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A Muslim man stands in front of the Abbraar Masjid mosque after a mob attack in Kiniyama, Sri Lanka May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
May 13, 2019
By Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam
KINIYAMA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lanka widened a curfew on Monday after attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in the worst unrest since Easter bombings by Islamist militants and blocked Facebook and WhatsApp to stop people inciting violence.
The island nation has ramped up security as fears grow that minority Muslims among its population of 22 million could face sectarian violence after Islamist bombers blew themselves up in four hotels and three churches, killing more than 250 people.
Several mosques and Muslim homes were damaged in an attack overnight in the western district of Kurunegala, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka and residents said.
Police arrested a group of men for the attacks but people in the mostly Buddhist district then demanded their release, military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said.
“To control the situation, a police curfew was imposed during the night,” he said. Later on Monday, authorities extended the curfew to more villages in Kurunegala district to restore order.
Last month’s bombings claimed by Islamic State have shocked the island nation of 22 million people, more than 70 percent of whom are Sinhalese Buddhists and the rest Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
Since the bombings, Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints about people being harassed.
There was glass everywhere at the Abrar mosque in the Muslim-majority town of Kiniyama that was attacked overnight. All the windows and doors of the soft-pink building were smashed and copies of the Quran were thrown onto the floor.
Seven bikes parked outside were damaged.
A mosque official said the attacks were triggered when several people, including some Buddhist monks, demanded a search of the main building after soldiers had inspected a 105-acre (43-hectare) pond nearby.
“When Muslims tried to prevent the attack, we were asked by police to go inside,” the official said.
Authorities imposed a temporary ban on social media networks and messaging apps after a clash in another part of the country was traced to a dispute on Facebook.
Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and Muslim-owned stores and a man was beaten in the Christian-majority town of Chilaw on the west coast on Sunday in the dispute that started on Facebook, police sources and residents told Reuters.
Authorities said they arrested the author of a Facebook post, identified as 38-year-old Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, whose online comment “1 day u will cry” people said was interpreted as threatening violence.
“Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, director general of the government information department, told Reuters on Monday.
On Twitter, Sri Lanka’s leading mobile phone operator, Dialog Axiata Plc, said it had also received instructions to block the apps Viber, IMO, Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube until further notice.
(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez, Ranga Sirilal and; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Most voters disapprove of how Attorney General William Barr has handled the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, but Barr’s approval ratings have not dropped enough to show public support for congressional Democrats who want to hold him in contempt, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday.
The poll of 1,990 registered voters conducted May 3-6 shows 29% of respondents approve of how Barr handled the report’s release, but his disapproval stands at 39%, and 32% said they had no opinion.
In other findings, voters were split on whether they thought Barr was working to protect President Donald Trump:
- 35% say he has worked to protect Trump.
- 32% said he has mostly tried to inform the American people.
- 32% were undecided.
The poll fell along party lines:
- Democrats, by 58% to 14% said Barr has acted to protect Trump.
- Republicans, by 56% to 15% said Barr tried to inform the public.
- 28% of independents said Barr has mostly helped Trump, 31% said he has worked to inform the public, and 42% said they do not know.
Barr’s favorability rating rose by 2 percentage points from two weeks ago, and his unfavorability rating is up 4 points:
- 22% have a favorable opinion of Barr.
- 34% view him unfavorably.
- 44% either had no opinion or had not heard of him at all.
Meanwhile, a plurality of voters (46%) said they think Trump tried to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, but 37% did not. The president’s approval rating stood at 43%, up just 1 percentage point from last week and up from 39% two weeks ago. Most voters (52%) disapprove of Trump’s job performance.
Source: NewsMax Politics
FILE PHOTO: Voters cast their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Elyria, Ohio, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk/File Photo
May 3, 2019
By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – A panel of three federal judges on Friday ruled that Ohio’s Republican-drawn congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered the state to revamp it before the 2020 presidential election.
The ruling comes a week after another federal court ruled that Michigan’s congressional maps were unconstitutionally drawn by Republican politicians to dilute the power of Democratic voters.
Both Michigan and Ohio are expected to play a pivotal role in the 2020 election, as they have in recent elections. They were key swing states in Republican U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory.
“We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity,” the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati panel wrote in its decision, ordering the state to create a plan to fix the map by June 14.
