A Burmese Christmas Carol – Words Fusion Words Fusion

Although Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country and therefore does not celebrate Christmas in the traditional Christian way, the commercial aspect of Christmas; Santa Claus, reindeers, presents and food, has a certain dominance that overshadows the religious celebrations of even largely Christian countries.

While many Christians believe these kinds of celebrations detract from what they consider to be the true meaning of Christmas, the act of giving gifts, of selflessness and gratitude, is a very important part of Buddhist teachings.

Compassion towards your fellow men is also a fundamental aspect of Buddhism, which Christmas embodies whole-heartedly in the traditions of Christmas presents, carollers, and the serving of food to others on Christmas Day.

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Aung San Suu Kyi arrives in Britain on 67th birthday

The Nobel laureate will meet Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague during her stay, before addressing Parliament on Thursday.

Ms Suu Kyi will spend today, her 67th birthday, in London and Oxford, the city where she lived in the early 1980s with her late husband, academic Michael Aris and their sons Alexander and Kim,

Tomorrow the Burmese opposition leader, who spent much of the last 21 years under house arrest in her native country, will be presented with an honorary degree by Oxford University and is due to address the Oxford Union.

She arrived in the UK last night from the Republic of Ireland, where she met the president, Michael D Higgins, and U2 singer Bono, who presented her with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award.

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Aung San Suu Kyi cuts short news conference after vomiting

Ms Suu Kyi, on her first visit to Europe in 24 years, apologised after vomiting, saying she was “totally exhausted” from travelling.

“I am not used to the time difference,” she said in Bern after holding talks with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter.

Earlier, the woman known as Burma’s steel butterfly used her first speech on the continent to assert her determination to lead her country.

Speaking to a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on the first working day of her trip, the 67-year old drew applause as she made a pointed correction on her role while travelling abroad.

She said she did not represent the government of Burma, which has faced allegations of using conscript labour in the armed forces and state industries.

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Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to take seat in Burma’s parliament

Suu Kyi’s party has refused to swear to “safeguard” an army-created constitution in the first sign of tension with the government since a landmark by-election this month saw the democracy icon win a parliamentary seat.

The spat comes as European Union nations are preparing to suspend most sanctions against the impoverished nation for one year to reward a series of dramatic reforms since direct army rule ended last year.

Burma, long-isolated under military dictatorship, has seen a rapid improvement in relations with the international community after the Nobel Peace Prize winner and her party achieved a decisive win in the April 1 polls.

Suu Kyi has shown increased confidence in the reformist government of President Thein Sein in recent weeks, calling for the EU sanctions suspension and planning her first international trip in 24 years.

Thein Sein, who is currently on a visit to Japan, on Monday vowed that he would not backtrack on the country’s democratisation.

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This charities row may be the least of the Coalition’s worries

To practise politics at its very apex, you have to be amphibious. On Friday, David Willetts, the Universities Minister, was with the Prime Minister in Rangoon, listening to Aung San Suu Kyi speak in the old-fashioned, strictly grammatical English that is the hallmark of many former political prisoners. The Burmese opposition leader is friendly with Ed Llewellyn, the PM’s chief of staff, and the gracious welcome she extended at her modest lakeside home moved and inspired the UK entourage.

Then yesterday, Willetts returned to the domestic fray and the row over charitable donations – a row that embraces the higher education sector for which he is responsible. Universities are among the most clamorous of the many organisations and institutions claiming – as 46 such charities do in a letter to today’s Sunday Telegraph – that the £50,000 cap on donations which can be written off against tax will be “a brake on philanthropy that may deter future donors” and “is confusing and dispiriting”.

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David Cameron: I was right to fly the flag for Britain on Asian trip

In an article for The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister says the UK ignored key trading partners such as Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia for too long, and that he needed to “put things right.”

His trip – which also saw him become the first Western leader to meet Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma since her release by the country’s ruling military regime – has attracted charges of travelling out of personal vanity.

Mr Cameron has been likened to Tony Blair amid claims he is spending too long out of the country chasing photo-opportunities while voters face a series of problems back home, many of them traced back to last month’s Budget.

However, the Prime Minister describes the countries he visited as “powerhouses of the world economy” and insists he was right to lead the “most high-powered British business delegation ever to visit the region”.

“I’ve not been afraid to put myself on the front line of the sales pitch for British business and encouraging investment into the UK,” he writes, citing a number of deals done with Asian companies that will boost jobs at home.

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Spitfires buried in Burma during war to be returned to UK

The Prime Minister secured a historic deal that will see the fighter aircraft dug up and shipped back to the UK almost 67 years after they were hidden more than 40-feet below ground amid fears of a Japanese occupation.

The gesture came as Mr Cameron became the first Western leader to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy campaigner held under house arrest for 22 years by the military regime, and invited her to visit London in her first trip abroad for 24 years.

He called on Europe to suspend its ban on trade with Burma now that it was showing “prospects for change” following Miss Suu Kyi’s election to parliament in a sweeping electoral victory earlier this year.

