The Obama administration will begin to lessen financial, foreign aid, and travel sanctions (LAT) on Myanmar's military-backed civilian government, while dispatching an ambassador to Naypyidaw, in response to Sunday's parliamentary by-elections, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday. Myanmar's longtime pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won an overwhelming majority of the contested seats (BBC). At the same time, the U.S. administration called on Myanmar's leaders to release all political prisoners, cut ties with North Korea, and cease crackdowns on ethnic minorities.
"The challenge for Suu Kyi and her party now is how to manage the vastly inflated hopes and expectations of her supporters--and what to try to change first. Should Suu Kyi, for example, throw herself into improving the lot of her poor constituents in Kawhmu? Or should she try to get a consensus to amend the Constitution?" asks Peter Popham for the Daily Beast.
"Too much importance has been attached to these by-elections, whose significance is more symbolic than practical. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, will have about 5% of the seats in parliament, compared with 80% for the military and the main military-backed party. Even if Aung San Suu Kyi had a majority, parliament has very limited power, and the military has an effective veto over its decisions," writes Zoya Phan for the Guardian.
"Moreover, for all Myanmar's progress, the country still has a dauntingly long road to travel. Hundreds of political prisoners remain locked up. The by-elections involved less than one-tenth of the seats in parliament. Even after a general election due in 2015, the opposition will be circumscribed by a constitution enshrining the army's dominance," says the Economist.
Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
Mali's Tuareg separatist rebels, the Azawad National Liberation Movement, announced a cease-fire after reportedly capturing enough northern territory to form a state (BBC), though the stance of the Tuareg's Islamist militant allies remained unclear. Meanwhile, Mali's West African neighbors continued to isolate the Malian military junta that seized power in a coup late last month.
ITALY: Pope Benedict XVI criticized "disobedience" in the Catholic Church (NYT), targeting priests that have called for the end of priestly celibacy and for the ordination of women, in a pre-Easter homily at the Vatican. Benedict called on Catholic priests to adhere to a "radicalism of obedience."
Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, campaigning in North Carolina, talked gas prices and science (WilmingtonStarNews), saying his plan to shift U.S. consumption away from foreign oil with more domestic drilling would curtail terrorism, create jobs, and bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon.
After being attacked on air for two weeks by ads from the American Energy Alliance (WSJ) blaming the president for high gas prices, the Obama campaign will match ads aired by an oil industry-backed group in half a dozen states next week.
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