The world at a glance ...
Labor against Macron: Tens of thousands of union members and leftists protested in every major French city this week against President Emmanuel Macron’s move to bring French labor laws closer to EU norms. The changes make it easier to hire and fire workers, as well as let smaller businesses perform their own labor negotiations instead of having to follow industrywide agreements—reforms that economist Gilbert Cette said would amount to “a big bang in the functioning of the French labor market.” Macron offended many French citizens last week by saying opponents of the reforms were “slackers,” and some demonstrators carried “Slackers, unite!” signs. Macron didn’t see the demonstrations, as he was touring France’s Caribbean islands to survey damage from Hurricane Irma.
Irma flood: Hurricane Irma battered Cuba for three days this week, ripping up trees, wrecking sugar cane and banana fields, and flooding towns across the island. Waves as high as 30 feet crashed over Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall and flooded the historic district, damaging the city’s picturesque Art Deco homes and shops. At least 10 people were killed, but government officials said the toll would have been much higher if it hadn’t been for the orderly evacuation of more than 1 million people. “This is not a time to mourn,” said President Raúl Castro, “but to construct again that which the winds of Irma attempted to destroy.”
Deadly earthquake: The biggest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas last week, killing some 100 people and prompting the government to rescind its offer of aid to U.S. victims of Hurricane Harvey. The magnitude-8.1 quake and multiple aftershocks demolished thousands of homes. The town of Juchitán was especially hardhit. “Everything that I worked so long for is gone,” shop owner Benito Chinas, 83, told the Associated Press. “At my age how am I going to start over?” Meanwhile, directly north, Hurricane Katia made landfall in Veracruz state along Mexico’s Gulf coast, knocking out power to tens of thousands and dumping heavy rain; two people were killed in a mudslide.
U.N. accuses Maduro: The government of President Nicolás Maduro may have committed crimes against humanity, the U.N. human rights chief said this week. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Venezuela was rounding up protesters and opposition leaders with excessive force, and sometimes killing them. Detainees, including children, were subjected to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” that in some cases rose to the level of torture. The International Commission of Jurists also said this week that Venezuela’s Supreme Court had utterly dismantled the rule of law. “We have seen a judiciary that has essentially lost its independence and become a tool of a very authoritarian executive branch,” said ICJ Secretary-General Sam Zarifi.
Obama for Merkel: Candidates for the ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union in Germany’s upcoming election are plastering posters with President Obama’s face around Berlin. On his last overseas trip as president, after the U.S. election last November, Obama endorsed Chancellor Angela Merkel in her re-election bid, and now her CDU party is quoting him on the posters, which read in German, “If I could, I’d vote Merkel.” A whopping 86 percent of Germans say they trust Obama’s judgment in global affairs, compared with 11 percent who trust President Trump’s. Merkel is expected to cruise to a fourth term as chancellor on Sept. 24, as her party is polling 14 points ahead of the center-left Social Democrats.
Jandiatuba River, Brazil
Tribe massacred? Brazilian authorities are investigating the possible massacre of 10 members of one of the Amazon’s most remote, “uncontacted” hunter-gatherer tribes. A group of gold miners reportedly bragged in a bar near the Colombia border about having killed the tribe members, showing off tools and jewelry stolen from the dead. A bar patron recorded their confession and gave the audio to the police, sparking a federal investigation. The more than 100 uncontacted Amazon tribes are mostly small family bands, so if the massacre is confirmed, it could mean a significant percentage of an entire ethnic group was wiped out. Funding for indigenous affairs in Brazil has been cut by nearly 70 percent since 2014, and officials don’t have the resources to monitor the tribes.
Russians brag about meddling: Russian lawmakers are now openly boasting that their country helped elect Donald Trump. Discussing waning U.S. influence around the world, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said on Russian TV this week that U.S. intelligence “missed it when Russian intelligence stole the presidency of the United States.” Earlier this month, Nikita Isaev, leader of the far-right New Russia Movement, said on Russian state TV that Moscow should release its compromising material on Trump in retaliation for the U.S. closing Russian diplomatic compounds. When asked whether the Kremlin had such information on the U.S. president, Isaev said, “Of course we have it!”
Diamonds fund Mugabe regime: Zimbabwe’s ruling elite are plundering the country’s diamond wealth to enrich themselves and fund the feared intelligence service. The anticorruption group Global Witness said in a report this week that the country’s diamonds are channeled through a complex network of firms based in former British colonies, including Hong Kong, the British Virgin Islands, and South Africa. Zimbabwe has officially exported more than $2.5 billion in diamonds since 2010, the report said, but only $300 million has made it into the government treasury. Three-quarters of Zimbabweans live in poverty amid crumbling infrastructure and high unemployment.
Weapons from Russia: Turkey has alarmed its NATO allies by agreeing to buy a $2.5 billion missile-defense system from Russia. NATO members are encouraged to buy compatible weapons systems, preferably from other NATO members, but the Russian missiles can’t be integrated into NATO’s defenses. The deal is further evidence of Turkey’s increasing coziness with Russia, as the two countries cooperate in the war in Syria. The Pentagon expressed concern, but Turkey was defiant. “What were we supposed to do, wait for you?” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We are taking and will take all our measures on the security front.”
Pyongyang, North Korea
Anger over sanctions: North Korea said the “evil” sanctions the U.N. placed on it this week have only stiffened its resolve to rapidly build a nuclear weapon that can strike the U.S. The U.N. Security Council levied the sanctions—which limit oil imports to North Korea and prohibit it from exporting textiles, a key source of hard currency for the isolated country—in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test. North Korea has claimed the Sept. 3 test was of a hydrogen bomb, and this week, leader Kim Jong Un threw a huge party for the scientists, technicians, and military officials who contributed to the effort. Guests feasted at a banquet as singers performed and posed for photos with Kim himself. “The recent test of the H-bomb is the great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,” Kim said.
Deir el-Zour, Syria
Civilians slain: Dozens of Syrian civilians, including children, were killed by U.S. and Russian airstrikes this week, as multiple sides in the conflict tried to break the ISIS siege of Deir el-Zour. Russian forces backing Syrian troops were responsible for most of the civilian deaths, while an errant strike from U.S. forces backing Kurdish troops killed 12 members of a Syrian family. Thanks largely to Russian military support, the Syrian government once again controls 85 percent of Syrian territory and is closing in on the remainder, still held by militants. Since 2015, Russia has delivered thousands of tons of military equipment and supplies to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Selected, not elected: Singapore got its first female president by default this week, after the four other candidates were disqualified. Halimah Yacob, 63, is a former speaker of the citystate’s Parliament. Singapore recently changed the eligibility rules for the presidency: Candidates must be ethnic Malay, and they must have either held a high elected office for at least three years or been head of a private company with more than $370 mil lion in market capitalization. Dissent is rare in Singapore, but there were a few gentle murmurs of dismay over the lack of competition, with one opposition politician saying it detracted from the president’s “moral authority.” The presidency, a sixyear term, is largely ceremonial, but it does confer the power to veto some government decisions.