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FILE PHOTO - Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar
FILE PHOTO – Reuters journalists Wa Lone (L) and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are based in Myanmar, pose for a picture at the Reuters office in Yangon, Myanmar December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

April 21, 2019

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s Supreme Court will rule on Tuesday on an appeal of two Reuters journalists imprisoned for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, in a case that has raised questions about the country’s transition to democracy.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, have spent more than 16 months in detention since they were arrested in December 2017 while working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men during a military crackdown in the western part of the country.

The Supreme Court, the highest court in Myanmar, listed the journalists’ case on its website and Facebook page on Saturday.

The government has said they had been found in possession of secret documents that could have harmed national security.

Outlining their grounds of appeal in March, the reporters’ lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, cited lack of proof of a crime and evidence that the pair were set up by police. A policeman told a lower court last year that officers had planted secret documents on the two reporters.

A district court judge in Yangon found the two journalists guilty under the Official Secrets Act last September and sentenced them to seven years in prison. The Yangon High Court rejected an earlier appeal in January.

Both men are separated from young families. Wa Lone’s wife, Panei Mon, gave birth to their first child last year.

The reporters’ imprisonment has sparked an outcry from press freedom advocates, Western diplomats, and world leaders, adding to pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who took power in 2016 amid a transition to military rule.

The investigation that the journalists were working on was completed by colleagues and published in 2018. Last week it was awarded the Pulitzer prize for international reporting.

(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo
Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

April 21, 2019

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Two Sri Lankan churches and two hotels were hit by explosions on Easter Sunday, wounding several people, police sources said.

The hotels and one of the churches are in the nation’s capital Colombo. The other church is in Negombo, north of Colombo.

A source in the police bomb squad said that one of the explosions was at St Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo. “Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties,” the source said.

Sources from two leading tourist hotels in Colombo also confirmed the explosions but did not give any details.

Colombo National hospital said several wounded had been brought in for treatment.

St. Sebastian’s church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Edited by Martin Howell)

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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

April 21, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Sunday but held off from visiting what Japan’s neighbors view as a symbol of the country’s former militarism.

Abe’s decision not to visit the shrine, which also honors 14 Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, was seen partly out of consideration of improving relations with China, with President Xi Jinping expected to visit Japan when it hosts a G20 summit in June.

China’s relations with Japan have long been soured by what Beijing sees as Tokyo’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two, although ties have thawed recently.

In late 2013, Abe sparked widespread international outrage, including from key ally the United States as well as China and South Korea, when he visited the shrine.

Since then, the premier has sent offerings on the occasion of Yasukuni’s spring and autumn festivals and the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender instead of going himself.

Japan occupied Korea from 1910-1945.

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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FILE PHOTO - The entrance area and the showroom of German camera manufacturer Leica Camera AG are pictured at the Leica production site in Solms
FILE PHOTO – The entrance area and the showroom of German camera manufacturer Leica Camera AG are pictured at the Leica production site in Solms, 70km south-east of Frankfurt, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

April 21, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Germany’s Leica Camera AG has distanced itself from a promotional video that depicts a news photographer covering democracy protests at Tiananmen Square amid a backlash on social media and broad censorship of the brand’s name.

The five-minute video, called “The Hunt”, includes a dramatized scene in which a photographer runs from Chinese-speaking policemen before capturing the iconic “tank-man” photograph of a protester standing in front of a convoy of tanks to block their path.

Mention of the June 4, 1989, event is heavily censored in Chinese news and social media, as well as related dates, names and symbols. The ruling Communist Party has never declared how many protesters were killed in the crackdown in and around Tiananmen Square, with many analysts putting the toll in the hundreds.

A spokesman for Leica, Dirk Große-Leege, said in a statement “the video was not commissioned, financed or approved by any company in the Leica Group. We expressly regret any confusion and will take further legal steps to prevent unauthorized use of our brand.”

Leica did not clarify how the promotional video was conceived, or comment on the company’s relationship with the Brazilian ad agency that created it, F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi.

F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, which previously produced promotional videos for Leica, produced “The Hunt” video and published the video on its Twitter account on April 16.

F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi did not respond to requests for comment, however a spokeswoman for the ad firm, Carolina Aranha, was quoted by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post as saying the video was approved by Leica.

The backlash against the video in Chinese social media comes at a particularly sensitive time, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the protests.

Hundreds of people using Chinese social media site Weibo left comments on Leica’s recent posts, condemning the video before mentions of the company’s name were swiftly censored.

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Ukraine's presidential candidates Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a debate in Kiev
Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a policy debate with his rival, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, at the National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy stadium in Kiev, Ukraine April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

April 21, 2019

By Matthias Williams

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainians vote on Sunday in the second round of an election that could thrust a comedian with no prior political experience into the presidency of a country at war and wanting transformational change.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, has led opinion polls against the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, whose popularity has been dragged down by patchy efforts to tackle corruption and sliding living standards.

