What We’re Watching: Protests meet Thai king, AMLO’s anti-corruption push under fire, Brexit mess continues

A pro-democracy demonstrator holds a placard past a portrait of Thai King Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok. Reuters

Thais "welcome" king back: Thousands of pro-democracy activists rallied across Bangkok on Wednesday as embattled King Maha Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand after spending almost seven months amid a growing youth-led movement calling to reform the monarchy. Police pushed away protestors trying to confront the king's motorcade, while hundreds of royalist counter protesters cheered him on. Although violence was largely avoided, animosity is rising as some of the pro-democracy activists are now openly calling to go beyond reform and outright abolish the monarchy, normally a taboo topic in Thailand. They are fiercely opposed by the royalist camp, which controls the government and the security forces. We're keeping an eye on whether the king's physical presence in the country will encourage wider protests and put pressure on Thai Prime Minister — and 2014 coup leader — Prayuth Chan-ocha to crack down hard against the increasingly bold activists. (So far, he has banned public gatherings and arrested over 20 protesters).


Does Mexico's anti-corruption president have a corruption problem? Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an austere leftwing populist known as AMLO, was elected President of Mexico in 2018 — in part on his pledges to clean up the country's rampant corruption. He won plaudits for stripping public officials of immunity, rejecting the lavish lifestyle of previous presidents, and setting up an Institute for Returning to People What Was Stolen (INDEP), which auctions off the illegally obtained property of public officials and is supposed to put the proceeds back into the national budget. But recently, the head of INDEP resigned, alleging that the institute itself was misusing those funds. Taken together with a flurry of corruption scandals alleging misconduct by his own brother and his sister-in-law, AMLO may be facing a corruption problem of his own as he gears up for next year's crucial mid-term elections.

EU-UK post-Brexit deal (still) up in the air: The European Union and the United Kingdom remain deadlocked on talks to prevent the UK from exiting the EU without a trade agreement at the end of the year. Although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he's willing to walk away if no consensus is reached by October 15, the two sides are simultaneously negotiating a one-year extension to avoid the economic fallout of a no-deal Brexit (which would raise prices for businesses and consumers in both the UK and the EU). The latest snag is French opposition to certain British fishing rights once it leaves the EU: the French want full EU access to British waters in return for reciprocal full UK access to sell fish to the EU, while Brits demand quotas on the former. Moreover, London and Brussels are still squabbling over a new UK law that would exclude Northern Ireland from some EU trade rules while both sides continue negotiating. Will Johnson keep his word and gamble on a no-deal Brexit? If so, will it be too late for the EU to stop him? The answer in the next episode of this neverending drama.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

Salvadorans protest Bukele, Bitcoin: Thousands of people took to the streets of El Salvador's capital on Wednesday, the 200th anniversary of the country's independence, to protest against President Nayib Bukele's increasingly authoritarian streak and his embrace of risky cryptocurrency. Last May, Bukele ended the Supreme Court's independence; perhaps unsurprisingly, the court then decided to lift the constitutional ban on presidential term limits — presumably so Bukele can run for reelection in 2024. Meanwhile, last week El Salvador became the first country in the world to accept Bitcoin as legal tender, but the rollout was, to put it mildly, messy. The protesters resent Bukele's dictator vibes and warn that Bitcoin could spur inflation and financial instability. The tech-savvy president, for his part, insists that crypto will bring in more cash from remittances and foreign investment, and remains immensely popular among most Salvadorans. Still, Bukele's Bitcoin gamble could erode his support if the experiment fails.

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22.7 million: Trinidad-born US rapper Nicki Minaj has caused a political uproar after telling her 22.7 million Twitter followers that the COVID vaccine caused her Trinidadian cousin's friend to get swollen testicles and become impotent. The country's health minister called out Minaj, as did the White House.

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On Monday, Canada's liberal hunk of a PM heads into early elections that no one seems to have wanted... except for him.

When Justin Trudeau announced the move back on August 15, many people questioned the wisdom of holding a national election amid the economic and public health upheavals of the pandemic. "Read the room, Justin," was a common quip, with many saying the early vote was irresponsible from a public health perspective.

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

Will the House Democrats actually be able to "tax the rich"?

The answer to that question is yes, the House Democrats this week rolled out a proposal in order to partially finance their plans to spend $3.5 trillion. The tax proposal is notable for three things. One, while it does raise taxes on corporate America, including the corporate rate (that's 26.5% from 21% today), it goes a little bit softer on them than a proposal from Senate Democrats or from the Biden administration who wanted to be much more aggressive in going after the overseas earnings of US multinational corporations.

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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