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What We're Watching: Argentina's abortion bill, Spain's vaccine registry, Burkina Faso's security push

n the photo taken on December 10, 2020, mobilization of women in front of the Congress where the approval in Deputies of the legalization and decriminalization of abortion in Argentina was voted.

Argentina's abortion debate: Argentina's Senate is set to vote on a landmark abortion bill that would allow elective abortions up to 14 weeks gestation, a major shift in the predominantly Catholic and socially conservative country. The abortion bill already passed the lower house of Congress (131 to 117 votes) because the center-left party of President Alberto Fernández, who backs the bill, holds a majority coalition. It's now waiting to be voted on in Argentina's upper house in what's expected to be a nail-biter, with several politicians remaining mum about how they intend to vote. Abortion is a flashpoint in Argentina, home to Pope Francis who has repudiated the bill, and if the law were to pass, the country would be one of just few Latin American countries to authorize elective abortions outside of cases of rape or if the mother's life is at risk. If there's a tie in the Senate — which some analysts anticipate — it will be up to Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has flip-flopped on the abortion issue during her long political career, to cast the deciding vote. Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, are fired up, hoping that if the bill passes in Argentina, the cultural effects could reverberate throughout the region.


Spain's vaccine refusal database: Spain plans to register all people who turn down the opportunity to get a coronavirus vaccine when it is offered to them. The information won't be publicly disclosed nor shared with employers, but it will be sent to European Union health officials. The announcement came as a surprise for Brussels, which has yet to explain what it'll do with the data given the EU's robust data privacy laws, or whether it's open to a similar EU-wide database. Vaccination is not mandatory but strongly encouraged by authorities in Spain, which this week surpassed 50,000 COVID-19 deaths and has the world's second highest per capita mortality rate. As vaccines have just started being rolled out across the entire EU, we're watching to see whether other member states will set up their own vaccine refusal registries to not only deter skeptics but also provide more accurate information about how many people actually get inoculated.

Burkina Faso's security push: At his inauguration ceremony on Monday, Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore pledged to make security in the West African country a political priority amid ongoing jihadist violence that's caused more than 850,000 people to flee their homes in recent years. Kabore, who will now serve his second term, said he wants to instill "stability and security" to Burkina Faso, where swaths of the country have been taken over by jihadist groups. But it's not just vigilantes and terrorist groups (linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State) that have wreaked havoc on the country of 21 million people in recent years: a New York Times expose published this past summer revealed that trigger-happy soldiers in Burkina Faso's army kill as many civilians as jihadists do (it doesn't help that the government has passed draconian legislation banning journalists from reporting on anything that could "demoralize" the armed forces). Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the Sahel region, has been plagued by political corruption and human rights violations from the top down – and lacks the political and institutional strength to fend off a violent insurgency that spilled over from neighboring Mali in recent years, tormenting the entire Sahel.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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John Nance Garner gave up the powerful position of Speaker of the House to serve two terms as Franklin Roosevelt's vice president (1933-1941), but he's best remembered today for a comment (he may never actually have made) that the job of VP "is not worth a bucket of warm spit."

In reality, the role of US vice president is determined almost entirely by the president. With that in mind, how might Kamala Harris serve Joe Biden? A few thoughts.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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