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What We’re Watching: Hong Kong democrats walk out, Ethiopians flee to Sudan, Modi wins in Bihar

Pro-democracy legislators announce their resignation from the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Reuters

Hong Kong democrats walk out: The entire bloc of pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong's parliament resigned on Wednesday, after four fellow lawmakers were removed from office for allegedly violating China's draconian security law for the territory. The move came after Beijing passed a new resolution allowing the city's government to remove politicians deemed a threat to national security. But the walkout carries a cost: now, for the first time since the UK handed the territory back to Chinese control in 1997, there are no voices of dissent against Beijing in the legislature. Does this spell the "death knell" for democracy in Hong Kong? The pro-democracy movement is running out of ways to counter Beijing.

Ethiopians flee to Sudan: A deepening civil war between the national government and local forces in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia is now spreading beyond the country's borders, as thousands flee into neighboring Sudan. The conflict began last week when the national government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military strikes on the Tigray region, accusing local leaders of having attacked an army base. But tensions had been simmering for months, as Tigray leaders — who used to be part of the national governing coalition — ignored Abiy's decision to postpone elections scheduled for earlier this fall and held their own vote anyway. So far several hundred people have been killed and a few thousand refugees have fled to Sudan as Ethiopian forces advance. But some observers say that as many as 200,000 people could stream across the border in the coming days, placing a strain on Sudan's cash-strapped government and threatening to destabilize the region more broadly.

Modi wins in Bihar: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party has claimed victory in Bihar, the country's third most populous state, and the first to hold a regional election since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The BJP and its allies have secured a majority of seats to continue in power in Bihar — a huge upset for the opposition, which was widely favored to win back the state. It's a big win for Modi, who many experts predicted would take a hit in Bihar over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in India, which is second only to the US in total infections and deaths. The election was marred by a bit of controversy after the BJP last month promised it would make vaccines available for free to voters if it won (and was heavily criticized for it). Either way, the results suggest that the pandemic has barely made a dent in Modi's popularity at the ballot box.

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 available 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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