From slavery allegations in Brazil to an attempted assassination in Georgia

Tensions soared in Senegal ahead of the Feb. 26 elections as security forces clashed with protestors. Opposition leader Youssou N'Dour, the singer, was injured during a political rally. At least six protestors have reportedly died over the past month. Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo met with the government and opposition leaders in an effort to mediate the political standoff.

President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali said that presidential elections will be held on time in April despite a heavily-armed Tuareg uprising taking place in the north of the country.

The International Criminal Court announced it will investigate possible war crimes committed in Cote d'Ivoire as far back as 2002, after Laurent Gbagbo became president. The court was previously only looking at crimes committed in the violence that followed the 2010 election when Gbagbo, currently in jail in The Hague, refused to step down.


In Burma, the largest strike since 1938 is testing the limits of the new law allowing labor unions. China's leaders urged the Burmese government to reinforce its control over the two countries' turbulent border.

Experts warned of potential security risks in the lead-up to Timor-Leste's general elections in March.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to call on the Sri Lankan government next week to report its progress on investigating possible war crimes committed at the end of the civil war in 2009. The UN also wants to see an accounting of reconciliation measures taken by the authorities.

Amid the continuing political crisis in the Maldives, the Commonwealth urged government and opposition to start an immediate dialogue leading toward early elections at the end of 2012.

Latin America

The Supreme Court in Brazil announced that it is bringing charges against Senator Joao Ribeiro, who is accused of holding 30 workers in conditions approaching slavery on his ranch in the Amazon jungle.

In Bolivia, members of disabled groups protesting cuts in state subsidies clashed with police.

A Colombian journalist was forced to leave the country after receiving death threats. And a judge in Ecuador fled her homeland amid the continuing controversy surrounding a libel suit against a leading newspaper critical of President Rafael Correa. (The photo above shows employees of the El Universo paper demonstrating against the government.)


The president of the breakaway Georgian enclave of Abkhazia survived an assassination attempt as Russia was seen as struggling to maintain stability there and in South Ossetia. Meanwhile, Georgia has started a campaign to lure in South African farmers who feel threatened in their country in an effort to revive Georgia's agriculture.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin exuded patriotism and nationalism at a well-organized electoral rally that tens of thousands of people in advance of the March 4 presidential election.

Middle East and North Africa

Hearings in the trial of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister ended Wednesday. The final verdict is to be presented on television on June 2. While the date of the presidential election date has yet to be set, the supreme court committee overseeing the vote announced that it will open the nomination process for candidates on March 10. Meanwhile, Egypt's finance minister said that the government has finally accepted a $3.2 billion loan form the IMF - a move criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. One commentator argued Egypt should look to Ukraine's institutional reform. Also, read here for insight into Egypt's judiciary.

The people of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, voted to elect their city council in what was the first large-scale election to be held in Libya. Meanwhile, there were reports of more than 100 killed in tribal violence in Libya's southern town of Kufra, bordering Chad and Sudan.

Despite violence and scattered calls for a boycott, Yemenis appear to have ended Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33 years of rule by participating in a referendum meant to transfer power to Vice President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi. Hadi now faces the difficult job of leading his country's transition over the next two years through to parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Syrian regime continued its bloody crackdown, including the killing and injuring of Syrian and foreign journalists. A UN report accused Syrian security forces of gross and systematic human rights violations. The International Committee of the Red Cross tried to negotiate a two-hour ceasefire to bring urgent humanitarian aid to civilians. Representatives from some 70 nations attended the "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis to discuss action against the Damascus government and possible assistance to the country's embattled population. Russia declined the invitation.

This week's recommended reads:

A freelance journalist living in Saudi Arabia offers a skeptical look at that country's attempts to deflect demands for social change.

Pundits and policymakers continue to debate the proper response to the crisis in Syria: see here, here, and here.

A New York Times correspondent in Khartoum explains how the 1964 October Revolution in Sudan presaged the current upheaval in the Middle East. A writer at The New Yorker profiles those who would resist Vladimir Putin's bid for re-election as Russia's president.

Finally, a commentator in Argentina, recalling his own country's financial trials a decade ago, urges Greeks to consider a novel solution: "Default Now!"

-- Chloé de Préneuf


Democracy Lab

Burma's workers push back

As I write this, about 2,000 Burmese workers in a town on the outskirts of Rangoon are continuing a strike at the Chinese-owned Tai Yi slipper factory. (The photo above shows a worker at a garment factory in Rangoon.)

"This could be the biggest labor strike since oil workers went on strike and marched in protest against the Burma Oil Company and British colonial rule in 1938," Phoe Phyu, a young lawyer who represents the workers, told me earlier this week. "More than 90 percent of the workers joined the strike."

The walkout started on Feb. 6, when the company refused to pay five days of wages that it had deducted for a holiday to mark the Chinese New Year, which is not officially recognized in Burma.

An industrial worker in Burma earns about $50 to 60 per month. All workers have to work overtime, and draw on hard-to-get performance bonuses to make around 60,000 to 70,000 kyat ($75 to $87.50) a month.

The workers from Tai Yi factory are now demanding a 100 percent hike in their hourly wages from 75 kyat (less than 10 cents) to 150 kyat ($0.18) and an increase in their monthly bonuses from 6,000 kyat ($7.50) to 8,000 kyat ($10). After a series of negotiations between the owner, government officials, and the workers' representatives, the company only agreed to raise the hourly wages by 25 kyat ($0.03). This incredibly low-wage situation for ordinary workers shows that poverty is deepening and inequality is widening in a country where you have to pay a minimum of $625 minimum for mobile phone service. The workers turned down the company's offer.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to get the workers to knuckle under through a variety of threats, including reducing the supply of water to the dormitory where they live. The Tai Yi case was submitted to the government's Trade Dispute Committee late last week for arbitration. But Phoe Phyu has few hopes for a positive outcome.

"As my past experiences have showed, the regime's Labor Ministry has not given any support to the workers," he told me. "The chance that the strikers will win a fair settlement is very slim."

Although there have been some labor protests in Burma's industrial towns over the past few years, the current strike is significant not just because it's the largest one to take place in the country for several decades, but also because it's taking place in the context of a new law introduced last year by the government. The law legalizes labor unions but stipulates that they have to have the approval of the official Labor Union Federation if they want to stage a strike. And since the government has not allowed any labor unions to register under the new law, the individual workers are technically not entitled to stage a strike.

"The law prohibits continuing a strike once the case has been submitted to the Trade Dispute Committee," female strike leader Moe Wai told me on the phone. "Even though the law does not protect us, we've vowed that we'll go on fighting for our basic rights."

So far the government has avoided using force against the workers, since it can't do so without contradicting the rhetoric of reform that it has been using to buff up its image at home and abroad. The workers are also receiving growing support from members of the general public, who have been providing them with water and food. The activists are using that support to push the limits of what is allowed by the powers-that-be. Political scientist Kevin O'Brien has dubbed this approach "rightful resistance," his name for action that "operates near the boundary of authorized channels." This is exactly what we are now seeing in Burma.

Rightful resistance also emboldens activists like Phoe Phyu, who has represented political prisoners, farmers, workers, and the poor in hundreds of legal cases. It helps him to leverage the reform rhetoric of the government for the sake of his causes.

Phoe Phyu, who has been detained three times for his advocacy work (including a year spent in prison starting in 2009), is feeling the wind in his sails. "Earlier, when I was a trouble-making lawyer, I didn't get much help," he says. "Now a growing number of my colleagues in the legal community are supporting me."

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images