DDMA Headline Animator

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ukraine's rebel center in limbo as fighting dies down

November 05, 2015

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — The fighting has subsided, but Donetsk is quickly sinking into the past — a shabby Soviet-like state of empty streets and deprivation. Huge portraits of Josef Stalin hanging in the city center only reinforce the impression of failure.

The wounds are raw in the capital of eastern Ukraine's pro-Russia insurgency and its prognosis not encouraging, even without the artillery barrages that terrified the city during the height of fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces.

Only three years ago, Donetsk was proud of the glitter it showed to spectators at the European soccer championships. There was a brand-new international airport, luxury boutiques and expensive restaurants. Now, the airport is a grotesque ruin, destroyed in one of the longest, most grisly sieges of the war. The shops and eateries are mostly closed — and even if someone were feeling flush, there are no working ATMs to feed them cash.

"It's been a terrible dream; life was turned upside-down in a couple of years," said 34-year-old resident Sergei Debenko, who lost his rebel fighter brother in the war. Donetsk's people today live in limbo. Effectively, they're no longer part of Ukraine, but Moscow has refused the rebels' pleas to be incorporated into Russia. Ukraine clamped down on the rebel-held parts of the Donetsk region and the neighboring separatist Luhansk region with a choking economic blockade; pensions and social benefits were cut off and business contacts frozen. Humanitarian convoys from Russia bring in food and medicine, and international groups also scramble to supply the region's people with medicine.

Russia is also paying pensions and benefits, and salaries are paid in rubles rather than the Ukrainian hryvna. But salaries and benefits are often months in arrears and tiny when they finally come. Vadim Medchenko, an unemployed Donetsk resident, said he, his wife and infant child survive on 1,500 rubles ($25) a month in child-support payments.

Along with the economic blockade imposed by Kiev, there are also laborious transit regulations for Donetsk residents who want to travel to government-held territory to scrape together a better life. Painfully long and slow lines form at border crossings. Some people stand for two days or more at checkpoints, before they can cross into an area where the food is up to three times cheaper than in Donetsk.

For the officials of the Donetsk People's Republic, as the rebels call themselves, it is a tenuous existence. "We have no annual budget. We form a budget for a month," Ekaterina Matyushchenko, the finance minister, told The Associated Press.

Many Donetsk residents say there's only one way out — to become part of Russia. "We don't have a road to return to Ukraine. We are too different," said high-school teacher Alla Andrievska, who earns 3,000 rubles a month, when she's paid at all. Her history classes fortify that belief, using Russian textbooks that echo Moscow's contention that the 2014 protests that drove out the Russia-friendly president and precipitated the fighting in the east were a "putsch."

Marchenko, the unemployed man, also sees joining Russia as inevitable. "We are part of the Russian world," he said. But Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose economy took a severe blow from Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, is showing no sign absorption could happen. And the Ukraine crisis, which once topped Russian newscasts, now takes a back seat to Russia's airstrikes in Syria.

Many analysts think Putin has a different end-game in sight. "The Kremlin wants the (rebels) to get maximally wide representation in Ukrainian structures, and then to use them to make a constant dig at Kiev," said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta analytical center. "De-jure it will be Ukraine and de-facto it will be Russia: a frozen conflict."

In spirit, it is already Russia. There's little left of the Ukrainian past in Donetsk, aside from an outlet of the well-known Lviv Chocolate Studio, and here it doesn't sell one of its most famous products: comical chocolate figures of Putin.

Tiny Slovenia struggles with massive migrant surge

November 12, 2015

RIGONCE, Slovenia (AP) — Stanko Kovac felt only sympathy for the thousands of migrants who flow chest-deep across freezing rivers to reach Slovenia from Croatia, trudging day and night by his house right at the border. That is, until they started trampling his crops and scaring his cattle and chicken.

"They are poor people forced to flee violence, it is a tragedy," Kovac said by a barn in his sleepy hillside village. "But we can no longer stand the sight. Slovenia is choking under the surge." The Slovenian farmer's message reflects the general mood in the tiny Alpine state of just over 2 million people, confronted with Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II. The largely Catholic nation fears it could be overwhelmed by mostly Muslim refugees if neighboring Austria and Germany further west decide to stop the massive flow from the Balkans.

With the European Union estimating that 3 million more migrants will arrive in Europe over the next year, the patience of Slovenians, traditionally known for tolerance, is wearing thin. Their government announced Tuesday that a fence will be put up to control the flow, although not completely to stop it.

Although Slovenia insists it is not shutting down its borders for migrants — like neighboring Hungary did this summer — the curbing of the surge that has seen some 170,000 enter Slovenia since mid-October is bound to trigger a ripple effect down the so-called Balkan migrant corridor that also includes Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia.

With winter approaching, no country along the route wants to be stuck with tens of thousands of restless migrants on its territory. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that if the EU does not find a solution for the migrant crisis soon — by which he means stopping people from entering Greece from Turkey — Slovenia's borders "will have to be defended with wires, policemen and soldiers."

"It is easy to say that the repression is not a solution, but what is to be done when they enter your house one after another?" he said. "No European country will allow such a situation. There are some limits."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under increased domestic pressure to reconsider her welcoming policy for migrants and reduce the arrivals. Germany, which is expected to take up to 1.5 million people by the new year, has already tightened its refugee policy by saying that Afghans should not seek asylum and that only Syrians have a chance.

With both Germany and Austria reconsidering their free-flow policies, the worst-case scenario of tens of thousands of migrants, many with young children, stranded in the Balkans in a brutal winter looks more and more likely.

"If Austria or Germany shut their borders, more than 100,000 migrants would be stuck in Slovenia in few weeks," Cerar said. "We can't allow the humanitarian catastrophe to happen on our territory." But analysts warn that shutting down borders would only trigger more havoc in the Balkans, the main European escape route from war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"The closure of the borders in not a solution, it only passes the problem to another country," said Charlie Wood, an American humanitarian worker looking to help migrants in their journey across Slovenia. "If Slovenia closes its border, Croatia will close its border and then Serbia will do the same ... and so on. That does not stop babies from dying in cold."

