World

An Iraqi soldier stands next to a military vehicle at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations headquarters of several oil companies in Basra
An Iraqi soldier stands next to a military vehicle at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations headquarters of several oil companies at Burjesia area, in Basra, Iraq June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani

June 19, 2019

By Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – A rocket hit a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies on Wednesday, including U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, wounding three people and threatening to further escalate U.S.-Iran tensions in the region.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near Iraq’s southern city of Basra, the fourth time in a week that rockets have struck near U.S. installations.

Three previous attacks on or near military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and Mosul caused no casualties or major damage. None of those incidents were claimed.

An Iraqi security source said it appeared that Iran-backed groups in southern Iraq were behind the Basra incident.

“According to our sources, the team (that launched the rocket) is made up of more than one group and were well trained in missile launching,” the security source said.

He said they had received a tip-off several days ago the U.S. consulate in Basra might be targeted but were taken by surprise when the rocket hit the oil site.

Abbas Maher, mayor of the nearby town of Zubair, said he believed Iran-backed groups had specifically targeted Exxon to “send a message” to the United States.

U.S.-Iranian hostility has risen since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers in May last year.

Trump has since reimposed and extended U.S. sanctions on Iran, forcing states to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own. Tehran has threatened to abandon the nuclear pact unless other signatories act to rein in the United States.

The U.S. face-off with Iran reached a new pitch following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June that Washington blames on Tehran. Iran denies any involvement.

ESCALATION FEARED

While the long-time foes say they do not want war, the United States has reinforced its military presence in the region and analysts say violence could nonetheless escalate.

Some Western officials have said the recent attacks appear designed to show Iran could sow chaos if it wanted.

Iraqi officials fear their country, where powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias operate in close proximity to some 5,200 U.S. troops, could become an arena for escalation.

The United States has pressed Iraq’s government to rein in Iran-backed paramilitary groups, a tall order for a cabinet that suffers from its own political divisions.

Iraq’s military said three people were wounded in Wednesday’s strike by a short-range Katyusha missile. It struck the Burjesia site, west of Basra, which is near the Zubair oilfield operated Italy’s Eni SpA.

Police said the rocket landed 100 meters from the part of the site used as a residence and operations center by Exxon. Some 21 Exxon staff were evacuated by plane to Dubai, a security source said.

Zubair mayor Maher said the rocket was fired from farmland around three to four kilometers (2 miles) from the site. A second rocket landed to the northwest of Burjesia, near a site of oil services company Oilserv, but did not explode, he said.

“We cannot separate this from regional developments, meaning the U.S.-Iranian conflict,” Maher said.

“These incidents have political objectives … it seems some sides did not like the return of Exxon staff.”

EXPORTS UNAFFECTED

Exxon had evacuated its staff from Basra after a partial U.S. Baghdad embassy evacuation in May and staff had just begun to return.

Burjesia is also used as a headquarters by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Eni., according to Iraqi oil officials.

The officials said operations including exports from southern Iraq were not affected.

A separate Iraqi oil official, who oversees foreign operations in the south, said the other foreign firms had no plans to evacuate and would operate as normal.

A Shell spokesman said its employees had “not been subject to the attack … and we continue normal operations in Iraq.”

Wednesday’s rocket strike fits into a pattern of attacks since May, when four tankers in the Gulf and two Saudi oil pumping stations were attacked.

They have been accompanied by a spate of incidents inside Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, which is allied both to the United States and fellow Shi’ite Muslim Iran.

The attacks in Iraq have caused less damage but have all taken place near U.S. military, diplomatic or civilian installations, raising suspicions they were part of a campaign.

A rocket landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last month causing no damage or casualties. The United States had already evacuated hundreds of diplomatic staff from the embassy, citing unspecified threats from Iran.

Iran backs a number of Iraqi Shi’ite militias which have grown more powerful after helping defeat Islamic State.

Iraqi officials say that threats from Iran cited by Washington when it sent additional forces to the Middle East last month included the positioning by Iran-backed militias of rockets near U.S. forces.

Rockets hit on or near three separate military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul in three separate attacks since Friday.

(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Jon Boyle and Andrew Cawthorne)

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Russian national Oleg Pulatov, accused of downing of flight MH17, is seen in this handout photo
Russian national Oleg Pulatov, one of the accused of downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, nearly five years after the crash that killed 298 passengers and crew, is seen in this handout photo released by Dutch Police and obtained by Reuters on June 19, 2019. Dutch Police/Handout via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine which killed 298 people, in a trial to start in the Netherlands next March, an investigation team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia, however, as the Netherlands has said Russia has not cooperated with the investigation and is not expected to hand anyone over.

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians”, said Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.

The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.

Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.

“The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.

Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone on board was killed.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests.” There were 10 Britons on the flight.

RUSSIAN MISSILE

Most of those on board were Dutch. The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.

The governments of the Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Russia legally responsible.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”

Moscow has said it does not trust the investigation.

“Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The investigation team said Girkin was a former FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the summer of 2014.

It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov was head of a second department of the DNR military intelligence agency. Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the plane came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterda, Maria Vasilyeva and Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow; Editing Hugh Lawson and Janet Lawrence)

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FILE PHOTO - Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the Arab summit in Mecca
FILE PHOTO – Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed

June 19, 2019

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruling emir arrived on a state visit to Iraq on Wednesday and is expected to discuss escalating regional tensions after attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was met by Iraq’s president, oil minister and other senior Iraqi officials and will discuss bilateral ties and recent regional and international developments, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said.

The two OPEC member states transport most of their crude through the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes, and near where six tankers have been attacked in the past month.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the attacks, which Tehran denies. Kuwait has described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security, without assigning blame.

(Reporting by Iraq Newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

June 19, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Evidence suggests Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials are liable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.N. rights investigator said on Wednesday.

There was no immediate reaction from Riyadh which was sent the 100-page report in advance – but the kingdom has regularly denied accusations that the prince was involved.

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called for countries to widen sanctions to include the Crown Prince and his personal assets, until and unless he can prove he has no responsibility.

Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.

His body was dismembered and removed from the building, the Saudi prosecutor has said, and his remains have not been found.

“It is the conclusion of the Special Rapporteur that Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law,” Callamard said in her report based on a six-month investigation.

Callamard went to Turkey earlier this year with a team of forensic and legal experts and said she received evidence from Turkish authorities.

“There is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s”, she said.

“Indeed, this human rights inquiry has shown that there is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the Crown Prince demanding further investigation,” she added, urging U.N. Secretary-General to establish an international probe.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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A North Korean flag is seen on the top of its embassy in Beijing
FILE PHOTO – A North Korean flag is seen on the top of its embassy in Beijing, China, February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

June 19, 2019

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has provided its largest food and aid donation since 2008 to U.N. aid program in North Korea, officials said on Wednesday, amid warnings that millions of dollars more is needed to make up for food shortages.

South Korea followed through on a promise to donate $4.5 million to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), and announced it was also providing 50,000 tonnes of rice for delivery to its northern neighbor.

North Korea has said it is facing droughts, and U.N. aid agencies have said food production fell “dramatically” last year, leaving more than 10 million North Koreans at risk.

“This is the largest donation from the Republic of Korea to WFP DPRK since 2008 and will support 1.5 to 2 million children, pregnant and nursing mothers,” WFP senior spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement, referring to his agency’s operation in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

More aid would be needed, however, to make up for the shortfalls, he said.

“WFP estimates that at least 300,000 metric tons of food, valued at $275 million, is needed to scale up humanitarian assistance in support of those people most affected by significant crop losses over successive seasons,” Verhoosel said.

North Korea is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

While inter-Korean engagement spiked last year amid a push to resolve the nuclear standoff, Seoul’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang have been less successful after a second U.S.-North Korea summit ended with no agreement in February.

SANCTIONS A PROBLEM

South Korea would work with the WFP to get the aid as quickly as possible to the North Korean people who need, the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said in a statement.

“The timing and scale of additional food assistance to North Korea will be determined in consideration of the outcome of the aid provision this time,” the ministry said.

According to South Korean officials the rice is worth 127 billion won ($108 million).

The government would aim to have the rice delivered before September, and officials were in touch with counterparts in North Korea, Unification minister Kim Yeon-chul told reporters.

South Korea’s Agriculture Ministry said the last time South Korea sent rice to North Korea was in 2010, when 5,000 tonnes were donated. The largest donation ever was in 2005 when South Korean sent 500,000 tonnes of rice.

Seoul also recently donated $3.5 million to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for humanitarian projects in North Korea.

Technically humanitarian aid is not blocked by the sanctions, but aid organizations said sanctions enforcement and a U.S. ban on its citizens traveling to North Korea had slowed and in some cases prevented aid from reaching the country.

Aid shipments have also been controversial because of fears that North Korea’s authoritarian government would divert the supplies or potentially profit off it.

Verhoosel said the WFP would require “high standards for access and monitoring” to be in place before distributing any aid.

In March, Russia donated more than 2,000 tonnes of wheat to the WFP’s North Korea program.

(Reporting by Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin.; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a joint news conference with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a joint news conference with visiting U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

June 19, 2019

By Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced stiff opposition criticism on Wednesday after a report warned that many retirees won’t be able to live on pensions alone, a topic likely to become an issue in an election for parliament’s upper house.

Abe has made reform of the social security system a top priority to cope with Japan’s fast-ageing, shrinking population.

But the furor over the report and Finance Minister Taro Aso’s refusal to accept its findings have created a headache for Abe’s coalition ahead of the upper house poll and amid speculation that the premier may also call a snap election for the more powerful lower chamber.

A report this month by advisers to the Financial Services Agency (FSA) said a model case couple would need $185,000 in addition to their pensions if they lived for 30 years after retiring.

The report was meant to highlight the need to plan ahead for retirement but instead gave opposition parties ammunition to blast Abe’s government.

“What is making lots of people angry is that you are simply stressing stability (of the system) and not addressing their anxiety head-on,” Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told Abe during debate before a parliamentary panel.

Abe said the report had caused “misunderstandings” and reiterated the government’s position that reforms to the pension system implemented in 2004 had ensured its sustainability.

