International

Activists from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organisations opposing lethal autonomous weapons or so-called 'killer robots', stage a protest at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Activists from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organisations opposing lethal autonomous weapons or so-called ‘killer robots’, stage a protest at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, March, 21, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

March 21, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams and other activists warned on Thursday that fully autonomous weapons could be deployed in just 3-4 years and urged Germany to lead an international campaign for a ban on so-called “killer robots”.

Williams, who won the Nobel in 1997 for leading efforts to ban landmines, told reporters Germany should take bold steps to ensure that humans remained in control of lethal weapons. “You cannot lead from the rear,” she said.

Critics fear that the increasingly autonomous drones, missile defense systems and tanks made possible by new artificial intelligence could turn rogue in a cyber-attack or as a result of programming errors.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called last week for action to ensure human control of lethal weapons, but is pushing a non-binding declaration rather than a global ban, given opposition by the United States, Russia and China.

The United Nations and European Union have called for a global ban, but discussions so far have not yielded a clear commitment to conclude a treaty.

Activists from over 100 non-governmental groups gathered in Berlin this week to pressure Maas and the German government to take more decisive action after twice endorsing a ban on fully autonomous weapons in their 2013 and 2018 coalition accords.

They rallied at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, with a life-sized robot telling onlookers: “Not all robots will be friendly. Stop killer robots now.”

“If Germany showed leadership and got behind it, we’d soon have the rest of Europe behind it,” said Noel Sharkey, a leading roboticist and co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

He said it was only a matter of years before fully autonomous weapons could be deployed in battle given rapid advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Source: OANN

President Donald Trump said Thursday that it's time for the United States to recognize Israel's control over the disputed Golan Heights, an announcement that signals a shift in U.S. policy and comes ahead of the Israeli prime minister's planned visit next week to the White House.

The administration has been considering recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Last week, in its annual human rights report, the State Department dropped the phrase "Israeli-occupied" from the Golan Heights section, instead calling it "Israeli-controlled."

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel's Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" Trump tweeted.

Minutes later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his appreciation. "At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thank you President Trump!"

In addition to its policies toward the Palestinians, the U.S. has taken a hard line toward Iran, much to Netanyahu's delight.

Trump's announcement came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Jerusalem, lauding warm ties with Israel and promising to step up pressure on Iran. Pompeo's words gave a public boost to the Israeli leader at the height of a tight re-election campaign. Netanyahu is to be in Washington for two days next week — two weeks before Israel's April 9 ballot.

Standing together in Jerusalem Thursday, neither Netanyahu nor Pompeo mentioned the heated Israeli election campaign. But Netanyahu, facing a tough challenge from a popular former military chief and reeling from a series of corruption allegations, has repeatedly sought to focus attention on his foreign policy record and strong ties with Trump.

Pompeo has said his trip has nothing to do with politics.

Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for the Trump administration's strong stance against Iran, which Israel regards as an existential threat.

Netanyahu has accused Iran of attempting to set up a terrorist network to target Israel from the Golan Heights, using the incident to repeat his goal of international recognition for Israel's claim on the area.

"You could imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan," he said. "You would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee."

Pompeo paid a solemn visit Thursday to Jerusalem's Western Wall along with Netanyahu in an apparent sign of support for Israel's control of the contested city.

Pompeo is the highest-ranking American official to tour the holy site with any Israeli leader. His visit was likely to further infuriate the Palestinians, who already have severed ties with the U.S. over its Jerusalem policies.

Pompeo and Netanyahu prayed at the wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, before depositing written prayers in its crevices and then touring nearby tunnels and synagogue. Neither made any public comment at the site.

The secretary said he thought it was important to visit the wall with the Israeli leader as a show of support for Israel.

"I think it's symbolic that a senior American official go there with a prime minister of Israel," he said before making the trip. "It's a place that's important to many faiths and I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be very special."

Israel captured east Jerusalem and the Old City in the 1967 Mideast war, and for decades, U.S. officials refrained from visiting the Western Wall with Israeli leaders to avoid the appearance of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city's most sensitive holy sites. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

But the Trump administration has upended the longstanding policy, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem last year after recognizing the city as Israel's capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital.

Senior U.S. officials, including Trump and numerous predecessors, have visited the wall privately in the past, but never with an Israeli leader.

The Old City is home to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy sites, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was entombed and resurrected. Pompeo, a devout Christian, also stopped at the church.

Next to the Western Wall is a hilltop compound revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The spot, which once housed the biblical Temples, is the holiest site in Judaism and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The competing claims to the site are a frequent source of tension and lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he said it did not determine the city's final borders. But the gesture was perceived as unfairly siding with Israel and prompted the Palestinians to sever ties with the U.S. The Palestinians already have rejected a planned Mideast peace initiative by the administration.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Pompeo's visit added additional obstacles to peace hopes. "While they are claiming to be trying to solve the conflict, such acts only make it more difficult to resolve," he said.

While previous secretaries of state have traditionally met with the Palestinians when visiting the region, Pompeo has no such talks planned.

"The Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side. We need to help them figure out how to do that," Pompeo said. "It's a fact, and this administration wishes well for the Palestinian people."

In addition to the Jerusalem recognition, the administration also has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, helping fuel a financial crisis for Abbas' Palestinian Authority.

At a meeting with Pompeo, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin expressed his deep concern about the Palestinians, both in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and under the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

"If the Palestinian Authority will collapse, we will have to take care about what is going on,"

Source: NewsMax

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

March 21, 2019

By Ann Saphir and Howard Schneider

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers see a U.S. economy that is rapidly losing momentum. They predict inflation will miss their 2 percent target for yet another year, despite rising wages, and they expect unemployment to increase.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s view of it all? He calls these fundamentals “very strong,” says the economy is in a “good place and sees the outlook as “favorable.”

Welcome to the new normal.

Powell’s upbeat assessment of a deteriorating economy shows how completely the Fed has embraced a world of stubbornly weak inflation, permanently slower growth and chronically low interest rates that give the central bank precious little room for conventional policy easing when the next downturn arrives.

It is a situation that poses risks to the Fed’s credibility, given the long-running failure to lift inflation to a target first specified in 2012 in hopes of guiding the economy upward. It also raises the stakes over an evolving debate about the need for fiscal, social and other policies that may be targeted to pick up the slack.

“It feels like the Fed has come to Jesus on this topic,” said University of Oregon economics professor Tim Duy, who believes the abrupt revisions to Fed forecasts show the Fed may have already raised interest rates too far. “The secular stagnation story, some part of it, must in fact be a reality.”

Powell delivered his message on Wednesday as the Fed signaled it is likely finished with the interest rate increases it started back in 2015, and hinted that should the outlook worsen, a rate cut may be next.

“We are very mindful… of what the risks are,” Powell said after the Fed held its target range for short-term rates steady at 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. “We don’t see data coming in that suggests we should move in either direction… We should remain patient and let the situation clarify over time; when the time comes, we will act appropriately.”

DOWN IN THE DUMPS?

At least nine and perhaps as many as 15 of the Fed’s 17 policymakers slashed their interest rate forecasts, with most seeing no rate hikes this year. As a group they now believe the economy has lost perhaps a third of its momentum compared with last year, and will grow around 2.1 percent in 2019.

What about the idea they would need to boost rates high enough to brake growth and actually curb inflation, a feature of their outlook in 2018? A thing of the past.

If anything, the Fed’s concern has shifted in the other direction, toward inflation remaining so low it undermines business and household expectations about the future, another potential drag on growth if either sector becomes more cautious in spending.

To some analysts, the abrupt revisions sound like a warning.

“What does the Fed know that it’s not saying?” asked Marvin Loh, global macro strategist at State Street.

“I think we are bracing for another shoe to drop,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco.

That was also the view of financial markets, with short-term interest-rate futures quickly pricing in a rate cut next year.

Powell noted risks to his positive outlook include a slowdown in Europe and ongoing trade tensions with China.

RISK OF THE LESS-LIKELY OUTCOME

To others, however, it seemed like confirmation of an inconvenient truth: that global growth may have peaked, leaving countries stuck in slow-growth mode and reliant on fiscal policy to keep from grinding to a halt. In addition, they will have to carry the load of recovery should a recession occur.

“Even once this episode is past, what do things look like? In the Fed’s view it is a world of sub-2 percent growth” over the long run, said Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income and a former U.S. Treasury official. “By U.S. historical standards, it is not great.”

Central banks in Japan and Europe are in a similar fix, fueling a global debate about whether, given chronically low interest rates, it makes sense for larger and economically more dynamic nations to borrow more for investments in infrastructure, education, climate adaptation and other endeavors that would have a clear public return.

“It is a different world,” former International Monetary Fund Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard said in a meeting with reporters recently at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “We are going to be in a world where monetary policy is highly constrained and fiscal (policy) will become central.”

Originally skeptical of the secular stagnation argument that low growth in developed nations is hardwired into the long-term outlook by aging populations that over-save, he said he now views that as the “more likely” state of affairs.

The issue now is whether the current slow-growth expansion will continue indefinitely in the hoped-for “soft landing” that the Fed foresees in its current projections.

There are arguments to the contrary. The recently released Economic Report of the President projected growth will remain near 3 percent this year and could edge up in coming years if, for example, the now-temporary household tax cuts approved in 2017 are made permanent. Resolution of current global trade frictions could also raise the global outlook.

But 2018, a year that began with U.S. and world officials heralding an era of synchronized global growth, may also prove the outlier.

Said Bank of the West’s Anderson: “Even with the U.S. pausing, it might not be enough to stop a global downturn.”

(Reporting by Ann Saphir and Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Burns and Dan Grebler)

Source: OANN

Athletics - Diamond League - Monaco
FILE PHOTO: Athletics – Diamond League – Monaco – Stade Louis II, Monaco – July 20, 2018 South Africa’s Caster Semenya wins the Women’s 800m REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

March 21, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Thursday it would postpone its decision on Caster Semenya’s appeal hearing against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) until the end of April.

South African 800-metres double Olympic champion Semenya is seeking to overturn a new set of IAAF regulations that are aimed at lowering the testosterone levels of hyperandrogenic athletes.

The IAAF contend that Semenya and other female athletes that are classed as having differences in sexual development (DSDs) gain an unfair advantage due to their higher testosterone levels, but only in races between 400 and 1,000-metres.

CAS have called the hearing “one of the most pivotal CAS cases” that could have a wide reaching consequence not just for the future of athletics, but sport in general.

The body had been expected to announce its decision on March 26, six months prior to the World Championships in Doha.

It said on Thursday that since the Feb. 18-22 hearing, the parties have filed additional submissions and materials. No specific date for the decision has been set.

(Reporting by: Ossian Shine; Editing by Toby Davis)

Source: OANN

Mary Margaret Olohan | Reporter

The so-called “Black Widow” killer Aurea Vazquez Rijos was convicted Friday in a complex murder plot against her late husband, Canadian millionaire Adam Anhang.

Vazquez Rijos of Puerto Rico was convicted and sentenced to life in prison along with her ex-boyfriend, Jose Ferrer Sosa, and her sister, Marcia Vazquez Rijos. The three were involved in an intricate murder-for-hire scheme and the subsequent decade-long evasion of police that earned Vazquez Rijos the title “Black Widow” throughout European news coverage.

Their motive? Anhang’s millions, according to police.

“I am innocent and time will prove it,” Vázquez Rijos said in court Friday. “I lost a man I love. I was murdered. A part of me died.”

Anhang was killed on Sept. 22, 2005, after about a year-long relationship with Vazquez Rijos. The two married in 2005 after Vazquez Rijos pretended she was pregnant and insisted on marriage.

Though Anhang stayed with her when he discovered the lie, he reportedly grew increasingly uneasy about her companions and went so far as to hire a bodyguard. Ultimately, the two agreed to divorce and met for dinner without Anhang’s bodyguard.

As they walked after dinner, Anhang was killed by small-time drug dealer, Alex “El Loco” Pabon Colon, hired by Vazquez Rijos for $3 million. (RELATED: Hurricane Maria Destroyed Hundreds Of Puerto Rican Graves. The Caskets Haven’t Been Reburied)

“Run baby, run!” Anhang reportedly shouted to her as he was killed.

Vazquez Rijos subsequently sued his family for $8 million of Anhang’s estate and fled the country for Italy. The slain man’s family hired a private investigator to track her down and found she was romantically involved with an Italian air conditioning contractor and had given birth to twin girls to secure residency in the country, according to The Associated Press.

Vazquez Rijos fled again when her new lover discovered her identity .

In 2013, American and Spanish authorities collaborated to trick her into going to Spain, where she was arrested and held in a Spanish jail. She entered another sexual relationship while in jail with an inmate and used another pregnancy to plea that she should remain on Spanish soil.

Two years later, when assured she would not receive the death penalty, Vazquez Rijos returned to Puerto Rico with her one-month-old daughter and was taken into custody. Her twin daughters remained with their father in Italy, while her Spanish-born daughter was taken into protective care in Puerto Rico.

Vazquez Rijos and her accomplices were sentenced to life in prison on Friday.

“I hope you’re happy now,” she told Anhang’s father after being sentenced. “You lost [a son] but I lost, too.”

Follow Mary Margaret on Twitter

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Source: The Daily Caller

Lauryn Overhultz | Columnist

U.S. figure skater Mariah Bell, 22, is under investigation after allegedly slashing her South Korean competitor with her skate during a Wednesday practice.

16-year-old Lim Eun-soo claims Bell crashed into her on purpose during the final warmup at the International Skating Union World Figure Skating Championships and intentionally left a gash in Eun-soo’s calf, according to the New York Post.

The incident, which is similar to the time Tonya Harding was accused of hiring someone to injure her rival during the 1994 Winter Games, seemed to be premeditated, according to a rep from the Korean sports agency All That Sports.

Eun-soo had been skating near the outer edges of the rink for space when Bell crashed into her from behind and “suddenly kicked and stabbed Lim’s calf with her skate blades” the spokesperson told Yonhap News. (RELATED: Olympic Figure Skaters Credit God In Unlikely In Return To God)

“Mariah Bell didn’t apologize to Lim Eun-soo after the incident and instead continued to rehearse for her routine. We believe this is not a minor situation that can happen in an official rehearsal,” the spokesperson said.

Eun-soo went on to compete in the ladies short program despite the injury to her calf and even placed fifth overall beating out Bell who placed sixth.

All That Sports has requested that the Korea Skating Union file a complaint against Bell.

Both skaters are trained by the same Los Angeles coach and Eun-soo’s rep claims Bell has been bullying and harassing Eun-soo leading up to the competition.

Source: The Daily Caller

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to greet the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Colonel Jesus Villamor Air Base in Manila
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to greet the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Colonel Jesus Villamor Air Base in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, February 28, 2019. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

March 21, 2019

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte said Manila’s relations with Beijing will not be jeopardised despite two former officials filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court over China’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea.

Since taking office in 2016, the Philippine leader re-oriented his foreign policy away from longtime ally the United States and toward China, despite decades of mistrust and bitter maritime disputes with Beijing.

However, the country’s former anti-graft chief and former foreign affairs minister is asking the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination on China’s role in the South China Sea.

The letter was dated March 13 – four days before the Philippines’ unilateral withdrawal from the ICC was formalized.

Duterte said: “They think they have a good case and I would say that there is no jurisdiction over this country and of China.”

Close ties will remain as China understands that anyone can file a case as the Philippines is a democratic country, he told reporters late on Thursday.

