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What We’re Watching: Iranian inauguration, Taliban go urban,  Belarusian activist dead, China’s hog hotels

Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi receives the endorsement decree for his presidency from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Iran August 3, 2021.

The Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.


Taliban capture key city: After taking over most of rural Afghanistan, the Taliban are now closing in on Afghan cities. This week, an Afghan general told residents to evacuate Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, after the Taliban seized most of the urban area. This is a big blow for the government because it promised to defend provincial capitals. (Helmand witnessed back in 2009 one of the US/NATO military's most successful campaigns against the Taliban, although NATO forces always failed to stop the Taliban from using the province's poppy fields to fuel their lucrative opium trade.) Meanwhile, the Biden administration now says it'll expand US visa eligibility for Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover. But, but, but… they'll need to apply outside the country, and Washington doesn't intend to help them get out. Afghanistan's neighbors could step in, but the last thing they want is a refugee crisis on their borders.

Belarus targets dissidents: Two days after a Belarusian sprinter sought refuge in Poland because she feared for her life after criticizing her country's government at the Tokyo Olympics, a prominent Belarusian dissident in exile has turned up dead in Ukraine. People close to Vitaly Shishov, head of a Kyiv-based NGO that helps Belarusians escape persecution, believe his death by hanging was carried out by hitmen sent by strongman President Alexander Lukashenko. Shishov is one of many young Belarusians who left the country a year ago following the regime's crackdown on mass street protests after Lukashenko's victory in the August 2020 presidential election, which outside observers say was rigged. If it's true that Lukashenko had Shishov killed, the Belarusian leader is clearly upping the ante on targeting his opponents abroad, just months after grounding an EU-bound flight to arrest an anti-government journalist. And there's not much Brussels can — or will — do about it.

China's pig hotels: If you're a Chinese pig, you're in luck. The state plans to house about 10,000 of you in a luxury condo with 24-hour security, veterinarians on call, gourmet meals, and health monitoring. This doesn't mean they don't want to eat you anymore (they do!), but rather, that they aim to keep you safe from all sorts of viruses — especially the devastating African swine flu, which wiped out half of all Chinese hogs in 2018. So say goodbye to eating scraps on a family farm, you now live in the lap of luxury. The catch is that you'll still be expected to get plump and juicy for char siu.

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