- The Myanmar military seized control of the government on Monday and detained multiple top politicians, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
- Military officials said they are imposing a year-long state of emergency due to allegations of fraud in the November election, which gave Suu Kyi’s party 396 out of 476 seats in Parliament and the military’s proxy party just 33 seats.
- The military claimed they will oversee democratic multiparty elections once the state of emergency is over.
- Experts have expressed concerns that the coup is simply a pretext for the powerful military to reimpose their full influence over fledgling Democracy, which was under the rule of a military junta from 1962 until 2011.
Myanmar Military Coup
Myanmar’s military launched a full-blown coup Monday after detaining several senior politicians, including the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In an announcement read on a military-run TV station, officials said they had seized power, installed army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as the country’s new leader, and implemented a year-long state of emergency.
A spokesperson for Suu Kyi, as well as many international observers, have said it is an illegal military coup, but military officials have said their actions are legally justified under a section of the constitution they wrote that allows them to take power in times of national emergency.
They claim the move was necessary because the government had not acted on their claims of fraud in November’s election and allowed the vote to go ahead despite the pandemic.
During that election, which was widely viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi’s leadership, her party had won 396 out of 476 seats in Parliament. The military’s proxy party, which only won 33 seats, claimed that there had been discrepancies like duplicated names on voting lists in many districts.
While military officials did not say if those irregularities were big enough to have changed the election outcome, they still argued that the election must be held again. Suu Kyi rejected those demands, and on the same day the new session of Parliament was set to begin, the military launched its takeover.
The military said it will oversee free and fair multiparty elections once the year-long state of emergency is over, but many experts are skeptical for a few reasons.
First, the military’s takeover of authority will prolong the power of Min Aung Hlaing, who is supposed to age out of his role this summer. Now, he has an incentive to stay in power, especially because his network of lucrative family businesses could be hurt by his retirement.
Additionally, the last time the country had a military coup was in 1962, and that resulted in the military holding power for nearly five decades until 2011, when they finally agreed to a transition that eventually led to Suu Kyi becoming the de facto leader in 2015.
At the time, the country had been celebrated as a rare example of military generals actually gave power to civilians, and Suu Kyi, who is also a Nobel laureate, was applauded as an international champion of human rights for her campaign against the military junta.
In recent years, she has lost a significant amount of international credibility and support because she has become one of the military’s biggest public defenders, even going so far as to defend their brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, which has been label a genocide by the U.N.
Now, many experts say they see the takeover as a confirmation that the military holds ultimate power, despite their claims of democracy, and that the coup is just a pretext for them to reinstate their full influence.
Regardless, the coup will present a test for international leaders, including President Joe Biden and his administration. Notably, the U.S. already has some sanctions in place on generals who have been implicated in the violence against the Rohingya, including Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s newly installed military leader.
On Monday, Biden threatened even more sanctions, issuing a statement where he called the coup a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.”
“The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack,” he added.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Reuters)
E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention
- The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
- Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
- Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.
Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.
The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.
- Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
- Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
- First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
- Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
- Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.
Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.
First Step For Biden
These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.
One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”
“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.
The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.
He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.
Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria
- On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
- The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
- Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
- The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Striking Back Against Militias
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.
The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.
Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.
For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.
Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.
In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.
Public Perception in a Downward Spiral
Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.
Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation
“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”
Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”
However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.
All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh
Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School
- Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
- Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
- Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
- According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.
Abductions Before Dawn
Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.
They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.
Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.
This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.
In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.
Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?
Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.
Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.
Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.
The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.