Slovenian refugee camps once planned to handle a few hundred people a day. Now they struggle to provide shelter and food for an average of 6,000 a day. The Slovenian government has warned that the figure could soon reach 30,000 a day as the onset of cold weather has not stopped the surge.

Last week, thousands of people crammed into a refugee camp at Sentilj on the border with Austria, many angry about the speed of their transit and hurling insults at machine-gun-toting Slovenian policemen patrolling outside a wire fence with sanitary masks over their faces.

"We haven't eaten or had water for over 12 hours," said Fahim Nusri from Syria, who had to spend a night in the camp in cold and foggy weather together with his wife and two small children before they were allowed into Austria. "Me and my wife are not a problem, but what about our children?"

When Hungary closed its border with Croatia in mid-October, thousands turned to Slovenia instead, many of them marching through cold rivers, desperate to continue their journey westward before the weather gets even colder.

All of them went past Kovac's village house, leaving piles of garbage and pieces of clothing on the field next to it. "We had to call the army to disinfect the street and our houses," the villager said. "They are desperate people, but enough is enough."

Croatia and Slovenia later negotiated a deal to transport migrants and refugees across their border in trains, which led to a more orderly transit. But, with Slovenia now placing barriers, the chaotic surge could resume.

"If someone thinks that border fences will stop our march, they are really wrong," said Mohammed Sharif, a student from Damascus, as he tried to keep warm by a bonfire in the Sentilj camp. "It will just make our trip more dangerous and deadly, but we have nowhere to return. Our country and our homes are destroyed and we are in Europe to stay."

Mood for change: Demonstrators demand clean Romania

November 08, 2015

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — A nightclub fire in Bucharest that killed at least 45 people became the tipping point for many Romanians who have long been frustrated with corruption among leaders. But as the government resigned amid street protests this week, many remained skeptical that the leaderless street movement will succeed in doing away with the old order.

The large protests followed the Oct. 30 nightclub fire, which many Romanians blame on a weak enforcement of regulations and corruption. They continued even after Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned on Wednesday, underlining deep social dissatisfaction with an often corrupt political order that has ruled the country since the transition from communist dictatorship to democracy a quarter century ago.

Political analyst Cristian Parvulescu said the nightclub fire proved to be "the last straw" because of a widespread feeling "that any of us could have been there." "People feel the need for change, for new faces. We have had the same faces for 25 years and this has led to this revolt as there is a real lack of competition," said Parvulescu, who is the dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest.

Hard-charging anti-corruption prosecutors led by Laura Codruta Kovesi have stepped up an anti-corruption drive in the past couple of years securing a record 1,051 convictions in 2014, up from 743 the year before with even more are expected this year. Among those convicted since January 2014 are a former prime minister, seven former ministers, a former deputy prime minister, four lawmakers, one European Parliament lawmaker, 39 mayors, 25 magistrates and two business tycoons.

All the major parties in Romania's Parliament have been touched by the corruption probes and convictions — from the ruling Social Democratic Party and its junior partner, the National Union for the Progress of Romania to the opposition Liberal Party — leading to a belief that politicians enter politics to enrich themselves. But with many lawmakers critical of the anti-corruption drive, solutions are not clear-cut and the old guard is unlikely to easily surrender its power and way of doing politics.

"It is so fluid at the moment, the old guard is so entrenched and the protesters are not a single group who know what they want the future to look like other than that they want the current system gone," Daniel Brett, a Romania expert and associated professor at the Open University said in an interview with The Associated Press. "At the moment everyone wants rid of the old system, but no one knows what to replace it with, or how to replace it."

In addition to the corruption, the protesters — who have taken to the streets of the capital and other cities for the past five days — have also condemned the nation's politicians for being arrogant and isolated from the problems of ordinary people.

On Saturday evening, a couple of thousand people jammed University square, a traditional site for anti-government protest in Romania. "We want change from the people who lead us, for them to respect us, for there to be less corruption," said Octavian Rachita, a 30-year-old graphic designer who has been protesting for the past five days. He held a banner saying: "We have to be the change we want to see."

Architect Aniela Ban, also 30, said she wanted to "feel safer." "What happened was due to corruption. We need a better medical and education system and a press that does not distort events," she said.

The protests seem to have taken leaders off guard. It was "a shock for politicians. They didn't expect it," Parvulescu said. "These protests are about the democratization of Romania. People want more democracy. Our democracy is a facade, it is window dressing."

Protesters have also directed their anger at the rich and powerful Romanian Orthodox Church, accusing it of failing to respond to the outpouring of national grief after the fire. Pressure had already been mounting for the state to curb the financial privileges of the church.

"We want hospitals, not cathedrals!" was one of the chants that protesters shouted this past week. Protests have been cyclical in Romania, starting with the 1989 anti-communist revolt in which former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted and executed and more than 1,300 died.

Ponta came to power in May 2012 a couple of months after major street protests, promising change, but has since angered Romanians by reneging on promises for reform. He refused to step down when he was accused in June 2012 of plagiarizing his 2003 doctoral thesis, and again refused calls to resign when prosecutors announced in June 2015 they were probing him for tax evasion, money laundering and conflict of interest connected to work he did as a lawyer between 2007 and 2008. He denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have also been investigating Ponta's former finance minister, Darius Valcov, who is charged with taking 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in bribes when he was a mayor. Prosecutors say Valcov, who resigned in March 2015, had hidden works by Picasso and Renoir, and 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of gold, in a friend's safe.

President Klaus Iohannis, a local mayor and ethnic German who surprisingly defeated Ponta in November 2014 presidential elections, also came to power on the back of a spontaneous revolt. That protest movement was sparked after expatriate Romanians rallied in European capitals and farther afield to protest rules making it hard for them to vote in national elections.

He has been a key player this week, announcing an interim prime minister and meeting with civic groups on Friday for consultations on the social changes there are seeking. "Romanians want a new approach and a new way of doing politics," Iohannis said Friday.

Poland swears in parliament; outgoing PM decries 'delusion'

November 12, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A new political era began in Poland on Thursday with the swearing in of a parliament dominated by a right-wing party, signaling a major power shift in the European Union's largest eastern member.

