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Sanctions imposed against Myanmar’s generals since they seized power

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By Simon Lewis

(Reuters) – World leaders from Washington to Singapore have condemned a military coup in Myanmar, urging generals to halt a deadly crackdown on demonstrators, release detainees including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and restore the elected government.

Some countries have followed up with targeted financial sanctions in hopes of putting the squeeze on the generals who staged the Feb. 1 coup and convince them to change course.

With the European Union set to approve sanctions on Myanmar next week, here is a snapshot of other actions around the globe.

UNITED STATES

President Joe Biden condemned the coup and issued an executive order on Feb. 11 that paved the way for new sanctions against the Myanmar military and its interests. The order froze about $1 billion in reserves Myanmar’s central bank was holding at the New York Fed, which the junta had attempted to withdraw after seizing power.

Some Myanmar generals, including Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing, were already under U.S. human rights sanctions over their role in a bloody campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority that sparked a refugee crisis in 2017.

U.S. Treasury sanctions last month targeted 14 Myanmar officers involved in the coup, along with some military companies involved in the gemstone industry, freezing any U.S. assets they hold and barring Americans from dealing with them. Min Aung Hlaing’s children and companies they control were later hit with the same sanctions.

Four military-controlled ministries and conglomerates were placed under sanctions by the U.S. Commerce Department on March 4. Those measures require U.S. suppliers to seek difficult-to-obtain licences to export goods to the ministries of defence and home affairs, and to military conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation.

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union is set to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s armed forces to target businesses they run. They will be agreed by EU foreign ministers on Monday.

Sanctions would target companies “generating revenue for, or providing financial support to, the Myanmar Armed Forces”, according to documents seen by Reuters. The bloc sought to avoid measures that would harm ordinary people.

While the bloc has an arms embargo on Myanmar, and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018, the measures would be its most significant response since the coup.

UNITED NATIONS

Action against the junta from the international body has been stifled by Russia and China, which hold vetoes over the U.N. Security Council votes needed to impose U.N. sanctions or arms embargoes.

The two countries shielded Myanmar from any strong council action over the 2017 Rohingya crisis and argue that Myanmar’s political situation is an internal matter.

The 15-member Security Council has issued two statements expressing concern and condemning violence against protesters, but dropped language condemning the army takeover as a coup and threatening possible further action due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.

Negotiations on the statements – issued in February and March – signalled that the council could struggle to do much more on Myanmar.

OTHER NATIONS

New Zealand announced a week after the coup that it was suspending high-level contacts with Myanmar and imposing a travel ban on military leaders.

Britain and Canada imposed their own sanctions on Feb. 13. Britain said it would impose asset freezes and travel bans on three generals while Canada blacklisted nine military officials. Britain has also taken measures to prevent British aid indirectly helping the junta.

Australia on March 7 said it was suspending its limited cooperation with the Myanmar military and would redirect aid bound for the government to aid groups.

Aside from sanctions, some overseas firms and investors who had business links with Myanmar’s military, like Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co, have cut those ties.

 

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; additional reporting by John Geddie and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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U.S. seeks to polish tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges

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By Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The United States hopes to restore its shattered credibility when it hosts a climate change summit next week by pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by at least half and securing agreements from allies for faster reductions, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

A 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 is a minimum level urged by environmental groups, hundreds of corporations and European Union lawmakers. It would be the first upgrade of the U.S. climate target since 2015, when former President Barack Obama pledged a 26%-28% reduction by 2025.

Washington was also close to clinching deals with the governments of Japan, South Korea and Canada to accelerate their targets to decarbonize, the two sources said. It was not immediately clear if those nations would make announcements at the event, and representatives of those countries have not commented on the discussions.

The stakes for the meeting are high. Leaders from roughly 40 countries including China, India, Brazil and Russia have been invited, with hopes they will double down on past pledges to reduce climate warming emissions. So far, international pledges to decarbonize would shave only 1% off global emissions by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, a fraction of what scientists say is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The virtual summit on April 22-23, kicking off on Earth Day, will be an opportunity for Democratic President Joe Biden to reclaim U.S. leadership in global climate efforts, after four years during which his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, downplayed the issue to support the oil and coal industries.

Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent the last few months on countless Zoom appearances and on a globe-hopping tour, concluding this week in China and South Korea, to persuade countries to use next week’s summit to hike their commitments to protect the planet.

The Biden administration has been laying the groundwork for its new target, unveiling a $2 trillion infrastructure package to expand clean energy and transport.