Duterte is facing criticism from opponents for making too many political concessions to China in return for billions of dollars of pledged Chinese loans and investment, most of which have yet to materialize.

China says it has irrefutable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the waters around them.

Under the ICC rules, any individual, group or state can communicate with the prosecutor on alleged crimes falling under the court’s jurisdiction. The complaints can form the initial basis of the preliminary examinations.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Alison Williams)

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

March 21, 2019

By Alex Lawler

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s oil exports have dropped in March to their lowest daily level this year, according to tanker data and industry sources, even before Washington formally requires importing countries to reduce purchases to avoid infringing U.S. sanctions.

Shipments are averaging between 1.0 and 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) so far this month, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and three other companies that track Iranian exports. That’s lower than February, when shipments were at least 1.3 million bpd.

Shipments have dropped from at least 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, the month before U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions, fueling a year of economic crisis in the country.

Tehran has vowed to keep exporting oil despite U.S. efforts to reduce its shipments to zero, but the export decline could be another indicator of economic pressure from the embargo.

In a new year speech on Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic Republic had resisted U.S. sanctions and called on the government to boost national production to face enemy pressures.

For the oil market, the drop in Iranian shipments will add to an OPEC-led oil supply cut and comes ahead of U.S. plans to clamp down further on Iranian exports from May, after ending of the current round of fairly generous waivers from sanctions.

Still, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, which began cutting production from Jan. 1 to bolster prices, are unlikely to be in a rush to change course, analysts say, without concrete signs of a shortage.

“We do expect less Iranian oil exports after May,” said Sara Vakhshouri of energy consultant SVB Energy International.

“However, we don’t think that OPEC will increase its production in anticipation of lower Iranian oil exports, but only if there are clear signs of further Iran and/or Venezuelan export cuts in the market,” Vakhshouri said.

Venezuela, an OPEC member, is also under U.S. sanctions which have curbed its exports.

Iran’s export levels have become more opaque since U.S. sanctions on the country’s oil sector took effect in November, although estimates of March supplies are falling into a narrower range than in previous months.

Kpler, a company that tracks oil flows, said Iranian shipments so far in March had dropped sharply to 1.03 million bps from 1.44 million bpd in February.

“Iranian crude loadings have struggled through the first half of March,” Kpler said in a report, although it said exports would rise closer to 1.3 million bpd in the rest of March.

(Editing by David Holmes)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum
FILE PHOTO: Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

March 21, 2019

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has appointed ruling party head Ahmed Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as an assistant, a presidency statement said on Thursday.

Bashir, who has faced more than three months of street protests against his rule, delegated the leadership of the National Congress Party to Haroun earlier this month.

Both Bashir and Haroun are wanted by the ICC over alleged crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

Source: OANN

The IMF logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington
FILE PHOTO: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, U.S., as IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde meets with Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

March 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund supports the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to halt its campaign to raise interest rates as a prudent move amid economic uncertainty, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday.

“Given the range of global uncertainties facing the U.S. economy, we support the Fed’s decision to be patient in determining future changes to the Federal Funds rate,” Rice told a regular biweekly news conference. “The Federal Reserve’s continued adherence to the principles of data dependence and clear communication, we believe, will help to minimize any market disruptions and spillovers from its policy decisions.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday brought its three-year drive to tighten monetary policy to an abrupt end, abandoning projections for any interest rate hikes this year amid signs of an economic slowdown, and said it would halt the steady decline of its balance sheet in September.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Source: OANN

IMF logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington
FILE PHOTO: International Monetary Fund (IMF) logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, U.S., as IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde meets with Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

March 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund is still awaiting guidance from its members on whether to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday, adding that there is no schedule for an IMF board meeting to decide the issue.

Rice told an IMF news briefing that there is still no clarity on Venezuela’s leadership situation and any shift in the Fund’s recognition of the government will be guided by its 189 member countries and the international community and “views are still being formed.”

Another Washington-based multilateral institution, the Inter-American Development Bank, last week replaced the representative of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with an economist backed by Juan Guaido, a major setback for the Maduro government.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Source: OANN

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic poses during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade, Serbia
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic poses during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade, Serbia, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic

March 21, 2019

By Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac

BELGRADE (Reuters) – The failure to revive talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalizing relations could destabilize the Western Balkan region still recovering from the wars of the 1990s, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday.

Twenty years after NATO bombed the now-defunct Yugoslavia to halt Serbia’s brutal crackdown on Albanians in Kosovo, its former southern province, talks are stalled.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and won recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but not Serbia or its big power patron Russia, and some 4,000 NATO troops remain to safeguard peace in the tiny country.

Both countries must fully normalize ties, before either could progress further on their way to join the European Union.

“Every day of delays could create conditions in which one spark could set the region on fire. The Western countries should know that,” Vucic told Reuters in an interview.

“That is the danger … when national sentiments are stoked.”

In response to Serbia’s bid to prevent Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, Pristina imposed 100 percent tariffs on goods imported from Serbia, something that could cost the Serbian economy 600 million euros in one year, around 0.4 percent of GDP.

To restore the dialogue, Serbia wants those taxes abolished, a move supported by the EU and the United States.

What any settlement could look like is unclear. Both Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci have floated ideas about a “correction of borders” or “delimitation” – terms interpreted by analysts as land swaps.

The West sees the integration of the entire region into the EU and NATO as a way to maintain regional stability.

“Our accession to the European Union depends on the dialogue with Pristina and whether one day we will manage to reach a deal,” Vucic said, adding that he expected Germany, France or the EU to become more active in the negotiating process.

“I think we will see some of their initiatives in the near future,” he said, without elaborating.

Vucic, in power since 2012, said he had no plan to resign or call early elections, something demanded by thousands in opposition protests that started last December accusing his government of cronyism, corruption and stifling media freedoms, something he denies.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A traditionally-dressed Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia's Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
FILE PHOTO: A traditionally-dressed Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens/File Photo

March 21, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – A London museum has handed back locks of hair cut from the corpse of an Ethiopian emperor during a British invasion 150 years ago, after a campaign by activists seeking the return of hundreds of pieces of colonial plunder.

Ethiopians, many dressed in the national colors of red, gold and green, cheered as staff at the National Army Museum handed over the remains in a black leather box to Ethiopia’s minister of culture, tourism and sport on Wednesday.

Hirut Kassaw will take the hair back to Ethiopia at the weekend where it will eventually be buried at the grave of Emperor Tewodros II at monastery in northern Ethiopia, an embassy official said.

She thanked the museum for its “brave and principled” decision to hand over the hair, but called on it and other British institutions to return other items taken during the Victorian-era expedition.

“For Ethiopians, these are not simply artifacts or treasures but constitute a fundamental part of the existential fabric of Ethiopia and its people,” she said.

There was no immediate response to her request or statement on the return from the museum.

Successive emperors, governments and then activists have called for Britain to hand back crowns, religious regalia and illuminated manuscripts taken after the fight – in campaigns paralleled by Greece’s demands for its Parthenon sculptures, and Nigeria’s for the Benin Bronzes.

The emperor claimed a bloodline dating back to the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Britain invaded his territory of then Abyssinia in 1867 to rescue a group of European missionaries, adventurers and officials – including the British consul – imprisoned by Tewodros after a series of diplomatic gaffes.

They reached his mountain fortress of Magdala in April 1868, defeated his troops and freed the prisoners. The emperor shot himself as the invaders stormed his last stronghold.

Journalists on the campaign described how soldiers descended on the emperor’s body and tore off strips of his clothing as souvenirs. The museum’s records suggest the hair was taken from Magdala by an artist on the British force.

Institutions including the British Museum have resisted repatriation campaigns citing legislation preventing them from breaking up collections and arguing that they can preserve items and present them to an international audience.

Campaigners have argued that a special case should be made for human remains.

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Source: OANN

A sign marks a Biogen facility in Cambridge
FILE PHOTO: A sign marks a Biogen facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

March 21, 2019

(Reuters) – Biogen and partner Eisai Co Ltd are ending two late-stage trials testing an Alzheimer’s drug, they said Thursday, marking the latest setback for an industry keen to develop treatments for the memory-robbing disease.

Shares in Biogen slid 25 percent to $81.60 in premarket trading.

The decision to discontinue the trials testing drug aducanumab was made after an independent data monitoring committee reported the drug was unlikely to be successful, the companies said. The recommendation was not based on safety concerns, they added.

After dozens of experimental Alzheimer’s drugs have failed in the recent past, there is a desperate need for a treatment that works.

The disease is the most common form of dementia that affects nearly 50 million people worldwide and is expected to rise to more than 131 million by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Biogen said it would continue to develop other treatments for Alzheimer’s.

“This disappointing news confirms the complexity of treating Alzheimer’s disease and the need to further advance knowledge in neuroscience,” Biogen Chief Executive Officer Michel Vounatsos said.

“We will continue advancing our pipeline of potential therapies in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The companies, however, for now will also discontinue a mid-stage study and a long-term extension study of aducanumab.

(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Ford logo is seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan
FILE PHOTO: The Ford logo is seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

March 21, 2019

(Reuters) – Ford Motor Co said on Thursday its Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks would retire at the end of 2019.

Shanks, 66, will be succeeded by Tim Stone, who served 20 years at Amazon, and was the former CFO of Snap Inc.

Stone will join Ford on April 15 as a company officer and assume the role of chief financial officer on June 1, Ford said.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel)

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FILE PHOTO: Families and relatives of Islamic State militants are seen after they surrender themselves to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar
FILE PHOTO: Families and relatives of Islamic State militants are seen after they surrender themselves to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar, Iraq, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo

March 21, 2019

By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The hallways of the Rusafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad teemed with anxious toddlers on the days their mothers were on trial. Then they vanished again, into the women’s prison, where they have lived for the past year and a half. They sleep on thin mattresses in crowded cells, bored, hungry and often sick. They are the foreign children of Islamic State.

Among them is Obaida, the two-year-old son of a Chechen woman, Laila Gazieva. Gazieva was detained in late 2017 while fleeing the Islamic State stronghold of Tal Afar in northern Iraq, and convicted six months later for belonging to the militant Islamist group. On the day Gazieva was sentenced to life in prison, so too were at least a dozen other young women, court records show.

Obaida remains with his mother in a Baghdad women’s jail, according to Russian government records. About 1,100 children of Islamic State are caught in the wheels of Iraqi justice, said sources with knowledge of the penitentiary system. The youngest, like Obaida, stay with their mothers in prison. At least seven of these children have died because of the poor conditions, according to detainees, embassy records reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the prison.

Several hundred older children are being prosecuted for offences ranging from illegally entering Iraq to fighting for Islamic State. Some 185 children aged nine to 18 have already been convicted and received sentences from a few months to up to 15 years in juvenile detention in Baghdad, said a spokesman for the judicial council that oversees the Rusafa Central Criminal Court, which is hearing most of the Islamic State cases involving foreigners. Seventy seven of those convicted children were girls.

The children are the forgotten victims of Islamic State: betrayed by the parents who took them to a war zone, groomed from the age of four in the militants’ poisonous ideology and, in many instances, abandoned by the countries they came from for fear they are a future threat. In some 20 interviews, diplomats, the children’s mothers and sources familiar with their cases and the penitentiary system described the youngsters’ ordeal.

Nadia Rainer Hermann, a German woman in her early twenties, serving a life sentence for belonging to Islamic State, told Reuters her two-year-old daughter spent her days on a dank mattress in a filthy and cramped cell in the women’s jail. “I’m afraid every day my daughter might get sick and die,” she said. The older children were angry and frustrated with their captivity, she said, and lashed out at the guards and one another.

Iraqi government officials declined to comment about the foreign women and children in Iraqi custody or about the jail conditions. Iraq has said previously it wants to help those who aren’t guilty of any crime to return to their home countries.

“IT WAS A GOOD LIFE”

Gazieva spoke to Reuters in September 2017 when she and her son, an infant at the time, were being held in a camp near Mosul, in northern Iraq. She hoped that she and Obaida could return to France, where she lived before traveling to Iraq. But she doesn’t hold a French passport. “I don’t want to stay in this camp, or in this country. I’m terrified of what will happen to us,” she said.

Gazieva, then aged 28, was sitting cross-legged on the floor of a large tent next to a small pile of her few remaining belongings, her hands fiddling with her French residence card. On her lap lay Obaida, his small body sweating under the Iraqi sun. He was crying and hungry; Gazieva said she wasn’t producing enough milk to feed him properly.

Dressed in the black clothing favored by followers of Islamic State, Gazieva was among 1,400 women and children packed into overflowing tents in the dusty encampment. She spoke to her son in Russian, while dozens of young mothers with infants nearby spoke in German, French and Turkish. They sat in clusters, on mounds of blankets. Armed guards walked among the older children.

The Iraqis had no idea what to do with their captives. They presented Iraq and nearly two dozen foreign governments with an unprecedented legal and diplomatic challenge. While there was nothing unusual in men going abroad to fight, this was the first time so many women and children had joined them. There is no universal law governing repatriations, said Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, a legal charity that campaigns for human rights.

Gazieva said she had ended up in Islamic State territory unwittingly.

Aged 17, she fled separatist violence in Russia’s Chechnya region and settled in France. Then, in 2015, after divorcing her husband – a man who, in her view, was not sufficiently devout – she said she set off on a tour of Turkey with some Russian women she’d met in a chat room. She left her three children behind in France, for what she said was a short holiday.

Gazieva said the women convinced her to drive down the coast. She realized too late that they had entered Syria. She was scared at first, but then grew to like Islamic State. Within a few months she had married a Chechen Islamic State fighter, “because that’s what you did,” and moved to Iraq.

For a time, at least, life in the so-called caliphate was good, Gazieva said. Obaida was born in the general hospital of Mosul with the help of Iraqi midwives conscripted by Islamic State when the Iraqi city was still firmly in its grip. Foreign fighters and their families held elite status in the city. They were given nicer homes – confiscated from Iraqi owners – and better rations and medical care.

“Life here was like in France, except that here I was free to practice my religion in peace,” she said. “My mother didn’t understand, she said I’d changed. But I’m like before, I just wear a niqab,” she added, referring to her face covering.

A few months after Obaida was born, Iraqi and U.S. forces began a campaign to take back Mosul. By then, Gazieva was a widow and living in the northern town of Tal Afar, where she escaped the fighting. Once again, life was charmed, according to Gazieva and fighters and their families interviewed by Reuters. In Tal Afar, the women had chicken coops and friendly neighbors. “It was a good life,” she said, “except for the bombings. But when I was a child, there was a war in Chechnya, so I’m used to bombings.”

Things changed in August 2017. Iraqi forces had taken back Mosul and the fighting moved north. Women, children and the remaining Islamic State men fled from Tal Afar through Kurdish-held territory towards the Turkish border. They traveled on foot in groups of 20 or more, describing a harrowing journey which lasted days, walking on roads strewn with body parts, drones buzzing overhead. They said they had been told by diplomats and friends who’d made the trek in the weeks before that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would let them cross into Turkey. Instead, they were made to surrender.

After several days in Kurdish custody, Gazieva and her son were transferred with the other women and children to Iraqi federal authorities in Mosul, going from the dusty refugee camp to a detention facility where they lived in an uncovered prison yard. The captives were taken to Baghdad in late 2017, where they have remained ever since, joined by foreign women and children detained elsewhere in Iraq. In all, up to 2,000 foreign women and children are in Iraqi custody, said sources with knowledge of the penitentiary system.

