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by shutting down the economy

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Bank tellers’ windows are gathering dust. Cargo at the port sits uncollected. And in grand government ministries in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, stacks of documents are curling in the humidity. There are few people to process all the paperwork.

Since the military seized power in a coup last month, an entire nation has come to a standstill. From hospitals, railways and dockyards to schools, shops and trading houses, much of society has stopped showing up for work in an attempt to stymie the military regime and force it to return authority to a civilian government.

While demonstrators continue to brave bullets – at least 220 people have been killed since the February 1st coup, according to a local group that monitors political imprisonments and deaths – the quiet persistence of this mass civil disobedience movement has grown into a potent weapon against the military.

For all the planning that went into the putsch, the generals seem to have been utterly unprepared for the breadth and depth of resistance against them.

“They robbed the power of the people from our elected government,” said Cho Cho Naing, a clerk at the ministry of foreign affairs who has refused to work along with most of her colleagues. “Our country’s democracy journey has just started, and we can’t lose it again.”

The effect of millions of people refusing to do their jobs has been dramatic, even if the military is built to withstand pressure. Up to 90 per cent of national government activity has ceased, according to officials from four ministries. Factories are idled. In February, the national business registry recorded fewer than 190 new registrations, compared with nearly 1,300 the year before.

Medical students, doctors and engineers join a protest against the military coup in Mandalay. Photograph: The New York Times
Medical students, doctors and engineers join a protest against the military coup in Mandalay. Photograph: The New York Times

In a country where at least a third of the population was already living below the poverty line, civil disobedience is bringing tremendous self-imposed hardship to the people. But the striking class hopes that just a few more weeks or months of financial coercion will starve the military of the workforce and resources it needs to run the country.

Martial law

Last Sunday, dozens were killed in factory districts in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, when security forces cracked down on striking protesters with lethal force. The area is now under martial law, but many workers have vowed not to give up.

“We might be poor in terms of money, but we are rich with the value of loving our country,” said Thuzar Lwin, whose husband, Chan Thar, a construction worker, was shot in the neck during a recent attack.

Early this week, as her husband struggled for his life, Thuzar Lwin voiced her aspirations for him. “I want him to see with his own eyes the day the junta steps down,” she said. Chan Thar died on Wednesday.

The Myanmar military, which has ruled the country for most of the past 60 years, is adept at killing. It is less practised in running an economy that began integrating into the global financial system during a decade of reform.

In raids following the coup, soldiers rounded up hundreds of officials considered faithful to the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy party. An Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s de facto civilian leader, was also locked up. More than 200 employees of the central bank, including five deputy directors, have been fired for their civil disobedience.

As a result, taxes aren’t being collected in Myanmar. The bulk of licences for imports, exports and much else are no longer being granted. With employees of private banks joining the strike, most money flows in and out of the country have stopped. Many companies have been unable to pay employees. Military banks have limited withdrawals for fear of runs on cash.

Protesters burn tyres on a bridge in an attempt to block security forces from passing through a major traffic hub in Yangon on Wednesday. Photograph: The New York Times
Protesters burn tyres on a bridge in an attempt to block security forces from passing through a major traffic hub in Yangon on Wednesday. Photograph: The New York Times

Last week, the military ordered private banks to transfer funds deposited by agricultural traders to state or military banks so the money could be withdrawn for the upcoming harvest. The order has gone unheeded.

“They are the king now, but we are not their servants,” said Phyu Phyu Cho, a loan officer for a private bank who has joined the strike. “If we all unite, they can’t do anything.”

Long queues

Myanmar is now short of many things at once: gasoline for cars, imported grains and legumes, foreign toothpaste. In the Yangon area, retail prices for palm oil have increased 20 per cent since the coup, according to the World Food Programme.

People have gotten used to long queues, for ATM withdrawals, for pension collection, for handouts of rice and curry. Striking factory workers are having to choose between clamping on hard hats and goggles to join a protest or waiting in the hot sun for whatever basic necessity might be on offer that day.

