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A supporter of Colombian presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez in Bogota.

REUTERS/Vannessa Jimenez

What We’re Watching: Colombia’s “anti” runoff, Pacific meh on China, Sudan ends emergency

It’s anti vs. anti in Colombia presidential runoff

Colombians wanted change? Well, now they’ll have no choice! In the first round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday, the top two finishers were leftist opposition leader Gustavo Petro (40%) and Rodolfo Hernández (28%), an independent populist tycoon who surged late in the campaign with an anti-corruption message. The two will head to a runoff on June 19. Both promise a radical reorientation of the Andean country at a time of high inequality, rising violence, and simmering social tensions. For Petro, the answer lies in super-taxing the rich, massively expanding the social safety net, and decarbonizing the economy. Hernández, meanwhile, wants to slash taxes, shrink the state bureaucracy, and even legalize cocaine. We’ll have more to say ahead of the runoff, but for now: has the election of any other major economy in recent memory featured a presidential runoff between TWO stridently anti-establishment figures like this?

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Paige Fusco

What We're Watching: Taliban ditch poppies, another Chinese COVID mishap, Darfur war crimes tribunal

Taliban ban poppy cultivation

Fulfilling a long-held promise, the Taliban have banned the cultivation of poppies, the main ingredient used in heroin and other opiates. “If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately, and the violator will be treated according to Shariah law,” the group said. Afghanistan is by far the largest producer of opium, accounting for 85% of all production globally. (After the Taliban took control last year, opium production increased in the country by 8%.) Indeed, the move comes as the Taliban are vying to gain recognition from the international community as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan and unlock millions of dollars worth of foreign reserves currently held in US banks. However, as cash runs dry from the opium trade, regular Afghan farmers who depend on the crops for their livelihood will feel the economic pain. Observers are warning of an impending calamity in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which is already reeling from economic collapse with reports of Afghans being forced to sell their children and organs to survive.

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France's President Emmanuel Macron looks on during a joint press conference with Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) after an European Union (EU) summit at the European Council Building at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 17, 2021.

John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: France’s EU presidency, Kim Jong Un’s 2022 plans, NYC’s new mayor, Sudan’s PM steps down

France takes over EU presidency. France has assumed the EU's rotational presidency, which allows Paris to set the bloc’s agenda for the next six months at a very interesting time for both EU and French politics. French President Emmanuel Macron will want to make a big splash as he vies to become the bloc's de-facto leader after the departure of Angela Merkel. Macron's ambitious plans include reforming the EU's budget rules to allow member states to spend more than 60 percent of their annual GDP, which he’ll have a tough time selling to debt-averse Germany. He also will continue to push hard for the EU to develop a military capability independent from the US, and to embrace nuclear power as a green source of energy as Brussels just proposed. Also, in the run-up to the French presidential election in April, the centrist Macron will use the EU presidency to tell voters how France can benefit from a stronger Union led by France — particularly to fend off challenges from his right in fellow Europhile Valerie Pécresse, and his far right in Euroskeptics Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. So far, Macron isn't off to a good start: he had to remove a giant EU flag perched on Paris’ Arc de Triomphe after his three main rivals called it an attack on French identity.

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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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What We're Watching: Europe's anti-lockdown protests, Chileans vote, a shaky deal in Sudan, German negotiations in the home stretch

Europe anti-lockdown protests get violent. Pockets of unrest spread across Europe in recent days as tens of thousands gathered in several cities across the continent to protest government measures aimed at curbing a fast-spreading wave of COVID-19. Violent clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in The Hague and Rotterdam where Dutch cops opened fire at an increasingly aggressive crowd protesting the tightening of restrictions. Meanwhile, more that 35,000 people turned out in Brussels, while large crowds rocked Vienna, protesting fresh lockdowns that initially targeted only the unvaccinated, as well as new vaccine mandates. The state of the pandemic in Europe is not good. Germany recorded more than 48,000 new cases Sunday, the highest on record, prompting new lockdowns in the lead-up to Christmas, while deaths across the continent are also rising since the summer months, though they remain well below pre-vaccine levels. What's more, far-right groups, like Austria's Freedom Party, are taking advantage of COVID fatigue and anti-vaxx sentiment to encourage people to defy government rules and sow chaos.

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What We're Watching: A shaky deal in Sudan

A tenuous deal in Sudan. One month after the Sudanese army deposed the country's joint civilian-military government, Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was released from detention Sunday. The new deal negotiated by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led last month's coup, reinstates Hamdok as PM and calls for the release of arbitrarily detained political prisoners. Al-Burhan says he supports the return to a power-sharing agreement, though it's unclear what this might actually look like given that the military staged the coup in the first place to avoid handing over executive powers to the civilian leadership. Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets of Khartoum Sunday, saying the deal is merely a ploy by the military to get Washington to remove crippling sanctions, while still maintaining a grip on power. Indeed, critics say that the ongoing political involvement of Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – a former paramilitary leader with close ties to Sudan's former despot Omar al-Bashir – is proof that the military wing of the government is not serious about democratic reforms.

A man reacts during a rally to support the National Defense Force and to condemn the expansion of the Tigray People Liberation Front fighters into Amhara and Afar regional territories at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 8, 2021.

REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.

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Protesters carry a banner and national flags as they march against the Sudanese military's recent seizure of power and ousting of the civilian government, in the streets of the capital Khartoum, Sudan October 30, 2021.

REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin

What We're Watching: More trouble in post-coup Sudan

Sudan on the brink. Two weeks after a military coup in Sudan, the country's security situation continues to deteriorate. On Sunday, soldiers responded to pro-democracy protests in Khartoum by tear-gassing and arresting more than 100 teachers who refuse to return to work until the transitional civilian-military government is restored. (The intervention drew comparisons to the harsh crackdown against protesters that eventually led to the ousting of longtime despot Omar al-Bashir in 2019.) Meanwhile, civilian PM Abdalla Hamdok remains under house arrest, and the internet is still shut down. Arab League mediators have arrived in the capital to try to mediate between junta leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the pro-civilian forces, but Burhan refuses to even call the power grab a coup. The country's largest union, which played a pivotal role in the 2019 protest movement, has called a two-day national strike — the opening salvo of a campaign of civil disobedience to force the military back to the negotiating table. Since the generals show no signs of backing down, the odds of more bloodshed are growing by the day.

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