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The VICE News Guide to the World — Week of September 18

A new, drug-resistant form of mutant malaria is spreading through South East Asia.

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Cambodia — September 22,2017

The race against Cambodia’s “mutant malaria” is being lost, scientists warn

A new, drug-resistant form of mutant malaria is spreading through South East Asia. Now, scientists are warning the superbug needs to be “urgently” stopped before it reaches Africa’s shores, where it could unleash a wave of sickness and death of staggering proportions.


“We are losing a dangerous race,” said Professor Nicholas White of Oxford University. “We need to tackle this public health emergency urgently.”

White and his colleagues published a letter in the The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Wednesday warning that, “in a recent sinister development,” a single dominant mutant strain of malaria has arisen in western Cambodia, where it has “outcompeted the other resistant malaria parasites.”

The mutant malaria is resistant to drugs based on artemisinin, the disease’s main front-line treatment, and has already spread from western Cambodia to north-eastern Thailand, southern Laos and southern Vietnam.

In some parts of Cambodia, resistance rates have reached 60 percent, and treatment is failing about a third of the time in Vietnam, co-author professor Arjen Dondorp of the University of Oxford said.

While the mutant strain is worrisome, it’s still pretty far away from the place where 90 percent of the world’s 212 million annual malaria infections occur — Africa.

“If resistance moves beyond Asia and into Africa, much of the recent progress in reducing deaths from malaria will be reversed.”

What concerns health experts now is what would happen if that the dangerous mutant disease spreads to the place where it would do the most damage.

“You don’t want to be crying wolf, or saying it’s definitely about to go ballistic,” Rob Mather of the Against Malaria Foundation, which provides mosquito nets to developing countries, told VICE News.


But if drug-resistant malaria becomes truly widespread throughout Africa, “the numbers of people who could die, and fall sick, could become very, very, very bad compared with where they are now.”

The irony is that malaria, a disease carried by mosquitoes, has been in retreat in recent years.

In December 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than half the countries where malaria still occurs have reduced their cases by at least 75 percent since 2000. The overall number of malaria cases dropped by 40 percent while the death rate from malaria declined by 66 percent in the Africa in that time.

The mutant strain risks undoing those gains.

“If resistance moves beyond Asia and into Africa, much of the recent progress in reducing deaths from malaria will be reversed,” said Philippe Guérin, Director of the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network.

— Greg Walters 

Germany — September 22, 2017

The far right isn’t the real story of the German elections

There’s little doubt that Germany’s elections this Sunday will make history. The populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will be the first modern radical right party to enter the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament. But whether it becomes the third- or sixth-biggest party in Germany is of little political significance, as the AfD will be immediately excluded from the coalition-formation process.

The real story of the German elections is the seemingly effortless re-election of Angela Merkel, leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and German Chancellor since 2005. Merkel is by far the longest-serving political leader of a major democratic state, having already survived four leaders of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as well as two U.S. presidents, three French presidents, three British prime ministers, four Greek premiers, and five Italian ones. Moreover, she has been polling close to 40 percent, which means she is set for one of the best scores in her party’s history. Not bad for someone whom many political commentators predicted would not survive 2016.


—  Cas Mudde

Read more: The far right isn’t the real story of the German elections

Philippines — September 21, 2017

Duterte vows to kill his son if drug allegations are true

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was uncharacteristically quiet when his eldest son’s name was linked to a massive meth bust first uncovered in May. After all, he’d once pledged to kill his own children if they were ever caught in the drug world. Would he fulfill that campaign promise?

Duterte’s answer on Wednesday: Yes I will. The Filipino strongman said he was ready to order police to kill his eldest son Paolo, if rumors about Paolo’s involvement in drug trafficking proved true.

“I told Pulong, my order is to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who will kill you,” Duterte said Wednesday, referring to his 42-year-old son by his nickname, Pulong. “That’s better… so I can say to people: ‘There, you keep talking. That’s my son’s corpse’.”

The president’s pledge to kill his own son was made in the course of remarks at an awards ceremony for civil servants in the capital.

Duterte’s administration has already killed at least 7,000 people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, in a bloody war on drugs that Human Rights Watch says may amount to crimes against humanity. Although still broadly popular, Duterte has faced rising criticism as the death toll continues to rise, including public protests on Thursday against the brutality and anti-democratic tendencies of his regime.


Duterte’s bloody war on drugs took an ironic twist a few weeks ago, however, when it emerged that his own son may be linked to the drug game.

