The World Today for December 23, 2016


Myanmar’s Shame

Hopes were high in 2010 when Myanmar’s military junta freed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi after 15 years of house arrest. When her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory last year in Myanmar’s first real democratic elections in a quarter century, celebrations kicked off again.

Now Suu Kyi could be turning into a bitter disappointment.

Experts believe Myanmar’s military is viciously persecuting the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine, a province on the western coast of the Southeast Asian country.

“Is This the Real Aung San Suu Kyi?” The New Republic asked in a headline on Thursday.

Many believe the Nobel Laureate is showing her true colors.

“In recent decades, scholars of genocide have identified several likely indicators of mass killings,” wrote Foreign Policy. “Several of those signs are now clearly in evidence in western Rakhine.”

Violence flared in the area following deadly militant Rohingya attacks on police stations in October. The military responded with massacres of unarmed civilians, arson and rape, human rights groups claimed. The death toll is estimated to be in the hundreds. Tens of thousands have fled to Bangladesh and China.

It’s hard to know what’s happening. The military has created a seven-square-mile zone where journalists are prohibited.

The Rohingya have experienced oppression before, though.

In 2012 and 2013, gangs of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority demolished many Rohingya villages. Today, 120,000 live in refugee camps. Labeled as illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh – while some have lived in Rakhine for centuries, The Economist explained how others arrived under Britain’s colonial rule – they are technically not Myanmar citizens.

“The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing,” said Malaysia’s foreign ministry in a statement published in Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi has been oddly diffident about the violence.

“It doesn’t help if everybody is just concentrating on the negative side of the situation,” she said, according to PRI’s The World.

Suu Kyi invited former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to Myanmar to investigate. He called on the military to respect human rights but stopped short of identifying crimes against humanity. The New York Times reported that critics felt he didn’t conduct a proper investigation.

Suu Kyi has also resisted the UN’s calls to visit Rakhine and reassure locals that she’ll protect them, Reuters reported.

Lastly, after human rights groups used satellite imagery to show how Rohingya villages have been razed, she suggested the former inhabitants destroyed their homes to garner sympathy.

“Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be watching a possible genocide unfold,” a CNN opinion writer argued.

Suu Kyi once possessed enormous moral capital. Now she’s spending it. How much she can lose depends on whether the international community wants to prevent the horrors that might be occurring in her backyard.



Trump’s Tweepet

To much chagrin, US President-elect Donald Trump continues to float major policy changes via Twitter.

In the latest barrage, the real estate tycoon turned reality TV star suggested that he would yugely expand America’s nuclear arsenal and argued that the US should veto a pending United Nations resolution that criticized Israel’s settlements policy, the Washington Post reported.

The seemingly off-the-cuff plan to return to amassing more nuclear weapons would be a radical departure from four decades of US foreign policy – as dictated by presidents from both major political parties. Meanwhile, Trump’s call for a veto of the UN resolution sets up a similarly dramatic reversal of the Israel policy outlined by the administration of President Barack Obama, which has described Jewish settlements in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace.

Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin also stumped for a return to Cold War-era nuclear proliferation on Thursday. He said Moscow must “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems,” according to Foreign Policy.

So much for diplomacy in 140 characters.

Christmas Saviors

Days after a deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, Australian authorities said they foiled a major terrorist attack planned for Melbourne on Christmas day.

Victoria police were holding five men after early-morning raids involving some 400 police officers on Friday, the BBC reported.

Victoria Police chief Graham Ashton said the planned attack involved “use of explosives” and other weapons including “knives or a firearm” and targeted prominent city locations.

The authorities said four of the suspects – believed to have been inspired by the Islamic State — were born in Australia, while the fifth was Egyptian-born with Egyptian and Australian citizenship, according to the Associated Press. Two other people were detained and released without charges.

Since Australia’s terrorist threat level was elevated in September 2014, the government says there have been four extremist attacks and 12 plots foiled by police, the paper said.

Aleppo Evacuated

The last buses carrying residents from eastern Aleppo left the city late Thursday night, ending the much-delayed evacuation of civilians and giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad full control of the city for the first time since 2012.

Before the last buses left on Thursday, the Red Cross said that 34,000 people had evacuated the city since December 15, including 4,000 fighters who had left in their own vehicles Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

While the evacuation essentially ends the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo – where the United Nations said the shelling of civilians in recent days was probably a war crime – many fear that the relocation of anti-Assad rebels and other former Aleppo residents to villages in neighboring Idlib Province will result in another major battle there.

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said Thursday that only an end to the broader war could prevent that from happening.

“Many of them have gone to Idlib, which could be in theory the next Aleppo,” the NYT quoted de Mistura as saying.


The Science of Christmas

Christmas: It’s a time of togetherness, flashy decorations, snowy landscapes and holiday cheer.

But have you ever stopped to consider the science behind this beloved holiday?

Take your Christmas tree, for example. The painstakingly glorious tradition of trimming the evergreen actually has a scientific background.

Thomas Edison conceptualized stringed Christmas lights in 1880. The electric variation of the traditional candle proved to be a safer and more convenient alternative for holiday goers.

But when one problem is solved another arises to take its place: tangled lines of Christmas lights.

According to a 2007 study, however, that’s just the way of the universe: For any line above 2 meters, knots are almost guaranteed to happen.

Click here for some more scientific holiday fun facts via PBS.

Happy holidays!

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Shift in Censorship?

It may seem like good news that fewer journalists were targeted for murder this year than in recent years—but most of the potential reasons behind the shift are depressing. As of December 15, at least 48 journalists had been killed in the line of duty, down from 72 last year. Of those, 18 were singled out for murder in retaliation for their reporting. That’s the lowest number since 2002, but the decline is likely less about expanded press freedom and more about self-censorship and journalistic communities depleted by threats and previous violence. Given international pressure to promote journalist safety and reduce impunity when they are killed, authorities have incentive to utilize other repressive tactics. (Speaking of other tactics, 259 journalists were imprisoned worldwide as of December 1, the highest number the Committee to Protect Journalists has ever recorded.)

What’s not counterintuitive is that Syria is the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist for the fifth year in a row — which won’t come as a surprise to anyone watching the news from Aleppo lately. Conflict- and crossfire-related deaths are the highest since 2013. But, all that said, overall deaths were down this year. So that’s something.

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