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Daily Brief: Greek Officials Meet Eurozone Ministers to Discuss Debt Relief

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May 9, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Greek Officials Meet Eurozone Ministers to Discuss Debt Relief

The leftist Greek coalition will meet with eurozone ministers on Monday to discuss debt relief after its parliament approved austerity measures to save its budget 5.4 billion euros. Thousands protested in Athens and Thessaloniki (Al Jazeera) over the legislation, which is part of a package demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in exchange for a bailout for Greece approved last July, the third the country has received since 2010. The reforms of pensions, social security contributions, and income taxes (Reuters) are seen as the most stringent measures the nation has been forced to enact since its budget crisis began. A three-day general strike has brought large parts of the country to a standstill (Guardian) as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos warned the nation risked becoming a "failed state" if it was pushed too far.


"To be clear, this isn't a question of letting Greece off the hook. The mess it's in is the country's own fault—and Greeks have paid the price in collapsing living standards. More realistic fiscal targets of the kind the IMF is proposing, including a primary surplus of 1.5 percent of GDP, would still impose austerity on a country that's suffered greatly. But this softer target wouldn't cut debt to a sustainable level: Resolving this issue requires debt relief. For many months, the euro zone governments, led by Germany, have been led by domestic politics to deny this inescapable reality. Greece has to make big repayments soon. As long as the issue is unresolved, the threat of another financial crisis will cloud Europe's prospects," writes Bloomberg View's editorial board.

"With the largest economies, nearly eight years after the global financial crisis, burdened by high and rising levels of public and private debts, it is baffling that comprehensive restructuring does not figure prominently among the menu of policy options. Indeed, for the global economy, debt restructuring is the proverbial elephant in the room," writes Carmen Reinhart for Project Syndicate.

"The government has scraped together enough cash (by raiding independent public agencies) to pay salaries and pensions in May, perhaps even in June. But by July 20th, when a bond worth over €2 billion matures, the country once again faces default and perhaps a forced exit from the euro zone. The threat of Grexit is not exactly back; it never really went away. With a referendum on Britain’s EU membership in June and a possible flare-up of the refugee crisis as summer approaches, the last thing Europe needs is another Greek drama. The European Commission is thus in a mood for compromise," writes the Economist.


Philippines Votes in Presidential Election

Voters in the Philippines went to the polls Monday to elect a new president in a contest in which a hard-on-crime mayor from the southern city of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte, was expected to perform well (Al Jazeera). A Philippines rights group reported a rise in election-related violence, including twenty-two deaths ahead of the polls (PhilStar).

VIETNAM: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski arrived in Vietnam to assess the country's rights conditions (Reuters). The visit comes two weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama travels to the country, which has signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. 


Afghanistan Bus Accident Kills at Least Fifty

Two buses collided with a fuel truck in Afghanistan's Ghazni province on Sunday, killing or injuring at least 111 people (NYT). Meanwhile, the Afghan government executed six Taliban prisoners following President Ashraf Ghani's statement that the "time of unjustified amnesty" was over (Guardian).

CFR's Daniel Markey discusses the state of the Taliban in Afghanistan in this Cipher Brief interview.

PAKISTAN: Gunmen killed a rights campaigner in Karachi who ran a webpage that promoted liberal religious views and denounced extremism (Dawn). The killing is the third murder of a prominent rights activist in Karachi since 2013 (NYT).


At Least Fifteen Dead in Baghdad Attacks

A suicide bombing at a funeral outside Abu Ghraib on Sunday killed five people, including two police officers, as ten others were killed and thirty-five wounded across Baghdad by improvised explosive devices (WSJ). Meanwhile, some forty people were reportedly wounded in the city of Kirkuk following rocket attacks from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

EGYPT: Eight plainclothes police officers were killed by gunmen in a suburb of Cairo on Sunday (WaPo). Both the Islamic State’s Egyptian branch (Al-Arabiya) and an Egyptian outfit called the Popular Resistance Movement, which opposes the government's counterterrorism operations, claimed responsibility for the attack.


Attack on Mogadishu Police Headquarters Kills Five

Militant group Al-Shabab claimed responsibility (Reuters) for an attack on Mogadishu's traffic police headquarters that killed five people and wounded at least thirteen (VOA).

DJIBOUTI: Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh was sworn in on Sunday to a fourth term in office (VOA).


Seven People On Trial in Belgium for Links to Brussels, Paris Attacks

A trial began in Belgium on Monday for members of a cell suspected of links to Islamists who led attacks in Paris and Brussels (BBC). The cell was broken up in a raid on a home in Verviers in eastern Belgium in January 2015.

Ed Husain discusses the rise of violent extremism in Europe in this CFR conference call. 


Fort McMurray Oil Sands Fire Expected to Burn for Months

Canadian fire officials said they had gained some control over oil sands town Fort McMurray's weeklong wildfire, which covers 615 square miles and is expected to burn for months (Globe and Mail). Global oil prices rose on Monday following the disruptions in Alberta (FT).

VENEZUELA: Venezuela's energy minister flew over the country's largest hydroelectric dam Sunday and said its water level "remains very critical" (LAHT). A severe drought in the country has led the government to ration electricity and drinking water.

CFR's Robert Kahn writes about Venezuela's economic crisis in this report. 

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