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What We're Watching: Separatists vs far right in Catalonia, US-Turkey row, France's controversial bill

A pro-independence protester holds a placard that reads: "Independence. There's another way to live", during a demonstration on Catalonia's day of 'La Diada' in Barcelona, Spain, September 11, 2020

Catalonia's post-election mess: Spain's pro-union Socialist Party (which leads the national coalition government in Spain) won the most votes in Sunday's regional election in Catalonia. But for the first time ever, pro-independence parties collectively came ahead in the popular vote, reaping a majority of seats (though voter turnout was dismal). Separatist forces will now band together to form yet another government in Catalonia that will prioritize breaking away from Spain, and may again try to secede unilaterally. Adding to Catalonia's political polarization, the far-right Vox party won almost 10 percent of the ballots cast with a fiery anti-independence, anti-immigration message that resonated with some unionist Catalans. The result puts Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in a bind: he needs pro-independence parties to get legislation passed in the national parliament, but giving them what they want — a pardon for the Catalan politicians convicted of secession for the events of 2017 and more autonomy for the region — would be immensely unpopular among voters in the rest of the country, and could encourage many of them to gravitate towards Vox. Your move, Don Pedro.

France's anti-separatism bill: The French parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of legislation aimed at curbing what President Emmanuel Macron has called "Islamic-separatism," and strengthening France's secular character. The bill's 51 articles include limits on homeschooling, fines — and even jail time — for doctors that conduct so-called "virginity tests" for Muslim women, as well as harsher penalties for online hate speech. Critics say the new law is discriminatory, unfairly targeting 5.7 million French Muslims, and does not reflect France's contemporary melting-pot culture. But proponents of the bill — among them many imams — argue that the new measures are necessary as France grapples with a resurgence of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. Indeed, the gruesome beheading of a teacher outside Paris last fall, followed by a deadly rampage at a church several days later in Nice, sent shockwaves through a country that has lost more of its people to terror attacks in recent years than any other Western country. But there's also a political dimension at play: Macron faces a tough reelection battle in 2022, and currently trails his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the polls while his own approval rating remains sluggish. Will inching closer to the right help Macron's reelection bid?

Turkey hits US over Kurds: Weeks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken angered Ankara by saying it wasn't acting like a NATO ally because of its purchase of Russia's S-400 missile defense system, US-Turkey relations have deteriorated further. This time, Turkey has blasted Washington for questioning the reported involvement of Kurdish militants in the execution of 13 Turkish hostages in northern Iraq, summoning the US ambassador for a scolding (Turkey, which considers Kurdish militants to be terrorists, also criticized Washington's ongoing support for the Kurds in Syria). As Turkish journalist İpek Yezdani told GZERO Media last fall, Turkey's pugnacious President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no fan of US President Joe Biden, who a year ago irked Erdogan by calling for the opposition to beat him in the next election. By contrast, Trump appeased Erdogan by withdrawing US troops from northern Syria. We're watching to see how frosty US-Turkey ties will get in the near term — and if Erdogan and Biden will find any common ground.

A century after the rise and destruction of Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood, Greenwood Rising is turning the site of a tragedy into a vibrant community hub, supported by a $1 million grant from Bank of America.

Greenwood, or Black Wall Street, was a thriving community of Black-owned businesses until the race-fueled massacre of 1921 that killed hundreds of Black residents and wiped out the neighborhood's homes and businesses. Nearing the 100th anniversary of this tragedy, focused activity in the neighborhood—including a history center—is bringing to life the spirit of Black Wall Street.

The most ambitious global vaccination drive in history is in motion. Over the past three months, more than 213 million COVID-19 shots have been administered across 95 countries, and the vaccination rate is slowly increasing. At the current rate, around 6.11 million doses are being administered daily.

It's a rare bit of hopeful news after 15 months of collective misery. So where do things stand at the moment, and what's keeping the world from getting to herd immunity faster?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

With protests growing, where does that leave the Myanmar coup?

Well, certainly no feeling on the part of the military that they need to back down under either domestic or international pressure. There's been relatively limited violence, thankfully so far. A few protesters have been killed. They've used tear gas, they've used water cannons, but much less of a crackdown than certainly they're capable of or that we've seen from the Myanmar military historically. That, of course, gives the protesters on the ground more incentive to think that they have success, and they can continue.

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Reducing carbon emissions is good for the planet and good for your lungs, but there's one group of countries that might not be so keen on green: those that rely heavily on oil and gas exports to run their economies. As the rest of the world gets closer to "Net Zero" in the coming decades, these petrostates will be in big trouble unless they diversify their economies — fast. So, how vulnerable are the world's top oil and gas producers to a low-carbon future? We look at how much the 20 most hydrocarbon-dependent nations would stand to lose over the next two decades under what the Carbon Tracker Initiative calls a "low-carbon scenario".

US to release Khashoggi report: The Biden administration's intel chief is expected to release on Thursday a report on the murder of Saudi dissident journalist — and US resident — Jamal Khashoggi. In line with previously reported findings, the assessment will say that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was involved in the plot to kill and dismember Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Aside from a sprinkling of new details, we don't expect much from the report itself, but we are keen to see how it shapes US-Saudi relations under Joe Biden, who has promised to take a harder line with Riyadh over human rights and security issues than his predecessor did. Part of that new approach is that the US president will no longer speak directly to the Crown Prince himself as Trump did — from now on, only his dad, King Salman, gets calls from the White House.
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