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Factal Forecast: California reels from shootings, Venezuela faces fresh wave of protests, and French workers plan more strikes

Hundreds of people gather on a street waving flags. Most are wearing some item of red.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

A fresh wave of protests have broken out in Venezuela with workers demanding raises amid threats by regime-backed armed gangs. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Irene Villora discuss the skyrocketing inflation fueling the demonstrations and the challenges the protests pose to Maduro’s administration.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of Jan. 27-Feb. 3
A Look Ahead

Jan. 27 – Second round of Czech presidential election

Beginning Friday, the Czech Republic will hold two days of voting in the second round of the country’s presidential election. Incumbent President Miloš Zeman cannot run again due to term limits.

What’s happened so far 
A field of eight contenders was whittled down to two in the first round of voting, with retired Czech Army General Petr Pavel narrowly beating Andrej Babiš, an outspoken former prime minister and billionaire. Babiš has been criticized for comparing his opponent to Putin following the defeat, and for saying during a debate that he would not send troops to defend NATO allies in Poland and the Baltics if they were attacked. Record turnout is expected in the bitterly-fought second round, with a possible 84 percent of voters turning up.

The impact 
The presidency is seen as a prestigious post and, with little executive power, it is largely ceremonial in nature but does have some important responsibilities, including the appointment of prime ministers and judges. Pavel, the former chairman of NATO’s military committee and a supporter of Ukraine’s fight against Russia, is tipped in opinion polls to win the second round. 

Jan. 29 – Second round of parliamentary elections in Tunisia 

Tunisia will hold its second round of elections this Sunday, though participation is expected to be low.

What’s happened so far 
Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the Assembly of the Representatives and announced he would dismiss the government on the country’s Republic Day in July 2021. Often labeled as the only “success” of the Arab Spring movement, Tunisia thereafter saw thousands of anti-government demonstrators marching against what they believed to be a “coup.” In late December, Saied again extended the country’s state of emergency until the end of January, which rights groups argue is being used to clamp down on activists and political opponents.

The impact 
An electoral law change Saied announced in September decreased the number of parliamentarians to 161, with analysts arguing that it provides the president with “wide-ranging powers before, during, and after the vote.” According to Tunisian election officials, the turnout for the first round of voting fell short of reaching 9 percent. The new body is not expected to be sworn in until March later this year.

Jan. 30 – Hong Kong to scrap COVID-19 isolation rules 

Hong Kong will drop its mandatory quarantine rule for people infected with coronavirus on Monday as the city continues the gradual relaxation of restrictions.

What’s happened so far 
For the last three years of the pandemic, Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s zero-COVID policy, imposing a strict entry policy and social distancing regulations. Currently, those infected are required to quarantine at home for five days and can only go out if they test negative for two consecutive days. According to government records, 83 percent of the city’s population is vaccinated with three doses of vaccine, while 93 percent are vaccinated with two. As the population now has a strong “immunity barrier,” the city will follow China’s footsteps to return to normalcy, Chief Executive John Lee said.

The impact 
After reopening the border with China, canceling entry restrictions and now scrapping quarantine rules, the mask mandate is now the only major restriction left in Hong Kong. While some were concerned that the mass movement of people during Lunar New Year could cause a spike in infection rate, it’s unclear whether that has yet come to fruition. Many also see the relaxation as a chance to revive the city’s pandemic-hit economy.

Jan. 31 – Pope Francis visits DR Congo  

On Tuesday, Pope Francis and several high-ranking members of the Vatican will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan for a peace pilgrimage.

What’s happened so far 
The initial trip was postponed in July 2022 due to the pontiff’s health, but now the six-day trip will include visits to both Kinshasa and Juba along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the current moderator of the Church of Scotland. Alongside meetings with the respective presidents, Pope Francis will also meet with internally displaced people and victims of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo.

The impact 
This will be a busy year in the DR Congo, with elections set for December and an ongoing conflict between the country’s armed forces and several militant groups. The trip also comes weeks after a militant attack on a church in Kasindi. A pope has not visited the DR Congo since 1985, and Francis’ trip will attempt to bring hope ahead of those elections — elections that the country’s Catholic Church oversees alongside the government. 