ANXIOUS, IDLE AND TRAUMATIZED

Documents from the Rusafa Central Criminal Court, reviewed by Reuters, show that Gazieva was one of 494 foreign women convicted there between late 2017 and August 2018 for belonging to or aiding Islamic State. The women are citizens of more than 18 countries, mainly Turkey, Russia and countries of central Asia. Records from one of the two chambers that are hearing the cases showed that up to 20 women were sentenced to death by hanging for belonging to Islamic State or participating in its activities. So far, none of these sentences have been carried out, judicial sources said.

The women’s prison in central Baghdad was not equipped to handle the arrival of so many women and their children. The jail is overcrowded and rife with disease, said inmates, diplomats who have visited the captives and sources familiar with the prison.

Hermann, the German woman who was sentenced to life in prison in August 2018, spoke to Reuters through the bars of a courthouse holding cell, about three by 10 meters large. “We sleep 12 to a room smaller than this, not counting the children,” she said. Hermann was one of six women interviewed by Reuters.

The majority of the children are still living with their mothers in prison, anxious, idle and traumatized, said diplomats and sources close to the penitentiary system. They include toddlers, like Obaida, and children as old as 12. There is limited medical attention, and many of the foreign women and children are suffering from a scabies infestation and malnutrition, among other ailments. They didn’t have enough clothes to keep warm during the winter. Some of the women cut up the abayas, or robes, they wore on arrival, to make hats and socks for their children.

The women sleep on thin mattresses on the floor with a few blankets to share, food is served in meager portions, and the guards have on many occasions kept flickering lights on for days at a time, three women told Reuters. Aid agencies are helping the Iraqi government provide essentials for the women and children, including clothes and milk, but funds are limited and foreign governments are barely pitching in.

At least seven young children, including Russians and Azeris, have died in the jail because of the squalid conditions, according to several detainees, two prison guards, people who have visited the prisoners and embassy records reviewed by Reuters. At least three women have also died, intelligence and diplomatic sources said. Iraqi government officials declined to comment.

Confirming the identities of the women and children is hard in a maze of conflicting testimony and unreliable paperwork. There were few original documents to work with because many of the women parted with their identity cards in a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State. Family ties, nationalities and identities were mostly compiled from interviews with the detainees. In some instances, Iraqi authorities carried out DNA tests.

Some children are tethered to women who aren’t their mothers. Four women told Reuters they believed it was their duty to look after the children of dead friends or relatives. Others had taken into their care kidnapped Iraqi children, their fellow prisoners said. When questioned by authorities, the women identified these children as their own.

During the fight for Mosul, Iraqi security forces found about 90 foreign children wandering the battlefield alone or in the care of strangers. In most cases, the children were identified and many were sent home. But some were too young or too traumatized to tell aid workers who they were, and about a dozen remain, unidentified, in an orphanage in Baghdad.

“THE LONGER WE KEEP THEM, THE HARDER IT WILL BE”

In September 2017, Iraq’s prime minister at the time, Haider al-Abadi, said his government was “in full communication” with the foreign children’s home countries “to find a way to hand them over.” But by January 2018, talks had stalled, and Iraq began prosecutions, diplomats said.

Children over the age of nine are held criminally responsible under Iraqi law, compared with 11 at a federal level in the United States and 14 in Germany. The children’s cases are heard by a juvenile court, where they face three possible charges under Iraq’s counter-terrorism laws: illegally entering Iraq, which carries a maximum one year in detention; membership of Islamic State, which carries five to seven years; and assisting Islamic State in carrying out terrorist activities, which can bring up to 15 years.

Some child defendants had joined attacks on Iraqi forces, blown up checkpoints and built explosive devices, said an expert on Iraqi juvenile justice.

Judge Aqeel al-Birmani, a counter-terrorism judge who has sentenced some of the children’s parents, told Reuters: “Some of them may be young but they knew what they were doing. They were trained to lie.”

Children under 13 who haven’t committed violence generally receive sentences of three to six months for illegally entering Iraq. They are then free to return home, in theory. But in reality, many of them end up staying in Iraqi children’s homes, unwanted by their home countries. Sentences are harsher for older children. German teenager Linda Wenzel, for example, is serving six years in juvenile detention for membership of Islamic State and illegally entering Iraq. German officials declined to comment on specific cases. The Interior Ministry said it estimates up to 150 adults and children who are German nationals or may have a claim to German residency are in detention in Iraq.

Social workers worry about the long sentences, particularly for older children who will be moved into adult facilities after they turn 18. There, they fear, any efforts made to rehabilitate the detainees in juvenile facilities will be undone by exposure to violent criminals. “Children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period necessary,” said Laila Ali, a spokesperson for Unicef Iraq. “When children are detained, specific measures adapted to their age must be taken to protect them, regardless of the reason for the deprivation of their liberty.”

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, said in terms of international law, reintegration and rehabilitation “the longer we keep them there, the harder that is going to be.”

Across the border in Syria, foreign children of more than a dozen different nationalities have been lingering in camps, while European governments wrangle over their fates. France said on March 15 it had repatriated several young children from camps in northern Syria. The children were orphaned or separated from their parents.

For Gazieva, the choices over her son’s future are bleak. Since she doesn’t hold a French passport, her son has no claim to French nationality. Russia, the country Gazieva ran away from, might be her son’s only option to leave Iraq. Russia’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about Gazieva’s case. It said an operation to evacuate Russian children from Iraq had begun in the autumn of 2017 and Russian officials in Baghdad continued to work to bring home all Russian minors.

The fates of the children of some other nations are less clear.

Turkey accounts for the largest number of foreign children in Iraqi custody, people familiar with the penitentiary system said. Turkish diplomats are monitoring the health of these children and providing medicines, a Turkish official said. Efforts are being made to bring home Turkish citizens who are not guilty of any crime, starting with the children, the official added.

Other children are from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan with a scattered few from Jordan, Syria, France, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago.

Legal charity Reprieve is involved in the cases of foreign fighters and their families detained in Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq. Founder Stafford Smith said countries “have a legal responsibility to their citizens, particularly vulnerable ones like children who are in detention through no fault of their own.”

But some countries are dragging their feet, according to diplomats and other sources familiar with the cases. Some children born in Islamic State territory don’t have recognized birth certificates, making it difficult to prove their nationality.

Germany, Georgia and France have repatriated some children. A French official said such decisions were made case by case, taking into consideration whether the mother wanted to give up her child and whether separation was in the child’s interest.

Tajikistan has said it will take children back soon.

But some governments have little incentive to bring women and children back. There is little public sympathy for the children of militants. “It’s a sensitive issue given the public’s reaction,” said a Western diplomat in Baghdad. “We’re discussing returning the children of people responsible for blowing up their cities.”

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, John Irish in Paris, Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; editing by Janet McBride and Richard Woods)

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89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: A Volkswagen logo is seen on a new car model at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

March 21, 2019

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Volkswagen and Swedish battery maker Northvolt and other companies as well as science labs are joining forces in battery cell research, the German carmaker said in a statement on Thursday.

Starting in early 2020, the so-called European Battery Union (EBU) aims to accumulate know-how on battery cell production, including research on raw materials, cell technology but also the recycling of used batteries.

“All the partners will step up their investments as a result of the planned additional research activities,” Volkswagen said, adding that they could seek funds from the German economy ministry.

Germany has earmarked 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) to support a consortium looking to produce electric car cells and plans to fund a research facility to develop next-generation solid-state batteries.

More than 30 companies have applied for the program to support the production of battery cells, the Economy Ministry said earlier this month.

(Reporting by Arno Schuetze; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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FILE PHOTO: 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva
FILE PHOTO: A charging station for electric cars is pictured at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

March 21, 2019

STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) – Ionity, the European electric vehicle charging joint venture of Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Ford, is on track to install 400 loading stations in Europe by end-2020 and has plans for more.

Ionity, which is not yet profitable, aims to install the 400 charging stations by the end of next year, with each having about 6 individual loading spots. It has so far installed 63 stations, with a further 52 under construction.

The group specializes in ultra high-speed charging along European motorways to try to address the issue of range, which along with price, is still seen as a reason for why demand for electric vehicles has been subdued so far.

“There’s a lot of momentum, activity will be high,” Ionity Chief Executive Michael Hajesch told reporters late on Wednesday. “The expansion plans are currently being prepared,” he added.

This could include more and bigger charging stations along highways but also busy roads leading in and out of larger metropolitan areas where demand for charging infrastructure is highest, Hajesch said.

He said that competition in the electric vehicle charging infrastructure space, where players range from oil majors and engineering conglomerates to utilities and carmakers, would increase further in coming years.

Earlier this year, Shell acquired U.S.-based Greenlots, following its acquisition of NewMotion in 2017, which has established the oil group as one of the largest players in the field.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the number of electric cars on the road will increase to 125 million by 2030, boosting demand for chargers. There were almost 3 million private chargers at homes and workplaces and about 430,000 public chargers in 2017, according to IEA estimates.

(Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; writing by Christoph Steitz. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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FILE PHOTO: Worker walks past coal piles at a coal coking plant in Yuncheng
FILE PHOTO: A worker walks past coal piles at a coal coking plant in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, China January 31, 2018. Picture taken January 31, 2018. REUTERS/William Hong/File Photo

March 21, 2019

By David Stanway and Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese regulators are close to releasing new “green bond” standards that would exclude polluting fossil fuel projects from corporate financing channels designed to lift environmental standards, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Beijing has in recent years promoted new green financing methods to help industry pay for its transition to cleaner modes of growth.

But China’s inclusion of “clean coal” in a 2015 central bank list of technologies eligible for green bonds has put the country at odds with global standards, a point of contention for some international investors and many environmental groups.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation say China’s central bank, which regulates financial institution debt issuance and whose 2015 guidelines were adopted by other market regulators, has already revised the eligibility list. One of the people said the list is due to be published later this month. The People’s Bank of China did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

“If confirmed, ending the policy of financing coal with green bonds would be a much-needed step in the right direction,” said Liu Jinyan, senior campaigner with environmental group Greenpeace in Beijing.

“With no new coal projects taking money from the green bonds market, those funds can actually accelerate China’s energy transition and green development,” she said.

Of the $42.8 billion worth of green bonds issued in China last year, only $31.2 billion would have met global criteria, according to a report published at the end of February by the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), a non-profit group backing green bond standards.

The share of what CBI calls “internationally aligned” green bonds has been steadily increasing as China’s institutions move to align themselves more with global markets.

The PBOC’s revised criteria, however, would not apply to green “enterprise bonds”, which are regulated by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state planner, and are primarily issued by state-owned enterprises and unlisted companies.

In its “green industry” catalog of approved environmental sectors, the NDRC in February still included the production and utilization of “clean coal”, allowing coal companies to issue “green enterprise bonds” to finance the installation of low-emission technology.

The NDRC did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Green bonds have already financed a number of big coal projects in China. Tianjin SDIC Jinneng Electric Power Co Ltd issued 200 million yuan ($29.81 million) in commercial paper on the interbank market in mid-2017 to finance a low-emissions coal-fired power plant.

Coal-to-chemical plants have also received billions of yuan in financing through green bonds, despite criticism from environmental groups.

Industry experts say the two-tiered regulatory framework – one under the PBOC and one under the NDRC – means some coal-related projects could still issue green bonds, although access to the most active green finance markets would be restricted.

“Many of the international investors and financiers have publicly announced plans to reduce their coal portfolio,” said Herry Cho, head of sustainable finance for Asia Pacific at ING.

She said the NDRC catalog is already “largely aligned” with international standards, and even includes some categories, such as equipment related to renewable energy and resource recycling, that are not yet included in global guidelines.

Shengzhe Wang, counsel at Hogan Lovells in Shanghai, who has worked on green bonds in the U.K.-China Green Finance Taskforce, said it was unrealistic to expect the sudden exclusion of coal from all green financing in China.

“For the time being perhaps we have to put up with, make a compromise with clean coal,” she said.

While that compromise may limit foreign involvement in the market, Peter Corne, managing partner at legal firm Dorsey & Whitney in Shanghai said green financing was still required to help clean up China’s coal sector.

“I don’t think it necessarily means there will be more coal projects because of it, because there has already been a moratorium for quite some time,” said Corne, who follows China’s environmental policies.

“Coal’s not going to go away, and it will greatly accelerate our progress towards achieving emission goals if we do clean up the coal sector.”

(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and David Stanway; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira
The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 16, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

March 21, 2019

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – The death toll after a powerful cyclone in Mozambique stood at 217 and around 15,000 people still needed to be rescued, the Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia said on Thursday.

Correia said 3,000 people had already been rescued.

Cyclone Idai lashed the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour (105 miles per hour) last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Writing by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Dutch Prime Minister Rutte of the VVD Liberal party and Dutch far-right politician Wilders of the PVV Party take part in a meeting at the Dutch Parliament after the general election in The Hague
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (R) of the VVD Liberal party and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV Party take part in a meeting at the Dutch Parliament after the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

March 21, 2019

By Toby Sterling

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – An upstart populist party shocked the Dutch political establishment by winning the most votes in provincial elections after a preliminary count in the early hours of Thursday, boosted by a possible terrorist attack this week in the city of Utrecht.

The result shows the enduring strength of far-right populism in the Netherlands, coming nearly two decades after the assassination of populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 led to a similar upset in parliamentary elections.

The most important short term impact is that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right coalition will be forced to seek outside support to win Senate approval for laws passed by parliament. Provincial votes determine the composition in the Senate, where Rutte’s government has lost its majority.

The big winner in the vote was the Forum for Democracy party, led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, which holds just two seats in parliament after entering politics in 2016. On current projections it will have an equal number of seats in the Senate as Rutte’s VVD.

In a speech to supporters peppered with literary allusions, Baudet said the arrogance of the elites had been punished.

“We are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world,” he said.

Following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump, Baudet opposes immigration and emphasizes “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes. He opposes the euro and thinks the Netherlands should leave the European Union.

Baudet had continued campaigning when other parties stopped after Monday’s attack in Utrecht, in which a gunman shot three people dead on a tram. Baudet blamed the incident on the government’s lax immigration policies.

A 37-year-old Turkish-born man has been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the shooting. Prosecutors have not determined a motive, though they say it may have been terrorism.

Pollsters had for weeks predicted Rutte’s center-right coalition would lose its Senate majority. But experts, including pollster Maurice de Hond, said the Utrecht attack boosted turnout most among opponents of immigration.

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

GOING GREEN

Left-leaning voters feel not enough is being done and supported the pro-environment Green Left party, which also booked big gains nationwide on Wednesday, including taking nearly a quarter of the vote in Amsterdam.

Rutte is expected to look to the Green Left or Labour parties for outside support once the new Senate is seated in May, though there are other possibilities in the increasingly fragmented political landscape, which include religious parties and a party focused on voters older than 50.

Rutte said he would be looking for support from “constructive” parties on either the left or the right. Baudet ruled out any cooperation.

“This means drinking a lot of coffee and making even more phone calls” Rutte told supporters.

“So I’m counting on it that the country will remain well manageable with this result.”

Parliamentary elections are due by March 2021.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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The Wider Image: Hunger stalks Yemen's remote villages after four years of war
A nurse weighs Afaf Hussein, 10, who is malnourished, at the malnutrition treatment ward of al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

March 21, 2019

HAJJAH PROVINCE, Yemen (Reuters) – As Yeman’s war grinds into its fifth year with peace efforts stalling, ten-year-old Afaf’s father sees little hope he will be able to give his starving daughter the food or healthcare she needs.

