The world at a glance ...
Birling Gap, U.K.
Airborne toxic event: A chemical haze suddenly wafted onto a popular English beach this week, sending some 150 people to the hospital to be treated for vomiting and respiratory distress. Tourists sunning themselves on Birling Gap beach smelled chlorine and began coughing and choking, their eyes tearing up. Authorities were trying to determine what was in the mist and where it came from, but said it was unlikely to be chlorine gas, a chemical weapon. “The effects, while uncomfortable, were not serious,” police said in a statement. A source close to the investigation told The Guardian that the chemical plume might have come from a ship venting in the English Channel.
U.S. warns tourists: Mexican authorities expressed annoyance this week after the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings about rising violence near Cancún and Los Cabos, two of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. The resort areas were once insulated from the drug-war violence that has bedeviled other parts of the country, but they have seen a surge in killings this year. Gun battles have raged in downtown Cancún, and three people were killed last month when gunmen opened fire on a crowded Los Cabos beach. Mexican officials said the travel warning was just the Trump administration’s way of striking at Mexico’s economy as talks on renegotiating NAFTA get underway. They pointed out that Cancún’s murder rate, at 20 people per 100,000 inhabitants, is the same as that of Washington, D.C., and far lower than Baltimore’s, at 52, or Detroit’s, at 50.
We won’t pay: In response to tweets from President Trump, Mexico has reiterated that it will not pay to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. In one tweet, Trump falsely called Mexico “one of the highest crime nations in the world” and said it would pay for the wall “through reimbursement/other”; in another he threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement because Mexico and Canada were “being very difficult” in the renegotiation process. The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said it would not pay for the wall “under any circumstances,” but did offer aid to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, “as good neighbors should always do in trying times.” After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mexico sent 200 troops to Louisiana to help distribute emergency supplies.
Sanctions bite: The Trump administration slapped new sanctions on Venezuela last week that bar U.S. banks from any new financial deals with the country’s increasingly authoritarian government or its state-run oil company. The embargo will make it difficult for the heavily indebted nation to generate money through U.S. financial markets, raising the possibility that Venezuela could default on its debts later this year. Imports will also fall as the economically imploding country runs out of foreign currency. “This could really reduce [Venezuela] to a barter economy,” said Russ Dallen at investment bank Caracas Capital Markets. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said he would try to counter the sanctions by increasing commercial ties with Russia and China.
Macron’s costly makeup: French President Emmanuel Macron fielded harsh criticism this week for spending $30,000 of taxpayers’ money on cosmetic services in his first three months on the job. Macron’s office said such high bills would not be the norm, noting that the president had a heavy travel and TV schedule in his first weeks and required a makeup artist to travel with him. But that level of spending on personal grooming isn’t unusual for French politicians: Macron’s predecessor, the Socialist François Hollande, paid nearly $12,000 a month for a personal barber to shampoo, trim, and fluff his thinning hair, while the notoriously vain Nicolas Sarkozy was said to spend nearly as much per month on his own makeup artist.
Mine the Amazon: Struggling with its deepest recession in decades, Brazil has opened up a huge swath of the Amazon rain forest to gold and copper mining, drawing condemnation from environmental groups. The area, which at 18,000 square miles is more than twice the size of New Jersey, was set aside in 1984—but as a mineral reserve, not to protect the environment. The government says that illegal mining has been rampant there, and that by legalizing the practice they will be able to regulate it and impose environmental controls. After a public outcry this week, the government said it would ensure that no lands where indigenous tribes live would be mined. Opposition Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues called the government’s decree the “biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years.”
Killer nurse: A German nurse serving life in prison for the murder of two patients is now believed to have killed at least 86 people, officials said this week, making him Germany’s most prolific serial killer. Niels Högel, 40, was first convicted of attempted murder in 2008, after he was caught giving an overdose of cardiovascular medication to a patient. He later confessed that he had intentionally induced cardiac arrest in 90 patients, 30 of whom died, so he could impress his colleagues with his resuscitation skills. He was sentenced to life in 2015 for two of those cases, and since then investigators have exhumed bodies of dozens of his late patients, checking for evidence of overdosing. This week, they said he was implicated in an additional 84 deaths. The pending results of another 41 toxicology reports could push the toll even higher.
U.S. clashes with NATO ally: U.S. troops embedded with anti- ISIS rebel fighters in northern Syria came under direct attack last week from other anti-ISIS rebels backed by Turkey, a NATO ally, and returned fire. No Americans were killed, and no Turkish soldiers were involved, but the U.S. protested to Ankara. “We have told Turkey it is not acceptable,” said coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon. The U.S. is training and advising a group of local Arab fighters allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies oppose both groups, which they see as fronts for Kurdish separatists in Turkey. The U.S. has been carrying out “overt patrols” in the area, often flying U.S. flags from their vehicles, to deter rival rebel outfits from attacking each other and undermining the campaign against ISIS.
North Korean missile overhead: North Korea sent a ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload arcing over northern Japan this week, alarming Japanese citizens who were woken at 6:02 a.m. by an emergency text message warning them to take cover. In Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, air raid sirens went off; in Tokyo’s central train station, loudspeaker announcements asked commuters to shelter inside trains or waiting rooms. North Korea often shoots missiles into Japanese waters, but this was only the third time since 1998 that the rogue nation has fired a projectile over Japanese territory. The regime of Kim Jong Un said the missile was a “prelude” to more military operations aimed at “containing” the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. Pyongyang has demonstrated “its capability to launch a missile to Guam but without actually launching one in that direction,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert in Seoul.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the launch as “outrageous” but did not increase sanctions. President Trump appeared to threaten military action against Pyongyang, saying “All options are on the table” and tweeting, “Talking is not the answer!” Also this week, the U.S. conducted a successful missile defense test, shooting a ballistic missile out of the sky near Hawaii. The test was planned before the North Korean launch.
Troops withdrawn: India and China have ended their tense, months-long border standoff in the Himalayas, with both sides claiming satisfaction. The dispute began in July when China sent road-building crews into an area where Bhutan and China meet, raising fears that it intended to claim a nearby strip of land that links India’s remote northeast to the rest of the country. India sent troops, China staged live-fire drills, and rhetoric became heated between the t wo powers. But China, eager to defuse the tension before it hosts a summit next week of leaders from the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—agreed this week to stop all construction, and India withdrew its forces.
Flood disaster: The worst flooding in decades has devastated parts of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, killing more than 1,200 people and leaving millions more homeless. Torrential monsoon rains have put Mumbai, India’s largest city and its financial capital, under a foot of water, shuttering schools and businesses. Entire towns across Nepal have all but disappeared. Red Cross spokeswoman Corinne Ambler told The New York Times that her aerial tour of Bangladesh was horrifying. “All I could see was water, the whole way,” she said. “You have tiny little clumps of houses stuck in the middle of water.” Authorities across South Asia are bracing for outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever as well as food shortages, since vast areas of cropland have been destroyed.