Morning Brief

Myanmar’s Nationwide Protests Enter Third Day

A general strike has been called today as a rapid surge of public anger over last week’s military coup sweeps the country.

A protester holds up the three finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup at the monument of General Aung San, the late father of Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on February 8, 2021.
A protester holds up the three finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup at the monument of General Aung San, the late father of Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on February 8, 2021. Stringer/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Myanmar protests enter third day, the United States and Iran disagree on sanctions relief, Somalia‘s election is delayed, and Ecuador’s presidential elections head for a runoff.

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Myanmar Protests Continue

Nationwide protests continue across Myanmar for the third successive day today following a weekend that saw tens of thousands take to the streets in the largest demonstrations in the country since 2007.

Back then, the military eventually cracked down on protesters, killing at least 31. As Monday’s protests have worn on, authorities have so far only resorted to water cannons to disperse crowds.

The surge in public outcry against last week’s military coup—when much of the country’s democratic political leadership was arrested in pre-dawn raids—had been building for days. Last Wednesday, medical workers across the country went on strike, sparking a civil disobedience campaign that has spread to other professions.

Protest leaders have called for a general strike today—and nurses, teachers, and civil servants have now reportedly joined the protests.

International support. Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has called for the military to “stand down now” and had a message for protesters: “We are with you.” The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed those comments, restating EU calls for the release of political detainees and for democracy to be restored.

U.S. action? As Stephen M. Walt argued in Foreign Policy last week “realistically speaking, there’s little the United States can do to alter the trajectory of events in Myanmar, and nearly everyone understands this.” The best the United States can do, Walt writes, is to convince the military junta to avoid a violent crackdown on protesters—lest those in power need Western friends in the future to hedge against a regionally dominant China.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is scheduled to begin. He faces one charge of “inciting violence” against the government of the United States following the raid on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6.

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the European parliament holds a debate on the bloc’s vaccine strategy featuring embattled European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

On Thursday, Feb. 11, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to address the nation at the end of the Ten-Day Dawn celebrations marking the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Tehran in 1979.

On Friday, Feb. 12, Myanmar holds what is likely to be a tense Union Day, marking the anniversary of the country’s symbolic unification before gaining full independence.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, Catalonia holds elections for its 135-member regional parliament. 

What We’re Following Today

You first. The United States and Iran are in a standoff over the terms of the U.S. return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would only return to compliance with the deal if U.S. sanctions were lifted, while U.S. President Joe Biden said he would do the opposite: Keep the current sanctions and lift them only when Iran returns to compliance.

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made Tehran’s position clear. “It is for the United States to return to the deal to implement its obligations. Iran never left the deal,” Zarif said.

Somalia’s leadership crisis. An election in Somalia, which was scheduled to take place today, has been postponed. The planned indirect vote would have allowed lawmakers elected by clan elders to select a new president. A group representing Somalia’s opposition leaders said late Sunday that they would not recognize Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the country’s president after his term expires today and would reject any attempt at granting an extension. The country has been mired in a constitutional crisis as the central government and semi-autonomous regions face off on the terms of electing new leadership.

A plan to have lawmakers select a new president fell apart on Saturday as regional authorities in Puntland and Jubaland opposed the move. The group of opposition leaders have called for the formation of a transitional council to oversee planning for a new election.

Ecuador’s election. Ecuador’s presidential election is set to go to a second round after early returns showed a split electorate. Leftist Andrés Arauz leads the count with 31.5 percent of the vote, while his closest challengers Guillermo Lasso and Yaku Pérez both received roughly 20 percent. As the margin between them is so tight, it’s not yet clear whether Lasso or Pérez will face Arauz in the April 11 runoff.

Disaster in India. At least 14 people have been killed and another 200 are missing in the Indian state of Uttarakhand after part of a glacier collapsed, sending a deluge of water and debris into two hydroelectric power plants. Indian authorities have assembled a team of 200 to continue the search for survivors.

Shultz dead at 100. George Shultz, one of the longest serving U.S. secretaries of state, died on Saturday at age 100. Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote the obituary of a major player in the United States’ Cold War history.

Keep an Eye On

Brexit growing pains. Exports from the United Kingdom to the European Union fell by 68 percent in January, according to a trade group representing British truck drivers. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) attributed the drop to trade disruptions due to the end of the Brexit transition period, although the British government has said border friction has been “minimal.” The news comes as EU and U.K. representatives meet this week to discuss extending post-Brexit grace periods on the trade of certain goods.

Italy’s new government. After initially ruling the prospect out, Italy’s Five Star Movement leader Vito Crimi has said the party is “open” to forming a government with former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, assuming certain left-leaning priorities are adopted by the future government. The support of the Five Star Movement, Italy’s largest party in parliament, means that Draghi now has the backing of all Italy’s major parties as he attempts to form a government this week.

Coronavirus variants. South Africa’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca has suffered a blow after a study found the jab offered “minimal protection” against the new virus variant currently circulating in the country. South Africa had acquired 1 million doses of the vaccine and had planned to begin vaccinations this week. The variant, officially known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, currently accounts for 90 percent of new cases in South Africa.

Odds and Ends

The French labor ministry says it will soon relax a ban on workers eating lunch at their desks in order to enforce social distancing regulations.

France’s labor laws currently forbid employees from eating “al desko” and companies face financial penalties if inspectors catch them flouting the law. The country’s strict labor rights include a 2017 law that allows workers to ignore work e-mails outside of normal working hours.

“We French and you Americans have totally different ideas about work,” Agnès Dutin, a retired Parisian, told the New York Times. “It’s a catastrophe to eat at your desk. You need a pause to refresh the mind. It’s good to move your body. When you return, you see things differently.”

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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