Paolo’s name was mentioned during testimony in the Philippine senate about a shipment of 605 kilograms of methamphetamine from China in May, worth $125 million, which had been apprehended entering the country.

Mark Taguba, one of the men who helped arrange that shipment, testified he’d been told to provide cash to intermediaries as bribe money to local officials to help ensure the safe arrival of the cargo through customs.

Taguba said he’d received text messages, which were read aloud in the senate, claiming that the money would ultimately go to Paolo, who serves as vice mayor of the city of Davao. The messages also suggested the involvement of the president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio, who is married to the Duterte’s daughter, Sara, the mayor of Davao.

Taguba said that the payments successfully helped the cargo containers avoid being flagged by customs for inspection. Taguba, a customs broker, later released a statement clarifying that he never met with Paolo or Manases, couldn’t testify they were really involved and that the evidence against them was “hearsay in nature.” He also apologized to the Duterte family.

But Taguba’s clarification didn’t put Paolo and Manases in the clear because Taguba didn’t recant receiving the text messages, opposition politician Antonio Trillanes said.


“The text messages he read aloud which named Paolo Duterte and Mans Carpio were never forced on him and neither were they fabricated,” Trillanes wrote on his Facebook page. “Therefore, Mr. Taguba’s clarification doesn’t change anything.”

Paolo and Carpio deny all wrong-doing.

— Greg Walters 

Myanmar — September 21, 2017

Myanmar’s bloody purge of Rohingya has created an Islamist insurgency

Sick, wounded, and traumatized, some 410,000 members of Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority have fled to Bangladesh in the past month, carrying horror stories of loved ones shot dead before their eyes, and whole villages burned to the ground.

The Rohingya have long suffered quietly at the hands of Myanmar’s government. But the recent emergence of a new jihadi-trained insurgent group has changed that. Last month, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a series of deadly attacks on Myanmar forces, inciting a vicious state-sponsored retaliatory campaign that shows no signs of slowing down.

Now experts fear ARSA, whose fighters are estimated to number in the hundreds, has piqued interest from international terror groups and given Myanmar’s forces an open invitation to unleash their full wrath on the Rohingya. The situation has already proven disastrous, ushering in atrocities that a senior U.N. official has described as “textbook ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya and creating a massive refugee crisis that could destabilize the region far beyond Myanmar’s borders.


— Tim Hume 

Read: Myanmar’s bloody purge of Rohingya has created an Islamist insurgency

Spain — September 21, 2017

Spain is cracking down on Catalan’s independence movement

Catalan leaders said Thursday that their plans for a controversial referendum on independence from Spain have been thrown into jeopardy by government raids in which campaign materials were seized.

The proposed October 1 vote on independence for Catalonia, called by the separatist parties who control the region’s devolved government, has triggered one of the country’s worst political crises in decades. Spain’s leaders have said they will not allow the vote, which the courts have ruled is illegal and unconstitutional, to go ahead; Catalan regional leaders insist that it will.

On Wednesday, Spanish authorities raided offices of the Catalan regional government and other premises in the region – arresting 14 top officials, including junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove, and seizing millions of ballot papers and other campaign materials – in a bid to stop the vote.

The swoop sparked massive demonstrations Wednesday, in which an estimated 40,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona – the Catalan capital – blocking the entrance to Catalonia’s economic ministry, one of the raided premises.

— Tim Hume

Read more: Spain is cracking down on Catalan’s independence movement

Russia — September 20, 2017

Nearly 1 in 5 Russians would vote for a fake candidate if Putin told them to

Donald Trump once boasted that he’s so beloved that his base would stick with him even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.


Thankfully he’s never tested this theory, though a polling company once looked into it and found that roughly a fifth of American voters would stand by him.

Turns out Russia’s Vladimir Putin inspires a similar degree of blind devotion among his supporters.

About one-fifth of Russians said they would vote for a candidate who doesn’t exist to become president of their country — so long as Vladimir Putin told them to do it.

According to a recent poll, 18 percent of Russians would support a fictional candidate named “Andrei Semyonov” after pollsters told them that the imaginary Mr. Semyonov had been endorsed by Putin the week before.

A handful, 3 percent, even said they’d already heard the news about Putin backing Semyonov, and they were behind him.

Russia’s next presidential election is slated for March 18, 2018, when Putin, who enjoys wide popularity according to numerous polls, is expected to win a fourth term. Putin himself has been coy about his exact plans, and has yet to confirm he will run.

