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Exclusive: In rare move, French warship passes through Taiwan Strait

FILE PHOTO: A tugboat escorts French Navy frigate Vendemiaire on arrival for a goodwill visit at a port in Metro Manila
FILE PHOTO: Tugboat escorts French Navy frigate Vendemiaire on arrival for a 5-day goodwill visit at a port in Metro Manila, Philippines March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo

April 25, 2019

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A French warship passed through the strategic Taiwan Strait this month, U.S. officials told Reuters, a rare voyage by a vessel of a European country that is likely to be welcomed by Washington but increase tension with Beijing.

The passage, which was confirmed by China, is a sign that U.S. allies are increasingly asserting freedom of navigation in international waterways near China. It could open the door for other allies, such as Japan and Australia, to consider similar operations.

The French operation comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and China. Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.

Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a French military vessel carried out the transit in the narrow waterway between China and Taiwan on April 6.

One of the officials identified the warship as the French frigate Vendemiaire and said it was shadowed by the Chinese military. The official was not aware of any previous French military passage through the Taiwan Strait.

The officials said that as a result of the passage, China notified France it was no longer invited to a naval parade to mark the 70 years since the founding of China’s Navy. Warships from India, Australia and several other nations participated.

China said on Thursday it had lodged “stern representations” with France for what it called an “illegal” passage.

“China’s military sent navy ships in accordance with the law and the rules to identify the French ship and warn it to leave,” defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a regularly scheduled media briefing, while declining to say if the sailing had led to the withdrawal of France’s invitation to the parade of ships this week.

“China’s military will stay alert to firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and security,” he said.

Colonel Patrik Steiger, the spokesman for France’s military chief of staff, declined to comment on an operational mission.

The U.S. officials did not speculate on the purpose of the passage or whether it was designed to assert freedom of navigation.


The French strait passage comes against the backdrop of increasingly regular passages by U.S. warships through the strategic waterway. Last month, the United States sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait.

The passages upset China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory. Beijing has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island.

Chen Chung-chi, spokesman for Taiwan’s defense ministry, told Reuters by phone the strait is part of busy international waters and it is “a necessity” for vessels from all countries to transit through it. He said Taiwan’s defense ministry will continue to monitor movement of foreign vessels in the region.

“This is an important development both because of the transit itself but also because it reflects a more geopolitical approach by France towards China and the broader Asia-Pacific,” said Abraham Denmark, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.

The transit is a sign that countries like France are not only looking at China through the lens of trade but from a military standpoint as well, Denmark said.

Last month, France and China signed deals worth billions of euros during a visit to Paris by Chinese President Xi Jinping. French President Emmanuel Macron wants to forge a united European front to confront Chinese advances in trade and technology.

“It is important to have other countries operating in Asia to demonstrate that this is just not a matter of competition between Washington and Beijing, that what China has been doing represents a broader challenge to a liberal international order,” Denmark, who is with the Woodrow Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, added.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Sophie Louet in Paris, Yimou Lee in Taipei and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by James Dalgleish, Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

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Former Vice President Biden enters 2020 presidential race

FILE PHOTO: Former Vice President Biden speaks to reporters after speaking at electrical workers’ conference in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden who is mulling a 2020 presidential candidacy, speaks to the media after speaking at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ (IBEW) construction and maintenance conference in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

April 25, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday formally announced his entry into the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination for the 2020 election.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said in a stark video released online, calling on voters to deny Republican U.S. President Donald Trump a second term in office.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Source: OANN

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In east Aleppo, bodies still under rubble show limits of Syria’s recovery

Child sits near a Syrian flag with President Bashar al-Assad at Aleppo's Kalasa district
A child sits near a Syrian flag with President Bashar al-Assad at Aleppo's Kalasa district, Syria April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

April 25, 2019

By Angus McDowall

ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) – The bodies of three-year-old Malak Kasas and two neighbors still lie under a pile of rubble in Aleppo’s Kalasa district more than two years after the Syrian government recaptured the area.

