OAN Newsroom

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FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph at the stock exchange in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

March 20, 2019

(Reuters) – European shares retreated from near six-month highs on Wednesday, with German stocks leading losses as chemicals producer Bayer sank 10 percent following another U.S. court verdict on weed killer Roundup’s link to cancer.

With eyes on a U.S. Federal Reserve statement and news conference later in the day, and Asian markets broadly lower, the pan-European STOXX 600 index fell 0.3 percent as investors booked profits after five sessions of gains.

The Fed is expected to hold interest rates steady and release long-awaited details of a plan to end the monthly reduction of its massive balance sheet. [FRX/]

Although unchanged rates have been priced in, investors will be watching to see if the Fed’s dot plot, the diagram which shows individual committee members’ rate views for the coming three years, aligns with the patient approach the Fed has expressed.

A 0.7 percent loss for Germany’s DAX was also driven by a pullback in car producers after the sector’s best day in more than three months — a 2.4 percent jump — on Tuesday.

The unanimous verdict by a San Francisco jury against Bayer, one of Germany’s biggest global names, came eight months after another jury issued a $289 million verdict over similar claims against glyphosate-based Roundup in a different case.

Also weighing on the DAX was Munich Re, down 1.3 percent after it issued a cautious profit outlook.

London’s FTSE lost 0.2 percent, weighed down by a 2 percent fall in resources stocks across Europe.

Inmarsat shares gained 16 percent after it received a cash takeover offer from a private equity-led consortium, a deal that would value the British satellite company at about $3.3 billion and take it private.

(Reporting by Agamoni Ghosh and Patrick Graham; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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FILE PHOTO: A man makes his way in a business district in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: A man makes his way in a business district in Tokyo, Japan May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

March 20, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government downgraded its assessment of the economy in March for the first time in three years, blaming a bruising U.S.-China trade war for slumping exports and industrial output.

The Cabinet Office, which helps coordinate government policy, said on Wednesday the economy is in gradual recovery, but exports and output are showing signs of weakness.

The monthly economic report for March was a downgrade from February, when the Cabinet Office simply said the economy is in gradual recovery.

The March report gave a pessimistic outlook, saying this bout of weakness could continue for some time in the future.

The downbeat assessment could fuel calls for the government to delay a nationwide sales tax hike scheduled for October, and increase speculation that the Bank of Japan (BOJ) will take some steps to bolster economic growth.

Exports fell for a third straight month in February and industrial output in January saw its sharpest decline in a year as tit-for-tat tariffs between Washington and Beijing slowed China’s economy and reduced demand for mobile phone parts and chip-making equipment from Japan.

The Cabinet Office downgraded its assessment of industrial production for the second consecutive month, saying it has shown signs of weakness and flatlined.

Despite the damage from the trade war, Japan’s economy should continue to grow moderately because consumer spending and capital expenditure are holding up, a Cabinet Office official told reporters at a briefing.

For March, the government left unchanged its assessment that consumer spending is recovering and capital expenditure is increasing.

However, there are concerns that companies will start cutting capital expenditure plans for fiscal 2019 in April due to uncertainty about global trade policy.

Japan’s manufacturing sector is exposed to the trade war because it sends electronic parts and capital goods to China, where they are used to make finished products destined for the United States.

The government is scheduled to raise the nationwide sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in October, but there are concerns this will weaken consumer spending and harm growth.

The BOJ last week cut its view on exports and output, but left its radical easing policy unchanged.

(Reporting by Stanley White; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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European Council President Donald Tusk meets Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for talks ahead of next week's EU summit
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte waits for European Council President Donald Tusk to meet for talks ahead of next week’s EU summit, when leaders will discuss Britain’s plans to leave the trading bloc, in The Hague, Netherlands March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

March 20, 2019

By Toby Sterling and Bart H. Meijer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Voting in provincial elections began in the Netherlands on Wednesday, just two days after a Turkish-born man was arrested over a shooting attack in the city of Utrecht, boosting Dutch populist parties.

Pre-election polls had already showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right coalition was likely to lose its majority in the Senate. But the attack in Utrecht – which killed three people – was expected to lead to the strongest-ever showing by two populist parties.

“It’s 100 percent clear that the coalition will book major losses,” pollster Maurice de Hond said in an election preview.

A snap poll conducted after Monday’s shooting showed that determination had grown among populists to turn out and vote, while support for traditional parties remained lackluster.

Drawing on the historical comparison to 2002, when populist Pim Fortuyn was assassinated just before national elections, he forecast a combined showing of up to 25 percent for populists.

“It will be a close call as to whether the coalition plus even just one other opposition party” will be able to command a majority after the new Senate is seated in May.

A victory for Dutch populists would worry traditional European parties, who breathed a collective sigh of relief after Rutte defeated the right wing in 2017 general elections.

But the Dutch right wing, dominated for a decade by the Freedom party of Geert Wilders, has been transformed in the past two years by the rapid growth of a second populist party. The Forum for Democracy, following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump, emphasizes “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes.

Its leader, Thierry Baudet, shocked establishment parties this week by blaming the government for the Utrecht attack on the same day it occurred. Others had suspended campaigning.

The motive of the 37-year-old man arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack on a tram is not yet known. Prosecutors have not ruled out terrorism.

“You can tell what’s going on anyway,” Baudet told supporters at a rally. “This is a combination of an honor killing and a half-terrorist motive.”

The suspect is due to appear before a judge by Thursday.

De Hond said that the two populist parties will have their best-ever combined showing, with Forum for Democracy possibly winning more votes than Prime Minister Rutte’s conservative VVD.

The Dutch economy has been one of Europe’s best performers under successive Rutte-led governments, but resentment over early 2010s austerity programs linger. Recent debate has focused on funding the government’s plans to meet international goals on climate change, and the likely cost to taxpayers.

The usual supporters of the conservative parties in Rutte’s coalition are skeptical of spending on climate change. Many left-leaning voters feel not enough is being done and have defected to the pro-environment Green Left party, which is also expected to book big gains on Wednesday.

Ironically, the immediate result of a victory for populists, who oppose environmental spending, would be to force Rutte’s coalition to work more closely with Green Left to pass legislation.

Polls in the provincial elections close at 2000GMT. The first projection of results by national broadcaster NOS is expected shortly afterwards.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Larry King)

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FILE PHOTO: CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attends CDU party meeting in Potsdam
FILE PHOTO: CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attends meeting of Germany’s governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Potsdam, Germany, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt -/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) – German conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Wednesday that suspending Hungary’s Fidesz party from the EU’s center-right political group would be a good option until trust was rebuilt with Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The European People’s Party (EPP) meet on Wednesday to decide what action to take against Orban’s Fidesz after a row between the mainstream group which accuses the populist, anti-immigrant Orban of flouting the rule of law. Some delegates want to exclude Fidesz altogether.

“As long as Fidesz does not fully restore trust there cannot be normal full membership,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, a confidante of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Reuters on Wednesday.

A membership “freeze” would be an option, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) said.

Fidesz angered the EPP by distributing posters of European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker depicted as a puppet manipulated by billionaire George Soros into backing uncontrolled immigration into Hungary.

Orban has also campaigned against the private Central European University in Budapest founded by Soros.

Earlier this month, Orban apologized for offensive language but some EPP leaders said was not enough.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said Orban had taken some first steps to show that it made sense to continue a dialogue.

“But it is not enough to put doubts to rest about whether Fidesz shares an understanding of the common values of the EPP that would enable a future cooperation based on trust,” she said.

Juncker told German radio on Wednesday that he advised the center-right EPP bloc to kick out Fidesz.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Thomas Seythal and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin)

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Red flags flutter outside the Great Hall of the People during the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing
Red flags flutter outside the Great Hall of the People during the closing session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, China March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

March 20, 2019

By Ben Blanchard and Robin Emmott

BEIJING/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – China will invite Beijing-based European diplomats to visit its far western region of Xinjiang, the foreign ministry told Reuters, furthering its outreach to fend off criticism about a de-radicalisation programme.

The visit would be the first by a large group of Western diplomats to the region as China faces growing opprobrium from Western capitals and rights groups for setting up facilities that U.N. experts describe as detention centres holding more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims.

Several diplomatic sources said the invitation to visit by the end of March had been issued informally, specifically to ambassadors, with one source describing it as a “sounding out” of interest, and the government had not explicitly said who they would meet or where they would go.

It is also not clear if the Europeans would accept the invitation, or how many of their diplomats or ambassadors would go.

Last year, more than a dozen ambassadors from Western countries, including France, Britain, Germany and the EU’s envoy in Beijing, wrote to the government to seek a meeting with Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, to discuss their concerns about the rights situation.

Diplomats say the government never responded to that letter, aside from publicly denouncing it as a violation of diplomatic norms.

It was not clear if a meeting with Chen would be on the agenda.

“In order to increase the European side’s understanding of Xinjiang’s achievements at economic and social development, and promote bilateral exchanges and cooperation, China plans in the near term to invite European envoys based in China to visit Xinjiang,” the foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

The date and other details were still being worked it, the ministry added.

“Hearing something for a hundred times is not as good as seeing it for yourself,” the ministry’s statement said.

The European Union’s mission in Beijing declined to comment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Europe on Thursday for a state visit to Italy, Monaco and France.

‘HAPPY LIVES’

Beijing has been ramping up its efforts in defence of its measures in Xinjiang, which it says are aimed at stemming the threat of Islamist militancy. It calls the camps vocational training centres.

China “believes that through this trip, European envoys based in China will be able to personally experience the real situation of Xinjiang’s calm, order and peace and the happy lives of all its people”, the ministry said.

Last week, the U.S. State Department said China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang marked the worst human rights abuses “since the 1930s”.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has weighed sanctions against senior Chinese officials in Xinjiang, including Chen.

Some diplomats briefed on the situation said there was concern the European diplomats could be used for propaganda purposes, pointing to pictures taken by and stories in state media about recent visits by other foreign envoys to Xinjiang.

“There’s no point in going if we’re just going to be portrayed as supporting the camps,” said one diplomat.

EU foreign ministers raised the issue of the Uighurs with the government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, on Monday at a lunch in Brussels, sources told Reuters.

While Wang was keen to focus on a list of issues of cooperation and agreement, EU ministers underlined the issue of human rights and the Uighurs, asking for explanations about why the people were being held and on reports of crackdowns on Muslims, sources said.

One EU diplomat said Wang’s reply was “not satisfactory”.

Wang said China was a big country with a lot of people so it could not be avoided that some individuals complain about treatment, and China was a developing country and measures were not against Uighurs but against extremists, the diplomat said.

“He was puzzled about why we are worried about it,” the diplomat said.

The foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wang’s Xinjiang discussions in Brussels.

Premier Li Keqiang will visit Brussels next month for a China-EU summit.

There have been two visits by groups including European diplomats to Xinjiang this year. One was a small group of EU diplomats, and the other by a group of diplomats from several countries, including EU members Hungary and Greece.

There have also been at least two other trips to Xinjiang for foreign diplomats.

A diplomat who has been on a government-organised trip to Xinjiang, said during the entire programme reporters from state media accompanied them, taking pictures and trying to interview the envoys.

“It was impossible to avoid them,” the diplomat said.

There is also concern that the European envoys would be taken to the same camps and sites that previous foreign visitors have been taken to on tightly controlled and carefully choreographed trips, including one Reuters went on in January, the sources said.

“There’s no point in going just to see the same places,” said another diplomat familiar with the invitation.

All the diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity.

China’s diplomatic efforts have included a briefing in Beijing late last month, where two former camp inmates spoke in front of envoys to describe how they had been rescued from radical Islam, people who attended the briefing told Reuters.

China has strongly defended the camps.

Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir told reporters in Beijing last week the facilities were “boarding schools” and not concentration camps.

Beijing says it must tackle radical Islam in Xinjiang, where hundreds have been killed in violence in recent years blamed by the government on militants and separatists.

Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some. (https://tinyurl.com/y9zzouss)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Robin Emmott; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media after phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump after second North Korea-U.S. summit, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media after phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) after second North Korea-U.S. summit, at Abe’s residence in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he sees the central bank’s inflation target as a means to achieve the more important goal of reviving the economy, in a sign that firing up inflation may no longer be a priority for the government.

The premier’s comments followed those from Finance Minister Taro Aso, who warned the Bank of Japan last week against insisting on hitting its price goal.

Abe defended the BOJ for missing its 2 percent inflation target, telling parliament that the government gives a passing grade to its policies for boosting jobs and economic growth.

“The BOJ’s price target is not only a target but a means to revive the economy,” Abe told parliament, adding the priority for many central banks across the globe, including the BOJ, was to spur growth and create more jobs.

“With monetary policy, you can create jobs and put an end to deflation. In doing so, you need an inflation target of 2 percent,” Abe said.

“In achieving our fundamental goal of spurring growth, (the BOJ’s policies) have had a sufficient effect,” he said.

Abe’s views contrast with remarks by BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who have consistently said achieving the bank’s price target was its priority.

Speaking at the same parliament committee, Kuroda said the central bank was ready to ramp up stimulus if the economy loses momentum for hitting his price target.

With inflation distant from its target, the BOJ is struggling to balance the need to drive up inflation and address the rising cost of prolonged easing such as the hit to bank profits from years of ultra-low interest rates.

As heightening overseas risks such as trade protectionism threaten Japan’s fragile economic recovery, BOJ policymakers disagreed on the next policy move at their January rate review, according to minutes of the meeting released on Wednesday.

Abe reiterated that the government hopes the BOJ keeps up efforts to achieve its inflation target, with an eye on economic, price and financial developments.

The premier said there was no inconsistency between his views and those of Aso, who said last week that “things could go wrong” if the BOJ insisted too much on achieving its price goal.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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FILE PHOTO: EU Competition Commissioner Vestager talks to the media at the European Council headquarters in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager talks to the media at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

March 20, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will hold a news conference on an antitrust case at 1030 GMT (11.30 a.m. Brussels time), the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Vestager is expected to announce a third fine for Alphabet unit Google over anti-competitive practices, related to its AdSense advertising service, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.

Last year, Vestager imposed a record 4.34 billion euro ($4.91 billion) fine on Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. This followed a 2.4 billion euro fine levied in 2017 for blocking rivals of shopping comparison websites.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

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A sign warning employees not to connect devices to the network in the wake of a cyber attack is seen at the headquarters of aluminum producer Norsk Hydro in Oslo
A sign warning employees not to connect devices to the network in the wake of a cyber attack is seen at the headquarters of aluminum producer Norsk Hydro in Oslo, Norway March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche

March 20, 2019

OSLO (Reuters) – Norsk Hydro, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, has made progress in stabilizing operations following a ransomware cyber attack that began late on Monday, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Hydro’s technical team, with external support, has succeeded in detecting the root cause of the problems and is currently working to validate the plan and process to restart the company’s IT systems in a safe and sound manner,” it said.

“However, it is still not clear how long it might take (to)restore stable IT operations,” it added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche)

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FILE PHOTO: The Nissan logo is seen at Nissan car plant in Sunderland
FILE PHOTO: The Nissan logo is seen at Nissan car plant in Sunderland, Britain February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble

March 20, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Nissan Motor’s China joint venture with Dongfeng has not made any changes to its mid-term China sales plan, a company spokeswoman told Reuters on Wednesday, responding to a report that it has cut its sales target.

