Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge shattered the world marathon record by an astounding 78 seconds at the Berlin Marathon this week—the largest jump in the record in more than 50 years—cementing his place as the greatest marathoner of all time. Kipchoge, 33, ran the course in just 2:01:39, and he kept up his pace throughout: His speed during the final 2,200 meters was the fastest known in any major marathon. “I lack words to describe this day,” Kipchoge said afterward. Berlin is the site of many marathon records—six in the past eight years—because it is perfect for running, with a relatively flat asphalt course and September temperatures in the high 50s.
Russian hackers booted
The Hague, Netherlands
Dutch authorities arrested and expelled two suspected Russian spies earlier this year for allegedly trying to hack a Swiss laboratory that conducts chemical weapons tests for the United Nations, Switzerland’s government revealed this week. The alleged target was the Spiez Laboratory, which analyzed samples of the deadly Novichok nerve agent used in the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England. The two alleged hackers, who were not named, were arrested in The Hague in the spring. Stanislav Smirnov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Switzerland, denied the allegations, calling them “a new anti-Russian bogus story made up by the Western media.”
A wave of violence around Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, has overwhelmed local morgues, forcing authorities to house more than 100 decomposing corpses in a refrigerated container truck. Mexican law forbids the cremation of unclaimed victims of violent crime, and the city had run out of burial plots, so the truck was procured as a stopgap. Authorities insisted the truck was properly refrigerated, but after locals complained of a vile odor and flies, the trailer was moved to a less populated location. “This affects our kids, it smells horrible, and the longer it stays it’s going to stink even worse,” said Patricia Jiménez. A larger morgue that can hold 700 bodies is scheduled to open soon. Mexico had its most violent year in 2017, with more than 31,000 murders, most of them attributed to organized crime.
Nation on strike
San José, Costa Rica
Tens of thousands of public-sector union members have been striking in cities across normally peaceful Costa Rica for more than a week, blocking roads and ports and battling tear gas–wielding police. The unions are protesting President Carlos Alvarado’s plan to replace the sales tax with a value-added tax covering goods and services that are currently exempt—including basic foodstuffs. Other proposed changes would limit unemployment assistance and the payment of bonuses for public-sector employees. “Here are the people demanding no more taxes on the working class, no more burdens on workers,” said Melida Cedeno, president of the teachers union APSE. Alvarado, 38, said his reforms were “the only way to avoid an imminent crisis.”
Spy chief fired
Chancellor Angela Merkel this week fired the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency because of his perceived extreme-right ties. Hans-Georg Maassen, 55, had faced mounting criticism for allegedly telling the populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party how it could avoid government surveillance, and for casting doubt on the veracity of a video showing far-right hooligans hounding migrants during recent riots in the eastern German city of Chemnitz. He denies offering advice to the AfD. Thanks to the lobbying of conservative politicians, Maassen won’t be out on the street—he now will become a deputy interior minister, effectively a promotion.
Diplomats nabbed with loot
Brazilian authorities seized more than $16 million in cash and luxury watches from a delegation traveling with Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the vice president of the oil-rich but impoverished African nation of Equatorial Guinea. Police searched his private plane as soon as it landed in São Paulo and found $1.5 million in cash and $15 million in luxury watches engraved with Obiang’s initials. Brazilian law allows the import of just $2,400 in cash. An Equatorial Guinea official said the money was to pay for a medical procedure that Obiang, 48, was to undergo in the city, and for his hotel stay. The son of Equatorial Guinea’s longtime President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Obiang was convicted in France last year and given a three-year suspended sentence for embezzling millions to fund his opulent lifestyle.
Pussy Riot poisoning
German doctors say that a Pussy Riot member who fell seriously ill in Moscow last week was probably poisoned. Peter Verzilov, a member of the punk-rock activist group that stages protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, experienced blurred vision at a court hearing and became unable to walk straight; he was treated at a Russian hospital and then flown to Berlin. Verzilov, 30, and two other band members recently served 15-day jail sentences for running onto the field during the World Cup final in Moscow in July, to protest Russian police abuses. Pussy Riot founder Nadezhda Tolokonnikova called the poisoning an assassination attempt, saying, “Nobody who has taken part in political activity in Russia can really be safe.”
Weed now legal
South Africa’s top court has ruled that criminalizing the private, home use of marijuana by adults is unconstitutional, and ordered Parliament to pass laws legalizing consumption of the drug within two years. The Constitutional Court also ruled that growing weed, known in South Africa as dagga or ganja, should be legal for private consumption. As the ruling was announced, the public gallery erupted in cheers of “Ganja!” and members of the Dagga Party activist group celebrated. Unless Parliament goes further than the court directed, though, it will still remain illegal to smoke marijuana in public, to sell it, or to grow it for distribution.
Kim makes an offer: North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has offered to “permanently dismantle” the country’s main nuclear-weapons production site—if the U.S. makes concessions first. At a pomp-filled summit in Pyongyang this week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the two leaders signed agreements to end military exercises near the border and create no-fly zones, and Kim pledged to allow inspectors to verify the closure of its already flattened Tongchang-ri missile test site. But before shutting down the Yongbyon nuclear complex, Kim said, he wanted “corresponding measures” from the U.S., such as a formal end to the 1950–53 Korean War, which was halted with a truce. President Trump tweeted that the offer was “very exciting!” but analysts disagreed. “No matter how hard I look,” said Cheon Seong-whun of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, “I can find no real progress in denuclearization in today’s announcements.”
Syrians kill Russians
Syria accidentally shot down a Russian military surveillance plane this week, killing all 15 people on board. The Syrians had mobilized their air defense against Israeli jets, which were conducting a raid on what Israel said was an Iranian weapons depot on the Syrian coast. Moscow initially blamed Israel for the deadly mishap, accusing Israeli F-16s of hiding behind the Russian Il-20, turning the larger plane into a target for Syrian missiles. But after speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” not just Israel, was responsible for the downing. The incident has revived fears that a military error could trigger a wider conflict, because the U.S., Turkey, Russia, and Iran all have forces present in Syria.
Typhoon batters Asia
Super-typhoon Mangkhut roared across the northern Philippines this week, killing at least 66 people, many of them small-time gold miners buried by mudslides. Then it slammed into China, flooding Hong Kong and Macau with waist-high waters, uprooting trees, and causing skyscrapers to sway. Four people were killed in China’s densely populated southern province of Guangdong, where authorities had evacuated more than 3 million people ahead of the storm’s landfall. Scientists said Mangkhut, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, is the world’s most powerful storm of 2018, with wind gusts of up to 200 mph and a span 550 miles wide.
Someone has been hiding sewing needles in Australian strawberries, prompting supermarket recalls and leading some stores in New Zealand to temporarily ban Aussie berries. The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association said it believed a disgruntled former employee was behind the initial attack, but many of the dozens of subsequent cases may have been copycats. Police said a young boy, whose age was not released, had been arrested for putting needles in strawberries as “a prank.” The government this week proposed increasing the penalty for food tampering from 10 years in prison to 15. “It’s not a joke, it’s not funny,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of the copycat incidents. “You’re a coward and a grub.” ■