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Friday, June 14, 2013

U.S. Offers Direct Military Aid to Syrian Rebels

After determining that Syrian forces under Bashar al-Assad were using chemical weapons, specifically sarin, President Obama has decided that the U.S. will offer direct military support to Syrian rebels. Until now, the U.S. government had limited its aid to food and medical supplies. The decision may have been influenced by Britain and France, which have been arguing that Syria’s civil war cannot be allowed to tilt so heavily in the regime’s favor. It remains unclear what arms the U.S. will supply or when and how they will be delivered. Obama has promised small guns and ammunition and other U.S. officials have mentioned sending the rebels anti-tank guns. When asked about the possibility of a no-fly zone to protect refugees, an Obama spokesman said that it would be prohibitively expensive and strategically unimportant. Syria and Russia both criticized the Obama administration’s decision. Rebels preparing for the government forces’ upcoming assault on Aleppo simply hoped the arms would not be too little, too late.

Polls Close in Iranian Elections

Millions of Iranians turned out to vote in the presidential and municipal elections today. Due to the “rush of voters,” the interior ministry extended polling hours three times to allow everyone to cast their vote. Witnesses at polling stations said they saw more people waiting to vote than in 2009 (although this may simply have to do with the fact that current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not in the race). Leading up to the election, the Iranian government has cracked down on journalists and media, limiting coverage across the board, particularly for western media. Most major western news outlets were simply denied visas, and the BBC reported that family members of journalists in its staff in the Persian Service were being harassed. Polls suggest the leading contenders are moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani and Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Galibaf. If no candidate receives over 50.1% of the vote, there will be a run-off election next week.

Protests over Bus Fare Hikes Turn Violent in Brazil’s Two Biggest Cities

Thousands gathered in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro this week to protest proposed hikes to public transportation fares, which would raise them 6.5%. Most of the protesters were university students, although the police claimed there were some anarchists in the crowd looking to start a riot. The police have grown increasingly violent over the course of the protests, firing rubber bullets and tear gas that injured several bystanders and journalists covering the demonstrations. Officials insist that the hike remains much lower than the rate of inflation, currently estimated at 15.5%, but interviews with protesters suggest that the fare hike was a rallying point and the demonstrations reveal a deeper dissatisfaction with the state of the country. The grievances include rising murder rates, anti-abortion laws, a cooling economy and insufficient, overcrowded public transportation. One student in São Paulo said, “This city’s a piece of trash and we shouldn’t have to pay anything for terrible services.”

The Continuing Fallout from the NSA Leaks

On Friday, U.S. launched criminal investigation into Edward Snowden and announced that it intends to prosecute him, although the likelihood of China extraditing him remains uncertain. Snowden’s exposure of the U.S. government’s surveillance of China, augmented by the discovery that he has many more classified documents he could leak, means China may be unwilling to lose such a valuable potential source of information. Yahoo revealed that it had taken the NSA to court in 2008, believing the broadness of its data requests to be unconstitutional. The secret court that hears cases of national security, however, ruled against Yahoo. The court operates under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which includes minimization procedures to prevent accidental eavesdropping. FISA found these procedures unconstitutional last year. Despite a concerted demonization campaign from Washington, the majority of Americans believe Snowden “did the right thing” and overwhelmingly labelled him a “patriot” instead of a “traitor.”  A bipartisan group of senators are drafting a bill that would put an end to the secrecy enshrouding the court, and the head of the NSA agreed to release information about the “dozens” of terrorist plots Prism had prevented.

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