What We’re Watching: Europe battles COVID second wave, Bolivians vote, Kyrgyz president quits

Testing site for COVID-19 in Lille, France. Reuters

Europe's disastrous "second wave:" As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Europe, the European Parliament cancelled plans to reconvene next week in Strasbourg, France, saying that the current uptick means that "traveling is too dangerous." It's the second time since September that in-person meetings at the EU legislative body have been cancelled, as countries including France, Spain, Belgium, and the Czech Republic grapple with serious "second waves" of infection, causing hospitals to fill up again in several European cities. In a drastic move Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reimposed strict lockdown measures, including overnight curfews in multiple cities — including the Paris region — to stop the spread of the disease. (France reported 22,591 new cases on Wednesday alone.) After the 53 European states recorded the highest-ever weekly number of new COVID cases, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning Thursday saying that death rates from the disease could reach four to five times higher than their April peak in the near term if things don't turn around — and fast.


Bolivia's first election since that last one failed: On Sunday, Bolivians will go to the polls to elect a president for the first time since a disputed election last fall led to mass protests and the ouster of Evo Morales, the country's long-serving leftwing populist president. Since then, power has been split between Congress, which is still controlled by Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, and interim President Jeanine Áñez, a right-winger. Clashes between riot police and Morales' predominantly lower-income and indigenous supporters have flared in Bolivia, which is deeply polarized along political, socioeconomic, and racial lines. At the moment, the MAS party candidate, Luis Arce, is leading the polls at 42 percent. If he comes in first on Sunday with more than 40 percent of votes and a 10-point margin over his main challenger — center-right former President Carlos Mesa — he would win outright. If not, there would be a second round between the two men. Whoever wins the presidency will face the daunting task of reuniting a bitterly divided country, while also addressing its biggest economic crisis in 40 years.

Kyrgyz power vacuum: Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned on Thursday after more than a week of mass protests over an election that local critics — and international observers — say was tainted due to vote-buying. Kyrgyzstan is clearly no stranger to political unrest — Jeenbekov is the third president ousted by street protests in the last 15 years. But with the president now out of the picture, there's uncertainty over who will step in. The constitution says the interim leader should be the parliament speaker, but there's growing pressure by opposition groups to appoint current Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov, a populist who wants to nationalize Kyrgyzstan's gold mines. Japarov hasn't been on the job long: he took office just days ago after his supporters freed him from prison, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for kidnapping a governor during a protest against a gold mine project. Whatever happens in Bishkek will be closely watched by Russia —which has close ties to all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia — and China, always wary of potential instability on its borders.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

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Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

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13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

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