Must-Reads from Around the World, July 25, 2012

Among today's picks: An endless battle in eastern Syria, melting ice, and the CNOOC-Nexen deal.

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Fadi Zaidan / AP

Syrian boys hold a large revolutionary flag during a demonstration at Saraqeb town in Idlib, north Syria, June 15, 2012.

A Syrian Stalemate – Reporting for the Guardian, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad enters the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zou where he presents a graphic account of an endless battle and tired combatants. Although the rebels control 90% of the surrounding province, according to a defected Syrian army major, Assad loyalists still maintain a foothold in the region — and they are not prepared to relinquish even the smallest intersection in the city. Although much of the rebel attention has turned to Damascus, the battle rages on in the far side of the country, as the worse-supplied but more organized government troops fight a war of attrition that has seen civilians suffering the worst.

The Modern Rail Baron – When President Vladimir Putin‘s government ordered the privatization of a one-quarter stake in the Russian Railways by the end of 2013, the company — which is often considered the “blood supply” of the world’s largest nation — was opened for scrutiny like never before. In a special report, Reuters looks at the business empire surrounding Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin and his 37-year-old son Andrey Yakunin. While the investigation turns up neither illegal nor obviously unscrupulous activities on the part of the two men, it depicts of a web of related and possibly dependent business interests that involve the rail line, hotels, and shipping — a situation all too common in Russia’s mixture of Soviet relations and controlled capitalism.

Canadian Entry — The Chinese state-run oil company CNOOC will buy Canada’s Nexen Inc for $15.1 billion in China’s biggest ever foreign acquisition. It was the result of a month long process of careful consideration on the part of the Asian giant. Beginning in January when Nexen fired its CEO, CNOOC began investigating possible entry into the Canadian market, but the process really took off after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China in February and said he was hoping the two countries could do more oil business together. But despite this vote of confidence, the acquisition required significant lobbying efforts on the part of several firms, Reuters reports, and they may still arouse some opposition from U.S. sources, as there remains sensitivity to China’s entry into one of the country’s major oil suppliers.
Suu Kyi in Parliament — In her first address to the Burmese parliament Wednesday, the BBC states that “opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called for laws to protect the rights of ethnic minority groups.” Supporting a motion by a ruling party MP, she said, such laws were essential for Burma to “become a truly democratic union with a spirit of the union, equal rights and mutual respect.” She also stressed the need to look at poverty in ethnic minority areas. Her speech comes a month after violent clashes between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority in the western Rakhine state, over the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in late 2010 and elected to parliament in last April’s by-elections.

Swift Inauguration – Ghana has sworn in its new president just hours after the death of his predecessor, the  Washington Post writes. President John Atta Mills passed away on Tuesday, three days after his 68th birthday and five months before completing his first term in office. His 2008 election victory had “secured Ghana’s reputation as one of the most mature democracies in West Africa.” The speed of his successor John Mahama’s inauguration has “underscored Ghana’s stability in a part of the world where the deaths of other leaders have sparked coups.” In recent years, coups have followed the deaths of Lansana Conte, the long-serving dictator in neighboring Guinea in 2008, and Togo’s President Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2005, where the military seized power in order to install the deceased leader’s son.

Haitian Slums – Despite risks of flooding and poor sanitation, the Daily Telegraph reports that many slum dwellers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti have been protesting government plans for relocation. Proposals to level 2,000 houses near the most dangerous ravines and ban all new buildings on such sites have resulted in clashes with police and flaming barricades being erected. Following the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed 225,000 people and displaced a sixth of the population, Haitians continue to “flock to the capital from badly deforested and degraded rural areas in the hope of finding work to support their families.” However, a high proportion of the alternative housing offered is outside Port-au-Prince, where there are fewer opportunities to find work.

13th Indian President — The former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been sworn in as the 13th President of India, the BBC writes. He was elected by members of the national and state parliaments on Sunday. While his position is mostly ceremonial, he could prove instrumental in determining the composition of the next parliament in 2014, if there is no clear winner. Mukherjee’s victory is a timely boost to the ruling Congress Party, “which has been under pressure over a series of corruption scandals and a slowdown in the Indian economy.” In his acceptance speech, he said, “I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable, changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi.”
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