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Business

Myanmar opens its first stock market

The Yangon Stock Exchange has officially opened for trading, more than three months after its launch. Hopes are high that it will help transform Myanmar's weak economy, once rife with graft under a military junta.

The clang of a bell on the floor of Myanmar's new bourse on Friday marked the start of stock trading in a country that is slowly redefining itself after decades of military rule.

"We can now proudly and mightily proclaim to the world that we are no longer a backward nation,' Maung Maung Thein, the head of Myanmar's Securities and Exchange Commission, told a group of business elites who had gathered at the Yangon Stock Exchange's refurbished colonial-era headquarters in downtown Yangon.

Only one company is listed so far: First Myanmar Investment, run by the tycoon Serge Pun. The company has a sister firm that is listed in Singapore, and thus experience in the trading of stocks.

Burmese business tycoon Serge Pun

Burmese business tycoon Serge Pun

But that doesn't go for most of Myanmar's business leaders. Classes have been held in the run up to the exchange's opening. Lessons aimed to educate people about investment risks - as well as rewards - and included multimedia guides about how to buy company shares.

Longing for investment

Business leaders see the fledgling bourse, also known by the acronym YSX, as a step away from an era of protectionist policies and arbitrary economic rules that were imposed by the former junta government. Those measures left the country's economy in tatters, beset by banking crises and international sanctions.

At first, the exchange will only be open to domestic investors, but there are calls on the new civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi - which is

only days away from taking power

- to push ahead with plans to allow more foreign investment.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a historic election victory on Nov. 8, following a 5-year period of political and economic reform overseen by retired generals that did much to revitalize the country after decades of strict junta rule.

But questions remain about the breadth of the new administration's authority. Myanmar's constitution will still keep several institutions under military control, such as the ministry of home affairs.

In other market news on Friday, China's main stock indexes closed higher on Friday as investors appeared undeterred by the yuan's weakness vis a vis the dollar this week. Stocks in Tokyo also rose as exporters logged gains.

cjc/kd (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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