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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 3, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Thai Police Defuse Protests

Hundreds of anti-government protestors stormed the Thai prime minister's office compound on Tuesday as police stood by and watched, in a reversal of a policy to confront demonstrations at the site (AP). The symbolic victory for the protestors allowed them to occupy the grounds for an hour and provided a lull in violence ahead of the birthday of the country's revered king on December 5. Police even handed out roses to flag-waving protestors (Reuters). Despite reduced tensions on the streets of Bangkok, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, said the month-long effort to unseat the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will continue (Bloomberg).

Analysis

"The United States, along with China, is the most important partner of Thailand; Thailand is a treaty ally and a major non-NATO ally, and the U.S. response to any crisis in Bangkok carries significant weight with all sides of the Thai political spectrum. Thus, Washington should, even before December 5, make it clearer to all sides of the Thai political spectrum that the United States will take a much harder line against an extraconstitutional intervention than it has done in the past," writes CFR Senior Fellow Joshua Kurlantzick.

"The protest movement in Thailand is not triggered by class differences as described by many foreign journalists. It is, in fact, inspired by the discontentment towards the unprecedented levels of governmental corruption, the elective dictatorship in parliament, and doubts about the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's expertise and competence to lead the country based on good governance and respect for the rule of law," writes former foreign minister of Thailand Kasit Piromya for al-Jazeera.

"So Thailand's would-be-revolution, paid for by a few but brought to the streets by tens of thousands, has got stuck. For as long as Thais can recall, their governments have built up their majorities in the provinces. The same governments have been unmade rather handily in the capital, to the perennial relief of the Bangkok elite who enjoy ties with the royal palace. The notion that power has shifted permanently from the center to the provinces—where the Shinawatras have their base—seems to be unacceptable to many of the old guard. The elite are used to thinking that power can always be clawed back in Bangkok," writes the Economist.

 

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PACIFIC RIM

Biden Seeks to Soften Tensions in Japan, China

Vice President Joe Biden met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Tuesday and said the United States is "deeply concerned" about China's attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea, an issue he said he will raise when he meets Chinese president Xi Jinping on Thursday (AP).

NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader, is believed by the South Korean spy agency to have sacked his powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, and had two of Jang's aides executed in public last month (Yonhap).

 

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Afghan President Calls for Delay to April Vote

President Hamid Karzai has suggested that the April presidential election be postponed due to concern of heavy snows in mountainous areas, a proposal that raised concerns that Karzai may be trying to drag out his second and final term in office (al-Jazeera).

KAZAKHSTAN: Income inequality in Kazakhstan is fueling a revival of polygamy, a practice that was outlawed by the Bolsheviks in 1921 (Bloomberg).

 

MIDDLE EAST

UN Evidence on Syria War Crimes Implicates Assad

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said evidence collected by UN investigators indicated that Syria's head of state, President Bashar al-Assad, and other senior officials are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Syrian conflict (LAT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Syrian conflict and the global response to end the war.

EGYPT: Authorities in Egypt's military-backed government arrested a prominent blogger on Tuesday (Reuters), the latest move in its crackdown on Islamists that has extended to include political activists who speak out against the army.

CFR's Steven Cook explains in this blog post the challenges facing Egypt's young and disorganized activists.

 

AFRICA

UN Deploys Drones in DR Congo

The UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo has deployed unarmed surveillance drones to monitor rebel activity along the Rwandan and Ugandan borders, marking the first use of drones by the United Nations (BBC).

BOTSWANA: Africa could lose 20 percent of its elephant population in a decade if poaching isn't curbed, according to a joint study by three animal conservation groups (All Africa).

 

EUROPE

Ukraine No-Confidence Vote Fails

Ukraine's opposition failed to pass a no-confidence vote in parliament to signal their protest against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to shelve an agreement with the EU and the violent response by police to disperse demonstrations (AP).

Expert Jan Techau explains the tug of war between the East and West over the Ukraine in this CFR interview.

ITALY: Coastguards rescued 120 mostly Syrian refugees from a fishing boat adrift off the coast of southern Italy (AFP). Hundreds of migrants drowned in two shipwrecks in October on the same route.

 

AMERICAS

Number of U.S. Banks Sinks to Record Lows

The number of federally insured banking institutions shrank to 6,891 in third quarter, its lowest since at least the Great Depression, when regulators began tracking the nation's banks (WSJ). A sluggish economy, low interest rates, and stringent regulations were blamed for the slump.

ARGENTINA: Economists in Argentina predict that the official exchange rate against the U.S. dollar could decline by 50 percent by the end of the year in an effort to close the gap with other exchange rates in the market (MercoPress).

 

 

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