But aside from the coronavirus: Three big stories beyond Covid-19

But aside from the coronavirus: Three big stories beyond Covid-19

The public health, economic, and political impacts of the rapidly expanding Covid-19 pandemic are soaking up most of the world's attention, and for good reason. But here are a few stories that you might have missed while you were washing your hands, watching the stock market, or nervously checking the latest CDC and WHO guidelines.

Lebanon had a major debt crisis: For the first time in its history, Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt payments when it failed to meet a March 9 deadline to make a Eurobond repayment of $1.2 billion. While defaulting could placate dissatisfied Lebanese protesters who have flocked to the streets for months, imploring the government to prioritize domestic affairs, this move will do little to ease the fiscal woes of one of the most indebted countries in the world. Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab – who took office after protests forced the former PM to resign – said he will negotiate with other creditors to restructure his country's remaining foreign currency debt, which totals a whopping $31 billion (its debt-to-GDP ratio has peaked above 150 percent). As its currency continues to plummet and unemployment surges, the main question is what options do the debt-strained country have now? Beirut has engaged in preliminary bailout talks with the IMF, but a deal could take months and Lebanon needs cash – fast – to avoid more public upheaval.


Myanmar's lawmakers refused to clip the army's wings: A decade into its fraught transition to democracy, Myanmar's parliament has blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the role of the military in politics. In 2010, military rule in Myanmar was replaced by a military-backed civilian government. But the country's constitution – drafted by the military junta in 2008 – continued to guarantee members of the military a quarter of seats in parliament. Now, lawmakers have blocked a bid from the political party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (the controversial leader who spearheaded Myanmar's pivot to partial-democracy) to reduce the number of military MPs over a 15-year period. Suu Kyi is feeling the heat when it comes to showing progress on constitutional reform after her country recently faced accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice. The court claims that the military establishment (the same one that vetoed the proposed constitutional amendment) was responsible for a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017 in northern Myanmar. Voting on other proposed constitutional amendments – including measures to override the head of the military's right to yield complete power during a state of emergency – will continue through March 20, although given the military's voting power, these are unlikely to pass.

South Africa's president beat a corruption rap: South Africa's High Court dismissed corruption charges this week against President Cyril Ramaphosa, a major boost for the beleaguered leader of the continent's largest economy. Ramaphosa had been accused of lying to parliament about the source of a $32,500 campaign donation, which allegedly came from a shady logistics company mired in corruption scandals. But in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the donations to Ramaphosa's campaign were of a "private" nature, and therefore, outside the purview of the court. The case was seen by many as a manifestation of the intense political rivalry inside Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress party, which has undermined his attempts at much-needed economic reform as the country deals with sky-high youth unemployment and weak business sentiment, exacerbated by the worst drought in living memory. When Ramaphosa replaced disgraced former president Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC in 2017, he pledged to bring "ethics into politics" and to revive the flailing economy. Now that this case is over can he consolidate control of a divided party and tackle his country's problems more effectively?

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.

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120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.

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During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.

What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?

Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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