Malak’s grandfather, Omar, and uncle, Mahmoud, live in the building opposite. When they stand on the balcony, they see the collapsed building that is her tomb. Whenever Omar says her name he bursts into silent, convulsive, sobs.

The state’s failure to pull bodies from the rubble of east Aleppo points to the grim prospects for an area that, like many others in Syria, was held by rebel forces for much of the country’s eight-year-old conflict. The western part of the city has remained in government hands throughout the fighting.

The opposition has accused President Bashar al-Assad of withholding services from districts where the rebellion against him flared to punish residents, and in Kalasa there was little evidence of a big government effort to improve conditions.

The government blames the slow recovery, shortages and hardship on the war and Western sanctions. It has denied treating recaptured areas differently to ones that remained under its control throughout the war and has said it is working to restore normal services to all areas.

The conflict that has killed half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million continues, and Reuters could hear bombardments over several nights in Aleppo from a nearby frontline during a recent visit.

In Kalasa, recaptured in late 2016, there is no systematic reconstruction of residential areas. State services are minimal. Work to renovate war-damaged buildings is almost entirely done and paid for by local people, residents say.

Kalasa has no state electricity supply, charities dole out boxes of food aid to crowds waiting behind chains. As elsewhere in Syria, fuel shortages cause long lines at petrol stations and people rely on firewood for heat.

Some damaged buildings in Kalasa have recently collapsed, falling debris killed a man last year and the many large heaps of rubble in areas where children play in the street are covered in stinking rubbish, dead rats and swarming flies.

Kalasa’s situation is not unusual for east Aleppo – other districts toured by Reuters showed equally bad or worse conditions. The western part of the city has suffered less damage because the rebels had no air power.

In other cities, there also are no reports of widespread rebuilding or data to suggest it has started.

Ayad Batash, 35, a former soldier and builder who was optimistic about life in Kalasa when Reuters met him two years ago, said things had become much worse for his family with a fuel shortage and a lack of work.

“This year’s not like before. This year is worse. The economic situation is worse than before,” he said.

Two years ago, he had regular work and thought the electricity supply would soon resume. He expected to move back into his own apartment and thought his neighbors would return from life as refugees.

“If the situation continues like this, people won’t come back,” he said.


Reuters journalists spent several days reporting in a small neighborhood of Kalasa that they also visited in 2017 after the government retook the area, interviewing dozens of residents including several they had met previously.

A government official accompanied Reuters at all times in Kalasa. Local people criticized the rebels that held the area from 2012 until 2016 but not Assad or his government.

The recapture of Aleppo, Syria’s second city, was a turning point in the war. In just one city center square, Reuters counted 18 posters of Assad.

Some things have improved since Reuters last visited this district two years ago. There is now piped water and some rubble, and debris blocking streets and alleys has been cleared.

More schools have opened, though they are crowded, and more government-subsidized bakeries operate in the area, though queues for bread are long.

Those considerations are scant comfort to the people of Kalasa. Omar Kasas no longer leaves his flat. He remembers the bombardment in September 2016 that killed his daughter Iman and her daughters Ayah, Mayas and Malak in the building opposite.

People dug out the bodies of Iman, Ayah and Mayas, and nine dead neighbors, but could not reach Malak or two other women. Since the government took the area, there has been no effort to shift the rubble or find the bodies, residents said.


For Ayad Batash, a government supporter with two brothers in the army, the fuel shortages have aggravated other problems. During a cold winter, his four children, aged between two and 10, had no way to keep warm but with blankets.

A neighbor, retired school worker Ahmad Zarka, 73, kept a stove going to keep warm. The black smoke that pours out of it has turned his white songbirds in a cage on the wall a sooty grey. Rationed gas supplies were not adequate, he said.

