Myanmar coup threatens a rising democracy | Daily News

Myanmar coup threatens a rising democracy

Residents of Yangon bang pots and pans in protest of the recent Myanmar military coup.
Residents of Yangon bang pots and pans in protest of the recent Myanmar military coup.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi who led the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in national elections in November last year, has been ousted, in a military coup, moving the country away from an emerging democracy.

Myanmar police have charged her with breaches of an import-export law for having several walkie-talkies, and sought her detention until February 15, as a civil disobedience campaign grew against the military’s coup against her government. The military government would investigate what it has described as fraud in November’s election, in which its proxy party was heavily defeated by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

The ousted president, Win Myint, is also to be charged for allegedly breaching coronavirus laws by meeting people on the campaign trail ahead of the vote.

Burma's Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing, is the leader of the military government, which has instituted a one-year state of emergency. Observing the charge on alleged faulty import of walkie-talkies against Aung San Suu Kyi, political analysts see it as a move to keep her out of any coming national election, once punished by a court. The military has said the next election will be held one year later.

The world is coming up largely against the coup, with US President Joe Biden and many world leaders condemning the military coup, calling for restoring democracy and release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on “all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation, demonstrate leadership, and to adhere to democratic norms and respecting the outcome of the November 8 general election.”

The Secretary-General also reaffirmed the support of the United Nations to the people and Government of Myanmar “in their pursuit of peace, inclusive sustainable development, humanitarian action, human rights and rule of law.”

US President Biden has warned of resuming sanctions on Myanmar, and called for international solidarity in confronting the country’s generals.

“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” Biden said in a written statement addressing the first foreign policy crisis of his presidency.

The UK has called on the military to respect the rule of law and human rights, and release those unlawfully detained in Myanmar.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on military commanders to respect the country's democratic institutions and to release arrested members of the government and parliament.

Condemnation for the coup also came from the EU, India, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

The moves are likely to fuel already simmering anger towards the military, and in one of the first organised acts of defiance against the military since Monday’s coup, health workers in 70 hospitals and medical departments in Naypyidaw, Yangon and other towns and cities said they would not work under the military regime.

The clanging of pots and pans echoed through the main city of Yangon, as people took to their balconies in a symbolic protest against the military. On social media, many adopted red profile pictures to signal their loyalty to Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years in detention as she campaigned against military rule before being released in 2010. Within Myanmar, she is widely revered as a heroine of democracy, despite international condemnation over her treatment of the Rohingya.

The G7 group of the world’s largest developed economies on Wednesday condemned the coup and said it was deeply concerned about the fate of detained political leaders.

However, at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, China and Russia blocked a statement condemning the coup and calling for its reversal, while India and Vietnam also voiced reservations.

China and Russia previously undermined attempts to pressure Myanmar over the atrocities committed against Rohingya in 2017, when a military crackdown forced 700,000 people to flee to safety in Bangladesh.

Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, said the failure of the Security Council to condemn the military will embolden its leaders to “feel they can engage in horrific abuses and pay little or no cost”.

There has been strong international criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, for her refusal to oppose the military attacks on the minority Rohingya Muslim community, several thousands of whom have fled the country, and living in hugely crowded locations in Bangladesh.

Gen Min Aung Hlaing has led the military coup against the democratically elected government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose popularity within the country helped her National League for Democracy (NLD) win a landslide victory in 2020. The military’s electoral proxy secured fewer than 7% of available seats, leading it, and the military, to claim widespread electoral “fraud” without evidence.

Russia - Navalny imprisoned

Alexei Navalny, the strong critic of President Putin, has been sentenced by a Moscow court to two years and eight months in a prison colony, in a landmark decision for Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the country’s leading opposition figure.

Navalny was jailed for violating parole from a 2014 sentence for embezzlement, in a case he has said was politically motivated.

After the verdict, several hundred Navalny supporters marched in central Moscow. Videos by local media or shared on social media showed police in body armour hitting protesters with staves. More than 1,000 people were arrested across the country in the course of the day.

The court’s decision makes Navalny the most prominent political prisoner in Russia and may be the most important verdict against a foe of Putin’s since the 2005 jailing of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The Kremlin’s decision to send Navalny to prison came despite the threat of further street protests and international condemnation from the US government and other foreign leaders. Diplomats from more than half a dozen western countries attended the court.

