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What We’re Watching: Belarus on strike, Iran (again) enriching uranium, Tanzania’s “Bulldozer”

Belarusian opposition supporters hold a rally during a general strike in Minsk. Reuters

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.


Iran's nuclear project: The UN's nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Iran has resumed work at its underground uranium enrichment plant in Natanz after the area mysteriously exploded back in July. Natanz, 200 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran's capital, has long been a flashpoint in the row between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear program after satellite images in the early 2000s showed rapid construction in Natanz. Now, the UN watchdog says that while satellite imagery suggests that Tehran is in fact continuing to stockpile increased amounts of low-enriched uranium — which can be used to make a nuclear bomb — it does not appear to have amassed enough to produce a weapon at this stage. Indeed, since President Trump walked away from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has steadily been ramping up the amount of uranium it can stockpile, in breach of the 2015 accord. Meanwhile, the temperature between Washington and Tehran has been simmering since the US assassinated General Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran's elite, paramilitary Quds Force, back in January. If Joe Biden wins on November 3, will he opt to resume dialogue with Tehran — a move that might encourage the Iranian regime to hit pause on nuclear enrichment?

The Tanzanian "Bulldozer": Tanzanians go to the polls today in an election where the result is already known: President John Magufuli, one of Africa's most eccentric leaders, will get a second term in office. Magufuli — who likes to be called "The Bulldozer" for his love for public works and his pitiless approach towards critics — remains immensely popular. He has invested millions in infrastructure mega-projects and, having refused to shut down the country over COVID-19, can boast one of Africa's few economies to actually grow this year. However, dissidents warn that Magufuli is eroding democracy by cracking down on the opposition, muzzling the independent media, and tweaking laws to favor the ruling Party of the Revolution (which has dominated Tanzanian politics for decades). Although it's unclear how the pandemic will affect the election, "The Bulldozer" has declared the country coronavirus-free thanks to prayers from Tanzanians. For the sake of the millions voting in person in crowded facilities, he better be right.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Now that millions of high-priority Americans have been vaccinated, many people in low-risk groups are starting to ask the same question: when's my turn? Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, has an answer, but probably not the one they're hoping for: "It probably won't be until May or June before we can at least start to get the normal non-prioritized person vaccinated." On GZERO World, Dr. Fauci also addresses another burning question: why aren't schools reopening faster? And while Dr. Fauci acknowledges that reopening schools must be a top priority, he has no quick fixes there, either. In fact, that's kind of a theme of the interview.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take