The world at a glance ...
No plastic cups: France has become the first country to pass legislation that will ban disposable plastic plates, cups, and cutlery. The measure will go into effect in 2020, by which time all single-use tableware will have to be made of compostable materials. France this year has already outlawed the use of plastic bags in grocery stores and other shops. French President François Hollande said he wanted to make France “an exemplary nation in terms of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, diversifying its energy model, and increasing the deployment of renewable energy sources.” Every year some 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away in France. European plastic manufacturers say they will challenge the French law, arguing that it violates European Union legislation on the free movement of goods.
Trump hurts peso: Mexico’s currency dropped to an all-time low last week, just under 20 pesos to the dollar, because of fears that a Donald Trump presidency could hurt economic relations between the U.S. and Mexico. The decline began after poll numbers released last week showed Trump leading Clinton in battleground states like Florida and Ohio. In addition to his threat to build a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump has pledged to pull America out of NAFTA and slap tariffs on Mexican goods. Mexico sends some 80 percent of its exports to the U.S. If you believe Hillary Clinton will win the November election, said the head of emerging markets at one New York–based bank, “you should be buying the hell out of Mexican assets.”
Boca de Uchire, Venezuela
Soccer robbery: A gang of armed bandits robbed a top Vene zuelan soccer team of almost everything— including their cellphones, shirts, cleats, and soccer balls— during a bus ride home after a match. Six men boarded Trujillanos F.C.’s bus at 2:30 a.m. and ordered it off the road, holding the team hostage for two hours and threatening to detonate a grenade unless members handed over all their valuables. Highway robbery is now common in the poverty-stricken and increasingly lawless country. After three years of recession, Venezuela is suffering high inflation and food shortages, and heavily armed criminal gangs are thriving.
Soap heartthrob drowns: The lead actor in Brazil’s most popular soap opera drowned this week while swimming in the river that the TV show is named after. Domingos Montagner, 54, had gone for a swim with his Velho Chico co-star Camila Pitanga after a day filming outdoor scenes nearby. Pitanga said she screamed for help when she saw that Montagner was trapped in the current, but those nearby thought it was all part of a scene for the telenovela. “They thought they had chosen a safe spot to swim,” said police chief Antônio Francisco Filho, “but that is one of the most dangerous areas in the town of Canindé and usually avoided by locals.” Thousands of Velho Chico fans thronged the São Paulo theater where his funeral was held.
EU confusion: The European Union began feeling out its post-Brexit future at a summit in Bratislava last week—the first such meeting without Britain in 43 years. During a cruise down the Danube, leaders of EU member nations discussed how to handle exit negotiations with the U.K. but little progress was made because no one knows when Britain will formally start the process of leaving the bloc. Also, the leaders pledged to reinforce the EU’s external borders to prevent a repeat of last summer’s mass flows of migrants from Turkey to Greece. But they didn’t discuss the thousands of migrants who attempt to reach Italy each week from Africa. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi dismissed the summit as “a nice cruise on the Danube” that produced nothing useful.
U.S. pastor deported: An anti-gay Arizona pastor was deported from Botswana this week after he said on a local radio show that gays and lesbians should be “stoned to death.” Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church arrived in Botswana last week after South Africa refused him a visa, saying his sermons amounted to hate speech. Botswanan President Ian Khama said he ordered police to go directly to the radio station to arrest and deport Anderson. “We don’t want hate speech in this country,” he said. “Let him do it in his own country.” Homosexual acts are illegal in Botswana. Anderson drew notoriety in the U.S. this summer when he celebrated the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub, saying “there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world.”
Putin wins! The party of President Vladimir Putin swept the State Duma elections this week, giving it an absolute majority in a vote marked by blatant manipulation and low turnout. The ruling United Russia party had been dropping in popularity because of a crippling recession. So to ensure a win, the Duma altered electoral rules to favor United Russia and its pro-Kremlin allies, and election monitors ignored reports of electoral fraud. At one polling station, Reuters reporters counted 799 voters casting ballots; when officials announced the tally later, they said turnout was 1,689. At other polling stations, Reuters observed the same people repeatedly casting votes. United Russia won 54 percent of the national vote, but the result was so widely expected that many Russians had stayed home; turnout was 48 percent, the lowest since the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Deadly protests: At least 44 people were killed in Congo this week as protesters and security forces clashed over a delayed presidential election. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Kinshasa to denounce President Joseph Kabila’s failure to prepare an election before this December, when his final term ends. Groups of youths rampaged through the capital, a dense city of 10 million people, looting stores and burning offices belonging to Kabila’s political party. The next day, witnesses said, uniformed army soldiers shot up and torched the offices of three opposition parties, burning several people alive. Kabila took power in 2001 after his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. He is barred from running for a third term in office, and his allies say he will respect the constitution.
Urem Al-Kubra, Syria
Cease-fire shredded: The shaky cease-fire Russia and the U.S. brokered in Syria last week was shattered this week after an errant U.S. airstrike meant for ISIS militants killed more than 60 Syrian government soldiers instead. The U.S. apologized. But in what looked like an act of retaliation, a United Nations’ aid convoy heading to the besieged city of Aleppo was then obliterated by an airstrike that U.S. officials said was carried out by Russian warplanes. Eighteen of the convoy’s 31 trucks were destroyed, some 20 aid workers were killed, and the U.N. suspended all further aid shipments to starving, rebel-held areas. “Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, denied responsibility for the attack and blamed “terrorists” for the carnage.
The Obama administration is now considering a plan to directly arm Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have proved the most effective force on the ground against ISIS, The New York Times reported. Such a plan would enrage NATO ally Turkey, which fears that Kurds are trying to carve an independent state out of parts of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. “It would be a very serious, contentious issue between the two countries,” said Soner Cagaptay, a specialist on Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Turkey has attacked Kurdish militants in Syria about as often as it has struck at ISIS.
Falling space station: China has apparently lost control of its space station Tiangong 1 and does not know where the debris will fall to Earth next year. “Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling,” Wu Ping, a director at China’s Manned Space Engineering office, said last week—an apparent admission that authorities don’t know for sure. Launched in 2011, Tiangong 1 served crewed missions for two years and continued being operated unmanned until it was decommissioned last March. Most old large spacecraft are taken down in a planned descent that plops them into an empty patch of the Pacific, but satellite trackers suspect China lost control of Tiangong 1 last year. Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell said it’s unclear when and where the station will fall, explaining, “You really can’t steer these things.”
White-phosphorous weapons: Saudi Arabia appears to be using highly incendiary, U.S.-supplied white-phosphorus munitions in its war against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, The Washington Post reported this week. The U.S. sells the substance only for creating smoke screens or signaling troops, not for firing at targets on the ground, because it can kill and maim people by burning to the bone. But human rights groups say images and videos posted on social media suggest the Saudis are firing whitephosphorous rounds from tanks, mortars, and howitzers. Saudi Arabia has been widely condemned for its indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas during the two-year-old war. More than 3,700 civilians have been killed and 2.8 million displaced during the conflict.