Friday, 16 December 2011

fashion and Islam


The Turkish women’s magazine Ala first gained notice in the summer of 2011 by putting the most controversial piece of fabric in Turkey, the Islamic headscarf, on its cover. Four months later, Turkish secularists and traditional Muslims alike are still debating: Can fashion and Islam comfortably coexist?

The brainchild of advertising agency account executives Mehmet Volkan Atay and Burak Birer, Ala (Beautiful Lifestyle) targets Turkey’s growing number of observant Muslim women with a monthly selection of clothing advice, interviews with Muslim designers and businesswomen, travel tips and feature stories. It claims that its circulation has quadrupled to 40,000 copies since the first edition hit newsstands last July, and is widely reported by Turkish media already to have surpassed sales of Vogue and Elle.

In online social media forums, critics nonetheless claim that the glossy, high-end monthly tries to “westernize the idea of modest Islamic dress,” and tries to turn veiled women into the prototype of Vogue-reading, spend-thrift fashion victims; concepts contrary to Islamic ideals. The magazine features photos of both professional models and ordinary readers in Islamic garments.
“Our religion and the Koran dictate how to dress modestly and which parts of the body need to be covered up. But that is the only constant: designs and patterns change and evolve, and as long as these changes remain in accord with religious rules, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” commented Mustafa Karaduman.

Large Turkish cities, such as Istanbul, are dotted with Islamic clothing stores, but their number depends highly on the neighborhood; more conservative Istanbul districts such as Fatih, for example, offer a variety of boutiques for Islamic women, but non-Islamic-oriented clothing stores easily dominate elsewhere.

Atay underlines, though, that the Islamic clothing market is not an island unto itself. Most covered women interviewed reported not liking to shop in stores selling only Islamic clothing. Younger women, in particular, prefer to mix and match, he said.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Gaddafi's last minutes...



