The New York Times 2024-02-29 22:54:31

Middle East Crisis: Live Updates: As Hungry Gazans Crowd a Convoy, a Crush of Bodies, Israeli Gunshots and a Deadly Toll

Gazan authorities say that more than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Israeli forces opened fire while a crowd was gathered on Thursday near a convoy of trucks carrying desperately needed aid to Gaza City, part of a chaotic scene in which scores of people were killed and injured, according to Gazan health officials and the Israeli military.

The details of what happened were unclear, with officials from both sides offering starkly different accounts. The Gazan health ministry said in a statement that more than 100 people were killed and more than 700 injured in a “massacre.” Israeli military officials said most of the casualties were from a stampede of Gazans as they crushed around the aid trucks and that soldiers had fired only after a crowd separately approached them in a threatening way.

Around 100 people with gunshot wounds were brought to Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City, according to its director, Husam Abu Safiya, and injured people were being brought to other hospitals in the north. Mr. Abu Safiya said that the hospital had also received 12 bodies of people killed by gunfire.

According to an Israeli military official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, some 30 trucks ferrying humanitarian aid traveled from the Kerem Shalom crossing between southern Israel and Gaza along the coastal road into northern Gaza.

As the trucks neared Gaza City early Thursday morning, thousands of people surrounded the trucks in an attempt to take supplies, leading to a crush in which dozens were injured and killed, in some cases run over by aid trucks seeking to extricate themselves, according to the official.

The official said that several hundred meters farther south — at the tail end of the convoy — dozens of civilians who had crowded the trucks there then approached Israeli troops and a tank securing the road.

Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said in a televised briefing that the soldiers opened fire “only in face of danger when the mob moved in a manner which endangered them.”

“We did not fire on those seeking aid, despite the accusations,” he said. “We did not fire on the humanitarian convoy, either from the air or the land. We secured it so it could reach northern Gaza.”

Admiral Hagari did not elaborate on whether any people were killed or injured in the shooting and declined to provide a precise timeline, except that the trucks neared Gaza City around 4:45 a.m.

Neither the Palestinian account nor the Israeli account could be confirmed. A witness at the scene, Yehia Al Masri, a doctor, said that he had seen dozens of dead and injured people with gunshot wounds, as well as bodies in the street of people who appeared to have died in a stampede or to have been hit by aid trucks.

Gazans, especially in the north of the territory, have become increasingly desperate for food. The United Nations and other relief groups are struggling to deliver supplies amid Israel’s nearly five-month military offensive, as law and order breaks down and Israel imposes restrictions on deliveries.

The Israeli military released a drone video, which it also edited, that showed hundreds of people crowding around trucks along Al-Rashid Road in southwestern Gaza City. At one point in the footage, people start running, with some crawling behind walls and appearing to take cover.

After a cut in the video, at least a dozen bodies are visible on the ground; it is not clear whether the people are injured or dead. During the panic, a few people appear to be struck by the aid trucks. Two Israeli military vehicles are also visible at the scene.

It was unclear who was overseeing the convoy on Thursday. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the main U.N. aid group that serves Palestinians, said on social media that neither his agency, UNRWA, nor any other U.N. bodies “were involved in this distribution.”

Palestinian leaders, Arab officials and international aid groups condemned the bloodshed, and a Hamas official warned that the killings could derail talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire.

President Biden said he was still learning details of what happened, but believed the deaths could jeopardize the diplomatic talks. “I know it will,” he told reporters.

Olivia Dalton, a White House spokeswoman, called the deaths “deeply tragic,” and said that “too many civilian lives have been lost as a result of military operations in Gaza.” She added, “We think that this latest event needs to be thoroughly investigated.”

Gaza has been under an almost complete siege since the war began on Oct. 7 with an attack on Israel led by Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that had long controlled Gaza. Aid became absolutely critical for Gaza’s more than two million residents as Israel began a bombardment and then invaded the territory.

The United Nations recently warned that at least a quarter of Gaza’s population is “one step away from famine,” and the Gazan health ministry said on Wednesday that at least six children had died in the territory from dehydration and malnutrition.

The ministry said that the death toll from the convoy site on Thursday was expected to rise as wounded Palestinians arrived at Al-Shifa Hospital, where medical staff were “unable to deal with the volume and type of injuries” amid a lack of medical supplies and staff.

The World Food Program said last week that it had paused food deliveries to isolated northern Gaza because of the challenges of safely delivering aid there. Mr. Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said on Sunday that the agency was last able to deliver aid to northern Gaza over a month ago.

Lawlessness is rampant in many parts of northern and southern Gaza, residents and aid officials say, with no authority emerging to take charge of public order after Israel’s ouster of Hamas forces in those areas. Israeli leaders have said they do not want to administer civilian life in Gaza, although they intend to retain security control there indefinitely.

In recent weeks, large crowds of desperate Gazans have repeatedly rushed aid convoys, stripping them of their contents, occasionally while armed.

The Israeli military has said it is working to ensure that humanitarian convoys can reach the many Gazans who depend on them. Some Gazan policemen are now refusing to protect convoys because they fear they will be targeted by Israeli soldiers, Western officials say.

In late January, a strike hit a crowd of people waiting for aid trucks in Gaza City, killing multiple people and injuring scores of others, Gazan health authorities said.

Haley Willis, Aric Toler and Robin Stein contributed reporting.

A witness said he saw people with gunshot wounds and sacks of flour covered in blood.

A Gazan doctor said he saw dozens of dead and injured with gunshot wounds, including to the head, neck and groin, lying in the street on Thursday after Israeli forces opened fire while a crowd was gathered near aid trucks before dawn in Gaza City.

The doctor, Yehia Al Masri, said that he and his family were staying with relatives when they heard shelling and gunfire nearby at around 4 a.m. When the shooting subsided, he ventured outside to an intersection near the coast and encountered a gruesome and desperate scene, with bodies in the street and sacks of flour soaked in blood.

Some of the dead appeared to have died in a stampede, while others appeared to have been hit by the aid trucks that had fled the scene, Dr. Al Masri said.

Driven by hunger, some people had left wounded relatives and friends on the ground to rush to the aid trucks, he added. Others loaded injured people into cars or on carts and then tried to get some flour before heading to the hospital.

“The soul is exchanged for a flour sack,” Dr. Al Masri said. He added, “We have reached famine and the situation is beyond description.”

Dr. Al Masri, who works at Al-Shifa Hospital, said he had provided rudimentary first aid using ropes, string, pieces of wood and cloth torn from the clothes of the injured people themselves because he had no appropriate medical tools. He said he stayed at the scene for several hours before heading to the emergency department at Al-Shifa, the largest medical facility in Gaza, where he helped as the dead and injured continued to arrive.

Gaza’s health ministry has said Al-Shifa and other hospitals in northern Gaza have effectively ceased functioning, saying on Thursday that generators were no longer running and the facilities could not provide lifesaving care.

Dr. Hani Bseso, who works at Al-Shifa, said in a brief voice message that the situation there was “very difficult today,” adding: “With very few medical staff, many injuries and no operating rooms, the doctors were not even sure where to start.”

Around 100 people with gunshot wounds were brought to Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City, according to its director, Husam Abu Safiya. The hospital had also received 12 bodies, he said. Another witness at the hospital, Hussam Shabat, 22, a journalist, said all the casualties he had seen had bullet wounds, including to the chest, jaw and shoulder.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.

Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and GazaSee where Israel has bulldozed vast areas of Gaza, as its invasion continues to advance south.

Growing lawlessness has kept northern Gaza increasingly cut off from aid.

Since the start of the war, few aid trucks carrying food have reached the Gaza Strip’s devastated north, setting off a widespread hunger crisis.

The crisis came to a head last week after the World Food Program joined UNRWA in halting its aid shipments to the north, citing the overwhelming lawlessness that has taken hold in the area.

Scott Anderson, UNRWA’s deputy director for Gaza, said the chaos in the north has made it impossible for the agency to ensure its aid reaches the proper beneficiaries without causing harm to people in need.

“How in the world can you tell who got that flour? It’s simply not possible,” he said, referring to incidents in which hundreds swarmed trucks in the north. “What we don’t want is that only the people who are younger and stronger get food.”

UNRWA, Mr. Anderson said, was concerned that its aid could end up in the hands of militants or people looking to profit at the expense of their fellow residents.

The last time UNRWA tried to bring trucks to the north was Feb. 5, but one of them came under fire, according to the agency. The most recent delivery to reach the area was Jan. 23. Before that, only 93 trucks entered in January.

As humanitarian groups have warned in recent days that many Palestinians in the north were facing starvation, Israel has permitted airdrops of aid in the area and the entry of some trucks unaffiliated with the United Nations.

Israel’s bombing campaign and ground invasion has devastated the north, but it has also collapsed Hamas’s governing structure, unleashing anarchy. A small number of police officers from the Hamas-run security forces have shown up to work in Gaza City in recent weeks, but they have largely failed to restore law and order, residents said.

Footage posted on social media in recent months showed scores of Palestinians surrounding trucks along the beach in Gaza City, grabbing bags of flour and running with them back toward the residential parts of the city. The trucks usually come from the south, entering the north via the north-south coastal road.

Desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza have turned to raiding the pantries of people who fled and grinding animal feed for flour. While makeshift markets offer some food, prices have risen astronomically. A 25-kilogram bag of flour goes for $560, more than what many people in Gaza brought home as monthly income before the war, according to Mr. Anderson.

He said one solution to the current crisis was for Israel to allow trucks to enter northern Gaza from the border region in the north, instead of making them come from the south on the coastal road.

If trucks were brought into Gaza from a new entry point without tipping off the public, he said, it would be possible to deliver the aid to warehouses and distribute it widely. He added that delivering aid consistently thereafter would encourage the public to stop emptying trucks in the middle of the road.

“If we can get 100 trucks of flour in, that would be enough to flood the market,” he said.

Palestinian leaders condemn the deaths of civilians gathered for food aid.

Palestinian leaders, Arab officials and international aid groups issued condemnations on Thursday after dozens of civilians were killed as Israeli forces opened fire in northern Gaza where people had gathered to collect food aid.

The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, called the deaths a “heinous act” by Israeli forces and demanded that the international community, especially Israel’s chief ally the United States, intervene to stop Israel’s military offensive.

“The killing of this large number of innocent civilian victims who risked their livelihood is considered an integral part of the genocidal war committed by the occupation government against our people,” the Palestinian Authority’s presidency said in a statement.

The circumstances of what happened on Thursday morning remained unclear. Gazan officials said that Israeli tanks had opened fire with machine guns at a crowd of thousands who were waiting for food that has been increasingly scarce amid Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. An Israeli official acknowledged that troops had opened fire, but said most of the people had been killed or injured in a stampede several hundred yards away.

An official with Hamas, the armed group at war with Israel in Gaza, accused Israel of targeting “masses of citizens” who were desperately seeking food “to suppress the hunger of their children,” and warned that the killings could derail talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire.

“We will not allow the path of negotiations, through which we seek to end the human suffering of our people that was created by the occupation, to be a cover for the enemy’s continued crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip,” the official, Izzat Al-Rishq, said in a statement on social media.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Matthew Miller, said that “we are urgently seeking additional information on exactly what took place,” and that the United States would be monitoring an Israeli investigation closely “and pressing for answers.”

“If there’s anything that the aerial footage of today’s incident makes clear, it is just how desperate the situation on the ground is,” Mr. Miller said. “People need more food. They need more water. They need medicine and other humanitarian goods, and they need it now.”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry denounced Israel for “the targeting of defenseless civilians” and urged the international community to “take a firm stance by obligating Israel to respect international humanitarian law.”

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, condemned the deaths and reiterated his call for a cease-fire and unconditional release of hostages, he said in a statement.

“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Mr. Guterres said.

Oxfam, the international charity, said it was “appalled” by the reports. “Israel deliberately targeting civilians after starving them is a gross violation of international humanitarian laws and our humanity,” the group said.

B’tselem, an Israeli human rights advocacy group, said that Palestinians in Gaza were suffering because of “the humanitarian crisis Israel has intentionally created,” and that the large crowd had gathered because of desperation.

“Whether they were shot or trampled to death, intentionally opening fire at civilians is a severe violation of international law and constitutes a war crime,” the group said in a statement. “This is especially grave given a crowd of thousands begging for aid.”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel, Michael Crowley from Washington and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

Biden says the shooting will complicate cease-fire talks.

President Biden said on Thursday that while he was still learning details of the shooting that killed or wounded hundreds in northern Gaza, he thought the deaths could jeopardize efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Asked whether the shooting would complicate negotiations, Mr. Biden said, “I know it will.”

After saying earlier this week that he hoped a cease-fire deal could be reached by next Monday, the president signaled that was unlikely, though he was trying to remain optimistic.

“Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful,” he told reporters before traveling to Brownsville, Texas, to make a rare visit to the country’s southern border.

The death toll in Gaza surpasses 30,000, the local health ministry says.

The death toll in Gaza passed a somber milestone on Thursday as the local health ministry reported that more than 30,000 people had been killed in the war since Oct. 7.

The number of deaths since Israel launched its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza had already surpassed the tolls of any previous Arab conflict with Israel when it rose above 20,000 in December. Many experts say the official toll is very likely an undercount, given the difficulty of accurately tallying deaths amid unrelenting fighting, communications disruptions, a collapsing medical system and people still believed to be under rubble.

Still, the reported figure is staggering — roughly one person killed for every 73 Palestinians in Gaza, whose population is about 2.2 million.

The figures provided by the Gazan health ministry do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Many international observers have said they believe that the ministry’s overall toll is reliable, while the proportion of Hamas-affiliated fighters among those killed remains unclear.

An article published in November in the British medical journal The Lancet said that an analysis of the first weeks of mortality reports from the health ministry “suggested reasonable data quality” and that the deaths were “among Gazan population groups that are likely to be largely civilian.”

Israel has come under growing international pressure to stop its offensive, and even President Biden, its strongest ally, has expressed growing frustration with the rising death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But Israeli leaders have insisted that they will continue fighting in order to eliminate Hamas, the armed group that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which officials say at least 1,200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage, setting off the war.

U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators are working to broker a cease-fire and the release of hostages, but the prospects of that remain murky.

On Wednesday, Hamas’s political leader said in a televised speech that while the group was open to making a deal with Israel, it was also ready to continue fighting. He called on Palestinians to march to the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem in March, raising the prospect of fresh clashes with Israeli security forces around a site holy to both Muslims and Jews.

In addition to bearing the risk of being killed in strikes or fighting, Palestinians are living with the growing specter of famine and disease.

The health ministry has said infants have died from dehydration and malnutrition in recent days. A physician who was in Gaza in late January told CBS’s “60 Minutes” this week that people were dying “in a fully treatable situation” because of the lack of basic medical supplies.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said on Thursday in a social media post marking the 30,000 deaths that most of those killed in Gaza were women and children.

“This horrific violence and suffering must end,” he wrote. “Cease-fire.”

U.S. views on Israel are far more divided than a poll cited by Netanyahu suggests.

Responding to recent comments from President Biden that Israel could “lose support from around the world” if it continued on its “incredibly conservative” path, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed this week to a U.S. poll showing that an overwhelming majority of the American public backs Israel over Hamas, citing it as evidence of strong support for his country’s war in Gaza.

But Americans’ views of the issue are in fact far more divided, results from industry-leading pollsters show.

In a brief statement defending what he called Israel’s “considerable success,” Mr. Netanyahu cited a poll, conducted by Harvard-CAPS Harris over Feb. 21 and Feb. 22, that asked registered voters in the United States, as part of a series of other questions about Israel, “In this conflict do you support more Israel or more Hamas?”

Some 82 percent of the respondents, the equivalent of more than four out of five U.S. voters, said they supported Israel more than Hamas. “This will help us continue the campaign until total victory,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

But more expansive questions asked by top polling firms since the war began have consistently shown complexity in Americans’ views on Israel and its conduct in Gaza.

When asked whether the United States should “support Israel, support Hamas or not take a position” in the war, just 45 percent of registered voters chose Israel, according to a poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School between Feb. 5 and Feb. 15.

More voters — 48 percent — said the United States should not take a position, and 7 percent said it should support Hamas.

The Marquette University Law School is one of the most respected pollsters in the United States when it comes to questions of accuracy and methodological transparency, and it holds the maximum rating — three stars — given by the analytical website FiveThirtyEight in its pollster ratings.

Harris Insights & Analytics, the organization behind the Harvard-CAPS Harris poll, holds a 1.6-star rating from FiveThirtyEight and a far lower transparency score, which attempts to quantify how transparent a pollster is with how it conducts polls. The methodology of the Harvard-CAPS Harris poll has been questioned by some other polling firms, particularly in light of media attention received by its “dramatic” but sometimes “bizarrely inconsistent” findings on Americans’ views of Israel, Semafor reported in December.

Another well-regarded pollster, AP-NORC, found in late January that half of U.S. adults felt Israel’s military response in Gaza had “gone too far.” Just 31 percent said it had “been about right,” and 15 percent said it had “not gone far enough.”

The very different picture painted by the Harvard-CAPS Harris poll can be attributed, at least in part, to nuances of polling methodology, including the fact that its respondents could only indicate support for either Israel or Hamas.

There is no polling industry consensus on whether such “forced choice” questions are best practice, according to Carl Bialik, the U.S. politics editor at YouGov. Giving respondents the option of a more neutral or mixed answer can give them “an out,” but can also clarify whether they hold a truly middle-ground stance on the subject, are conflicted or don’t know or care enough about it to hold a strong view, he said.

Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School poll, added that even what may seem to be minor variations in question framing can produce results pointing to “substantively different conclusions.”

He offered an example unrelated to the war: In 2022, Marquette conducted two randomized experiments in which half the respondents of a sample were asked whether they thought that “Supreme Court justices’ decisions” were mainly motivated by politics or by the law. The other half were asked whether they thought that “the Supreme Court” was mainly motivated by politics or by the law.

“I would not have told you ahead of time that that difference in wording would matter much at all,” Mr. Franklin said. But the results indicated — both times, by some 10 percentage points — that people viewed the decisions of the Court, as an institution, to be more politically motivated than those of the justices.

Ultimately, one should look to a variety of questions asked by a variety of pollsters for an accurate understanding of public opinion on a given subject, Mr. Franklin said. While Mr. Netanyahu was mostly accurate in how he cited the finding of the Harvard-CAPS Harris poll, “there are plenty of other polls that show different results, and he omitted those,” Mr. Franklin said.

“Virtually any politician citing a poll does it for their own purposes — does it because it serves their rhetorical needs at the time,” he added.

The U.N.’s top rights official condemns the ‘brutality’ of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

The top human rights official at the United Nations condemned Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in an especially forceful statement on Thursday and warned that an assault on Rafah would add a new level of horror to the war.

The terror attacks by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups on Oct. 7 were “appalling and entirely wrong,” said Volker Türk, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights. But, he added, “so is the brutality of the Israeli response.”

He laid out the toll of its military campaign: what the United Nations estimates is 100,000 dead, injured or missing Palestinians, amounting to one in 20 of Gaza’s people; the unprecedented number of deaths of U.N. employees and journalists; some 17,000 Palestinian children orphaned or separated from their families.

“There appear to be no bounds to, no words to capture, the horrors that are unfolding before our eyes in Gaza,” he said in an address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “This is carnage.”

Mr. Türk was opening a council discussion of a report by his office on developments in Gaza and the West Bank, highlighting the human and physical devastation of the war in Gaza and the “profoundly discriminatory systems of control” and “endless humiliation” of Israel’s policies in occupied territories.

His statement drew a rebuke from Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, who condemned it as “an affront” to the victims of the Oct. 7 attack.

Ms. Eilon Shahar said that the United Nations and the council had ignored Israel’s security concerns for years, and she noted that Mr. Türk’s statement did not mention the hundreds of Israelis killed in attacks before and after Oct. 7. “Do they not matter?” she asked.

Ms. Eilon Shahar defended Israel’s campaign, saying its approach to dealing with terrorist groups that were using civilians as human shields was consistent with international law. Turning to acknowledge two former hostages behind her, Aviva Siegel and Raz Ben-Ami, whose husbands are still being held in Gaza, she said the high commissioner had reduced them to “a mere footnote” in the council’s discourse.

Mr. Türk said that Israel’s blockade and siege of Gaza amounted to collective punishment of its population, which is a war crime, and could amount to using starvation as a weapon of war, also a war crime. “All people in Gaza are at imminent risk of famine,” he said, and many in the north of the territory, which international aid agencies have been struggling to reach for weeks, were already reportedly starving.

Israel’s planned ground assault on Rafah “would take the nightmare being inflicted on people in Gaza into a new, dystopian dimension,” he added, urging states with influence to try to avert it.

The U.N. human rights office has recorded many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces, Mr. Türk said, warning of a real risk that any arms supplied to Israel could be used in violations of international law. In remarks aimed at Israel’s main arms suppliers, a list headed by the United States, he said countries should stop enabling such violations.

The United States has said that it supports Israel’s right to self-defense and that U.S. officials have made clear that Israel must comply with international humanitarian law, including taking steps to minimize harm to civilians. Israel has rejected allegations that it has committed war crimes in its operations.

Israeli officials say a ‘terrorist’ attack in the West Bank has left two dead.

A shooting at a gas station outside a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday afternoon left two Israeli men dead, according to Israeli officials, who said the gunman was also killed.

Avraham Applebaum, a medic for Israel’s emergency medical services, said that when he arrived at the gas station outside the Israeli settlement of Eli, he saw “one injured person with many bullet wounds in a car and another lying” on the ground.

“We did what we could,” Mr. Applebaum said, but the wounds were too serious. Shortly thereafter, the two men, aged 20 and 40, were declared dead by the emergency service.

Israel’s military called the attacker a “terrorist,” adding that after he opened fire on the gas station, he was killed. Israeli media reports said he was killed by a civilian who had returned from reserve duty in Gaza.

Four civilians were killed at the same gas station in Eli last June in a shooting attack claimed by Hamas.

