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Hard Numbers: Refugees flee Tigray, Palau to vaccinate everyone, El Salvador’s former commander-in-thief, US bans Chinese apps

Ethiopians fleeing from Tigray cross into Sudan. Reuters

2.2 million: Around 2.2 million people have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region since the fighting began two months ago, more than double the previous estimate, according to the local government. Addis Ababa claimed the new figure is exaggerated, but admitted the number of refugees is probably higher than the current official tally of 100,000.


18,000: The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau — which has not officially registered a single case of coronavirus — aims to become the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire population (roughly 18,000 people) thanks to Operation Warp Speed. Palau is independent but has a "free association" agreement with the US, which allowed it to benefit from the US government program to roll out COVID-19 vaccines.

4.4 million: A court in El Salvador has ordered former President Tony Saca to repay $4.4 million that he stole from the government when he was head of state. Still, that's a drop in the bucket for Saca, who is already serving a 10-year jail term for corruption and is on the hook for almost $300 million he pilfered from the coffers of one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

8: The Trump administration has banned 8 Chinese digital payment apps — including those owned by Ant Group and Tencent, two of China's largest companies — from doing financial transactions in the US. The move could be highly disruptive to businesses in both countries, but it's unclear whether the ban will actually be implemented because the incoming Biden administration may rescind the order before it's due to take effect.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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