Pensions are a particularly sensitive topic for Abe.

His Liberal Democratic Party suffered a massive defeat in a 2007 upper house election during his first stint as premier partly because of voter outrage over misplaced pension records. Two months later, Abe resigned.

Abe’s ruling bloc is unlikely to lose its upper house majority but the fuss has trimmed his support and a weak performance would hamper efforts to cement his legacy.

Aso, 78, the wealthy scion of an elite political family, also said he’d never worried about supporting himself as he aged and didn’t know if he was receiving a pension.

“INCONVENIENT TRUTH”

That many retirees cannot subsist on pensions alone and will outlive their savings is one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets and one reason Abe is considering raising the retirement age.

“The FSA has done exactly what it is supposed to do — not be afraid to uncover inconvenient truths,” said Jesper Koll, CEO of asset manager WisdomTree Japan.

Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, said Aso’s rejection of the report had deepened public unease.

“Holding back, hiding or even falsifying information just because an election is near does not help you win trust for the government nor for the pension system,” he told Abe.

Japan’s life expectancy is the highest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries at 87.1 years for women and 81 years for men. The World Economic Forum last week forecast Japanese men could be expected to outlive their savings by 15 years and women by almost two decades.

About 54% of Japanese who get public pensions rely on them for their entire income, according to 2015 government data.

Opposition parties have also used the FSA report to renew questions about the sustainability of the public pension system.

The government in 2004 adopted reforms it said had made the system sustainable for the next 100 years, a pledge many private economists, opposition lawmakers and ordinary Japanese question.

“People knew, even before the release of report, that there will be many economic problems after their retirement,” said Yu Nakahigashi, 40, a self-employed businessman. “I don’t want them to hide the truth from the public.”.

(Additional reporting by Yuri Harada; editing by Darren Schuettler and Nick Macfie)

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FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

June 19, 2019

By Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Human rights groups on Wednesday called on Southeast Asian leaders to rethink their approach to the Rohingya refugee crisis ahead of a regional summit in Bangkok this week.

Myanmar regards Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to camps in its western Rakhine State since violence swept the area in 2012.

More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017, according to U.N. agencies, after a crackdown by Myanmar’s military sparked by Rohingya insurgent attacks on the security forces.

The Rohingya issue, especially their repatriation from Bangladesh, is expected to be a major topic during four days of meetings among leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand from Thursday.

Human rights activists say the bloc should not rush to get involved in the repatriation without addressing the root causes of their displacement.

“ASEAN needs to stop turning a blind eye to Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, and cease lending legitimacy to the repatriation process,” Eva Sundari, an Indonesian lawmaker and a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

U.N. investigators have said the 2017 Myanmar military operation that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in the north of Rakhine State was in response to the attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

But rights groups say conditions in Rakhine State are not conducive to the safe return of refugees.

“ASEAN seems intent on discussing the future of the Rohingya without condemning – or even acknowledging – the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against them,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of the Human Rights Watch.

“It’s preposterous for ASEAN leaders to be discussing the repatriation of a traumatized population into the hands of the security forces who killed, raped, and robbed them.”

Mostly Buddhist Myanmar is a member of ASEAN. The grouping includes Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, where the plight of the Rohingya is of particular concern.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rejected any suggestion the grouping, which is under Thailand’s chairmanship this year, would gloss over Myanmar’s action, but at the same time, said ASEAN would not be apportioning blame.

“This is not about whitewashing anyone,” he told Reuters.

“ASEAN is not here to point to who is right or wrong, our concern is the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in refugee camps who should begin to take their first step to making a return”.

Repatriation would only take place on a voluntarily basis, and with the consent of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea in an exodus that peaked in 2015, crossing the Andaman Sea to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Last week, a boat carrying 65 Rohingya arrived at a southern Thai island, raising concern that there could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea after a 2015 regional crackdown on trafficking.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo, Japan June 18, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday said he did not have the slightest idea of dissolving parliament’s lower house for a snap election.

He was speaking in parliament in reply to an opposition question. Speculation has swirled that Abe may call a poll for the lower chamber to coincide with an election for the upper house that must be held this summer.

(Writing by Linda Sieg)

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U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi attends a news conference in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference on the annual Global Trends report on forced displacement at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

June 19, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Developing countries, not rich Western nations, are bearing the brunt of the world’s refugee crisis and are hosting most of the record 70.8 million displaced people who have fled war and persecution, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Half of the world’s forcibly displaced are children and the 2018 total is the highest in nearly 70 years, the U.N. refugee agency said in its annual flagship report, Global Trends.

But the global figure, which comprises 25.9 million refugees, 41.3 million people uprooted within their homelands, and 3.5 million asylum-seekers, is “conservative”, it said.

That is because it does not include most of the 4 million Venezuelans who have fled abroad since 2015 as they do not need visas or to lodge asylum claims to stay in most host countries. If the outflow continues, a total of 5 million Venezuelans could have left by year-end, it said.

“Certainly if the situation is not solved politically in Venezuela, with a political agreement, we will see a continuation of this exodus,” Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told a news briefing.

Venezuelans, arriving mainly in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, formed the second biggest flow abroad last year, after Syrians fleeing to Turkey following eight years of war, the report said.

“When you say Europe has a refugee emergency, or the United States, or Australia – no. Most of the refugees are in fact in the country next to where the war is, and unfortunately that means mostly in poor countries or in middle-income countries,” Grandi said.

“That’s where the crisis is, that’s need where we need to focus,” he told a news briefing.

More than two-thirds of the world’s refugees come from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, the report said.

ASYLUM CLAIMS

U.S. President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration along the border with Mexico one of his signature policy pledges.

Central Americans reaching the United States after fleeing violence or persecution in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are entitled to request asylum, Grandi said.

The United States should give such people a fair hearing and not separate children from their parents, he said, adding that his agency stood ready to help U.S. authorities deal with the challenge.

With 254,300 asylum claims lodged in 2018, the United States is the world’s largest recipient of applications, the report said.

But Grandi said the United States has a huge backlog of 800,000 cases to be processed and that his agency was also helping Mexico to beef up its capacity to handle asylum-seekers.

Asked whether Trump’s policies had made the work of UNHCR more difficult, he said: “It’s not just in the United States, in Europe as well, and Australia.

“This is the crisis of solidarity that I have mentioned. It is identifying refugees and migrants with a problem instead of people that are fleeing from a problem,” he said.

In Europe, the issue has been heavily politicized, leaving some governments “terrified” to commit to take in people rescued at sea after fleeing Libya or other conflict zones, Grandi said.

“So the appeal I make, now that we are in a situation where European (Parliament) elections are behind us, is to stop this electoral agitation. The numbers arriving in Europe are frankly manageable,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at his official residence after an earthquake, in Tokyo, Japan June 18, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY, AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.

June 19, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – A strong and shallow earthquake struck Japan’s northwest coast around Niigata prefecture on Tuesday, triggering a small tsunami, shaking buildings and cutting power to around 9,000 buildings.

The magnitude 6.4 quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lasted for as long as 20 seconds and damage included a landslide that struck a road, according to public broadcaster NHK. There were no initial reports of fatalities or fires.

Authorities lifted a 0.2-1.0 meter tsunami warning for the region after waves several centimeters high struck parts of the Niigata coast.

A tsunami of up to one meter could have caused some flooding and damage in low-lying coastal areas and river banks, though much of Japan’s coastline is guarded by sea walls.

“We will work closely with local authorities to provide any disaster measures including lifesaving and rescue operations and have instructed officials to provide information in a timely and accurate manner,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga – the top government spokesman – told a media briefing.

The quake struck at 10.22 p.m. local time (1322 GMT Thursday) at a depth of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), the USGS said.

It measured 6.7 according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, and in some places was as high as a strong six on the agency’s seven-point “Shindo”, or Seismic Intensity Scale, which measures ground motion at specific points unlike magnitude which expresses the amount of energy released.

Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant was not affected by the quake, which hit 85 km ( 53 miles) northeast of the site. All of its seven reactors were already shut down, NHK said.

A Tepco spokesman said an initial inspection showed no damage to the plant, and inspectors would carry out more detailed checks.

The quake also temporarily halted express bullet train services in the region, with some roads also closed, according to NHK.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Elaine Lies, Linda Sieg, Takaya Yamaguchi and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Catherine Evans and John Stonestreet)

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FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Istana in Singapore
FILE PHOTO: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at the Istana in Singapore, June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim

June 19, 2019

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will need to secure just three votes in the country’s upper house to pass legislation after election results on Wednesday showed his government picked up four additional Senate seats.

Morrison’s position will be tested when he seeks to pass his major re-election policy of A$158 billion in tax cuts when lawmakers return to parliament for the first time since the election — expected to be in the first week of July.

Morrison secured re-election in May when his coalition won a majority of seats in Australia’s lower house – a result he declared as a political miracle.

Confirming the final results for the Senate, the Australian Electoral Commission said Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition won 19 of the 40 seats contested.

These lawmakers will now sit alongside 16 government Senators who were not up for re-election this year, giving Morrison 35 of the 76-seats in Australia’s Senate.

The government previously held 31 seats, leaving them dependent on the support of independents to pass legislation.

While Morrison remains shy of an outright majority, several right-wing independents are expected to support the bulk of his legislation.

“The government has struggled for years to pass legislation. This Senate will be much friendlier, and the bulk of Morrison’s agenda will become law,” said Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University, told Reuters.

The conservative government in April proposed A$158 billion in tax cuts over the next decade, primarily aimed at middle-income earners.

While Australia’s opposition Labor party has promised to support the tax cuts for the lower income earners, it has said it will oppose the third stage of the fiscal plan that delivers tax cuts that favor higher earners.

Morrison has said the tax cuts will not be split, setting the stage for a political fight amid calls for urgent fiscal stimulus to boost a flagging economy.

Australia’s central bank earlier this month cut interest rates for the first time in nearly three years, though it warned the economy needed additional support.

Should Morrison win enough support for his tax plan, about 10 million middle- and low-income earners – will receive up to A$1,080 ($742.72) per person.

