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Italy signs contested Belt and Road accord with China

FILE PHOTO: A map illustrating China's silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road, or the so-called
FILE PHOTO: A map illustrating China's silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road, or the so-called "One Belt, One Road" megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

March 23, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Italy on Saturday became the first member of the Group of Seven industrialized powers to endorse China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, with Rome brushing off the worries of Western allies as it looks to revive its flagging economy.

The signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was designed to boost ties between the two nations at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.

Chinese and Italian firms additionally signed some 10 deals, including in the energy, steel and gas pipeline sectors.

Full details of the contracts was not immediately revealed, but a government source said they could potentially be worth up to 20 billion euros ($22.62 billion). Italian media put the value at around 5 billion euros.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Source: OANN

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New standards to drive U.S. sustainability-linked lending

A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne
A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne, France, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

March 23, 2019

By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK (LPC) – Global standards set in place by loan trade associations this week that tie syndicated loan pricing to companies’ sustainability performance are expected to stimulate the budding U.S. green lending market.

Less than a handful of U.S. companies have issued sustainability-linked loans since the first deal for natural gas utility CMS Energy was completed last June, far lagging firms in Europe which are leading the global push to improve environmental performance.

The new sustainability standards, which were issued on Wednesday by the Loan Market Association (LMA), the Loan Syndications and Trading Association (LSTA) and the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association (APLMA), are expected to bolster borrowers’ and investors’ confidence in green lending. 

Sustainability-linked loans are any kind of loans that incentivize borrowers with margin reductions or increases depending on their ability to meet pre-set environmental performance targets.

A lack of direction and consistency in being able to identify and measure these goals has been stifling growth so far, bankers said.

“By having pricing tied to a borrower’s improvement in sustainability performance, it directly incentivizes borrowers to make improvements,” said Tess Virmani, the LSTA’s associate general counsel. “If market interest keeps gathering steam, then the sustainability-linked loans will find a good home in the corporate loan market.”

One of the main differences between sustainability-linked loans and green loans, which are linked to use of proceeds, is that they can be raised for general corporate purposes rather than specific projects. Loans for general corporate purposes are more widely issued, which is likely to boost sustainability-linked loans.  

Key characteristics of sustainability-linked deals include disclosing the loan’s tie to the company’s overall social responsibility strategy; having sustainability pricing targets arranged between borrower and lender; reporting on sustainability performance and external reviews, according to the new lending principles.

TESTING THE WATERS

Global water technology company Xylem Inc became the fourth U.S. company to issue a sustainability-linked loan, with an $800 million revolving credit in early March. Xylem is the first general industrial company to commit to reducing its environmental footprint this way.

The four U.S. sustainability-linked loans that have come to the market so far — two this year and two last year — tally roughly $8 billion. Banks are targeting the sector as a growth area as they seek to improve their own credentials. 

“Banks want to show their growing commitment to sustainable development goals, and this is one of the products they might use to show that,” said Anna Zubets, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service.

Last year, sustainability-linked loans issued globally topped $36 billion, led by European companies, according to Moody’s.

Global issuance in the more mature green bond market, in contrast, could jump 20 percent to $200 billion this year, the rating agency said.

“The U.S. is a little behind on the discussion but you see it happening here as well. More than 80 percent of the S&P 500 listed companies are now issuing sustainability reports and it becomes a bigger discussion among shareholders and investors and asset managers, which is what we see among our client base,” said Anne van Riel, head of sustainable finance at ING.

“I expect that that will automatically carry over to more sustainable financing, whether green loans, green bonds or sustainable-linked loans.”

ING was the sustainability coordinator for Xylem’s deal, and helped the company to decide reasonable but ambitious performance targets to guide loan pricing.

Interest margins on Xylem’s general corporate purpose revolving credit will be based on social and corporate governance ratings by independent provider Sustainalytics. Citigroup, JP Morgan, ING, BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo were lead arrangers and bookrunners.

Pricing is initially based on ratings, opening at 110 basis points over Libor with a 15-basis points facility fee, and then will be adjusted up or down by up to 5 basis points based on its ability to achieve predetermined sustainability targets, according to a regulatory filing.