Across Yemen’s remote mountain villages, the country’s war-induced economic crisis has left parents like Hussein Abdu destitute, hungry and watching their children waste away from malnutrition and unclean water.

“Before the war we managed to get food because prices were acceptable and there was work,” 40-year-old Abdu said from al-Jaraib, a small agricultural village in the hills of Hajjah province in northwest Yemen.

“Now they have increased significantly and we rely on yoghurt and bread for nutrition.”

Four years of conflict have pushed Yemen, which was already one of the poorest Arab states, to the brink of famine. War has cut transport routes for aid, fuel and food, reduced imports and caused severe inflation. Households have lost their incomes because public sector wages are not being paid and conflict has forced people from their homes and jobs.

The United Nations says about 80 percent of the population needs some form of humanitarian assistance and two-thirds of all districts in the country are in a “pre-famine” state.

Afaf, who now weighs around 11 kg (24 lb) and is described by her doctor as “skin and bones”, has been left acutely malnourished by a limited diet during her growing years and suffering from hepatitis, likely caused by infected water. She left school two years ago because she got too weak.

“The meaning of being full is not what it was before the war … If I see some scraps of food are left, I get up so that the children will not be hungry. I can bear the hunger, but they can’t,” said Abdu, who lost one of his two wives, Afaf’s mother, earlier this year to tuberculosis.

With no other source of income to support his second wife and six children, he herds other people’s sheep and takes payment in milk products.

Recognizing the seriousness of Afaf’s condition, Abdu scraped together what resources he could to take his daughter on a long journey to health centers in the regional town of Aslam and then the capital Sanaa.

But the treatment these centers could offer was limited. Yemen’s healthcare system has collapsed and clinics supported by international donors are under severe strain.

After being diagnosed with hepatitis, severe malnutrition, water retention and a wheat allergy, Afaf was given a couple of weeks of care and sent back home in a crowded taxi with two weeks of intravenous medication and a special diet.

WATER SCARCE

“If Afaf returns to her house, the problems will inevitably increase,” said Makiah al-Aslami, a nurse and head of the acute malnutrition clinic in Aslam where Afaf received some of her treatment. “The water and the dwelling will have an effect on her health within two days.”

In water-scarce Yemen, with many parts of the country needing pumps to bring water to the surface, water prices have increased dramatically under years of fuel shortages.

In al-Jaraib, well water is available for free. Those who can afford to buy water from tankers which fill up from a pond 7 km (4 miles) from the village.

Abdu said Afaf is to eat only fruit and vegetables and no wheat products.

“By God, if I had anything at all I would have bought her vegetables and fruit but I have nothing,” Abdu said, adding that if his dire situation continues he wont be able to afford her diet or to transport to her one-month check up.

Back in her hillside village of brick and mud structures, where Abdu entertains his and neighboring children by wheeling them around in a wheelbarrow, a fragile Afaf placidly helps her family prepare a simple meal of rice, tomato and bread.

As the children dig into the food with their hands, Afaf alone puts a spoon into a tin of peas provided for her recovery.

Plagued by decades of instability, Yemen’s most recent conflict began in late 2014 when Houthi forces drove the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-backed alliance of Yemeni and Arab forces then intervened in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which says it is a revolution against corruption, controls Sanaa and most population centers.

The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is under increased Western pressure to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and sparked what the United Nations says is the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.

In December, the warring sides reached a deal at U.N.-led peace talks for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal from the main port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea.

The truce has largely held but the withdrawal has stalled due to mistrust among the parties, risking U.N. efforts to hold further talks to agree a framework for political negotiations to end the war. Violence and displacement also continue in other parts of Yemen not subject to the truce.

In Abdu’s local market, around 6 km from al-Jaraib village in Houthi-controlled Hajjah province, men sell fruit, vegetables, grains and bags of ice hacked off a large block.

“A 5 kg bag of rice cost 1,500 Yemen rials ($2.6 at market exchange rates and $3.4 at central bank rates) before the war, and now costs 3,500 rials,” 45 year-old farmer Ali Ahmad al-Aslami said.

“A 20 kg bag of wheat used to be 6,000 and is now 9,000 rials. All prices have changed, even vegetables. A kilo of tomatoes, which was 100 rials, now costs 500.”

For a photo essay on hunger in Yemen, click on  https://reut.rs/2Y7lBtz

(Reporting by Reuters team in Sanaa and Hajjah Province, YemenWriting by Lisa Barrington)

Source: OANN

Graves of Ukrainian Army members Holub and Paselsky who were killed in the east, are seen at a 18th century Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv
Graves of Ukrainian Army members Yuriy Holub, 22, (L) and Nazar Paselsky, 21, who were killed in the east, are seen at a 18th century Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

March 21, 2019

By Natalia Zinets

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – At a cemetery in western Ukraine, a tall, gray-haired man lights candles and kisses the gravestone of his 35-year-old brother Taras, whose death, he said, changed his mind about who should win this month’s presidential election.

Taras, a medical volunteer, was killed in 2015 rescuing wounded soldiers near Debaltseve during the government’s five-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine against Kremlin-backed rebels, his brother Ihor Konchevych said.

He died for a free and independent Ukraine, something their grandfathers could only dream of in the Soviet era, he said, and President Petro Poroshenko is the best candidate to keep it on that path, even though he has not ended the war as he promised.

“In 2014, I did not vote for him,” said Ihor, a dermatologist whose teenage nephew and niece are now fatherless. “Now (I will) for one reason: he is pro-Ukraine, Russia does not support him.”

Such support could help Poroshenko, who has consistently trailed in opinion polls, scrape into the second round and potentially win a second term.

It suggests that at least in western Ukraine, where Poroshenko’s polling remains relatively robust, his opposition to Russia and championing of the army, the church and closer ties with Europe and the United States is getting through.

It also suggests some people are willing to swallow whatever disappointment they might feel about his failure to end the war, lift living standards or thoroughly tackle corruption, because they see him as better than the alternatives.

At stake in the election is the leadership of a country on the front line of the West’s confrontation with Russia, five years after the Maidan street protests ousted Poroshenko’s Russia-friendly predecessor Viktor Yanukovich and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

It is a country still fighting a conflict in the eastern Donbass region that has killed 13,000 people despite a notional ceasefire, a shrunken state propped up by Western aid and sanctions against Moscow.

The election has boiled down to a three-horse race between the confectionary magnate Poroshenko, comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, with Poroshenko second and Zelenskiy extending his lead thanks to his fresh face and strong anti-corruption message.

HEARTLAND OF MAIDAN

It is perhaps not surprising that Poroshenko’s pro-Western messages resonate in Lviv, a picturesque city of cobblestone streets and central European charm that was under the Austrian empire until the First World War and is geographically closer to European Union countries than to Kiev.

The region was a driving force behind successive revolutions, including the 2014 protests in Maidan: according to Reuters’ calculations, around 50 of the more than 100 protesters killed during the Maidan protests were from the west, 19 of them from the Lviv region alone.

The city is heavily Ukrainian-speaking compared to the Russian-speaking eastern regions. A survey by pollster SOCIS suggests voters in the west care more about the war and less about, for example, rising utility tariffs than the average Ukrainian.

The brother of Lesya Senyk, a 51-year-old kindergarten director, was one of those killed on Maidan, a protest sparked by Yanukovich’s decision to renege on signing a political and trade agreement with the EU after pressure from Moscow.

Her brother’s sacrifice, she said, means Ukraine has become a proper state with a stronger army and aspirations to join the European Union.

Senyk did not vote for Poroshenko in 2014 but she will now. “I do not know who else could have saved the state in those difficult times, after the Maidan and during the war,” she said. “Maybe he’s not perfect. But we are not saints.”

NO COUNTRY FOR CLOWNS

Poroshenko won an emphatic victory in the 2014 election but his popularity has fallen sharply.

He can boast success: he secured visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU. There have been reforms and the government has stayed in an International Monetary Fund bailout program: a reassurance to investors.

Poroshenko successfully lobbied for Ukraine to establish a national Orthodox church, independent from Russia. While he did not win the war, he did not lose it, and ramped up defense spending to 5 percent of gross domestic product from 3 percent under Yanukovich. A Poroshenko win is the worst-case scenario for Russia, which is a plus in some voters’ eyes.

But he has been forced to apologize for his pledge to win the war within weeks, and that is not enough for some.

The parents of 22-year-old Yuriy Holub, who was killed in eastern Ukraine in 2014, will not vote for him.

“He promised, promised,” said Holub’s father Hryhoriy, who is blind. “Why did you promise if you were not confident that you can fulfill your promise? If he were an honest man he would quit of his own accord.”

His wife Hanna, who holds pictures of her son close to her face due to her own failing sight, also said Poroshenko had let them down. “First he said everything would be over in two weeks … But such heavy shelling happened and our child was killed,” she said in a trembling voice. “There is no trust now.”

Their son is buried in Lviv’s 18th century Lychakiv cemetery, along with about 70 others killed in the east.

Nazar Paselsky lies buried in a grave near Holub. Paselsky was killed by shelling, aged 21, in the Luhansk region in August 2014. His mother Hanna and father Mykola adopted a boy after Nazar’s death. Photos of Nazar, his diploma and his bravery award are on display on top of their cabinet.

Hanna voted for Poroshenko last time “because he promised that everything will be over in three days. I wanted my child to come back home alive.” Now she does not trust any candidate to guarantee a future for her adopted one-year-old, but thinks she might end up voting for Poroshenko in the second round.

Twelve years younger than Poroshenko, Zelenskiy has tapped into disillusionment about Ukraine’s progress since Maidan and the desire for new faces in politics.

But some people, like Hryhoriy Zhalovaga, whose son Anatoliy died on Maidan, said a strong army was what was needed, not an entertainer with no political experience. Quoting another student during a commemoration ceremony for Maidan victims at the school his son attended, he said: “Those who will vote for Zelenskiy, what do they want, a country of clowns?”

Lviv-based analyst Oleg Gryniv said such views mean Poroshenko will probably carry a majority in the western areas like Galicia, which contains Lviv, citing the example of Ukraine’s first post-Soviet President Leonid Kravchuk.

“When he traveled through the eastern regions, they asked him about the price of socks, whether gas prices would be lowered,” he said. “And when he arrived in Galicia, there was only one question – whether the state would be kept intact.”

(Additional reporting Sergiy Karazy; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Source: OANN

A screen displays a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average during trading on the floor of the NYSE in New York
A screen displays a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average during trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

March 21, 2019

By Lawrence Delevingne

NEW YORK (Reuters) – On the morning of July 11, Paul Pittman was on a corn farm in Western Illinois, unaware his company had taken a devastating hit.

Just before the stock market opened, an anonymous short seller named “Rota Fortunae” posted on Twitter and financial website Seeking Alpha that Pittman’s small real estate investment trust, Farmland Partners Inc, had engaged in dubious transactions and risked “insolvency.”

The posting pushed shares down enough to make thousands of previously-purchased stock options profitable, according to a later expert analysis, in turn causing more selling by those on the other side of the trade who committed to buy shares at a higher set price. The accelerating losses were probably compounded by high-frequency trading algorithms activated by price swings and negative keywords, according to that analysis.

Pittman’s stomach churned when he checked his smartphone around noon: Shares were off almost 40 percent. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2HyuFCE)

“The game was rigged,” Pittman, 56, told Reuters.

What followed exemplified a new, ugly phase in a war between companies and activist short sellers, with businesses fighting back against social-media fueled attacks and investors accusing executives of trying to muzzle critics.

Farmland sued Rota Fortunae – Latin for “wheel of fortune” – and other unnamed individuals alleging a “malicious scheme” to profit from the spread of false information and well-timed stock options. The short seller, a Texas-based individual whose identity has been kept secret, sent a statement to Reuters via an attorney that the litigation aimed to “intimidate and choke critical opinion” and that the idea of crashing the stock through “sophisticated trading” was “utter hogwash.” It is all under the watch of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been briefed on the matter.

The stand-off reflects a broader debate over how to balance the desire to keep public companies accountable with concerns over market manipulation.

Short selling, said to be as old as stock markets, used to be a low-profile affair where bearish investors relied on the media, analysts or regulators to take the lead in exposing over-valued companies. New tools such as Twitter and Seeking Alpha changed that, creating a small but prominent group of brash public activists.

Successful campaigns that exposed corporate fraud or dubious practices, including Carson Block’s Sino-Forest Corp takedown and Andrew Left’s shorting of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc, underscored short sellers’ role as market watchdogs. Such victories, coupled with elevated stock valuations, helped spur record numbers of short campaigns, according to industry tracker Activist Insight.

Activist Insight data show such campaigns can have a noticeable impact on stock prices. A 2017 working paper by researchers Yu Ting Forester Wong and Wuyang Zhao also showed they weigh on target companies’ investments, dividends and access to financing.

Block, Left and other prominent short sellers interviewed by Reuters say they do thorough research and help keep companies honest.

Yet targeted businesses say many short campaigns waged this decade amount to “short and distort” schemes. They accuse some activists of spreading false or misleading information to drive a stock down and then quickly cash out, a mirror image of “pump and dump,” where unscrupulous investors promote speculative stocks before selling out at the top.

Cases against short sellers are rare, though, given free speech protections and companies hesitant to put themselves under the microscope of regulators, lawyers say.

SHORT IDEAS AND OPTIONS

Recent research provides fresh fodder for the debate. Columbia Law School securities expert Joshua Mitts said in a working paper that he had looked at 1,720 pseudonymous short idea posts on Seeking Alpha between 2010 and 2017 and found that 86 percent were preceded by “extraordinary” options trading.

Mitts told Reuters his review of the posts found that, like with Farmland, many short sellers appeared to use fast-expiring put-options bought before the release of a report to spur more selling by underwriters.

“Shorts have to rely on good research, not trading tricks, to punish a stock,” said Mitts, whose work has led to paid consulting for Farmland and other companies.

He has also found other unusual trading patterns, including dozens of cases of “spoofing” and “layering,” illegal trading strategies of placing and canceling orders to create a false impression of demand or supply. Mitts said, however, that high-frequency traders were probably responsible, not activists.

Prominent activists deny engaging in practices described by Mitts and say they rarely use options. Instead, they would typically borrow stocks and immediately sell them in anticipation of a price drop, so they can buy them back for less and pocket the difference.

“I’m sure there are a few anonymous guys out there doing tricky stuff, but it’s not a systemic problem,” Left said.

One smaller short seller said he used put options in conjunction with Seeking Alpha posts to make larger bets given limited capital, but emphasized making unfounded claims could backfire.

“With options you can get totally destroyed,” said the investor, who requested anonymity. “A bad thesis can be debunked almost instantly.”

Activist Insight, which has analyzed hundreds of campaigns, found many cases where target share prices went up, not down.

So far Mitts is virtually alone in analyzing trading activity around short campaigns, but his findings have already drawn the attention of a top U.S. regulator.

SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson told Reuters the research was “important” and challenged his agency to “identify folks who are dancing a very fine line between trading and market manipulation.”

The question, Jackson said, was whether the regulator would go after short sellers who engage in fraud as forcefully as it investigates companies for bad behavior.

“I hope the answer to that question will be yes.”

A hint came last September, when the SEC brought a rare “short and distort” case against hedge fund manager Gregory Lemelson for making false claims about Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc, an allegation which Lemelson has denied.

Jackson said, however, laws on anonymity and free speech could limit any steps that went beyond straightforward cases involving false information.

