What We're Watching: Lukashenko looking worried, explosion in Lebanon's "darkness", royal flight from Spain

What We're Watching: Lukashenko looking worried, explosion in Lebanon's "darkness", royal flight from Spain

Lukashenko's nerves: As Belarusians prepare to head to the polls on Sunday, strongman president Alexander Lukashenko, who's seeking re-election again after 26 years in power, lashed out at adversaries who he says are seeking his downfall. But Lukashenko wasn't laying into the Europeans or the NATO alliance — typically hostile to his strongman agenda — rather, he condemned "puppet masters" in...Russia. This is the latest episode in the deteriorating relationship between Minsk and Moscow. Lukashenko recently accused Moscow of sending mercenaries to destabilize the country and rile up Belarusian protesters dissatisfied with the government's handling of the pandemic. But it's also a sign that Lukashenko is worried about losing his grip on power. After barring two rivals from running in the election, he's now facing off against 37-year old Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a seemingly accidental candidate who's managed to unite the opposition against a man once dubbed "Europe's last dictator.


Darkness in Lebanon: The already-grim situation in Lebanon took a terrible turn Tuesday as a massive explosion tore through a warehouse at Beirut's port, killing at least 100 people. The cause of the blast is still being investigated, but the timing of the tragedy, which is believed to have caused around $3 billion in damages, couldn't be worse. Coronavirus lockdowns have caused prices of basic goods to triple since March as Lebanon's currency shed 80 percent of its value, pushing much of the country's once-vibrant middle class into poverty. Recurrent power outages — a result of mismanagement, Lebanon's shambolic electrical grid, and a series of corruption scandals involving an Algerian state-run oil company — have also worsened, with reports of blackouts for up to 20 hours a day in some parts of the country. This prompted disillusioned Lebanese to storm the Ministry of Energy on Tuesday, demanding an end to the "corruption" that has led the country into "darkness." Skirmishes with security forces ensued. The heavily-indebted country is hoping that international creditors like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will help pull it back from the brink, but that's unlikely to happen unless the Lebanese government makes crucial reforms to root out mismanagement and corruption, which it's so far been unwilling to do. Will this latest tragedy change that?

Former king ditches Spain: Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I has fled his country, weeks after the high court opened an investigation alleging that he received millions of euros in illegal kickbacks from a high-speed rail deal in Saudi Arabia. A Swiss prosecutor has also accused him of tax fraud. Until a decade ago, Juan Carlos was beloved by most Spaniards for helping steer Spain's transition to democracy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But after a string of more recent scandals — including infidelities and breaking his hip while elephant hunting in Botswana as his countrymen were mired in a recession — he passed the throne in 2014 to his son, the current King Felipe VI. Earlier this year, Felipe himself grew concerned enough about the negative paternal publicity that he cut off his dad and renounced his own inheritance. Juan Carlos — now believed to be in either neighboring Portugal or the Dominican Republic — appears to have left Spain to spare his son (and Spaniards) further embarrassment, but he says he'd return to face formal charges. We're watching the royal legal drama but also a bigger question: will the disgraced former king's antics fuel a fresh debate over the future of the Spanish monarchy itself?

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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