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Study: Government Restrictions, Social Hostility Rise Against Religion.


Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion are on the rise around the world, a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life disclosed.

Social hostilities include “abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country,” according to Pew.

Social hostilities in a third of the 198 countries or territories surveyed were viewed as high or very high, with acts of religious violence rising everywhere in the world except the Americas, Pew noted in its study, which covered the six years from 2007 to 2012.

“We monitor this in two ways that religious freedom is restricted — actions of government and actions of individual groups of society,” the study’s lead author Brian Grim told Newsmax. “We’ve seen a steady climb overall. It’s a global phenomenon.

“There’s an association between social hostilities and government restrictions. As one goes up, the other goes up. And that may be part of what is going on,” said Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation in Annapolis, Md.

Among the Pew study’s key findings:
• The number of countries with religion-related terrorist violence has doubled over the past six years.

• Women were harassed because of religious dress in nearly a third of countries in 2012 (32 percent), up from 25 percent in 2011 and 7 percent in 2007.

• The Middle East and North Africa were the most common regions for sectarian violence, with half of all countries in the regions seeing conflicts in 2012.

• China, for the first time in the study, experienced a high level of social hostilities involving religion, with multiple types reported during 2012, including religion-related terrorism, harassment of women for religious dress, and mob violence.

• The number of countries with a very high level of religious hostilities increased from 14 in 2011 to 20 in 2012. Six countries — Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma) — had very high levels of religious hostilities in 2012 but not in 2011.

Raymond Ibrahim, a religious scholar and author who studies hostilities against Christians, said persecution of Christian minorities was rising across the Islamic world, as well as in North Korea and to a smaller extent in India and China.

Ibrahim said the U.S. culture’s embrace of tolerance makes it different from other places where religious traditions tend to discount other faiths as false.

“I think the historical position on religions is about truth. If I have the truth, you don’t. I don’t want your falsehoods to get out in the open. We in the West don’t appreciate this kind of logic and we take for granted the idea of religious tolerance,” Ibrahim said.

The difference between the United States and other countries around the world is that America has “many mechanisms to address religious freedom problems as they come up,” Grim noted, citing the Department of Justice’s special branch dedicated to reviewing discriminatory issues related to religious dress as well as land use problems involving churches and mosques.

In current hot zones of violence, like the Central African Republic and Nigeria, and across sub-Saharan Africa, “there’s a real trend toward major fighting and religious violence along this Christian-Muslim line,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

In Nigeria, “you have a largely Muslim north and a largely Christian south and extremist groups stoking tensions between the two and carrying out acts of violence,” Rassbach told Newsmax.

“I think what happens is those conflicts aren’t just limited to their own countries. What you are seeing is they end up resulting in inter-religious disagreements in other countries,” Rassbach said.

Ethnic and economic conflicts are also tied up in regional disputes, and those add to the mix of religious differences, he said.

“In other parts of the world, it tends to be government-driven, especially in more authoritarian governments. You tend to see a crackdown, so to speak,” noting the crackdown on Christian house churches in China.

In Pakistan, “the government doesn’t officially target religious groups, but the way it runs itself, it ends up essentially green-lighting inter-religious violence by individuals who can often act with impunity,” Rassbach said.

In the Middle East, “the Arab Spring has intensified a lot of previously quieter disputes,” many of which have spilled over to other countries within the region as governments have been destabilized. “I think, anecdotally, you can tell that the violence and resentment is going up. But I think it’s for different reasons in different places,” he said.

There also has been some hostility toward religion in the United States, Rassbach added. “I think a lot of it has been stoked by the government,” including “issues like the contraceptive mandate that we are litigating.”

“It used to be that everybody agreed that religious liberty was a good thing. Now you are starting to see people here opposed to religious liberty.

“I think it’s because of the politicization,” he said. “Some political actors have seen it as useful to pick fights with religious groups. That ends up stoking religious tensions.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Andrea Billups

Cyclone Batters Bangladesh; 1 Million Flee.


COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — The outer bands of Cyclone Mahasen struck the southern coast of Bangladesh on Thursday, lashing remote fishing villages with heavy rain and fierce winds that flattened mud and straw huts and forced the evacuation of more than 1 million people.