Economists have estimated the tax breaks would inject about A$7.5 billion into the economy over 2019/20.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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General view of a landscape of partially thawed Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay
General view of a landscape of partially thawed Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay, Canada, in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. The image was captured in 2016 by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who were amazed to find the permafrost thawing 70 years faster than models predicted. Louise Farquharson/Handout via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

By Matthew Green

LONDON (Reuters) – Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.

A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.

“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”

With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.

The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analyzing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement.

Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.

The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.

“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.”

Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.

Even if current commitments to cut emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement are implemented, the world is still far from averting the risk that these kinds of feedback loops will trigger runaway warming, according to models used by the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilization in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.

“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately.”

(Reporting by Matthew Green; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a video conference with Facebook Inc's Mark Zuckerberg at National Palace in Mexico City
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a video conference with Facebook Inc’s Mark Zuckerberg at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 18, 2019. Press Office Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador/Handout via REUTERS

June 19, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he spoke with Facebook Inc’s Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, inviting the social media tycoon to partner with him in a bid to promote universal internet access in Mexico.

    Lopez Obrador posted on both Facebook and Twitter a short clip of his video conference with Zuckerberg in which the president notes that a fifth of Mexico’s population does not have internet access and that he would like better connectivity to help improve social conditions, especially among the poor.

    “This is a program to communicate, inform, improve education, health at a very low cost,” said Lopez Obrador, who later invited Zuckerberg to participate in an unspecified form of partnership with the government.

    Zuckerberg does not speak in the clip, and Lopez Obrador did not give additional details of the partnership beyond suggesting the effort should build on existing infrastructure, especially electricity lines, and that it should not seek to turn a profit.

    “We had the opportunity to discuss the life-changing potential of connectivity with President Lopez Obrador,” a Facebook representative said in a statement to Reuters.

    The representative did not confirm any potential tie-ups between the company and the Mexican government to boost internet access, but instead pointed to existing partnerships with internet providers “to create thousands of WiFi hot spots and boost access in rural communities across Mexico.”

    To date, the social network has partnered with providers including Viasat and Hughes in Mexico.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker)

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An image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China's President Xi Jinping is displayed during a North Korean delegation's visit in Beijing
An image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s President Xi Jinping is displayed during a North Korean delegation’s visit in Beijing, China, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 30, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS

June 18, 2019

SEOUL (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China supports North Korea’s “correct direction” in resolving the issue of the Korean peninsula politically, according to North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday.

In an front page Rodong Sinmun op-ed, Xi said that “we will actively contribute to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region by strengthening communication and coordination with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” according to the newspaper. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is North Korea’s official name.

Xi is set to visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday, making him the first Chinese leader to visit in 14 years.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in London
Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump, in London, Britain, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

June 18, 2019

(Reuters) – British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn will back a move on Wednesday for Labour party to change its Brexit policy and support a second referendum in all circumstances, The Times reported, citing a senior Labour source.

Labour, which along with the Conservatives saw its support slump at the European elections as voters expressed their frustration over Brexit deadlock, is divided over whether to unequivocally support holding a second referendum.

Corbyn has so far only said the option of another Brexit vote should be kept on the table, along with a national election. The prospect poses a dilemma as many of the party’s supporters backed Brexit.

(Reporting by Ishita Chigilli Palli in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese)

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Argentine politician Sergio Massa arrives for a meeting with presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires
Argentine politician Sergio Massa arrives for a meeting with presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez (not pictured), in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

June 18, 2019

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine politician Sergio Massa, who recently pledged his support to the main opposition challengers to President Mauricio Macri, is in line to play a key role in the country’s Congress if his new allies win national elections later this year.

The former chief of staff said on Tuesday he would be the first on a list of candidates to lead the Chamber of Deputies, one of the country’s two houses of Congress, if Peronist hopeful Alberto Fernandez wins the presidency.

Massa, a centrist politician who had himself eyed a presidential run, struck an alliance last week with Fernandez and his unrelated running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who served as president from 2007 to 2015.

The alliance – which had raised the question of what role Massa would take – is expected to widen the appeal of the Fernandez-Fernandez ticket to more moderate voters, particularly in the key province of Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s National Congress is comprised of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

“Beyond my personal interest, our biggest responsibility is to give Argentines the possibility to build a majority to have a new government,” Massa said during a seminar in Buenos Aires.

The Fernandez-Fernandez pairing will take on center-right leader Macri in elections in October. If no candidate wins 45% of votes in the first round of voting – or wins at least 40% with a 10 percentage point margin over the second-place finisher – the race will go to a runoff in November.

Macri, who has been hit hard in the polls by a painful economic recession and market volatility, will seek re-election with running mate Miguel Ángel Pichetto, another moderate Peronist.

(Reporting by Gabriel Burin; writing by Adam Jourdan; editing by Leslie Adler)

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FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson, leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, leaves home in London
FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson, leadership candidate for Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister, leaves home in London, Britain, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

June 18, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, won the most votes cast in the second round of voting for Conservative Party leader on Tuesday, with four other candidates also getting through.

Johnson, a former London mayor and foreign minister, won 126 votes, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in second place on 46 votes and environment minister Michael Gove third with 41 votes.

The international development minister Rory Stewart was fourth on 37 votes and the interior minister Sajid Javid was fifth on 33 votes.

One candidate — former Brexit minister Dominic Raab — was eliminated after he failed to receive the required minimum of 33 votes.

Now the remaining candidates will face further votes to whittle down the contest to two, when Conservative members will decide who will become leader, and Britain’s next prime minister.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper. Editing by Andrew MacAskill)

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FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

June 18, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations extrajudicial executions investigator, Agnes Callamard, will to issue her report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Wednesday, a statement said.

Callamard, who has led an international inquiry into Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, said after a visit to Turkey this year that the evidence pointed to a brutal crime “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials.

The CIA and some Western countries believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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FILE PHOTO: District President of Kassel Walter Luebcke, found dead in Wolfhagen-Istha
FILE PHOTO: View of the house of District President of Kassel Walter Luebcke, who was found dead, is pictured in Wolfhagen-Istha near Kassel, Germany, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

June 18, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – The murder of a prominent politician by a suspected right-wing radical is an assault on Germany’s democratic system and should serve as a wake-up call, the interior minister said on Tuesday, pledging to combat all forms of extremism.

The arrest of a right-winger over the shooting two weeks ago of Walter Luebcke, a regional ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel known for his pro-migrant views, shocked Germany and prompted calls for a more pro-active government response to anti-immigrant extremists.

“Right-wing extremism is a serious danger for our free society. We must fight it with all we can,” Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian who opposed the open-door migrant policy Merkel operated in 2015-16, told a news conference.

“The attack on a representative of our state is an alarm signal … combating extremism and terrorism of all kinds is a central matter for this government,” he said.

Germany is home to some 12,700 potentially violent far-right radicals, domestic intelligence agency BfV estimates, and a Civey poll showed 60 percent of Germans think the government is doing too little to oppose them.

Luebcke, the head of the district government in Kassel in the state of Hesse, was shot in the head at close range on the terrace of his home two weeks ago. A 45-year-old named by police as Stephan E. was arrested at the weekend after they found his DNA at the scene.

Investigators said he was a known right-wing radical in the 1980s and 1990s. He had been a member of a shooting club but did not have a gun license.

German media have reported that the suspect was a member of an armed branch of the banned ‘Blood and Honour’ European network of neo-Nazis, but Seehofer said it was unclear whether he was part of a group or a loose network of right-wing extremists.

Germany was shaken by the chance discovery in 2011 of a neo-Nazi cell, the National Socialist Underground whose members murdered eight Turks, a Greek man and a German policewoman from 2000 to 2007.

After fierce criticism of the intelligence agencies and police for underestimating the risk of far-right violence, reforms were introduced, such as closer coordination between agencies and regions.

BfV chief Thomas Haldenwang said much had changed. “But in view of the scale of the threat from the right, we are not in a position to say we have mastered (it),” he told reporters.

Last year, Germany was shaken by violent right-wing protests in the eastern town of Chemnitz after the killing of a Cuban-German citizen for which two immigrants were arrested. Soon after, the then head of the BfV was ousted after he was accused of harboring right-wing sympathies.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by John Stonestreet)

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FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a news conference at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (not pictured) at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo

June 18, 2019

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government’s top diplomat warned on Tuesday that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced U.S. pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of a landmark nuclear deal.

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, more than a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Iran denied involvement in the tanker attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on the same day the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

Speaking in Beijing after meeting Syria’s foreign minister, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters that China was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension and not head towards a clash.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the U.S. side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said.

“Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said that the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and he urged Iran to be prudent.

“We understand that relevant parties may have different concerns but first of all the comprehensive nuclear deal should be properly implemented,” he added. “We hope that Iran is cautious with its decision-making and not lightly abandon this agreement.”

At the same time, China hopes other parties respect Iran’s legitimate lawful rights and interests, Wang said.

China and Iran have close energy ties, and China has been angered by U.S. threats against countries and companies that violate U.S. sanctions by importing Iranian oil, including Chinese firms.

China has had to walk a fine line as it has also been cultivating relations with Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, the Asian giant’s top oil supplier.

Iran’s foreign minister has visited China twice this year already. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has also visited Beijing this year.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Se Young Lee and Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

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German Chancellor Merkel and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy at the Chancellery in Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meet at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

June 18, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was seen shaking when she met visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier on Tuesday, said she had since drunk water and was feeling better.

Merkel looked as if she were struggling to stand up while she and Zelenskiy listened to national anthems during military honors upon his arrival.

“Since then I have drunk at least three glasses of water – I obviously needed that and so I’m doing very well now,” Merkel said during a joint news conference with Zelenskiy in Berlin.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander Wolters speaks during NATO Baltic air policing mission takeover ceremony in Siauliai
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander Tod D. Wolters speaks during NATO Baltic air policing mission takeover ceremony in Siauliai, Lithuania August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

June 18, 2019

LE BOURGET, Paris (Reuters) – U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar remain in contact about Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defence system, and may meet during NATO meetings in Brussels next week, NATO’s commander told Reuters.