As Poland's president appealed for a polite tone in parliament, the newly elected assembly immediately showed that the political discourse would be anything but cordial. Outgoing prime minister Ewa Kopacz stood up, resigned and unleashed a string of accusations against the incoming ruling Law and Justice party, describing it as "delusional" and a threat to the democratic achievements of post-communist Poland.

"I warn you not to destroy the foundations of the democratic state," Kopacz, of the centrist Civic Platform, told the party's lawmakers. "And if you destroy what Poles have built over the past quarter century we will do everything to stop you."

For the first time since Poland threw off communism in 1989, the country has a parliament with no left-wing representation. In another first, a single party won enough votes for a parliamentary majority, putting it in a strong position to push through its policies without having to make compromises with a coalition partner.

Poland's new prime minister will be Beata Szydlo — marking the first time one woman has succeeded another as Poland's leader. Szydlo's reputation for moderation helped bring the party to victory in the Oct. 25 parliamentary election. It is to be sworn in in the coming days, but no date has been set yet.

Rooted in the anti-communist Solidarity movement, Law and Justice mixes traditional Catholic values with promises to strengthen the state to fight corruption. It also favors a greater state role in the economy; during the campaign it promised to lower the retirement age and increase state spending to help families, the poor and the elderly.

Law and Justice governed the country from 2005-2007, a turbulent time marked by efforts to purge the country of corruption and the influence of former communists. But critics said it went too far, sometimes abandoning due process in its zeal. Many critics now worry that the country could follow the example of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has eroded many of the nation's democratic guarantees.

Kopacz accused Law and Justice of already breaking election promises, and suggested that the party poses a risk to state finances, the independence of the judiciary, women's rights and the inviolability of private property. She said her Civic Platform, now the country's largest opposition party, would act as a watchdog.

She also boasted of what her party achieved in its eight years and power, citing job creation, the building of pre-schools and motorways, and the stabilization of state finances. "We had it easy because we compared ourselves with the achievements of Law and Justice when it governed from 2005 to 2007," she said in a speech laced with sarcasm.

"If the new authorities lead us from the West to the East, if they lead us from Europe onto their delusional path, then Civic Platform will have a map ready for returning to normality, to civic freedom, to everything which now seems natural."

Law and Justice is strongly pro-U.S. and pro-NATO but more skeptical of the European Union than Civic Platform. Many of its members are deeply critical of Russia. Party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost his identical twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, in a plane crash in Russia in 2010, something that has added to an already strong distrust of Russia by many party veterans.

On Monday Szydlo announced the makeup of her Cabinet, which is facing some criticism for including many party veterans with a reputation for hard-core and radical ideas. The most controversial is the new defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, who has promoted a conspiracy theory that the 2010 plane crash that killed President Kaczynski and 95 others was an assassination masterminded by Russia. State investigations in Russia and Poland determined that it was an accident.

The new parliament also elected its speaker Thursday, choosing a Law and Justice member, Marek Kuchcinski, for the prominent role in Poland's politics.

Kiszczak, who helped impose martial law in Poland, dies

November 05, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, a Polish general and communist-era leader who played a key role in imposing martial law in 1981 but eight years later also took part in talks that allowed for a peaceful transition to democracy, died on Thursday in Warsaw. He was 90.

After Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the nation's top leader at the time, Kiszczak was the most important figure in the crackdown aimed at crushing the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. Martial law included the mass round-up and internment of Solidarity activists, curfews and other harsh measures.

Both men long argued that they acted to stave off a Soviet invasion. With Poland under Soviet control at the time, many believed that Moscow would invade to crush democratic change, as it did in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

"I saved the country from terrible troubles," Kiszczak said years later. Kiszczak was also the last prime minister of communist Poland, a job he only held for less than three weeks in 1989 before the country's transition to a free-market democracy.

He died on Thursday in Warsaw, according to his family. Jaruzelski died in 2014. Both men remain deeply controversial. They are hated by many Poles for repressions that caused the suffering of many Poles, accused of acting in the interests of Moscow, but they have also won some grudging praise for stepping away from power without violence.

Still, many Poles find it infuriating that Jaruzelski and Kiszczak went to their deaths without facing punishment for martial law and other repressive measures, while some lower level police officers have faced convictions. More than 100 Poles were killed in the crackdown.

In the quarter century of democratic Poland, Kiszczak was tried in court multiple times for his role in imposing martial law, but he never served prison time. One of the most serious accusations against him is connected to the massacre of nine miners who were shot by riot police in 1981 for protesting martial law. Another 25 were wounded.

At times he was acquitted, at other times found guilty, but he always managed to avoid punishment amid appeals, retrials and the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Luxembourg: 'We'll help reconstruct Gaza'

Monday, 09 November 2015

The Luxembourg government and UNRWA will be working to assist in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and to push the process forward, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

In a press conference held in Gaza, Asselborn also stated: “I believe that this is clearly a humanitarian issue and is considered one of the top issues for the Palestinian people. We must not only be satisfied with reconstructing Gaza.”

“I heard that more than half of Gazans are under 18 years old. However, it's impossible to find a job here even if people complete their studies and this is very negative.”

Asselborn also expressed his discontent regarding the confrontations carried out by the Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and Hebron, and stressed that violence should not be encouraged; rather, there should be calls to end it.

The minister had entered the Gaza Strip for a short visit to meet with ministers from the national unity government in Gaza via the Beit Hanoun crossing.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22174-luxembourg-well-help-reconstruct-gaza.

UNESCO rejects membership for Kosovo in victory for Serbia

November 09, 2015

PARIS (AP) — Members of the U.N. cultural agency narrowly rejected Kosovo's bid for membership on Monday in a victory for Serbia and Russia and a blow to Kosovo's mission for global recognition as a state.

Most nations that participated in the vote at UNESCO headquarters in Paris favored Kosovo's membership, with 92 "yes" votes and 50 "no" votes and 29 abstentions. But the bid needed the support of two-thirds of those voting, or more than 94 "yes" votes, said Stanley Mutumba Simataa, the Namibian diplomat presiding over the vote.