The plight of the buried aircraft came to Mr Cameron’s attention at the behest of a farmer from Scunthorpe, North Lincs, who is responsible for locating them at a former RAF base using radar imaging technology.

David Cundall, 62, spent 15 years doggedly searching for the Mk II planes, an exercise that involved 12 trips to Burma and cost him more than £130,000.

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Asian Worries

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

BREAKING

The overnight news from Asia isn’t David Cameron’s trip to Burma. North Korea has confirmed its attempt to launch a satellite, intended to coincide with Kim Jong Un’s confirmation as Supreme Leader, has failed.

William Hague is in Washington, where he condemned the launch, which he is “deeply concerned about”. He and the seven other G8 foreign ministers are demanding that the North Koreans abandon their nuclear ambitions: “We urge the DPRK to meet its international commitments… in particular by abandoning all its nuclear weapons”.

DOING IT MYANMAR WAY

Also from Asia: David Cameron has arrived in Burma – Sky has photos here – for his big moment meeting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In a speech later today, he will offer the former colony help, promising to campaign to ease EU sanctions on the country and provide governance training for the civil service. The papers have all welcomed the move.

The Independent has said that it is right for Cameron to be first Western leader to offer congratulations to the country, as does the Times (£) while adding that he should ask his hosts to offer guarantees that they will stay on the path to democracy.

This grand statesmanship hasn’t characterised Dave’s whole trip though. Before leaving Malaysia yesterday, he told the Malaysian prime minister – who had admitted to being a fan of British humour – an anecdote from his life as PM:

“You’ll be amazed to know that [when] I was a student in the 1980s, a student of economics and politics, I once had to write an essay on ‘How true to life is Yes Minister. I think I wrote in the essay that it wasn’t that true to life. I can tell you, as prime minister, it is true to life.”

TAXING TIMES

Meanwhile, at home, things are not looking so good for the PM. Yesterday, Vince Cable and David Davis joined the ever-growing ranks of opponents to his charities tax. Vince is worried by complaints from universities, which are worried they will no longer be able to fund themselv es.

As we report, Cable’s spokeswoman said that he: “fully supports the need to clamp down on abusive tax avoidance but this should be separated from genuine charitable giving”, which is a little bit stronger than David Cameron’s ‘sympathy’ comment.

George Osborne will note that his policy is being briefed against from inside the Cabinet, always a sign of trouble. It’s also worth recalling that MPs return to Westminster shortly to vote on the Finance Bill. Ed Balls is already looking for ways to test Coalition support for the ‘granny tax’. What are the chances that someone tries to force a vote on capping charitable giving?

The Mail has given a part of its front page to the revolt. The paper fumes in its comment section that the government has failed to say how many people are dodging taxes through bogus charities (not many, is presumably the answer).

In today’s Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that “it is fairly obvious that this was yet another ill-thought-out Budget wheeze” and it threatens to strangle Britain’s philanthropic culture. Will Dave force George into a U-turn when he gets back?

THE REAL REASON…

… For Dave’s recent flurry of international travel, as revealed by The Guardian’s Nick Watt : “Cameron, who has a mischievous sense of humour in private, loves the thought that the two trips [also the US] could not have been better designed to upset Gordon Brown.

The former prime minister regarded himself as something of a spiritual guide to Obama but was never given the red carpet treatment. He also regards himself as one of Britain’s greatest champions of Aung San Suu Kyi – he devoted a chapter in his book on courage to the Nobel laureate. “The certainty of Gordon’s sofa-destroying anger is satisfying,” one Cameron ally said.”

Amusing. Watt’s piece brings together the various criticisms of the PM – from Anthony King to David Miliband and Tim Montgomerie ( also in today’s Guardian). Montgomerie says that: “The current Tory leadership seems to be playing the electoral equivalent of Go for Broke, the board game where you race to lose a million pounds and the winner is the one who becomes penniless first.” Cutting stuff.

LABOUR PAINS

Life isn’t easy for Ed Miliband either. As Tim Ross reports for our paper , he’s under pressure from the Shadow Cabinet to improve his communication skills. Senior Labour MPs have branded him “cerebral” on television, incapable of delivering a good soundbite.

It doesn’t end there though, Ed has been force feeding himself humble pie in Bradford. The Guardian reports that yesterday he met with 100 local people to ask them why the party had been obliterated in the recent by-election.

In his column in today’s Times, Philip Collins, Tony Blair’s former speechwriter, damns his party as the “really nasty party”. He accuses its party fixers, in particular Gordon Brown’s former heavy Tom Watson, of operating in “a torrent of bitter rage.”

Phil’s concerns are echoed in a Guardian leader today, which denounces the party’s “Labour’s enduring and corrosive preference for backroom politics over openness.”

UKIP, YOU LOSE

Someone is doing well: Nigel Farage, as his party capitalises on the current difficulties the Tories are having. As the Independent reports, the Ukip leader is claiming that “disillusioned Conservative MPs have secretly contacted the UK Independence Party to discuss possible defection”.

