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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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