The ruling in Ohio could be short-lived if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in June that partisan gerrymandering cases cannot be brought in federal court.
In partisan gerrymandering, one political party draws legislative districts to weaken the other party’s voters. The lines are typically redrawn once a decade after the U.S. census, and in many states the party in power controls the decision-making.
Republicans control both houses of the Ohio legislature, as well as the governorship.
Four congressional elections have occurred under the map and each resulted in 12 Republican representatives and four Democratic representatives, the ruling noted.
Included in the 2012 map was the “‘Snake on the Lake’ — a bizarre, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties,” the judges wrote in their 301-page opinion, referring to the state’s 9th district that runs along Lake Erie.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, said in a statement that the state will seek a stay and appeal.
The court said it will redraw the maps itself if Ohio fails to come up with a solution that the judges deem fair.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought last year by the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union against the state’s attorney general.
“This opinion, declaring Ohio an egregiously gerrymandered state, completely validates every one of our claims and theories in every respect,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement.
Ohio’s secretary of state, Frank Larose, a Republican who oversees the state’s elections process, said his office will work to “administer fair, accurate and secure elections in 2020, pending the conclusion of the judicial process,” he said.
The conservative justices who hold a 5-4 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court at a March hearing focused on gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina signaled that they were skeptical of lower courts’ authority to block electoral maps drawn to give one party a lopsided advantage.
Critics have said gerrymandering has become increasingly effective and insidious, guided by precise voter data and powerful computer software.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)
A student’s bag is searched by a parent as he arrives at his school which opened days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
May 6, 2019
By Shihar Aneez and Waruna Karunatilake
BATTICALOA/COLOMBO (Reuters) – State schools in Sri Lanka resumed classes on Monday amid tight security after the Easter Sunday bombings, but many anxious parents kept their children at home over fears of more attacks by Islamic militants.
Two weeks after suicide bombings at hotels and churches killed 257 people, soldiers conducted a security sweep of schools on Sunday after state institutions were asked to re-open on a staggered basis.
Mid-to-upper stream classes resumed on Monday, to be followed by lower grades at a later date.
Despite the tight security and military patrols, most classrooms were near empty on Monday. Private schools, including Catholic institutions, remained closed.
“I have decided not to send my son to school until the country returns to normal,” said Sujeeva Dissanayake, whose son goes to the state-run Asoka College in Colombo.
She and other parents were at the school to help provide security.
“Until we are certain about the security situation outside we will not send the child to school,” Dissanayake said.
Authorities have blamed the Easter Sunday attacks, which also killed 42 foreign nationals, on two little-known local Islamist groups, the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI).
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
At Royal College, an elite state school in Colombo, the parking area usually filled with school vans on a normal day was practically empty.
Only about 5 percent of its 6000 students were back in classes, a school official said.
At a Hindu school in Batticaloa on the east coast, site of one of the church bombings, parents helped to search schoolbags at the entrance gate. Once inside, pupils sat in desks away from road-side windows.
“Parents are not confident that safety has returned to normal,” said T. Yasodharan, principal of Sivananda College where only 30 percent of its students showed up on Monday.
Security forces are on high alert after intelligence reports indicated militants could strike before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which is due to begin later on Monday.
Muslim schools will be closed for the holidays.
In Negombo, where 102 people attending Easter Sunday service were killed in the deadliest bomb attack, authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed after clashes between two groups of civilians.
A brief ban on social media platforms was also lifted, but authorities said they would stay alert for threats against the Muslim community in the wake of the April 21 attacks.
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith, who has criticized the government’s handling of security around key establishments, has asked for Catholic schools in the Western Province, which includes Colombo and its suburbs, to be closed this week.
(Reporting By Shihar Aneez, Waruna Karunatilake, Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Shri Navaratnam; editing by Darren Schuettler)
President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a seat on the Federal Reserve, economic commentator Stephen Moore, withdrew from consideration on Thursday after weeks of criticism about his shifting views on interest-rate policy and sexist comments about women.
“Steve Moore, a great pro-growth economist and a truly fine person, has decided to withdraw from the Fed process,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
“I’ve asked Steve to work with me toward future economic growth in our Country,” Trump said in a second tweet.
