Germany urges Iran to return to nuclear talks with realistic proposals

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany wants Iran to present realistic proposals in talks over its nuclear programme, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Monday, adding that offers Tehran made last week almost all violate previously agreed compromises.

Its proposals are “not a basis for a successful end to talks,” she said. “We reviewed the proposals … carefully and thoroughly and concluded that Iran violated almost all compromises found previously in months of hard negotiations.”

Iran and major powers started talks in April aimed at bringing Tehran and Washington back into full compliance with the 2015 pact, which was abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump three years ago.

But negotiations stopped after the election of Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi in June.

Indirect talks between Washington and Tehran on reinstating their nuclear pact resumed a week ago but broke off on Friday, with a resumption scheduled for later this week, as Western officials voiced dismay at sweeping Iranian demands.

The German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said it was unacceptable that Iran was advancing its nuclear capacity in parallel with the talks. She said Berlin wants to build on progress already made and remains “committed to the diplomatic path, but the window of opportunity is closing more and more”.

A senior Iranian official said on Sunday a U.S. reluctance to lift all sanctions that were reimposed on Iran by Trump is the main challenge to reviving the deal.

Western powers have questioned Tehran’s determination to salvage the agreement. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday Washington would not let Iran drag out the process while continuing to advance its uranium enrichment programme and it will pursue other options if diplomacy fails.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Miranda Murray and Mark Heinrich)

Amundi CIO Blanque says equities still the asset class to own

LONDON (Reuters) – Equities remain the asset class to own and the selling of emerging markets assets is overdone, Amundi group CIO Pascal Blanque told the Reuters Investment Summit on Monday

“On the equity side, equities are for me the asset class with some limits,” Blanque said. “There are limits to the TINA (there is no alternative) mantra, that is small relative.”

Amundi is Europe’s largest asset manager by assets under management.

The fate of real, or inflation-adjusted rates was important next year, Blanque said, reiterating his belief that central banks would lose control of government bond yield curves.

With inflation proving stickier than anticipated, many major central banks have started to dial back massive stimulus unleashed as the COVID crisis broke last year.

Blanque added that selling of emerging markets is overdone and expected some portfolio rebalancing to take place.

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao)

The trials of Aung San Suu Kyi, from heroine to villain to convict

(Reuters) – Put on trial by the generals who overthrew her elected government in a coup that cut short democratic reforms she had fought for decades to bring about, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced on Monday to four years in prison.

The 76-year-old’s sentence was later reduced to two years’ detention in an undisclosed location after she was convicted of incitement and violations of a law on natural disasters in the first verdicts in more than a dozen criminal cases filed against her since the Feb. 1 military takeover.

Just 14 months before the coup, she had travelled to the U.N. International Court of Justice in the Hague to defend those same generals against charges of genocide over a 2017 military offensive that drove ethnic Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi’s long struggle for democracy made her a heroine in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and the mostly Western criticism she faced over the plight of the Rohingya had no negative impact on her popularity at home.

Known as “the Lady”, Suu Kyi had fulfilled the dreams of millions when her party first won a landslide election in 2015 that established Myanmar’s first civilian government in half a century.

She spent 15 years under house arrest in the struggle for democracy, but her administration had to cohabit with the generals who retained control of defence and security.

That hybrid government failed to unite Myanmar’s many ethnic groups or end its decades-long civil wars, and Suu Kyi also oversaw tightening restrictions on the press and civil society while falling out with some former allies.

But her second election victory in November unnerved the military – and it seized power on Feb. 1, alleging voter fraud by her National League for Democracy party despite rejection of the army’s claims by the election commission and monitors.

The first criminal cases filed against Suu Kyi included breaching coronavirus restrictions and possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies.

More serious charges were to follow, including incitement, corruption and breaching the Official Secrets Act. She now faces a dozen cases with combined maximum sentences of more 100 years.

Protesters have taken to the streets in her name, calling for the release of “Mother Suu” despite hundreds of killings and thousands of detentions since the coup.

LADY BY THE LAKE

The daughter of independence hero Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 when she was 2 years old, Suu Kyi spent much of her young life overseas. She attended Oxford University, met her husband, the British academic Michael Aris, and had two sons.

