Top of the Agenda: UN Raises Syrian Death Toll to 93,000
Mohamed Azakir/Courtesy Reuters
The United Nations announced that almost 93,000 people (BBC) have been killed in Syria since the start of the civil war two years ago, representing a rise of more than 30,000 since the UN last issued its figures covering the period until November 2012. The agency added that the statistics are still an underestimate, as many deaths go unreported. Meanwhile, fighting over the past few days has targeted the Shia community, highlighting the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry said on Wednesday that a political solution (al-Jazeera) ending the war was still being debated, as Washington weighs the option of arming rebels.
"[T]he strategic, economic, and human consequences of a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria are hard to predict. The costs—for regional instability, budgetary overstretch, and U.S. lives—could be gargantuan. And they need to be weighed against the likelihood (and benefits) of 'success'—something the administration has yet to define," writes CFR's Stewart Patrick on his blog.
"The latest figures from the UN show clearly that the Syrian conflict is by far the bloodiest and most enduring of all the Arab uprisings. It's the only one that's mutated into a full-scale, heavily militarized civil war," writes Jim Muir for the BBC.
"Iran has extended two credit lines with a total of $ 4 billion to Assad, and Russia has been silent on Hezbollah's role. With Assad gaining ground, it is very unlikely that Russia would cede to major compromises such as an agreement in Geneva to be enforced later under a Chapter VII resolution at the Security Council," writes Joyce Karam for al-Arabiya.
Obama, Abe Stress East China Sea Security
U.S. president Barack Obama and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe renewed their commitment to dialogue in the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing are mired in a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands (VOA).
CFR's Sheila Smith discusses the potential for a Sino-Japanese clash in the East China Sea in this Contingency Planning Memo.
CHINA: Edward Snowden, the ex-CIA employee who leaked the report about NSA surveillance, told a Chinese newspaper that the U.S. government had been hacking (SCMP) into computers in Hong Kong and the mainland for years.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
India's Currency Continues Its Slide
The Indian rupee slid to all-time lows against the U.S. dollar Thursday after the country's finance minister failed to announce concrete steps to stem the fall. Bond traders say renewed foreign capital is unlikely to come until the government addresses investors' concerns over the economy (WSJ).
PAKISTAN: Pakistan rejected a British report saying Islamabad had purchased defense equipment, including high-tech gear used in combat jets, from Israel (DailyTimes).
Erdogan Hints at Referendum on Gezi
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the possibility of holding a referendum (Hurriyet) over the demolition of Gezi Park after a marathon meeting with a group of eleven demonstrators representing anti-government protesters.
CFR's Steven Cook outlines how Europe can save Turkey in this article.
Mugabe Fast-Tracks Electoral Changes
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe used a presidential decree to bypass parliament and fast-track changes to electoral laws (Reuters) on Thursday, in a bid to comply with a court order to hold elections by July 31. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai wants a delay to allow for certain reforms.
SUDAN: The African Union plans to make contact with South Sudan to address the situation between the two Sudans in the wake of Khartoum's suspension of oil flow (ERTA).
Putin Announces New Political Party
Vladimir Putin praised the creation of the Popular Front (FT), a new political movement observers say is tipped to eventually take over from United Russia, the ruling party. The move suggests that Moscow could be taking precautions against a collapse in support in the event of an economic downturn.
GREECE: Unions in Greece are striking Thursday (AP) in protest of the government's closure of state-run TV and radio broadcasters that is part of its cost-cutting drive needed to meet bailout terms.
NSA Chief to Brief Senators
National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander promised to give the U.S. Senate a rare classified briefing (BBC) about terror plots he claims were thwarted by secret surveillance. He defended on Wednesday the programs revealed by former CIA employee Edward Snowden.
COLOMBIA: FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group, proposed a postponement of the country's national elections next year (AP) to make way for peace talks with the government aimed at ending the country's protracted civil conflict. President Juan Manuel Santos rejected the idea.