Trump picked Moore, 59, in March to fill one of two vacant positions at the Fed, but had not formally nominated him.
This is the text of Moore’s letter to Trump, released Thursday afternoon:
I was honored and grateful that you asked me to serve on the Federal Reserve Board. Your economic policies have been a spectacular success for American workers. Record low unemployment, 3.2% growth, seven million job openings, and a near 40% rise in the stock market with five quarters now of 3% economic growth, something your critics said could never happen. Trumponomics has been VINDICATED.
Your confidence in me makes what I am about to say much harder. I am respectfully asking that you withdraw my name from consideration. The unrelenting attacks on my character have become untenable for me and my family and 3 more months of this would be too hard on us.
As you know, for the last four years nearly since the start of your campaign for President, I have been an advocate of your economic agenda and am proud to have played a small role in helping make that happen. I will continue to be a loud economic voice advocating for your policies, which will keep us on a prosperous path of 3 to 4% growth with rising wages and low inflation for as far as the eye can see,. I am always at your disposal.
With the greatest regards and respect.
Source: NewsMax Politics
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A woman walks past election campaign billboards in Brussels, Belgium May 21, 2019. Picture taken May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
May 26, 2019
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Far-right Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang looked on course for major gains in an election on Sunday for the Belgian national parliament.
Belgium held a “Super Sunday” of European, national and regional elections, which was expected to result in a shift to the right in more prosperous Dutch-speaking Flanders and to the left in French-speaking Wallonia.
A handful of initial results showed the anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang gaining across Dutch-speaking Flanders at the expense of the more moderate separatist N-VA party, who had participated in the last federal government.
In the French-speaking south of the country, an exit poll conducted for broadcaster RTL, showed the Socialists (PS) of former prime minister Elio di Rupo were set to be the biggest party, followed by current Prime Minister Charles Michel’s liberal MR party.
The initial results and exit polls suggest the linguistically divided country could take some time to form a federal coalition.
Michel, 43, has been running the country of 11 million people in a caretaker capacity since December and could face many more months in that role as party leaders seek to form a new coalition after the vote.
In 2010, that task took a world record 541 days until Di Rupo finally took office.
Belgium effectively runs two separate elections in the Dutch and French-speaking regions, with no national parties, after which it somehow has to weld together a federal government from both sides of the linguistic divide.
People in other European Union countries are also voting on Sunday in elections for the European Parliament, which are expected to dent traditional pro-EU parties and bolster the nationalist fringe.
But some exit polls in countries that have already voted have given pro-EU parties some comfort.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour party looks to have finished first, with a weak showing for eurosceptics.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop. Editing by Jane Merriman)
FILE PHOTO: Ali Wazir (L) and Mohsin Dawar, leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) walk at the venue of a rally against, what they say, are human rights violations by security forces, in Karachi, Pakistan May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo
May 26, 2019
By Jibran Ahmad and Drazen Jorgic
PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s army on Sunday accused two lawmakers critical of the military of playing a key role in a clash with troops at a security checkpost in which three people were killed, setting up a potential confrontation with a vast rights movement the two lawmakers helped to found.
Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, parliamentarians for the volatile Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, were among the founders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) civil rights group that has been a thorn in the side of the military with frequent sit-ins and rallies denouncing alleged military abuses.
PTM has been peaceful since its founding in early 2018 and has vowed not to respond with violence to frequent arrests and what it calls “humiliation” of its members, but some analysts have warned that some elements within PTM could turn violent if the state continued with its tough approach.
PTM’s support base is mostly among ethnic Pashtuns in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa region that is still scarred by a devastating decade-long Islamist insurgency and was led by the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban.
The army said Dawar and Wazir on Sunday led a group that “assaulted” a security checkpost near the North Waziristan town of Boyya, about 10 miles (16 km) from the Afghanistan border.
“They wanted to exert pressure for release of suspected terrorists’ facilitator arrested the other day,” the army said in a statement. “In exchange of fire three individuals who attacked the post lost their lives and 10 got injured.”
The military said five soldiers were also wounded in the attack, following which Wazir and eight others were detained. “Mohsin Javed (Dawar) is at large after inciting the crowd,” the army said.
Dawar and Wazir could not be reached for comment.
Sources in the so-called tribal regions bordering Afghanistan said phone and internet networks in the region have been shut down and curfew imposed.
