What We're Watching: Prague Protests, Violence in Ethiopia, Cash for Peace

Czech protests – When protesters flooded Prague's Wenceslas Square three weeks ago, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed the size of the crowd as the natural result of the day's beautiful weather. Apparently, the skies were even bluer last Saturday as an estimated 250,000 gathered to again demand Babis' resignation. The demonstrators are angered by fraud charges against the prime minister, and by his decision to appoint a close political ally as justice minister right when prosecutors are considering an indictment against him. This is another example of a country where protests erupt not because of economic grievances—Czech growth has been quite strong in recent years—but because of a political leader who appears to hold himself above the law.

Assassinations and ethnic tensions in Ethiopia – Over the weekend, Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff and top officials in the country's large Amhara region were killed in what authorities described as a coup attempt. The alleged leader of the coup, a general who had called for Amharas (Ethiopia's second largest ethnic group) to take up arms for more autonomy, was also killed. The episode underscores the political challenges for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a transformative leader who has sought to liberalize Ethiopia's fast growing economy and politics since taking power last year. His reforms threaten powerful interests among the old guard (Mr Abiy himself survived an apparent assassination attempt last year that was blamed on rogue generals), and tensions among the country's dozens of ethnic groups are volatile.


Cash for Middle East Peace? – Today marks the opening of a two-day "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, a part of US presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. We're watching mainly to see who even shows up for it. The plan aims to raise some $50bn worth of investment into the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries to get the Palestinians to agree to… well, it's not clear what: the plan has no details yet on critical questions about land, borders, or security. No high-ranking Palestinians have agreed to attend this event, in part because they reject Washington's decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017. But given the lack of clarity on what the broader plan is, top ranking Israeli officials may not show up either. Anybody? Bueller?

What We Are Ignoring:

Attempts to silence an annoying French rooster- Summer vacationers in an island town off the Western coast of France are suing to shut up a large and loud local rooster named Maurice, according to this superb New York Times feature. The battle has become a symbol of the rural /urban divide in French society, and it carries strong nationalistic overtones too since the rooster (in general, not Maurice specifically) has long been a symbol of France. We are ignoring these peevish city slickers' attempts to silence majestic Maurice. Let the cock crow! (On a great side note, we learned that the rooster became a French symbol only because the Latin words for "rooster" and "Gauls" are the same: gallus.)

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.