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April 24, 2017

Daily News Brief

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France's Le Pen, Macron to Contest in Runoff

Political outsiders Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron won the first round of voting in France's presidential election on Sunday; the two will face each other in a runoff on May 7. Independent centrist Macron, a former investment banker (France 24) who has never held elected office, topped the vote with 24 percent to far-right Le Pen's 22 percent (NYT). Macron's lead was hailed by European leaders (Guardian), as Le Pen has vowed to hold a referendum to end France's membership in the European Union. The runoff will be the first time since the creation of France's Fifth Republic that a candidate from the country's traditional left-right parties is not on the ballot.


"The largest share of the vote went to Macron, a blue-eyed reformer who's easy to like. He is, without a doubt, a political phenomenon. Once part of a Socialist government that has been thoroughly rejected by voters, he launched an independent party he called En Marche!, styled himself as nonestablishment, and campaigned as a changemaker who could bring in outsiders and parley with insiders. His success on Sunday is a salve to markets and a sign that the natural order of things hasn't been entirely disrupted," Therese Raphael writes for Bloomberg View.

"Investors are clearly relieved with the result that put Macron into the second round. But political risk is likely to remain an endemic feature in European and global markets, and European policymakers face a full calendar of challenges over the course of the year without a compelling vision about how to address the populist pressures sweeping the region," writes CFR's Robert Kahn.

"Although many observers have focused on the rise of far-right politics in Europe, the real story of the French presidential race, and of European politics more broadly, is the failure of centrists to effectively respond to the challenge from either extreme. Center-right parties, including France's RĂ©publicains, are taking the biggest hit as the far right sweeps up conservative voters," Alina Polyakova writes for Foreign Affairs.


China's Xi Calls Trump Over North Korea

Chinese state media reported that President Xi Jinping called President Donald J. Trump on Monday to urge restraint regarding North Korea (Al Jazeera). Xi also told Trump that China opposes the country's nuclear weapons program.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the China-North Korea relationship.

MALAYSIA: A state-run development company announced it reached a settlement with Abu Dhabi's state fund over a debt dispute that will see Malaysia pay $1.2 billion (Reuters). The Malaysian fund is under investigation for money laundering in at least six countries.


Afghan Defense Chiefs Resign After Massacre

Afghanistan's defense minister and army chief of staff resigned after Taliban militants (BBC) carried out an assault on a base near Mazar-e-Sharif that is believed to have killed at least 160 people (NYT).

CFR's Micah Zenko discusses U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan.


Libya's Rival Governments Meet in Rome

Italy brokered a meeting (Libya Herald) in Rome between representatives from Libya's legislature and its UN-backed state council. The council said in a statement that the two sides agreed to reach "peaceful and fair solutions to outstanding issues” (Guardian).

SAUDI ARABIA: King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud restored bonus payments for public employees (WSJ) and rescinded salary cuts to some two dozen ministers (NYT), citing revenue increases. The king also named his son Prince Khaled bin Salman the Saudi ambassador to the United States.


Pentagon Warns Ships Over Somali Piracy

U.S. defense officials warned commercial ships to bolster their security following several recent piracy incidents off the Somali coast after five years of calm in the area (NYT). The head of the U.S. Africa Command said famine may be behind the spate of attacks.

KENYA: Italian-born conservationist Kuki Gallmann was shot on Sunday (BBC) by herdsmen who invaded her conservation park in central Kenya. Gallmann was hospitalized (NYT).


U.S. Urges Russian Cooperation on Death in Ukraine

A U.S. citizen working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) died in an area of Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists when the monitoring team's vehicle struck a land mine (AFP). The U.S. State Department called on Russia to use its influence (RFE/RL) to allow the OSCE to conduct an investigation.


Venezuelan President Calls for Talks With Opposition

President Nicolas Maduro called on Sunday to resume opposition talks, which halted last year after Maduro was accused of breaking agreements, and hold local elections (BBC). Thousands of demonstrators marched in Caracas in honor of the at least twenty people killed in recent antigovernment protests (AP).

This CFR Backgrounder looks at Venezuela's political and economic crisis.

PANAMA: A Panamanian court granted bail to lawyers Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca (VOA), whose firm was the source of the so-called Panama Papers leak last year, in relation to charges that they facilitated a widespread corruption scandal in Brazil (DW).

CFR's Matthew Taylor discusses Brazil's recent gains in fighting graft.


Trump to Host Security Council Diplomats

President Trump will host fourteen diplomats (NYT) from the UN Security Council, including envoys from Russia and China, at the White House on Monday.


Global Defense Spending Rises After Five Years

Countries spent an estimated $1.68 trillion on weapons (DW) in 2016, marking the first time that the global total has risen since 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.