The Western districts of Aleppo receive state power supplies for several hours a day. In Kalasa the only source of power is private generators that run on rationed diesel fuel.

Snack bar owner Rabiah al-Najar said the cost of electricity for selling sandwich wraps ate up nearly half his weekly profits.

Batash blames the lack of electricity for the lack of work. Using diesel-powered generators during a fuel shortage can double the cost of a job renovating a damaged apartment, he said. “So the customer just delays the work,” he said.

Opposite a petrol station near Kalaseh, where 80 cars were lined two-deep along the road waiting for rationed fuel, men sat on the curb, their tools lying on upturned concrete blocks to advertise their services as laborers.

“We wait from 7.30 a.m. until about 1 p.m. Then we go home and there’s nothing to do until the next day,” said Mohammed Ahmedi, 53, one of three sitting together, smoking as they waited for a job. They had not worked in 10 days, he said.


Batash has also had little work over the winter, he said. He considered moving but believes things are little better elsewhere.

Every few weeks his family joins the crowd waiting behind a chain strung across a nearby alleyway to receive food aid from the World Food Program and a local charity.

Men and women queue separately, each clutching their green ration card, waiting for their number to be called to collect a cardboard box with salt, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar, rice and cooking oil.

There are queues even for bread. At a Kalasa bakery, people had to wait more than half an hour to receive their flat loaves.

There is no official rationing for bread but the baker, Hamid Atiq, said he limited what he sold each person because he did not have enough flour or fuel to power his oven long enough to supply all that the neighborhood wanted.

His bakery is wedged between the rubble of several bomb sites, and a dead rat lay on the ground nearby as a crowd gathered round the service window jostling to be served.

On the other side of the main road is an area of ramshackle older houses of two or three storeys. Mohammed Ramadan Daha, 61, is frightened to sleep in his house there.

The house behind his collapsed recently. The one next door has a large crack running up the side. He fears his will collapse too.

“It’s terrifying,” Daha said.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Source: OANN

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Guardians of Spanish culture lay out election hopes and fears

Flamenco dancer Collado performs at Las Carboneras flamenco venue in Madrid
Flamenco dancer, or "bailaora", Mariana Collado, 37, performs at Las Carboneras flamenco venue in Madrid, Spain, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

April 25, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Her heels clacking impossibly fast, a dancer slides across a Flamenco stage in Madrid, while in a Catalan town a burly man in a faded red shirt helps anchor a seven-layer human tower topped by a tiny girl.

Guardians of Spain’s cultural heritage, Mariana Collado and David Tarrats view the future with some uncertainty as they prepare to vote in a national election that looks too close to call.

Collado, from the Flamenco heartland of southern Spain but working in the capital, has no time for political extremism – a far right party will enter parliament on Sunday for the first time in decades – and believes the next government should prioritize the arts.

“Life is full of a marvelous range of different colors and I think the extremes are not good at all,” she told Reuters.

“…I’m afraid that culture could disappear, because culture is the first thing that they get rid of when there’s no money in the country.”

Tarrats, from Vic west of Barcelona, uses his body like a construction block to perpetuate a 200-year-old Catalan tradition of tower-building rooted in skill, strength and, above all, trust – something that, as a separatist, he struggles to extend to politicians.

“I will vote for someone who defends the independence of Catalonia, my rights (and) my language, but it will be complicated because … politicians only want to defend their seat,” he said.

In Spain’s gradually depopulating southern countryside, a grower of its signature olive crop feels largely abandoned by politicians too.

Falling wholesale prices mean Agustin Perea, from the Andalusian village of El Burgo, is finding it ever harder to make a living and he fears for the next generation.

“There are many young people who like farming but they are unable to work in this sector because it demands considerable investment,” he said.

“…(The government) have to help us a bit, otherwise (these) small towns are going to become empty.”

