World

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at church, near High Wycombe
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at church, near High Wycombe, Britain March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

March 25, 2019

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May was under pressure on Monday to give a date for leaving office as the price to bring Brexit-supporting rebel lawmakers in her party behind her twice-defeated European Union divorce treaty.

At one of the most important junctures for the country in at least a generation, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will ever take place.

With May humiliated and weakened, ministers lined up to insist she was still in charge and to deny a reported plot to demand she name a date to leave office at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper said in a front page editorial that May must announce she will stand down as soon as her Brexit deal is approved and the United Kingdom has left the EU.

“Time’s up, Theresa,” the newspaper said on its front page. The newspaper said her one chance of getting the deal approved by parliament was to name a date for her departure.

May called rebel lawmakers including Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker to her Chequers residence on Sunday, Downing Street said, along with ministers David Lidington and Michael Gove.

The two ministers denied reports they were being lined up as a possible caretaker prime minister.

“The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a meaningful vote (for her deal) this week,” a spokesman said.

May was told by Brexiteers at the meeting that she must set out a timetable to leave office if she wants to get her deal ratified, Buzzfeed reporter Alex Wickham said on Twitter.

The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, said some ministers were urging May to pivot to a no-deal Brexit as the only way to survive in power.

May’s deal was defeated by 149 votes on March 12 and by 230 votes on Jan. 15.

To get it passed, she must win over at least 75 MPs: dozens of rebels in her Conservative Party, some Labour MPs, and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

The Sunday Times reported 11 unidentified ministers agreed May should stand down, warning she has become a toxic and erratic figure whose judgment has “gone haywire”.

Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay in talks with the EU.

Now a departure date of May 22 will apply if parliament passes May’s deal. If she fails, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave without a treaty.

Some lawmakers have asked May to name her departure date as the price for supporting her deal.

Lawmakers are due on Monday to debate the government’s next steps on Brexit, including the delayed exit date. They have proposed changes, or amendments, including one which seeks to wrest control of the process from the government in order to hold votes on alternative ways forward.

Amendments are not legally binding, but do exert political pressure on May to change course.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)

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National flags of Russia and U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow
FILE PHOTO – National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

March 25, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow would be happy to mend ties with Washington after a report by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.

Mueller found no evidence of collusion but left unresolved the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice by undermining the investigations that have dogged his presidency.

“In any case, there is an opportunity to reset a lot in our relations but it is still a question as to whether Trump would risk that. We of course are ready,” Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Polina Devitt; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Paul Tait)

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A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), in Paju
FILE PHOTO – A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea’s propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

March 25, 2019

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea sent back its officials to an inter-Korean liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong on Monday, reversing a decision two days ago to withdraw the officials, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

A group of four to five officials showed up at the office earlier in the morning saying they came to work “as usual,” the ministry said in a statement.

Though the presence of the North’s head of the office was not confirmed, the two sides held a consultation and will “continue to operate the office as usual,” the ministry said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels
Mar 24, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) follows through on a double in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

March 25, 2019

Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout might call the East Coast his home, but he left no doubt where his baseball home is: Anaheim.

With a handful of players signing record or near-record contracts this offseason, attention turned to Trout, the two-time Most Valuable Player, who could have become a free agent after the 2020 season. Instead, he signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension this week.

“That was one thing on my mind, talking to people — if I did leave in two years, maybe looking back I would’ve probably regretted it a little bit, because I love it here,” Trout, a six-time All-Star, told a few thousand fans who arrived early for the Angels’ home exhibition game with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.

He was emotional at times in making comments publicly for the first time since signing the extension this week.

With his possible free agency still two seasons away, Trout was nonetheless the subject of speculation. Bryce Harper, who just signed his own megadeal with the Phillies, made no attempt to hide his desire to lure Trout to Philadelphia, where Trout — a noted Philadelphia Eagles fan — would be close to his New Jersey home.

On Sunday, Trout made it clear he had always intended to stay put. Talks between the team and agent Craig Landis began in late February.

“Spending your whole career with one team I think is pretty cool,” Trout said.