The eye of the storm was expected to reach land Thursday evening, but at least 18 deaths related to Mahasen already have been reported in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The storm was on course for Bangladesh, Myanmar, and northeast India, bringing life-threatening conditions to an area with a total population of 8.2 million, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Danger was particularly high for tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people living in plastic-roofed tents and huts made of reeds in dozens of refugee camps along Myanmar’s western coast.

Driven from their homes by violence, members of the Muslim minority group refused to evacuate, distrusting an order from officials in a majority-Buddhist country where Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination.

Early Thursday, the cyclone battered the southern Bangladesh fishing village of Khepurpara along the Bay of Bengal with 100 kph (62 mph) winds and was heading east toward the city of Chittagong and the seafront resort town of Cox’s Bazar.

River ferries and boat service were suspended, and scores of factories near the choppy Bay of Bengal were closed. The military said it was keeping 22 navy ships and 19 Air Force helicopters at the ready.

Tens of thousands of people fled their shanty homes along the coast and packed into cyclone shelters, schools, government office buildings and some of the 300 hotels in Cox’s Bazar to wait out the storm. Some brought their livestock, which took shelter outside.

“We have seen such a disaster before,” said Mohammad Abu Taleb, who shut down his convenience shop in the city of 200,000. “It’s better to stay home. I’m not taking any chance.”

A 1991 cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008, Myanmar’s southern delta was devastated Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people.

Both those cyclones were much more powerful than Cyclone Mahasen, which is rated Category 1 — the weakest level. It could hit land with maximum wind speeds of about 120 kph (75 mph), said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Heavy rain and storm surge could prove deadlier than the wind. Bangladesh’s meteorological office said the cyclone was moving so slowly it may take a whole day for it to pass the Bangladesh coast.

In Cox’s Bazar, local government administrator Ruhul Amin turned his own three-story office building into a shelter for about 400 people as intermittent rains and gusty winds hit.

Huddling with the crowd, evacuee Mohammad Tayebullah said, “Each time there is a cyclone warning we come to the town for shelter. This has become part of our life.”

The Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management said more than 1 million people had been evacuated from coastal areas. Television stations reported the deaths of two men, one of whom was crushed by a tree uprooted by the wind.

India’s Meteorological Department forecast damage to the northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, and Nagaland, and advised fishermen off the west coast of the country to be cautious for the next 36 hours.

Related heavy rains and flooding in Sri Lanka were blamed for eight deaths earlier this week. At least eight people — and possibly many more — were killed in Myanmar as they fled the cyclone Monday night, when overcrowded boats carrying more than 100 Rohingya capsized. Only 43 people had been rescued by Thursday, and more than 50 Rohingya were still missing.

Much attention was focused on western Myanmar because of fears over the fate of the crowded, low-lying Rohingya camps.

In Rakhine state, around 140,000 people — mostly Rohingya — have been living in the camps since last year, when two outbreaks of sectarian violence between the Muslim minority and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists forced many Rohingya from their homes.

Nearly half the displaced live in coastal areas considered highly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from Cyclone Mahasen.

“Pack and leave,” a Rakhine state official, U Hla Maung, warned as he walked through a camp near Sittwe, the state capital. Accompanied by more than a dozen soldiers and riot police, he suggested that people living there move to a nearby railroad embankment, then left without offering help.

Distrust of authorities led many Rohingya to stay where they were Thursday morning.

“We have no safe place to move, so we’re staying here, whether the storm comes or not,” said Ko Hla Maung, an unemployed fisherman. “The soldiers want to take us to a village closer to the sea, and we’re not going to do that.. . . . If the storm is coming, then that village will be destroyed.”

Even as rain and wind from the edges of Cyclone Mahasen began to pelt the coast near Sittwe, most people camped there appeared to be staying put. Some, however, were taking down their tents and hauling their belongings away in cycle-rickshaws, or carrying them in bags balanced on their heads.

“Now we’re afraid. . . . We decided to move early this morning,” said U Kwaw Swe, a 62-year-old father of seven who was hoping the government would transport his family. Otherwise they intended to walk to safety.

Myanmar’s President’s Office Minister Aung Min told reporters Wednesday that the government guarantees the safety of the Rohingyas during relocation and promises to return them to their current settlement when the storm has passed.

