LONDON, UK — On Friday, Britain assessed the damage of a storm that killed two people, forced thousands from their homes and threatened the nation with the biggest tidal surge in 60 years before moving on to Europe.
Severe floods wreaked havoc on the UK’s east coast. Waves several stories high smashed against seaside barriers. In the seaside town of Hemsby, homes tumbled downhill and were carried away by the sea like children’s toys.
Winds killed one man in northern England and another in Scotland.
Biggest tidal surge in 60 years threatens UK, Europe
Photos via AFP/Getty Images
→ 14 unbelievably racist things European politicians are saying about the Roma
Last month Greek and Irish authorities did something truly ironic. In three separate incidents, they took blond, blue-eyed children away from their Roma families and put them in state care. Why? They saw their light skin and assumed the kids must have been — wait for it — stolen from their families.
The Roma are a linguistically and culturally diverse group of people who originated from northern India about 1,500 years ago. They make up Europe’s largest ethnic minority, with at least 10 to 12 million members. Most Roma are European Union citizens. But even though they’ve lived in Europe for more than 700 years, they’re still treated with suspicion and hostility.
DNA tests now confirm that all three of the blond children are Roma, but an informal witch hunt had already begun, feeding into centuries of superstition that the Roma steal children.
Meanwhile, France was busy deporting a 15-year-old Roma teenager to Kosovo — part of alongstanding policy of expelling Roma residents. Thousands of French high school students took to the streets in protest. Arresting her in the middle of a field trip? Not cool. Escorting her immediately to the airport? Not cool. Sending her “back” to a country she’s never been to? Not cool.
But here’s the thing — despite all the international news coverage, October wasn’t unusual.Anti-Roma racism happens all over Europe, pretty much all of the time. It ranges from everyday intolerance, to deeply embedded discrimination in education, employment, healthcare and housing, to open hate speech and hate crimes.
NEED TO KNOW
Know your enemies, know your friends, and know which is which. The 35 world leaders who now suspect that they had their phones monitored by the United States fear that Washington has got itself a little confused over who’s out to harm, and who’s out to help.
Some of the US government’s closest foreign allies, the members of the European Union — whose redoubtable Angela Merkel is thought to be among the Wiretap 35 — today say that being treated like suspects by US intelligence agencies has left them feeling, well, suspicious. And if the US doesn’t work hard to restore their trust, an official EU statement declares, “the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence-gathering” could suffer. (That’s EU-speak for: “If you don’t show us yours, we won’t show you ours.”) None of which looks too good for the global effort to fight terrorism. Unless the US can carry off some pretty extensive confidence-building exercises: France and Germany have proposed holding talks with the US, open to other European nations, to resolve the issue by the end of the year. Somehow we imagine trust falls won’t cut it.
The end of the road for Bo Xilai. A court in China has, to no one’s surprise, rejected the disgraced politician’s appeal against his conviction and sentence for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. After the provincial court’s ruling, there is no further recourse; Bo is due to serve life in jail.
The former Communist Party princeling has already been taken to the same prison where his father saw out some of his multiple terms. Bo Senior, of course, was jailed repeatedly and yet came back — an achievement his son has already vowed to repeat. Perhaps where one cell door closes, a window opens; but probably not for another political generation at least.
WANT TO KNOW
Madagascar votes. Finally. It’s fair to say today’s Madagascan election is the biggest in years. That’s because it’s the only Madagascan election in years: the country’s voters haven’t picked a president since 2006, and the one they chose then was overthrown in a 2009 coup.
Since then, the collapsing state and slumping economy have dramatically worsened the fragile humanitarian situation in the impoverished island nation. Foreign donors suspended aid; foreign investors were scared off. Such was the political crisis that that even getting to today’s vote was an achievement: it has already been postponed three time this year. Get there they did, however — and now polls are open, will elections finally get Madagascar back on track?
Driving Saudi Arabia forward. Take to the kingdom’s roads tomorrow and you’ll notice something different. Something more modern. Something more fair. Something less… segregation-y.
