Protests rise against junta in Myanmar | Daily News

Protests rise against junta in Myanmar

Street protests against the February 1 military coup in Myanmar.
Street protests against the February 1 military coup in Myanmar.

Thousands of people continue to protest against the military coup in Myanmar, rejecting an Army claim that it has majority support, despite warnings of long imprisonment by the military rulers. They demand the release of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the Democratic Party to a resounding election victory in November 2020.

At a demonstration in Myanmar’s main city, Yangon – the largest there since the deployment of troops on Sunday – protesters marched with red flags signalling their loyalty to the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and carried signs denouncing the military.

Major junctions were blocked by a “broken down” rally, where drivers left their cars parked across the roads, with bonnets open, and by sit-down protests.

Mass demonstrations were also held in the second-largest city of Mandalay, where students, engineers and farmers were among thousands who took to the streets, and in the capital, Naypyidaw.

This followed claims from a military spokesperson that protests would dwindle and 40 million of the country’s 53 million population backed its power grab.

The military has reiterated its promise to hold fair polls, but protesters are demanding the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians from her party, the National League for Democracy.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, said ahead of the rallies that he had received reports of soldiers being transported into Yangon from other regions, adding that he feared “we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar”.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since she was deposed on February 1, appeared in court by videolink on Tuesday. She was previously accused of illegally importing walkie talkies and now faces a second charge for apparently violating COVID regulations in the run-up to November’s election. If convicted, this could prevent her from running in future polls.

More than 450 people are confirmed to have been arrested since the coup on February 1. The military has repeatedly blocked communications. Internet blackouts are imposed regularly, and the military has prepared a draft law that would criminalise many online activities and tighten internet surveillance.

Most western leaders have strongly opposed the military move in Myanmar, with moves to increase sanctions on military leaders and restrictions on trading with the military controlled commercial institutions there.

Iraq - rocket attack

A rocket attack at a US-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq has killed a civilian contractor and wounded five other people, including a U.S. service member.

The Biden administration said it is still assessing who is responsible for a rocket attack that injured five Americans and killed one foreign contractor working for the U.S. in Iraq.

It was the most deadly attack to hit US-led forces in almost a year in Iraq, where tensions have escalated between US forces, their Iraqi and Kurdish allies on one side, and Iran-aligned militias on the other.

A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.S.-led base, saying it targeted the “American occupation” in Iraq. It provided no evidence for its claim.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Monday the United States was “outraged” by the attack, and that he had reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani “to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.”

In retaliation for an Iranian-backed militia killing a U.S. contractor in December 2019, Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran's top general, and an Iraqi militia leader just outside Baghdad airport. His administration did not consult the Iraqi government in advance, amid concerns it would leak to Soleimani, sparking protests and culminating in the non-binding vote by a majority of the Iraqi parliament last year to expel U.S. troops.

Biden and Blinken seem intent on repairing U.S. ties with the Iraqi government. Asked about responses for Monday's attack, Psaki said diplomacy would be “front and centre to our engagement with our global partners around the world.”

France - fighting Islamism

France's National Assembly has approved a law to fight Islamist extremism and separatism in an attempt to tackle the root causes of jihadist violence – in response to a wave of attacks that has seen more than 250 people murdered since 2015.

The text, which does not mention any religion, would significantly expand the government's powers to close religious organisations and places of worship, if they are found to air “theories or ideas” that “provoke hate or violence”.

The legislation offers protection to moderate community leaders who are in danger of being toppled by an extremist “putsch”. It will also require all associations to commit in writing to uphold “republican values” – the liberal, Enlightenment values of France – if they want to receive state subsidies.

In order to crack down on religious funding from countries such as Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, the law will require associations to declare donations over €10,000 euros and have their accounts certified.

A new crime of threatening a public servant in order to gain “a total or partial exemption or different application of the rules” would be punishable by up to five years in prison. The law proposes stricter criteria for authorising home schooling of children over three-years-old, to prevent parents taking their children out of public schools and enrolling them in underground Islamist structures.

