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A Russian soldier patrols the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

Hard Numbers: Ukraine nuclear inspection, US Navy near Taiwan, Libya on the brink, Greece-Turkey air dispute

14: A team of 14 international inspectors — none of them from the UK or the US — got Russian clearance to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe's largest. Heavy shelling near the site briefly disconnected the facility from the grid on Friday, raising fears of a major accident in a country still haunted by the memory of Chernobyl.

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A Swedish cop stands near a burning bus after a far-fight rally in Malmo.

Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

Hard Numbers: Swedish unrest, global economic slump, Libyan oil trouble, salty e-chopsticks

40: Riots in ... Sweden? At least 40 people have been wounded after several days of rare political unrest in the Nordic country, where a far-right, anti-immigration group wants to burn copies of the Quran in cities with big Muslim populations during Ramadan.

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Russian troops arrive in Belarus for a joint response force exercise.

Russian Defence Ministry/TASS

What We’re Watching: Russia-Belarus drills, US inflation, Quad meeting, Libyan PM defiant, South African speech

War games in Belarus. On Thursday, more than 30,000 Russian troops, supported by surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets, begin 10 days of active military drills in Belarus. NATO says it’s the Kremlin’s biggest deployment there since the end of the Cold War, and it comes amid Putin’s military buildup on Ukraine’s doorstep. Western capitals worry the drills could be a smokescreen for action against Kyiv, though it’s unlikely Putin would bust a move that steals the spotlight from his pal Xi Jinping during the Winter Olympics. Still, with US troops deploying to the region and Russian warships steaming into the Black Sea, there’s a lot of firepower and room for error at a time when trust between Russia and the West is badly frayed. Any miscalculation could quickly spin out of control.

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Reuters

What We’re Watching: Libya delays vote, Sudan’s embattled PM, COVID cures, EU-UK fish deal

Libya election postponed. As many had expected, Libya’s election will in fact be postponed. The vote, the first since psycho autocrat Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in a NATO-backed uprising 10 years ago, was supposed to happen on Friday. Now the country’s electoral board says it will be postponed by a month, until January 24. The move isn’t a surprise: for weeks the two rival governments that run Libya — and their outside backers — have been squabbling over electoral rules and candidate eligibility. The question now is whether delaying the vote genuinely gives the parties time to agree on a process that seems legitimate enough to hold, or whether the move risks further unraveling a fragile and fragmented country. The UN has already raised alarm about rival armed groups setting up positions in and around Tripoli.

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Libya’s bad choices

It’s been a decade since Muammar Qaddafi, one of the world’s most eccentric despots, was ousted and killed in a popular uprising. But instead of enjoying a new democratic dawn, Libya has since spiraled into inter-factional conflict and chaos.

The country’s luck is supposed to change next week when Libya’s first democratic elections are scheduled to take place. But it now seems all but certain that the vote will be stalled — or scrapped altogether.

What’s the state of play in Libya, and why are so many external powers jockeying for power in this poorly understood country of 7 million people?

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What We’re Watching: Australia buys South Korean weapons, Canada-US trade wars, will Libyans get to vote?

Australia splurges on South Korean weapons. Australia has signed a deal to buy $717 million worth of weapons from South Korea in order to upgrade its military capabilities to counter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. During a visit to Australia, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the agreement has “nothing to do with our position over China,” likely an attempt to keep temperatures low in his neck of the woods, particularly as he looks to bridge relations with the North before he leaves office in March. Though the contract with Seoul is modest in size, it’s only the latest recent step taken by Australia to strengthen its military as relations with China continue to deteriorate. Earlier this year, it signed the AUKUS defense pact with the US and UK, which will allow Canberra to build nuclear-powered submarine capabilities, and also plans to buy dozens of American-made Black Hawk helicopters to up its game. Australia is indeed in a pickle: it wants to build a bulwark against China in the Indo-Pacific, while also maintaining good(ish) relations with the economic behemoth, by far its largest trade partner.

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Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (R) speaks next to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during talks at a hotel in Beijing August 19, 2011.

REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

What We’re Watching: Biden-Xi on Zoom, Cuban protest, Duterte family drama, Qaddafi junior for prez, Steele Dossier skewered

US-China virtual summit. Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will meet face-to-face (virtually) on Monday for the first time since Biden became US president last January. The two have a lot to discuss: trade wars, the 2022 Beijing Olympics — which Biden won't attend, but probably won't boycott — and how to deliver on the joint US-China pledge on climate made at COP26. But the elephant in the Zoom room is Taiwan, an ultra-sensitive issue for China. Xi is seething at the Biden administration's recent public support for the self-governing island, which the Chinese regard as part of their own territory. The Americans insist they are simply doing what they've always done since 1979 — pledging to help Taiwan defend itself. Can Biden and Xi navigate these issues in a calm, cool way? It may help that the two leaders have known each other for more than a decade, when they were both VPs. With US-China relations getting chillier by the day, the stakes are high.

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Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of Libya's former leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, registers as a presidential candidate for the December 24 election, at the registration centre in the southern town of Sebha, Libya November 14, 2020.

Khaled Al-Zaidy/Handout via REUTERS

What We're Watching: Qaddafi junior runs for Libyan president

Qaddafi redux in Libya? From the progeny of one dictator to another. Ten years after the death of former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif — dressed in Berber robes eerily similar to his father's classic outfit — registered on Sunday to run for president in the December 24 election. With his comeback, Saif Qaddafi hopes that those nostalgic for the stability of the previous regime, as well as Libyans tired of the decade of chaos and civil war that followed his dad's ouster, will give him their vote. But if the elections happen at all, which is quite uncertain due to ongoing bickering between factions on the rules and schedule, Qaddafi's son faces long odds. For one thing, it's unlikely he will campaign in public because he fears for his safety and has an outstanding ICC arrest warrant for crimes against humanity (a Libyan court also sentenced him to death for war crimes in 2015, although that ruling was later overturned). For another, he'll be up against tough rivals backed by different groups of foreign powers like General Khalifa Haftar, a warlord supported by the Gulf states and Russia; Aguila Saleh, the influential parliamentary speaker; and PM Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, head of the UN-backed National Unity Government.

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