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What We're Watching: Macron's troubles, Indian election, US-China defense talks

Emmanuel Macron in trouble: These are trying times for Emmanuel Macron, as the French president suddenly finds himself dealing with three major crises at once. First, France is currently reeling from a massive second wave of coronavirus, which has forced Macron to order a second national lockdown. Second, he is facing rising social tensions at home over the (long-fraught) question of integration into French society, after an Islamic beheaded a teacher who had shown derogatory images of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a lesson on free speech. The killing of three people outside a Nice church by a knife-wielding man of Tunisian origin yesterday heightened the sense of crisis. Lastly, Macron is facing a backlash from much of the Muslim world over his controversial comments in response to the teacher's murder, in which he pledged to crack down on extremism but also seemed to target Islam in general. There have been anti-French protests across the Muslim world, and several countries have called for a boycott of French goods. Macron doesn't face voters again until 2022, but he's already had to reset his presidency a few times. And his rivals — particularly from the far right, anti-immigrant National Rally party— may start to smell blood in the water.

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COVID is ravaging these countries: How are their leaders doing?

We're now six months into the worst public health and economic crisis most countries have seen in generations. But how is that affecting politics? We take a look at the leaders of the countries that currently have the five largest death tolls.

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What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

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What’s going on between India and China?

This week's skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces in a disputed Himalayan border area represent the deadliest flare up between the two regional powers in many decades.

The two foes have been locked in a bitter border dispute for years, yet recurrent flare-ups have tended to be resolved through diplomacy. The spark that ignited the clashes this time seems to be a recent Indian infrastructure development, including a road to a remote Indian army base which New Delhi argues falls on its side of the Line of Control.

Though details remain murky, after the last rock was thrown Tuesday, at least 20 Indian troops were dead, while the People's Liberation Army also reported some "casualties" on its side, but stayed mum on the numbers.

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Modi defies gravity

It's been a rough few months for India, even by the standards of 2020. Its economy was slowing even before COVID became a household word. A controversial citizenship law provoked deadly unrest in India's largest cities.

Then, when coronavirus infections began to spike in early spring, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown that gave 1.3 billion Indians just four hours to find a place to shelter in place for 21 days. The resulting chaos inflicted even more damage on India's economy. Amid the chaos, massive crowds of people on the move across the country probably accelerated the spread of infection.

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