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Hong Kong demonstrators protest a government ban on face masks in October. Photo by Laurel Chor/Getty Images

The year of the mass uprising has collided with the year of the coronavirus lockdown, leaving protest movements around the world stalled. 

The big picture: The enduring images of 2019 are of protest — from Hong Kong to Khartoum, across the Middle East and through much of Latin America. Seemingly overnight, though, social distancing has made such mass demonstrations almost unthinkable.

Hong Kong’s protests raged for most of 2019, climaxing in November with showdowns on university campuses but leaving existential questions about relations with mainland China unresolved heading into the new year.

  • During the protests, face masks were worn as a symbol of defiance and protection against tear gas. Now, the same masks are worn to protect against infection, AP notes.
  • Organizers continue to press their demands for greater autonomy, but they won’t be backed by millions-strong demonstrations anytime soon.

Chile’s typically stable politics were upended in October by chaotic demonstrations that carried into this year and forced the government to agree to a national referendum.

  • That vote, on whether to draft a new constitution that better addresses concerns over inequality, has now been postponed.
  • “First we need to stay alive, then we keep trying to change the world,” one street vender who had taken part in protests but was now staying away told Reuters.

In India, protests against laws that discriminate against Muslims were intensifying in the weeks leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Large gatherings are now illegal with the country entering lockdown. The site of one long-standing protest was cleared on Tuesday.

Planned protests are on hold everywhere from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

  • In Algeria, anti-government protests had been held for 56 consecutive weekends, until last week.
  • “It does not mean we are giving up in our fight against the dictatorship,” a spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s opposition said of the decision to freeze protests. “We just want to allow the coronavirus to pass.”
  • In Paris earlier this month, police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Yellow Vest protesters who defied a ban on large gatherings.
  • Climate activist Greta Thunberg has, for the time being, gone from leading young people on climate marches to urging them to stay home. (She also suspects she had the coronavirus.)

Protesters are adapting to the times — from banging pots on balconies in Brazil to gathering in a massive virtual demonstration in Israel.

  • But the sorts of mass protests that brought down five world leaders in 2019 are on hold just about everywhere.
  • Some autocratic-leaning governments will likely use that ban to their advantage.

Where things stand: Women in Mexico attempted a novel tactic on March 9. To protest violence against women, they held a “day without women” by staying inside their homes all day. 

  • Now, the world has moved inside. It’s the streets that are empty.

Go deeper

Updated 26 mins ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI said in a statement to news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.

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