The world at a glance ...
Silencing Big Ben: After more than 150 years of going “bong” on the hour, London’s famous Big Ben bell fell silent this week. Its home, Parliament’s clock tower, will be undergoing repair work for the next four years. Many Britons reacted angrily to the bell’s silencing, questioning why the British institution has to be hushed for so long. Trade unions have noted that Big Ben’s 120-decibel chime could deafen construction workers, but the Daily Mail tabloid dismissed such concerns in a headline as the “death knell for common sense.” Opposition politician Stephen Pound invoked World War II in his criticism of the restoration process, declaring, “The Luftwaffe could not stop [Big Ben], but health and safety has.”
Sonic attacks: U.S. diplomats in Cuba are believed to have been attacked with a mystery sonic weapon that left at least two with permanent hearing damage, according to U.S. officials. More than 10 American diplomats and their family members have received treatment following the sound attacks, which began in late 2016 and continued until this spring, CNN reported this week. Five Canadian diplomats and their families also suffered symptoms consistent with the attacks. The weapon operates outside the range of audible sound but causes immediate physical sensations, including nausea, headaches, and hearing loss. Some diplomats were targeted while they slept inside their Havana residences. Cuba denied any involvement in the attacks, and U.S. investigators suspect a third country, possibly Russia or Venezuela, could be trying to raise tensions between Washington and Havana.
Legislative takeover: Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro tightened his grip on power last week after the country’s new pro-government Constituent Assembly assumed the lawmaking powers of the opposition-dominated national legislature. The assembly was created by Maduro to rewrite the constitution in his favor and was packed with regime supporters in sham elections last month. The legislature had already been sidelined by the pro- Maduro Supreme Court, which has vetoed every bill the body has passed since the opposition won a majority in late 2015. Venezuela has seen months of street protests as its economy spiraled deeper into recession and Maduro intensified his crackdown. The new assembly is now moving to pass a measure that could be used to imprison opposition leaders and protesters for up to 25 years.
Locking up migrants: The number of migrants making the treacherous journey from Libya to Italy across the Mediterranean has plummeted over the past month, and a former crime boss could be responsible for the drop. Some 4,000 migrants have made the crossing since mid-July, about a fifth of the number during the equivalent period in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Sources in the Libyan city of Sabratha, a popular departure point, told Reuters that a new hundreds-strong militia in the town led by a “former mafia boss” recently started rounding up and detaining migrants and ordering people smugglers to suspend their operations. Simon McMahon, a U.K.-based migration expert, said the militia might be “trying to get access to funds for migration control coming from Europe.”
Jihadist murders women: Two women were stabbed to death last week and eight other people wounded—six of them women—in what police are treating as Finland’s first instance of jihadist terrorism. Police shot and wounded the suspected attacker, an 18-year-old Moroccan national who identified himself as Abderrahman Mechkah, who is now in custody. The suspect arrived in Finland in 2016 as an asylum seeker, and police said they received a tip earlier this year that Mechkah had been radicalized. Authorities said the information was too vague to act on. Six other people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in planning the attack, which police said appeared to have deliberately targeted women. “We have feared this,” said Prime Minister Juha Sipila. “We are not an island anymore.”
Abortion ban eased: Chile’s Constitutional Court voted this week to uphold a landmark bill allowing abortion in limited circumstances, knocking a hole in one of world’s toughest bans on terminations. The bill, which passed the legislature earlier this month, legalizes abortion when a pregnancy puts a woman’s life in danger, when a fetus is not viable, and in cases of rape. About 70 percent of Chileans support loosening restrictions, but the legislation has faced intense opposition from conservatives in the predominantly Catholic country. Chile legalized abortion for medical reasons in 1931, but the procedure was completely banned in 1989 during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The court’s decision is a victory for center-left President Michelle Bachelet, who introduced the bill in 2015. “Today, women have won,” she said. “Chile has won.”
U.S. halts visas: The U.S. State Department announced this week that it will temporarily stop issuing non-immigrant visas to Russians, a result of the Kremlin’s decision that the U.S. must slash its diplomatic staff in the country. Angered by new U.S. sanctions intended to punish Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election, President Vladimir Putin demanded last month that the U.S. mission in Russia shrink its staff from more than 1,200 to 455. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said that downsizing meant it could no longer process non-immigrant visas, a decision that will hurt Russian tourists, nearly 250,000 of whom visited the U.S. last year. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attacked the visa decision as “politically motivated,” saying it was “aimed at a deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations.”
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Conservationist murdered: A leading wildlife conservationist who spearheaded campaigns against elephant poachers and ivory smugglers was shot and killed in Tanzania this week in what police believe may have been a targeted attack. Wayne Lotter, a 51-year-old South African, was in a taxi in Dar es Salaam when another car blocked his vehicle. Two men opened the door to his taxi and shot him twice. In 2009, Lotter cofounded the PAMS Foundation, a nonprofit that has trained thousands of game scouts across Tanzania and worked with the government to bust nearly 1,400 poachers and ivory traffickers. Tanzania’s director for criminal investigation, Robert Boaz, said he suspected that Lotter’s killers “may have been watching his movements.” Poaching caused Tanzania’s elephant population to drop from 109,000 in 2009 to 43,000 in 2014.
Child rape victim gives birth: A 10-year-old Indian girl who was raped by an uncle, and then blocked by a court from having an abortion, gave birth last week. The baby girl, who was born just over a month premature and weighed 5½ pounds, was delivered by C-section; the 10-year-old did not know she was pregnant and was instead told that she needed an operation to remove a kidney stone. “Neither the girl nor her family even saw the child,” said Dr. Dasari Harish, head of the team that delivered the baby. The infant has been placed in an intensive care unit and will eventually be put up for adoption. India bars abortions after 20 weeks, but courts can make exceptions when a pregnancy puts a mother’s life at risk. A court recently ruled that the girl could safely give birth, outraging many Indians.
Dogs go blue: A Mumbai factory has been shut down for dumping unfiltered industrial waste into a river— a practice that was only detected because stray dogs in the area started turning blue. Residents were shocked when they spotted at least 11 brightly colored canines wandering through their neighborhood, and soon realized that the nearby Ducol Organics plant had been releasing blue dye into the Kasadi River, where the animals often swim. Authorities shut down the factory, and an animal welfare group took in the azure-furred dogs. Apart from their unusual hue, the hounds appeared to be healthy. “The dye is possibly water based,” said an animal care worker, “as it washed off after two regular baths.”
USS Indianapolis found: Researchers led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen have discovered the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, whose final resting place has been a mystery since it was torpedoed during the final days of World War II. Allen’s team said it had spotted the vessel’s remnants 18,000 feet below the surface of the Philippine Sea; the site will be kept secret from the public and respected as a grave. The Indianapolis was returning to the Philippine port of Leyte after delivering components for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb when it was torpedoed on July 30, 1945. Up to 900 of the 1,196 men on board escaped, but no distress call was ever received. When the survivors were found by chance four days later, only 316 were alive in the shark-infested waters—a horrifying episode recounted in a famous scene in the movie Jaws.
Another collision: Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of the U.S. Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet, was relieved of his command this week after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore—the fourth time this year an American warship has been involved in an accident in Asian waters. Ten American sailors were reported missing after the 505-foot McCain and the 600-foot Alnic MC collided near the busy Strait of Malacca. Some experts speculated that the warship’s navigation system might have been hacked, but Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Cente r, said that was unlikely. “Navigating a ship in a shipping channel is a manual operation,” he said. “It comes down to watch attention and awareness.” In June, the USS Fitzgerald hit a container ship off the coast of Japan, killing seven U.S. sailors.