Last week, a shooting attack near a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank killed one and injured several others.

Since Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7 and the start of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, violence and Israeli military raids have escalated in the West Bank, as have unauthorized moves by Jewish settlers in the occupied territory. Palestinian militias have carried out shooting attacks against Israelis; frequent Israeli military raids have arrested thousands and have often turned deadly; and extremist Jewish settlers have rampaged through Palestinian villages, setting fire to property.

A far-right Israeli minister will no longer oversee security at a major mosque, officials say.

The Israeli war cabinet has decided to relieve the far-right national security minister of responsibility for an important mosque in Jerusalem during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to an Israeli official, in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions around the holy site.

The minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, promoted a plan last week to impose more restrictions on Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan, which begins in early March. The Aqsa compound is sacred both to Muslims and to Jews.

Mr. Ben-Gvir wanted to restrict access to Al Aqsa for Israel’s Arab minority, according to two Israeli officials briefed on the talks. For years, Israel has put limits on access to the compound for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and since the start of the war in Gaza, the military has instituted additional restrictions on Israeli Arabs.

According to an Israeli official briefed on the recent decision, the war cabinet has assumed authority over the plan for Al Aqsa during Ramadan, relieving Mr. Ben-Gvir, who is not in the war cabinet, of that responsibility. A final decision regarding security measures for the mosque will be made tonight, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Mr. Ben-Gvir said on social media Wednesday night that he expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deny the reports that his responsibility for security at Al Aqsa was being revoked. The national security minister has long been a proponent of increasing Jewish control over Al Aqsa. The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, called on West Bank Palestinians to march to Al Aqsa for prayers during Ramadan, in defiance of Israel’s restrictions.

Analysts say that the situation puts Mr. Netanyahu in a bind. Upsetting Mr. Ben-Gvir could put his governing coalition in peril, but allowing the far-right minister to police access to the mosque could exacerbate an already tense situation.

In Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site of Al Aqsa, and tens of thousands of Muslims visit the mosque every day during Ramadan. For Jews, the area is revered as the Temple Mount because it was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity that remain central to Jewish identity.

In Britain, Shockwaves From Israel-Hamas War Are Jolting Domestic Politics

Inside Britain’s Parliament, lawmakers jeered, booed, and stormed out of the House of Commons to protest the speaker’s handling of a vote calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. Outside, a crowd of pro-Palestinian demonstrators projected the slogan, “From the river to the sea,” on to the facade of Big Ben, drawing denunciations from those who view it as a rallying cry for the eradication of Israel.

The chaotic scenes in London last week captured how Israel’s war in Gaza is reverberating far beyond the Middle East. From the United States to Europe, the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants and Israel’s devastating response has inflamed passions, upended politics, and heightened tensions within Muslim and Jewish communities.

The fights are not only over intractable questions of war, peace, and moral justice. In Britain, political parties and the public are not actually that divided over how to respond to Gaza; a solid majority back a cease-fire. Instead, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has also become a cudgel for opponents to brandish against each other.

The governing Conservative Party seized on anti-Israel comments made by a Labour Party parliamentary candidate to accuse Labour of failing to stamp out a legacy of anti-Semitism in its ranks. Labour pointed to disparaging comments by a Tory lawmaker about London’s Muslim mayor as evidence of simmering Islamophobia among Conservatives.

Both parties maneuvered furiously in Parliament over the cease-fire resolution, not because they differed much on the substance but because the Conservatives saw a chance to surface rifts within Labour over Britain’s initial backing of Israel.

“It’s an example of how a really serious issue has been distorted by the prism of party politics in Britain,” said Steven Fielding, an emeritus professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

In the United States, anger among some Democrats at President Biden’s robust support of Israel fueled a protest vote in Michigan’s primary this week, raising questions about whether the war could alter the outcome of a closely-fought presidential election.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has been forced to tack away from his pro-Israel stance under pressure from France’s large Muslim population. In Germany, with its responsibility for the Holocaust, support for Israel has remained a bedrock principle, though the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has recently begun emphasizing the importance of the “survival of the Palestinians.”

The conflict has awakened ghosts in British politics as well: When Lee Anderson, the blunt-spoken Conservative lawmaker, said “Islamists” had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, he was trafficking in the kind of anti-Muslim sentiment that flared two decades ago after London was hit with terrorist attacks by Islamist militants.

When the Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, claimed that Israel “had allowed” the surprise attack by Hamas, he rekindled memories of the anti-Semitism that contaminated the Labour Party under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The current leader, Keir Starmer, purged Mr. Corbyn as part of a campaign to root out anti-Jewish bias. He also pulled the party’s support for Mr. Ali’s candidacy.

“Because of the Corbyn era, Israel has become part of a culture war in this country in a way that didn’t happen two decades ago,” said Daniel Levy, who runs the US/Middle East Project, a research group based in London and New York.

Mr. Levy acknowledged that many lawmakers were acting out of conviction on Gaza. But the furies of the last two weeks, he argued, were less about the rising death toll or the best way to handle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than about the vexed history and politics that envelop Jewish and Muslim issues in Britain.

For the Labour Party, the next awkward moment in this drama could come on Thursday, when voters in Rochdale, north of Manchester, will elect a new member of Parliament to replace a Labour lawmaker who died in January. Although the party disavowed Mr. Ali, he remains on the ballot and could still win the seat.

But Mr. Ali’s messy late-stage suspension has opened the door to an insurgent candidate, George Galloway, a onetime Labour lawmaker now running as the leader of the leftist fringe Workers Party of Britain. He is appealing to Rochdale’s significant Muslim population with a militantly pro-Palestinian message, arguing that many Britons are “revolted” by Labour’s support for Israel.

“If George Galloway does well enough,” Mr. Levy said, “it will encourage a whole slew of Labour outriders to run on this issue.”

That could give Mr. Starmer further headaches as he prepares for a general election against the Conservatives later this year. But with Labour holding a lead of 20 percentage points or more over the Tories in polls, analysts said it was unlikely that the Gaza conflict would tilt the election’s outcome.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has also moved its position enough on the conflict to blur differences with the opposition. On a trip to the Falkland Islands last week, his foreign secretary, David Cameron, called for a cease-fire, saying the fighting must stop “right now.”

“David Cameron and Keir Starmer have got the same position on Israel-Gaza, and both have the same position as two-thirds of the public,” said Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a research institute that focuses on immigration, race and identity.

Still, if Mr. Starmer were to win the general election, Israel could pose a lingering problem for him in government. In 2006, Britain’s last elected Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, staunchly supported Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s invasion of Lebanon. The war went badly, and Mr. Blair was hit by the collateral damage back home.

“Arguably, that was a bigger political problem for Tony even than the Iraq war,” said Jonathan Powell, who was Mr. Blair’s chief of staff.

For the Tories, the Gaza conflict presents a different set of challenges. Like the Republican Party in the United States, it has staked out a strong position in favor of Israel, one that generates little internal dissent. But the Tories are now dealing with fallout from anti-Muslim statements made by right-wing figures like Mr. Anderson and Suella Braverman, a former home secretary.

After the debate in Parliament over a cease-fire, which turned ugly because of a fight over how the speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, handled it, Ms. Braverman wrote in the Daily Telegraph that “the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now.” The police, she said, gave protesters free rein. In such a febrile atmosphere, there are rising worries about threats of violence against members of Parliament.

Mr. Anderson has refused to apologize for saying that Mr. Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates.” Islamists, he said to the right-wing GB News channel, “got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London.”

Mr. Khan called the comments “racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Muslim,” and Mr. Sunak, under pressure from prominent Muslim Conservatives, suspended Mr. Anderson from the party. But now Mr. Sunak is facing criticism from the party’s right wing for punishing a figure popular with some voters in England’s “red wall,” who were critical to the party’s victory in the 2019 general election.

Given the Tories’ woeful standing in the polls, some analysts said there was a good bit of posturing in the furies over Gaza, part of a broader contest for leadership of the party or for visibility after an expected election defeat.

“There are a lot of Tory M.P.’s who are going to lose their seats, so they are looking for media opportunities,” said Ben Ansell, a professor of comparative democratic institutions at Oxford University.

But the appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment also reflects something else: a last-gasp effort by the Conservatives to derail the momentum of Labour.

“If you look at what Conservatives use against Labour, it’s that you can’t trust them because they will be controlled by others,” Mr. Katwala said. “At the moment, they’re switching from ‘woke leftists’ to ‘the Islamists.’”

Putin Says West Risks Nuclear Conflict if It Intervenes More in Ukraine

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said the West faced the prospect of nuclear conflict if it intervened more directly in the war in Ukraine, using an annual speech to the nation on Thursday to escalate his threats against Europe and the United States.

Mr. Putin said NATO countries that were helping Ukraine strike Russian territory or might consider sending their own troops “must, in the end, understand” that “all this truly threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the destruction of civilization.”

“We also have weapons that can strike targets on their territory,” Mr. Putin said. “Do they not understand this?”

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Calls for a Boycott Roil Iran’s Parliamentary Elections

As Iran prepares for a parliamentary election on Friday, calls to boycott the vote are turning it into a test of legitimacy for the ruling clerics amid widespread discontent and anger at the government.

A separate election on Friday will also decide the membership of an obscure, 88-member clerical body called the Assembly of Experts, which selects and advises the country’s supreme leader, who has the last word on all key state matters. While it normally operates behind the scenes, the assembly has the all-important task of choosing a successor to the current, 84-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ruled Iran for more than three decades.

Iran’s leaders view turnout at the polls as a projection of their strength and power. But a robust vote appears unlikely with these elections taking place amid a slew of domestic challenges and a regional war stemming from the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that has come to include Iran’s network of proxy militias.

Analysts say Iranians have also lost confidence in elections after repeatedly voting for reformist lawmakers and presidents who pledged changes in foreign and economic policy and more individual rights that mostly failed to materialize.

A government poll cited last week by Khabaronline, an Iranian news outlet, projected turnout of about 36 percent nationally and only about 15 percent in Tehran. (The site said it withdrew the report under orders from the government.) By comparison, more than 70 percent of Iran’s 56 million eligible voters cast ballots for the reformist President Hassan Rouhani in 2017.

Mr. Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to vote even if they are not satisfied with the status quo, stressing that voting was tantamount to protecting the country’s national security.

“If the enemy sees a weakness in Iranians in the field of national power, it will threaten the national security from various angles,” Mr. Khamenei said in a speech that was broadcast on state television. “Not voting has no benefits.”

But opponents disagree. Many prominent politicians, activists and the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi have called on Iranians to boycott the vote to demonstrate that they no longer believe change is possible through the ballot box.

“The Islamic Republic deserves national sanctions and global condemnation,” Ms. Mohammadi said in a statement from her cell posted on social media. Sitting out elections, she added, “is not only a political necessity but also a moral duty.”

A group of 300 prominent activists and politicians, including former lawmakers and a former Tehran mayor, signed a joint statement calling the elections a farce because of the strict vetting of candidates that predetermined the elections’ outcomes. The government was “engineering the elections to confront the will of the people,” the statement said, adding that the signatories were refusing to participate in the “staged event.”

The main source of Iranians’ anger toward the government is its violent crackdown on demonstrations led by women and girls in 2022 and 2019 that killed hundreds of protesters, including teenagers and children, and the jailing of dissidents, students and activists.

That added fuel to longstanding grievances over government corruption and economic mismanagement that, along with foreign, nuclear and military policies that have impeded efforts to lift economic sanctions that are dimming Iranians’ prospects of earning a decent living.

Analysts say voter turnout in the elections will be an important measure of the government’s popularity and, by extension, its power.

“The elections are important for two reasons,” said Sanam Vakil, director of Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House. “First, we are returning to popular protest through not participating in elections, and second, how low the vote will be could tell us something about the power base of the Islamic Republic.”

Even with low voter turnout, however, the conservative faction is expected to maintain its grip on the Parliament because its candidates are running largely uncontested. An appointed body called the Guardian Council, which vets all the parliamentary candidates, eliminated nearly all those who could be considered independent, centrist or reformist. Over 15,000 candidates were approved to run for 290 seats, including five slots for religious minorities, for a four-year term that begins in May.

The Reform Front, a coalition of parties that generally favor more social freedoms and engagement with the West, announced that it was not participating in the election because all its candidates had been disqualified and that it could not endorse any of the council’s approved candidates.

“At this moment, we have no space to maneuver and we have no choice,” Javad Emam, the spokesman for the Reform Front, said in an interview. “The relationship between the people and the state and the politicians has been seriously and deeply damaged.”

In Tehran, election posters and banners erected around the city this week by the authorities equated voting with nationalism and love for Iran — but not the Islamic Republic. “High participation = A strong Iran” and “Decide for Iran,” read two of the banners seen in photographs and videos in the Iranian news media.

Campaign rallies in Tehran have lacked the typical fervor of previous elections. In many places candidates delivered speeches to small crowds surrounded by rows of empty seats, according to videos on social media and witnesses. Outside the campus of Tehran University this week, election campaigners set up a microphone and invited passers-by to speak freely but they were refuted with dismissive shrugs and angry cursing, one witness reported.

Many Iranians dismissed the whole exercise as a waste of time. “It doesn’t matter who comes and who goes and who takes power — I have absolutely no hope of fixing this system, nor do I know a way to reform it through the existing constitution,” said Alireza, a 46-year-old scriptwriter in Tehran who asked that his last name not be published out of fear of retribution.

Vahid Ashtari, a prominent conservative who has exposed financial corruption and nepotism among senior Iranian officials and faced prosecution, has labeled elections “sarekari,” a Persian slang term for duping or tricking someone. He said in a statement on the social media platform X that outside the bubble of campaigning “people are living their lives” and could not care less about which candidate was running under which coalition.

Campaign events seemed to attract larger crowds in some smaller cities, where politics are more local and politicians are known through their clans. In Yasuj, a small city in southwest Iran, videos on social media showed a conservative candidate joining an impromptu dance party and energetically rallying the crowd of men and women — a clear bending of the rules that ban public dancing.

Some supporters of the government said their decision to vote was an act of defiance against the naysayers and Iran’s traditional enemies, Israel and the United States.

“I will vote and invite everyone around me to vote as well,” Rasoul Souri, 42, who works in a government agency in Tehran, said in a telephone interview. “When we participate in the election, the development of our country will disappoint our enemies.”

Analysts say Iran’s efforts to avoid war during the current tensions in the region are tied to its domestic dynamics. Mr. Khamenei, they said, does not want to risk external confrontations that could destabilize Iran domestically at a politically sensitive time, particularly when the issue of his succession, and by default the future of the Islamic Republic, is being quietly discussed.

The election for the Assembly of Experts could prove consequential, given its role in naming the next supreme leader. But a vetting process that disqualified a former reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, from seeking re-election to a seat he had held for more than two decades indicated to analysts that Mr. Khamenei’s successor will be a conservative.

“Given the high stakes there will be no margin for error for Iran’s ruling elite,” said Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle East politics at Georgetown University. “Stage managing this election to ensure a loyal assembly will be a top national security priority for the Islamic Republic.”

Leily Nikounazar contributed reporting from Belgium.

New Nuclear Threats From Putin, Timed for a Moment of Anxiety

President Vladimir V. Putin has threatened to reach into Russia’s arsenal of nuclear weapons at three points in time in the past two years: once at the outset of the war against Ukraine two years ago, once when he was losing ground and again on Thursday, as he senses that he is grinding down Ukrainian defenses and American resolve.

In each instance, the saber rattling has served the same basic purpose. Mr. Putin knows that his opponents — led by President Biden — fear escalation of the conflict most of all. Even bluster about going nuclear serves as a reminder to Mr. Putin’s many adversaries of the risks of pushing him too far.

But Mr. Putin’s equivalent of a State of the Union speech on Thursday also contained some distinct new elements. He not only signaled that he was doubling down on his “special military operation” in Ukraine. He also made clear that he had no intention of renegotiating the last major arms-control treaty in force with the United States — one that runs out in less than two years — unless the new deal decides Ukraine’s fate, presumably with much of it in Russia’s hands.

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2 Scientists in Canada Passed On Secrets to China, Investigations Find

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Two scientists who worked at Canada’s top microbiology lab passed on secret scientific information to China, and one of them was a “realistic and credible threat to Canada’s economic security,” documents from the national intelligence agency and a security investigation show.

The hundreds of pages of reports about the two researchers, Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng, who were married and born in China, were released to the House of Commons late Wednesday after a national security review by a special parliamentary committee and a panel of three retired senior judges.

Canadian officials, who have warned that the country’s academic and research institutions are a target of Chinese intelligence campaigns, have tightened rules around collaborating with foreign universities. Canadian universities can now be disqualified from federal funding if they enter into partnerships with any of 100 institutions in China, Russia and Iran.

The release of the documents was the subject of a prolonged debate in Parliament that began before the last federal election, in September 2021. Opposition parties asked to see the records at least four times and found the Liberal government to be in contempt of Parliament in 2021. The government filed a lawsuit in an attempt to keep the records hidden, but dropped it when the vote was called.

The release comes as the country is holding a special inquiry led by a judge to look into allegations that China and other foreign nations have interfered in Canadian elections and political parties. Some of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political opponents have charged that his government has failed to respond adequately to Chinese meddling in Canadian affairs.

But Mark Holland, the federal health minister in Canada, told reporters late Wednesday that at “no time did national secrets or information that threatened the security of Canada leave the lab.”

The couple were escorted out of their labs at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, during the summer of 2019 and later stripped of their security clearances. They were fired in January 2021.

The same year, the government released heavily redacted records about their dismissal, setting off a battle with opposition parties that were demanding more detail about the security breach.

The large cache of newly released documents, which have significantly fewer redactions, offer more details about the scientists’ unauthorized cooperation and information exchanges with Chinese institutions. The documents also revealed that Dr. Qui had not disclosed formal agreements with Chinese agencies in which a Chinese institution agreed to pay substantial amounts of research money. It also agreed to pay her an annual salary of 210,000 Canadian dollars (about $155,000).

The couple could not be located, and they did not appear to have any obvious local representatives. Some Canadian news outlets have reported, based on undisclosed sources, that they moved to China after being dismissed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police opened a criminal investigation in 2021, but its status is unclear and no charges have been laid.

The documents released on Wednesday do not include any general response from the couple. But they show that during questioning by investigators, Dr. Qui repeatedly said that she was not aware that she had broken any security rules, blamed the health agency for not fully explaining procedures and frequently tried to mislead investigators until confronted by contradictory evidence.

In a letter to Dr. Qui, the public health agency said that she “did not express remorse or regret. You failed to accept responsibility for your actions and deflected blame onto P.H.A.C.” It added that she did not show “any signs of corrective behavior, rehabilitation or desire for resolution of the situation.”

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service also found that Dr. Qiu repeatedly misrepresented her ties to researchers and organizations in China, relationships it characterized as “close and clandestine.”

In one secret report, the intelligence agency said that when she was asked about her exchanges with scientists and organizations in China, she “continued to make blanket denials, feign ignorance or tell outright lies.”

An internal investigation report for the Public Health Agency of Canada, which includes the lab, shows that the couple fell under suspicion in 2018, when Dr. Qiu was named an inventor on a patent granted in China that appeared to use research developed by the agency for an Ebola vaccine.

That revelation, in turn, suggested that the couple had engaged in several violations of security rules at the laboratory, portions of which are designed for work on the world’s most lethal microbes, including ones that could be used for biological warfare.

Those breaches included attempts by graduate students of Dr. Qiu at the University of Manitoba, all of whom were Chinese nationals, to remove material from the lab and being allowed to wander through the facility unescorted.

In one episode, X-rays revealed that a parcel delivered to the lab for Dr. Cheng — and labeled “kitchen utensils” — contained vials of mouse proteins. The discovery underscored that Dr. Cheng had broken protocols, according to the documents.

An investigation by the intelligence agency found that Dr. Qiu had a formal agreement with Heibei Medical University to work on a “talent program,” something it described as a project “to boost China’s national technological capabilities.”

A report documenting the investigation added that it “may pose a serious threat to research institutions, including government research facilities, by incentivizing economic espionage.” That agreement promised about 1.2 million Canadian dollars (roughly $884,000) in research funding. The agency said the couple did not disclose, as required, that they maintained a bank account in China.

Dr. Qiu, the intelligence service said, also had a résumé she used only in China that showed she was a visiting professor at three Chinese health research institutes and a visiting researcher at a fourth one.

Exactly what information Dr. Qiu may have provided to China and how China may have used it is not clear either from the internal investigation or the intelligence agency reports.

The intelligence service said that many of the institutions she worked with researched “potentially lethal military applications.” When asked as part of an internal investigation about the potential military uses of her work, Dr. Qiu said that the idea had not occurred to her, the documents show.

The internal investigation found that a trip Dr. Qiu made to Beijing in 2018 was paid for by a Chinese biotechnology company.

Mr. Holland said that the lab’s management had demonstrated an “inadequate understanding of the threat of foreign interference.”

He added, “I believe that an earnest effort was made to adhere to those policies, but not with the rigor that was required.”

In a statement, Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative leader, said that the Chinese government and its agencies, “including the People’s Liberation Army, were allowed to infiltrate Canada’s top-level lab.” The statement added, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, “They were able to transfer sensitive intellectual property and dangerous pathogens to the P.R.C.”

Vjosa Isai contributed reporting from Toronto.

Opposition Leader in Chad Is Killed in a Shootout Months Before Elections

The main opposition leader in the central African nation of Chad was killed on Wednesday in a shootout at his party headquarters in the capital, the country’s prosecutor has announced.

Yaya Dillo, who had been expected to run for president in an election planned for May, was among dozens of people killed and injured in an exchange of gunfire with security forces in Ndjamena, the capital. Heavy gunfire was heard in Ndjamena on Wednesday, and the internet was cut off.

A landlocked, desert country surrounded by neighbors battling insurgencies, plagued by coups or at war, Chad has long been seen as a linchpin for stability and is an important U.S. ally in the region, despite its political travails.