Scroll down for video of Gaddafi's last minutes...
Was this the moment dictator died? A handgun points at the head of Gaddafi who is facing the ground with his hands behind his back
Was this the moment the dictator died? A handgun points at the head of Gaddafi who is facing the ground with his hands behind his back
Fear on his face after being captured in his home town of Sirte, this is Gaddafi in the moments leading up to his death
Fear on his face after being captured in his home town of Sirte, this is Gaddafi in the moments leading up to his death
This still image from YouTube courtesy of CNN shows Gaddafi's final moments
Bloodied Gaddafi's final moments were captured on a mobile phone video
Final moments: A dazed Gaddafi gesticulates as rebels parade him through Sirte shortly before he was shot 
Grimacing in pain: A still from a video taken from the mobile phone of a rebel fighter shows Gaddafi, his face covered in blood, being dragged around by freedom fighters
Grimacing in pain: A still from a video taken from the mobile phone of a rebel fighter shows Gaddafi, his face covered in blood, being dragged around by freedom fighters
Gaddafi lifts a hand to his face to see the blood pouring from his wounds. The mobile phone footage shows the dictator slumped against a jeep but still alive
Losing blood: Gaddafi lifts a hand to his face to see the blood pouring from his wounds. The mobile phone footage shows the dictator slumped against a jeep but still alive
Moments after the last grainy video was shot, it is believed he was killed. Initial reports suggested he had been executed by revolutionary forces in front of a baying mob.
But there have been claims by rebels who witnessed the killing that Gaddafi was actually shot by one of his own bodyguards to spare him further humiliation.  
It has also been suggested he was shot during a fight inside an ambulance conveying him to hospital or that he was actually caught in crossfire.
New pictures released today show Gaddafi's scarred corpse on the floor of a freezer where it is being kept before a burial
Grisly end: New pictures released today show Gaddafi's scarred corpse on the floor of a freezer where it is being kept before burial
A day Libyans fought for: Gaddafi's eyes are closed and mouth firmly shut as preparations are made for his burial
A day Libyans fought for: Gaddafi's eyes are closed and mouth firmly shut as preparations are made for his burial
One rebel claimed that he had been killed as he put up a desperate last fight for freedom. He carried his golden revolver on him at all times, and may have pulled it from his clothes.
'He might have been resisting. He might have struggled, tried to escape,' a Libyan revolutionary said.
Pictures of Gaddafi's body show a bullet hole in the temple, which supports claims he was shot at close range.
'They captured him alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him,' a freedom fighter said.
Gaddafi's battered body was paraded through the streets of Sirte to the sound of celebratory gunfire and jubilant shouts.
Another video captured the corpse of the 69-year-old being dragged through the streets of Sirte, to be paraded later before celebrating crowds in the nearby port town of Misrata.
Pleading: Muammar Gaddafi was killed today
Pleading: Muammar Gaddafi begged with his captors for his life after he was found cowering in a storm drain
Gaddafi
Pleading: Muammar Gaddafi was killed today
Paraded: Gaddafi struggled with his captors in video footage taken by rebel fighters after he was found
Terrified: Gaddafi pleaded for his life after he was captured by rebel fighters
Chaotic: Gaddafi was pushed around by rebel fighters, one of whom filmed the incident on a mobile phone
Pleading: Muammar Gaddafi was killed today
Pleading: Muammar Gaddafi was killed today
Fear: Becoming increasingly desperate, Gaddafi asked a rebel fighter 'What did I ever do to you'
Chaotic: Gaddafi was pushed around by rebel fighters, one of whom filmed the incident on a mobile telephone
Terrified: Moments after he begged for his life, Gaddafi was shot dead by rebel fighters
The circumstances leading up to Gaddafi's death are more clear.
RAF Tornados helped launch the final airstrike by flying surveillance missions which cleared the way for French fighter jets to bomb a Gaddafi convoy.
The astonishing end for the tyrant came after he and loyalist fighters tried to flee Sirte as it was overrun by forces of the National Transitional Council.
Gaddafi was in a convoy of up to 100 vehicles which tried to break out of Sirte – the last centre of resistance after eight months of civil war – early yesterday.
The escape was spotted by Nato which launched two devastating strikes. At least 50 loyalist fighters were killed.
Injured in both legs, Gaddafi made his way with bodyguards through trees. The group hid in two concrete sewers but were spotted by rebels.
A Libyan named Salem Bakeer said that he and his comrades gave chase to Gaddafi and his small retinue of bodyguards after they fled their convoy following the airstrike.
'At first we fired at them with anti-aircraft guns, but it was no use,' said Bakeer.
'Then we went in on foot. One of Gaddafi's men came out waving his rifle in the air and shouting surrender, but as soon as he saw my face he started shooting at me.
Struggle: Video footage shows Gaddafi being hauled off a rebel fighter truck minutes after his capture
Struggle: Video footage shows Gaddafi being hauled off a rebel fighter truck minutes after his capture
Gaddafi
Gaddafi
Manhandled: The former Libyan leader is propped up against the side of a truck during the melee
Arguing: Gaddafi pictured minutes before he was killed
Arguing: Gaddafi pictured in chaotic video footage minutes before he was killed

Watch the footage of Gaddafi's last minutes in this video:

