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.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

It's been over a decade since the 58-year old whom some have dubbed "the Trump before Trump" became prime minister. In that time he has, critics say, hollowed out Hungary's governing institutions and eroded the state's democratic characteristics.

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In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

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Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

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Tanzania reverses course on COVID: Just four months ago, the Tanzanian government was completely denying the existence of the pandemic. Then-President John Magufuli insisted Tanzania was COVID-free thanks to peoples' prayers, and refused to try to get vaccines. But Magufuli died suddenly in March — perhaps of COVID. His successor, current President Samia Suluhu, has acknowledged the presence of the virus in Tanzania, and although she was initially lukewarm on mask-wearing and vaccines, Suluhu has recently changed her tune, first joining the global COVAX facility and now getting vaccinated herself to kick off the country's inoculation drive. Well done Tanzania, because if there's one thing we've all learned over the past 18 months, it's that nowhere — not even North Korea, whatever Pyongyang says — is safe from the coronavirus.

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16: A new study tracking Earth's "vital signs" has found that 16 out of 31 indicators of planetary health are getting worse due to climate change. Last year's pandemic-induced shutdown did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, stop the oceans from warming, or slow the shrinking of polar ice caps.

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Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

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