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What We're Watching: Sectarian clashes in Lebanon, Japan gets ready to vote

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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What We’re Watching: Europe's trucker shortage, Mapuche emergency in Chile, Japan’s military plans

Truck driver shortage across Europe: No, the UK is not the only European country with an acute shortage of drivers to move goods around. Indeed, the entire continent is now desperately in need of more truckers, mainly as a result of soaring demand coupled with less people willing to do a job for low pay and poor working conditions. The situation in mainland Europe is not as bad (yet) as in the UK, where Brexit has aggravated the problem: the army has been deployed to refill gas stations amid backed-up ports and empty supermarket shelves because EU drivers now need visas. Still, the shortage is creating a massive headache for European companies already struggling to keep up with so much pent-up demand. What's more, a new EU-wide law will soon require truckers to be paid the minimum wage in each EU member state they transit through. This is all precisely what the IMF has been talking about this week, when it warned that supply chain disruptions are slowing down the global post-pandemic recovery and driving up inflation.

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What We’re Watching: Kim goes hypersonic, confident Europeans, Japan’s new safe hands

Kim Jong Un breaks the sound barrier: North Korea has announced the successful test of a "strategic weapon" that travels five times faster than the speed of sound. The Hwasong-8 missile, which is believed to be nuclear-capable, is a hypersonic weapon which is much harder for missile defense systems to track than conventional ballistic missiles. The US, China, Russia, and India are the only other countries known to be working with this highly sophisticated technology. And although experts aren't quite sure how developed the Hwasong-8 actually is, this is the third missile test that North Korea has conducted in the last month, suggesting that Pyongyang is getting plucky again as nuclear negotiations with the US remain in a deep freeze.

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What We're Watching: France's post-AUKUS win, Haiti's election cancelled, Japan ends COVID emergency

France gets a post-AUKUS win: Greece and France have inked a $5 billion deal for Athens to buy at least four French-made warships. French and American contractors had been in a bidding war since 2019, when Greece announced it was looking to buy half a dozen naval attack vessels. For French President Emmanuel Macron, it was a much-needed win after the recent AUKUS debacle, when the US froze Paris out of a security pact with Australia and the UK, nixing a contract for Australia to buy French submarines. At the signing ceremony in Paris, Macron and Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis touted the deal as a move towards European "strategic autonomy" (since coming to power in 2017, Macron has been a strong advocate of Europe pursuing a defense strategy independent from the US). Greece, for its part, has also been looking to boost its own military capabilities amid deteriorating relations with longtime foe Turkey over competing maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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What We’re Watching: Japan's ruling party leadership battle

At least three members of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party — which has governed the country almost continuously since 1955 — will face off against embattled Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in a leadership vote scheduled for September 29. Since taking office a year ago after the health-related retirement of his old boss Shinzo Abe, Suga's approval rating has plunged due to his haphazard pandemic response, a series of LDP political scandals, and his unpopular decision to host the Tokyo Olympics amid COVID. Now, the PM will face tough challenges from Fumio Kishida, a party heavyweight who lost the LDP presidency to Suga last year; former LDP policy chief Hakuban Shimomura; and Sanae Takaichi, a hawkish former interior minister who wants to become the first woman PM of Japan, a country that has a dismal record of women's participation in politics. Suga has one thing going for him, though: he reportedly still has the support of Abe, who carries enormous sway within the party.

What We're Watching: Suga's post-Olympics approval, Taliban take capitals, Mozambique and Rwanda vs jihadists, US offers Brazil NATO partnership

Suga's collapsing popularity: For the past 18 months, debate within Japan and around the world has raged over whether Japan could and should stage the Olympic Games amid a pandemic. For better and for worse, the Games were held and are now closed. So, what's the political fallout for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has governed in a state of near-constant crisis, and for his government? The good news for them is that a new poll from Asahi Shimbun, released last weekend, found that 56 percent said it was a good idea to hold the Games, and just 32 percent said it was a mistake. The bad news is that approval for Suga's government has fallen to just 28 percent, the lowest of his time in office. A slow vaccination rollout continues to cost him.This fall, Suga's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will decide when to hold both its party leadership race and the next national general election. The LDP will likely remain in power, but Suga's future is now very much in doubt.

Taliban take key capitals: As the US continues to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban are overrunning ever-wider swaths of territory, including urban areas that they haven't controlled in decades. Over this past weekend alone, the jihadist insurgents swept through no fewer than six provincial capitals, including the strategically important northern city of Kunduz. The US has mounted fresh airstrikes — including with a few old B-52s — to help the beleaguered Afghan security forces hold the line, but with that support reportedly scheduled to stop at the end of August, the writing is on the wall: the Taliban are on their way back to controlling Afghanistan. As we recently wrote, Afghanistan's neighbors are bracing for a growing rush of refugees fleeing the war-ravaged country, and the EU, just a few years removed from the last refugee crisis, is watching warily as well.

Mozambique and Rwanda retake jihadist hotspot: Mozambican and Rwandan troops this week gained control of the gas-rich port city of Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. For more than three years, Islamist fighters loosely aligned with the Islamic State, have waged a brutal insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado province. Mocimboa da Praia, the site of one of Africa's biggest liquefied natural gas projects, has become a jihadist hub in recent years. Fighting has killed more than 3,100 Mozambicans and displaced 800,000 more. Last month, Rwanda sent 1,000 troops to support Mozambique's army, and the military alliance — which also includes support from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Botswana — managed to retake control of the port, airport, and hospital in Mocimboa da Praia. This massive feat comes after the European Union said last month that it will establish a new military mission in Mozambique to help the government push back against the increasingly brazen Islamic insurgency. Still, analysts warn, the Mozambican government needs to remain vigilant because the militants might still regroup in the months ahead.

US offers NATO partnership to Brazil? During a visit to Brazil last week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly told President Jair Bolsonaro that if he bans the Chinese tech company Huawei from building 5G networks in his country, the US would push for Brazil to become a NATO global partner. That's not quite full membership, but it would give Brazil preferential access to arms purchases and other security perks with the world's most powerful military alliance. According to the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, which broke the story, the move is a bid by Washington to get Brazil on its side in a global push to squeeze Chinese tech firms out of 5G infrastructure. But Folha also reports that there are deep divisions within the Brazilian military about this: some higher-ups are implacably hostile towards China, while others say that Brasilia shouldn't ruin relations with Brazil's largest trade partner. Currently the only Latin American country that enjoys a NATO partnership is close US-ally Colombia.

Olympic-sized stakes for Japan’s prime minister

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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Are the Tokyo Olympics cursed?

Tokyo last hosted the summer Olympics in 1964, when Japan was still trying to restore its tarnished image after World War II. The Games went off swimmingly, and Japan raked in praise.

Indeed, Tokyo was hoping that the 2020 Olympics would be another 1964. But since COVID entered the scene, everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong.

The Olympics that no one wants have so far been crippled by a series of crises and controversies that have overshadowed the sporting events. Here's a look at where things currently stand.

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