What We're Watching: Colombians hit the streets, Indian state elections, Turkey locks down

A demonstrator holds a flag during a protest against the tax reform of President Ivan Duque's government in Bogota, Colombia, April 29, 2021.

Protests are back in Colombia: This week, tens of thousands of Colombians hit the streets of the country's big cities in the first major wave of street action since the late 2019 mass protests over inequality. The primary trigger for the current demonstrations was a major proposed tax increase. The government says the tax hike is necessary in order to give the state the resources it needs to pull Colombia out of the COVID-induced economic crisis, but critics say that some of its provisions — in particular services taxes — inflict too much of a burden on an already-suffering middle class. Protesters also highlighted other issues, such as the unchecked killing of social activists, broadening insecurity in the country, and frustration with the slow pace of the five-year old peace process. When GZERO Media spoke to prominent Colombian journalist Camila Zuluaga last year, she warned that pent-up grievances from before the pandemic would lead to a fresh "social explosion" this year. It looks like the fuse has been lit. The next major protest has been called for May 19.


Crucial state elections in COVID-devastated India: India is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with over 3,600 deaths recorded on Thursday alone. But that didn't stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from urging millions of Indians to vote in-person in the final stage of a state election in West Bengal, a race with nationwide political implications: Modi's ruling BJP party thinks it has a shot at winning in West Bengal, which the BJP has never governed and is currently run by Mamata Banerjee, one of the PM's fiercest critics. However, Modi's flouting of COVID safety norms in order to secure a political win may have backfired: exit polls now show Banerjee is likely to stay in power despite the BJP's strong performance in recent voter surveys. If the numbers hold, it'll be a major blow to Modi, who has until now defied political gravity to maintain a high public approval rating despite his government's poor handling of the pandemic and other political crises. We'll be watching to see if the BJP receives further blowback from Indians if bodies keep piling up across the country.

As COVID crisis worsens, Turkey locks down: As many parts of Europe start to reopen after a relentless third wave of infection, Turkey is now entering a strict national lockdown for the first time since the pandemic began. Although the country was praised by the World Health Organization last fall for its containment efforts, the COVID crisis has exploded there in recent weeks, and it's now the worst in Europe: Turkey recorded a high of 60,000 daily infections in late April, 10 times more than in February. Critics say that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted COVID restrictions too early, and that the vaccine rollout remains sluggish (because of vaccine shortages, second shots in Turkey are being given six-eight weeks after the first dose, rather than the advised 28 days). The highly contagious UK variant B.1.1.7 is the most dominant strain throughout Turkey, experts say, and reflects the fact that despite fast inoculation drives in countries like Israel, the US and the UK, the global health crisis is far from over. Turkey's lockdown measures will be in force until at least May 17, a massive blow for Turks wanting to spend Ramadan and Iftar meals with extended family and friends.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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