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What We’re Watching: Protests in Chile, US vs Google, Middle East economic peril

Protest against Chile's government during the one-year anniversary in Santiago of the protests and riots in 2019. Reuters

Protests ahead of Chile's referendum: It's been one year since massive protests over inequality rocked the normally staid and ostensibly affluent country of Chile. To mark that anniversary this week, tens of thousands of protesters hit the streets again, in part to call for a "YES" vote in Sunday's upcoming referendum on whether to rewrite the country's constitution. But some of the demonstrators turned to violence and looting, setting the country on edge as the crucial vote looms. Replacing the country's current constitution — which dates from the days of Pinochet's dictatorship — was a key demand of last year's protesters, who say that it entrenches the country's dizzyingly high inequality by limiting the role of the state and constraining political choices. If the current protests continue through the weekend, authorities and street activists alike are concerned violence may deter some people from voting.

Google hit with US antitrust case. The US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the tech giant for maintaining an illegal monopoly over the search engine market. The ruling sets up an epic battle between government regulators and one of America's most powerful companies. Google, which says it faces more search engine competition than you'd think and that its services have actually boosted small businesses, will of course fight this with the lobbying and legal power you'd expect from a trillion-dollar enterprise. But the DOJ filing comes just weeks after a Democrat-led House Committee released a 450-page report alleging various ways in which Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook undermine commercial and political freedom. As a bipartisan consensus emerges on the need to rein in these companies, the DOJ's Google case is sure to be a watershed event in US regulation of Big Tech.

(Economic) trouble in MENA: A report this week from the International Monetary Fund warns that COVID-19 has inflicted a "deeper and more persistent economic impact" on potentially fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa, adding to the risk of major social unrest. The IMF blames a witch's brew of the global impact of coronavirus, low oil prices, coronavirus containment measures, the impact of "limited digitalization" and "limited remote working," weak social safety nets, cash-strapped governments, and the region's disproportionate share of the world's refugees and displaced people. The list includes war zones like Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. But Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank and Gaza qualify too. Even in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states, where sizable protests are far less likely, governments will probably have much less money to spend for years to come.

Dating and debates, music festivals and dance classes, work and education – an increasing amount of our social interactions now take place online. With this shift to virtual venues, ensuring kindness and respect in everyday interactions and encounters is more important than ever.

The digital space has become a fundamental part of the national and international conversation, and has also, at times, become a breeding ground for bullying, trolling and hate speech. There is a clear need for more "digital good" to ensure that online encounters have a constructive impact on everyone involved. To learn more about digital good and what it means, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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As the global vaccination race heats up, the most populous country in the world is trying to do three very hard things at once.

India, grappling with the second highest confirmed COVID caseload in the world, recently embarked on what it called "the world's largest" coronavirus vaccination campaign, seeking to inoculate a sizable swath of its 1.4 billion people.

That alone would be a herculean challenge, but India is also making hundreds of millions of jabs as part of the global COVAX initiative to inoculate low-income countries. And as if those two things weren't enough, Delhi also wants to win hearts and minds by doling out millions more shots directly to other countries in its neighborhood.

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Passport to the Hajj — Saudi Arabia announced that it will require pilgrims to have vaccine passports in order to enter the country for the annual Hajj later this year. Each year, millions of Muslims from dozens of countries travel to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina to fulfill a religious obligation, in an annual event that brings in billions of dollars for the Saudi economy. The vaccine passport requirement may mean that people without means or access to vaccines in their home countries will be shut out of the Hajj this year, but Riyadh is relying on the scheme to help them pull off the event — after last year's event was mainly cancelled amid the pandemic— without fomenting a COVID outbreak.

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26,000: Efforts by the Australian government to keep the pandemic at bay have harmed the country's agriculture sector, which relies on foreign workers to tend to crops and cultivate the land. Australia had a deficit of some 26,000 farmworkers because of entry restrictions in recent months, Agri businesses say, resulting in tens of millions of dollars worth of wasted crops.

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