That’s because Saudi women are planning to launch an on-road protest on Saturday to prove that banning them from driving is as ridiculous as saying sitting behind a steering wheel will deform their anatomy — which hasn’t stopped the country’s powerful religious conservatives from doing both. The government, having quietly made the campaign’s website inaccessible from within the country, has pledged to “deal with” anyone who either rallies in the protesters’ support or drives without permission. We say: if driving’s a crime — ladies, put your foot down.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Another week, another death by clown. You may have thought this week’s gangland killing of a Mexican drug lord by gunmen dressed as clowns was the weirdest assassination plot you’d ever heard. You’d be wrong.
As long as there have been people, there have been people conniving to kill those people. Cain started out with just a stone, but even by Nero’s time murder had evolved to include mechanical ceilings and self-sinking ships. Since then generations of imaginative killers have built on their legacy to find new and ever more far-fetched ways to do someone in. From exploding cigars to axe-wielding bears, here are the most insane assassination plots in history. Some worked; some just left their inventors with poison-laced egg on their face.
NEED TO KNOW
You messed with the wrong Merkel. The German government this morning summoned the American ambassador to Germany after reports that the United States may have monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. This, after Die Merkel called President Barack Obama personally to condemn such practices as “completely unacceptable.” (What we wouldn’t give to have overheard that conversation! Oh… right.)
These are busy days for the US diplomatic corps: just Monday the ambassador to France got a summoning himself, in that case over allegations that the National Security Agency had recorded millions of phone calls by French citizens and spied on French diplomats for good measure (allegations, we should add, that the US intelligence chief says are not entirely true — but not entirely false, either). “Enough is enough,” one senior EU official is quoted as saying today. But is “enough” enough to push Europe into action against its ally across the pond? France wants the issue tabled at today’s EU summit in Brussels; if it’s not discussed on the record, you can bet it will be off it. Either way, we’re sure the NSA will know exactly what they’re saying.
Drones and their secrets. Pakistan’s politicians have spent many months and much energy decrying covert US drone strikes. But was the outrage — at least partly — feigned? According to classified documents obtained by The Washington Post, Islamabad’s top officials have for years not only known all about the strikes, but secretly endorsed them.
The papers — a mixture of CIA files and Pakistani diplomatic memos — would seem to confirm what many have long suspected: that Pakistan’s government assures its citizens it’s trying to stop the strikes in public, while tacitly approving them in private. The report is particularly embarrassing for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, coming as it does one day after he announced he had asked President Obama to halt the bombardments at a one-on-one meeting in Washington. Unless, you know, he didn’t.
WANT TO KNOW
Memo to Europe: sometimes, Roma are blond. Ever since a fair-haired moppet was found living without her parents in a Roma camp in Greece, it seems certain authorities have deemed it acceptable to ask Roma to prove that their children really are their own, seemingly on the basis of little more than coloring. Two young children have just been returned to their families in Ireland after police removed them when members of the public reported that they didn’t look enough like their dark-haired Roma parents.
DNA tests confirmed that the kids were, indeed, related, but the two families are understandably upset by what they say constitutes racial profiling. Ireland’s justice minister says he has requested a report on how each incident happened; but Roma rights activists, who have long complained that the minority is the most discriminated-against in Europe, say they could answer that question right now — and it wouldn’t sound good.
Bob Dylan, for one, likes to spend some time in Mozambique. But its sunny skies are looking less than aqua blue, after the former rebel group that fought a 15-year civil war against the party which now runs the country declared this week that it would no longer hold by their 1992 peace deal.
In the 21 years since that agreement was signed, Mozambique has developed one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, chiefly thanks to selling foreign firms the rights to its massive reserves of coal and gas. Now, as the rebel-turned-opposition movement Renamo threatens to challenge the governing Frelimo Party’s rule, will Mozambique’s investors get spooked? Here’s what could stop them wanting to spend any time — or money — in Mozambique.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Warning: These cigarettes may cause casual racism. South Korean tobacco giant KT&G has agreed to pull promotional materials for its ‘This Africa’ cigarettes after realizing that maybe — just maybe — pictures of monkeys dressed as humans wasn’t the best way to advertise the brand. You think?