“Dongfeng Motor Company Limited has not changed its mid-term China plan. We will study whether to change the plan based on the future market situation” the spokeswoman said.

Dongfeng Motor Company Limited is the joint venture between Nissan and Dongfeng in China.

Bloomberg reported earlier on Wednesday that the JV cut its 2022 China car sales target by about 8 percent, citing unnamed sources.

Reuters reported last year the Japanese carmaker plans to invest 60 billion yuan ($9.5 billion) in China over the next five years with its joint-venture partner as it seeks to become a top three automaker in the world’s biggest market.

(Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

March 20, 2019

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Warplanes flew near Baghouz in eastern Syria early on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said, as the final remnants of the Islamic State group held a narrow strip of land along the Euphrates in a last-ditch defense of its dwindling territory.

Defeat there would signal the end of the ultra-hardline Islamist movement’s control in eastern Syria, having held more than a third of Syria and Iraq at one point in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region.

On Tuesday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had driven the remaining Islamic State fighters in the town of Baghouz from a makeshift encampment that had represented most of its remaining territory.

But while the capture of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, would mark a significant milestone in Syria’s eight-year war and in the battle against the jihadist group, Islamic State remains a threat.

Some of the group’s fighters are still holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said late on Tuesday that clashes with the militants at the Euphrates were continuing “in several pockets”.

(Reporting By a Reuters reporter in Deir al-Zor province and Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – The breakdown at last month’s U.S.-North Korea summit has left South Korean President Moon Jae-in with little room to maneuver and exacerbated divisions within his government over how to break the impasse, three sources familiar with the issue said.

The weeks since the Hanoi summit have revealed how difficult it may now be for Moon to play his desired role as a mediator, as Pyongyang and Washington have hardened their stances, threatening to make his focus on engagement seem implausible.

Some U.S. officials were frustrated when Moon, during a call with President Donald Trump just a week before the summit, offered to “ease the burden” by reopening inter-Korean economic projects as a concession to the North, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

At the time, negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program were “hardly making progress,” one source said.

That offer also landed with a thud among some of Moon’s own administration, who said it made him appear desperate for North Korean sanctions relief.

“You don’t want to look desperate, especially when their talks are going nowhere and time is ticking,” said the source, who like the others spoke on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Moon is eager to restart the joint projects, key to an initiative that he sees as a boost for a moribund economy and the worst job market in a decade.

WEEKS OF CONTROVERSY

Moon’s approval ratings have fallen to their lowest levels since taking office in May 2017, pollster Realmeter said on Monday, citing recent missile activity in North Korea and the stalemate in nuclear talks.

Since the summit, work at North Korea’s Sohae rocket test facility has been detected, while a senior Pyongyang official said last week that Kim may suspend talks with the United States and rethink its freeze on weapons tests.

Senior North Korean negotiators have not showed up for weekly talks with the South at their liaison office since the summit broke down, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. But there were “no problems” communicating with the North, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a recent U.S. State Department human rights paper criticized Seoul for pressuring North Korean defectors not to denounce Pyongyang. A separate U.N. report noted Seoul’s failure to declare its transfer of petroleum products used in the North, and published a photo of Moon and Kim riding in an “illicitly obtained” limousine in Pyongyang.

This week, the debate over whether Moon is too committed to engagement with North Korea boiled over in a controversy about a Bloomberg news report that called him a “top spokesman” for Kim Jong Un last year.

Moon’s office faced criticism from foreign media associations after ruling party officials used the racially charged term “black-haired foreigner” to personally single out the author of the Bloomberg story – who is South Korean – for being “almost treasonous.”

After days of pressure, the party apologized on Tuesday for using “black-haired foreigner,” while Moon’s office said it would take action if the reporter were “under real threat.”

CHANGING ROLES

Moon has vowed to act as a mediator between Trump and Kim, but that plan is in doubt in the wake of the summit’s collapse.

There was criticism in Washington that Seoul might have over-sold Kim’s denuclearisation commitment and gone too far in pushing for sanctions relief, according to another source who recently met with U.S. officials and academics.

On the other side, North Korea’s vice foreign minister told a news conference in Pyongyang last week that South Korea is only “a player, not an arbiter” because it is a U.S. ally, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. officials have said no sanctions will be lifted in exchange for partial steps toward denuclearisation, rejecting the incremental approach Pyongyang has sought.

But a senior aide to Moon on Sunday called for a small, step-by-step deal as a “realistic alternative” that would at least move toward dismantling the North’s nuclear facilities in return for sanctions relief.

“We need to reconsider the all-or-nothing strategy,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

A U.S. State Department representative said that the United States remains prepared for a “constructive negotiation” but that North Korea was not yet ready.

The three sources say U.S. officials still think Moon’s administration can play a role in resuming talks the North, but they want it to focus more on pushing North Korea to denuclearise rather than advocating for sanctions relief.

“They do think South Korea could be a catalyst that helps the negotiations go in the right direction, but in a way that brings Kim’s commitments that deserve U.S. rewards,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Gerry Doyle)

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Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira
Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video on March 19, 2019. International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

MAPUTO/HARARE (Reuters) – Mozambique started three days of national mourning on Wednesday after powerful cyclone winds and flooding killed hundreds of people and left a massive trail of destruction across swathes of southeast Africa.

Cylone Idai, which hit Mozambique’s port city of Beira on Thursday before moving inland, brought winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) which flattened buildings and put the lives of millions of people at risk.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said in a televised statement on Tuesday that the cyclone had killed more than 200 people in Mozambique but that more bodies were still being discovered.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, the official death count stands at 98 but is likely to grow as hundreds are still missing.

Rescue crews are still struggling to reach victims, while aid groups say many survivors are trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads and submerged villages.

“Challenges remain in terms of the search and rescue of thousands of people, including children,” UNICEF said. It estimated that 260,000 children were at risk in Mozambique. The Red Cross has said at least 400,000 people have been made homeless in central Mozambique alone.

Beira, a low-lying coastal city of 500,000 people, is home to Mozambique’s second-largest port and serves as a gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

Local media reported that there were food and fuel shortages in central Mozambique because Beira was cut off by road.

In eastern Zimbabwe grieving families are rushing to bury their dead because the cyclone has knocked out power supplies and stopped mortuaries from functioning. Zimbabwe’s Grain Millers Association said 100 trucks carrying wheat destined for Zimbabwe were stuck in Beira.

The European Union announced on Tuesday an initial emergency aid package of 3.5 million euros ($3.97 million) to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and health care. Britain has also pledged aid.

(Reporting by Manuel Mucari and MacDonald Dzirutwe; Additional reporting by Catarina Demony; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets
Mar 19, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) argues a foul call in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

(Reuters) – The Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons displayed a message of support for an Australian teenager who smashed an egg on a right-wing lawmaker’s head, wearing shoes with the words “Egg Boy” written on them during Tuesday’s game against Charlotte.

Senator Fraser Anning was approached from behind at a political event on Saturday before the 17-year-old cracked the egg on the back of his head.

The teenager was dubbed “Egg Boy” on social media and Australian Simmons showed his support by writing the nickname on his bright yellow shoes.

Anning had received widespread condemnation following his comments that the cause of last week’s shootings at two New Zealand mosques that left 50 dead was letting “Muslim fanatics” migrate to the country.

Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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NHL: Washington Capitals at New Jersey Devils
Mar 19, 2019; Newark, NJ, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the New Jersey Devils during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

Brett Connolly had a goal and an assist, and the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-1 on Tuesday night in Newark, N.J., to move into sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson also scored for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom collected his 50th assist of the season, and Pheonix Copley made 20 saves.

Kenny Agostino scored, and Mackenzie Blackwood made 18 saves for the Devils, who have lost two straight.

Blues 7, Oilers 2

Jaden Schwartz capped his hat trick with a power-play goal at 18:48 of the third period as St. Louis defeated visiting Edmonton.

David Perron added two goals and an assist, and Alex Pietrangelo and Pat Maroon also scored for the Blues. Jordan Binnington made 15 saves to improve to 14-3-0 in his past 17 starts.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian scored for the Oilers. Mikko Koskinen stopped 17 of 20 shots before being pulled 5:42 into the second period after the Blues took a three-goal lead. Connor McDavid failed to tally a point, ending his 12-game scoring streak.

Flames 4, Blue Jackets 2

Michael Frolik scored the winning goal in a two-point night, and David Rittich was sensational while making 31 saves as host Calgary defeated Columbus. The Flames moved three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks for top spot in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.

While Rittich had incredible fortune on his side with the Blue Jackets ringing four pucks off iron, he was outstanding all game, including a one-sided third period in which he stopped 11 shots.

Andrew Mangiapane, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk added goals for Calgary, which has won four of its past five games. Zach Werenski and Oliver Bjorkstrand scored for the Blue Jackets.

Stars 4, Panthers 2

Alexander Radulov scored two goals, including the winner with 9:28 to play in the third period, and Tyler Seguin had four assists to lift host Dallas to a victory over Florida.

Dallas is now four points ahead of idle Arizona for the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Florida lost its second straight and is now 4-2-0 in its past six games.

Jamie Benn and John Klingberg collected the Stars’ other goals. Aleksander Barkov tallied twice for the Panthers.

Avalanche 3, Wild 1

Philipp Grubauer made 36 saves, Tyson Barrie, Tyson Jost and Ian Cole scored, and Colorado won at Saint Paul, Minn.

The Avalanche won their second in a row to tighten the Western Conference wild-card race. Colorado moved within a point of the Wild and within two points of Arizona. The Coyotes currently hold the second wild-card spot.

Zach Parise had a goal, and Devan Dubnyk stopped 35 shots for Minnesota. The Wild have lost two in a row, and they fell to 2-7-3 in their past 12 home games.

Predators 3, Maple Leafs 0

Brian Boyle, Wayne Simmonds and Filip Forsberg scored goals, Pekka Rinne stopped 22 shots, and Nashville defeated visiting Toronto.

Rinne has four shutouts this season, and the past two have been against the Maple Leafs. He has 55 career shutouts.

Ryan Johansen had two assists for the Predators, who managed only 20 shots on goal but won their third in a row. Frederik Andersen finished with 17 saves for the Maple Leafs.

Bruins 5, Islanders 0

Sean Kuraly scored two goals in a regular-season game for the first time in his career, and Tuukka Rask stopped all 13 shots he faced as Boston cruised to a win at Uniondale, N.Y.

The Bruins have won two straight following a three-game losing streak. Boston allowed 15 goals in the skid but has given up just one goal in its last two games. Jake DeBrusk, Patrice Bergeron and Noel Acciari also scored for the Bruins.

The Islanders lost for the second time in three games (1-2-0). New York goalie Robin Lehner, who played for the first time since sustaining what was believed to be a concussion on March 5, made 34 saves.

Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2 (SO)

Dougie Hamilton scored on the first attempt of a shootout, and that was enough for Carolina in a victory against Pittsburgh at Raleigh, N.C.

The Hurricanes made it past regulation when Justin Williams scored the tying goal with 1:56 left in the third period after the Hurricanes opted to go with an extra skater.

Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang scored with 4:37 remaining, but the Penguins couldn’t hold on.

Red Wings 3, Rangers 2

Jimmy Howard made 41 saves, and Andreas Athanasiou scored twice as Detroit opened a five-game road trip by holding on for a victory over New York.

Howard helped the Red Wings sweep the three-game season series with the Rangers by making at least 40 saves for the fifth time this season and 21st time in his career.

Detroit’s Frans Nielsen scored in the first period, and Athanasiou tallied in the second before adding an empty-net goal in the final minute. Ryan Strome and Brendan Smith were the Rangers’ goal-scorers.

Canadiens 3, Flyers 1

Goals from Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber and Max Domi carried Montreal to a win at Philadelphia.

Andrew Shaw tallied two assists and Carey Price stopped 32 shots for the Canadiens.

Sean Couturier scored and Carter Hart made 33 saves for the Flyers, who took a second straight home loss for the first time since early January.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier presents the national industry strategy for 2030 during a news conference in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier presents the national industry strategy for 2030 during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany plans to pass legislation by the end of 2019 to create a state-owned fund that can protect key companies from takeovers by Chinese and other foreign firms, government sources said, in a marked shift from its “hands-off” approach to business.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier proposed the fund in February as part of a more defensive industrial strategy and three officials told Reuters the government was now working on draft laws so the fund could be up and running next year.

Two senior government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the idea was for the state-owned investment fund to work with the private sector when buying company stakes to foil unwelcome takeovers.

One official said the state could buy a stake initially and then sell it on as soon as possible to private investors while the other official said in some cases the fund could work with private investors from the start.

“In the past, Germany was too reluctant to define its national interests. This is changing now,” the first government official said.

“We see that we cannot lean back anymore and let everything be decided by the free play of market forces,” he said. “And this means more protection from the state.”

Long an ardent advocate of free markets, Germany’s move is a response to China’s state-driven metamorphosis from customer to competitor and U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats of unilateral trade sanctions and higher tariffs, the sources said.

For decades, German politicians followed the “ordoliberal” principles of post-war economy minister Ludwig Erhard who said free markets should decide winners and losers, with the state only providing a framework for fair competition.

The German move also comes at a time the European Union as a whole is reconsidering the bloc’s industrial strategy and relations to China in the face of increased investment in critical sectors by Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The European Commission has urged the bloc to back its ideas to curb Chinese companies and EU leaders are due to discuss the issue at a summit in Brussels this week.

WAKE-UP CALL

In Germany, the Chinese takeover of robotics maker Kuka in 2016 was the wake-up call for the government that underlined the urgency for the state to become more active, the officials said.

An attempt by China’s State Grid last year to buy a stake in power grid operator 50Hertz also focused German minds. After Berlin failed to find an alternative private investor in Europe, German state-owned bank KfW https://www.kfw.de/kfw.de-2.html stepped in to keep the Chinese out.

That’s why the German government is now aiming to pass new laws creating the investment fund by the end of the year so it can be ready for use in 2020, the first official told Reuters.

“Ideally, there will be stake acquisitions together with private investors,” the official said, adding that Berlin had no plans to intervene in daily business decisions. “It’s not about the state becoming entrepreneurial.”

The state-owned fund could be managed by KfW, or be an altogether new entity empowered to hold company shareholdings, the second official said.

The plan goes hand in hand with a decision by the government in December to lower the threshold for screening, and even blocking, purchases of stakes in German firms in strategic areas by non-European investors.

An economy ministry spokesman said investment by the state fund would be limited to “very exceptional cases” and stakes would only be bought for a restricted period.

Such cases would mainly involve the protection of critical infrastructure where the government viewed a non-European investor as a threat to Germany’s national interests, the ministry spokesman said.

“The idea and its possible implementation are being discussed now in the further process of the industrial strategy,” said the spokesman, who declined to comment on the fund’s expected size.

‘ECONOMIC SOVEREIGNTY’

Altmaier said in February after presenting Germany’s industrial strategy for the next decade that key sectors were steel and aluminum, chemicals, machine and plant engineering, optics, autos, medical equipment, Green technologies, defense, aerospace and 3D printing.