Doctors, meanwhile, would be fined or jailed if they perform a virginity test on girls. Authorities would be banned from issuing residency papers to polygamous applicants.

President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party rallied around the law, with 347 MPs voting in favour, 151 against and 65 abstaining. The text will now be submitted to the upper house, the Senate, where Macron's party does not hold a majority.

The bill was initially presented after the stabbing and beheading of the teacher Samuel Paty by a Chechen Islamist militant unhappy about the display of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on freedom of expression, last year.

France’s Muslim population is estimated to number about five million, many whose family origins lie in Algeria or other parts of its former empire.

The country has suffered a wave of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, and tackling religious extremism, French identity and domestic security will be big issues in next year’s presidential election.

The new law was presented to parliament on the 115th anniversary of the law that enshrined the separation of state and religion in France, the bill has been branded by some on the left as an attack on Islam, and as too weak by the far-right and some conservatives.

France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen has accused Darmanin of not tackling radical Islam head on. “You are restricting everyone’s freedom to try to modify the freedoms of a few Islamists,” she said in a debate last week, referring to the curbs on home-schooling.

EU - China Trade

China last year overtook the United States as the EU's biggest trading partner, the EU statistics agency Eurostat said Monday.

Britain meanwhile, which is no longer part of the European Union, was the third-largest trading partner for the bloc, behind China and the United States, the agency said.

China suffered from the coronavirus pandemic during the first quarter, but recovered vigorously with consumption even exceeding its level of a year ago at the end of 2020, which helped drive sales of European products, particularly in the automobile and luxury goods sectors, while China's exports to Europe benefited from strong demand for medical equipment and electronics.

The downing of the US comes as the EU and China are seeking to ratify a long-negotiated investment deal that would give European companies better access to the Chinese market. Eurostat said the trade volume with China reached 586 billion euros ($711 billion) in 2020, compared to 555 billion euros ($673 billion) for the US. EU exports rose by 2.2 percent to 202.5 billion euros while at the same time, imports from the People's Republic of China increased by 5.6 percent to 383.5 billion euros.

EU exports to the United States fell by 13.2 per cent in the same period and imports by 8.2 percent.

Italy - New PM

Premier Mario Draghi won a confidence vote in Parliament’s upper chamber after vowing to do whatever it takes to lead Italy out of the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild its economy into a more sustainable and equitable one for future generations.

The Senate voted 262-40 with two abstentions to back Draghi’s technical-political government, which he formed at the request of Italy’s president to steer Italy through the health and economic crises.

Draghi told senators that Italy has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rethink and rebuild the country, urging them to unite behind his government, which he vowed will be environmentally conscious, staunchly pro-European and oriented toward technological and digital reforms.

“Today, unity isn’t an option, it’s an obligation,” Draghi said to applause as he outlined his government programme. “An obligation guided by what unites us all: love of Italy.”

Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief who is widely credited with having saved the euro by declaring to do “whatever it takes” during the European debt crisis, pledged a similar all-out effort to bring Italy out of the pandemic. Since the virus first erupted in Italy at this time last year, the country has reported over 94,000 deaths related to COVID-19, more than any other European country except Britain.

He said the principal aim of his administration was to confront the pandemic and save Italian lives “with all means,” including reinforcing the public health care system, bringing the civil protection and armed forces in to accelerate the nation’s vaccination campaign, and ensuring that families can weather the economic fallout from lockdowns.

“The virus is the enemy of all of us,” said Draghi, 73, as he urged politicians to put aside their personal and political interests and assume the same spirit of sacrifice that their parents and grandparents took on after World War II.

The premier said Italy had an opportunity not seen since then to rebuild the country from the ground up using more than 200 billion euros ($241.2 billion) in European Union recovery funds. His government would be “convincingly” pro-EU and pro-U.S., and that he envisaged reinforcing bilateral relations with France and Germany, in particular.

