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Battlelines drawn for second Spanish election debate, coalition deals unclear

FILE PHOTO: Main candidates for Spanish general elections hold their first televised debate in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outside Madrid
FILE PHOTO: Candidates for Spanish general elections People's Party (PP) Pablo Casado, Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) Pedro Sanchez, Ciudadanos' Albert Rivera and Unidas Podemos' Pablo Iglesias attend a televised debate ahead of general elections in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outside Madrid, Spain, April 22, 2019. TVE via REUTERS/File Photo

April 23, 2019

By John Stonestreet and Belén Carreño

MADRID (Reuters) – The main contenders in Spain’s national election prepared for a second televised debate on Tuesday after a encounter in which they accused each other of lying but left open questions about what coalition deals might eventually be struck.

Sunday’s election, one of the most polarised since Spain’s return to democracy four decades ago, is being fought on emotive issues including gender equality and national unity following Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid rather than matters such as the economy and climate change.

With the result too close to call, the focus on heart rather than head makes it unlikely that candidates will broach new topics in Tuesday’s second round.

Ignacio Jurado, politics lecturer at the University of York, suggested rightists Pablo Casado of the People’s Party (PP) and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos might change roles after Monday’s two-pronged attack on Socialist Prime Minister and election frontrunner Pedro Sanchez.

Casado might become more aggressive and Rivera pull his punches, Jurado said.

The right-leaning El Mundo newspaper suggested Casado and Rivera had outflanked Sanchez over Catalonia – an issue that has dominated national politics in the last few years.

Sanchez, who took power in 2018 after a series of corruption scandals led to the PP’s downfall, has been more open to dialogue with Catalan separatists than other parties and he may need their support to form a viable government.

But he has repeatedly insisted that independence is not up for discussion.

Left-leaning El Pais said Sanchez, seen as a less inspiring public speaker than Rivera and Casado, had not lost the debate.

“Sanchez achieved the minimum required. He managed to get his message across but demonstrated little flexibility,” said Jose Fernandez-Albertos, a political scientist at Spanish National Research Council CSIC.

“There was no clear winner, so they can all go home with the job done.”

Madrid residents who spoke to Reuters TV on Tuesday morning said the leaders should focus more on creating jobs and improving social benefits than clashing over patriotism.

“Catalonia, the flags, Spain – those things don’t shock me. I care about work, well-being, my relatives and society in general, specially the most defenseless,” said one, who gave his name as Jose Antonio.

University of York’s Jurado said candidates may try to present themselves in different ways on Tuesday but the issues were likely to be the same.


Should Sanchez’s poll standing be harmed by the debates, the election outcome risks becoming more murky than ever.

Publication of official opinion polls ended six days before the election and in Monday’s final survey, by GAD3 in ABC newspaper, the Socialists scored 31.5 percent of the vote, giving Sanchez far more leeway than others to pitch for coalition partners.

However, he may well need to bring separatist lawmakers on board, which would complicate any broader alliance.

A putative coalition of Casado’s PP, Rivera’s center-right Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox of Santiago Abascal, meanwhile scored a combined 45 percent – putting them short of a parliamentary majority.

Polls show up to four in 10 voters have yet to decide who to cast their ballot for.

Arguably the greatest unknown remains Vox, tipped to win about 30 seats on Sunday in the 350-seat legislature but prevented from participating in either debate because it currently has no parliamentary representation.

In comments during Monday’s debate, Abascal criticized the lack of media coverage for his party and the lack of diversity between his main rivals. Vox would bring “order and freedom” to Catalonia, he said.

(Additional reporting by Silvio Castellanos; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Angus MacSwan)

Source: OANN

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African summit gives Sudan military more time for reforms: Sisi

Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan
Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

April 23, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – African leaders meeting in Cairo agreed to give Sudan’s ruling military council more time to implement democratic reforms, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday.

The decision appears to extend a 15-day deadline set by the African Union last week for Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) to hand over power to civilians or to be suspended from the grouping. The TMC took over after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted on April 11.

