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What We’re Watching: African vaccine hub, Russia woos Taliban

Moderna plans African vaccine hub: Vaccine maker Moderna will spend $500 million to build a new facility in Africa that can produce 500 million annual doses of the company's COVID jab, which along with Pfizer, uses complex mRNA technology that can't be easily transferred. (Pfizer is already constructing a similar vaccine hub for local production in South Africa). Indeed, this is great news for the continent, where barely 4 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, due to lack of supplies coming in from wealthy donor countries and the COVAX facility. What's more, Moderna plans to use its hub to develop other vaccines against other infectious diseases rife across Africa like Zika or regular influenza. Still, the facility won't be ready for at least two more years, so in the near term African countries will continue relying on foreign suppliers to inoculate their populations against COVID, prolonging the pandemic.

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Qatar learns international spotlight can be uncomfortable

These are exciting times for Qatar. The tiny but fabulously wealthy Gulf state has been providing the US and other Western powers with invaluable assistance in dealing with a newly ascendant Taliban in Afghanistan. It is preparing to hold its first elections next month, and next year it will host the FIFA World Cup, international soccer's biggest stage and the second most-watched global sporting event after the Olympics.

Qatar has been very successful in raising its international profile in recent years, but it is now finding that this success brings challenges of its own. We talked with Eurasia Group Middle East analyst Sofia Meranto to find more about what's happening in the country.

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What We're Watching: Rwandan "justice," ISIS-K hits the Taliban, Canada's vote, COVID vaccines for kids, the UNGA podium

Hotel Rwanda hero given 25-year sentence: It's been more than a year since Paul Rusesabagina — the former hotel manager credited with saving more than 1,200 Tutsis and Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide as portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda — was misled into boarding a plane that eventually flew him to Kigali, where he was arrested. Now, Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2006, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges. Rwandan authorities say Rusesabagina's punishment is for his support for the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, a group accused of coordinating a string of attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018. But supporters of Rusesabagina say the trial is simply retaliation for his public criticism of President Paul Kagame, who has ruled the country since the civil war ended in the mid-1990s and has been dubbed a "benevolent dictator." Western governments have criticized Kagame for targeting Rusesabagina, and President Biden could bring up his case directly with the Rwandan president when the two leaders attend a G20 summit in Rome next month.

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Rory Stewart explains why Afghanistan could become a new hotbed for global terrorism

Former UK diplomat Rory Stewart says the world is safer today than it was 20 years ago, but that terrorists still pose a threat to international security. Victories for jihadists in Iraq, Syria and now Afghanistan could ultimately lead the world towards more global terrorism. As if the Taliban retaking Afghanistan wasn't enough of a blow, the ISIS-K attack on the Kabul airport may be a sign that the country is on its way to become a safe haven for terrorist groups yet again.

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What We’re Watching: Korea vs Korea, Taliban vs Taliban, Haitian PM vs top prosecutor

North and South Korea trade barbs and missile tests: Just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, the South responded by conducting its own first successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic projectile, with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in boasting that it would deter the North's "provocations." Then Kim Yo Jong, the fiery sister of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, responded to the South's response by threatening to cut all bilateral ties. Although bombastic statements by the Kims are nothing new, things are heating up. With US-led denuclearization talks stalled, Pyongyang carried out its first weapons test in six months a few days ago. Kim may be upping the ante deliberately right now, betting that after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden is keen to avoid another foreign policy embarrassment on his watch. Maybe this time Joe will pick up the phone?

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US now at most isolationist stage since WW2, says former UK diplomat

How has America's withdrawal from Afghanistan affected the US-UK "special relationship"? For former UK diplomat Rory Stewart, the hasty pullout without consulting close allies is only the latest example of the US — under first Trump and now Biden — being at the most isolationist stage on foreign military interventions since World War II. "It's a very, very awkward, odd moment. I mean, we, can we rebuild from it, but it's been a very shattering, disappointing moment." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Is America Safer Since 9/11?

What We’re Watching: Left wins Norway’s climate vote, everyone wants India’s jabs, junta denied Myanmar’s UN seat

Norway's climate election result: Most votes have now been counted from Norway's parliamentary election, and the left-leaning Labour party, headed by former FM Jonas Gahr Støre, has reaped 46 out of 168 seats up for grabs, ousting the conservative government led by PM Erna Solberg. Støre will now try to form a coalition government that's expected to include the agrarian Centre Party as well as the Socialist Party. The election was broadly seen as a referendum on climate change policy, given that oil accounts for more than 40 percent of Norway's exports and employs 7 percent of the entire workforce — though Norway itself has rolled out an ambitious green agenda at home. Støre says that he'll limit new oil explorations, but has ruled out getting rid of fossil fuels, saying that oil revenues could help fund the transition away from oil in the long run. Importantly, the Greens, the only political party that called for an end to all oil exploration, reaped only 4 percent of the vote, and is therefore unlikely to yield enough (or any) influence. Regardless, Støre may need to incorporate some smaller left-wing parties in his coalition that could force him to take a more forceful stance on climate change, like raising carbon taxes.

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The Afghan aid dilemma

Representatives from some 40 donor countries for Afghanistan gathered on Monday in Geneva to make a tough choice: keep humanitarian aid flowing to a country governed by violent religious zealots, or potentially watch one in three Afghans starve to death this winter.

In the end donors collectively pledged more than $1 billion, well above the $606 million the UN had asked for in order to avoid a famine that would have affected 14 million Afghans, about a third of the population, by the end of the year. But that's a drop in the bucket for the country's immense needs.

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