While the rest of us may be palm-to-forehead right now, KT&G seems surprised to learn that some may have seen the campaign — which featured simian news reporters excitedly declaring “Africa is coming” — could be a source of offense. “The negative reactions were totally unexpected as nobody raised the racism issue during the design process,” said one particularly awareness-free company rep. “We absolutely had no intention to offend anyone and only chose monkeys because they are delightful animals that remind people of Africa.” Let us stop you there, really, just — stop. While you’re only a few miles and, oh, 60 odd years behind.
We are animals! Just say it! Where is our freedom? What do you want us to do to get the attention of the government?
CHISINAU, Moldova — Josan Casian had done it plenty of times before.
The 32-year-old gay IT professional would visit a dating website, find a suitable partner and agree on a meeting spot. There he’d feel out the situation: if he felt comfortable, he would stay.
So he saw no reason to worry during a seemingly ordinary meeting in June.
“The guy asked me if I was definitely gay,” said Casian, who asked to use a pseudonym because he’s not open about his sexuality. “When I said yes, he punched me in the face.”
Casian knew immediately what had happened. “This was a guy determined to beat up a gay person,” he said.
The attack didn’t take place in Russia, where a controversial ban on gay “propaganda” has encouraged a high-profile spate of anti-gay violence, but here in Moldova — billed as a “top reformer” in the European Integration Index.
Even as the country is poised to take its biggest step toward Europe so far by signing key agreements with the EU next month, such incidents — rights activists call them gay “hunting” — are a reminder that it’s still struggling to overcome widespread discrimination against minorities.
Moldova struggles to tackle discrimination
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
CHISINAU, Moldova — Their governments may be steaming ahead in negotiations with the European Union, but ordinary citizens here and in neighboring Ukraine are still attempting to come to terms with their seemingly inevitable drift toward Europe.
People in both former Soviet republics straddle the usual divides: liberal and conservative, urban and rural, rich and poor. But the one on everyone’s mind at the moment is the gulf between orientations to the proverbial East and West.
“Everyone wants it both ways: to travel to Europe and make money but also remain friendly with Russia,” says Sergiu Descan, a 44-year-old former police officer in Chisinau. “But we all know that’s impossible — you need to choose one way or the other, which is why we’re still swimming in place today.”
The governments in Chisinau and Kyiv have kicked their pro-European drive into top gear ahead of a November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where they hope to cement their countries’ paths toward Europe by signing landmark trade and association agreements with the EU.
Ukraine and Moldova: Caught between East and West
Photo by AFP/Getty Images
Most Germans have never tasted a steam lager, an India Pale Ale, an Irish stout, or any of the other non-German varieties that have swept the US market since the late 1980s.
NEED TO KNOW
Lampedusa has had enough tragedies. The death of more than 230 African migrants aboard a boat headed for Italy’s now infamous island has finally given Europe its “never again” moment. European Union ministers are due to meet in Luxembourg today to thrash out a plan of action on how to prevent more deaths like these — starting by sending EU search and rescue boats to patrol the entire Mediterranean on the lookout for migrant ships.
Such ships are, it’s no exaggeration to say, death traps. Divers scouring the wreck of the one that went down last week say they have “unpacked a wall of people,” finding corpses so tightly entwined that it was a struggle to pull them out. The alleged skipper is in custody, facing multiple counts of manslaughter. But it’s round the negotiating table in Luxembourg that the lessons from Lampedusa’s latest disasters most sorely need to be learned.
Riots in Rio. Thought things were all quiet in Brazil after the massive street protests that flared there in June and July? Think again. The Brazilian winter of discontent is showing signs of becoming a Brazilian Spring, and a violent one at that. More than 10,000 marched in Rio de Janiero and Sao Paolo last night in support of teachers who have been demanding better salaries for two months now. Things turned violent — apparently due to the arrival of hundreds of masked anarchists — and firebombs were thrown, buildings broken into, buses torched and banks ransacked. Riot police fired tear gas to bring the crowd under control.
