The VICE News Guide to the World — Week of September 4

This year’s outbreak was more deadly than almost every previous outbreak combined.
September 8, 2017, 3:12pm

Donald Trump may be a world of chaos all by himself, but the world beyond Trump is changing in dramatic ways, often with little notice. We’d like to tell you about it and we’re keeping track of these global changes, from the incremental to the monumental, so that you don’t have to.

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China — September 08, 2017

This year’s bird flu outbreak killed a record 281 people in China

This year China endured the biggest outbreak of bird flu ever recorded, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

This flu strain — a virus technically named H7N9 — has flared up in China every year since March 2013, when it first broke out in the country. Yet this year’s outbreak was more deadly than almost every previous outbreak combined: Between October 7, 2016, and August 7, 2017, 759 people were infected. Only about 1,550 cases of H7N9 have ever been reported, so this year alone accounts for half of all cases.

The flu carried a high mortality rate, killing 281 people in this period, nearly 40 percent of those infected.

People who contract the virus tend to develop severe pneumonia and need medical attention to recover, according to the World Health Organization. (The virus is typically spread through handling poultry, not person-to-person contact.)

Most of these cases were detected in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macao, while a few included people who’d traveled from China. But the range of the flu also spread. In total, only 21 Chinese regions saw cases during the first four epidemics. This year, 30 regions reported H7N9 cases.

The H7 virus didn’t become a major public health issue until 2013’s outbreak; only one person is believed to have died from it between 1996 and 2012. The H7N9 strain is considered by the CDC to be “the influenza virus with the highest potential pandemic risk.”

_— Carter Sherman _

Israel — September 08, 2017

Netanyahu’s wife faces fraud charge over $102,000 catering bill

She’s been called “Israel’s Marie Antoinette” in the press, publicly accused of drinking three bottles of champagne a day, andordered to pay tens of thousands to a former employee for emotional and verbal abuse.

Now, Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israel’s prime minister, may finally face the wrath of state prosecutors over accusations she illicitly spent six figures of public funds on fancy catering.

On Friday Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit notified Sara that she’s likely to be indicted for fraudulently receiving items worth 359,000 shekels ($102,000) in the form of externally prepared food and private chef costs at the prime minister’s official residence from 2010-2013.

Sara and an aide allegedly created the false impression that there were no cooks employed at the residence, when in fact there were, according to the Israeli Justice Ministry.

“In this way, hundreds of meals from restaurants and chefs were fraudulently received in the order of 359,000 shekels,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “Because of that, the attorney general is considering to indict Mrs. Netanyahu in offenses of fraudulently receiving property under grave circumstances, fraud and breach of trust.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the allegations against his wife in a post on Facebook late Thursday, saying the claims are “absurd and will be proven to be unfounded.”

But the case pending against Sara is just one element of the swirling cloud of investigations and scandal building around Netanyahu, who has served as the country’s prime minister for four terms over 11 years. A widening probe into bribery in the multimillion-dollar German submarine deal has already ensnared Netanyahu’s former senior aides, and officials are investigating allegations he attempted to secure positive newspaper coverage by offering to curtail the circulation of the paper’s rival.

The prime minister has denied all wrongdoing.

Mandelblit said Sara will have a chance to defend herself at a preliminary hearing before charges are actually filed.

_— Greg Walters _

Philippines — September 07, 2017

Duterte’s son allegedly linked to $125 million crystal meth bust

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte once vowed he’d kill his own children if he discovered they were involved in the drug trade. His son might’ve called his bluff.

Duterte’s oldest son, Paolo, saw his name thrown into the middle of an investigation surrounding the shipment of $125 million worth of crystal meth. And though he has not been directly implicated, the investigation has thrown yet another grenade into Duterte’s vicious drug war at a time when it’s facing intense criticism from the public.

The Duterte son, who is vice mayor of Davao city, told a Senate committee Thursday that claims he assisted in the shipment of 605 kilograms of drugs from China in May were “baseless.” He said he and his brother-in-law Manases Carpio, who also faces allegations of involvement, have been “publicly crucified.”

The investigation into the shipment began in July, roping in Duterte and Carpio after a trader, himself accused of illegal drug imports, mentioned their names in connection with the shipment. The trader, Mark Taguba, has since retracted his original statement.

Taguba’s second thoughts have done little to stop the opposition from piling on in Duterte’s latest controversy. But so far, the Philippines’ president, never shy with his words, has kept mum on the case.

“Both gentlemen are willing and ready to face malicious allegations intended to impugn their character and credibility,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement Thursday. “The president has said on numerous occasions that he would not interfere.”

Duterte has long drawn international criticism for his brutal drug war, but he’s finally starting to feel the heat at home. Public outrage peaked in August, following the deadliest night in the drug war’s history when over 30 Filipinos were killed by police in 24 hours. Later that month 17-year-old Filipino Kian delos Santos was shot and killed by police in a case that recently uncovered evidence suggests was a result of police misconduct. An official investigation has caught Duterte’s police force off guard, revealing competing testimonies and shifting accounts.