Among those also on the dais at the news conference were Landis and Angels owner Arte Moreno, who acknowledged that the next goal is to build a championship team around Trout.

Trout has been in the top two in AL MVP voting in six of his seven full seasons with the Angels — he was fourth in 2017 — but the team has reached the playoffs just once, getting swept in the divisional round in 2014.

Moreno on Sunday commented to Trout how he “needs some jewelry,” referring to World Series championship rings.

Trout said he envisions success with how general manager Billy Eppler, who was also on the dais, and the front office are focused simultaneously on building a winning team while beefing up the farm system for the future.

“There’s going to be some ups and downs in the 12 years, but the direction was huge for me,” Trout said. “I’m happy and excited for the direction they’re going.”

Over his 7 1/2 seasons in the majors, Trout is a .307 hitter with 240 home runs and 648 RBIs. His wins above replacement (WAR) total of 64.2 is the highest ever for a player at his experience level.

–Field Level Media

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with former hostage Danny Burch and his family in the Oval Office at the White House
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question as he meets with former hostage Danny Burch, an oil engineer who was taken hostage in Yemen in September 2017, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By David Lawder, Philip Blenkinsop and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s blunt-force use of tariffs in pursuing his “America First” trade agenda has angered many, from company executives to allied governments and members of both parties of Congress.

But there’s one effort which has drawn broad support from those who oppose him on almost everything else – his push to force Beijing to change what are widely viewed as China’s market-distorting trade and subsidy practices.

As U.S.-China talks to end a trade war reach their endgame, politicians, executives and foreign diplomats are urging Trump and his team to hold out for meaningful structural reforms in China to address entrenched problems in the relationship that hurt U.S. and other foreign companies and workers.

Trump’s trade war “has let the genie out of the bottle” by lifting expectations that the trade war will force China to reform policies that businesses and foreign governments regard as unfair, said Steven Gardon, vice president of indirect taxes and customs at Lear Corp. Gardon’s firm is an automotive seating and electrical supplier with plants in 39 countries, including the United States and China.

“Now that all these issues have been raised, there’s a lot more domestic political support to address these issues, and I don’t think you can pull back from that,” Gardon said at a Georgetown Law School forum this month. “There’s now pressure politically that they have to be addressed for the long term.”

Gardon’s comments reflect a broad shift in U.S. and international business sentiment towards China’s economic and trade policies, one that is aligned with Trump’s goals, if not his tactics.

Trump’s trade team say they are in the final stages of negotiating what would be the biggest economic policy agreement with China in decades. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin head to Beijing this week to try to accelerate talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. Liu is set to travel to Washington for another round of negotiations in early April.

Eight months into the trade war that has disrupted the flow of billions of dollars of goods between the world’s two largest economies, it is unclear if a deal acceptable to both sides can be done.

China’s President Xi Jinping is seen as reluctant to make economic reforms under pressure from the United States, and Trump has said he may keep tariffs on Chinese goods in place for “a substantial period” even if a deal is struck.

Xi may find it easier to live with the tariffs Trump has imposed on trade than to change China’s model for economic development.

As part of a deal, Beijing has offered to make big-ticket purchases from the United States to help reduce a record trade gap. Trump’s team has said those purchases would be worth more than a trillion dollars over about six years.

While big Chinese purchases might be tempting for Trump’s administration, they would do nothing to address what U.S. firms competing in China or against Chinese firms say are structural problems with a system stacked against them.

The United States complains China engages in systematic intellectual property theft, forces foreign firms to give up trade secrets for market access and spends huge sums subsidizing its own industry. Redressing those complaints would require policy reform at the highest level from Xi and China’s ruling Communist Party.

A survey released by the American Chamber of Commerce in China in late February showed that a majority of member U.S. companies supported increasing or maintaining tariffs on Chinese goods, and nearly twice as many as last year want the U.S. government to push Beijing harder to create a level playing field.

The U.S. tariff demands have even encouraged some reform-minded Chinese officials and private-sector business executives to call for a faster pace of reform in China as it celebrates the 40th anniversary of its first steps toward capitalism.