'Then I think Gaddafi must have told them to stop. ''My master is here, my master is here'', he said, ''Muammar Gaddafi is here and he is wounded.''
'We went in and brought Gaddafi out. He was saying ''What's wrong? What's wrong? What's going on?''. Then we took him and put him in the car.'
Freelance photojournalist Holly Pickett was embedded with an ambulance. She said that she saw another ambulance  carrying Gaddafi.
So close was she to the action, that she was able to pick out the bloodied body of Gaddafi. She says that he was wearing gold pants.
She tweeted: 'From the side door, I could see a bare chest with bullet wound and a bloody hand. He was wearing gold-coloured pants.
'At every checkpoint between Sirte and Misrata, crowds had gathered and wanted to know if we were the ambulance with Gaddafi's body in it.
'Upon hearing the truth, that Gaddafi was truly dead, revolutionaries at the checkpoints were beside themselves, shouting with joy.'
Celebration: Mohammed al-Bibi, seen here in a Yankees hat, points to a comrade holding Gaddafi's golden gun. Al-Bibi is the one who found the despot in his final hiding place and duly claimed the war souvenir
Celebration: Mohammed al-Bibi, seen here in a Yankees hat, points to a comrade holding Gaddafi's golden gun. Al-Bibi is the one who found the despot in his final hiding place and duly claimed the war souvenir
Adel Samir said that Gaddafi was shot in the stomach with a a 9mm pistol. But Imad Moustaf told Global Post that Gaddafi was shot in the head and the heart. 
Doctor Ibrahim Tika added: 'Gaddafi was arrested while he was alive but he was killed later. There was a bullet and that was the primary reason for his death, it penetrated his gut. Then there was another bullet in the head that went in and out of his head.'
The claims that Gaddafi was executed in the back of an ambulance may be celebrated in Libya. But some within the new government, which is trying to establish itself on the western stage, would have preferred for Gaddafi to have been captured alive and put on trial.
It could be for this reason that Libya's interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, said that Gaddafi was killed from a bullet to the head during crossfire between government fighters and his loyalists.
Jibril told a news conference in the capital, Tripoli, today: 'I am going to read to you a report by the forensic doctor who examined Gaddafi.
'It said: ''Gaddafi was taken out of a sewage pipe … he didn't show any resistance. When we started moving him he was hit by a bullet in his right arm and when they put him in a truck he did not have any other injuries. When the car was moving it was caught in crossfire between the revolutionaries and Gaddafi forces in which he was hit by a bullet in the head''.'
The body of Gaddafi is covered with a blue plastic sheet at a house in Misrata. He is due to be buried at a secret funeral within the next 24 hours
Dead: The body of Gaddafi is covered with a blue plastic sheet at a house in Misrata. He is due to be buried at a secret funeral within the next 24 hours
Brutal end for tyrant who exported terror: Gaddafi's body is displayed, clearly showing a bullet hole in his head
Brutal end for tyrant who exported terror: Gaddafi's body is displayed, clearly showing a bullet hole in his head
The exact circumstances around this theory are unclear. It is unlikely that bullets would have penetrated the ambulance and hit Gaddafi, who was pictured slumped against a rebel's leg, in the head.
It is also unlikely he was shot in the head before he entered the ambulance as bullets to the head almost always knock somebody off their feet killing them instantly.
This points again to the theory that Gaddafi and a bodyguard launched a fightback inside the ambulance.
CBS News correspondent David Martin claims that Gaddafi's own bodyguard shot him, in order to spare him the indignity of being captured. 
Confirmation of the death sparked wild scenes of celebration across Libya with tens of thousands taking to the streets.
Celebratory gunfire rang out across the capital, Tripoli. Cars honked their horns and people embraced each other.
In Sirte, ecstatic rebels celebrated the city’s fall after weeks of bloody siege by firing endless rounds into the sky.
Gaddafi’s death closes a chapter in the Nato-led military campaign to help rebel forces remove him from power. Ever since the fall of Tripoli, the hunt for Gaddafi had prevented rebels from claiming outright victory. 
France’s defence minister announced today that the multi-million-pound bombing campaign of Libya by airforces including the RAF is now over.
‘The military operation is complete,’ said Alain Juppe, in Paris. ‘All Libyan territory is under the control of the National Transitional Council, and subject to some transitional technicalities, the Nato operation has come to an end. 
‘The objective of helping the National Transitional Council to liberate their territory is now achieved,’ Mr Juppe added.
‘They will enter a phase of reconstruction, or of  construction. It is about establishing the rule of law, which never existed. ‘
A meeting later today will decide the technicalities of winding up the operation which has cost British taxpayers an estimated £300 million.
Admiral Jim Stavridis made said today before a meeting of the alliance's North Atlantic Council.that it was 'a good day for Nato, a great day for the people of Libya'.
US president Barack Obama last night announced that the mission would 'soon come to an end', although Foreign Secretary William Hague struck a more cautious note.
Procession: Libyans have been flocking to the morgue, where Gaddafi's body was taken, and have been taking photographs of him
Dead: Gaddafi's son Mutassim was also killed in a firefight in Sirte
Dead: Gaddafi's son Mutassim was also killed in a firefight in Sirte
Last moments of his life: Gaddafi's son Mutassim lies on a sofa in pain and soaked with blood after his capture but before his death in Sirte
Last moments of his life: Gaddafi's son Mutassim lies on a sofa in pain and soaked with blood after his capture but before his death in Sirte
'We will want to be sure that there are no remaining pockets of pro-Gaddafi fighters who can again become a threat to the civilian population,' he said.
Last night it emerged that RAF Tornados helped launch the final airstrike by flying surveillance missions which cleared the way for French fighter jets to bomb a Gaddafi convoy.
There were also claims that RAF jets carried out another raid which led to the wounding of Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif al-Islam.
The conflict has already cost British taxpayers more than £1billion and today Nato chiefs will decide whether to end the aerial campaign.
Mutassim Gaddafi: Killed by Libyan rebels
Mutassim Gaddafi: He was also killed by Libyan rebels
David Cameron, who had driven much of Nato’s intervention, hailed it as a moment to remember Gaddafi’s many victims, including those who died when Pan-Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988, policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, and those killed by the IRA using Libyan Semtex.
In a statement notably free of any hint of triumphalism, the Prime Minister said he was ‘proud’ of the role Britain played in helping the Libyan people liberate their country.
Outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: ‘People in Libya today have an even greater chance of building themselves a strong and democratic future. 
‘I’m proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who have helped to liberate their country.’ 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who with Mr Cameron had kept up pressure for Nato’s continued role, said Gaddafi’s death was a ‘major step on the country’s path to democracy.’ 
U.S. President Barack Obama said: ‘This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya.’ 
Nato leaders will be watching anxiously over the next few days, however, in case Gaddafi loyalists plunder stockpiled weapons to wreak bloody revenge on the rebels.
Five bodyguards were killed but one tried to save Gaddafi, telling rebels: ‘My master is here, my master is here. Muammar Gaddafi is here and he is wounded.’
Bundled: An ambulance carries Gaddafi's body from Sirte to Misrata
Bundled: An ambulance carries Gaddafi's body from Sirte to Misrata
Transporting: An ambulance, containing happy rebel fighters, carries Gaddafi's body after he was executed
Transporting: An ambulance, containing happy rebel fighters, carries Gaddafi's body after he was executed
But there was to be no mercy for the man dubbed ‘The King of Kings of Africa’. 
He is the first leader to be killed in the ‘Arab Spring’ wave of popular uprisings that have swept the Middle East, demanding the end of autocratic rulers and the establishment of greater democracy.
His death decisively ends a regime that had turned Libya into an international pariah.
The oil-rich nation now enters a new era, but its turmoil may not  be over. 
The former rebels who now rule are disorganised, face rebuilding a country stripped of institutions, and have already shown signs of infighting with divisions between geographical areas and Islamist and more secular ideologies. 
Brutal: There had been fierce fighting around the drain before Gaddafi was finally killed. The body of a fighter can be seen in the dust at the centre of the screen
Brutal: There had been fierce fighting around the drain before Gaddafi was finally killed. The body of a fighter can be seen in the dust at the centre of the screen
Already a monument: As celebrations continued, more and more graffiti appeared at the entrance to the drain where the leader was eventually found
Already a monument: As celebrations continued, more and more graffiti appeared at the entrance to the drain where the leader was eventually found
Battleground: Bodies of suspected Gaddafi loyalists lie outside the storm drains their leader was captured
Battleground: Bodies of suspected Gaddafi loyalists lie outside the storm drains their leader was captured

