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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 13, 2013
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: North Korea Executes Leader's Powerful Uncle

North Korea executed Jang Song-thaek, the second most powerful man in the country and the uncle of the young leader Kim Jong-un, for allegedly trying to seize power and sabotage the economy (Reuters). Experts who study North Korea expect the purge to spread and bring down other power players; South Korean intelligence officials say two of Jang's closest aides were executed last month (AP). The country's state news agency explained the execution in scathing terms, reporting that the "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog," lost millions of euros at casinos and let a "decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants since 2009" (KCNA).


"The truth, needless to say, is probably not that Jang was killed for 'half-heartedly clapping,' as the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency claims in a lengthy explanation for the execution. More likely, this is perhaps a way for Kim to consolidate his power within a large, inscrutable bureaucracy that's dominated by much older and more experience cadres who may have resisted the young upstart's leadership," writes Max Fisher in the Washington Post.

"It appears that despite his youth, Kim is pretty old-school: the shaming, purging and dispatch of Jang borrows classic tactics from any number of totalitarian dictators faced with threats to their power. But what made Kim's purge especially retro was the news that Jang has been airbrushed out of existing photos and videos," writes Stephen Mihm for Bloomberg.

"[Jang] Song-thaek has already been edited out of official documentaries: his story rewritten by the country's powerful propaganda machine. His dramatic fall from grace, designed to hammer the message home: that no one—not family members, not North Korea's most senior figures—is beyond retribution. But the worry remains: how much does this story reveal about instability at the heart of the North Korean regime?" writes Lucy Williamson for the BBC.


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South Korean Airlines Comply With China Air Zone

South Korean airlines can comply with China's air defense zone after Seoul reversed its policy and dropped its objection to the new procedures (FT). Japanese airlines initially recognized the Chinese rules but reversed course under pressure from Tokyo.

This CFR InfoGuide explains the disputes in the East and South China Seas.



Bangladesh Execution Sparks Protests

A wave of violence is sweeping through Bangladesh after the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, a top Islamist leader convicted of war crimes during the country's 1971 independence war. Two activists with the ruling party were hacked to death and train stations were firebombed (al-Jazeera).

AFGHANISTAN: After nine failed assassination attempts, Kandahar's governor Tooryalai Wesa is still on the job, defying the Taliban and continuing to salvage the war-torn country (AP).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of the Taliban.



UN Reports Multiple Uses of Chemical Weapons in Syria

The United Nations said chemical weapons were used repeatedly in the Syrian conflict this year, not just on August 21 near Damascus (NYT). The report said chemical weapons may have been used on "a relatively small scale against soldiers" in the days following the August attack.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the deadly toxin sarin, which is used in chemical weapons.

YEMEN: A drone strike on a wedding convoy killed seventeen people, mostly civilians, on Friday, according to medical and security officials, but two of the names of the dead matched al-Qaeda suspects (AFP).



Central African Republic Humanitarian Crisis Deepens

As French and African soldiers work to reestablish order in the Central African Republic after fighting between Muslim and Christian militias escalated last week, the humanitarian condition deteriorated and aid organizations accused the UN of failing to respond to the crisis (Reuters).

KENYA: Corrupt Kenyan police and border guards may have helped terrorists slip into the country, according to a parliamentary report examining the attack on a Nairobi mall in September (WSJ).



Ukraine Protestors Rebuild Barricades

Pro-European integration protestors are rebuilding barricades that were taken down earlier this week by the police as the standoff with Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovich continues (LAT). Yanukovich is scheduled to visit Moscow on December 17 to discuss closer economic ties with Russia.

UNITED KINGDOM: The UK Foreign Office warned that ransom payments to kidnappers are providing crucial financing for terrorism, and terrorist groups are exploiting the willingness of some countries to pay (BBC).



Missing American in Iran Was on Rogue CIA Mission

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran more than six years ago, had been working for the CIA in what officials describe as a rogue operation. The CIA concluded that it was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran and paid his family $2.5 million (WaPo).

HONDURAS: The Honduran electoral tribunal confirmed that governing party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez won last month's presidential election and will begin a four-year term on January 27 (Global Post).



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