Among the companies whose survival Altmaier described as crucial for the economy as a whole were marquee names such as Deutsche Bank, thyssenkrupp, Siemens and Germany’s big carmakers.

Altmaier told Reuters in an interview that his aim was to safeguard global competitiveness and technological leadership of German industry for the coming decades.

“This should also be a top priority for the next European Commission,” he said. “With this, we will secure jobs and prosperity in Germany and Europe. And, above all, it’s what will give Europe its economic sovereignty and independence.”

Germany and France, the two biggest economies in the euro zone, are liaising closely on how the EU could overhaul its competition and state subsidy rules to support European champions that can compete on a global level.

Following a decision by Brussels to block a rail deal between Siemens and Alstom – a merger that was meant to counter Chinese competition – German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to put reform of Europe’s competition laws high on the agenda during Germany’s EU presidency in 2020.

BUSINESS BACKLASH

While Germany’s powerful BDI https://english.bdi.eu industry association has welcomed the government’s plan to tackle a more assertive China, support national champions and reform competition law, it has criticized the idea of a state investment fund.

“New instruments for state ownership should not be used to fend off company takeovers, they should only support projects of new technologies,” BDI director general Joachim Lang said.

In light of growing unease among coalition lawmakers and industry groups, Altmaier is trying to reassure critics that Germany will remain open for foreign direct investment and that the government wants to intervene as little as possible.

“However, there can be exceptional cases in which the state must take action to avoid severe disadvantages for the economy as a whole and the country’s national welfare,” Altmaier told Reuters. “For example in cases when our critical infrastructure is at stake or when it comes to game changer technologies.”

Carsten Linnemann, deputy leader of Merkel’s conservatives in parliament and head of the bloc’s business-friendly Mittelstand wing, said the government’s focus on national champions was problematic. “We shouldn’t confuse size with competitiveness,” Linnemann told Reuters.

He said Germany’s “hidden champions” – mostly family-run firms that are market leaders in niche segments – were a good example that innovation is often driven by small enterprises.

Linnemann also rejected the idea of state intervention.

“The state simply doesn’t have more knowledge than the market. This basic rule hasn’t changed in times of big technological disruptions, in fact rather the opposite.”

Asked if parliament would block legislation for a state investment fund, Linnemann said coalition lawmakers were still in the process of forming an opinion. He said they generally shared the government’s goal to support the industrial sector.

“But we won’t achieve this by copying the industrial policy of China, the United States and France.”

($1 = 0.8829 euros)

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Christian Kraemer; editing by David Clarke)

Source: OANN


“Under”, a semi-submerged restaurant beneath the waters of the North Atlantic which will be open to public on March 21, 2019 is pictured in Lindesnes, south west of Oslo, Norway March 19, 2019. Picture taken March 19, 2019. NTB Scanpix/Tor Erik Schroder via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos

BAALY, Norway (Reuters) – Europe’s first underwater restaurant opens in Norway on Wednesday with more than 7,000 customers booked in to eat among the fish.

Situated on the southern tip of Norway, the restaurant looks like a large concrete tube partly submerged in the North Sea. It is called Under, which also means “wonder” in Norwegian.

It was designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snoehetta, which also created the Opera house in Oslo and the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York.

“The fascination is just this movement from above water to underwater through the building … The big window exposes the underwater not like an aquarium, it’s the real thing,” Snoehetta’s founder Kjetil Traedal Thorsen told Reuters.

Entering Under initially feels like going into a sauna, as wooden planks cover its upper section, but an eight-meter flight of stairs leads down to a large dining area that sits about 40 guests, walled by a gigantic transparent window to the ocean.

Traedal Thorsen said the construction can cope with very harsh weather and is shaped in such a way that it can withstand what he called “the wave of the century”.

The restaurant is laid out so there are minimal reflections in the glass wall, which fills the room with natural light during the day, filtered by the greenish color of the water.

A full 18-course meal, based on local ingredients and seafood, can cost up to 3,700 crowns ($430) per person including drinks.

“The goal is to get 50 percent of the guests who eat there to spend the night in the hotel as well… We expect around 12,000 people eating dinner every year,” said Gaute Ubostad, one of two brothers who own the restaurant and a nearby hotel.

Under opens on Wednesday for friends and family of the owners and the first paying guests will be able to visit from early April.

There are only a handful of underwater restaurants around the world, mainly found in tropical waters like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

(Reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos, editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: OANN

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave church in Sonning
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave church in Sonning, Britain March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

March 20, 2019

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Roslan Khasawneh, Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Elumami

SINGAPORE/BAGHDAD/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – At least two tankers have ferried Iranian fuel oil to Asia in recent months despite U.S. sanctions against such shipments, according to a Reuters analysis of ship-tracking data and port information, as well as interviews with brokers and traders.

The shipments were loaded onto tankers with documents showing the fuel oil was Iraqi. But three Iraqi oil industry sources and Prakash Vakkayil, a manager at United Arab Emirates (UAE) shipping services firm Yacht International Co, said the papers were forged.

The people said they did not know who forged the documents, nor when.

The transfers show at least some Iranian fuel oil is being traded despite the reimposition of sanctions in November 2018, as Washington seeks to pressure Iran into abandoning nuclear and missile programs. They also show how some traders have revived tactics that were used to skirt sanctions against Iran between 2012 and 2016. (https://reut.rs/2NF1fTK)

“Some buyers…will want Iranian oil regardless of U.S. strategic objectives to deny Tehran oil revenue, and Iran will find a way to keep some volumes flowing,” said Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

While the United States has granted eight countries temporary waivers allowing limited purchases of Iranian crude oil, these exemptions do not cover products refined from crude, including fuel oil, mainly used to power the engines of large ships.

NO RECORD AT BASRA

Documents forwarded to Reuters by ship owners say a 300,000 tonne-supertanker, the Grace 1, took on fuel oil at Basra, Iraq, between Dec. 10 and 12, 2018. But Basra port loading schedules reviewed by Reuters do not list the Grace 1 as being in port during those dates.

One Iraqi industry source with knowledge of the port’s operations confirmed there were no records of the Grace 1 at Basra during this period.

Reuters examined data from four ship-tracking information providers – Refinitiv, Kpler, IHS Markit and Vessel Finder – to locate the Grace 1 during that time. All four showed that the Grace 1 had its Automatic Identification System (AIS), or transponder, switched off between Nov. 30 and Dec. 14, 2018, meaning its location could not be tracked.

The Grace 1 then re-appeared in waters near Iran’s port of Bandar Assaluyeh, fully loaded, data showed. The cargo was transferred onto two smaller ships in UAE waters in January, from where one ship delivered fuel oil to Singapore in February.

Shipping documents showed about 284,000 tonnes of fuel oil were transferred in the cargoes tracked by Reuters, worth about $120 million at current prices.

Officials at Iran’s oil ministry declined to comment.

Singapore customs did not respond to requests for comment.

The Grace 1, a Panamanian-flagged tanker, is managed by Singapore-based shipping services firm IShips Management Pte Ltd, according to data. IShips did not respond to several requests for comment via email or phone.

A Reuters reporter visited the office listed on IShips’ website but was told by the current tenant that the company had moved out two years earlier.

(MAP: Grace 1 tanker movement between Iraq, Iran and the UAE – https://tmsnrt.rs/2FkRjMK)

SHIP-TO-SHIP TRANSFERS

The ship-tracking data analyzed by Reuters showed the Grace 1 emerged from the period when it did not transmit its location almost 500 kilometers south of Iraq. It was close to the Iranian coast with its draught – how deep a vessel sits in water – near maximum, indicating its cargo tanks were filled.

The Grace 1 transferred its cargo to two smaller tankers between Jan. 16 and 22 in waters offshore Fujairah in the UAE, data showed.

One of those vessels, the 130,000 tonne-capacity Kriti Island, offloaded fuel oil into a storage terminal in Singapore around Feb. 5 to 7. Reuters was unable to determine who purchased the fuel oil for storage in Singapore.

The Kriti Island is managed by Greece’s Avin International SA.

The tanker was chartered by Singapore-based Blutide Pte Ltd for its voyage to Singapore, Avin International’s Chief Executive Officer George Mylonas told Reuters. Mylonas confirmed the Kriti Island took on fuel oil from the Grace 1.

There is no indication that Avin International knowingly shipped Iranian fuel oil. Mylonas said his firm had conducted all necessary due diligence to ensure the cargo’s legitimate origin.

CERTIFICATE OF ORIGIN

Mylonas emailed Reuters a copy of a Certificate of Origin (COO) that he said was provided by the charterers – referring to Blutide – showing the Grace 1 loaded fuel oil at Basra on Dec. 10 and 12, 2018.

“The Certificate of Origin and all the information obtained did not reveal any connection with Iran, let alone that the cargo of fuel oil originated” from there, Mylonas wrote.

Mylonas said the Grace 1’s owners, managers, shippers, receivers and charterers were screened by Avin International. “There were not circumstances that would make the COO of dubious origin,” he said via email.

He said he had been told by the charterers that the Grace 1 only stopped in waters off Iran in late December and early January for “repairs of damaged diesel generators” before sailing to Fujairah.

The document provided by Mylonas says Iraq’s state oil marketer SOMO certified the Grace 1 in December loaded a total of 284,261 tonnes of Iraqi fuel oil.

Reuters shared the document with a SOMO official in Iraq who said it was “faked” and “completely wrong”. The official declined to be identified by name, citing the marketer’s communications policy.

Two other Iraqi oil industry sources with direct knowledge of Basra port and oil industry operations also said the documentation was forged.

The two sources said the document bore the signature of a manager who was not working at Basra port on the stated dates. The document also bears contradictory dates: It indicates a loading period of Dec. 10 and 12, 2018 but a sign-off date for the transaction of Jan. 12, 2018.

‘CONSIDER TO BE FORGED’

Data showed the second tanker into which the Grace 1 transferred cargo was the Marshal Z, also a 130,000-tonne vessel.

It was bound for Singapore in the first half of February but changed course on Feb. 15, parking off western Malaysia. Reuters was unable to determine who owns the Marshal Z, nor who chartered it.

Around Feb. 25, the Marshal Z transferred its cargo to another vessel called the Libya, owned and managed by Tripoli-based General National Maritime Transport Company (GNMTC).

A GNMTC spokesman said the Libya was chartered by Blutide, the same Singapore firm that chartered the Kriti Island.

    Blutide registered as a company in Singapore on May 14, 2018. Its sole listed shareholder and only director, Singaporean Basheer Sayeed, said by telephone on Feb. 7 he was retired and not in a position to comment on the company’s activity.

The Libya’s owner GNMTC “was not aware, at any stage that the cargo is linked in any way to Iran,” the company’s spokesman said via email.

GNMTC provided Reuters with a copy of a COO that it said was issued by shipping services company Yacht International, based in Fujairah, showing the Marshal Z loaded Iraqi-origin fuel oil during a ship-to-ship transfer in UAE waters on Jan. 23.

However, Yacht International shipping manager Prakash Vakkayil said in an email his firm did not issue the certificate and “considers it to be forged”.

The GNMTC spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions from Reuters.

    As of March 20, data showed the Libya was located alongside the Marshal Z offshore western Malaysia, the position vessels typically adopt for ship-to-ship transfers.

Reuters could not immediately determine whether the fuel oil cargo the Libya had been carrying was still aboard the ship.

(Reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in SINGAPORE, Ahmed Rasheed in BAGHDAD and Ahmed Elumami in TRIPOLI; Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in LONDON and Parisa Hafezi in DUBAI; Editing by Henning Gloystein, Christian Schmollinger and Kenneth Maxwell)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City
FILE PHOTO: Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference to announce a plan to strengthen finances of state oil firm Pemex, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

March 20, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador met with U.S. White House adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday, the Mexican government said, discussing trade and migration.

Kushner, who is U.S. President Donald Trump’s influential son-in-law, was invited by the Mexican government, it said in a statement.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Michael Perry)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed Director General of the UNOG Tokayev of Kazakhstan is pictured in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

March 20, 2019

ASTANA (Reuters) – Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assumed the post of Kazakhstan’s president on Wednesday following the surprise resignation of veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev after three decades in power.

Nazarbayev, 78, resigned late on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first step in a choreographed political transition that will see him retain considerable sway.

Tokayev, a 65-year-old career diplomat fluent in Russian, English and Chinese, will serve for the rest of the term which ends in April 2020, in line with the constitution.

It remains unclear whether the Moscow-educated former prime minister will then run for the presidency. Nazarbayev praised him on Tuesday as “a man who can be trusted to lead Kazakhstan”.

Nazarbayev, who has no obvious long-term successor, had run the oil-rich Central Asian nation since 1989 when it was a Soviet republic, routinely winning elections with more than 90 percent of the vote.

(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

Source: OANN

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan
ISU World Figure Skating Championships – Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan – March 20, 2019. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia in action during the Pairs Short Program. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama on Wednesday after a fall left French favorites Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres in seventh.

James and Cipres, undefeated this season and the first French pair to win the European Championship in over 80 years, went down when James botched the landing on their throw triple flip and fell to the ice.

James later said a collision with Italy’s Matteo Guarise during the warm-up prior to their performance had rattled her.

“I didn’t see Matteo, Matteo didn’t see me so we crashed and I fell,” she told the International Skating Union (ISU). “It took me off a little and I was not very comfortable after. I felt a little dizzy, so I tried to stay focused.

“It was a bad skate for us today, and with the fall it was very tiring after.”

Tarasova and Morozov, who placed fourth at the 2018 Winter Olympics and second at last year’s worlds, renewed their season’s best score with 81.21 points in a dramatic, dynamic routine that had the audience clapping along at the Saitama Super Arena, just north of Tokyo.

“During the European Championships we had the same mistake both in short and free programs. Therefore, now we had to train harder not to allow this to happen anymore,” Tarasova said. “We decided to make everything at our maximum.”

James and Cipres were on 68.67 points after their routine, in which Cipres also made an uncharacteristic error when he doubled a toeloop.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “The season was long, we were not good on the ice today. It was not our moment, not our day.”

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, who have had an injury-plagued season, were second on 79.24 after delivering a graceful routine, with compatriots Peng Cheng and Jin Yang in third with 75.51.

“While we had several mistakes at the beginning of the program, otherwise the score would be above 80 points, we still performed our best, and we would like to skate well in the free program as well,” Sui said.

The pairs winner will be decided on Thursday with the free program. The championship competitions last until March 23.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Source: OANN

Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) of a Lion Air JT610 that crashed into Tanjung Karawang sea is seen inside a special container after it was found under the sea, during a press conference at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta
Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) of a Lion Air JT610 that crashed into Tanjung Karawang sea is seen inside a special container after it was found under the sea, during a press conference at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

March 20, 2019

By Cindy Silviana, Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher

JAKARTA/SINGAPORE/PARIS (Reuters) – The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards, but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said.

The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the model last week after a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.

Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor and whether the pilots had enough training to respond appropriately to the emergency, among other factors.

It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public. The three sources discussed them on condition of anonymity.

Reuters did not have access to the recording or transcript.