On March 12, for example, a New York state judge dismissed a lawsuit against short sellers by Indian media company Eros International PLC, noting their opinions on Seeking Alpha and elsewhere were substantiated and therefore protected.

Still, companies are increasingly retaliating with lawsuits, hiring private investigators and using other aggressive tactics, according to some activists. Block, for example, said he has faced “constant” legal threats, at least one undercover operative, and a failed $50 million investigation to discredit his research.

“More than ever, bad companies are trying to shoot the messenger through any means available,” Block said.

FARM WAR

In the days after Rota’s post, Farmland issued a public rebuttal and Pittman, a former farmer and financial executive, said the company had to go on an “‘I am not a crook’ tour” in meetings and calls with investors and business partners.

Most were sympathetic, Pittman said, including farmers who had traded land for stock, but Farmland lost a potential partnership and had to cut staff from 17 to 13.

George Moriarty, executive editor of Seeking Alpha, said that courts have respected the site’s status as a neutral platform and that its staff vetted all posts. In this case, Rota made “limited factual corrections” after Seeking Alpha contacted him about Farmland’s rebuttal.

Still, shares have never quite recovered, and Rota told Reuters that Farmland has yet to substantively address his concerns.

Stock analysts said Rota’s language was dramatic relative to the underlying issues and instead focused on broader business challenges and the potential costs of fighting back. Farmland recently reported about $1.6 million in extra expenses over 2018, before insurance, citing Rota’s campaign. That included defending against a related shareholder class-action and legal costs from its suit against the short seller.

Mitts has submitted his opinion on put options in the case, a pattern he said he discovered independently during his academic research.

The short seller behind the Rota moniker told Reuters he planned to challenge Mitts’ assertions and would continue his defense of first amendment rights. Farmland’s lawyers said Rota’s free speech argument was undercut by his acknowledgement of payments received for research on Farmland.

Whatever happens in court, the SEC is watching. Rota submitted his Farmland analysis to the agency’s whistleblower hotline, while Farmland later briefed SEC staff on its side.

The SEC declined to comment, but on Jan. 29 it denied Farmland’s request for records on Rota and options trading because, according to a letter revealed in a court filing, related information was in an “investigative file” from an “on-going law enforcement proceeding.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne. Editing by Neal Templin and Tomasz Janowski.)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt -/File Photo

March 21, 2019

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

The United States is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.

“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Reuters.

While no decision has been made yet, U.S. officials confirmed that Washington was considering halting steps now underway to ready Turkey to receive the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

“There (are) decisions that come up constantly about things being delivered in anticipation of them eventually taking custody of the planes,” said Wheelbarger.

“So there’s a lot of things in train that can be paused to send signals to them (that we’re serious),” she added, without detailing those steps.

However, another U.S. official said one of the measures the United States was looking at was alternatives to an engine depot in Turkey, without giving more details. The official said any potential alternatives would likely be somewhere in Western Europe. Turkey is home to an F-35 engine overhaul depot in the western city of Eskisehir.

If Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The strains on ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff.

“This (the F-35 standoff) is really a symptom, not a cause of the problem between the two countries,” Aliriza said.

Many U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, worry that Turkey is drifting away from NATO and watch improving relations between Ankara and Moscow with concern. The prospect of Russian contractors or officials on Turkish bases that also are home to the F-35 is unfathomable to many U.S. officials.

The tensions could further escalate. If Ankara goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also could face U.S. sanctions.

ERDOGAN IMPASSE

Despite U.S. hopes that Turkey may still forgo the S-400, experts say Erdogan may have already backed himself into a rhetorical corner. He has repeatedly said he would not reverse course on the S-400, saying earlier in March: “Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”

A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broader repercussions, since Ankara helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines.

Wheelbarger acknowledged that the Pentagon, in light of the standoff, was looking “across the board” at potential alternate suppliers for F-35 parts, including in other NATO countries.

“It’s prudent program planning…to ensure that you have stability in your supply chain,” she said, without speculating that Turkey might be dropped from the program.

Washington has sought to persuade Turkey to purchase the American-made Raytheon Co Patriot defense system, instead of S-400s. Erdogan has said that Turkey was still open to buying Patriot systems from the United States but only if the conditions are suitable.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said that in addition to the Patriot air defense system, the American offer “includes significant government-to-government cooperation on advanced system development.”

Although Turkey has held out the prospect of buying both the S-400 and the Patriot system, the United States has warned Turkey it will take its offer of Patriots off the table unless it changes course.

A Turkish S-400 purchase could also trigger a fight with the U.S. Congress, which has already blocked all major arms sales to Ankara while the S-400 deal is pending.

Lawmakers could renew attempts to introduce legislation that would legally prohibit the Trump administration from allowing Turkey to have the F-35 if it secures the S-400s.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell)

Source: OANN

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Cleveland Cavaliers
Mar 20, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

March 21, 2019

The Milwaukee Bucks played without All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for a second consecutive game Wednesday night as he continues to nurse a sprained right ankle.

Antetokounmpo, a candidate for MVP, did not play in the Bucks’ road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. He also missed Tuesday’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without their own superstar, LeBron James (sore left groin).

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo before Wednesday’s game, “He’s making progress, he just can’t go tonight. It’s us hopefully being smart and being somewhat cautious, but it’s more than that. He can’t play. We’ll see how the next 24-48 hours go, and I’m hopeful he’ll be in a good place as we move forward.”

The NBA-best Bucks (53-19) fell 107-102 to the Cavaliers, who own the third-worst record in the league at 19-53. Milwaukee returns home Friday for a game against the Miami Heat.

–Bucks power forward Nikola Mirotic will miss two-to-four weeks with a “slight fracture” of his left thumb, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

The Bucks acquired Mirotic from the New Orleans Pelicans at the trade deadline to provide depth off the bench. The team confirmed the injury but did not update his status.

Since the trade, Mirotic has played in 14 games (three starts), averaging 11.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22.9 minutes per game. Mirotic sustained the injury in the Bucks’ 115-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. The injury likely will keep him out the rest of the regular season.

–The NBA Summer League will have an international flavor in 2019, as the Chinese and Croatian national teams will join all 30 NBA teams in participating in the league, which will be held July 5-15 in Las Vegas, the NBA announced.

Team China played in Las Vegas at the 2007 NBA Summer League, but Team Croatia is making its debut at the event, marking the first time the league will have two international teams.

Each of the 32 teams will play four preliminary games, with the top eight teams seeded into a tournament to determine the champion. Those that don’t make the championship bracket will play a consolation game.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

Fox News’ Dana Perino criticized the Democratic presidential candidates who have come out in favor of dismantling the Electoral College, during her Wednesday appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have all stated their belief that the country should do away with the Electoral College and elect presidents via the popular vote.

WATCH:

“It’s a litmus test, right? Is there a Democratic candidate who is saying no? Cory Booker kind of tapped the breaks on it, whoa, whoa, whoa, I don’t know. But he will get there. This is happening,” Perino stated. “Remember, it’s Eric Holder also, I think, who during the Obama administration suggested this. But the Democrats didn’t need to talk about this when President Obama was president because he won the Electoral College. Okay?” (RELATED: Democratic Lawmaker Introduces Constitutional Amendment To Abolish The Electoral College)

“The institutions have held up but the Democrats are now talking about actually dismantling those institutions. And what is interesting to me is that the reason that the country is set up this way with different states is because we are republic. You have a representative government,” she continued.

“If you do away with that and you just elect the president by whoever lives in New York and California, then, and you just erase all of those boundaries, then you truly are for open borders,” Perino concluded. “Then you are no longer of the United States of America. You are like united people of America where perhaps, not so united, right, just the people of America.”

Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio rebuked the Democrats’ plan to get rid of the Electoral College on twitter Tuesday morning.

US senator Marco Rubio, addresses the press on the humanitarian aid shipments sent by the US government for Venezuela that are stockpiled at a collection center in the Colombian border, at the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, border with San Antonio de Tachira, Venezuela on February 17, 2019. - Thousands of volunteers in Venezuela will begin mobilizing on Sunday to bring American aid into their crisis-hit country despite a blockade by President Nicolas Maduro who claims the assistance could be cover for a US invasion. US aid that has been piling up in the Colombian border town of Cucuta has become the frontline of the confrontation between Guaido and Maduro. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

US senator Marco Rubio, addresses the press on the humanitarian aid shipments sent by the US government for Venezuela that are stockpiled at a collection center in the Colombian border, at the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, border with San Antonio de Tachira, Venezuela on February 17, 2019. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

“The Democrat plan to get rid of the Electoral College has nothing to do with making sure every vote counts,” Rubio stated. “It’s about diminishing the electoral power of what liberals arrogantly call the ‘flyover states’ & of Americans they habitually disrespect as uneducated & backwards.” (RELATED: Marco Rubio Rebukes Democrats’ Attempt To Get Rid Of The Electoral College)

President Donald Trump also supported the Electoral College on Twitter, saying, “Campaigning for the Popular Vote is much easier & different than campaigning for the Electoral College. It’s like training for the 100 yard dash vs. a marathon. The brilliance of the Electoral College is that you must go to many States to win.”

Twelve states have passed laws mandating that their Electoral College votes go to the winner of the national popular vote, but none of the laws will go into effect unless the combined number of Electoral College votes reach 270 — the number of votes needed for a presidential candidate to win.

Follow Mike on Twitter

Source: The Daily Caller

A Qualcomm sign is seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai
A Qualcomm sign is seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

March 21, 2019

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s antitrust regulator has lowered a decade-old penalty imposed on U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc by 18 percent to $200 million, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Thursday.

The cut comes after the Supreme Court in January overturned one of several lower court rulings against the U.S. firm for abusing its dominant market position.

In 2009, the KFTC fined Qualcomm 273 billion won ($242.6 million) for abusing its market power in CDMA modem and radio frequency chips, which were then used in handsets made by South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc.

The KFTC said it had reset the penalty to reflect the Supreme Court’s ruling, adding however that a “monopolist enterprise’s abuse of its market position cannot be tolerated”.

The fine is the latest in a series of antitrust rulings and investigations faced by Qualcomm from regulators across the globe.

In a separate case, the South Korean regulator fined Qualcomm $854 million in 2016 for what it called unfair business practices in patent licensing and modem chip sales.

Qualcomm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Guatemalan Attorney General Aldana participates in a news conference in Guatemala City
FILE PHOTO: Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana participates in a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

March 21, 2019

By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – A Guatemalan presidential candidate known for tackling high-profile corruption as attorney general said on Wednesday that she would return from neighboring El Salvador within days despite an arrest warrant.

A judge on Monday ordered the arrest of Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general who helped topple and imprison a former president on corruption charges and investigated current President Jimmy Morales, who has largely dismantled the country’s U.N.-backed anti-corruption investigative body known as CICIG.

The country’s electoral tribunal confirmed her candidacy in the June presidential election on Tuesday, shortly after news reports circulated of the order.

Aldana said if she wins, she would make government efficient and transparent as well as strengthen CICIG, adding that the accusations against her were politically motivated to undermine her bid for top office.

“No, I’m not scared. They’re the ones who are scared,” Aldana told Reuters in an interview in El Salvador’s capital, where she had previously scheduled activities. “When I go back to Guatemala… I’ll do it with complete calm, I’ll do it without a single problem.”

The arrest order includes charges of embezzlement, lying and tax fraud. Aldana said she plans to return to Guatemala on Thursday or Friday and had not been notified of the warrant. Under Guatemalan law, she holds immunity as a presidential candidate.

In January, Morales’ government said it was terminating CICIG, after already banning the group’s head from the country.

Aldana had worked with CICIG to investigate President Jimmy Morales for campaign financing violations. She and CICIG previously led the probe into former President Otto Perez Molina that triggered his impeachment and ousted him from office. He remains in custody on charges of involvement in a customs corruption ring.

If she wins, Aldana said she would ask the United Nations to formally expand the anti-corruption mandate of the CICIG, which was originally formed to investigate illegal security forces.

“Clandestine security bodies embedded in the state motivated the Guatemalan government 10 years ago to go to the United Nations … but they’re still there,” she said.

Aldana added that she is against a law proposed by Morales’ party that would free military officials convicted of human rights crimes during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war, which has sparked criticism from international rights groups.

“Without a doubt, it’s a proposal that could generate impunity and obviously I’m not in favor of approving it,” she said.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jass

March 21, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Amnesty International attacked the electric vehicle (EV) industry on Thursday for selling itself as environmentally friendly while producing many of its batteries using polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.

Manufacturing batteries can be carbon intensive, while the extraction of minerals used in them has been linked to human rights violations such as child labor, a statement from the rights group said.

“Electric vehicles are key to shifting the motor industry away from fossil fuels, but they are currently not as ethical as some retailers would like us to believe,” it said, announcing the initiative at the Nordic Electric Vehicle Summit in Oslo.

Production of lithium-ion batteries for EVs is power intensive, and factories are concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where power generation is largely dependent on coal or other fossil fuels, Amnesty said.

Global automakers are investing billions of dollars to ramp up electric vehicle production. German giant Volkswagen for one plans to raise annual production of electric cars to 3 million by 2025, from 40,000 in 2018.

Amnesty demanded the EV industry come up with an ethical and clean battery within five years and in the meantime that carbon footprints be disclosed and supply chains of key minerals identified.

Last month, a letter seen by Reuters showed that 14 non-governmental organizations including Amnesty and Global Witness had opposed plans by the London Metal Exchange to ban cobalt tainted by human rights abuses.

Instead of banning the cobalt brands, the LME should work with firms that produce them to ensure responsible souring, they said.

(Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Jan Harvey)

Source: OANN

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter

A former operator of a spa that’s entangled in a prostitution investigation responded Wednesday to top Democrats’ call for the FBI to investigate her because of her ties to President Donald Trump and China.

“I’m Republican and I’m Chinese,” Li “Cindy” Yang told NBC News. “That’s the reason the Democrats want to check me.”

Yang sold Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, roughly seven years ago. Now the spa and its new operators are in the news after authorities charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in late February with soliciting a prostitute there. (RELATED: Brazil’s New President Says What He And Trump Have In Common: ‘We Are God-Fearing Men’)

Senate and House Democrats requested the FBI open criminal and counterintelligence investigations into Yang, reported ABC News. They point to media reports claiming Yang’s company GY Investments sells opportunities to get close to Trump to Chinese clients.

”Although Ms. Yang’s activities may only be those of an unscrupulous actor allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes,” the Democrats wrote in a March 15 letter according to NBC News.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on February 05, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on Feb. 5, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Yang told NBC News she has lived in the U.S. for roughly two decades and has not had contact with any Chinese government officials.

“I love Americans. I love our president. I don’t do anything wrong,” she said.

Yang has made numerous social media posts of photographs with Trump, including a selfie with the president at a Super Bowl party at the Trump International golf resort in Florida, reported NBC News. She is “part of a network of organizations pushing for Taiwan to return to Chinese control and that fall under the oversight of the Chinese government,” reported the Miami Herald.

Kraft is expected to reject a plea deal that would result in prosecutors dropping criminal charges against him for allegedly soliciting prostitutes, according to reports Wednesday. Many pundits have weighed in on the scandal, including CNN’s Michael Smerconish, who called investigating Kraft “the largest waste of resources since Jussie Smollett” on Feb. 23.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

Send tips to [email protected].

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact [email protected].

Source: The Daily Caller

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter

A former operator of a spa that’s entangled in a prostitution investigation responded Wednesday to top Democrats’ call for the FBI to investigate her because of her ties to President Donald Trump and China.