The poll, released Wednesday by the independent Levada Center, found that if Putin runs he’d win the support 48 percent of voters. His closest real-life competitor was Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, with 2 percent.

The Levada Center is currently Russia’s only major independent polling agency, and has its own history of tense relations with the Kremlin. A year ago, it was branded a “foreign agent” by the Russian ministry of justice after publishing a poll that showed declining support for Putin’s United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections.


— Greg Walters 

Kenya — September 20, 2017

Kenyan Supreme Court says election may have been hacked

The U.S. isn’t the only nation currently mired in an election hacking scandal. On Wednesday the Kenyan Supreme Court accused the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of botching the August 8 vote, which was “neither transparent nor verifiable.”

The court annulled the election on Sept. 1, a decision they explained Wednesday, noting the IEBC failed to verify the results ahead of the announcement.

Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta won by a margin of 1.4 m votes – amid complaints from the opposition of vote rigging.

The court said the IEBC was unable to explain why results from 11,000 polling stations were not received at tallying stations, and therefore claims that system was hacked had to be accepted as a possibility, particularly as the commission did not make their computer servers available for scrutiny.

The court stopped short of accusing the IEBC of rigging the vote, but Kenyan chief justice David Maraga said it must “go back to the drawing board” when devising how it conducts future elections.

The court has ordered another election to take place on Oct. 17, but the company that provides Kenya’s voting system said the equipment would not be ready in time, putting the date in jeopardy. It’s unclear if the IEBC will conduct next month’s vote.

After the annulment, Kenyatta attacked the Supreme Court judges as “crooks” and threatened unspecified actions against them if he failed to win the re-run.


Supporters from both the ruling party and the opposition scuffled outside the court on Wednesday, according to witnesses.

Police deployed tear gas to defuse the situation, but not before protesters inadvertently disturbed a hive of bees, who launched their own protest.

– David Gilbert

Brazil — September 20, 2017

Outrage as Brazilian judge lifts ban on gay ‘cure’

A judge in Brazil sparked outrage last week after he lifted a national ban on gay “conversion therapy” — the pseudoscientific practise of treating homosexuality like an illness.

Rights groups slammed the ruling by Waldemar de Carvalho, a federal judge in the capital of Brasília, which overturns a 1999 decision forbidding psychologists to offer treatments claiming to cure gays.

Toni Reis, head of Brazil’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance, said he plans to appeal the ruling.

The decision was attacked on social media, with the hashtag #curagay trending nationally on Twitter. On Instagram, Ivete Sangalo, one of Brazil’s most popular singers, called the decision an “absurdity.”

The ruling followed a legal action from psychologist Rozangela Justino, a devout evangelical Christian who has called homosexuality a “disease” and claimed to be “directed by God.” Her license was revoked in 2016.

Advocates of “conversion therapy” offer treatments ranging from talk therapy to electric shocks, and often describe homosexuality as an addiction similar to drugs or alcohol.


The ruling has raised fears about the growing influence of religious and conservative groups in Brazil, with other progressive policies likely to be challenged.

Last week, a bank in Porto Alegre was forced to cancel an exhibition of gay art after protests from Christian groups.

David Miranda, one of the few openly gay politicians in Brazil, told the Guardian the decision is “a big regression to the progressive conquests that the LBGT community had in recent decades.”

He said: “Like various countries in the world, Brazil is suffering a conservative wave.”

– David Gilbert

Yemen — September 19, 2017

U.S. has conducted over 100 airstrikes in Yemen so far this year

The U.S. has conducted more than 100 strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen since January, a spokesman for the United States Central Command told VICE News Monday evening.

The figure given by the Pentagon just over a month ago was more than 80 strikes since Feb. 28, per spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

The strikes against the war-torn country — already in the grips of a brutal proxy war between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition — are part of an entirely different war: targeting AQAP, which has managed to exploit the civil violence to nurture its own expanding safe havens. U.S. strikes targeted not just AQAP senior leadership and militants but also “infrastructure, fighting positions, and equipment,” the CENTCOM spokesman told VICE News.


It’s part of a deepening set of overlapping American counterterrorism operations in Yemen, which are often covert and overarchingly obscured by a lack of official declaration of war — like many other conflicts around the world.

Independent monitors have attempted to document the broadening American footprint in Yemen, which appears to have soared since President Trump took office. Micah Zenko from the Council on Foreign Relations estimates the Trump administration is ordering strikes at roughly five times rate the Obama administration did.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that the U.S. has conducted a minimum of 80 additional attacks in 2017 in Yemen beyond airstrikes or drones, compared to a maximum of 12 in 2016.

