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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
July 18, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Greece Passes Controversial Civil Service Reform

Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters  

Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters

The Greek parliament on Wednesday narrowly passed a civil service reform demanded by international lenders as a condition for a €6.8 billion bailout disbursement (FT). More than 25,000 public-sector employees were put on notice for dismissal by the end of the year; Greece's creditors consider the civil sector badly bloated (LAT). Protests in downtown Athens, where demonstrators shouted anti-austerity slogans and called for the government's resignation, were shut down Thursday as German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble visited amid a massive security presence (AP). Schaeuble defended austerity measures by insisting there is "no convenient shortcut" to resolving the country's economic crisis, despite rising poverty and unemployment.


"On paper, the country's leaders in Athens would seem to be well-practiced reformers. But it is a course that led to the collapse of the Socialist government under Georgios Papandreou--and one that could ultimately destroy that of his successor, current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. His coalition came close to collapse last month in the wake of his unilateral decision to shut down public broadcaster ERT. The station is back on the air, but Samaras lost a coalition partner, leaving him with a majority of just a handful of delegates in parliament," writes David Böcking for Der Spiegel.

"When [EU officials] defend austerity, they do so from a framework of the European treaties, which tell them in great detail how fiscal adjustment must take place and what happens if it does not. It is not so much that they are in denial over the effect of fiscal austerity on unemployment. Some are, some are not. But it is outside their frame of reference. It is no surprise therefore that the system prescribes the wrong medicine," writes Wolfgang Münchau for the Financial Times.

"The more implausible austerity becomes as an economic remedy, the more unchallengeable it seems to become as a political mantra. Its most consistent advocate, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, is up for re-election this September. She is unlikely to change her tune--which is popular among German taxpayers--before that. Nor is she likely to change it if she wins another term," writes the New York Times' editorial board.



Chinese Activist Detained

Beijing police have taken prominent legal scholar Xu Zhyiyong into custody (SCMP), his lawyer said yesterday. While President Xi Jinping has prioritized anticorruption efforts, the arrest--one of dozens recently--has many fearing Beijing is cracking down on activists.

CHINA: Chinese state media accused Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday of ratcheting up nationalist rhetoric ahead of July 21 elections, after Tokyo warned Beijing not to expand gas exploration in parts of the East China Sea claimed by both countries (Reuters).

In this installment of Ask CFR Experts, Sheila Smith discusses the way forward on East China Sea territorial disputes.



School Lunch Deaths Spark Protests

Autopsies of the Indian children who died after eating a state-provided school lunch suggested that the food was contaminated by pesticides (WSJ). Hundreds of local residents protested on Wednesday.

AFGHANISTAN: Parliament passed two election laws in recent days that U.S. diplomats and European officials considered crucial for Afghan elections to take place next April (NYT). President Hamid Karzai signed one bill Wednesday and is expected to approve the other.

In this Senate testimony, CFR's Max Boot discusses prospects for Afghanistan after the 2014 U.S. troop withdrawal.



Yemeni Al-Qaeda Leader Confirmed Dead in Drone Strike

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed the death of its second-in-command (GlobalPost), Saeed al-Shehri, in a U.S. drone strike. Yemeni authorities had announced the death of Shehri, who was released from detention at Guantanamo Bay, several times, most recently in January.

JORDAN: U.S. secretary of state John Kerry met with Syrian refugees on Thursday at the Za'atri camp (WashPost), which has ballooned to a population of 115,000.



Mandela 'Steadily Improving' on Ninety-Fifth Birthday

As South Africa celebrates Nelson Mandela's ninety-fifth birthday, doctors said his condition is "steadily improving" (M&G). The former leader was hospitalized in Pretoria for a lung infection on June 8.

GUINEA: With at least seventeen killed in three days of ethnic clashes, Guinea deployed troops to its southeast on Wednesday (Reuters).



Russian Protest Leader Navalny Sentenced

Russian activist Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years (BBC) for theft and embezzlement. Navalny, who has blogged corruption allegations against Vladimir Putin's United Russia party and declared his candidacy for Moscow mayor, said the trial was politically motivated.



Panama Calls for UN Investigation of North Korean Ship

Panama called on the UN to investigate the North Korean ship seized at the Panama Canal, which was smuggling Soviet-era weapons from Cuba in apparent breach of UN sanctions (Reuters). U.S.-Cuba talks on migration went ahead as planned on Wednesday.

ARGENTINA: In an unprecedented move for the IMF, the fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it would support Argentina in its ongoing dispute with hedge funds over a 2002 default (Mercopress).

In this blog post, CFR's Rob Kahn argues for arbitration to resolve Argentina's debt disputes.



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