A Lion Air spokesman said all data and information had been given to investigators and declined to comment further.

The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.

Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a “flight control problem” to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.

The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.

For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.

The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.

“They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the third source said. “They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.”

Boeing Co declined to comment on Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing.

The manufacturer has said there is a documented procedure to handle the situation. A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.

But they did not pass on all of the information about the problems they encountered to the next crew, the report said.

The pilots of JT610 remained calm for most of the flight, the three sources said. Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.

About one minute before the plane disappeared from radar, the captain asked air traffic control to clear other traffic below 3,000 feet and requested an altitude of “five thou”, or 5,000 feet, which was approved, the preliminary report said.

As the 31-year-old captain tried in vain to find the right procedure in the handbook, the 41-year-old first officer was unable to control the plane, two of the sources said.

The flight data recorder shows the final control column inputs from the first officer were weaker than the ones made earlier by the captain.

“It is like a test where there are 100 questions and when the time is up you have only answered 75,” the third source said. “So you panic. It is a time-out condition.”

The Indian-born captain was silent at the end, all three sources said, while the Indonesian first officer said “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is greatest”, a common Arabic phrase in the majority-Muslim country that can be used to express excitement, shock, praise or distress.

The plane then hit the water, killing all 189 people on board.

French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Tuesday the flight data recorder in the Ethiopian crash that killed 157 people showed “clear similarities” to the Lion Air disaster. Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been pursuing a software upgrade to change how much authority is given to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a new anti-stall system developed for the 737 MAX.

The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline’s maintenance and training.

On the same aircraft the evening before the crash, a captain at Lion Air’s full-service sister carrier, Batik Air, was riding along in the cockpit and solved the similar flight control problems, two of the sources said. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report.

The report also did not include data from the cockpit voice recorder, which was not recovered from the ocean floor until January.

Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesian investigation agency KNKT, said last week the report could be released in July or August as authorities attempted to speed up the inquiry in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.

On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the cockpit voice recorder contents, saying they had not been made public.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Jamie Freed in Singapore and Tim Hepher in Paris; writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California
FILE PHOTO: Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Vincent Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Start-ups specializing in alternative protein, from eggless eggs to pea-stuffed burgers and cell-grown fish products, are piling into the Chinese territory of Hong Kong to tap the mainland’s booming multi-billion dollar food market.

At a time when traditional meat farmers have seen profits hurt by the U.S.-China trade war and the spread of swine fever, companies such as Impossible Foods, JUST and Beyond Meat are luring affluent Asian consumers with products they say are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than conventional meat.

The global meat substitutes market was estimated at $4.6 billion last year and is predicted to reach $6.4 billion by 2023, according to research firm Markets and Markets. Asia is the fastest growing region.

Backed by some of the world’s top billionaires including Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing, philanthropist Bill Gates and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, plant protein firms are expanding into China for the first time this year.

San Francisco-based JUST, valued at $1 billion and which counts venture capitalist Peter Thiel as one of its backers, is planning to launch its mung bean faux egg product in six Chinese cities starting next month.

“China is the most important market to JUST globally,” said Cyrus Pan, JUST’s China general manager.

JUST has inked deals with Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com to distribute its egg product starting in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenzhen, before expanding to other cities.

The company says the use of mung bean as its key ingredient is important for food security and appeals to the Chinese market given its tradition as a dietary staple.

China has a history of food safety scandals from melamine-tainted eggs, smuggled frozen meat years beyond its expiry date and recycled “gutter oil” to crops tainted with heavy metals.

Nick Cooney, managing partner of Lever VC, a U.S.-Asian venture capital fund focused on alternative protein startups, said firms like his are eyeing joint ventures, exports and product technology licensing opportunities in China.

“Chinese consumers seem to be more open to novel foods than those in nearly any other country,” he said.

Beyond Meat, which makes burgers and sausages from pea protein, has seen sales in Hong Kong increase 300 percent last year, said David Yeung, Beyond Meat’s distributor in the special administrative region.

Backed by Tyson, the world’s largest meat processor, Beyond Meat filed for an initial public offering on the Nasdaq last November and plans to start distributing in the mainland in the second half of this year.

Rival Impossible Foods, which makes burgers out of soy, has said plant-based meat will eliminate the need for animals in the food chain and make the global food system sustainable.

The group has received around $450 million in funding since 2011 with investments from Lee Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures and Google Ventures.

Since launching in five restaurants in Hong Kong last April, the group’s products are now in over 100 restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau.

Impossible plans to open in mainland China within the next two years. ASIAN TASTES

Hong Kong-based Avant Meats, which uses cell technology to replicate fish and seafood products, is developing a cell-based fish maw prototype due for launch in the third quarter of this year, its chief executive Carrie Chan told Reuters.

Fish maw, or swim bladders, are popular in Asian soups and stews and are used to add collagen to food.

Right Treat, another Hong Kong company headed by Yeung, is replicating Asia’s favorite meat – pork – using mushrooms, peas and rice for use in dumplings and meatballs.

The company has seen its sales of its Omnipork triple since launching in Hong Kong in April 2018. It has since expanded to Singapore, Macau and Taiwan, and plans to sell in mainland China this year.

“If we want to change the world, we must find ways to shift Asian diet and consumption, which means we must find ways to reduce Asia’s dependence on pork and other meat products,” said Yeung, who also runs Green Monday, a startup tackling global food insecurity and climate change.

Omnipork is available at more than 40 stores and will be stocked in major Hong Kong supermarket chains by the end of March, Yeung says.

Advocates say meat substitutes are healthier and also use less water, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use less land than producing the same amount of meat.

Consumers, however, must be willing to pay a premium.

Omnipork retails for HK$43 ($5.48) for 230g (8 ounces) versus HK$37 for the same amount of minced pork.

Impossible’s burger at HK$88 is more than double the price of a Shake Shack burger in Hong Kong.

Yet the explosion of alternative protein products across Hong Kong has given consumers such as executive recruiter Shazz Sabnani, greater variety.

“Before I had to rely more on vegetables and tofu-based products, whereas now I’ve introduced more of these fake meats to my diet.”

Still, not everyone is convinced about the fake meat trend.

Tseung So, a retired 70-year-old said the spaghetti bolognaise made with omnipork at Green Monday’s “Kind Kitchen” in Hong Kong, was not as tasty as real meat.

“Why would we eat this when we can eat the same dish but with normal pork? I don’t think this will make meat eaters eat less meat but they will probably become more popular with real vegetarians.”

($1 = 7.8496 Hong Kong dollars)

(Writing by Farah Master; Additional reporting by Forina Fu; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Descendants of Koreans who were conscripted to the Japanese imperial army or recruited for forced labor under Japan's colonisation surround a statue of a girl as they attend an anti-Japan rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: Descendants of Koreans who were conscripted to the Japanese imperial army or recruited for forced labor under Japan’s colonisation surround a statue of a girl as they attend an anti-Japan rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, June 22, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

March 20, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japan Times, an English-language newspaper that amended its description of “comfort women” and wartime forced laborers last year, apologized to its staff last month, but threatened legal action against anyone found leaking confidential information.

In a five-sentence note published last November, the paper said it would refer to Korean laborers simply as “wartime laborers” and would describe comfort women as “women who worked in wartime brothels, including those who did so against their will.”

The move polarized readers. Some saw it as an effort to whitewash Japan’s wartime history, while others celebrated the move as a way to correct foreign misinterpretations.

In an email sent to the paper’s staff on Feb 28, Japan Times president Takeharu Tsutsumi apologized for causing “turmoil.” A Japan Times source shared the email with Reuters; it was verified by several other employees at the paper.

The president explained that the purpose of the style change was to “enable us to report controversial issues in a fair and neutral manner,” and denied that the paper had shifted its political views.

“Some European and American media have accused us with the narrative that ‘The Japan Times’ editorial direction moved to the right following the change in ownership.’ Based on groundless speculation, this is inaccurate,” he wrote, adding that on the other hand “Japan’s right wingers seem to have welcomed this change, but by no means did we intend to reflect any right-wing views.”

Reuters called and emailed Tsutsumi for comment about the internal email. In response, a public relations representative for the Japan Times wrote in an email that it would not respond to queries about internal documents.

In January, Reuters published a story based on interviews with nearly a dozen sources at the Japan Times, as well as hundreds of pages of internal emails and presentation materials, that showed the revision was partly made to ease criticism that the publication was “anti-Japanese” and increase advertising revenue from Japanese corporations and institutions.

The issue of comfort women and Koreans forced to work in wartime factories and coal mines remains incendiary more than seven decades after the war.

Despite the backlash, Tsutsumi told staff there was no significant impact on the number of subscribers. In his email to staff last month, Tsutsumi also called the Reuters story “regrettable” and said it “coupled speculations with information taken out of context to promote a certain narrative.”

“According to the Reuters article, the company’s confidential materials and remarks made at the All Company Meeting appear to have been leaked,” he wrote, saying it was regrettable if any information had been divulged by employees.

“The act of leaking confidential information and the act of damaging the company’s reputation constitutes a violation of compliance,” he wrote. “If we learn the identity of the parties who leaked confidential information, we would have no other choice but to penalize them.”

Some of the paper’s staff have criticized the recent changes.

In an open letter published online last month ahead of the president’s email, Tozen, a labor union representing mostly foreign workers in several industries across Japan, and its Japan Times chapter demanded a full retraction of the style changes.

The paper’s local union, which has 15 members, has been in collective bargaining meetings with management over the issue. Members of the Japan Times chapter declined to comment on the contents of the recent all company e-mail.

“Both changes were pushed through with total disregard for the input of knowledgeable writers and editors, with zero advance notice, and the changes also show a disturbing disregard for the mainstream historical record,” the paper’s union members wrote in the letter.

(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Source: OANN

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Sacramento Kings
Mar 19, 2019; Sacramento, CA, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell (1) defends Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored the winning layup with 0.8 seconds remaining as the Brooklyn Nets overcame a 25-point, fourth-quarter deficit to post a stunning 123-121 victory over the host Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

D’Angelo Russell scored 27 of his career-high 44 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets outscored the Kings 45-18 to improve to 1-3 on a seven-game road trip.

Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and drove through the lane to convert the winning basket. Jarrett Allen scored 13 points, and Spencer Dinwiddie added 10 for Brooklyn.

Marvin Bagley III scored 28 points, and De’Aaron Fox had 27 points and nine assists for Sacramento. Harrison Barnes scored 17 points, Nemanja Bjelica had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 10 points for the Kings.

Rockets 121, Hawks 105

Clint Capela posted his sixth straight double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and visiting Houston topped Atlanta to extend its winning streak to three games.

James Harden added 31 points, sinking 11 of 12 from the line, and had 10 assists and eight rebounds. Danuel House Jr. came off the bench to score 19, including six 3-pointers. Chris Paul scored 13 and had 11 assists.

Atlanta got 21 points and 12 assists from Trae Young, plus 20 points and 10 rebounds from John Collins. Taurean Prince added 16 points, and Vince Carter hit five 3-pointers and scored 15.

Warriors 117, Timberwolves 107

Stephen Curry scored 22 of his 36 points in the third quarter, and Klay Thompson added 28 points to lead Golden State past Minnesota at Minneapolis.

Minnesota trailed 59-47 entering the third quarter before going on a 14-2 run, tying the game at 61-all. That’s when Curry took over, scoring eight points in a 94-second span as the Warriors wrested control of the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 26 points and grabbed 21 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who saw their six-game home win streak end.

Bucks 115, Lakers 101

Khris Middleton matched his season high with 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Milwaukee padded its lead atop the Eastern Conference with a win over visiting Los Angeles.

Playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) and Malcolm Brogdon (foot), the Bucks extended their lead over the second-place Toronto Raptors to three games with 11 left for both teams. Brook Lopez matched his season high with 28 points, and Nikola Mirotic scored 23 while starting in place of Brogdon.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 8-for-14 from 3-point range and scored a season-high 35 points off the bench for Los Angeles. The Lakers, who played without leading scorer LeBron James (groin), lost their fourth straight game and ninth in the past 10.

76ers 118, Hornets 114

Ben Simmons scored 28 points, and JJ Redick had 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as Philadelphia earned its fifth straight victory, beating host Charlotte.

Tobias Harris hit three free throws in the final 8.2 seconds, and the Hornets missed a chance to tie the game when Jeremy Lamb was off target on a drive in the lane with two seconds remaining.

Jimmy Butler added 23 points for the Sixers, who completed a four-game season sweep of the Hornets. Their five-game winning streak is a season high. Charlotte has lost nine of its past 12.

Clippers 115, Pacers 109

Danilo Gallinari scored 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell added 20 as host Los Angeles improved its playoff prospects with a win over Indiana.

Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 17 points as the Clippers moved into a tie with the Utah Jazz for seventh place in the Western Conference. The Clippers and Jazz are just 2 1/2 games out of third place in a crowded Western Conference field.

After scoring just two points in the first half, Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 19 as the Pacers lost their third consecutive game, keeping their playoff-clinching celebration on hold. Tyreke Evans also scored 19.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

Chinese President Xi Jinping claps at the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Chinese President Xi Jinping claps at the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

March 20, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Misunderstandings over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are “hard to avoid”, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday ahead of a trip to Europe by President Xi Jinping during which Italy is set to join the multi-billion dollar trade scheme.

Italy has angered its EU partners by planning to sign infrastructure deals with China, pushing itself as a big backer of the initiative at the heart of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy that is Xi’s signature diplomatic and trade push.

“I think anything new will have a development process,” Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao told a news briefing when asked about recent controversy in Italy over the accord to be signed this month.

“It is hard to avoid misunderstandings occurring during the process of advancing the construction of the Belt and Road. Of course, the facts are the best proof,” Wang said.

More than 150 countries, regions and international groups have already signed BRI cooperation pacts bringing some benefits to all, he added.

Italy, which is expected to send a high-level delegation to the second Belt and Road summit in Beijing in late April, will be the first stop on Xi’s tour from March 21 to 26 that will also take in France and the tiny principality of Monaco.

With ports that offer easy gateways into Europe’s richest markets, Italy is a promising and prestigious prize for China.

Asked about China’s possible investment in a port in Italy, Wang said investment decisions by its companies would be based on market conditions.

Xi will hold talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome, and visit the Sicilian capital of Palermo, Wang said.

The two sides will sign commercial pacts on infrastructure, machinery and finance, he added.

Italy’s drive to be the first Group of Seven industrialized nation to join the ambitious venture has upset Washington and alarmed Brussels, raising fears of a sellout of sensitive technology and the handover of critical infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Conte said the commercial and economic deals he will seal with China have no implications for Italy’s geo-political position, in a bid to reassure the European Union and the United States.

In France, Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron will witness the signing of cooperation agreements on energy, transportation, agriculture, finance, culture and science and technology, Wang said.

(Reporting by Tom Daly and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Liangping Gao; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington
Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

March 20, 2019

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to hold interest rates steady, shave the number of hikes projected for the rest of the year, and release long-awaited details of a plan to end the monthly reduction of its massive balance sheet.

The U.S. central bank since early this year has signaled a “patient” approach to increasing borrowing costs, drawing an end to a gradual, three-year cycle of monetary tightening marked by nine rate hikes, including seven during the 2017-2018 period.