At stake is the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following the 2014 Maidan street protests and the annexation of Crimea. Both candidates have pledged to keep the country on a pro-Western course.

Investors are also seeking reassurances that whoever wins will accelerate reforms that are needed to keep foreign aid flowing and attract much-wanted foreign investment.

Zelenskiy’s promise to fight corruption has resonated with Ukrainians who are fed up with politics as usual in a country of 42 million people that remains one of Europe’s poorest nearly three decades after winning independence from the Soviet Union.

His rise comes at a time of political insurgency in many parts of the world, from Brexit to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and to the 5-Star Movement in Italy, which was also driven by a comedian.

“I think the top election issue is frustration with the status quo,” said Mary O’Hagan, Ukraine Resident Senior Director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Poroshenko was elected amid high hopes for change after the Maidan protests. O’Hagan says he inherited a difficult situation in 2014 and implemented many reforms but has not convinced voters that he is serious about tackling corruption.

“I think it is fair to say that public opinion has not regarded the current set-up as a sufficient step forward from what there was before, to justify the many sacrifices that people have made following the revolution, in terms of living standards, security, loss of life, displacement,” she said.

Zelenskiy’s unorthodox campaign relied heavily on quirky social media posts and comedy gigs instead of traditional rallies and leafletting.

Poroshenko has sought to portray Zelenskiy as a buffoonish populist whose incompetence would leave Ukraine vulnerable to Russia. Ukrainian troops have battled Kremlin-backed separatist fighters since 2014 in a conflict in the eastern Donbass region that has killed 13,000 people despite a notional ceasefire.

A victory for Zelenskiy would be a drastic departure from previous presidential elections in independent Ukraine, which were won by experienced politicians including three former prime ministers.

But he remains something of an unknown quantity and faces scrutiny over his ties to a powerful oligarch who would like to see Poroshenko out of power.

Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, according to a Gallup poll published in March.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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FILE PHOTO - A man runs across a hill in front of the Sydney city skyline under a smoke tinted sky at daybreak
FILE PHOTO – A man runs across a hill in front of the Sydney city skyline under a smoke tinted sky at daybreak September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

April 21, 2019

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The environment has emerged as a major issue for Australian voters, a poll showed on Sunday, but healthcare and the cost of living are the top concerns ahead of next month’s elections.

For 32 percent of Australians, access to affordable health services is the biggest worry, followed by the cost of living at 31 percent and crime at 25 percent, according to the Ipsos Issues Monitor, cited by the Sydney Morning Herald.

But the monitor, Australia’s longest running survey of community concerns, found that 23 percent of respondents cited the environment as one of their biggest concerns, making it the fourth top issue.

At the last federal election in 2016, the environment ranked ninth at 14 percent.

“Now there is a real momentum around it,” the newspaper cited Ipsos social researcher Daniel Evans as saying.

According to government agencies and environmental organizations, Australians are paying increasingly more attention to climate change, renewable energy, drought, environmental regulation and protection of natural habitats, such as the Great Barrier Reef, under threat from global warming.

Two-thirds of Australians believe their country is already being affected by climate change and 46 percent agree that the change is “entirely or mainly” caused by human action, an annual climate survey issued by Ipsos this month suggested.

Australia’s A$1.87 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy is slowing, but the number of voters for whom it is a major worry has fallen since the last election to 23 percent from 30 percent. It ranked as the fifth major concern in this month’s poll.

Australians vote on May 18, with opinion polls showing Bill Shorten’s center-left opposition Labor party well ahead and the coalition of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberals and the rural-focused Nationals heading for a resounding defeat.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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People pass over the stone bridge in Skopje
People pass over the stone bridge in Skopje, North Macedonia April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

April 21, 2019

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) – Macedonians vote on Sunday in a presidential election dominated by deep divisions over the change of the country’s name to North Macedonia under a deal with Greece.

The name change, which Greece demanded to end what it called an implied territorial claim on its northern province also called Macedonia, resolves a decades-old dispute and opens the door to Macedonian membership of NATO and the European Union.

But the accord continues to divide Macedonians and has eclipsed all other issues during campaigning for Sunday’s election, in which about 1.8 million voters will choose between three candidates.

Reflecting differences over the agreement pushed through by the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the winner of Sunday’s ballot is not expected to secure an outright majority, meaning a run-off vote would be held on May 5.

A recent opinion poll gave support of 28.8 percent and a narrow lead to Stevo Pendarovski, who is backed by the ruling centrist coalition of the Social Democrats and the minority Albanian DUI party, which have promised to implement the name change settlement.

