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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
September 13, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Protests over Anti-Islam Film Move to Yemen

Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy in Yemen today (NYT), two days after mobs attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The violent protests were triggered by a U.S.-made video denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that was circulated by far-right Christians. The protests in the Yemeni capital of Sana were set off at the urging of radical Muslim cleric Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a former mentor to Osama bin Laden. The protesters tore down and burned an American flag and replaced it with a pro-Islam banner, while setting fire to a building and two vehicles on the embassy's outer perimeter. There were no reports of U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, the United States deployed two warships (CNN) toward the Libyan coast, as President Barack Obama cited a commitment to "see that justice is done."


"We are still in the midst of an immediate crisis in which there has been tremendous violence. This took place at a very emotional time for Americans, given that these attacks took place on 9/11. And it was an emotional time for many Muslims, given that what triggered the demonstrations were reports about a film made in the United States that is offensive to Muslims and to Islam. So this is a highly charged environment for both the United States and the Muslim world," says CFR's Robert M. Danin in this CFR Interview.

"Both attacks are utterly outrageous. But perhaps the United States shouldn't have been caught completely off guard. The rioters in both cases come from the region's burgeoning Salafi movement, and the Salafis have been in the headlines a lot lately. In Libya, over the past few months, they've been challenging the recently elected government by demolishing ancient Sufi shrines, which they deem to be insufficiently Islamic," writes Christian Caryl for

"The Arab Spring replaced the harsh order of hated dictators with a flowering of neophyte democracies. But these governments--with weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties and poor security forces--have made the region a more chaotic and unstable place, a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith," writes TIME's Bobby Ghosh.



Court Says Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' Unfit for Trial

Cambodia's war crimes court ordered the release of Ieng Thirith, the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and so-called First Lady of the regime, citing her "cognitive impairment" (AFP). Thirith was accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity during the regime's 1975-1979 reign.

NORTH KOREA: The government yesterday rejected a South Korean offer to send North Korea humanitarian aid (NYT), calling the offer of food and medicine "deeply insulting."

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



Afghan Leader Condemns Anti-Islam Film

Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday strongly denounced a U.S.-made film that mocks Islam, calling it a "desecrating act" (LAT). Western officials feared his comments could unleash violent protests in Afghanistan similar to those seen in Egypt and Libya.

PAKISTAN: Of the 289 people killed Tuesday in a factory fire in Karachi--the country's worst industrial disaster--only 140 bodies had been identified (AFP/ExpressTribune) by this morning, according to Karachi's police chief.



Russia, China to Back Resolution on Iran

Russia and China agreed yesterday to support a U.S.-backed UN resolution (al-Jazeera) calling on Iran to cease activities that could be used to engineer a nuclear weapon. Iran has continually asserted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.



Suicide Bombers Target New Somali President

Three suspected al-Shabaab suicide bombers attacked the temporary residence of newly elected Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (NYT) during a news conference yesterday. Four people were killed in the attack, including an African Union soldier, though no government officials were hit.

SOUTH AFRICA: A leader of recent protests at some of South Africa's platinum mines, Mametlwe Sebei, called today for a national strike to "bring the mining companies to their knees" (Reuters).



Dutch Centrist Parties Win Election

The center-right Liberal Party of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the center-left Labor Party secured an absolute parliamentary majority between them in yesterday's election, in a victory for pro-EU political parties (Guardian) amid ongoing concerns over the eurozone debt crisis.

As Europe's central bank moves aggressively to staunch the continent's crisis, some critics are asking if it has exceeded its mandate by stepping into the breach left open by elected leaders, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

RUSSIA: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev yesterday suggested the members of the punk group Pussy Riot (WSJ) should be freed from prison, calling their two-year jail sentence for playing a song in Moscow's main cathedral that attacked President Vladimir Putin a "terrible burden."



Mexico Captures Alleged Cartel Boss

Mexican marines yesterday arrested in the northern state of Tamaulipas a man suspected to be the head of the Gulf drug cartel (BBC), Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, one of the government's thirty-seven most wanted drug lords.

Since 2006, the Mexican government has been in embroiled in a bloody drug war, which has failed to significantly curb trafficking, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

CUBA: A senior Cuban official said yesterday that the government was prepared to negotiate with the United States over jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross (AP), saying Havana "continues to await an answer" from Washington.



Embassy Attacks Put Focus on Candidates' Foreign Policy

The U.S. embassy attacks in North Africa have sparked a debate over GOP nominee Mitt Romney's foreign policy credentials (Politico), with even among some Republicans concerned about a situation that could be a pivotal test for a candidate who has not made foreign policy or national security central tenets of his candidacy. Meanwhile, President Obama faces questions about U.S. support for the Arab Spring (ABC).

At Education Week, Alyson Klein breaks down the candidates' positions on education and what they mean for students, the future of the U.S. economy, and global competitiveness.



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