Speaking at the end of a summit attended by several African heads of state, Sisi said that the meeting agreed on the need to deal with the situation in Sudan and to install a comprehensive democratic system.

The states had agreed to give “more time” to carry out these measures with the help of the African Union, Sisi said in his closing remarks at the summit.

The TMC is under pressure from protesters to immediately hand over power to a civilian administration. The TMC says it wants to oversee a transitional period of up to two years but is willing to work with a civilian government comprised of technocrats.

(Reporting by Mohamed Wali; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Sami Aboudi, William Maclean)

Source: OANN

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Trump warms to Harley Davidson, says EU tariffs ‘unfair’

The logo of U.S. motorcycle company Harley-Davidson is seen on one of their models at a shop in Paris
FILE PHOTO: The logo of U.S. motorcycle company Harley-Davidson is seen on one of their models at a shop in Paris, France, August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

April 23, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to reverse course on Harley Davidson Inc, saying European tariffs facing the motorcycle manufacturer were “unfair” and vowing to reciprocate, after urging a boycott of the company last year amid a steel spat.

The Wisconsin-based company last year announced plans to move production of its motorcycles destined for the European Union to its overseas facilities from the United States to avoid EU tariffs imposed in response to Trump’s duties on steel and aluminum imports.

Trump retaliated by calling for higher taxes, threatening to lure foreign motorcycles to the United States, and backing a boycott of the iconic American motorcycle maker.

On Tuesday, Trump appeared more sympathetic, calling the EU tariffs “unfair” but giving no other details about any planned U.S. action in a tweet citing comments by a Fox Business Network host.

“So unfair to U.S. We will Reciprocate!” Trump wrote.

On Saturday, Trump is scheduled to travel to Wisconsin to hold a campaign rally as he seeks reelection in the 2020 presidential election.

Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on any planned actions, as both the EU and the United States prepared to launch larger trade talks.

Representatives for Harley Davidson could not be immediately reached for comment on Trump’s tweet.

The company on Tuesday reported quarterly profit that surged past expectations and stuck to its full-year shipment forecasts amid concerns over falling U.S. sales and European import tariffs, sending its shares up 3 percent.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Source: OANN

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With energy exports depressed, Turkmens turn to towel smuggling

Passengers of a flight from Ashgabat gather at Almaty International Airport
People, including passengers of a flight from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, gather in the baggage claim area upon their arrival at Almaty International Airport, Kazakhstan April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva

April 23, 2019

By Mariya Gordeyeva

ALMATY (Reuters) – Beset by economic hardship, enterprising Turkmens have found a way to supplement their incomes – smuggling towels and bed linen into neighboring Kazakhstan.

Moving hundreds of items every trip in trademark Chinese plaid bags which at times have clogged airport luggage belts, informal traders – mostly women in their late forties and fifties – hand them over to relatives or local partners to be resold for up to five times the purchase price.

Dressed in traditional Central Asian garb such as headscarves and long skirts, these women arrive on almost every flight from Ashgabat to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city.

Textiles are among the few items manufactured domestically from local feedstock and prices for items produced by state-owned companies have remained stable for years even as the Turkmen manat lost four-fifths of its value on the black market due to Turkmenistan’s falling gas export revenue.

A deal to resume gas exports to Russia this month brought hope, but turned out to be small and short-term.

Turkmenistan, where president Kurbanguly Berdimukhamedov rules with an elaborate personality cult, is one of the world’s most closed countries.

There are no opposition parties or media critical of the government and Berdymukhamedov, often referred to as Arkadag (Protector), wields sweeping powers.

Turkmenistan rarely allows visits by foreign journalists and the textile trade offers a glimpse into the depth of its economic problems.


The trade attracted the attention of Almaty airport officials this year when luggage from Turkmenistan started clogging its belts. The planes, it turned out, were stuffed with textiles.

“My daughter trades at a bazaar (in Kazakhstan) and I bring her goods little by little… which I buy from our (Turkmen) stores,” said a Turkmen woman picking up bags from the luggage belt in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial hub.