The other sustainability-linked loans completed in the United States so far include global logistics real estate group Prologis Inc in January, renewable energy and utility company Avangrid Inc last July and electric and natural gas utility CMS Energy and its main unit Consumers Energy last June.

“Some treasurers and CFOs are a bit more conservative, and when they see their peers doing it or see more market activity they will also follow,” said van Riel.

Having clear standards for the asset class is a way to hold management accountable for promises made, and make green identification more than a marketing tool.

“In order for money to continue to flow into these kinds of products, reporting standards are going to have to develop and mature so the market can be credible and management can be held accountable for goals,” Zubets said,

“Investors can have trust that if something is labeled as green it is actually going to deliver an impact.”

(Reporting By Lynn Adler; Editing by Tessa Walsh and Michelle Sierra)

Source: OANN

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End of the road for PM May? Betting odds show 20 percent chance she will leave this month

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen outside Downing Street in London
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

March 23, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Betting odds indicate there is now a 20 percent chance that British Prime Minister Theresa May will be out of her job by the end of this month, Ladbrokes said on Saturday.

May’s office declined to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that discussions on a timetable for the prime minister to stand down were now under way.

But a Downing Street source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the report was incorrect.

The Times quoted an unidentified Downing Street source saying that even her closest allies believed it was inevitable she would have to resign.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge.)

Source: OANN

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Election observers say face limitations in Thai poll

Bangkok district officers prepare ballot boxes and other documents ahead of the general election at a local district office in Bangkok
Bangkok district officers prepare ballot boxes and other documents ahead of the general election at a local district office in Bangkok, Thailand, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

March 23, 2019

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – An international observer group said it would face limitations in judging to what extent Thailand’s general election on Sunday is free and fair, partly because it was granted accreditation too late to get more than 35 monitors into the country.

Voters go to the polls on Sunday in the first election since a 2014 military coup in a race broadly cast as between the current junta leader, who is seeking to stay on through the ballot, and anti-junta parties led by loyalists to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), which sought accreditation in November, had hoped to deploy 80 observers for an electorate of 51.4 million people.

But permission to monitor the poll was only granted on March 14 and so less than half that number will be on the ground for an election critics say has been stacked in favor of the military by the country’s junta.

“Unfortunately … we were not able to bring all the observers we had planned to because of visa issues,” ANFREL Secretary-General Rohana Nishanta Hettiarachchie, and head of the Thai vote mission, told Reuters.

Asked to respond, a government spokesman and a spokeswoman at the foreign ministry referred Reuters to the election commission, which was not available for comment.

Thailand’s vote comes after nearly five years of direct military rule and is viewed as a contest between junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha – who wants to stay on as elected leader – and a “democratic front” of parties led by the ousted pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai.

A third faction, led the anti-Thaksin establishment Democrat Party, argues it can form a government that is neutral.

A parliamentary system created by a new military-backed constitution, however, gives pro-junta parties a huge advantage over their rivals, including Pheu Thai, which is expected to win the most votes.

Rights groups had called on the military government to allow foreign observers to monitor the election, but only ANFREL was given permission last week.

“As international observers, we have our own limitations. We can’t challenge the law of the country,” said Hettiarachchie, a Sri Lankan national. “The legal framework itself is not supporting the free and fair elections.”

The European Union said in a statement on Friday that it had not received an invitation to observe the election in time and would deploy staff members on a “diplomatic watch” for internal reporting only.

The United States, which downgraded ties with Thailand following the 2014 coup, said it was “very keen” to see Thailand return to an elected government.

“We hope … Thailand sees a government that reflects the will of the people,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, W. Patrick Murphy, said on a conference call with reporters in the region on Friday.

‘DICTATORSHIP’ VS ‘CORRUPTION’

Major parties held their largest rallies yet on Friday evening, ahead of the campaign cut-off time at 6:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Saturday. More than 93,200 polling stations in 77 provinces will open at 8:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Sunday.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha crooned a ballad at a Friday rally of the military proxy Palang Pracharat Party’s in Bangkok to make his final pitch for staying on as prime minister.

Almost simultaneously, Thaksin, whose affiliated parties have won every election since 2001, said at his daughter’s wedding reception in Hong Kong: “We will win for sure.”

Seated beside the former telecommunications tycoon was the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, who shocked the country last month by accepting a Thaksin-linked party’s nomination for prime minister.

