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Top of the Agenda: U.S. to Ease Myanmar Sanctions
The Obama administration will begin to lessen financial, foreign aid, and travel sanctions (LAT) on Myanmar’s military-backed civilian government, while dispatching an ambassador to Naypyidaw, in response to Sunday’s parliamentary by-elections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday. Myanmar’s longtime pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won an overwhelming majority of the contested seats (BBC). At the same time, the U.S. administration called on Myanmar’s leaders to release all political prisoners, cut ties with North Korea, and cease crackdowns on ethnic minorities.
“The challenge for Suu Kyi and her party now is how to manage the vastly inflated hopes and expectations of her supporters–and what to try to change first. Should Suu Kyi, for example, throw herself into improving the lot of her poor constituents in Kawhmu? Or should she try to get a consensus to amend the Constitution?” asks Peter Popham for the Daily Beast.
“Too much importance has been attached to these by-elections, whose significance is more symbolic than practical. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, will have about 5% of the seats in parliament, compared with 80% for the military and the main military-backed party. Even if Aung San Suu Kyi had a majority, parliament has very limited power, and the military has an effective veto over its decisions,” writes Zoya Phan for the Guardian.
“Moreover, for all Myanmar’s progress, the country still has a dauntingly long road to travel. Hundreds of political prisoners remain locked up. The by-elections involved less than one-tenth of the seats in parliament. Even after a general election due in 2015, the opposition will be circumscribed by a constitution enshrining the army’s dominance,” says the Economist.
Anonymous Hacks Chinese Government Sites
International hacking group Anonymous hijacked several Chinese government websites today. The group posted English-language messages criticizing China’s Internet restrictions (al-Jazeera) and providing instructions on how to circumvent them.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Suicide Bombing Targets Pakistani Police
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a police convoy in Karachi today (ExpressTribune), killing at least four people and wounding twelve. No police officers were killed.
Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world’s most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
AFGHANISTAN: Taliban militants attacked the checkpoint of a government-sponsored militia (BBC) in western Farah province late Wednesday, strangling a guard and shooting dead seven local policemen.
Russia Reaches out to Syrian Government, Opposition
On Wednesday, Russia, the Syrian government’s most vocal ally, invited the Syrian foreign minister and opposition leaders to Moscow (NYT) for negotiations over the ongoing violence, even as activists reported clashes throughout Syria early today.
Many questions remain about the unity of the Syrian opposition, a potential leadership transition, and whether it will be possible to implement a ceasefire, explains CFR’s Ed Husain in this CFR Interview.
ISRAEL: A rocket fired from the Egyptian Sinai (Haaretz) exploded near a residential area in the southern Israeli city of Eilat early Thursday. There were no injuries or damage.
Mali Rebels Announce Cease-Fire
Mali’s Tuareg separatist rebels, the Azawad National Liberation Movement, announced a cease-fire after reportedly capturing enough northern territory to form a state (BBC), though the stance of the Tuareg’s Islamist militant allies remained unclear. Meanwhile, Mali’s West African neighbors continued to isolate the Malian military junta that seized power in a coup late last month.
ZIMBABWE: The government declared ownership over 51 percent of all foreign mining companies (Reuters) that have not complied with laws stipulating that black investors control a majority stake in local mining operations.
Suicide Outside Greek Parliament
A Greek pensioner shot and killed himself outside parliament (Guardian) in Athens’ Syntagma Square yesterday. The indebted seventy-seven-year-old man criticized European-mandated austerity measures that have cut Greek pensions and benefits by 25 percent, igniting a fresh wave of social unrest.
ITALY: Pope Benedict XVI criticized “disobedience” in the Catholic Church (NYT), targeting priests that have called for the end of priestly celibacy and for the ordination of women, in a pre-Easter homily at the Vatican. Benedict called on Catholic priests to adhere to a “radicalism of obedience.”
U.S. to Try 9/11 Suspects at Guantanamo
The United States formally charged Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspects (al-Jazeera) for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and will seek the death penalty at a military trial at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay.
MEXICO: The government extradited alleged drug lord Jesus Zambada (VOA) to the United States, who is wanted for trafficking billions of dollars worth of cocaine.
Since 2006, the Mexican government has been in embroiled in a bloody drug war, which has failed to significantly curb trafficking, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Romney Advised to Go Abroad
Following GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s three-state sweep in Republican primaries Tuesday, ABC political analyst and former Bush-Cheney 2004 chief strategist Matthew Dowd offered some advice to the GOP frontrunner: go to a foreign country.
Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, campaigning in North Carolina, talked gas prices and science (WilmingtonStarNews), saying his plan to shift U.S. consumption away from foreign oil with more domestic drilling would curtail terrorism, create jobs, and bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon.
After being attacked on air for two weeks by ads from the American Energy Alliance (WSJ) blaming the president for high gas prices, the Obama campaign will match ads aired by an oil industry-backed group in half a dozen states next week.