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said Washington was “deeply concerned” and reiterated calls for Navalny’s unconditional and immediate release, saying it would coordinate with allies to hold Russia accountable.

Boris Johnson described the ruling as “pure cowardice,” which failed to meet “the most basic standards of justice”.

The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, described it as a “bitter blow” to the rule of law in Russia.

Navalny was arrested upon returning to Russia last month after surviving a suspected FSB assassination attempt in August 2020, with a novichok poison similar to that used in Salisbury in 2018.

In his remarks in the court, Navalny called on his supporters not to fear the government, saying: “You can’t imprison the whole country.” More than 5,000 people were detained in nationwide protests this weekend and senior Navalny aides have been swept up in government raids.

“Locking me up isn’t difficult,” Navalny told the court. “This is happening to intimidate large numbers of people. They’re imprisoning one person to frighten millions.”

The big show of force made it clear that Mr. Putin has no plans to back down. Shortly after the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, condemned “the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing the United States of backing the protests as part of a “strategy to contain Russia.”

India: Farmers protests and Twitter

As the Indian farmers’ protests continue, the situation moved to wider international interest as India has issued a notice to Twitter, warning the American firm to comply with New Delhi’s order to block accounts and content related to a protest by farmers and not “assume the role of a court and justify non-compliance.” Failure to comply with the order may prompt penal action against Twitter, the notice warns.

The warning comes days after Twitter blocked dozens of high-profile accounts in India in compliance with New Delhi’s request, but later lifted the restriction.

Twitter, which reaches more than 75 million users through its apps in India, has emerged as the single-most important online forum for people seeking to voice their opinion on the farmers protest. Hugely popular singer Rihanna, who has more followers on Twitter than any Indian actor or politician, tweeted a CNN news story on Tuesday about the protests in India and asked “why aren’t we talking about this!?”

Hours after the singer's tweet, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and the US vice president's niece Meena Harris also tweeted support for the farmers. Their widely shared tweets went viral, garnering thousands of responses.

In a statement on Wednesday, India's external affairs ministry said parliament had passed “reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector” after a full debate and discussion. “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” it added. Singer Rihanna's tweet on Tuesday linked to a news story about the internet blockade at the protest sites.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said earlier that protesters who stormed New Delhi’s Red Fort last week caused “insult” to the country and that his government will push on with sweeping agriculture reform, his first public comments on a months-long farmers’ agitation.

“The country was saddened by the insult to the Tricolour [Indian flag] on the 26th of January in Delhi,” Modi said in a radio address on Sunday. “The government is committed to modernising agriculture and is also taking many steps in that direction.”

Modi’s comments came as police arrested at least one journalist and filed complaints against others, stoking fears of a media crackdown over the reporting of the protests.

Mandeep Punia, who writes for the English-language Caravan magazine, was detained on Saturday at Singhu, one of the main protest sites. Since Tuesday, at least five complaints have been registered against Indian journalists and an opposition Congress Member of Parliament on several allegations, including sedition and criminal conspiracy.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for Punia and another journalist who was reportedly also detained to be released immediately.

Modi told opposition party leaders on Saturday an offer to freeze the laws for 18 months still stands, according to a government summary of the meeting. This is not accepted by the farmers.

Agriculture employs about half of India’s labour force, and unrest among an estimated 150 million land-owning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

Hong Kong - UK visa

A new visa scheme offering millions of Hong Kong residents a pathway to British citizenship went live on Sunday as the UK opened its doors to those wanting to escape China’s crackdown on dissent.

From late Sunday afternoon, anyone with a British national overseas (BNO) passport, and their dependents, can apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the UK. After five years they can then apply for citizenship.

The UK immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong against huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

This will not be the first time for Hongkongers to pack up for the UK. After the Second World War, thousands of mostly rural Hongkongers used their BNO status to move to Britain – emptying out entire villages in the New Territories.

This migration, however, of BNO-holders will be substantially different given Hong Kong’s high tertiary education rate and considerable wealth. One Bank of America report has predicted that an exodus of Hongkongers to the UK could lead to a US$36 bn (£26.67bn) outflow.

Many Hongkongers, however, will probably wait until February 23 to apply – the day the UK releases its smartphone app version of the application, preferring not to visibly queue outside the UK’s two visa offices amid restrictions on public gatherings.

