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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 15, 2014
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Thai PM Stands Firm on February Elections

Thailand's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who hasn't been able to work from her offices since November due to protests, said elections will be held on February 2 despite pressure from her opponents to postpone the vote (AP). Protestors have brought parts of Bangkok to a near standstill, and they demand to alter the existing electoral arrangement that will likely keep Yingluck's Puea Thai Party in power due to strong support from Thailand's rural and working poor (Reuters). Rumors of a potential military coup are spreading, and Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said the "door is neither open nor closed" to a military intervention, but experts note that the military is also divided and has built close ties to Shinawatra's government (Deutsche Welle).


"The Pheu Thai Party is operating on hostile ground in the capital, which it will find difficult to govern if it retains power. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been forced to work from various bureaucratic offices rather than Government House. While it is true that only a minority of voters live in Bangkok, their hostility towards the government is worsening and unlikely to improve no matter how the crisis ends. An administration that loses the ability to run the capital will struggle to cling to power," Thai daily The Nation writes in an editorial.

"The protestors now occupying a number of road junctions in central Bangkok refused to attend. Whatever the timing, they intend to sabotage the poll, claiming that the prime minister will once again buy victory from millions of farmers with a massive program of pork barrel kickbacks. But the government's supporters see the protests as nothing more than a tantrum by a middle class elite that cannot accept simple electoral arithmetic and almost every scenario, from forcing the prime minister from office, to her reelection at the polls, raises the possibility of further chaos and violence," writes John Sudworth for the BBC.

"The aim is to create a crisis which will bring down the Yingluck government and the 'Thaksin system.' But what next? No amount of reform planned by this council or that is going to undo the big changes in political awareness and aspirations among the mass of Thai society. As long as there is one party that responds to those aspirations (with or without the Shinawatra clan), and another party that has not yet learnt to do so, election results are going to be much the same; and the middle-class frustrations will be the same too," writes Pasuk Phongpaichit in the Bangkok Post.


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Pacific Rim

Chinese General’s Home Raided in Graft Probe

Police in China raided the home of Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, former deputy head of the People's Liberation Army general logistics department, in connection with a military corruption probe. The police removed items such as a gold Mao statue, a gold sink, and a gold model boat (FT).


South and Central Asia

U.S., Indian Officials Meet to Overcome Diplomatic Row

Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns met with India's ambassador to the United States with the intention of moving past a dispute that began with the strip searching of a female Indian diplomat and retaliatory expulsions (Reuters).

AFGHANISTAN: NATO said one of its service members was shot and killed by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total death count for the coalition this month to five (AP).

This Council Special Report assesses Afghanistan's prospects after the U.S. military drawdown.


Middle East

European Spies Reach Out to the Assad Regime

European intelligence agencies have secretly met with Syrian security officials, including Ali Mamlouk, who is sanctioned by the EU, to share information on European jihadists operating in Syria (WSJ).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the Syrian conflict and the global response to the crisis.

IRAQ: More than forty people were killed in a series of coordinated car bombs in Baghdad as militants affiliated with al-Qaeda continued to advance in Anbar province (AFP).



Boko Haram Suspected in Nigerian Suicide Bomb

A vehicle exploded at a military post in Maiduguri, a northeastern Nigerian city known as the birthplace of Boko Haram, killing at least seventeen people on Tuesday. Police suspect the suicide bomber belonged to the extremist group (al-Jazeera).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of Boko Haram.

KENYA: The trial of four men, believed to be ethnic Somalis, charged with aiding a terrorist group that carried out the September attack on a mall in Nairobi, began on Wednesday (BBC).



EU Lawmakers Reach Deal on Financial Markets Rules

European Union lawmakers agreed to overhaul financial market rules, backing measures to slow down the pace of high-frequency trading and reduce speculation on commodity derivatives, which could limit volatility in food prices (Bloomberg).

ITALY: The Italian government may deploy its military to deal with a local mafia group near Naples accused of dumping environmental waste near the city (BBC).



Obama to Curb Some Surveillance Practices

President Barack Obama is expected to issue new guidelines on surveillance on Friday that will increase limits on access to telephone data and safeguard some privacy concerns, but he won't endorse the more stringent privacy protocols proposed by his advisers (NYT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the history and controversy over domestic surveillance.

UNITED STATES: Border patrol drones flew nearly 700 surveillance missions on behalf of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2012, demonstrating an accelerating adoption of unmanned aircraft by police in the United States (WaPo).



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