What We’re Watching: Hariri’s out, Wong’s out, the Kurds are (maybe) out

What We’re Watching: Hariri’s out, Wong’s out, the Kurds are (maybe) out

Lebanon's PM throws in the towel: After two weeks of widespread anti-government protests, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced yesterday that he and his government would resign, paving the way for new elections. Years' worth of rage over government corruption and bleak job prospects exploded in mid-October when the government proposed a tax on calls made using free internet messaging services. But it's unclear whether this will be enough for protesters, whose signature chant "all of them means all of them" emphasizes that they want to upend the entire political class. Hariri's resignation also defied Hezbollah, the political party and militia group, which is a crucial member of the country's national-unity government and has rejected calls for an early election. As of now, there's no sign that the protesters are willing to back down, or that Hezbollah will agree to resign from government.


Time runs out in northern Syria: According to a Russia-Turkey agreement, all Kurdish militants are now supposed to have withdrawn from the Turkish-administered "safe zone" that extends 20 miles into northern Syria. The Russians say the Kurds are out, but Turkey isn't ready to confirm that, and there are concerns that Turkey is preparing to charge further into Syria than agreed. After all, Ankara is openly aiming to ethnically cleanse the region of Kurds, in order to resettle it with up to two million Syrian Arab refugees currently living in Turkey. At the same time, Turkish soldiers have clashed with Syrian army troops for the first time. This means that Turkey, a NATO member, is now patrolling a safe zone cleared of former US allies with Russia, while also shooting at Syrian soldiers backed by...Russia.

A big candidate barred in Hong Kong: Joshua Wong, Hong Kong's budding pro-democracy activist, was barred on Tuesday from running in district council elections slated for November 24, because he has been "advocating or promoting self-determination" for the territory. Pro-Beijing candidates usually dominate local polls in Hong Kong, but months of political unrest over the mainland's encroachment on Hong Kong's freedoms have prompted a surge in the number of pro-democracy candidates running. Wong, the former student leader of the 2014 Umbrella movement, is the only banned candidate out of more than 1,100 contenders. Pro-democracy candidates and pro-Beijing incumbents are vying for seats that will give them a say in the nomination of Hong Kong's next leader.

What We're Ignoring:

The spy who stole al-Baghdadi's underwear: The operation to capture or kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was successful because of months-long cooperation between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US military. While these missions are often top secret, a rather unusual detail of the daring raid has been released: to make sure that US forces were trailing the right terrorist, a Kurdish spy stole al-Baghdadi's underwear in order to test his DNA and confirm a match! While it's comforting to know that US-Kurdish intelligence sharing paid off, we're ignoring this because, frankly, it's TMI.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past eight days, the US-China relationship got notably hotter. None of the new developments detailed below is big enough by itself to kill hopes for better relations next year, but collectively they point in a dangerous direction.

US jabs over Hong Kong: On September 14, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the city because of what it calls China's "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" by police. The US is closely monitoring the case of 10 people detained by China while attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat. China's response to US criticism of its new security law in Hong Kong remains muted. That could change if relations deteriorate further.

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