They said Dawar and Wazir were planning to stage a sit-in along with PTM members to protest against the alleged abusive treatment of a Pakistani woman by the security forces.
Dawar told Voice of America’s (VOA) Pashto language radio service, Deewa, that about 30 people were wounded in the incident, including himself, and some were seriously injured.
Dawar said the security forces tried to stop protestors going through barricades and initially shot in the air but “then opened straight fire at us. Many our of people were injured,” Dawar told Deewa.
PTM, which was founded to protest against the death of a Pashtun man killed by police in the southern port of Karachi, regularly draws thousands of protesters to its demonstrations against state violence.
Its leaders have challenged the military in a way seldom openly done by Pakistani politicians, especially when discussing sensitive topics such as the military’s alleged links to Islamist militants and the army’s vast business empire.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic)
Protesters take part in a march ahead of June 4 anniversary of military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, in Hong Kong, China May 26, 2019. REUTERS/James Pomfret
May 26, 2019
By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters marched through central Hong Kong on Sunday as part of annual demonstrations demanding that China be held accountable for its democracy crackdown in and around Tiananmen Square three decades ago.
Human rights groups and witnesses say that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died in the bloodshed as Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and soldiers fired on student-led democracy protesters, beginning on the night of June 3, 1989.
The Tiananmen crackdown is a taboo subject in China and authorities have refused to accept full accountability or release the death toll.
This year, for the 30th anniversary, censors at Chinese internet companies say that tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy, aided by machine learning and voice and image recognition.
Hong Kong and Macau are the only places on Chinese soil where the event is commemorated each year, while the democratic island of Taiwan also holds public gatherings for the victims.
The Hong Kong demonstrators marched to China’s main representative “liaison” office in the city, where some held up banners while chanting slogans including “the people will not forget”.
Many of the protesters also held up yellow umbrellas, a symbol of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy “umbrella revolution”, while calling for the scrapping of a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China to face trial.
Lawyers, business people and diplomats have expressed widespread concern that the law could extend China’s control into Hong Kong and undermine the city’s vaunted rule of law.
The umbrellas carried the words “Support freedom. Oppose evil law”.
“The Hong Kong people have not forgotten the event of 30 years ago,” said lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, who heads the city’s main opposition Democratic Party.
“The (Chinese) Communist Party tries to erase those memories. But the Hong Kong people have kept it up and are looking for the day when the dictatorship on the mainland will end.”
Some in the crowds were also from mainland China. Among them was Chen Shen, who said he had watched a documentary on the crackdown and later shared it widely with friends using a virtual private network (VPN) to circumvent Chinese censors.
“I felt angry and sad,” he said during the march. “I think Chinese people have the right to know the truth.”
Police estimated that 2,100 people took part in Sunday’s march. An annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on June 4 is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by David Goodman)
Formula One F1 - Monaco Grand Prix - Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo, Monaco - May 26, 2019 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during the race REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
May 26, 2019
MONACO (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton won the Monaco Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday, nursing his car’s worn tires to the finish in a nail-biting victory worthy of the team’s late non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was runner-up, ending Mercedes’s run of five successive one-two finishes, with Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas third.
Max Verstappen crossed the finish line second for Red Bull but dropped to fourth due to a five-second penalty imposed for an earlier unsafe release and collision with Bottas in the pitlane.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
An earth mover prepares the foundation of new apartment block development in the waterfront suburb of Rushcutters Bay, Australia, December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed
May 26, 2019
By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s crumbling housing market looks set to stabilize over coming months as hopes of interest rate cuts and loosening of mortgage rules have boosted buyer inquiries, property and mortgage brokers say.
Home prices across Australia have fallen rapidly since late-2017, heightening worries among policymakers that a prolonged decline would deal a severe blow to the country’s already slowing economy.
While industry watchers say a return to boom times is unlikely anytime soon, they point to signs suggesting a bottoming-out for the sector is imminent.
Economists, including those at AMP and Citibank, last week re-jigged their forecasts to pencil in a less steeper decline in home prices than previously predicted. Several property and mortgage brokers who spoke to Reuters on Friday also said they have seen a noticeable jump in customer inquiries, including from those buying a home for investment.