Duterte’s war on drugs has left roughly 7,000 dead, according to Human Rights Watch, though government and police estimates are much lower.

— Alexa Liautaud

India — September 07, 2017

India’s biometric database is a dystopian nightmare

Seven years ago nearly 400 million people in India did not exist in the eyes of the government. They were “ghosts” who had no identity and no way of getting one, says Sahil Kini, one of the architects of India’s controversial Aadhaar database. In a country trying to modernize on the fly and take its place among the world’s superpowers, this massive yet unknown population presented a huge problem.

So the Indian government set out on an ambitious course to build Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric database, which would not only allow these people to participate more fully in society but also become a shining beacon of technological achievement for the rest of the world.

“What’s forgotten is that before Aadhaar was built there were 400 million people in India that did not have any form of identity; they were ghosts in the system,” Kini told VICE News. “So if you had to give them any kind of subsidy, you couldn’t, because they didn’t exist on paper.”

But as the database grew to include almost all of India’s 1.3 billion citizens, cracks began to appear, and in recent months those cracks have become chasms. Now more and more Indians say they worry that what the government actually created in Aadhaar is an all-seeing surveillance apparatus that has serious holes in its security and can be used to monitor all aspects of their lives.

— David Gilbert

Read More: India’s biometric database is a dystopian nightmare

Egypt — September 06, 2017

Egypt’s police are running a “torture assembly line” — report

When Egyptians blockaded the streets of Cairo to demand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down in 2011, one of their key objectives was to bring an end to the country’s long history of rampant police brutality.

Now, six years after the revolution, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has “reconstituted and expanded the repressive instruments” of Mubarak’s regime into a systematic “torture assembly line” perpetuated by police and prosecutors, Human Rights Watch said in a graphic and disturbing report released Wednesday.

Political dissidents are routinely forced to make confessions following arbitrary arrest, torture, sexual assault and threats against family members, the rights group said in the 63-page report.

The abuse begins with a pre-dawn arrest at home, or during a target’s daily commute. Victims are then stripped naked, blindfolded, handcuffed and shocked with a handheld electric stun gun in sensitive places like the ears or the head. Detainees are then frequently hung in excruciating stress positions that dislocate their joints while being beaten, then forced to make taped confessions that may be shared on social media by the Interior Ministry, according to the report.

Prosecutors abet the mistreatment by ignoring complaints or even joining in the torture directly. No court in modern Egyptian history has ever issued a final guilty verdict against a national security officer for committing abuse, according to the report.

“President Sisi has effectively given police and National Security officers a green light to use torture whenever they please,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “Impunity for the systematic use of torture has left citizens with no hope for justice.”

Many of the victims are alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Sisi’s primary political opposition.

—Greg Walters

Russia — September 06, 2017

The majority of young men who die in Russia’s Far East are drunk

Seventy percent of men under 35 who die in Russia’s Far East have an “elevated concentration of alcohol” in their blood at the time of death, Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said Wednesday.

“Chronic alcoholism is effectively twice as common among the population of the Far East as it is in the rest of Russia,” Skvortsova said on state television, referring to the country’s sprawling, underdeveloped Pacific area, which is almost as large as the continental United States and has a population smaller than Massachusetts.

Russia overall has the fourth-highest rate of alcohol consumption per capita in the world after three other countries — Belarus, Moldova and Lithuania — that are all former members of the Soviet Union, according to the World Health Organization.

Alcohol consumption is involved in 30 percent of premature deaths for Russian men and 15 percent for Russian women, Russia’s consumer rights watchdog agency found last year.

Russians also occasionally consume cheaper alternative that contain alcohol but aren’t meant to be sold as beverages. The trend sparked a national crisis in December 2016 when 74 people died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk after drinking hawthorn-scented bath lotion that had been mislabeled as containing drinkable ethanol. The ingredient was actually methanol, a highly toxic substance often used as antifreeze. Victims included doctors, nurses and teachers.

_— Greg Walters _

Afghanistan — September 06, 2017

U.S. drops thousands of “highly offensive” leaflets on Afghanistan

U.S. forces apologized Tuesday for “highly offensive” leaflets that were recently dropped in the eastern Afghan province of Parwan, ones that contained an image religiously insensitive to “both Muslims and the religion of Islam.”

The image depicted a lion chasing a dog — an animal considered unclean in Islam — with the Taliban flag imprinted on it. The leaflet also urged Afghan civilians to cooperate with coalition forces and turn over insurgents.

The provincial governor of Parwan, Mohammed Hasem, called it an “unforgivable mistake” and told Reuters that those in the coalition forces who dropped the leaflets would be “tried and punished.” Shah Wali Shahid, the deputy governor of Parwan province, told the Associated Press that protests could be expected because of the incident.

Maj. Gen. James Linder, the commanding general of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, issued a statement apologizing for the leaflet, though he did not comment further on the contents. Linder added that he would order an investigation into the incident.