In Pristina, Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga told The Associated Press the decision was disappointing but vowed to push on with efforts to become "an equal member of the international community." "This is a missed opportunity to stay true to what the organization stands for, which is inclusion and promotion of cooperation," he said.

Serbian officials, on the other hand, were jubilant. "This decision reflects our intention never to give up Kosovo," Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said. The heated debate highlighted east-west battle lines and tapped into concerns in some countries that have their own separatist movements.

Kosovo has been recognized by 111 countries since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Russia, which backed Serbia in Kosovo's 1998-99 separatist war, has used its Security Council veto to block Kosovo from becoming a full U.N. member.

Kosovo has won membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Kosovo's predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership had promised that if it became a UNESCO member, it would protect the cultural heritage of Serbs, despite tensions that have lingered since the war.

Serbia had warned that allowing Kosovo into UNESCO would fuel those tensions and hurt an EU-brokered dialogue aimed at normalizing ties between the former foes. The U.S. delegation supported Kosovo's bid, but no longer has voting rights in UNESCO because of a funding flap.

Kosovo applied for UNESCO membership in September, and last month the UNESCO Executive Board recommended that it be admitted during the body's General Conference from Nov. 3 to 18. The Serbian and Russian delegations to UNESCO, apparently expecting the bid to win approval, argued Monday for the vote to be delayed. The request was rejected.

Spain, which has concerns about separatists in its northeastern region of Catalonia, voted no. Ukraine, in a territorial conflict with Russia, abstained. "At the very least, I expected that all states that had recognized Kosovo would support Kosovo's membership. Instead, a number of these states abstained, including Japan, South Korea and Poland," said Richard Caplan, professor of international relations at Oxford University.

"One would have expected Kosovo's allies (such as the U.S., Britain, Germany) to have known whether there was sufficient support for Kosovo. They would not have supported Kosovo's bid if they had not thought there was enough support," he said.

Kosovo Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci wrote on Facebook that Kosovo would apply for UNESCO membership again, saying "Kosovo's path is unstoppable." Kosovo came under U.N. and NATO administration after a 1999 NATO-led air war halted a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Gresa Kraja in Pristina, Kosovo, and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Protesters clash with police in Bologna

November 08, 2015

MILAN (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators clashed briefly Sunday with riot police ahead of a meeting between Silvio Berlusconi and a hotly contested right-wing political leader in the northern city of Bologna.

Violence broke out when demonstrators kicked riot police shields and police responded by forcing them back with batons, video footage showed. Italian news reports said at least one officer was injured by an exploding firecracker.

Hundreds gathered to protest the arrival of Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, whom they decry as a racist for his anti-migrant views. Saboteurs overnight set fire to railway cables that shut down the heavily traveled Bologna-Milan line for several hours. They left behind anti-racist graffiti.

Berlusconi, who has been largely sidelined from politics since his tax fraud conviction, was meeting with Salvini and the leader of another center-right party to discuss an alliance to unseat the Democratic Party in the next election.

The Northern League was a junior partner in Berlusconi governments, but the dynamics have since shifted. Berlusconi has been weakened by the tax fraud conviction and another for paying for sex with an under-age prostitute, while Salvini's popularity has surged since the last election.

"This isn't a return to the past," Salvini told reporters. "Something new is starting here, that is led by the Northern League, but is open to all Italians who today are far from politics."

Germany's Merkel grapples with strife at home over migrants

November 13, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been looking unusually vulnerable as she prepares to meet the world's top leaders this week, struggling to slow a huge influx of migrants amid mounting demands to do just that.

Merkel's optimistic signature phrase in the crisis — "We will manage it" — is wearing thin at home, bringing rare open criticism from her own conservative bloc. She has made little headway persuading Germany's European Union partners to share the burden. Polls have shown her popularity sliding.

Over recent days, her governing coalition squabbled over a plan to give many Syrians a restricted asylum status that wouldn't allow them to bring relatives to Germany for two years. The program was announced by the interior minister apparently behind the chancellery's back, and quickly shelved, but then backed by prominent conservatives. The bickering came just after the government buried another weekslong argument.

However, while these are difficult times for Merkel, they are far from desperate. The chancellor appears to be inching toward more restrictive policies without dropping her broadly positive approach. She also needs to reconcile the interests of a governing coalition of right and left.

Over the years, her pragmatism at home and persistence abroad have left her without serious rivals as Germany's and Europe's most powerful politician. That makes her a key figure among leaders of the Group of 20 nations, who meet Sunday and Monday in Turkey.

Fellow conservatives appear to be trying to push her to the right, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — a heavyweight in her Christian Democratic Union — saying Sunday that "our capacity to take in (people) is not unlimited" and that it needs to be "clear in Syria that not everyone can now come to Germany." On Wednesday, he compared the influx to a potential avalanche.

Still, there's no sign of any direct attack on her position, and Merkel has a long record of patiently working through crises. "This is not a power struggle" because there is no opponent, said Oskar Niedermayer, a political science professor at Berlin's Free University. "There is no one who wants to damage her to the extent of running against her and really challenging her as party leader or chancellor."

Her strength over a decade in power has been in improvising responses to confusing crises, giving Germans the reassuring sense that she's in control. But that sense — something that has earned her the nickname "Mutti," or "mom" — has seemed in short supply lately as Germany struggles to stem the tide of refugees and other migrants. Merkel has said that she can't just flip a switch to stop the flow, and even that it is "not in our power how many come to Germany."

Germany registered some 758,000 migrants this year through October, and some 6,000 to 10,000 per day continue to arrive. While Merkel has repeatedly stressed that people who have no claim to asylum must leave Germany quickly, she so far has ignored pressure to state clearly that there is a limit to the number of refugees Germany can take in — apparently wary of making promises she can't keep.

Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor who grew up behind communist East Germany's fortified border, has appeared driven by a mixture of her trademark pragmatism and moral purpose. She argues that it's not feasible to seal off Germany or Europe in the Internet age.

