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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.

What We're Watching: Iraqi COVID ward burns, the EU's Mozambique mission, Bulgaria's punk-rock leader

Iraqi COVID ward burns: Clashes broke out Monday between police and relatives of patients at the al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah (Iraq's fourth largest city) who were killed when a fire broke out in the COVID-19 isolation ward. At least 92 people died, and dozens were injured when a the shoddy ward, constructed a few months ago to manage the growing COVID outbreak, became ablaze. (Iraq's Health Ministry has still not confirmed the cause of the fire.) This disaster comes as the COVID crisis has severely strained the country's already-feeble healthcare system, leading to more than 1.4 million infections and at least 17,000 COVID deaths nationwide (likely a gross undercount). Monday's blaze comes months after a deadly fire at a Baghdad hospital killed at least 82 people. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has ordered the suspension and arrest of health and defense officials in Nasiriya, but it's unclear whether this move will be enough to placate furious Iraqis who are rising up after years of neglect, economic stagnation, war, and now a pandemic. Indeed, many Iraqis who have hit the streets in recent months are asking a simple question: what do we have to lose? Only 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population has received one dose of COVID vaccine.

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What We're Watching: George Floyd murder trial gets underway, Myanmar military's brutal crackdown, terror siege in Mozambique

George Floyd murder trial: Ten months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of a white police officer on a Minneapolis street corner, the murder trial of that officer, Derek Chauvin, has finally kicked off . Chauvin is facing three charges including second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The footage of Chauvin pressing his knee against Floyd's neck — and Floyd's cry of "I can't breathe" — galvanized anti-racism protests, some of which turned violent, across the United States last summer. And around the world, people in countries as varied as the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Japan, France, Portugal, and Brazil also rose up to confront racial injustice within their own societies. Within the US, Floyd's killing has sparked a new movement pushing for more police accountability, as well as broader criminal justice reform. But it also inflamed political tensions, with many right-leaning Americans pushing back, contending that police are forced to confront dangerous situations and should be given more leeway to conduct their duties in defense of public order. Whatever happens in the Floyd trial, which is likely to take months, the outcome will surely inflame tensions and create a new wave of unrest in a very divided US — and perhaps even abroad.

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What We’re Watching: Australian women demand change, Mexico’s immigration crackdown, US vs ISIS in Mozambique

Australian women are fed up: Australia's conservative government is facing intense scrutiny after tens of thousands of women marched across the country earlier this week to protest sexual abuse and harassment, which they say is rife — including within the "old boys' club" of politicians in Canberra. The protests follow a spate of recent rape allegations made by former staffers against powerful Canberra insiders, including the sitting Attorney General Christian Porter. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire for siding with Porter, who vehemently denies the decades-old rape allegations, and for initially refusing to back a thorough investigation. The country's next federal election isn't until next year (though it could come sooner) but the opposition Labour Party has already benefited from the outrage at Morrison's Liberal party, and is pulling ahead in the polls.

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What We're Watching: Malaysian PM hopeful, Mozambique needs EU help vs ISIS, Polish fur politics

Malaysian political drama: Malaysia's (eternal) opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he finally has enough votes in parliament to be appointed prime minister, seven months after the coalition that was going to support him collapsed amid an internal revolt that also forced out 95-year-old Mahathir Mohamed as head of the government. Two years ago, Mahathir — who governed Malaysia from 1980 to 2003 — shocked the country by running in the 2018 election and defeating his former party UMNO, which had dominated Malaysian politics since independence in 1956. After winning, Mahathir agreed to hand over power to Anwar — a former protégé with whom he had a falling out in the late 1990s — but Mahathir's government didn't last long enough to do the swap. Will Anwar now realize his lifelong dream of becoming Malaysia's prime minister? Stay tuned for the next parliamentary session in November.

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What We’re Watching: Japanese PM's health woes, ISIS in Mozambique, Eastern Med tensions rise

How sick is Shinzo Abe? On the day that he became the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history, Shinzo Abe went to the hospital. His visit on Monday to the Keio University medical center was his second in little more than a week, and while Abe says it was just a follow-up to go over earlier tests, concerns about his health and political future are now swirling in Japan. Abe is known to have a chronic intestinal condition called ulcerative colitis — back in 2007 the disease flared up so badly that it forced him to quit after a year in office. He was elected again in 2012 and has stayed in power ever since. But recently, his aides say, Abe has become badly fatigued as the Japanese government struggles to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The economy has just suffered its worst quarterly contraction on record, and Abe's approval ratings have been sinking for months. His term is set to end next October, but if the leader of the world's third largest economy can't make it that long, his deputy would take over as caretaker, setting off a furious succession struggle within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

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