Investors now put a 75 percent probability on the likelihood the Fed won’t raise its overnight benchmark interest rate, or federal funds rate, any more this year, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool. The fed funds rate is currently set in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.50 percent.

New quarterly economic and rate projections to be released with the latest Fed policy statement at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) will show how closely policymakers align with that view. The Fed’s December projection called for two hikes this year, but that is widely expected to be cut to a single increase at the conclusion of the two-day policy meeting on Wednesday.

It would take a downward move by seven policymakers to bring the median expected number of hikes to zero for the year, a full half-percentage-point change that has happened only once since the Fed began making its “dot plot” of projections public in 2012.

The more intense focus among investors may be on the balance sheet, and the Fed’s plans to stop reducing its holdings of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities each month by as much as $50 billion.

Details of that plan are also expected to be released on Wednesday, providing investors with a sense of how much longer the drawdown will continue, and what will likely be left in the Fed’s portfolio of assets when it stops.

Minutes of the Fed’s policy meeting in late January showed officials wanted “to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing … asset holdings later this year,” a statement many have construed to mean an endgame for the balance sheet would be revealed this week.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is due to hold a press conference half an hour after the release of the policy statement.

STEADY REDUCTION

Fed officials have generally pointed to the rundown ending sooner rather than later, with perhaps just a few more months to go before the central bank hits a level where it is comfortable stopping.

“Assuming the shrinking process stops in October … the balance sheet should end up in the $3.75 trillion region,” Cornerstone Macro analyst Roberto Perli wrote in a preview of this week’s Fed meeting.

That is more than triple the size of the Fed’s holdings before it began three rounds of quantitative easing in which it purchased trillions of dollars of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities in response to the 2007-2009 economic crisis and recession.

Having built up its balance sheet during the crisis and its aftermath, the Fed began to “normalize” its holdings in October 2017 with a steady reduction of up to $50 billion per month.

Having studied the reaction of financial markets to the reductions, as well as the use of reserves held by financial institutions at the Fed, the central bank concluded the most effective way of managing interest rates moving forward was to keep the supply of reserves “ample,” and pay interest on any excess kept at the Fed beyond the statutory minimums required, for example, to meet customer withdrawal demands.

With banks now demanding more reserves for a variety of uses, coupled with growth in the amount of cash in circulation and other items, the Fed feels it is close to an appropriate size for its balance sheet.

The preferred final mix of assets and how to reach it is still being debated.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Paul Simao)

Source: OANN

A pump jack operates in front of a drilling rig owned by Exxon near Carlsbad
A pump jack operates in front of a drilling rig owned by Exxon near Carlsbad, New Mexico, U.S. February 11, 2019. Picture taken February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

March 20, 2019

By Jennifer Hiller

EDDY COUNTY, NEW MEXICO (Reuters) – In New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, Exxon Mobil Corp is building a massive shale oil project that its executives boast will allow it to ride out the industry’s notorious boom-and-bust cycles.

Workers at its Remuda lease near Carlsbad – part of a staff of 5,000 spread across New Mexico and Texas – are drilling wells, operating fleets of hydraulic pumps and digging trenches for pipelines.

The sprawling site reflects the massive commitment to the Permian Basin by oil majors, who have spent an estimated $10 billion buying acreage in the top U.S. shale field since the beginning of 2017, according to research firm Drillinginfo Inc.

The rising investment also reflects a recognition that Exxon, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP Plc largely missed out on the first phase of the Permian shale bonanza while more nimble independent producers, who pioneered shale drilling technology, leased Permian acreage on the cheap.

Now that the field has made the U.S. the world’s top oil producer, Exxon and other majors are moving aggressively to dominate the Permian and use the oil to feed their sprawling pipeline, trading, logistics, refining and chemicals businesses. The majors have 75 drilling rigs here this month, up from 31 in 2017, according to Drillinginfo. Exxon operates 48 of those rigs and plans to add seven more this year.

The majors’ expansion comes as smaller independent producers, who profit only from selling the oil, are slowing exploration and cutting staff and budgets amid investor pressure to control spending and boost returns.

Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods said on March 6 that Exxon would change “the way that game is played” in shale. Its size and businesses could allow Exxon to earn double-digit percentage returns in the Permian even if oil prices – now above $58 per barrel – crashed to below $35, added Senior Vice President Neil Chapman.

Exxon’s 1.6 million acres in the Permian means it can approach the field as a “megaproject,” said Staale Gjervik, the head of shale subsidiary XTO Resources, whose headquarters was recently relocated to share space with its logistics and refining businesses. The firm also recently outlined plans to nearly double the capacity of a Gulf Coast refinery to process shale oil.

“It sets us up to take a longer-term view,” Gjervik said.

The majors’ Permian investments position the field to compete with Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil-producing region and solidifies the United States as a powerhouse in global oil markets, said Daniel Yergin, an oil historian and vice chairman of consultancy IHS Markit.

“A decade ago, capital investment was leaving the U.S.,” he said. “Now it’s coming home in a very big way.”

The Permian is expected to generate 5.4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2023 – more than any single member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) other than Saudi Arabia, according to IHS Markit. Production this month, at about 4 million bpd, will about double that of two years ago.

Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP now hold about 4.5 million acres in the Permian Basin, according to Drillinginfo. Chevron and Exxon are poised to become the biggest producers in the field, leapfrogging independent producers such as Pioneer Natural Resources.

Pioneer recently dropped a pledge to hit 1 million bpd by 2026 amid pressure from investors to boost returns. It shifted its emphasis to generating cash flow and replaced its chief executive after posting fourth quarter profit that missed Wall Street earnings targets by 36 cents a share.

Shell, meanwhile, is considering a multi-billion dollar deal to purchase independent producer Endeavor Energy Resources, according to people familiar with the talks. Shell declined to comment and Endeavor did not respond to a request.

Chevron said it would produce 900,000 bpd by 2023, while Exxon forecast pumping 1 million barrels per day by about 2024. That would give the two companies one-third of Permian production within five years.

SMALLER PRODUCERS GET SQUEEZED

At first, the rise of the Permian was driven largely by nimble explorers that pioneered new technology for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling to unlock oil from shale rock, slashing production costs.

The advances by smaller companies initially left the majors behind. Now, those technologies are easily copied and widely available from service firms.

Surging Permian production has overwhelmed pipelines and forced producers to sell crude at a deep discount, sapping cash and profits of independents who, unlike the majors, don’t own their own pipeline networks.

Even as the majors have ramped up operations, the total number of drilling rigs at work in the Permian has dropped to 464, from 493 in November, as independent producers have slowed production, according to oilfield services provider Baker Hughes.

Shell, by contrast, plans to keep expanding even if prices fall further, said Amir Gerges, Shell’s Permian general manager.

“We have a bit more resilience” than the independents, Gerges said.

In west Texas, the firm drills four to six wells at a time next to one another, a process called cube development that targets multiple layers of shale as deep as 8,000 feet.

Cube development is expensive and can take months, making it an option only for the majors and the largest independent producers. Shell has used the tactic to double production in two years, to 145,000 bpd.

The largest oil firms can also take advantage of their volume-buying power even if service companies raise prices for supplies or drilling and fracking crews, said Andrew Dittmar, a Drillinginfo analyst.

“It’s like buying at Costco versus a neighborhood market,” Dittmar said.

The majors’ rush into the market means smaller companies are going to struggle to compete for service contracts and pay higher prices, said Roy Martin, analyst with energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“When you’re sitting across the negotiating table from the majors, the chips are stacked on their side,” he said.

REBIRTH

The revival of interest in the Permian marks a reversal from the late 1990s, when production had been falling for two decades.

“All the majors and all the companies with names you’ve heard left with their employees,” said Karr Ingham, an oil and gas economist. “Conventional wisdom was this place was going to dry up.”

Chevron was the only major that stayed in the Permian. It holds 2.3 million acres and owns most of its mineral rights, too, but until recently left drilling to others.

But this month, Chief Executive Mike Wirth called the Permian its best bet for delivering profits “north of 30 percent at low oil prices.”

“There’s nothing we can invest in that delivers higher rates of return,” Wirth said this month at its annual investor meeting in New York.

‘HUNGER AND FEAR’

Matt Gallagher, CEO of Parsley Energy Inc, calls the majors’ investments “the best form of flattery” for independents operating here.

Parsley holds 192,000 Permian acres – most of which was snatched up on the cheap during oil busts – and sees its smaller size as an advantage in shale.

“We’re not finished yet,” Gallagher said. “We can move very quickly.”

The majors have greater infrastructure, but independents continue to innovate and design better wells, said Allen Gilmer, a co-founder of Drillinginfo.

“Nothing is a bigger motivator than, ‘Am I going to be alive tomorrow?’” Gilmer said. “Hunger and fear is something that every independent oil-and-gas person knows – and that something no major oil-and-gas person has ever felt in their career.”

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller; Additional reporting by David French; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Brian Thevenot)

Source: OANN

An employee roasts pork at a Korean BBQ restaurant in Seoul
An employee roasts pork at a Korean BBQ restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, March 13, 2019. Picture taken on March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Chung

March 20, 2019

By Jane Chung

SEOUL (Reuters) – Whenever dust particles hang thick in the air in South Korea, sales of pork rise.

This quirky correlation in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where air pollution outstrips industrialized peers, stems from an old belief attributed to coal miners, that the slippery pork oil helped cleanse dirt from their throats.

For middle school student Han Dong-jae, eating greasy barbecued pork belly on a smoggy day is a life lesson imbibed from his mother.

“I eat more pork when fine dust is dense like today,” said the 15-year-old as he dug in over a sizzling grill at a barbecue restaurant in Seoul with his mother after school.

“I think it’s somewhat helpful, because pork meat has oil and the oil soothes my throat.”

Scientists say there is no rationale for the belief, but pork sales jumped about a fifth on the year from Feb. 28 to March 5, when pollutants blanketed most areas, data from major retailers E-Mart and Lotte Mart showed.

SOCIAL DISASTER

South Korea faces a battle against unhealthy air, a combination of domestic emissions from coal-fired power plants and cars, and pollutants wafted in from China and North Korea.

Its air quality was the worst among its industrialized peers in 2017, data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) grouping of wealthy nations showed.

South Korea registers 25.1 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers on average each year, just over double the OECD figure of 12.5, but far lower than the world average of 44.2.

The pollution has affected South Korean policy and businesses, driving up shares of companies that make air purifiers and masks.

Legislation this month included a measure designating the problem a “social disaster”, which could unlock emergency funds.

Cho Seog-yeon, an environmental engineering professor at Inha University, called for more study of the exact damage wrought by high levels of concentrated pollutants, adding, “We don’t know now where the damage is done (by air pollution).”

People battle the air pollution by wearing masks and staying indoors. But in a country where 28 percent of all households have a pet, furry companions are a priority too.

Sales of pet masks surged more than five times in early March, said Suh Hyuk-jin, director of pet products maker Dear Dog.

Cho Eun-hye, who lives in the northwestern city of Incheon, bought a mask for her 18-month-old brown Korean Jindo dog, Hari, who needs to be walked two times a day.

“It’s inconvenient, but I think we have to keep living with that,” said the 36-year-old office worker.

(Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Karishma Singh and Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge can be seen behind a real estate agent and buyer in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse, Australia
FILE PHOTO: The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge can be seen behind real estate agent and a potential buyer from Shanghai, during an inspection of a property for sale in the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse, Australia, July 11, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Wednesday cut its annual intake of immigrants by nearly 15 percent, and barred some new arrivals from living in its largest cities for three years, in a bid to ease urban congestion.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who is trailing badly in the polls ahead of a federal election in May – hopes to tap into rising voter frustration over house prices and congestion, which some see as a consequence of population growth.

“This is a practical problem that Australians wanted addressed,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, the capital, after announcing the annual immigration intake would be cut to 160,000 people, from 190,000 previously.

The immigration policy change comes at a time of national reflection over Australia’s attitude towards migrants after the shooting of at least 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand’s city of Christchurch.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Friday prayers.

“My great frustration is that, in addressing these issues of population and immigration programs, these debates often get hijacked by those of competing views who seek to exploit them for other causes,” Morrison added.

“I reject all of that absolutely.”

A ReachTel poll published in September showed that 63 percent of Sydney residents supported curbs on the number of migrants moving to Australia’s biggest city.

Morrison said the cap would include places for up to 23,000 people who could migrate to Australia under a new skilled visa.

Such arrivals could gain permanent residency after living outside of Australia’s largest cities for three years, he added.

They will be barred from living in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney or the Gold Coast, where infrastructure is overutilised, said immigration minister David Coleman.

Authorities will require proof of residential and work addresses in future applications for permanent residency, he added, as a way of enforcing the requirement.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Joe Torre testifies before Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation on domestic violence in professional sports in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Joe Torre, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations (MLB), testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on domestic violence in professional sports in Washington December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

March 20, 2019

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Major League Baseball is concerned at strikeouts surpassing the number of hits and needs more balls in play to arrest the dip in popularity, the league’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre said on Wednesday.

Last season was the first in the league’s history to feature more strikeouts than hits, leading to calls for changes to increase interest.

Average attendance for regular season games in 2018 fell four percent from the previous year to 28,830 per game, according to MLB, while the total number of fans who showed up at the ballpark fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003.

Speaking ahead of the MLB season opener in Tokyo on Wednesday, Torre said the league needs to create more balls in play.

“I am concerned with our game because whenever you go through a season and there are more strikeouts than hits, then it is a concern to me,” said Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles as a coach.

“To me the excitement of baseball, to watch the game and manage the game, is to have enough balls in play and we don’t have enough balls in play.”

According to NBC Sports, hitters were sent back to the dugout 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 safeties in 2018.

“We need to put the ball in play more,” said the 78-year-old Torre, who works as liaison between the MLB and its 30 clubs.

“Everyone is throwing 98-99 mph, everyone is trying to strike people out… it is all a concern to me.”

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will start the new MLB season in the Tokyo Dome later on Wednesday and have been playing exhibition games as part of the league’s plan to spread the game in Asia.

“What has been great about the exhibition games here is that there has been a lot going on; players on bases, running the bases and that is exciting to me,” continued Torre.

“That is when the game is going to pick up pace, when we dare the hitters to hit the ball as opposed to trying to get them to miss the ball.”

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Source: OANN

A Target logo is seen during the going-out-of-business sale at Target Canada in Toronto
A Target logo is seen during the going-out-of-business sale at Target Canada in Toronto, February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

March 20, 2019

By Ayenat Mersie

NEW YORK (Reuters) – All of Target Corp’s flagship coffee brand Archer Farms will be certified fair trade by 2022, the company and Fair Trade USA told Reuters on Wednesday, a victory for that movement, which seeks to make sure producers are adequately compensated for their labor.

Coffee futures are currently trading near 13-year lows, weighed down by a record-large Brazilian crop. Prices are below the cost of production in most countries, forcing some farmers out of business and prompting concern from the industry on its long-term ability to source good coffee.

Archer Farms, Target’s flagship-owned coffee brand, sells about six million pounds of coffee each year. Currently, about 20 percent of Archer Farms coffee is fair trade certified.

