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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 16, 2014
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Hariri Tribunal Begins in The Hague

The trial of four members of Lebanon's Hezbollah accused of planning the 2005 explosion that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-one others began Thursday in The Hague; the four defendants remain at large and are being tried in absentia (Reuters). The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, established in 2007, triggered fierce debate that inflamed sectarian tensions in the country and is criticized by Hezbollah for targeting its members. The group's opponents note that the tribunal has not held anyone accountable for the deaths of nine other high-profile critics of Hezbollah and the Syrian government who were killed since Hariri's assassination (AFP).


"Whatever the political sentiments behind those who created or oppose it, the STL matters because it seeks to use internationally credible legal mechanisms to try to hold accountable those indicted for murder. Lebanon on its own has never been able to do this, despite many assassinations and bombings over the years, perpetrated by Lebanese or foreign parties," writes Rami Khouri in the Daily Star.

"In real political terms, the STL mounts the pressure on Hezbollah at a time when it's entangled in the Syrian conflict. Yet, it is important not to overestimate the impact of the Tribunal, which is unlikely to bring about dramatic changes to the political landscape or secure the goal of ending impunity and political assassinations that have marred Lebanon's contemporary history," writes Joyce Karam for al-Arabiya.

"Since the suspects have vanished from sight and are unlikely ever to end up behind bars, could it not be seen as a colossal waste of time, effort and money? The STL denies this, saying 'justice is not a waste of time,' but it will be struggling to keep the proceedings as legal and apolitical as possible, trying to shake off the accusation that it is politically motivated and biased," writes Jim Muir for the BBC.


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Pacific Rim

Japanese Companies Boost Domestic Investment

New machinery orders by Japanese businesses, an important indicator of capital investment, have hit a five-year high. The investments in domestic factories and other infrastructure suggest that Japanese companies are gaining confidence in the government's expansion policies (FT).

This CFR Backgrounder explains Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic vision for Japan, dubbed Abenomics.

AUSTRALIA: Employment numbers in Australia declined by 22,600, countering analysts' median estimate of a 10,000-job gain, driving the currency to a three-year low and raising prospects of an interest rate cut (Bloomberg).


South and Central Asia

American School in India Ensnared in Diplomatic Row

The American Embassy School in New Delhi is being questioned by Indian authorities about its visa and tax advice to teachers, the latest diplomatic flare-up between the United States and India after the arrest and strip-searching of an Indian consular official in New York last month (NYT).

AFGHANISTAN: A softer Taliban is emerging in Afghanistan, and former officials who banned girls from going to school are now operating one of the country's top schools with about 250 girls enrolled (WSJ).

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


Middle East

Egypt Voters Back a New Constitution

Almost 90 percent of Egyptian voters approved a new constitution, a victory for the military-backed government that may push army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi closer to a bid for the presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the vote (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder explains the origins and evolution of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.



Dozens of Gays Arrested in Nigeria

A new law criminalizing gay organizations, meetings, and same-sex marriage in Nigeria has led to dozens of arrests since Christmas. Amnesty International labeled the campaign a "witch hunt" and said that Nigeria has become "one of the world's least tolerant societies" (al-Jazeera).

SOUTH SUDAN: Uganda's president said his country's military is fighting alongside South Sudan's government against rebels. Officials in Uganda previously said their special forces were only in South Sudan to evacuate their nationals (BBC).



UN Committee Grills Vatican Over Sex Abuse

The Vatican was sharply criticized at a UN committee in Geneva for its handling of a global priest sex abuse scandal and alleged protection of pedophile priests. The former sex crimes prosecutor at the Vatican said the church is committed to dealing with the crisis (AP).

SPAIN: Catalan lawmakers will vote on Thursday on whether to seek the right to hold a referendum to secede from Spain. The gesture is largely symbolic; Madrid has the power to refuse the secession plan (Guardian).



Congress Blocks Obama’s Plan to Shift Drones to the Pentagon

Congress inserted a secret provision in the government spending bill that would preserve the CIA's role in lethal counterterrorism operations, a move that blocks President Barack Obama's plan to shift control of the drone program to the Defense Department (WaPo).

VENEZUELA: President Nicolas Maduro announced changes to his economic team in an effort to improve Venezuela's economy, which suffers from the highest inflation in Latin America, slow growth, and goods shortages (BBC).



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