In August, though not the first time, the U.S. acknowledged it officially had boots on the ground in Yemen, tasked with providing intelligence and assisting the UAE in their battle against AQAP and the Islamic State.

But the U.S. is mired in the Yemeni conflict in more ways than just its counterterrorism operations, supplying billions of dollars in weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, weapons that have gone onto to be a “leading cause” of civilian casualties in Yemen, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Airstrikes have hit hospitals and hindered delivery of supplies, spurring the spread of famine and cholera. For months now, organizations have called for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians by coalition airstrikes, renewing their call on Monday as the U.N. General Assembly gets underway in New York.


Alexa Liautaud

Iraq — September 19, 2017

Tensions over Kurdish independence vote turn deadly in Iraq

The Iraqi city of Kirkuk will be under a curfew Tuesday night after tensions surrounding a vote on Kurdish independence turned deadly.

Iraqi Kurds plan to hold the referendum on Sept. 25 in the three provinces of their semi-autonomous territory in the north, as well as in disputed areas under the control of the Kurdish military, such as Kirkuk. The plans have been met with widespread opposition – both internationally, from actors as diverse as the U.S., Iran, and Turkey, who fear the move will further destabilize the region; and at home.

In Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city home to Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, tensions boiled over Monday night when a Kurdish convoy celebrating the impending referendum drove past the office of a Turkmen political party, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the Guardian reported. Clashes broke out between members of the convoy and the guards at the office, leaving one Kurd dead, and three other people wounded.

After the violence, police set up checkpoints across the city, and imposed a night-time curfew Tuesday to prevent further clashes.

While Kirkuk is outside the official territory of the Kurdish Regional Government, it is earmarked by the Kurds for their proto-state and has been under the control of Kurdish peshmerga forces since 2014. Unnerved by the impending referendum, Iranian-backed Shia militias have threatened to rout the peshmerga from the city if they proceed with the vote.


The Kurds have never had their own country, and insist the time is right to press ahead with their push for statehood despite huge opposition. “There is no international support for the referendum, really, from anybody,” U.S. special presidential envoy Brett McGurk said last week. Despite being a key ally of Iraq’s Kurds, the U.S. opposes the referendum, fearing it could undermine recent gains against Islamic State.

– Tim Hume

Iraq — September 18, 2017

Iraqi Kurds aren’t backing down on their independence vote

Tanks on the Turkish-Iraqi border, formal demands from Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court, and a plea from the U.N. secretary-general all share one common goal: to pressure Iraq’s Kurdistan region into abandoning its bid for independence.

But Iraqi Kurds show no signs of backing down, and the controversial independence referendum remains set for Sept. 25.

Iraq’s Supreme Court ordered a suspension of the vote Monday, saying it had “issued a national order to suspend the referendum procedures … until the resolution of the cases regarding the constitutionality of said decision.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had earlier warned that the Iraqi government would “intervene militarily” if the vote became violent.

Turkey, which has its own set of issues concerning Kurdish separatism, expressed its displeasure Monday by engaging in military drills that featured dozens of tanks near the border of the northern Kurdish region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the vote could incite Turkey’s Kurdish factions.


Even the U.S., which has relied on Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS, offered nothing but condemnation for the vote. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the U.S.’ position, telling reporters Friday that now is not the right time for a statehood vote as it would distract from efforts to halt the Islamic State group.

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” Sanders said. “The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.”

Nevertheless, the vote is still scheduled for Sept. 25. The head of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Region, Falah Mustafa, is in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly.

On Monday, Mustafa tweeted a photo of himself with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, saying they had an “open discussion on #KRG-#Turkey relations & latest on Referendum.”

— Alexa Liautaud

France — September 18, 2017

Acid attack on American students in France wasn’t terrorism, cops say

An acid attack on four American college students at a French train station Sunday is not being treated by police as a terrorist incident. The suspected attacker, a 41-year-old woman arrested at the scene, was described by authorities as mentally unstable.

The juniors at Boston College, all studying in Europe, were attacked around 11 a.m. at Marseille-Saint Charles train station in the southern French city, local police said.

The victims were taken to hospital and treated for burns. While the students have since been released, some may require ongoing treatment, according to a statement from the college.

“It appears that the students are fine, considering the circumstances, though they may require additional treatment for burns,” said Nick Gozik, director of the college’s office of international programs.

— Tim Hume

Read earlier updates from the VICE News Guide to the World: Week of September 11 and September 4