Volodymyr Zelensky vows vengeance. Women kidnapped in Burkina Faso. Last ‘godfather’ Matteo Messina Denaro captured. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Jacinda Ardern resigns ahead of NZ election in October

Jacinda Ardern, with fellow members of the New Zealand parliament, after announcing her resignation as prime minister.
Jacinda Ardern, with fellow members of the New Zealand parliament, after announcing her resignation as prime minister.
Credit: Kerry Marshall / Getty Images

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, this week promised to avenge a Russian bombing of an apartment building that killed at least 45 people, as the United States and Britain led a push to expand international military support for Ukraine. 

The strike last weekend on the building in Dnipro, a city in south-east Ukraine, is believed to have involved a Russian anti-ship missile, known to be often inaccurate in urban settings. About 20 residents of the building remained missing this week.

Zelensky criticised Moscow’s “cowardly silence” about the attack, which he said was a war crime. “All this will end with sentences for all these Russian murderers,” he said. 

On Wednesday, a helicopter crashed near a kindergarten in Kyiv, killing 14 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky. At least one child at the kindergarten died. The cause is unknown, but the helicopter was flying in foggy conditions at tree level, possibly to avoid detection because it was carrying a minister.

The international community has increased its flow of weapons and military support to Ukraine, including a US program in Oklahoma to teach about 100 Ukrainian soldiers to use the Patriot air defence system. Britain announced it will provide Ukraine with 14 heavy battle tanks. Other NATO countries also pledged support, including the Netherlands, which is providing a Patriot system.

Australia this week sent about 70 troops to join a British-led mission to train Ukraine’s “citizen army”. “[These are] people who are giving up their day jobs in order to fight for their country,” said Australia’s Defence minister, Richard Marles. “The heart is there, but it’s really the skills that are going to be provided [that] are going to … keep them in the fight.” 

The neighbourhood 

New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern, who made a stunning political rise to become New Zealand’s prime minister in 2017, shocked the country and the world on Thursday by announcing that she will step down by February 7.

Appearing at an annual caucus meeting of her ruling Labour Party, Ardern said she no longer had “enough in the tank” to continue as leader.

“We give all that we can for as long as we can,” she said. “And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”

Ardern took over as Labour leader weeks before the election in September 2017 and won a narrow victory, becoming the world’s youngest female leader at the age of 37. She later won acclaim for her compassionate handling of the Christchurch terror attack, in which a far-right gunman murdered 51 people at two mosques. She imposed strict border closures during the Covid-19 pandemic and won a landslide election victory in 2020, though her party has trailed the opposition National Party in recent polls, as the nation faces surging inflation and increasing interest rates. And she became a parent, becoming only the second leader in modern history – after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto – to give birth while in office. 

Ardern, who is now 42, said the next election will be held on October 14. Labour will vote for a new leader on Sunday.

“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused,” she said. “And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.”

Democracy in retreat 

Burkino Faso: At least 50 women have been kidnapped while picking fruit in a region of Burkino Faso in which Islamic extremists have been waging a violent insurgency.

An initial group of 40 women were abducted by jihadist gunmen on January 12 after leaving their town, Arbinda, to gather wild fruit and leaves because of a lack of food in the region. Three escaped and alerted authorities. A smaller group of about 20 women – who had not heard about the abduction – went looking for food on January 13 and were seized. 

The kidnappings occurred in a region that is being blockaded by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh. 

A resident of Arbinda told the AFP news agency: “In both groups, some women managed to escape and returned to the village on foot … We believe that the kidnappers took them to their bases.”  

Since 2015, the insurgency in the West African country has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced about two million to leave their homes. Blockades by the insurgents across the country’s north have made it difficult to grow crops or bring in food. About one million people live in the blockaded areas. Multiple attacks have occurred in and around Arbinda, including an ambush of a trade convoy in 2021 that killed 80 people.

Burkino Faso, which has about 22 million residents, is one of the world’s poorest countries. The military-led government is believed to control about 60 per cent of the country.

Spotlight: Mafia’s ‘last godfather’ captured

Italy: For 30 years, police in Italy have been searching for Matteo Messina Denaro, a mafia boss known as the “last godfather” who famously once claimed that his murder victims could “fill a cemetery”.

Denaro, believed to be the head of the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate, has helped to oversee its racketeering, illegal waste dumping and drug trafficking activities. During his decades on the run, he has been convicted in absentia of killing anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and an 11-year-old boy – the child of a state witness – who was held for two years and tortured before being executed. Despite his high profile, he proved frustratingly elusive, partly because many in his home province of Trapani in Sicily were either loyal to him or terrified of him. 

But, on Monday morning in Palermo, police finally captured the 60-year-old as he visited a medical clinic under a fake name for cancer treatment. He admitted his identity and was taken away as bystanders cheered. 

Police said he was “looking well, well dressed and wearing high-end clothing”, including a watch worth 35,000 euros ($55,000).

“Until this morning, we didn’t even know what face he had,” said Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Maurizio De Lucia.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, flew to Sicily to celebrate the arrest and congratulate local law enforcement officials. 

“This is a great victory for the state,” she said.

Denaro’s precise role and authority in the Cosa Nostra remains unclear. Authorities are hopeful he will provide information about bombings and murders that have left more than 100 people dead.

The arrest has been seen as marking the potential end of an era for the Cosa Nostra. But the possible demise of the famous Sicilian syndicate will not end the role of organised crime in Italy, where the 'Ndrangheta syndicate of Calabria and the Camorra in and around Naples are still heavily involved in activities such as drug trafficking, waste management and tourism.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 21, 2023 as "Ardern resigns ahead of NZ election in October".

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