By Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson MYITKYINA, Myanmar (Reuters) - Asked what Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has changed since becoming Myanmar's leader two years ago, most residents of Kachin state in the far north say the roads: new tarmac smoothes the path for cars, motorbikes and campaign trucks ahead of a by-election set for Saturday. But beyond the city limits, near-perpetual civil war rumbles on. Many here say the administration's inability to tackle the country's toughest problems, including continued ethnic fighting, has soured the mood among voters ahead of polls this weekend being closely watched as a barometer on Suu Kyi's government and the future of Myanmar's democratic transition. Suu Kyi swept to power pledging that a peace process to end Myanmar's myriad ethnic conflicts was her top priority. But since then Kachin has seen some of the most intense fighting between the military and ethnic rebels since a ceasefire broke down seven years ago, with thousands of people displaced. "We voted for her and she won and came into power," said 40-year-old Htu Lun, who was driven from her home in 2011 and has since lived in one of dozens of displacement camps in Myitkyina, the state capital. "But in reality, nothing has changed. Now the election time has come again, we will choose the party that serves our interest." Thirteen seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament and regional assemblies across Myanmar are being contested in Saturday's by-elections. Eleven fell vacant when legislators died in office, a reflection of Myanmar's aging political leadership, while one MP, Win Myint, became president. The election of the NLD in late 2015 brought an end to half-a-century of junta rule but the new government, which must still share power with the military, is now facing multiple crises. The army has been accused by U.N. rights investigators of acting with "genocidal intent" against Rohingya Muslims in a crackdown in western Rakhine state last year. Meanwhile, the economy has slowed and peace talks with rebels from Kachin and other ethnic minority areas have faltered. Suu Kyi's administration has no control over the army, but has denied almost all the allegations against troops in Rakhine. NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters economic progress has stalled but not reversed, and the expectations of the people were too high. Making peace is the government's top priority, he said, but all parties, including ethnic leaders and the military, have to co-operate. While several of the seats up for grabs on Saturday lie in the country's Buddhist heartland and are likely to remain under NLD control, representatives of the ruling party have voiced jitters about areas where they face stiff competition from ascendant ethnic parties. Low turnout in some places could skew the result against the NLD, analysts said. Though Myitkyina is one of the most hotly contested seats, several people there whom Reuters spoke to were not aware a by-election was taking place, while others said they did not plan to vote. "This time we have to struggle for victory – it will not be easy," said Aung Shin, a spokesman for the NLD. Late last month, Suu Kyi flew to Myitkyina, visiting displacement camps and a drug rehabilitation center funded by her charity. Yan Hkawn, the party's candidate in the city, said the vote would likely be split. Suu Kyi is trying to solve all the country's problems, she said. "It's not easy to achieve that by walking alone, by herself," she said. ETHNIC ALLIANCE While supporters say the government needs more time to effect change, disillusionment runs high in ethnic areas, where residents harbor longstanding distrust of the Bamar Buddhist majority. "Daw Suu Kyi promised us, 'We will change everything, everyone will get equal rights',” said Win Aung, an 80-year-old Muslim leader, sitting by the side of the road after watching campaign trucks bearing her face pass by. But religious discrimination against Christians – the majority in Kachin state – and Muslims has continued, he said. "We need permission when we are planning a religious ceremony," he said. "Still now, we never get permission." NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said the government was working to bridge religious and racial divides. "The person who understands Myanmar politics will know that a huge number of religious fanatics exist," he told Reuters. "We can't change that in a short time." As well as more than 700,000 Rohingya forced to flee Rakhine for Bangladesh after the military crackdown in 2017, more than 68,000 people have been internally displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan state since January 2017, according to the U.N. Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In an October report published by the independent election monitoring group PACE, a quarter of respondents said ethnic conflict had worsened since the NLD took power. Six of the seats being contested on Saturday are in ethnic areas, and analysts are watching the result for signs of what might happen when the country goes to the polls in the next general election in 2020. In recent months, minority parties that previously competed against one another have merged to run under one banner, forming alliances that could pose a strong challenge to the NLD, which currently holds a comfortable majority in parliament despite the constitution reserving 25 percent of seats for the military. "We can see that the ethnic movement in the election is quite powerful," said Yangon-based analyst Maung Maung Soe. "If there is no landslide win like in 2015, it will be difficult for the NLD to form a government by itself. We have to prepare for an alliance or to combine with the ethnic parties." In Kachin, four ethnic parties are competing under the banner of the Kachin Democratic Party, after a recent merger that resulted from five years of negotiation, according to its leader, Gumgrawng Awng Hkam. The former activist, who spent years in exile under the junta, was once a strident supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi. He said her government had failed to be transparent in its response to allegations of human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine or express sympathy for the suffering of ethnic Kachin. "She dropped the hand of ethnic and democratic allies and took the hand of the military," he said, sitting in the party headquarters in Myitkyina. His vision is for a grand alliance of ethnic parties that could mount a strong challenge to the NLD in 2020. "We cannot form a government by ethnic forces by ourselves," he said. "We will make an alliance with the party which is harmonious for us ... There are no constant enemies, no constant friends in politics." (Reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Alex Richardson)
- The Independent
Rioters who entered Capitol building may not be charged if they didn’t engage in violence, report says
Federal officials do not want to crush court system with hundreds of cases
- Associated Press
A 34-year-old grizzly bear captured in southwestern Wyoming has been confirmed as the oldest on record in the Yellowstone region, Wyoming wildlife officials said. Grizzly bear 168 was captured last summer after it preyed on calves in the Upper Green River Basin area. Biologists learned of the bear’s longevity after euthanizing the bruin, which had preyed on cattle and then finally, calves.
A U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has entered the South China Sea to promote "freedom of the seas", the U.S. military said on Sunday, at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan have raised concern in Washington. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands.
- NBC News
As the first president in decades to regularly attend weekly religious services, Joe Biden has plenty of options.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
- The Week
President Biden reeled in a record-breaking $145 million in so-called dark money from anonymous donors during his presidential campaign, topping the $113 million that went to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) before his failed presidential bid in 2012, Bloomberg reports.It's not surprising that Biden set the mark given that the $1.5 billion he hauled in overall was the most ever for a challenger to an incumbent president, but it's notable in large part because Democrats have been at the forefront of a movement to ban dark money in politics since it means that supporters can back a candidate without scrutiny. Plus, Bloomberg notes, anonymous donors "will have the same access to decision makers as those whose names were disclosed, but without public awareness of who they are or what influence they might wield." As Meredith McGehee, the executive director of campaign finance reform advocacy group Issue One, told Bloomberg, "the whole point of dark money is to avoid public disclosure while getting private credit."Still, it seems the Democratic Party was willing to embrace the strategy in the hopes of defeating former President Donald Trump, who only brought in $28.4 million from anonymous donors. Read more at Bloomberg.More stories from theweek.com 5 scathingly funny cartoons about Biden's COVID-19 push Biden foolishly low-balls America's COVID response Trump's pressure on DOJ to sue states over election in Supreme Court reportedly 'got really intense'
A prominent U.S. Senate Republican warned on Saturday that former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial could lead to the prosecution of former Democratic presidents if Republicans retake the chamber in two years. Trump this month became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice after the Democratic-controlled House, with the support of 10 Republicans, voted to charge him with incitement of insurrection for a fiery Jan. 6 speech to his followers before they launched a deadly assault on the Capitol.
- Yahoo News Video
It's a club Donald Trump was never really interested in joining and certainly not so soon: the cadre of former commanders in chief who revere the presidency enough to put aside often bitter political differences and even join together in common cause.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
A Disney World employee notified police after suspecting that a person who called to buy tickets was being abused
While a Pennsylvania woman pretended to buy Disney World tickets, a Disney employee reportedly heard her yelling "get off me" and "get away from me."