(Reporting by Sergio Perez, Michael Gore, Jon Nazca, Jordi Rubio and Albert Gea, Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Source: OANN

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Catalonia: the crisis at the heart of Spain’s election

A woman walks by Ciudad Meridiana neighbourhood in Barcelona
A woman speaks on the phone as she walks by Ciudad Meridiana neighbourhood in Barcelona, Spain, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Albert Gea

April 25, 2019

By Ingrid Melander and Joan Faus

TOLEDO/BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) – Proudly displaying two Spanish flags he brought to wave at a Vox rally, retired police officer Jose Antonio Corrales Sierra says he will vote for the far-right party in Sunday’s election and is ditching the mainstream PP conservatives because of Catalonia.

The northeastern region’s independence drive has been an agent of radical change. It was instrumental in triggering the election, has been a pivotal issue throughout campaigning and is expected to be crucial in determining the composition of the next government.

“I used to vote PP, but I will never do it again because they are traitors,” said 61-year-old Corrales Sierra, blaming the party, in office in 2017 when Catalonia defied national authorities to hold an independence referendum, for not doing enough to prevent that banned vote.

The pensioner’s words struck as irrevocable a tone as his actions, but reflected the unbridled emotions in play in the wider debate over national identity that has polarized the country like no other and whose consequences the right wing parties may have misjudged.

“Traitor” is, after all, what PP leader Pablo Casado labeled Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, simply for his willingness to enter discussions with Catalonia’s separatists. Sanchez has consistently opposed any move towards independence.

Vox chief Santiago Abascal called him “insane” and told the rally in Toledo attended by Corrales Sierra that Spain’s survival as a nation was at stake.

Center-right Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, said Sanchez wanted to “liquidate” the country.

Things are much calmer on the ground in Catalonia than in October 2017 when the crisis upended Spanish politics, helping Vox rise from near-anonymity to the certainty of becoming the first far-right party to sit in parliament in almost 40 years.


But for it and the other right-wing parties, pushing the Catalonia issue so hard throughout campaigning for an election that remains too close to call may prove counterproductive.

Banking early on the attention it could win them, Vox became co-accuser in the ongoing Supreme Court trial of twelve Catalan separatist leaders for rebellion and sedition.

PP and Ciudadanos joined the anti-secession bandwagon too.

But by all choosing Catalonia and attacks on Sanchez as a major campaign theme, when polls show it is not the top concern for voters, the three right-wing parties risk losing time and energy battling each other and damaging their chances of entering government.

What they are targeting is forming a coalition together, but that outcome, which opinion polls showed to be the most likely one a few weeks ago, has become much more of an outside bet.

Sanchez’s Socialists are now in pole position and, for Lluis Orriols, a political science lecturer at the University Carlos III of Madrid, much of that is down to the right’s stance on Catalonia.

“The three parties saw opportunities on their right flank … but they have neglected the center, which the Socialists are now occupying by default,” Orriols said.


The election is however far from in the bag for Sanchez, and there again Catalonia is likely to be a determining factor.

Sanchez hopes to be able to govern with just anti-austerity Podemos, the only national party that supports the principle of a referendum on Catalonia’s future.

But surveys suggest other allies will be needed and Catalonia’s separatists are an option.

They precipitated the end of his minority government in February, refusing to back his 2019 budget bill because they felt he was not supportive enough of their demand to hold another referendum.

But in the past week the two main Catalan secessionist parties, ERC and JxCat, have softened their stance, showing some willingness to help support a second term for Sanchez and stave off a right-wing government that would include hardline nationalists Vox.

“We will not facilitate, either by action or by omission, an extreme right government in Spain,” ERC leader Oriol Junqueras said from the Madrid jail where he is being held during his sedition trial.

“If we want the (Catalan) republic, the referendum, it is obvious that we have to be understood in the world.”

Catalonia elects 48 of Spain’s 350 deputies, and ERC and JxCat could together have up to 23 seats, a CIS opinion poll showed.

