Brexit, Lion Air, Mozambique: Your Friday Briefing

Brexit, Lion Air, Mozambique: Your Friday Briefing


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Good morning.

The E.U. gives its terms for postponing Brexit, digital mercenaries are open for business, and waters recede in Mozambique. Here’s the latest:

Turning down terms requested by Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, E.U. leaders on Thursday agreed to extend the deadline for Britain’s looming March 29 exit from the bloc to May 22 if next week Mrs. May can persuade lawmakers in Parliament to come around to her plan for leaving, which they have roundly rejected twice.

If she cannot persuade lawmakers to accept her plan, Mrs. May will get a shorter delay in exiting the E.U. — until April 12. Mrs. May accepted the terms.

And Britain could stay in the bloc much longer if it decided it needs more time for a bigger rethink. If Britain were to get the longer delay, it would have to take part in European Parliament elections in May.

What’s next? In a news conference after the E.U.’s decision, Mrs. May seemed to rule out a long delay, arguing that it would be “absurd” for British voters to participate in E.U. elections. She also said she would not consider revoking Brexit. The options seemed to be dwindling to Mrs. May’s plan; a vote on a so-called soft Brexit that would retain close ties to the E.U.; or crashing out of the bloc without a deal. Follow our correspondent Stephen Castle on Twitter for the latest updates.

Word of warning: In a rare joint statement, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress said that a no-deal Brexit “would be felt by generations to come” and called the current situation “a national emergency,” with the risk of that outcome soaring.


While families were still mourning their loved ones killed off Indonesia in the Lion Air plane crash in October, they were herded into a hotel conference room and told to sign a document to receive a government-mandated compensation of 1.3 billion rupiah, about $91,600, for loss of life.

But the payment came with conditions. Many say they weren’t allowed time to study the document and didn’t know it included a clause prohibiting them from suing the carrier, its financial backers or Boeing.

Those conditions are now being questioned by legal experts. An Indonesian aviation act from 2011 specifies that heirs who receive government-mandated payments shouldn’t have limits on their right to sue the carrier or other entities involved.

Boeing: The Boeing model, a 737 Max 8, also crashed in Ethiopia this month. The two doomed jets lacked optional safety features that Boeing sold separately at an additional cost. Now the aircraft manufacturer is making one of those features standard as part of a fix to get the planes into the air again.


Small countries, corporations and even wealthy individuals all have a new weapon at their disposal: privatized spying through companies that hire former intelligence operatives from around the world.

This growing and barely governed world of digital combat has enabled governments to hack terrorist groups and drug cartels, but is also being used for more sinister impulses, like targeting activists and journalists, with the sophistication that was once the preserve of major world powers.

The F.B.I. is now investigating one of these firms, DarkMatter, after a former N.S.A. hacker working there grew concerned about its activities, a twist that reflects the murky new industry.

Takeaway: The rapid expansion of these private spying companies has prompted concerns about a dangerous and chaotic future in which even governments with small budgets can inflict immense damage.

How we know: Our monthslong investigation into the secret world of this high-tech battleground was based on interviews with current and former hackers for governments and private companies, as well as a review of documents.


With the waters from Cyclone Idai starting to recede, those staggered in its wake were trying to take full stock of its effects. Mozambique’s death toll had risen to more than 200; 139 were reportedly killed in Zimbabwe, and another 56 in Malawi. Hundreds of thousands of people in areas that were already very poor have been displaced.

But there was good news. Waters were said to be retreating “quickly,” allowing recovery workers to reach communities that had been cut off.

Impact: Many villagers in Mozambique work in machambas — farm fields handed down from the nation’s former colonial power, Portugal — and many are subsistence farmers. Homes, clothes and crops crucial to livelihoods have vanished. Aid groups estimate that 90 percent of Beira, a port city with about a half-million people, was destroyed.

How to help: Here are some of the aid organizations delivering relief.


Israel: President Trump said the U.S. should recognize Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights, which the country seized from Syria in 1967 and has since become one of the world’s most disputed territories. The president’s announcement on Twitter points to a significant shift in decades-long American policy.

Asylum dispute: The Home Office in Britain, which is responsible for handling immigration, cited biblical verses about vengeance to deny asylum to an Iranian man who said he had converted from Islam to Christianity because it was a “peaceful” religion.

Netherlands: Dutch prosecutors said they would bring terrorism charges against a man suspected of killing three people on a tram in Utrecht, in addition to multiple counts of murder or manslaughter. The police said they were still investigating the motives. One other man remained in custody in connection with the attack.

Britain: The police and counterterrorism officials are investigating vandalism at five mosques in Birmingham, home to one of the country’s biggest Muslim populations.

New Zealand: At least two people have been charged with sharing video of the Christchurch mosque attacks that the gunman broadcast via social media; a law forbids dissemination or possession of material depicting extreme violence and terrorism. Others could face related charges under a human rights law that forbids incitement of racial disharmony.

Nirav Modi: The Indian jewelry designer to the stars was arrested in London in connection with a nearly $3 billion bank fraud in India. India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party immediately turned the news into campaign fodder, claiming credit for the arrest.

Kurt Vonnegut: Published 50 years ago this month, Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” made the 47-year-old writer a star, but it was also an act of self-therapy by a man who had what now would probably be considered PTSD after the bombing of Dresden, Germany. We took a look back on the countercultural classic

Amsterdam: The authorities announced several measures to manage tourism, including a ban on guided tours of the city’s notorious red-light district, starting next year.


Tips for a more fulfilling life.

Recipe of the day: Tahini isn’t just for hummus. Try it in an earthy dressing to drizzle on roasted butternut squash bread salad.

Readers recommended ways to shrink your plastic footprint: Reuse rather than toss plastic cutlery, keep a coffee mug and a water bottle at your desk, and find new uses for yogurt containers, like painting or composting.

We also have a checklist to help you avoid screen-share disasters, and the cautionary tale of an extreme example.

What do lichens and politics have in common?

As you may remember from chemistry class, a litmus test determines a solution’s relative acidity. But the phrase is also used metaphorically to refer to a character-defining political issue, and it has been popping up in coverage of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The chemical test, in use since the Middle Ages, employs a dye derived from lichens to determine whether a solution is more acidic or alkaline.

The phrase, which developed its political connotation in the 20th century, appeared in The New York Times at least as early as 1950, when it described NATO and the Marshall Plan as “the litmus test for distinguishing between Communists and supporters of the United States.”





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