” on one’s infant. Such distribution of the Saudi government’s oil-fueled largesse is practically written into the country’s social contract - government support in exchange for government handouts - but the future of this interchange is in question with gas prices at strikingly low levels. For the time being, however, the Saudi government’s cash reserves are running deep and support running high.
- President Obama held a three-day conference this week with allies from across the world, seeking to strengthen efforts to counter violent extremism. A looming question is whether it should be fought with an iron fist or reduced through more inclusive civil societies. Obama showed strong support for the latter, but has been criticized from the right for taking a soft stance and the left for hailing human rights alongside allied governments that oppress their citizens.
- São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is quickly running out of water. A result of rapid urban growth, drastic deforestation, intense pollution and bureaucratic incompetence, among other factors, the crisis threatens to cut off many from access of what has been deemed a human right by international law. In response, the government seeks to implement a dramatic system of water rationing. While currently most acute in São Paulo, the issue extends elsewhere in the region.
- Protests broke out again in Venezuela, after the mayor of Caracas, one of the country’s leading opposition leaders, was arrested on Friday. He was detained under suspicion of supporting an American-led plot to overthrow the government. Venezuela’s increasingly unpopular president, Nicolás Maduro spoke for three hours in a televised speech explaining the plot and arrest.