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- The Week
In candid interview, Birx says she knew working with Trump White House would be the end of her federal career
Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator while former President Donald Trump was still in office, opened up about her time working with the Trump administration during an exclusive interview with CBS News' Margaret Brennan on Sunday.Birx was often criticized for not pushing back enough on Trump's comments about the pandemic, and while she suggested her reactions could be misinterpreted -- like the time Trump asked her about whether COVID-19 could be treated with a bleach injection -- she did anticipate the gig would likely be the end of her federal career. "You can't go into something that's that polarized and not believe you won't be tainted by that experience," she told Brennan, adding that she'll "need to retire" within the next few weeks.> WATCH: Birx reacts to claims that she became an "apologist" for Trump and *that* moment where the former president suggested using disinfectant as a potential treatment for COVID19> > "I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't even know what to do in that moment." pic.twitter.com/2ddCblGllH> > -- Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 24, 2021> "I know that I wouldn't be allowed to really continue successfully within the federal government," Birx tells @margbrennan, calling her role leading the COVID19 task force a "terminal event" for her career> > Adds she will probably retire in the next 4-6 weeks from @cdcgov pic.twitter.com/dHHT2styEN> > -- Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 24, 2021Birx did say she wished she had "been more publicly outspoken" about certain things like COVID-19 testing, especially because she's been known to "push the envelope" in private. But she suggested that, ultimately, the culture of the White House proved too unfamiliar. > Birx's biggest mistake leading the Trump coronavirus task force? > > "I always feel like I could have done more, been more outspoken, maybe been more outspoken publicly. I didn't know all the consequences of all of these issues."> > More of her interview on today's @FaceTheNation pic.twitter.com/egZeFZCQ0W> > -- Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 24, 2021More stories from theweek.com 5 scathingly funny cartoons about Biden's COVID-19 push Biden foolishly low-balls America's COVID response Trump's pressure on DOJ to sue states over election in Supreme Court reportedly 'got really intense'
India said it will administer homegrown coronavirus vaccine COVAXIN in seven more states from Monday as it seeks to inoculate 30 million healthcare workers across the country. The government this month gave emergency-use approval to the vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd and state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
- Associated Press
Indonesian authorities said that they seized an Iranian tanker and Panamanian tanker suspected of carrying out the illegal transfer of oil in their country's waters Sunday. The tankers — the Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Frea — were seized in waters off Indonesia's West Kalimantan province, said Wisnu Pramadita, a spokesman for the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency.
A Colorado geophysicist who participated in the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 and allegedly assaulted a police officer, attempted to flee to Switzerland and attempted suicide. Jeffrey Sabol, 51, was held without bail on Friday and remains behind bars after being arrested at the Westchester Medical Center, according to The Associated Press. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Krause of White Plains said the allegations against Sabol were “very disturbing, deeply troubling” during a virtual hearing in White Plains Federal Court.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Week
President Biden is enjoying a honeymoon period, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday suggests.Just a few days after assuming office, Biden has received high marks for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the presidential transition. More than half of those polled also think he has a chance to unify the country, although only 22 percent have a "great deal" of confidence he'll be able to pull off that feat.Per the poll, Republicans don't seem pleased with some of the executive orders Biden has issued so far, including his reversal of a travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations and the termination of the national emergency declaration at the southern border, but GOP voters are, relatively speaking, somewhat amenable to his coronavirus response. The poll shows 40 percent of Republicans approve of Biden's pandemic leadership. For context, former President Donald Trump's highest approval rating (in regards to his COVID-19 response) among Democrats in the same poll was 30 percent, and that was all the way back in mid-March of 2020.> The more than two-thirds of Americans who approve of Pres. Biden's leadership on the coronavirus includes 40% of Republicans -- a notably high level of support from across the aisle a year into the pandemic. https://t.co/Foyzv1E8Ji> > — Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) January 24, 2021The friendly numbers may give Biden some breathing room, ABC News notes, but early tenure bliss generally doesn't last forever.The ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs' KnowledgePanel between Jan. 22 to 23, 2021 among a random national sample of 504 adults. The margin of error is 5 percentage points. Read more at ABC News.More stories from theweek.com 5 scathingly funny cartoons about Biden's COVID-19 push Biden foolishly low-balls America's COVID response Trump's pressure on DOJ to sue states over election in Supreme Court reportedly 'got really intense'
- Associated Press
Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country. Then came the death of the transport minister.
- NBC News
"I couldn't believe it, it was like an animal. That's the only way I can put it, it was like an animal," the woman said of the assault in Harlem.