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What We’re Watching: Duterte’s meltdown, Bulgaria blocks North Macedonia, Middle East prepares for Biden

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) and Vice President Leni Robredo (L). Reuters

Duterte's typhoon troubles: As the Philippines struggles with the aftermath of Typhoon Vamco, which killed almost 70 people and submerged parts of the main island of Luzon, tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte defended himself from accusations of poor disaster management by lashing out at Vice President Leni Robredo on live TV. The president, unleashing a barrage of sexist remarks at the Veep, falsely claimed that his political rival Robredo — the Philippines elects the VP separately from the president — had criticized him for being absent at the height of the storm, when Duterte was (virtually) attending a regional meeting of Southeast Asian leaders. Robredo, for her part, called the president a misogynist, and said she's not competing with him after Duterte threatened to be her "nightmare" if she ran in the next presidential election. We're watching to see if the typhoon disaster — or Duterte's meltdown about it — will make a dent in his popular support, which remains strong despite growing discontent over his handling of this latest crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

Things go south (again) for North Macedonia: The small Balkan country once known clunkily as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" just can't seem to catch a break. Two years ago, the country finally got itself on the (longshot) path to EU membership by agreeing to call itself "North Macedonia", resolving a long-running name dispute with its southern neighbor, Greece. But with the Greeks out of the way, now Skopje (the North Macedonian capital) is running into problems with its eastern neighbor — Bulgaria. The Bulgarians say they will veto any North Macedonian EU accession talks until the two iron out their own linguistic and ethnic disputes. Among other things, Bulgaria wants the North Macedonians to recognize Macedonian as a dialect of Bulgarian, rather than an independent language. Since EU accession talks require the unanimous consent of current member states, the North Macedonians are up against a wall again. And to make matters worse for Skopje, some other EU members who are skeptical of expanding the bloc at all are right now reported to be quietly OK with the Bulgarian roadblock.

Middle East starts US transition: While President Trump still refuses to concede to President-elect Joe Biden in the US election, leaders in the Middle East are quietly preparing for the transition of power, even as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tours the region this week. Pompeo is scheduled to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, which analysts view as a parting gift to Prime Minister "Bibi" Netanyahu, who seeks to normalize the settlements over Palestinian objections that they are illegal (and also likely an attempt by Pompeo to boost his own street cred with evangelicals as he eyes his post-Trump political career). Indeed, the Trump's administration's proposed peace plan for the Middle East was overwhelmingly rejected by the Palestinians because it would have allowed Israel to annex a third of the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has now agreed to resume ties with Israel that had been suspended for months over the annexation plans. Are both sides ready to move on from Trump? Biden is widely expected to return to the Obama administration's Middle East policy, which supported Israel but called for a two-state solution. That's bad news for Bibi and offers a glimmer of hope for the Palestinians, whose position has suffered under Trump. What's in store for the region with Biden in the White House?

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET


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