Brazil dawdles on reform one month after protests

July 23, 2013

Old habits die hard for Brazilian politicians, U.S. to start sending arms to Syria’s rebels, and al Qaeda takes credit for massive prison break. Today is Tuesday, July 23, a day of respite for world media after an exhausting royal baby watch. Here’s the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.  

Pope Francis sits with President Dilma Rousseff after a welcoming ceremony for the Pope in Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro, in this July 22, 2013, handout from Beth Santos-Rio City Hall. REUTERS/Beth Santos-Rio City Hall/Handout via Reuters

ProcrastiNation. Though Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and members of her government responded to last month’s massive anti-government protests with promises of change, it seems Brazil’s lawmakers are dragging their feet on actual reform:

In an initial flurry of activity, rattled congressmen abandoned a constitutional amendment that would have made it harder to prosecute corrupt politicians, senators voted to stiffen penalties for corruption, and Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of a lawmaker convicted of embezzlement. Last week, the Air Force started posting information on who uses its planes and why after outrage at politicians jetting off to private events such as soccer games on the public dime. But other reform proposals that would reduce privileges that politicians enjoy and make government more transparent have been shunted into committees for review or put off until lawmakers return from a mid-year recess.

According to a poll conducted by Transparency International last week, 81 percent of Brazilians say political parties are corrupt and 72 percent agree that Congress is corrupt. Amid the tension, large crowds turned out to greet Pope Francis as he drove into Rio de Janeiro on his debut trip to his home continent. The mood was largely celebratory despite minor protests by rights groups and a small bomb that was planted near a Catholic sanctuary and safely detonated by officials.

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes a defensive position in Aleppo’s Karm al-Jabal district, July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

Weapons from Washington. The U.S. will begin sending arms to vetted groups of Syrian rebels, according to White House officials, after easing some congressional concerns over the matter. The White House announced the decision to offer military assistance to some rebel factions in June, but follow-up talks were slow-going:

Part of the logjam was broken on July 12 when members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who had questioned the wisdom of arming the insurgents decided behind closed doors to tentatively agree that the administration could go ahead with its plans, but sought updates as the covert effort proceeded… The timeline was unclear, but supporters of the rebels hope the deliveries of U.S.-provided arms will start in August. They hope for “a large number of small weapons” such as rifles and basic anti-tank weapons, said Louay Sakka, a co-founder of the Syrian Support Group, which backs the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad.

Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey released a letter on Monday outlining the possible military options for the U.S. in Syria, where the conflict has become increasingly sectarian and spilled across regional borders.

Mourners pray at the coffin of a victim killed during an attack on a prison in Taji, during a funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, July 22, 2013. REUTERS/Haider Ala

Prison break. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility today for freeing more than 500 inmates from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, formed earlier this year through a merger of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq, said it had stormed the high-security jails after months of preparation. Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launched a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement… The group said it had deployed suicide attackers, rockets, and 12 car bombs, killing 120 Iraqi guards and SWAT forces in the attacks in Taji and Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

The militants also attacked another prison, Taji, but were blocked by guards and did not successfully free inmates. Nearly 700 people have been killed in militant attacks throughout Iraq in July, according to a violence monitoring group, contributing to fears that the country will return to a state of sectarian war.

Nota Bene: At least nine people died in clashes between Mursi supporters and their opponents in Cairo, marking continuing unrest in the volatile county.


Crossing the checkpoint – Reuters photographer Ammar Awad chronicles the daily difficulties of commuting from the West Bank to Israel. (Reuters)

Super civilians – Heroic Japanese commuters move 66,000 lbs to free a woman trapped under a train. (The Independent)

Rubble-rouser – London’s mayor wants to destroy Heathrow airport. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Beer for the DPRK – Even Pyongyang wants a Bavarian beer garden. (The Atlantic Cities)

Trial and error – The botched trial of a popular opposition leader in Russia could be costly for the Kremlin. (Foreign Policy)

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