After its longtime president, Idriss Déby, was killed on the battlefield in 2021, his son took power in what analysts agree was a coup d’état. But Western nations did not condemn the move to the same extent that they did coups in neighboring Niger and Sudan.

The death of Mr. Dillo — a former rebel who was the cousin of the country’s president, as well as his most vocal critic — leaves a void in Chad’s political opposition less than three months before national elections are set to be held.

Chadian officials said previously that there had been an attack on the country’s National Security Agency, and accused Mr. Dillo’s party, the Socialist Party Without Borders, of being behind it — which Mr. Dillo denied.

In a news conference broadcast on national television on Thursday, Oumar Mahamat Kedelaye, the national prosecutor, accused Mr. Dillo of heading a band of armed men that had launched an attack on the intelligence agency.

“This well-armed group in 11 vehicles attacked the National Security Agency, and this attack led to dozens of people wounded, and deaths, among them Yaya Dillo,” Mr. Kedelaye said.

But the fight between Mr. Dillo’s party and the authorities went further back: last week, the government said the headquarters of the Supreme Court had been ransacked, and later accused one of Mr. Dillo’s party members of trying to assassinate the court’s president. Mr. Dillo dismissed the purported ransacking as “staged.”

Amnesty International raised concerns about the government’s version of events.

Mr. Kedelaye’s statement “does not yet clarify the sequence of events between the attack on the Supreme Court more than 10 days ago and the death of Yaya Dillo,” said Abdoulaye Diarra, Amnesty International’s researcher on Central Africa.

The incident shows how fragile the political process is heading into the upcoming presidential election, said Mr. Diarra, who called on the government to investigate impartially.

As of Thursday afternoon in Ndjamena, there was no comment from either the United States or France — both important partners to Chad in the fight against terrorism.

In recent months, Chad’s president, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno — known as Mahamat Kaka — has been trying to consolidate his power ahead of elections. He brought another opposition leader, Succès Masra, into the government as prime minister.

Mr. Masra offered his condolences to Mr. Dillo’s family via Facebook on Thursday after what he described as the “unhappy events” over the last few days.

Right up until the end, Mr. Dillo had also been communicating via Facebook. In one of his last posts, he wrote that he and his men were being surrounded.

“Soldiers are encircling us,” he wrote.

5 Convicts Familiar With Navalny’s Prison Confirm Hellish Conditions

Locked in an Arctic prison, Aleksei A. Navalny is likely to have spent his final days in some of the most inhumane conditions within Russia’s extensive penitentiary system, according to five men who have served sentences in the same penal colony as the Russian opposition leader.

The men described in phone interviews unbearable cold, repulsive food, unsanitary conditions and beatings in Penal Colony No. 3 of the remote Yamalo-Nenets region, where Mr. Navalny arrived in December to serve out the remainder of his 19-year prison sentence. The former inmates said the conditions were especially brutal in the solitary cells where Mr. Navalny is believed to have been confined on the day he was pronounced dead.

But what made the prison, known as IK-3 or the Troika, dreaded even by Russia’s hardened inmates was the exceptional psychological pressure and loneliness, they said. It was a system devised to break the human spirit, by making survival depend on total and unconditional obedience to the will of guards.

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Welcome to Japan, Where the Bad News Is the Good News

The economy is now in recession after barely growing for decades. The population continues to shrink, with births last year plunging to a nadir. The country’s politics appear frozen as one party holds a virtual lock on power no matter how scandal-tainted and unpopular it becomes.

But not to worry. This is Japan, where all bad news is relative.

Take a look around. There are few signs of the societal discord you might expect in a place with trend lines like Japan’s, such as accumulating garbage, potholes or picket lines. The country remains remarkably stable and cohesive, with little sense of impending doom.

That equanimity reflects a no-need-to-rock-the-boat mind-set: “Shouganai” — “it can’t be helped” — is something of a national refrain.

It’s easy to see why people might be nonchalant. Unemployment is low, the trains run on time and the cherry blossoms bloom every spring. Tourists are flooding the shrines and shopping districts, and the stock market has hit a record high. Even after some inflation, a bowl of ramen can be had for less than $7, or a multi-plate set lunch for about $12. Housing is generally affordable even in Tokyo, and everybody is covered by national health insurance. Crime is low: In 2022, there were just three gun killings in all of Japan. If you forget your cellphone in a restaurant, chances are it will be there when you return.

“I am pretty happy with my living conditions,” said Chihiro Tsujimoto, 26, a classical music percussionist who had come out of a movie theater with his sister in Chofu, in western Tokyo, last week. Japanese people, he said, have “given up and feel rather happy as long as their life is full and fine.”

“I guess Japan is at peace,” he added. “So the young generation doesn’t feel they need to change this country.”

That lulling sense of calm is heightened by an outside world plagued by wars and social challenges.

“I often have business trips to the U.S. and Europe, and feel that the Japanese society and system are very stable compared to other countries with various problems like immigrants, high crime rates and riots,” said Hisashi Miwa, 65, who works for a chemical manufacturer and was out shopping for toilet paper in Setagaya, also in western Tokyo.

Still, beneath Japan’s placid surface, plenty of entrenched problems remain. With its intense work culture and social pressures, Japan is among the unhappiest of developed countries, according to an annual U.N.-backed report, and suicide is a major concern. Gender inequality is deep-rooted and slow to change, and the poverty rate among single-parent households is one of the highest among wealthy nations. Rural areas are rapidly emptying, and an aging population will increasingly add to pension and caregiving burdens.

Next year, nearly one in five people in Japan will be 75 or older, a phenomenon that will increasingly expose labor shortages in a country that struggles to accept and integrate immigrants. Already, service gaps are emerging in some of the country’s most cherished institutions.

“It takes four or five days to get a letter,” said Sayuri Shirai, a professor of policy management at Keio University, referring to Japan’s postal service, which used to reliably deliver letters one day after they were mailed.

When she has problems with cable television or other utility services, she said, “sometimes you want to ask questions on the phone, but there are no phone-related services anymore.”

“I can really see they don’t have people,” Ms. Shirai said. “The quality of service is no longer so good.”

Inconveniences like those, however, are more an irritation than a sign of imminent societal collapse. Japan’s decline is gradual, and in some ways barely perceptible, after the country rocketed to wealth in the decades following World War II.

The economy — now the world’s fourth largest, after dropping below Germany’s this month — dips up and down but has largely weathered a rate of national debt that is the highest in the world. The population falls by about one-half of 1 percent a year, but Tokyo remains the world’s most populous city, people wait in line for an hour to score a trendy doughnut and reservations at the top restaurants must be made weeks in advance. Prime ministers may come and go, but they are replaceable emissaries of the status quo.

“I think everybody kind of knows what is approaching us, but it is so slow that it is very difficult to somehow advocate a huge change,” said Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Even those who think Japan could use a shake-up are more resigned than radicalized.

“I thought Japanese people were a little more clever, but our economy, which was once said to be first-class, is now second- or third-rate, and our government is perhaps not even fourth- or fifth-rate,” said Fuchi Beppu, 76, a retired hotel worker who was walking near Yokohama Station last week.

He said he felt sorry for his children and grandchildren and the future that awaited them.

“At the end of the day, it is a democracy,” he said. “So I suppose the level of the government reflects the level of the citizens.”

That government, for nearly the entirety of the postwar era, has been led by the Liberal Democratic Party, or L.D.P.

The party’s disapproval ratings are now very high — based on one newspaper poll, the highest since 1947. But even when people become frustrated with the L.D.P., they ultimately “don’t care much as long as they can survive and everyday life is not so bad,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. “That’s why L.D.P. politics is very stable.”

The current disapproval ratings reflect the public’s exasperation with a financial scandal that has gripped the Japanese media but has been too arcane for most of the general public to follow in detail.

Allegations began to emerge late last fall that several factions within the L.D.P. had failed to record the full amount of proceeds from ticket sales to political fund-raisers. In some cases, it appeared that members of Parliament were taking kickbacks from some of the sales, and prosecutors have indicted three lawmakers, accusing them of violations of the Political Funds Control Act.

Yet unlike in other countries where politicians have been accused of extravagant acts of corruption, the Japanese media has dug up relatively tame evidence of campaign gifts and dinners. Some news reports suggested that one lawmaker may have used the political funds to buy books, including thousands of copies of one title he wrote himself.

With the political opposition in disarray, the L.D.P. appears likely to survive another of its numerous own goals. One reason: Voters are just not very plugged in.

“I don’t know who my mayor is or don’t check the news much,” said Mr. Tsujimoto, the percussionist. “I just watch internet news for stuff like when a new baby of some animal is born at a zoo.”

Why a Small Special Election in Rochdale, England, Has Big Chaos Vibes

If everything had gone to plan, Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which is riding high in opinion polls, would be confident of sweeping to victory on Thursday in a special election (known as a by-election in Britain) for the parliamentary district of Rochdale, north of Manchester.

Instead, the contest has become a source of acute embarrassment to the party, and whoever comes out on top when results are announced early Friday morning won’t represent Labour.

Earlier this month the party had to disown its candidate over antisemitic remarks he made, but it was too late to replace him on the ballot. In the aftermath of that debacle the election in Rochdale has become emblematic of the anger that has swept through British politics over the war in Gaza.

With a general election looming, internal divisions over the conflict in the Middle East have caused tensions within both the Labour Party and the governing Conservatives.

And, worse for Labour’s leader, Keir Starmer, the favorite to win in Rochdale is George Galloway, according to oddsmakers. He is a veteran left-wing firebrand who was kicked out of the Labour Party more than two decades ago, and would relish wreaking his revenge in Rochdale.

Thursday’s election was called to replace Tony Lloyd, a respected Labour lawmaker who had represented the district since 2017 but who died of blood cancer earlier this year.

To succeed him, Labour chose Azhar Ali as the party’s candidate, but then a recording emerged revealing that he had claimed that Israel “allowed” Hamas to go ahead with the Oct. 7 attacks as a pretext to invade Gaza. (Mr. Ali later issued a statement saying he apologized “unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false.”)

The episode was a setback for Mr. Starmer, who has tried to rid Labour of the antisemitism that infected the far-left of the party under his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. After some initial prevarication, Mr. Ali was removed from the Labour ticket.

But by the time Mr. Starmer acted against Mr. Ali, it was too late to replace him. In fact, his name is still on the ballot, although, if he wins the seat, Mr. Ali would not represent Labour in Parliament (he would sit as an independent, instead).

The result? A mess. In a district it once assumed it would win, Labour isn’t even in the race.

There may be no formal Labour candidate in the race but, along with Mr. Ali, two former Labour lawmakers are running in a region whose proud history has been marred recently by child exploitation scandals, poverty and deprivation.

One candidate is Simon Danczuk, who won Rochdale for Labour in the 2010 and 2015 general elections. He was suspended by the Labour Party in 2015 for sending explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl.

He apologized at the time for “inappropriate” behavior, saying he had been “stupid,” but he now dismisses the episode as “tabloid nonsense.” This time he is running as a candidate for Reform U.K., the hard-right party that is a successor to the Brexit Party, which was once led by Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Britain to quit the European Union.

The other former Labour lawmaker is Mr. Galloway, who is known for his fierce political rhetoric — and for the trademark fedora hat he likes to wear. The founder of the far-left Workers Party of Britain, Mr. Galloway was forced out of the Labour Party in 2003 over his criticism of the Iraq war.

At the time he described Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister, and George W. Bush, then the U.S. president, as “wolves,” and urged British troops to ignore military orders that he called illegal. Later, Mr. Galloway won parliamentary seats in 2005 in Bethnal Green in east London, and in 2012 in Bradford West, for the Respect Party. In 2006, he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in Britain, where at one point he surprised viewers by role-playing as a cat and licking another contestant’s hands.

In the campaign in Rochdale, Mr. Galloway has appealed directly to the district’s Muslim population, who make up around 30 percent of the electorate, and many of whom are angry about the war in Gaza. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Mr. Starmer, who is described as a “top supporter of Israel” in one of Mr. Galloway’s election leaflets. “Imagine — the people of Rochdale coming together to topple the hated Labour leader,” it adds.

That prospect may be fanciful but, if elected, Mr. Galloway would likely do his best to be a thorn in Labour’s side and exploit internal tensions over the Middle East.

The one bright spot for Mr. Starmer is that with a general election expected later this year, whoever wins in Rochdale faces another battle for re-election soon if the victor wants to stay a lawmaker for more than a few months. And next time, that candidate will almost certainly have to run against a Labour candidate who many analysts will expect to win.

The ‘Luxury Route’ to the U.S. for African Migrants

Reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.

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As record numbers of people cross into the United States, the southern border is not the only place where the migration crisis is playing out.

Nearly three thousand miles to the south, inside Colombia’s main international airport, hundreds of African migrants have been pouring in every day, paying traffickers roughly $10,000 for flight packages they hope will help them reach the United States.

The surge of African migrants in the Bogotá airport, which began last year, is a vivid example of the impact of one of the largest global movements of people in decades and how it is shifting migration patterns.

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Darién Gap Migration Is Halted After Colombia Arrests Boat Captains

Migration toward the United States through the dangerous jungle passage known as the Darién Gap has been halted, at least temporarily, following the arrest of two boat captains working for companies that play an essential role in ferrying migrants to the jungle.

Boat companies suspended migrant crossings from two northern Colombia towns, Necoclí and Turbo, to the entrance of the Darién forest, according to the mayor of Necoclí, leaving roughly 3,000 migrants stranded in those communities.

The Colombian law enforcement action in the region is sure to be watched closely by U.S. officials: The Biden administration has been pressuring Colombia for months to try harder to stop people from using the Darién as a path to the United States.

The boat route is the main way into the Darién Gap, a strip of land linking South and North America that was once rarely traversed but has emerged in recent years as one of the hemisphere’s most important and busiest migration routes.

Nearly a million people have crossed the Darién since 2021, according to the authorities at the end of the route in Panama, helping to fuel an immigration crisis in the United States.

The Colombian Navy last week seized two boats belonging to the two companies, Katamaranes and Caribe, carrying a total of 151 migrants from Necoclí toward the jungle, according to the Colombian prosecutor’s office.

Officials determined that the migrants were being transported illegally, arrested the two boat captains and took control of both boats.

The arrests mark an important shift in strategy by Colombian authorities, who for months have allowed boat operators to openly transport migrants from Necoclí across the Gulf of Urabá to the towns of Acandí and Capurganá, where people enter the jungle.

In an interview on Wednesday, the mayor of Necoclí, Guillermo Cardona, said the boat companies, which operate large fleets and have several captains, had halted operations in recent days “as a form of protest” against the arrests.

Boat operators have become key players in a multimillion-dollar migration business that has been allowed to flourish in northern Colombia.

In September, The New York Times reported that this business was being run by local politicians and economic leaders, including the manager of Katamaranes, who at the time was a mayoral candidate in Necoclí. (The manager did not win, and was not among those arrested.)

U.S. officials have been privately asking Colombian officials since at least October to investigate the boat operators.

In a recent interview, a top Colombian prosecutor, Hugo Tovar, said his office was working “hand in hand” with the United States on the issue of human trafficking through Colombia and the Darién. Two U.S. agencies, Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were providing training and sharing information to aid with investigations, he added.

Necoclí is a beach town with limited resources and infrastructure, and in recent years it has been overwhelmed by the migrants.

It’s unclear how long the boat companies will halt operations. In recent months migrants have arrived at a rate of hundreds a day, and if the protest continues, the number of people stranded in tents on the town’s beaches is likely to swell quickly, straining water and sanitation services past their breaking points.

This could put pressure on the Colombian government to ease up on any future arrests of boat operators, since the government has limited capacity to provide aid to large numbers of people who could become stuck at its northern border.

Still, Mr. Tovar said, his office remained committed to investigating human trafficking, calling it “an issue that concerns the entire hemisphere.”

Mr. Cardona, the mayor, said he was calling on the national government for assistance with the hundreds of migrants who now have nowhere to go. “This is an SOS,” he said.

Immigration through the Darién has emerged as an enormous challenge for the Biden administration, particularly ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

President Biden and his all-but-certain Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, are both scheduled to make appearances on Thursday in different parts of Texas near the southern border.

In 2021, just over 130,000 people made their way through the Darién jungle on the way to the United States. In 2022, nearly 250,000 did. Last year, more than 500,000 people crossed the Darién, helping drive a record number of arrivals at the U.S. border.

Mr. Biden has tried to deter this flow by expanding legal paths to migration, and by stepping up deportation efforts at the border.

But these measures have had only limited effect.

As of Feb. 28, the Panama authorities said that more than 72,000 people had trekked through the Darién this year — a 35 percent increase over the number of people who crossed in the first two months of last year.

The largest number of migrants came from Venezuela, where activists’ hopes that the authoritarian government would allow a democratic election this year have withered in recent months. The second most came from Ecuador, where a dire security situation has worsened this year. The next three major countries of origin are Haiti, Colombia and China.

Canada Restores Visa Requirement for Mexican Visitors

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Canada announced on Thursday that it would require visas for Mexican nationals to enter the country, a move that comes amid a surge in asylum requests from Mexicans arriving in Canada.

The rule follows months of discussions between the two countries over the rise in the number of Mexicans entering Canada, including repeated attempts by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to address the issue with Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Some provincial officials say a surge of asylum seekers has strained their resources and their ability to provide social services.

“We needed to give Mexico, because of our friendship, the chance to rectify things,” Marc Miller, Canada’s immigration minister, said at a news conference.

“This clearly was not done,” he added, “so we had to take a decision.”

The visa mandate, which will go into effect Thursday night, had been lifted by Mr. Trudeau in 2016 to boost tourism and as a sign of the close ties between the two countries.

Since then the number of Mexican asylum claims has soared, to roughly 24,000 last year from 260 eight years ago. About 17 percent of all Canadian asylum claims last year were filed by Mexican nationals.

Most asylum claims from Mexico are rejected, withdrawn or abandoned, Mr. Miller said, clogging up an immigration system already facing difficulties trying to cope with a mounting backlog of refugee claims. “It has ripple effects,” he said.

For some Mexicans who can afford plane tickets, flying to Canada has become an alternate route to the United States, allowing them to avoid the smugglers who control the paths to the U.S. southern border.

U.S. immigration officials have recorded a large increase in the number of migrants, including Mexicans, crossing into the United States from Canada, though nowhere near the enormous numbers at the southern border.

“But they are significant,” Mr. Miller said. “And that’s something we have to manage as a partner with the U.S.”

Immigration has become a major issue in the United States ahead of the November election, and the Biden administration has made the tightening of the country’s borders a top political priority.

President Biden and Donald J. Trump, who is almost certain to be his Republican rival for the White House, were both scheduled to appear on Thursday in South Texas to discuss migration.

Mr. López Obrador told reporters on Thursday that his government respected Canada’s decision, but said that Canada could have sought “other alternatives,” without offering specifics.

He also issued a “small, respectful, fraternal reproach” to Mr. Trudeau, though he said that his government’s response would be “to act with prudence, with serenity.”

Not all Mexicans will be required to have a visa to travel to Canada. The rule excludes Mexicans who have had a Canadian visa within the past 10 years, or if they currently have a temporary U.S. visa. Travelers in this category need an electronic travel authorization, which is valid for up to five years.

Canada’s visa decision is the latest step in the country’s effort to address asylum claims made from regular ports of entry, like airports, and from unofficial border crossings.

Canadian officials in January also placed restrictions on foreign students, doubling the savings threshold new applicants must have to qualify for a study permit, after a surge raised concerns about pressures on housing.

After an agreement with the United States, Canada last year closed a popular land border crossing between New York State and Quebec, called Roxham Road, following a spike in migrants entering Canada there.

Some provincial leaders, including François Legault, the premier of Quebec, have criticized the federal government’s response and say it needs to provide more financial help to defray the costs of absorbing thousands of migrants.

About half of Canada’s 290,000 asylum seekers are in Quebec, the province’s immigration minister has said, and Quebec is asking the government for 1 billion Canadian dollars in assistance.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega contributed reporting from Mexico City.

A Boring Capital for a Young Democracy. Just the Way Residents Like It.

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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Mention Belmopan, Belize’s capital that sits deep in the country’s interior, and many Belizeans will belittle the city as a bastion of pencil-pushing bureaucrats that’s not just dull, but also devoid of nightlife.

“I was warned, ‘Belmopan is for the newlyweds or the nearly deads,’” said Raquel Rodriguez, 45, owner of an art school, about the reactions when she moved to Belmopan from coastal, bustling Belize City.

Not exactly known as an Eden for young urbanites, Belmopan figures among the smallest capital cities anywhere in the Americas. It has only about 25,000 residents and a cluster of hurricane-proof, heavy-on-the-concrete, Maya-inspired Brutalist buildings.

The capital of Central America’s only English-speaking nation can feel jarringly different from the frenetic capitals of neighboring countries. In terms of its origins and design, Belmopan has more in common with the capitals of other former British colonies, especially in Africa.

But Belmopan is also, perhaps, a prism through which to view the development of Belize, which has emerged as something of an exception in Central America. In a region where rulers are embracing authoritarian tactics, Belize has developed into a relatively stable (albeit young) parliamentary democracy with a history of peaceful transitions of power.

The capital, serenely calm at times, boasts a reputation for safety and quality of life. In a sparsely populated country with fewer than half a million people, Belmopan’s welcoming vibe also showcases Belize’s extraordinary ethnic diversity, and its propensity to absorb migrants from other parts of Central America.

Consider the open-air market where many residents buy their food. Peddlers greet customers in Belize’s official language, English, or Kriol, the patois formed centuries ago when Britons brought enslaved Africans to what is now Belize.

Other vendors speak Mayan languages such as Kekchí, Mopán and Yucatec, spotlighting the Indigenous peoples who have long lived in Belize or who moved to the country from Guatemala or Mexico. Reflecting different migration waves, others ply their trade in Spanish, Chinese or Plautdietsch, an archaic Germanic language influenced by Dutch.

Like many others in Belmopan, Johan Guenther, 71, a Mennonite farmer, came from somewhere else. He was born in Mexico’s Chihuahua State, the site of large Mennonite communities, and came to Belize at 16.