Before they married, she asked Aris to promise he would not stop her if she needed to return home. In 1988, she got the phone call that changed their lives: her mother was dying.

In the capital Yangon, then known as Rangoon, she was swept up in a student-led revolution against the then junta that had plunged the country into a ruinous isolation.

An eloquent public speaker, Suu Kyi became the leader of the new movement, quoting her father’s dream to “build up a free Burma”.

The revolution was crushed, its leaders killed and jailed, and Suu Kyi was confined to her lakeside home. Speaking her name in public could earn her supporters a prison sentence, so they called her “the Lady”.

Slightly built and soft-spoken, she played a crucial role in keeping world attention on Myanmar’s junta and its human rights record, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Aris died in 1997, but she did not attend his funeral, fearful she would not be allowed to return.

During a brief release from house arrest in 1998 she attempted to travel outside Yangon to visit supporters and was blocked by the army. She sat inside her van for several days and nights, despite dehydration in the sweltering heat, and was said to have caught rainwater in an open umbrella.

She survived an assassination attempt in 2003 when pro-military men wielding spikes and rods attacked a convoy she was travelling in, killing and wounding some of her supporters.

The army again placed her under house arrest and from behind the gates, she gave weekly addresses to supporters, standing on rickety tables and talking about democracy under the watchful eyes of police.

A devout Buddhist, she sometimes spoke of her struggle in spiritual terms.

In 2010, the military began a series of democratic reforms and Suu Kyi was released before thousands of weeping, cheering supporters.

In the West, she was feted. Barack Obama became the first U.S president to visit Myanmar in 2012, calling her an “inspiration to people all around the world, including myself”. U.S economic sanctions on Myanmar were eased, though Suu Kyi remained cautious about the extent of reforms.

But the Western optimism generated by Suu Kyi’s 2015 election win evaporated two years later, when Rohingya militants attacked security forces and the military responded with an offensive that eventually expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from Myanmar.

U.N. investigators in an August 2018 report said the Myanmar military had carried out killings and mass rape.

In December 2019, Suu Kyi defended the military operation before the U.N. International Court of Justice, describing it as a counterterrorism response and asking the court to dismiss a genocide accusation brought by Gambia.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

Danske Bank asked to expand debt-collection investigation

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -Danske Bank has been asked by the Danish financial watchdog to extend and expand an external investigation into issues with its debt-collection practices, Denmark’s biggest lender said on Monday.

The Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) asked Danske Bank in November last year to launch an impartial investigation into the matter.

Last year Danske said it had wrongly collected debt from up to 106,000 customers because of IT system errors and in September the bank admitted it had known about this for years but had not properly addressed the problem.

Since then, Danske has uncovered additional issues, saying the case has proved more complex and extensive than initially expected. In November Danske suspended all debt collection in Denmark until all issues had been resolved.

The Danish FSA on Monday said that the order to extend the investigation was needed to properly follow up on Danske’s remediation efforts, which were taking longer than expected.

(Reporting by Nikolaj SkydsgaardEditing by David Goodman)

Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

Factbox: Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi convicted, sentenced

(Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday to four years in prison for incitement and violating COVID-19 restrictions, delivering the first verdicts against her since a coup ousted a civilian government on Feb. 1.

Her sentence was later in the day reduced by the military junta leader to two years’ detention in her current location, which has not been disclosed, state TV reported in an evening broadcast.

Following are some facts about Suu Kyi, 76.

EARLY LIFE

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of independence hero Aung San, who was assassinated when she was a child. She spent much of her younger years abroad and at Oxford University met her future husband, scholar Michael Aris, with whom she had two sons.

RETURN TO MYANMAR

In 1988, she returned to Myanmar to care for her dying mother, but was quickly swept up in nationwide protests against decades of military rule. A year later, she was put under house arrest at her lakeside home in Yangon.

NOBEL PEACE PRICE AND HOUSE ARREST

In 1991, Suu Kyi won a Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for democracy, but was only fully released from house arrest in 2010. A year later, she met President Thein Sein, marking the start of her pragmatic engagement with a government of ex-soldiers.

ELECTION AND ROHINGYA CRACKDOWN

She was swept into power in a 2015 election. During the election campaign, her main objectives were to bring an end to civil war in various parts of the ethnically diverse country, attract foreign investment, and reduce the army’s role in politics.

