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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 Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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