She was quickly disqualified by the election commission and the party was later banned from the race for breaking a taboo of involving the monarchy in politics.

The new constitution written by junta supporters allows parliament’s upper house, the 250-seat Senate, to vote with the 500-seat lower house to choose the prime minister – and the Senate is entirely appointed by the junta.

Under those rules, pro-military parties would probably need only 126 seats in the lower House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote, while opposition parties would need 376 seats.

Pheu Thai’s long-time rival, the Democrat Party, told voters at its Friday rally that they did not have to choose between “dictatorship” and “corruption”, respectively referring to Prayuth and Thaksin, who fled the country to avoid corruption charges in 2008.

“Time’s up for dictatorship. Time’s up for corruption,” said its leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who could hold the key to power after what is expected to be an inconclusive poll that triggers intense horse-trading among parties to form a government.

“It’s time for ‘democracy with integrity.’ Vote Democrat.”

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo in JAKARTA; Editing by John Chalmers and Tom Hogue)

Source: OANN

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A Brexit crisis deepens, thousands due to march through London for a new referendum

An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London
An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

March 23, 2019

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of people opposed to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will march through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum as the deepening Brexit crisis risked sinking Prime Minister Theresa May’s premiership.

After three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as May tries to plot a way out of the gravest political crisis in at least a generation.

May hinted on Friday that she might not bring her twice-defeated EU divorce deal back to parliament next week, leaving her Brexit strategy in meltdown. The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that pressure was growing on May to resign.

While the country and its politicians are divided over Brexit, most agree it is the most important strategic decision the United Kingdom has faced since World War Two.

Pro-EU protesters will gather for a “Put it to the people march” at Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park around midday, before marching past the prime minister’s office in Downing Street and finish outside parliament.

James McGrory, the director of the People’s Vote campaign and one of the organizers of the march, said the campaign for a second Brexit referendum is now the biggest mass movement in Britain, dwarfing the membership of the main political parties.

“People from all walks of life see can what they were once offered bears no relation to what is being delivered and they are angry about it because it feels like a bad deal is being rammed down their throats,” he told Reuters.

Organizers were confident that the size of the crowd would exceed a similar rally held in October, when supporters said about 700,000 people turned up.

Two hundred coaches from around Britain were booked to take people to London for the march. One coach left the Scottish Highlands on Friday evening, and another left from Cornwall on England’s western tip early on Saturday morning.

A petition to cancel Brexit altogether gained 4 million signatures in just 3 days after May told the public “I am on your side” over Brexit and urged lawmakers to get behind her deal.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding another Brexit referendum, saying it would deepen divisions and undermine support for democracy. Brexit supporters say a second referendum would trigger a major constitutional crisis.

Some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favor of remaining in the European Union, but there has yet to be a decisive change in attitudes.

Many voters in Britain say they have become increasingly bored by Brexit and May said on Wednesday that they want this stage of the Brexit process to be “over and done with.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Source: OANN

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French military join police to tackle latest ‘Yellow Vest’ protest

French riot police officers check people on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Act XIX (the 19th consecutive national protest on a Saturday) of the
French riot police officers check people on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Act XIX (the 19th consecutive national protest on a Saturday) of the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

March 23, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – French military forces joined police in Paris on Saturday to tackle the nineteenth consecutive weekend of “yellow vest” protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Protesters were banned from gathering on the Champs Elysees after shops and businesses there were looted and wrecked last weekend, prompting the government to call in “Operation Sentinelle” military units.

Pockets of demonstrators began to gather in other parts of Paris and other major French cities in the latest protests which began in November after public anger against fuel taxes rises.

The movement has morphed into a broader backlash against Macron’s government, despite it scrapping the fuel taxes.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

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Bernie Sanders' hiring of non-American campaign advisers may violate federal election laws, complaint says

Bernie Sanders was hit a complaint this week, claiming his presidential campaign violated federal election laws by employing non-Americans in advisery positions.

A new complaint by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) notes that three members of the Sanders campaign are foreign nationals, which appears to be a violation of federal election laws that prohibit foreign interference.

