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US President Joe Biden during a campaign stop ahead of the midterm elections in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

What We're Watching: Biden's secret papers, Ukrainians in Oklahoma, Tigrayan demobilization

Check your closets for classified docs

It’s been a rollercoaster kind of week for US President Joe Biden.

On the downside, it seems he just plumb forgot to return not one but two batches of classified documents from his days as VP. The first cache was reportedly found on Nov. 2 – yes, you read that right, just days before the midterms – but not reported publicly until Monday. Then, on Wednesday, reports emerged of a second tranche of unreturned docs discovered at another location. Biden, keen to distinguish himself from the way former President Donald Trump handled his own classified documents scandal, said his lawyers followed protocol and immediately contacted the National Archives about returning the documents. A Justice Department review is underway.

The good news this week for Biden is that for the first time since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, his approval rating (46%) is now higher than his disapproval (45%), according to an Economist/YouGov survey. Why the uptick? Biden has signed major pieces of legislation like CHIPS and the Inflation Reduction Act in recent months. Meanwhile, Republicans blew their chance for a “red wave” in the midterms, and the GOP's chaotic election of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy shows just how deep divisions in the party are. Still, House GOP members are hellbent on investigating Biden over a range of issues including, perhaps, the newfound classified files. Biden has had a good nine months — could the GOP-controlled house change his fortunes?

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Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto leads a rally ahead of the midterm elections in Henderson, Nevada.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Dems’ Senate victory, Iran's first protester death sentence, Ethiopia's peace deal

Dems take the Senate

The long wait has ended with Democrats retaining control of the US Senate. The victory was sealed after Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada incumbent locked in a tight race against her Donald Trump-backed rival, squeezed through with a narrow win. Meanwhile, a Democrat also won Nevada’s race for secretary of state – another midterm defeat for pro-Trump election deniers. With the Senate now at 50-49 for Dems (who have the advantage of VP Harris’ tie-breaking vote), the White House is now turning its attention to Georgia. A Senate runoff in the Peach State on Dec. 6 could see the Dems clinch 51 seats, giving them majorities in Senate committees and more wiggle room on key bills. Meanwhile, the House remains too close to call, but the GOP is slightly favored to win, needing just 7 seats to reach a majority, compared to the Dems’ 14. Still, many of the 21 House seats that haven’t been called yet are toss-ups, and the Dems have secured victories in unexpected races over the past few days. Buckle up for a nail-biter.

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Ethiopian government representative Redwan Hussien and Tigray delegate Getachew Reda pass documents during the signing of the AU-led negotiations to resolve the conflict in northern Ethiopia

Reuters

Just like that: Is Ethiopia’s war over?

For two years, it was one of the world’s most gruesome conflicts. Hundreds of thousands displaced, millions at risk of famine, and a rapidly shifting frontline that drew in neighboring countries and saw allegations of war crimes by both sides.

And then suddenly, last week, Ethiopia’s civil war, which pitted the federal government against fighters from the northern region of Tigray, seemed to end. Both sides agreed to a peace framework at talks in South Africa.

Why? How? And what are the prospects for peace in Africa’s second most populous nation, a country that until recently was one of the world’s fastest growing economies?

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Ethiopian government representative Redwan Hussien and Tigray delegate Getachew Reda attend signing of the AU-led negotiations to resolve the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Ethiopian peace deal, Russia’s grain U-turn, Kim Jong Un’s wrath, China’s production woes

Peace at last in Ethiopia?

The government of Ethiopia and rebels from the Tigray region agreed on Wednesday to “permanently” end their civil war. The conflict, which began in late 2020 as Tigrayan forces sought more autonomy from the central government, spiraled into a brutal war that displaced millions, drew in forces from neighboring Eritrea, brought parts of the country to the brink of famine, and led to possible war crimes on both sides. The precise terms of the peace agreement, reached during African Union-brokered peace talks in South Africa, aren’t yet clear, but former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who oversaw the negotiations, said the sides had pledged to put down their weapons, restore “law and order” and open full access to humanitarian aid. One big wildcard? Eritrea, which was not involved in the talks but has its own security interests and territorial claims along its border with Tigray.