Monday, 26 September 2011

Muslims with a good idea


On the morning of Eid al-Fitr, the biggest festival in the Muslim world, I went to a mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The mosque had taken over the street to accommodate the Eid crowd. Colorful prayer mats covered the asphalt. A thousand people sat down and raised their hands to pray.With rehearsed passion, the Imam pleaded for salvation for ourselves and the community, and prayed that we have the courage to do the right thing in life.
Then came the issue of Palestine.

“God,” implored the Imam, “Help Palestinians free themselves. They have suffered for decades under the yoke of oppression, their dream crushed by enemies awash in arms and money. God, help our brothers achieve a homeland.”

For a moment I thought of Palestine’s U.N. bid for statehood. Then I drifted to my school days, some twenty years ago. Even at that time the faithful would raise their hands to pray for brethren in Palestine.

Nothing has changed, neither the prayer, nor reality.

Those who don’t understand Muslims take such congregations as signs of fanaticism. Why else would people support others half a world away, year in and out, calling them brethren?

Modern Western sensibilities claim that our foremost political passion must be for the nation; political loyalties that transcend the nation are either utopian fluff, or, more likely, fanatic zeal.

In such sensibilities, there are essentially two types of Muslims, as Mahmud Mamdani of Columbia University put it. The Good Muslim is secularized and “rational,” and by and large a defender of imperialist interventions. The Bad Muslim is the nihilist, the militant, a brainwashed pawn who believes only in crazy conspiracies. The Good Muslim is an object of manufactured fascination, an exotic creature now enlightened. The Bad Muslim is the subject of wholesale vitriol.