As the head of a party with "Christian" in its name, Merkel said last month, "I don't want to get into a competition to see who in Europe treats in the least friendly way people... who have come 2,000 kilometers to us."

All the same, Niedermayer noted that "the unlimited 'culture of welcome' of the early days already doesn't exist," pointing to moves by the government to make it easier to send home people from Balkan countries such as Albania and Kosovo, among others. Officials also have made clear that not all newcomers from Afghanistan will be allowed to stay.

This week, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he had reversed a decision from August, which had effectively meant Syrians wouldn't be sent back to the first EU country where they were registered, as EU rules stipulate.

The practical impact appears negligible, given that most haven't been registered by other countries they crossed, but the move sends a signal — though government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz denied any change in "political direction."

Satisfaction with Merkel has declined from a stellar 75 percent in April to a still-respectable 49 percent this month, according to polling by the Infratest dimap agency for ARD television, while support for Merkel's conservative bloc slipped from 41 percent to 37 percent.

While her third term was smooth until this summer, Merkel has been in worse poll positions before — notably during her 2009-2013 second term, which was marred by near-constant cacophony and feuding in the center-right coalition she ran then.

One factor that didn't help in the short term was her abrupt decision in 2011 to speed up the closure of Germany's nuclear power stations, viewed by many as undermining her credibility. On refugees, "I don't think she can change her basic position — that would be seen as opportunistic again," said Manfred Guellner, the head of the Forsa polling agency. "What she can do, and what she apparently is doing, is take small steps to ratchet up (policy) without her basic position being affected."

Guellner noted that "many people haven't seen any refugees" so far, meaning that "at the moment, it's something abstract for most people." "It is not the case that Germans are turning away from Merkel now," Niedermayer said. But he conceded that, if her image as a reliable crisis manager takes long-term damage, "that will be dangerous."

Lufthansa cancels 136 flights due to cabin crew strike

November 10, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Lufthansa says it is canceling 126 long-haul and 10 shorter flights Tuesday as a cabin crew strike goes into its fourth day.

The UFO union has called on its members to walk out at three of Germany's biggest airports: Frankfurt, Munich and Duesseldorf. Lufthansa says the cancellations will affect 27,300 passengers. It says nearly all German and European flights will operate as scheduled, and flights by subsidiaries such as Germanwings, Swiss and Austrian Airlines won't be affected.

UFO wants to secure transition payments for its 19,000 members if they retire early as part of its contract dispute with Lufthansa, which is trying to cut costs. The union rejected the airline's latest offer Monday, saying it constituted only a "minimal" improvement.

Syria's swimming sisters find new home in German waters

November 10, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Sarah and Ysra Mardini pull bathing caps over their long, black hair and slide into the water, disappearing among the throng of swimmers with powerful, practiced strokes.

Two months ago the sisters were swimming for their lives, after jumping off an inflatable boat that began taking on water carrying refugees to Greece. Now they are ploughing down the length of a pool built for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that has become a home away from home for two young women, who were once among Syria's brightest swimming stars.

"Everything was good," said 20-year-old Sarah. "That was before the war." After the conflict began, the Mardini family moved around to avoid the fighting and tried to ensure their daughters could keep on swimming. Ysra, now 17, even represented Syria at the short-course world championships in Turkey in 2012. But as the war intensified fellow swimmers drifted away.

"We were 40 or 50 swimmers, and now we are maybe 10 or 7 swimmers in Syria," said Sarah. "We want to have a future. I want to be in college, I want to be an international swimmer and my sister too. But if we stay there we will not reach that because the situation is not OK in Syria."

The Mardini sisters eventually left Damascus in early August, joining a fresh wave of Syrians who had given up hope of seeing the conflict end soon. The sisters traveled to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Turkish coastguards drove their boat back on the first attempt. The second time they boarded a small inflatable dinghy at dusk. Within a half hour it was taking on water, hopelessly overloaded with people, most of whom couldn't swim.

As evening winds churned up the Aegean Sea, all bags were thrown overboard to give the small boat a chance to stay afloat. When that wasn't enough, Ysra, Sarah and three others who were also strong swimmers jumped into the water in order to give the boat more buoyancy.

"I was not afraid of dying, because if anything happened I could swim to arrive at the island. But the problem was that I had 20 persons with me," said Sarah. "In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drowning, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself."

For three hours they clung onto ropes hanging from the side until it reached shore on the Greek island of Lesbos. In the weeks-long overland trek that followed, strangers gave them clothes, while others stole from them. Friends were arrested at borders and expensive tickets proved worthless, as authorities refused to let trains full of refugees cross borders.

Eventually, the sisters made it to Austria and then Germany. Shortly after arriving in Berlin a local charity put them in touch with the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04, a swimming club based near their refugee shelter.

The club has embraced its newest recruits, putting them straight into a daily training routine. Sven Spannekrebs, their coach, says the sisters are making amazing progress, though he is realistic about their prospects as athletes. "They can swim at the highest level for the Arab world, but there's a difference to Europe because of the training conditions," he said.

Ysra, who specializes in butterfly stroke, is aiming high. "Maybe when I learn German I will start school. I want to be a pilot," she said. "And with my swimming I want to reach the Olympics." Her older sister, meanwhile, is battling bureaucracy to bring the rest of the family to Germany. In the pool, she prefers long-distance swimming.

"It seems to me that I have balanced my life," said Sarah. "We can't do anything good in our life if we don't have swimming."

Germany to set up centers for those with poor asylum chances

November 05, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Germany will use special centers to quickly process migrants who have little realistic chance of winning asylum, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partners agreed Thursday — putting behind them weeks of arguments.

There will be three to five centers for people who come from countries considered "safe," such as Balkan nations including Albania and Kosovo, and those who are uncooperative with authorities, among others, Merkel said after coalition leaders met.

The aim is for applications to be processed within a week — rather than the several months they usually take — and for possible appeals to be handled in another two weeks. Such migrants would be entitled to benefits only if they go to such centers, and would generally be obliged to stay within the county where they are located. Those who break that rule would have their asylum application suspended after a first offense and be deported following a second offense.