“There is no other alternative except NATO and EU. Unfortunately in this country we have an opposition that is buried in the 19th century,” Pendarovski, a long-serving public official and academic, told supporters in the town of Stip.

Pendarovski’s main rival Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova is supported by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which strongly opposed the deal. The latest poll showed her trailing by about two percentage points on 26.8 percent.

Wrapping up her campaign in the capital, Skopje, the university professor accused the government of failing to implement much-needed economic reforms.

“If for the past two and a half years they haven’t done anything except change the name of the country, I don’t believe that in the next period they will do that,” said Siljanovska-Davkova, who also wants the country to join the EU and NATO despite opposing the agreement.

Blerim Reka, the candidate for the second-largest Albanian party Besa, looks set to come a distant third with about seven percent of the vote, the poll showed.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

The presidency of the ex-Yugoslav republic is a mostly ceremonial post, but acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces and also signs off on parliamentary legislation.

The refusal of outgoing nationalist President Gjeorge Ivanov to sign some bills passed by parliament has delayed the implementation of some key laws, including one on wider use of the Albanian language — 18 years after an ethnic Albanian uprising that pushed Macedonia to the brink of civil war.

But the presidency had no authority to block constitutional amendments that were passed earlier this year by a two-thirds majority of parliament to enable the name change to North Macedonia.

Analysts say turnout in Sunday’s vote could be low due to fatigue among voters disappointed at the government’s performance on attracting foreign investment and tackling high unemployment.

“There’s nowhere to go except towards the European Union,” said Dimitar Siljanovski, 43, an accountant in a private company.

“That is why I’ll support the option that promises to stand by the deal. Otherwise, what is the alternative? To be stuck forever in a waiting room,” he said.

Polling stations will be open until 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) with the first preliminary results due two hours later.

(Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) kicks off the general election campaign in Dos Hermanas
FILE PHOTO – Spain’s Socialist leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a PSOE party meeting ahead of the April 28 general election in Dos Hermanas, near Seville, Spain April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

April 20, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Socialists led in a poll published on Saturday in newspaper El Mundo with 30.3 percent of votes, equivalent to between 122 and 133 seats in the 350-seat parliament, but fell short of a majority with its main far-left ally 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 45.3 percent of votes, equivalent to between 152 and 174 seats, but this would also be short of the 176 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority, according to the poll conducted by Sigma Dos.

It is exactly the same number of seats that the Socialists and anti-austerity Podemos would have together.

But Socialist Pedro Sanchez could be reelected as prime minister if he manages to get also the support of small regional parties that backed him in the past without having to rely on Catalan pro-independence parties that last February voted against his budget, forcing him to call for a snap election.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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Extraordinary European Union leaders summit in Brussels
FILE PHOTO – British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after a news conference following an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

April 20, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – A top member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party will tell her in the coming week that she must step down by the end of June or her lawmakers will try again to depose her, the Sunday Times reported, without citing sources.

May survived a vote of no confidence in December and although party rules mean lawmakers cannot challenge her again until a year has passed, lawmaker Graham Brady will tell her the rules will be changed unless she quits, the newspaper said.

Brady, who chairs the Conservative Party’s influential 1922 Committee of backbench lawmakers, will tell her that 70 percent of her members of parliament want her to resign over her handling of Brexit, the Sunday Times said.

Britain was originally due to leave the European Union on March 29, but that deadline was pushed back to April 12 and then again to Oct. 31 as May failed to break an impasse in parliament on the terms of Brexit.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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A general view shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez
FILE PHOTO – A general view shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in this picture taken from the Mexico side of the U.S.-Mexico border April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

April 20, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico said on Saturday it had “deep concern” about armed groups that intimidate and extort migrants on the border, shortly after the ACLU and Democratic senators called for a probe into such citizen efforts to block migrants from crossing.

“These types of practices can drive human rights abuses of people who migrate or request asylum or refuge in the United States,” Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement, referring to “militia groups” in New Mexico.

It added that patrols “on the margins” of the law create risks for the safety of migrants.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico condemned the United Constitutional Patriots, which patrols the southern U.S. border in New Mexico, as a “fascist militia organization” operating outside the law.

The group has posted videos showing members dressed in camouflage and armed with semi-automatic rifles holding groups of migrants, many Central American families seeking asylum, until U.S. Border Patrol agents arrive.

The small volunteer group says it is helping the Border Patrol deal with a surge in undocumented migrants at the southern border. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has toughened various policies and put pressure on Mexico in an attempt to discourage people from attempting to cross into the United States illegally.

Along with the ACLU, New Mexico Democratic senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall also called for an investigation into the border group.

“Threatening innocent children and families fleeing violence and seeking asylum is unacceptable and flies in the face of our values as a state and a nation,” they said in a joint statement on Twitter on Friday.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Richard Chang)

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