Like all other people involved in this informal textiles trading, the woman spoke on the condition of anonymity because traders like her dodge customs duties by claiming their goods are personal belongings not meant for resale.

These de facto smuggling operations reached industrial scale in early 2019, prompting the Almaty airport to lodge an official complaint with the Turkmen flag carrier.

“There were parcels weighing over 50-60 kilograms (110-130 pounds) each,” said Marina Zabara, a complaints inspector at the airport.

Oversized parcels have since disappeared but the flow of textiles continues. A Reuters reporter saw Turkmen travelers pick up parcels of textiles upon arrival in Almaty this month.

“A woman from Turkmenistan moved to our village last year and offered us to sell their textiles,” said a Kazakh trader working at a market on the outskirts of Almaty. “Her mother brings the goods as luggage, as many items as she can.”

At Almaty’s biggest market, traders display Turkmen bedding – often with traditional patterns based on deer and sheep horns or abstract human figures – from fully-packed cargo containers.

“The demand is good, with the most expensive bedding set priced at 10,000 tenge ($26),” said one trader.

Some hotels have also become wholesale buyers, Turkmens say.

The official exchange rate of the manat is 3.5 per dollar, but on the black market a dollar fetches 18.6 manat.

A Kazakh citizen who used to live in Turkmenistan told Reuters that by buying out luggage allowances from other travelers and bribing airline officials, a “shuttle trader” can move up to 200 kilograms (441 pounds) in one trip.

(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty and Marat Gurt in Ashgabat,; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Ed Osmond)

Source: OANN

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Lockheed Martin raises 2019 profit, shares rise

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Lockheed Martin is seen at Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in Le Bourget near Paris
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Lockheed Martin is seen at Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in Le Bourget near Paris, France, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

April 23, 2019

(Reuters) – Pentagon’s No.1 weapons supplier Lockheed Martin Corp on Tuesday reported a 47 percent jump in quarterly profit and raised its 2019 profit forecast, sending shares up 4.5 percent before the bell.

The company now expects full-year profit to range between $20.05 and $20.35 per share, compared with its previous forecast of $19.15 to $19.45.

Net earnings rose to $1.70 billion, or $5.99 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $1.16 billion, or $4.02 per share, a year earlier.

Net sales rose 23 percent to $14.34 billion.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Source: OANN

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Trump tells NYT to ‘get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness’

President Trump declared Tuesday that The New York Times should “get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness” for its negative coverage of his presidency, as part of an early-morning Twitter tear against a range of media outlets.

“I wonder if the New York Times will apologize to me a second tie, as they did after the 2016 Election. But this one will have to be a far bigger & better apology. On this one they will have to get down on their knees & beg for forgiveness—they are truly the Enemy of the People!” Trump tweeted.


The president also blasted Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman, whose latest op-ed says “one of our two parties”—the Republican Party—“no longer believes in American values.” The column criticizes Trump and the results of the Russia investigation, claiming the president was aware of intervention in his campaign by a “hostile foreign power” and, once in office, tried to obstruct any investigation into that fact.

“Paul Krugman of the Fake News New York Times, has lost all credibility, as has the Times itself, with his false and highly inaccurate writings on me. He is obsessed with hated, just as others are obsessed with how stupid he is. He said Market would crash, Only Record Highs!” Trump tweeted.

He added: “The Radical Left Democrats, together with their leaders in the Fake News Media, have gone totally insane! I guess that means that the Republican agenda is working. Stay tuned for more!”

The president went on to tout his administration’s impact on the economy, claiming the mainstream media ignores the positive effect his presidency has had.


“In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’ Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history… and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!” he tweeted.

The president’s Twitter rampage comes amid mounting criticism from Democrats following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly 500-page Russia report last week. The special counsel, after a nearly two-year investigation, did not find evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. But the report revealed an array of controversial actions and requests made by the president that were examined as part of Mueller’s investigation’s obstruction inquiry. Despite the findings, Mueller did not come to a conclusion on the matter of whether the president obstructed justice.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning, Trump went after CNN’s Chris Cuomo, blasting the network for giving him a primetime show. The president also slammed MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, saying the host of “Morning Joe” has “nosedived”  and calling him “too Angry, Dumb and Sick.”

