Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says he is going to try to switch his nation’s name to North Macedonia to placate Greece, despite the failure of a referendum on the name change this week. Greece has been blocking Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO, saying that its northern neighbor must change its name, which Athens argues implies a territorial claim to the Greek province called Macedonia. Zaev wants to defuse that decades-old dispute by adding “North” to his country’s name, and more than 90 percent of those who cast ballots in the referendum backed his suggested change. But thanks to an opposition boycott and an alleged Russian disinformation campaign aimed at suppressing the vote, only 37 percent of voters cast ballots; 50 percent were needed to render the result valid.
In an attempt to curb a surging murder rate and rampant corruption, Mexican state and federal authorities took control of Acapulco’s police force last week. The city had 2,316 murders last year, and authorities believe gangs have infiltrated its law enforcement. All Acapulco cops have been ordered to turn over their guns, and two police commanders have been charged with murder, while the rest of the force is being investigated. More than 300 police weapons were found to be missing during the disarming process. A joint force of marines and federal and state police will patrol Acapulco until the dirty cops have been replaced with new recruits. Critics said that tactic had not worked in other cities, because new cops were soon corrupted.
Melania in Africa
On her first solo trip abroad as first lady, Melania Trump stopped at a children’s hospital in Ghana this week, greeting mothers and babies and handing out blankets emblazoned with her “Be Best” motto. The weeklong tour also takes her to Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt, where she and USAID administrator Mark Green will promote programs for children’s health care and education. African activists say President Trump’s decree on his third day in office, when he halted U.S. funding for foreign charities that provide or promote abortion—including in countries where abortion is legal—has hurt health clinics across the continent. The president allegedly once referred to some African nations as “s---hole countries.”
Amazon rain forest timber is being illegally logged, falsely labeled, and sold abroad, mostly to the U.S. and China, according to Peruvian investigative journalism site Ojo-Publico.com. Timber traffickers in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia inflate their counts of lumber taken from areas where logging is legal and slap the extra certificates onto shipments of wood taken from protected forests. Most of this “timber laundering” takes place in Peru, where some 5,000 truckloads of illegal timber were harvested between October 2017 and August 2018. Scientists say the Amazon has lost 17 percent of its tree cover in the past 50 years, and once that figure reaches 20 percent, the forest will no longer be able to keep functioning as one of the lungs of the planet.
U.S. threatens Russia
The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, warned this week that if Russia doesn’t stop its development of a new cruise missile, the U.S. will “take out” the weapon. The U.S. has long said the missile violates the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Trump administration has announced plans to develop its own medium-range cruise missile in response. But a U.S. official raising the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Russia is unprecedented in the post–Cold War era. “People who make such statements do not realize [the] danger of aggressive rhetoric,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. Hutchison later tweeted that her comment was not “about pre-emptively striking Russia.”
Still no seaside
La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia has failed in its fight to get back the sea access it lost to Chile in a 19th-century war. The U.N.’s International Court of Justice ruled this week that Chile has no legal obligation to negotiate with Bolivia over the return of the territory. The 12-3 ruling was a blow to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had traveled to The Hague to hear the court’s judgment. Back in La Paz, a crowd had gathered in the main square to watch the ruling on a big screen in a festival-like atmosphere, only to disperse in disappointment. Bolivia had some 250 miles of coastline when it gained independence from Spain, but lost it in the 1879–1884 War of the Pacific. Chile has nearly 4,000 miles of coastline.
Warning dissidents in U.S.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered operations against his political enemies living in exile in the U.S. and other NATO countries. Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey will target followers of Fethullah Gulen, the 77-year-old cleric Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt, whether they are in “the U.S. or some other country.” He added, “Rest assured that they will feel Turkey breathing down their neck.” Turkish authorities have imprisoned thousands of bureaucrats, lawyers, teachers, soldiers, and others suspected of being followers of Gulen, who is now living in exile in Pennsylvania. Gulen denies having any involvement in the 2016 attempted putsch.
‘Iraq’s Kim Kardashian’ killed
Tara Fares, a 22-year-old Iraqi social media star and former Miss Baghdad, was murdered in broad daylight this week, shot dead at the wheel of her convertible by an assassin who escaped on a motorcycle. Fares, who had 2.7 million Instagram followers, “was living a very Western lifestyle—she dressed the way she wanted to,” Daryna Sarhan, who runs an Iraqi lifestyle magazine, told The New York Times. “She basically did everything the conservatives go against.” In her Instagram posts, Fares wore makeup and figure-hugging dresses and revealed the tattoos on her arms and back. Fares was the fourth prominent Iraqi woman to be killed in two months, and the government has ordered an investigation. The other victims were two beauticians—who were known to Fares—and a women’s rights activist.
It’s the Xi quiz
Chinese state-run TV is airing a five-episode game show all about President Xi Jinping, in an attempt to present his philosophy in an entertaining way—and expand his growing personality cult. On Studying Xi in the New Era, three carefully prepared contestants compete to answer questions about Xi’s speeches, favorite books, and early years in a rural village. In one segment, a contestant says Xi’s ideology “brims with vigor”; another calls his leadership “infinitely powerful.” To appeal to young viewers, the show’s set is a virtual spaceship that features talking robots and a cartoon version of philosopher Karl Marx.
Adultery law overturned
India’s Supreme Court has scrapped a British colonial-era law that criminalized adultery, in a ruling that activists are praising as a victory for human rights. Under the 158-year-old law, a man could be sentenced to five years in prison if he had sex with another man’s wife without the consent of her husband. Women could not prosecute their cheating husbands, though, or sue their mistresses. The Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi had supported the law, saying it protected marriage. But the court disagreed. “Husband is not the master of wife,” said Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who retired this week. “Women should be treated with equality along with men.”
Gaven Reefs, Spratly Islands
A Chinese warship veered dangerously close to a U.S. destroyer that was navigating a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea this week, leading the Pentagon to accuse the Chinese military of “unsafe and unprofessional” behavior. The USS Decatur, a 505-foot ship with a crew of 300, was sailing on a freedom of navigation mission to demonstrate that the Spratly Islands are in international waters. The Chinese ship conducted a series of aggressive maneuvers and came within 45 yards of its bow, nearly causing a collision. Despite a 2016 ruling by a U.N. court that China has no lawful sovereignty over the Spratlys, Beijing continues to claim the islands, and has built heavily fortified artificial islands among them.
Tsunami destroys towns
A massive tsunami caused by a magnitude-7.5 earthquake slammed into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last week, engulfing towns and killing more than 1,400 people. As rescue workers struggled to dig out survivors and recover bodies, Indonesian authorities investigated the multiple failures of their tsunami warning system. The system, based on seismographic sensors and tidal gauges, predicted waves of up to 10 feet, not the 20-foot wall of water that flattened the town of Palu. Disaster protocol says residents should be warned to evacuate by sirens and text messages, but Palu had no sirens, and because the earthquake toppled its cellphone towers, its residents received no texts. “We really need to emphasize that the earthquake is the warning,” said geophysicist Jason Patton. “If the shaking lasts at least 20 seconds, get to high ground.” ■