The global race is on to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. While it usually takes many years to develop and widely distribute vaccines, scientists around the world are now trying to get one ready within an unprecedented time frame: 12-18 months. And while there is some international cooperation in that effort, there's also fierce competition among countries, as everyone wants to develop a vaccine on their home turf first, not only for prestige, but also to get their citizens at the front of the line for the shots when they are available. There are hundreds in development, but to date only eight vaccines have progressed to Phase III of the clinical trial process, meaning they are being tested on thousands of people and the results are compared with those who receive a placebo drug. Phase III is the final stage before approval. Who's gotten there so far?
Belarus' post-election fire rages on: At least one person has died and over 2,000 have been arrested in violent protests that erupted in Belarus after strongman President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory with about 80 percent of the vote — results deemed fraudulent by international governments. The opposition claims Sunday's election was rigged — as has regularly been the case in the country since Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator," took over in 1994. Lukashenko, who some young people refer to as "Psycho 3%" for his denial of the coronavirus and low (unofficial) approval ratings, has shut down the internet and is blaming Russian agitators for the protests amid a recent fallout with Vladimir Putin, his long-time ally and fellow strongman. Putin wants to keep Belarus in Russia's sphere of influence and is wary of the country getting closer to his rivals in Brussels. Meanwhile, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya — the political unknown wife of a jailed opposition blogger who has defied Lukashenko's tight grip on power — has fled the country and is now in Lithuania. As the situation remains in flux, it's unclear how stability could return to Belarus anytime soon.
What We're Watching: Lebanon without a government, Belarus after the "election," Taliban prisoner release
Lebanon's government resigns: Lebanon's government resigned on Monday over last week's twin explosions at Beirut's port, which killed at least 160 people and shattered much of the city's downtown areas. After promising a thorough investigation into why dangerous explosives were stored at the port so close to civilian areas, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would step down in solidarity with the people." The people in question are furious. Thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets in recent days demanding "revolution" and the resignation of a political class whose corruption and mismanagement had plunged the country into economic ruin even before last week's blasts. The international community, meanwhile, held a conference on Sunday and pledged $300 million in humanitarian aid to rebuild battered Beirut, with aid distribution to be coordinated by the UN. But the attendees, which included US President Donald Trump, the European Union, and the Gulf Arab states, said that the funds would not be released until the Lebanese government reforms its bloated, inefficient, and corrupt public sector. So far, Beirut's power brokers have resisted change. As rage on the streets intensifies — with angry protesters swarming the city center and setting public property and government buildings ablaze even after cabinet members resigned — it remains unclear who will run Lebanon going forward and guide the country's rebuilding process.
Hard Numbers: US hits 5 million COVID cases, Niger attack kills French citizens, Venezuela jails former US green berets, New Zealand's 100-day milestone
5 million: The number of coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 5 million on Sunday. That's double the number of cases in the country since the end of June, as states across the Midwest, the South and the West grapple with new surges. The US now accounts for one quarter of all COVID-19 cases worldwide.
What We're Watching: A Polish rainbow, Macron in Lebanon, Bolsonaro must protect indigenous communities
A Polish rainbow: When Poland's ultra-conservative president Andrzej Duda was sworn in for his second term on Thursday, he was greeted by a show of colors, as members of the opposition coordinated their outfits to reflect the rainbow flag that symbolizes solidarity with the gay community. Duda, an ally of the nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who beat Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski by a hair, made gay rights a major political issue in the campaign, repeatedly denouncing "LGBT ideology," as a threat to the nation. Meanwhile, several rural Polish towns that support PiS have declared themselves "LGBT free," prompting infuriated officials in Brussels to threaten to withhold EU funding. Indeed, this episode is just the latest flashpoint in the worst culture war in Poland since the end of the Cold War.
The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.
In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?
What We're Watching: Lukashenko looking worried, explosion in Lebanon's "darkness", royal flight from Spain
Lukashenko's nerves: As Belarusians prepare to head to the polls on Sunday, strongman president Alexander Lukashenko, who's seeking re-election again after 26 years in power, lashed out at adversaries who he says are seeking his downfall. But Lukashenko wasn't laying into the Europeans or the NATO alliance — typically hostile to his strongman agenda — rather, he condemned "puppet masters" in...Russia. This is the latest episode in the deteriorating relationship between Minsk and Moscow. Lukashenko recently accused Moscow of sending mercenaries to destabilize the country and rile up Belarusian protesters dissatisfied with the government's handling of the pandemic. But it's also a sign that Lukashenko is worried about losing his grip on power. After barring two rivals from running in the election, he's now facing off against 37-year old Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a seemingly accidental candidate who's managed to unite the opposition against a man once dubbed "Europe's last dictator.
As the world prepares to mark 75 years since American forces dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, global non-proliferation efforts, first codified in Cold War-era treaties, are in jeopardy. While the overall number of nuclear weapons continues to decrease — mainly because the US and Russia have set about dismantling retired weapons — both countries, which account for 90 percent of the world's total nuclear arsenal, continue to modernize their nuclear weapons programs. Meanwhile, the New START treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear weapons that each side can deploy to about 1,500 apiece, is at risk of collapsing. Here's a look at which countries have nuclear weapon stockpiles and who's ready to use them.