The president later added that Twitter, the social media platform itself, is playing "political games."

Source: Fox News Politics

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German prosecutors probe bonus payments to suspended VW manager

FILE PHOTO: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess address a news conference in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Volkswagen in Berlin, Germany February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

April 23, 2019

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German prosecutors are investigating a possible breach of fiduciary duty by Volkswagen over bonus payments made to an executive who was suspended over the carmaker’s emissions cheating scandal.

Regulators blew the whistle on Volkswagen (VW) in 2015 after the German company was caught using software designed to cheat emissions tests on diesel engines.

VW has argued the cheating was the work of a handful of engineers who acted without the consent or knowledge of members of the management board, which at the time included VW’s current chief executive Herbert Diess and chairman Hans-Dieter Poetsch.

Prosecutors in Braunschweig, in VW’s home region of Lower Saxony, said on Tuesday they were now investigating why one VW manager received bonus payments while suspended. According to German paper Bild am Sonntag, the manager received 866,000 euros ($974,000) in bonuses between 2016 and 2018.

The prosecutors declined to identify the manager.

VW declined to comment on the payments.

The manager is among five VW executives, including former chief executive Martin Winterkorn, to face criminal charges for conspiring to cover up the carmaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Prosecutors have said that between November 2006 and September 2015, Winterkorn and four other managers failed in their duty to inform authorities about systematic emissions cheating. The VW managers could face up to 10 years in prison.

The carmaker has argued that although it was informed about the use of software to help pass emissions tests, lawyers advising the company had cautioned against informing the authorities because it was unclear the software was illegal.

Regulators later said that VW had crossed the line from using legitimate software programs to protect engines from damage, known as Auxiliary Emission Control Devices (AECD), to using an illegal “defeat device” which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines as software which “reduced the effectiveness of the emission control system.”

VW has said it also stopped short of informing shareholders about the software before the regulatory announcement because it felt potential fines would not exceed 150 million euros. So far the scandal has cost VW more than 29 billion euros.

(Reporting by Jan Schwartz; Writing by Edward Taylor; Editing by Mark Potter)

Source: OANN

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NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets
Apr 16, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexandre Texier (42) celebrates scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period during game four of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

April 17, 2019

Rookie Alexandre Texier scored his first two playoff goals as the host Columbus Blue Jackets made history with a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, wrapping up an Eastern Conference first-round series.

The Lightning became the NHL’s first Presidents’ Trophy winner ever to be swept in a best-of-seven, opening-round playoff series. Tampa Bay had tied the all-time NHL record with 62 regular-season wins.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.

Columbus’ Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period, and Artemi Panarin, Texier and Matt Duchene added empty-net goals in the final two minutes. Pierre Luc-Dubois and Seth Jones also scored for the Blue Jackets. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves.

Islanders 3, Penguins 1

Jordan Eberle scored for the fourth time in as many games, and Brock Nelson added the winner as visiting New York completed a first-round playoff sweep of Pittsburgh.

The Islanders, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division, used a consistent formula of stifling defense, effective puck pursuit, strong goaltending from Robin Lehner and just enough offense to oust the Penguins, who were third in the division but had hopes of winning the Stanley Cup for the third time in four years.

New York advances to the second round of the Eastern Conference postseason to face the winner of the Washington-Carolina series. The Capitals lead two games to one heading to Game 4 on Thursday.

Golden Knights 5, Sharks 0

Marc-Andre Fleury had 28 saves for his 15th career playoff shutout, and Max Pacioretty had two goals and two assists as Vegas cruised to a victory over San Jose in Las Vegas to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference series.

It was the 78th career playoff win for Fleury, who broke a tie with Mike Vernon for seventh place on the all-time playoff wins list. Fleury also moved into a tie with Chris Osgood for fourth place for most career playoff shutouts.

Pacioretty produced the first two-goal playoff game of his career. Shea Theodore also had a goal and an assist, Alex Tuch and Jonathan Marchessault each scored their first goals of the playoffs, and Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Nate Schmidt all finished with two assists for the Golden Knights.