U.S. General Tod Wolters said the military-to-military relationship between the United States and NATO remained “absolutely, positively solid,” despite Washington’s decision to cancel Turkey’s purchase of F-35 stealth fighters if it proceeds with its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.

“We won’t co-locate those two assets, the S-400 and the F-35,” Wolters said at the Paris Airshow. “I know there’ll be follow on dialogue to work on … details between Minister Akar and Secretary Shanahan. As a matter of fact there may the opportunity to meet next week at the ministerials in NATO.”

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)

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PM hopeful Boris Johnson leaves his home in London
PM hopeful Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, Britain, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

June 18, 2019

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson got a further boost in his campaign to become Britain’s prime minister on Tuesday when a second former rival in the race backed him to lead the country out of its Brexit crisis.

Hours before the six contenders to replace Theresa May were due to be whittled down by the party’s lawmakers, Andrea Leadsom declared her support for Johnson, the clear favorite.

“He is the best placed to get us out of the EU at the end of October,” Leadsom, a former leader of the House of Commons who was eliminated from the leadership contest last week, told LBC radio. “Secondly, I do believe he is an election winner.”

On Monday, health minister Matt Hancock, who quit the race on Friday, also backed Johnson, despite their contrasting views on Brexit, saying he was almost certain to win the contest.

Johnson, a former London mayor and foreign minister, has given unequivocal statements that he will take Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31 whether or not an agreement can be struck with the bloc to smooth the transition.

“We must leave the EU on October 31st, with or without a deal,” Johnson wrote again on Twitter on Tuesday.

Sterling fell to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in nearly six months on Tuesday.

‘CONFRONTATION WITH EU’

“It looks like Boris Johnson is going to be the next prime minister unless there is a big surprise and that indicates a looming confrontation with the European Union,” said Lee Hardman, a FX strategist at MUFG in London.

Johnson was due to participate in a televised debate on Tuesday evening along with the candidates who survive the second round of voting.

Those who do not receive the backing of more than 33 of the 313 Conservative lawmakers will be eliminated. If all candidates have more than 32 votes, the one with the fewest is eliminated.

Johnson opted not to appear in a first debate on Sunday and stayed away from question-and-answer sessions in parliament that the other five candidates attended on Monday.

His rivals kept up their calls on Johnson to spell out his plans for Brexit in more detail.

“What I find alarming and I want to try to clarify as soon as possible, hopefully in these debates this evening, is that half the people in his campaign have got the impression that he intends to leave on Oct. 31 with no deal,” Rory Stewart, Britain’s aid minister, told BBC radio.

“And the other half seem to have got the impression that he’s going for the softest of soft Brexits. The only way that we are going to have stability in our government, or our party or our country, is if people trust us.”

Johnson’s rivals hope that during Tuesday’s debate he will commit more of the gaffes that have marked his career.

But, barring a major upset, he looks set to make the final two in the race, when mainly pro-Brexit Conservative Party members will cast the deciding votes in July.

Johnson’s willingness to contemplate a no-deal Brexit could set up a clash with parliament which has voted against such an outcome. Brussels has ruled out a re-negotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, the divorce deal it reached with May last year.

Johnson won the support of 114 Conservative lawmakers in the first round of the leadership contest. The result of Tuesday’s second round of voting is due around 1700 GMT.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam looks down during a news conference in Hong Kong, China, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

June 18, 2019

By Clare Jim and Anne Marie Roantree

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will address the city on Tuesday after some of the biggest and most violent protests seen in the financial hub against an extradition bill that she postponed in a stark reversal of policy.

The bill would allow case by case extraditions to mainland China and despite its postponement, around two million people spilled on to the streets on Sunday, demanding Lam step down and scrap the bill entirely.

Lam’s climbdown, with the approval of China’s Communist Party leaders, was the biggest policy reversal since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and presented a new challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping who has ruled with an iron fist since taking power in 2012.

Many accuse China, where the courts are strictly controlled by the Communist Party, of extensive meddling since the handover, with the extradition proposals a further example.

Lam hasn’t appeared publicly since the Sunday protests that were the largest in the city for decades.

Since the proposed amendments to the Fugitives Offenders’ Ordinance was first put to the legislature in February, Lam has repeatedly rebuffed concerns voiced in many quarters, including business groups, lawyers, judges, and foreign governments against the bill.

Critics say the bill would undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law, guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” formula, under which Hong Kong returned to China, by extending China’s reach into the city, and allow individuals to be arbitrarily sent back to China where they couldn’t be guaranteed a fair trial.

Lam issued an apology on Sunday night through a written government statement that many people said lacked sincerity. It failed to pacify many marchers who said they no longer trusted her and doubted her ability to govern.

Lam, a career civil-servant known as “the fighter” for her straight-shooting and tough leadership style, took office two years ago pledging to heal a divided society. Some observers say she is unlikely to step down immediately but any longer-term political ambitions she may have harbored are now all but dead.

Many protest organizers say they will continue to hold street demonstrations until Lam scraps the bill, fearing that authorities may seek to revive the legislation in future when the public mood is calmer.

(Reporting by Hong Kong newsroom; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania
FILE PHOTO: U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo

June 18, 2019

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has ordered the arrest of 128 military personnel over suspected links to the network accused by Ankara of orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday.

Police were looking for just over half of the suspects in the western coastal province of Izmir and the rest across 30 other provinces, Anadolu said.

They were suspected of being supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkish authorities of masterminding the failed putsch three years ago. Gulen has denied any role.

More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while about 150,000 people from the civil service, military, and elsewhere have been sacked or suspended from their jobs under crackdowns since the attempted coup.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticized the scope of the crackdown, saying Erdogan has used the abortive coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government has said the security measures are necessary due to the gravity of the threat Turkey faces, and has vowed to eradicate Gulen’s network in the country.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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FILE PHOTO - Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood's newly formed Justice and Freedom Party gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo
FILE PHOTO – Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

June 18, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi has been buried alongside other senior figures of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, his son, Ahmed Mursi, said on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

The burial was attended by members of the family in Cairo’s Nasr City after authorities refused burial in Mursi’s home province of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta, Ahmed Mursi said.

“We washed his noble body at Tora prison hospital, read prayers for him at the prison hospital … and the burial was at the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guides,” Ahmed wrote.

Mursi died on Monday from a heart attack after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges, authorities and a medical source said. He was 67.

Mursi, a top figure in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, had been in jail since being toppled by the military in 2013 after barely a year in power, following mass protests against his rule.

His death is likely to pile international pressure on the Egyptian government over its human rights record, especially conditions in prisons where thousands of Islamists and secular activists are held.

(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty, writing by Sami Aboudi)

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FILE PHOTO: Syrian Foreign Minister al-Moualem speaks during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

June 18, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Tuesday that he does not want to see fighting between the Syrian and Turkish militaries.

Moualem made the comment in China during a joint briefing with the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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FILE PHOTO: Italian PM Conte and Deputy PM Salvini hold a joint news conference in Rome
FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini attends a joint news conference following a cabinet meeting in Rome, Italy, June 11, 2019 REUTERS/Remo Casilli

June 18, 2019

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Italy is the United States’ most reliable ally in Europe, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Monday, keen to present himself as a strong, trustworthy statesman during a flying visit to Washington.

Fresh from his triumph in last month’s European parliamentary election, when his League party came top of the polls in Italy, Salvini went to Washington to burnish his credentials as a dynamic EU leader with a glowing future.

“At a time when European Union institutions are fragile and changing significantly, Italy wants to be the first, most solid, valid, credible and coherent partner for the United States,” he said on his Facebook page.

Salvini held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence and visited Washington landmarks, sending home a flurry of Facebook videos and tweets to chronicle the brief trip.

Salvini, who also serves as interior minister in the government, has no direct say in foreign policy, which is overseen by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero — neither of whom have direct political affiliation with any group.

As head of Italy’s biggest party, Salvini seemed eager to reposition Italian diplomacy during his trip, however, saying he shared a “common vision” with Washington on China, Iran, Venezuela, Libya and the Middle East.

Italy has often adopted cautious lines in key diplomatic areas, seeking to serve as a bridge between various worlds.

Earlier this year, Rome angered the United States when it refused to recognise Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president — a position imposed on the Italian government by the League’s coalition ally, the 5-Star Movement.

Italy further incurred Washington’s displeasure in March when it became the first major Western power to endorse China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” infrastructure project in an effort to boost its own vital export market.

RETHINKING CHINA

However, in a news conference posted on his Facebook page, Salvini said the government was considering banning China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd from bidding for infrastructure projects in Italy following warnings from the United States that it could endanger national security in the West.

“When you raise the issue of national security and also have a shared vision and shared values with the United States, then you reach a time when business deals have to stop,” he said.

Salvini was one of the first prominent EU politicians to throw his weight behind Donald Trump in 2016 as he campaigned to become U.S. president and attended one of his election rallies.

He left Washington on Monday singing the praises of the president’s economic policy.

The next Italian budget “will have to be Trumpian” he said, referring to tax cuts introduced by the U.S. administration.

Salvini has pledged to introduce a flat tax in 2020, but the European Union executive has warned that heavily indebted Italy cannot afford such budget largesse and has threatened Rome with disciplinary action unless it gets its accounts in order.

“We will try to convince the EU with numbers and by being polite. But we will cut taxes regardless and they are just going to have to get used to the idea,” he said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas, Venezuela June 12, 2018 in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS TV/ via REUTERS

June 18, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela on Monday freed opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro, who was detained in April in what allies said was a violation of his parliamentary immunity, the opposition-controlled National Assembly said on Twitter.

The move by President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which faces a challenge to its legitimacy from National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, comes days before a visit by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, to meet victims of rights abuses and speak with both leaders.

“The parliamentarian Gilber Caro should never have been jailed,” the National Assembly said. “Today he comes out from behind bars, but just like all Venezuelans, he still is not free.”

In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, calling Maduro a dictator and saying his 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by dozens of countries, including the United States and most South American neighbors.

Maduro calls Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a coup. He retains control of state functions and Venezuela’s armed forces.