With the margins so fine, that suggests Junqueras’ support could be decisive, though any talks between Sanchez and the secessionists are bound to be long and complex.

Based on opinion polls, the Socialists and Ciudadanos could together form a two-party coalition.

But chances of that appear to have receded as the election has drawn closer. Not only do they differ strongly on Catalonia but after Rivera repeatedly rejected any such alliance, Sanchez said on Tuesday it was not part of his plans either.

Meanwhile, in Ciutat Meridiana, the poorest neighborhood of Barcelona, the debate about independence seems far from people’s minds.

“What I care about is having a job. I am apolitical,” said 41 year-old construction worker Francisco Javier. He said the campaign should focus on bigger concerns such as global warming and plans to leave his ballot paper blank.

(Additional reporting by Sabela Ojea, Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by John Stonestreet)

Source: OANN

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German bank body: Deutsche Bank/Commerzbank merger wouldn’t make commercial sense

FILE PHOTO: Outside view of the Deutsche Bank and the Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: Outside view of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

April 25, 2019

BERLIN (Reuters) – The head of Germany’s BdB banking association said on Thursday that a merger of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank did not make sense and added that the German economy was big enough to accommodate several big banks.

Speaking after merger talks between the two banks ended in failure, BdB president Hans-Walter Peters said the banks had given good and justifiable reasons for their decision and added that this step should be respected.

“A merger would not make commercial sense in the current situation,” Peters said. “The decision doesn’t have a direct impact on customers and companies.”

(Reporting by Christian Kraemer; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Riham Alkousaa)

Source: OANN

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Ukraine passes language law championed by outgoing president

Activists attend a rally to demand lawmakers vote for a law that grants special status to the Ukrainian language in front of the parliament building in Kiev
Activists attend a rally to demand lawmakers vote for a law that grants special status to the Ukrainian language and introduces mandatory language requirements for public sector workers, in front of the parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine April 25, 2019. Banners reads (L-R) "Vote for the language law", "Protect language, vote for the language law", "Language is a weapon", "Language is our security". REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

April 25, 2019

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s parliament approved a law on Thursday that grants special status to the Ukrainian language and makes it mandatory for public sector workers, despite opposition from the country’s large Russian-speaking minority who feel it is discriminatory.

The move, which obliges all citizens to know the Ukrainian language and makes it a mandatory requirement for civil servants, soldiers, doctors, and teachers, was championed by outgoing President Petro Poroshenko who needs to sign it into law before it takes effect, something he is expected to do.

Language became a much more sensitive issue in Ukraine, where many people speak both Ukrainian and Russian fluently, after Russia annexed Crimea and backed a pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Poroshenko, who is due to step down soon after actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy trounced him at the ballot box on Sunday, put promotion of the Ukrainian language at the heart of his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

But Zelenskiy, who himself speaks Russian more frequently than Ukrainian, has said he wants to unite rather than divide the country and has said he has questions about the new law.

The new legislation requires TV and film distribution firms to ensure 90 percent of their content is in Ukrainian and for the proportion of Ukrainian-language printed media and books to be at least 50 percent.

Computer software must also have a Ukrainian-language interface although the law also allows the use of English or any other official language of the European Union.

Lawmakers cheered and rose to a standing ovation after the law was passed and sang the national anthem. Hundreds of people waving Ukrainian flags had gathered outside parliament to support the law.

“This is a historic moment, which Ukrainians have been waiting for centuries, because for centuries Ukrainians have tried to achieve the right to their own language,” one of the authors of the bill, Mykola Knyazhytsky, said before the vote.

The make-up of the parliament has not changed since Zelenskiy’s election win and remains dominated by a coalition supportive of Poroshenko.

Poroshenko had originally thought the language law would be approved before the election and would help boost his support, particularly in western regions where the Ukrainian language is predominantly used.

Its approval is potentially awkward for incoming president Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience.

