What We're Watching: Protests erupt in Minsk, Hong Kong isn't special anymore, Ethiopia surfs the web again

What We're Watching: Protests erupt in Minsk, Hong Kong isn't special anymore, Ethiopia surfs the web again

A rare rally in Belarus: It's not often that you see people protesting a president known as "Europe's last dictator." But that's precisely what happened in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, as a brave few hundred protesters demonstrate against the government's decision to ban the two main opposition candidates from running in next month's presidential election. It's a rare show of defiance against President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since the country emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991, and now wants a sixth term in office. But his hold on power could be waning due to popular exhaustion with his authoritarian style, a sluggish economy, and his ridiculous approach to the coronavirus pandemic: he's recommended "vodka and saunas" as a cure for the disease and refused to impose any lockdowns. So far Belarus has recorded more than 65,000 cases and about 500 deaths. We're watching to see whether the protests grow enough for Lukashenko to get into serious trouble ahead of the (almost assuredly rigged) vote.


Trump ends HK's special status: The Trump administration decided on Wednesday to end preferential economic treatment for Hong Kong, while authorizing sanctions on any US banks that do business with Chinese officials in charge of implementing China's controversial new security law there. Trump's move is the latest installment in Washington's tit-for-tat with Beijing over Hong Kong, which includes fresh tensions over the South China Sea, China's treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and US-China competition for global tech domination. China has already vowed to retaliate against Washington over the Hong Kong measures — we're watching to see what, exactly, that means.

Ethiopia is back online: The Government of Ethiopia has partially restored internet access nationwide, more than three weeks after the murder of a popular singer led to mass protests that prompted the government to pull the plug on the web. Hachalu Hundessa, whose songs call to empower the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group, was gunned down last month in the capital city, Addis Ababa. Amid the subsequent unrest more than 200 people were killed and thousands arrested. A fragile calm has been restored, especially since the police detained two suspects in Hundessa's murder several days ago, and the government now seems comfortable enough to switch on the internet again. But violence can return as long as the murder remains unsolved. We're watching to see if Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, an Oromo himself, succeeds in his efforts to unite ethnic groups to keep the peace in a deeply fragmented country.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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