The U.N. last month criticized the Maduro government’s handling of Caro’s arrest, saying its failure to confirm his fate and whereabouts constituted an “enforced disappearance” under international law.

Caro, who had previously spent 18 months in jail on treason and weapons charges between 2017 and 2018, was freed from the Sebin intelligence agency’s Caracas headquarters, known as the Helicoide, attorney and former lawmaker Pedro Diaz-Blum told Reuters.

Diaz-Blum is a member of the Boston Group, a network of U.S. and Venezuelan legislators that has served as an intermediary between the government and the opposition for more than a decade. The group on Monday posted a brief video on Twitter of Caro greeting some of its members in an office.

Rights group Penal Forum said Melvin Farias and Junior Rojas, two men it called political prisoners and said had been jailed for more than a year, had also been freed.

Several politicians close to Guaido who have been arrested in recent weeks remain behind bars, including his chief of staff Roberto Marrero and National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera; Additional reporting by Tibisay Romero in Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen and Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian clients wait at one of the outlets of Qatari-funded beIN Sports channel in Cairo
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian clients wait at one of the outlets of Qatari-funded beIN Sports channel in Cairo, Egypt June 12, 2018.. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo

June 18, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – A French court has ruled that pirated sports content belonging to the Qatar-based broadcaster beIN was accessible via a Saudi-based satellite operator, but said it had not found evidence of “clear and illegal disruption”, court documents seen by Reuters showed.

BeIN Media Group filed a complaint in France against Saudi-based Arabsat to try to establish, in what it said was a “credible” court, that Arabsat was carrying pirated broadcasts of global sports events to which beIN held the rights.

Several global sports bodies have threatened legal action against the pirate channel beoutQ over what they say are illegal broadcasts across the Middle East and North Africa. It is unclear who owns or operates beoutQ.

A June 13 ruling by the Paris court, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, found that signals from beoutQ were available on Arabsat frequencies and accessible from French territory, based on findings by a firm retained by beIN.

“These elements are sufficient to establish that Arabsat has a charge to answer,” the ruling said.

But it also said beIN had failed to demonstrate the existence of “clear and illegal disruption or prove that there was immediate risk of commercial damage” that could justify forcing Arabsat to block beoutQ’s satellite signals in France.

BeoutQ emerged in 2017 after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a political and economic boycott of Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies. The channel is widely available in Saudi Arabia but Riyadh says it is not based there, and that Saudi authorities are committed to fighting piracy.

Soccer governing body FIFA said on Sunday that beoutQ was transmitting the Women’s World Cup across the Middle East and North Africa via Arabsat frequencies and called on the operator to help address the misuse of its intellectual property.

Arabsat, which is owned by Arab League states, has denied that beoutQ uses its satellite frequencies for illegal broadcasts. Reuters has not been able to contact beoutQ for comment.

Arabsat welcomed the French ruling, saying it rejected “all false accusations that Qatar’s beIN Sports group tried to pin on Arabsat”.

BeIN also welcomed the court decision, which a spokesman said would be used to support the company’s filings in separate international investment arbitration cases.

Arabsat has a small presence in France, which enabled beIN to file its complaint in Paris. BeIN was ordered to pay fees of 25,000 euros ($28,000) to Arabsat and 6,000 euros to an Arabsat adviser.

(Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic and Luke Baker in Paris, Eric Knecht in Qatar, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Saudi Arabia; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

Source: OANN

U.S. Pentagon in Washington releases handout imagery that it says shows damage from mines to commercial ships in Gulf of Oman
A U.S. military image released by the Pentagon in Washington on June 17, which is says was taken from a U.S. Navy MH-60R helicopter in the Gulf of Oman in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran on June 13, shows mine blast damage to M/T Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese owned commercial motor tanker. Picture taken June 13, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

June 17, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military on Monday released new images it says showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned tanker that was attacked on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman, as Washington blames Tehran for the attack.

“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement explaining the still-images.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who's bloc came first, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who's political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, in Najaf
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who’s bloc came first, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who’s political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, in Najaf, Iraq June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

June 17, 2019

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged political blocs on Monday to pressure the prime minister to form a complete cabinet within 10 days, warning that his supporters would take a “new stance” if they failed to do so.

Sadr, who leads a large parliamentary bloc, has rallied his supporters to stage mass protests against previous governments, and has implied this could take place against the current government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

“I call on all political blocs to charge the prime minister with completing the cabinet formation process within 10 days,” Sadr said in a letter released by his office.

“Otherwise we will have another position … and you are aware of our stance.”

Sadr’s Saeroon political bloc came first in a May 2018 general election. He has called for independent candidates to be put forth for several key cabinet positions which remain vacant over disagreement between powerful parties.

Abdul Mahdi began his term in October, but has yet to fill interior and defense posts.

Sadr, who presents himself as a nationalist who opposes the involvement of both the United States and Iran, Iraq’s two mains allies, scored a surprise victory in the May vote by promising to fight corruption and improve services.

The other largest political bloc includes candidates backed by Iran who have tried to push an interior candidate linked to Iran-backed militias.

A wild card in Iraq’s turbulent politics driven largely by sectarian interests, he has frequently mobilized tens of thousands of followers to protest against government policies and corruption.

His militia, previously known as the Mehdi Army, staged two violent uprisings against U.S. occupation forces after the invasion. Iraqi and U.S. officials described him at the time as the biggest security threat in Iraq.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by John Davison and Lisa Shumaker)

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FILE PHOTO: The convoy of a team from the United Nations and the World Food Program crosses from Houthi-controlled areas to a government-controlled areas to reach grain mills in an eastern suburb of Hodeidah
FILE PHOTO: The convoy of a team from the United Nations and the World Food Program crosses from Houthi-controlled areas to a government-controlled areas to reach grain mills in an eastern suburb of Hodeidah, Yemen February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo

June 17, 2019

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations food chief David Beasley warned on Monday that a phased-suspension of food assistance in Yemen was likely to begin later this week over a diversion of aid and lack of independence in Houthi-controlled areas.

Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), called on the Houthis to “simply let us do our job.”

“If we do not receive these assurances then we will begin a phased suspension of food assistance, most likely toward the end of this week. If and when we do initiate suspension we will continue our nutrition program for malnourished children, pregnant women and new mothers,” he told the U.N. Security Council.

Beasley said WFP had been unable to implement agreements with the Houthis on the registration of people in need and the rollout of a biometric system – using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition – to support aid delivery.

“We are now assisting feeding over 10 million people per month but as the head of the World Food Programme I cannot assure you that all the assistance is going to those who need it most,” Beasley said.

“Why? Because we are not allowed to operate independently and because aid is being diverted for profit and or other purposes,” he told the 15-member council.

The Houthis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Beasley’s remarks. However, earlier this month Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, told Reuters the WFP insisted on controlling the biometric data in violation of Yemeni law.

In a statement, the U.N. Security Council “condemned the misappropriation of humanitarian assistance and aid by the Houthis … and reiterated their call for the rapid, safe and unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies and personnel into and across the country.”

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government that was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis in 2014.

The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.

Beasley said that aid diversion was not limited to just Houthi-controlled areas, but “when we face challenges in areas controlled by the government, we have received cooperation to address the issues.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

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A Rohingya refugee child looks at others studying at a makeshift madrasa at the Burma Para refugee camp near Cox's Bazar
A Rohingya refugee child looks at others studying at a makeshift madrasa at the Burma Para refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

June 17, 2019

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – There was a “systemic failure” of the United Nations in dealing with the situation in Myanmar ahead of a deadly 2017 military crackdown because it did not have a unified strategy and lacked Security Council support, according to an internal report.

The crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. U.N. investigators have said the operation was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

“Without question serious errors were committed and opportunities were lost in the U.N. system following a fragmented strategy rather than a common plan of action,” wrote former Guatemalan foreign minister and U.N. ambassador Gert Rosenthal in a 34-page internal review, seen by Reuters.

“The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterized as a systemic failure of the United Nations,” wrote Rosenthal, who was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this year to look at U.N. involvement in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018.

He said senior U.N. officials in New York could not agree on whether to take a more robust public approach with Myanmar or pursue quiet diplomacy and that conflicting reports on the situation were also sent to U.N. headquarters from the field.

The United Nations struggled to balance supporting the Myanmar government with development and humanitarian assistance, while also calling out the authorities over accusations of human rights violations, Rosenthal concluded.

“The United Nations system … has been relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar to reverse the negative trends in the area of human rights and consolidate the positive trends in other areas,” he said.

“The United Nations’ collective membership, represented by the Security Council, bears part of that responsibility, by not providing enough support to the secretariat when such backing was and continues to be essential,” Rosenthal wrote.

The 15-member Security Council, which visited Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year, has been deadlocked with Myanmar allies China and Russia pitted against western states over how to deal with the situation.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Rosenthal’s report was due to be sent to all 193 U.N. members states on Monday and would then be posted publicly online.

“Its conclusions and observations have been fully accepted by the Secretary-General, and he will work very closely with the senior leadership to make sure they’re implemented,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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FILE PHOTO: Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Mursi greets his lawyers and people from behind bars at a court wearing the red uniform of a prisoner sentenced to death, during his court appearance with Muslim Brotherhood members on the outskirts of Cairo
FILE PHOTO: Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Mursi greets his lawyers and people from behind bars at a court wearing the red uniform of a prisoner sentenced to death, during his court appearance with Muslim Brotherhood members on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

June 17, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history, died on Monday aged 67 after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges, authorities said.

Mursi, a top figure in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, had been in jail since being toppled by the military in 2013 after barely a year in power following mass protests against his rule.

The public prosecutor said he had collapsed in a defendants’ cage in the courtroom shortly after speaking, and had been pronounced dead in hospital at 4:50 p.m. (1450 GMT). It said an autopsy had shown no signs of recent injury on his body.

After decades of repression under Egyptian autocrats, the Brotherhood won a parliamentary election after a popular uprising toppled Mubarak and his military-backed establishment in 2011.