“I’m Republican and I’m Chinese,” Li “Cindy” Yang told NBC News. “That’s the reason the Democrats want to check me.”

Yang sold Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, roughly seven years ago. Now the spa and its new operators are in the news after authorities charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in late February with soliciting a prostitute there. (RELATED: Brazil’s New President Says What He And Trump Have In Common: ‘We Are God-Fearing Men’)

Senate and House Democrats requested the FBI open criminal and counterintelligence investigations into Yang, reported ABC News. They point to media reports claiming Yang’s company GY Investments sells opportunities to get close to Trump to Chinese clients.

”Although Ms. Yang’s activities may only be those of an unscrupulous actor allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes,” the Democrats wrote in a March 15 letter according to NBC News.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on February 05, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates on Cambridge street during the New England Patriots Victory Parade on Feb. 5, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Yang told NBC News she has lived in the U.S. for roughly two decades and has not had contact with any Chinese government officials.

“I love Americans. I love our president. I don’t do anything wrong,” she said.

Yang has made numerous social media posts of photographs with Trump, including a selfie with the president at a Super Bowl party at the Trump International golf resort in Florida, reported NBC News. She is “part of a network of organizations pushing for Taiwan to return to Chinese control and that fall under the oversight of the Chinese government,” reported the Miami Herald.

Kraft is expected to reject a plea deal that would result in prosecutors dropping criminal charges against him for allegedly soliciting prostitutes, according to reports Wednesday. Many pundits have weighed in on the scandal, including CNN’s Michael Smerconish, who called investigating Kraft “the largest waste of resources since Jussie Smollett” on Feb. 23.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

Send tips to [email protected].

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact [email protected].

Source: The Daily Caller

FILE PHOTO - Khalilzad listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington
FILE PHOTO – Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

March 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Chinese, Russian and European Union diplomats on Afghanistan on Thursday as he tries to forge a peace deal with the Taliban to bring an end to America’s longest war.

“Discussion topics include international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks,” the State Department said in a statement.

The meeting at the State Department will include Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan; Deng Xijun, his Chinese counterpart; and Roland Kobia, the EU’s special envoy.

Khalilzad will brief them on his recent talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban, where the United States reported progress but no final deal on a withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces.

The Taliban rejects direct negotiations with the Kabul government led by President Ashraf Ghani, accusing it of being a U.S. puppet.

U.S. negotiators are pressing the Taliban to accept a ceasefire and talks on Afghanistan’s political future with representatives of Afghan society, including Ghani’s government. But the talks have primarily focused on the Taliban’s counter-terrorism assurances and a U.S. troop withdrawal.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - Khalilzad listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington
FILE PHOTO – Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

March 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Chinese, Russian and European Union diplomats on Afghanistan on Thursday as he tries to forge a peace deal with the Taliban to bring an end to America’s longest war.

“Discussion topics include international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks,” the State Department said in a statement.

The meeting at the State Department will include Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan; Deng Xijun, his Chinese counterpart; and Roland Kobia, the EU’s special envoy.

Khalilzad will brief them on his recent talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban, where the United States reported progress but no final deal on a withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces.

The Taliban rejects direct negotiations with the Kabul government led by President Ashraf Ghani, accusing it of being a U.S. puppet.

U.S. negotiators are pressing the Taliban to accept a ceasefire and talks on Afghanistan’s political future with representatives of Afghan society, including Ghani’s government. But the talks have primarily focused on the Taliban’s counter-terrorism assurances and a U.S. troop withdrawal.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

A boy walks past a sign with voting instructions on his way to school in Honiara
A boy walks past a sign with voting instructions on his way to school in Honiara, Solomon Islands, March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. ISHMAEL AITOREA/Handout via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

By Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – As politicians hit the hustings across the Solomon Islands two weeks out from a general election in the South Pacific archipelago, the loyalty of one of Taiwan’s few remaining allies is in the balance.

Some Solomons’ candidates are promising to review lucrative, but loosening, ties with Taipei that if broken, could trigger a reshaping of diplomatic relations in a region home to a third of Taiwan’s shrinking list of allies.

Although Pacific island states offer little economically to either China and Taiwan, their support is valued in global forums such as the United Nations and as China seeks to isolate Taiwan. China see the democratically ruled island as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.

In the Solomons, where two-thirds of exports go to China, many politicians are questioning whether diplomatic ties with Taiwan are still in their best interests.

“Sooner or later, when we see our country hasn’t been able to grow out of this relationship, we are at liberty to review our relations and to explore other avenues,” said former Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, who is contesting the election.

Lilo’s views, echoed in the rival ruling Democratic Alliance Party policy manifesto, and by other candidates, have caught Taipei’s attention.

Taiwan this month sent its deputy foreign minister to the tropical capital of Honiara shore up the alliance.

President Tsai Ing-wen is also touring the South Pacific this week, visiting other allies Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands to “deepen ties and friendly relations”.

Already five countries have switched recognition to China since Tsai took office in 2016, leaving just 17 mostly small, undeveloped countries that formally recognize Taiwan.

Four of the six Pacific island nations aligned with Taiwan have elections this year, putting its Pacific stronghold under increasing pressure.

The elections also come at a time when traditional regional powers from the West and Japan have been boosting their presence in the Pacific due to unease at China’s growing influence there.

Last week, the new U.S. ambassador to Australia said China was using “pay-day loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific.

“The West is watching the outcome of the election in the Solomon Islands very closely. There is no doubt that there are some Solomon Islands lawmakers who would like to align with China,” said a senior U.S. diplomatic source.

“There is a legitimate worry that it will have a domino effect.”

FLASHPOINT OR CASHPOINT?

Acknowledging that China takes the position that there is “one China” and Taiwan is part of it is the “common consensus of international society”, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

“The Chinese government, under the one China policy and the principles of peaceful coexistence, develops friendly cooperation with countries across the world,” he said, without elaborating.

Shifting allegiances are nothing new in the South Pacific.

Vanuatu flirted with recognizing Taiwan in 2004 but ultimately stuck with Beijing, while Kiribati and Nauru have each switched sides in the past.

The Solomons have recognized Taiwan since 1983.

The chain of islands stretching across some 600,000 sq km (232,000 sq miles) of ocean is a strategic gateway to the South Pacific and was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in World War II.

It is the largest of Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, with access to the airfields and deepwater ports the conflict left behind.

The Solomons’ situation is further complicated by an unpredictable coalition building process after the vote, expected to last weeks before a government is formed.

FUNDING CRITICISMS

Taiwan is fighting to retain its ties.

“I think China is trying everything they can do to replace us in our diplomatic allies,” Taiwan’s deputy chief of mission to the Solomons, Oliver Liao, told Reuters in a phone interview.

He said Taipei was cautiously optimistic of retaining Honiara’s friendship because it has a long history of rural-development donations.

“Many friends here continue to share with us how much they appreciate Taiwan’s support and how they appreciate the flexibility this budgetary support allows – politicians and also the citizens.”

Its strategy, though, has come under fire.

Taiwan’s support of around $9 million a year is paid directly into a government account which lawmakers tap for projects in their far-flung provinces, with little oversight.

“In the rural areas there is no tangible development,” said Andrew Fanasia, politics reporter at the Solomon Star newspaper.

“Mostly these people blame their leaders and this fund.”

Anti-graft agency Transparency Solomon Islands says “vote buying” with cash linked to development funds is by far the most common complaint it fields, according to data it collected in 2017 and 2018.

Lawmakers say there are successes, and the government’s rural development website lists health and sanitation projects, community buildings, and text-message testimonies from citizens about improvements to their lives.

But even Taiwan’s Liao – and former prime minister Lilo – say economic progress has not been fast enough.

And in the capital, patience with the incumbents charged with disbursing Taiwan’s largesse is in short supply.

“Most students would really like to see a change in the leadership and style,” said law student Ishmael Aitorea, 25, on the phone from the student association office of the University of the South Pacific in Honiara.

“The perception is that if the old parliament members go back, nothing will change.”

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON, Tom Westbrook and Colin Packham in SYDNEY, Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: OANN

A boy walks past a sign with voting instructions on his way to school in Honiara
A boy walks past a sign with voting instructions on his way to school in Honiara, Solomon Islands, March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. ISHMAEL AITOREA/Handout via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

By Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – As politicians hit the hustings across the Solomon Islands two weeks out from a general election in the South Pacific archipelago, the loyalty of one of Taiwan’s few remaining allies is in the balance.

Some Solomons’ candidates are promising to review lucrative, but loosening, ties with Taipei that if broken, could trigger a reshaping of diplomatic relations in a region home to a third of Taiwan’s shrinking list of allies.

Although Pacific island states offer little economically to either China and Taiwan, their support is valued in global forums such as the United Nations and as China seeks to isolate Taiwan. China see the democratically ruled island as a renegade province with no right to state-to-state ties.

In the Solomons, where two-thirds of exports go to China, many politicians are questioning whether diplomatic ties with Taiwan are still in their best interests.

“Sooner or later, when we see our country hasn’t been able to grow out of this relationship, we are at liberty to review our relations and to explore other avenues,” said former Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, who is contesting the election.

Lilo’s views, echoed in the rival ruling Democratic Alliance Party policy manifesto, and by other candidates, have caught Taipei’s attention.

Taiwan this month sent its deputy foreign minister to the tropical capital of Honiara shore up the alliance.

President Tsai Ing-wen is also touring the South Pacific this week, visiting other allies Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands to “deepen ties and friendly relations”.

Already five countries have switched recognition to China since Tsai took office in 2016, leaving just 17 mostly small, undeveloped countries that formally recognize Taiwan.

Four of the six Pacific island nations aligned with Taiwan have elections this year, putting its Pacific stronghold under increasing pressure.

The elections also come at a time when traditional regional powers from the West and Japan have been boosting their presence in the Pacific due to unease at China’s growing influence there.

Last week, the new U.S. ambassador to Australia said China was using “pay-day loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific.

“The West is watching the outcome of the election in the Solomon Islands very closely. There is no doubt that there are some Solomon Islands lawmakers who would like to align with China,” said a senior U.S. diplomatic source.

“There is a legitimate worry that it will have a domino effect.”

FLASHPOINT OR CASHPOINT?

Acknowledging that China takes the position that there is “one China” and Taiwan is part of it is the “common consensus of international society”, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

“The Chinese government, under the one China policy and the principles of peaceful coexistence, develops friendly cooperation with countries across the world,” he said, without elaborating.

Shifting allegiances are nothing new in the South Pacific.

Vanuatu flirted with recognizing Taiwan in 2004 but ultimately stuck with Beijing, while Kiribati and Nauru have each switched sides in the past.

The Solomons have recognized Taiwan since 1983.

The chain of islands stretching across some 600,000 sq km (232,000 sq miles) of ocean is a strategic gateway to the South Pacific and was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in World War II.

It is the largest of Taiwan-aligned Pacific countries, with access to the airfields and deepwater ports the conflict left behind.

The Solomons’ situation is further complicated by an unpredictable coalition building process after the vote, expected to last weeks before a government is formed.

FUNDING CRITICISMS

Taiwan is fighting to retain its ties.

“I think China is trying everything they can do to replace us in our diplomatic allies,” Taiwan’s deputy chief of mission to the Solomons, Oliver Liao, told Reuters in a phone interview.

He said Taipei was cautiously optimistic of retaining Honiara’s friendship because it has a long history of rural-development donations.

“Many friends here continue to share with us how much they appreciate Taiwan’s support and how they appreciate the flexibility this budgetary support allows – politicians and also the citizens.”

Its strategy, though, has come under fire.

Taiwan’s support of around $9 million a year is paid directly into a government account which lawmakers tap for projects in their far-flung provinces, with little oversight.

“In the rural areas there is no tangible development,” said Andrew Fanasia, politics reporter at the Solomon Star newspaper.

“Mostly these people blame their leaders and this fund.”

Anti-graft agency Transparency Solomon Islands says “vote buying” with cash linked to development funds is by far the most common complaint it fields, according to data it collected in 2017 and 2018.

Lawmakers say there are successes, and the government’s rural development website lists health and sanitation projects, community buildings, and text-message testimonies from citizens about improvements to their lives.

But even Taiwan’s Liao – and former prime minister Lilo – say economic progress has not been fast enough.

And in the capital, patience with the incumbents charged with disbursing Taiwan’s largesse is in short supply.

“Most students would really like to see a change in the leadership and style,” said law student Ishmael Aitorea, 25, on the phone from the student association office of the University of the South Pacific in Honiara.

“The perception is that if the old parliament members go back, nothing will change.”

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON, Tom Westbrook and Colin Packham in SYDNEY, Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: OANN

A growing number of Americans say immigration levels should remain the same or increase, according to a major U.S. survey, a shift that comes as the Trump administration has ramped up immigration enforcement.

At the same time, the latest data from the General Social Survey — a widely respected poll that has measured trends on American attitudes since the 1970s — shows a growing partisan divide on the topic over the past decade.

The 2018 survey was released this week and shows 34 percent of Americans want immigration levels to be reduced, down from 41 percent in 2016, according to an analysis by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and GSS staff.

That's compared with 23 percent of Americans who want more immigration, up from 17 percent in 2016. Forty-one percent say they want immigration levels to stay the same.

It's the first time since the survey question was first asked in 2004 that more Americans want immigration to remain the same than to be reduced.

The survey is conducted every two years, and the question was last asked before President Donald Trump took office and made it harder for people to immigrate to the United States.

Trump — who made immigration enforcement a centerpiece of his election campaign — has repeatedly called for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and his push for wall funding last year drove the federal government to a monthlong shutdown that furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers.

The administration enacted a travel ban for citizens of mostly Muslim countries, including Iran and Yemen, that has torn many families apart. And officials last year separated immigrant parents from their children to prosecute illegal border crossers, a move that sparked an international outcry.

"People are more tolerant of immigration than the president and the far right would have us believe," said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

According to the survey, nearly three times as many Democrats as Republicans want more immigrants allowed into the country, while Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to favor less immigration.

But fewer Republicans want a reduction in immigration than did in 2016. In 2018, 52 percent of Republicans said they wanted less immigration, down from 62 percent two years earlier.

Forty-four percent of Democrats say they want immigration levels to remain the same, while 34 percent want an increase in immigration.

The survey — which does not distinguish between illegal and legal immigration — also looked at Americans' views on the issue by race. About 41 percent of whites want a decrease in immigration, while only 24 percent of blacks and 22 percent of Hispanics say the same.

Trump has made immigration an intensely political issue, and also an issue of race, said Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

"Trump is trying to create a Republican Party that's much more based in an older, white electorate in nonmetropolitan areas of the country," Pastor said. "The Democrats are trying to put together political coalitions that have a deep base in metropolitan areas, and that includes many more people of color."

The General Social Survey has been conducted since 1972 by NORC at the University of Chicago, primarily using in-person interviewing.

Sample sizes for each year's survey vary from about 1,500 to about 3,000 adults, with margins of error falling between plus or minus 2.2 percentage points and plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The most recent survey was conducted April 12 through November 10, 2018 and includes interviews with 2,348 American adults. MARGIN OF ERROR?

Online: http://www.apnorc.org

Source: NewsMax

A growing number of Americans say immigration levels should remain the same or increase, according to a major U.S. survey, a shift that comes as the Trump administration has ramped up immigration enforcement.

At the same time, the latest data from the General Social Survey — a widely respected poll that has measured trends on American attitudes since the 1970s — shows a growing partisan divide on the topic over the past decade.