NEW SPOKESWOMAN FOR BERNIE SANDERS WON'T BE ABLE TO VOTE FOR HIM IN 2020 -- SHE'S AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT

Maria Belén Sisa, Sanders’ deputy national press secretary who joined the campaign last month, was among the staffers named in the complaint, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Sisa claims to be an illegal immigrant whose residency is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program for assisting illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Sisa recently caused an uproar after invoking an anti-Semitic “dual allegiance” trope of Jewish Americans while defending Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and questioning whether American Jews, including Sanders, were loyal to the United States.

The complaint notes that Sisa not only got a salary from Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, she also contributed money to it and is now serving in “an advisory position” in the 2020 campaign – all of which are “direct and serious violations” of federal election laws.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations,” the complaint reads.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations."

— The complaint

BERNIE SANDERS AIDE DEFENDS OMAR WITH TERM SEEN AS ANTI-SEMITIC, APOLOGIZES

According to the FEC rules, foreign nationals, who aren’t lawfully admitted permanent residents, cannot directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns. Such individuals are also barred from making political contributions.

The complaint also names two other foreign nationals on the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, immigration activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, who worked as the campaign's national Latino outreach strategist and press secretary for Latino outreach, respectively.

“Due to the high profile of Cesar Vargas, Erika Andiola, and Maria Belén Sisa as leading activists in the undocumented community, there is reason to believe that respondents are ‘foreign nationals' within the meaning of 52 U.S.C. § 301219b)(2), and in violation of 11 C.F.R. § 110.20 (i) and A.O. 2004-26, directly or indirectly participated in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2016," the complaint continued.

“There is reason to believe, having previously employed Ms. Sisa, that Bernie 2020 is currently, and knowingly, permitting a ‘foreign national' … to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2020.”

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The complaint calls on the FEC to investigate both the 2016 and the current presidential campaigns and take action to curb the violations.

“The Commission should determine and impose appropriate sanctions for any and all violations,” the complaint read. “Further, the Commission should enjoin respondents from any future violations and impose any necessary and appropriate remedies to ensure respondents' future compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

Source: Fox News Politics

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Italy signs contested Belt and Road accord with China

FILE PHOTO: A map illustrating China's silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road, or the so-called
FILE PHOTO: A map illustrating China's silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road, or the so-called "One Belt, One Road" megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

March 23, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Italy on Saturday became the first member of the Group of Seven industrialized powers to endorse China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, with Rome brushing off the worries of Western allies as it looks to revive its flagging economy.

The signing ceremony was the highlight of a three-day trip to Italy by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was designed to boost ties between the two nations at a time when the United States is locked in a trade war with China.

Chinese and Italian firms additionally signed some 10 deals, including in the energy, steel and gas pipeline sectors.

Full details of the contracts was not immediately revealed, but a government source said they could potentially be worth up to 20 billion euros ($22.62 billion). Italian media put the value at around 5 billion euros.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Source: OANN

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New standards to drive U.S. sustainability-linked lending

A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne
A general view shows solar panels to produce renewable energy at the Urbasolar photovoltaic park in Gardanne, France, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

March 23, 2019

By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK (LPC) – Global standards set in place by loan trade associations this week that tie syndicated loan pricing to companies’ sustainability performance are expected to stimulate the budding U.S. green lending market.

Less than a handful of U.S. companies have issued sustainability-linked loans since the first deal for natural gas utility CMS Energy was completed last June, far lagging firms in Europe which are leading the global push to improve environmental performance.

The new sustainability standards, which were issued on Wednesday by the Loan Market Association (LMA), the Loan Syndications and Trading Association (LSTA) and the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association (APLMA), are expected to bolster borrowers’ and investors’ confidence in green lending. 

Sustainability-linked loans are any kind of loans that incentivize borrowers with margin reductions or increases depending on their ability to meet pre-set environmental performance targets.

A lack of direction and consistency in being able to identify and measure these goals has been stifling growth so far, bankers said.

“By having pricing tied to a borrower’s improvement in sustainability performance, it directly incentivizes borrowers to make improvements,” said Tess Virmani, the LSTA’s associate general counsel. “If market interest keeps gathering steam, then the sustainability-linked loans will find a good home in the corporate loan market.”

One of the main differences between sustainability-linked loans and green loans, which are linked to use of proceeds, is that they can be raised for general corporate purposes rather than specific projects. Loans for general corporate purposes are more widely issued, which is likely to boost sustainability-linked loans.  

