- Myanmar faced its third day of protests after an initial week of silence following the military ouster of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
- Hundreds of thousands of Burmese people demanded she be released from house arrest and called for the military to return the government to civilian rule.
- Following a growing general strike out of Yangon, the most populous city in Myanmar, military leader Min Aung Hlaing addressed the nation for the first time.
- He reiterated claims that the coup was to counter massive, uninvestigated voter fraud and that new elections would be held within a year.
Three Days of Protest
Myanmar has faced days of protests against the military junta ruling the nation after it ousted Aung San Suu Kyi last week and placed her under house arrest.
Initially, the cities throughout Myanmar were quiet, with only minor protests from students and some doctors going on strike. However, there were calls for protests this weekend, particularly on Facebook. In an effort to stifle these efforts, the military government blocked Facebook, followed by Twitter and Instagram until at least Sunday. As of Monday morning, there is limited access to these platforms.
This weekend’s events saw hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets across the country, with massive protests in Yangon and Mandalay – the largest and second-largest cities in Myanmar. Protesters demanded the military junta return civilian authorities to power and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Additionally, there were calls for a general strike, which was notably heard in Yangon when textile workers, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, and railway employees in Yangon walked out of work on Monday. Other cities, such as the capital of Naypyidaw, also had some forms of worker strikes.
Monday also saw more widespread protests throughout the nation, but with the protests seemingly growing stronger, the military has begun more severe restrictions.
Martial Law Enacted
The military declared martial law in Mandalay Monday morning, and in the capital, police began using stronger force to deal with protesters, including water cannons. The movement has caused Min Aung Hlaing, the military leader and de facto head of the government, to come out for the first time since the coup and address the nation.
He continued to justify the coup by continuing the narrative that there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election that the ruling National League for Democracy – Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – refused to investigate. He also reiterated the promise that there would be new elections within a year, although protesters are skeptical about the claim.
It wasn’t all olive branches though, he also warned against further protests and made it clear that there would be more severe repercussions moving forward. Despite the threats, it’s believed that there will be further protests as more workers, students, and even monks (of which there are many in Myanmar) take part.
See What Others Are Saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (AlJazeera)
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.
- For many, it felt like the president was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than 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.
See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)
Malaysian Man Wins Challenge Against Islamic Law Banning Gay Sex
- On Thursday, a Malaysian man in the state of Selangor successfully challenged the state’s Sharia Law ban on gay sex.
- His legal argument revolved around Malaysia’s two-track legal system that features Sharia Law Courts in some states for certain crimes, and Federal courts for everything else.
- While the Islamic courts and Sharia law are allowed to regulate divorce, property, religion, and some criminal codes, they cannot enact laws that conflict with Federal law.
- Malaysia’s top court unanimously found that Selangor’s Islamic-based anti-gay sex law conflicted with the countries rarely-enforced national ban on gay sex.
Malaysia Upholds Federal Law Over Sharia Law
The Malaysian LGBTQ+ community won a major legal victory in the Muslim-majority country on Thursday after a man successfully challenged an Islamic law ban on sex “against the order of nature.”
The case started back in Selangor state when eleven men were arrested for allegedly having sex together in 2018. In 2019, five admitted to the charge and received six strokes by cane, a fine, and jail terms of up to seven months.
But one man, whose name was withheld by his lawyers to protect his identity, challenged the charges. His defense revolved around how Malaysia’s legal system works.
The country, which is 60% Muslim, has both Islamic Sharia law and associated courts in many states, as well as federal laws and courts. The Sharia courts, locally called Syariah courts, are allowed to deal with Islamic law issues such as divorce, property, religion, and certain criminal matters. However, they’re barred from passing laws that conflict with federal law.
The accused pointed out that Malaysia already had an anti-gay sex statute that was leftover from its days as a British colony. The exact same statute can be found throughout former British colonial holdings like India and Pakistan and is known as Section 377.
His argument went on to say that therefore, Selangor shouldn’t have passed its Islamic anti-gay law and the Sharia court didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.
An Important Victory
Malaysia’s top civil court unanimously agreed, striking down Selangor’s anti-gay sex statute for conflicting with federal law.
The ruling is considered a massive victory for LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia, despite there still being a federal anti-gay statute, because it’s rarely enforced. Similar laws in Muslim states, for instance, are far more restrictive and enforced by their courts. It’s also rare that such legal victories happen in Muslim-majority countries.
Even with this win, there are still other states with Islamic anti-gay statutes, but advocates are now more hopeful and confident about challenging those laws when they’re used again.