Zelenskiy’s stance on the new law is unclear. He said during the campaign he’d do everything to protect and develop the Ukrainian language, but also that he had questions about the new legislation.

In 2012, clashes between riot police and protesters erupted in Kiev after Ukraine’s parliament approved a law that made Russian an official language.

Ukraine also has Romanian, Polish and Hungarian minorities that speak these languages. Last year, its relations with neighboring Hungary soured after parliament passed a law that banned teaching in minority languages beyond primary school level.

A survey conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology showed that the Ukrainian language is used by 32.4 percent of Ukrainian families, while Russian is used by 15.8 percent. About a quarter of Ukrainians use both languages.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Matthias Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Source: OANN

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The HNA Group logo is seen on the gate of HNA Plaza building in Beijing
The HNA Group logo is seen on the gate of HNA Plaza building in Beijing, China July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Elias Glenn

April 19, 2019

By Jennifer Hughes

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Embattled Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has denied accusations of embezzlement and financial irregularity made by a rival group of shareholders in Hong Kong Airlines (HKA) as the two sides fight for control of the struggling carrier.

The allegations were made by Zhong Guosong and Frontier Investment Partner who between them control 61 percent of HKA’s shares. On Tuesday, they declared they had taken control of the carrier and made Zhong, a former HKA director, chairman after an extraordinary shareholder meeting.

The pair said on Wednesday, via a spokesperson, that an investigation had been launched into “the embezzlement of HKA assets and serious financial misappropriation by HNA Group parties.”

In an emailed statement to Reuters on Friday, HNA said that the allegations “are false”.

“HNA Group is committed to the highest standards of integrity in all of its activities and expects the same of all of its representatives,” it added.

HKA’s website still lists Hou Wei as chairman.

Hou joined HKA in September last year after more than four years with HNA-controlled Hainan Airlines, according to his LinkedIn profile.

HNA holds about 29 percent of HKA, having cut its majority holding two years ago.

This week’s battle comes as HKA is struggling to survive. Earlier this month, airline executives told shareholders the company needed at least HK$2 billion ($254.95 million) to avoid the risk of losing its operating license – and that it swung to a loss of about HK$3 billion last year.

Zhong and Frontier representatives at that meeting, however, demanded details of the 2018 accounts and questioned the close ties between HKA and HNA affiliates, which include loans and equity investments by HKA to HNA groups, according to HKA’s 2017 accounts seen by Reuters.

On Thursday this week, the two sides clashed again when Zhong and Frontier accused HNA of storming HKA’s head offices and removing documents – claims denied by an HKA spokesperson.

HKA said later that day that the extra security staff visible in the lobby and foyer of HKA’s offices were to preserve order that had been disrupted by the shareholder dispute.

On Thursday evening, Hong Kong’s Transport and Housing Bureau said it had met with representatives for both sides and was monitoring the situation.

It added that the Civil Aviation Department had stepped up its oversight of HKA’s flight operations to ensure no disruption over the holiday weekend.

(Reporting by Jennifer Hughes, Kane Wu and Julie Zhu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Girls wearing the yukata, or casual summer kimono, run as they cross the road at a shopping district in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Girls wearing the yukata, or casual summer kimono, run as they cross the road at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

April 12, 2019

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will forge ahead with a planned sales tax hike to 10 percent in October, likely knocking the economy into contraction in the fourth quarter, a Reuters poll showed.

Tokyo has twice postponed raising the sales tax from 8 percent but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said the hike will proceed this time.

To blunt its economic impact, the government has earmarked about 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) in spending.

Authorities say the move is needed to cover growing social welfare costs as the population rapidly ages.

Forty of 41 economists expect the levy will be raised as scheduled, according to the poll, which was conducted April 2-11.

“There are no reasons to postpone the tax hike at the moment,” said Takumi Tsunoda, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute.

He pointed out the 2014 tax increase, from 5 percent to 8 percent, was larger and said the government’s proposed steps to cushion the blow are “significant.”

