Mass protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms continued this week with strikes that caused blackouts, school closures, and cancellations of flights and trains. Many tourist sites were closed to visitors, including the Eiffel Tower, as workers walked off their jobs. The strikes began in early December over Macron’s plan to replace France’s 42 different pension schemes with a one-size-fits-all system and raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Jean-Paul Delevoye, the lead cabinet official on pension reform, resigned this week after admitting that he had failed to disclose income from numerous private sector side gigs. He held administrative roles with an insurance group and with the rail operator SNCF, both of which have an interest in pension reform.
Suing the gunmaker
Victims of a 2018 mass shooting in Toronto have filed a $114 million class action lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, accusing the U.S. gunmaker of failing to introduce safety features that could have prevented the attack. Gunman Faisal Hussain killed two people and wounded 13 more on Toronto’s bustling Danforth Avenue using a stolen M&P .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The lawsuit says Smith & Wesson agreed in 2003 to incorporate “smart gun” technology—such as fingerprint scanners and radio frequency chips—that would have locked the weapon when it was picked up by an unauthorized user such as Hussain. But Smith & Wesson, says the suit, delayed the rollout of that tech; the gunmaker has yet to comment. “This is an industry that has refused to modernize,” said Malcolm Ruby, lawyer for the victims.
Failure on climate
After two weeks of bickering, delegates from nearly 200 countries failed to achieve their two key goals at U.N. climate talks in Madrid: setting bolder targets for emissions cuts and creating a global carbon-trading system. Delegates agreed there was an “urgent need” to cut planet-heating greenhouse gases in line with the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Yet none of the major emitters—China, the U.S., the European Union, and India—is on track to meet its Paris commitments. China, the biggest emitter, continues to build coal-fired plants, while under President Trump, the U.S. has repealed emissions-reducing rules on energy and transport.
Netflix satire offends
A Netflix Christmas special that implies Jesus was gay has sparked fury in Brazil, with calls for the comedy’s creators to be arrested for blasphemy. The First Temptation of Christ begins with Jesus returning home for his 30th birthday with an effete companion, Orlando. God, who Jesus has been told is his uncle Vittorio, is still mooning after Mary, who gets caught sneaking a joint. Nearly 2 million Brazilians signed a petition asking Netflix to ban the show, and Eduardo Bolsonaro, lawmaker son of President Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted that it was “garbage.” Fábio Porchat, who plays Orlando, said he thought of the show as a “Christian fairy tale,” noting that it ends with Jesus choosing God over the Devil.
No more secrecy?
In what the Vatican is calling an “epochal” change, Pope Francis this week ruled that “pontifical secrecy” no longer applies to the sexual abuse of minors. The church previously kept secret its own investigations of sexual abuse cases, in order, it said, to protect the privacy of victims and the reputations of the accused priests. Now files from those investigations can be given to law enforcement or government investigators upon request—potentially revealing the names of thousands of suspected pedophiles. In Illinois alone, the Catholic Church is believed to have withheld the names of 500 pedophile priests. “At last, a real and positive change,” tweeted Marie Collins, an Irish abuse survivor.
Accused torturer faces trial
A former police officer accused of torture and crimes against humanity during Argentina’s military dictatorship era was extradited to Buenos Aires this week, after working for decades as an academic in France. Mario Sandoval—nicknamed “Churrasco” (“Barbecue”) for his alleged habit of electrocuting people on metal bed frames—fled to France after the junta fell in 1983 and lived openly under his own name. He became a professor of Latin American studies at the New Sorbonne University and worked as an adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sandoval, 66, is suspected of links to the murders of hundreds of people, but the extradition charges relate to just one: the 1976 disappearance of architecture student Hernán Abriata. Sandoval says all the accusations against him are lies.
Militia boss escapes
Afghan government forces turned the city of Mazar-i-Sharif into a war zone this week, pounding the compound of a wanted ethnic Uzbek warlord with rocket-propelled grenades and fire from helicopter gunships. The assault killed at least eight members of Nizamuddin Qaisari’s militia, but the warlord himself sneaked away. Qaisari is a former police chief who used his hundreds-strong militia to extort money from citizens. Arrested last year, he either escaped or was freed and relocated to Mazar-i-Sharif, a major economic hub. His latest getaway was a humiliation for President Ashraf Ghani, who this week publicly ordered the arrest of another strongman, Gen. Zemarai Paikan. Just hours later, Paikan posted a photo of himself on Facebook, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Second lady accused
The estranged wife of Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has been charged with attempting to murder her husband. Prosecutors say former model Marry Mubaiwa, 38, tried to prevent a seriously ill Chiwenga, 63, from going to the hospital. When he was admitted, Mubaiwa allegedly ordered his bodyguards to leave the room, unhooked his IV, and tried to drag him from the ward before being stopped by security. Mubaiwa is also accused of spiriting nearly $1 million out of the country to pay for luxury cars and property and of trying to fraudulently obtain an upgraded marriage license that would entitle her to more of her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s assets. She denies the allegations. Chiwenga played a key role in forcing President Robert Mugabe to resign in 2017 after 37 years in power.
Village of dolls
With birth rates falling and young people decamping for cities, many rural regions across Japan are seeing their populations dwindle and gray. The remote village of Nagoro is now entirely childless, so one woman has made hundreds of life-size cloth dolls to keep elderly residents company. Tsukimi Ayano, 70, created some 350 dolls that decorate the town, whose human population is fewer than 30—down from 300 when Ayano was young. The dolls sit in the empty school and in front of houses and stand propped in gardens. “I wish there were more children because it would be more cheerful,” Ayano told The New York Times. “So I made the children.”
Musharraf sentenced to death
A Pakistani court this week sentenced the country’s former military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to death for treason for his 2007 decision to suspend the constitution and impose a state of emergency. Musharraf seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup and became hugely unpopular for his support of the U.S. War on Terror. He sparked massive protests by firing members of the judiciary when they opposed him, including the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and was toppled in 2008. The still-influential Pakistani military said in a statement the verdict caused soldiers “a lot of pain and anguish,” and insisted that a man who served his country for decades “can surely never be a traitor.” Even if the sentence is upheld, Musharraf, 76, is unlikely to be executed. He is seriously ill and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai.
Dozens of people were injured in clashes between security forces and anti-corruption protesters in Beirut this week, with riot police hitting demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets and being pelted in return with rocks and firecrackers. It was some of the most violent unrest since protests began in Lebanon two months ago, sparked by public anger at the ruling elite’s self-enrichment amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. Lebanon’s infrastructure is crumbling, garbage is piling up in the streets, and blackouts occur daily. Shiite groups in particular protested this week—torching cars and burning tires—after a video circulated online showing a Sunni Lebanese man cursing Shiites. The crowds ignored the calls of the Amal Movement, a Shiite political party, and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah to stop protesting and go home.
Australia experienced its hottest day on record this week, with the national average temperature hitting a sweltering 105.6 degrees. Some places were much hotter, including the town of Ceduna in South Australia, where the mercury shot up to nearly 114 degrees. The record highs come as the nation continues to battle an extreme drought and raging bushfires that have cloaked Sydney in smoke. Suffering Australians lambasted Prime Minister Scott Morrison for taking a pre-Christmas vacation in Hawaii, with many slamming Morrison on social media with the hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou, a former tourism slogan. Climate scientists say Australia’s soaring temperatures are linked to climate change, and activists have criticized the conservative Morrison for his refusal to wean Australia from its dependence on coal.
AP (2), Reuters, Getty, screenshot: Netflix. Shutterstock, Nadia Shira Cohen/The New York Times/Redux, Getty, AP ■