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What We're Watching: ​Bibi's COVID scheming, Mexico probes sterilization claims, Cyprus blocks Belarus sanctions

A placard with an image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a demonstration against his alleged corruption and the government's handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Jerusalem September 5, 2020

Bibi's COVID scheming: With coronavirus cases spiking, Israel has imposed a second nationwide lockdown, the first developed country to go back to draconian measures of this kind since the spring. The controversial decision, which came as Israeli Jews prepared to celebrated the Jewish High Holidays, represents a certain failure of Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of the pandemic, in which Israel emerged as a global case study in how not to reopen after the initial lockdowns. Polls show that two-thirds of the public disapprove of Bibi's handling of the crisis. Many critics suspect the second lockdown — which bans large public gatherings — isn't only about flattening the curve, but also about quelling the anti-Netanyahu protests that have gained steam throughout the country in recent months. This all comes as the Israeli government faces an unprecedented crisis: it has failed to pass a budget in two years and its economy is in free fall, sparking fears of another election by year's end (the fourth in less than two years).

Mexico investigating forced sterilizations claims: The Mexican government says it has opened an investigation into allegations that Latin American women, including several Mexicans, had undergone forced sterilization and other unwanted gynecological procedures while interned at a US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in the US state of Georgia. The allegations stem from a whistleblower complaint released last week by a nurse who works there, which says that hysterectomies (the removal of at least part of the uterus) had been performed on several women at the facility without their consent. The whistleblower also alleges "jarring medical neglect" of detainees and calls out one specific doctor who she labels "the uterus collector" because of his insistence on "taking everybody's stuff out." Meanwhile, Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expressed disgust at the allegations — which ICE vehemently denies —and said Mexico would not hesitate to take legal action against the US if the allegations are proven true. More than 170 members of the US Congress have also called for an immediate probe.

Why is Cyprus blocking EU action on Belarus? All EU member states but one have reportedly agreed on a package of economic sanctions against officials in Belarus, where dictator Alexander Lukashenko has brutally cracked down on weeks of protests over his rigging of the presidential election last month. Who's the one? The small island nation of Cyprus, which says it won't approve the Belarus measures unless Brussels also imposes sanctions on Turkey over its continued energy drilling in eastern Mediterranean waters that Cyprus' main patron, Greece, claims as its own. Cyprus says it supports sanctions against Belarus in principle, but that the EU has to follow through on its unrelated pledge to pressure Turkey to stop drilling and resume direct dialogue with Athens. Since sanctions like the ones prepared against Belarus require unanimous support from all 27 member states, one veto is enough to sink them. In a sign of growing frustration over the deadlock, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, recently called for an end to that unanimity rule. In the meantime, who will fold first: Cyprus or Brussels? Alexander Lukashenko is watching as keenly as we are.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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