An elderly far-right supporter tried to set fire to a mosque in the Basque region of France this week and shot two men who caught him in the act. Claude Sinké—an 84-year-old former candidate for the anti-immigrant National Front—was attempting to torch the building when he was interrupted by two worshippers, ages 78 and 74. He opened fire and wounded both men, then set his car on fire before fleeing. Sinké, who was arrested and charged with attempted murder, told police he wanted to “avenge the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral.” Authorities say the April blaze at the Paris cathedral was likely caused by faulty wiring, but far-right groups have spread the conspiracy theory that the fire was an act of arson by Muslims.
U.S. Marine deported
San Salvador, El Salvador
A Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had lived in the U.S. since age 3 was deported to his native El Salvador last week. Jose Segovia-Benitez, 38, grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and was honorably discharged from the military in 2004 after sustaining a brain injury from an IED in Iraq. A legal permanent resident, he applied for naturalization while in the Marines, but his lawyer said his injury left him incapable of completing the process. Segovia-Benitez’s family said he returned from the war with problems; he was subsequently convicted of several drug and violence-related felonies, making him eligible for deportation. He is now in hiding in El Salvador, where he is a tempting kidnapping target for gangs.
La Paz, Bolivia
The U.S. and other regional powers are waiting for the results of an audit by the Organization of American States before recognizing Evo Morales as the winner of last week’s Bolivian presidential contest. On election night, officials suddenly stopped announcing vote tallies and then declared Morales was beating his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, by just over 10 percentage points—enough to avoid a runoff. Mesa’s supporters suspected fraud, and since then protesters have virtually shut down the capital. Morales says he will submit to a runoff if the OAS determines one is necessary. Many Bolivians believe Morales should not have run: He lost a 2016 referendum that would have allowed him to sidestep term limits, but then secured a court ruling that enabled him to run for an unprecedented fourth term.
Piñera sacks cabinet
Smoke and tear gas filled the air in the Chilean capital this week as protests continued to rage in the streets. To try to calm the crowds, President Sebastián Piñera replaced much of his cabinet and promised reforms, but protesters did not stop calling for his resignation. The demonstrations were sparked last month by a 4-cent subway fare increase, but have since exploded into a denunciation of the country’s extreme economic inequality and government mismanagement. Many of the protests have been peaceful, including one that brought out 1 million people. But at night, vandals have looted stores and torched buildings. Piñera sent soldiers into the streets, and at least 20 people have been killed and 7,000 arrested.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week won the support of opposition parties to hold an early election, setting up a Dec. 12 vote that could break the deadlock over Brexit. Johnson, who heads a minority Conservative government, has been pushing for an election for months, believing that he can win a majority by arguing that his opponents want to delay Brexit “until the 12th of never.” Without a majority, lawmakers could tie up or kill the withdrawal deal that Johnson negotiated with the EU and that has received a preliminary thumbs-up from Parliament. The EU has extended the U.K.’s exit deadline until Jan. 31 to get that deal passed. Conservatives have up to a 15-point lead in the polls over Labour, which wants a second Brexit referendum.
Kirchner is back
In a rejection of austerity, Argentines this week handed a decisive victory to the Left and ousted conservative President Mauricio Macri. The Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernández and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took 48 percent of the vote in the presidential election, nearly 8 percentage points more than Macri. Fernández—a former chief of staff to Kirchner’s late husband and presidential predecessor, Néstor Kirchner—was seen as more electable for the top job than Kirchner, who governed Argentina from 2007 to 2015 and is the target of 11 corruption investigations. Macri won office in 2015 promising that free-market reforms would bring growth, but poverty and inflation soared during his four years in office. President-elect Fernández said he would build an “egalitarian Argentina.”
Convicted Russian operative Maria Butina left a U.S. prison last week and returned home to Moscow, where government officials greeted her with flowers. The gun-rights activist was sentenced to 18 months in a Florida federal penitentiary after she pleaded guilty to being an unregistered foreign agent. Guided by a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, she infiltrated Republican political circles and the National Rifle Association ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in order to promote Russian interests. But Butina, 30, insisted she was never involved in espionage, and authorities found no evidence that she had been in touch with Russian intelligence. Butina said she kept a detailed diary about her experiences in America that she intends to turn into a “creative project.”
Prime minister resigns
After two weeks of mass protests that paralyzed the country, shuttering banks and schools, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has resigned. The uprising began after the government announced a tax on WhatsApp calls, and demonstrations continued even after the tax was rescinded. Lebanese voters are fed up with entrenched political corruption and the government’s inability to provide basic services such as trash collection and reliable electricity. Supporters of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah this week attacked protest camps, burning tents and beating up demonstrators. Riot police eventually fired tear gas to break up the crowds. Hariri, who presided over a unity government that included Hezbollah, resigned the same day. Fractious Lebanon has struggled for years with political and economic mismanagement and the burden of hosting 1 million Syrian refugees.
Hackers took over some 2,000 government and news websites in Georgia this week, causing the sites’ homepages to display a photo of exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili with the caption “I’ll be back.” Saakashvili led the Rose Revolution that toppled Georgia’s pro-Russian regime in 2003. After completing his second term as president in 2013, he fled to Ukraine to evade corruption charges that he said were politically motivated, and he is now a Ukrainian politician. Georgians suspect Russia is behind the hack, because Moscow launched a similar cyberattack in 2008, when Saakashvili was president. That hack was the prelude to a brief Georgian-Russian war over two breakaway, Moscow-backed Georgian provinces.
Children with HIV
An HIV epidemic that has infected some 900 children in a Pakistani town has been traced largely to one pediatrician accused of reusing syringes. The low-cost private clinic of Muzaffar Ghanghro closed earlier this year after the outbreak was discovered, but even though he faces criminal charges, he is still practicing medicine in a government-run hospital. He denies reusing syringes and says he is innocent. Authorities suspect that many more kids in Ratodero may be HIV-positive—only a quarter of the town has yet been tested—and that such unhygienic practices are widespread across the country. “Pakistan is facing a full-blown public health crisis,” said development expert Zaigham Khan. “In rural areas, most people are treated by quack doctors.”
The final Indonesian government report into the 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610, which killed all 189 people aboard, blamed the disaster on Boeing’s design of the 737 Max jet, the airline’s maintenance of the craft, and pilot errors. Investigators said the main fault lay with the 737 Max’s automated anti-stall system, MCAS, which repeatedly pushed the nose down—a problem not mentioned in the plane’s manual—leaving the pilots battling for control. The 320-page report also noted that the plane’s previous flight crew had failed to write up a maintenance problem that could have alerted mechanics to a malfunctioning sensor that was feeding erroneous data to MCAS, forcing the plane into a dive. And investigators said the first officer who was flying Flight 610 just before it entered the fatal dive had performed poorly in training, struggling to memorize lists of procedures.
Sadr vs. government
As tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators thronged major Iraqi cities, powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for wholesale changes to the political system. Sadr, who leads the largest bloc in the parliament, called for a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi as well as constitutional changes. “If parliament doesn’t vote, the people’s voices will be heard,” said Sadr, a former militia leader who once fought against U.S. troops. The demonstrators want an end to corruption and to Iranian influence in the country. The government response has been brutal. Security forces have killed more than 80 people in the past week, including at one peaceful sit-in in Karbala, where riot police shot dead 14 people.
Newscom (2), AP (2), Reuters, AP. AP, TV Pirveli, Getty, Reuters ■