Burmese Junta raises prospect of Suu Kyi release in November

Burmese dictatorship sets date for potential release of pro-democracy activist. Concern over possibility of violent Sri Lankan elections. Daughter of Yeltsin speaks out against Putin. China defends internet controls. All this and more in today's briefing.

Maddy Fry
25 January 2010

The military junta ruling Burma has given many hints in the last year that the pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi will be released soon – mostly provoking scepticism whenever it does. Yet for the first time the Home Minister Maung Oo has placed a prospective date upon her release, citing November of this year as a potential time. Although the prospect was first voiced four days ago, tight controls on information in Burma have meant that it has only just reached the ears of Western reporters. Suu Kyi’s period of detention was extended by a further eighteen months in August 2009 after an American man entered her home without permission. The regime will most likely keep her detained until elections that are scheduled to take place later this year have passed.

The openSecurity verdict: These latest moves on Aung San Suu Kyi’s detainment could merely be another fruitless gesture by the regime to briefly placate its many critics. Even if Suu Kyi was released, it is very likely to be under strict conditions, including continuing restrictions on her freedom of movement. The only thing that would truly serve to give meaning to such promises would be if the regime were to undergo fundamental changes.

Such change is doubtful in the near future. Considerable trade embargoes have already been levied against Burma by the USA and the EU, yet calls by lobby groups for a global arms embargo against the regime looks unlikely due to Russian and Chinese dissent. Therefore, despite the continual condemnation, the Burmese government is unlikely to be faced with crippling pressure to loosen the iron grip it maintains on its population. The occasional concessions it has made to supporters of Suu Kyi are an indication that it is not completely oblivious to its critics – but the pressure will need to be much greater for it to take any more notice. Whether it can ever be effectively exerted by the rest of the world momentarily looks doubtful.

Violence predicted at Sri Lankan elections

The presidential candidates in Sri Lanka's impending elections have begun to taunt each other publicly, prompting fears that the tension could provoke violence among their supporters. Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the military, has given voice to his apparent suspicions that vote-rigging has taken place and that if his opponent Mahinda Rajapaksa wins, the army might attempt a coup. Violence has already flared between civilian supporters of the two groups, with four people killed as a result. The two contenders for the presidency both claim the mantle of having brought peace to the island through victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers), but there are now fears that disagreement over the election result could provoke a fresh wave of fighting.

Daughter of Yeltsin speaks out against Putin

Tatyana Yumasheva, the daughter of the late former-president Boris Yeltsin, has decried Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's alleged slurs on her father's presidency as false and slanderous, telling readers of her blog that she wants to “set the record straight.” She maintains that the Yeltsin years were not as chaotic and disastrous as Putin claims and that the prime minister was so overwhelmed when Yeltsin chose him as a successor that he initially wanted him to choose another. Yumasheva’s blog has become increasingly popular in recent years and it is thought that her timing could threaten Putin’s reputation in the run to elections in 2012 where he could secure a third term.

China defends internet controls

Two weeks after the online search engine Google stated that it will be removing the controls it has placed on the Chinese version of its website, the Chinese government has responded by defending its censorship of the internet. The US government has backed Google’s stance but the Chinese authorities have lashed out, claiming that America has been using the web to lend its support to subversive movements in Iran. Beijing also insisted that it needs to suppress elements of online content that seek to “subvert state power and national unity.” The latest spat comes amidst escalating tensions between China and the US over trade, US weapon sales to Taiwan and relations with the Dalai Lama.

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