Key characteristics of sustainability-linked deals include disclosing the loan’s tie to the company’s overall social responsibility strategy; having sustainability pricing targets arranged between borrower and lender; reporting on sustainability performance and external reviews, according to the new lending principles.

TESTING THE WATERS

Global water technology company Xylem Inc became the fourth U.S. company to issue a sustainability-linked loan, with an $800 million revolving credit in early March. Xylem is the first general industrial company to commit to reducing its environmental footprint this way.

The four U.S. sustainability-linked loans that have come to the market so far — two this year and two last year — tally roughly $8 billion. Banks are targeting the sector as a growth area as they seek to improve their own credentials. 

“Banks want to show their growing commitment to sustainable development goals, and this is one of the products they might use to show that,” said Anna Zubets, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service.

Last year, sustainability-linked loans issued globally topped $36 billion, led by European companies, according to Moody’s.

Global issuance in the more mature green bond market, in contrast, could jump 20 percent to $200 billion this year, the rating agency said.

“The U.S. is a little behind on the discussion but you see it happening here as well. More than 80 percent of the S&P 500 listed companies are now issuing sustainability reports and it becomes a bigger discussion among shareholders and investors and asset managers, which is what we see among our client base,” said Anne van Riel, head of sustainable finance at ING.

“I expect that that will automatically carry over to more sustainable financing, whether green loans, green bonds or sustainable-linked loans.”

ING was the sustainability coordinator for Xylem’s deal, and helped the company to decide reasonable but ambitious performance targets to guide loan pricing.

Interest margins on Xylem’s general corporate purpose revolving credit will be based on social and corporate governance ratings by independent provider Sustainalytics. Citigroup, JP Morgan, ING, BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo were lead arrangers and bookrunners.

Pricing is initially based on ratings, opening at 110 basis points over Libor with a 15-basis points facility fee, and then will be adjusted up or down by up to 5 basis points based on its ability to achieve predetermined sustainability targets, according to a regulatory filing.

The other sustainability-linked loans completed in the United States so far include global logistics real estate group Prologis Inc in January, renewable energy and utility company Avangrid Inc last July and electric and natural gas utility CMS Energy and its main unit Consumers Energy last June.

“Some treasurers and CFOs are a bit more conservative, and when they see their peers doing it or see more market activity they will also follow,” said van Riel.

Having clear standards for the asset class is a way to hold management accountable for promises made, and make green identification more than a marketing tool.

“In order for money to continue to flow into these kinds of products, reporting standards are going to have to develop and mature so the market can be credible and management can be held accountable for goals,” Zubets said,

“Investors can have trust that if something is labeled as green it is actually going to deliver an impact.”

(Reporting By Lynn Adler; Editing by Tessa Walsh and Michelle Sierra)

Source: OANN

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End of the road for PM May? Betting odds show 20 percent chance she will leave this month

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen outside Downing Street in London
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

March 23, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Betting odds indicate there is now a 20 percent chance that British Prime Minister Theresa May will be out of her job by the end of this month, Ladbrokes said on Saturday.

May’s office declined to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that discussions on a timetable for the prime minister to stand down were now under way.

But a Downing Street source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the report was incorrect.

The Times quoted an unidentified Downing Street source saying that even her closest allies believed it was inevitable she would have to resign.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge.)

Source: OANN

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Election observers say face limitations in Thai poll

Bangkok district officers prepare ballot boxes and other documents ahead of the general election at a local district office in Bangkok
Bangkok district officers prepare ballot boxes and other documents ahead of the general election at a local district office in Bangkok, Thailand, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

March 23, 2019

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – An international observer group said it would face limitations in judging to what extent Thailand’s general election on Sunday is free and fair, partly because it was granted accreditation too late to get more than 35 monitors into the country.

Voters go to the polls on Sunday in the first election since a 2014 military coup in a race broadly cast as between the current junta leader, who is seeking to stay on through the ballot, and anti-junta parties led by loyalists to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), which sought accreditation in November, had hoped to deploy 80 observers for an electorate of 51.4 million people.

But permission to monitor the poll was only granted on March 14 and so less than half that number will be on the ground for an election critics say has been stacked in favor of the military by the country’s junta.

