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.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.


Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
  • Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto

MONTREAL: Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle, local media reported, in an incident that forced several schools into lockdown just two days after a deadly assault on a US primary school.
Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto, and the circumstances of what transpired next were not immediately clear.
But city police chief James Ramer told reporters that the suspect, described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, was dead after he had “confronted” responding officers, without elaborating.
The police force’s Twitter account said that after officers located the man, a “police firearm” was “discharged.”
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit told the CBC that preliminary evidence showed that two police officers had fired their weapons, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear if the man was holding the weapon when police shot him.
Ramer said he was unable to offer more details, as the incident was under investigation.
“There’s no threat to public safety,” he said.
“Due to the proximity to a school, I certainly understand the trauma and how traumatic this must have been for staff, students and parents, given recent events that have happened in the United States,” the chief added.
On Tuesday, a shooting at a Texas elementary school left 21 dead — 19 children and two teachers.


Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
Updated 26 May 2022

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
  • Iranians and Iraqis combined make up almost a third of those seeking a better life in the UK
  • The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022

LONDON: One in four migrants crossing the English Channel in the first quarter of the year are people fleeing Afghanistan, according to figures released by the UK Home Office.
The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022, almost as many as the 1,323 Afghans that attempted the crossing in the entirety of 2021.
Iranians made up the next highest demographic at 16 percent, with Iraqis the third highest at 15 percent.
While the figures claim 90 percent of Afghans who made it to the UK were granted asylum, they do not include the UK’s two resettlement schemes set up in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country in August.
The plans have faced criticism from politicians and sections of the public for leaving thousands of UK translators and others who worked for coalition forces behind after the UK withdrawal.
Compounding that failed operation, the numbers of non-Afghan refugees awaiting an asylum decision in the 12 months to March almost doubled from 66,000 to 109,000.
Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said: “Increased numbers waiting for a decision is desperately worrying, and it leaves thousands of vulnerable men, women and children trapped in limbo.
“Adults, banned from working, living hand to mouth on less than £6 ($7.55) and left not knowing what their future holds; this simply is not good enough,” he added.
Amnesty International has pointed the finger of blame for the backlog in asylum decisions at the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing her of a “disastrous leadership” over a department that has become “a byword for backlogs and dysfunction”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said it had “helped thousands” of people fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.


INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
Updated 26 May 2022

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
  • Amari says Saudi Arabia and UAE are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities”
  • Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE

TOKYO: Veteran ruling-party politician Amari Akira says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities.”
Amari is the Honorary Chairman of the Parliamentary Friendship Council and has close ties with the Middle East. He has played a key role in Japan’s energy policy, and he emphasized the importance of those ties.
“Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; it’s around 35 percent, and the total from both countries amounts to over 70 percent,” he stated. “They are two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities. A stable energy supply is the lifeblood of Japan. In that sense, the Middle East is connected to this lifeline.”
Amari recalled chairing an international conference in Saudi Arabia.
“I met with current Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, both in Japan and Saudi Arabia when he was deputy minister of Oil,” he said.
“When I was eating with him, I said: “I heard that the starry sky seen in the desert in Saudi Arabia is very beautiful since the air is so clean. I heard it’s as wonderful as to see the stars falling, so I want to see it someday.”
Minister Abdulaziz replied: ‘The next time you come, I will set up a tent in the desert, so please come and let’s see the starry night sky together.’
“I replied to him that it is a good plan, but I can’t eat sheep’s brains, but Minister Abdulaziz told me not to worry. He said, when he is in Japan, he eats everything, so why not try Saudi food; it would not be good manners not to. Of course, he was joking. Through such casual exchanges, I feel that the Middle East is close to me.”
Amari was a key backroom player behind the political success of Prime Minister Kishida, Secretary General Motegi, Foreign Minister Hayashi and the Secretary General of the Upper House and is keen for them to lead Japan forward.
“What we need to do now is to lead a new team once again to make a Japan with innovative power,” he said. “I am doing university reform, which is the source of basic research. I also created a 10 trillion yen fund to promote university reform. We will also create an area in Tokyo for international start-ups representing Asia.”
Amari also talked about his visit 15 to 17 May to the UAE where he was the special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Japan to officially pay respect to the people of the UAE on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE.
“I was honored to be able to pay my respects to such an important country as a special envoy to the prime minister. President Sheikh Khalifa pushed the UAE forward under the influence of his founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. When Sheikh Khalifa was Crown Prince in 1970, he visited the Osaka Expo, and since then the bond between Japan and the UAE has deepened. Also, UAE is a country with a special relationship that supports Japan’s energy.”


Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries
Updated 26 May 2022

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries
  • Japan and the followers of Islam have long enjoyed friendly relations in various fields
  • Forty-nine Islamic countries and regions were invited and 27 attended the meeting

TOKYO: Diplomats from Islamic countries and regions took part in a Tokyo policy briefing and discussion meeting at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office on Wednesday.
Tokyo Gov. KOIKE Yuriko, who has strong ties with Arabic and Islamic countries, made the opening remarks.
“It is a great pleasure and honor to welcome you to the ‘Tokyo Networking.’ I am very pleased to have you here in person this year after two years of cancelations due to COVID-19.
“These two years have been a long battle against the virus. Through regular communication with you, we have been able to keep it from spreading extensively. Thank you everyone for your enormous cooperation,” Governor Koike said.
“Japan and the followers of Islam have long enjoyed friendly relations in various fields. It is my sincere hope that good relations with your countries will continue.”
Forty-nine Islamic countries and regions were invited and 27 attended the meeting.
Palestinian Ambassador Waleed Siam made a speech as a representative of the diplomats.
“Today, we are here to participate and support the Tokyo Metropolitan Initiative for improvement of the environment for the multi-faith community,” he said. “The Muslim community is an important and large part of society as a whole.
“Thanks to Gov. Koike’s efforts who started Iftar in Tokyo 15 years ago, it has since been held every year (except during the pandemic).”