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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 21, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: French Police in Standoff with Shooting Suspect

French police have been in an armed standoff outside an apartment building in Toulouse, where a man suspected of gunning down an adult and three children at a Jewish school on Monday is holed up. The twenty-four-year-old French national, identified by a police official as Mohammed Merah, is also suspected of killing three French soldiers in two separate incidents last week. In negotiations with police, the suspect claimed to have ties with al-Qaeda (WSJ) and said the murders at the Jewish school were to "avenge the death of Palestinian children," according to French Interior Minister Claude Guéant. At least two policemen were injured by gunshots fired by the suspect from inside his apartment early this morning. Police indicated the suspect could surrender this afternoon (NYT).


"The appalling murders of this week are likely to soften candidates' discourse, according to political analyst Dominique Reynié. 'What will change in the campaign is the violent tone. We will as a result be able to discuss real issues,' he says. 'I think that politicians who fail to respect that change of tone will be punished,'" writes the Telegraph's Henry Samuel.

"For a couple of days, political life in France is at a standstill. The election campaign has (almost) gone quiet, and most of the presidential candidates have asserted their commitment to France's shared values in a republican consensus. The massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the killing of three soldiers in the region has united the nation in mourning," notes an editorial in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.



Obama to Visit Korean Border

U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea on Sunday for the first time, ahead of an international nuclear summit in Seoul (CNN). The trip also comes amid rising tensions between the two Koreas over North Korea's planned rocket launch next month.

This CFR Crisis Guide provides an interactive, multimedia overview of the dispute between North and South Korea.

MYANMAR: The military-backed government invited the United States and the European Union to send monitors (BBC) to observe Myanmar's parliamentary by-elections in April, in which pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to run.



U.S. Commander Supports Gradual Afghan Drawdown

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, indicated in a testimony to Congress that a decision about further U.S. troop withdrawals following the drawdown of "surge" troops this summer would not be made until after the U.S. presidential election in November (WSJ).

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.

INDIA: Maoists in eastern Odisha state who kidnapped two Italian men last week offered to set free one of the hostages (TimesofIndia) if the state government meets some of its demands, including the release of imprisoned Maoist rebels.



U.S. Exempts Allies From Iran Sanctions

The Obama administration exempted Japan and ten European countries (NYT) from U.S. economic sanctions meant to punish countries for buying oil from Iran. The EU already enacted an oil embargo on Iran in January, set to come into effect in July, and Japan has made "significant reductions" in its Iranian oil imports.

This Congressional Research Service report reviews the history and efficacy of U.S. sanctions against Iran, as well as broadening international support and compliance.

SYRIA: Human Rights Watch accused Syria's armed rebel groups of committing "serious human rights abuses" (LAT), including kidnappings and torture, as Syrian government forces continued a crackdown on opposition strongholds throughout the country.



Al-Shabaab Seizes Central Somali Town

Al-Shabaab Islamist rebels took the central Somali town of Dhusamareb on Tuesday, driving out the pro-government, Ethiopian-backed Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa militia (AFP).

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

SOMALIA: Pirates freed British hostage Judith Tebbutt (Reuters) today after receiving an air-dropped ransom. Gunmen kidnapped Tebutt and killed her husband, David, at a Kenyan beach resort last September.



Monti Pushes Italian Labor Reform

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti put forward plans for an overhaul of rigid Italian labor laws, part of an effort to accelerate economic growth (WSJ) amid worries over eurozone sovereign debt contagion. The measures, which need to be approved by parliament, face significant opposition from Italy's largest labor union.

The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



Peru Cancels UK Royal Navy Visit

Peru cancelled a planned visit by the UK's HMS Montrose in the "spirit of Latin American solidarity" (Guardian), amid rising tensions between Argentina and the UK over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory.

LATIN AMERICA: The Caribbean and Latin America account for 28 percent of all the world's homicides (MercoPress), said Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank. Moreno unveiled a special fund to help countries in the region focus on crime prevention.



Illinois Exit Polls Follow Economy Trend

The economy remains the top issue for voters (CNN), according to 59 percent of those who went to the polls in Illinois to vote for GOP candidates Tuesday. Another 25 percent said the budget deficit was most important to them.

GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who won the Illinois Republican primary with 49 percent of the vote, criticized Obama administration policies he says have led to the economy's "weak recovery" in his victory speech (WashPost). Contender Rick Santorum said Tuesday night that while there are many important issues at hand, including the economy, joblessness, national security, and the federal budget, the 2012 election boils down to "freedom" (NYT).

Republican candidate Newt Gingrich spent Tuesday talking about energy in Louisiana, which holds its primary Saturday, "because energy is a big deal in Louisiana" (KTBS).

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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