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Forecast Podcast: Greece tourism, Puerto Rico election, China’s Mars rover, Somalia leaders meet, Israel-Palestine conflict

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The Greek government will officially open up for tourists in a bid to boost the tourism sector upon which the country relies economically. Puerto Ricans will vote  in an election to send two special delegates to the U.S. Senate and four to the House of Representatives, with plans to become the 51st state.  China’s six-wheeled, solar-powered Mars rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet. Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Roble will meet with federal state leaders to discuss how to hold a much-delayed presidential election. And an interview with Factal editor Ahmed Namatalla on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Jeff Landset, Jimmy Lovaas, Sophie Perryer and Ahmed Namatalla.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is May 13th.

In this week’s forecast we have Greece reopening to tourists, Puerto Rico’s congressional delegation election, China’s Mars rover, a meeting of Somalian state leaders, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Also, I should mention that in that newsletter, as well as in the show transcripts, you’ll find multiple links to some of the source materials our editors used when compiling these stories. 

Greece reopening to tourists

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: On Friday, Greece will officially reopen for tourism. And the Mediterranean country has already opened up its beaches, bars and restaurants in preparation.

The government is hoping the move boosts its tourism sector, which accounts for a fifth of the country’s economic output.

Now, the country wasn’t hit particularly hard during the first wave of the pandemic, but it did see a rise in coronavirus cases in early spring that overwhelmed its health system.

Ermoupolis and Ano Syros on Syros island (Photo: Wikimedia)

Still, cases have recently stabilized and that’s allowed the government to reopen. In fact, Greece has already lifted quarantine restrictions on visitors from several countries, instead requiring those visitors to show a negative coronavirus test or proof they’ve been vaccinated.

As far as its own vaccination efforts go, Greece expects to exceed 5.4 million coronavirus vaccinations by the end of the month. 

That said, considering Greece will be one of the first countries in the world to offer tourists the opportunity to travel without tight restrictions, it could lead to other holiday hotspots doing the same sooner than expected, including destinations like France, Italy or Malta. 

The European Commission announced last week that the so-called “coronavirus passport” will be in place in June. That could facilitate travel between member states in time for summer.

Puerto Rican congressional delegation election

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: On Sunday, Puerto Ricans will vote in an election to send two special delegates to the U.S. Senate and four to the U.S. House, with plans to become the 51st state.

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they don’t have federal representation and can’t vote for president. 

Instead, they vote for a Resident Commissioner, which has almost all of the rights of other House members, but can’t vote on matters before the full House.

Now, Puerto Rico has held several non-binding referendums on its status, most recently in November of last year. In that election, 52 percent of voters believed Puerto Rico should be admitted immediately into the union as a state.

That led to Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly enacting Law 167 the following month. That set up a special election that creates a congressional delegation to advocate for statehood. It’s these delegates that Puerto Ricans will be choosing on Sunday. 

Now, these shadow lawmakers won’t be able to vote on legislation, but they must swear to defend the people’s mandate regarding statehood.

And that may be Puerto Rico’s best shot at becoming a state. 

Dozens of lawmakers from both parties cosponsored a bill allowing statehood and President Joe Biden said he is in favor of it. 

However, the bill has serious roadblocks in the Senate, with both Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer saying they’re not in favor of the move.

Planned landing of China’s rover on Mars

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: On Monday, China’s six-wheeled, solar-powered Mars rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet.

The rover was carried there by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which entered Mars orbit on Feb. 10 and has spent the past three months surveying landing sites. 

Now that it’s found one in an area of Mars called Utopia Planitia, the China National Space Administration is preparing to land its rover. 

The agency announced last month that the rover is named Zhurong, a fire god in Chinese mythology. The agency’s director says the name signifies igniting the flame of China’s planetary exploration.

If China is successful in deploying and landing its rover, it will join the United States and the Soviet Union as the only countries with soft landings on the Martian surface.

What’s more, it could join the United States as the only other nation to drive a rover on Mars. 

Zhurong is expected to have a lifespan of about three months and will be tasked with studying the planet’s surface and water-ice distribution as well as investigating its climate and environment.

Somalia state leaders meeting

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: On Thursday, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Roble will be meeting with federal state leaders. They’ll be discussing how to hold a presidential election — something that’s been delayed since February. 

Clashes broke out in Mogadishu on April 25 between officers allied with President Farmaajo and forces loyal to the opposition. 

That opposition is calling for Farmaajo’s resignation over his government’s failure to hold a presidential election last year. 

Tensions rose after the Lower House of Somalia’s parliament voted to extend President Farmaajo’s term until 2023. 

The legislative body later rescinded the extension and Prime Minister Roble ordered opposing troops to return to their respective bases.

International partners are preparing to offer support to resolve the impasse, but it’s not clear if the Somali government will accept foreign intervention. 

