Top of the Agenda: Algeria Hostages Escape During Militant Standoff
An Algerian security official said at least twenty foreigners that have been held hostage by Islamist militants at a gas plant in Algeria have escaped (France24). The gunmen, who are demanding a halt to the French military campaign in neighboring Mali, seized roughly forty foreign nationals and scores of Algerians after occupying the complex (AFP) on Wednesday and killing a Briton and an Algerian. Governments around the world held emergency meetings (Reuters) to respond to the hostage crisis, which has sharply raisedthe stakes over the week-old French campaign against al-Qaeda-linked rebels in the Sahara.
"Mali's terrain is far less foreboding than Afghanistan or Pakistan. There is much less popular support for jihadists in Mali than the Taliban enjoyed in its tribal regions. And there is the potential of a peace agreement between the Malian government and the always restive Tuaregs, perhaps mediated by Algeria (which has done so in the past and might again)," writes CFR's Stewart Patrick.
"This ugly, dangerous insurgency in Mali matters because the legitimate fear among Mali's neighbouring countries and Western powers is that, unchecked, Mali - strategically sited as it is - will devolve into a lawless territory of factional warlords, supported by al-Qaeda, and with extensive criminal ventures under their control. And all this threatens to take hold within a few hours' flight of Europe," writes an editorial for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"For one thing, there is a credible theory that the French defense ministry has imposed a media blackout on reporting Operation Serval, preventing less savory details from being reported. Since I've been in Mali, many humanitarian workers active in the north have told me that they are concerned about civilian casualties, which they believe far outnumber both official estimates, and would put a dampener on things, to put it mildly, if released," writes Afua Hirsch for the Guardian.
Obama Boosts Ties With South Korea
U.S. President Barack Obama told South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye during her visit with senior American officials that close cooperation (Yonhap) between the two allies will play a pivotal role in coping with "grave" challenges from North Korea.
INDONESIA: Heavy flooding hit the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, claiming five lives (JakartaPost) since Tuesday and displacing more than 15,000 people.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistan Begins Talks With Cleric
The Pakistani government has launched talks with Tahirul Qadri, a populist opposition cleric who has been calling for electoral reforms and an end to corruption (Dawn). Qadri had had given the government until Thursday afternoon to negotiate on his demands for key reforms.
INDIA: Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar called for talks with her Indian counterpart over the contentious Line of Control (TimesofIndia) in Jammu and Kashmir after killings of soldiers from both countries strained ties.
Hina Rabbani Khar talks with CFR about India, drones, and the current political situation in Pakistan in this video.
Bombs in Iraq Kill at Least Twenty-Two
Insurgent bomb attacks, mainly targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims, killed at least twenty-two people across Iraq on Thursday. The eruption of violence (AP) follows nearly two weeks of relative calm, and threatens to exacerbate rising tensions among Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups.
CFR's Megan O'Sullivan discusses the tense situation in Iraq in this interview.
SYRIA: The Obama administration has pressed Turkey and Jordan to secure chemical weapons sites (CPI) and get access to protective gear should the crisis in Syria worsen. Western governments have already started training troops to use the gear and detection equipment.
French Hostage Executed, Somali Militants Say
The Somali militant group al-Shabaab said they have killed French hostage Denis Allex (France24), whom they had been holding since July 2009. France has said Allex died in a failed rescue attempt by commandos on Saturday.
Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's Labour Party, attacked the Conservative Party's "hopeless" and "neuralgic" position on the European Union (Telegraph), but refused to say whether he would hold a referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU.
GERMANY: Germany's central bank said it would repatriate some of its gold reserves (WSJ) from France and the United States after fears that the euro crisis was affecting Germany's own financial stability.
Statement Expected on Falklands
More than twenty countries called for talks to settle the Falkland Islands dispute (MercoPress) between Britain and Argentina at a meeting of the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone yesterday. The zone was created by the United Nations in 1986.
VENEZUELA: Student protesters in Venezuela vowed to continue anti-government rallies (MiamiHerald), demanding the restoration of the constitution and saying they will not recognize the new government led by Vice President Nicolas Maduro on behalf of the ailing President Hugo Chavez.
Obama Expected to Name National Security Adviser as Chief of Staff
President Barack Obama plans to name Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough as his next chief of staff, Politico reports. McDonough, who has served since October 2009 as the chief of staff to the National Security Council, would replace Jack Lew, who was nominated to be the next Treasury secretary.