Draghi’s 23-member Cabinet includes politicians in most ministries but puts technical experts in key roles, especially those responsible for ensuring that the funds Italy expects to receive are spent according to EU criteria. Some 37% of the allocated recovery funds must go toward environmental goals, while 20% must be devoted to digital transformation. Draghi made clear that Italians who have lost their livelihoods as a result of virus-related closures would be a top priority, citing women, young people and other precariously employed workers who have borne the brunt of lockdown measures. But he said some activities would be protected more than others, showing the government would prioritize industries and jobs that fit its environmental and technology-driven focus.

Navalny - Human Rights

Europe's top human rights court has ordered Russia to release jailed Opposition Leader Alexey Navalny.

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights demands that Russia set him free immediately and warns that failing to do so would mark a breach of the European human rights convention.

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption investigator and President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic, was arrested last month upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating terms of his probation while recuperating in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European court has ruled to be unlawful. In its Tuesday's ruling, the ECHR pointed to Rule 39 of its regulations, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant's life.”

The Russian Justice Ministry warned in a statement carried by the Tass news agency that the ECHR's demand referencing the rule would represent a “crude interference into the judicial system” of Russia and “cross the red line.”

It emphasized that “the ECHR can't substitute a national court or cancel its verdict.”

In the past, Moscow has abided by the ECHR's rulings awarding compensations to Russian citizens who have contested verdicts in Russian courts, but it never faced a demand by the European Court to set a convict free.

Navalny's arrest and imprisonment fueled a wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.

Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny's arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.

Afghan - NATO

NATO will not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan “before the time is right”, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said, adding that the Taliban must do more to meet the terms of a 2020 peace agreement with the United States first.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came on Monday, days before the defence ministers of the 30 NATO member states discuss the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

The meeting is their highest-level talks since US President Joe Biden took office promising to work closely with allies after four years of tensions under Donald Trump. Top of the agenda for the virtual conference will be the fate of the alliance’s 9,600-strong support mission in Afghanistan after Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops. The deployment’s future hinges on whether President Biden agrees to stick to a May deadline to pull out foreign forces or risks a bloody backlash from the armed fighters by staying put.

“While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right,” Stoltenberg told a media conference. “We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments … to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists,” he said.

NATO allies want the US to consult more closely with them after feeling sidelined when Trump cut US troop numbers to 2,500 in January, their lowest figure since the start of the war in 2001.

Taliban violence has surged in recent months amid stuttering peace talks with the Afghan government. The group has warned NATO ministers not to seek a “continuation of occupation and war”. A study mandated by the US Congress has called for a delay in the pullout, warning it would effectively hand the Taliban a victory.

UN -- COVID vaccines

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the world, the UN on Wednesday led calls for a coordinated global effort to vaccinate against COVID-19, warning that gaping inequities in initial efforts put the whole planet at risk.

Foreign ministers met virtually for a first-ever UN Security Council session on vaccinations called by current chair Britain, which said the world had a “moral duty” to act together against the pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million people.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced alarm that just 10 nations have administered 75 percent of doses so far – and 130 countries have had none at all.

“The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities,” Guterres said.

He said the Group of 20 major economies was in the best position to set up a task force on financing and implementation of global vaccinations and offered the full support of the UN.

“If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate again and again. New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics,” Guterres said.

“This can prolong the pandemic significantly, enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North.”

While the UN voiced alarm over the lack of access to vaccines in the Global South, the EU has been facing intense criticism over the block’s handling of the vaccine procurement process. Amid signs that more infectious coronavirus variants are spreading unchecked across Europe, governments and EU leaders have scrambled to speed up vaccine efforts that have been hampered by limited supplies and to find ways to hunt down variants and counter them. The EU announced Wednesday that it has agreed to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine and was injecting almost a quarter of a billion euros (almost $300 million) into efforts to combat virus variants.

Meanwhile leaders of many developing countries have warned of the dangers of unequal access to the vaccines. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard denounced the “injustice” of what he called a “deepening gap” as wealthy countries “monopolize the vaccines”.

Aid groups say that many people still risk being left out due to a shortfall in Covax funding to arrange the administration and delicate transportation of vaccines as well as conflicts that make inoculation efforts impossible.

World urgently needs a global vaccination plan to fight COVID-19 pandemic.