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FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference on a visit to Baghdad
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference with Iraqi President Barham Salih (not pictured) in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani/File Photo

April 22, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran and Pakistan will form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday during a televised press conference with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan arrived in Iran on Sunday to discuss security and regional issues, Iranian state TV reported, a day after Islamabad urged Tehran to act against militants behind killings in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.

“We agreed to increase the security cooperation of the two countries, our border forces, our intelligence forces,” Rouhani said during the conference, which was broadcast live on state TV. “And also to form a joint quick reaction force on the border of the two countries for fighting terrorism.”

Khan said that militant activity at the border could be a source of tension.

“The most important reason why I’m here, Mr. President, is because I felt that the issue of terrorism was going to … increase differences between our countries,” Khan said during the joint press conference. “So it was very important for me to come here and come with our security chief that we resolve this issue.”

A new umbrella group representing various insurgent groups operating in Baluchistan claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday when 14 passengers were killed after being kidnapped from buses in the province, which borders Iran.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Saturday the training and logistical camps of the new alliance that carried out the attack were based inside Iran and called on Iran to take action against the insurgents.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran says militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and has repeatedly called on Islamabad to crack down on them.

Tehran has stepped up security along its long border with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in mid-February in southeastern Iran, with Iranian officials saying the attackers were based inside Pakistan.

The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic Baloch minority, claimed responsibility for that attack.

Separately, Rouhani said during the joint press conference that the Islamic Republic is ready to help with Pakistan’s oil and gas needs.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Louise Heavens)

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Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu speaks during an opening ceremony in Banja Luka
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during an opening ceremony in Banja Luka, May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

April 22, 2019

ANKARA (Reuters) – Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday the alliance of President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party with nationalists had harmed the AKP, in a statement criticizing the party’s policies after local election’s last month.

Davutoglu, a high profile figure in the party, was prime minister between 2014 and 2016 before falling out with Erdogan.

The AK Party lost control of the capital Ankara and the country’s largest city Istanbul in the elections on March 31.

“The election results show that alliance politics have caused harm to our party, both in terms of voter levels and the party’s identity,” Davutoglu said in a written statement.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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Argentine unions, small firms and activists gather outside Argentina's Congress to demand changes in President Mauricio Macri's economic policies, in Buenos Aires
Argentine unions, small firms and activists gather outside Argentina’s Congress to demand changes in President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies, in Buenos Aires, Argentina April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

April 22, 2019

By Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine President Mauricio Macri rode to power in 2015 promising to bolster the farming sector and cut back taxes that had stymied exports. The country’s backbone industry welcomed him with open arms after years of export controls aimed at keeping domestic prices low.

The powerful sector is now cooling on the center-right president, frustrated by revived export tariffs and sky-high borrowing rates that have bruised smaller farmers, a concern for Macri ahead of national elections later in the year.

Argentina’s farming sector, which brings in more than half of the export dollars in South America’s second-biggest economy, is a key barometer for Macri, who has sold himself as a champion of business and industry, none more so than the country’s huge soy, wheat and corn farms.

“We publicly supported the administration in the last elections (mid-terms in 2017) as we believed they were managing the policies farmers needed,” said Carlos Iannizzotto, president of the Confederación Intercooperativa Agropecuaria, one of the country’s four major farming bodies.

“Today we cannot do the same.”

Reuters spoke to the leaders at all four associations, who collectively make up the influential “Mesa de Enlace” or liaison committee. They cited Macri’s backtracking on cutting taxes on exports and the high cost of credit with interest rates above 60 percent.

The farm lobbies do not directly sway the votes of a huge proportion of voters, analysts and pollsters cautioned, but said that their weakening support was a sharp warning sign for Macri ahead of the October election, which is expected to be closely fought.

Dardo Chiesa, president of a second lobby, the Confederaciones Rurales Argentinas, said farmers had become “disappointed” with Macri’s performance on the economy, with a tumbling peso and inflation running at over 50 percent.

“The first issue in terms of voting this year is the economy, and the reality is that the government’s economic management has not satisfied the sector,” he told Reuters.

‘I WANTED CHANGE’

Everything had started so well.