Mursi was elected to power in 2012 in Egypt’s first free presidential election, having been thrown into the race at the last moment by the disqualification on a technicality of millionaire businessman Khairat al-Shater, by far the Brotherhood’s preferred choice.

His victory marked a radical break with the military men who had provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.

Mursi promised a moderate Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era where autocracy would be replaced by transparent government that respected human rights and revived the fortunes of a powerful Arab state long in decline.

But the euphoria that greeted the end of an era of presidents who ruled like pharaohs did not last long.

The stocky, bespectacled man, born in 1951 in the dying days of the monarchy, told Egyptians he would deliver an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation”.

Instead, he alienated millions who accused him of usurping unlimited powers, imposing the Brotherhood’s conservative brand of Islam and mismanaging the economy, all of which he denied.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

Security sources said the Interior Ministry had declared a state of alert on Monday, notably in Mursi’s home province of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta, where the body was expected to be taken for burial.

Mursi had been in court for a hearing on charges of espionage emanating from suspected contacts with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which had close ties to the Brotherhood.

His body was taken to the Tora prison hospital, state television reported.

His lawyer said Mursi’s health had been poor in jail. “We had put in several requests for treatment, some were accepted and others were not,” the lawyer, Abdel-Menem Abdel-Maqsood, told Reuters.

Mursi was serving a 20-year prison sentence for a conviction arising from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012, and a life sentence for espionage in a case related to the Gulf state of Qatar. He had denied the charges.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan mourned his fellow Islamist as a martyr.

“Putting doubts aside, he has become a martyr today with the fulfillment of God’s order … Our prayers are with him,” Erdogan said.

“Condolences to all my brothers who walked the same path as he did. Condolences to the people of Egypt. Condolences to his family and those close to him.”

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a backer of Mursi and his Brotherhood, tweeted his condolences to Mursi’s family “and to the brotherly Egyptian people”.

(Reporting by Nayera Abdullah and Enas al-Ashray; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Roman Catholic pilgrims travel as they accompany the statue of Our Lady of Conception during an annual river procession and pilgrimage along the Caraparu River in Santa Izabel do Para
FILE PHOTO: Roman Catholic pilgrims display a banner with an image depicting Jesus Christ as they travel in a boat while accompanying the statue of Our Lady of Conception (not seen) during an annual river procession and pilgrimage along the Caraparu River in Santa Izabel do Para, in the Amazon jungle December 8, 2012. Picture taken December 8, 2012. REUTERS/Paulo Santos/File Photo

June 17, 2019

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A Vatican document on Monday said the Church should consider ordaining older married men as priests in remote areas of the Amazon, a historic shift which some say could pave the way for their use in other areas where clergy are scarce.

The recommendation, contained in a working document prepared by the Vatican for a synod of bishops from the Amazon scheduled for October, also called for some kind of “official ministry” for women in the area, although it did not elaborate.

It was the most direct mention ever in a Vatican document of the possibility of a married priesthood, albeit limited, and a greater ministerial role for women in one area of the world.

The document spoke of the possibility of ordaining what are known as “viri probati” – Latin for men of proven character – to deal with the shortage of priests. Such men would be elderly, outstanding members of the local Catholic community and with grown-up families.

“While affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, there have been requests that, for the most remote areas of the region, (the Church) studies the possibility of conferring priestly ordination on elderly men, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted members of their communities,” the document said.

It said such men could be ordained “even if they already have an established and stable family, in order to guarantee the sacraments that accompany and sustain Christian life.”

Only priests can say Mass or hear confessions, meaning that Catholics in isolated communities in the Amazon can go for many months without participating in either of the sacraments.

Monsignor Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Vatican department that organizes synods, told Reuters that in responses to questionnaires to bishops in the region, there had been “very widespread” requests for “Viri Probati” to be considered.

Some Catholic scholars have said the approval of “viri probati” in the Amazon may eventually pave the way for their use elsewhere in the world as a response to the shortage of priests.

Pope Francis, in an interview with a German newspaper in 2017, said he was willing to consider ordaining “viri probati” men as priests in isolated communities. He has also mentioned their possible use on remote Pacific islands.

But he ruled out a general opening the priesthood to all married men or watering down the Catholic Church’s commitment to celibacy, seen as a virtue that frees priests to devote their lives fully to serve God.

The synod on Oct 6-27 at the Vatican will include bishops and other representatives, including indigenous peoples, from Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana.

At the end of their conference, participants will vote on various articles in a final document, which will then go to the pope, who will decide whether to make it an official Apostolic Exhortation based on the synod meetings.

The document also issues a strong defense for the protection of the environment in the Amazon, deforestation, illegal mining and development projects that threaten native cultures and the delicate ecosystem vital for the planet.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO - Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a session with senators and lawmakers at the Senate building in Mexico City
FILE PHOTO – Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a session with senators and lawmakers at the Senate building in Mexico City, Mexico June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

June 17, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico will complete deployment of National Guard forces on its southern border with Guatemala this week as part of a new immigration control plan agreed with Washington, foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Monday.

“The deployment of the National Guard ordered, with support from the Ministry of Defense and the Navy, will be completed this week,” Ebrard told a regular news conference.

Deployment of the guard has been slow so far, but a Reuters reporter near the border this weekend saw a handful of officials wearing National Guard insignia, and spoke to other security personnel who said they were part of the guard.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Dave Graham)

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Buddhist monk leaves the annual meeting of the nationalist group Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, previously known as Ma Ba Tha in Yangon,
A buddhist monk leaves the annual meeting of the nationalist group Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, previously known as Ma Ba Tha in Yangon, Myanmar June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang

June 17, 2019

By Thu Thu Aung

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s most prominent group of nationalist Buddhist monks on Monday condemned sedition charges against one of its leading members, Wirathu, ahead of a hearing in the fugitive monk’s case expected on Tuesday.

Police issued an arrest warrant for Wirathu last month, but he has evaded arrest.

The monk is the best-known proponent of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has spread as Myanmar has transitioned from full military rule and as social media sites like Facebook have become popular.

Wirathu is accused of inciting violence against the Rohingya minority and other Muslims. He has also been supportive of the powerful military and critical of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, formerly known by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, said Wirathu’s broadsides against Nobel laureate Suu Kyi were only “positive criticism”.

Religious authorities were responsible for disciplining monks who spoke out of turn, said central committee member Mya Nan Sayataw, reading from a statement released at the conclusion of the group’s annual meeting.

“It is an unlawful action by the government,” he said of the sedition charge against Wirathu, which can carry a penalty of life imprisonment.

A court in the city of Yangon is expected to begin proceedings in absentia on Tuesday.

Tun Nyunt, a spokesman at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, said anyone breaking the law should face action, including Buddhist monks.

More than 2,300 monks and nuns and another 3,000 laymen attended the foundation’s two days of speeches, recitation and donation ceremonies at a monastery in the north of Yangon.

The nationalist group accuses Suu Kyi’s administration of allowing immigration of Muslims. The group supports the military, which led a campaign that pushed hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from the country in 2017.

Its chapters across Myanmar also run schools and other social services and provide legal aid. Members have successfully lobbied for laws restricting interfaith marriage and religious conversion.

Some soldiers in uniform attended Monday’s event, and a military commander donated about $20,000 to the foundation.

Some books on nationalist subjects were on sale including “The people who want to eradicate Myanmar”, a paperback that includes the chapter “Londonistan: swallowed by Islam”.

(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung; Writing by Simon Lewis; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

June 17, 2019

DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days — a move likely to worsen already high tensions with Washington — but it added European nations still had time to save a landmark nuclear deal.

In a sign of concern at Iran’s announcement, Germany urged Tehran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord. Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”.

Close U.S. ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.

U.S.-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on state TV that “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate.”

Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.

The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.

Urging European signatories to speed up their efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.

U.N. WATCHDOG CHIEF WORRIED

Kamalvandi, in a news conference at Iran’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor which has been reconfigured under the deal, said Tehran could rebuild the underground facility to make it functional. Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.

In January, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state TV that “despite pouring concrete in pipes within the core of the Arak reactor … Iran had purchased pipes for replacement in case the West violated the deal.”

Salehi said that only he and the country’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had knowledge about the additional pipes.

The west European signatories to the deal – France, Britain and Germany – have defended the nuclear accord as the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium.

But Iran has repeatedly criticized delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from U.S. sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.

The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned. Tehran denies ever having had one.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States did not want to go to war with Iran but would take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation through Middle East shipping lanes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. atomic watchdog, declined to comment. Its chief Yukiya Amano said last week that he was worried about rising tensions around Iran’s nuclear program and he hoped they could be resolved through dialogue.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said on Monday the European Union wanted to stick to the Iran nuclear deal but that Iran needed to do the same.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and William Schomberg in London, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Andrew Osborn and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow, Editing by William Maclean)

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FILE PHOTO - China’s President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Mongolia's President Khaltmaagiin Battulga on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Bishkek
FILE PHOTO – China’s President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) and Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battulga (not pictured) on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan June 14, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

June 17, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit North Korea on Thursday for two days, China’s state media announced on Monday.

China is North Korea’s lone major ally and the visit comes amid a protracted dispute over the North’s denuclearization with the United States.

(Reporting by Huizhong Wu)

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Visitors look at the French-German-Spanish New Generation Fighter (NGF) model during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris
Visitors look at the French-German-Spanish New Generation Fighter (NGF) model during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France, June 17 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

June 17, 2019

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – Spain on Monday joined a Franco-German project to build a next-generation fighter jet, an initiative touted as key to ensuring Europe can defend itself without depending on allies in an increasingly uncertain world.

Dassault Aviation and Airbus will build the warplane which is expected to be operational from 2040, with a view to replacing Dassault’s Rafale and Germany’s Eurofighter over time.

The European project faces competition from Britain, which last year launched its own plans for a new combat jet dubbed “Tempest”. Industry executives have urged European capitals to move swiftly or risk losing out in a global market to bigger players led by the United States, or even China in the future.

The defense ministers of France, Germany and Spain signed an accord launching a trilateral framework of cooperation at the Paris Airshow, sat in front of a mock-up of the jet and with French President Emmanuel Macron applauding behind them.

