Global Briefing, Jan. 23 2012: Syria, Sendai and Sarkozy

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Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during a Ramadan Iftar banquet in honor of Muslim clergymen, in Damascus, Syria, 24 August 2011. (Photo: SANA / EPA)

Juvenile Injustice — The Guardian examines accusations that Israel’s military justice system mistreats Palestinian children. The special report, based on interviews and affidavits given by minors to an international human rights organization, claims Israeli soldiers arrest between 500 and 700 Palestinian minors each year, mostly for throwing stones. “Their statements show a pattern of night-time arrests, hands bound with plastic ties, blindfolding, physical and verbal abuse, and threats,” the newspaper writes.

Split on Syria —The Arab League’s latest peace plan for Syria, which calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down within two weeks, dominates the dailies. The Washington Post says the move reflects “growing Arab frustration with Assad’s failure to implement the terms of a peace plan.” The New York Times’ take: “…the proposal reflected divisions within the Arab League over how to confront the Syrian crisis, as well as the league’s mounting sense of helplessness as the death toll mounts.” And TIME’s Rania Abouzeid notes that, “the plan is bold but there is one clear catch: Assad must agree to it.” Syria rejected the plan on Monday.

Boom Town —  Tokyo correspondent Krista Mahr re-visits the town of Sendai in Japan’s rural northeast. Almost a year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, the city is being revitalized by billions of yen earmarked for reconstruction. “Everyone is running on loans,” one man says.  Which raises a tough, but important, question: What happens when the money runs out?

Time to Talk —The Associated Press exclusively reveals that the U.S. has started talking to an insurgent group in Afghanistan. Top-level officials have allegedly held meetings with a representative of former Afghan prime minister and longtime warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, branded a terrorist by Washington. Dr. Ghairat Baheer, his son-in-law, told the AP that he had met separately with David Petraeus, former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan who is now CIA director, and had face-to-face discussions with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, currently the top commander in the country.

Nigerian Nightmare — After decades of corruption and misrule, 178 people have been killed in a series of recent attacks on state buildings and churches in the Nigerian city, Kano. In the Guardian, Chika Unigwe argues that the violence isn’t simply a symptom of religious divide; it’s the targeted work of one extremist group, the Boko Haram.

French Revolution — The presidential candidate for France’s Socialist Party, François Hollande, is ahead in the polls with three months to go before voting begins on April 22. But, reports the New York Times, his lead over the unpopular incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, is shrinking as Hollande faces criticisms of being bland. So he’s doing what any savvy socialist would arguably do: passionately demanding change and attacking the finance system. But will it be enough to hold onto his lead?

Is The Bloc Back? — Despite the euro’s recent debt turmoil, the majority of Croatians voted for joining the E.U. Sunday. With 66 percent of the voters choosing yes, the country seems headed for membership, expected in July 2013. While enthusiasm for the E.U. has been waning in the wake of the multi-state recession and defaulting countries, Croatia’s keenness to join still suggests the bloc has some allure. “The European Union gives us a ticket to the world in which we can be successful,” Davor Majetic, head of the Croatian Association of Entrepreneurs, told Business Week.

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