The United States imported about 3.5 billion pounds of coffee in the 2018/2019 season, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Fair Trade USA, the leading certifier of such products in North America, works to institute a floor price for farmers; for coffee, that minimum price is $1.40 per pound and farmers receive an additional 20 cents per pound sold.

“The current market is nothing short of a disaster for coffee farmers,” said Paul Rice, founder and CEO of Fair Trade USA.

The most active coffee futures contract fell last week to 94.65 cents per pound, the lowest since 2005. Farmers have been searching for ways to find pricing alternatives, including separate pricing mechanisms for high-grade specialty beans.

(Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Source: OANN

Office workers walk to the train station during evening rush hour in the financial district of Singapore
Office workers walk to the train station during evening rush hour in the financial district of Singapore March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Choonsik Yoo

SEOUL (Reuters) – Confidence among Asian companies held near three-year lows in the first quarter as a U.S.-China trade dispute dragged on, pulling down a global economy that is already on a downward path, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey found.

The Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asian Business Sentiment Index tracking firms’ six-month outlook was flat in the March quarter from the previous quarter’s 63, compared with a near three-year low of 58 set in the September quarter.

A reading above 50 means optimistic respondents outnumbered pessimists, but the latest index still marks one of the five worst since the world started its recovery from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

“Things have not gotten worse but a lot of uncertainty is putting companies in wait-and-see mode,” Antonio Fatas, a Singapore-based economics professor at global business school INSEAD, said of U.S.-China talks on trade relations.

“In one week, it looks like they are promising and the week after it looks like they are going nowhere, and so there’s a lot of wait-and-see attitude,” he added, saying the uncertainty is forcing companies to put off investment decisions.

A global trade war was cited as the chief business risk by respondents for the third quarter in a row, though by a smaller margin. Higher interest rates emerged as the second-biggest risk, outpacing a slowing Chinese economy.

A total of 100 companies from a range of sectors responded to the survey, conducted from March 1-15 in 11 Asia-Pacific countries where 45 percent of the world’s population live and 32 percent of global gross domestic product is generated.

RECESSION UNLIKELY, POLITICS A RISK

The United States and China have put on hold a planned escalation of their trade war pending negotiations, but the much-awaited conclusion of the latest round of talks has also been delayed even though remarks from the two sides have been optimistic.

Global agencies including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have said failure to resolve trade tension could further slow a downward-trending global economy.

Regional powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea all saw exports fall last month, with China and South Korea suffering their worst annual declines in overseas sales in around three years.

The index staying above the neutral point of 50 suggests companies in Asia are not expecting an imminent global recession, but languishing near multi-year lows indicates companies are exerting caution.

“We don’t see a global hard landing as a likely scenario when we look at economic factors such as inflation and credit conditions,” said Young Sun Kwon, economist at Nomura in Hong Kong. “But there are big uncertainties in politics.”

Lessons from the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown have forced countries to strengthen economic defenses, but factors such as Britain’s planned exit from the European Union and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s uncertain path are posing threats.

With less than two weeks before the March 29 divorce date, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is still struggling to push a departure deal with the EU through the British parliament.

In the United States, the Fed has declared a pause in its tightening campaign, but economists foresee at least one more increase later this year despite increasing signs of slowdown in major economies.

Respondents to the survey included Canon Inc, Suzuki Motor Corp, Thai Beverage PCL, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co and Delta Electronics Thailand PCL.

Note: Companies surveyed can change from quarter to quarter.

(GRAPHIC: Business sentiment index – https://tmsnrt.rs/2Cnw6je)

(GRAPHIC: Biggest perceived risks – https://tmsnrt.rs/2OcedbY)

(PDF of survey: https://tmsnrt.rs/2UJ70Cs)

(Reporting by Choonsik Yoo; Additional reporting by Orathai Sriring in BANGKOK; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Source: OANN

A man dressed in a Union Jack suit looks at the names and betting odds for the third royal baby of Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on a board outside the Lindo Wing St Mary's Hospital in west London
A man dressed in a Union Jack suit looks at the names and betting odds for the third royal baby of Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on a board outside the Lindo Wing St Mary’s Hospital in west London, Britain, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Summers

March 20, 2019

By Jayson Mansaray

LONDON (Reuters) – What will Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan name their child? With the former actress in the last stage of her pregnancy, punters are having a flutter on the baby’s gender, weight, date and birthplace.

One of the most popular wagers is for the name. For a boy, Arthur is leading the pack at bookmakers William Hill but if it’s a girl, many expect the Duke and Duchess of Sussex could pay tribute to Harry’s late mother.

“Diana (is) 10/1 red hot favorite, no great surprises there,” William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said. “But the recent move is for Victoria also 10/1, (people) really like it.”

Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and his American wife, who married last May, announced in October they were expecting their first child this spring.

In January, Meghan told well-wishers she was six months pregnant, adding the couple did not know the baby’s gender.

William Hill odds were 8/11 for a girl and evens for a boy earlier this week. At Betfair, the odds have shortened on a girl, and the favorite name is Diana at 5/1, Betfair Media Relations Manager Katie Baylis said.

Baylis said another possibility was Alice, a name that was among those speculated when Prince William and his wife Kate were expecting their third child last year. Kate eventually gave birth to a boy, Prince Louis.

“Punters feel that there will at some point be an Alice in the royal family and so we’ve seen plenty of interest in that name as well,” she said.

The mother of Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip was called Alice.

Betfair has odds of 8/1 for Arthur. Alice, Victoria, Grace, James and Edward each stand at 14/1. Diana and Arthur are also among favorites at other bookmakers.

Other wagers have included who will be godparents to the baby, the date and time of birth, and if Meghan will have twins.

“Comparative to (Prince William and Kate) the Harry betting is significantly more at this stage, so 30 odd percent (more) … in real terms that’s huge,” Adams said.

Outside Buckingham Palace, sightseers shared their name preferences.

“I would put money on a girl and Victoria (as a name) because we could call her Tori,” tourist Sarah Owens said.

Fellow sightseer Danni Ma picked Mary: “(It) sounds very old fashioned but it is Meghan and Harry (combined).”

(Reporting by Jayson Mansaray; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Source: OANN

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko Widodo speaks during a debate with his opponent Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta
Indonesia’s presidential candidate Joko Widodo speaks during a debate with his opponent Prabowo Subianto (not pictured) in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

March 20, 2019

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A new Indonesian election survey shows President Joko Widodo’s big lead over his challenger, retired general Prabowo Subianto, is narrowing, just weeks ahead of next month’s vote in the world’s third-largest democracy.

The April 17 election will be a rerun of the 2014 race, in which Widodo beat out Prabowo by almost six percentage points.

A survey by pollster Litbang Kompas, which is part of Indonesia’s biggest newspaper Kompas, shows Widodo likely to win 49.2 percent of the vote, surpassing 37.4 percent for Prabowo.

Although still a double-digit lead, the electability gap in the survey between February 22 and March 5 was narrower than the Kompas survey in October that gave Widodo a 19.9-percentage point lead over his rival.

Opinion polls in January by other pollsters, including Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting and Australian-based Roy Morgan, put Widodo at an advantage of about 20 percentage points over Prabowo.

The president’s campaign team is confident he will still win by a big margin, spokeswoman Meutya Hafid said in a statement.

“There’s a number of indications why votes for Jokowi will be higher than in 2014,” she said, referring to the president by a popular nickname.

“Jokowi will be able to grab votes from places that are normally the stronghold of candidate number two (Prabowo), such as West Java,” Hafid said, referring to Indonesia’s most populous province.

The latest Kompas survey showed Widodo’s support may be shrinking among mature millennials aged between 31 and 40, as well as baby boomers.

After a slow beginning, the six-month campaign has picked up pace, with televised debates between the candidates and rallies held across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.

Some analysts say the debates were a missed opportunity for Prabowo, who has struggled to land any big blows against Widodo, while the president has appeared workman-like in projecting his achievements in areas such as infrastructure while in office.

But the challenger’s running mate, private equity tycoon Sandiaga Uno, has appeared to generate a buzz on the campaign trail while proving popular online, especially with women and young voters.

Uno attacked Widodo’s track record on education and healthcare last weekend, saying his government would be able to solve Indonesia’s problems in education and large deficits in health insurance.

Last week, the anti-graft agency named a prominent politician backing Widodo’s re-election campaign a suspect in a bribery case, which could further dent his campaign.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The logo of AMP adorns the head office of Australia's biggest retail wealth manager in Sydney
FILE PHOTO: The logo of AMP adorns the head office of Australia’s biggest retail wealth manager in Sydney, Australia, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Paulina Duran

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s AMP Ltd <AMP.AX> on Wednesday said it will not pay short-term bonuses to most executives, a move that could help it avoid possible board removal should investors vote against its remuneration practices for the second consecutive year.

The country’s largest listed wealth manager has been embroiled in accusations of deception at a government-mandated inquiry into misconduct in the financial sector. The business subsequently lost its chairman and chief executive officer and haemorrhaged billions of dollars in funds.

“The board understands that many of our shareholders are disappointed with AMP’s business and financial performance in 2018,” Chairman David Murray said in the wealth manager’s annual report published on Wednesday.

“Reflecting the circumstances of last year, the board decided to award zero short-term incentives for AMP’s group leadership team in 2018,” excluding unit AMP Capital, which was not directly connected to any accusations raised in the inquiry.

The deferred part of bonuses for a number of former executives will also be forfeit, Murray said.

AMP believed shareholders had voted against pay plans last year in response to “wider issues” in the business as well as concerns about its remuneration framework, which was now being re-designed, Murray said.

Under Australian corporate rules, if more than a quarter of shareholders vote against a pay proposal for two years running, they can call for the board to be removed.

The annual report also showed Francesco De Ferrari, who began his term as chief executive officer on Dec. 1, was paid A$1.2 million ($847,440) cash in 2018, reflecting a buy-out payment to leave previous employer Credit Suisse Group AG <CSGN.S>.

At the year-long Royal Commission inquiry last year, AMP revealed it charged fees without rendering services and had attempted to deceive regulators. The wealth manager denied any malicious intention and said the causes were administrative.

($1 = 1.4160 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Source: OANN

A sign board of Bank of Japan is displayed at the headquarters in Tokyo
A sign board of Bank of Japan is displayed at the headquarters in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

March 20, 2019

By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Bank of Japan policymakers disagreed on how quickly the central bank should ramp up monetary stimulus, minutes of their January rate review showed on Wednesday, as heightening overseas risks threatened to derail the country’s fragile economic recovery.

While most members agreed it was appropriate to maintain the BOJ’s current stimulus program, one of them said the central bank must stress its readiness to take “quick, flexible and bold” action including additional easing, the minutes showed.

“Given the timing of achieving the price target had been delayed, it was undesirable to adopt a stance of not taking action until a serious crisis occurred,” the member was quoted as saying in the minutes.

Another member, however, said acting too hastily during times of uncertainty could lead to financial imbalances and unnecessary swings in the economy, the minutes showed.

Some in the nine-member board also warned that an increasing number of regional banks could be taking excessive risks to secure profits as years of ultra-low interest rates hurt their bottom line, the minutes showed.

“We need to look carefully at whether regional banks are lending in a way where they are earning returns that meet the risks,” one of the members said.

The BOJ kept monetary settings unchanged at the January meeting, pledging to guide short-term rates at minus 0.1 percent and 10-year bond yields around zero under a policy dubbed yield curve control (YCC).

YCC IMPACT UNDER DOUBT

The BOJ faces a dilemma. Years of heavy money printing for asset purchases have dried up market liquidity and hurt commercial banks’ profits, stoking concern over the rising risks of prolonged easing.

And yet, subdued inflation has left the BOJ well behind other major central banks in dialing back crisis-mode policies, leaving it with little ammunition to battle the next recession.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Isao Kubota, the influential chairman of a major regional bank, said the BOJ’s ultra-loose policy is making it tough for commercial banks to earn profits out of lending.

“We are in the sixth year of this policy and, I think intuitively, the accumulation of the side-effects might be enormous,” Kubota said.

With weakening global demand hurting Japan’s export-reliant economy, the board debated the effectiveness of the current program in lifting prices.

One member said the BOJ’s YCC policy has had only a limited impact in boosting prices and inflation expectations.

“This member said further analysis and consideration were needed on the relationships between inflation and the levels of interest rates or monetary base,” according to the minutes.

A few policymakers saw room for more policy coordination with the government if overseas risks deal a severe blow to Japan’s economy, the minutes showed.

While the minutes do not identify the name of the board members who made the comments, BOJ’s Goushi Kataoka has publicly said stronger fiscal and monetary steps could be necessary to prevent a further economic slowdown.

Deputy Governor Masazumi Wakatabe is also considered by markets as among reflationist-minded members of the BOJ board.

Many in the BOJ are clinging to hopes that Japan’s economy will emerge from the current soft patch in the second half of this year. But if conditions continue to deteriorate, the BOJ could face pressure to offer additional monetary support, analysts say.

Yet, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has ruled out the chance of additional monetary easing over the near term. A well-known fiscal hawk, he also warned against the idea that government can spend recklessly to pull the economy out of the doldrums.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim & Shri Navaratnam)

Source: OANN

Women labourers work in a pearl millet field at Narayangaon
Women labourers work in a pearl millet field at Narayangaon, India, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

March 20, 2019

By Suvashree Choudhury and Alexandra Ulmer

CHINCHOLI, India (Reuters) – A few years ago, in this sweltering corner of western India, the horizon was dotted with hunched, barefoot women swinging sickles all day to cut wheat for the spring harvest.

Now, a giant green harvester clears an entire half-acre field within minutes, allowing farmers to save money and quickly sell the wheat, typically used to make Indian flat breads.

Chhaya Kharade, 36, and other women doing lighter farm work were gradually replaced by the machines that now crisscross wheat, sugar cane and onion fields surrounding Chincholi, a village 190 km (120 miles) east of India’s financial hub of Mumbai.

“I should be busy now, as the wheat harvesting is going on. But there is hardly any work for me. Almost all farmers are using machines,” Kharade said in her spartan two-room house.

Indian women, especially those working in precarious informal sectors, are at the sharp end of what economists and opposition politicians describe as a jobs crisis in India. According to the private Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 90 percent of around 10 million jobs lost last year were held by women.

Several unemployed women interviewed by Reuters said they had soured on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who swept to power in 2014 vowing to turn India into an economic powerhouse but has struggled to create jobs.

While Modi remains the favorite in general elections that kick off next month, insufficient employment – despite India’s roughly 7 percent economic growth rate – is a major voter worry.

“Modi’s government has not done anything to create employment in this region. We would like to vote for a party that will set up factories and create jobs,” said Mumtaj Mulani, a 40-year-old woman who was plucking weeds from a pearl millet field in the area. She said she usually struggles to find work due to the spread of machines.

The dwindling female labor participation rate could have far-reaching implications for India’s economic development and the progress of women’s rights in the often deeply conservative country.

“When nearly fifty percent of the labor force is unable to live up to its potential, India is foregoing significant growth, investment, and productivity gains,” said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment.