After all, the African Union appointed former Ghanian President John Mahama as an envoy to support mediation efforts, but reports suggest Somalia’s government has tried to delay Mahama’s deployment to the country. 

The UN called on all parties to reach an agreement on holding inclusive elections without delay.

Israel-Palestine conflict

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is a look at recent developments in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. For a better understanding of that I recently spoke with Factal editor Ahmed Namatalla. 

JIMMY: Good morning, Ahmed. 

AHMED: Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. You know, let’s just jump right into this. The situation in Gaza and Israel, it’s really gotten out of hand in the past few days. Can you bring us up to speed? How bad is it? 

AHMED: It’s bad. This is the most significant escalation of violence since 2014 when Israel’s military and Hamas exchanged rockets and airstrikes and it ended up in a very high death toll in the Gaza Strip, mostly civilians. Israeli civilians were also killed in that conflict, but at a much lower rate. What we’re talking about here today is several days of bombardment in Gaza. There are more than 40 Palestinians killed so far. On the Israeli side, there are six Israelis that have been confirmed killed. And these figures may well have gone up just over the past couple of hours. Israel is carrying out these airstrikes in response to the rockets. The militias in the Gaza Strip are saying that they’re the last line of defense against Israel and what they see as attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority and who’s completely disarmed. 

JIMMY: Was there anything in particular but made tensions ratchet up? 

AHMED: Yes, so it started about a month ago. It’s been several weeks of Israeli police clamping down on Palestinians during traditional Ramadan gatherings around Jerusalem’s Old City. Adding to those tensions is Israel’s plan to proceed with the eviction of dozens of Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which lies almost adjacent to the Old City. This was ruled by Israeli courts in favor of Israeli settlers who claim that they owned the land upon which these Palestinian homes are built. And they they cite Israeli law, which allows Israelis to reclaim land lost during previous wars, but does not give the same right to Palestinians in Jerusalem. And that includes occupied East Jerusalem. So what we have here is several factors that led to widespread protests in East Jerusalem, particularly around the Old City during Ramadan, and then it spiraled into individual acts of violence, both by Israeli settlers targeting Palestinians and Palestinians doing the same. And this is in West Bank areas, which are all under Israeli occupation. 

JIMMY: Well, that seems like a new development. Is that sort of individual violence part of the status quo? 

AHMED: Yes, but it is not [the status quo.] What we saw over the past month is an increase in those attacks, mainly caused by the tensions surrounding Jerusalem. Now, what we’ve also seen is the involvement of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, those are Palestinians that live in Israeli cities outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians started with peaceful protests. Israel’s police soon crackdown on those protests. And it sparked just a cycle of violence that continues to this day. 

JIMMY: Is this as bad as it’s gonna get? Do you think the worst is behind us?

AHMED: I don’t think so. It’s clear neither side is willing to de-escalate right now. Just on Tuesday, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that this is going to be a long campaign. They vowed to retaliate with increasing force. And so did Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who did the same. It’s amazing that both statements were televised almost at the same time, even as Israel continued to strike residential areas of the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City and elsewhere. And rockets from the Gaza Strip continued to strike in Israeli areas. Now, Israel does have an advanced air defense system that shoots down most of those missiles, but when you have hundreds of missiles being fired, some of them do end up in civilian areas inside Israel. And this has happened despite mediation efforts by some Arab countries, the US and the UN — all of whom have declining influence in this conflict relative to past years. 

JIMMY: What do both sides want? What are they demanding in order to step back from the recent escalations? 

AHMED: Israel says it wants an end to the rocket attacks that send thousands of its citizens into bomb shelters almost every day now. Hamas sees itself as the last line of defense against Israel and it says that it won’t stop until Israel stops attacking Palestinians and displacing Palestinians in the West Bank. Politically, all sides are struggling to maintain their grip on power. In Israel there was a recent election, the fourth in two years, that showed that the country remains divided between camps that are for and against Prime Minister Netanyahu. After being assigned with a mandate to form a new government, Netanyahu was unable to do so. And now that mandate was passed on to his rivals, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, who are now attempting to form an alternative to the prime minister who has been in power since 2009. If they’re successful, and that’s far from certain, it could offer some change that could be for the better or worse if they can decide to de-escalate the situation. Or, if you take Lapid’s comments at face value over the last couple of days, he’s actually talked about using more force against Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. So really remains unclear how Israel is going to deal with this. Moving forward, on the Palestinian side, their first elections since 2006 were cancelled because Israel would not agree to the vote being held in East Jerusalem. At least that was the reason cited by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His rivals contend that he canceled the vote because it was clear that he and his party weren’t going to do very well. So all sides here have their own political situations to deal with. And that’s playing largely into this conflict. 

JIMMY: A lot of moving parts. Thanks for bringing us up to speed there, Ahmed. Appreciate your insight. 

AHMED: Thank you, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Jeff Landset, Jimmy Lovaas, and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello at factal dot com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.