Where, then, to place those praying hands for Palestine? Fluff or fanaticism? Good or bad?

One reason that Palestine draws many is the concept of a brotherhood that transcends man-made boundaries. For them, it’s normal to pray for others far away

It’s also been driven by the toothless inaction of fissiparous Arab leaders, America’s bizarrely lopsided policy on Palestine, and Israel’s self-congratulatory trumpeting of democracy while denying a people the right to live free.

The combined frustration felt from Dakar to Dhaka is not fanaticism. It’s a reasonable reaction to poisoned politics; it’s solace in the prospect of an uninterrupted global community when faced with barbed-wire borders.

But in the popular binaries of our time — good versus evil, us versus them — this type of reaction has no place. It doesn’t fit the model. You’re supposed to either accept, or react violently.

Consider Tony Blair’s recent reprise of a Bush-era refrain: “The reason why these people are radicalised is not because of something we’re doing to them. They believe in their philosophy.”

Blair’s message is not only ignorant of evidence, but also deeply conservative. If those radical Bad Muslims do crazy things regardless of policy, then there is no benefit to expediting permanent peace. Just maintain the status quo: occupation.

To dent that, pro-occupation hardliners are thumping down the good-bad card. Applying for U.N. membership, they insist, is bad behavior.

U.S. and Israeli diplomats, along with Tony Blair, are trying desperately to push Palestinians back into the mold, to the good-boy negotiation tables that have proven deceptive for decades.



Friday, 16 September 2011

Asia's Great Game


When geography changes -- as when the Suez Canal joined Europe to the Indian Ocean, or when the railroads transformed the American West and the Russian East -- old patterns of contact disappear and new ones take hold, turning strangers into neighbors and transforming backwaters into zones of new strategic significance. Entire groups decline or vanish; others rise in importance.
Over these next few years, Asia's geography will see a fundamental reorientation, bringing China and India together as never before across what was once a vast and neglected frontier stretching over a thousand miles from Kolkata to the Yangtze River basin. And Burma, long seen in Western policy circles as little more than an intractable human rights conundrum, may soon sit astride one of the world's newest and most strategically significant crossroads. Mammoth infrastructure projects are taming a once inhospitable landscape. More importantly, Burma and adjacent areas, which had long acted as a barrier between the two ancient civilizations, are reaching demographic and environmental as well as political watersheds. Ancient barriers are being broken, and the map of Asia is being redone.
For millennia, India and China have been separated by near impenetrable jungle, deadly malaria, and fearsome animals, as well as the Himalayas and the high wastelands of the Tibetan plateau. They have taken shape as entirely distinct civilizations, strikingly dissimilar in race, language, and customs. To reach India from China or vice versa, monks, missionaries, traders, and diplomats had to travel by camel and horse thousands of miles across the oasis towns and deserts of Central Asia and Afghanistan, or by ship over the Bay of Bengal and then through the Strait of Malacca to the South China Sea.  
But as global economic power shifts to the East, the configuration of the East is changing, too. The continent's last great frontier is disappearing, and Asia will soon be woven together as never before.
At the heart of the changes is Burma. Burma is not a small country; it is as big in size as France and Britain combined, but its population of 60 million is tiny compared with the 2.5 billion combined populations of its two massive neighbors. It is the missing link between China and India.
By the mid-1990s the view of Burma in the West became fairly set -- a timeless backwater, brutal and bankrupt, the realm of juntas and drug lords, as well as courageous pro-democracy activists, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. A place worthy of humanitarian attention, but unconnected to the much bigger story of Asia's global rise. China, however, viewed things differently. Where the West saw a problem and offered mainly platitudes and a little aid, China recognized an opportunity and began changing facts on the ground.  
Beginning in the mid-1990s, China began unveiling plans to join its interior to the shores of the Indian Ocean. By the mid-2000s, these plans were being turned into reality. New highways are starting to slice through the highlands of Burma, linking the Chinese hinterland directly to both India and the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. One highway will lead to a brand-new, multi-billion-dollar port, facilitating the export of manufactured goods from China's western provinces while bringing in Persian Gulf and African oil, oil that will be transported along a new 1,000-mile-long pipeline to refineries in China's hitherto landlocked Yunnan province. Another, parallel pipeline will carry Burma's newfound offshore natural gas to light up the fast-growing cities of Kunming and Chongqing. And more than $20 billion will be invested in a high-speed rail line. Soon, journeys that once took months to make may soon be completed in less than a day. By 2016, Chinese planners have declared, it will be possible to travel by train all the way from Rangoon to Beijing, part of a grand route they say will one day extend to Delhi and from there to Europe.