China has reacted strongly against the visa offer and announced that BNO passports would no longer be recognised as a legitimate travel or ID document, with reported moves to ban these passports.

Between BNO holders and their eligible family members, about 5.2 million people – or nearly 70% of the city’s population – could participate in the scheme. The UK expects up to 153,000 arrivals in the first 12 months.

Italy - non-political lead

Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella has asked former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi to form a non-political government, to steer Italy through the coronavirus pandemic after last-ditch negotiations among political parties failed.

The head of state held talks with Draghi on Wednesday after efforts to salvage the collapsed coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had failed. President Mattarella appealed “to all political forces [to support] a high-profile government”, ruling out the only other possibility – early elections – as ill-advised given the array of challenges facing Italy.

Draghi will now hold talks with political parties to try and muster support in parliament for an administration that will be tasked with handling the twin coronavirus and economic crises battering Italy.

In a brief statement after receiving the mandate from Mattarella, Draghi said he was confident of securing sufficient backing in parliament. “I will look to parliament, the expression of the popular will, with great respect,” he said, adding that the country faced “a difficult moment”.

Draghi added that he hoped for unity from political forces as well as society at large, and would return to Mattarella to tell him of the outcome of his talks. He did not give any timeframe.

The former bank chief is widely credited with pulling the Eurozone back from the brink of collapse in 2012, pledging to do “whatever it takes” to save the single European currency. His name emerged as a potential premier in recent weeks as political turmoil combined with the health and economic emergencies to form a perfect storm.

The first European country to be hit by the coronavirus, Italy has seen more than 89,000 deaths since its outbreak almost a year ago – the sixth-highest toll in the world.

Lockdowns aimed at curbing the contagion have devastated the economy and data released on Tuesday showed that Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 8.8% in 2020 – its steepest annual drop since World War Two.

Mattarella said one of the most important things the next administration had to do was to rapidly draw up plans for how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) from a European Union fund designed to help overcome the economic slump.

A Draghi government would reinforce Italy's international standing at a time when it has the presidency of the G20. But taking the job would carry risks for the 73-year-old economist.

COVID vaccines

As the world moves to finding the best vaccines to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and large numbers of persons infected are dying in many countries, two vaccines developed in the UK and Russia are being recognized as the most effective and easily usable to fight the pandemic.

They are the University of Oxford linked AstraZeneca and the Russian developed Sputnik V vaccines.

It is observed that the AstraZeneca not only protects people from serious illness and death but also substantially slows the transmission of the virus, according to a new study — a finding that underscores the importance of mass vaccination as a path out of the pandemic.

The study by researchers at the University of Oxford is the first to document evidence that any coronavirus vaccine can reduce transmission of the virus.

Researchers measured the impact on transmission by swabbing participants every week seeking to detect signs of the virus. If there is no virus present, even if someone is infected, it cannot be spread. And they found a 67 percent reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated.

The results, detailed by Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers in a manuscript that has not been peer-reviewed, found that the vaccine could cut transmission by nearly two-thirds.

Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, hailed the results on Wednesday as “absolutely superb… “We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all get out of this pandemic,” Mr. Hancock said in an interview Wednesday morning with the BBC.

The Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers also found that a single dose of the vaccine was 76 percent effective at preventing COVID -19. The data measured the three months after the first shot was given, not including an initial three-week period needed for protection to take effect.

Analysts have also found that Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine gives around 92% protection against COVID-19, in late stage trial results published in UK medical science publication - The Lancet. It has also been deemed to be safe - and offer complete protection against hospitalisation and death. The Sputnik vaccine works in a similar way to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab developed in the UK, and the Janssen vaccine developed in Belgium.

It uses a cold-type virus, engineered to be harmless, as a carrier to deliver a small fragment of the coronavirus to the body. After being vaccinated, the body starts to produce antibodies specially tailored to the coronavirus.

It can be stored at temperatures of between 2 and 8C degrees (a standard fridge is roughly 3-5C degrees) making it easier to transport and store.

What is important with both these vaccines is the ability to have them stored and transported at temperatures of a standard fridge, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require extremely cold storage and transport.

These two vaccines are thus seen as more beneficial to the countries in Asia and Africa, with small economic strength and limited cooling facilities.