From East Asia to North Africa, we are witnessing a determined effort on behalf of proposed democracies struggling to overcome authoritarian regimes. These occur in two key countries, Myanmar (previously known as Burma) in East Asia, and Algeria on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
Daily and unrelenting protests in Myanmar threaten a dictatorship that overthrew the freely elected government of Aung San Suu Chi on February 1. Protest crowds are out in the streets daily. Other deposed civilian leaders included President Win Myint. Access by Burmese to online Internet traffic also has been shut off.
According to CNN, the protests have been unrelenting as the ruling junta forces have killed at least 550 citizens, including 43 children. Junta leaders so far have detained more than 2,750 others or wounded hundreds more. Among them: journalists, activist protesters, government officials, trade unionists, writers, and students.
Reactions elsewhere in Asia and globally
Myanmar’s military seized power just hours before newly-elected members of parliament were set to convene. Christine Schraner Burgener, the United Nations envoy on Myanmar, implored the 15-member U.N. Security Council to consider action “to prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia”.
On March 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is “horrified” by the weeks of bloodshed in Myanmar. He added, in a tweet, that the violent crackdown on demonstrators by security forces there showed that the junta will “sacrifice the lives of the people to serve the few. “The courageous people of Burma,” he added, “reject the military’s reign of terror.” Shortly thereafter, President Biden added: “it’s absolutely outrageous. And based on reporting I’ve gotten, an awful lot of people have been killed totally unnecessarily.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas Vajda blamed its security forces for “murdering unarmed civilians, including children, the very people they swore to protect” since the February 1 takeover.
A joint statement from the defense chiefs of 12 countries, including Germany, the U.K., and Japan among others, also condemned the violence. They urged Myanmar’s armed forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with their own people, credibility with their own people lost through their own actions.”
Chris Barrett at the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald, while reporting the growing international outrage, noted that China continues to oppose sanctions of what it terms “other coercive measures” to stop the bloodshed in Myanmar.
“While hundreds of its citizens have fled Myanmar to neighboring India and more than 2,000 have sought refuge in its eastern neighbor Thailand, Mr. Barrett adds, the appearance of the virus has caused China to close its border with Myanmar.
Pro-Democracy demonstrations resume in Algeria
Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully in Algiers on April 2 to support the Hirak pro-democracy movement aimed at overthrowing a government that in various forms has ruled Algeria since its independence from France in 1962.
The protesters are back in larger numbers since the revolt paused for a year from early 2020 to March of this year because of the coronavirus. Hirak, which calls itself “a revolution of smiles”, began in rural areas of Algeria. But just recently, its first significant demonstration (tens of thousands of protesters) was held in the capital city.
Although Hirak demonstrators have come out in force just once weekly since the recent revival, expansion of daily activity supported by international communities abroad appears to be essential to their eventual success.
The Niger precedent
The West African country of Niger offers a hopeful signal. According to the Washington Post on April 3, its new President, Mohamed Bazoum, was formally installed after Niger’s security forces thwarted an attempted coup at the presidential palace. That’s potentially important regionally because the country continues to face threats from Islamic extremists near its border with Mali. En avant, democracy defenders everywhere.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More