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.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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