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What We're Watching: Europe's brutal second wave, protests in Iraq, tough talk from Turkey

Doctor and medical colleagues treat a patient suffering from COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Robert Ballanger hospital near Paris during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in France, October 26, 2020

Europe's second wave: After a brutal spring in which Europe emerged as a coronavirus epicenter, the outbreak largely subsided across the continent in the summer, allowing many Europeans to travel and gather in large groups. But now, a second wave of infection is wreaking havoc across Europe, with the region reporting more than 1.3 million cases this past week alone, according to the World Health Organization, the highest seven-day increase to date. Former coronavirus hotspots like France, Italy, Spain, and the UK are again grappling with a record number of new cases that could soon dwarf the out-of-control outbreaks seen this past spring. Meanwhile, countries like Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic that staved off massive outbreaks in the spring are also seeing an unprecedented number of new daily cases. As Europe now accounts for around 22 percent of all new COVID infections worldwide, hospitals in many cities are being swamped as many struggle to source life-saving equipment. As a result, Spain declared a national state of emergency Sunday, imposing nighttime curfews, while Italy imposed its strictest lockdown since May. Europe's Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned against complacency, noting that while transmission is mostly between younger people, keeping the death rate low, that could swiftly change if Europe doesn't get the virus in check.

Iraq a year later: Marking a year since the outbreak of widespread protests over corruption and joblessness in one of the world's most oil-rich countries, demonstrators in Iraq have again flooded the capital, Baghdad, and other cities with renewed calls to clean up graft and implement broader political and economic reforms. In recent years, unemployment has surged in the country, and millions of Iraqis have fallen into poverty while politicians have continued to line their pockets. The government's brutal crackdown on the last protests in 2019 — killing more than 500 people — remains a rallying cry, even after months of the pandemic largely kept activists off the streets. Police responded to the new wave of demonstrations fiercely, tear-gassing protesters, some of whom hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces. We're watching to see whether this fresh mobilization on the streets will move the needle on overdue reforms. The outcome of the US election could also play a role: will a Biden administration put more pressure on Baghdad to clean up its act?

Erdogan playing with fire: Turkey's strongman president Recep Tayyib Erdogan let loose over the weekend, with a wild speech in which he dared the US to impose sanctions on his country, blasted the EU, and called French President Emmanuel Macron crazy. Erdogan is upset about Washington's warnings not to get more involved in the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, in which Ankara is openly backing Azerbaijan against Armenia, as well as US objections to Turkey's testing of an advanced missile system that it recently bought from Russia. Macron, for his part, needs "mental treatment," the Turkish president said, because of his views on "Islam and Muslims." Macron, who has traded barbs with Erdogan in the past, recently vowed to quash radical Islam after a jihadist beheaded a French teacher. Erdogan has a long history of throwing punches abroad to distract from problems at home, but with the Turkish lira hitting record lows, can he afford to be so pugnacious? The foreign investors whom he depends on to keep his economy afloat seem to think not.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Now that millions of high-priority Americans have been vaccinated, many people in low-risk groups are starting to ask the same question: when's my turn? Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, has an answer, but probably not the one they're hoping for: "It probably won't be until May or June before we can at least start to get the normal non-prioritized person vaccinated." On GZERO World, Dr. Fauci also addresses another burning question: why aren't schools reopening faster? And while Dr. Fauci acknowledges that reopening schools must be a top priority, he has no quick fixes there, either. In fact, that's kind of a theme of the interview.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

I thought I would talk today, I haven't spoken much about former President Trump since he's no longer president and I intend to continue that practice. But given this weekend and the big speech at CPAC and the fact that in the straw poll, Trump won and won by a long margin. I mean, DeSantis came in number two, but he's the Governor of Florida, CPAC was in Orlando, so that's a home court bias. In reality, it's Trump's party. And I think given all of that, it's worth spending a little bit of time reflecting on what that means, how I think about these things.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

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