China's leadership has also written about its "Malacca dilemma." China is heavily dependent on foreign oil, and approximately 80 percent of these oil imports currently pass through the Strait of Malacca, near Singapore, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and just 1.7 miles across at its narrowest point. For Chinese strategists, the strait is a natural choke point where future enemies could cut off foreign energy supplies. An alternative route needed to be found. Again, access across Burma would be advantageous, lessening dependence on the strait and at the same time dramatically reducing the distance from China's factories to markets in Europe and around the Indian Ocean. That Burma itself is rich in the raw materials needed to power industrial development in China's southwest is an added plus.
Meanwhile, India has its own ambitions. With the "Look East" policy, successive Indian governments since the 1990s have sought to revive and strengthen age-old ties to the Far East, across the sea and overland across Burma, creating new connections over once impassable mountains and jungle barriers. Just north of where China is building its pipeline, along the Burmese coast, India is starting work to revive another seaport with a special road and waterway to link to Assam and India's other isolated and conflict-ridden northeastern states. There is even a proposal toreopen the Stilwell Road, built by the Allies at epic cost during World War II and then abandoned, a road that would tie the easternmost reaches of India with China's Yunnan province. Indian government officials speak of Burma's importance for the security and future development of their country's northeast -- while also keeping a cautious eye on China's dynamic push into and across Burma.
Watching these developments, some have warned of a new Great Game, leading to conflict between the world's largest emerging powers. But others predict instead the making of a new Silk Road, like the one in ancient and medieval times that coupled China to Central Asia and Europe. It's important to remember that this geographic shift comes at a very special moment in Asia's history: a moment of growing peace and prosperity at the conclusion of a century of tremendous violence and armed conflict and centuries more of Western colonial domination. The happier scenario is far from impossible.
The generation now coming of age is the first to grow up in an Asia that is both post-colonial and (with a few small exceptions) postwar. New rivalries may yet fuel 21st-century nationalisms and lead to a new Great Game, but there is great optimism nearly everywhere, at least among the middle classes and the elites that drive policy: a sense that history is on Asia's side and a desire to focus on future wealth, not hark back to the dark times that have only recently been left behind.
And a crossroads through Burma would not be a simple joining up of countries. The parts of China and India that are being drawn together over Burma are among the most far-flung parts of the two giant states, regions of unparalleled ethnic and linguistic diversity where people speak literally hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages, of forgotten kingdoms like Manipur and Dali, and of isolated upland societies that were, until recently, beyond the control of Delhi or Beijing. They are also places where ballooning populations have only now filled out a once very sparsely peopled and densely forested landscape. New countries are finding new neighbors. Whereas the fall of the Berlin Wall reopened contacts that had only temporarily been suspended, the transformations under way are enabling entirely new encounters. There is the possibility of a cosmopolitan nexus at the heart of Asia.
But is a modern-day Silk Road really in the making? Until earlier this year, it was difficult to be optimistic, with Burma at the heart of the transformations and the news from Burma remaining so bad. Ordinary people were as poor as ever, political repression was the order of the day, and the Chinese projects under way seemed to be doing more to fuel corruption and devastate the environment than anything else. Fresh elections were held late last year, but they were widelycondemned as fraudulent.
Over the past several months, however, there have been increasing signs that better days might lie ahead.
This March, the junta was formally dissolved and power handed over to a quasi-civilian government headed by a retired general, U Thein Sein. President Thein Sein quickly began to exceed (admittedly low) expectations, speaking out against graft, stressing the need for political reconciliation, appointing technocrats and businessmen to key positions, inviting exiles to return home, announcing fresh peace talks with rebel groups, and even reaching out to Aung San Suu Kyi, not long before released from house arrest. Poverty reduction strategies have been formulated, taxes lowered, trade liberalized, and a slew of new laws on everything from banking reform to environmental regulation prepared for legislative approval. Parliament, after a shaky start, began to take on a life of its own. Media censorship has been significantly relaxed, and opposition parties and Burma's burgeoning NGO community have been allowed a degree of freedom not seen in half a century.

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