He then tried his luck in Bolivia for a while but decided he preferred Belize’s mellower lifestyle. He lives with his wife in a small farming settlement outside Belmopan, coming into the capital to sell cheese, butter, cream and honey at the market.

“I’m not a city man, but I like Belmopan,” Mr. Guenther said in a mixture of English, Plautdietsch and Spanish. “It’s calm, good for selling my production, easy to get in and easy to get out.”

Making Belmopan a linchpin for agricultural development in Belize’s interior, and a haven from natural disasters, was top of mind when British colonialists developed plans to build the city after Hurricane Hattie in 1961 laid waste to the old capital, Belize City, leaving hundreds dead.

At the time, planned cities were popping up in various parts of the world, a trend turbocharged by the inauguration in 1960 of Brazil’s futuristic capital, Brasília. In Britain’s disintegrating empire, especially in Africa, the new capitals included Dodoma, in Tanzania; Gaborone, in Botswana; and Lilongwe, in Malawi. Designers largely envisioned them, like Belmopan, as “garden cities” with ample open spaces, parks and pedestrian walkways.

Political tensions shaped the city’s plans. George Price, the architect of Belizean independence, viewed Belmopan’s construction as a way to forge a sense of national identity transcending ethnic differences. And with Guatemala laying claim to Belize in a territorial dispute persisting to this day, Belize’s colonial rulers chose a site about midway between Belize City and the Guatemalan border, in a bid to populate to the interior.

Sturdy concrete government buildings like the National Assembly evoke the pyramidal design of a Maya temple, perched on an artificial mound where breezes could cool the structure. They were designed to be both hurricane proof and economical, at the time avoiding the need for air conditioning.

At the same time, the authorities tried to lure public employees to Belmopan by offering them homes, essentially in the form of concrete shells, on streets where people from different economic backgrounds were intended to live.

“Belmopan is a social experiment,” said John Milton Arana, 51, a Belizean architect whose family moved here in 1975. Noting the footpaths still connecting residential areas to Belmopan’s concrete-laden core, he added, “The pedestrian was the priority of this vision.”

Still, Mr. Arana said the notably slow-paced city can also be disorienting with its traffic circles, ring road and dearth of teeming commercial areas. “People visit and ask me, ‘Where’s downtown?’” Mr. Arana said. “I tell them, ‘You just passed it.’”

Not everyone is sold on Belmopan. Tourists tend to neglect the city, preferring the snorkeling near remote islands or stunning Maya archaeological sites. When Belmopan was inaugurated in 1970, it was forecast to grow quickly to a population of 30,000 — a figure it has still not reached more than five decades later.

Some attribute that slow growth to perennial budgetary restrictions giving Belmopan a perpetually unfinished look. The fortresslike structures where many civil servants toil are showing their age, adorned with noisy air-conditioning units; airy new buildings like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a gift from Taiwan’s government replete with hanging gardens, show how the authorities have moved on from Belmopan’s spartan origins.

Mr. Arana, the architect, said that departures from Belmopan’s original designs were changing the city for the worse. Ramshackle development outside central areas, he said, particularly where Spanish-speaking migrants from neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala have settled, underscore problems like substandard housing and untreated sewage.

Among diplomats, views on Belmopan are divided. Countries like Panama and Guatemala, along with the self-governing island of Taiwan, maintain their embassies in Belize City, which has more than double Belmopan’s population. Even after Belize gained full independence in 1981, the United States took 25 years to move its embassy to Belmopan.

Michelle Kwan, the United States ambassador to Belize and a decorated Olympic figure skater, said she had grown fond of Belmopan after relocating from Los Angeles. She compared life here to her days training in Lake Arrowhead, a small resort community in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, where she could “really focus on what I had to do.”

“It’s no different here,” Ms. Kwan said. “This is where we focus and where we work.”

Others in Belmopan suggest the city has helped forge a multicultural Belizean identity incorporating Maya peoples and newer Latino immigrants that is distinct from that of Belize City, known more as a bastion of Kriols, people of African and British descent.

“Belmopan made our cultural divides less pronounced,” said Kimberly Stuart, 49, an education lecturer at the University of Belize, whose main campus is in the capital.

Others bemoan certain aspects of life in Belmopan. While garish new homes and flashy new office buildings are altering the capital’s small-town feel, restaurants and bars are still few in number, and tend to close early.

Some in Belmopan say it is downright boring — but they like it that way. Raj Karki, 52, a Nepalese immigrant who moved to Belize to work on a hydroelectric project, liked the relaxed city so much that he decided to stay and open a restaurant offering South Asian food near government buildings.

“You can come to Belmopan from any place in the world,” Mr. Karki said. “In a short time you are welcomed and they say, ‘Help us build the future.’”

For Car Thieves, Toronto Is a ‘Candy Store,’ and Drivers Are Fed Up

Vjosa Isai drove around Toronto in a Volkswagen Passat with 290,000 miles on it, a vehicle not coveted by car thieves, to report this article.

Whenever Dennis Wilson wants to take a drive in his new SUV, he has to set aside an extra 15 minutes. That’s about how long it takes to remove the car’s steering wheel club, undo four tire locks and lower a yellow bollard before backing out of his driveway.

His Honda CR-V is also fitted with two alarm systems, a vehicle tracking device and, for good measure, four Apple AirTags. Its remote-access key fob rests in a Faraday bag, to jam illicit unlocking signals.

As a final touch, he mounted two motion-sensitive floodlights on his house and aimed them at the driveway in his modest neighborhood in Toronto.

But all of these security gadgets, Mr. Wilson is convinced, will do no more than delay what seems inevitable: Toronto’s seasoned auto thieves won’t be deterred by the defensive gear, and they’ll make off with this Honda SUV just as they did with its predecessor — and its insurance replacement, which they returned to steal.

“By no means do I think that I’ve stopped them,” Mr. Wilson said. “All I’ve done is made it take an extra 10 minutes to steal my car.”

While there has been a surge in car thefts across Canada — up 24 percent in 2022, the most recent year nationwide statistics were available — the scourge has hit the Toronto area particularly hard, creating a mix of paranoia, vigilance and resentment.

So pervasive are car thefts in Canada’s largest city, up 150 percent in the past six years, that the issue has become something of a common bond among vehicle owners. If not a victim themselves of a theft, or thefts, many people seem to know someone whose car was swiped, and just about everyone can instantly recall one of the car theft headlines that news outlets have had plenty of opportunity to publish.

Social media groups have formed to crowdsource help for car sightings. But the comments are filled with people telling owners to resign themselves to the fact that their car is probably already in a shipping container headed overseas.

“Organized crime is becoming more brazen, and the international black market for the stolen cars is expanding,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking this month in Ottawa at a hastily convened auto theft summit.

The meeting was intended to reassure Canadians that the government was aware of the issue and that it was considering a number of responses, including increasing penalties for auto thieves, investing in the border agency and banning imports of key fob hacking devices.

The government is not only aware of the problem, it also hasn’t been spared: Two government-issued Toyota Highlanders were stolen three times in Ottawa from the current and previous justice ministers.

Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party, has repeatedly criticized Mr. Trudeau on the issue, calling the government excessively lenient in bail and sentencing for offenders.

The police have received new funding, including for better surveillance equipment, but the profit motive for thieves — as much as 20,000 Canadian dollars, or $14,800 per car — has, so far, made the problem intractable.

Car thefts have escalated to “national crisis” levels, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, an industry group, which said insurers paid out a record 1.2 billion Canadian dollars, or about $890 million, in theft claims in 2022.

For victims, it’s a dizzying, and sometimes traumatizing, experience.

“I was not able to digest the truth that the car had been stolen,” said Kamran Hussain, whose leased 2022 Toyota Highlander was stolen in January. Mr. Hussain’s work as a telecom field sales representative requires him to have access to a car. He’s borrowing one from a friend while he weighs what to do next.

“Either I have to buy a new car or I have to switch jobs,” he said. “I have no other choice.”

Demand for vehicle tracking from insurers in Ontario has about doubled business at Tag Tracking, a Montreal-based company, in the past two years, said Freddy Marcantonio, its vice president. Quebec insurers often require the Tag system for high-risk cars in the province, which for decades has grappled with auto thefts largely because many thieves favor Montreal’s port for getting their hot wheels quickly out of the country.

Thanks in part to the well-known prevalence of tracking systems in Quebec, thieves have turned to Toronto for easier pickings.

“It’s like getting a credit card and telling a kid to go in a candy store and buy whatever you want, and that’s why they moved to Ontario,” Mr. Marcantonio said. “It’s a free market for them there.”

But as criminals have adapted their behavior — “I like to say they have Ph.D.s in cars theft,” Mr. Marcantonio said — so have Toronto’s car owners, with many motivated to take a step as simple as clearing the junk out of their garages so they can stow their cars at night.

Homeowners are increasingly looking for solutions to protect their driveways, too, with some winning the praise of the police for installing bollards, as Mr. Wilson has done.

Last year, Achoy Ladrick founded Bollard Boys GTA — for Greater Toronto Area, an acronym unfortunately shared with the popular video game Grand Theft Auto.

“With this company, I’ve been able to bring that confidence back, bring that peace of mind back to people,” said Mr. Ladrick, 23, adding that one client installed four bollards after three Range Rover thefts.

The bread and butter of thieves are the most prosaic cars, like Mr. Wilson’s Honda CR-V, or Ford F-150 trucks. Luxury cars are trophies.

Some wealthy collectors store their cars in secret locations with round-the-clock security and dogs at night, but thieves can still win out.

Nick Elworthy wanted to get every last detail exactly right on his Ferrari, from the stitching down to the unique color, a candy-apple red slightly deeper than the sports car’s signature shade. He got to drive it only a few times before it was stolen last summer.

But the police in Ottawa stumbled on it when an officer noticed a Range Rover being backed into a shipping container on a rural property. A second car in the container was Mr. Elworthy’s Ferrari.

“I was absolutely ecstatic when I got the call from that officer,” he said. “I was literally jumping up and down.”

Most drivers discover they’ve become victims when confronted with the initially baffling sight of an empty parking space.

When Myra White couldn’t find a 2021 Jeep Wrangler that she was sure she had parked at a residential corner in downtown Toronto, she first doubted her memory before she realized it had been stolen. To her surprise, the police found it in a rail yard, with a smashed rear passenger window.

“I’m trying to think of what we’re going to do with the car when we get it back because I don’t want, of course, for it to happen again,” said Ms. White, an executive at a Toronto logistics company. “It’s something endemic in the city.”

For the exasperated Mr. Wilson, there has been one recent consolation to being a Toronto car owner: This year’s mild winter means he hasn’t often had to pull out his heat gun or de-icer spray to unfreeze his multiple locks.

Given that he bikes to work — and given all that is required for him to try to fend off the thieves who hanker for his Honda — he said his mind is made up on what his next move will be if he is victimized again.

“If they steal this car, I think I’m done,” he said, adding, “When they come with their antenna and they put it by the window, the only two fobs they’re going to pick up are the two cars that they’ve already stolen. I left those for them.”

Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

A week after Hamas-led terrorists stormed his kibbutz and kidnapped his wife and three young children, Avihai Brodutch planted himself on the sidewalk in front of army headquarters in Tel Aviv holding a sign scrawled with the words “My family’s in Gaza,” and said he would not budge until they were brought home.

Passers-by stopped to commiserate with him and to try to lift his spirits. They brought him coffee, platters of food and changes of clothing, and welcomed him to their homes to wash up and get some sleep.

“They were so kind, and they just couldn’t do enough,” said Mr. Brodutch, 42, an agronomist who grew pineapples on Kibbutz Kfar Azza before the attacks on Oct. 7. “It was Israel at its finest,” he said. “There was a feeling of a common destiny.”

The one-man sit-in mushroomed in the weeks after the attacks. But the sidewalks outside the military headquarters could not contain multitudes, and some people were uncomfortable with the location, which was associated with anti-government protests last year.

So the mass moved a block north to the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where a long rectangular table set for 234 people and surrounded by empty chairs had been installed to represent the captives. Since some 110 hostages have come home, half of the table has been reset to correspond to the conditions of captivity they described, with half a moldy piece of pita bread on each plate and bottles of dirty water on the table instead of wineglasses.

In the months since the attacks, the plaza has continued to attract a steady stream of Israelis and tourists on volunteer missions who want to support the families. But it has also become a home away from home for the parents, adult children, siblings, cousins and other relatives of hostages.

Although it can get damp and chilly in Tel Aviv in the winter, many have set up tents in the plaza, often sleeping there, keeping company with the only other people in the world who they say can truly understand what they are experiencing — the family members of other hostages.

“If I don’t know what to do, I come here,” said Yarden Gonen, 30, who was wearing a white sweatshirt emblazoned with a picture of her sister Romi Gonen, 23, who was shot and kidnapped at the outdoor Nova music festival near the Gaza border. A friend with her was killed.

“None of us is doing anything remotely related to our previous lives,” Yarden Gonen said. Even having coffee in a cafe would make her feel bad, she said.

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“To do that would be to normalize the situation,” she said. “It would be like saying, ‘This is OK, and I’m used to it.’ And I’m not willing to do that.”

Ms. Gonen said she found comfort in the constant presence in the square of people who are not related to the hostages, like the peace activists from Women Wage Peace who stand vigil daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. so the families are not alone, and a trio of women who bonded over their anger at international organizations they believe have failed the hostages (they carry posters that say, “Red Cross Do Your Job!” or “U.N. Women, Where Are You?”).

“When it’s raining and I see that they’ve come, it is moving, because they could have stayed cozy at home,” Ms. Gonen said. “There is a feeling that they support us, that we haven’t been abandoned.”

Although the Israeli government has stated that one of the primary goals of the war in Gaza is to free the hostages, the army has said it has so far rescued only a small number of individuals. Three others were mistakenly killed by Israeli troops.

Most of the hostages who have returned — including Mr. Brodutch’s wife and children — were released in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, as part of a cease-fire deal negotiated with Hamas in November.

For many of the hostage families, the greatest fear is that despite the stated goal, the government is not prioritizing the extrication of the hostages. They worry it may ultimately chalk up the loss of the remaining captives as just more collateral damage in the bloody conflict.

The Gaza health ministry says that more than 29,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the territory since the war’s start.

Many people who come to the Tel Aviv plaza regularly say that if Israel does not secure the release of the hostages, the country will never be the same. “We will be worth nothing if they don’t come back,” said Jemima Kronfeld, 84, who visits every Thursday. “We will have no value. We will lose what we were, the safe feeling of being at home.”

In the initial chaos after the surprise attacks, many people did not know if their relatives — who had gone missing from kibbutzim and the site of a rave near the Gaza border — had been bound and dragged across the border, or killed, and many complained that the government was unresponsive.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a grass-roots citizens’ group, sprung up to fill the void. The group provides a wide range of services for hostage families, serving them three meals a day, making medical, psychological and legal services available, and acting as an advocacy group, organizing and funding news media appearances and meetings with world leaders, as well as rallies pressing for the hostages’ release.

The forum raises private donations but has received no support from the Israeli government, which still does not provide the families with regular updates, said Liat Bell Sommer, who quit her day job to head the forum’s international media relations team.

Other volunteers pitch in when they can.

“I just felt like I had to do something — I thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some part in this,” said Hilla Shtein, 49, of Tel Aviv, a human resources manager who goes to the plaza several times a week to work a stand where visitors can make a donation and pick up hats, sweatshirts and buttons that say “Bring them home NOW.”

The most popular items — ubiquitous throughout Israel now — are dog tags that say “Our hearts are hostage in Gaza,” in Hebrew.

“It’s hard, because it’s really in your face when you’re here,” Ms. Shtein said, adding, “But it’s pulling at your heart all the time anyway.”

After reports last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told negotiators not to participate further in talks in Cairo about a cease-fire and the return of the hostages, the forum accused the government of abandoning the captives. Thousands protested on Saturday night, despite thunderstorms, calling on the government to secure their immediate return.

Those who visit the plaza regularly say that there is always something new to see.

In January, the artist Roni Levavi installed a giant 30-yard tunnel that people can walk through to experience being in a dark sealed space, like the tunnels in Gaza that some returned hostages have described being held in. Romi Gonen’s dance teachers hold an open lesson on the plaza every Sunday afternoon in her honor, and friends of Carmel “Melly” Gat, 39, a hostage who is an occupational therapist and yoga instructor, teach an open yoga class every Friday morning.

There is a booth where visitors can write letters to hostages, or paint a rock if they prefer, and another booth that offers mental health first aid. Occasionally, someone will sit down and play an Israeli pop song at a piano donated by relatives of Alon Ohel, 22, a musician who was kidnapped from the rave, and the crowd sings along.

When it is a hostage’s birthday, some families commemorate the day in the square, where a symbolic high chair and birthday cake are set up for Kfir Bibas, who would have turned 1 in captivity. The Israeli army said Monday that it feared for the safety of the baby and his family.

In early February, Albert Xhelili, 57, an artist visiting from Santa Fe, N.M., attracted onlookers when he started drawing charcoal portraits of the hostages that he hung on a clothesline in one of the tents on the square.

Ariel Rosenberg, 31, a marketing consultant from New York who came to Israel in January as part of a group to do volunteer work, said she and her fellow travelers had been at the plaza recently to help sort posters with pictures of the hostages, separating out those who had been released and those who were no longer alive, something that was painful for the families to do.

Ms. Rosenberg said the group members find themselves coming back every Saturday night to attend weekly rallies calling for the immediate release of the hostages, and they often stop by on other evenings as well. “I come to bear witness,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “It’s become sacred ground.”

An English City Gave Soccer to the World. Now It Wants Credit.

As far as the man in the food truck is concerned, the patch of land he occupies in Sheffield, England, is about as humdrum as they come. To him, the spot — in the drab parking lot of a sprawling home improvement superstore, its facade plastered in lurid orange — is not exactly a place where history comes alive.

John Wilson, an academic at the University of Sheffield’s management school, looks at the same site and can barely contain his excitement. This, he said, is one of the places where the world’s most popular sport was born. He does not see a parking lot. He can see the history: the verdant grass, the sweating players, the cheering crowds.

His passion is sincere, absolute and shared by a small band of amateur historians and volunteer detectives devoted to restoring Sheffield — best known for steel, coal and as the setting for the film “The Full Monty” — to its rightful place as the undisputed birthplace of codified, organized, recognizable soccer.

Map locates Sheffield, Manchester and London in England. It also shows where Wembley Stadium is in northwest London.

For now, their attempts have mustered a walking tour of the city, conducted through a homemade app, and a few slightly weathered plaques. But Dr. Wilson and his compatriots have a bold vision of what their efforts might produce: a “digital museum” of Sheffield’s soccer history, a sculpture trail and — more than anything — a clear and prestigious identity for a city that has, in recent times, struggled just a little to define itself.

As they look to use the city’s past to shape its future, though, they do — Dr. Wilson warned — have a bit of a “tendency to go off on tangents.”

He is not wrong. In the half-hour walk to the parking lot, Dr. Wilson, 65, and two of his fellow enthusiasts, John Stocks, a 65-year-old retired English teacher and author, and John Clarke, a retired computer engineer who is 63, touched on a range of subjects that included — but was not limited to — social migration patterns in Victorian England, the Netflix series “The English Game” and the practice of topping walls with crozzle, a waste product from iron furnaces.

They discussed each digression with glee, eagerly diving every rabbit hole. Like many ardent hobbyists, they reveled in the detail as much as the sweep.

The picture they have in their minds, though, is clear.

“In the 1850s and 60s, there were hundreds of teams, playing each other in competitive games, on pitches all over the city,” Mr. Stocks said. In studying Sheffield’s soccer legacy, he said, the past they have unearthed reveals the city as “the home of the first real football culture anywhere in the world.” That, they believe, might also be the key to its future.

But the title “Home of Football” — always capitalized and, in flagrant disregard of New York Times style, never “soccer” — is a contested one.

It is semiofficially applied to Wembley, the stadium in the endless gray expanse of northwest London that is the headquarters of both the English national team and the Football Association, the game’s governing body in England.

Visit England, the country’s tourist board, backs another contender. It describes Manchester as the “Home of Football,” on the grounds that it hosts two heavyweights of the Premier League and the National Football Museum. Manchester is also where the Football League — the sport’s first professional competition — was formed.

In comparison, Sheffield’s candidacy for the title is distinctly homespun. There is a brief précis of the city’s role in the game’s formation on the website of its tourist board, and an archive is on display in the “local studies” section of the city’s library.

“We’ve not been very good at promoting ourselves,” said Richard Caborn, a former lawmaker from the city and the minister for sport under Tony Blair’s Labour government. “We’ve never really positioned ourselves to exploit it.”

Sheffield Home of Football, an educational charity established by Dr. Wilson and his fellow travelers, has stepped into that void.

“We’ve been through the history and we have the documentation,” Mr. Caborn said. “This isn’t a claim. It’s evidence-based.”

Sheffield’s case is compelling. Sheffield F.C., the world’s oldest club, was founded here. So, too, was Hallam F.C., the world’s second-oldest. Hallam’s home, Sandygate, has been hosting soccer since 1860, longer than anywhere else. It was in Sheffield, too, that the rules of the game that would become soccer were first written down.

Mr. Stocks and his fellow “obsessives” — his word — draw the greatest satisfaction in finding the supporting evidence. It is painstaking work, trawling through both digital and physical archives, but worth it, he said.

“There are some of us who will stay up all night chasing down a lead they’ve found,” he said. “I’m not quite as bad as that, but I do devote quite a lot of time to it. I have quite a few other projects I’m supposed to be getting on with, but the reality is that most of the time, I’m doing this.”

Because of their work, Sheffield can now, with a reasonable degree of confidence, claim to be home to the first derby match in world soccer — the meeting of city rivals Sheffield F.C. and Hallam on the site of the home improvement store’s parking lot — as well as the first corner kick, the first use of the crossbar and the first match report.