Still, there is speculation Abe may delay the hike a third time even if Japan isn’t hit by a major economic blow, as was the case in 2016, when he postponed it a second time.

At that time, Abe laid the groundwork for the delay at a Group of Seven summit, insisting fellow leaders shared a “strong sense of crisis” about the global economy. Other G7 leaders seemed to differ with Abe on this assessment, fueling commentary Abe was using the G7 summit to justify the delay.

Given that history, about half the economists — even those who predicted the hike will proceed — said there is a possibility Abe may decide postpone it again. Asked if it might be delayed even without an economic shock, 18 of 37 analysts said “yes,” while 19 answered “no.”

Asked if the government will need to compile an extra budget for this fiscal year started in April to shore up the economy, 22 of 38 analysts answered “no” and 16 said “yes.”

“The government has already adopted enough steps to soften pains from the tax hike, so there is no need to compile additional spending,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.


Meanwhile, more than half of economists polled — 24 of 40 — said the Bank of Japan’s next step will be to start normalizing its super-loose monetary policy. But 16 economists projected the BOJ will ease further.

That compares with 29 and 10, respectively, in the March survey.

Many forecast the BOJ will likely retain its current monetary policy framework for at least the rest of the year.

“We expect the BOJ will escape the situation where it has to ease policy,” said Atsushi Takeda, chief economist at Itochu Research Institute. “But the central bank will keep its current pace of easing as there are no signs that inflation will reach the BOJ’s 2 percent target.”

But Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities, says the BOJ will be forced to ease further.

“The United States is expected to worsen from around late 2019, which will drag down the global economy.”

The economists predicted Japan’s core consumer price index, which includes oil products but not fresh foods, will rise to 0.7 percent for fiscal 2019, which started April 1, and to 0.8 percent the next fiscal year.

They also forecast the economy contracted at an annualized rate of 0.2 percent last quarter amid weak foreign demand for Japanese products.

It will shrink again by an annualized rate of 2.0 percent in the October-December quarter due to the planned sales tax hike, the poll showed. Only one economist predicted growth that quarter.

But the economy is expected to muster modest growth of 0.5 percent this fiscal year and 0.6 percent for the next, little changed from last month’s poll.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; polling by Khushboo Mittal; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Ross Finley)

Source: OANN

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday opened the door to addressing the nation’s immigration problems through bipartisan legislation that he said should include changes to asylum law.

Speaking to reporters before the start of a two-week Senate recess, McConnell noted the “crisis” at the southern border with Mexico and said, “I think it’s long past due for us to sit down on a bipartisan basis and try to fix as much of this problem as we can.”

With the numbers of Central American migrants surging at the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump earlier this year declared a national emergency. That, he argued, would allow him to take federal funds and use them to build a wall to repel undocumented immigrants. He took the step after Congress refused to give him $5.7 billion for the construction.

But McConnell said that bolstering border security would not fully address immigration ills.

“That doesn’t solve the asylum issue. That can’t be solved I don’t think without some kind of statutory adjustment of some kind or another,” McConnell said.

Asked whether he has spoken to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer about working on a wide-ranging immigration bill, McConnell said, “Well yeah. We’re talking about a variety of different things and we’ll see what happens.”

Schumer aides were not immediately available for comment. Earlier in the day at a news conference, Schumer did not list immigration as one of the issues he thought could be addressed by the Senate this year.

U.S. officers arrested or denied entry to over 103,000 people along the border with Mexico in March, a 35 percent increase over the prior month and more than twice as many as the same period last year, according to data released on Tuesday.


The Trump administration and leading Senate Republicans have called for moving Central American asylum cases more quickly through the legal system and setting an easier standard for deportations.

But toughening U.S. asylum law is likely to face stiff opposition from Democrats in Congress and from immigration advocacy groups.