Suu Kyi also promised to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslim people, forming an advisory commission headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

But in 2017, following attacks by Rohingya militants, Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown that the U.N. human rights high commissioner described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Suu Kyi went to the International Court of Justice in December 2019 to defend Myanmar from accusations of genocide. She acknowledged the possibility war crimes had been committed but framed the crackdown as a legitimate military operation against “terrorists”.

MILITARY COUP

While the Rohingya crisis helped tarnish her reputation abroad, she remains hugely popular at home and in November 2020 her party swept to power again.

But before her government was sworn in, the military staged a coup in February arresting civilian leaders including Suu Kyi after alleging the election was rigged, an assertion dismissed at time by the election commission.

She now faces about a dozen legal cases including two for corruption and one for violating the Official Secrets Act, which carry a maximum penalty of more than 100 years in jail. Her supporters say the charges are baseless and designed to keep her out of power.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Ed Davies, Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean)

Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Tyson Foods to pay frontline workers $50 million in bonuses

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Tyson Foods said on Monday it will pay about $50 million in year-end bonuses to frontline and hourly meatpacking workers starting this month, as companies compete to attract and retain employees.

The one-time bonuses for 86,000 eligible Tyson employees will be based on tenure and range from $300 to $700, the company said.

U.S. meat processors have struggled to find enough workers this year due to the tight labor market and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 59,000 workers were infected with the COVID-19 through January at plants run by Tyson and competitors JBS USA, Cargill Inc, National Beef Packing Company and WH Group’s Smithfield Foods, according to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee report.

The meatpacking industry was especially hard hit by the pandemic in part because its workers tend to be in close quarters for long hours.

Tyson said it has spent more than $500 million in wage increases and bonuses for frontline workers over the past year. The average total compensation for its hourly workers tops $24 an hour, counting wages and other benefits like medical insurance, the company said.

In Canada, workers at a Cargill beef plant in High River, Alberta, last week voted on a new company offer backed by union negotiators, just days before a potential strike.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

S.Korea’s COVID-19 rules put some vaccinated foreigners in limbo

By Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea imposed stricter measures on Monday to contain growing coronavirus infections and the Omicron variant, leaving some foreign residents vaccinated overseas effectively barred from places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.

South Korea recognises the vaccination status of Korean citizens who were vaccinated overseas but not foreigners, unless they entered the country under a quarantine exemption.

Some foreign residents, particularly from Europe and the United States, were vaccinated earlier in the year when South Korea had not yet made vaccines available and were not eligible for the quarantine exemptions that were extended to certain people in business, education or for humanitarian reasons.

It is unclear how many people are affected but the problem has caught the attention of several foreign embassies, which have been lobbying unsuccessfully for weeks for a change.

“We continue to argue for urgent review of the guidance in order to ensure equitable treatment of foreign and Korean nationals vaccinated overseas,” Stephen Burns, a spokesman for the British embassy in Seoul, told Reuters.

The Australian Embassy is in ongoing contact with the South Korean government on this matter and continues to advocate for a change to their policy, ambassador Catherine Raper said in a post on Twitter on Monday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the policy affects a small number of people and is necessary given rising COVID-19 cases.

“A cautious approach is required at this time with locally and globally confirmed cases of the Omicron variant and the possibility of further community spread,” a spokesperson said, adding that officials will review the rules depending on the domestic outbreak situation.

The KDCA reported 4,325 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, for a total of 477,358 since the pandemic began, with 3,893 deaths overall. The country has detected 24 cases of the new Omicron variant.

In response to growing daily cases, South Korea has put on hold previous efforts to “live with COVID-19”, instead imposing new vaccine pass requirements and ending quarantine exemptions for all travellers arriving from overseas.

The problem for foreigners with unregistered vaccines stands to become more acute as previous rules that required a government vaccine pass or negative COVID-19 test for entry to gyms, saunas, and bars have now been expanded to include cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces.

Unvaccinated individuals or people without proof of vaccination can still dine in restaurants, but only if they sit alone.

“An example of how South Korea isn’t quite a truly global, international country yet,” tweeted Jean Lee, an analyst on Korea affairs at U.S.-based Wilson Center.

