The World Today for March 15, 2016

March 15, 2016


Syria: Hope and Defiance

When a ceasefire in Syria was announced last month, an astonishing thing happened – people protested.

They made banners and drew posters and gathered on the streets of cities and villages, demanding freedom and an end to the regime – just like they used to do.

Five years ago, protests in Syria were commonplace. But it's 2016: 250,000 plus deaths, 4 million plus refugees and countless atrocities later. Needless to say, the protests had all but disappeared over the past few years.

When the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions began, Syrian activists were sending messages of congratulations to their fellow activists, asking for tips and busy planning their own Arab Spring. It was March 2011. The rebellion was innocent and hopeful then.

Yes, the regime cracked down, sometimes brutally so. But speak to activists and they admit they were optimistic and never foresaw that what they started would become what it became: a civil uprising transformed into a civil war that morphed into a regional war and then into a proxy war – Sunni powers versus Shiite, Americans versus Russians, Islamic State versus everyone.

At the center is Syria, a country not only fractured, but broken. It's overrun by rebel and militant groups, some fighting the government, some each other, some both. Territory shifts like the wind these days. The economy is shattered. And everyone has a tragic tale of a brother or mother killed, an uncle lost, a sister or aunt maimed.

It's a place so desperate that parents send their young children on the dangerous journey to Europe – with a distant relative, a neighbor or even someone they don't know – just to get them out: or out to beg, because there is no choice.

It is hard to feel optimistic when peace talks between President Bashir al-Assad and the opposition resumed Monday. These have never gone anywhere before, mainly because of the sticky question over Assad's future. So why should they now?

Still, there is a sliver of a reason to hope, some say.  

Since the ceasefire began Feb. 27, there have been continuing violations of the truce, continuing death and continuing destruction. Some Syrians say they are afraid to hope, and worry over what comes next – maybe it's worse.

But others point to how humanitarian aid has gotten through to some beleaguered cities and villages. In spite of continuing airstrikes and bombs, the fatality rate has dropped, they say. And what initially started as a temporary truce has now been extended – remarkably, with no deadline.

Then on Monday, surprisingly, the Russians announced they were pulling out.

The Russian assistance to the Syrian government has been a game-changer – Assad won back areas he lost as Russian airstrikes and missiles pounded both Islamic State-held territory and also rebel strongholds. Last summer, Assad looked as if he were facing defeat. Last month, he boasted he would retake all of Syria. (The Russians set him straight).

The notable thing about the Russian pullout is timing: That the announcement was on the day of the resumption of peace talks and on the five year anniversary of the war's outbreak is no coincidence: The Russians want Assad to play ball with the opposition and find a political solution.  

Some analysts say the best chance for peace in Syria is now. We shall see.

Regardless, one sign of hope for Syria is that in the face of all that has happened, all the tragedy and death, the protests – albeit small – occurred at all.

“The regime laid off us for just a week, and we’re back,” said Firas Abdallah. “We want to deliver a message. We continue to insist on the principles we came out for when this all started.”



Myanmar's Military Junta: 'We're Still Here'

Myanmar's parliament selected Htin Kyaw, a close ally and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, as president of the first civilian government of the country in half a century.

Htin Kyaw will be sworn in March 30 in a transition that will shift the country from a military-backed government to a civilian one led by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

It hasn't been a smooth ride. On Monday, Myanmar's military tossed up obstacles to Aung San Suu Kyi's choices for the country's top two jobs. And last week, as the NLD picked Htin Kyaw as well as Henry Van Thio as the vice presidential candidate, the military chose Myint Swe, the feared former military intelligence chief who is on a U.S. sanctions list. NLD lawmakers told Reuters the military's choice of Myint Swe went against the spirit of reconciliation Suu Kyi says she is trying to foster.

The constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming president because her children are British citizens and therefore her foreign ties disqualify her according to the constitution, the military says. But that doesn't mean the country's most notable democrat won't run the show: Her picks were a shoo-in for parliamentary confirmation because her party holds a majority after winning a landslide victory in a general election in November.

Still, her future relationship with the military – who ran the country since a 1962 coup until last year – will be key to the direction of the country. Suu Kyi has had increasing run-ins with the military – which holds a quarter of the seats in parliament.

The military's message? Don't forget we're still here.

Islamic State: Fun No More

An Islamic State fighter gave himself up to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq Monday, claiming he was a U.S. citizen from Virginia of Palestinian origin, an unusual surrender of a militant but one Iraqi and Kurdish officials say is becoming more frequent.

Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in neighboring Syria have seen an increase in the number of IS members surrendering following recent territorial losses as a result of U.S. and

Russian airstrikes and bombardments.

In a recent high profile desertion, an Australian defector leaked more than 100 pages of documents detailing fighters names, families and blood types.

Still, IS still controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria and continues to control Mosul and Fallujah. It also continues to strike closer to Baghdad. More than 4,000 Europeans and about 100 Americans are actively working with them, intelligence officials estimate.

U.S. officials predict there will be more desertions in the region. Meanwhile, many top commanders and foot soldiers in the militant group have relocated to Libya. Top IS officials have told recruits from Africa to redirect their routes there to take advantage of “the chaos.”

Merkel and Refugees: Defiant and Fed Up

German Chancellor Angela Merkel remained defiant after her conservative party suffered defeats in three elections Sunday, vowing to stick to her open-arms refugee policy.

“Yesterday was a difficult day,” she said Monday, the day after her Christian Democratic Party lost seats to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany.

The election losses come amid a backdrop of Merkel trying to convince her European Union partners to seal a deal with Turkey to stem the tide of migrants – more than one million of whom arrived last year in Germany. Negotiations resume on Thursday on the scheme many call “the plan of shame.”

Still, the amount of refugees arriving in Western Europe are falling due to the closure of the Balkan route: Macedonia and Serbia had closed their borders earlier this month leaving more than 30,000 refugees stuck in Greece.

On Monday, as many as 2,000 refugees marched out of a Greek transit camp, hiked for hours along muddy paths and forded a rain-swollen river to get around a border fence and cross into Macedonia, where they were detained, authorities said.

Babar Baloch, regional spokesman for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, said conditions in the Idomeni camp were difficult after days of heavy rain.

“This is not a proper camp,” he told Reuters. “People are exhausted, tired and running out of patience.”


A Mystery Of T. Rex Proportions

It was brains, not brawn, that came first in the Tyrannosaurus rex family.

In fact, after scientists found 90-million-year-old bones in Uzbekistan, they realized they found a new ancestor of the tyrannosaur – small with big ears and a big brain – whose discovery solved a lingering mystery to boot: How and why did tyrannosaurs get so big?

T. rex is such a pop star,” says Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University, who wasn’t involved with the study. “None of us can even remember a time when we didn’t know about Tyrannosaurus. But the reality is that how it evolved is a bit of a mystery.”

The newly described species, Timurlengia euotica, was a horse-sized dinosaur that descended from earlier, smaller versions of the terrible lizard but its large brain and advanced ears are the same as those that appear later in the larger members of the T. rex family.

For years, paleontologists have struggled to pin down how tyrannosaurs got brainier and brawnier – the fossil record between 100 and 80 million years ago when small tyrannosaurs would have evolved into giants is sparse, according to National Geographic. Timurlengia euotica might be the missing link they need to solve the mystery.

Now researchers have bones that suggest tyrannosaurs first evolved their distinct senses and brain structure and then grew in size much later.

“It’s the head-first mode of evolution,” Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History told National Geographic. “The brains are for the operation, and then you develop the bulk.”

We thank you for reading today's DailyChatter. Enjoy your day.

Today's DailyChatter was compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti

Tue, 03/15/2016 – 05:25

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.