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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 19, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Clashes in Damascus

Syrian security forces on Sunday beat and temporarily detained protesters marching on the streets of Damascus (NYT) with a nonviolent Syrian opposition group, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria, after demonstrators called for the "fall of the regime." The expanded crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's security forces came as a deadly car bomb exploded in the city of Aleppo, a day after similar bombings went off in Damascus. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings. On Monday morning, heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and govenment forces (Reuters) broke out in a Damascus neighborhood.


"Months after the uprising against him erupted in March last year, many Syrians still entertained the hope of a miracle transformation in Mr Assad. Perhaps the revolution was his opportunity to push aside the nasty men in his regime, including his brother Maher, a top military chief, they figured. They were dismayed to see the president defending the brutality of his security forces and insisting that they were fighting terrorists," writes the Financial Times' Roula Khalaf.

"And one year on from the first protest--which soon spread south to Deraa where people rallied in support of dozens of children tortured for writing anti-Assad graffiti--Assad is still at the helm, challenging the 'Arab Spring' narrative of people power and defying predictions that his days are numbered," writes Reuters' Dominic Evans.

"Both activists and analysts agree that the best possible solution would be a kind of internal coup, where Alawites and other regime stalwarts start to pull their support. Already there have been signs of cracks. The Druze minority sect has started to stand against the regime, as have significant numbers of Christian priests and leaders who have historically stood with the regime," writes TIME's Aryn Baker.



East Timor President Defeated

East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta conceded defeat in Sunday's presidential election after coming in third place. He vowed to step down in May (al-Jazeera) following a runoff election between the two remaining candidates.

INDONESIA: Police conducted two raids on the island of Bali on Sunday, killing five men suspected of planning robberies to fund terrorist acts (BBC).



Pakistani PM Replies to Contempt Charges

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani responded in a letter to the Supreme Court over contempt charges, in which he has refused to write to Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case targeting President Asif Ali Zardari (Dawn).

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. officials confirmed the identity of a soldier suspected of killing sixteen Afghan civilians (WSJ) last week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a combat veteran. Bales was transferred on Friday from Kuwait to a U.S. military prison in Kansas.

The killing of Afghan civilians and the Taliban's suspension of peace talks have complicated the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, explains CFR's Stephen Biddle in this CFR Interview



U.S. Teacher Killed in Yemen

Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a U.S. teacher in the central Yemeni city of Taiz on Sunday. Officials suggested the attackers had ties to al-Qaeda in Yemen (NYT).



Former Military Chief Assassinated in Guinea Bissau

Guinea Bissau's former head of military intelligence, Colonel Samba Diallo, was shot and killed in a bar in the capital of Bissau on Sunday evening. The assassination took place hours after citizens voted in a presidential election to replace Malam Bacai Sanha (Telegraph), who died in January.

SOMALIA: Al-Shabaab militants attempted to fire mortars at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, but missed and killed five people at a nearby refugee camp (Reuters).

This CFR Backgrounder provides a profile of the al-Shabaab Islamist militant organization based in southern Somalia.



Gunman Attacks French Jewish School

A gunman opened fire outside a Jewish secondary school in the southwest French city of Toulouse this morning, killing three children and one adult (Guardian) before fleeing on a scooter. President Nicolas Sarkozy called the incident an "abominable drama."

GERMANY: German lawmakers elected Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and human rights activist from East Germany, as the country's eleventh president since World War II (RFE/RL).

Germany's new president has experienced much of Germany's turbulent postwar history firsthand, and as a former East German pastor, he knows the value of freedom, explains this Der Spiegel commentary.



Occupy Wall Street Marks Six Months

New York police arrested seventy-four people after Occupy Wall Street protesters attempted to re-occupy Manhattan's Zuccotti Park (CNN) on Saturday to mark the anti-capitalist movement's six-month anniversary.

CUBA: Police arrested dozens of opposition activists (BBC) calling for the release of political prisoners over the weekend, a week ahead of a visit to the country by Pope Benedict XVI.

Under President Raul Castro, Cuba has begun economic and political reforms while bolstering ties with Brazil and the Vatican. But Washington has failed to seize on opportunities for expanding relations, says CFR's Julia E. Sweig in this CFR Interview.


Campaign 2012

Obama's Political Strategist Defends Energy Policy

Obama's political strategist David Axelrod said Sunday that more domestic drilling will not cause gas prices to "go down magically" (CBS). U.S. oil production has risen 12 percent during the Obama administration, Axelrod said, but the administration has also doubled the use of renewable energy and increased fuel efficiency standards for the first time in three decades.

On CNN Sunday, GOP candidate Rick Santorum said he would impose tougher sanctions on Iran, which he considers the biggest national security threat, and faulted President Obama for not aligning with the pro-democracy movement early in his presidency to help topple the regime.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he does not have enough information (HuffPo) on the war in Afghanistan to "take a stand" on troop withdrawal, and would want to hear from military leaders.

Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.



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