“The sun is shining all over again now,” said mortgage broker Tony Bice at Sydney-based Finance Made Easy.
Bice cited the unexpected re-election of the country’s pro-business coalition government a little over a week ago and predictions of an Australia rate cut as soon as next month for the improvement in sentiment.
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s (APRA) proposal to ease stress test on mortgages was the “most interesting” policy change, Bice said. Analysts expect the regulator’s move would boost customers’ borrowing capacity.
“My inquiries since the last week has risen dramatically. I have written 11 loans in the last 4 days. In the past, you’d be lucky to write 11 loans in two weeks.” Bice told Reuters.
“A lot of my clients are holding off until June to see what the Reserve Bank does. If they drop the cash rate, I expect banks to follow suit. That will finally revive the market.”
With growth sputtering and inflation at a low ebb, Philip Lowe, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) last week gave the strongest signal yet that rates were about to move lower soon. And an overwhelming majority of economists are now predicting a cut in the cash rate to 1.25% from a record-low of 1.5% at the RBA’s June 4 policy meeting.
UNDER THE HAMMER
Auction activity – a closely-watched measure of demand in Australia – over the weekend provided the first major test for the market following the policy changes.
There were 1,933 capital city auctions on Saturday, double the amount from the previous week, and preliminary data showed a modest pick-up in demand. Clearance rates nudged above 60% for the two biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, compared to 50%-57% over the past year.
The promise of lower rates and easy credit led economists to predict a less steeper drop in home prices. Citi now sees a peak-to-trough fall of 7.5% by June 2019 from 10% previously. AMP’s Shane Oliver predicts a 12% top-to-bottom decline, from an earlier forecast of 15%.
Yet, few expect the boom days to return in a hurry.
“We see broadly flat house prices for 2020,” Oliver said.
“Given still high house prices and poor affordability, still very high debt levels, tighter lending standards and rising unemployment a quick return to boom time conditions is most unlikely.”
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - May 26, 2019 Spain's Garbine Muguruza in action during her first round match against Taylor Townsend of the U.S. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
May 26, 2019
(Reuters) – Spain’s Garbine Muguruza has the potential and talent to win any tournament in the world when she is at her peak despite her recent slide down the singles rankings, two-times French Open finalist Alex Corretja has said.
Muguruza, a 2016 winner at Roland Garros, is seeded 19th this year and has not been in the best of form this season, winning only one title at the Monterrey Open in April after her final opponent Victoria Azarenka retired with an injury.
From a career-high number one singles ranking in 2017, she has since slipped to 19th after a poor 2018 season and was stretched in the opening round on Sunday by American Taylor Townsend before eventually claiming a 5-7 6-2 6-2 victory.
“I’ve been watching her, she’s practising hard, been in the gym a lot,” Eurosport analyst Corretja told Reuters. “One thing about Muguruza is when she’s in good shape she can win any tournament in the world.
“When she hits her peak she’s so dangerous because she moves well. She knows the clay, she has already won there, so I think the first few rounds for her will be very important to build up her confidence.”
Corretja also said that the 25-year-old two-times grand slam winner could go far by flying under the radar and maintaining her consistency over a season.
“Not too many people are going to talk about her at the beginning,” the Spaniard added. “I think she will be able to go a long way without people talking about her… I think that might help her in this moment of her career.
“Maybe she’s not as consistent as we wish — we always want them to be consistent for 25 weeks of the year — but she can win anywhere.”
Muguruza plays Sweden’s Johanna Larsson in the second round.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Martyn Herman)
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, April 26, 2019. Parker Song/Pool via REUTERS
May 26, 2019
BANGKOK (Reuters) – A pro-army in Thailand will cement a deal on Monday to gain enough parliamentary seats to keep the current military junta leader in power as an elected prime minister, a lawmaker and executive board member of the party told Reuters.
Palang Pracharat contested the March 24 election on a platform of electing retired General Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister, five years after he seized power as army chief in 2014.
Puttipong Punnakanta, one of Palang Pracharat’s board members and members of parliament, told Reuters that the party – which gained the second-largest number of seats in the election – would formally invite two other medium-sized parties to join in a coalition government.
“We will invite the two parties tomorrow. It’s certain that we will be forming a coalition government, with at least 251 seats and more,” he said.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)