After Macri’s election in 2015 he eliminated export taxes on corn and wheat and lowered those for soy; he also got rid of limits on corn and wheat exports – gaining cheers from farmers.

However, an acute financial crisis last year forced Macri to take a $56.3 billion lifeline from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in return pledging to balance the country’s deficit – including restarting taxes on exports.

In addition, to deal with inflation and protect the peso currency, the government has hiked interest rates to almost 70 percent, choking off the ability of farmers and other small businesses to obtain funds to expand and buy equipment.

Sales of combine harvesters, tractors and seeding machines plummeted last year, government data showed.

“I voted for Macri because I wanted a change, but Macri has really let us down,” Carlos Boffini, who runs a 400-hectare farm in Colón in the province of Buenos Aires, told Reuters.

“(Macri) spoke about how the export taxes were unfair. Yet here they are again. He was going to get rid of a lot of things and he did not get rid of anything.”

To be sure, not all farmers are turning away from Macri, who is still viewed by many as the most business-friendly candidate.

Daniel Pelegrina, head of Sociedad Rural Argentina, which generally represents larger farming groups, stopped short of giving his direct support for the president but said the government’s policies were roughly in the right direction.

“Argentina needs to be reintegrated and active globally, it needs to have an export-oriented economy,” he said, adding that there is, however, a need to review the high taxes.

IF NOT MACRI, THEN WHO?

Macri is facing a split field in the elections that start in October before a potential run-off if there is no clear winner.

Likely rivals include ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose populist and interventionist policies made her deeply unpopular with farmers. More moderate members of the Peronist opposition include former economy minister Roberto Lavagna and former congressman Sergio Massa.

Carlos Achetone, president of the Federación Agraria Argentina (FAA), the last of the four main agricultural bodies, said many farmers were looking beyond Macri if there was a “third alternative with substance.”

Analysts and farmers, however, said if the election ended up being between Macri and Fernandez – as many polls expect if she runs – then farmers would have little choice about how to vote.

“There is a consensus of not returning to populism. Argentina cannot return to populism,” said Chiesa, referring to Fernandez’s administration which had introduced export quotas on grains and meat to keep domestic prices low for consumers.

Farmer Boffini agreed, adding the sector’s general dislike of the former leader could well be Macri’s saving grace.

“Do you know what Macri’s advantage is? It’s that we don’t like Cristina and so if Cristina shows up and there are no other options, we will simply vote for Macri so that Cristina does not get in,” he said.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Matthew Lewis)

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Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they attend a mass anti-government protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum
Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they attend a mass anti-government protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

April 22, 2019

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) warned on Monday against protesters blocking roads and limiting the movement of citizens as protests continued after president Omar al-Bashir was forced from power.

The TMC also said it was unacceptable that some young people were exercising the role of the police and security services, in violation of the law, a reference to youths who have been searching protesters taking part in a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry.

The TMC and the opposition have traded threats since Sunday, with the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), the main organizer of the protests, saying it would suspend talks with the Council.

“We have decided to opt for escalation with the military council, not to recognize its legitimacy and to continue the sit-in and escalate the protests on the streets,” Mohamed al-Amin Abdel-Aziz of the SPA told crowds outside the Defense Ministry on Sunday.

The protesters have kept up the sit-in outside the Ministry since Bashir was removed by the military on April 11 and have demonstrated in large numbers in recent days, pressing for a rapid handover to civilian rule.

TMC head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan told state TV on Sunday that the formation of a joint military-civilian council, one of the activists’ demands, was being considered. “The issue has been put forward for discussion and a vision has yet to be reached,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Sunday they had agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid, throwing a lifeline to the country’s new military leaders.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Holmes)

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A security officer stands in front of St Anthony's shrine in Colombo
A security officer stands in front of St Anthony’s shrine in Colombo, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Sri Lanka April 22, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

April 22, 2019

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Authorities lifted a curfew in the Sri Lanka on Monday, a day after 290 people were killed and about 500 wounded by a string of bombings that tore through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.

There was still no claim of responsibility for the attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the

capital of predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, and a third church on the country’s northeast coast.