The 2018 survey was released this week and shows 34 percent of Americans want immigration levels to be reduced, down from 41 percent in 2016, according to an analysis by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and GSS staff.

That's compared with 23 percent of Americans who want more immigration, up from 17 percent in 2016. Forty-one percent say they want immigration levels to stay the same.

It's the first time since the survey question was first asked in 2004 that more Americans want immigration to remain the same than to be reduced.

The survey is conducted every two years, and the question was last asked before President Donald Trump took office and made it harder for people to immigrate to the United States.

Trump — who made immigration enforcement a centerpiece of his election campaign — has repeatedly called for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and his push for wall funding last year drove the federal government to a monthlong shutdown that furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers.

The administration enacted a travel ban for citizens of mostly Muslim countries, including Iran and Yemen, that has torn many families apart. And officials last year separated immigrant parents from their children to prosecute illegal border crossers, a move that sparked an international outcry.

"People are more tolerant of immigration than the president and the far right would have us believe," said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

According to the survey, nearly three times as many Democrats as Republicans want more immigrants allowed into the country, while Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to favor less immigration.

But fewer Republicans want a reduction in immigration than did in 2016. In 2018, 52 percent of Republicans said they wanted less immigration, down from 62 percent two years earlier.

Forty-four percent of Democrats say they want immigration levels to remain the same, while 34 percent want an increase in immigration.

The survey — which does not distinguish between illegal and legal immigration — also looked at Americans' views on the issue by race. About 41 percent of whites want a decrease in immigration, while only 24 percent of blacks and 22 percent of Hispanics say the same.

Trump has made immigration an intensely political issue, and also an issue of race, said Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.

"Trump is trying to create a Republican Party that's much more based in an older, white electorate in nonmetropolitan areas of the country," Pastor said. "The Democrats are trying to put together political coalitions that have a deep base in metropolitan areas, and that includes many more people of color."

The General Social Survey has been conducted since 1972 by NORC at the University of Chicago, primarily using in-person interviewing.

Sample sizes for each year's survey vary from about 1,500 to about 3,000 adults, with margins of error falling between plus or minus 2.2 percentage points and plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The most recent survey was conducted April 12 through November 10, 2018 and includes interviews with 2,348 American adults. MARGIN OF ERROR?

Online: http://www.apnorc.org

Source: NewsMax

FILE PHOTO - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attends the 2019 budget meeting in Riyadh
FILE PHOTO – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attends the 2019 budget meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 18, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud called Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to review “brotherly relations” between the two countries, state news agency SPA said on Wednesday.

Moroccan media last month said Morocco has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia for consultations, indicating cracks in relations between the traditional Sunni Muslim allies over Yemen, Qatar and Western Sahara.

The call also discussed regional and international events, SPA added.

(Reporting by Hesham Hajali; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Tennis: BNP Paribas Open-Day 9
FILE PHOTO: Mar 12, 2019; Indian Wells, CA, USA; Naomi Osaka (JPN) reacts after being defeated in her fourth round match against Belinda Bencic (not pictured) in the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

By Steve Keating

MIAMI (Reuters) – World number one Naomi Osaka arrived at the Miami Open on Wednesday to face questions about a multi-million dollar lawsuit for allegedly failing to honor a contract with a former coach.

According to the lawsuit filed in Florida’s state court on Feb. 7 and seen by Reuters, Christophe Jean says he began coaching Osaka and older sister Mari in 2011.

Jean says he entered into a services contract with their father Francois in March 2012 that would pay him 20 percent of Osaka’s future earnings.

Osaka’s attorney Alex Spiro described the lawsuit as a “false claim” that has no merit.

Osaka, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise and won the last two grand slams to reach number one in the world, has career earnings of $10.8 million and has made millions more in endorsements.

Jean says that he signed a contract that would pay him a share of Osaka’s future earnings as her family were unable to pay the going rate for coaching.

Asked about the lawsuit during her pre-tournament news conference Osaka, who grew up less than three miles from Hard Rock Stadium, the new home of the Miami Open, said: “I’m not allowed to say anything. I am unable to make a comment.”

Spiro, however, said Jean was an opportunist looking to cash in.

“While it comes as no surprise that Naomi’s meteoric rise as an international icon and inspiration would lead to some false claim, this silly “contract” that Naomi never saw or signed — which purports to give away part of herself at the age of 14 — is particularly absurd,” Spiro told Reuters in an email. “This case has no merit and we will move past it.”

The 21-year-old U.S.-based Japanese player raised eyebrows last month when she announced she was parting with coach Sascha Bajin, who guided her to the Australian and U.S. Open titles.

That split, however, appeared amicable with both Osaka and Bajin wishing each other the best for the future.

(Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant in Tokyo and Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Joe Biden speaks to fire fighters in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden poses for a selfie after addressing the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Ginger Gibson and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Vice President Joe Biden has begun building a presidential campaign ahead of an expected announcement next month that he will vie for the Democratic nomination in 2020, sources familiar with his plans said on Wednesday.

Biden has told supporters and former staff that he will run, according to one source who has knowledge of discussions. Biden and his aides also have reached out to donors and potential bundlers – people who volunteer to raise money on behalf of the candidate – to assess support, according to another source.

A third source with direct knowledge of Biden’s plans offered a caveat, saying the former vice president was very close to running, but “it’s not 100 percent.”

“We’re leaning into that moment” when Biden gives the green light, the source said. Biden, the source said, feels “a very strong sense of responsibility to make sure Donald Trump is not president for a second term.”

The sources asked to remain anonymous because of the confidential nature of the ongoing discussions.

Biden all but gave away his plans last weekend when he spoke at a fundraiser in his home state of Delaware. After referring to himself as part of the field of presidential hopefuls, he corrected himself, saying instead that he could run.

An official bid by Biden could profoundly shake up the sprawling Democratic field, with more than a dozen candidates already seeking to challenge President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee.

After 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years as vice president under former President Barack Obama, Biden will position himself as the Democratic standard bearer for a party that has moved more to the left than the last time his name appeared alone on a ballot.

Public opinion polls have him as an early favorite, with nearly every measure of early support showing him leading.

But he also will enter the race as Democrats debate the future of the party, with some calling for a fresh-faced liberal to move the party forward and others hoping for a centrist who can heal national divisions. At 76, Biden will be the second oldest candidate in the Democratic primary, after Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden made two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1988 and 2008.

Waiting until after March 31 to announce his bid will allow Biden to avoid an April 15 deadline for candidates to submit fundraising disclosures about how much money they have raised so far.

If Biden does jump into the race in the final days of March, he would be behind those who have already posted large fundraising totals, like Sanders and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, who each raised about $6 million their first day in the contest.

The delay in launching also could be to allow Biden time to secure staff.

Mark Putnam, a Democratic advertising and video maker who worked for Obama and several of last year’s successful congressional candidates, was seen last weekend surveying scenes outside Biden’s childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, according to the political news website Politico. He would be a top-tier hire for Biden.

Putnam crafted an ad for the unsuccessful “Draft Biden” movement that tried to convince Biden to run in 2016. His office did not respond to a request for comment about whether he is working for Biden now.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A Citibank sign on bank branch in midtown Manhattan in New York
FILE PHOTO: A Citibank sign on a bank branch in midtown Manhattan, New York, November 17, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar

March 20, 2019

By Mayela Armas and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – Citigroup Inc plans to sell several tons of gold placed as collateral by Venezuela’s central bank on a $1.6 billion loan after the deadline for repurchasing them expired this month, sources said, a setback for President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to hold onto the country’s fast-shrinking reserves.

Maduro’s government has since 2014 used financial operations known as gold swaps to use its international reserves to gain access to cash after a slump in oil revenues left it struggling to obtain hard currency.

In the past two years, however, it has struggled to recover its collateral.

Under the terms of the 2015 deal with Citigroup’s Citibank, Venezuela was due to repay $1.1 billion of the loan on March 11, according to four sources familiar with the situation. The remainder of the loan comes due next year.

Citibank plans to sell the gold held as a guarantee – which has a market value of roughly $1.358 billion – to recover the first tranche of the loan and will deposit the excess of roughly $258 million in a bank account in New York, two of the sources said.

The ability of Maduro’s government to repay the loans have been complicated by the South American country’s dire economic situation as well as financial sanctions imposed by the United States and some European nations.

Most Western nations say that Maduro’s re-election to a six-year term last year was marred by fraud and have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Guaido invoked Venezuela’s constitution to announce an interim presidency in January. However, Maduro retains control over state institutions in Venezuela and has the support of the powerful military. He has branded Guaido a U.S. puppet.

With Washington’s support, Guaido’s team has taken control of state oil company PDVSA’s U.S. refining subsidiary but its attempt to negotiate a 120-day extension of the repurchase deadline for the collateral was unsuccessful, the sources said.

“Citibank was told that there was a force majeure event in Venezuela, so the grace period was necessary, but they did not grant it,” said one of the sources, who belongs to Guaido’s team.

A Venezuelan government source familiar with the matter confirmed that the country’s Central Bank did not transfer the money to Citibank this month.

Citigroup declined to comment. The Venezuelan Central Bank did not immediately respond to a request for information.

In a report presented to the U.S. securities regulator in February, Citibank said Venezuela’s Central Bank had agreed four years ago to buy back in March 2019 a “significant volume of gold” as part of a contract signed to obtain some $1.6 billion. Citibank said that, following the transaction, it owned the gold.

Guaido is attempting to freeze bank accounts and gold owned by Venezuela abroad, much of which remains in the Bank of England. At the end of 2018, the Central Bank paid investment bank Deutsche Bank AG about $700 million to recover ownership of a portion of gold used as collateral for a loan.

However, the bullion remained in the custody of the Bank of England, despite the Central Bank’s request to repatriate it. In light of that transaction, the sources said there was no incentive for the Central Bank to repay Citibank. RENEGOTIATE DEBT

Guaido’s team also began preparing this month for a possible debt restructuring in a bid to ease payments and stop any hostile action by creditors, said two sources who took part in the discussion.

In meetings between members of Guaido’s team with legal advisors in the United States, there were discussions of starting renegotiations soon not only with Venezuelan bondholders, but also with the Chinese and Russian governments and companies affected by a wave of nationalizations, said the sources.

“We want to address the debt in a comprehensive way. We calculate that it totals $200 billion,” said one of the sources.

The Citgo refinery unit, Venezuela’s main asset abroad, is under scrutiny because it serves as a guarantee for the issuance of a PDVSA bond and a loan from Russian oil company Rosneft.

Guaido’s advisers are also evaluating the payment in the coming weeks of around $72 million in interest coming due on PDVSA’s 2020 bonds to avoid any action by creditors against Citgo.

(Reporting by Corina Pons and Mayela Armas; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Source: OANN

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool

March 20, 2019

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showcased his close relationship with the Trump administration on Wednesday, hosting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo three weeks before an Israeli election.

Washington’s announcement that President Donald Trump, a popular figure among Israelis, had invited Netanyahu to the White House for talks and a dinner two weeks ahead of the April 9 vote was also widely seen in Israel as a boost for the right-wing Likud party chief.

Following a visit to Kuwait, Pompeo met Netanyahu in Jerusalem, where both men hailed U.S.-Israeli ties under Trump, a popular figure among Israelis and a leader whom the prime minister has featured on election billboards.

“We also know that our alliance in recent years has never been stronger,” Netanyahu said in comments to reporters, with Pompeo at his side.

Netanyahu is battling for his political survival against both a strong challenger in centrist candidate Benny Gantz and against plans by Israel’s attorney-general to indict the prime minister, now in his fourth term, in three corruption cases.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and portrayed himself in the election race as a leader with a wealth of international diplomatic experience that Gantz, a former armed forces chief and novice politician, cannot match.

“I look forward to my visit next week to Washington, where I will meet with President Trump, and I believe we can carry this relationship even stronger,” Netanyahu said. “It’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger.”

Angering Palestinians and drawing international concern, Trump broke with decades of U.S. Middle East policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy, which Pompeo will visit on Thursday, to the city last May.

Pompeo, in his remarks, said the Israeli people should have confidence that Trump – who is due to present a peace plan after the Israeli ballot – will maintain a “close bond” with Israel.

“I know that you and the president have an outstanding working relationship,” Pompeo said, addressing Netanyahu. “He sent me here to build upon that and to represent him here.”

Netanyahu said he and Pompeo, at the start of their discussions, examined how to “roll back Iranian aggression” in the region.

Pressure on Iran, Netanyahu said, must be intensified now that the United States has reimposed sanctions on Tehran following Washington’s withdrawal from a 2015 deal with world powers to limit the Iranian nuclear program.

Pompeo and Netanyahu later attended a meeting in Jerusalem with leaders from Cyprus and Greece on the construction of a 2,000 km (1,243 mile) gas pipeline linking vast eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe through those countries and Italy at a cost of $7 billion.

Lebanon – Pompeo’s next stop – has warned its Mediterranean neighbors that the planned EastMed pipeline must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Source: OANN

Shoshana Bryen | Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center

There is a difference between an “honest broker” and a “neutral arbiter.” In advance of the rollout of its Middle East peace plan, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to ensure its role as the honest broker. The U.S. is not “neutral” between our ally, Israel, and the Palestinians who seek to replace it. But it won’t be easy to change presumptions that are deeply embedded in the process.

The State Department’s annual survey of human rights released this month referred to the Golan Heights simply as “Israeli-controlled territory,” ending its tradition of referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “occupied territory.”

To the community of Washington professionals wedded to the “peace process,” that was an outrage! “Poof,” said one prominent commentator. “With a word change, Israel no longer occupies territory, they now control it. The strategic objective of this administration is to change U.S. policy on refugees; Jerusalem; territory. And they’re doing it.”

But the State Department is correct. The West Bank and Gaza are the remains of the British Mandate — in legal limbo since the Jordanians occupied it in 1948. The Golan Heights were captured after a Syrian attack in 1967 and a second Syrian attack in 1973.

For more than 25 years, the on-again-off-again “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians has been predicated on unlikely theories about “peace” and erroneous assumptions about both Palestinians, Israelis, and American foreign policy.

First, the process assumed Israel’s security problems are related to the non-state status of Palestinians — hence the name “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  And the proposed remedy was “the two-state solution,” an independent state for the Palestinians. More precisely, however, it is the “Arab-Israeli conflict” or the “Arab wars against Israel.”  Arab states went to war in 1948 to erase Israel; they failed.

Second, the process assumed that security for Israel would emerge from “peace.” A situation of peace, however, emerges when countries are secure. The 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 got it right, demanding that the Arab states give Israel “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Third, the process presumed that multiple generations of people held in miserable pens in Arab countries meet the world’s definition of “refugees.” They do not. The Palestinian demand though is that generations of progeny must be able to return to places their grandparents and great-grandparents claim to have come from.

Fourth, and most incredible, the “two-state solution” presumed the Palestinians would simply give up deeply held positions on three crucial points — land/borders, refugees, and Jerusalem — as a gift to what they believe are “interlopers” in “their” country. The Galilee, Jaffa, Haifa are all “Palestine” on PA maps. As is Jerusalem. The idea that they would agree that those can be sovereign Israeli territory has no basis in their negotiating history.

For years, the United States was complicit and encouraged these misleading assumptions, treating the Palestinians as if they were actually a country. The PA office in Washington was considered an embassy; the U.S. office in Jerusalem — a consulate, really, from the time that Jordan was occupying Jerusalem and our Embassy was in Amman — served as an embassy to the Palestinian Authority.  

