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What We're Watching: Thai youth rally against monarchy, Italian local polls

Pro-democracy protesters attend a mass rally  in Bangkok, Thailand. Reuters

(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.


A Tuscan takeover? Italians are currently voting in a series of regional elections seen as the first major electoral test since the pandemic hit. Voters have generally supported Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's handling of the crisis, but the center-left coalition he leads — the Democratic Party coupled with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement — has had trouble uniting behind candidates at the local level. The results will come later today, and we are watching mainly to see how far-right former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's Lega party does. Salvini has been out of the government since botching a bid to force fresh elections almost a year ago, but he has used the pandemic to amplify his anti-immigrant message and criticize the government's handling of the crisis. Although the party has lost some popularity at the national level, the Lega and its allies are already expected to win at least three of the seven regional leaderships up for a vote. And it has already won 8 out of 9 regional elections held since 2018. Keep a close eye in particular on Tuscany, where Salvini's party has already made strong local inroads in a region that has been run by the left for half a century.

Microsoft has been looking at ways its technology and resources can help address some of the challenges journalism faces, and the company shared some of the initial work. It includes a new community-based pilot program that looks at ways to provide journalists and newsrooms new tools, technology and capacity, and expand reach for local news outlets. It also includes a new pro bono program, also in pilot form, to provide legal support to journalists and smaller newsrooms, and an expansion of AccountGuard to help protect journalists from cyberattacks. The company will build on top of work already under way by Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Defending Democracy team that's designed to tackle issues such as disinformation. To read more about the Journalism Initiative, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has been rocked for two weeks by major unrest, as youth-led groups have hit the streets to protest police brutality and the lack of jobs. The demonstrations caught authorities by surprise — could they herald a broader and more permanent shift in which young Nigerians demand a bigger say in shaping their country's future?

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1 billion: International donors pledged around $1 billion to help three Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso) address humanitarian crises exacerbated by extremist violence and the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19. The UN warns that without more assistance, the conflict-ridden region in sub-Saharan Africa "could see an irreversible slide into chaos."

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Call it a counter-counter-revolution at the ballot box. One year after mass protests over election irregularities drove Bolivia's long-serving leftist populist President Evo Morales from office, his preferred candidate has won the presidency — possibly by a landslide.

But can the country's new leader, a soft-spoken economist named Luis Arce, move the country beyond the political trauma of the past year?

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Three years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a different kind of virus spread around the world: a piece of malicious software code launched by a nation state. It paralyzed computer networks in hundreds of countries, disrupted global shipping, forced pharmaceutical factories to shut down, and inflicted an estimated $10 billion of economic damage.

On the physical battlefield, a widely accepted set of rules, backed by international law, governs conduct, with the aim of protecting soldiers and civilians. Establishing common rules or guardrails is much harder in cyberspace, where borders can't be easily defined and the tools and tactics of combat are always changing. But it has never been more urgent.

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