France’s Safran and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines will jointly develop the new warplane’s engine.

Dassault and Airbus have delivered a joint industrial proposal to the governments of France and Germany.

“The first demonstrator phase marks another decisive step,” they said in a joint statement.

France had explored working with Britain on the project, bringing together Europe’s two biggest military powers.

But in July 2017, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans for the new Future Combat Air System (SCAF), including a fighter jet and a range of associated weapons such as drones.

Britain’s unveiling last July of its plans for a next-generation aircraft to rival the United States’ F35, the world’s most advanced warplane, laid bare European divisions and deepening scepticism about the future of European defense cooperation as Britain negotiates its exit from the European Union.

BAE Systems, Italy’s Leonardo, engine maker Rolls-Royce and missile maker MBDA are running the British project.

“Competition amongst Europeans when it weakens us against the Americans, the Chinese, is ridiculous,” Macron told reporters at the air show when asked about the two combat jet programs.

The French and German governments expect to invest an initial 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in the combat jet by 2025, with France, the project leader, contributing 2.5 billion euros, according to the French defense ministry.

Paris and Berlin target the first flight of a prototype around 2026.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, Sophie Louet; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Medical students participate in a protest called by Indian Medical Association (IMA), during a nationwide doctors strike in Ahmedabad
Medical students participate in a protest called by Indian Medical Association (IMA), during a nationwide doctors strike in Ahmedabad, India, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

June 17, 2019

By Alasdair Pal and Subrata Nagchoudhury

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of doctors across India went on strike on Monday demanding better working conditions, the country’s top medical body said, as the outrage over lax security conditions at hospitals escalated.

The nationwide protests, affecting hundreds of hospitals, started after an attack at a medical college in West Bengal state a week ago. The attack left three junior doctors seriously injured after a dispute with a family whose relative had died.

The incident resonated with Indian doctors, many of whom are poorly paid and overworked compared with their foreign counterparts.

Thousands of doctors protested outside hospitals across India on Monday, holding placards and wearing black arm bands and bloodied mock bandages.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), that represents more than 300,000 doctors and half-a-million junior doctors, medical students and other staff, said almost all of its members, apart from those providing emergency services, have joined the protests.

“Practically, the entire medical fraternity is on strike,” Dr RV Asokan, the IMA’s honorary general secretary told Reuters on Monday. “Everybody is on the street.”

The IMA is demanding tougher punishments for those who attack doctors, as well as higher recruitment to support the overworked staff.

A doctor in an outpatient unit in India often saw more than 100 patients in a day, Asokan said, and despite tens of thousands of junior doctors graduating every year, many were out of work.

“The workload of doctors is inhuman,” he said. “The government is not recruiting enough.”

Doctors, who have been protesting in West Bengal ever since the attack a week ago, were due to hold talks with the government after the state authorities permitted the media to cover the meeting.

There were queues at Ernakulam Government Hospital in the southern state of Kerala on Monday morning, as patients waited to consult the limited number of doctors who were on duty.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in NEW DELHI and Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA, additional reporting by Sivaram V in KOCHI and Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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First round of presidential election in Guatemala
Sandra Torres, presidential candidate for the National Unity of Hope (UNE) arrives to cast her vote at a polling station during the first round of the presidential election in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

June 17, 2019

By Adriana Barrera and Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala’s presidential election appeared to be headed for a runoff as partial results on Monday gave center-left candidate Sandra Torres an early lead but far short of the majority needed to avoid a second round against a conservative rival.

With votes tallied from 42% of polling stations, preliminary results from Sunday’s election gave former first lady Torres 24.18% of the vote, followed by conservative Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei with 15%, the electoral tribunal said.

The presidential race, which groups 19 candidates, appeared all but certain to be headed for a second round of voting on Aug. 11. The head of the electoral tribunal said late on Sunday it could take approximately two weeks to have definitive results from across the Central American country.

Guatemala’s next president will face the daunting challenge of curbing drug gang violence that has ravaged the country and helped spur illegal immigration to the United States, stoking tensions with President Donald Trump.

Torres, of the center-left UNE party, has led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a conservative former television host whose term has been blighted by accusations of corruption made by U.N.-backed investigators.

Nevertheless, Torres also has high negative ratings and may struggle to win a direct run-off if supporters of the many right-of-center candidates unite against her.

In third place with 12.11% was Edmond Mulet, a former U.N. official whose conservative candidacy gained traction in recent weeks.

Torres, who wants to send troops into the streets to fight drug gangs, and use welfare programs to tackle poverty, extended a hand to Guatemala’s business elite when voting on Sunday.

“We have to sort out our problems here, and part of the reason for the migration is the lack of jobs, the gap in wages between the United States and here,” she said. “We need to work with the business community to revive the economy.”

Rampant violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity in the country of 17 million have prompted more and more Guatemalans to flee for the United States.

The surge of departures has undermined Trump’s pledge to curb illegal immigration, and the U.S. president has responded by threatening to cut U.S. aid to Central America.

That prospect has caused alarm in Guatemala, where the legacy of the bloody 1960-1996 civil war still casts a long shadow over the country’s development.

COALITION PROSPECTS

Rain fell on Guatemala City during Sunday’s vote and results suggested there was considerable discontent among the electorate about the choice of candidates on offer. More than 12% of votes cast were blank or spoiled ballots, the early count showed.

Morales, who is barred by law from seeking re-election, took office in 2016 vowing to root out corruption after his predecessor was brought down by a probe led by the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Instead, Morales himself became a target of a CICIG probe into allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing and was subject to impeachment proceedings in 2017.

He survived the attempt to oust him, and then engaged in a bitter dispute with the CICIG before finally terminating its mandate, effective from September.

None of the top contenders has unequivocally backed the CICIG, with Torres saying she would consider holding a referendum on whether it should remain in Guatemala.

Fernando Escalante, 41, an industrial design adviser, said the next president must continue the fight against corruption.

“I fear all the progress we’ve made could be lost, but maybe it’s time for us Guatemalans to take on the task,” he said.

Questions of legitimacy have dogged the 2019 contest since two of the front-runners were forced out, including Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general who tried to impeach Morales with the CICIG. The government accused Aldana of corruption, leading to her exclusion last month.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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FILE PHOTO: Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache addresses the media in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reacts as he addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

June 17, 2019

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian far-right veteran Heinz-Christian Strache, who quit as deputy head of the coalition government over a video sting, said on Monday he would not take up a European Parliament seat, forgoing a move that might have hurt his Freedom Party further.

Strache stepped down as vice chancellor and Freedom Party (FPO) leader on May 18, the day after German media published secretly filmed footage from a 2017 dinner party in Ibiza at which Strache met a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

In the footage, Strache appeared to offer to fix state contracts, though he says he did nothing illegal and none of his comments were followed through on. Anti-corruption prosecutors are also investigating Strache on suspicion of breach of trust.

Strache was entitled to the European Parliament seat because of Austria’s electoral system, in which voters pick a party list and can express a preference for one candidate on that list. With enough preferential votes, a candidate jumps to the top of their party’s list and the front of the queue for its seats.

Although Strache was 42nd and last on the list of a party that secured just three seats in last month’s European Parliament election, he got enough preferential votes – roughly 45,000, or almost a third of his party’s votes, well above a 5% threshold for jumping up the list – to get one of its seats.

“I have … decided not to take up the EU mandate,” Strache said in a statement, adding that he would not return to active politics until the origins of the footage were clear.

“This decision is not the result of a political calculation or of any deal,” he added, referring to the fact his far-right FPO on Friday picked his wife Philippa as a candidate for parliament in elections widely expected to be held on Sept. 29.

He could have accepted the seat as soon as the results of the May 26 vote came through, but he kept Austria guessing as to whether he would take it up and risk further damaging his party’s image. He had until next month to decide.

The political damage from the video sting scandal has been great. Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called off his coalition with the FPO the day Strache stepped down.

Kurz then tried to stay on as head of what was effectively a minority government but parliament forced it from office, saying Kurz deserved at least some of the blame for the fallout from the scandal.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson, leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, leaves home in London
FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson, leadership candidate for Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister, leaves home in London, Britain, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

June 17, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson got a boost for his bid to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May when one of his former rivals backed his candidacy on Monday and said he was almost certain to win the contest.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who dropped out of the race on Friday after winning just 20 votes in the first ballot of Conservative lawmakers, said Johnson was the best candidate to lead the party.

“Boris has run a disciplined campaign and is almost certainly going to be our next prime minister,” Hancock said in an article in The Times newspaper.

“People need to put aside their differences for a greater purpose. My view is that we need to start coming together sooner rather than later,” Hancock said.

The Brexit crisis could deepen under a new British leader as Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, has promised to lead the United Kingdom out of the EU with or without a deal.

The British parliament has indicated it will try to stop a no-deal Brexit, which investors warn would roil financial markets and shock the world economy, while the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement that May agreed in November.

Johnson, the favorite to replace May, won the support of 114 Conservative lawmakers in the first round of the leadership contest. A total of 313 lawmakers voted.

His closest rivals were: Jeremy Hunt, the foreign minister, who won 43 votes; Michael Gove, environment minister, with 37 votes and Dominic Raab, former Brexit minister, on 27 votes.

Rivals turned their fire on Johnson on Sunday, questioning his pledge to leave the EU by the end of October no matter what.

“The difference between me and Boris is that I would try for a deal,” said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a Channel 4 television debate, where Johnson’s absence was marked by an empty lectern.

The second round of voting will be on Tuesday with the result due around 1700 GMT. Any candidate with 32 votes or fewer is eliminated. If all candidates have more than 32 votes, the one with the fewest is eliminated.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by William Schomberg)

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FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street in London
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street, as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

June 17, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May is considering a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this month’s G20 summit in Japan in an effort to begin a thaw in relations before a new British leader comes to power, The Times newspaper reported.

Britain’s relations with Russia fell to a post-Cold War low after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury in March 2018 with the Novichok nerve agent.

May blamed Russia which denied any involvement. Allies in Europe and the United States sided with May’s view and ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War. Russia expelled Western diplomats in return.

