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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
May 9, 2014

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Top of the Agenda

U.S., British Assistance Arrives in Nigeria

U.S. and British military advisers and negotiators arrived in Nigeria to help find more than two hundred schoolgirls abducted in the country's northeast three weeks ago (BBC). Their arrival comes as the World Economic Forum is meeting in the capital of Abuja at a conference meant to highlight investment opportunities as Nigeria, which was recently named Africa's largest economy. Chinese premier Li Keqiang addressed the group as Beijing emphasizes its investment and aid role in Africa (WSJ). Meanwhile, U.S. officials and lawmakers are revisiting a 2011–12 government debate over designating Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization, a label that was not applied until November 2013 (NYT).


"U.S. policy in Africa is driven first and foremost by a preference for stability and preserving a stable status quo. Were mass, disruptive protests to erupt or the political leadership to change in Nigeria, it would not automatically be disastrous for Washington, but neither would American diplomats and policymakers have an easy go of it. The United States has a great interest in seeing that the democratically elected leaders of one of Africa's most important countries be committed to – and capable of – maintaining stability and fighting extremism," writes Laura Seay in Politico Magazine.

"There's been something similarly distorted to some of the social media reactions to the Boko Haram atrocities over the past week. It's great that the kidnappings and the massacres are finally arousing the world's indignation. But sometimes the implication of the conversation has been this: Africa is this dark and lawless place where monstrous things are bound to happen. Those poor people need our help. But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria," writes David Brooks in the New York Times.

"Alongside its challenges, there's another part of Nigeria's story: its expanding economy – now called Africa's largest, its entrepreneurial spirit, its feisty free press, its fashion and entertainment industries, its 170 million population domestic market – in a word, its potential – is also on display. WEF has been criticized for staging such a high-profile meeting in a place like Nigeria. I say, 'What better place?'" writes Tami Hultman in AllAfrica.


Pacific Rim

Thai Protestors Demand Interim Government

The antigovernment People's Democratic Reform Committee declared an "all-out final battle" on Friday, two days after the constitutional court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, as protestors fanned out to government and media headquarters in Bangkok demanding the current government be replaced with an interim one (Bangkok Post). Demonstrators clashed with police armed with water cannons and tear gas (BBC).

In Foreign Affairs, Duncan McCargo laments the state of Thai democracy.

CHINA: Beijing rebuked Washington on Friday for urging the release of six activists, a move that may portend broader restrictions on dissent ahead of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crackdown on the1989 Tiananmen Square protests (Reuters).


South and Central Asia

Afghan Taliban Announces Start of Spring Offensive

The Taliban said that its spring offensive will begin Monday and it would keep fighting even if just a small number of foreign troops remain in Afghanistan past the current mandate, which expires at the end of the year (Express Tribune). The announcement comes as Kabul is preparing a mid-June run-off vote to choose the next president.

This Backgrounder explains the Taliban's history and the state of the insurgency.

INDIA: Government officials quibbled on Thursday with a new World Health Organization report's finding that New Delhi has the worst urban air pollution in the world (Times of India).


Middle East

Chemical Weapons Remain in Syria as Final Deadline Approaches

The last batch of Syria's declared chemical weapons arsenal, which contains chemicals mixed to make the nerve gas sarin, cannot be removed due to fighting in the vicinity, but are "safe and secure," UN official Sigrid Kaag said after addressing the Security Council on Thursday (NYT). Also on Thursday, the United States sanctioned a Russian bank, citing its alleged support of the Assad regime (WSJ).

ISRAEL: U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk told a Washington think tank on Thursday that settlement building in the West Bank undermined Palestinian trust in negotiations and "could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state," adding that neither side felt urgency in the recently aborted talks (Haaretz).

CFR's Steven Cook asks if Islamic Jihad is ascendant in Palestinian politics.



UN Documents South Sudan Atrocities Ahead of Talks

The UN mission in South Sudan released a report Thursday finding that both sides in the country's conflict have committed human rights violations "on a massive scale," amounting to crimes against humanity (Sudan Tribune). The report's release precedes the arrival of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where talks are set to begin Friday (Reuters).



Putin Arrives in Crimea

Russian president Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea on Friday after overseeing a military parade in Moscow's Red Square commemorating victory over Nazi Germany (Kyiv Post). It is Putin's first visit to the region since Moscow annexed it in March (FT), and he will attend a patriotic parade in Sevastopol on the seventieth anniversary of its liberation.

EUROZONE: European Central Bank president Mario Draghi signaled on Thursday that the bank would likely cut interest rates or take other stimulus measures in June (WSJ).



Venezuela Clears Protest Camps

Caracas authorities cleared out four protest camps and detained 243 people early Thursday (LAHT), prompting clashes between in which protestors threw petrol bombs and police used tear gas. A policeman was shot dead (BBC).

NICARAGUA: A deadly, kidney-related illness has swept through Central America, baffling experts, with some raising the possibility it is connected to the sugar-cane industry (NYT).



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