The world at a glance ...
Notre Dame plot: Another ISISdirected plot against Paris was foiled last week when police arrested three women who allegedly planned to blow up a car near Notre Dame Cathedral. Inès Madani, 19, Sarah Hervouet, 23, and Amel Sakaou, 39, were charged with terrorist offenses after they brought a car filled with cooking-gas canisters and bottles of gasoline into a busy tourist district. During the trio’s arrest, Hervouet stabbed a police officer and Madani was shot in the leg while charging another officer. Police said several other members of a suspected terrorist cell were also arrested; ISIS commanders in Syria were allegedly directing the group. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said authorities were detecting plots “every day” and tracking 15,000 suspected radical Islamists. “There will be new attacks,” he said. “More innocent people will die.”
March against gay marriage: Tens of thousands of people in cities across Mexico demonstrated this week against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. “The purpose is to defend the family,” said Marco Tulio Mendoza, director of the National Front for the Family, which organized the marches. Gay marriage is legal in Mexico City and nine of the country’s 31 states, and last year the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. But the states must pass new laws invalidating those bans, and some refuse to do so. More than 80 percent of Mexicans are Catholic, and some church leaders urged congregants to join the protests.
Kurdish politicians purged: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the sweeping emergency powers granted to him after July’s failed military coup to remove 24 democratically elected mayors of Kurdish towns in southeastern Turkey. Erdogan said the mayors, who are members of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, were providing support to the banned Kurdish militant group PKK. The government also fired 11,000 teachers in the southeast, saying they, too, had ties to the PKK separatists. These dismissals amount to “an open declaration of political war against Kurdish citizens,” said Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. The HDP, which is the third-largest party in Turkey’s legislature, called the removals an “administrative coup.”
Hunger isn’t funny: President Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to joke about the chronic food shortages in his country has backfired. During a nationally televised speech this week, Maduro asked an audience member why he was so skinny, and one woman shouted out “the Maduro diet”—a common phrase among increasingly hungry Venezuelans. “The Maduro diet, that’s the one that makes you hard,” the president replied. “You won’t need Viagra now.” Social media erupted in condemnation of the joke. Malnutrition is rising in Venezuela, where more than half the population now report skipping meals because they can’t afford food. Economists blame the shortages on government price controls.
ISIS sleeper cell? German police have arrested three Syrian refugees on suspicion of being members of ISIS. The three—two Syrian teenagers and one man in his 20s—came to Germany last November as part of the wave of refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe. Officials said the men had been under surveillance for months and were in possession of “extensive material” linking them to a planned attack. They are believed to have been sent to Europe by the same ISIS operatives that sent some of the terrorists who attacked Paris last November, killing 130 people. “It is wrong to place all refugees under suspicion,” said Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière. “But there are refugees with terrorist sympathies.”
Another head rolls: The politician who engineered the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff has been expelled from Brazil’s Congress. Former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha was stripped of his seat this week in a 450-10 vote for lying about his secret Swiss bank accounts. Cunha is accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from companies that got government contracts. Now that he has lost congressional immunity from prosecution, he is facing possible arrest on charges of perjury and corruption. “This shows that Brazil will no longer tolerate a politician who turned Congress into a marketplace for bribes and favors,” said Rubens Bueno, a lawmaker from the Popular Socialist Party. Cunha has threatened to tell all in a plea bargain that could implicate many leading politicians. More than half the members of Congress are under investigation for corruption.
Hackers target U.S. Olympians: Hackers affiliated with the Russian government have broken into World Anti-Doping Agency computers and leaked the medical files of U.S. Olympic stars. The Fancy Bear hacking group released information this week on American athletes, including tennis players Serena and Venus Williams and four-time gymnastics gold medalist Simone Biles. Most of the leaked documents relate to “therapeutic use exemptions,” in which WADA allows athletes to take banned substances if they are medically necessary. The documents allege that Serena Williams was granted permission to treat muscle injuries with anti-inflammatories, and that Biles used Ritalin to treat her ADHD. The hack is seen as retaliation for the banning of many Russian athletes from this year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, including most of the track-and-field team, after evidence emerged of a government-sponsored doping scheme.
Chemical weapons removed: An international operation to remove chemical weapons materials from areas of Libya overrun by ISIS has concluded successfully. The effort began in May, when ISIS militants came within a mile of Libya’s last remaining chemical weapons storage site—a remote desert facility built by former dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi where 500 tons of mustard gas ingredients were leaking out of corroded canisters. The U.S., Canada, and European countries worked with Libya’s shaky unity government to quietly load the chemicals onto a Danish ship and send them to Ger many for destruction. “It was in the interest of all Libyans to get these chemicals out of Libya,” said Libyan diplomat Ali Gebril.
Troynoy Island, Russia
Besieged by polar bears: Five Russian meteorologists were trapped for two weeks on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean as a dozen hungry polar bears surrounded their weather station. The bears usually leave the Izvestiy Tsik Islands in the summer, but this year they were stranded there because of a rapid ice melt. With no available food on Troynoy Island, the bears headed to the base, and one female took to sleeping beneath the station’s windows. The scientists used up all their flares trying to frighten off the bears, which killed and ate one of their two guard dogs. After it became clear that the weather service couldn’t resupply the station for weeks, a Russian research ship diverted course to help. It sent a helicopter to buzz the area and frighten away the bears and then dropped off flares and dogs.
Americans out: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is yanking his country away from its closest ally, the U.S. Duterte this week asked U.S. military advisers to leave the southern island of Mindanao, where they have been training Filipino troops fighting an Islamic insurgency. He blamed the insurgency on lingering resentment over the killing of Muslims by U.S. colonial soldiers more than a century ago, saying, “For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land.” He also ordered his military to start buying weapons and supplies from Russia and China instead of the U.S., and demanded a halt to joint U.S.-Philippine patrols of the South China Sea.
A smaller Hajj: Saudi Arabian businesses are not getting the boom they expected from this year’s Hajj. Roughly a third fewer people have traveled to Mecca and Medina for the annual Islamic pilgrimage— which all Muslims are expected to undertake at least once in their life—and those who did come are spending less. One reason for the drop is a boycott from Iran, which blamed Saudi authorities for a stampede last year that killed more than 2,000 people, many of them Iranian Shiites. The ongoing war in Syria is another factor, as is the slump in oil prices, which has left many Arabs with less spending money. Saudi officials said Hajj-related business had dropped by half compared with last year. About 1.85 million pilgrims came this year, down from nearly 3 million a few years ago.
Juba, South Sudan
Suing Clooney: South Sudan’s government says it will take legal action against actor George Clooney’s watchdog group, the Sentry, which has accused the nation’s leaders of war profiteering and corruption. In a report last week, the group showed evidence that President Salva Kiir, opposition leader Riek Machar, and their cronies had looted state coffers and bought themselves mansions and fancy cars and taken lucrative stakes in oil projects. It presented the South Sudanese civil war as essentially a fight between rival gangs for control of state resources, and it called on international financial institutions to refuse to deal with corrupt officials. “You can’t shame war criminals,” Clooney said. “You can shame people in the international community: banks and bankers, lawyers.”