“The social costs, while less tangible, are nevertheless acute,” Vaishnav added, noting research suggests women’s economic empowerment reduces inequality and ensures women have a greater voice in society.

Measuring the problem is tricky, and Modi’s government has delayed the release of controversial jobs data. [L3N2121QE]

But the official report, leaked to local newspaper Business Standard in February, shows the female labor participation rate was merely 23.3 percent in 2017-2018, down about 8 percentage points from 2011-2012.

Private estimates are gloomier. CMIE puts the figure at just 10.7 percent between May and August 2018.

For an interactive graphic on India’s female labor force participation rate, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2FbrbDK

DOUBLE WHAMMY: NOTE BAN AND GST

To be sure, the loss of jobs to machines is a global issue, but Indian women have a more limited range of alternative work than their male counterparts. And in family-focused India, women across economic lines often quit work after getting married or having children.

Also, as some families’ earnings rise, more women can afford to become caregivers.

Still, when compared to nations with similar income levels, India’s female labor participation rate is “a distinct outlier,” according to Vaishnav.

Economists say Modi’s two signature economic policies – a ban on high-value banknotes in 2016 and the implementation of a national sales tax rate (GST) in 2017 – have hurt women more than men because they are more likely to be employed in vulnerable, informal workplaces.

Demonetisation thrust the informal, cash-based economy into turmoil. A year later, many small businesses went under, unable to deal with GST’s complexities or rate increases.

“If there are fewer jobs available, who will move out? The women will move out, because they get lower wages. The men will go compete for the few jobs,” said CMIE’s CEO Mahesh Vyas.

In Dharavi, a Mumbai slum that is one of Asia’s largest, 33 year-old Farzana Begum has struggled to provide for her five children since the workshop she stitched buttons for shut shop in the wake of GST.

“I have stopped all extra spending on clothes and good food,” said Begum. “If you ask anyone in Dharavi, everyone has seen a fall in income, lost their jobs or seen factories close after GST.”

Her dismay was echoed on the other side of the country, in a village near the eastern city of Kolkata, where Nuren Nesa’s earnings from embroidering saris fell from 700 rupees a week to 300 after demonetisation. Following GST, work ground to a halt and her embroidery machine is gathering dust.

“Modi’s note ban and GST measures have destroyed our source of income,” said Nesa, 41, who withdrew her son from university because tuition fees grew out of reach.

“I will vote for the leader who will help us out with proper work and income,” she added.

As the battle for women’s votes heats up, Modi has pointed to programs to provide toilets and subsidized cooking gas cylinders as evidence his administration cares for women. This month, the main opposition party, Congress, vowed to reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if elected.

HARD WORK TO HIRE WOMEN?

Some business owners say they receive few applications from women.

“We do not find too many women in the segment we service, even though we would like to hire more women because they are more sincere, there is less attrition and they can multi-task,” said Vineet Pandey, who owns Mumbai-based housekeeping firms Kaarya Facilities & Services and Hecqo.com.

Indian women sometimes do not take jobs far from home due to fears for their safety.

Call centers or factories run by multinationals often attract women workers by providing transport after late shifts, but working at many other jobs entails commutes on packed trains and buses through India’s teeming and cities.

One businessman who employees roughly 1,000 men at his chemical factory in southern India, says hiring women would mean providing separate bathrooms and transport at night.

He argues bypassing men would also stoke tensions in India, where economic transformations and an influx of technology are testing the social fabric.

“In the rural areas, it is a more patriarchal society, if we give jobs to women and not men, there will be complaints from men,” said the businessman, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It is to maintain harmony.”

In any case, it is a moot point for now. His plant, struggling with high costs of power and transport, is not hiring.

For an interactive graphic on the regional female labor force participation rate, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2O4rinC

(Reporting by Suvashree Choudhury in Mumbai and Alexandra Ulmer in Hivare, Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Hivare and Subrata Nag Choudhury in Kolkata, Graphics by Tanvi Mehta in Bengaluru, Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Euan Rocha and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte
FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

March 20, 2019

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) – Being told by a close friend that she had been one of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse victims has spurred former United States gymnast Alicia Sacramone Quinn to begin working with the Athletes Assistance Fund (AAF).

Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor, was sentenced to 300 years in prison after more than 350 women, including Olympic champions Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, testified in court about being abused by him.

Sacramone, who won 10 world championship medals and an Olympic silver in her career, did not have any contact with Nassar during her career, but decided after talking to a friend who had been abused by him that she wanted to help the victims.

“One of the victims told me, she is not involved in any of the lawsuits or anything, but she told me it had happened to her and she did not want it to be public,” Sacramone told Reuters. “She confided in me. It had happened to her and she was trying to pick herself up and move on from it.

“That was heartbreaking for me because I have known her since she was little and for her to come to me it spoke a lot about our friendship and the trust she had in me.”

Sacramone now serves as a representative on the board of the directors of the AAF, which has partnered with the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to provide financial assistance and counseling for any gymnast who has been sexually abused.

Sacramone acknowledged she was not a qualified counsellor but was more than willing to listen and offer support.

“If they are not ready to talk to a medical provider just yet hopefully if they talk to me I could point them in the direction to finding help using our fund to get them the medical advice and attention they need,” said Sacramone.

“I felt this was a good spot to help athletes who have been victims.”

The Nassar scandal, however, could just be the tip of the iceberg with many victims of sexual abuse by coaches and doctors remaining silent, according to AAF board chair Tina Ferriola.

“I believe there are far more out there,” said Ferriola, who is unable to divulge how many athletes they work with for confidentiality reasons.

“The mission of the Athletes Assistance Fund is to connect any survivors that suffered sexual assault within the sport of gymnastics with qualified healthcare providers.”

The AAF is providing a service that Sacramone said was not available when she was competing.

“During my athletic career I don’t believe any of this was available to athletes,” said Sacramone.

“We just want them to know this is not something they need to shoulder alone.

“If we can eliminate the cost they don’t have to worry about that and that is one inch helping them move forward.”

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight approaches for landing at Reagan National Airport in Washington
FILE PHOTO: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight from Los Angeles approaches for landing at Reagan National Airport shortly after an announcement was made by the FAA that the planes were being grounded by the United States in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

March 20, 2019

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Boeing Co, facing its biggest crisis in years following deadly crashes of its flagship 737 MAX aircraft, has brought in a new vice president of engineering while dedicating another top executive to the aircraft investigations, a company email showed on Tuesday.

The management reshuffle comes as Europe and Canada said they would seek their own guarantees over the safety of Boeing’s 737 MAX, further complicating plans to get the aircraft flying worldwide after they were grounded in the wake of crashes that killed more than 300 people.

John Hamilton, formerly both vice president and chief engineer in Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division, will focus solely on the role of chief engineer, the unit’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin McAllister told employees on Tuesday in an email seen by Reuters.

“This will allow him to fully dedicate his attention to the ongoing accident investigations,” McAllister said, adding that the staffing changes were needed as “we prioritize and bring on additional resources for the ongoing accident investigations.”

Lynne Hopper – who previously led Test & Evaluation in Boeing’s Engineering, Test & Technology group – has been named vice president of Engineering, McAllister said.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment but confirmed the authenticity of the email.

The shakeup showed how the world’s largest planemaker was freeing up engineering resources as it faces scrutiny during crash investigations while also maintaining production of its money-spinning 737 single-aisle aircrafts.

Previously, Hamilton served as the vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes from April 2016 through March 2019, according to a biography on Boeing’s website.

From July 2013 through March 2016, Hamilton served as the vice president of Safety, Security and Compliance and oversaw the Commercial Airplanes Organization Designation Authorization – a program that takes on specific safety certification duties on behalf of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Lawmakers and safety experts are questioning how thoroughly regulators vetted the MAX model and how well pilots were trained on new features.

For now, global regulators have grounded the existing fleet of more than 300 MAX aircraft, and deliveries of nearly 5,000 more – worth well over $500 billion – are on hold. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hv2btC)

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs
FILE PHOTO: Mar 3, 2019; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Yu Darvish (11) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the second inning at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

Right-hander Yu Darvish allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and struck out six in 4 2/3 innings for a Chicago Cubs split squad in a 6-4 spring training win over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday at Mesa, Ariz.

Darvish, making his return from a season-ending stress reaction in his throwing elbow to cap a disappointing first year with the Cubs, lowered his spring ERA to 2.25 through four starts. He has struck out 14 in 12 innings.

Jason Heyward and Javier Baez each went 2-for-3 to lead the Cubs’ offense. Top outfield prospect Kyle Lewis homered among his two hits for the Mariners, raising his spring average to .429.

Yankees 6, Rays 2

Greg Bird hit his third home run this spring, and Gary Sanchez clubbed two doubles as New York topped visiting Tampa Bay at Tampa, Fla. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow gave up five runs on four hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings for the Rays.

Pirates 3, Tigers 1

Adam Frazier, Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell each had two hits as host Pittsburgh held off Detroit in Bradenton, Fla. The Tigers scored their lone run on a Bobby Wilson single in the ninth.

Nationals 3, Braves 2

Collin Cowgill’s two-run homer in the ninth inning capped a three-run Washington rally past host Atlanta at Kissimmee, Fla. Left-hander Max Fried drew the start for the Braves and struck out seven in five scoreless innings.

Rangers 3, Brewers 2

Right-hander Lance Lynn struck out nine in five innings, and Willie Calhoun drove in all three runs as visiting Texas trumped Milwaukee at Phoenix. Jesus Aguilar doubled in a run for the Brewers.

The following Florida games were canceled by rain:

–Blue Jays at Red Sox

–Mets at Marlins

–Twins at Orioles

–Phillies at Astros

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

A man walks past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo
A man walks past an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

March 20, 2019

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares got off to a cautious start on Wednesday, holding close to six-month highs on hopes the U.S. Federal Reserve will stick to a dovish stance and unveil a plan to stop cutting bond holdings later this year.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked down 0.1 percent from a six-month high touched the previous day. Japan’s Nikkei was also down 0.1 percent.

Wall Street shares were narrowly mixed on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.01 percent and the Nasdaq adding 0.12 percent.

The Federal Reserve, which is wrapping up its two-day policy review later on Wednesday, is expected to lower its policymakers’ rate projections from December, when their median expectations were for two rate hikes this year.

Since the beginning of year, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said the central bank would be patient – interpreted as code word for holding off on a rate hike – on signs of slowing economic growth in the United States and many parts of the world.

Financial markets have gone even further by pricing in a rate cut this year. Fed funds futures point to about a 30 percent chance of a cut by the end of year.

The Fed is also expected to lay out a plan to stop shrinking its $4 trillion balance sheet, or so-called quantitative tightening. Many policy makers have suggested the Fed is likely to conclude the process and stabilize its bond holdings by the end of this year.

“I think market consensus centers around an end in September but we expect the Fed to end its balance sheet rolloff in June, at around $3.85 trillion yen, based on our calculations on the amount of excess reserves the Fed will need,” said Shuji Shirota, head of macroeconomic strategy at HSBC Securities in Tokyo.

Expectations of a dovish Fed have dented the U.S. dollar, which has already been under pressure this year after Powell all but signaled a pause to the tightening cycle at the previous meeting.

The dollar’s index against a basket of six major currencies hit 2 1/2-week low of 96.288 on Tuesday and last stood at 96.390.

The euro traded at $1.1354, near Tuesday’s two-week high of $1.1362.

The dollar fetched 111.41 yen, slipping from Friday’s nine-day high of 111.90.

The British pound remained hostage to headlines on Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to ask the European Union to delay Brexit by at least three months after her plan to hold a third vote on her deal was thrown into disarray by a surprise intervention from the speaker of parliament.

May had earlier warned parliament that if it did not ratify her deal, she would ask to delay Brexit beyond June 30, a step that Brexit’s advocates fear would endanger the entire divorce.

On the other hand, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said an extension would only make sense if it increased the chances of May’s deal being ratified by Britain’s House of Commons.

Sterling last stood flat at $1.3265, off its nine-month peak of $1.3380 hit a week ago.

Market players held on to hopes of a trade deal between Washington and Beijing as officials from both sides remained locked in negotiations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to travel to China next week for another round of trade talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, a Trump administration official said on Tuesday.

Oil prices held close to four-month highs on expectations that OPEC would continue production cuts through the end of the year and after data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) showed a surprise draw-down on crude inventories.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures stood flat at $59.02 per barrel after touching its highest since November at $59.57 on Tuesday.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Giants President Baer and wife Pam celebrate after Giants defeated Padres in MLB game in San Francisco
FILE PHOTO: San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer and his wife, Pam, celebrate with champagne after the Giants defeated the San Diego Padres during their MLB baseball game to win the National League West Division title in San Francisco, California September 22, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

March 20, 2019

San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer won’t face criminal charges stemming from a public incident with his wife on March 1, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday.

Baer took a leave of absence three days after the incident in which he was seen pushing wife Pam to the ground. The incident was caught on video and initially released by TMZ.

“After a careful review of the relevant evidence, including multiple videos, statements from several witnesses and the parties themselves, the evidence does not support filing criminal charges,” district attorney’s office spokesman Alex Bastian said in a statement to the Chronicle.

Baer still could face punishment from Major League Baseball under its domestic violence policy despite the absence of charges.

On the day of the incident, the couple reportedly were having a loud argument about a cellphone when Baer knocked his wife, Pam, out of a chair and down to the ground.

Pam Baer is heard in the video screaming, “Oh my god. Help!”

Larry Baer walked away — with the phone in his hand — while saying the following: “Stop, Pam. Stop.”

Both Larry Baer and Pam Baer released statements later that day saying a foot injury Pam had recently suffered led to the fall. Larry Baer admitted his behavior was ” inappropriate.”

San Francisco mayor London Breed called for Baer to be suspended earlier this week. She expressed that sentiment in a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

“While Mr. Baer has apologized and expressed remorse for his behavior, it does not excuse his actions and it does not erase what transpired,” Breed wrote in the letter to Manfred. “Mr. Baer’s actions were serious and wrong. We are a City that loves and supports our San Francisco Giants, and that means holding our organization and its leaders to the highest of standards.

“Every little girl, every woman should be able to attend a Giants game with a clear sense of the organization’s values.”

Baer has been in Giants upper management since 1992. He became COO in 1996 and later was elevated to team president before becoming CEO in 2012.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Attorney General Whitaker testifies before House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A leading House Democrat said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump appears to have influenced former acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to raise doubts about the campaign finance case against Trump’s former lawyer.

U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Whitaker described interactions with Justice Department staff about the case against former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, which involved hush money payments to women who claimed to have affairs with Trump, during a March 13 closed-door meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

In a letter on Tuesday to Assistant Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, Nadler said Whitaker expressed to staff concerns that campaign finance charges against Cohen may have been “specious” and raised “serious questions” about the theory of the case overseen by federal prosecutors in New York.

Whitaker also had concerns about U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s recusal from the case, saying the terms of the recusal were “convoluted,” according to the letter.

“It is reasonable to believe that this activity – the questions Mr Whitaker asked about Mr Cohen’s case, and the manner in which he asked them – reflected fears about the case that were likely expressed to Mr Whitaker by the president himself,” Nadler said.

