The world at a glance ...
Unions vs. Macron: Hundreds of thousands of French publicsector workers went on strike this week to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to cut jobs and tighten pay conditions. As civil servants, teachers, transport workers, nurses, and air traffic controllers marched in cities across the country, schools were closed, train services disrupted, and hundreds of flights canceled—stranding 100,000 passengers. Macron, who won the presidency on a pledge to streamline France’s bloated bureaucracy, wants to freeze public-sector pay and cut 120,000 state workers over the next five years. But his plan to water down a wealth tax has seen him labeled “president of the rich” by the Left, and he has further angered unions by calling opponents of his reforms “slackers.”
Family held in Afghanistan: A U.S.-Canadian couple taken hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in 2012 now have two children born in captivity. The captors of Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, sent a video to Boyle’s parents in January showing a subdued and headscarved Coleman with a bearded Boyle holding their boys, 4 and 2; the family released the footage to the press last week to mark the fifth anniversary of the capture. The couple, avid travelers who met online, were seized by militants after crossing into Afghanistan on a backpacking trip.
Not earthquake safe: In the wake of the devastating Sept. 19 earthquake that killed at least 369 people—including 228 in Mexico City—Mexicans are asking whether the devastation would have been less had construction firms followed building codes. An elementary school that collapsed in Mexico City, killing 19 children and seven adults, was built of unreinforced concrete, which can easily snap in a temblor, and had an illegal fourth floor where the principal lived. A six-story office block that pancaked was only supposed to be two stories high. “Our collective negligence and corruption,” said former Mexican government official Gabriel Guerra, “is coming back to bite us where it hurts.”
Spat with U.S.: Turkey and the U.S. were locked in an escalating diplomatic row this week following the arrest of a Turkish national employed at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. Metin Topuz, who works in an office that strengthens security cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey, was detained last week on terrorism charges for alleged links to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen—whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for plotting last year’s failed coup. The U.S. responded by suspending non–immigrant visa services in Turkey. Ankara retaliated by doing the same for Americans, and Erdogan said the arrest of the consular worker showed “there is something cooking in the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.”
Costumes verboten: A man wearing a shark costume to help promote a new computer repair shop was fined this week under Austria’s new “burqa ban.” The unnamed worker was standing outside the McShark store in Vienna when police asked him to remove his shark mask. When he refused, explaining, “I’m just doing my job,” police slapped him with a fine—which can go up to $175. The anti-mask law, which bans any face covering in public and is aimed at the tiny minority of Austrian Muslim women who wear full-face veils, went into effect at the start of October. Police said a citizen—presumably one who hoped to expose the law’s flaws—alerted them to the violation at the shop.
Passo Fundo, Brazil
South wants to secede: Emboldened by Catalonia’s recent vote in favor of leaving Spain, three southern Brazilian states last week held an unofficial referendum on declaring independence. The South Is My Country movement says Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Paraná effectively subsidize poorer northern states because they pay much more in taxes than they get in services from the federal government. The referendum, said the group’s leader, Celso Deucher, “is a response by the three colonies of southern Brazil to the madness that is Brasília.” Fewer people turned out to vote in the hastily arranged plebiscite than the roughly 3 percent of state residents who participated in a similar vote last year. But Deucher says awareness of the issue is growing, and he wants next year’s general election to include a referendum on secession.
ISIS collapsing: The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces now control 80 percent of Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, and have launched their final push to liberate the Syrian city. U.S.-led coalition forces are pounding the jihadists’ positions with airstrikes, and “it will not be long before we are in complete control of Raqqa,” one fighter told Israel’s Jerusalem Post. “They have nowhere to run now.” But SDF troops said the remainder of the fight would be slow going, because ISIS was using civilians as human shields and using tunnels and irrigation systems to sneak around the city and stage ambushes. ISIS is also meeting defeat in Iraq, where some 1,000 of its jihadists, who are supposed to fight to the death, surrendered en masse to Kurdish troops after losing the town of Hawija.
Green Berets killed: Four U.S. Army Green Berets were killed in Niger last week after their joint patrol with Nigerian troops was ambushed by a large force of Islamist extremists. Four Nigerian soldiers were killed and two more U.S. officers wounded in the 30-minute firefight. The patrol was attacked by up to 50 militants in vehicles and on motorbikes as it left a meeting with tribal elders in Niger near the Mali border; U.S. officials said extremists linked to ISIS were likely behind the ambush. Some 800 U.S. troops are in Niger training and assisting regional forces to fight multiple extremist groups, including al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, ISIS, and Boko Haram. The four fallen soldiers were based out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Warning the U.S.: Iranian leaders warned of open conflict with the U.S. if the Trump administration classified the country’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. “Iran’s reaction would be firm, decisive, and crushing, and the U.S. should bear all its consequences,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi. As part of a new, tough strategy on Iran, Trump is expected to stamp the Revolutionary Guard with the designation at the same time that he “decertifies” a 2015 international deal to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program. The Revolutionary Guard controls major business interests in Iran and supports terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas; its troops have also been deployed to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Many of its members and linked groups are already under U.S. sanctions.
Worked to death: Japanese public broadcaster NHK has admitted that one of its journalists, who died in 2013, succumbed to karoshi, or death from overwork. Miwa Sado, 31, had a fatal heart attack after working 159 hours of overtime in a single month. “We decided to disclose her death to all of our employees and to the public to share the company’s resolve to prevent a recurrence and follow through with reforms,” said NHK. In 2016, the Japanese government released a report that found more than 2,000 Japanese had killed themselves in the past year due to work-related stress, while dozens more had died of work-induced strokes and heart attacks. The government has proposed a 100- hour cap on overtime.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Assassination plans stolen: Hackers from North Korea stole a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including U.S.– South Korean plans to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the event of war, a South Korean lawmaker said this week. Rhee Cheol-hee, a member of the South’s governing Democratic Party, said the hack took place last year but that he only recently learned of its scale. He added that the military has not yet identified 80 percent of the 235 gigabytes of stolen data. The hack hit 3,200 computers, including hundreds in the South Korean military’s internal network, which is supposed to be cut off from the internet. South Korea’s defense ministry and the Pentagon refused to comment on Rhee’s disclosure.
Constitutional crisis: Kenya was thrown into political turmoil this week after opposition leader Raila Odinga dropped out of the upcoming redo of the presidential election. Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of the original vote, in August, but the Supreme Court annulled the result and ordered a new vote after Odinga alleged massive fraud. The same electoral officials who monitored the initial flawed vote were appointed to oversee next week’s election, a contest Odinga said he would not take part in because the electoral board was “rotten” and would again falsify the count. Protests are expected, and Kenyans are bracing for violence. In 2007, at least 1,400 people died in ethnic clashes after Odinga lost to Mwai Kibaki, the then incumbent.