The world at a glance
No toking on duty
With the recreational use of marijuana becoming legal across Canada on Oct. 17, the Canadian military has announced tight new weed restrictions for service members. Certain personnel—including pilots, submariners, and flight surgeons—will be completely banned from using marijuana 28 days before reporting for duty. For all other troops, no use is allowed for eight hours before normal duty; for those handling weapons, the restriction is 24 hours. By contrast, soldiers must refrain from drinking alcohol for only six hours before going on duty. Marijuana will not be allowed on military aircraft or ships, or among troops deployed abroad. The new rules, said Chief of Military Personnel Lt. Gen. Chuck Lamarre, “will ensure that our men and women are ready at all times.”
Russia targeted diplomats?
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russia is behind the mysterious attacks that left dozens of American diplomats in Cuba and China with concussion-like brain injuries, NBC News reported this week. That suspicion is supported by intercepted communications, U.S. officials said, but there is not yet enough evidence to formally accuse Moscow. The attacks began in 2016, when government workers in Havana complained of hearing strange sounds and suffering headaches. U.S. scientists suspect a microwave weapon could be responsible, and the Pentagon is trying to reverse engineer the device. “If the NBC News reports are true, this is a direct attack by Russia against the United States,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). He called for designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
U.S. withdraws ambassadors
San Salvador, El Salvador
The U.S. this week temporarily recalled its top diplomats from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Panama over those countries’ recent decision to no longer recognize Taiwan. With investment in Latin America by U.S. companies and the U.S. government falling, the three nations are looking to China—which considers the island of Taiwan part of its territory—to fund vital infrastructure and energy projects. “You left some space and the other guy moved in,” a Latin American diplomat told McClatchyDC.com. “The region will work first with the people who bring the money.” Taiwan is an important U.S. ally, although the U.S. does not officially recognize it as independent.
U.S. plotted coup
Trump administration officials held secret talks last year with dissident Venezuelan military officials seeking to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. U.S. officials and a former Venezuelan commander told The New York Times that the rebels met multiple times with U.S. officials before the administration decided against helping the plotters, who abandoned their plan. One dissident officer said the rebels were encouraged to reach out to the U.S. after President Trump announced, in August 2017, that the U.S. had a “military option” for Venezuela. Maduro condemned the plots as “American imperialism” but added that he had survived multiple coup attempts, proving he was “invincible, invulnerable.” More than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years as its economy collapsed.
EU vs. Orban
The European Parliament voted this week to punish Hungary for cracking down on democratic institutions, kick-starting a process that could ultimately lead to the country being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union. It is the first time the parliament has launched a disciplinary process against an EU member nation—the leaders of member states will now have to approve any punitive measures. The vote was a sign of the increasing disquiet in the bloc with the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who since taking power in 2010 has targeted opposition media outlets, undermined the judiciary’s autonomy, and banned NGOs from aiding migrants. Orban called the threat of censure a form of “blackmail” and an insult to Hungary.
New drone base
The CIA is set to launch secret drone strikes on Islamist militants in southern Libya from a newly expanded air base in northeastern Niger, The New York Times reported this week. Former President Barack Obama scaled back CIA drone operations late in his presidency and sought to place them under the control of the military, following a series of strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere that killed numerous civilians, stirring local outrage. But President Trump has restored the CIA’s authority to aggressively target al Qaida– and ISIS-affiliated militants in Africa. U.S. and Nigerien officials say surveillance missions have already been launched from the base. An official said the expansion of the Dirkou base was partly a response to an ambush by jihadists last fall in another part of Niger that killed four U.S. troops.
Russian police arrested more than 1,000 people this week after demonstrators took to the streets of St. Petersburg and other cities to protest President Vladimir Putin’s plan to hike the retirement age. Footage of the rallies showed officers pummeling demonstrators with batons and dragging away children. Putin’s spokesman said that the protests were unauthorized and police acted lawfully. The government plan would raise the age for collecting state pensions by five years, to 65 for men and 60 for women. In Russia, the average life expectancy is 66 for men and 77 for women. The proposal has caused a sharp drop in support for Putin, with 46 percent of Russians saying they’d vote for him if elections were held today, down from 62 percent in June.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopians and Eritreans celebrated this week after the border between their two countries was opened for the first time in 20 years. The resumption of trade and travel is the most significant step in the reconciliation process that began in July, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement. The border was shut at the beginning of the 1998–2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean war, a conflict that separated families and trapped travelers on the wrong side of the border. “It’s a wonderful day,” said one Ethiopian at a newly opened border crossing. “I came here to meet my relatives who I haven’t seen for 20 years.” The path to peace was made possible by Ethiopia’s Abiy, who announced that he intended to end decades of conflict and tension with Eritrea just weeks after taking office in April.
U.S. lawmakers are calling for sanctions on China over its repression of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority. At least 1 million of China’s 11 million Uighurs—who mostly live in the western province of Xinjiang—are being held in concentration camps for “re-education.” The detained Uighurs, former inmates report, are forced to renounce Islam, sing communist songs, and chant “Long live Xi Jinping,” China’s president. Their children are placed in orphanages and indoctrinated to despise their parents and their Uighur culture. Those not in the camps are monitored under an intrusive, high-tech surveillance system that uses facial recognition. China is also conducting a crackdown on Christianity, destroying crosses, burning bibles, and shutting churches in Beijing and beyond.
The United Nations is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Syria as the army of dictator Bashar al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies prepare an all-out assault on the last rebel stronghold, Idlib Province. Some 3 million people are trapped in Idlib. Russian and Syrian forces are pounding the province, which is controlled by the al Qaida–linked Nusra Front and the Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army rebels, with airstrikes and artillery. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres implored all parties to avoid a full battle, which he said “would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict.”
Mass trial: Egypt has sentenced 75 people to death and another 600 to prison for their involvement in a 2013 sit-in protest that was brutally broken up by security forces. The Cairo protest was organized by supporters of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, after he was toppled by a military coup. At least 817 people were killed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Those on trial, though, weren’t the police—who have immunity for any abuses they may have committed—but the survivors, who were accused of crimes ranging from property damage to murder. The verdict, said Amnesty International, was “a grotesque parody of justice.” Among those sentenced to death were Brotherhood leaders Essam el-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi; the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, was given a life sentence.
India’s top court has issued a rare shoot-to-kill authorization for a tigress that officials say has killed 13 people over the past two years—three of them in August alone. India’s roughly 2,230 endangered tigers are strictly protected, and environmentalists had protested the decision to kill the man-eater, sending the case to the Supreme Court. But justices this week sided with authorities in the state of Maharashtra. Indian conservationist Ajay Dubey said the tiger attacks were likely a consequence of forests being destroyed to make space for farm land. “Tigers aren’t encroaching on human habitats,” he said, “it’s human beings who are continuously coming in.” ■