The Times said a meeting with Putin would only take place if there was a purpose to the meeting. May last met Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina in November when the Russian president approached her informally.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by William Schomberg)

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FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold flags during anti government protests in Algiers
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold flag during anti government protests in Algiers, Algeria April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

June 17, 2019

By Lamine Chikhi

HAIZER, Algeria (Reuters) – While tens of thousands of Algerians have been gathering for four months in the capital to demand sweeping political reforms, former fighters who led the last confrontation with the establishment have been warning people not to rock the boat.

In the 1990s, they drove an uprising against the military after it canceled a landmark multiparty election that Islamists were poised to win. This time they say protests could bring a repeat of the chaos and bloodshed their actions unleashed.

“I deeply regret what happened in the 1990s,” once such fighter, Sheikh Yahya, said at his home in Haizer, a village in the Kabyle mountains 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Algiers where he now works as a butcher.

“This is why I will never participate in any action that might end up violent.”

Some 200,000 people died in Algeria’s decade-long civil war, leaving many Algerians fearful of radical change now that longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has given into the pressure from the streets and stepped down.

Following Bouteflika’s departure in April, the protesters have been pressing for the exit of the entire elite in control since the North African country’s independence from France in 1962 – the same cause the jihadists took up arms for in 1991.

But Yahya and other former jihadists now support the army and other security forces, the strongest part of that elite. It also includes business tycoons and former independence fighters in Algeria’s ruling FLN party as well as labor unions in a state-dominated economy sustained by oil and gas production.

The ex-fighters are Salafists, a literalist Sunni school of Islam whose adherents range from the radical jihadists of Islamic State to an overwhelming majority which shies away from politics.

Salafi influence in Algeria is far wider than their numbers – an estimated one in 40 people – would suggest, analysts say. This makes their anti-protest messages a significant counterweight to calls for radical change.

“Algeria has around 18,000 mosques, most of them are under Salafi influence,” said political analyst Mohamed Mouloudi. One Salafi cleric has a website with a million followers.

By contrast leading Sufis, a more inclusive Sunni school that most Algerians belong to, have kept a low profile since the ouster of Bouteflika, their most high-profile member.

Salafists are social conservatives heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis. They reject both political Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which led Egypt in a 2012-2013 interlude from military-backed rule, as well as Western influence – from clothing to political systems.

They were part of the reason the 2011 Arab Spring pro-democracy movement bypassed Algeria, after Sheikh Ali Ferkous, a Salafi icon, declared “unrest is forbidden in Islam”, and they continue to argue that stability is paramount.

MILITARY CHIEF, CONSERVATIVE LEADER

The Army chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, played a key role in toppling Bouteflika by saying the president’s poor health made him unfit for office.

Upper House Chairman Abdelkader Bensalah became interim president but is now under pressure from demonstrators to quit, due to his links with Bouteflika and pledge on June 6 to stay in office until elections, which have been postponed indefinitely.

A group of protesters and some Salafi clerics have suggested Bensalah hands over to former conservative minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, son of well-known cleric Bachir Ibrahimi who played a role in the independence war against France from 1954 to 1962.

Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi is a fierce opponent of Bouteflika, who did not allow him to set up a political party. Ibrahimi, 87, has promised to end of what he called “dirty money”, referring to corruption under Bouteflika, and introduce transparency.

“Ibrahimi is one of the rare clean politicians in Algeria who can reconcile the youth with politics. We believe he can play a very positive role,” said Seif Islam Benatia, a dentist prominent among protesters who encompass a wide array of views.

Yahya, who spoke to Reuters with two of his fellow former fighters Akli and Mohamed sitting alongside, also supports Ibrahimi, as well as army chief Salah. “We want stability to remain,” he said.

Their village lies in what was known in the 90s as the “triangle of death” — the flashpoint of the civil war, which the army said it was fighting to prevent Taliban-style rule. The mountains with its caves and valleys were ideal hiding ground for fighters to store arms and prepare ambushes on the army.

Yahya gave up the fight in 2006 after accepting amnesty from Bouteflika and persuaded others to make peace with the state.

Algeria’s welfare state rewarded him with $6,000 in aid to build a modest house where the ground floor serves as his poultry butchery. Two sons got jobs at state firms — a livelihood they fear losing if chaos erupts.

“GIFT FROM GOD”

Salafists have been quietly working to influence society, identifiable here, as elsewhere, by their long beards, white robes and short trousers emulating the Prophet Mohammad.

Their clout can be seen in Haizer, where Yahya’s house is a gathering point for youth, neighbors and other ex-fighters he persuaded to lay down arms.

“Marches, protests, unrest and all the tools used in democracies to topple leaders are illicit in Islam,” Yahya said.

Such messages resonate in Algeria, analysts say, because many people fear protracted unrest would undermine a state that provides jobs, health insurance and housing.

They also undermine Islamist political parties, which have struggled since the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which almost took power in 1991, was banned the following year.

“Salafi are influential because they focus on the youth, and society,” Mouloudi told Reuters. “Political Islam’s leaders are divided, fragmented and hold little influence politically.”

In Algiers, some of the young protesters, who include many women and some children, oppose any kind of Islamist takeover.

“We want radical change, but I don’t want to end up with Islamists ruling the country,” said Nadia Beigacem, 21, who studies English at Algiers University and does not wear a veil. “Western democracy is my model, not the Saudi Arabian model.”

Rather than Ibrahimi, she wanted a young Algerian as leader, like former U.S. President Barack Obama or French President Emmanuel Macron. “We are a young nation,” she said.

Salafist leader Ferkous has not commented on recent protests but other followers have rejected them. “What is forbidden remains forbidden, even if everyone does it,” said Mohamed Al-Habib, a prominent Salafist in a video message.

The weekly Friday protests have been continuing, but numbers have declined in recent weeks, indicating the resignation of Bouteflika and prosecution of his younger brother and closest former advisor Said and others have slowed their momentum.

“After chaos and 200,000 people killed, we now have peace and stability, this is a gift from God,” Yahya said.

“Let’s preserve it.”

(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Philippa Fletcher)

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An aerial view shows police officers investigating the site where a police officer was found stabbed in front of a police box and the officer's gun, loaded with several bullets, was stolen, in Suita, Osaka
An aerial view shows police officers investigating the site where a police officer was found stabbed in front of a police box and the officer’s gun, loaded with several bullets, was stolen, in Suita, Osaka prefecture, western Japan June 16, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

June 17, 2019

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese police on Monday arrested a man on charges of stabbing a police officer and grabbing a loaded handgun in a western city near Osaka, which hosts a summit of the G20 grouping next week, police said.

The 33-year-old suspect, caught while lying on a bench beneath which the stolen gun had been placed, has denied the charges, a local police official said.

“We are taking a grave view of the incident, which caused great anxiety among residents,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference.

“With a G20 summit scheduled next week, we will reinforce vigilance and guard even more strictly.”

A large-scale search for the suspect began on Sunday, after the stabbed officer was found lying in front of a police box in the city of Suita. On Monday, he was unconscious and in a critical condition, authorities said.

One of the bullets originally loaded in the stolen gun seemed to have been fired, but police have heard of no reports of related injuries or damage, the police official said.

Violent crime is rare in Japan but occasional high-profile incidents have shocked the nation.

Sunday’s incident follows a case last month in which a knife-wielding middle-aged man killed a girl and an adult, injuring 17 people near the capital, Tokyo.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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FILE PHOTO: 30th anniversary of the crackdown of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

June 17, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 20 Chinese activists who took part in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement called on Monday on the United Nations’ top human rights body to investigate Beijing’s deadly crackdown 30 years ago.

Wang Dan and 21 others, backed by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said they had submitted the complaint to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a Geneva forum which opens a three-week session on June 24.

“We request the HRC investigate the gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Chinese government during its military assault on peaceful protests,” they said in statement.

They also sought action over “the consistent pattern of human rights violations in persecuting Chinese citizens during the past three decades who broke the silence” about the events of June 3-4, 1989.

The anniversary remains taboo in China. Beijing has not held a public inquiry nor permitted an independent investigation, the statement said.

Beijing enjoys strong support among developing countries at the Human Rights Council, a 47-member state forum that has never adopted a resolution on China since being set up in 2006.

A Council spokesman was not in a position to provide any information, noting that communications lodged via the complaint procedure were confidential.

“The massacre 30 years ago has not ended yet. The Chinese government even determined that the victims were criminals and a large number of exiles are still deprived of their right to return to their own country,” said Wang, who lives in the United States.

China has never provided a death toll for the 1989 violence, but rights groups and witnesses say it could run into the thousands.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)

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A helmet and messages of support for the protest against a proposed extradition bill, are seen displayed early morning in Hong Kong, China
A helmet and messages of support for the protest against a proposed extradition bill, are seen displayed early morning in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

June 17, 2019

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s political crisis enters its second week on Monday as uncertainty mounts over the fate of government leader Carrie Lam and an extradition bill she postponed at the weekend.

Organizers said almost 2 million protesters turned out on Sunday to demand that Lam step down in what is becoming the most significant challenge to China’s relationship with the territory since it was handed back by Britain 22 years ago.

“Her government cannot be an effective government, and will have much, much, much difficulties to carry on,” veteran Democratic Party legislator James To told government-funded broadcaster RTHK.

“I believe the central people’s government will accept her resignation.”

Opposition politicians are echoing marchers’ calls for both Lam and the law to go, even though she apologized for how her government handled the draft bill, which would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial for the first time.

While Lam delayed the bill, it has yet to be completely shelved despite broad local and international concern.

“We cannot accept her apology, it doesn’t remove all our threats,” said social worker Brian Chau, who was among several hundred protesters who stayed overnight in the Admiralty district around the government headquarters and legislature.

Some cleared away rubbish left after the vast but peaceful march, while others sang ‘Hallelujah’, a gospel song that has become of a feature of Hong Kong’s protests against Lam.

A smattering of uniformed police stood by, without riot equipment, in a contrast to the recent violent skirmishes between police and protesters.

The headquarters will remain closed on Monday, the government said.

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, John Ruwitch, Farah Master and Greg Torode; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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