A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?
A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.
What we are ignoring
The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.
Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.
2.5 million: The United Nations estimates that up to 2.5 million people need assistance after a cyclone brought powerful winds and massive flooding to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe this week, sparking fears of a humanitarian crisis in one of the continent's poorest regions.
800: More than 800 different versions of a video showing the New Zealand mosque shooter's terrorist attack have been uploaded to the internet since last Friday, according to a group that tracks such things – illustrating the difficulties facing governments and companies that want to stamp out violent propaganda online.
7: South Africa is facing a seventh-straight day of rolling blackouts as the country's outdated power plants struggle to meet demand. The outages will put further pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa and his ruling African National Congress party ahead of elections later this year.
9: It is now 9 days until the UK is scheduled to exit the European Union. We should know soon whether the EU will agree to an extension, and for how long – but only if the UK can decide what it wants first.
The development of 5G, or 5th generation mobile networks, is such a big deal that it's been compared to the invention of electricity. There's only one problem: China's cornering the market. Ian explains and then digs in deeper with Keyu Jin, China expert at the London School of Economics.
"Ooooooorder!"– Another wrench in the works for Brexit. The UK House of Commons speaker ruled late yesterday that Prime Minister Theresa May can't hold a third "meaningful vote" on her twice-defeated Brexit deal unless significant changes are made to it. Ms. May is traveling to Brussels later this week to see if she can win more time for negotiations, but even if she can, it's not clear she'd be able to get significant enough concessions from the EU to allow for another vote (let alone one that would go her way).And so the once-remote chances of a second referendum are growing by the day…
A President Stuck on a Train – To show he's a man of the people ahead of national elections in May, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa boarded a commuter train to mingle with passengers. But thanks in part to the embattled national railway and the decrepit infrastructure on which it relies, a 30-mile journey scheduled to last 45 minutes took nearly four hours. "It is unacceptable," Ramaphosa warned as his long journey ended. Things will improve or "heads will roll." Train delays are a daily source of public fury in South Africa, where late workers sometimes lose their jobs, and this is a chance for Ramaphosa to build much-needed public credibility—if he can make things better.
WHAT THEY ARE IGNORING
We usually ignore things on your behalf, but this week we spotlight a few important things that others are notably tuning out.
Protesters vs Algerian Government Reshuffle – Protesters in Algeria are evidently unmoved by the government's decision to scrap ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth consecutive term. Last Friday, even after that concession was announced, the country saw the largest protests in memory. While Bouteflika's withdrawal from the election was the initial demand of the protesters, they now worry the government will simply reshuffle an opaque power structure dominated by the military without addressing the big problems of corruption and a lack of economic opportunity. And they are probably right.
Muslim Leaders vs Chinese Abuse of Muslims – The leaders of some of the largest majority-Muslim nations on earth have mostly said nothing about growing evidence that China's government is systematically repressing ethnic-Uighur Muslims in the Western province of Xinjiang. Recently in Beijing, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman said China has the "right" to do what it likes within its borders. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, the world's largest majority Muslim nation, has also avoided criticizing China. Evidently, the need to court Chinese investment and support surpasses their concern for coreligionists. The only major Muslim leader who has spoken out is Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is staking his own claim to regional power and leadership of the broader Muslim world.
23: After Mexico's deadliest year in decades, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is cutting the country's national security budget by 23 percent in 2019, compared to the average levels under his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO is moving funds away from traditional security forces and toward a newly constituted National Guard, which is expected to enlist 60-thousand plus soldiers.
240: French authorities arrested 240 gilets jaunes, or "Yellow Vest," protesters over the weekend. The demonstrations, which are now entering their 19th week, have recently been smaller but much more violent – with participants overturning cars, looting, and setting important Parisian landmarks on fire.
11: Eleven babies died in less than 24 hours in Tunisia last week, where a confluence of poor economic conditions and few opportunities caused half of newly registered doctors to leave the country to work abroad in 2018. Six years on from the only successful Arab Spring revolution, a worsening healthcare system could become a political problem in Tunisia.
140,000: Chinese authorities have shut down more than 140,000 online blogs and deleted more than 500,000 articles for containing what they claim is false information or obscenities since December. Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government isn't shying away from going after the country's most widely-read writers.