Whitaker appeared never to have taken official action to intervene in the Cohen case, Nadler said.

Officials at the Justice Department and White House were not immediately available for comment.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to orchestrating the hush money payments, which he said Trump directed him to make.

Nadler’s committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment issues, is trying to determine whether the president has sought to obstruct justice by influencing investigations that involve him.

Trump may have urged Whitaker to Berman in charge of the Cohen case, according to a New York Times report that Trump has denied. Berman, a Trump campaign donor and former law partner of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, is recused from the case.

Nadler said his committee has identified individuals who claim to have direct knowledge of conversations between Whitaker and Trump.

But during their meeting on Capitol Hill, Nadler said Whitaker refused to answer questions about any conversations he may have had with Trump “on the basis that the president may one day want to invoke executive privilege.”

Whitaker, who left the Justice Department after Attorney General William Barr’s arrival last month, was appointed acting attorney general without Senate confirmation in November after Trump ousted former Attorney Jeff Sessions.

Democrats feared he could interfere with U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Nadler said he accepts that Whitaker never gave the White House “any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

Nadler rejected Whitaker’s decision not to answer questions because of possible executive privilege. He asked Engel, who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, to determine whether the White House would actually invoke executive privilege.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: OANN

An employee counts U.S. dollar banknotes at a currency exchange office in Jakarta
An employee counts U.S. dollar banknotes at a currency exchange office in Jakarta, Indonesia October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

March 20, 2019

By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO (Reuters) – Major currencies stuck to tight ranges in early Asian trading on Wednesday as investors awaited the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s March policy meeting later in the day.

Against a basket of key rival currencies, the dollar was broadly steady at 96.388 after hitting its lowest level since March 1 at 96.291 in overnight trading.

The index has lost almost 1.4 percent after climbing to a three-month high of 97.71 on March 7, on views the Fed will strike a dovish tone during its latest policy meeting.

Investors are focused on the Fed to see whether the central bank will affirm its commitment to “patient” monetary policy and for clues about the likely path of U.S. borrowing costs.

The Fed is due to make its rate announcement at 1800 GMT on Wednesday, when it is expected to keep its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged.

“The dollar continued its drift lower but momentum seems to be waning on the move as volatility across the majors continues to fall,” said Nick Twidale, chief operating officer at Rakuten Securities Australia in Sydney.

“The market is poised for potential break out trades if the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) surprises later today,” he said in a note.

Most currencies stayed within well-trodden trading ranges before the Fed decision, as market participants were cautious after taking cues from U.S. data offering new signs the world’s top economy is on a path of slower growth.

New orders for U.S.-made goods rose less than expected in January and shipments fell for a fourth straight month, offering more evidence of a slowdown in U.S. manufacturing activity, overnight data showed.

More positive signs were evident in Germany as a survey by the ZEW research institute indicated the mood among German investors improved more than expected in March, as a potential delay to Britain’s exit from the European Union helped lift sentiment.

On Wednesday, the euro was a shade higher against the greenback at $1.1355, while the yen was down a tad at 111.51 yen per dollar.

Investors also kept a check on developments related to the U.S.-China trade war as a U.S. government official said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to travel to China next week for another round of talks with Chinese counterparts.

“I don’t think anyone is expecting a quick resolution to this problem any time soon. For the time being, the market will keep reacting to the headlines as they come and go,” said Yukio Ishizuki, senior currency strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Sterling was steady at $1.3267 after paring gains overnight on concerns that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for delaying Brexit was running into complications with the European Union.

(Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN

The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul
The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

March 20, 2019

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd expects a tough year for its component business including memory chips due to sluggish growth in the smartphone market and reduced investment from data center companies, Chief Executive Kim Ki-nam said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at the South Korean tech giant’s annual general meeting where shareholders are expected to vote on the appointment of board directors.

Samsung is seeking new growth in areas such as network equipment manufacturing as sales of its mainstay chips and smartphones begin to drop.

The company would continue to make bold investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the face of stiffening Chinese competition, Kim said.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft arrives for the 89th Academy Awards Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills
FILE PHOTO: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft arrives for the 89th Academy Awards Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

March 20, 2019

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft can have the solicitation of prostitution charges in Florida against him dropped, but there’s a catch.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that prosecutors have offered to defer prosecution for Kraft and the two dozen other men arrested in the case, but any defendant who accepts the offer must admit that there is enough evidence to lead to a conviction at trial.

Additionally, the defendant must complete an education course about prostitution, perform 100 hours of community service, be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and pay court costs, per the report.

Kraft entered a not guilty plea in late February after being charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at a day spa in Jupiter, Fla. The 77-year-old billionaire is alleged to have twice visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in January and received sex acts in exchange for money both times.

–In an interview with Sports Illustrated, running back Le’Veon Bell said he never intended to sit out the entire 2018 season.

Bell, who recently signed with the New York Jets as a free agent, told the outlet that his original plan was to miss only Week 1 of last season. But the running back had a change of mind as events played out with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Once he realized the Steelers could again put the franchise tag on him following the season, Bell continued to sit out, and never joined the team. He became a free agent after the season and received a four-year, $52.5 million deal from the Jets.

–Coveted quarterback Kyler Murray met with Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury near the Oklahoma campus, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The Cardinals own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and the Oklahoma product and Heisman Trophy winner is under heavy consideration as he is viewed as a solid fit for first-year coach Kingsbury’s offense.

Arizona took quarterback Josh Rosen 10th overall in last year’s draft but the team’s actions involving Murray may display a willingness to move on from Rosen.

–Tempted to join his brother with the Patriots, tight end Martellus Bennett said he will instead remain retired to focus on his creative work.

Michael Bennett was acquired by the Patriots from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month, sparking speculation the defensive lineman might soon be joined by his 32-year-old brother, who retired after being released by New England last offseason.

–The Carolina Panthers signed defensive end Bruce Irvin to a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $5 million in an effort to boost their pass rush after the retirement of Julius Peppers. The seven-year pro has 43.5 sacks, 277 tackles, 15 forced fumbles and three interceptions.

–The Dallas Cowboys and wide receiver Randall Cobb agreed to terms on a one-year deal, the team announced. The deal is worth $5 million, according to the NFL Network. Cobb, 28, has been with the Green Bay Packers since they drafted him in the second round in 2011. He missed seven games last season due to concussion and hamstring injuries and caught just 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns.

–Defensive end Robert Quinn visited the Cowboys as a precursor to a potential swap with the Miami Dolphins, but reportedly left town without a deal pending. The Dolphins are willing to pay part of Quinn’s 2019 salary to help facilitate a trade of the pass rusher, according to NFL Network.

–Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been cleared for pre-draft workouts after he had to leave the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month when a heart issue was found during his physical. Prior to the combine, most outlets had pegged him as a late-round prospect.

–Kicker Dan Bailey re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings, agreeing to a one-year deal with a base value of $1 million, per reports. … The Patriots have reportedly re-signed punter Ryan Allen to a one-year deal. … The Detroit Lions have signed restricted free agent running back Malcolm Brown to an offer sheet, which the Los Angeles Rams have until Monday to match, according to multiple reports.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

An Afghan girl practices a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul
An Afghan girl practices a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

March 20, 2019

By Rod Nickel and Abdul Matin Sahak

KABUL/BALKH, Afghanistan (Reuters) – After fighting forced Mohammad Khan, a villager from the northern Afghanistan province of Sar-e Pul, to move his family to the more secure province of Balkh last year, they quickly fell on harder times.

Khan’s wife grew gravely ill, he could not find work, and struggled to feed their seven children. So in January, Khan sold their baby, just 40 days old, to a neighbor.

“I sold him for 70,000 afghanis (£698) so that my other children would not die of hunger,” he said.

In a country where half the population is younger than 15, Afghanistan’s 17-year war has arguably hit children the hardest. Some 927 children were killed last year, the most since records have been kept, according to a U.N. report released in February.

Aid workers say they are seeing a growing number of children orphaned or forced to work in the streets.

“I think the hope that used to exist, doesn’t anymore,” said Adele Khodr, the representative for UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, in Afghanistan.

Aschiana, a charity that provides school half a day for children who beg and sell in Kabul’s streets, has seen the number of Afghan children at risk rise sharply in recent years as the Taliban seized more territory across the country.

It has been forced to reduce the number of children it helps, however, as its funding from donors declined, said Engineer Mohammad Yousef, Aschiana’s director.

“Children do not belong to political groups, for this reason they are ignored in Afghanistan,” he said, walking through dark hallways and classrooms where lights are turned off to save money. “They don’t have power.”

Zabiullah Mujahed, 12, is learning to draw at Aschiana and hopes to become a painter. He spends the balance of his day polishing shoes on Kabul’s streets to earn up to 100 Afghanis per day.

The money is critical to support himself, his mother and six siblings, after his father was killed in a Taliban suicide attack four years ago.

“I’m worried about when peace will come and what will happen to my future,” he said. “If I don’t work, my mother, brothers, and sisters will remain hungry.”

LONG ROAD

Girls were banned from attending school under the Taliban government’s five-year rule that ended when the Islamists were ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Enabling girls’ education has been a key goal of Afghanistan’s western-backed government and its foreign allies.

But some 3.7 million school-age children are still not in school, according to a first-of-its-kind UNICEF report in June 2018.

Worsening security, poverty and migration have all made educating children more difficult in recent years, Khodr said.

Sexual abuse and trafficking of boys, a practise that exploded during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, has also worsened, said Yasin Mohammadi, project manager for the non-governmental organization Youth Health and Development Organization (YHDO).

Boys from rural areas have flocked to cities such as Kabul and Herat to find work to support families, leaving them vulnerable to those employers who take them in and molest them before circulating them to other abusers, he said.

The practice of men sexually abusing boys, known by the Dari slang term “bacha bazi” for “boy play”, has been illegal in Afghanistan for only a year, and so far there are few known examples of perpetrators being sentenced.

The Afghanistan government’s director of children’s issues, Najib Akhlaqi, acknowledges that the situation for children is eroding. Progress is slow, but underway, he said, including drafting a national, long-term plan to help children.

“I am only one person. We can’t solve all these problems,” he told Reuters in an interview. “It takes a long time.”

PERILS OF PEACE

Aid groups welcome the prospect of peace, but worry that the inclusion of the Taliban in any post-settlement government could see a slide back toward the hardline Islamist rule it imposed between 1996 and 2001.

The Taliban’s possible role in any new Afghanistan government has not been defined as the latest round of talks with the United States wrapped up.

“The Taliban never supported children, never supported people. I think we would see a worse situation than today,” said Pashtana Rasol, executive director of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization orphanage.

Rasol, who was orphaned herself at age eight after she says the Taliban killed her father, doubts that the orphanages she runs would remain open under a Taliban-led government.

“We are raising very powerful women here,” Rasol said in a Kabul orphanage where smiling girls practiced a dance routine, twirling in brightly colored dresses. “We want the girls to be improved, to be teachers, doctors, but of course the Taliban and the fundamentalist people do not want it.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fault for the war’s devastating impact on Afghan children lies with “foreign invaders”, adding that it has an organization that helps orphans in areas that it controls.

If a peace accord is struck, the Taliban would encourage non-governmental organizations to continue their work in the country, but they would be under close scrutiny to ensure their activities adjust to cultural and religious values, he said.

Yousef, director of Aschiana, worries that women may not be able to work in a society with greater Taliban influence, putting more children at risk.

“Peace is very important to children,” he said. “But we are looking for real peace.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Kabul and Abdul Matin Sahak in Balkh; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain, Hameed Farzad and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Kids Choice Sport Awards 2018 – Arrivals – Los Angeles, California, U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Kids Choice Sport Awards 2018 – Arrivals – Los Angeles, California, U.S., 19/07/2018. Martellus Bennett poses. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok – HP1EE7J1PRC4Q

March 20, 2019

Tempted to join his brother and the New England Patriots, tight end Martellus Bennett said he will instead remain retired to focus on his creative work.

Michael Bennett was acquired by the Patriots from the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month, sparking speculation the defensive lineman might soon be joined by his 32-year-old brother, who retired after being released by New England last offseason.

Martellus Bennett has since focused his creative efforts on his “life’s work” for The Imagination Agency.

“This is why I can’t come out of retirement,” he wrote in an Instagram post Monday. “I would love to play ball with my brother it would truly be a dream come true. But my biggest dream is to change lives with my creativity and that is what I am currently doing @theimaginationagency

“these kids don’t need another athlete to look up to or to aspire to be there’s plenty of inspiration out there for that. I want to inspire the next wave of creatives. The storytellers. The engineers. The designers. The doctors. The filmmakers. The composers. Tech moguls. And maybe a few athletes who like me never felt like they belonged in a locker room.

“I was never one of the guys guys most of my teammates would tell that. I’ve always been a creative who enjoyed competing. I’m playing the game that I was made to play and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Scoring touchdowns winning a super bowl has never made me feel the way seeing kids/families/people enjoying things I have created. I’m doing my life’s work fulfilling what I believe to be my life’s purpose. I hope everyone finds something that makes them as happy and as fulfilled as I have with my work @theimaginationagency I appreciate all of the love but this is waaaaayyy bigger than the game of football.”

Martellus Bennett has 30 career touchdowns and played 16 games for the Patriots in 2016, posting 55 receptions and seven scores.

Michael Bennett, 33, has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and Eagles.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A worker stands on scaffolding at a construction site for a new residential complex in Sydney
FILE PHOTO: A worker stands on scaffolding at a construction site for a new residential complex in Sydney, Australia, February 20, 2018. Picture taken February 20, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

March 20, 2019

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s falling home prices and high levels of household debt are not yet a threat to financial stability, a top central banker said on Wednesday, though there were risks to developers from a glut of new apartments.

In a speech in Perth, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Assistant Governor Michele Bullock also cautioned banks not to go too far in curbing the supply of credit to the economy.

“From a financial stability perspective, prudent lending standards are a good thing,” Bullock told a conference on urban planning. “But there needs to be a balance.”

“The regulators are not proposing any further tightening in lending standards,” she added. “And the appropriate amount of credit risk is not zero – banks need to continue to lend and that will inevitably involve some credit losses.”

The banks use of stricter standards on mortgages has been blamed for exacerbating a downturn in home prices, in large part by curbing investment loans.

However, Bullock said evidence suggested it was not so much tighter credit that was driving down prices as a weakening in demand for loans.

Since peaking in mid-2017, house prices across Australia have dropped by around 7 percent, with steeper falls in Sydney and Melbourne.

Bullock said the decline in prices coupled with record high levels of household debt were not as yet a threat to financial stability more broadly.

“The impacts are not large enough to result in widespread problems in the financial sector,” she said.

Most of the debt was well secured against property, even with the decline in house prices, and repayments as a share of income remained steady. Arrears rates were low and banks were well capitalized.

“Broadly, the debt is held by households that can afford to service it,” said Bullock.

One area of risk was in apartments, where a large amount of new supply was coming on the market that could put further downward pressure on prices.

“Currently, the risks here appear to be elevated but contained,” said Bullock.

The bank’s liaison suggested that settlement failures had not increased much and some developers were in a position to hold and rent unsold apartments, she added.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Source: OANN


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