Mr. Stocks has also tracked down a suggestion that passing was invented in Sheffield — not in Scotland, as is widely believed. There are accounts of what sounds an awful lot like professionalism. “We think there’s a chance the first German team was founded here, too,” Dr. Wilson said.

Part of the thrill, they admit, is correcting some of the inaccuracies in what they call soccer’s “folk history.” Their driving force, though, is the sense that their discoveries can define not only what Sheffield was, but what it might yet be.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Sheffield was hit hard by the decline of Britain’s heavy industries; even harder than much of the rest of northern England, Dr. Wilson said.

Built on steel and coal, the city was run for years by a left-leaning council that was a gleeful thorn in the side of successive British governments. “They called it the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire,” he said. As the factories and mines shuttered, Sheffield struggled both for investment and identity.

The various modern conceptions of Sheffield have not yielded a new one. The backdrop for the film “Brassed Off,” as well as “The Full Monty,” and home to Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys, two of the defining British bands of the last quarter-century, the city also developed a reputation for advanced manufacturing. It is where, every year, the world snooker championship is held.

Nothing, though, has ever quite settled. “The council are leaning into music quite heavily now,” Mr. Stocks said. “But it won’t stick. We’re not Liverpool. We’re not London. We’re not Glasgow.”

Soccer, though, is different. To him and the others, Sheffield’s role in shaping the most popular sport in the world should be its calling card, its claim to fame — not to attract tourists necessarily, but so it can find its place in the world, can define its sense of self.

“Most people here only have a vague awareness of some of it,” Dr. Wilson said. “They don’t know we have this unique identity, that this is something we gave to the world. No other city can say that.”

How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

Jack Nicas and Dado Galdieri reported this article among the giant puppets of the Carnival celebrations in Olinda, Brazil

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It was near the start of one of Brazil’s most famous Carnival celebrations, in the northern seaside city of Olinda, and the town plaza was jammed with thousands of revelers. They were all awaiting their idol.

Just before 9 p.m., the doors to a dance hall swung open, a brass band pushed into the crowd and the star everyone had been waiting for stepped out: a 12-foot puppet of John Travolta.

Confetti sprayed, the band began playing a catchy tune and the crowd sang along: “John Travolta is really cool. Throwing a great party. And in Olinda, the best carnival.” (It rhymes in Portuguese.)

The giant John Travolta, perched on the head of a puppeteer, then led a parade through the cobblestone streets.

The “boneco,” as such giant puppets are known in Brazil, wore a bedazzled disco-era turtleneck and suit, with a black pompadour, a la John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” Celebrating its 45th birthday this year, the boneco is about as old as that film.

But its resemblance to the real Mr. Travolta?

“It looks nothing like him,” said the man who made the puppet more than four decades ago, Silvio Botelho, 65, in his workshop in the shade of a mango tree. The clay and papier-mâché face has morphed over time, setting the eyes a bit off-kilter. “The humidity took over,” he said. “Everything is warped.”

Mr. Botelho has begged to remake it, but the family who owns the boneco says they — and thousands of their neighbors — love it exactly the way it is.

“The people are in love with this boneco,” said Eraldo José Gomes, 56, a grandfather who was among the group of disco-crazed boys who had the idea to create a John Travolta puppet in 1979. “We’re afraid to mess with it.”

The John Travolta boneco (pronounced BO-neh-koh) is one of hundreds of giant puppets that parade through Olinda for four days every February, becoming the calling card of this city’s renowned Carnival — which winds down with Fat Tuesday celebrations this week — and a show of how the pre-Lent festivities in Brazil are far more than just Rio de Janeiro’s extravagant Samba parade.

For locals here in Olinda, a city of roughly 350,000, the bonecos also serve a deeper purpose. They are totems of sorts, playing an important cultural and community role, and often bringing revelers to tears. Olinda’s oldest boneco, The Midnight Man, is even considered a sacred religious object by followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, with specific religious instructions for his handling.

“I grew up with John Travolta. He is my brother. He is the uncle of my children,” Valeria dos Santos, 41, said of the John Travolta boneco. The domestic worker began to cry when explaining how her mother loved that boneco, ironed its clothes for years and died in 2007, on the day it paraded the streets.

The bonecos first arrived in the region in 1919 in a town seven hours away, when a Portuguese priest told of similar puppets in Europe used for religious celebrations, said Jorge Veloso, an Olinda historian who studies Brazil’s bonecos.

In 1932, Carnival revelers in Olinda created The Midnight Man, which for decades has paraded every Saturday night at midnight, a moment carried live on television.

In 1967, Carnival groups created a second boneco, The Daytime Woman, to be The Midnight Man’s wife — there was a Carnival marriage ceremony — and then, in 1974, came their son, The Afternoon Kid.

Later, a group of seven boys, enthralled with “Saturday Night Fever,” persuaded Mr. Botelho to create a John Travolta boneco. Mr. Botelho, who was just starting out and knew the boys from the neighborhood, agreed to do it for free.

From there, bonecos exploded across Olinda. There are folkloric figures, fictional characters and puppets based on well-known revelers. Local politicians order them for their campaigns, businesses make them for promotions and people order them as gifts.

Most are the creation of Mr. Botelho, a self-taught puppet maker who estimates he and his team have created more than 1,300 bonecos. He used to work with papier-mâché and Styrofoam, but now mostly molds fiberglass and epoxy over a clay sculpture, paints it and adds hair and clothes. “I created a culture,” he said.

About 15 years ago, competition arrived. A businessman, Leandro Castro, began creating bonecos in the metropolis next door, Recife, Brazil’s eighth-largest city. His idea — to create a boneco museum — became a big success, in large part because he had a good gimmick: All his bonecos would depict famous figures.

His one-room museum is stacked with Brazilian and international celebrities, including Elvis, Pelé and Pope Francis.

Mr. Castro attracts lots of coverage in the Brazilian media, in part for his stunts with politics. He has bonecos of President Biden; Xi Jinping, the leader of China; and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. He has staged a meeting between the bonecos of former President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader. And he proudly showed off a message from Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, thanking him for his own boneco.

While Mr. Castro is the face of the business, the secret to his lifelike bonecos is a little-known sculptor, Antônio Bernardo, who on Friday was in his dingy studio a few blocks from the museum, molding a giant clay head alongside his sleeping dog, Honey.

Mr. Bernardo has sculpted nearly all of Mr. Castro’s 750 bonecos and was now racing to finish a new politician for Mr. Castro’s annual Carnival puppet parade: President Javier Milei of Argentina.

Mr. Bernardo said making his own art fulfills him, while the bonecos are a job. “This gives me no pleasure,” he said, motioning to Mr. Milei’s head. “I am dominated by it.”

The dueling puppet moguls, Mr. Botelho and Mr. Castro, have become rivals of sorts. Mr. Botelho called Mr. Castro a “pirate.” Mr. Castro criticized the craftsmanship of Mr. Botelho’s bonecos, naming John Travolta in particular. Mr. Castro said he planned to make a better John Travolta for next year.

The John Travolta boneco does have an unconventional look — and an undeniable charm.

“It’s horrible, but beautiful,” said Maria Helena Alcântara, 30, one reveler awaiting the boneco’s arrival Saturday night. “He touches our hearts.”

While the crowd grew in the square, more than 100 people partied inside the dance hall at a private John Travolta party. They wore John Travolta shirts, danced to the catchy John Travolta tune and posed with the John Travolta boneco perched in the corner.

“There isn’t much of a link with the actor today. Now he’s John Travolta of Olinda,” said Diego Gomes, 25, a relative of the founders of the John Travolta boneco. He had watched “Saturday Night Fever” for the first time that week. “It was interesting,” he said.

Across the city, several children carried smaller John Travolta bonecos on their heads as their Carnival costumes. And at one point in Mr. Botelho’s workshop, 5-year-old Victor Calebe ran in, took a look at the assorted bonecos and asked, “Where’s John Travolta?”

The boneco founders said they had tried to reach the real Mr. Travolta for years but never heard back.

“He’s going to be like: What insanity is this?” Mr. Botelho predicted. “Are they drunk?”

However, when reached for comment, the real Mr. Travolta felt differently.

“Your music, your dance and your passion fills me with a feeling of completeness!” the actor responded in an email when asked if he had a message for the Olinda revelers. “I am proud and honored to be the icon of your carnival! It makes me so happy! Love always, John Travolta.”

Laura Linhares Mollica contributed reporting.

Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

Gabriel Attal, 34, is a new kind of French prime minister, more inclined to Diet Coke than a good Burgundy, at home with social media and revelations about his personal life, a natural communicator who reels off one-liners like “France rhymes with power” to assert his “authority,” a favorite word.

Since taking office in early January, the boyish-looking Mr. Attal has waded into the countryside, far from his familiar haunts in the chic quarters of Paris, muddied his dress shoes, propped his notes on a choreographed bale of hay, and calmed protesting farmers through adroit negotiation leavened by multiple concessions.

He has told rail workers threatening a strike that “working is a duty,” not an everyday French admonition. He has shown off his new dog on Instagram and explained that he called the high-energy Chow Chow “Volta” after the inventor of the electric battery. He has told the National Assembly that he is the living proof of a changing France as “a prime minister who assumes his homosexuality.”

France does budge, but whether it is ready for the control-the-narrative politics of emotion and distraction that Mr. Attal embodies is an open question. Time is short. The prime minister’s mission, as conceived by an embattled President Emmanuel Macron, is clear: reverse the ascendancy of the far right of Marine Le Pen ahead of European Parliament elections in June and a French presidential election just over three years from now.

Mr. Macron is term limited and must leave office in 2027; the specter that haunts him is Ms. Le Pen as his successor. In Mr. Attal, he hopes to cultivate one of his own.

“Macron is amazed by Attal, the way one is amazed by someone who has transgressed like oneself, and who at the same time is of an absolute loyalty,” Marisol Touraine, a former minister of health and social affairs who has been Mr. Attal’s political guru, said in an interview. “The president believes in Attal’s political sixth sense.”

The “transgression” of both men was that of restive youth against the old order. Neither Mr. Macron nor Mr. Attal ever saw a taboo he did not want to shatter. Mr. Macron was a one-man revolution when he came to power in 2017 at the age of 39, proclaiming the politics of left and right defunct and offering a malleable post-ideological thing called “Macronism.”

Now, almost seven years on, Mr. Macron is looking to his protégé, or some say, clone, to re-inject political excitement. Pragmatism, not conviction, has defined Mr. Attal. Now, he must deliver in a prickly France, without an absolute majority in Parliament and knowing that, as Clément Beaune, the former transport minister, put it, “To be prime minister here is very tough because it’s the president who decides.”

“The question that looms is how far Macron will let Attal go without growing jealous,” said Philippe Labro, an author and political commentator. Sharing the spotlight does not come easily to Mr. Macron, as became evident when one former prime minister, Édouard Philippe, became popular and was eased out.

A recent poll for Paris Match magazine showed Mr. Attal with a 47 percent approval rating, which is high by French standards. Mr. Macron sank to 32 percent, with Ms. Le Pen at 43 percent.

Mr. Attal’s challenge will be to use the hand that Mr. Macron has given him but not appear to bite it as he steps out of the shadow of the president. Already the two men have parted company over Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally.

This month Mr. Macron said he considers the party “outside the arc of the republic,” broadly meaning anti-democratic, even as Mr. Attal declared that the “arc of the republic is the hemicycle” of the National Assembly, and that he would work with all parties there, including the far-right party, which holds 89 seats.

“Attal wants to become president and will do everything to achieve that,” said Ms. Touraine, whose daughter was a friend of Mr. Attal in school. “Is he ambitious? Yes, in an extreme way. But he has no complexes. He assumes who he is, and I find that positive.”

Mr. Attal, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has been on a whirlwind political journey to the prime minister’s office, known as Matignon. Born in 1989 into an affluent Parisian family, Jewish on his father’s side and Orthodox Christian on his mother’s, he was educated at an elite private school and the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, before drifting into politics, essentially the only job he’s ever had.

“École Alsacienne, Sciences Po, National Assembly, Ministry of Education, Matignon, the career of Gabriel Attal spans 6 kilometers,” mocked François Ruffin, a left-wing lawmaker on X, formerly Twitter, adding, “Disruption and audacity, but not too far from his class.”

Mr. Attal’s youth was not without its challenges, however. As a teenager he was bullied at school for being gay. “It was a torrent of insults and abuse, and it went on for many months with an extreme violence,” he told TF1 television last year. “I suffered.”

The suffering was redoubled because he did not want to tell his family, afraid “they would ask why this was being said” when he was not ready to talk about being gay. At last, a decade later, Mr. Attal, in his account, approached his father on his deathbed in 2015 and said, “Papa, I have fallen in love with a man.” His father responded positively, was eager to meet the man, but died the next day.

France, where the privacy of love and sex has been near sacred, is unused to such dramatic avowals, but Mr. Attal is a disrupter, even as he exercises extreme discipline. A “control freak,” in the words of Ms. Touraine, he has understood that in the age of the short attention span, the way to dictate the agenda is through relentless, varied communication.

He has also understood that this is an era where nationalist politics thrive on fears of immigration. In his brief spell as education minister, he banned the abaya, or loosefitting full-length robe, used by some female Muslim students. Leaders of France’s large Muslim community and the left were incensed; they are no fans of Mr. Attal. In cabinet meetings, Mr. Attal was known for insisting that the government assume the need to move right on immigration.

Mr. Attal’s hard-hitting inaugural speech to Parliament last month was a hymn to “a nation without equal.” He would, he said, “refuse that our identity be diluted or dissolved.”

“You don’t negotiate with the Republic,” he hammered. “You accept and respect it, whole, without a single exception!”

As an appeal to Ms. Le Pen’s voters, it was scarcely subtle.

The rightward journey has been long. Mr. Attal’s roots, like Mr. Macron’s, were as a Socialist. Starting out in the moderate Social Democratic wing of the party, Mr. Attal did two internships with Ms. Touraine, then a Socialist representative, before joining her team at the health and social affairs ministry in 2012.

He was 23. Few people guessed what determination lay behind his even-tempered manner.

“You don’t sense his ambition at first,” said Luc Broussy, who, as an expert on aging populations, worked frequently with Mr. Attal. “I never saw him angry. He has never betrayed his convictions because I never saw him affirm any.”

As the Macron bandwagon gathered pace in 2016, Mr. Attal wavered. He had provisionally accepted a job arranged by Ms. Touraine at the French diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.

At the same time, however, he had fallen in love and formed a couple with Stéphane Séjourné, now the foreign minister, who was and remains close to Mr. Macron; and in early 2017, a Macron victory in the presidential election suddenly looked near inevitable.

“He joined Macron at the last moment and this incredible adventure began,” said Mr. Broussy. Ms. Touraine recalls telling Mr. Attal in March 2017, “It’s now or never.”

Mr. Attal jumped. Three months later he was a representative in the National Assembly as Mr. Macron’s centrist La République en Marche (now Renaissance) party swept the June parliamentary election.

“Absent Séjourné, I am not sure Attal would have become a Macronist lawmaker in 2017,” Ms. Touraine said. (He and Mr. Séjourné have since broken up.)

Soon records started to tumble as Mr. Macron adopted Mr. Attal as a favorite. At 29, in 2018, he became the youngest minister of a French Fifth Republic government as secretary of state for education; then the youngest education minister in 2023, and youngest prime minister in 2024.

The task now before him is daunting. He wants to “unlock” the economy — “A bureaucracy that retreats is liberty that advances!” — in a country fiercely attached to its social safety net.

He wants to promote green energy against a wave of protests over the high cost of that. He is a representative of the very elite class that people in outlying areas see as disconnected from the hardships of real life — a theme Ms. Le Pen likes to hammer on.

Not least, Mr. Attal must nurse his own fierce presidential ambitions while showing fealty to Mr. Macron, even as the jostling to succeed the president has already started.

Before he died in 2015, Mr. Attal’s father, a Jew of Tunisian descent, told him, “You are not a Jew, but everyone will think you are. So it’s as if you were.”

Mr. Attal, who was raised in the Orthodox Church but is not religious, has talked about this scene, as well as the homophobic and antisemitic rants he has sometimes faced on social media. These attacks, if anything, appear to have toughened him.

“One thing I know for certain about him is that if something inhabits and torments him, and I do believe he is tormented, it is ambition that allows him to overcome all that,” Ms. Touraine said.

The Friar Who Became the Vatican’s Go-To Guy on A.I.

Before dawn, Paolo Benanti climbed to the bell tower of his 16th-century monastery, admired the sunrise over the ruins of the Roman forum and reflected on a world in flux.

“It was a wonderful meditation on what is going on inside,” he said, stepping onto the street in his friar robe. “And outside too.”

There is a lot going on for Father Benanti, who, as both the Vatican’s and the Italian government’s go-to artificial intelligence ethicist, spends his days thinking about the Holy Ghost and the ghosts in the machines.

In recent weeks, the ethics professor, ordained priest and self-proclaimed geek has joined Bill Gates at a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, presided over a commission seeking to save Italian media from ChatGPT bylines and general A.I. oblivion, and met with Vatican officials to further Pope Francis’s aim of protecting the vulnerable from the coming technological storm.

At a conference organized by the ancient Knights of Malta order, he told a crowd of ambassadors that “global governance is needed, otherwise the risk is social collapse.” He also talked up the Rome Call, a Vatican, Italian government, Silicon Valley and U.N. effort he helped organize.

The author of many books (“Homo Faber: The Techno-Human Condition”) and a fixture on international A.I. panels, Father Benanti, 50, is a professor at the Gregorian, the Harvard of Rome’s pontifical universities, where he teaches moral theology, ethics and a course called “The Fall of Babel: The Challenges of Digital, Social Networks and Artificial Intelligence.”

For a church and a country looking to harness, and survive, the coming A.I. revolution, his job is to provide advice from an ethical and spiritual perspective. He shares his insights with Pope Francis, who in his annual World Day of Peace message on Jan. 1 called for a global treaty to ensure the ethical development and use of AI to prevent a world devoid of human mercy, where inscrutable algorithms decide who is granted asylum, who gets a mortgage, or who, on the battlefield, lives or dies.

Those concerns reflected those of Father Benanti, who does not believe in the industry’s ability to self-regulate and thinks some rules of the road are required in a world where deep fakes and disinformation can erode democracy.

He is concerned that masters of the A.I. universes are developing systems that will expand chasms of inequality. He fears the transition to A.I. will be so abrupt that entire professional fields will be left doing menial jobs, or nothing, stripping people of dignity and unleashing floods of “despair.” This, he said, raises enormous questions about redistributing wealth in an A.I. dominant universe.

But he also sees the potential of A.I.

For Italy, with one of the world’s most aged and shrinking populations, Father Benanti is thinking hard about how A.I. can keep productivity afloat. And all the time he applies his perspective about what it means to be alive, and to be human, when machines seem more alive and human. “This is a spiritual question,” he said.

After his morning meditation, Father Benanti walked, with the bottom of his bluejeans peeking out under his black robes, to work. He passed the second-century Trajan’s column and carefully stepped into one of Rome’s busiest streets at the crosswalk.

“This is the worst city for self-driving cars,” he said. “It’s too complicated. Maybe in Arizona.”

His office at the Gregorian is decorated with framed prints of his own street photography — images of down-and-out Romans dragging on cigarettes, a bored couple preferring their cellphones to their baby — and pictures of him and Pope Francis shaking hands. His religious vocation, he explained, came after his scientific one.

Born in Rome, his father worked as a mechanical engineer and his mother taught science in high school. Growing up, he loved “The Lord of the Rings” and Dungeons and Dragons but wasn’t a shut-in with games, as he was also a Boy Scout who collected photography, navigation and cooking badges.

When his troupe of 12-year-olds visited Rome to do charity, he met Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, who was then a parish priest, but who, like him, would go on to work for the Italian government — as a member of the country’s commission on aging — and the Vatican. Now Cardinal Paglia is Father Benanti’s superior at the church’s Pontifical Academy For Life, which is charged with grappling with how to promote the church’s ethic on life amid bioethical and technological upheavals.

Around the time Father Benanti first met Monsignor Paglia, an uncle gave him a Texas Instruments home computer for Christmas. He sought to re-engineer it to play video games. “It never worked,” he said.

He attended a high school that stressed the classics — to prove his antiquity credibility, he burst out, while walking to work, with the opening of the Odyssey in ancient Greek — and a philosophy teacher thought he had a future pondering the meaning of things. But the workings of things exerted a greater attraction, and he pursued an engineering degree at Sapienza University in Rome. It wasn’t enough.

“I started to feel that something was missing,” he said, explaining that his advancement as an engineering student erased the mystique machines held for him. “I simply broke the magic.”

In 1999 his then-girlfriend thought he needed more God in his life. They went to a Franciscan church in Massa Martana in Umbria, where her plan worked too well because he then realized he needed a sacred space where he could “not stop questioning life.”

By the end of the year he had ditched his girlfriend and joined the Franciscan order, to the consternation of his parents, who asked if he was overcompensating for a bad breakup.

He left Rome to study in Assisi, the home of St. Francis, and over the next decade, took his final vows as a friar, was ordained as a priest and defended his dissertation on human enhancement and cyborgs. He got his job at the Gregorian, and eventually as the Vatican’s IT ethics guy.

“He is convened by many institutions,” said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who used to run the Vatican’s culture department, where Father Benanti was a scientific adviser.

In 2017, Cardinal Ravasi organized an event at the Italian embassy to the Holy See where Father Benanti gave a talk on the ethics of A.I. Microsoft officials in attendance were impressed and asked to stay in touch. That same year, the Italian government asked him to contribute to A.I. policy documents and the next year he successfully applied to sit on its commission for developing a national A.I. strategy.

Then in 2018, he reconnected with now Cardinal Paglia, a favorite of Francis, and told him “look, something big is moving.” Soon after, Father Benanti’s contacts at Microsoft asked him to help arrange a meeting between Francis and Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith.

Father Benanti, as part of the Vatican delegation, translated technical terms during the 2019 meeting. Francis, he said, didn’t at first realize what Microsoft really did, but liked that Mr. Smith took out of his pocket one of the pope’s speeches on social media and showed the pontiff the concerns the business executive had highlighted and shared.