What’s making Brazil seethe, still? That’s going to take a longer answer. In an in-depth series, GlobalPost will investigate how Brazil’s harsh household economics spurred a mass protest movement and still bubble under the surface of Latin America’s biggest nation. Let’s start with Brazilians’ mountain of consumer debt.
WANT TO KNOW
Go home, malaria, you’re preventable. The disease, killer of hundreds of thousands of people each year, should be on its way out: drug maker GlaxoSmithKline announced today that it’s seeking approval of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
The vaccine, known for now as RTS,S, has already been trialed on almost 15,500 children in seven countries across Africa — where it was found to have cut the number of malaria cases in young children in half compared to their unvaccinated peers. It’s not perfect yet, but GSK hopes to apply for a license for the vaccine in 2014, and have it recommended for use by the World Heath Organization from as soon as 2015.
Heads and hearts. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is due to undergo brain surgery today, days after doctors diagnosed her with hematoma — blood on the brain — and ordered her to take a month off work.
The procedure is as minor as any head surgery can be, but it comes at a fraught time in her second term: with her popularity at just 34 percent, Fernandez de Kirchner had been expected to campaign hard ahead of legislative elections on Oct. 27. And if her party loses control of Congress, as it now seems likely it will, the hopes she held of changing Argentina’s constitution to allow her to run for a third consecutive term will be dashed. Here’s why a medical mishap could change the course of a presidency, a government, and a country.
We saw that one coming. Even if it’s, er, invisible to the human eye. Scientists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert have won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on the theory of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle that’s the key to why the fundamental elements of our universe have mass.
We all remember the excitement that greeted the discovery that the particle did most likely exist via experiments with the Large Hadron Collider last year. So we’ll just leave you with this insight into the man for whom it’s named: the jury was an hour late making the announcement this morning, apparently because Professor Higgs has gone on vacation without a phone and couldn’t be reached. He’s as elusive as his boson.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
NEWS FLASH: Iranians wear jeans. Blue ones, black ones, white ones, even the stone-washed kind. In fact, we hear they even — whisper it — have skinnies over there.
This may sound like a bulletin from the department of the bleedin’ obvious to most, but to Benjamin Netanyahu, this is hot off the press. (Because he’s so out of touch he still remember the days when news came from presses, am I right?) The Israeli prime minister has made himself the internet’s latest object of scorn with his statement, in a recent interview, that: “I think if the Iranian people had freedom, they would wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections.” The problem is, er, they already do — at least, the jeans and Western music part, as hundreds of Iranian Twitter users have taken it upon themselves to demonstrate. None of which has done much to boost the credibility of a man who regularly claims to know more about Iran’s nuclear program than what’s contained in US or multinational intelligence.
Let Netanyahu’s denim debacle be a reminder to middle-aged world leaders (we’ll also extend this one to teachers, bosses, parents and general bystanders everywhere): if ever you catch yourself talking about “the young people,” their dress sense and, heavens save us, “the hip hop,” just — don’t.
BRUSSELS, Belgium — More than 15,000 people have died in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea since the late 1990s after fleeing poverty, war and oppression in Africa, Asia and the Middle East for a better life in Europe.
Now routine, the deaths rarely make international headlines.
Campaigners complain Europeans preoccupied with their economic crisis, and fearful of migrants competing for ever-scarcer job opportunities and social security handouts, have become indifferent, even hostile, to the migrants’ plight.
The scale of Thursday’s tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa could change that.
Pope Francis denounced as a “disgrace” the death of up to 300 Africans after their boat caught fire and sank. Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, who spoke of a “European tragedy,” has appealed for assistance. Newspaper headlines across the continent are demanding action.
"The tragedy of Lampedusa’s refugees shames Europe," said Spain’s El Pais. "Lampedusa: the guilt of Europe’s indifference," headlined the front page of Le Monde in France.
A European tragedy
Photo by AFP/Getty Images