The world at a glance ...
Abortion referendum: Ireland will vote next year on whether to loosen its strict constitutional ban on abortion, the government announced this week. Ireland had a total prohibition on abortion until 2013, when— following a high-profile case in which an Indian woman died after being denied a lifesaving abortion—it began allowing the procedure when there is a substantial risk to a woman’s life. A woman convicted of having an illegal termination in Ireland can face up to 14 years in prison. But women are allowed to travel abroad for abortions, and thousands do so every year, mainly to the U.K. Polls show that the Irish public overwhelmingly believes abortions should be legal in cases of rape or extreme fetal abnormalities, but most oppose abortion on request.
U.S. diplomats go home: The Trump administration will soon begin a major withdrawal of staff from the U.S. Embassy in Hav ana, after dozens of diplomats and their family members were attacked in their homes and offices with a mysterious sonic weapon that left them with brain damage or hearing loss. At least 25 Americans have been affected by the weapon; the first cases occurred months ago, but more have been reported in recent weeks. Cuba has insisted it is not responsible for the attacks and is investigating the matter. White House officials told the McClatchy news agency they believe Cuba is innocent; experts suspect that a third party, such as Russia, could be trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. The planned staff withdrawal is intended to protect embassy workers and their families, not to punish Cuba.
Digging out: Hundreds of buildings in Mexico City are still in danger of collapse from last week’s massive earthquake, which killed at least 333 people and left thousands more homeless. The danger is ongoing: Five days after the quake hit, the cupola of Our Lady of Angels Church split in half and crashed to the ground. So far, fewer than 700 of Mexico City’s roughly 9,000 schools have been cleared to reopen. Most of the buildings that were damaged in the capital were erected before 1990, when new, stringent construction codes went into effect. Meanwhile, the southern state of Oaxaca, hit by two quakes in the past month, was shaken by another—a strong aftershock— this week that caused more buildings and a bridge to collapse.
Top prosecutor was murdered: Argentine investigators have concluded that the suspicious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015, just hours before he was to testify in Congress against then- President Cristina Kirchner, was murder. Nisman was found in his bathroom, dead of a gunshot wound to the head, the day he was to present evidence that would show Kirchner allegedly colluded with Iran to undermine his investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center. The Iranian-backed group Hezbollah has been blamed for that attack. An initial, flawed investigation of Nisman’s death could not rule out suicide, but a new forensic examination concluded that Nisman was beaten, knocked out with ketamine—a powerful veterinary anesthetic—and then shot. “Is this a state crime?” asked La Nacíon newspaper.
Macron wants stronger EU: French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a sweeping reform of the European Union, including establishing a European defense budget and policy, a “rapid reaction force” to work alongside member states’ armies, and a unified asylum system. Speaking at Sorbonne University in Paris, he also proposed that the 19 Eurozone countries have a single budget and finance minister. “The Europe we know is too weak, too slow, too inefficient,” he said, “but only Europe gives us the capacity to act on the world stage in the face of great contemporary challenges.” Macron will face skepticism from Germany, which is wealthier than France and fears that it will have to foot the bill for the French president’s proposals.
Russian abuses: Russia has committed “multiple and grave” human rights abuses in Crimea since annexing the territory from Ukraine three years ago, the United Nations said this week. Investigators have documented evidence of arbitrary arrests, torture, and the extrajudicial killing of at least one pro-Ukrainian activist by Russian security forces. Hundreds of detainees have been sent to prisons in Russia; at least three detainees moved to a lockup in Adygea—a Russian republic in the Western Caucasus—died after failing to receive medical treatment for critical health conditions. Some 100,000 Crimeans—about 4 percent of Crimea’s population—who rejected Russian citizenship following the takeover are now treated as foreigners in their own land, unable to vote or work in government. “Dissent and criticism,” said U.N. official Fiona Frazer, “are not tolerated by Russian authorities in Crimea.”
Israelis killed: A Palestinian opened fire at the entrance to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank this week, killing three Israeli guards and wounding another before being shot dead. The killer, Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal, 37, worked cleaning homes in the Har Adar settlement and was recently left by his wife, likely because of domestic abuse, Israeli media reported. He did not fit the typical profile of Palestinian terrorists, who are often young single men. Fatah, the main Palestinian party, praised Jamal as a “heroic martyr.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Jamal’s house would be demolished and his family’s work permits revoked. Dozens of Israelis have been killed in lone-wolf shooting, stabbing, and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians over the past two years.
Women will drive: Women in Saudi Arabia will finally get the right to drive cars, King Salman announced in a decree this week, ending a long-standing ban that has come to symbolize women’s repression in the hardline Islamic country. Saudi women activists, several of whom have been imprisoned for defying the prohibition, celebrated this week by posting photos showing themselves behind the wheel. “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again,” tweeted activist Manal al-Sharif. “The rain begins with a single drop.” Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam, is the only country in the world that restricts women’s rights so severely, and clerics have long resisted calls for equal rights. Saudi women still can’t travel abroad or work without a male guardian’s permission, and while out in public they must wear an abaya—a full-length, loose-fitting robe—and a headscarf.
Kurds vote to split: Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of breaking away from Iraq and forming an independent country in a referendum this week— a poll strongly opposed by their neighbors and allies. Kurds inhabit a boomerang-shaped swath of territory in southeastern Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, and western Iran, and all of those countries fear that independence for the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan would lead to demands for a greater nation of Kurdistan. As Kurds cast ballots in the nonbinding referendum, Iran and Turkey threatened to close their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan, choking off food imports and oil exports. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even threatened military intervention. “We may enter at night without warning,” he said. The U.S., which considers Kurdish troops key allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, had also opposed the referendum, which the State Department said would “increase instability and hardship for the region and its people.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said there was no chance that the vote would lead to talks on separation—even though 92 percent of Kurds voted for independence. The president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, said his people could no longer tolerate living in a “theocratic, sectarian state”—a reference to Iran’s influence over Baghdad. Just across the border, Iranian Kurds showed their support for the vote, chanting, singing, and waving the Kurdish flag. “The historic vote has kindled the Kurdish spirit,” said the Kurdish news site Rudaw.net.
Protests don’t dent Duterte: Waving signs reading “Stop the Killings,” up to 20,000 Filipinos marched through Manila last week in a so-called Day of Rage against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal anti-drug policy. After taking office in June 2016, Duterte told police and citizens to shoot drug dealers and users on sight; since then, more than 12,000 people have been killed in antidrug police operations and vigilante attacks. Still, Duterte remains popular. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, some 78 percent of Filipinos said they approved of the president’s handling of the illegal drugs issue, and 86 percent had a favorable view of Duterte.
No means yes: A married Bollywood director had his rape conviction overturned this week after the Delhi High Court ruled that “a feeble ‘no’” could imply consent to sex. Mahmood Farooqui, co-director of the 2010 hit film Peepli Live, was sentenced to seven years in prison last year for raping an American graduate student in his home. “Where there is an assumed consent,” Judge Ashutosh Kumar said of his decision to throw out the earlier verdict, “it matters not if one of the partners to the act is a bit hesitant.” He said consent was as sumed because the two had previously kissed. Lawyers for the Columbia University graduate student, who was studying in India on a Fulbright scholarship when the 2015 encounter occurred, said she had repeatedly said no and tried to fight off Farooqui.