Jan. 31 – Second day of France strikes

French unions have called for a second day of mobilization Tuesday against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform proposals. 

What’s happened so far 
At least 2 million people joined initial demonstrations across the country against the plans last week, including 400,000 in Paris, according to organizers. The government formally presented its plans to the Council of Ministers on Jan. 23, including the flagship policy of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, which has been unanimously rejected by unions, the opposition and the public.

The impact 
Demonstrations are expected in Paris and other major cities; some workers are also expected to strike during the preceding week. France’s National Assembly will begin debating the reform legislation on Feb. 6, coinciding with a call for a 72-hour strike by major unions. The Assembly must vote within 50 days and the government intends to implement the legislation by early summer. 

Feb. 1 – Russia aviation exercises in Belarus end

Air exercises involving Russia and Belarus in Belarusian airspace are scheduled to conclude on Wednesday after beginning on Jan. 16.

What’s happened so far 
Russia cycled a number of strike aircraft into Belarus for the drills, which Minsk said would take place at air bases across the country. The flurry of activity in Belarusian airspace prompted an uptick in air raid sirens in non-frontline areas of Ukraine that continue to see a declining volume of long-range Russian missile strikes along with decreasing frontline artillery fires.

The impact 
The drills bolstered ever-lingering fears that Russia would once again use Belarusian territory as a springboard to invade Ukraine from the north and attempt to take Kyiv. But Ukraine has faced no serious threat of a renewed Russian ground offensive from the north, with significantly fewer Russian soldiers in Belarus than before last year’s invasion and hardened defensive positions along the border. Though the threat of Russian drone and airstrikes from Belarusian airspace remains, the chances of a feared spring offensive on Kyiv appears unlikely barring fundamental changes in Russia’s posture in Belarus or Minsk’s level of war participation.

Feb. 1 – U.K. civil servants strike 

An estimated 100,000 British civil servants are set to participate in a one-day strike on Wednesday as the dispute over pay and working conditions continues.

What’s happened so far 
Negotiations are likely to continue to stall with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claiming raising public sector wages will fuel inflation. Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union leader Mark Serwotka, however, argues the government is treating its own workforce “worse than anyone else in the economy,” not negotiating and thus forcing the union to strike. PCS said an additional 33,000 members in five more government departments are re-balloting and could join the strike action.  

The impact 
The strike coincides with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) national day of action. It also comes after a failed round of talks between unions and Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin. A wide swath of services in the U.K. are likely to be impacted as the PCS union said members will walk out of work from at least 124 government departments and other bodies.

Feb. 3 – EU-Ukraine summit 

European Union and Ukrainian leaders are scheduled to hold their first summit since Russia’s invasion in Kyiv on Friday.

What’s happened so far 
The summit will be held on the heels of a sweeping anti-corruption drive in Ukraine, with more than a dozen senior officials ousted earlier this week. The campaign appears to be a bid by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to crack down on graft that could jeopardize Ukraine’s EU membership and undermine confidence in the country’s handling of the extensive economic assistance it depends on as it grapples with Russia’s invasion. The EU has continued to provide support to Ukraine, with foreign ministers recently approving 500 million euros ($536 million) in military aid, along with another 45 million ($49 million) for “non-lethal equipment” for military training. 

The impact 
The EU and the Ukrainian government are expected to discuss cooperation and support for efforts against Russia’s invasion, as well Ukraine’s path to EU membership, though the official agenda for the summit has yet to be finalized. More than a dozen European Commissioners are also expected to arrive in Ukraine’s capital a day early on Feb. 2 to meet with members of the Ukrainian government.

What Else Matters

Dozens of flowers lay near the entry to the Star Ballroom Dance Studio.
A makeshift memorial has been erected outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., following a mass shooting on Saturday night. (Photo: Zedembee / Wikimedia Commons)

California shootings 

At least 18 people were killed in two mass shootings in less than 48 hours in California this week. On Saturday night, just hours after a Lunar New Year celebration, a gunman opened fire at a dance hall in Monterey Park, a predominantly Asian suburb of Los Angeles, killing 11 people and injuring nine others. A bystander prevented further tragedy by westling away the shooter’s gun at a different event space in the area minutes later. The suspect, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot the following day. On Sunday evening, seven people were shot and killed at two different locations near a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, a small city south of San Francisco. The suspect, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao, was arrested just hours after the first shots were fired. In both incidents, the victims were primarily of Asian descent. Motives for the apparently unrelated shootings are still unknown, though authorities believe the Half Moon Bay incident may be a case of “workplace violence.” 

