Children denied lunch
Italians have stepped up to pay for school lunches after the far-right mayor of Lodi stripped subsidies from some 200 children with immigrant parents. Mayor Sara Casanova of the far-right League party announced that parents of non–European Union children would have to provide proof that they held no assets in their home countries to get subsidized school lunches. Because most refugees can’t gather such proof, their kids—many of them born and raised in Italy—have been barred from school cafeterias. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is head of the anti-immigration League, initially supported the mayor, tweeting “SHE’S RIGHT!!” He backed down after outraged Italians raised nearly $92,000 to pay for the children’s meals.
Bachelor party disaster
Quepos, Costa Rica
Four Americans in Costa Rica for a bachelor party were killed while white-water rafting last week, in an accident that also claimed the life of their local guide. “What was meant to be a weekend to remember for 14 friends turned into a living nightmare,” said survivor Anthony Castro. He said that the group of Florida friends had planned an adventure-filled weekend to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Luis Beltran. The party arrived at the Naranjo River amid high winds and rain, but still got the go-ahead from the rafting company. Powerful currents in the swollen river quickly capsized the group’s three rafts and swept some of the men into semi-submerged rocks. Among the dead is Sergio Lorenzo, the groom’s brother. Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada expressed his “deepest sorrow for the accident.”
Desperate to escape shortages of food and medicine in their economically collapsing country, Venezuelans are now fleeing by sea to the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curaçao. More than 15,000 Venezuelan refugees have already arrived in Curaçao, authorities said, about 10 percent of the island’s population. “These people are illegal here,” said Tineke Ceelen, director of the Netherlands’ Refugee Foundation. “They are exploited, sometimes sexually, and cannot afford necessary help.” Two Venezuelans died while trying to reach Aruba this week; nearly 2 million Venezuelans have fled abroad since 2015.
Assange must scoop litter
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has filed a lawsuit in Ecuador against his new terms of asylum in the country’s London embassy that require him to pay for his medical bills and Wi-Fi and clean up after his pet cat. The new asylum protocol, issued this month, says that because of budget cuts, the embassy will no longer pay for food, health care, and cleaning services for Assange and his cat, Michi. Assange, an Australian, claimed asylum at the Ecuadoran Embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited from the U.K. to Sweden over a sexual assault case. He said he feared Sweden would hand him to the U.S. to face prosecution for leaking some 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
Poisoned baby food
A German man who poisoned jars of baby food with enough antifreeze to kill a child and placed them on store shelves has been sentenced to 12½ years in prison for attempted murder and extortion. The 54-year-old, whose name has been withheld under German privacy laws, was trying to force the baby food companies to pay him $13.5 million to identify the tainted jars. He threatened to poison other foods as well. That nobody was harmed, said prosecutor Peter Vobiller, was the result of solid detective work and “a goodly portion of luck.” The case evoked the Tylenol crisis in the U.S. in 1982, when someone laced Tylenol capsules with cyanide, killing seven people and leading manufacturers to introduce tamper-proof packaging.
Bolsonaro to jail critics
No fan of ‘Red outlaws’
The far-right candidate who is widely expected to win Brazil’s Oct. 28 presidential runoff vowed in a menacing speech this week that if elected he will purge his leftist rivals. “Either they go overseas, or they go to jail,” Jair Bolsonaro said. “These Red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.” The 63-year-old former paratrooper has alarmed critics with his nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964–85 dictatorship. Meanwhile, Folha de São Paulo reported that right-wing Brazilian business leaders were behind a campaign to bombard users of WhatsApp, Brazil’s most popular social media platform, with fake news about Fernando Haddad, the leftist candidate who will face Bolsonaro in the runoff. Haddad trails Bolsonaro in polls by double digits.
In a signal to an increasingly assertive Russia, NATO this week began its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. Exercise Trident Juncture 18 will see 50,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, and 250 aircraft practice maneuvering together in and around Norway. At sea are 65 ships—including the USS Harry S. Truman, marking the first time since 1991 that a U.S. aircraft carrier has sailed above the Arctic Circle into the frigid waters near Russia. The exercise is critical because “people underestimate the logistics of combat,” said Elisabeth Braw, of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. “We’re still far behind Russia in moving large numbers of troops.”
Ramallah, West Bank
The security forces of both the West Bank–based Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, routinely use arbitrary arrest and torture against peaceful critics and opponents, the New York–based Human Rights Watch said this week. Alaa Zaqeq, a member of a Hamas-linked student group, said he was beaten with sticks and held in stress positions after being arrested by PA forces for his activism last year. Fouad Jarada, a journalist arrested in Gaza in 2017, was imprisoned and tortured for two months after writing an article critical of Hamas. “Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent” within their own ranks, said Tom Porteous, HRW’s deputy program director.
No pot for you
Marijuana is now legal in Canada, but South Korean tourists better not toke up. “Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law,” said narcotics unit officer Yoon Se-jin, “even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal.” South Koreans who are caught partaking in Canada could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Most likely, only those trying to smuggle drugs back into South Korea will be prosecuted, but tourists would be wise not to post pictures on social media of themselves enjoying Canadian weed. Last week, the Japanese Consulate in Vancouver posted a message asking that Japanese nationals in Canada respect Japanese law and eschew marijuana.
Bridge to Hong Kong
Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge this week, a 34-mile structure linking Hong Kong and Macau to the mainland city of Zhuhai. The $20 billion bridge includes a 4-mile undersea tunnel section, keeping shipping lanes clear for huge vessels passing through the busy Pearl River Delta. The bridge cuts the driving time from the mainland to Hong Kong from four hours down to 45 minutes, but only travelers with government permits will be allowed on the route. Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong lawmaker, sees the bridge as a powerful political symbol. It shows residents of the former British colony that they “are connected to the motherland,” she said. “It’s almost like an umbilical cord.”
Elections, at last
Afghans voted in legislative elections this week for the first time in eight years, in a democratic display marred by violence and technical glitches. In the days before the vote, at least 10 of the 2,400 candidates running for office were killed in Taliban attacks. On Election Day, attacks across the country, including on polling places, killed at least 50 people. Some polling stations opened late because of problems with new antifraud biometric devices that match voters’ photos and fingerprints to their voter cards, and in some places voting was extended a second day. Still, at least 4 million Afghans—about half of the war-torn country’s eligible voters—cast ballots. The election had been delayed for three years because of political infighting.
U.S. general wounded
Smiley and Afghan officers
In a shocking attack on a top-level U.S.-Afghan meeting last week, a Taliban militant assassinated two senior Afghan provincial officials and wounded the governor of Kandahar and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley before being killed. The U.S. head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, was also at the meeting but was unharmed. Afghan officials said the gunman had taken a job as bodyguard to Gov. Zalmay Wesa a month earlier. His main target was Kandahar’s powerful police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq Achakzai, a longtime U.S. ally, who died at the scene. Miller said Afghanistan had “lost a patriot.” The Taliban claimed Miller was also a target, but Army spokesman Col. Dave Butler said it was “pretty clear” the gunman was shooting at Raziq. ■