The Rohingya trace their ancestry to what is now Bangladesh, but many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Officially, though, they are dismissed as illegal immigrants. They face widespread discrimination in largely Buddhist Myanmar, and particularly in Rakhine, where many of the Rohingya live.

Tensions remain high in Rakhine nearly a year after sectarian unrest tore through the region and left parts of Sittwe, the state capital, burned to the ground. At least 192 people were killed.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Myanmar president calls for religious harmony.


Thein Sein is leading a transition towards democracy but Myanmar remains plagued by conflict [AFP]
Myanmar’s president says his country needs to learn from the violence and instability that has wracked the country over the last two years if it is to overcome the challenge of democratising the nation.

Thein Sein says nation can learn from recent tension between religious and ethnic groups as citizens celebrate New Year.

Thein Sein spoke on Sunday to mark the start a day earlier of a traditional New Year holiday that is celebrated across Southeast Asia with friendly water fights.

“Our society has overcome many difficulties and challenges together so we can emerge as a society in which multiple races and religions coexist harmoniously, while still preserving our own customs and traditions,” he said in a televised speech.

Sein, a former general, took office two years ago after Myanmar’s long ruling junta stepped down.

He has led a transition towards democratic rule since then, but the country has been plagued by a war with ethnic Kachin rebels in the north, sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, and anti-Muslim clashes in central Myanmar last month.

Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.

March memories

The riots in March left 43 people dead, thousands displaced and saw homes and mosques destroyed.

Three people including a gold shop owner were last jailed for 14 years in connection with the riots that began in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar on March 20.

Radical monks have been linked to the subsequent unrest, which observers said appeared to be well organised.

Rights groups have accused security forces of standing by while the attacks took place.

Myanmar’s efforts at democratisation had been hampered by “black spots such as disunity, conflict and instability,” Sein said.

Political changes should be targetted with “patience, tolerance and persistence”, he urged citizens.

The situation has calmed since Thein Sein on March 28 vowed a tough response against those behind the violence.

Myanmar’s New Year, known as the Thingyan, is a hugely popular mass celebration in which people throw water at each other to symbolise the washing away of the previous year’s bad deeds.

Festivities, increasingly raucous as the country opens to the world, have been marred by bloodshed in the past, with a series of blasts in 2010 that left 10 people dead and about 170 wounded.

Source: ALJAZEERA
Agencies

Australia eases defence curbs as Myanmar leader visits.


Australia boosted aid and eased restrictions on defence cooperation with Myanmar as Thein Sein became the southeast Asian country’s first head of state to visit Canberra since 1974.

As the once pariah country approaches the second anniversary of a quasi-civilian regime led by ex-general Thein taking power, Canberra said it was increasing its support to recognise reforms.

“As a close neighbour, Australia will benefit from a more open and prosperous Myanmar that is fully integrated into the region,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the country formerly known as Burma.

“Australia’s commitment to expand its constructive engagement with Myanmar recognises the unprecedented process of change under way there towards political freedom and the new opportunity this brings to help promote the prosperity of Myanmar and its people.

“It also recognises President Thein Sein’s leadership in driving these critical reforms.”

While Canberra said its arms embargo would remain, it announced an easing of restrictions on defence cooperation including humanitarian and disaster relief activities, as well as peacekeeping.

It will also appoint a defence attache to Myanmar as well as a trade commissioner.

Gillard said Aus$20 million (US$20.7 million) would be provided over two years for “strengthening democratic institutions, promoting human rights, improving economic governance and advancing the rule of law”.

Thein Sein said he was proud to be the first head of state to visit since 1974.

“My visit to Australia is one that I have looked forward to for a very long time,” he said.

“This is because I know that Australia and Myanmar are destined to be good partners and more importantly the people of Myanmar and Australia are destined to be good friends.

“I hope that you appreciate that what we are undertaking has no equal in modern times. This is not just a simple transition… but a transition from military rule to democratic rule,” he added.

Myanmar has surprised observers with a series of reforms following the end of nearly half a century of military rule in 2011, leading Western nations to start rolling back sanctions.

Australia last year lifted all its remaining targeted travel and financial sanctions against the country.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

AFPBy AFP | AFP

Suu Kyi meets more anger over Myanmar mine.


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MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — With rare hostility, villagers sharply criticized opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday as she traveled in northwestern Myanmar to explain why she supports a mining project opposed by many local residents.

