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What We’re Watching: Standoffs in Sudan and the Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf dangers growing by the day – Iran-backed Houthi rebels used drones to attack two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia yesterday, just two days after a mysterious attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Tensions are flaring dangerously: a Saudi daily led its Tuesday edition with the headline "On the Verge of War?", while Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted that these recent "accidents" were authored by the US and Israel to trigger a conflict. Hanging over all of this: the Times reported that the Pentagon is exploring plans to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East. What could possibly go wrong?

Sudan Standoff – Following mass demonstrations that began in December, thousands of protesters in Khartoum have occupied the square outside Sudan's national military headquarters since April 6. First, they demanded the end of strongman Omar Bashir's 30-year dictatorship. They got that on April 11, but they refused to go home until the army promised to form a civilian-led government. Last weekend, it seemed like progress was being made in talks between army generals and protest organizers. But on Monday gunfire erupted. At least five protesters and one soldier were killed. We're watching to find out whether someone, perhaps in the military, is trying to prevent the generals and protesters from making a deal.

What We're Ignoring: North Korean virtues & Chinese officials' feelings

North Korean Wisdom and Honesty – For the first time ever, the US last week seized a North Korean cargo ship that was flouting international sanctions on the North's coal exports. Pyongyang, which depends on a vast network of clandestine ships to trade in international markets, wasn't pleased. Yesterday, it called on the US to "carefully reconsider" its "daylight robbery" of the ship, called the Wise Honest, saying the move violated the spirit of cooperation between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. We're ignoring North Korea's complaints, because its neither Wise nor Honest to invoke cooperation just days after firing off a volley of ballistic missiles.

Irreparable Harm to China's Feelings – On Monday, a man was arrested in eastern China for giving his dogs "illegal" names. Apparently, the man thought it would be funny to name his dogs "Chengguan," a word that refers to city officials who fight petty crime, and "Xieguan," which is an informal community worker. The man then publicized his joke on social media. State officials explained the arrest by claiming the man had "caused great harm to the nation and the city's urban management, in terms of their feelings." We're ignoring this story because this man has failed at the relatively easy task of giving dogs funny names, but also because we're confident his offense poses no real threat to China or its urban management.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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