“Unfortunately … we were not able to bring all the observers we had planned to because of visa issues,” ANFREL Secretary-General Rohana Nishanta Hettiarachchie, and head of the Thai vote mission, told Reuters.

Asked to respond, a government spokesman and a spokeswoman at the foreign ministry referred Reuters to the election commission, which was not available for comment.

Thailand’s vote comes after nearly five years of direct military rule and is viewed as a contest between junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha – who wants to stay on as elected leader – and a “democratic front” of parties led by the ousted pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai.

A third faction, led the anti-Thaksin establishment Democrat Party, argues it can form a government that is neutral.

A parliamentary system created by a new military-backed constitution, however, gives pro-junta parties a huge advantage over their rivals, including Pheu Thai, which is expected to win the most votes.

Rights groups had called on the military government to allow foreign observers to monitor the election, but only ANFREL was given permission last week.

“As international observers, we have our own limitations. We can’t challenge the law of the country,” said Hettiarachchie, a Sri Lankan national. “The legal framework itself is not supporting the free and fair elections.”

The European Union said in a statement on Friday that it had not received an invitation to observe the election in time and would deploy staff members on a “diplomatic watch” for internal reporting only.

The United States, which downgraded ties with Thailand following the 2014 coup, said it was “very keen” to see Thailand return to an elected government.

“We hope … Thailand sees a government that reflects the will of the people,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, W. Patrick Murphy, said on a conference call with reporters in the region on Friday.

‘DICTATORSHIP’ VS ‘CORRUPTION’

Major parties held their largest rallies yet on Friday evening, ahead of the campaign cut-off time at 6:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Saturday. More than 93,200 polling stations in 77 provinces will open at 8:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Sunday.

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha crooned a ballad at a Friday rally of the military proxy Palang Pracharat Party’s in Bangkok to make his final pitch for staying on as prime minister.

Almost simultaneously, Thaksin, whose affiliated parties have won every election since 2001, said at his daughter’s wedding reception in Hong Kong: “We will win for sure.”

Seated beside the former telecommunications tycoon was the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, who shocked the country last month by accepting a Thaksin-linked party’s nomination for prime minister.

She was quickly disqualified by the election commission and the party was later banned from the race for breaking a taboo of involving the monarchy in politics.

The new constitution written by junta supporters allows parliament’s upper house, the 250-seat Senate, to vote with the 500-seat lower house to choose the prime minister – and the Senate is entirely appointed by the junta.

Under those rules, pro-military parties would probably need only 126 seats in the lower House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote, while opposition parties would need 376 seats.

Pheu Thai’s long-time rival, the Democrat Party, told voters at its Friday rally that they did not have to choose between “dictatorship” and “corruption”, respectively referring to Prayuth and Thaksin, who fled the country to avoid corruption charges in 2008.

“Time’s up for dictatorship. Time’s up for corruption,” said its leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who could hold the key to power after what is expected to be an inconclusive poll that triggers intense horse-trading among parties to form a government.

“It’s time for ‘democracy with integrity.’ Vote Democrat.”

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo in JAKARTA; Editing by John Chalmers and Tom Hogue)

Source: OANN

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A Brexit crisis deepens, thousands due to march through London for a new referendum

An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London
An anti-Brexit protester waves an EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

March 23, 2019

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Thousands of people opposed to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will march through central London on Saturday to demand a new referendum as the deepening Brexit crisis risked sinking Prime Minister Theresa May’s premiership.

After three years of tortuous debate, it is still uncertain how, when or even if Brexit will happen as May tries to plot a way out of the gravest political crisis in at least a generation.

May hinted on Friday that she might not bring her twice-defeated EU divorce deal back to parliament next week, leaving her Brexit strategy in meltdown. The Times and The Daily Telegraph reported that pressure was growing on May to resign.

While the country and its politicians are divided over Brexit, most agree it is the most important strategic decision the United Kingdom has faced since World War Two.

Pro-EU protesters will gather for a “Put it to the people march” at Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park around midday, before marching past the prime minister’s office in Downing Street and finish outside parliament.

James McGrory, the director of the People’s Vote campaign and one of the organizers of the march, said the campaign for a second Brexit referendum is now the biggest mass movement in Britain, dwarfing the membership of the main political parties.