Faced with large numbers of refugees from Syria's civil war in particular, politicians have been keen to deter and speed up processing of people from the Balkans, who came in large numbers earlier this year and are rarely granted asylum.

Thursday's agreement is a compromise after the coalition of Germany's biggest parties argued for weeks over a call from the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian branch of Merkel's conservative bloc, for "transit zones" at the border to weed out migrants with no realistic asylum claim. The center-left Social Democrats said that would effectively entail interning large numbers of new arrivals, and would be impractical.

The coalition partners also agreed that some migrants who are allowed to stay in Germany shouldn't be allowed to bring relatives to the country for two years. "We took a good, important step forward today," Merkel said.

Figures released earlier Thursday showed that authorities registered 181,000 asylum-seekers entering Germany in October, bringing the figure for 2015 so far to 758,000. That's close to the Interior Ministry's forecast from August that 800,000 would arrive this year. The ministry isn't updating that figure, arguing that doing so could be misconstrued as an invitation. However, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said, and repeated Thursday, that 1 million could come.

The government also wants to curb the number of people arriving from Afghanistan. Merkel raised the idea of setting up "protection areas" inside that country, but didn't elaborate.

Venezuela names square in capital after Arafat

Friday, 13 November 2015

A public square in the capital of Venezuela has been named after Yasser Arafat. A bronze statue of the late Palestinian president was unveiled in Caracas on Wednesday, on the 11th anniversary of his death.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by senior Venezuelan officials as well as Arab and other foreign diplomats. The Palestinian Ambassador to Venezuela, Linda Sobh, praised the country’s pioneering role in the Palestinian cause, especially in seeking to achieve Palestinian rights and independence, as well as exposing Israeli violations of international laws and conventions.

The Mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodríguez, expressed Venezuela’s pride in commemorating one of the historical icons of national liberation in the land of liberator Simon Bolivar. He stressed Venezuela’s moral and revolutionary commitment to adopt the Palestinian cause in all national and international arenas as a firmly rooted policy, following in the footsteps of the late leader Hugo Chavez, under the man continuing his journey, President Nicolas Maduro Moros.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/americas/22257-venezuela-names-square-in-capital-after-arafat.

Tribal tensions resurface again in Kenya, worrying many

November 07, 2015

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Hundreds of young men armed with machetes cheered as a ruling party lawmaker called for attacks on opponents of a project to create part-time jobs for youths in his constituency.

Opposing such a program in a country where many are jobless might seem bizarre, along with the reason: Opponents suspected the jobs initiative was a cover for creating a militia. The hostile and threatening reaction might seem even more outrageous.

But they reflect long-simmering tribal tensions that are heating up again, eight years after they exploded into violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. That frenzied outbreak of fighting came in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election.

The current threats of violence between opposition and government politicians and venomous exchanges by their supporters on social media have risen to such a level that the country's chief justice and church leaders are warning that it is reminiscent of rhetoric that was a prelude to the 2007-8 violence.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga noted while presiding over a launch of a program that seeks to improve access to justice that "the drums of possible violence are being heard." A little over a week ago, an opposition politician was videotaped telling a crowd of thousands in Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum that blood must be spilled for opposition leader Raila Odinga to become president in the 2017 election.

The exchanges have mainly centered on President Uhuru Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe and communities that supported him, and those that align with Odinga, a Luo. Animosity between the Kikuyu and Luo goes back decades, precipitated by a falling out between Kenyatta's father Jomo —the founding president of Kenya— and Odinga's father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the country's first vice president after Kenya won independence from Britain in 1963.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was opposed to, among other things, the re-distribution of land, which was seen to favor the Kikuyu elite. That fallout has shaped the political landscape in Kenya. "Kenyans remain divided along ethnic lines," said the Rev. Peter Karanja, secretary general for the National Council of Churches in Kenya, an association of Protestant churches. "They identify with their tribes before their nation. Social media has been awash with hate messages that tell of a society that is on the edge."

Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir, during a briefing on the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, urged Kenyans on Sunday to seek tolerance and peace. "Our nation is facing (a) great trial that threatens to tear it apart," he said.

Opposition politician George Aladwa faces was charged on Friday with incitement to violence in relation to his public comments about bloodshed. He claims he was quoted out context. Moses Kuria was the legislator from Gatundu South— the president's home area— who spoke to the youth with machetes in July. He also claims he was quoted out of context, but when the host of a TV program played a video of him urging attacks, he walked out of the studio. He has been charged in court with hate speech and incitement to violence.

But there appears to be virtual impunity for such offenses, said Francis Ole Kaparo, chairman of the National Integration and Cohesion Commission, which was formed to try to avoid a repeat of the 2007-08 post-election violence. He complained that those who spew hatred are never sent to prison.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, he said the local media, the police, the judiciary and people who cheer on the hatemongers all share blame for the situation. "All of us must realize we have a big problem and deal with it," he said.

Kenyatta, who will run in 2017 for a second term, has condemned incitement and hate speech. "As leaders, let us talk about things that will unite people," Kenyatta said in July. Kenyatta, along with his deputy William Ruto, were charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating the post-election violence in 2007-08 while on opposing sides. Charges against Kenyatta were dropped in December after the ICC prosecutor said there was a lack of evidence, which she blamed on witness intimidation and bribery.

ICC cases against Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang continue.

Asteroid ripped apart to form star's glowing ring system

Warwick, UK (SPX)
Nov 15, 2015

The sight of an asteroid being ripped apart by a dead star and forming a glowing debris ring has been captured in an image for the first time. Comprised of dust particles and debris, the rings are formed by the star's gravity tearing apart asteroids that came too close.

Gas produced by collisions among the debris within the ring is illuminated by ultraviolet rays from the star, causing it to emit a dark red glow which the researchers observed and turned into the image of the ring. Led by Christopher Manser of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group, the researchers investigated the remnants of planetary systems around white dwarf stars; in this instance, SDSS1228+1040.

