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April 20, 2017

Daily News Brief

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Three Dead in Venezuela Mass Protests

At least three people, including two students and a national guardsman, were killed in shootings during mass demonstrations across Venezuela on Wednesday. The violence brings the death toll (Reuters) from protests against President Nicolas Maduro to eight this month. Maduro accused opposition protesters of looting shops and attacking law enforcement (BBC), while his opponents claim government-backed paramilitaries known as colectivos were behind the students' deaths. The opposition, which vowed to continue protests on Thursday, has called on the Maduro government to hold new elections (Miami Herald). Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil supplies (Guardian) but is facing chronic food and medicine shortages; the International Monetary Fund predicts the economy will contract 7.4 percent (FT) this year.


"There are differences from the past. The economy is deteriorating, with the IMF predicting this week that Venezuelan unemployment will surpass 25 percent this year as the country suffers a third year of recession. There is also less regional support for Maduro following the rightward shift of governments in Argentina and Brazil," Virginia Lopez and Jonathan Watts write for the Guardian.

"The regime seems willing to play out the clock, at grotesque human cost, guided by one core strategy: waiting for global oil prices to recover. But the hole is now so deep that a modest increase in oil prices—of the sort predicted for 2017—may be insufficient: debt payments due in 2017 outstrip foreign currency reserves," writes CFR's Matthew Taylor.

"This economic devastation results from steep declines both in oil prices and in production, as world markets and local mismanagement have undermined Venezuela's traditional cash cow. With prices more than halving since 2014 and output down over one million barrels from 2000 production highs, government income has fallen precipitously. It also reflects over a decade of broader economic interventions, undercutting the private sector through exchange rate and monetary controls, bureaucratic rules, and outright expropriations," CFR's Shannon K. O'Neil testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.


Australia to Introduce Tougher Citizenship Exam

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's administration proposed a citizenship test that would require higher English language proficiency and would test whether an individual holds "Australian values" (DW). The proposal is expected to gain parliamentary approval.

CHINA: Beijing announced it will cap the city's population at twenty-three million long-term residents (FT) by 2020. As part of the plan, university student housing and bureaucracies will move to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing.


Pakistani Leader Celebrates Court Ruling

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif celebrated the Supreme Court's decision not to call for his immediate removal (Dawn) over money transfers allegedly made by his family to Qatar. Three of Sharif's children were linked to offshore accounts (BBC) in the so-called Panama Papers.

INDIA: The government barred the Public Health Foundation of India, the largest independent public health group in the country and a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (FT), from receiving foreign funds. The organization has drawn ire from the tobacco industry for its antismoking campaigns.


Monitor Confirms Sarin Used in Syria

The chemical used in an attack on an opposition-controlled Syrian town that killed at least eighty-six people was confirmed to be the nerve agent sarin or a substance similar to sarin, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (WaPo). France said it will soon present evidence of the Syrian government's involvement in the attack.

YEMEN: Houthi rebels and their allies have been using banned landmines in Yemen (DW) that may have caused hundreds of civilian casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

CFR's Micah Zenko calls the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed intervention in Yemen a "shameful war" in Foreign Policy.


African Union, UN to Increase Cooperation

The chair of the African Union Commission and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres signed a pact to enhance cooperation (VOA) in the areas of security, good governance, and humanitarian assistance.

NIGERIA: President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Nigeria's spy chief and a senior civil servant on charges of misusing millions in humanitarian funds (DW). The suspension comes after authorities discovered the funds in a private residence in Lagos.


Dozens Arrested for Protesting Turkish Referendum

Police arrested at least thirty-eight people (NYT) in morning raids Wednesday for involvement in mass protests against a referendum result that would boost the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Also on Wednesday, Turkey's foreign minister said that Erdogan will meet U.S. President Donald J. Trump (WaPo) in Brussels before a NATO summit in May.

CFR's Steven A. Cook says the outcome of Turkey's constitutional referendum will lead to further destabilization in Foreign Policy.

RUSSIA: ExxonMobil applied for a U.S. government waiver to bypass sanctions on Russia (WSJ) to resume a joint venture with Russian state oil company PAO Rosneft.


Ex-President Says Brazil Could Get Its Own Trump

Former President Dilma Rousseff, impeached last year, said she sees "a few Trump-like figures" (WaPo) that could be elected in Brazil. Rousseff cited the recently elected mayor of Sao Paulo and a far-right lawmaker who has publicly praised Trump.


Emirates Cuts Some U.S. Flights

The Dubai-based Emirates airline cut its flights to U.S. cities by 20 percent (AP), citing reduced demand due to the United States' stricter security policies and attempts to ban travelers from some Muslim-majority nations.

A U.S. affiliate of Venezuela's state oil company donated half a million dollars (BBC) to President Trump's inauguration, according to the Federal Election Commission.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at Venezuela's political and economic crisis.