Weed now legal
Canadians stood in line for hours outside weed dispensaries and then lit up celebratory joints on sidewalks after their country legalized the recreational use of marijuana this week, fulfilling a 2015 election pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “This is awesome,” said Tom Clarke, an illegal weed dealer turned pot store owner. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.” Each province is setting its own rules for sales. Quebec, for example, has only government-run dispensaries, staffed with cannabis counselors who can advise customers on which strain to pick to induce relaxation or euphoria. In some provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, online sales will be allowed.
Merkel allies slump
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shaky governing coalition suffered a powerful blow in Bavarian state elections this week. The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, lost its absolute majority in the state legislature, which it has controlled since 1957. It took 37 percent of the vote, while Merkel’s other coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, saw its vote share shrink by half to under 10 percent. Voters rushed to the far left and far right. The leftist Greens surged to second place, nearly doubling their vote share to 17.5 percent. The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered Bavaria’s legislature for the first time, winning 10 percent. Newly elected AfD lawmaker Katrin Ebner-Steiner said the results were a referendum on the government, and that it was clear that “Merkel has to go.”
Small towns in southwestern France were left underwater this week after the worst storm in a century caused the Aude River to swell and flood the surrounding region. Up to 14 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, and the river rose 23 feet in some places, engulfing the town of Trèbes and sweeping away cars. At least 12 people were killed. More than 700 firefighters and rescue workers turned out to evacuate survivors, but in some areas the floodwaters were too powerful even for boats to get through, and people fled to neighbors’ homes. “The advantage a little village has over big cities,” said Villegailhenc Mayor Michel Proust, “is that solidarity exists and everyone knows each other.”
Some 2,000 Honduran migrants headed for the U.S. crossed into Guatemala this week, even though the Guatemalan government had said it would not allow passage. The caravan began with just 160 people setting off from the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, but hundreds more people joined them as they headed to the border, saying there is nothing to keep them in their crime-ridden, poverty-stricken homeland. Guatemalan police were overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and waved them through. President Trump tweeted that if the caravan is not stopped and sent back to Hondurans, “no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!”
Due in spring
Meghan Markle, the American TV actress who wed Britain’s Prince Harry in May, is due to give birth next spring, the royal family announced this week. British social media immediately lit up with jokes implying the baby was timed to distract the public from Britain’s exit from the European Union, which should happen at the end of March. The couple attended the wedding of Harry’s cousin, Princess Eugenie, to British wine merchant Jack Brooksbank last week before jetting off to Australia for the Invictus Games—the international sports event Harry helped create for injured armed forces personnel and veterans. Sources told The Sun tabloid that 34-year-old Harry is giving up alcohol during the pregnancy to support 37-year-old Meghan.
Two weeks after President Daniel Ortega outlawed anti-government protests, dozens of civil society leaders gathered in Nicaragua’s capital Managua to defy the ban. Police threw stun grenades and tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd and arrested 38 people, shoving and dragging them into police trucks. After an international outcry, authorities released those detainees, but human rights groups say hundreds of people detained in earlier protests remain behind bars. Well-known activist Haydee Castillo was pulled off a plane at Managua’s airport this week and taken to El Chipote prison, where political prisoners are reportedly tortured. More than 300 people have been killed since mass anti-government protests began in April.
Pope Francis canonized seven new Catholic saints this week, including Óscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who was gunned down by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while celebrating Mass. Wearing the bloodstained cincture Romero had on when he died, Francis praised the cleric’s closeness to “the poor and to his people.” Romero was associated with liberation theology, the Latin American Catholic movement that promoted social justice, and he spoke out against El Salvador’s brutal military dictatorship. Some 70,000 people attended the canonization ceremony at St. Peter’s Square, including thousands of Salvadorans. The pope also canonized Pope Paul VI, who presided over the church’s modernizing reforms of the 1960s and inspired Francis as a young priest.
Talks with Taliban
The U.S. is holding direct talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the 17-year Afghan War. Zalmay Khalilzad, a hawkish former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq who was recently named U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, met with Taliban representatives in Qatar last week for talks. The Afghan militants called the negotiations “productive.” Before heading to Doha, Khalilzad traveled first to meet with officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. This is the second time that the U.S. and Afghan Taliban have met in Doha since President Trump ordered direct talks this summer. But the two sides are still far apart: The U.S. wants the Taliban barred from a future Afghan government, while the Taliban insist on the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched a tree-planting campaign across Pakistan called the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami. The initiative builds on a program Khan launched two years ago in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province—controlled by his party since 2013—which involved the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees and a crackdown on timber smuggling. Decades of illegal logging and unregulated development have destroyed Pakistan’s forest cover. Malik Amin Aslam, the federal minister for climate change, said Pakistanis are now learning to protect their trees. Still, “there will be a lot of blowback,” he said. “About 40 percent of fertile public land has been encroached by land-grabbers, including some lawmakers.”
A Chinese internet star was jailed for five days after she live-streamed herself botching the first line of China’s national anthem. The offending part of Yang Kaili’s webcast, in which she wore fuzzy moose ears and flailed her arms while singing the wrong words, was only 10 seconds long. But the 21-year-old has 44 million followers, and the government apparently wanted to make an example of her. Shanghai police said they would crack down on any webcast that violated “public order and good social morals, in order to purify the internet’s public sphere.” Last year, China passed a law prohibiting playing or singing the “March of the Volunteers” in a “distorted or disrespectful way in public,” after Hong Kong soccer fans booed and turned their backs as the anthem was played before a match.
U.N. acts on genocide
The U.S. and eight other countries have ordered a briefing at the U.N. Security Council on the U.N.’s recent report accusing Myanmar’s military of “genocidal intent” in the mass killings and gang rapes of minority Rohingya Muslims. Because the briefing is an agenda item, China, which supports Myanmar and has been protecting it from U.N. sanctions, can’t veto it. In an exposé this week, The New York Times reported that Myanmar’s military had used fake Facebook accounts to spread false stories inciting violence against Rohingya, including rumors of rapes of Buddhist women by Muslim men and faked pictures of massacres supposedly carried out by Rohingya. Facebook said it has deleted those accounts and taken “significant steps to remove this abuse.”
At the scene of the shooting
A teenager armed with an automatic rifle rampaged through a college in Russia-annexed Crimea this week, detonating an improvised shrapnel bomb in the cafeteria and opening fire on fellow students and teachers before killing himself. At least 18 people were killed—most of them teenagers—and dozens more wounded; Russian military helicopters transported the survivors to hospitals. Russian authorities identified the shooter as Vladislav Roslyakov, 18, a student at the vocational college for 15- to 19-year-olds. Authorities are treating the attack as a mass murder, not terrorism. The city of Kerch is the entry point for a new bridge that links the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to the Russian mainland. ■