A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there

had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Sri Lanka had been at war for decades with Tamil separatists but extremist violence had been on the wane since the civil war ended 10 years ago.

The South Asian nation of about 22 million people has Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight

and 12 percent.

The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Center in the business

district, where the four hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.

Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.

The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to come by.

Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group, but said ministers had not been told.

Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the 290 people killed and 500 wounded, although government officials said 32

foreigners were also killed. These included British, U.S., Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nations.

A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, Britain’s The

Telegraph newspaper reported.

One Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”.

He said he and a travel partner were also having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected that blast was a suicide attack.

Three police officers were also killed when security forces raided a house in Colombo several hours after the attacks.

Police reported an explosion at the house.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Security personnel stand guard outside a church after a bomb blast in Negombo
Security personnel stand guard outside a church after a bomb blast in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

April 22, 2019

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The death toll from attacks on churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka rose significantly to 290, and about 500 people were also wounded, police said on Monday.

The death toll overnight had stood at 207. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera declined to give a breakdown of those killed and wounded at each of the three churches and four hotels hit on Sunday, attacks that marked the most significant violence since a bloody civil war ended 10 years ago.

A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a press conference standing next to the calligraphy 'Reiwa' which was chosen as the new era name at the prime minister's office in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a press conference standing next to the calligraphy ‘Reiwa’ which was chosen as the new era name at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, Japan, April 1, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

April 22, 2019

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc suffered two rare losses in by-elections on Sunday in an apparent warning from voters not to get complacent ahead of a national election for parliament’s upper house later this year.

The defeats in a lower house by-election in Osaka, western Japan, and another on the southern island of Okinawa – host to the bulk of U.S. military in the country – were the first such losses since Abe returned to office in December 2012, except for one uncontested poll.

“Each individual (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party member must take the results to heart and buckle down,” Abe told reporters on Monday morning.

The defeats in the Sunday polls come after Japan’s Olympics minister, Yoshitaka Sakurada, resigned a year before the Tokyo Games for remarks that offended people affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns in 2011. A vice transport minister also quit over a separate gaffe.

“The cabinet support rate is maintaining a certain level, but if they do not eradicate laxity and conceit, the upper house election will perforce be a difficult fight,” said an editorial in the conservative Yomiuri newspaper.

Support for Abe’s cabinet was at 47 percent in a survey by public broadcaster NHK released this month, up five points from the previous month.

In Okinawa, Tomohiro Yara, a free-lance journalist backed by several opposition parties and running on an anti-U.S. base platform, defeated a former cabinet minister.

In Osaka, Shimpei Kitagawa, backed by the LDP and its junior partner Komeito, lost to Fumitake Fujita from Nippon Ishin) (Japan Innovation Party), a conservative Osaka-based party that sometimes cooperates with the LDP nationally.

Speculation is simmering that Abe will call a snap lower house election in tandem with the upper house poll, possibly after announcing the postponement of a sales tax hike to 10 percent from eight percent scheduled for October.

Top government officials vowed on Friday to go ahead with the tax rise, barring a big economic shock.

Such a “double election” might help take advantage of weakness among the fragmented opposition parties, but could also spark the opposition to cooperate on candidates.

“Abe must be wondering which suffers more from weakness – LDP/Komeito or the opposition,” said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano.

“A double election will also potentially galvanize the opposition into action … so it’s a double edged sword,”

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako appear before well-wishers as they celebrate the emperor's 74th birthday in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, appear before well-wishers through bulletproof glass as they celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 74th birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

April 22, 2019

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Crown Prince Naruhito, set to become Japan’s emperor on May 1, is known as an earnest, studious man who wooed and won his ex-diplomat wife, Crown Princess Masako, with a pledge to protect her.

Naruhito, 59, will not only be the first Japanese emperor born after World War Two and the first to be raised solely by his parents, but also the first to graduate from a university and pursue advanced studies overseas.

He will assume the throne after his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates on April 30, the first Japanese emperor to do so in nearly 200 years.

“When I think of what is coming up, I feel very solemn,” Naruhito said at his birthday news conference in February.