Suu Kyi failed to persuade the villagers to accept the findings of an official panel she headed that the Letpadaung copper mine should be allowed to continue operating to encourage foreign investors to help the lagging economy.

At one point, residents barricaded their village in Monywa township with thorny brush and only allowed Suu Kyi to enter after she had shed some of her police escort and accompanying journalists.

The unwelcome reception was virtually unprecedented for the much-honored heroine of the country’s pro-democracy movement. In the past, mobs organized by the military had tried to intimidate her, but most of her countrymen regarded her practically as a saint.

Suu Kyi’s responsibilities have become more complicated now that her National League for Democracy party is no longer an embattled David fighting the Goliath of a military government, and instead is a competitor in the electoral politics of a fledgling democracy.

Last weekend, her party began a restructuring process for a 2015 general election in which Suu Kyi will face opposition from the army-backed party of President Thein Sein on one flank, and from hard-core anti-military activists on the other.

One of Suu Kyi’s closest lieutenants, veteran journalist Win Tin, said she should heed the feelings ofMonywa’s residents, and that her failure to do so spurred anger and opposition.

Suu Kyi “may have her own good intentions, but she has failed to listen to the sentiments of the villagers,” said Win Tin, 86, a co-founder of her party who like Suu Kyi was detained for years for his political work. “Money cannot always appease the people, because sometimes it is their pride and love for their hometown that will prevail over money.”

The villagers in the Monywa area would once have been Suu Kyi’s natural constituency — downtrodden farming people tired of oppressive military rule that failed to deliver prosperity. And not all the villagers were disenchanted Thursday. After a day of confrontations, as she arrived at the Monywa hotel where she was staying, a crowd of about 100 people greeted her with flowers, shouting, “We support you.”

But the day — the second of her tour — had been a rough one for her.

Suu Kyi’s panel concluded that honoring the mine contract was necessary, both to keep good relations with China because of the mine’s Chinese joint venture partner, and to maintain the confidence of foreign investors whose help is needed to power economic growth.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997 million deal, signed in May 2010, lacked transparency because it did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny under the previous military regime. They say the mine causes social and environmental problems and desecrates their mountain landscape.

Suu Kyi failed to change the minds of many villagers, who were also upset that her commission made little criticism of police who broke up an anti-mine protest in November using smoke bombs containing white phosphorous that severely burned scores of protesters, mostly Buddhist monks.

In its report made public Tuesday, the commission faulted police for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that they receive riot-control training, but failed to hold any officials accountable.

At Hsede village, a hotbed of opposition to the mine where villagers set up barricades of thorny brush, Suu Kyi spent more than an hour talking with angry protesters but failed to win them over.

Many villagers ran after her motorcade as it left, shouting, “Stop the project.”

She encountered more anger at Tone village, where hundreds of furious residents shouted, “We want our Letpadaung mountain.” In tears, women blamed Suu Kyi for the recommendation to continue the project and expressed regret for supporting her, saying they had harbored high hopes that her commission would call for the mine’s closure.

Suu Kyi tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd by explaining the potential benefits.

“Whether she can upgrade our living standard or not, we want our mountain. Even if they give many jobs to us, we don’t want to be the servants of the Chinese,” said Nyo Lay, referring to the mine’s operators. “They took our land and will earn a lot. It’s hurtful that the money they give to us is from what they get from our own land.”

She said she lost her 10-acre (4-hectare) plot to the project, and now is a farm worker, earning less than a dollar a day.

Before leaving Monywa, Suu Kyi reflected on the villagers’ reaction, saying it was not a matter of whether they made her feel bad.

“They want me to do what they want. I simply said no,” she told reporters. “Anyone engaged in politics should have the courage to face animosity. It is not right to engage in politics to win popularity.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By YADANA HTUN | Associated Press

Myanmar villagers unhappy that Suu Kyi backs mine.


  • Protesting villagers march and shout slogans as they stage a rally against a recent report on Letpataung copper mine project by investigation commission, in Monywa township, 760 kilometers (450 miles) north of Yangon, central Myanmar, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Opponents of a nearly $1 billion copper mine in northwestern Myanmar expressed outrage Tuesday over the government-ordered report that said the project should continue and that refrained from demanding punishment for police involved in a violent crackdown on protesters. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

    View PhotoAssociated Press/Khin Maung Win – Protesting villagers march and shout slogans as they stage a rally against a recent report on Letpataung copper mine project by investigation commission, in Monywa township, …more 

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MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyimet with rare public scorn while trying to justify an official report endorsing continued operation of a copper mine in northwestern Myanmar opposed by many local residents.

