Verdicts in Khashoggi Murder Case
At a trial shrouded in secrecy, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison on Monday over the 2018 killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It’s a major development in a case that has stoked international outrage and battered the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was once hailed as a reformer.
The sentences, which are subject to appeal, raise the possibility that the men could be beheaded — even as the kingdom shields the crown prince and his top aides, who foreign analysts say were probably behind the killing. An expert from the United Nations, which has previously accused the kingdom of covering up the murder, called Monday’s verdicts “the antithesis of justice.”
Background: Mr. Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year after he entered to obtain paperwork for marrying his Turkish fiancée. Saudi agents killed him and dismembered his body.
Details: The kingdom has long said the killing was a last-minute decision by rogue agents. But there is ample evidence — documented in a Times video investigation — that Saudi agents flew to Istanbul with the intent, and tools, to kill.
Why Russia punches above its weight
Twenty years ago next week, when a virtually unknown former spy took power in the Kremlin, Russia’s economy was still blighted by a post-Soviet collapse. Its military, too, was feeble.
But today, even though Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s, the country has become a potent geopolitical and military force. And that marginal spy, Vladimir Putin, is still in power.
Russia is ascendant partly because Mr. Putin has nurtured a new clique of obedient oligarchs and transformed his country into “a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world,” writes our Moscow bureau chief, Andrew Higgins, who also covered his rise to power in 1999.
Quotable: In Western Europe, “there is almost a consensus that Putin is a great man, a resurrection of de Gaulle,” a former Kremlin adviser said. “Putin thinks this himself. It is not just an illusion, because it works.”
Yesterday: Mr. Putin opened a rail route linking Russia’s two biggest cities to Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that Moscow grabbed from Ukraine in 2014.
What should Europe do about ‘illiberal democracy’?
Donald Tusk just finished his five-year term as president of the European Council, having failed to inspire a Continentwide approach to solving its migration crisis.
Now Mr. Tusk, a liberal democrat, leads a center-right party grouping in Brussels that includes his old friend Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, an authoritarian who boasts of creating an “illiberal democracy.”
Their relationship highlights a larger debate about the bloc’s political identity, our chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe writes. It’s complex partly because, for all their disagreements, Mr. Tusk thinks Mr. Orban was correct to strongly defend Europe’s borders against uncontrolled immigration.
Quotable: Mr. Tusk said that Mr. Orban, who declined to comment, was cynical “because he is too intelligent not to understand what is the problem.”
French strikes disrupt holiday plans
As of this morning, it’s unclear whether the striking union workers who have disrupted France’s transportation grid for weeks in opposition to a planned pension overhaul will agree to President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal of a Christmas “truce.”
Either way, people across France are already struggling to get to their holiday gatherings. “It’s going to be a sad Christmas,” a stranded traveler said in a Paris train station on Monday.
Why this matters: The government and the unions are blaming each other for the disruptions. The question is whether continuing the strikes over the holidays will affect public support for them — which is still strong, but appears to have flagged in recent days.
What’s next: Regardless of what happens over the holidays, union leaders have scheduled a national day of strike on Jan. 9. Here’s why they are angry.
Notre-Dame: The 850-year-old Paris cathedral, which suffered a devastating fire in April, will not hold Christmas services this week — for the first time in over two centuries.
If you have a few minutes, this is worth it
China’s toehold in Cambodia
Some of China’s efforts to expand its geostrategic influence can be easy to miss. Case in point: a politically connected Chinese company is building a new international airport, above, along a remote stretch of shoreline in Cambodia.
The project has raised suspicion that Beijing plans to turn the Southeast Asian nation into a de facto military outpost, at a time when the United States’ presence in Asia has waned.
“Why would the Chinese show up in the middle of a jungle to build a runway?” said Sophal Ear, an expert on Cambodian politics. “This will allow China to project its air power through the region, and it changes the whole game.”
Here’s what else is happening
Algeria: The unexpected death on Monday of Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the country’s de facto ruler and a survivor from its independence movement, creates a power vacuum in a country that has been rocked by popular protests since last year.
Boeing: The embattled airplane manufacturer said on Monday that Dennis Muilenburg, who scrambled to contain the fallout from two crashes that killed 346 people, had been fired, and that David Calhoun would take over as chief executive on Jan. 13.
Syria: Aid groups say as many as 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the country’s northwest as the Syrian government and Russia have intensified a military offensive there in recent days. It’s another sign that President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly close to controlling the entire country again after more than eight years of civil war.
Germany: Police in the western city of Recklinghausen discovered a 15-year-old boy in a closet while raiding the apartment of a 44-year-old man they suspected of disseminating child pornography. The boy had been missing for 922 days.
Tesco: The British grocery chain suspended ties with a supplier after a 6-year-old London girl preparing Christmas cards for classmates found a desperate plea for help in one purporting to be from foreign prison laborers in China.
Ballet controversy: Intense debate over a photograph of dancers in blackface — released by the Bolshoi in Moscow, one of the world’s leading ballet companies — highlights divergent attitudes toward race and representation in North America versus parts of Europe and Russia.
Snapshot: Austria’s state-owned federal railway, ÖBB, has expanded its overnight train services, even as other European rail lines have reduced theirs. “It’s a common misconception that a night train must travel fast,” the company’s chief executive said. “The most important is to depart and arrive at a convenient time.”
Lost luggage: Our interactive feature explores how Germany deals with it.
What we’re reading: FiveThirtyEight’s data-driven look at good movies that are slightly about Christmas. Melina Delkic, on the Briefings team, writes: “Sure, ‘Noel’ and ‘Fred Claus’ are on there — but did you expect ‘Die Hard 2’? You can tell the writer had fun with this one, and so will you.”
Now, a break from the news
Written by two New York-area men, Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson, the song was popularized in the early 1950s by the country singer Ernest Tubb. But it was the later version that became a perennial hit.
Presley, who died in 1977, apparently recorded the song with reluctance. “Let’s just get this over with,” he told his band, and urged them to “do something silly” on the recording, according to a 2012 interview with Millie Kirkham, one of his backup singers.
Ms. Kirkham took the King at his word — by singing “woo-we-woo” throughout the song.
“When we got through, we all laughed and said, ‘Well, that’s one record that the record company will never release.’”
That’s it for this briefing. We’ll be off for Christmas, and back on Thursday with a special edition. Till then, rock on. (And if you’re scrambling for last-minute presents, consider giving The New York Times. Gift subscriptions start at $25.)
To Mark Josephson and Raillan Brooks for the break from the news. Mike wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
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