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A cross-industry strike movement brings together several thousand people in the streets of Lille, France.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Macron’s challenges, Xi’s power play, Iran’s scarfless athlete, Ethiopia’s gains in Tigray

Walkouts put Macron on the spot

France’s notoriously strike-o-phile public sector unions called a nationwide walkout on Tuesday, demanding higher wages in response to high inflation. The move, which mainly affects public transport and trains, comes amid weeks-long strikes by workers at major oil companies and nuclear plants. Although inflation in France has softened compared to other Western European nations, the country is still seeing its fastest price increases since the mid-1980s. For President Emmanuel Macron, who was reelected in April, the strikes and protests are a taste of the troubles he may face in the coming months. His 2023 budget is caught in a parliamentary crossfire as MPs on the right and left try to cram in more spending and larger tax increases than Macron wants. Meanwhile, winter is fast approaching, with uncertain consequences for the French public’s energy bills – though the Parisian parkour set is doing its graceful best to address the problem every night. And Macron is still aiming to push through a major — and deeply unpopular — pension reform before next spring.

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Annie Gugliotta & Jess Frampton

Hard Numbers: Fenced-off Shanghai, Tigrayan soldiers seek asylum, Saudi royals sell assets, overtaxed Argentine farmers

6: After partly relaxing its COVID-19 lockdown last week, Shanghai is now erecting metal barriers to keep people indoors in high-risk districts. Frustration among residents is mounting, as seen in a six-minute video about the lockdown’s impact that's gone viral on Chinese social media despite censors' attempts to block it.

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Residents carry Ukrainian national flag as they gather in the Olympic Stadium to mark the Unity Day.

REUTERS

What We're Watching: US-NATO skepticism, EU rule of law ruling, US truckers' protests, atrocities in Tigray, guac wars

US-NATO skepticism and Ukrainian unity. The US and NATO aren’t yet buying claims by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that some Russian troops have pulled back from the Ukrainian border. “We have good reason to believe the Russians are saying one thing and doing another … in an effort to hide the truth,” said a US State Department spokesman on Wednesday. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg then warned that NATO sees a continued buildup of Russian troops and that the alliance must prepare for a “new normal” in which “Russia is willing to contest some fundamental principles of our security.” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, continues to strike a delicate balance. On Wednesday, he tried rallying his war-weary country to celebrate a "Unity Day" with mixed results. He's urging both outsiders and Ukrainians not to exaggerate the threat of a Russian invasion that is stoking fears and hurting Ukraine’s economy. But he’s also moving forward with a bold plan to tackle Russia-friendly “oligarchs” at home. He announced on Monday that he will keep promises to tackle both corruption and Russian influence within Ukraine by stripping some of the country’s richest business owners of some of the wealth that Zelensky says gives them too much influence over the country’s policies and politics.

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What We're Watching: Yemen's aid struggles, North Korean antics, ethnic cleansing in Tigray

Yemen left behind: A virtual pledging event aimed at raising funds for war-torn Yemen raised $1.7 billion, well shy of the $3.85 billion the UN says is necessary to alleviate suffering from years of famine conditions and war. At the session, jointly hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, the US pledged $191 million towards Yemen's humanitarian effort, while the Germans promised $241 million. The UN says the pandemic has limited the ability of wealthy countries to provide humanitarian help for Yemen, where two-thirds of the population rely on food aid to survive after six years of conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition. This development comes as the Biden administration has sought to enforce a ceasefire in Yemen by stopping US support for the Saudi military campaign there and removing the Houthis from the US' State Sponsors of Terrorism list to help open Yemen up to more aid. Meanwhile, the Houthis continue their assault of the city of Marib, now home to millions of displaced Yemenis, exacerbating the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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