Japan – A tiny island in the North Pacific yielded a major discovery last week: mud (about 16 million tons of it). More specifically, this mud was found to contain enormous amounts of rare earth minerals that are used in high-tech devices and could supply the world for centuries to come. Minamitorishima Island, also known as Marcus Island, is a Japanese atoll nearly 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo. Japan now enjoys complete economic control over the minerals, which have been estimated to be worth at nearly $500 billion. While the discovery has been heralded as a “game-changer,” mining the minerals from the seabed will be difficult and expensive. Nevertheless, researchers are eager to find a way, as such an accomplishment would make Japan competitive with China and its near-monopoly on rare earth minerals.
Armenia – “I was wrong.” Those were the words of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan as he resigned Monday in the wake of tenacious protests. With Mr. Sargsyan’s two-term limit expiring at the beginning of this month, he was ushered into the more powerful prime minister role by his Republican party without fair opposition. Many of the protestors were young Armenians tired of supercilious politicians and oligarchs, and referred to the president as a dictator. Those interviewed spoke of hope for democracy in their small, formerly Soviet nation. Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s opposition leader, demanded “snap extraordinary parliamentary elections” and was quick to call on his supporters for a “velvet revolution.” Much of the unrest was fueled by a new constitutional rule that married the powers of president and prime minister, creating a nearly omnipotent position. Karen Karapetian served as prime minister prior to Sargsyan’s brief tenure and has assumed the role again in the interim.
Colombia – Last week, the Ecuadorian government announced the kidnapping and killing of five of its citizens—including two journalists—at the hands of former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) members. The slayings took place near the Colombian border and signaled that the guerilla group’s dismantling—which was part of Colombia’s 2016 peace process—will perhaps be more complicated than anticipated. The splinter group responsible for the attacks consists of 70-80 former FARC members and is led by Ecuadorian native, Walter “Gaucho” Artízala. Law enforcement in both countries responded to the violence by making a collective 43 arrests of supposed gang members. The original FARC, having now transformed itself into a political party and renounced violence, rebuked the attacks.
Canada – Ten people were killed and 15 injured on Monday after a man drove a van into pedestrians in Toronto. A standoff ensued between police and the perpetrator, who was quickly detained without resorting to gunfire. While the suspect is known, his motive is not. A 25-year-old resident of a nearby suburb, the attacker had no criminal record or former interactions with police. Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale referred to the act as “horrendous,” but did not believe it was a matter of national security. The deliberate attack occurred around 1:30pm, in the midst of a busy lunch hour, as the van wove between street and sidewalk at around 60-70 kph, as estimated by one eye witness. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly offered his condolences to the victims and their families, calling the suspect’s actions “tragic and senseless.”