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Daily Brief: Bombings Strike Southern Thailand

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August 12, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Bombings Strike Southern Thailand

A series of bombings (WSJ) hit popular tourist areas in southern Thailand, killing at least four people and injuring dozens. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes days before the one-year anniversary of the bombing of a Hindu shrine in Bangkok. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha denounced (Bangkok Post) the attacks as "an attempt to create chaos and confusion." Police have ruled out (NYT) links to international terrorism and said an investigation is under way. In a national referendum last weekend, Thailand voted in favor of a constitution drafted by the current ruling junta, but opposition to the charter was restricted ahead of the vote.


"What sets apart the latest attacks is their timing and selected targets. The violence has come within a week of the passage of a constitution that vests substantial power and authority in a 250-member senate appointed by the junta to keep elected representatives in check. Against a backdrop of stifled media and a ban on political gatherings, and with a 59% turnout (61% in favour), Thai voters endorsed a constitution that will set the political direction for the coming years. The anti-junta forces who lost out in the referendum have an incentive to show bold defiance and lay down a challenge against the regime," writes Thitinan Pongsudhirak in the Guardian.

"The southern insurgency has continued for 12 years and killed more than 6,000 people, but has rarely spread outside the three Malay-Muslim provinces, and almost never targeted Thailand's many tourist hotspots. Targeting a royal town, Hua Hin, the favoured retreat of the royal family, and on a day when many Thais are celebrating Queen Sirikit's 84th birthday, is also significant. Whoever carried out these attacks, they surely intended to send a message, shaking public confidence in the military's ability to maintain peace and order," writes BBC Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head.

"It would be a mistake, however, to understand the conflict as one of personalities or individuals—the Shinawatra family versus the traditional Thai elite. Thaksin was polarizing—beloved by the people of the countryside for his populist policies and hated by human rights and civil society groups due to allegations of various abuses, including corruption. But the real issue bedeviling Thai politics for the past decade has been a lack of consensus regarding how political and economic power should be allocated in the Kingdom," says CFR's Karen Brooks in an interview.


Former President Says Philippines Wants Maritime Talks With China

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, who has been appointed special envoy to China, said on Friday that Manila wants formal talks (Strait Times) with Beijing amid tensions over fishing rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea. Separately, on a visit to the Philippines, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized the need to resolve maritime disputes in Southeast and East Asia with the rule of law (Inquirer).

This CFR InfoGuide provides background and analysis on China's maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas.


Afghanistan's Chief Executive Criticizes President

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah criticized (Al Jazeera) President Ashraf Ghani for failing to work collaboratively, raising fresh concerns about the country's unity government. The political tensions come as Taliban gains in southern Helmand province have displaced (PBS) thousands of people in recent weeks.

PAKISTAN: Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister's advisor on foreign affairs, said that there were indications that splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban were involved (Pakistan Today) in the deadly bombing in Quetta earlier this week.


UN Opens Inquiry into Alleged Aleppo Gas Attack

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the United Nations is investigating (BBC) whether chlorine gas was used in an alleged gas attack on a rebel-held part of Aleppo earlier this week. If confirmed, de Mistura said the attack would amount to a war crime.

IRAN: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is expected in Turkey on Friday where he will meet (Press TV) with top officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The visit will be the most significant (AFP) one by a foreign dignitary since a coup attempt in July.


Nigeria Confirms New Polio Cases

The Nigerian government reported two new cases of polio (Vanguard) in eastern Borno state, the country's first in two years. In 2012, Nigeria accounted for half of all polio cases around the world.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at how polio spreads and efforts to eradicate it.

ZAMBIA: Zambians await election results (AFP) after voting on Thursday in what is believed to be a close presidential race. Early results are expected by Saturday and complete results on Sunday.


Russia-Ukraine Tensions Rise Over Crimea

Ukraine put its troops on high alert (CNN) as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced naval exercises in the Black Sea and discussed additional security measures in Crimea. The two countries stepped up security (Guardian) after Russia accused Ukraine of plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea.

TURKEY: Thirty-two diplomats have failed to return (Reuters) to Turkey after being recalled following last month's failed coup, and Ankara believes they have fled to other countries, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. This comes as nearly 76,000 civil servants have been suspended (Hurriyet) for allegedly participating in the coup, according to the Interior Ministry.

CFR's Steven A. Cook and Michael J. Koplow write that Turkey is no longer a reliable ally in this Op-Ed.


Venezuela and Colombia to Reopen Shared Border

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed on Thursday to gradually reopen their shared borders (LAHT) after nearly a year of closures. The borders will initially be opened to pedestrian traffic on Saturday, they said.

BRAZIL: Police in Sao Paulo arrested (AP) two alleged sympathizers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State on Thursday. The arrests follow earlier raids that led to the detention of a dozen others ahead of the opening of the Olympics in Rio.

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