Suu Kyi talked with protesters in Monywa township and with mine officials Wednesday about the report of a commission she led to investigate the Letpadaung mine’s operations and a police crackdown last November that badly injured scores of protesters.

The report, made public Tuesday, said honoring the mining contract with a Chinese joint venture outweighed villagers’ demands that mining operations be halted because of alleged social and environmental problems. It only mildly criticized police, despite the injuries caused to protesters, mostly Buddhist monks, by the use of incendiary smoke bombs.

More than 700 protesters shouted denunciations of the report as Suu Kyi’s motorcade passed between visits to four local villages.

Raising their fists in the air, protesters yelled, “We don’t want the commission” and “To stop the Letpadaung copper project is our duty,” shouting louder as Suu Kyi’s car came closer.

Sandar, a protester from Alaltaw village, said the report neglected the troubles the mine caused local residents.

“We feel that Mother Suu doesn’t have sympathy for us. We are fighting for the truth,” she said, calling Suu Kyi by a term used by her supporters.

“We are not clear whether she made this decision because she is afraid of the military company or because she doesn’t love us. We want her to know that we are not protesting out of idleness,” she said. Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd., a military-controlled holding company, is the local joint ventureparty in the mine.

Suu Kyi’s endorsement of the commission’s findings could erode some of the deep and wide support she has enjoyed for more than two decades as she spearheaded the democratic opposition to the repressive former military government. A nominally civilian elected government took power in 2011, and Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party contested by-elections last year, giving her a seat in parliament.

As her party has agreed to play by parliamentary rules — in effect endorsing the army-backed government’s reform efforts — there is an opening for more hard-core anti-military activists to win over a share of disaffected voters who prefer a quicker pace of change than allowed under the army-dictated constitution. The next general election is in 2015.

Protesters say the mine, a joint venture with China’s Wan Bao mining company, causes environmental, social and health problems and should be shut down.

The report said the operation should not be halted but acknowledged that the mine lacked strong environmental protection measures and would not create more jobs for local people. It said scrapping the mine could create tension with China and could discourage badly needed foreign investment.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997 million joint venture deal, signed in May 2010, did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it was concluded under the previous military regime.

Many in Myanmar remain suspicious of the military and regard China as an aggressive and exploitative investor that helped support military rule.

The commission faulted the police force for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that police receive riot-control training, but failed to hold any official accountable.

Suu Kyi held question-and-answer sessions with villagers and met with executives from the mining company.

She told villagers that if they wanted to protest the report’s findings, they should demonstrate at her home, not at the mining company. Emphasizing the rule of law, she said any such protest must follow the law requiring prior permission, otherwise police would be summoned.

She said her commission considered three options for the mine: to continue, to stop or to continue with changes. The commission recommended the third way.

“If we stopped it completely, where would we get money to heal the current environmental destruction? The shutdown of the mine is not beneficial for locals. If we break the agreement made with another country, the countries of the world will suppose that Myanmar is financially unreliable,” Suu Kyi said.

Several villagers said they rejected Suu Kyi’s position. At a protest camp a short distance from the mining company’s offices, Nyein, 49, said demonstrators would fight until death to recover mountain land taken over for the mine. She was forced to relinquish her four-acre plot three years ago to make way for the project.

“What we want is to stop the project completely,” she said. “Our great forefathers could protect the mountains that sustained us even when we fell under the rule of the Japanese and the British. Why are they being totally lost when we are ruling our own land?”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By YADANA HTUN | Associated Press

Suu Kyi selected to remain Myanmar opposition head.


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  • Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the second day session of first ever congress of her National League for Democracy party at Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Suu Kyi has been elected head of the new executive board of Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy, as the party has a makeover to adjust itself to the country's new democratic framework. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)View PhotoMyanmar’s opposition leader Aung …
  • Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the second day session of first ever congress of her National League for Democracy party at Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Suu Kyi has been elected head of the new executive board of Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy, as the party has a makeover to adjust itself to the country's new democratic framework. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)View PhotoMyanmar’s opposition leader Aung …

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi was selected Sunday to continue as head of Myanmar’s main opposition party, keeping her leadership post even as the party undergoes a makeover to adjust to the country’s new democratic framework.