Democrat Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees immigration policy, earlier this week said it was “unlikely” he would support such changes to asylum law.

“But I’m always willing to hear constructive ideas and proposals. That is a particularly difficult area,” Coons said in a brief interview outside the Senate chamber.

Asked what other immigration problems could be addressed in a bipartisan negotiation, McConnell did not specify saying, “That’s what a negotiation produces, some kind of understanding of how many of these different issues you can get agreement to solve.”

At the top of Democrats’ list is providing permanent legal protections from deportation for hundreds of thousands of “dreamers.” They are undocumented immigrant youths who were brought to the United States when they were under the age of 18, many as infants or toddlers.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, also in hallway interviews this week, said he has asked the White House to provide detailed changes it would want in asylum legislation.

“They were supposed to get it to me last week. I don’t know what has happened,” said Graham, who has developed close ties to Trump.

Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that instead of toughening U.S. asylum law, Congress and the Trump administration should invest in more orderly screening of undocumented immigrants and improve infrastructure at ports of entry.

Asked whether asylum law also needs to be changed, Chen said, “In a word, no. We already have very strict and narrow definitions” of who should qualify.

Altering it in the way some Republicans are discussing, Chen said in a phone interview this week, could put migrant children in jeopardy if they are sent back to their native countries, some of which have the highest levels of violent crime in the world.

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: A ship loaded with containers is pictured at Yusen Terminals on Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: A ship loaded with containers is pictured at Yusen Terminals (YTI) on Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake -/File Photo

April 12, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. import prices increased for a third straight month in March, driven by higher fuel prices, but the underlying trend remained soft.

The Labor Department said on Friday import prices rose 0.6 percent last month, boosted by increases in the costs of fuels and industrial supplies. Data for February was revised higher to show import prices rising 1.0 percent, the largest monthly advance since May 2016.

Petroleum prices rose 4.7 percent in March, slowing from February’s 9.7 percent gain. Industrial supplies and materials were up 2.7 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.4 percent in March. Excluding petroleum, import prices rose 0.2 percent.

In the 12 months through March, import prices were unchanged after declining on an annual basis in the three prior months.

Export prices rose 0.7 percent in March, after rising by the same margin in February. Economists had expected a 0.2 percent gain.

Export prices rose 0.6 percent on a year-on-year basis in March after rising 0.3 percent in February.

(Reporting by Andrea Ricci; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Source: OANN

World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington
World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the IMF and World Bank’s 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, U.S. April 13, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

April 13, 2019

By Rodrigo Campos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund will not be able to help Venezuela deal with its economic crisis until a “large majority” of its members decide who to recognize as the country’s leader, the head of the global lender said on Saturday.

Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the IMF “can only be guided by the membership, so it’s not a question of us deciding” whether to help in the event that Venezuela’s government reaches out to the Fund.

“It has to be a large majority of the membership actually recognizing diplomatically the authorities that they regard as legitimate,” Lagarde said in a press conference at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington.

Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis marked by widespread food and medicine shortages, while hyperinflation has all but rendered its currency worthless.

More than 50 mostly Western countries including the United States and Venezuela’s largest neighbors have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the South American nation’s leader.

Russia and others recognize Nicolas Maduro, the socialist president and successor to the late Hugo Chavez, as the legitimate head of state.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said separately on Saturday that he has had discussions with the IMF about the process for recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s leader.

“There were discussions we had this week at the IMF about that, and what their process would be to do that,” he said.

Earlier this week Lagarde and World Bank President David Malpass said separately they are preparing to move quickly to help ease Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian crisis, but the leadership question is standing in the way.

Based on the countries which have publicly supported Guaido or Maduro and their voting weighting inside the World Bank and IMF, Guaido’s representative could get slightly more than 50 percent of a vote according to a Reuters tally. No such vote has yet been called for.

An estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans have left the oil-rich country to escape deteriorating social and economic conditions, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Paul Simao)

Source: OANN

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