For now, informal financing networks are helping to ease some of the pain of lost wages. In Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, a single Facebook group run by ordinary citizens has raised funds to support nearly 5,000 people who are participating in the civil disobedience movement, which is known by the abbreviation CDM.

“Myanmar people are so generous in their donations to people in need,” said Aung Htay Myint, one of the organisers of the Mandalay effort. Myanmar’s economy, one of the least developed in Asia after decades of military mismanagement, was already reeling from coronavirus, which hit the garment and tourism industries particularly hard.

With the coup, foreign investors are feeling skittish. Toyota has delayed plans for a factory opening. The World Bank has paused disbursements in the country.

Sanctions by western governments on military officers and companies have piled up. Last week, the US treasury department banned American dealings with, among other businesses, a gym and a restaurant owned by the children of senior general Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who led the coup. The US government has frozen about $1 billion in assets held by Myanmar in an American financial institution.

Oil and gas

A group of legislators that says it represents the ousted parliament has written to foreign oil and gas companies requesting that they cease payments to the regime lest it “sustain the current military junta’s violent rule and enrich its leaders”.

But extraction of Shwe natural gas, which is sent to China, hasn’t decreased since the coup. Such oil and gas earnings add up to $90 million a month to the regime’s coffers, according to estimates from the disbanded parliament.

Beyond oil and gas, the military and its vast business holdings profit from the illegal collection of natural resources, such as jade and timber, which brings in income rivalling the country’s official revenues.

“So many of their funds come from black markets,” said Dr Sasa, a special envoy to the United Nations for the ousted civilian authority.

The civil disobedience movement won’t halt such illicit activity. In some cases, as with the production of methamphetamine and other drugs, production may boom in the shadowy spaces of political conflict.

In the meantime, Myanmar’s citizens are paying the greatest price. A township administrator in Shan state, who asked not to have his name published because of the danger of speaking out, described how he was hauled in for interrogation after participating in the civil servant strike. After escaping through the jungle, he is now in hiding.

In Yangon, Soe Naing, a garment factory worker, said he recently watched as a fellow striking worker was shot in the head and killed. Soe Naing earned about $115 per month for his job, barely a living wage.

“We have nothing to lose,” he said. “As a basic labourer, we only have one choice. It’s to fight back against the junta.” – New York Times



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‘I was so proud to be Navajo and so proud to be Irish’

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“For the first time in my lifetime my two cultures were intertwined in the most beautiful way … I was so proud to be Navajo and so proud to be Irish.”

Doreen McPaul was speaking as she received a Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad for 2021. President Higgins granted the awards to 11 people at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin on December 2nd.

McPaul, of Irish and Navajo heritage, is attorney general for the Navajo Nation. Her award, under the category of charitable works, is in recognition of her fundraising for the Navajo, who experienced extreme hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her efforts led to a collaboration with the Irish Cultural Centre and McClelland Library in Phoenix, Arizona, which gathered more than $30,000 worth of donated supplies to assist the Navajo Nation at the peak of the pandemic.

“The Navajo Nation was so devastated by Covid-19, as a culture and as a community. [It] was really tragic and stressful, and we worked literally non-stop. The highlight of this was talking to people from all over the world …. Specifically with Ireland, we had this huge outpouring of support, and that was really overwhelming because of my own dual heritage and growing up as a half-Navajo half-Irish girl,” she told The Irish Times.

“As soon as people learned that the Navajo Nation attorney general was part-Irish, people reached out to me and claimed me as their own and invited me to all these things and celebrated my dual heritage in a way I’ve never experienced before. Literally they put me on the highest pedestal and that’s what this award signifies to me.”

A graduate of Princeton University, Doreen McPaul has worked as a tribal attorney for 20 years and has spent two years serving as attorney general. “I didn’t know I was nominated for the award first of all. So when the Irish council called to let me know I would be receiving a notice of the award, I literally cried.”