“People from all walks of life see can what they were once offered bears no relation to what is being delivered and they are angry about it because it feels like a bad deal is being rammed down their throats,” he told Reuters.

Organizers were confident that the size of the crowd would exceed a similar rally held in October, when supporters said about 700,000 people turned up.

Two hundred coaches from around Britain were booked to take people to London for the march. One coach left the Scottish Highlands on Friday evening, and another left from Cornwall on England’s western tip early on Saturday morning.

A petition to cancel Brexit altogether gained 4 million signatures in just 3 days after May told the public “I am on your side” over Brexit and urged lawmakers to get behind her deal.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding another Brexit referendum, saying it would deepen divisions and undermine support for democracy. Brexit supporters say a second referendum would trigger a major constitutional crisis.

Some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favor of remaining in the European Union, but there has yet to be a decisive change in attitudes.

Many voters in Britain say they have become increasingly bored by Brexit and May said on Wednesday that they want this stage of the Brexit process to be “over and done with.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Source: OANN

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French military join police to tackle latest ‘Yellow Vest’ protest

French riot police officers check people on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Act XIX (the 19th consecutive national protest on a Saturday) of the
French riot police officers check people on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Act XIX (the 19th consecutive national protest on a Saturday) of the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

March 23, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – French military forces joined police in Paris on Saturday to tackle the nineteenth consecutive weekend of “yellow vest” protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Protesters were banned from gathering on the Champs Elysees after shops and businesses there were looted and wrecked last weekend, prompting the government to call in “Operation Sentinelle” military units.

Pockets of demonstrators began to gather in other parts of Paris and other major French cities in the latest protests which began in November after public anger against fuel taxes rises.

The movement has morphed into a broader backlash against Macron’s government, despite it scrapping the fuel taxes.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Source: OANN

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Bernie Sanders' hiring of non-American campaign advisers may violate federal election laws, complaint says

Bernie Sanders was hit a complaint this week, claiming his presidential campaign violated federal election laws by employing non-Americans in advisery positions.

A new complaint by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) notes that three members of the Sanders campaign are foreign nationals, which appears to be a violation of federal election laws that prohibit foreign interference.

NEW SPOKESWOMAN FOR BERNIE SANDERS WON'T BE ABLE TO VOTE FOR HIM IN 2020 -- SHE'S AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT

Maria Belén Sisa, Sanders’ deputy national press secretary who joined the campaign last month, was among the staffers named in the complaint, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Sisa claims to be an illegal immigrant whose residency is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program for assisting illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Sisa recently caused an uproar after invoking an anti-Semitic “dual allegiance” trope of Jewish Americans while defending Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and questioning whether American Jews, including Sanders, were loyal to the United States.

The complaint notes that Sisa not only got a salary from Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, she also contributed money to it and is now serving in “an advisory position” in the 2020 campaign – all of which are “direct and serious violations” of federal election laws.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations,” the complaint reads.

“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations."

— The complaint

BERNIE SANDERS AIDE DEFENDS OMAR WITH TERM SEEN AS ANTI-SEMITIC, APOLOGIZES

According to the FEC rules, foreign nationals, who aren’t lawfully admitted permanent residents, cannot directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns. Such individuals are also barred from making political contributions.

The complaint also names two other foreign nationals on the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, immigration activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, who worked as the campaign's national Latino outreach strategist and press secretary for Latino outreach, respectively.

“Due to the high profile of Cesar Vargas, Erika Andiola, and Maria Belén Sisa as leading activists in the undocumented community, there is reason to believe that respondents are ‘foreign nationals' within the meaning of 52 U.S.C. § 301219b)(2), and in violation of 11 C.F.R. § 110.20 (i) and A.O. 2004-26, directly or indirectly participated in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2016," the complaint continued.

“There is reason to believe, having previously employed Ms. Sisa, that Bernie 2020 is currently, and knowingly, permitting a ‘foreign national' … to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2020.”

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The complaint calls on the FEC to investigate both the 2016 and the current presidential campaigns and take action to curb the violations.

“The Commission should determine and impose appropriate sanctions for any and all violations,” the complaint read. “Further, the Commission should enjoin respondents from any future violations and impose any necessary and appropriate remedies to ensure respondents' future compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

Source: Fox News Politics

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