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March 27, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Nigeria Prepares for Close Elections

Nigeria is set to vote in presidential and national assembly elections on Saturday. President Goodluck Jonathan faces off against his main challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who served as Nigeria's head of state from 1983 to 1985 when the country was under military rule. Recent polls gave Jonathan a 7 percent edge (Leadership) over Buhari. Ahead of the elections, the two major contenders signed (Guardian) a renewed peace accord in a bid to promote violence-free elections. The United States is sending (Reuters) its top diplomat for Africa to observe the elections. The elections, originally slated for February, were postponed by six weeks due to security concerns as Nigeria and its neighboring countries mounted an offensive to combat the Boko Haram insurgency. The Nigerian Army said on Friday that it had recaptured (AP) the northeastern town of Gwoza, believed to be the militant group's headquarters. 


"Election credibility must be the watchword, as the country has never been so polarized or the major parties so suspicious of each other. The PDP and the APC have already accused each other of plotting election-day fraud. Public confidence in the election process is also low, even if support for the principles of democracy appears to be unabated," writes CFR's John Campbell.

"Democracy might be messy, but Nigerians appear resolute that it is the best form of government for the multiethnic and multireligious nation. What happens after the elections will likely test the limits of Nigeria’s electoral democracy. It may be difficult to predict how the 2015 elections will affect Nigeria. But a free, fair and peaceful poll and transition would earn Nigeria a deserved seat in the community of nations and further guarantee the country a strong voice among leading powers in the world," writes Uchenna Ekwo in Al Jazeera.

"The February election was supposedly postponed so that the military could focus on the offensive it has now launched against Boko Haram. But the government’s priority doesn’t appear to be protecting Nigeria’s people and territory; its goal is to stay in power. The postponement has simply allowed the ruling party more time to spend money the opposition cannot match," writes Jean Herskovits in the New York Times

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Pyongyang Detains Two South Koreans

North Korean authorities arrested (Korea Times) two South Korean men on charges of espionage, including leaking nuclear-related data and counterfeiting North Korean currency, according to state media. Meanwhile, Seoul announced late Thursday that it will join (Yonhap) the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member, the latest in a series of U.S. allies who have decided to sign on to the Beijing-led institution.

JAPAN: Inflation in Japan hit (WSJ) 0 percent in February despite nearly two years of quantitative easing rolled out by the central bank. The shift toward deflation raises concerns about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ablity to implement macroeconomic reforms.

This CFR Backgrounder provides a breakdown of Abenomics.


Report: Modi Scales Back Health Plan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked for a major cutback (Reuters) to plans for universal healthcare after projections found costs could exceed $18.5 billion over the next five years, according to government sources. The health ministry, who presented a draft plan to Modi in January, had proposed launching the system in April. 

PAKISTAN: Two separate attacks targeted (Radio Free Europe) security personnel in Karachi and the southwestern province of Balochistan on Friday, killing seven police officers and injuring fifteen other people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.

This CFR InfoGuide explores the two Talibans.


Hadi in Riyadh Amid Fresh Air Strikes in Yemen

Yemeni President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi arrived (Saudi Press Agency) in the Saudi capital of Riyadh after fleeing advances by Shia Houthi rebels on Aden. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led Gulf coalition carried out a fresh air campaign (Al Arabiya) on Yemen's capital of Sana'a, targeting Houthi strongholds. A Saudi military spokesman said that while there were no immediate plans for a ground offensive (National) in Yemen, forces were ready if such military action were necessary.

Yemen has become the latest locus of Iran-Saudi, Shia-Sunni conflict, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass in this Op-Ed.

IRAQ: An Iranian-backed Shia militia pulled back (Al Jazeera) from the joint offensive with Iraqi forces to recapture Tikrit after the United States launched air strikes on self-declared Islamic State positions in the strategic Iraqi city. 


UN Boosts Mission in Central African Republic

The United Nations Security Council unanimously decided to bolster (UN News) its mission in the Central African Republic by 1,050 peacekeeping personnel on Thursday, amid continued instability and heightened sectarian tension. 


Airlines Tighten Cockpit Rules After Germanwings Crash

Airlines including EasyJet, Norwegian, Lufthansa, and Air Berlin have revised (BBC) their cockpit rules by requiring two people to be in the cockpit at all times. The new procedures come after French authorities said that the co-pilot of a Germanwings flight intentionally crashed in the French Alps, killing the one hundred and fifty people on board. The flight’s black box indicates that the captain had left the cockpit and was unable to reenter. 

TURKEY: The Turkish parliament passed new legislation (FT) on domestic security on Thursday that grants police new powers, including the right to hold people for up to forty-eight hours, widen the scope of searches and surveillance, and give federally appointed governors the ability to order specific police investigations. Opposition politicians say the bill could lead to a police state, but the government says the measures will bolster security against terrorism and violent demonstrations.


Brazilian Economy to Contract

The Brazilian central bank forecast (Merco Press) on Thursday that the economy will contract by 0.5 percent in 2015. Inflation is anticipated to increase to 7.9 percent by the end of the year. Official GDP growth figures are expected to be released later on Friday.

GLOBAL: Scott Kelly of the United States and Russian Mikhail Kornienko depart from Kazakhstan (CNN) for the International Space Station on Friday and will stay for nearly a year. The two are part of an intensified study into the effects of prolonged time in space.