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March 5, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Libya Appeals for Arms Ahead of Peace Talks

The internationally recognized government in Libya made an urgent appeal (Middle East Eye) to the UN Security Council on Wednesday to approve requests for military purchases to fight militants tied to the self-declared Islamic State and to protect Libyan oil fields. The request follows reports that eleven oil fields became non-operational (AP) following recent attacks, according to Libya's state-run oil corporation. Meanwhile, the UN-recognized government carried out air strikes (Reuters) on a Tripoli airport Thursday, hours before UN-led peace talks between rival factions were set to resume in Morocco. The UN Support Mission in Libya said talks are anticipated to focus on addressing the formation (UN News) of a national unity government.


"In effect, Libya since then has become two quasi-states, each with its own government, parliament, central bank, and even its own news agency. Each side now effectively holds about 10 percent of the territory, with parts of Benghazi and Tobruk in the hands of Haftar, and Misrata and Tripoli in the hands of Libya Dawn, while the remaining 80 percent or so of Libya's territory is divided up between smaller militias, loosely affiliated with one side or the other," writes Hafed al-Ghwell in Al Jazeera.

"Libya has become a key node in the expansion of Islamic radicalism across North Africa, West Africa, and the Sahel, and into Europe. Arms and fighters have crossed Libya’s porous borders, feeding radical organizations from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to Boko Haram and reinforcing radical trends in the heart of the Middle East. If events in Libya continue on their current path, they will likely haunt the United States and its Western allies for a decade or more," argues Ethan Chorin in Foreign Policy.

"The country has long been vulnerable; the vacuum created by the deepening political crisis and collapse of state institutions is an attractive arena for terrorist groups. Further, control of Libya could potentially bring access to substantial revenues through well-established smuggling networks that deal in oil, stolen cars, contraband goods, and weapons," writes Geoffrey Howard in Foreign Affairs


U.S. Envoy to South Korea Attacked

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark W. Lippert was in stable condition Thursday after being attacked (Korea Times) by a knife-wielding man in Seoul. Lippert was slashed on the face, arm, and hand. The assailant, Kim Ki-jong, said he was protesting joint U.S.-South Korea military and demanded Korean reunification. CFR's Scott Snyder and Woo Jung-yeop explore U.S. and South Korean visions for regional cooperation in East Asia in this Working Paper.

CHINA: Premier Li Keqiang lowered (WSJ) China's target growth rate from 7.4 percent in 2014 to 7 percent for 2015 in his opening address to the National People's Congress on Thursday.


Dozens of Militants Killed in Rescue Operation

Afghan forces estimated they killed fifty suspected militants on Wednesday during an ongoing operation to rescue (Radio Free Europe) thirty bus passengers who were kidnapped last month. Separately, Afghan security forces killed (TOLO) twenty-nine assumed insurgents in raids conducted in fourteen provinces across the country, according to the Ministry of Interior.

PAKISTAN: Federal and provincial lawmakers will elect (Express Tribune) fifty-two senators to the upper house of parliament Thursday in what is expected to be a tight race between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistani Muslim League ruling party and the main opposition party, the Pakistani People's Party.


Iranian Diplomat Freed in Yemen

Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen in 2013 was released (Al Arabiya) and returned to Tehran on Thursday, according to Iranian state media reports. Nikbakht is the second high-profile hostage released in Yemen this week; a Saudi diplomat was freed on Monday. Both are believed to have been kidnapped by al-Qaeda affiliates.

The Houthi movement’s rapid ascent has created opportunities for al-Qaeda to expand in Yemen, says expert April Longley Alley in this CFR Interview.


Chadian President Calls on Boko Haram Leader to Surrender

Chadian President Idriss Deby called on Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau's to surrender or be killed (Premium Times) Wednesday. Deby, claiming to know Shekau's whereabouts, vowed to "wipe out" the militant group. Chadian military forces are part of a regional offensive to defeat Boko Haram.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the rise of Boko Haram.

ZIMBABWE: The United States extended (East African) sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle Thursday. The United States and the EU have imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban against Mugabe, his security chiefs, and state-owned companies since 2002, citing the government's deliberate actions to undermine democratic processes. The EU has been gradually easing its sanctions regime against the country since 2009.


Euro Drops to Eleven-Year Low

The euro fell (FT) to $1.1045 to the U.S. dollar on Thursday, its lowest level since August 2003, ahead of an anticipated European Central Bank meeting where the bank's leaders are expected to announce the details of a quantitative easing program.

This CFR Backgrounder investigates the eurozone crisis.

RUSSIA: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi traveled (AP) to Moscow to meet with Russia's president Vladimir Putin on Thursday. They were expected to discuss EU-Russia relations, bilateral economic ties, and violence in Libya.


House Subpoenas Clinton Email

A U.S. House of Representatives investigative panel issued subpoenas (WaPo) to the State Department on Wednesday, requesting all emails related to the 2012 Benghazi attack from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal email account and the personal accounts of other staff. The move follows news of Clinton's almost exclusive use of personal email to conduct business during her tenure as the country's top diplomat; Clinton urged the State Department to release her correspondence to the public.

BRAZIL: The central bank raised (Merco Press) benchmark interest rates to 12.75 percent, a six-year high, in a bid to curb inflation amid slowed growth and intensifying political turmoil.