The world at a glance ...
Fake news spreads quickly: With German politicians warning that Russia might use fake news to influence its general election in September, a team of researchers has carried out an experiment to discover just how quickly and widely a bogus story can spread. The team from Stuttgart’s Hohenheim University set up a fake far-right blog and four phony Facebook profiles to spread its posts. One false story claiming that the town of Bad Eulen was using taxpayer money to pay prostitutes to have sex with asylum seekers reached 11,000 people in four days—even though Bad Eulen doesn’t exist. A new German law, passed in June, allows social networks to be fined up to $60 million if they fail to delete hate speech or damaging fake news after receiving a complaint.
Mass trial: Nearly 500 people went on trial this week on charges of planning or participating in last year’s failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As the accused were marched into a large, specially built courthouse, pro-Erdogan demonstrators chanted “We want the death penalty!” The defendants face a raft of charges, including homicide and trying to assassinate the president; among those indicted are generals who allegedly oversaw the plot. Nearly 250 people were killed in the July coup attempt, which Erdogan blamed, with no evidence, on the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Since then, the government has arrested more than 50,000 teachers, lawyers, soldiers, and bureaucrats it accuses of being Gulen followers.
President grabs more power: Violence broke out across Venezuela this week as a rigged national vote was held to select members of a new assembly that will rewrite the constitution to give more power to authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro. At least 10 people were killed in clashes between the police and demonstrators, and one candidate was murdered in his home ahead of the vote. Only handpicked supporters of the leftist Maduro were allowed to run for the assembly, and those who won seats include the president’s wife and son. The opposition, which has controlled the national legislature since December 2015 but which has been largely stripped of power by a Maduro-allied judiciary, condemned the election as a farce, noting that only 18 percent of voters bothered to show up. Maduro insisted that more than 40 percent of voters had turned out, and he gave a bellicose victory speech, threatening to jail lawmakers who spoke against him. “It’s when imperialism challenges us,” he said, “that we prove ourselves worthy of the blood of the liberators.”
Two days after the vote, security forces staged nighttime raids on the homes of opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who were under house arrest, seizing the men and returning them to prison. President Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, denounced what he called an “outrageous seizure of absolute power,” adding, “Maduro is not just a bad leader, he is now a dictator.” The Trump administration slapped financial sanctions on Maduro, freezing his assets and forbidding U.S. citizens from dealing with him.
Gangsters killed in court: Three accused members of a Russian gang were killed in a courtroom shoot-out in Moscow this week. Five handcuffed defendants were being transported to court in an elevator when they attacked their guards and grabbed their guns. When the elevator door opened, officers from Russia’s national guard opened fire on the suspects. “There were more than 20 shots,” said lawyer Sofya Rubasskaya. The defendants are accused of belonging to what the Russian media has called the Grand Theft Auto gang, who put metal spikes on Moscow’s ring road at night to burst car tires. Members would then rob and murder the stranded drivers. Nine men have been charged with 17 killings.
Rio de Janeiro
Call out the army: The Brazilian government has deployed 8,500 soldiers to Rio de Janeiro state to fight organized crime. A violent crime wave has gripped Rio since the end of last summer’s Olympics, and more than 90 police officers have been killed so far this year. Residents have posted numerous videos of shoot-outs between gang members and police in the middle of busy avenues; in some cases, drivers have abandoned their cars as they run for shelter. In the last semester, a quarter of Rio schools have closed at least part of a day because of shootings nearby. An average of three people were killed each day in Rio by stray bullets in the first six months of this year.
Space launch: Iran said it has successfully tested a rocket that can deliver satellites into orbit. While the 2015 Iran nuclear deal allows for space exploration and satellite technology, the U.S. said the test violated a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to refrain from activities that could relate to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten the pathway to an ICBM, as space-launch vehicles use similar technologies,” said Scott Kripowicz of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency. In response to the launch, the U.S. announced additional sanctions on six Iranian firms involved in rocket technology, prompting Iran to file a formal complaint accusing the U.S. of breaching the 2015 deal.
Rapists’ loophole closed: Women’s rights activists celebrated in Jordan this week after the country’s parliament repealed a law allowing rapists to escape prison by marrying their victims. The law was intended to minimize the social stigma attached to rape victims, but it sentenced victims to a lifetime with their abusers, and many ended up committing suicide. No girl should be “presented as a gift” to her rapist, said Jordanian lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa. Jordan is just the latest Arab country to repeal such a law, following Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. A campaign is underway in Lebanon to abolish a similar law.
Thirsty for coffee: China, ancient home of tea, is getting a taste for java. Coffee consumption in China tripled from 2012 to 2016 and continues to rise, and U.S. companies are moving in. Starbucks is opening more than 500 stores a year in China, creating some 10,000 jobs annually. In Shanghai alone, there are already 600 Starbucks stores—twice as many as in New York City. The new Chinese thirst for coffee will “totally change supply chains globally,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group. Growers are expected to start producing beans geared toward Chinese tastes—less bitter and with less caffeine.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Missiles going farther: North Korea tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile so far last week, one that could potentially hit Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City. The ICBM flew for about 45 minutes and landed in Japan’s territorial waters. Analysts said that if reports on the missile’s maximum altitude and flight time are correct, it would have a theoretical range of 6,500 miles. The repressive regime does not yet have the technology needed to miniaturize a nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on an ICBM. President Trump attacked China on Twitter for doing “nothing” to rein in North Korea, prompting Chinese news agency Xinhua to shoot back with a sharp editorial, saying, “Emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the [Korean] peninsula.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, struck a conciliatory note, calling for dialogue with Pyongyang and telling North Korea, “We are not your enemy.”
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Charity kicked out: A U.S. Christian charity was ordered to leave Cambodia this week for highlighting the sex trafficking of young girls. CNN ran a segment last week on Agape International Missions (AIM) and interviewed several women and girls it had rescued from the village of Svay Pak, an infamous center of child prostitution throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was outraged by the report, even though AIM said the local situation is improving. Hun Sen said AIM and CNN had implied the girls being sold by their mothers were Cambodian, when in fact they were ethnic Vietnamese. “You cannot insult our people,” he said. “President Trump is right: U.S. media is very tricky.”
Plane plot: Australian authorities arrested four men last week in connection with an alleged terrorist plot to bring down a passenger plane. Acting on a tip from foreign intelligence, police seized the men—two pairs of fathers and sons from a Lebanese-Australian family—in raids around Sydney. One of the fathers, Abdul Merhi, 50, was later released without charge, and his lawyer said it was “unfathomable that he would be associated” with terrorism. Authorities said the alleged plot involved a homemade bomb hidden inside a meat grinder being smuggled aboard a plane; police said they discovered a bomb that was “ready to go” near a property they raided. Australian media reported that the suspects are related to two Australian men who traveled to Syria to join ISIS.
Iranian Space Agency, Reuters (2), Newscom ■