In March, authorities in several major cities including Seoul sparked an uproar by ordering all foreign workers be tested for coronavirus. Some of those measures were dropped after complaints by embassies and a human rights probe.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Oil rebounds towards $72 on Omicron hopes and Iran talks

By Alex Lawler

LONDON (Reuters) -Oil climbed by $2 a barrel towards $72 on Monday on hopes that the Omicron coronavirus variant would have a less damaging economic impact if its symptoms proved mostly mild and as the prospect of an imminent rise in Iranian oil exports receded.

Reports in South Africa said Omicron cases there had only shown mild symptoms and the top U.S. infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, told CNN “it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity” so far.

Brent crude gained $1.35, or 1.9%, to $71.23 a barrel by 1439 GMT while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude advanced $1.43, or 2.2%, to $67.69. Both benchmarks fell for a sixth week in a row last week.

“If Omicron is proven over the coming days – or weeks – to be less aggressive, even if it is more contagious, then we can say 100% last week’s lows were the bargain of the quarter,” said Jeffrey Halley, an analyst at brokerage OANDA.

Brent has risen 38% this year, supported by output curbs led by the OPEC+ group of producers, though it has fallen from a three-year high above $86 in October.

“Traders are brushing off the initial panic over the Omicron variant,” said Louise Dickson of Rystad Energy. “The oil market seems to now be convinced that higher price levels are warranted.”

The OPEC+ group, comprising the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, last week decided to continue increasing monthly supply by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January, even after a slide in prices driven by Omicron concerns.

On Sunday Saudi Arabia raised January official selling prices for all crude grades sold to Asia and the United States by up to 80 cents from the previous month.

Oil was also buoyed by diminishing prospects of a rise in Iranian oil exports after indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on saving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal broke off last week.

(Additional reporting by Florence TanEditing by Edmund Blair and David Goodman)

U.S., five other countries urge Ethiopia to cease illegal detentions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Six countries including the United States expressed concern on Monday over reports of widespread arrests by Ethiopia of Tigrayan citizens based on ethnicity in connection with the country’s year-old conflict, urging the government to stop acts they said likely violate international law.

The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands cited reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the rights group Amnesty International on widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans, including Orthodox priests, older people and mothers with children.

The countries said they are “profoundly concerned” about the detentions of people without charges, adding that the government’s announcement of a state of emergency last month offered “no justification” for mass detentions.

“Individuals are being arrested and detained without charges or a court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions. Many of these acts likely constitute violations of international law and must cease immediately,” the six countries said in a joint statement.

They urged Ethiopia’s government to allow unhindered access by international monitors.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum and Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the statement.

The conflict between Ethiopian’s federal government and the leadership of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight, was once an ally for Western security forces seeking to counter Islamist extremism. Relations have soured amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

The joint statement reiterated grave concern over human rights abuses including sexual violence and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by all sides.

“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we denounce any and all violence against civilians, past, present and future,” the statement said.

Both sides in Ethiopia accuse each other of committing atrocities and both have denied the allegations.

The six countries in the statement called on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable ceasefire, reiterating calls from the United States and others for Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan forces to declare a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to enter Tigray.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Will Dunham and Ed Osmond)

ConocoPhillips forecasts 16% rise in 2022 shareholder returns

By Arunima Kumar

(Reuters) -Oil producer ConocoPhillips said on Monday it expects to return 16% more capital to shareholders next year, and added a new variable return of cash to its plans, underscoring the energy industry’s focus on shareholder returns over spending.

Oil and gas companies have either raised their dividends or announced share buybacks, even as crude price are up about 38% this year, as they keep their pledges to hold output flat, a marked departure from previous boom cycles.

ConocoPhillips also forecast average production of about 1.8 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2022, a low-single-digit percentage growth from 2021.

The forecast from the largest U.S. independent oil producer comes after it made two sizable acquisitions this year in the heart of the U.S. shale industry—a $9.5 billion deal to buy Royal Dutch Shell’s Permian Basin assets and a $9.7 billion transaction for Concho Resources Inc.

ConocoPhillips said it expects to return capital of about $7 billion to shareholders next year, and added its first variable return of cash of 20 cents per share would be paid on Jan. 14.