Francis — who Father Benanti said has become more literate on A.I., especially after an image of the pope sporting an A.I. designed white puffer coat went viral — then became more animated. The pope liked when the discussion was less about the technology, Father Benanti said, and more on “what he can do” to protect the vulnerable.

Last month, Father Benanti, who said he receives no payment from Microsoft, participated in a meeting between Mr. Gates, the company’s co-founder, and Ms. Meloni, who is worried about A.I.’s impact on the work force. “She has to run a country,” he said.

She has now appointed Father Benanti to replace the leader of the A.I. commission on Italian media with whom she was displeased.

“Obedience to authority is one of the vows,” Father Benanti said as he fiddled with the knots on his robe’s corded belt signifying his Franciscan order’s promise of obedience, poverty and chastity.

That commission is studying ways to protect Italy’s writers. Father Benanti believes that A.I. companies should be held liable for using copyrighted sources to train their chatbots, though he worries it is hard to prove because the companies are “black boxes.”

But that mystery has also, for Father Benanti, once again imbued the technology with magic, even if it is the dark kind. In that way, it wasn’t so new, he said, arguing that as ancient Roman augurs turned to the flight of birds for direction, A.I., with its enormous grasp of our physical, emotional and preferential data, could be the new oracles, determining decisions, and replacing God with false idols.

“It’s something old that probably we think that we left behind,” the friar said, “but that is coming back.”

A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

When the owner of an underground club in Kyiv reached out to Western musicians to play in Ukraine, long before the war, there were not so many takers.

But an American from Boston, Mirza Ramic, accepted the invitation, spawning a lasting friendship with the club’s owner, Taras Khimchak.

“I kept coming back,” Mr. Ramic, 40, said in an interview at the club, Mezzanine, where he was preparing for a performance during a recent tour of Ukraine.

The country, he said “is one of the places that has welcomed me most and been the most supportive of my music.” And so especially after the Russian invasion two years ago, he added, “I wanted to come now, to show my support in these hard times.”

Mr. Ramic, born in Bosnia, is a child of war himself. At 11, he lost his father in the shelling of his hometown, Mostar, and spent years as a refugee, moving from country to country with his mother as she struggled to find a way to survive.

They lived in Zagreb, Croatia; Tunis; and Prague, before moving to the United States, first to Arizona, and eventually Boston. There, he finished his education and began a career as a musician, forming an electronic band, Arms and Sleepers, with a college friend, Max Lewis.

Now a solo musician, he was back playing in Kyiv and two other cities in the fall, undeterred by the threat of missile strikes, giving free concerts in a personal commitment to stand alongside his Ukrainian fans.

“Arts and culture during war are one of the most important things that keeps people going because it gives them a sense of human dignity,” Mr. Ramic said. “They are also entitled to this in difficult times.”

Mr. Ramic has many Russian fans too — as well as Russian friends, including his promoter in Moscow, who left their home country in protest at the war in Ukraine. He said he has tried to imagine the dilemma in his own context, how he as a Bosnian would have felt toward a Serb who was against the war. But since the invasion, he said, he had decided not to play in Russia out of respect for Ukrainians.

“To go there, symbolically, at this moment, would not be right,” he said.

The one constant in his life has been music, and it has become his main tool in navigating his traumatic life experiences. In the interview, he spoke eloquently of his life as a refugee and an immigrant, of the loss of his father, and of his sense of alienation and not belonging anywhere.

“For me music is a way to deal with these difficult core memories,” he said. “At the root, it is that.”

His mother, Selma, a piano teacher, taught him classical piano throughout their odyssey as refugees, and hoped Mr. Ramic would become a concert pianist. But in his teens, he gave up the daily four hours of piano practice to focus on his studies, and turned to playing piano and keyboards in bands through high school and college instead.

He studied Eastern European history and politics at Bowdoin College, in Maine, and international relations in a masters’ program at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, driven by a desire to understand the geopolitics that is the backdrop to his life.

Yet he came to confront his own pain in the process. In “To Tell a Ghost,” a short documentary film he made several years ago, he described the shock he felt when the class discussion turned to the wars of the former Yugoslavia.

“I remember sitting in class, drinking my coffee — like everyone else — and suddenly freezing on the inside,” he related in the film. He couldn’t participate in the discussion, he said.

In between courses, he played in a rock band, and in 2006 he formed Arms and Sleepers with Mr. Lewis. It was a special partnership, he said, between Mr. Ramic, born a Muslim, and Mr. Lewis who is Jewish, and now teaching ethics at Yale University. The band’s name reflects Mr. Ramic’s view of the war in Bosnia, referring to the many who wielded weapons, and others, who did little to stop it. “The world was sleeping,” he said.

He was 9 when war broke out in Mostar as Serbian forces fought Croatian and Bosnian fighters for control of the city. His memories are visceral.

“Skies filled with rockets,” he said in the interview. “We had a tank that rolled into our street, by our house.” He remembers watching the tank from the kitchen window. “That was terror.”

As the fighting intensified, his father, Ibrica, a dentist, sent his wife and son out in a refugee convoy for women and children. He stayed in Mostar to look after their property and was killed the next year, in September 1993, when a mortar shell landed in the street outside their house.

Losing his father, with whom he was very close, remains a defining trauma for Mr. Ramic. It wrenched him away from his homeland, and he is still wrestling with a deep sadness and sometimes depression, he said.

It led him recently to advise a couple of Ukrainian friends against enlisting in the army. “You are going to be more useful to your country alive,” he told them. “And for the next generation of people, like your child, they are going to be in a much healthier and stronger state to make a difference, if you stay alive.”

If his father had survived, he would probably have gone back to Bosnia, Mr. Ramic said. His best friend from childhood survived the war in Bosnia and still lives in Mostar, working and raising a family, but Mr. Ramic, an American citizen, said he doubted he would return to live there.

“It’s too difficult emotionally,” he said. “I am sort of in between. I don’t really feel American, I don’t feel Bosnian.”

He and his mother have returned to Mostar for visits, including in September for the 30th anniversary of his father’s death. Much of the city still stands in ruins, he said, and they have never restored their family home. The roof was fixed with European assistance, but his father’s dentistry equipment and other possessions lie untouched, coated in dust, as it was the day he died.

Mr. Ramic moved to Berlin in 2020, and spends time in other European countries — composing in Latvia during the pandemic, and in Spain organizing help for Ukraine in February 2022 at the start of the invasion. Europe feels closer to his roots than America, he said.

“A lot of the music that I create — and perhaps that’s why it does resonate with people in places like Ukraine — is that it is kind of in-between,” he said. “It’s about belonging, or not belonging and figuring out who you are, and maybe coming to the realization that it’s just you and that’s it.”

His music is electronic, accompanied by cinematic videos that mix documentary film footage with kaleidoscopic, computer-generated electronic visuals, often with a strong political message. He frequently confronts the violence and tragedy around him — from his time working with at-risk youth on the South Side of Chicago, to the Black Lives Matter protests, to the war in Ukraine since its first beginnings in 2014 when separatists seized power in parts of the eastern region of the country.

With 13 albums produced, he has a dedicated following and has found a way to live off his music. He performed, dancing intensely over his keyboards, before a crowd of 200 people at the Mezzanine, a club set in an old Soviet textile factory in Kyiv. Some of the audience were followers of his on Facebook and knew his music, but others came along to see a rare American willing to play in wartime Ukraine.

His music is urgent and intense, but there are also calm, ambient-influenced tracks. One fan at the Kyiv concert, an I.T. engineer who only gave her first name, Yana, said she listened to his music when out walking to forget the stress of the war.

“It takes you to some moment where you are neither sad nor happy but just in balance,” she said.

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Kyiv.

Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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Nearly a month after international figure skating’s governing body revised the results of a marquee competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, stripping Russia of the gold medal and giving the United States team a long-delayed victory, a new fight about the outcome erupted on Monday.

Eight members of the Canadian squad that competed in the team competition in Beijing have filed a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport demanding that they be awarded bronze medals in the team event. The court announced the filing but revealed no details.

The Canadians, whose case was joined by their country’s skating federation and national Olympic committee, are expected to argue that figure skating’s global governing body erred when it revised the results of the competition in January after a Russian skater who had taken part, the teenage prodigy Kamila Valieva, was given a four-year ban for doping.

The appeal, and three others filed by Russian interests over the results, ensured that a controversy that had already raged for almost two years will now be extended — complicating the awarding of the medals to any skaters until it is finally resolved.

The Canadians and others have contended that when the skating body, the International Skating Union, scrubbed the points won by Ms. Valieva from the results it had failed to upgrade the points totals of athletes who competed against her on the two occasions she took to the ice.

Had it done so, Canada’s team would have been upgraded to third place in the competition, edging Russia off the podium altogether.

In announcing its intent to appeal earlier this month, Canada’s skating federation took pains to note that it had no objection to the decision to elevate the United States to the gold medal and to lift Japan to silver from bronze. The federation, Skate Canada, said its only motivation was to ensure “that rules and regulations are upheld consistently and fairly.”

It is not the only team appealing the I.S.U. decision. The Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, which serves as the final arbiter of disputes in global sports, said in a statement on Monday that in addition to the Canadian appeal it had also received three cases backed by Russian interests seeking to overturn the results, and grant Russia the team gold.

The decision to allow Russia to earn any medal at all when it had used an athlete later convicted of doping raised yet more questions about Russia’s influence over top sports bodies. It also highlighted the inability of global sports to enforce rules on doping and to punish athletes and countries in a timely manner. On Monday, the court offered no timetable for a resolution of the four new cases, signaling many more months of uncertainty.

The Valieva case upended the Beijing Games, leading to late-night emergency hearings about her eligibility and an awkward compromise after the end of the team competition: Unsure of who had won, the International Olympic Committee chose not to award any medals in the event.

Instead, the podium ceremony was modified, with the teams from Russia, the United States and Japan handed flowers and plush toys instead of golds, silvers and bronzes.

The controversy raised questions not only about cheating and fairness but also about how an athlete who was just 15 at the time, and considered a minor, could have been drawn into a doping scheme.

Under the intense media glare, Ms. Valieva’s performances dipped after news of her failed test months earlier was revealed during the Games. In submissions to the court, Russian officials later claimed that the prohibited supplement in her system, a drug used to treat heart disease, had been ingested after her grandfather prepared a strawberry dessert on the same chopping board that he had used to crush his medication.

That excuse was not accepted. And the latest series of legal actions makes the prospect of a final medal ceremony as remote as ever. While the I.O.C. said last month that it was eager to deliver the medals to the athletes who had won them, it had not yet indicated when the medal ceremony for any of the teams involved would be held.

In Latin America, a New Frontier for Women: Professional Softball in Mexico

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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In many parts of Latin America, baseball is a popular and well-established sport with men’s professional leagues in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, among others. But women wanting to play baseball’s cousin — softball — professionally had only one option: to leave. They had to go to the United States or Japan.

Until now.

In what is believed to be a first in Latin America — a region where men often have more opportunities than women, particularly in sports — a professional women’s softball league has started in Mexico. On Jan. 25, when the inaugural season began, 120 women on six teams got to call themselves professional softball players, many for the first time.

“Before, there wasn’t even a question of, ‘Should there be a professional sport for women?’ It was a given that it didn’t exist. Period,” said Stefania Aradillas, an outfielder for the Diablos Rojos Femenil of Mexico City. “But we’re finding our place in society, not just in sports, but in all areas.”

The new league comes at a moment when women’s sports have become more popular around the world.

The women’s softball venture was created by the Liga Mexicana de Béisbol, the country’s nearly 100-year-old professional men’s baseball league. The regular season lasts until March 3, followed by playoffs ending in mid-March.

Though it is a short season, officials and players have said it has already shown some promise: 13,408 people filled the Monterrey stadium on opening night, a record for a softball game in the Americas, and the half-dozen teams drew a total of 109,000 fans through the first four weeks, according to the league.

“This project is about breaking barriers,” said Adriana Pérez, a Mexican American who put aside the softball training facility in Lubbock, Tex., she owns to serve as the manager of the Bravas de León, one of the new women’s teams.

Yuruby Alicart, a Venezuelan shortstop for another team, the Charras de Jalisco Femenil, added, “This is something extraordinary for our gender.”

Horacio de la Vega, the president of the Mexican men’s professional baseball league, seeking to grow the sport, first raised the idea for a women’s baseball or softball division during a league meeting three years ago.

Officials settled on softball because of its growing popularity, particularly in the United States, where players often go to play in college, and an encouraging future in Mexico (the national team finished fourth in its first Olympics appearance at the 2021 Tokyo Games). And with baseball stadiums largely unused during its off-season, a softball league could bring in extra money.

But Mr. de la Vega said club owners raised concerns about the financial viability of a league and about protecting players from sexual harassment, which has been a major issue in women’s sports such as soccer and gymnastics.

So over the next two years, league officials refined the project, creating sexual harassment protocols, including a mandatory online course for executives and coaches. Mr. De La Vega said he got the needed ownership approval and secured key business deals, such as television rights, last year.

“This is something that we should’ve done some time ago,” Mr. de la Vega said, “but things happen for a reason and at the right moment.”

The strategy for establishing a softball league took a leaf from the launch of women’s pro soccer in Mexico in 2017, which involved the men’s franchises starting a women’s team of the same name. But in that case, nearly all of the 18 soccer franchises created a team. The softball league began smaller.

At first, Mr. de la Vega said, nearly half of the men’s baseball franchises (there were 18 then, and 20 as of this year) showed interest in starting a women’s softball team. But after requiring an initial three-year commitment from interested owners, the league whittled it down to six clubs: one each in three of the country’s biggest cities — Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey — plus in León, Tabasco and Veracruz.

While the majority of the league’s players are from Mexico, there are also some Mexican Americans, Cubans, Venezuelans and one Colombian.

And most of the teams have female leadership: Five of the six managers are women, as are three of the general managers.

Andrea Valdéz had worked in the front office of El Águila de Veracruz’s baseball club, where her father is the general manager. But when the softball league formed, Ms. Valdéz, 25, became Veracruz’s softball general manager.

“People always talk about professional sports for men, but this is a big opportunity for women to be on display,” she said. “I love working in sports, and I love that my first responsibility of this kind is with women.”

Some of the players like Ms. Alicart, 38, of Venezuela, and Ms. Aradillas, 29, of Mexico, both of whom were on their national teams in the Olympics, earn a living solely off softball. Ms. Alicart plays in a semiprofessional league in Italy, while Ms. Aradillas has commercial sponsorships. But many of their teammates work full time at jobs unrelated to softball.

Dafne Bravo, 22, a catcher for the Mexico City team, was working at a Star Wars ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., when she heard about the new league.

Ms. Bravo had all but given up hope about her own career, after two up-and-down years playing at California State University, Dominguez Hills. But her mother bought flights for both of them to Mexico City last November after hearing about league tryouts there. After Ms. Bravo was drafted, she was granted two months’ unpaid leave from Disneyland to play in Mexico, where she earns roughly $3,000 a month.

I’m representing my family, just making them proud,” said Ms. Bravo, whose parents were born in Mexico and emigrated to the United States.

When Lolis de la Fuente, a catcher for León, took the field before the season opener, she wiped away tears, overwhelmed with emotion while wearing a professional softball uniform in front of her sons, ages 3 and 7.

“I never thought this moment would come,” she said.

Ms. de la Fuente, 31, grew up playing softball in the state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, and representing her state in regional and national tournaments, and Mexico at international ones.

After the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games, she said she had to choose between attending college or dedicating herself to softball, where the dream is usually to land an athletic scholarship to a university in the United States. She chose college in Mexico, graduated and started a family. She teaches English at a school in Coahuila.

For the past seven years, Ms. de la Fuente stayed active in softball, playing in a local recreational league. After being drafted, she said she got two months of unpaid leave from her school to play in the league, where she will earn $1,000 monthly and live in an apartment provided by the team.

“A dream come true,” she said. “I never thought they could do something like this in Mexico because there wasn’t much support.”

Mr. de la Vega said he hoped the Mexican version would endure, unlike past professional softball leagues in the United States that folded. Starting small, he believed, was an advantage. And, he said, most of the teams are at least breaking even financially, and the league is profitable because of a “real appetite” from sponsors and television networks.

“For sure we’re going to make mistakes,” he said, “like any big project, and we have to make corrections, but it’s part of the growth.”

Mr. de la Vega, who represented Mexico in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics in modern pentathlon, said the league could also provide a platform for Mexican players to develop ahead of softball’s return to the Summer Games, in 2028 in Los Angeles.

At the opening game in León, the stands were filled with men and women of all ages. The team unveiled a new lioness mascot, and the public address announcer thanked the crowd for coming to support the women on the field.

Montserrat Zuñiga, 36, said she and her 5-year-old daughter, Emilia, had attended the León men’s baseball games for two years. But when the softball league started, Ms. Zuñiga said her daughter asked to watch the women play. She bought Emilia a pink Bravas hat for the occasion.

“It means something in these times,” she said, “to be inclusive of women, not just men.”

Why the Cost of Success in English Soccer’s Lower Leagues Keeps Going Up

Geoff Thompson knows there are plenty of people who want to buy what he has to sell. The phone calls and emails over the last few weeks have left no doubt. And really, that is no surprise. Few industries are quite as appealing or as prestigious as English soccer, and Mr. Thompson has a piece of it.

It is, admittedly, a comparatively small piece: South Shields F.C., the team he has owned for almost a decade, operates in English soccer’s sixth tier, several levels below, and a number of worlds away, from the dazzling light and international allure of the Premier League. But while his team might be small, Mr. Thompson is of the view that it is, at least, as perfectly poised for profitability as any minor-league English soccer club could hope to be.

South Shields has earned four promotions to higher leagues in his nine years as chairman. The team owns its stadium. Mr. Thompson has spent considerable sums of money modernizing the bathrooms, the club shop and the private boxes. There is a thriving youth academy and an active charitable foundation. “We have done most of the hard yards,” Mr. Thompson said.

After a cancer scare last year led him to reassess his priorities, Mr. Thompson has, reluctantly, decided that he has to “hand the baton” to someone else.

That is where things becomes complicated. There are plenty of very wealthy people who want to buy their way into English soccer. It is, as Mr. Thompson said, “fun.” Owning a team offers the chance to “be a hero” to a place. It is a pitch sufficiently compelling that, in a matter of weeks, at least four suitors — two British, two American — have inquired about taking South Shields off his hands.

That is the upside. The downside is that — as the Premier League has become a playground for private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds, and as the “Welcome to Wrexham” success has focused Hollywood’s searchlight on the romance of the game’s backwaters — England’s minor leagues have become a place where even the very rich can feel poor.

The league to which South Shields has risen, the National League North, is largely stocked with part-time teams and semiprofessional players, but the team’s salary bill still stands at around $1.2 million a year. (Even that is not the highest in the division.) Mr. Thompson estimates he has invested around $10 million of his own money in the club. He knows he will not recoup most of that.

And that, he says, is fine. He is happy to have created something to treasure in South Shields, his modest hometown, a place, he said, that is “always in the wrong quartile for obesity, for poverty, for unemployment.”

“I feel all right about it,” he said. “Even if they sound like the words of a madman.”

The challenge is finding a person to succeed him who feels the same way. The South Shields he has built boasts healthy crowds, no debt and reduced risk. He does not want all of his work to disappear when his successor realizes that the money will not go quite as far as one might hope. “I don’t want it to wither on the vine,” he said.

Simon Leslie does not know how or when his ambition to own a soccer team came about. It was just something he knew, and had known, for some time. “I always wanted to own a club,” he said. “I thought it looked like the coolest, sexiest job in the world.”

Before the advent of the Premier League three decades ago, Mr. Leslie’s background — he founded Ink, a company that produces a portfolio of in-flight magazines, and sold his stake in 2022 — would have made him a likely candidate to own a team in the upper reaches of English soccer.

Now, though, the cost of entry into the top flight is essentially out of reach for the merely extraordinarily wealthy: Jim Ratcliffe, one of the world’s richest men, recently spent well over $1 billion to buy just a 25 percent stake in Manchester United. Rising prices have caused an inflationary spike farther down, meaning that even buying into the second tier league, known as the Championship, is prohibitively expensive.

“You need nation-state money to buy a Premier League team,” as Mr. Thompson put it. “A team in the Championship needs hundreds of millions.”

Last year, Mr. Leslie realized his dream in the sixth tier instead, taking a majority stake in Eastbourne Borough, a mainstay of the National League South, the geographical counterweight to the division South Shields calls home. In the town of Eastbourne — genteel, coastal, artsy — Mr. Leslie saw opportunity.

He had a bold vision for what its soccer team could become: a haven for players released by elite academies, and sustained by a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center — “cryotherapy, cold plasma, everything,” he said — sandwiched between the sea and the rolling hills of the South Downs.

It would be wrong to say that money was no object, but Mr. Leslie was prepared to invest. He has spent around $600,000 in his first season, hiring not only players but also sports scientists, talent spotters and chefs. He expects to invest the same amount in his second year. The aim is to break even by 2026 since there is, Mr. Leslie said, a “limit to how much I am prepared to lose.”

But the inflationary effect that has priced even the superwealthy out of top-tier soccer is now being felt throughout the various strata of English soccer: Across the country, there are dozens of investors pouring vast sums into teams in the three divisions of the semiprofessional National League and even into the sprawling, hyperlocal amateur tiers below that.

“It’s not just that teams from the divisions above come to sign our players,” Mr. Leslie said. “We’ve had clubs from the Isthmian League, the level below, offering players more money than we pay them.”

They can do so because — unlike the Premier League or the three professional tiers of the Football League just below it — England’s minor leagues have no cost controls. Owners can spend what they like, and they are incentivized to do so because of the potential reward: Promotion to the Football League can mean about $1.2 million a year in broadcasting revenue alone.

“It’s in the National League that people think they can make money,” Mr. Leslie said.