Whilst similar to the formation of Saturn's rings, the scale of the white dwarf and its debris is many times greater in size. Christopher Manser explains:

"The diameter of the gap inside of the debris ring is 700,000 kilometres, approximately half the size of the Sun and the same space could fit both Saturn and its rings, which are only around 270,000 km across. At the same time, the white dwarf is seven times smaller than Saturn but weighs 2500 times more". While debris rings have been found at a handful of other white dwarfs, the imaging of SDSS1228+1040 gives an unprecedented insight into the structure of these systems.

"We knew about these debris disks around white dwarfs for over twenty years, but have only now been able to obtain the first image of one of these disks", says Mr Manser. To acquire the image the researchers used Doppler tomography, which is very similar to Computed Tomography (CT) routinely used in hospitals. Both methods take scans from many different angles which are then combined in a computer into an image.

While in CT, the machine moves around the patient, the disk the researchers observed is rotating very slowly by itself meaning they had to take data over twelve years. Discussing what the researchers saw in the image Mr Manser says:

"The image we get from the processed data shows us that these systems are truly disc-like, and reveal many structures that we cannot detect in a single snapshot. The image shows a spiral-like structure which we think is related to collisions between dust grains in the debris disc."

Systems such as SDSS1228+1040, the researchers argue, are a glimpse at the future of our own solar system once the Sun runs out of fuel. By observing these systems, we can answer questions such as: Are other planetary systems like our own? What will be the fate of our own solar system?

Addressing these issues Professor Boris Gansicke of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group says:

"When we discovered this debris disk orbiting the white dwarf SDSS1228+1040 back in 2006, we thought we saw some signs of an asymmetric shape. However, we could not have imagined the exquisite details that are now visible in this image constructed from twelve years of data - it was definitely worth the wait."

"Over the past decade, we have learned that remnants of planetary systems around white dwarfs are ubiquitous, and over thirty debris disks have been found by now. While most of them are in a stable state, just like Saturn's rings, a handful are seen to change, and it is those systems that can tell us something about how these rings are formed."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Asteroid_ripped_apart_to_form_stars_glowing_ring_system_999.html.

Astronomers eager to get a whiff of newfound Venus-like planet

Boston MA (SPX)
Nov 15, 2015

The collection of rocky planets orbiting distant stars has just grown by one, and the latest discovery is the most intriguing one to date. The newfound world, although hot as an oven, is cool enough to potentially host an atmosphere. If it does, it's close enough (only 39 light-years away) that we could study that atmosphere in detail with the Hubble Space Telescope and future observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope.

"Our ultimate goal is to find a twin Earth, but along the way we've found a twin Venus," says astronomer David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "We suspect it will have a Venus-like atmosphere too, and if it does we can't wait to get a whiff."

"This planet is going to be a favorite target of astronomers for years to come," adds lead author Zachory Berta-Thompson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

GJ 1132b, as the planet is known, orbits a red dwarf star only one-fifth the size of our Sun. The star is also cooler and much fainter than the Sun, emitting just 1/200th as much light. GJ 1132b circles its star every 1.6 days at a distance of 1.4 million miles (much closer than the 36-million-mile orbit of Mercury in our solar system).

As a result, GJ 1132b is baked to a temperature of about 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Such temperatures would boil off any water the planet may have once held, but still allows for the presence of an atmosphere. It is also significantly cooler than any other exoplanet confirmed to be rocky. In comparison, well-known worlds like CoRoT-7b and Kepler-10b possess scorching temperatures of 2,000 degrees F or more.

GJ 1132b was discovered by the MEarth-South array, which is dedicated to the hunt for terrestrial worlds orbiting red dwarf stars. MEarth-South consists of eight 40-cm robotic telescopes located at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

MEarth-South monitors several thousand red dwarf stars located within 100 light-years of Earth. It looks for planets that transit, or cross in front of their host stars. When a planet transits its star, the star's light dims by a small but detectable amount. This dimming gives an indication of the planet's physical size.

After MEarth-South detected a transit in real time, additional observations were gathered by the array and the Magellan Clay telescope in Chile. The team also measured the host star's gravitational wobble using the HARPS spectrograph to determine the planet's mass.

They found that GJ 1132b is 16 percent larger than Earth, with a diameter of about 9,200 miles. It has a mass 60 percent greater than Earth. The resulting density indicates that the planet has a rocky composition similar to Earth.

The planet also has an Earth-like force of gravity. A person standing on the surface of GJ 1132b would weigh only about 20 percent more than they do on Earth.

Since the red dwarf star is small, the relative size of the planet to the star is larger than it would be for a Sun-like star. This, combined with the star's close distance, makes it easier to detect and study any planetary atmosphere, should one exist. The team has requested follow-up observations with the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes. Future observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope also will undoubtedly take a close look at GJ 1132b.

A final intriguing possibility is that GJ 1132b has sister planets that have not yet been detected. The research team plans to examine this system closely for signs of siblings.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Astronomers_eager_to_get_a_whiff_of_newfound_Venus_like_planet_999.html.

Cassini Finds Monstrous Ice Cloud in Titan's South Polar Region

Pasadena CA (JPL)
Nov 15, 2015

New observations made near the south pole of Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft add to the evidence that winter comes in like a lion on this moon of Saturn. Scientists have detected a monstrous new cloud of frozen compounds in the moon's low- to mid-stratosphere - a stable atmospheric region above the troposphere, or active weather layer.

Cassini's camera had already imaged an impressive cloud hovering over Titan's south pole at an altitude of about 186 miles (300 kilometers). However, that cloud, first seen in 2012, turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. A much more massive ice cloud system has now been found lower in the stratosphere, peaking at an altitude of about 124 miles (200 kilometers).

The new cloud was detected by Cassini's infrared instrument - the Composite Infrared Spectrometer, or CIRS - which obtains profiles of the atmosphere at invisible thermal wavelengths. The cloud has a low density, similar to Earth's fog but likely flat on top.

For the past few years, Cassini has been catching glimpses of the transition from fall to winter at Titan's south pole - the first time any spacecraft has seen the onset of a Titan winter. Because each Titan season lasts about 7-1/2 years on Earth's calendar, the south pole will still be enveloped in winter when the Cassini mission ends in 2017.

