The World Outside Westminster – Burma, Spain, Santorum and the Atlantic depths

Tom Rouse looks back at the week’s main stories from around the world, including the latest from Burma, Spain, Syria and the US Presidential elections.

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Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly won a seat in Burma’s parliament in the country’s landmark elections. If confirmed, it sets the stage for the Nobel laureate to hold public office for the first time.

Her National League for Democracy Party claimed she was ahead in 82 of her constituency’s 129 polling stations. However, doubts have been expressed that the elections are fully free and fair, with observers claiming they have not been given enough time to carry out a credible monitoring operation.

Aung herself last week said:

“I hope they will take into consideration the fact that the freeness and fairness of an election does not depend merely on the day of the polling itself but on what went before that day and I hope you will find out as much as possible about what’s been taking place over the last couple of months.”

With the Telegraph reporting:

Voters cast their votes in a calm and orderly atmosphere and party election agents were allowed to watch the proceedings. But observers noticed a number of apparent irregularities and questionable practices which they could not clarify.

Although ballot boxes were shielded with blue screens for privacy, they were sealed only with removable gaffer tape. Election officials said there were 1975 registered voters, but lists posted at the station showed only 1870. The polling station itself was in the private home of an unidentified donor.

They were also concerned that there was no system to identify those who had already voted to prevent multiple votes.


Also this week:

Nike’s exploitation of female workers – sacked for being pregnant, abused at work… Fiona Ranford, UK Feminista

The Lords anti-0.7% report is misguided, misleading and out of touch Sam Bacon, Global Poverty Project

Will primaries address the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’? Jon Worth

Merah killings raise tough questions for France about integration Sanchia Alasia



Spain has been hit by a general strike which has seen the country grind to a halt. The two largest unions called the strike to protest against measures being introduced by the Conservative government, which will make it easier to fire workers and reduce the severance pay they are entitled to.

Mariano Rajoy, the spanish prime minister, defended the action taken by his government to improve the economy and claimed austerity was necessary if the country was to recover.

Speaking on a visit to South Korea on Tuesday, he said:

“No government has passed as many reforms in its first 100 days in office as this one… The biggest mistake would be to do nothing.”


Arab League leaders met in Baghdad on Thursday to try and find a solution to the crisis engulfing Syria. The summit marked the first time in more than 20 years the group had met in the Iraqi capital.

The Syrian regime has already indicated it will not abide by any Arab League proposals and government security forces have continued to assault rebel strongholds. But the group’s increasingly hardline stance on Assad’s attacks on his own people will come as encouragement to western governments who would prefer the African nations to take the lead on the crisis.

In a statement, the leaders stopped short of calling on President Assad to step down.

Instead they called on the Syrian leader to:

“…denounce the violence, murder and bloodshed, and work in favour of a political solution via national dialogue.”

African refugee deaths

The tragic death of 63 African refugees who were left floating on a boat in the Meditteranean could result in prosecutions. The migrants, who were seeking refuge in Europe, were repeatedly ignored in what a Council of Europe report described as a catalogue of errors.

The report made clear a number of institutions, including NATO, were aware of the migrants’ plight, but did nothing to help them and instead left them adrift, slowly starving to death.

Judith Sunderland, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said:

“Many questions remain unanswered, and it’s high time NATO and its member states conduct serious inquiries into what led to these tragic deaths, and examine what more can be done to prevent further deaths at sea.”

US 2012

Defeat in Louisiana last weekend does not seem to have adversely affected Mitt Romney’s chances of securing the Republican nomination. Despite suffering a heavy defeat there, Romney has rallied to the extent he now leads by 8% in Wisconsin which holds its primary on Tuesday.

A victory in Wisconsin would demonstrate Romney is beginning to unite the party behind him, with the state having consistently favoured Rick Santorum in polls throughout February.

He will also draw encouragement from the weakening of Santorum’s support in his home state of Pennsylvania. Although the state is not due to vote for another month, if Romney is able to best Santorum in his home state, it will be a clear sign the race is over.

To cap-off his week, Romney secured the endorsement of former President George W Bush and influential GOP senator Marco Rubio. Widely tipped as a potential vice-president or candidate in 2016, Rubio’s popularity amongst Tea Party supporters will be invaluable to Romney as this is a group he has struggled to connect with.

Bush’s endorsement will be seen as having less influence, but is further proof of the backing he has amongst the Republican establishment.

Romney welcomed Rubio’s endorsement, saying:

“From humble origins, he has risen to become one of the brightest lights in our political party. He has been a leading voice in the US Senate and the country for the cause of restoring American greatness.”

More welcome news for Romney then, at the same time as another concerning moment from Santorum, as the Guardian’s Paul Harris reports:

Did Rick Santorum really just come within a few micro-seconds of calling America’s first ever black president a “n*****”?

Of course not, comes the rational response. Apart from the fact that it would instantly be a campaign-killing gaffe, it would be in direct opposition to the Santorum image we have seen now for months…

But about that video. What is going on there?

Santorum was speaking at a rally in Janesville, Wisconsin, still locked in the ferocious nomination battle with Mitt Romney and still desperate to become the true conservative standard-bearer of the Republican party.

“We know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like – the anti-war government nig…” he seems to say, then suddenly stopping, and changing tack to add: “America was a source for division around the world, that what we were doing was wrong.”

It is hard to think of exactly what word Santorum was about to use. What word beginning with “nig-“ comes naturally after government? It has been suggested he was trying to say “-nik”, as in peacenik or beatnik. That is possible. Or perhaps, it was some non-specific verbal tic: a random vowel-consonent flub.

The President himself, meanwhile, has had a relatively quiet week, but his inaction seems to have had a positive effect on his poll ratings. The latest Gallup data places his approvals at 48% and his disapprovals at 44% – the first time he has opened up such a lead this year.

He will also draw encouragement from the latest survey of economic confidence, which suggests more Americans now have faith in their economy than at any point since January 2008. With the economy likely to be the key battleground in November, any suggestion the US public are recognising it is improving will be welcome relief to President Obama.


Finally this week, an expedition to the depths of the Atlantic seabed has located engines which the discovery team claim were part of the Apollo 11 space mission. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire Amazon CEO announced the discovery on his blog and said he hoped it would inspire a future generation of space enthusiasts.

He wrote:

“NASA is one of the few institutions I know that can inspire five-year-olds. It sure inspired me, and with this endeavour [sic], maybe we can inspire a few more youth to invent and explore.”


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