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What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader

What We're Watching: Modi plays to his base, US visit to Taiwan irks China, Colombia arrests ex-leader

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

A provocative visit to Taiwan: US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will soon become the most senior US official to set foot in Taiwan since Washington established democratic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979. The official purpose of his visit is to deepen cooperation with Taiwan on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but it is certain to stoke further tensions between the US and China, which considers Taiwan part of its own territory. (For the record, so does the US, officially, but Washington has maintained a preferential security and diplomatic relationship with self-governing Taiwan for decades.) The timing of Azar's visit may have an electoral motivation: both Trump and Biden want to exploit growing bipartisan suspicions of China, and as the election approaches it may play well for Trump to have his man in Taiwan rehashing Washington's accusations that Beijing deliberately hid information about the initial coronavirus outbreak. We are watching to see how Beijing responds to the slight, as Taiwan is still the most sensitive issue in China-US relations.

Uribe's August staycation: Colombia's Supreme Court has placed powerful former president Alvaro Uribe under house arrest as part of a witness-tampering and fraud investigation. Uribe, a conservative, was president from 2002-2010, during which time he led a military crackdown against the country's FARC rebels that weakened them to the point that a peace deal was possible under his successor. But he has long faced accusations of turning a blind eye to human rights violations, and of having ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. The Court is investigating whether Uribe's allies sought to squelch an investigation into those relationships several years ago. Uribe remains one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in Colombia — his backing helped elevate current president Ivan Duque win a contentious 2018 election. Uribe's house arrest has sent shockwaves through a deeply divided country that is unaccustomed to seeing public officials of his stature held to account. If he is brought to trial and convicted — still by no means a certain outcome — he could face up to eight years in prison.

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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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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Iran rules out nuclear talks… for now: Iran has reportedly rejected an offer to join direct talks with the US and EU over its nuclear program, saying it won't start the conversation until sanctions on Iran's economy are eased. To be clear, this does NOT mean that prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are dead. Europeans and the Biden administration want a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Iran certainly needs the economic boost that would come from a removal of sanctions. But Tehran is going to try to maximize its leverage before any talks begin, especially since this is a sensitive election year in in the country. Iran's leaders are going to play hard to get for a while longer before edging their way back to the bargaining table. Still, it's high stakes diplomacy here between parties that have almost no mutual trust — and one misstep could throw things off track quickly.

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18: A week after threatening protesters with a severe crackdown, Myanmar's ruling junta killed at least 18 people across the country in the bloodiest day of clashes since the generals staged a coup last month.
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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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