Morning Brief

Myanmar Protesters Return to Streets After Bloodiest Day Since Coup

Amid a brutal crackdown, Aung San Suu Kyi has another offense added to her charge sheet.

Protesters take cover behind homemade shields during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021.
Protesters take cover behind homemade shields during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on March 1, 2021. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Protests continue in Myanmar after authorities opened fire on demonstrators on Sunday, Iran rejects offer of EU-led talks on returning to the nuclear deal, and the world this week.

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At Least 18 Killed in Myanmar

At least 18 people were killed in Myanmar on Sunday in the bloodiest day since protests against the military coup began a month ago. The killings raise fears that authorities will embrace an even harsher crackdown as peaceful demonstrations continue today.

Protests are likely to be fueled by a further attempt to keep Aung San Suu Kyi out of the spotlight. On Monday a Myanmar court added a further charge against the democratically elected leader, accusing her of breaking a law that prohibits spreading information that could “cause fear or alarm” or disrupt “public tranquility.” She will appear in court again on March 15.

Aung San Suu Kyi had been initially charged with breaking import laws after being found in possession of walkie talkies, another charge of breaching coronavirus restrictions was added later.

“Additional actions.” The United States has already placed largely ceremonial sanctions on Myanmar’s generals but on Sunday White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced “additional actions” that would be taken against “those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup.” Those actions are expected in the coming days.

What China wants. With U.S. leverage limited, attention has turned to China to solve the crisis—with some observers speculating that the coup is in China’s best interests. Not so, Brian Y.S. Wong argues in Foreign Policynoting that Beijing’s many economic investments in the country depend on a stable government that has friendly working ties with China.

“Although many observers assume Beijing prefers authoritarian regimes, China has few reasons to prefer an unpredictable, ambitious military dictatorship with expansionist tendencies over a predictable and largely reliable civilian government in Myanmar,” Wong writes.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, March 2, the European Court of Justice issues a ruling in a case challenging the removal of judicial review for appointments to the Polish Supreme Court.

On Thursday, March 4, OPEC+ oil ministers meet virtually to decide on production increases for the coming months.

The trial of 26 suspects accused of involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi resumes in an Istanbul court. All the suspects have been charged in absentia.

On Friday, March 5, Pope Francis begins a four-day pilgrimage to Iraq, his first official travel in more than a year.

China’s annual National People’s Congress (NPC) opens, where the country’s next five-year plan is expected to be announced.

On Saturday, March 6, Ivory Coast holds parliamentary elections. The parties of former presidents Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo have formed an alliance in an attempt to unseat the ruling RHDP party.

On Sunday, March 7, Switzerland will hold a quarterly referendum on popular initiatives, including a ban on full facial coverings, widely seen as targeting Muslim women. Voters will also consider an economic partnership agreement with Indonesia.

What We’re Following Today

Iran rejects EU offer. U.S. officials have remained upbeat following Iran’s rejection of an offer of nuclear talks led by the European Union. On Sunday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted, “Considering US/E3 positions & actions, time isn’t ripe for the proposed informal meeting,” batting down an EU invitation and adding that sanctions relief would be essential for any return to negotiations.

An unnamed senior U.S. official told Reuters that Iran’s decision was part of the diplomatic process and that other meeting formats could be tried. “We don’t think that this is the end of the road. It’s unfortunate … that the Iranians said: ‘No,’ but we’ll be open to other ideas,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors meets this week when it is likely to consider a U.S.-led resolution to condemning Iran’s recent decision to block certain nuclear inspections. Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi has promised an “appropriate reaction” if the resolution is adopted.

El Salvador’s elections. The preliminary results of El Salvador’s legislative elections are expected today, with polls pointing to a majority for President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party. How large that majority ends up being will decide how much power Bukele will be able to wield: A 56-seat supermajority would allow him to force through key appointments, including Supreme Court judges. If polls are correct, a Nuevas Ideas victory would be the first time in El Salvador’s post-civil war history that the two traditionally popular parties (ARENA and FMLN) failed to win the most seats.

Sarkozy ruling. A French court will hand down a verdict in the corruption trial of Nicolas Sarkozy today, with prosecutors calling for at least a two-year prison sentence for the former French president. Sarkozy is accused of offering a Monaco-based job to a judge in return for information on an investigation into his campaign finances. Today’s ruling won’t end Sarkozy’s troubles, as he faces investigations into funds received from a Russian insurance firm in 2019—among other legal woes.

Keep an Eye On

Armenia tensions. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian refused to sign off on the firing of the country’s top military officer by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan last Thursday, setting up a potential showdown in the constitutional court. Pashinyan dismissed Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan after he and a number of other military officers signed a letter calling for the prime minister’s removal over his handling of the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh conflict late last year.

Pashinyan is allowed to submit his decree to dismiss Gasparyan a second time. If the president neither signs it nor sends it to the constitutional court, then the decree would come into force.

Vaccine diplomacy. The Czech Republic could soon join Hungary as only the second EU nation to distribute the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Czech politicians have blamed the European Union for a slow vaccine rollout, leading President Milos Zeman to request vaccines from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Czech television, Zeman said he would also welcome China’s Sinopharm vaccine saying that “vaccines have no ideology.” The Czech Republic currently has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the European Union on a per capita basis. The country has vaccinated just under 4 percent of the its population—lower than the EU average of 4.7 percent.

Odds and Ends

Months ahead of the West in its efforts to control the coronavirus, China is  now providing a look into the future for a film industry battered by the pandemic. February was China’s all-time biggest month for box office sales, with moviegoers shelling out a total of $1.7 billion to sit in theaters; 95 percent of those sales came from just seven films, all released in time for the Lunar New Year festival. If the momentum continues, China is on track to become the number one movie market for the second year in a row, after it leapfrogged the United States in 2020.

That’s it for today. 

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

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