The European Union last year agreed to reduce its net emissions at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels – currently the most ambitious among big emitters.

“All eyes are on the Biden summit next week as a key moment for John Kerry’s diplomatic skills to be put to work in aligning all countries with a halving of emissions in this decade, as science demands,” said Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

PATIENCE WEARING THIN

Next week’s U.S. summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of the United Nations climate summit in November, known as COP26. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, an international accord set in 2015 to combat global warming.

But as global powers tussle over percentage points, in countries already facing the impacts of a warming world, patience is wearing thin.

Developing countries – many of which are vulnerable to rising seas, heatwaves and rainfall made more severe by climate change – are expected to offer their own goals at the summit, said Pablo Vieira, director of the NDC Partnership, which has been helping developing nations craft their climate targets.

They will also repeat their demand that rich nations offer more money to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts it is already unleashing in countries like Bangladesh, South Sudan and the Marshall Islands.

YOU’RE ALL INVITED

U.S. talks with Japan, South Korea and Canada have focused on trying to get each country to commit to cut emissions at least 50% by 2030, according to the two sources familiar with the U.S. negotiations.

Japan and South Korea both rely on coal for power generation and winding that dependence down and their finance of coal plants abroad could yield significant emissions cuts in the next 10 years, the sources said.

Canada may have a tougher challenge.

“We don’t have quite that luxury here because coal is a much smaller part of our grid,” Canada‘s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said. But he added: “We are working to stretch as far as we can.”

Canada, which has a large oil industry, currently has a target to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Other major emitters appear less keen to take the plunge, including India, China, Brazil and Russia.

India, the third-largest emitting country behind China and the United States, is resisting because it expects more developed nations to take on the bulk of global reductions.

“What we are suffering today is caused a 100 years ago,” said Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, pointing to emissions from the United States and Europe. “Historical responsibility is a very important aspect. We cannot just forget it.”

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, was meeting with Kerry in Shanghai this week to discuss climate change, the foreign ministry said. China promised last year that its greenhouse gas output would peak by 2030, a target environmental groups say is insufficient.

U.S. and Brazilian officials, meanwhile, have been working since February on a billion-dollar deal to fund Brazil’s protection of the Amazon rainforest, but diplomatic sources said a deal is unlikely by April 22.

Russia, another big emitter, has not yet confirmed if President Vladimir Putin will participate in the summit. With Moscow’s ties with the West at a post-Cold War low, the U.S. summit has generated little buzz in Russia.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Kate Abnett in Brussells; Additional reporting by Neha Arora and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi, Thomas Balmforth in Moscow, Tony Munroe in Beijing, Jake Spring in Brasilia and David Ljunggren in OttawaEditing by Richard Valdmanis, Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

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U.S. labor movement looks for path forward after Amazon defeat

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By Timothy Aeppel

(Reuters) – Regina McDowell was not surprised that workers overwhelmingly rejected a union at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Alabama last week.

She spent 42 years working in a unionized electrical equipment factory in Indiana and was active in organizing drives — including traveling to the South to track down workers at their homes to make the pitch for her union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“They’d sometimes shoo you off their property with a gun,” she said, adding that union dues were a sticking point for many.

“I think that gets them,” said the 63-year-old grandmother, “that it’s less money they’ll have.”

The landslide failure of the Amazon vote at the warehouse in Bessemer has sparked soul-searching in the labor movement over what went wrong and what unions need to do differently in the future to regain ground.

“Organizing in America is no longer a fair fight. Our labor laws are no longer an effective way to capture the will of American workers to form unions,” said Tim Schlittner, communications director for the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation.

“The sentiment this reinforces is that there’s an overdue and dramatic need for labor law reform in the United States.”

WORTH THE RISK?

Still, for many workers, labor experts reckon the decision whether to support a union campaign often boils down to a risk assessment.

“Once they know how strongly Amazon opposes them, and how much resources Amazon is willing to spend to defeat a union, then their fear sets in,” said Tom Kochan, a professor of industrial relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Kochan has conducted surveys that show high, and even growing, support for unions among Americans. But when it comes to individual campaigns in a workplace, “the reality sets in –

when the employer campaigns so hard that you think you’re putting your job at risk.”

Changes in the economy have exacerbated the problem. Big companies like Amazon have operations dotting the country, making it easier for them to shift work. Compared to a steel mill or a car assembly plant, an e-commerce warehouse has fewer fixed investments in equipment, which also makes it easier to shift jobs.

