German Chancellor Angela Merkel checks her phone at the lower house of parliament (Bundestag), ahead of a Brussels summit for Brexit delay discussions, in Berlin, Germany March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
March 21, 2019
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will meet the obligation it has made to NATO allies to spend 1.5 percent of economic output on defense by 2024, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.
“The 1.5 percent target by 2024 is an obligation to NATO … I guarantee and the German government guarantees that we will meet that obligation. And that will require effort,” Merkel told the lower house of parliament.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michelle Martin)
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
March 21, 2019
LONDON (Reuters) – The European Union could next week hold an emergency summit to offer a Brexit extension with potentially onerous conditions such as holding another referendum, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday.
“There could be and we don’t know there will be an EU emergency summit to offer us an extension,” Hunt told BBC radio.
“We don’t know what the length would be and it could have some very onerous conditions,” such as holding another referendum. He said such an option would be unlikely to be supported by the British parliament.
Hunt said the government did not yet know whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s twice-defeated Brexit deal would be brought back to parliament next week.
“Do we resolve this or have Brexit paralysis?” Hunt said. He said a no-deal exit on March 29 remained the legal default.
Hunt said if the deadlock remained next week – parliament still had the option to vote to revoke Article 50 and cancel the entire Brexit process, though it was “highly unlikely”
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill. Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to make a statement about Brexit in Downing Street in London, Britain March 20, 2019. Jonathan Brady/Pool via REUTERS
March 21, 2019
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May has a good chance of getting her twice-defeated Brexit deal approved by parliament next week, a junior Brexit minister in her government said on Thursday.
“We have a good shot at actually landing the deal next week,” Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky. “People are coming over already because people’s minds are focusing on the deal and the ability to leave the EU in a timely and orderly way.”
When asked what happened if May’s deal was rejected for a third time, Kwarteng did not answer the question directly.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha talks with a man as he visits Lumphini Park ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
March 21, 2019
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand goes to the polls on Sunday under a new system that critics say the military government has devised to prevent the most popular political party, which has won every election since 2001, from returning to power.
The military government says the new rules will usher in stability after more than a decade of fractious, at times violent, politics.
After a government loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2014 coup, the military for years banned political activity, suppressed debate, restricted the media and detained dissidents.
Sunday’s general election will officially restore civilian rule but the military will retain a decisive role in politics under a new constitution, and the former army chief who led the 2014 coup, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, is hoping to stay on as head of an elected government.
Following are some details about the new system that supporters of the self-exiled Thaksin say is aimed at blocking them from winning.
The 250-seat upper house Senate is entirely appointed by the ruling junta. Under the previous constitution, the Senate was only partially appointed.
The Senate will for the first time since 1978 vote along with the lower house, the 500-seat House of Representatives, to choose the new prime minister and government.
Previously, only members of the lower house voted for prime minister.
The magic number of seats parties or alliances need to secure to form a government is 376 – 50 percent plus one of the total number in the two houses of parliament.
With the military choosing all Senate members, including seats reserved for six heads of different armed forces branches, pro-military parties would likely need to win only 126 seats in the House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote.
Anti-junta parties, on the other hand, which can’t count on any Senate votes, would need to win 376 seats lower house seats to gain a majority.
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The makeup of the 500-seat House of Representatives is what will be decided on Sunday, but not all seats are directly elected.
Under the new constitution, the House of Representatives has 350 “constituency seats”, to which voters on Sunday will directly elect a candidate and, by default, their preferred party.
It also has 150 “party seats”, up from 125 previously.
THE FORMULA FOR PARTY SEATS
Party seats are allocated under a complicated system that big parties, like Pheu Thai, the main pro-Thaksin party, say is disadvantageous for them.
Party seats are distributed by a system that “caps” the total number of seats any one party can gain, based on their percentage of total votes cast nationwide.
The “value” one seat in the House of Representatives is assigned is based on a formula that takes the total number of votes cast and divides it by the 500 seats. So, if 40 million people were to vote on Sunday, the value of one House seat would be 80,000 votes.
A party cannot win more seats than it has “earned” in total votes nationwide. And if a party has already reached or is close to its cap in constituency seats, then it cannot get any more party seats than that cap allows.
