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DemLab Weekly Brief: One Step Back in Burma -- And a Hint of Promise in Pakistan

Asia

On Friday, the Burmese monk Shin Gambira, one of the leaders of the 2007 protests, was reportedly detained by the authorities. Earlier this week, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi received formal approval from the election commission to run in the parliamentary elections in April and a UN envoy said Burma was considering allowing foreign election observers in to monitor the polls. The US waived one of its sanctions against the country, making it easier for Burma to get help from international financial institutions, and reports indicated CIA director David Petraeus may travel to Burma later this year. According to a report ranking countries on their respect for the rule of law, Burma ranked last out of 197 countries, offering the least legal protection for foreign companies and investors.

Thailand's ruling party submitted a plan to the Parliament to amend the country's constitution, which was drafted after the 2006 coup. A similar attempt four years ago led to large protests.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), the country's notoriously powerful spy agency, faced a rare wave of court actions against it. Although most of the cases have little chance of success, some analysts believe they demonstrate new resolve on the part of the judiciary to curb the power of the security establishment.

Two Tibetan brothers are said to have been shot down by Chinese security forces. They had been on the run since participating in January protests against Chinese rule. This comes after another Tibetan protester was reported to have set himself on fire in China's Sichuan province. A Chinese human rights group said that a dissident writer had been sentenced to seven years in jail for inciting subversion in a poem he wrote. Three other dissident writers have been sentenced to jail in the past few months.

The Maldives President resigned - under duress, according to him - after three weeks of protests and a police mutiny. Since then there have been violent clashes, and the Maldives' Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against the former president and the former defence minister. The UN arrived Friday to meet with both parties.

(As FP's Joshua Keating noted in his report on the turmoil, the incident reminds us coups have become an increasingly rare phenomenon in recent years.)

Europe

Spain's notorious international human rights judge Baltazar Garzon, most famous for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, was convicted for overstepping his jurisdiction and barred from the bench for 11 years. (The photo above shows a pro-Garzon demonstration in Madrid.)

The European Commission released a report saying Bulgaria and Romania needed to do more to fight corruption and reform the judiciary - meaning it is unlikely that either country will accede to the Schengen Area any time soon

Russian police threatened to retry a dead lawyer who had died in custody. Meanwhile, commentators continued debating the future impact of the protests in Russia.

Africa

Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara, minister in the Guinean presidency, was charged for his role in the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre of 157 protesters. Rights groups hailed the move as a step toward justice.

Commentators argued that, despite recent military gains, it is time for Somalia's government to start negotiations with the militant group al-Shabab. In a possible response to that increasing military pressure, al-Shabab announced that it was officially joining the al-Qaeda franchise. Meanwhile, the breakaway territory of Somaliland planned to lobby for international recognition at a conference in London on February 23. It has been battling its own secessionists since January.

Middle East & North Africa

In Syria on Friday, the regime intensified its bloody crackdown and two bombs struck military and security buildings in Aleppo. (The government and opposition blamed each other for the attacks.) A UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by Russia and China. The shelling did not stop despite Assad's pledge to embrace reform following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Commentators spent the week arguing about what the international community should do next, and there was talk of creating a "friends of Syria" group as well as sending a beefed-up joint UN and Arab League observer mission back on the ground. Syria's opposition was still struggling to overcome its own rivalries and divisions.

On Wednesday, Libya finalized an electoral law governing national assembly elections in late June. This elected body is to draft a new constitution and form a government until general elections are held next year. Earlier that week, court proceedings against 41 Libyans accused of being Gadhafi loyalists were postponed after the defense argued that they should be tried in a civil court - not a military court. The Libyan government predicted its budget deficit would reach $10 billion this year, explaining that it had only received a small portion of its frozen assets.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) reiterated that it would relinquish power after the presidential elections in May, which were moved up from June earlier this week, although a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman demanded that the SCAF immediately hand over power to a coalition formed by the parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned calls by 40 political movements and parties for a day of civil disobedience and a general strike on 11 February. The question of how and when Egypt's new constitution should be drafted remained a divisive issue. US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the Egyptians look to South Africa's constitution as a model.

Yemen started a campaign to get people to vote in the upcoming presidential election. With only one candidate to vote for, officials are worried about low voter turnout. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, for his part, has vowed to return from New York to vote. (A reminder: He traveled to the U.S. for medical treatment after a parliamentary deal that gave him immunity from prosecution.)

Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain are preparing for the February 14 anniversary of last year's protests. Foreign journalists planning to cover the anniversary were denied visas.

In Iraq, Ministers of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya block ended their boycott of the cabinet, in a move to diffuse the political crisis which started last December.

In yet another sign of power struggles at the top, Iranian lawmakers summoned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to testify before Parliament in the next few weeks to answer questions about the country's faltering economy.

A recent survey indicated that three out of five survey respondents in the Middle East saw Turkey as a model for their country.

And finally, this week's recommended reads:

An inside report from Syria on the continuing rebellion.

And a Harvard professor with a background in Russia ponders the lessons of transition.

-- by Chloé de Préneuf

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

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