Most damning, the process had assumed that the United States was a neutral arbiter between two equally worthy parties: Israel and the Palestinians. Neutral between Israel — a democratic, diverse, free-market, egalitarian, self-sufficient partner in the military, scientific, and high-tech fields — and the Palestinian Authority — an arm of the PLO, a terrorist, irredentist, kleptocratic, failed government reliant on international handouts that it uses to pay “salaries” to terrorists who kill Jews.

The U.S. should never have allowed itself to be considered neutral — it is an affront to American ideals and principles.

The Trump administration is not neutral.

The PA Washington office is closed and the Jerusalem consulate has been folded into the new American Embassy in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.

The administration has declined to “pay for slay,” reducing aid to the PA by the amount figured to go to terrorists’ “salaries.” Money for UNRWA, overseer of Palestinian refugee camps, has also been reduced. And the president and members of his administration have been outspoken about the American commitment to the security of Israel.

Precise language coupled with specific actions to differentiate the State of Israel from the not-a-state Palestinian Authority sets the stage for the presentation of the administration’s “peace plan” next month. Which, if it proceeds from these new assumptions, will be an important statement about the new realities in the region.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Source: The Daily Caller

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks
Mar 18, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; A view of the arena during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

March 20, 2019

The NBA Summer League will have an international flavor in 2019.

The Chinese and Croatian national teams will join all 30 NBA teams in participating in the league, which will be held July 5-15 in Las Vegas, the NBA announced Wednesday.

Team China played in Las Vegas at the 2007 NBA Summer League, but Team Croatia is making its debut at the event, marking the first time the league will have two international teams.

Each of the 32 teams will play four preliminary games, with the top eight teams seeded into a tournament to determine the champion. Those that don’t make the championship bracket will play a consolation game.

Every NBA team will participate in Las Vegas for the second consecutive year. The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2018 title.

China will host and participate in the 32-team FIBA World Cup, which begins Aug. 31. Croatia did not make the field.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

Iron workers install steel beams during a hot summer day in New York
Iron workers install steel beams during a hot summer day in New York, July 17, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

March 20, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. International Trade Commission said on Wednesday that domestic producers were being harmed by imports of fabricated structural steel from Canada, China and Mexico, keeping alive an investigation that could lead to duties on the products.

The ITC’s preliminary determination ensures that an anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation launched by the U.S. Commerce Department last month will move forward.

U.S. lawmakers, car companies and Canada and Mexico have strongly urged the Trump administration to drop U.S. national security tariffs on steel and aluminum imports after a deal announced last year to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The fabricated structural steel under investigation is used in major building projects, including bridges, office and residential buildings, parking decks and ports.

If the Commerce Department determines the imports are being dumped in the U.S. market at less than fair value, unfairly subsidized, or both, and if the ITC affirms its finding of harm, the United States will impose duties for an initial five years.

The department launched the trade case after receiving a petition from an industry trade group.

The United States imported $658.3 million worth of fabricated structural steel from Canada in 2017, $841.7 million worth from China, and $406.6 million from Mexico.

The Commerce Department alleges there are 44 subsidy programs for Canadian fabricated structural steel, including tax programs, grant programs, loan programs, export insurance programs, and equity programs. There are also 26 subsidy programs for China and 19 subsidy programs for Mexico, according to the agency.

Last month, a Canadian steel industry group said it would strongly oppose anti-dumping duties on certain steel imports from Canada. The Canadian Institute of Steel Construction said allegations “that these products from Canada are unfairly traded and cause injury to U.S. producers of fabricated steel products are baseless.”

(Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander and Susan Thomas)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft at Midway International Airport in Chicago
FILE PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft sit next to the maintenance area after landing at Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Kraczynski

March 20, 2019

By Tracy Rucinski and Allison Lampert

CHICAGO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – U.S. and Canadian airlines that fly the roughly 175-seat aircraft face a logistical challenge: which flights to cancel and which to cover with other planes following the global grounding of Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets.

Southwest Airlines Co and American Airlines Group Inc, the two largest MAX operators in the United States, said they have bolstered their reservation and operations teams to figure out how to spread flight cancellations across their networks, not just on MAX flights.

American Airlines, for example, had most of its 24 MAX jets flying in and out of Miami, where load factors have been full during the Spring Break season.

“We can’t just cancel all of those flights, so the goal is to spread out the cancellations across our entire system to impact the least amount of customers,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

This means that an American Airlines flight from Miami to the Caribbean initially scheduled on a 737 MAX may now fly on a 737-800 with a similar seat configuration, while that 737-800 flight is canceled.

“It’s a challenge to explain to customers who weren’t previously booked on a MAX why their flight is canceled,” Feinstein said.

The 737 MAX jets were grounded last week following two fatal crashes in the past five months, the causes of which are under investigation.

Southwest, the largest MAX operator in the world with 34 jets representing about 5 percent of its total fleet, is cancelling about 150 flights per day due to the grounding, but not all on MAX routes.

Southwest shares were down 2.3 percent on Wednesday and American shares fell 2.1 percent.

Steve West, Senior Director of Southwest’s Operations Control, said the company is trying to cancel flights five days in advance, while looking at issues such as weather that could free up jets, like last week’s snowstorm in Colorado.

Southwest and American were already grappling with a larger than normal number of out-of-service aircraft, further straining their fleets.

So far United Airlines, with 14 MAX aircraft, has not canceled any flights due to the grounding, but has had to put smaller aircraft on some routes and fly the larger 777 to places like Hawaii.

It is unclear how long the grounding will last. Deliveries are also on hold, meaning an additional hit to airlines due to receive more of the jets this year.

Boeing has over 5,000 orders for the MAX, which sold fast thanks to its higher fuel-efficiency and longer range. Now airlines face a dent to 2019 profits.

Calgary-based WestJet said it took steps prior to the MAX grounding to start protecting trans-border flights to sunny destinations that were previously scheduled to fly with the carrier’s 13 MAX planes.

Meanwhile, Air Canada said on Tuesday it would remove its 24 737 MAX aircraft from its schedule until at least July 1, 2019.

“It is easier to put the aircraft back in the schedule than to pull it out,” said a source familiar with the carrier’s thinking, who is not allowed to publicly discuss its strategy.

(GRAPHIC-Boeing 737 MAX deliveries in question link: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hv2btC).

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Source: OANN

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini speaks in the upper house of the Italian parliament, in Rome
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini speaks in the upper house of the Italian parliament, in Rome, Italy March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

March 20, 2019

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) – The Italian parliament on Wednesday blocked prosecutors from pursuing an investigation into Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini for abuse of power and kidnapping migrants.

Salvini, who is interior minister and leader of the right-wing League party, has declared Italy’s ports closed to illegal migrants and asylum seekers since he formed a ruling coalition last year with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

In August, he blocked an Italian coastguard ship with 150 migrants aboard for almost a week off the coast of Sicily before finally letting it dock after Albania, Ireland and Italy’s Catholic Church agreed to house them.

Magistrates subsequently put him under investigation and asked parliament to strip him of his immunity from prosecution, but on Wednesday the upper house, the Senate, threw out the request and said he had been acting in the national interest.

“I hope no one in this chamber … has any difficulty in understanding the concept of nation and national sovereignty,” Salvini told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

“This is why Italians pay my salary: to defend our borders and to maintain the security of our country.”

With voting still under way, Senator Maurizio Gasparri, who heads the panel charged with considering Salvini’s case, said it was already clear that a large majority had voted in his favor.

The issue has sown division within the government and particularly within 5-Star, which has in the past criticized parliamentary maneuvering to halt judicial proceedings against lawmakers.

5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio held an online ballot last month among members, who voted 59-41 percent to protect Salvini.

However, two 5-Star senators said they would ignore that ballot and vote against their coalition ally. These are expected to be expelled from the movement, which would reduce the government’s already slim Senate majority.

An Italian-led push to disrupt smuggling networks and boost Libyan coastguard interceptions helped to reduce the number of migrants who successfully crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Italy by around 80 percent last year, to about 23,000, according to the International Organization for Migration. Some 1,300 died in the attempt.

In the latest of a series of stand-offs involving charity rescue ships, an Italian vessel carrying 49 African migrants was escorted into the port of Lampedusa by police on Tuesday, with Salvini calling for the crew to be arrested.

Prosecutors on Wednesday ordered the ship to be seized and opened an investigation into the captain on suspicion of aiding and abetting human trafficking.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Source: OANN

Man is seen in front of an electronic board showing stock information on the first day of trading in the Year of the Pig at a brokerage house in Hangzhou
FILE PHOTO: A man is seen in front of an electronic board showing stock information on the first day of trading in the Year of the Pig, following the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, at a brokerage house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

March 20, 2019

By Helen Reid

LONDON (Reuters) – After plowing billions into emerging market equities since October, investors have started to show signs of hesitation, but an uptick in earnings expectations should reassure those hoping to capitalize on stronger economic growth in the emerging world.

Emerging equity funds have suffered outflows over the past three weeks, according to EPFR data, and investors in a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey described emerging markets as the “most crowded trade”.

Year-to-date net fund flows into emerging markets total $15.7 billion, against $61.8 billion exiting developed markets, and global asset allocators have been increasing their exposure, betting that the worst is over and a declining dollar will help emerging economies.

Francois Savary, chief investment officer at wealth manager Prime Partners, who has an overweight on emerging equities in his asset allocation, said investors are searching for growth in a world where it is looking increasingly scarce.

“It’s not only a play on the last phase of the cycle, it is the fact that we have doubts about the U.S. economy down the road,” added Savary.

The relative health of emerging companies’ earnings compared to the rest of the world is a central draw. Analysts have increased their expectations for EM earnings growth this month while forecasts slide everywhere else.

Emerging markets valuations and return on equity March 20: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Cv5flh

Emerging earnings growth by country: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Cv4j0f

Small versus large emerging markets MARCH 20: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hy0dJ5

emerging markets earnings growth expectations inch higher March 20: https://tmsnrt.rs/2HwrlIk

CHINA GOLD RUSH

The inclusion of China’s domestic A-Shares into MSCI’s emerging markets index has also been a game-changer, making it far easier for international investors to access Chinese stocks.

Data from the Institute of International Finance showed that the lion’s share of emerging market equity inflows – $10.6 billion of a total of $13.9 billion in February – piled into Chinese stocks.

“The Tencents, Alibabas and Baidus of this world are not just Chinese growth stories, they’re becoming global international growth stories,” said Edmund Shing, head of equities and derivatives strategy at BNP Paribas in London.

“From that point of view, people are coming back to that sector and thinking that’s a better place to be. I would argue these leading technology companies are more innovative than their U.S. counterparts,” he added.

But investors are treading with caution, having learnt the hard way not to be too hopeful after many false dawns.

“No-one is breaking out the champagne on this. We’re just hoping we get a decent year, and arguing that U.S. valuations versus EM are quite stretched,” said Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital.

Return on equity across emerging markets has risen to a five-year high, while valuations, at 11.6 times forward earnings, are 30 percent cheaper than the S&P 500.

With the sugar rush of U.S. tax cuts wearing off, U.S. profit margins look set to wane while EM margins have further to go.

Earnings for EM overall are expected to grow 6.8 percent this year – down from the 12 percent growth expected back in September, but still set to outpace the United States.

Thawing China-U.S. trade relations have also helped buoy the market.

“Because they’re seeing macro getting better, trade getting better, China doing the right things, as long as they can see that forward progress they can feel that some level of past disappointment can be just that – in the past,” said Andrew Jones, emerging markets equity portfolio manager at Pinebridge Investments in New York.

A “CROWDED TRADE”?

The BAML survey could be a bad omen for emerging markets. Previous “crowded trades” include bitcoin and the FAANGs, which went on to slide significantly.

On Tuesday, the latest survey showed short European equities had succeeded EM, however, comforting investors who say the asset class hasn’t reached the eye-watering valuations characteristic of such trades.

“When I meet clients there is certainly a lot of interest, but have people really started to move? I would say no,” said Robert Horrocks, chief investment officer at Matthews Asia.

The market is not factoring in the idea there could be a sustained earnings cycle in Asia, he added, saying Asian earnings could outgrow Europe by 3 to 5 percentage points.

Some, like Peter Elam Hakansson, chairman and CIO at East Capital in Stockholm, are homing in on specific countries where they see particularly strong earnings growth.

“Some of the most interesting developments will be in Brazil and Russia where you had some very nice earnings growth but the market is not really appreciating it,” said Hakansson.

Brazil and Russia have delivered the strongest year-on-year earnings growth of top EM countries, while Taiwan and South Korea – hit by U.S.-China trade tariffs – have had sharply negative earnings growth.

Data from Copley Fund Research shows that emerging market funds are overweight India and consumer staples stocks, while the biggest underweights are Taiwan, South Korea, communication services, and China and Hong Kong.

Others are seeking contrarian plays in the context of a U.S.-China trade war potentially nearing its end.

Al Bryant, EM portfolio manager at River & Mercantile in Chicago, said he holds some Chinese port operators.

“Global trade isn’t going away,” he said. “That’s our one option play, if you will, on a (trade) compromise coming out.”

Bryant is also focusing on small-cap stocks, which have a better earnings growth outlook while trading at lower valuations than large-caps.

“Small-caps are tilted away from state-owned enterprises, more tilted to privately owned and consumer companies whose story is a lot more attuned to the consumer demand you’re seeing in EM,” Bryant said.

(Reporting by Helen Reid, Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker and Josephine Mason, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Ford logo is seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan
FILE PHOTO: The Ford logo is seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

March 20, 2019

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co said on Wednesday it is adding production of a fully electric vehicle at a second North American plant as part of its $11 billion investment plan set last year.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker said it is investing about $900 million in southeast Michigan and creating 900 jobs through 2023 as part of its electric vehicle push. That includes a plan to invest more than $850 million to expand production capacity at its Flat Rock, Michigan, plant to build EVs.

“When we were taking a look at our $11 billion investment in electrification, it became obvious to us that we were going to need a second plant in the not-too-distant future to add capacity for our battery electric vehicles,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations, said in a telephone interview.

Ford is negotiating an alliance with Germany’s Volkswagen AG to work together on electric and autonomous vehicles. Hinrichs said those talks have been positive, but that there was nothing to announce.

Ford in January 2018 said it would increase its planned investments in electric vehicles to $11 billion by 2022 and have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its model lineup. That investment figure was up from the previous target of $4.5 billion by 2020.

Automakers have been boosting investment in the development of EVs in part because of pressure from regulators in China, Europe and California to slash carbon emissions from fossil fuels. They also are being pushed by electric carmakers like Tesla Inc.

Of the 40 vehicles, Ford said at the time that 16 would be fully electric and the rest would be plug-in hybrids.

The Flat Rock plant, which currently employs 3,400 people, builds the Ford Mustang and Lincoln Continental cars. The plant investment includes adding a second shift and funding to build the next-generation Mustang.

Ford already was planning an all-electric sport utility vehicle in 2020 that will be built at its Cuautitlan, Mexico, plant.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker also said on Wednesday that it will build its first self-driving vehicles for use by commercial customers at a new manufacturing center in southeast Michigan starting in 2021, and will build its next-generation North American Transit Connect commercial and passenger van in Mexico starting that same year.

The next-generation Transit Connect small van will be built at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico, plant and increases U.S. and Canadian vehicle content consistent with the proposed new North American trade agreement, the company said. The vehicle is now built in Spain.

Hinrichs said he is optimistic Congress will approve the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Source: OANN


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