The Nobel laureate was named chairwoman of the National League for Democracy’s new executive board on the final day of a landmark three-day party congress attended by 894 delegates from around the country.

The congress also expanded the group’s Central Executive Committee from seven members to 15, in a revitalization and reform effort ahead of Myanmar’s 2015 general election. The party is seeking to infuse its ranks with new faces, expertise and diversity without sidelining long-standing members.

“We have to see how effectively and efficiently the new leaders can perform their duties,” said Suu Kyi, who has led the NLD since its inception in 1988. “We hope they will learn through experience.”

Suu Kyi’s selection had been assured, since she is the party’s main drawing card. But her dominant influence has also drawn criticism that the party may be too reliant on her charisma.

Asked about allegations by critics that her party leans toward an authoritarian structure, she said Sunday that “all our leaders have been elected democratically. So if they feel that they do not like authoritarian leadership, they should not vote for those whom they think are authoritarian.”

Suu Kyi conceded that there has been some friction in the party’s current transformation process, with complaints surfacing about lack of transparency and fairness in the election of local leaders in the run-up to the congress. Four party members who had been elected to attend the congress were suspended just two days before it opened Friday over allegations of illegal lobbying.

Suu Kyi is the sole holdover from the party’s original executive board when it was founded, but the other new members are also mostly long-serving party loyalists, disappointing some who were looking for new blood. A broader Central Committee of 120 members was elected by the delegates and endorsed the executive board, which was given five reserve members.

The party, which came into being as the army was crushing a mass pro-democracy uprising in 1988, won a 1990 general election that was nullified by the then-ruling military. The NLD boycotted a 2010 general election, but after a military-backed elected government took office in 2011 and instituted democratic reforms, it contested by-elections in 2012, winning 43 of 44 seats and putting Suu Kyi into parliament.

Emerging from repression that limited its actions — not least because Suu Kyi and other senior NLD members spent years under detention — Suu Kyi vowed in her opening speech Saturday to inject the party with “new blood” and decentralize decision-making.

She said the NLD would go through an experimental stage with the new leadership and should anticipate some obstacles but “not be discouraged.”

Although the 2012 by-election results showed that the NLD still has broad and deep appeal, the party faces challenges.

The army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party of President Thein Sein, besides being well-financed and enjoying the benefits of controlling the bureaucracy, has staked out a position as reformist.

It can boast of freeing the press, releasing most of the country’s political prisoners and convincing foreign nations to lift most economic sanctions they had imposed against the former military regime for its poor human rights record. It hopes that opening up Myanmar, also known as Burma, to foreign investment will kick-start a moribund economy and win it popular appeal.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the NLD’s agreement to play by parliamentary rules — in effect endorsing Thein Sein’s reform efforts — leaves an opening for more hard-core anti-military activists to win over a share of disaffected voters who prefer a quicker pace of change than now allowed under the army-dictated constitution.

Speaking to the party meeting after her selection as chairwoman on Sunday, Suu Kyi said that in choosing executive board members there was an effort to include women, members of ethnic minorities and younger people, in addition to members with a record of continuous party service. Four women and several ethnic minority members are on the new board.

Suu Kyi acknowledged to reporters that younger members were underrepresented on the Central Executive Committee compared to the bigger Central Committee.

“We need experienced members who know the policies, tradition and history of the party and who had been in the party for the last 25 years,” said Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest. “After some time, the younger generation will take over their place. There should be connectivity between the past, present and future.”

Suu Kyi’s colleagues expressed satisfaction with the meeting’s results.

“The new CEC and Central Committee members will enjoy the trust of the majority because we are elected democratically. I believe we will be able to carry out our work more effectively,” May Win Myint, a veteran NLD member jailed many times for her activities, said after being elected to the executive board.

Kyi Phyu Shin, a well-known film director who became an NLD member six months ago and was elected to the Central Committee, said she was “very confident that the NLD will become a tight organization, very active and competitive. The congress helps institute better democratic practices in the NLD.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By AYE AYE WIN | Associated Press

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