That would be on top of about $2.4 billion the company plans to pay in ordinary dividends and share repurchases of about $3.5 billion.

The company also projected capital expenditure of about $7.2 billion in 2022. It had forecast annual capital expenditures of $8 billion, as part of a 10-year plan it announced in September.

The planned capital expenditure includes $200 million for projects that would reduce the company’s emissions from its direct operations and from the power it uses.

Truist Securities analyst Neal Dingmann called the news “quite positive”, saying the new return structure and tepid production growth are what investors have been calling for.

ConocoPhillips shares rose 2.2% to $72.63 amid a broader rise in crude prices.

(Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Amy Caren Daniel)

Legal cases against Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi received a four-year jail term on Monday, the first verdict in numerous cases brought against her since she was ousted in a Feb. 1 military coup.

Her sentence was later reduced by the military junta leader to two years’ detention in her current location, which has not been disclosed, state TV reported in the evening broadcast.

The junta has tightly controlled information about the behind-closed-doors legal proceedings and has imposed a gag order on Suu Kyi’s legal team.

The following is a summary of cases against Suu Kyi, based on information available to Reuters. Suu Kyi, 76, has denied all charges.

– Intent to incite, after her party sent a letter in February to international organisations asking them not to recognise the military government (Penal Code, Article 505[b]). Sentenced to two years in prison.

– Breaches of coronavirus regulations during her party’s election campaigning in September 2020 (Natural Disaster Management Law, Article 25). Sentenced to two years in prison. A second case is outstanding.

– Possession in February of unlicensed walkie-talkies and a set of signal jammers (Export and Import Law, Article 8). 1 case, maximum 3 years in prison. (Telecommunications Law, Article 67). 1 case, maximum 1 year in prison.

– Obtaining, collecting, recording, or publishing or communicating secret information that could be useful to an enemy (Official Secrets Act). 1 case, maximum 14 years in prison.

– Prosecution for “electoral fraud and lawless actions” (status unclear).

– Violations of the anti-corruption law (Sections 55, 63). 6 cases, maximum 15 years in prison for each.

Allegations include:

* Misusing funds from the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation Suu Kyi chaired, to build a home.

* Leasing government-owned land at a discounted rate.

* Accepting bribes totalling $600,000 and 11.4 kg of gold bars.

* Misuse of state funds for renting, buying a helicopter.

(Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by John Geddie and Alistair Bell)

Reactions to conviction, sentencing of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced on Monday to two years in detention on charges of incitement and breaching coronavirus restrictions in a case her supporters called politically motivated.

She was orginally sentenced to four years in prison but the military junta leader reduced it two years’ detention in her current location, state TV reported.

President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years, also later reduced to two, after the court recorded its first verdicts against the civilian leaders detained after a military coup on Feb. 1

Here are some reactions:

U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS MICHELLE BACHELET:

“The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated. It is not only about arbitrary denial of her freedom – it closes yet another door to political dialogue.”

“The military is attempting to instrumentalize the courts to remove all political opposition. But these cases cannot provide a legal veneer to the illegitimacy of the coup and military rule.”

“This verdict against Aung San Suu Kyi will only deepen rejection of the coup. It will harden positions when what is needed is dialogue and a peaceful, political settlement of this crisis.”

DR SASA, SPOKESPERSON FOR MYANMAR’S EXILED CIVILIAN SHADOW ADMINISTRATION, THE NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT:

“Today is a shameful day for the rule of law, justice and accountability in Myanmar. The brutal military junta has today confirmed that they see themselves as above the law.”

“The global community must further target sanctions against the military, their personnel, the businesses they own, and any known affiliates and intermediaries.”

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY LIZ TRUSS:

“The sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi is another appalling attempt by Myanmar’s military regime to stifle opposition and suppress freedom and democracy.

“The United Kingdom calls on the regime to release political prisoners, engage in dialogue and allow a return to democracy. The arbitrary detention of elected politicians only risks further unrest.”

ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON, BEIJING:

“As a friendly neighbour, we sincerely hope that all parties in Myanmar will proceed from the long-term interests of the country, bridge their differences under the constitutional and legal framework, and continue to advance the hard-earned democratic transition suitable for Myanmar’s national conditions.”