SELFIES WITH BYSTANDERS

Naruhito, the eldest of three children, was cared for by his mother, Empress Michiko, instead of being raised by wet nurses and tutors. She even sent him to school with homemade lunches as part of parental efforts to make the royal family seem closer to the people.

A student of medieval European river transport, Naruhito spent two years at Oxford University, a time he has described as some of the best years of his life.

Described by some as having a “playful” side, Naruhito posed for selfies with bystanders while visiting Denmark several years ago.

FAMILY DEVOTION

Naruhito defied palace officials to marry Masako Owada, now 55, after she caught his eye at a concert, prompting a years-long courtship during which she rejected his early proposals.

In late 2003, about a decade after their wedding, she largely disappeared from public view, the start of a long struggle with what palace officials termed an “adjustment disorder” brought on by the strains of palace life and demands she bear a male heir. In recent years her public appearances have increased.

At one point, Naruhito shocked the nation with his passionate defense of his wife, saying she had “totally exhausted herself” trying to adjust and that there had been moves to “negate her career and her personality.” His blunt remarks drew a rebuke from his younger brother and sorrowful remarks from the emperor.

Unique in becoming the first Japanese emperor in modern times to not to have a son, Naruhito has been devoted to his daughter Aiko, now 17, and has advocated for men becoming more hands-on fathers – still uncommon in conservative Japan.

WORTHY CAUSES

Naruhito, who espouses environmental causes, has taken part in international conferences on clean water and in 2015 made remarks at a U.N.-linked advisory board on water and sanitation. He has implied that he could work on climate change as well.

Masako has repeatedly said she is concerned about children in difficult situations, including those who are abused or live in poverty in Japan.

“When I think to the days ahead, I don’t know how useful I can be,” she said in remarks released on her birthday in 2018. “But after being by the sides of their majesties for all these years, and looking forward to their future guidance, I will make as much effort as possible to assist the crown prince and work for the happiness of the nation.”

(Reporting and writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Gerry Doyle)

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FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform are seen at the Soroush oil fields.
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

April 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is preparing to announce on Monday that all importers of Iranian oil will have to end their imports shortly or be subject to U.S. sanctions, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington is pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program and stop backing militant proxies across the Middle East.

Along with sanctions, Washington has also granted waivers to eight economies that had reduced their purchases of Iranian oil, allowing them to continue buying it without incurring sanctions for six more months. They were China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

But on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce “that, as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate,” the Post’s columnist Josh Rogin said, citing two State Department officials that he did not name.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the report.

On Wednesday, Frank Fannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, repeated the administration’s position that “Our goal is to get to zero Iranian exports as quickly as possible.”

Other countries have been watching to see whether the United States would continue the waivers. Last Tuesday, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey expects the United States to extend a waiver granted to Ankara to continue oil purchases from Iran without violating U.S. sanctions.

Turkey did not support U.S. sanctions policy on Iran and did not think it would yield the desired result, Kalin told reporters in Washington.

Washington has a campaign of ‘maximum economic pressure’ on Iran and through sanctions, it eventually aims to halt Iranian oil exports and thereby choke Tehran’s main source of revenue.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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A man walks past an electoral poster of Spain's Socialist (PSOE) leader and current PM Sanchez outside the PSOE headquarters in Madrid
FILE PHOTO – A man walks past an electoral poster of Spain’s Socialist (PSOE) leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez outside the PSOE headquarters in Madrid, Spain, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera

April 21, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Socialists led in a poll published on Monday in newspaper ABC with 31.5 percent of votes, equivalent to between 134 and 139 seats in the 350-seat parliament, but short of a majority ahead of a general election on April 28.

A coalition of three right-wing parties – People’s Party (PP), Ciudadanos and far-right Vox – would get 45.4 percent of votes, equivalent to between 153 and 162 seats, also be short of the 176 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority, according to the poll conducted by GAD3.

Socialist Pedro Sanchez could be re-elected as prime minister if he manages to form a parliamentary majority with the support of at least two of an array of parties – far-left Podemos and a Catalan pro-independence group – that backed him last June when he won a vote of confidence against PP’s government at the time.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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