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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 15, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syria Marks Second Year of Uprising

Syrians marked the second anniversary of the start of the nation's uprising against President Bashar al-Assad as the EU debates (FT) the lifting of its arms embargo to aid rebels. France joined the UK in favoring the embargo lift (WSJ) while Austria opposed the push, concerned about the safety of its peacekeepers on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A key focus will be the position of Germany, which has so far opposed lifting the embargo. Meanwhile, Syria warned it may strike at rebels hiding in neighboring Lebanon (Reuters). Roughly 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began, and around one million people have fled the country.


"Syria is not Iraq. Yet what is happening – or rather not happening – in Syria is in part a reflection of what happened in Iraq. Once bitten, the US is twice shy. The pendulum has swung from interventionism to hard-headed realism," writes Philip Stephens for the Financial Times.

"All the indications are that Britain and France would like to see EU agreement on a set of arrangements that would allow the supply of weaponry to Syrian opposition fighters. If that is impossible, the mood music in London and Paris suggests that the British and French governments may go ahead anyway," writes Jonathan Marcus for the BBC.

"Russia's tentative steps towards the Syrian opposition and its statements on the need for a political resolution have reinforced the sense that Russia is willing to play a more active role in aiding a peaceful settlement. Should the US support this option — and there are indications of that given Secretary of State John Kerry's recent comments — there could be a real chance to stop the fighting," writes Karl Sharro for Syria Deeply.



China Formally Installs Li Keqiang

China swore in the Communist Party's number two leader, Li Keqiang, as premier on Friday, capping a once-in-a-decade leadership transition (AP). The new administration faces myriad governing challenges including uneven economic growth, corruption, and environmental issues.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the structure and history of the Chinese Communist Party and details the recent power transition.

NORTH KOREA: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit South Korea next month as part of his Northeast Asia tour (Yonhap) that will also include stops in Japan and China.

This CFR interactive timeline outlines the ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula.



Myanmar Reviews Controversial Constitution

Myanmar's parliament will review the possibility of amending its constitution (Reuters), which was drafted under a military regime and bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency. It also reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military personnel chosen by the armed forces chief.

SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka and Japan agreed Thursday in Tokyo to strengthen bilateral cooperation (JapanTimes) for maritime security in the Indian Ocean.



Protests Mark Anniversary of Bahrain Uprising

Thousands of protesters in Bahrain clashed with riot police on the second anniversary (al-Jazeera) of a pro-democracy uprising that was crushed with the aid of a Saudi-led force. Bahrain's Shia majority has been seeking greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.



Zimbabwe Prepares for Polls

Zimbabweans will vote on Saturday to approve a new constitution (Guardian) that will mark the last major electoral hurdle before the country can hold elections, likely in late July. That vote will once again pit President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai against each other.

KENYA: Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga refused to concede defeat (CapitalFM) in the country's elections and pledged to petition the results, which handed the presidency to Uhuru Kenyatta.



Hungary PM Defends Constitutional Changes

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, under fire for catalyzing constitutional amendments (AFP) that could curb the rule of law, defended his stance before the opening of a two-day European Union summit. The changes sparked concerns in Brussels and Washington and protests in Budapest.

SPAIN: The EU's top court ruled that Spain's mortgage laws are in breach of the bloc's regulations--a ruling (Deutschewelle) that was welcomed by homeowners struggling to pay off debt.



Mexico's Peso Rises

Mexico's peso has risen by 2.6 percent (Reuters) since the beginning of the month amid confidence in the country's reform push and last week's interest rate cut, sparking speculation about how far it will rise before authorities act.

CFR's Shannon O'Neil discusses Mexico's transformed society, economy, and government in this Foreign Affairs article.

VENEZUELA: Acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the body of deceased president Hugo Chavez would likely not be embalmed (LAHT).



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