Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Lebanese protests return, Japanese gangs help out, Ramaphosa capitalizes on crisis

A boost for Ramaphosa: Since President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power in South Africa in 2018, factional rivalries inside his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), have undermined the president's attempt to pass much-needed economic reforms. But the unprecedented coronavirus crisis seems to have provided him an opportunity to do just that. Ramaphosa has directed 10 percent of total GDP to a COVID stimulus and rescue package, the largest in South Africa's history, giving him political room to face down powerful unions and freeze public sector wages. And he has approached the World Bank and IMF for crucial financial support. ANC members aligned with former president Jacob Zuma have long rejected any deals with the IMF, in part over fears that the Fund's scrutiny would reveal their party's well-documented corruption. But as further coronavirus-related economic hardship stalks the 50% of South Africa's population who already live in poverty, Ramaphosa's political opponents have stayed largely mum on his plan to increase borrowing from international lenders to weather the crisis. Still, it remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will seize upon the crisis to try for an even bigger prize: reforming South Africa's bloated and failing state companies.


Help from Japanese gangland: Japan's famed yakuza organized crime groups are reportedly using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to boost their image at a time when the public is frustrated with the government's bumbling response. The heavily-tatted mobsters of the yakuza, who specialize in black market trading, extortion, and racketeering, have been using their networks to source and distribute scarce medical supplies to pharmacies and schools, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They've also offered their henchmen to assist with disinfection of quarantined cruise ships, in an echo of their (illegal) efforts to help clean up the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But not all of Japan's underworld is as magnanimous: newer less-centralized crime groups known as "hangure" are using the pandemic to launch price gouging schemes and other scams. Another example of the ways in which government shortcomings in a crisis open the way for all kinds of shadier players.

Lebanese protests resume: Lebanon has done a decent job handling the coronavirus – even if sketchy numbers from the Hezbollah-controlled Ministry of Public Health raise doubts about the official toll of just 22 deaths. But the country's beleaguered economy is faring far less well. Lebanon's government moved swiftly to close schools and non-essential businesses, and enforce strict lockdowns, but those measures have only compounded high youth unemployment rates and hurt an economy that was already crumbling. Even before the outbreak, the World Bank predicted that some 40 percent of Lebanese would be impoverished by the end of 2020. As a result, protesters in Beirut and Tripoli remember them? – have recently returned to the streets to call for "revolution," demanding an end to corruption. As Lebanon has now extended its lockdown until the end of April, these economic woes will only get worse.

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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