“Why should I as an individual worker, earning $15 an hour, risk three years of a battle with my employer to get something done,” said Kochan, “and at the same time, risk losing my job?

The traditional view, shared by Kochan and many other labor experts, is that company measures to fight unionization, including tactics that would be illegal in other advanced countries such as requiring workers to attend meetings to hear anti-union arguments, need to be reined in.

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed legislation last month that would expand protections for labor organizing and collective bargaining.

But the measure faces a difficult path in the Senate, where the two parties are evenly split and most legislation needs at least 60 backers to pass. A block of Republican senators from anti-union, “right-to-work” states is set to oppose the measure.

DASHED OPTIMISM

There was optimism among activists in the final months of the Amazon campaign, as it drew high-profile endorsements and national and international media attention, including a speech by President Joe Biden criticizing Amazon for hindering union drives at its warehouses.

Biden, a Democrat, is widely viewed as the most pro-union president in modern times.

But none of that was enough to counteract the view of some workers at the facility that pay and conditions were relatively good on top of the everyday barriers that have combined over recent years to drive union membership in the United States to historic lows.

Only 6.3% of private-sector workers belong to unions, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The comparable rate is 15.8% in neighboring Canada.

One response in recent years has been new types of organizing, which sidestep many legal restrictions on formal union campaigns to gain collective bargaining agreements with employers.

The Southern Workers Assembly, for instance, is a group that organizes protests and conducts education campaigns aimed at promoting labor and other social causes. The group helped organize events in February across the country in support of the Amazon workers.

Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Indiana, said unions need to refurbish their image. Many workplace advances such as the 40-hour week were enacted decades ago. Recent years have seen waves of factory shutdowns where companies have blamed unions for making the operation uncompetitive.

“Here in the Midwest, every time a factory closed, it had a huge spillover to the rest of the community,” he added. “It caused restaurants and bars to close, so the loss of other jobs.”

Younger generations have little contact with unions, simply because the share of workers covered by contracts has diminished so greatly.

McDowell, the former electrical worker, has seen these forces play out in her hometown of Peru, Indiana. Her plant, owned by France’s Schneider Electric SE, closed last April after a battle by the local union to retain it. The company said it was a difficult decision to close but necessary to remain competitive. Part of the work moved to Mexico.

Many workers viewed the move as an effort to get out of a unionized operation, a charge the company has denied.

But it also has eroded the stature of the union in the eyes of some, said McDowell, who remains strongly pro-union. “There were people who felt the union should have done more” to save the factory, she said.

“But once the company said they were going to close it, what can we do? It’s their company.”

 

(Reporting by Timothy Aeppel; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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NATO allies to leave Afghanistan along with U.S

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By Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) -Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a U.S. pull-out by Sept. 11, NATO allies agreed on Wednesday, pledging to mirror American plans to start removing troops on May 1 after two decades of war.

Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but still rely on American air support, planning and leadership for their training mission.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, said the decision was tough.

“This is not an easy decision, and it entails risks. As I said for many months, we face a dilemma. Because the alternative to leaving in an orderly fashion is to be prepared for a long-term, open-ended military commitment with potentially more NATO troops,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

U.S. President Joe Biden gave a speech on Wednesday in Washington announcing the U.S. withdrawal, saying that “it’s time to end the forever war.”

An integral part of NATO‘s current mission, Resolute Support, is to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Islamist Taliban, which was ousted from power by a U.S. invasion in 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.

With non-U.S. troop numbers reaching as high as 40,000 in 2008, Europe, Canada and Australia have moved in tandem with the United States in a mission also providing long-term funding to rebuild Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban-led violence and endemic official corruption in the country.

“This is not the end of our relationship with Afghanistan but rather the start of a new chapter. NATO allies will continue to stand with the Afghan people but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace that puts an end to violence,” Stoltenberg said.

Germany and Bulgaria were two of the 36 countries involved in Resolute Support to immediate announce withdrawal plans. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Biden discussed in a phone call the NATO military presence in Afghanistan and agreed to closely coordinate future steps, a German government spokesman said.

Sept. 11 is a highly symbolic date as it will be 20 years since al Qaeda attacked the United States with hijacked airliners, triggering military intervention in Afghanistan.

After withdrawing, the United States and NATO aim to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security, though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

A key reason for a coordinated withdrawal is the fact that NATO relies on U.S. airlift capabilities and shipping to move valuable equipment back home out of landlocked Afghanistan. NATO also wants to avoid any hardware falling into the hands of militants, as happened after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Will Dunham)

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