Jets 2, Blues 1 (OT)

Kyle Connor scored the overtime winner as visiting Winnipeg erased a third-period deficit to defeat St. Louis and even their opening-round Western Conference playoff series at two wins apiece. Game 5 will be Thursday in Winnipeg. The road team has won all four games so far in the series between the Central Division rivals who finished even with 99 points in the regular season.

Off the rush in the extra frame, Mark Scheifele was denied on a golden chance, but he had the presence of mind to feed the puck to the slot for a wide-open Connor to bury the winner at 6:02.

It was the first-ever playoff overtime victory in Jets franchise history.

–Field Level Media

Source: OANN

The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, rolling back Obama administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the three countries whose leaders national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the “three stooges of socialism.”

“The troika of tyranny — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money families in the United States can send their relatives in Cuba. The Obama administration had lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said. Remittances to Cuba from the United States amounted to $3 billion in 2016, according to the State Department.

Bolton also announced that the U.S. was sanctioning the Central Bank of Venezuela, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, which he claimed is a “slush fund” for Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.

“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua,” Bolton said in South Florida, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

He said Obama administration policies gave the Cuban government “political cover to expand its malign influence” across the region, including in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians and support Maduro, Bolton said.

“Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Bolton said. “As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a ‘Cuban puppet.'”

“Thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela are being used as pawns by Maduro and his Cuban sponsors to support his brutal and oppressive reign.”

Bolton’s pledge to “never, ever abandon” the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the historical events he sought to highlight at the event hosted by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F. Kennedy for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela worry that the Trump administration’s stance that all options are on the table, including a military one, to oust Maduro is an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and geopolitical tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.

“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank headquartered in Brussels.

Bolton spoke just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in Washington a new policy that allows lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The United States has enforced a trade blockade against Cuba since the early 1960s.

The announcement comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.

Pompeo said he won’t renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades, meaning that lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2 when the current suspension expires. The decision could cost dozens of Canadian and European companies tens of billions of dollars in compensation and interest.

Pompeo’s decision gives Americans the right to sue companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties Cuba nationalized after Fidel Castro took power. It allows Cubans who became U.S. citizens years after their properties were taken to sue.

The Justice Department has certified roughly 6,000 claims as having merit, according to Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas. Those claims have an estimated value of $8 billion: $2 billion in property and $6 billion in interest, she said. In addition, another 200,000 uncertified claims could run into the tens of billions of dollars, she said.

Breier said there would be no exceptions to the decision, which has already prompted stern responses from Canada and Europe as they have vowed to protect their businesses from lawsuits.

“European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on properties taken from Americans,” she said.

The decision deals a severe blow to Havana’s efforts to draw foreign investment to the island and comes as Trump steps up pressure to Venezuela’s Maduro , who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia.

Spain, which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related industries on the island, was the first to react. A senior government official told The Associated Press that Madrid would ask the European Union to challenge the U.S. move in the World Trade Organization.

Businesses from Canada, France and Great Britain among other countries also conduct business in properties nationalized after Castro took power.

Johana Tablada, Cuba’s deputy director of U.S. affairs, said on Twitter: “Before they try to euphorically ride a wave of wickedness and lies, they should take a dose of reality. The world has told John Bolton and the U.S. government to eliminate the criminal blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act” of 1996.

Countries with large investments in Cuba have ferociously protested the law.

“The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and violates international law,” said Alberto Navarro, the European Union ambassador to Cuba. “I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that’s resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil holds news briefing in Beirut
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil holds a news briefing in Beirut, Lebanon December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

April 17, 2019

By Laila Bassam and Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s draft budget for 2019 projects a deficit of less than 9 percent of GDP compared to 11.2 percent in 2018 and includes “wide reductions” in spending based on the need for “exceptional austerity measures”, the finance minister said on Wednesday.

The budget, seen as a critical test of the heavily indebted state’s determination to reform, is based on an economic growth forecast of 1.5 percent in 2019, which could rise to around 2 percent as the economy picks up, Ali Hassan Khalil told Reuters.

Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world at some 150 percent of GDP. State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidies spent on the power sector.

Serious steps toward reform could unlock $11 billion in financing pledged at a donor conference last year to help Lebanon build infrastructure to boost its economic growth.

Efforts to move forward with those reforms were slowed by protracted negotiations to form a new coalition after an election last May. A unity government was finally created in late January.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has said the reforms will be “painful” and warned that Lebanon faces “catastrophe” if they are not implemented.

The draft budget projects a primary surplus compared to a deficit in 2018, Khalil said.

“The most important thing is that we have put ourselves on the path of dealing with the accumulated deficit,” Khalil said. The draft represented an “introduction to more deficit reductions in the 2020 and 2021 budgets,” he said.

The draft includes measures to tackle tax evasion and to boost customs revenues in addition to “tax amendments” for high earners, he said. There would be no tax increases for the poor and those with middle incomes, he said.

Khalil did not give any details of the spending reductions. Earlier on Wednesday, Hariri hinted in comments to reporters at cuts to benefits enjoyed by some state workers.

Hariri was also cited by Lebanese media as telling parliament he supported recipients of state pensions but also wanted to protect the Lebanese pound, which has been pegged against the dollar for more than two decades.

Small protests over the last two days against cuts have underlined the political minefield facing the government of a country that has put off reforms for years.

The government believed the level of interest rates would tend to decline in the coming months, Khalil said.

He said he believed it was the first time Lebanon would have a budget that was “transparent and realistic” and which included “real spending in all its respects” and did “not hide numbers”.

He said the draft included many of the reforms set out at last year’s Paris donor conference.

Promised reforms included starting work to reduce the deficit in the state subsidized power sector – a major drain on state coffers – “sound management of the public debt to reduce its cost”, and reducing waste and corruption, Khalil said.

“We are completely committed to carrying out these reforms that are … a Lebanese national need,” he said.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry; additional reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN

Years before Pete Buttigieg announced his run for president, his high school voted him “most likely to be president of the U.S.,” a report stated.

Buttigieg, 37, an Afghanistan war veteran and mayor of South Bend, Ind., formally announced his run for president Sunday. The Democratic presidential contender has seen his poll numbers surge in recent weeks.

Apparently, Buttigieg has had his eye on the presidency for some time now. Katie Kowals, a nurse who told ABC News that her brother-in-law knows the mayor well, told the media outlet that Buttigieg was “voted most likely to become president in our yearbook.”


The yearbook from the year 2000 showed Buttigieg as well as a fellow St. Joseph High School classmate voted “most likely to be President of the U.S.” Kowal’s brother-in-law, Peter Kowals, was voted “most likely to overthrow the government.”

Buttigieg was also voted “most likely to succeed” and was the class valedictorian.


Following high school, Buttigieg attended Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. The mayor’s campaign has raised more than $7 million in the first three months of this year. He would be the first openly gay nominee of a major presidential party. He married his husband, Chasten, last year. And, he would be the youngest person to become president, turning 39 the day before the next inauguration, which is on January 20, 2021.

Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News Politics

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the trading floor of Barclays Bank at Canary Wharf in London
FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the trading floor of Barclays Bank at Canary Wharf in London, Britain December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

April 22, 2019

(Reuters) – Barclays Plc is planning to cut bonuses for investment bankers as it steps up its defense against activist investor Edward Bramson ahead of next week’s annual meeting, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

The British bank is cutting bonuses as part of a cost-cutting measure to enhance returns at the bank’s underperforming investment division, the FT said, citing several people briefed on the plans.

Monday was a public holiday in Britain, and Barclays declined to comment on the matter.

Last month, the chief executive of Barclays, Jes Staley, took direct control of its investment bank and ousted head Tim Throsby in a surprise shake-up.

Barclays has been urging shareholders to oppose Bramson’s bid to be appointed to the bank’s board at its annual general meeting on May 2.

Last week, Bramson made a renewed plea to investors about a seat on the bank’s board.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: OANN

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