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What We're Watching: Sectarian clashes in Lebanon, Japan gets ready to vote

An army soldier carries a schoolchild as civilians flee after gunfire erupted at a site near a protest that was getting underway against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is investigating last year's port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

Banzai! Japan gets ready to vote: Japan's newly-appointed PM Fumio Kishida has dissolved parliament ahead of the October 31 election. This is normal before Japanese go to the polls, and in the upcoming vote the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — which has governed Japan almost without interruption since World War II — is widely expected to win another majority. The most interesting thing about the dissolution, in fact, was perhaps the ceremony itself: after the speaker confirmed the resolution to dissolve, all 465 lawmakers stood up, shouted "banzai!" three times, and left. Still, while the LDP is a shoo-in to win, Kishida will be under pressure to curb rising inequality, which widened under Shinzo Abe and has gotten even worse during the pandemic. The PM, however, says he doesn't want to raise taxes or wages, and claims he can revive the economy with his vision of a "new capitalism" that'll redistribute more wealth (details are scarce).


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