JOSEP BORRELL, EUROPEAN UNION DIPLOMAT

“The European Union strongly condemns this politically motivated verdict, which constitutes another major setback for democracy in Myanmar since the military coup on 1 February 2021.”

“The European Union reiterates its urgent calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners as well as all those arbitrarily detained since the coup.”

RICHARD HORSEY, MYANMAR ANALYST, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP:

“The charges were ludicrous, designed as retribution against popular leaders. So the guilty verdicts and prison terms are no surprise.

“No one other than the regime itself will be convinced by this outcome.”

ASEAN PARLIAMENTARIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:

“Since the day of the coup, it’s been clear that the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, and the dozens of other detained MPs, have been nothing more than an excuse by the junta to justify their illegal power grab.

“This sentencing is further evidence that, for the sake of its own credibility and future, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) must hold the line against this illegal takeover.

“We continue our call for ASEAN to ban all junta representatives from its meetings, prevent junta generals from travelling in the region, and to engage with the duly-elected National Unity Government.”

MING YU HAH, DEPUTY REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF CAMPAIGNS FOR RIGHTS GROUP AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:  

“The court’s farcical and corrupt decision is part of a devastating pattern of arbitrary punishment that has seen more than 1,300 people killed and thousands arrested since the military coup in February.

“There are many detainees without the profile of Aung San Suu Kyi who currently face the terrifying prospect of years behind bars simply for peacefully exercising their human rights. They must not be forgotten and left to their fate.”

AUTHOR AND HISTORIAN THANT MYINT U:

“Removing Aung San Suu Kyi from politics isn’t a by-product of the coup, it was the entire reason for the coup.

“Many in the current generation of generals had come to feel that the reformist ex-generals of 10 years ago had gone too far in their political liberalisations and had made a specific mistake in allowing her back on the political scene.

“She remains far and away the most popular (figure) in Myanmar politics and may still be a potent force in what’s to come.”

JAPAN FOREIGN MINISTRY:

“The verdict is an unfavourable development as members of the international community including Japan demand an early restoration of the democratic political system in Myanmar, and we are concerned.”

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan)

Exclusive-Uber in talks with Mideast unit over outside investment – sources

By Hadeel Al Sayegh, Lisa Barrington and Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) – Uber Technologies is in talks with the management of its Middle East unit Careem to bring outside investors into the business, four sources familiar with the matter said.

Careem’s ownership structure following the planned investment was not immediately clear, though sources said Uber would remain a shareholder while giving Careem’s management greater decision-making power over its strategy.

The investment would help finance the further roll-out of Careem’s so-called Super App, two of the sources said, which offers services outside its core ride-hailing business such as food delivery, digital payments and courier services.

One of the sources said Careem’s management wanted to build on its Super App – of which co-founder and Chief Executive Mudassir Sheikha has long been a proponent – while Uber was focused on ride-hailing.

Uber and Careem both declined the comment.

The planned move comes just over two years after Uber bought its Dubai-headquartered rival, which operates predominantly in the Middle East, for $3.1 billion, keeping the brand and app intact.

Former McKinsey executive Sheikha co-founded Careem in 2012 and continued to serve as CEO following Uber’s 2019 takeover.

It was not immediately clear how much investment would be sought, though one of the sources said Careem would focus on growing its payments and delivery businesses with the new funds.

Eventually the new Careem business could be listed, one of the sources said.

Uber’s 2019 acquisition of Careem gave the U.S. company market dominance across the Middle East and Pakistan ahead of its initial public offering in the same year that raised $8.1 billion from investors and valued the company at $82.4 billion.

Southeast Asia’s biggest ride-hailing and delivery firm Grab, which also describes itself as a super app, last week went public following a record $40 billion merger with a blank-check company.

(Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Jan Harvey)

China GDP to slow, will become inflation exporter, money managers say

LONDON (Reuters) – China, widely seen as an exporter of disinflation for the past two decades, is likely to drive higher inflation in coming years, the chief investment officer of Neuberger Berman said on Monday.

“The common prosperity drive may be another driver of inflation,” Eric Knutzen told the annual Reuters Investment Outlook Summit, referring to the Chinese authorities’ efforts to create a more equitable society.