This is what Farage says: “There is a wing of the Conservative party in the Commons – predominantly young, but not all – who agree with us on a whole host of issues, such as the opportunities afforded by selective education, the belief that government is too big… If Ukip is seen to be a good bet, that obviously increases the chances of them coming over”.

On his Telegraph blog yesterday, Iain Martin explained why Ukip is such a nightmare for the Tories – so far, the post has 2,480 comments, most of them unfavourable to the Conservatives. Is this something Dave should be worrying about?

Meanwhile, the Ukip leader has spawned this amazing Tumblr site: Meerkats that look like Nigel Farage.

LIB DEMS BOWING OUT

The Conservatives hav e kindly let us kn ow that the Lib Dems will only be contesting 70 per cent of local council seats. This is a marked drop from 81 per cent in 2008, 80 per cent in 2004 and 79 per cent in 2000.

ELECTED MAYORS

The Lib Dems want fewer elections too. The FT has a helpful report on p2 on the topic. As Kirin Stacey reports, Greg Clark is on a mission to visit the 10 cities holding elections in May to promote the idea. “It undermined the identity of cities like Liverpool and Manchester. They emasculated these cities by putting them below a Whitehall structure”

In Birmingham at least, faced with a revolt by their councillors, the Lib Dems are campaigning against the idea of elected mayors in Britain’s cities. Though if the Brummies vote Yes, the leader of the campaign, Lib Dem MP John Hemming, will apparently happily stand.

GOD’S TOUC H

A fascinating story from Chris Hope in today’s Telegr aph: Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet secretary, is being positioned in Westminster as a serious contender to replace Sir Mervyn King when he steps down from the governorship of the Bank of England next year.

George Osborne is due to announce how recruitment for the post will work in June, as MPs from the Treasury committee demand some say over the appointment. As Andrew Tyrie says: “both the appointment and the accountability need much closer attention from Parliament than in the past”

BIG GAY BUS

Boris banned homophobic Christian advertising on buses yesterday after a Twitstorm erupted in protest. He contacted the Guardian to announce his intervention, saying:

“London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”

Hm. Very worthy, but I’m not sure that a mayoral ban will do anything to curb the message – how much more publicity have these people got as a result?

POLL WATCH

Latest YouGov/The Sun results – Coservatives 35%, Labour 41%, Liberal Democrats 9%. Ukip 7%

TWEETS AND TWITS

So says David Jones, “And by, the way, congratulations to @ConwyCBC on the new watersports hotspot (wetspot?). Looks wonderful from up here.”

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: The taxman’s greed will strangle Britain’s amazing culture of giving

Jeremy Warner: Time to put the doomed euro out of its misery

Greg Dyke: If you run the BBC, you’ll never sleep a wink

Leader: The dangers of our ageing population

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in the Times (£): The Labour Party is the really nasty party

Tim Montgomerie in the Guardian: There is no alternative to error-strewn Cameron… yet

Owen Jones in the Independent: The 1 per cent have an interest in demonising Ken Livingstone

Nicholas Hytner in the Guardian: On tax avoidance, allow me to leap to the defence of the super-rich

THE AGENDA

Today: David Cameron arrives in Burma to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Today: Kim Jon Un expected to be installed as North Korean supreme leader

David Cameron says the world should ‘get behind Burma’

The Prime Minister will tomorrow become the first Western leader to set foot in the Asian country, now known as Myanmar, since it held elections after 50 years of military rule.

Speaking in Indonesia, Mr Cameron hailed the bravery of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy campaigner who was released from house arrest in November 2010 and recently elected to parliament.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate spent 15 of the last 22 years in custody as a high-profile opponent of Myanmar’s military junta, but she was freed as the regime began gradually to hand over power to a quasi-civilian government.

“Where reform is beginning, like in Burma, we must get behind it,” Mr Cameron said in a speech at Al Azhar University in Jakarta this morning. “So let us pay tribute to those who have fought for that reform and fought for that freedom, not least the inspirational Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Mr Cameron also praised Thein Sein, the president of Myanmar, as the European Union considers whether to lift trade sanctions on the country.

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Landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi sets Burmese nerves on edge

In a speech to euphoric supporters outside her National League for Democracy party headquaters in Rangoon, she warned supporters “must not upset the feelings of those on the other side” and should “act in a controlled way.”

Observers said there were real concern that her victory had been so devastating that President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party is now “staring into the abyss” for the next elections in 2015. “It’s problematic,” said one official.

According to Aung San Suu Kyi‘s aides, the National League for Democracy won 43 of the 44 constituencies it contested and appears set to win the remaining one too.

The victory is now expected to accelerate moves to lift sanctions against Burma – the European Union will decide later this month – but concerns are growing that it may also leave President Thein Sein’s reform vulnerable to challenge from hardliners within the country’s military establishment.

Since he met Aung San Suu Kyi last August he has unveiled a series of unexpected reforms in rapid succession. He suspected work on an unpopular Chinese hydro-election dam project on the Irrawaddy, increased trade union rights, lifted censorship of the media, released key political prisoners and signed peace deals with several ethnic insurgency leaders.

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