Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army
In sentencing Myanmar’s iconic democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to prison, the country’s generals have effectively exiled her from electoral politics. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army

Myanmar democracy in new era as Suu Kyi sidelined by army
  • Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and her allies have played important roles in the past, even when sidelined or jailed by the generals

BANGKOK: In sentencing Myanmar’s iconic democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to prison, the country’s generals have effectively exiled her from electoral politics. But that doesn’t mean the Southeast Asian nation is back to square one in its stop-start efforts to move toward democracy.
In fact, a younger generation that came of age as the military began loosening its grip on politics and the economy and has tasted some freedoms is well positioned to carry on the struggle.
A de facto coup on Feb. 1 pushed Suu Kyi’s elected government from power, throwing the country into turmoil. But erasing the gains of a decade of opening up has proved more difficult.
People took to the streets en masse almost immediately and have continued sporadic protests since then. As a military crackdown on demonstrations grew increasingly violent, protesters moved to arm themselves.
Within days, a mix of old and new guard, including elected lawmakers who were prevented from taking their seats by the takeover, announced a shadow administration that declared itself the nation’s only legitimate government. It was very consciously assembled to be a diverse group, including representatives of ethnic minorities and one openly gay member, unusual in socially conservative Myanmar.
It, not Suu Kyi, who was arrested in the takeover, has been at the forefront of the opposition — and has garnered significant support among the general population.
While no foreign government has recognized the so-called National Unity Government, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met virtually with two of its representatives. And it has accomplished a kind of standoff at the U.N., which delayed action on a request by Myanmar’s military government for its representative to take its seat. The country’s current delegate has declared his allegiance to the unity government.
“The coup and its aftermath are not so much the end of a democratization process in Myanmar as they are proof that democratization has actually taken hold of the younger generation,” Priscilla Clapp, who served as the U.S. chief of mission in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. “In fact, the coup may ultimately prove to be the dramatic end to the older generation of leadership in Myanmar.”
The pro-democracy movement now faces the challenges of continuing to resist military rule, keeping up international pressure for restoring an elected, civilian government, and consolidating support from ethnic groups that have long fought the central government.
Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize, and her allies have played important roles in the past, even when sidelined or jailed by the generals. On Monday, the 76-year-old was convicted on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison, though that was almost immediately reduced to two. She faces other charges that could see her imprisoned for life.
But the younger generation may be better placed to carry the mantle anyway.
Unlike their elders, younger people in Myanmar, especially those in the cities, have spent most of their lives without having to worry about being imprisoned for speaking their minds. They have had access to mobile phones and Facebook and grew up believing the country was moving toward greater, not less democracy.
They also seem more willing to reach out to Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Not only did the unity government include ethnic minority officials in its Cabinet, but it sought out alliances with the powerful ethnic militias, which are fighting for autonomy and rights over their resource-rich lands.
“Even as they are fighting against the military takeover, they are debating among themselves to determine the outlines of a new form of a more democratic and ethnically diverse political system,” said Clapp, who is also a senior adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Asia Society. “This did not happen with earlier rebellions against military rule before the people had experience with democratic institutions that gave the public a voice.”
Suu Kyi’s own reputation abroad was deeply marred by her seemingly condoning, or at times even defending, abuses committed by the military against the Muslim Rohingya minority while her government was in power. She disputes allegations that troops killed Rohingya civilians, torched houses and raped women.
The unity government has also been criticized for seeming to neglect the long-oppressed Rohingya, and it remains to be seen how its uneasy alliance with ethnic groups will play out.
But Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya is just one element that complicates her legacy.
An icon of resistance during her 15 years under house arrest, Suu Kyi agreed to work alongside the generals after she was freed. It was a gamble that left Myanmar’s fledgling democracy in limbo, with the military keeping control of key ministries and reserving a large share of seats in parliament.
Some overseas admirers were disappointed that during its time in power Suu Kyi’s government used British colonial-era security laws to prosecute dissidents and critical journalists, in part of “an ongoing pattern of silencing dissent,” said Jane Ferguson, a lecturer at Australian National University.
In seizing power, the military claimed there was massive fraud in the 2020 election that saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy win in a landslide. It said that justified the takeover under a constitution that allows it to seize power in emergencies — though independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities. Critics also assert that the takeover bypassed the legal process for declaring the kind of emergency that allows the army to step in.
Security forces have since quashed nonviolent nationwide protests with deadly force, killing about 1,300 civilians, according to a tally compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Despite the risks, the verdict against Suu Kyi, who remains popular, provoked more spirited protests. In the city of Mandalay on Monday, demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs popularized during pro-democracy protests in 1988.
“In Yangon, we are seeing local residents resume banging pots and pans late at night in protest,” said Jason Tower, Myanmar country director for the U.S. Institute of Peace. “These types of moves by the junta are also a key driver and motivation for local people to join people’s defense forces.”
Those forces, which began as a way to protect neighborhoods and villages from the depredations of government troops, are also being supported by the opposition unity government that hopes to turn them into a federal army one day.
In the meantime, the military will keep trying to “terrorize the public into obedience,” said Christina Fink, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. “They have done so successfully in the past, but this time the opposition is more widespread and takes many different forms so it has been much harder for the regime to achieve its goal.”