Standard Chartered Bank CIO Steve Brice told the same panel that he expected Chinese economic growth to disappoint next year, growing at around 5%.

“China won’t come out with wholesale stimulus,” he added.

(Reporting by Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe)

Wells Fargo sees U.S. 2022 inflation, GDP around 4% – CIO

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. inflation and economic growth are likely to come in at around 4% next year, suggesting inflation will remain higher than anticipated, Wells Fargo’s Wealth & Investment Management CIO said on Monday.

“We think inflation remains sticker that people expect, around 4%,” Darrell Cronk, told the annual Reuters Investment Outlook Summit, referring to the 2022 outlook.

Speaking on the same panel debate, Standard Chartered Bank CIO Steve Brice, said the Federal Reserve was likely to deliver less monetary tightening that currently priced by financial markets.

“We know the markets are pricing around two Fed rate hikes next year, at one point it was nearly three,” he said.

“We still only think we’re going to see one rate hike and part of that is this dollar reaction function, but also what’s going on in China.”

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao)

Analysis-Clear or confused? Central banks’ communication skills set for ultimate test

By Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao

LONDON (Reuters) – Financial markets, which have struggled this year to decipher central bankers’ policy signals, face their biggest challenge yet in December when in the space of 24 hours the Federal Reserve, ECB and Bank of England hold crucial meetings.

These come at the end of a year that saw central banks generate frequent bouts of market turmoil, the most recent examples being the BoE’s shock “no change” decision on Nov. 5, October’s timid rate-hike pushback by the European Central Bank and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s failure to defend its bond yield target.

It is unsurprising then that a week or so before 2021’s final crop of meetings, measures of asset price volatility are shooting higher, with currency and bond vol gauges hitting the highest in months.

First up on Dec. 15, the Fed’s 1800 GMT statement may announce faster tapering of asset-purchases and could reveal its thinking on future rate rises.

The next day, the BoE meets, having in November kept rates on hold — at odds with market pricing.

Less than an hour later, the European Central Bank could announce plans for two key bond-buying programmes; implications could be big for highly indebted states like Italy.

Monetary policy messaging, by its very nature, is an inexact business. But unexpectedly sticky inflation, supply-chain threats to economic recovery and COVID’s constant background menace now make the outcomes especially hard to model.

“Whether it’s Madame Lagarde or Andrew Bailey or Jay Powell, the current circumstances are creating almost a perfect storm of challenge to central bank communication,” said Carl Tannenbaum, Northern Trust chief economist who worked at the Fed’s risk section during the 2008 financial crisis.

He hopes the meetings will yield a “much more candid and fulsome discussion” especially on labour markets and inflation.

Investors express sympathy for central bankers whose job walking the communication tightrope has been complicated further in recent years by markets’ huge clout, far greater than what the previous crop of central bankers had to contend with.

Global equities’ value is approaching $100 trillion, almost double pre-pandemic levels; government spending splurges have expanded bond markets. Trading at exalted valuations, the potential for setbacks is huge.

And the signalling impact resonates well beyond markets — so confident were British banks in a November rate hike, they had moved home loan costs higher before the BoE meeting.

What central bankers need to convey is straightforward — that they will provide necessary support in the short-run and price stability in the long-run. But in pumped-up markets, where sentiment turns on a dime, it’s harder than it looks.

It may prompt a rethink of signalling strategies; the BOE’s Bailey for instance even suggested returning to a no-guidance stance.

Richard Barwell, a former BoE economist who heads macro research at BNP Paribas Asset Management, says central banks would like to preserve the policy-tightening option but without committing to it.

“The challenge is to make the necessary change – and create that option – without destabilising markets by convincing them that the option is certain to be exercised,” he said. 

UNRELIABLE BOYFRIENDS

Barwell said any bank proceeding with December policy tightening would need to explain the decision in light of the Omicron COVID variant. But the risk then is of markets pricing out future rate rises.

That’s especially a problem for BoE Governor Bailey, who according to Barwell, has a “Grand old Duke of York” problem, a reference to the English nursery rhyme describing a futile action.

“There may be a limit to the number of times policymakers can march the market up to the top of the rate hike hill only to march it back down again,” he added.