— Alexa Liautaud

Myanmar — September 06, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi blames “terrorists” and fake news for Rohingya crisis

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on the violence against the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority Tuesday. But it wasn’t the response the world was waiting for.

Rather than condemning the brutal military campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which has led to reports of mass killings and sent nearly 150,000 of Rohingya fleeing across the border to Bangladesh in the past two weeks alone, Suu Kyi blamed “terrorists” for disseminating “a huge iceberg of misinformation.”

According to an account of her phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, given on her office’s official Facebook page, Suu Kyi said her government had “already started defending all the people in Rakhine in the best way possible.”

She also said that misinformation was being disseminated that was “calculated to create a lot of problems between different countries… with the aim of promoting the interests of the terrorists.” She was likely referencing images of killings that Turkey’s deputy prime minister had circulated on Twitter, but later deleted because they were from another conflict.

But the latest wave of military violence against the Muslim minority can’t simply be chalked up to fake news. Myanmar’s military response to deadly attacks on security forces by a Rohingya insurgent group on August 25 is well-documented and has drawn widespread international condemnation.

_— Tim Hume _

Read More: Aung San Suu Kyi blames “terrorists” and fake news for Rohingya crisis

Yemen — September 06, 2017

1,184

That’s how many children have been killed in Yemen’s grinding civil war, the majority of them by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition, according to a new United Nations report out Tuesday.

The report, commissioned by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, found at least 5,144 civilians had been killed since it began documenting casualties in March 2015. Figures show that nearly two-thirds – 63 percent – were apparently killed by the Saudi-led coalition, which is supported with weapons from the U.S. and the U.K.

The U.N. found that the coalition’s opponents in the conflict, Iranian-backed Houthi army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, were responsible for most of the recruitment of child soldiers in the conflict. The report found that at least 1,702 children, some as young as 10, had been recruited for use in hostilities, with two-thirds recruited by the Houthis and their allies. Monitors “frequently” observed armed, uniformed children at checkpoints, according to the report.

Describing the conflict and the associated humanitarian crisis as an “entirely man-made catastrophe,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international investigation to be established on the conflict, saying it “would go a long way in putting on notice the parties to the conflict that the international community is watching.”

“The reticence of the international community in demanding justice for the victims of the conflict in Yemen is shameful, and in many ways contributing to the continuing horror,”Al Hussein said.

The Saudi intervention in the country was launched in March 2015 after Houthi rebels seized parts of the country including the capital, Sana’a, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power. The situation in the country has since deteriorated into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with nearly 7 million people at risk of famine and an historic cholera epidemic that has infected more than half a million.

– Tim Hume

The United Kingdom — September 05, 2017

Four British soldiers arrested for suspected Nazi ties

Four British soldiers were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of belonging to a banned neo-Nazi group, police and military officials said.

The four men, aged 22, 24, 24, and 32, were arrested under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of being members of National Action, a white supremacist group banned in December. Being a member of, or encouraging support for, a proscribed terror organization carries a sentence of up to 10 years in jail in the U.K.

National Action is described on the British government’s list of 71 proscribed terror groups as “virulently racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic.”

“Its ideology promotes the idea that Britain will inevitably see a violent ‘race war,’ which the group claims it will be an active part of,” according to the government. “The group rejects democracy, is hostile to the British state, and seeks to divide society by implicitly endorsing violence against ethnic minorities and perceived ‘race traitors’.”

The group aimed to recruit young peopleand was known for its intimidating marches and provocative social media presence. When Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist ahead of the 2015 independence referendum, National Action celebrated with anonline post saying “Only 649 MPs to go,” with a picture of the killer captioned “Don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain.”

One of the group’s co-founders, Ben Raymond, told an interviewer that Adolf Hitler was “absolutely” a role model, and last year pictures circulated of masked National Action members displaying the group’s flag and giving the Hitler salute at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Since National Action was added to the government’s list of proscribed terror groups in December –becoming the first far-right organization to be banned in the UK since the Second World War – the group has continued to operate underground, according to anti-racism group Hope not Hate. It estimates the group has about 80 members, and continued its activities  – including recruiting, and combat training in preparation for an imminent “race war” – from a warehouse in an industrial area of Warrington in England’s northwest.

In addition to the heightened threat of Islamist-inspired terror in the wake of a string of recent jihadi attacks, right-wing extremism has been a growing concern in Britain. Besides the assassination of Cox by a man whose home was reportedly full of far-right books and Nazi memorabilia, London experienced a far-right terror attack in June when worshippers outside a mosque were mown down by a man who allegedly yelled “I’m going to kill all Muslims.”

Referrals of far-right extremists to the British government’s Channel anti-terror program have increased by 30 percent over the past year, and now account for a third of the program, according to reports.

The raids come just months after two far-right extremists in the German army were arrested for an alleged plot to carry out a terror attack and frame a fictitious Syrian refugee for the crime.

– Tim Hume

_Read earlier updates: Week of August 01, week of August 07, week of August 14, week of August 21, and week of August 28. _