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July 29, 2016

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Syria's al-Nusra Rebels Announce Split From al-Qaeda

The former leader of Syria's al-Nusra front, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, announced a split from parent organization al-Qaeda (Al Jazeera), saying in a video address that "this new organisation has no affiliation to any external entity." Jolani announced a new name of Jabhat Fath al Sham, or The Front for liberation of al Sham, and said the split was to remove any pretext for the United States or Russia to carry out airstrikes in Syria against the broader opposition while claiming to target the al-Qaeda affiliate (WaPo). White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States would likely not alter its assessment of the militant group and continues to have "increasing concern" about its ability to carry out operations in the United States and Europe.

ANALYSIS

"Whether the new name will work to persuade moderate rebels — and, more importantly, their Western backers — that the group should no longer be considered a terrorist organization is in doubt. It is also highly unlikely to convince Russia, which has consistently referred to all rebels as 'terrorists' and has been escalating its bombardments of rebel positions in recent weeks, notably around the besieged northern city of Aleppo," Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung write for the Washington Post.

"Nusra has been one of the most effective anti-government factions in Syria’s civil war, particularly in the country’s north. However, both the US and Russia have designated the group as a terrorist organisation because of its affiliation to al-Qaeda, allowing them to bomb Nusra fighters. The split appears to be an attempt by Nusra to attract other opposition groups to unify with it, just as the US and Russia have reportedly agreed to target Nusra and the Islamic State (IS) militant group," Dania Akkad writes for Middle East Eye.

"Civilian casualties from airstrikes by the US-led coalition fighting Isis have spiked in the past two months, activists and rights groups have warned, after the US said it was investigating a village bombing that appears to be one of the deadliest single air attacks on civilians of the entire war. The rising toll from coalition bombs is alienating Syrians on the ground and risks undermining the fight against the extremists, critics say," Emma Graham-Harrison writes for the Guardian.

PACIFIC RIM

U.S. Plans Land Return in Okinawa

The U.S. military commander in Okinawa announced the return of four-thousand hectares of land to the Japanese government (Reuters) amid a surge of local opposition to U.S. presence on the island. The return represents 17 percent of the land the United States controls.

INDONESIA: Despite some international criticism, Indonesia executed four prisoners for drug offenses (Guardian), including two Nigerians, a Senegalese, and an Indonesian inmate. Indonesian authorities said that ten others on death row, including nationals from India and Pakistan, will be executed at a later time.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

U.S. Says Afghan Government’s Influence Declined

The U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction reported that the NATO-backed Afghan central government controls 65.6 percent of the country's districts, a drop of about 5 percent since the beginning of this year (Guardian). The loss represents nineteen of Afghanistan's approximately four-hundred districts (Al Jazeera) overtaken by Taliban militants.

This CFR Interactive looks at the timeline of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

INDIA: Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of harassing him (NYT) and other members of the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, party in recent weeks.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

U.S. Criticizes Israeli Settlement Activity

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said (NYT) Israel showed a "steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution." The rebuke came after Israeli authorities issued a tender for 320 new units in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem and announced hundreds of new units in settlements in the West Bank.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Turkey Presses Nigeria to Shutter Cleric-Linked Schools

The Turkish ambassador in Nigeria requested that the Nigerian government shut down seventeen schools that are linked to a cleric President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a July 15 coup attempt (Vanguard). Followers of Fethullah Gulen run a network of private schools in Africa (Reuters) often attended by the continent's political elite.

Kemal Kirişci discusses Gulen's alleged role in the coup attempt in this CFR interview.

DRC: Thousands took to the streets in Kinshasa to welcome opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi back from medical treatment in Belgium (VOA). Opponents of President Joseph Kabila hope Tshisekedi’s return will reinvigorate efforts to prevent the president from extending his term unconstitutionally.

EUROPE

Merkel Reaffirms Pledge to Integrate Migrants

Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to integrate thousands of migrants (NYT), describing the effort as a "historic test in the age of globalization." She did not comment on whether she would run again in 2017 general elections.

UK: The UK government announced it would delay until autumn a decision on building its first nuclear power plant in two decades (BBC). Business Secretary Greg Clark said the government would "consider carefully" the Hinkley Point project, which has been criticized for its environmental impact and costs.  

AMERICAS

Kuczynski Sworn in as Peruvian President

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced the creation of a special agency dedicated to fighting corruption as he was sworn in as president in Peru. The economist, who worked on Wall Street and at the World Bank, said he wanted to make Peru be seen as "a serious country" with "the best business environment" on the continent (AP).

BRAZIL: Lawyers for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva petitioned the UN Human Rights Committee, saying the former president’s rights were violated by an aggressive judge in an ongoing investigation into corruption surrounding the state oil company (AFP).

CAMPAIGN 2016

Clinton Cites 'Moment of Reckoning' in Acceptance Speech

Hillary Clinton has accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major U.S. political party. In her acceptance speech (WaPo) she promised steady leadership in a turbulent world and urged Americans to pull together to face their challenges.