The UK media quickly dubbed Bailey “Unreliable Boyfriend No. 2”, updating a moniker applied to predecessor Mark Carney, whose policy signals sometimes failed to translate into action.

ECB chief Christine Lagarde too was criticized after her half-hearted rejection of rate rises priced for 2022 in late October boosted the euro and hurt bonds. But the moves reversed the following week when she forcefully rebutted rate hikes.

The Fed’s Jerome Powell seems to have garnered top marks, not least for his willingness to admit he didn’t have all the answers. But even his calm wavered recently; days after telling lawmakers Omicron could imperil economic recovery, he suggested it may be time to stop seeing inflation as transitory.

The dollar which had weakened, shot straight up again.

But Timothy Graf, State Street’s head of EMEA macro strategy, praised Powell for his “honesty and forthrightness”, drawing parallels with the candour of ex-ECB chief Mario Draghi, credited with steering the euro zone from its 2011-2012 crisis.

“The Fed is making a course correction from what was perceived earlier in the year, rightly or wrongly, as having a somewhat relaxed approach to the inflation question,” Graf said.

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Britain’s National Grid to review electricity balancing costs

By Susanna Twidale

LONDON (Reuters) – National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) is reviewing the way Britain’s power generators are paid to ensure the market remains balanced after several recent high-cost days, it said on Monday.

British energy prices have reached record highs this year as global gas prices have soared, forcing multiple British energy suppliers out of business since September.

Britain’s National Grid ESO is a separate legal entity within National Grid and is responsible for overseeing the country’s electricity supply.

It uses a balancing mechanism to make sure supply and demand are matched in real time for each half-hourly electricity trading period, paying generators to ramp up power quickly if needed.

“In recent weeks there have been some very high-cost days, driven by generator costs in the balancing mechanism … As those costs are ultimately borne by consumers, it is important to fully understand the factors driving the market,” National Grid ESO said in a statement.

The review will look at recent price spikes, it said, with some generators paid as much as 3,000 pounds ($3,979.20) per megawatt hour for certain periods, compared with recent wholesale day-ahead electricity prices around 200 pounds per MWh.

Analysts at LCP’s Energy Analytics on Monday said the cost of the UK’s balancing mechanism reached 967 million pounds over the three months from Sept. 1, up 294% from the same period last year.

“We have seen the perfect storm of low renewable generation and an increase in global demand for gas, which has put the UK’s limited capacity on the edge, forcing prices to repeatedly break new ground,” said Rajiv Gogna at LCP Energy Analytics.

($1 = 0.7539 pounds)

(Reporting by Susanna Twidale; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Goodman)

Engine Capital pushes Kohl’s to review sale, separate e-commerce business

(Reuters) -U.S.-based hedge fund Engine Capital LP is pushing Kohl’s Corp to consider a sale of the company or separate its e-commerce division to improve its lagging stock price.

Engine Capital, which owns about 1% stake in Kohl’s, said on Monday the department store has underperformed both the S&P 500 and other retailers in recent years, despite its large retail footprint and real estate holdings.

Shares of the company, which were up about 4% on the news, have risen about 19% this year, while peer Macy’s Inc has more than doubled. The S&P 500 index is up nearly 21% in 2021.

The New York-based hedge fund added that Kohl’s should consider a strategic review of the whole company, including a sale, adding that it believes there are sponsors that would pay at least $75 per share or a 50% premium.

Engine Capital, known for being instrumental in a $2 billion sale of Ann Taylor brand parent Ann Inc in 2015, said Kohl’s e-commerce business alone could be worth $12.4 billion or more.

Kohl’s in response said the company continues to examine all opportunities for maximizing shareholder value.

Engine Capital’s proposal comes at a time when retailers have doubled down on their online businesses following the e-commerce boom during the COVID-19 pandemic that drove people to shop online as they avoided crowds at brick-and-mortar stores.

Last month, Macy’s Inc said it was working with consulting firm AlixPartners after activist investor Jana Partners pushed for a sale of its digital business, while Hudson’s Bay Co-owned Saks Fifth Avenue has said it would spin off its e-commerce segment.

Earlier this year, Kohl’s also faced pressure from a group of activist investors to add board members with retail experience, following which it added three new directors.

(Reporting by Deborah Sophia in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)