UK says not ruling out sanctions on Russia’s Vladimir Putin

UK says not ruling out sanctions on Russia’s Vladimir Putin
Updated 21 sec ago

UK says not ruling out sanctions on Russia’s Vladimir Putin

UK says not ruling out sanctions on Russia’s Vladimir Putin
  • Western leaders step up military preparations and made plans to shield Europe from a potential energy supply shock
LONDON: Britain is not ruling out sanctions targetted at Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin in person if Russia invades Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, as Western leaders stepped up military preparations and made plans to shield Europe from a potential energy supply shock.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine and the West fears it may invade in an attempt to annex its former Soviet republic.
Asked about possible sanctions on Putin, Truss told Sky: “We’re not ruling anything out.”
“We’ll be bringing forward new legislation to make our sanctions regime tougher so we are able to target more companies and individuals in Russia. We will be bringing that forward in the next few days. I’m not ruling that out.”
Truss said the United Kingdom was supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading Ukraine, that it can deploy troops wherever it wants on its own territory and that the West is gripped by Russophobia.

Blast in Greek capital damages buildings, one injured

Blast in Greek capital damages buildings, one injured
Updated 3 min 2 sec ago

Blast in Greek capital damages buildings, one injured

Blast in Greek capital damages buildings, one injured
  • Debris littered the street a day after a severe snowstorm swept the capital disrupting traffic and stranding thousands of people

ATHENS: One person was injured and several buildings were extensively damaged by an explosion in central Athens that led to a fire early on Wednesday, officials and witnesses said.
One person who suffered burns was taken to hospital, Giorgos Mathiopoulos, the head of workers at the National Center for Emergency Care, told Skai TV.
The blast smashed windows and wrecked the facades of buildings along the major traffic artery of Syngrou Avenue, which links the city center to the southern suburbs, while damaging buildings up to 200 meters (656 ft) away.
Debris littered the street a day after a severe snowstorm swept the capital disrupting traffic and stranding thousands of people.
At least 18 firefighters used seven engines to battle a blaze at one buildings and have nearly brought it under control, the fire brigade said.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the blast or the fire, officials said.
“We have a fire, there was a blast before that,” said a fire brigade commander at the scene.


Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga
Updated 58 min 17 sec ago

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga
  • Crew of the HMAS Adelaide would follow drastic health protocols to ensure Tonga remains free from COVID-19

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga: A coronavirus-hit Australian warship docked in Tonga on Wednesday, delivering desperately needed aid to the volcano-and-tsunami-struck nation under strict “no-contact” protocols.
Tongan Health Minister Saia Piukala said the crew of the HMAS Adelaide would follow drastic health protocols to ensure the remote Pacific kingdom remains one of the few places in the world still free of COVID-19.
“The ship will berth and no contacts will be made. Australians from the ship will unload their cargoes and sail from port,” he told reporters.
The Adelaide was deployed as part of an international aid effort after the January 15 eruption that generated massive tsunami waves and blanketed the island nation in toxic ash.
The warship is carrying about 80 tons of relief supplies, including water, medical kits and engineering equipment.
Despite all crew members testing negative before departing Brisbane, officials in Canberra on Tuesday said 23 coronavirus cases had been detected on the vessel.
Piukala said that number had increased to 29 by Wednesday.
The ship’s 600-plus crew are fully vaccinated, and the Australian Defense Force said Tuesday that the initial 23 patients were asymptomatic or only mildly affected.
It said the ship has a 40-bed hospital, including operating theaters and a critical care ward.
Piukala said contactless protocols were being applied to all relief supplies, including those aboard the HMAS Adelaide, meaning all goods offloaded from foreign planes or ships would be left in isolation for three days before being handled by Tongans.
The ship is said to be loaded with about 250,000 liters (66,000 US gallons) of water, buckets, jerry cans and portable field-testing kits that can now be offloaded.
“We can do that in a contactless way, spray the equipment so that the chance of passing on the virus is obviously negligible,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Tuesday.
“Under no circumstance will we compromise the health and well-being of those Tongans who have already had a concerted effort against the virus by protecting themselves, and the virus is not present on the island.”
But coronavirus restrictions are already hampering the aid effort in other ways.
Japan has announced its aid aircraft will pause trips between Australia and Tonga due to four COVID-19 cases among the mission’s staff.
“We are making sure that the impact on the mission is minimal, and once our review of anti-infection measures is completed, we’ll continue the mission,” a defense ministry official said.
Tonga closed its borders in early 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe.
Since then, the nation of 100,000 has recorded just one COVID-19 case, a man who returned from New Zealand in October last year and has since fully recovered.
However, the devastating blast from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which lies about 65 kilometers north of the capital Nuku’alofa, has created what the Tongan government describes as an “unprecedented disaster.”
Entire villages were washed away by tsunamis, while ash has poisoned water supplies and destroyed crops.
Remarkably, there have been only three reported fatalities, which the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said was thanks to effective early warnings issued by the Tongan government.
OCHA said communications severed by the eruption were slowly being restored and assessment teams were visiting hard-to-reach areas to gauge the full scale of the disaster.
It said 85 percent of Tonga’s population had been affected, with access to safe water, ash clearance and food supplies the main priorities.


South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins

South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins
Updated 26 January 2022

South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins

South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins
  • Highly contagious but less-lethal omicron became the dominant variant in South Korea last week
  • Omicron surge has fueled worries about a new wave of infections ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday

SEOUL: South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases exceeded 13,000 for the first time on Wednesday, driven by the spread of the omicron variant, as the government launched a new pilot testing scheme to meet skyrocketing demand.
The record 13,012 cases for the previous 24-hour period came just a day after the tally first topped 8,000 despite the extension of tough social distancing rules.
The highly contagious but less-lethal omicron became the dominant variant in South Korea last week, and the daily numbers could more than double or surge to even higher levels in the coming weeks, health officials warned.
“Going forward, our top priority is to reduce critically ill patients and deaths,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told an inter-ministry meeting on Wednesday.
The government introduced a new testing policy in four designated cities on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test while others can get a rapid antigen test at a local clinic for faster initial diagnosis.
The program will be scaled up starting Saturday to enable 256 state-run testing stations nationwide to distribute the rapid antigen self-test kits, Kim said. Another 430 local clinics will be added next week.
As part of efforts to free up resources for serious patients, the government has also cut mandatory isolation for people who have been vaccinated but tested positive to seven days from 10, and expanded self-treatment at home for asymptomatic and mild cases.
Son Young-rae, a health ministry official, said more than 80 percent of intensive care unit beds are available nationwide, compared with some 20 percent in early December when record-breaking infections threatened to saturate the country’s medical system.
South Korea is currently carrying out 400,000-500,000 PCR tests a day, but has capacity for 800,000, Son added.
The omicron surge has fueled worries about a new wave of infections ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday which begins on Saturday, when tens of millions travel nationwide to meet families.
President Moon Jae-in also met with aides on Wednesday to oversee the government’s efforts, calling for moves to prevent any potential shortages of test kits and ensure sufficient consultations with doctors at local clinics.
On Tuesday, some 46 South Korean athletes and coaches who will compete in the Beijing Olympics had to receive a COVID-19 test after attending a ceremony for the delegation where an official at the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee later tested positive.
South Korea, with a population of 52 million, has largely been successful in mitigating COVID-19, with 762,983 total infections and 6,620 deaths.
More than 95 percent of adults are fully vaccinated with some 58 percent having received a booster dose, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.


US Coast Guard reports 39 missing from capsized boat off Florida

This handout image, provided by the US Coast Guard on January 25, 2022, shows a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce inlet, Florida. (AFP)
This handout image, provided by the US Coast Guard on January 25, 2022, shows a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce inlet, Florida. (AFP)
Updated 26 January 2022

US Coast Guard reports 39 missing from capsized boat off Florida

This handout image, provided by the US Coast Guard on January 25, 2022, shows a capsized vessel approximately 45 miles east of Fort Pierce inlet, Florida. (AFP)
  • Incidents of overturned or interdicted vessels crowded with people, many of them Haitians or Cubans seeking to reach the United States, are not uncommon in the waters off Florida

WASHINGTON: Rescue crews searched waters off Florida’s Atlantic shore on Tuesday for 39 people reported missing by a survivor found clinging to a boat that capsized in what the US Coast Guard called a suspected human smuggling attempt gone awry.
The survivor told authorities after his rescue that he had left the Bahamas’ Bimini islands, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Miami, in a boat with 39 other people on Saturday night, the Coast Guard said in a statement posted on Twitter.
According to the survivor, the group’s vessel capsized when it hit rough weather about 45 miles (72.4 km) east of Fort Pierce Inlet, off Florida’s Atlantic coast about midway between Miami and Cape Canaveral, but no one was wearing a life jacket, the Coast Guard said.
A good Samaritan found the man perched on the mostly submerged hull of the overturned boat on Tuesday morning and rescued him before reporting the incident to the Coast Guard, which dispatched multiple cutter vessels and aircraft to search the area.
“This is a suspected human smuggling venture,” the Coast Guard said in its statement. The nationality of those who were aboard has yet to be determined, a Coast Guard spokesperson, Petty Officer Jose Hernandez, said.
In another migrant crossing attempt, 32 people were rescued from a capsized vessel last Friday west of Bimini, which has become frequent transit point for sea-going smugglers, Hernandez said.
Incidents of overturned or interdicted vessels crowded with people, many of them Haitians or Cubans seeking to reach the United States, are not uncommon in the waters off Florida.
In May of 2021, 12 Cuban migrants perished and eight others were rescued after their boat flipped over off Key West, Florida.
At least 557 Cuban migrants in all have been picked up at sea by the Coast Guard since the start of the current fiscal year in October, in addition to nearly 7,400 Cubans interdicted during the previous five years, according to the agency.
Vessel crossings of Haitian migrants have likewise grown more frequent as Caribbean island nation deals with economic and political crises, as well as gang-related kidnappings. The Coast Guard said it has intercepted at least 159 Haitian nationals so far this fiscal year.
Last week, 90 people were repatriated to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, following rescue and interdiction of three illegal voyages across the Mona Passage near Puerto Rico.