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Myanmar's nationwide protests start on the third day

Here is today's foreign policy mandate: Myanmar Protests occur on the third day United States and Iran do not agree to the easing of sanctions, SomaliaThe election is delayed and EcuadorThe presidential elections are close to a runoff.

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The protests in Myanmar continue

After a weekend that saw tens of thousands march in the country's largest demonstrations since 2007, nationwide protests in Myanmar resume today for the third year in a row.

Back then, the military finally cracked down on protesters, killing at least 31. While the protests continued on Monday, authorities have so far only used water cannons to disperse the crowd.

The rise in public outcry over last week's military coup, when much of the country's democratic political leadership was arrested in pre-dawn raids, had been building up for days. Last Wednesday, medical workers across the country went on strike, sparking a campaign against civil disobedience that has spread to other professions.

Protest leaders called a general strike today – and nurses, teachers and officials have reportedly joined the protests.

International support. Tom Andrews, the United States Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, urged the military to "step down now" and had a message for the protesters: "We are with you." EU foreign policy leader Josep Borrell reiterated these comments and reiterated the EU's demands for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of democracy.

US action? As Stephen M. Walt argued in Foreign Policy last week, "Realistically, there is little that America can do to change the course of events in Myanmar and almost everyone understands it." The best that the United States can do, writes Walt, is to convince the military junta to avoid violent crackdown on demonstrators – so that those in power do not need Western friends to protect themselves against a regionally dominant China.

On Tuesday February 9thThe second impeachment process against former President Donald Trump in the Senate is to begin. After a pro-Trump mob attacked the US Capitol on January 6, he was charged with "inciting violence" against the United States government.

On Wednesday February 10thThe European Parliament is debating the bloc's vaccination strategy with the embattled President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

On Thursday February 11thIranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to address the nation at the end of the ten-day dawn celebrations marking Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Tehran in 1979.

On Friday February 12thMyanmar is hosting what is likely to be a tense Union Day, marking the anniversary of the country's symbolic unification before achieving full independence.

On Sunday February 14thCatalonia holds elections for its 135-member regional parliament.

What we are following today

You first. The United States and Iran have wavered over the terms of the US return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would only return to compliance with the deal if US sanctions were lifted, while US President Joe Biden said the opposite: keep current sanctions and lift them first when Iran returns attention.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke to CNN about Tehran's position on Sunday. “It is up to the United States to get back to the deal in order to honor its commitments. Iran never left the deal, ”said Zarif.

Somalia's leadership crisis. An election in Somalia, due to take place today, has been postponed. The proposed indirect vote would have enabled the legislators elected by the clan elders to elect a new president. A group representing Somalia's opposition leaders said late Sunday that they would not recognize Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president of the country after his current term was up and would oppose any attempt to grant an extension. The country is in a constitutional crisis as the central government and semi-autonomous regions face the conditions for the election of a new leadership.

The plan for lawmakers to choose a new president fell apart on Saturday when regional authorities in Puntland and Jubaland opposed the move. The group of opposition leaders has called for the formation of a transitional council to oversee the planning of new elections.

Choice of Ecuador. The presidential elections in Ecuador are expected to go into a second round after the first returnees showed a divided electorate. Leftist Andrés Arauz tops the count with 31.5 percent of the vote, while his closest challengers Guillermo Lasso and Yaku Pérez each received around 20 percent. With the gap between them so close, it is not yet clear whether Lasso or Pérez will face Arauz in the April 11 runoff election.

Disaster in India. At least 14 people were killed and another 200 are missing in the Indian state of Uttarakhand after part of a glacier collapsed and a flood of water and debris was diverted to two hydroelectric plants. The Indian authorities have assembled a team of 200 to continue the search for survivors.

Shultz dead at 100. George Shultz, one of the longest serving US Secretary of State, died Saturday at the age of 100. Michael Hirsh of Foreign Policy wrote the obituary for a major player in the history of the Cold War in the United States.

Brexit growing pains. According to a trade group representing British truckers, exports from the UK to the European Union fell 68 percent in January. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) attributed the decline to trade disruptions due to the end of the Brexit transition period, despite the UK government calling boundary friction "minimal". The news comes as representatives of the EU and the UK meet this week to discuss extending the post-Brexit grace period for trade in certain goods.

Italy's new government. After the chairman of the Italian Five Star Movement, Vito Crimi, initially ruled out the prospect, he said the party was "open" to forming a government with the former President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, on the assumption that the future government adopts certain left-wing priorities. Support for the Five Star Movement, Italy's largest party in parliament, means Draghi will now have the support of all of Italy's major parties as he attempts to form a government this week.

Coronavirus variants. The launch of the coronavirus vaccine, manufactured by AstraZeneca, in South Africa has suffered a blow after a study found the bite provided "minimal protection" against the new variant of the virus currently prevalent in the country. South Africa had received 1 million doses of the vaccine and had planned to start vaccinations this week. The variant, officially known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, currently accounts for 90 percent of new cases in South Africa.

The French labor ministry says it will soon relax a ban on workers having lunch at their desks to enforce social distancing regulations.

French labor laws currently prohibit employees from eating “al desko” and companies are fined for inspectors catching them breaking the law. The country's strict labor laws include a 2017 law that allows workers to ignore email outside of normal working hours.

"We French and you Americans have completely different ideas about work," Agnès Dutin, a retired Parisian, told the New York Times. "Eating at your desk is a disaster. You need a break to refresh your mind. It is good to move your body. When you come back, you will see things differently."

That's it for today.

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Photo credit: Stringer / AFP

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