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inFOCUS Quarterly

Summer 2015

inFocus Examines Asia


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Kosovo and Serbia Sign New Accord

With help from EU moderators, Serbian and Kosovar negotiators have reached a new agreement to help de-escalate tensions between the two Balkan states. Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and its northern neighbor hope further political and trade normalization could eventually lead to closer ties with the EU.

The new agreement covers a variety of topics including energy and telecommunications. Kosovo, previously a southern province of Serbia, will receive its own telephone country code. The decision implies some level of sovereignty for the breakaway republic, although nothing close to the independence Kosovo wanted recognized. In exchange, ethnic Serb enclaves in northern Kosovo will be given greater legal autonomy and will be able to receive funding directly from Belgrade.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic with EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini (Photo: Council of the EU)

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By Michael Johnson  |  August 27, 2015 at 9:14 am  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Anti-Government Protests Erupt in Beirut

Anti-government demonstrators filled the streets of central Beirut again on Tuesday night, continuing a series of turbulent protests that began over the weekend. The Lebanese army deployed troops to the capital city as clashes between security forces and rioters turned violent.

The latest unrest started Saturday when protesters gathered in front of Grand Serail, the Prime Minister's office, to confront the government over the uncollected garbage lining the streets. In much of the city, trash has piled up since last month's closure of Beirut's main landfill. A "You Stink" movement, loosely associated on Facebook, helped demonstrators spread awareness of their cause and urged people to take to the streets. In response to some protesters throwing stones, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons to confronted activists. One person was killed, but organizers of the demonstrations blamed sectarian infiltrators in the crowd for causing the violence.

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By Michael Johnson  |  August 25, 2015 at 5:10 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Music Festival Apologizes to Jewish Singer

Organizers of the Rototom Sunsplash music festival apologized Wednesday for canceling a performance by Matisyahu. Leaders of the reggae concert series in Spain faced international criticism for banning the Jewish singer, a decision they made following pressure from pro-Palestinian activists.

Matisyahu had been scheduled to play at Rototom since April, taking a prominent spot in the festival's lineup: mainstage on the closing day. But, under pressure from a local Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) chapter in Valencia, which said the artist supports "apartheid and ethnic cleansing," the concert's leader Filippo Giunta asked Matisyahu to clarify his stance on Palestinian statehood. When Matisyahu refused, organizers canceled his performance citing the artist's unwillingness to "clearly declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own State."

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By Michael Johnson  |  August 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Libya's PM Announces Resignation

The leader of Libya's internationally recognized government announced he would step down on Tuesday night following criticism that he is unable to provide security and basic services. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni also faces prolonged political infighting amid Libya's a civil war.

Prime Minister al-Thinni became visibly irritated during an interview on a private TV station after questions regarding his supposed lack of leadership. In response he said would present his resignation to the House of Representatives. But, a spokesman for his cabinet backtracked explaining that al-Thinni would only step down "if the street demands it." While the Prime Minister has been in office since March 2014, he has promised to resign before -- in April of that year.

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By Michael Johnson  |  August 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Islamic State Affiliate Takes Hostage in Sinai

Terrorists with links to Islamic State released a video Wednesday, threatening to behead a captured Croatian, Tomislav Salopek, unless their demands are met. The video is one of many released by the Sinai Province of Islamic State, as the group has targeted Western civilians as well as local security forces over the past several years.

In the video, Salopek is in an orange jumpsuit, reading from a script explaining how he has "48 hours to live," unless the Egyptian government releases an undisclosed number of Muslim women held in prison. The extremists kidnapped Salopek on July 22nd, when according to the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Salopek was driving to work for CGG, a French geoscience company. A group of armed men forced him to exit the car and then drove away to an unknown location.

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By Adam Goldstein  |  August 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Tehran Ramps Up Anti-West Rhetoric After Nuclear Deal

Just weeks after the "historic" nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, leaders in the Islamic Republic have launched a worrisome new campaign based on vicious anti-Western, anti-Israel rhetoric. On Saturday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a book titled Palestine, which details how Iran plans to destroy Israel. The book, along with a series of inflammatory tweets and anti-Western protests in recent days, shows that Iran continues to be a threat to regional stability and plans on sponsoring terrorism.

In Palestine, Khamenei claims that the best way to annihilate the Jewish state is through small scale attacks against Israel until Jews are too scared to live there. Daily violence, Khamenei argues, will force Jews to migrate, which will be easy because most Israelis have "dual-nationality." Khamenei also asserts that western countries, particularly, the United States, are suffering from "Israel fatigue," and that they are exhausted by the demands of supporting the Jewish State. As Israel fatigue mounts, western countries will further distance themselves from Israel, weakening its position as a powerful force in the Middle East, he claims.

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By Adam Goldstein and Michael Johnson  |  August 4, 2015 at 2:50 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Afghan Officials Confirm Taliban Leader's Death

Afghan officials confirmed on Wednesday that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar died in 2013. The revelation of Omar's death was announced amid ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan's government, and rumors of an internal power struggle among the terrorists organization's hierarchy.

An undated image released by the FBI of Mullah Omar. (Photo: ABC News)

An unnamed representative from Afghanistan's intelligence agency said that Omar died in a Karachi, Pakistan hospital in 2013 from an unnamed disease. The official explained that Omar frequently changed locations because of American drone strikes, but eventually settled in Rawalpindi, where Pakistan's military is headquartered. Oftentimes, according to the Afghan government, Pakistan's military and intelligence communities will control the movement and financing of Taliban members allowing them to keep tabs and influence the organization. The last known audio release from Omar came in 2005, but he is credited for releasing numerous written statements since then. Such statements,however, do not provide "proof of life."

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By Adam Goldstein  |  July 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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