Watch for: In the wake of the shootings, President Joe Biden renewed his calls for sweeping gun control measures, namely an assault weapons ban. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein responded by introducing a federal gun control bill in the Senate, though it is unlikely to pass through a divided Congress. While the details of the gun used in the Half Moon Bay shooting are not yet publicly known, authorities say the suspect in Monterey Park carried a modified MAC-10 semi-automatic gun, which could be banned under Feinstein’s plan. The shootings have already sparked shows of solidarity in Asian-American communities across the country and more marches and vigils are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Venezuela protests 

Venezuelan public sector workers, pensioners and professionals from diverse economic sectors have staged demonstrations across the country since Jan. 9 to protest against the lack of purchasing power due to skyrocketing inflation and to demand a raise in wages and pensions. Venezuela’s inflation closed 2022 at 305.7 percent, bringing the worth of the minimum wage of 130 bolívares down to around $7 USD. President Nicolás Maduro blamed the current crisis on international sanctions on the country and has participated in counter-protests organized by his party. This new wave of protests comes amid growing political disenchantment among the population, with a deflated opposition and negotiations underway between Maduro’s administration and representatives of the dissidence aiming to achieve a degree of democratic legitimacy (members’ link).

Watch for: Protesters have staged mostly peaceful daily road blockades and rallies near government buildings. Educators have also called an indefinite strike until their demands are met. Only a few violent incidents have been reported in relation to the protests, with demonstrators trespassing at metal factories and some arrests recorded. National and international media report the so-called “armed collectives” — groups of armed civilians trained by the regime to infiltrate opposition protests — have threatened protesters on social media. Some sectors traditionally affiliated with the government have joined the protests, a new challenge to Maduro’s administration that shows the weakening of traditional political movements in the country.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Jan. 27- Feb. 3

Jan. 27

  • WHO meeting to decide on coronavirus emergency

Jan. 28

  • Trump to make first 2024 campaign appearance in South Carolina

Jan. 29

  • Second round of Tunisian elections

Jan. 30

  • World Health Organization executive board meets
  • IMF’s executive board to decide on $36-million loan for Guinea-Bissau
  • South Korea lifts mandatory use of face coverings in indoor spaces
  • Hong Kong to scrap COVID-19 isolation rules

Jan. 31

  • Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan
  • Ghana domestic debt exchange deadline
  • US central bank policy meeting

Feb. 1

  • UK civil servants strike

Feb. 2

  • Bank of England expected to raise interest rate
  • Cardinal Pell interred in Sydney

Feb. 3

  • EU-Ukraine summit

Feb. 4-10 

Feb. 4

  • Venice Carnival begins
  • World Cancer Day

Feb. 5

  • Mayor election in Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • U.S. Secretary of State Blinken in Beijing

Feb. 6

  • EU general affairs council meeting
  • UK ambulance workers strike
  • French refinery workers strike

Feb. 7

  • Biden State of the Union address
  • New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern resignation

Feb. 9

  • Special European Council on migration
  • Mexico central bank policy meeting

Feb. 10

  • New York Fashion Week begins
  • New Bank of Japan governor expected

Feb. 11-17

Feb. 12

  • Super Bowl LVII

Feb. 13

  • Human Rights Council meeting

Feb. 15

  • US appeals court weighs NCAA case over pay for athletes
  • EU gas price cap can be triggered

Feb. 16

  • Elections in Tripura, India
  • Berlin International Film Festival begins

Feb. 17

  • Libya’s Arab Spring revolution anniversary

Feb. 18-24

Feb. 18

  • Nigeria general election
  • Crypto exchange Coinbase halts Japan operations

Feb. 19

  • British Academy Film Awards

Feb. 21

  • EU energy ministers meet in Stockholm
  • Mardi Gras

Feb. 24

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit New York to speak at UN General Assembly

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