Newly elected Pope Francis started his first full day as head of the Roman Catholic Church Thursday, beginning with private prayers and an expected inaugural Mass in the Sistine Chapel. The new pope will take the helm at a time when widespread child sex abuse scandals and infighting within Vatican bureaucracy have marred the Church's image (Reuters). Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, a seventy-six-year-old Jesuit intellectual, was elected two days into the papal conclave (BBC) on Wednesday evening. The new pontiff is the first to be elected from the Americas, which has some 1.2 billion Catholics, and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. His election came to many as a surprise (MercoPress), with Vatican observers expecting a longer deliberation.
"Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had a reputation as a humble pastor who even in high office commuted to work by bus, lived in an apartment rather than an apostolic palace and cooked his own meals. In the inevitable comparisons with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, some will point to the new pontiff's credentials as a local bishop, rather than a Vatican insider," writes Michael Hirst for the BBC.
"There is great hope among those who admire the social teachings of the church that Pope Francis will put the struggles and needs of the poor in the developing world at the top of his public agenda," writes David Horsey for the Los Angeles Times.
"But as a theological conservative – who is reported to have been the 'runner-up' to Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave – Pope Francis will not be expected to make changes to the stance on issues such as abortion and euthanasia defended by the Vatican," write Guy Dinmore and Giulia Segreti for the Financial Times.
Xi Jinping Formally Elected
Xi Jinping was officially sworn in at the National People's Congress as China's new president on Thursday, completing the country's second political succession (Reuters) since the Communist Party took power in 1949. Xi was appointed party and military chief in November.
This CFR Backgrounder delves into the structure and history of the Chinese Communist Party.
JAPAN: An Algerian minister said that Japan offered to pay ransoms for the release of Japanese nationals seized in a hostage crisis in Algeria in January--a charge Tokyo denied (JapanTimes).
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Khmer Rouge Leader Dies
Ieng Sary, the eighty-seven-year-old former foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge and brother-in-law of Pol Pot, died Thursday (NYT). Sary was one of three leaders currently on trial for war crimes during the Khmer Rouge's reign, which saw 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
INDIA: India's Supreme Court ordered Italy's ambassador not to leave the country (TOI) after Rome's refusal to return two marines charged with the murder of two fishermen in Kerala last year.
New Israeli Government to Be Sworn In
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal to form a coalition government (Haaretz) with centrist and far-right parties, forcing him to give up an alliance with ultra-Orthodox groups. The deal comes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit on March 20.
CFR's Bernard Gwertzman talked to David Makovsky about Israel's fractured politics in this interview.
SYRIA: France's foreign minister said Thursday that France and Britain are prepared to arm Syrian rebels without unanimous EU support (al-Arabiya).
Malawi Officials Charged With Treason
The brother of former Malawi leader Bingu wa Mutharika and eleven other high-profile figures were charged with treason (BBC) for allegedly trying to prevent Joyce Banda, the country's first female president, from succeeding him.
MALI: Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traoré played down UN charges that Malian troops had committed abuses (RFI) against ethnic groups during the French-led offensive in the north.
EU Leaders Meet in Brussels
European leaders meet in Brussels today for a two-day summit (FT) to balance its austerity and growth measures, although analysts say the session will be muted compared to last month's tension-filled fight for consensus on the EU's €960 billion seven-year budget.
CFR's Robert Kahn discusses why Cyprus matters to the European economy in this blog post.
Spain Says EU Won't Budge on Havana
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo assured the leader of Cuban dissident group Ladies in White that the EU will maintain its tough position (LAHT) toward the regime in Havana. The movement's leader met briefly with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday.
BRAZIL: The UK halted plans to impose visa restrictions (Telegraph) on Brazilian tourists in light of concerns about its impact on business links between the two countries.