Over the course of his first few months at Eastbourne, he has come to realize that is much easier said than done.

English soccer has an unfortunate habit of viewing its beloved pyramid only from the top down. As it descends from the cash-soaked Premier League through the ambitious Championship to the dozens of semiprofessional and amateur leagues below that, the depth and breadth of the league system seem to illustrate not only the sport’s popularity but also its health.

Observe the pyramid from the bottom up, though, and the impression is different. It is steep, and daunting, and quickly narrowing.

Only two National League clubs can be promoted each season into the Football League, unlocking its coveted television income.

“Clubs spend an inordinate amount of money to get out” of the lower leagues, said Christina Philippou, a lecturer in sports finance at the University of Portsmouth. “That means if others want to compete, they have to spend similar.” And that, she said, “creates a spiral.”

It is one drastic enough that it surprises even those who might have grown accustomed to it. “I see some of the teams spending money, and I’m flabbergasted,” said Gary Douglas, the chairman of Guiseley, a National League North team in a suburb of Leeds. “There are teams with fairly small crowds who suddenly have these huge budgets.”

The change, he said, has been gradual. He first invested in soccer in 2006, joining with two friends to take control of Guiseley. Their combined wealth made the club the “richest in nonleague,” as Steve Parkin, one of the members of Mr. Douglas’s triumvirate, said at the time of the purchase.

That is most certainly not the case anymore. Money has poured into the minor leagues in recent years, even before Wrexham — both the team and the documentary — brought an unanticipated allure to the lower reaches of English soccer. Now there are dozens of wealthy owners prepared to gamble that they will be the ones who succeed.

“The National League is the golden goose,” Mr. Douglas said.

Quite how risky an investment it is, though, can be seen in the clubs’ finances. In 2022, the last year for which a full set of figures is available, clubs in the three divisions of the National League reported a combined loss of $25 million. Two-thirds of the league’s teams were effectively insolvent, their liabilities dwarfing their assets. That pattern is most likely repeated even further down the pyramid where revenues are even smaller.

“It’s got disaster written all over it,” Dr. Philippou said.

For some, deliverance will come with escape, and promotion. But far more teams — and their owners — are destined to be disappointed. Like Mr. Douglas, the Guiseley chairman, they might find themselves committed financially and emotionally, unable to leave.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” he said.

Or they might, like Mr. Thompson, the South Shields chairman, have to start the long, exacting search for a suitable replacement: someone who will build on, rather than dismantle, their work. That, after all, is kind of how the system works.

“The model is that, for reasons of ego or for emotion, there are always new people waiting when one particular individual’s journey at a club ends,” Dr. Philippou said.

It only works, though, she added, because of the belief that “there will always be someone else who comes along.”

Playing Soccer in $1.50 Sandals That Even Gucci Wants to Copy

The wealthy pros of Ivory Coast’s national soccer team were resting in their luxury hotel last week, preparing for a match in Africa’s biggest tournament, when Yaya Camara sprinted onto a dusty lot and began fizzing one pass after another to his friends.

Over and over, he corralled the game’s underinflated ball and then sent it away again with his favorite soccer shoes: worn plastic sandals long derided as the sneaker of the poor, but which he and his friends wear as a badge of honor.

Shiny soccer cleats like his idols’? No thanks, said Mr. Camara, a lean 18-year-old midfielder, as he wiped sweat from his brow.

“How did the pros start playing when they were kids like us? With lêkê,” he added, referring to the sandals that are ubiquitous not only in his pickup game but almost any place an Ivorian puts their feet.

While the best African teams run out in expensive branded cleats at this year’s continental soccer championship, the Africa Cup of Nations, it is in lêkê (pronounced leh-keh) that amateur players craft the best street soccer.

They praise the cheaper sandals for their practicality — “They’re lighter, they fit better and they’re more comfortable where we play,” as Mr. Camara put it — in games that take place not on manicured grass fields in shiny new stadiums but on countless sandy pitches, dusty courtyards and narrow alleyways.

“Lêkê are the national shoes of Ivory Coast,” said Seydou Traoré, his feet resting inside an orange pair (the national color) as he watched a nerve-racking match on a television pulled into the street alongside dozens of neighbors and friends. Many of them wore lêkê, too.

It is unclear how the shoe became so popular in Ivory Coast. Most players said they had been wearing them since they were toddlers. School children wear them to school. And they blossom on countless feet when the streets of Abidjan fill with water during the rainy season.

And while the jelly shoe has become trendy in the fashion world in recent years, with luxury brands like Gucci making their own version, they’re chic in Ivory Coast for reasons of both style and pragmatism.

“Apart from in the office, you can wear them everywhere, even at a party,” said Mr. Traoré, an amateur player who once competed in Ivory Coast’s second league.

Heels, dress shoes or leather sandals remain the favored shoes for the office in Ivory Coast, one of West Africa’s largest economies and home to a dynamic middle class. But the appeal of lêkê shone through few years ago, when one of the country’s most famous singers turned businessman posed on the cover of a style magazine wearing a Western-style gray suit and white plastic sandals.

The story goes that the jelly sandal was born in 1946, when a French knifemaker invented the original model as a way to use a large batch of plastic he had ordered to make knives. Its original shape — soles studded with spikes, a round tip and a basket-weave top — has barely changed in decades.

The French company that now owns the patent, Humeau-Beaupreau, sells 800,000 pairs a year, according to a representative of the company. But the bulk of the lêkê seen across West Africa are manufactured locally; in Ivory Coast, one can buy a pair on almost every street corner for about $1.50.

On a recent afternoon, Céliba Coulibaly and Saliou Diallo were purchasing a new pair — “chap chap,” they said, or hurriedly — because they had tickets to collect for a Cup of Nations match later that day featuring Guinea, Mr. Diallo’s home country.

Of course they would go to the stadium in lêkê, Mr. Diallo said. “They’re light and comfortable,” he added. “What else would I wear?”

In Ivory Coast, amateur soccer players are divided on the best model to wear — those bearing the name of the Argentine star Lionel Messi, or those named after Basile Boli, the Ivorian-born French player who retired from soccer before many of those now wearing lêkê were born.

As soccer shoes, lêkê are a short-term commitment, since the straps often break after only a few weeks. They are only replaced when they can’t hold the feet anymore, so worn soles are a point of pride — proof of hours of uninterrupted play on scrappy fields locally known as Maracana, in homage to the famed soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The scars and scratches left on feet by the metallic strap are both a badge of suffering and a symbol of dedication to the game, players say.

“Let a guy come with proper sneakers and we’ll make fun of him: ‘You think you’re a professional player or what?’” Iliass Sanogo said as he watched a group of friends — all wearing lêkê — play in the hazy twilight.

Street vendors said the popularity of the sandals colored with the Ivorian flag (orange, white and green) had soared during the Africa Cup of Nations.

“Then we started losing and sales collapsed,” joked one of them, Aboubakar Samaké, as he hawked jerseys for the tournament’s teams and all kinds of green and orange goodies, from bracelets to lêkê, in a bustling neighborhood in Abidjan.

The drop in sales might also be because Mr. Samaké, describing his mood as “overwhelmed” after one particularly crushing loss, didn’t leave the house for two days.

“But discouragement isn’t an Ivorian thing,” Mr. Samaké quickly added, now back at work.

A few hours later, Ivory Coast’s national team was scheduled to face the reigning Cup of Nations champion, Senegal. Mr. Camara, dusty and sweaty from his pickup game, rushed home, dropped his lêkê and jumped in the shower. He resurfaced minutes later wearing an Ivory Coast jersey and clean jeans. He left his lêkê to rest, donned flip flops, and strolled to a nearby kiosk to watch his team win.

FIFA Convictions Are Imperiled by Questions of U.S. Overreach

Nearly a decade after police officers marched world soccer officials out of a luxury hotel in Zurich at dawn, revealing a corruption scandal that shook the world’s most popular sport, the case is at risk of falling apart.

The dramatic turnabout comes over questions of whether American prosecutors overreached by applying U.S. law to a group of people, many of them foreign nationals, who defrauded foreign organizations as they carried out bribery schemes across the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year limited a law that was key to the case. Then in September, a federal judge, citing that, threw out the convictions of two defendants linked to soccer corruption. Now, several former soccer officials, including some who paid millions of dollars in penalties and served time in prison, are arguing that the bribery schemes for which they were convicted are no longer considered a crime in the United States.

Emboldened by the vacated convictions, they are asking that their records be wiped clean and their money returned.

Their hopes are linked to the September cases, in which the two defendants benefited from two recent Supreme Court rulings that had rejected federal prosecutors’ application of the law at play in the soccer cases and offered rare guidance on what is known as honest services fraud. The defendants in the soccer trial had been found to have engaged in bribery that deprived organizations outside the U.S. of their employees’ honest services, which constituted fraud at the time. But the judge ruled that the court’s new guidance meant that those actions were no longer prohibited under American law.

That blow to the case, which federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are contesting, could turn the story of world soccer’s deep-seated corruption — detailed in a 236-page indictment, and proved through 31 guilty pleas and four trial convictions — into one equally about the long arm of American justice reaching too far.

“It’s quite significant,” said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor and professor of law at Columbia University, “since the judge rejected the government’s basic theory.” He called the opinion “surprising but well reasoned.”

Prosecutors for the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York are preparing to push back. “This office will vigorously defend the convictions,” a spokesman, John Marzulli, said on Thursday, “and will not remain on the sidelines if the wrongdoers seek to retake the millions of dollars of ill-gotten gains.”

In a court filing this month, prosecutors argued that the federal judge who presided over the FIFA cases, Pamela K. Chen, had misread the Supreme Court. The foreign defendants, they said, had “substantial U.S. ties and activities” and had shown they knew what they did was a crime.

The legal debate comes amid growing concern that global sports organizations like FIFA, the global soccer governing body headquartered in Switzerland, operate in a world of their own, untouchable to the authorities. The systemic corruption among global soccer’s top leaders was widely documented, but until the Justice Department built its complex case and filed indictments in 2015, no government had risked taking it on so ambitiously, with charges that touched three continents.

Once public, the FIFA investigation became one of the largest cross-border corruption cases in U.S. history. It required cooperation from the authorities abroad, who helped make arrests and extradite defendants to the United States, and revealed decades of bribery; accusations of secret contracts, cash drops and courtroom intimidation; and official confirmation that millions of dollars in cash had swung the votes to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

The case was a boon to white-collar lawyers and a shot across the bow of international sports. It boosted the profiles of American prosecutors, who were praised for creatively applying U.S. law on honest services wire fraud, which prohibits people from betraying their employers by engaging in bribery and kickback schemes that funnel money into their own pockets. The legal strategy was widely seen as a novel way to go after foreign commercial bribery.

The charges led to an overhaul of FIFA’s leadership, including the ouster of its longtime president Sepp Blatter, and made celebrities out of key players in the case. Loretta Lynch, the United States attorney general at the time, was nicknamed FIFA-Jägerin, or the FIFA hunter, by the German news media.

The case was far from the first time the Justice Department filed complicated charges with global angles. But its scope and outsize focus on other parts of the world drew questions of why federal prosecutors in Brooklyn had chosen to pour years of resources into the investigation. As justification, prosecutors pointed to the defendants’ use of U.S. banks and, more broadly, the “affront to international principles” that Ms. Lynch said their schemes represented.

Now, as American prosecutors prepare to defend their work before a federal appeals court, the idea that U.S. law could apply where others were unable, or unwilling, to act is in question. That has opened the door to a dramatic possibility: that prominent sports officials and businessmen who were found to have solicited or accepted bribes could see their convictions set aside and their fortunes returned.

In an interview this past week, the former Paraguayan soccer official Juan Ángel Napout said he had been convicted to set an example. “Why me?” he said. “They needed somebody, and it was me.”

Mr. Napout paid over $4 million to the United States government, which has so far forwarded more than $120 million in forfeited money to FIFA and pledged to release tens of millions more. Back home in Asunción since his release from prison last summer, Mr. Napout, 65, is asking the U.S. to vacate his conviction and return his money.

Mr. Napout was incarcerated for longer than anyone else implicated in the sprawling case, his once-luxurious lifestyle upended as he became a cook in a Florida prison. He said he had not considered an appeal until hearing of the acquittals in September, and is proceeding only at the behest of his family “so my record will go clean.”

Even as the government’s appeal of the recent acquittals is pending — an open question to be resolved before Mr. Napout’s request is addressed — he is not alone in seizing the chance to seek a clean slate.

In recent weeks, José Maria Marin, a former Brazilian soccer official who also served time in prison and paid millions in penalties, and Alfredo Hawit, a former top soccer official from Honduras who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government, have made similar requests.

In their legal filings, they are reprising some of the arguments made when they were first charged, when lawyers objected to what they called U.S. prosecutors’ overzealous use of a vague law. At the time, some emphasized that, in countries like Brazil, paying bribes in a private business transaction to secure a deal or contract is not uncommon — or illegal.

As the legal fight continues, prominent adversaries in the case have moved on. The soccer organizations implicated have new leaders. In 2019, four years after Ms. Lynch issued a stern warning to as-yet-unindicted figures in the case — “You will not wait us out” — she joined the American law firm Paul, Weiss and became a booster of the new FIFA. At least twice in recent years, she has addressed FIFA directly, praising the organization’s “renewed commitment to transparency and ethical behavior.”

Ms. Lynch did not respond to a request for comment.

But recently, FIFA has come under renewed scrutiny for bypassing standard processes, as when it effectively awarded the valuable hosting rights for the 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia without competitive bidding. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, who ascended after Mr. Blatter’s ouster, has explored extending limits on his time in the top job.

The result of the new appeals, to be argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, could have implications not only for convicted defendants like Mr. Napout, but also for those who were charged but have remained at large, safely out of reach of United States authorities. They include the longtime FIFA power broker Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago; the Argentine television executives Hugo and Mariano Jinkis; and the former Brazilian soccer chiefs Marco Polo del Nero and Ricardo Teixeira.

At least $200 million paid by those convicted is also at stake; a portion of that has been pledged to FIFA, which was deemed a victim of the corruption in its own house, and earmarked for causes including soccer programs for women, youth and disabled people. FIFA said $50 million had been allocated to projects already.

Paul Tuchmann, a former prosecutor on the case now at the law firm Wiggin and Dana, called the decision acquitting two defendants “a hiccup,” but said that no matter what the appeals court decides, “you can’t go back in time and erase the impact.”

Still, Mr. Tuchmann added, undoing the government’s work would have broad consequences — within global sports and beyond it.

“For people with a certain amount of wiliness, they’ll understand the U.S. criminal justice system isn’t going to touch them,” he said. “And I think it’s unfortunate.”

Ken Bensinger contributed reporting.

China amplía la aplicación de la ley de ‘secretos de Estado’

China aprobó actualizaciones a una ley sobre secretos de Estado ya de por sí estricta, con lo que amplía el alcance del tipo de información que se consideraría un riesgo para la seguridad nacional en la segunda mayor economía del mundo.

Los cambios elevan los riesgos para las compañías extranjeras que operan en el país. En el último año, China ha puesto en la mira a consultores y ejecutivos de empresas en casos de espionaje, en el marco de una campaña para limitar la difusión de la información que buscan inversores y empresas extranjeras.

Las enmiendas a la ley de secretos de Estado, aprobadas el martes por el máximo órgano legislativo chino y que entrarán en vigor en mayo, incluyen un nuevo concepto jurídico denominado “secretos de trabajo” o laborales. Se definen como información que no es oficialmente un secreto de Estado, pero “causará ciertos efectos adversos si se filtra”, según el texto de la ley.

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“La ley es imprecisa y la definición de secreto de Estado es tan amplia que podría incluir cualquier cosa que el partido del Estado decida”, dijo Diana Choyleva, economista jefe de Enodo Economics con sede en Londres, especializada en China. “También complicará aún más la vida a las empresas extranjeras y a sus empleados establecidos en China”.

Choyleva dijo que muchas empresas quedarán atrapadas en un estado de “parálisis” mientras esperan a ver cómo aplica China las nuevas disposiciones de la ley.

Es el más reciente ejemplo de una mayor vigilancia de la seguridad del Estado bajo el liderazgo de Xi Jinping. En los últimos años, China ha reforzado progresivamente sus leyes de seguridad nacional y de intercambio de datos, al tiempo que advertía de los riesgos del espionaje al abrigo de los negocios.

Pero el reforzamiento de las leyes de seguridad nacional de China ha inquietado a muchas empresas e inversores extranjeros. Muchos de los cambios aplican un criterio poco claro y expansivo de lo que constituiría un riesgo para la seguridad nacional, lo que plantea la posibilidad de que las normas se apliquen de forma arbitraria.

La represión ha aumentado los retos de invertir en China en un momento en que la inversión extranjera directa en el país ha caído a sus niveles más bajos en tres décadas, ya que las empresas están cada vez menos dispuestas a soportar las contrapartes de operar en China para una economía que ya no crece a pasos agigantados.

Jens Eskelund, presidente de la Cámara de Comercio de la Unión Europea en China, señaló que los cambios en la ley de secretos de Estado se producían una semana después de que el gabinete del país, el Consejo de Estado, indicó que una de las prioridades del año era atraer más inversión extranjera apuntalando la confianza de los inversores.

“El ámbito de las cuestiones consideradas ‘sensibles’ parece ampliarse constantemente, lo que dificulta a las empresas el acceso a la información necesaria para tomar decisiones de inversión relacionadas con sus operaciones en China”, afirmó en un comunicado.

La ley de secretos de Estado se aprobó inicialmente en 1988 y se modificó en 2010, cuando China impuso requisitos más estrictos a las empresas de Internet y telecomunicaciones para que cooperaran con la policía, los funcionarios de la seguridad del Estado y la fiscalía en la investigación de filtraciones de secretos de Estado.

El Partido Comunista, que gobierna China, determinó que la ley necesitaba actualizarse debido a los avances de la ciencia y la tecnología, que creaban “nuevos problemas y desafíos” para mantener la confidencialidad, según declaró a los medios estatales un funcionario de la Administración Nacional de Protección de Secretos de Estado.

China también actualizó el año pasado su ley de contraespionaje para ampliar la definición de lo que puede considerarse espionaje. Estipulaba que compartir “documentos, datos, materiales y objetos” podía calificar como espionaje si la información tenía “relación con la seguridad y los intereses nacionales”.

La serie de cambios legales coincide con un mayor escrutinio a los negocios en toda la economía. Los ejecutivos chinos del sector financiero están en la mira de extensas campañas anticorrupción. El año pasado, las autoridades pusieron su atención en las empresas de consultoría y asesoría con vínculos en el extranjero mediante una serie de redadas, detenciones y arrestos en el marco de la aplicación de las leyes de contraespionaje.

Además, Pekín ha detenido a ejecutivos extranjeros y los ha acusado de espionaje, al tiempo que ha utilizado ampliamente su autoridad para impedir que otros salgan del país. En enero, el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de China dijo que un consultor británico que desapareció de la vista pública en 2018 fue condenado a cinco años de prisión en 2022 por “comprar y suministrar ilegalmente inteligencia para una organización o individuo fuera de China”.

China ha querido concientizar a sus ciudadanos sobre los riesgos para la seguridad nacional presentes en la economía a través de una serie de cómics del Ministerio de Seguridad del Estado chino. La serie publicada en línea se basa en investigaciones reales de espionaje, según las autoridades.

En la última entrega estrenada esta semana, un investigador especial de la agencia va de incógnito para infiltrarse en una consultora en China y conseguir pruebas de que esta empresa estaba contactando ilegalmente con expertos en sectores sensibles. El investigador persigue a un “pez gordo”, un espía extranjero llamado “Jason”, quien forma parte de la red de asociados del propietario de la empresa. En la escena final, el investigador encuentra una lista de expertos en la sala de documentos de la empresa, pero es descubierto por un colega.

El cómic no identifica a la empresa como extranjera o nacional. El año pasado, las autoridades chinas registraron las oficinas de la consultora Capvision Partners, que ofrecía un servicio para poner en contacto a clientes que buscaban información con una lista de “expertos” de diversos sectores.

Daisuke Wakabayashi es corresponsal de negocios en Asia para el Times, con sede en Seúl, y cubre noticias económicas, empresariales y geopolíticas de la región. Más de Daisuke Wakabayashi

Keith Bradsher es el jefe de la corresponsalía de Pekín del Times. Antes fue jefe del buró en Shanghái, Hong Kong y Detroit, y corresponsal en Washington. Ha vivido e informado en China continental durante la pandemia. Más de Keith Bradsher

Claire Fu cubre China con énfasis en los temas empresariales y sociales del país. Radica en Seúl. Más de Claire Fu

‘Belmopán es un experimento social’: así es la capital multicultural de Belice

Reportando desde Belmopán, Belice

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Cuando se menciona Belmopán, la capital de Belice, situada en lo profundo del interior del país, muchos beliceños la tachan como un bastión de burócratas que no solo es aburrida, sino que carece de vida nocturna.

“Me advirtieron: ‘Belmopán es para los recién casados o los casi muertos’”, dijo Raquel Rodriguez, de 45 años y propietaria de una escuela de arte, sobre los comentarios que le hicieron cuando dejó la costera y bulliciosa Ciudad de Belice para mudarse a Belmopán.

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Belmopán, que no es precisamente un edén para jóvenes urbanitas, es una de las capitales más pequeñas de América. Tiene apenas unos 25.000 habitantes y un conjunto de edificios brutalistas de inspiración maya, muy pesados y de hormigón, a prueba de huracanes.

La capital de la única nación anglófona de Centroamérica puede parecer muy diferente de las frenéticas capitales de los países vecinos. En cuanto a sus orígenes y diseño, Belmopán tiene más en común con las capitales de otras antiguas colonias británicas, especialmente en África.

Pero Belmopán quizá sea un prisma para ver el desarrollo de Belice, que ha surgido como una especie de excepción en Centroamérica. En una región donde los gobernantes adoptan tácticas autoritarias, Belice se ha convertido en una democracia parlamentaria relativamente estable (aunque joven), con un historial de transiciones pacíficas en el poder.