Lighthizer told lawmakers in late February that Chinese-American business people in particular have urged him to “hang tough” in the talks and not to “sell out for soybeans.”

STAY THE COURSE

When Trump delayed a threatened tariff increase well before a March 1 deadline for a deal, he stoked fears that he may be swayed by the big purchase order and leave longstanding structural problems unresolved.

Since then, a steady drumbeat of lobbyists, company executives, foreign diplomats and U.S. lawmakers from both parties have urged Trump to stay the course on his structural demands.

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, one of the most pro-trade Republicans and a critic of Trump’s tariffs, recently joined that call.

“While we want China to buy more U.S. goods … it’s even more important for us to hold China accountable to meeting high international standards on intellectual property rights, subsidization, overcapacity, and the other structural ways in which China distorts the global economy,” he said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing just days after the tariff delay was announced.

Last week, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, a longtime China trade hawk, took to the Senate floor to urge Trump not to “back down” and take a deal based largely on Chinese purchases of American soybeans and other goods.

On Thursday, Schumer tweeted: “Now’s not the time to drop $200B in tariffs just because China’s close to a deal, @realDonald Trump.”

QUIETLY ROOTING FOR TRUMP

European Union members, traditional allies of the United States, are still smarting about the steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on imports into the United States last year. The EU is also worried that Trump will impose duties on autos. But the bloc shares many of the same frustrations over China’s technology transfer policies and market access constraints.

“We get complaints every day from our companies,” one European official told Reuters in Beijing, noting that despite repeated pledges from the Chinese government to make life easier for foreign companies, little had changed.

    EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom’s assessment of China’s behavior sounds almost like it was written by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, charging that China has abused global trading rules.

China has “blurred the lines between state and private sector. The state has undue influence,” she said in a Washington speech this month. “Intellectual properties of companies are stolen. State subsidies, direct or indirect, are common. And these impacts are felt at home and abroad.”

Malmstrom says that while the U.S. and EU “agree on the diagnosis,” they differ on tactics, and she argues for a more multilateral approach, citing the EU’s work with the United States and Japan to address the issues through reform of World Trade Organization rules.

Some worry that Europe could lose out if Washington and Beijing strike a deal to purchase billions of dollars more in products to try to shrink the U.S. goods trade deficit with China.

“If China is buying more from America then inevitably it will buy less from Europe,” a second European official based in Beijing said, adding that could in particular affect large European multinationals.

But European diplomats and officials acknowledge a begrudging support for Trump’s goals, even if they are repulsed by his blunt tactics. Many are secretly rooting for his success.

“We are against unilateral measures, but nobody is exactly sorry for China. On content we think he does have a point,” said one EU diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in Brussels. “Beijing has to understand that without reform, the system could just stop working.”

Trump administration officials insist that he has gotten the message and is holding out for “structural changes” to the U.S.-China relationship, along with an enforcement mechanism that holds China to its pledges.

Clete Willems, a White House trade adviser, told the Georgetown Law School forum that Trump is determined to fix problems with China’s trade relationship that he has railed against for years, long before he ever sought office.

“The notion that he’s just going to suddenly accept a bad deal is totally inaccurate. The president is going to walk away from bad deals,” said Willems, who announced on Friday that he is leaving the White House for family reasons.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Simon Webb and James Dalgleish)

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A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv
A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

March 25, 2019

By Rami Amichay

MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – A long-range rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding six people in the first such incident since a 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave, Israeli authorities said.

The early morning attack on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests at the weekend, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington as he campaigns for a fifth term in an April 9 ballot.

Israel’s commercial capital and outlying communities had last come under such an attack during the 2014 war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating six occupants of a home in Mishmeret, including an infant, for wounds. TV images showed a building with extensive damage, and police said it had also been set aflame.

The strike came minutes after the Israeli military activated air raid sirens in the area and said one rocket had been launched out of the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory 50 miles (80 km) away where Hamas and other factions possess such weapons.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the home in Mishmeret was hit by a rocket from Gaza.

There was no immediate Palestinian confirmation.

Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no casualties or damage, Israel said. It blamed the rocket launches on Hamas, though a security official who declined to be identified by name or nationality later said that the salvo, which missed any built-up areas, had been set off by accident.

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu on Monday’s incident.

His chief rival in next month’s election, centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having “bankrupted national security”.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Darren Schuettler)

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The U.S.-Mexico border fence is seen in El Paso
FILE PHOTO – The U.S.-Mexico border fence is seen in El Paso, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

March 25, 2019

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A caravan of some 1,200 migrants from Central America and Cuba began moving towards the U.S. border from southern Mexico this weekend, migration authorities said on Sunday.

The National Migration Institute said the migrants were already inside Mexico when they opted to form a caravan in the southern city of Tapachula on the border with Guatemala.

Early on Saturday, the large group of people set off towards the town of Huixtla in the southern state of Chiapas, a route followed by previous groups heading north, the institute said.

Caravans of migrants bound for the United States have sparked friction with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused Mexico of failing to contain illegal immigration and wants a border wall built to stop people crossing.

The new government of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pledged to curb the migrant flows by better regulating the movement of people, and by offering job opportunities and better pay for those willing to stay.

The migration institute said the roughly 1,200 migrants were from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Cuba.

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

March 25, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday a royal commission inquiry into the events leading up to a March 15 attack on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 people, including into the country’s intelligence services.

“It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to the bottom of how this act of terrorism occurred and what, if any, opportunities we had to stop it,” Ardern told reporters at Parliament House in the capital, Wellington.

She said a royal commission, which are independent inquiries and are usually reserved for matters of the greatest public importance, was an appropriate response to the attack.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Praveen Menon; Edotong by Paul Tait)

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FILE PHOTO - The inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex which is still shut down, is seen in this picture taken from the Dora observatory near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju
FILE PHOTO: The inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex which is still shut down, is seen in this picture taken from the Dora observatory near the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – A convoy of dozens of South Korean officials left for an inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea on Monday in a bid to maintain fragile gains in relations with Pyongyang, despite North Korea’s decision to pull out of the office last week.

The liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea, was opened in September and had been one of the key developments made in the past year of detente between North Korea and South Korea.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry would not explain exactly what the 64 officials would be doing at the office without their North Korean counterparts, but a spokesman said Seoul is seeking to try to “normalize” operations at the office.

In a major setback for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s attempts to engage, North Korea announced on Friday it was quitting the office, just hours after the United States imposed the first new sanctions on the North since the second U.S.-North Korea summit broke down last month.

Although South Korea did not directly link the North’s move to the breakdown of the summit, after which U.S. President Donald Trump said he would not be imposing more sanctions, experts said Pyongyang’s move seemed calculated to pressure South Korea into convincing the United States to ease sanctions.

“It appears to be North Korea pressuring South Korea; it could also be signaling how South Korea’s role is not needed or even meaningless, or even that North Korea’s announcement of a ‘new path’ is imminent,” said Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea and military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

Several North Korean state media outlets released statements on Monday criticizing Seoul for not pushing forward with inter-Korean economic projects while sanctions remain in place.

Some 39 South Korean officials and support staff with 17 vehicles left South Korea on Monday morning to work at the liaison office in the North, joining 25 South Koreans who had remained at the office over the weekend despite North Korea’s pullout, South’s Unification Ministry said.

“Although the North side has pulled out of the liaison office, the embers remain, and in order to guard the embers we are going to work today as usual,” Kim Chang-su, deputy chief of the liaison office, said on Monday as he left for Kaesong.

When asked what South Korean personnel will do at the office, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said “we are operating the Kaesong office, followed by putting in efforts to normalize the liaison office” without elaborating.

There are some North Korean personnel currently in Kaesong, including from North’s Central Special Zone Development Guidance General Bureau and support staff, Baik said at a press briefing on Monday.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

March 25, 2019

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she will travel to China at the end of the week for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Ardern said she would travel to Beijing on Sunday.

She first announced her plans to visit China last year but no final dates had yet been announced.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Paul Tait)

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