In all, 11 people received awards on Thursday, in a variety of fields. They were: Arts, Culture and Sport: Susan Feldman (USA), Roy Foster (Britain) and Br Colm O’Connell (Kenya). Business and Education: Sr Orla Treacy (South Sudan). Charitable Works: Doreen Nanibaa McPaul (USA), Phyllis Morgan-Fann and Jim O’Hara (Britain). Irish Community Support: Adrian Flannelly and Billy Lawless (USA). Peace, Reconciliation & Development: Bridget Brownlow (Canada). Science, Technology & Innovation: Susan Hopkins (Britain).

Colm Brophy, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora said: “As Minister of State for the Diaspora I am aware of the profound impact our global family has had around the world in a variety of fields. There were 107 nominations for these awards this year, and the level and breadth of the achievements of the people nominated are, by any measure, remarkable.

The contribution of the Irish abroad has been immense, and the diversity of their achievements in their many walks of life, can be seen in this year’s 11 awardees.”

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Ski home values rise by up to 17% despite travel restrictions says Savills

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It’s not just Britain’s property market that is red-hot. Homes in ski resorts are being snapped up by wealthy buyers despite the pandemic and on/off travel restrictions, a new reports suggests.

And just like here, the staggering growth in values stems from high demand and lack of supply. 

The findings are in Savills latest ski report, which tracks 44 resorts globally. It found that property prices grew on average 5.1 per cent in the last year.

However, some resorts – including Flims and Grimentz in Switzerland – saw values rise 17 per cent.

This chalet in Chemin Des Cleves in Switzerland and is for sale for CHF6,000,000, the equivalent of £4.9million

This chalet in Chemin Des Cleves in Switzerland and is for sale for CHF6,000,000, the equivalent of £4.9million

Top 20 prime ski resorts, based on price per square metres (priced in euros)

Top 20 prime ski resorts, based on price per square metres (priced in euros)

The release of pent-up demand for ski properties follows almost two seasons of closures for most resorts.

Jeremy Rollason, of Savills, said: ‘Only a few resorts such as Val d’Isère, Verbier and Morzine were seeing real price growth up until 2019. 

‘That has all changed with virtually all resorts in the Alps and North America experiencing strong double digit and sometimes exponential price growth in a matter of months.’

He adds: ‘The first quarter of 2021 was particularly acute for demand. Transaction volumes doubled over the previous year and fierce competition emerged, especially for prime property in the most exclusive resorts.

‘Property that had previously been for sale for a few months – or even years – suddenly found buyers who were keen to escape the confines of towns and cities.’

The North American ski resorts of Aspen and Vail top the Savills Ski Prime Price League with Courchevel 1850 moving from the top spot to third place.

Aspen, which celebrates its 75th birthday this season, is predominantly a domestic market, with average values at around £25,000 per square metre.

Meribel has broken into the top ten price resorts with asking prices of around £13,800 per square metre. 

With its 200 lifts, and central to the world’s largest ski area – Les Trois Vallees – Meribel is popular among French and British skiers looking for a dual season resort.

Making the most of a dual season: This five-bed chalet is in St Gervais, in France's Haute-Savoie region, and is on the market for €2.5m (£2.13m)

Making the most of a dual season: This five-bed chalet is in St Gervais, in France’s Haute-Savoie region, and is on the market for €2.5m (£2.13m)

Estate agents Savills also looked at the prospects for price growth in 10 key resorts

Estate agents Savills also looked at the prospects for price growth in 10 key resorts

While resorts have always pushed the benefits of using properties throughout the winter and summer, a dual season resort is now the most important locational factor for buyers as they look to make the most of their holiday homes, according to Savills.

The estate agent said that regardless of international travel restrictions, foreign buyers are still keen to purchase ski resort properties and have been quick to return to the property market as restrictions have lifted.

This week, some resorts opened early amid heavy snowfall and are hoping to remain so throughout the season.

Mark Nathan, of Chalets 1066, the largest operator in France’s Les Gets, said: ‘We are fortunate here in that Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the French Minister for Tourisme has said that ‘closing is not an option’ this winter.

