Top of the Agenda: Algeria Hostages Unaccounted For After Botched Rescue
Editors' Note: There will be no Daily Brief Monday, January 21, due to the U.S. federal holiday. The DB will resume Tuesday, January 22.
The al-Qaeda-linked captors holding a group of foreign nationals hostage at a gas field in Algeria threatened to attack (Reuters) other energy installations after Algerian forces stormed the complex to free hundreds of captives, resulting in roughly thirty hostage deaths. At least twenty-two foreign hostages were unaccounted for on Friday as Western leaders clamor for details of the assault they said Algeria had launched on Thursday without consulting them. Japan's foreign ministry summoned the Algerian ambassador (al-Arabiya) on Friday, and British Prime Minister David Cameron delayed his much-anticipated speech on the EU to chair an emergency committee meeting.
"Some analysts say Algeria was initially unwilling to take action so long as the jihadis operated elsewhere – last year was the quietest for terrorist incidents in Algeria for years, as the jihadists concentrated on northern Mali. However, it came under pressure from the United States, which after years when Algeria was a Soviet protégé has become more closely entwined with the country because of its importance in combating terrorism," writes Richard Spencer for the Telegraph.
"The countries whose nationals were being held may all have called for caution, but the Algerians were always going to be the key decision makers. It was their territory and many of their citizens were held hostage. They have a record of taking a tough, no-holds-barred approach," writes Gordon Corera for the BBC.
"[We] should be cautious about uncritically swallowing the claim that the kidnapping was politically motivated. Belmokhtar is 'Mr. Marlboro,' the chieftain of a highly successful smuggling ring. We should consider that his motives included the criminal. Belmokhtar is legendary in Algeria for his ability to avoid arrest. He also had a falling out with AQIM some time ago," writes CFR's John Campbell.
China Cracks Down on Tibet
China is responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests by criminalizing the suicides (AP), arresting friends of protestors and confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes. Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest of Chinese rule.
JAPAN: Japan's government said Friday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had urged Algeria (JapanToday) to call off the military operation at a gas field where dozens of hostages being held by Islamist gunmen were killed.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Myanmar Calls for Cease-Fire With Rebels
Myanmar's parliament approved a cease-fire to end fighting (Reuters) between ethnic Kachin rebels and the military in the north, an ongoing conflict that has raised doubts about reforms in the country.
CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses Myanmar's democratic transition in this article.
PAKISTAN: An officer investigating the power project corruption case linked to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was found dead, allegedly having committed suicide (Dawn).
Pakistan Minister of Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar talks to CFR about these and other issues in this video.
No Deal in UN-Iran Talks
Talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran ended on Friday with no deal reached on the country's nuclear program (AFP), dampening hopes of progress in renewed talks with world powers. Parties will meet again on February 12.
ISRAEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that no settlements in the occupied West Bank will be dismantled (al-Jareeza) if he wins next week's general election.
CFR's Robert Danin discusses Israel's two paths in its upcoming elections in this interview.
Mali Army Regains Konna
Mali's army recaptured the strategic town of Konna (BBC), north of the capital, after Islamist rebels fled. The UN refugee agency says it fears the fighting could force 700,000 people from their homes. Some 150,000 have already fled.
German State Poll Tests Political Waters
A poll on Thursday put German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and coalition partners neck-and-neck with rivals in the German state of Lower Saxony (DeutscheWelle) three days before a vote that will likely set the tone for the federal election in the fall.
GREECE: Greek lawmakers voted Friday to launch an investigation into allegations that former finance minister George Papaconstantinou removed the names of three relatives off the list of a tax-evasion scandal (LAT).
IMF to Assess Argentina's GDP in February
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde confirmed that the organization will assess her critical report on Argentinean statistics (MercoPress), which have been unreliable, in February. The assessment could lead to sanctions for the country.
PUERTO RICO: Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who was elected last November, said he would create 50,000 new jobs (LAHT) for the country in the next eighteen months.
Washington Outlines Education Plan
The White House is considering a major step to boost early childhood education (HuffPost) in President Obama's second term, outlining a plan to create universal pre-kindergarten for low- and middle-income family kids. The plan, which is projected to cost as much as $10 billion, is still under review by the White House, but is reportedly being discussed with advocates.