Fast-moving wildfires ripped through villages near Athens this week, killing at least 80 people and sending residents running into the ocean to escape. Greece’s Coast Guard, aided by 30 private boats, rescued more than 700 people trapped in the coastal villages of Mati and nearby Kokkino Limanaki, and pulled dozens from the sea. In Mati, rescue workers found the charred remains of 26 people, including children, who were apparently huddled together, clutching one another, as flames engulfed them just yards from the water. Greece has declared a state of emergency as multiple fires continue to burn. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged Greeks and tourists alike to flee affected areas. “Properties and material wealth can be replaced,” he said. “Human lives cannot.”
A mentally ill man with a handgun opened fire on restaurants and cafés in Toronto’s buzzing Greektown neighborhood this week, killing a 10-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman and injuring 13 others. The killer, Faisal Hussain, 29, died at the scene; it’s unclear whether he shot himself or was killed by police. Hussain’s family said he suffered from psychosis and depression, and police said they had no evidence of any link to terrorism. Toronto Mayor John Tory blamed the tragedy on the city’s “gun problem,” saying, “Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?” The City Council immediately began debate on a $33 million plan to combat gun violence that had already been developed by the mayor’s staff after an uptick in shootings.
Mexico’s leftist President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sent President Trump a friendly, seven-page letter outlining his plan for bilateral relations after he takes office in December. López Obrador, known as AMLO, stressed that any deal on migration or trade must include “an absolute respect for human rights” and said his government would implement reforms to “ensure that Mexicans do not have to emigrate because of poverty or violence.” He proposed creating a joint fund that would allocate three-quarters of its spending to fighting poverty and creating jobs in Mexico and Central America, and one-quarter to border security. AMLO signed off by sending Trump “a warm hug.”
Ortega turns on church
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has lashed out against the Catholic bishops mediating between his government and the protesters who have been calling for his resignation. In a public speech last week, Ortega said the bishops were “committed to the coup plotters” and were hiding weapons in their churches. The clergy, he said, had joined forces with the “North American empire” to overthrow him. The bishops said that mediation did not require neutrality. “This is an armed state against an unarmed people,” said Monsignor Silvio José Báez, Managua’s auxiliary bishop. “An authentic pastor of the Catholic Church will never side with the executioners.” At least 350 people have been killed since the uprising began in April, most of them by paramilitaries and police loyal to Ortega.
Scientist charged as spy
A Russian rocket scientist has been charged with treason for allegedly giving classified information about Russia’s hypersonic missile program to a NATO country. Viktor Kudryavtsev, 74, who worked at the state-run institute TsNIIMash, was arrested, and 12 others are being investigated. Hypersonic weapons, which the U.S., China, and other countries are also developing, can travel more than 10 times the speed of sound. Authorities believe the leaked information included details of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile and a ballistic missile re-entry vehicle designed to evade U.S. missile defenses in Europe. “A lot of heads will roll,” a Russian intelligence source told Kommersant. “This case won’t end just with a few dismissals.”
Tour de France gets gassed
Passing the protest
The Tour de France had to briefly pause this week after protesting French farmers tried to interrupt the cycling race. The farmers, upset at cuts to EU agricultural aid, threw bales of hay into the road as the main pack of riders neared mile 18 of the race’s 135-mile 16th stage. Police cleared the farmers out with tear gas and pepper spray, but the stinging cloud then blew into the riders, so authorities stopped the race. Tour leader Geraint Thomas and several other riders rinsed their eyes as they waited for the lead cars to restart. It’s unclear whether the farmers were arrested, but endangering Tour riders is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Chinese parents were outraged this week at the discovery that hundreds of thousands of doses of rabies and diphtheria and tetanus vaccines administered to their children were ineffective. An editorial in the state-run Global Times said the crisis was “flooding the internet with public anger and panic,” and it called on the government to step up regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. Vaccine maker Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology has been fined $500,000, and its management has apologized, saying it feels “very ashamed.” There have been no reports of harm from the faulty vaccines, but the revelation is likely to undermine authorities’ attempts to rebuild public trust in Chinese food and medicine after a series of scandals, including the tainted infant formula that sickened 300,000 babies in 2008.
Rift with Israel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of being the most “fascist and racist” state in the world and said some of its leaders were following “the spirit of Hitler,” further straining Turkey’s already tense relations with Israel. The authoritarian president made the comments while condemning Israel’s new nation-state law, which defines the country as the homeland of the Jewish people. “There is no difference between Hitler’s obsession with the Aryan race,” Erdogan said, “and Israel’s understanding that these ancient lands are meant only for Jews.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly hit back, tweeting that Erdogan is “massacring Syrians and Kurds and has jailed tens of thousands of his citizens.” Turkey, he added, is becoming a “dark dictatorship.” The two countries expelled each other’s diplomats in May, after Israeli troops killed more than 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border fence.
Deadly dam collapse
At least 20 people were killed and thousands left homeless after a dam collapsed in southern Laos this week, sending more than 170 billion cubic feet of water gushing through villages below. Residents had just minutes to evacuate following the breach, and rescuers later plucked survivors off their roofs and out of trees. At least 130 people are missing. Officials said the dam, part of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric project, was still under construction when it was overwhelmed by heavier than usual monsoon rains. The advocacy group International Rivers said such catastrophic dam failures are likely to increase, both in Laos and around the world, because “unpredictable and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent due to climate change.”
Brutal heat wave
Japan’s government has declared the heat wave that is scorching the country, hitting temperatures of up to 106 degrees and killing at least 80 people, a natural disaster. The relentless heat has baked the country for two weeks, sending more than 22,000 people to the hospital for heatstroke—nearly half of them elderly—and it is likely to continue for at least another week. Youth sports and outdoor festivals have been canceled, and residents have been urged to avoid exertion and sunlight and to drink lots of water. Most Japanese homes are not air-conditioned. AccuWeather founder Joel Myers said that the death toll will likely “climb into the thousands before the heat wave ends.”
Peace with militants
After 22 years of negotiations, the Philippine government is close to finalizing a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a rebel group on the island of Mindanao. A law passed by the national legislature this week will create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region on the island as a homeland for Moro Muslims, who are a minority in the mostly Catholic Philippines. “War is not an option,” said President Rodrigo Duterte, who comes from Mindanao. “We have seen the horror, the devastation, and the human toll, and the displacement of both Christians and Muslims alike.” The Moro conflict has lasted more than 40 years and killed more than 120,000 people. Other armed factions on the island are opposed to the peace deal, including a new group loyal to ISIS.
White Helmets saved
An Israeli hands out water.
Israeli troops extricated 98 of the rescue workers known as White Helmets together with 324 of their family members from Syria last week, escorting them across the border into Israel and busing them on to Jordan. Syria’s government considers the White Helmets—a volunteer rescue squad whose members have dug out thousands of civilians buried in rubble during the seven-year civil war—a terrorist group, and its members are at risk of imprisonment and torture. The White Helmets, who had been stranded near the frontier with Israel following a regime offensive, will be resettled in Britain, Canada, and Germany. Israel also shot down a Syrian warplane this week that it said had crossed into airspace above the occupied Golan Heights. ■