La capital, que en general se caracteriza por una serena tranquilidad, presume de su reputación de seguridad y calidad de vida. En un país escasamente poblado, con menos de medio millón de habitantes, el ambiente acogedor de Belmopán también evidencia la extraordinaria diversidad étnica de Belice y su propensión a recibir migrantes de otras regiones de Centroamérica.

No hay más que ver el mercado al aire libre en el que muchos residentes compran sus alimentos. Los vendedores ambulantes saludan a los clientes en la lengua oficial de Belice, el inglés, o en criollo beliceño, la lengua que se formó hace siglos cuando los británicos trajeron africanos esclavizados a lo que hoy es Belice.

Otros vendedores hablan lenguas mayas como el quekchí, el mopán y el yucateco, muestra de los pueblos indígenas que desde hace mucho tiempo han vivido en Belice o que se trasladaron al país desde Guatemala o México. Otros realizan sus oficios y comercian en español, chino o plautdietsch, una lengua germánica arcaica influida por el neerlandés.

Como muchas otras personas en Belmopán, Johan Guenther, agricultor menonita de 71 años, vino de otra parte. Nació en el estado mexicano de Chihuahua, donde hay grandes comunidades menonitas, y llegó a Belice a los 16 años.

Después probó suerte en Bolivia durante un tiempo, pero decidió que prefería el estilo de vida más apacible de Belice. Vive con su esposa en un pequeño asentamiento agrícola a las afueras de Belmopán, y viene a la capital a vender queso, mantequilla, crema y miel en el mercado.

“No soy un hombre de ciudad, pero me gusta Belmopán”, dice Guenther en una mezcla de inglés, plautdietsch y español. “Es tranquilo, bueno para vender mi producción, fácil de entrar y fácil de salir”.

Convertir a Belmopán en el eje del desarrollo agrícola del interior de Belice y en un refugio frente a las catástrofes naturales era una prioridad cuando los colonialistas británicos desarrollaron los planes para construir la ciudad después de que, en 1961, el huracán Hattie arrasara Ciudad de Belice, la antigua capital, dejando cientos de muertos.

En esa época, las ciudades planificadas estaban surgiendo en diversas partes del mundo, una tendencia que se aceleró con la inauguración de la futurista capital brasileña, Brasilia, en 1960. En el imperio británico que se estaba desintegrando, especialmente en África, entre las nuevas capitales destacaban Dodoma, en Tanzania; Gaborone, en Botsuana; y Lilongüe, en Malaui. Los diseñadores las concibieron, al igual que Belmopán, como “ciudades jardín” con amplios espacios abiertos, parques y paseos peatonales.

Las tensiones políticas determinaron los planes de la ciudad. George Price, el arquitecto de la independencia de Belice, veía la construcción de Belmopán como una manera de forjar un sentimiento de identidad nacional que trascendiera las diferencias étnicas. Y como Guatemala reclamaba Belice en una disputa territorial que persiste hasta hoy, los gobernantes coloniales del país eligieron un emplazamiento a medio camino entre Ciudad de Belice y la frontera guatemalteca, en un intento de poblar hacia el interior.

Los robustos edificios gubernamentales de hormigón, como la Asamblea Nacional, evocan el diseño piramidal de un templo maya ubicado sobre un montículo artificial donde la brisa ayuda a refrescar la estructura. Se diseñaron para que fueran a prueba de huracanes y económicos, evitando la necesidad de instalar sistemas de aire acondicionado en aquel momento.

Al mismo tiempo, las autoridades trataron de atraer a los empleados públicos a Belmopán ofreciéndoles viviendas, esencialmente en forma de cascarones de hormigón, en calles donde se pretendía que vivieran personas de distintos estratos económicos.

“Belmopán es un experimento social”, dijo John Milton Arana, arquitecto beliceño de 51 años cuya familia se mudó a la capital en 1975. Observando los senderos que aún conectan las zonas residenciales con el núcleo de Belmopán, lleno de hormigón, añadió: “El peatón era la prioridad de esta visión”.

No obstante, Arana afirma que la ciudad, de ritmo notablemente lento, también puede desorientar con sus rotondas, su carretera de circunvalación y la escasez de zonas comerciales abarrotadas. “La gente me visita y me pregunta: ‘¿Dónde está el centro?’”, dice Arana. “Yo les digo: ‘Acabas de pasarlo’”.

Belmopán no le gusta a todo el mundo. Los turistas tienden a saltarse la ciudad, prefiriendo las actividades de buceo cerca de islas remotas o los impresionantes yacimientos arqueológicos mayas. Cuando se inauguró en 1970, se preveía que Belmopán crecería de manera rápida hasta albergar 30.000 habitantes, una cifra que, más de cinco décadas después, aún no se ha alcanzado.

Algunos atribuyen ese lento crecimiento a las perennes restricciones presupuestarias que han hecho que Belmopán tenga un aspecto inacabado. Los edificios con aspecto de fortaleza en los que trabajan muchos funcionarios están envejeciendo, adornados con ruidosos aparatos de aire acondicionado; edificios nuevos y luminosos como el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, un regalo del gobierno de Taiwán repleto de jardines colgantes, muestran cómo las autoridades han dejado atrás los espartanos orígenes de Belmopán.

Arana dijo que las desviaciones de los diseños originales de Belmopán estaban cambiando la ciudad para peor. Explicó que el desarrollo descontrolado afuera de las zonas céntricas, sobre todo donde se han asentado los migrantes hispanohablantes de países vecinos como El Salvador y Guatemala, pone de relieve problemas como la falta de vivienda y las aguas residuales sin tratar.

Entre los diplomáticos, las opiniones sobre Belmopán están divididas. Países como Panamá y Guatemala, así como la isla autónoma de Taiwán, mantienen sus embajadas en Ciudad de Belice, que tiene más del doble de habitantes que Belmopán. Incluso después de que Belice logró la plena independencia en 1981, Estados Unidos tardó 25 años en trasladar su embajada a Belmopán.

Michelle Kwan, embajadora de Estados Unidos en Belice y patinadora olímpica galardonada, dijo que se había encariñado con Belmopán tras mudarse desde Los Ángeles. Comparó la vida en la capital centroamericana con sus días de entrenamiento en Lake Arrowhead, una pequeña comunidad turística ubicada en las montañas californianas de San Bernardino, donde podía enfocarse “realmente en lo que tenía que hacer”.

“Esto no es distinto”, dijo Kwan. “Aquí es donde nos enfocamos y donde trabajamos”.

Otros beliceños sugieren que la ciudad ha contribuido a forjar una identidad beliceña multicultural que incorpora a los pueblos mayas y a los inmigrantes latinoamericanos más recientes, distinto a los que se percibe en Ciudad de Belice, mejor conocida como un bastión de los criollos, que son las personas de ascendencia africana y británica.

“Belmopán hizo que nuestras diferencias culturales fueran menos pronunciadas”, afirmó Kimberly Stuart, de 49 años y profesora de educación en la Universidad de Belice, cuyo campus principal está en la capital.

Otros lamentan ciertos aspectos de la vida en Belmopán. Mientras que las nuevas y llamativas viviendas y los nuevos edificios de oficinas están alterando el ambiente pueblerino de la capital, los restaurantes y bares siguen siendo escasos y suelen cerrar temprano.

Algunos habitantes de Belmopán dicen que es francamente aburrido, pero a ellos les gusta que sea así. A Raj Karki, un inmigrante nepalí de 52 años que se trasladó a Belice para trabajar en un proyecto hidroeléctrico, le gustó tanto la tranquila ciudad que decidió quedarse y abrir un restaurante de comida sudasiática cerca de los edificios gubernamentales.

“Puedes venir a Belmopán desde cualquier lugar del mundo”, dijo Karki. “En poco tiempo te dan la bienvenida y te dicen: ‘Ayúdanos a construir el futuro’”.

Simon Romero es corresponsal en Ciudad de México, y cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Se ha desempeñado como jefe del buró del Times en Brasil, jefe del buró andino y corresponsal internacional de energía. Más de Simon Romero

Tras 19 meses, el Parlamento húngaro aprueba la candidatura sueca a la OTAN

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El Parlamento de Hungría votó el lunes a favor de aceptar a Suecia como nuevo miembro de la OTAN, sellando así un importante cambio en el equilibrio de poder entre Occidente y Rusia que fue desencadenado por la guerra en Ucrania.

La votación permitió que Suecia, no alineada desde hace mucho tiempo, sorteara el último obstáculo que bloqueaba su ingreso en la OTAN y frenaba la expansión de la alianza militar.

El autoritario primer ministro húngaro, Viktor Orbán, cuyo partido Fidesz cuenta con una amplia mayoría en el Parlamento, ha mantenido relaciones cordiales con el presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, a pesar de la guerra de Ucrania, y había paralizado durante 19 meses la votación de la adhesión de Suecia a la OTAN en la Asamblea Nacional de 199 miembros.

Su decisión de permitir finalmente una votación se produjo tras la visita a Budapest, la capital húngara, del primer ministro sueco, Ulf Kristersson, el viernes. Durante la visita, se anunció que Suecia proporcionará a Hungría cuatro aviones Gripen de fabricación sueca, además de los 14 que ya utilizan sus fuerzas aéreas, y que el fabricante de los aviones, Saab, abrirá un centro de investigación de inteligencia artificial en Hungría.

La admisión formal de Suecia en la OTAN todavía requiere algunos trámites de procedimiento. Una vez finalizada, le dará, junto con la entrada de Finlandia el año pasado, un impulso significativo a la fuerza militar de la OTAN en el mar Báltico y reducirá la capacidad de Rusia para dominar la vía marítima, que controla el acceso a los puertos de San Petersburgo, Kaliningrado y Ust-Luga, un importante punto de tránsito para las exportaciones energéticas rusas.

En una publicación en la plataforma de redes sociales X, el secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg, acogió con satisfacción la decisión de Hungría, afirmando que “la adhesión de Suecia nos hará a todos más fuertes y nos dará mayor seguridad”.

Suecia ya ha estado proporcionando armas y otras ayudas a Ucrania, por lo que su ingreso en la OTAN no cambiará de inmediato la suerte de Ucrania en el campo de batalla, pero implica un duro golpe para lo que Putin declaró como una de las principales razones para su invasión a gran escala: mantener a la OTAN alejada de las fronteras de Rusia.

El Parlamento húngaro aprobó la admisión de Suecia en la alianza por amplia mayoría. Solo 6 miembros de un partido de extrema derecha, el Movimiento Nuestra Patria, votaron en contra. El partido Fidesz y los principales grupos de la oposición votaron a favor.

La inusual muestra de consenso flaqueó cuando la oposición pidió un minuto de silencio en memoria de Alexéi Navalny, el líder de la oposición rusa que, según las autoridades rusas, murió el 16 de febrero en un campo de prisioneros del Ártico. Todos los legisladores opositores se pusieron en pie para honrar a Navalny, pero Orbán y sus aliados del Fidesz permanecieron sentados.

Orbán agradeció a los miembros de su partido por “mantener la calma en el asunto Navalny” y, al explicar la decisión de Fidesz de permanecer sentado, dijo: “Los chovinistas no merecen respeto”. Tras alegar que Navalny se había burlado de los georgianos durante la invasión rusa a su país en 2008, Orbán afirmó que no debía recibir honores.

“Por lo demás, que descanse en paz”, dijo Orbán al Parlamento.

La abrumadora votación a favor de la expansión de la OTAN se produjo tras la visita a Budapest de Kristersson que, según Orbán, reparó las tensas relaciones entre ambos países y logró que Hungría aceptara a Suecia como miembro de la OTAN.

El largo retraso de Hungría en aceptar a Suecia desconcertó y exasperó a Estados Unidos y a otros miembros de la OTAN, y llegó a plantear dudas sobre la fiabilidad de Hungría como miembro de una alianza comprometida con el principio de defensa colectiva.

Hungría, que había prometido en repetidas ocasiones que no iba a ser el último obstáculo, se convirtió en la última barrera para la entrada de Suecia en la OTAN después de que el Parlamento turco votara a favor de la adhesión el 23 de enero. Todos los demás miembros de la OTAN aprobaron la candidatura de Suecia en 2022, solo unos meses después de la invasión rusa a Ucrania.

Orbán tiene un largo historial de utilizar el poder de veto de su país sobre decisiones clave en Europa para tratar de obtener dinero u otras recompensas. Este patrón se puso de manifiesto no solo en su resistencia a la adhesión de Suecia a la OTAN, sino también en su oposición a un paquete financiero de la Unión Europea para Ucrania por un valor de 54.000 millones de dólares.

Orbán cedió este mes en cuanto a la aprobación de la ayuda de la UE a Ucrania, una decisión que suscitó esperanzas de que pudiera ordenarle a su partido que votara en el Parlamento sobre la adhesión de Suecia. El 24 de enero, Orbán le había asegurado a Stoltenberg, secretario general de la OTAN, que Hungría ratificaría la entrada de Suecia “en la primera oportunidad posible”.

Pero cuando los legisladores de la oposición convocaron una sesión del Parlamento el 5 de febrero para votar sobre la adhesión de Suecia, los miembros del Fidesz boicotearon la sesión.

Incluso con la aceptación de Suecia en la alianza por parte de Hungría, es probable que el largo e interminable proceso para llegar a este punto deje un regusto amargo. Además, el tardío visto bueno a la expansión de la OTAN, a la que Hungría solo contribuye de forma modesta, no cambiará rápidamente la reputación de Orbán como alborotador, más interesado en congraciarse con Putin, con quien mantuvo una amistosa reunión en octubre durante una visita a China, que en apoyar la alianza.

Hungría, cuyas fuerzas aéreas dependen en gran medida de los aviones Gripen de Suecia, ha ofrecido múltiples explicaciones, a menudo cambiantes, sobre el largo retraso en la votación sobre la adhesión de Suecia. Ha citado problemas de cronograma, las críticas en Suecia por el retroceso democrático del gobierno cada vez más autoritario de Orbán, material didáctico utilizado en las escuelas suecas y comentarios realizados por Kristersson años antes de asumir el cargo.

La dura postura de Orbán respecto a Suecia, así como su bloqueo inicial al paquete de ayuda a Ucrania, reflejaron su tendencia por tratar de establecer a su pequeño país —Hungría tiene 10 millones de habitantes y solo representa el 1 por ciento de la producción económica de la Unión Europea— como una fuerza a tener en cuenta en la escena política europea.

Esta estrategia ha enfurecido a otros líderes europeos, pero agitar las aguas y desafiar a la corriente dominante, tanto en la OTAN como en la Unión Europea, ha aumentado el prestigio de Orbán entre la extrema derecha europea y en segmentos de la extrema izquierda, ambos a menudo partidarios de Putin. Ven a Orbán como un valiente azote de sabiduría convencional.

Orbán lleva mucho tiempo posicionándose como el líder contestatario de un movimiento paneuropeo que defiende la soberanía nacional y los valores tradicionales frente a lo que desprecia como “globalistas progres” desubicados en Bruselas, en las sedes tanto de la OTAN como de la Unión Europea, y en Washington bajo el gobierno de Biden.

Suecia, como la mayoría de los miembros de la Unión Europea, acusa desde hace tiempo a Hungría de socavar la democracia y violar los derechos de las minorías. Pero tras la llegada al poder de un gobierno de derecha en Estocolmo el año pasado, se ha distanciado de las críticas a la política interior húngara.

La admisión en la OTAN requiere el apoyo unánime de los miembros de la alianza. Finlandia fue admitida en la alianza el pasado mes de abril, pero la derrota estratégica que esa medida supuso para Putin se ha visto socavada por los retrasos en la aprobación de Suecia.

Andrew Higgins es el jefe del buró de Europa Central y Oriental del Times con sede en Varsovia. Cubre una región que se extiende desde las repúblicas bálticas de Estonia, Letonia y Lituania hasta Kosovo, Serbia y otras partes de la antigua Yugoslavia. Más de Andrew Higgins

Las deportistas de México alcanzan una nueva frontera: el softbol profesional

Reportando desde Ciudad de México y León, Mexico

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El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En muchas partes de América Latina, el béisbol es un deporte popular y bien establecido, con ligas profesionales masculinas en México, República Dominicana y Venezuela, entre otros países. Pero las mujeres que querían jugar el deporte primo del béisbol —softbol— de forma profesional solo tenían una opción: marcharse. Debían irse a Estados Unidos o Japón.

Hasta ahora.

En lo que se cree es el primer caso en América Latina —una región donde los hombres suelen tener más oportunidades que las mujeres, particularmente en los deportes— se ha creado una liga profesional de softbol femenino en México. Desde el 25 de enero, cuando comenzó la temporada inaugural, 120 mujeres en 6 equipos pudieron llamarse a sí mismas jugadoras profesionales de softbol, muchas por primera vez.

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Incendio en Valencia: hay al menos 9 muertos

Un día después de que un incendio arrasara un complejo de viviendas de gran altura en la ciudad española de Valencia, que derivó en la muerte de al menos 9 personas, los investigadores policiales intentaban determinar por qué las llamas se habían extendido por los dos edificios en menos de una hora.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

Las primeras sospechas recayeron en los materiales de construcción, pero era difícil determinarlo, ya que las dos estructuras permanecían tan calientes que los bomberos no pudieron entrar en los edificios sino hasta alrededor del mediodía del viernes, horas después de haber llegado al lugar durante la noche anterior.

Luis Sendra, decano del Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de la Comunidad Valenciana, dijo que los investigadores tendrían que esperar a que las estructuras se enfriaran para poder precisar si el revestimiento exterior podría haber contribuido a avivar el fuego. Afirmó que los huecos entre el aislamiento y el revestimiento podrían haber facilitado la propagación de las llamas.

“Es pronto para saber la causa exacta”, dijo Sendra. “Pero por la rapidez con que se extendió, podría haber mucha similitud con Grenfell en Londres”.

Setenta y dos personas murieron en el incendio de Grenfell, que consumió un edificio de apartamentos de gran altura en el oeste de Londres en 2017. Se habían utilizado materiales inflamables en el revestimiento de ese edificio, lo que aceleró la propagación del fuego.

En una rueda de prensa celebrada el viernes por la mañana, Carlos Mazón, presidente de la Comunidad Valenciana, anunció un periodo de luto de tres días y afirmó que siete bomberos habían resultado heridos en el incendio.

El gobierno de la comunidad autónoma había anunciado a primera hora del viernes que 10 personas habían fallecido en el incendio, pero de acuerdo con información que apareció en los medios de comunicación españoles más tarde ese mismo día, citando fuentes policiales, se afirmaba que el número de muertes se había revisado y eran nueve, y una persona desaparecida.

En unas imágenes dramáticas que circularon en los medios de comunicación españoles se veía a un bombero saltando desde el séptimo piso a una colchoneta de seguridad en el suelo. Dos residentes también fueron rescatados de un balcón tras quedar atrapados por el fuego; mientras los bomberos contenían las llamas con mangueras, los residentes trepaban de balcón en balcón para llegar a una plataforma de rescate elevada por un camión de bomberos.

El complejo residencial de Valencia, la tercera ciudad más grande de España, estaba formado por un edificio de 14 plantas y otro más bajo, y tenía un total de 138 viviendas, según Sendra.

Un equipo de 15 agentes forenses de la policía nacional está llevando a cabo una investigación sobre el incendio. Tampoco estaba claro el origen del incendio.

Aún no se sabía con claridad qué materiales se utilizaron en el exterior de los edificios. Sendra declaró a los medios de comunicación que el uso de aluminio en las fachadas de los edificios estaba permitido por la normativa de construcción española, pero que el uso de poliuretano como aislante no lo estaba.

Tampoco quedaba claro si se había utilizado poliuretano. Sin embargo, Esther Puchades, vicepresidenta del Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Técnicos Industriales de Valencia, afirmó en un comunicado que “todos los indicios apuntaban al poliuretano como el causante de la voracidad de las llamas y el color del humo”.

Un comunicado del colegio señaló que algunos de los materiales de la fachada de los edificios contenían plástico que se incendió con rapidez, pero añadía: “No podemos asegurar que sea un material en concreto hasta que no acabe la investigación”.

Pep Benlloch, presidente de la asociación de vecinos de la zona, dijo en una entrevista en la cadena de televisión Antena 3 que en el complejo vivían muchos extranjeros, entre ellos ucranianos, pero que, en un principio, había estado vacío durante mucho tiempo debido a los precios prohibitivos por el auge de la construcción.

La policía y el ayuntamiento señalaron que no podían confirmar inmediatamente cuántas de las viviendas estaban habitadas en el momento del incendio. El complejo se construyó durante el auge inmobiliario de mediados de la década de 2000, según Sendra.

Un residente de 67 años que solo dio su nombre de pila, Pep, dijo el viernes a los medios de comunicación españoles que había salido de su vivienda con su esposa poco después de que se declarara el incendio.

“Cogí la cartera, el móvil, y logré salir del infierno”, dijo el hombre, hablando fuera del hotel donde ha sido alojado temporalmente.

Jorge, quien vive en el barrio de Campanar, dijo que había salido a dar un paseo cuando vio el incendio y se unió a un pequeño grupo de personas que contemplaba con horror cómo el edificio era consumido por las llamas.

Inmediatamente empezó a grabar; hizo un video del edificio en llamas, con el sonido de gritos de fondo, que publicó en las redes sociales

“Olía a plástico quemado”, dijo Jorge, quien solo dio su nombre de pila, en una entrevista.

El ayuntamiento de Valencia señaló en un comunicado que se había instalado una locación de asistencia en un edificio cercano para ofrecer apoyo práctico y psicológico a los residentes sobrevivientes.

El presidente del gobierno de España, Pedro Sánchez, visitó el viernes el lugar del incendio, agradeció a los trabajadores de emergencia y ofreció “trasladar nuestra solidaridad, nuestro cariño y nuestra empatía” a las familias afectadas por el fuego.

“La prioridad ahora”, dijo, “es la búsqueda de víctimas”.

Emily Schmallcolaboró con reportería.