"When we looked at the infrared data, this ice cloud stood out like nothing we've ever seen before," said Carrie Anderson of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "It practically smacked us in the face."

The ice clouds at Titan's pole don't form in the same way as Earth's familiar rain clouds.

For rain clouds, water evaporates from the surface and encounters cooler temperatures as it rises through the troposphere. Clouds form when the water vapor reaches an altitude where the combination of temperature and air pressure is right for condensation. The methane clouds in Titan's troposphere form in a similar way.

However, Titan's polar clouds form higher in the atmosphere by a different process. Circulation in the atmosphere transports gases from the pole in the warm hemisphere to the pole in the cold hemisphere. At the cold pole, the warm air sinks, almost like water draining out of a bathtub, in a process known as subsidence.

The sinking gases - a mixture of smog-like hydrocarbons and nitrogen-bearing chemicals called nitriles - encounter colder and colder temperatures on the way down. Different gases will condense at different temperatures, resulting in a layering of clouds over a range of altitudes.

Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 - mid-winter at Titan's north pole. As the north pole has been transitioning into springtime, the ice clouds there have been disappearing. Meanwhile, new clouds have been forming at the south pole. The build-up of these southern clouds indicates that the direction of Titan's global circulation is changing.

"Titan's seasonal changes continue to excite and surprise," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "Cassini, with its very capable suite of instruments, will continue to periodically study how changes occur on Titan until its solstice mission ends in 2017."

The size, altitude and composition of the polar ice clouds help scientists understand the nature and severity of Titan's winter. From the ice cloud seen earlier by Cassini's camera, scientists determined that temperatures at the south pole must get down to at least -238 degrees Fahrenheit (-150 degrees Celsius).

The new cloud was found in the lower stratosphere, where temperatures are even colder. The ice particles are made up of a variety of compounds containing hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen.

Anderson and her colleagues had found the same signature in CIRS data from the north pole, but in that case, the signal was much weaker. The very strong signature of the south polar cloud supports the idea that the onset of winter is much harsher than the end.

"The opportunity to see the early stages of winter on Titan is very exciting," said Robert Samuelson, a Goddard researcher working with Anderson. "Everything we are finding at the south pole tells us that the onset of southern winter is much more severe than the late stages of Titan's northern winter."

Source: Saturn Daily.
Link: http://www.saturndaily.com/reports/Cassini_Finds_Monstrous_Ice_Cloud_in_Titans_South_Polar_Region_999.html.

Real challenge for Myanmar opposition head comes after polls

November 15, 2015

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Winning Myanmar's election turned out to be easier than expected for Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, but steering the country will be a test of how the Nobel Peace laureate balances her moral vision with political realities.

Almost complete returns released by the Election Commission by Sunday showed Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy with a whopping majority that gives it control of the lower and upper houses of Parliament, along with enough votes to dictate who will be president when the new lawmakers convene their first session next year.

"The election result represents the people's retribution against the military, which kept them under its boots for decades," said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and prominent journalist. He added that the extent of Suu Kyi's victory stunned everyone — the NLD, the military and the world's foremost experts on Myanmar like himself.

Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 until 2011, when the elected but army-backed party took power after 2010 elections, which were boycotted by the NLD. With the military automatically allotted 25 percent of the seats in each chamber, the NDL had to win two-thirds of the seats being contested to get the majority — not just 50 percent plus one. It met its mark easily. By Sunday morning, it had won about 78 percent of the combined houses — 387 of the 498 non-military seats, while the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party had just 41.

Suu Kyi won points in the past by confronting the military, but now that they will be partners in ruling the country, she will need the generals on her side in order to push through her party's agenda. At the same time, she has to meet the huge expectations of her supporters for dramatic reforms.

"How will the public perceive her after she had to make compromises with political players that are deeply disliked and mistrusted?" asked Michael Buehler, a lecturer in Southeast Asian politics at the University of London. "Can she remain the country's moral authority now that she has to make politics?"

In some areas this may be easy, in others she will be up against vested interests willing to fight her. Factory workers are her faithful followers, but she may find it more important to appease factory owners — who would be unhappy with aggressive pro-labor policies — in order to keep the economy humming.

Similarly, villagers uprooted by mining and infrastructure projects want justice that has been in short supply under the present, military-backed government. Meeting their desires could be off-putting to foreign investors. Cracking down on the pervasive problem of land-grabbing would also earn her powerful enemies.

Suu Kyi faces another dilemma in dealing with the country's deep and long-running ethnic fractures. More than a dozen ethnic minorities for decades have fielded guerrilla armies in on-again, off-again insurgencies to try to win greater autonomy.

In opposition, Suu Kyi's party could count on many of these groups as allies, partly on the basis of the concept that "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Now, these groups will be looking to cash in their chips for sticking with her. But the army has long justified its iron rule on the basis of maintaining national unity, which in practice means maintaining the dominance of the ethnic Burman majority.

Another challenge is dealing with racial and religious strife involving the country's ethnic Rohingya minority and other Muslims. Communal violence over the past several years has left hundreds dead and as many as 140,000 people homeless.

The efforts of radical nationalist Buddhist monks to paint Suu Kyi as soft in defending the religion of about 90 percent of the nation's population failed to have much of an effect on the election results. For its part, the NLD did little to stand up for the rights of Myanmar's Muslims, and the issue remains a flash point domestically and a sore point with foreign friends such as the United States.

"Many people in Myanmar will look forward to her making massive changes for the benefit of the people, and fulfilling the hope and promise that her party and her aura represent," Jane Ferguson, an anthropologist at Australian National University in Canberra, said in an e-mail interview.

For some people, however, Suu Kyi's halo began to slip several years ago, she added. "Many pro-NLD supporters were disillusioned by her behavior after her release and when she became an MP. She accepted gifts from famous cronies, and ended up siding with the government and foreign business interests in regard to an investigation regarding land grabs," Ferguson said.

"But, given the choice between the military party or the NLD, many skeptics cannot help but get caught up in the euphoria of the NLD's victories," said Ferguson. "It's just a matter of time to see how this plays out."