The Latest: Hacking Macron, Endangered Olympics, UK’s “Pingdemic”

A man wades with his motorbike through Zhengzhou, central China, where thousands were evacuated and a dozens killed following record rains
A man wades with his motorbike through Zhengzhou, central China, where thousands were evacuated and a dozens killed following record rains

Welcome to Wednesday, where heads of state find out they were Pegasus spyware targets, floods in central China kill trapped subway riders and not everyone is happy to see Jeff Bezos safely back from space. Just two days before the opening ceremony of Tokyo Games are set to begin, Olympics chief, Toshiro Muto, won't rule out an 11th-hour cancellation. Still, most expect the Games to go on, and Le Monde explains what's at stake for Japan.

• Macron, other heads of state targeted by Pegasus spyware: French newspaper Le Monde revealed that President Emmanuel Macron and several members of his government were among the thousands of phone numbers targeted for hacking via the Israeli spyware, Pegasus. Other high profile names on the list of leaked phone numbers include King Mohammed VI of Morocco and the prime ministers of Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco.

• Olympics chief won't rule out cancelling Games: As more athletes continue to test positive for the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief, Toshiro Muto, says that should cases spike, he will not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Games.

• COVID update: As cases continue to rise in Australia, another state, South Australia, has entered lockdown, leaving about half of the overall Australian population under lockdown once again. In France, the country's new "health pass' has officially gone into effect, requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter cultural venues, such as cinemas and museums. Meanwhile, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned the world may be in the early stages of another wave.

• 100 kidnapped Nigerian mothers and children rescued: Nigerian authorities were able to secure the release of 100 women and children who were abducted on June 8 in the Zamfara state. This group is among 1,000 people who have been kidnapped in Nigeria since December 2020.

• China floods kill subway riders: Severe flooding in the central Chinese province, Henan, has left at least 16 people dead, at least 12 of whom were trapped in a flooded subway line, and forced thousands to be evacuated. The heavy rainfall has "shattered records," dumping what the region would normally receive in one year over the last three days, and follows deadly floods in Western Europe and India.

• Hungary to hold referendum on anti-LGBT law: In a live Facebook video, Hungarian President Viktor Orban announced the government would hold a referendum on its controversial anti-LGBT law, which has been widely criticized across the European Union.

• Thousands sign petition to keep Bezos in space: Over 180,000 people have signed the petition "Do not allow Jeff Bezos to return to Earth." Should the petition reach 200,000, it will become one of the "top signed" on the website.

French daily Le Monde dedicates its front page to the revelations that the cell phones of French President Emmanuel Macron and 15 members of the government were targeted by the spyware Pegasus, owned by Israel-based NSO Group. The client who asked for this potential surveillance is an unidentified Moroccan security service.


An estimated 500,000 people in the UK were "pinged" by the country's official COVID-19 contact tracing app in the first week of July — up 46% on the previous week. Driven by a combination of rising infections and increased movement of people, the so-called "pingdemic" is causing disruption in many businesses and industries.

Tokyo Olympics, countdown to the impossible games

There will be a notable "before" and "after" for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The international competition, which was postponed a full-year due to the pandemic, will begin Friday. Though every day a new bit of bad COVID-related (and other) news arrives, the competition must go on, write Philippe Mesmer and Philippe Pon in French daily Le Monde.

As a result of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases (particularly due to the Delta variant), the Olympics will be held under a state of emergency, with no spectators allowed at most stadiums and competitions. The event, which is meant to be a place for intercultural exchange, will be deprived of the festive character it is meant to symbolize. The icing on the cake is that Japanese fans, who went to great lengths in order to secure tickets to volunteer at or attend the competition will be unable to do so.

The cost of cancellation was evaluated in May by the Nomura Research Institute, and it was found to be 1,810 billion yen, or 14 billion euros. The cost, which would weigh on the stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the IOC, the city of Tokyo and Japan), is far greater than simply moving forward with the Games. Japan has therefore preferred to maintain the Games, even if the arrival of nearly 80,000 athletes, staff and foreign journalists could lead to a new wave of COVID contamination.

Ultimately, canceling the Games would have required a political will that Prime Minister Suga does not have. Not to mention, his G7 partners have hardly encouraged him to do so: Many of them are in fact allowing almost full stadiums and have relaxed sanitation measures despite new increases in cases of COVID-19. All of them have encouraged Suga to maintain the Games, even if it means having to bear the brunt of a wave of coronavirus, which would complicate Japan's record of "only" 821,000 cases and 15,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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A new single day record of 430 migrants attempted to cross the English Channel on Monday. The number of illegal crossings continues to rise, despite French and British authorities working to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous journey.

This is a provocation.

— Pierre Espérance of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network said, criticizing the fact that the recently assassinated former president's ruling party will maintain control of the new government. Espérance argued that the corruption and instability under Jovenel Moïse's regime was to blame for his murder, and feared they would continue into the next administration.

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Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung


BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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