‘The snow is amazing at the moment and the pistes will be opening this weekend. The planned date was December 12 for early opening so this shows how good the conditions are. The fresh snow was up to my knees this morning.’

This five-bed chalet is in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and is for sale for CHF4,200,000, the equivalent of £3.4million

This five-bed chalet is in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and is for sale for CHF4,200,000, the equivalent of £3.4million

He explained that visitors will be expected to show proof of vaccination to go into bars and restaurants, and also when buying lift passes.

‘There might even be random checks in the lift queues. We are also expecting to have to use masks in lift queues – but these are all small points and the good news is we can all ski and enjoy a mountain holiday. 

‘Our bookings are the best we have ever had by a long way, in over 13 years of business. 

‘Over the past few days there has been nervousness among the English and a few other countries with the new Omicron variant, but we now hear that the Swiss will be allowing people who are on their way to France to land at Geneva and then take a transfer directly to France. 

‘Overall, we are looking forward to an exciting ski season.’

Qualified ski instructor and ski journalist Rob Stewart added: ‘British skiers spend more money than domestic visitors and ski resorts are desperate to have us back. 

‘In some French resorts, British skiers are only second to French visitors in regards to numbers and we are such an important part of their economy.

‘This winter, snow seems to have come fairly early and in decent quantities, and it’s cold. This always helps increase visitor numbers and after such a terrible winter last year because of Covid, there is huge positively about this winter being a good one.

‘The challenges remain for British skiers, with nerves around changing travel restrictions still haunting the industry and lack of availability pushing prices higher for the moment. 

‘But for skiers that have missed out for one and half seasons now, these challenges will be overcome if possible, for the chance to get back on the slopes’.

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Players should be allowed to compete in Saudi International

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Rory McIlroy has delivered a potentially crucial intervention on behalf of golfers wishing to compete in the Saudi International in February by insisting the PGA and European tours should not block them from playing.

The Saudi International, once of the European Tour but now an Asian Tour event, has confirmed a number of the world’s most prominent golfers – including Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio García – have agreed to feature in 2022.

Saudi Arabia has sought to make inroads into professional golf but has encountered stiff resistance from the European and PGA tours. It has been reported both those bodies could trigger open warfare by refusing to grant releases to their members to play in Jeddah. The European Tour will discuss the issue at board level in the coming days.

McIlroy has no interest in accepting Saudi money but believes others should not be denied the opportunity. “I think we’re independent contractors and we should be able to play where we want to play,” he said. “So in my opinion I think the Tour should grant releases. It’s an Asian Tour event, it’s an event that has official golf world rankings.

“I do see reasons why they wouldn’t grant releases but I think if they’re trying to do what’s best for their members and their members are going to a place other than the PGA Tour and being able to earn that money, I mean, we’re independent contractors and I feel like we should be able to do that if that’s what our personal choice is. My personal choice is not to do that but obviously a lot of players are doing that and I think it’s fair to let them do that.

“My view as a professional golfer is I’m an independent contractor, I should be able to go play where I want if I have the credentials and I have the eligibility to do so. I’d say most of the players on tour would be in a similar opinion to me.”

The matter is further complicated by some players having signed multi-year deals to play in Saudi. McIlroy, 32, did admit the prospect of legal wrangling is an unappealing one. “I think the professional game needs to get to a point where we as professionals need to know where we stand,” he said. “Are we actually independent contractors? Are we employed by a certain entity? There’s a lot of grey area in that and that’s what sort of needs to be sorted out, I think.”

McIlroy’s curious competitive year will close at this weekend’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. “I think it’s been a year where I’ve struggled in parts but I still got two wins on tour, which is pretty good,” the world No 8 said. “I was tied for the lead with nine holes to go in the US Open. I played well in parts, I just didn’t do it consistently enough. I go back to 2019 and had like 19 top-10 finishes or whatever it was; that’s the level I want to play at.” – Guardian

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