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What We’re Watching: Modi reshuffles cabinet, Iran enriches uranium metal, Ortega jails Nicaraguan opposition

Modi's makeover: After weathering months of criticism over his disastrous (mis)handling of the pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday undertook the biggest government reshuffle since he came to power seven years ago. At least a dozen cabinet ministers are out, including Harsh Vardhan, the health minister widely criticized for the devastating second wave of COVID infections that tore through the country earlier this year while India — the world's largest producer of vaccines — was unable to roll out jabs for its own people fast enough. The ministers of environment, education, and IT are also gone, and the new cabinet nearly triples the number of female ministers to 11. The move is a rare course correction for Modi, whose otherwise buoyant approval rating had plummeted nearly 15 points (to 63 percent) between January and June. India's economy is expected to roar back with 12.5 percent growth this year, but still barely 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

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What We're Watching: Israel's collapsing government, Nicaragua's opposition ban, new COVID strain goes global

Israel barrels towards another election: After failing to resolve a stalemate over the national budget, Israel's unwieldy Knesset (parliament) was on the verge of collapse Tuesday, making it all but certain that Israelis will head to an election on March 23, the fourth time in two years. But what's changed since Israelis voted less than a year ago? The once-competitive center-left Blue and White Party which gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party a run for its money, has hemorrhaged support since its leader Benny Gantz agreed to sit in a coalition government with the extremely divisive Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the defection of a long time Netanyahu ally, Gideon Saar — who recently left Likud to form his own right-wing party — spells big trouble for Netanyahu, whose popularity has nosedived amid accusations that he's fudged the pandemic response. The incumbent PM now faces a tough battle against a group of right-wing parties who are doing well in the polls and could band together to form a coalition that doesn't include Netanyahu for the first time in 11 years. The stakes couldn't be higher for the Israeli leader, who faces a host of legal troubles and is desperate to retain the top job so he can pass legislation that ensures his immunity from prosecution. Netanyahu is in for a tough battle come March.

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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Nicaragua's coverup, Russia's plea, Sweden's death toll

Is Nicaragua covering up COVID cases? As other countries across Latin America have imposed strict lockdowns to stem the spread of COVID-19, Nicaragua's nominally socialist strongman president Daniel Ortega has continued to encourage mass gatherings, citing the country's low caseload as justification for carrying on with business as usual. But Nicaraguans who have lost loved ones to respiratory illness in recent weeks say the government isn't counting them, and that their deceased relatives were whisked away for "express burials," accompanied by members of pro-government paramilitary groups. Taken together with reports that hospitals are packed with people showing coronavirus symptoms, the official toll of just 10 people is looking like a gross cover up. Meanwhile, although Ortega and his wife, the powerful vice president Rosario Murillo, have said the crisis is overblown, they haven't made a public appearance in months, a sign, critics say, that they are seeking to prevent their own exposure to the outbreak.
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Coronavirus Politics Daily: China's corona cases spike, Nicaragua's pres vanishes, Syrian refugees flee again

China's COVID-19 cases jump again: Two worrisome stories have emerged from China in recent days. First, Chinese health officials, now working hard to prevent a second wave of COVID-19, reported the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases on Monday since March 6, with 108 new infections registered. State media blame this latest jump in cases, at least in part, on border crossings from Russia. Second, the central government has reportedly issued new rules that restrict the publication of academic research on the origins of COVID-19, which most experts say began in China's Hubei province. This appears to be part of an official effort to blunt criticism of the government's initial response to evidence of outbreak.

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