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Is the recent political thaw in Myanmar genuine? Democratic elections are coming to the long-reclusive southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, formerly Burma. A long military dictatorship has nominally ended, and the regime has signed peace treaties with several ethnic separatist insurgencies. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's long house arrest is over, and she is campaigning for a seat in Parliament in the upcoming April 1 vote. Western investment is beginning to mass, which may ultimately be the reason the country is finally opening its doors. Other speculation on the thaw points to the incompetent emergency response to Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which left as many as 140,000 dead and sowed deep dissatisfaction with the government. Whatever the reasons for the unprecedented opening, the isolated and impoverished Burmese people are eager to reconnect with and catch their more developed neighbors in ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations. While it's impossible to represent every corner of any nation, collected here are images from the last couple of months in Myanmar, a nation of 55 million. -- Lane Turner (41 photos total)
A child waits for the arrival of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Pyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta region on February 17, 2012. She wears thanaka on her face, a paste made from wood bark popularly used as both a beauty cosmetic and protection from the sun. (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)

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Violence at a soccer match triggered intensified political protests in Egypt raging now into their fifth day. A match on February 1, 2012 in Port Said, Egypt between rival clubs Al-Masry of Port Said and visiting Al-Ahly of Cairo ended with home supporters charging onto the pitch and chasing visiting fans. That confrontation turned bloody when the visiting fans were unable to get out of the stadium, and 74 died from attacks and from injuries sustained in a panicked stampede. Al-Ahly's fans had played a prominent role in defending protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square that eventually toppled leader Hosni Mubarak, and for this reason opponents of Egypt's military rulers assert that police at the stadium allowed the violence to happen, or even encouraged it. Protests continue to grow over the lack of police protection for the fans after three official days of mourning for the victims. Gathered here are photographs of the initial confrontation between fans and the resulting protests from the past several days. -- Lane Turner (25 photos total)
Protests near Egypt's Interior Ministry continued on February 3, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt with at least four people killed amid anger over the deaths of 74 football fans that were killed in clashes between rival fans in Port Said, Egypt. Three-days of mourning were announced and marches were scheduled to protest at the lack of protection provided by police who were at the stadium when the violence occurred. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

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Frigid temperatures have gripped Europe in the last week, with the mercury reaching as low as 35 degrees Celsius below zero. After what had been a relatively mild winter, the sudden cold caught many unprepared. Eastern Europe is hardest hit, with over 100 deaths in Ukraine, and with over 11,000 people in remote villages cut off by snow in Serbia. Most of the fatalities recorded have been homeless people found frozen to death outside, and emergency tents with hot meals have been set up to help them in several affected countries. Russia and Poland are mobilizing help for the homeless. Travel in Romania has been chaos as a blizzard hampered efforts to clear both rails and roads. Recorded temperatures in Italy were the lowest in 27 years. -- Lane Turner (45 photos total)
A woman looks out a bus in Bucharest on February 2, 2012. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

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Any "best of" list must surely be subjective. This one is no different. Choosing the best photographs of the year is an enormously difficult task, with many terrific photographs slipping through the cracks. But with major news events as a guide, and with single images I fell in love with throughout the year forcing their way into the edit, I look at my favorite pictures from the first four months of the year. Two main stories dominated headlines in the first part of the year: the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the rising of the Arab Spring. The protests in the Middle East would spread to Greece, Spain, and eventually inspire the Occupy movement in Western nations. Other stories included a historic wave of tornados in the U.S., a Royal wedding in London, and the creation of the world's newest nation in South Sudan. Images from the rest of the year will follow in posts later this week. -- Lane Turner (36 photos total)
A wave caused by a tsunami flows into the city of Miyako from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck Japan March 11, 2011. (Mainichi Shimbun /Reuters)

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Protesters unhappy with the pace of change and the continued military rule in Egypt flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square over the weekend demanding civilian rule. Riot police responded with tear gas, beatings, and live ammunition, leaving at least 20 dead in continuing clashes. Egypt holds parliamentary elections next week, and demonstrators want presidential elections to be held shortly afterward. The ruling military has proposed to delay those elections until late 2012 or even 2013, angering Egyptians frustrated with the military's role in government. Collected here are images of the struggle over the weekend. -- Lane Turner (24 photos total)
Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police in a side street near Tahrir Square in Cairo November 21, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

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The Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims from around the world every year to Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's holiest place. Saudi Arabia expects to host perhaps three million people in a ritual journey that every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make at least once in their lifetime. It is the largest annual gathering of humanity anywhere. Timed to the Muslim lunar calendar, the Hajj is followed by the celebrations of the three-day festival of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which symbolizes Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Collected here are photographs of the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as well as images of preparations for the Hajj and Eid al-Adha in many other parts of the Muslim world. -- Lane Turner (42 photos total)
A Muslim pilgrim prays as visits the Hiraa cave at the top of Noor Mountain on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on November 2, 2011. According to tradition, Islam's Prophet Mohammed received his first message to preach Islam while he was praying in the cave. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

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Flood waters inundating Thailand north of Bangkok since July have made the journey south and reached the capital. The disaster is responsible for 400 deaths in Thailand and neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam. Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter, but the floods have wiped out over a quarter of the country's crop. The government has declared a five-day holiday for the capital to allow residents time to evacuate. Damages could top six billion dollars in Thailand's worst flooding in 50 years. Collected here are images of the water as it moves south to Bangkok, and how residents there are dealing with the disaster. -- Lane Turner (43 photos total)
A woman holds a toddler as she walks through floodwaters in an area near the Chao Praya river in Bangkok on October 29, 2011. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

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Global protests against economic injustice gripped cities over the weekend, predominantly on Saturday, October 15. Solidarity with Spain's "Indignants" and New York's "Occupy Wall Street" protesters brought demonstrations over the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the worldwide economic crisis to cities from Hong Kong to Tulsa. Hundreds of thousands joined the mostly peaceful demonstrations, although arrests were made in many cities, and clashes with police in Rome became particularly violent. The movement shows no signs of slowing. Gathered here are images from cities large and small. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Members of Occupy Wall Street stage a protest near Wall Street in New York on October 15, 2011. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

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Kashmir is a scenic land of tranquil beauty. A longstanding dispute over control of the region ensures that life for Kashmiris is anything but tranquil. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir, and a fortified Line of Control separates forces. China also administers part of the region. Two wars have been fought between Pakistan and India since borders were drawn in 1947, and the predominately Muslim area chafes under Indian control. In August mass graves were disclosed that likely held the bodies of "disappeared" civilians killed during insurgencies years ago. The disclosure was one of a series of incidents which keeps the region tense. The political dispute and attendant violence disturbs what should otherwise be a culturally vibrant, lushly beautiful idyll. Collected here are images from the last several months in Kashmir, a region of roughly twelve and a half million people. -- Lane Turner (47 photos total)
Indian tourists enjoy a traditional Shikara boat ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, India on July 7, 2011. (Mukhtar Khan/AP)

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The ongoing student demonstrations in Chile began as a protest over the costs, profits, and fairness of higher education there. They have since attracted other segments of Chilean society venting frustration over wages, health care, and other issues. Uniting the protesters is common dissatisfaction with hugely unpopular President Sebastian Pinera and social inequality. Workers joined a 48-hour general strike in August which, like many demonstrations during the course of the protests, was met with police using tear gas and water cannons on the participants. With changes in the education system still unsettled, the student protests are likely to continue. Chileans yesterday celebrated their national independence day. -- Lane Turner (34 photos total)
Students are hit by water cannons during a rally to demand changes in the public state education system in Santiago July 28, 2011. (Carlos Vera/Reuters)

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