If a party wins more constituency seats than its cap, then it keeps those seats but cannot be awarded any party seats even if it was the top vote getter.
The system leaves a bigger pie of party seats for smaller parties to divide up. This will likely result in numerous smaller parties that normally would not have won any seats, awarded one or more party seats.
To illustrate the impact of the new rules, Pheu Thai won the last election, in 2011, with 204 constituency seats and then 61 party seats – awarded under a directly proportional system – as it won 48 percent of the total vote. That gave it a majority of 265 seats in the House of Representatives.
If it were to win the same number of votes this time, the new rules would mean it would end up with 42 fewer seats, which would leave it short of a majority.
CHOOSING PRIME MINISTER
A party must have at least 25 seats in the House of Representatives to nominate a candidate for prime minister.
After that, it will take the support of 376 out of 750 members of the combined houses to become prime minister.
Because the junta will have already chosen all 250 seats of the Senate, the main Palang Pracharat party allied to the military needs to gain only 126 more votes in the lower house.
That’s a huge advantage, though not a guarantee.
If no coalition can agree on prime minister, the new constitution also allows for an “outside” prime minister who is not a member of parliament.
(Writing by Chayut Setboonsarg and Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)
The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 16, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS
March 21, 2019
BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – The death toll after a powerful cyclone in Mozambique stood at 217 and around 15,000 people still needed to be rescued, the Minister of Land and Environment Celso Correia said on Thursday.
Correia said 3,000 people had already been rescued.
Cyclone Idai lashed the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour (105 miles per hour) last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Writing by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
March 21, 2019
QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces denied a report on Thursday that all of Islamic State’s final enclave has been captured and said combing operations were still underway, an SDF media official said.
Earlier the Syrian Kurdish news outlet Hawar reported that the SDF had seized all of the Baghouz enclave, where the SDF has been battling for weeks to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule.
(Reporting by Rodi Said; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (R) of the VVD Liberal party and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV Party take part in a meeting at the Dutch Parliament after the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
March 21, 2019
By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – An upstart populist party shocked the Dutch political establishment by winning the most votes in provincial elections after a preliminary count in the early hours of Thursday, boosted by a possible terrorist attack this week in the city of Utrecht.
The result shows the enduring strength of far-right populism in the Netherlands, coming nearly two decades after the assassination of populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 led to a similar upset in parliamentary elections.
The most important short term impact is that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right coalition will be forced to seek outside support to win Senate approval for laws passed by parliament. Provincial votes determine the composition in the Senate, where Rutte’s government has lost its majority.
The big winner in the vote was the Forum for Democracy party, led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, which holds just two seats in parliament after entering politics in 2016. On current projections it will have an equal number of seats in the Senate as Rutte’s VVD.
In a speech to supporters peppered with literary allusions, Baudet said the arrogance of the elites had been punished.
“We are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world,” he said.
Following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump, Baudet opposes immigration and emphasizes “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes. He opposes the euro and thinks the Netherlands should leave the European Union.
Baudet had continued campaigning when other parties stopped after Monday’s attack in Utrecht, in which a gunman shot three people dead on a tram. Baudet blamed the incident on the government’s lax immigration policies.
A 37-year-old Turkish-born man has been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the shooting. Prosecutors have not determined a motive, though they say it may have been terrorism.
Pollsters had for weeks predicted Rutte’s center-right coalition would lose its Senate majority. But experts, including pollster Maurice de Hond, said the Utrecht attack boosted turnout most among opponents of immigration.
The Dutch economy has been one of Europe’s best performers under successive Rutte-led governments, but resentment over early 2010s austerity programs lingers. Recent debate has focused on funding the government’s plans to meet international goals on climate change.
Left-leaning voters feel not enough is being done and supported the pro-environment Green Left party, which also booked big gains nationwide on Wednesday, including taking nearly a quarter of the vote in Amsterdam.
Rutte is expected to look to the Green Left or Labour parties for outside support once the new Senate is seated in May, though there are other possibilities in the increasingly fragmented political landscape, which include religious parties and a party focused on voters older than 50.
Rutte said he would be looking for support from “constructive” parties on either the left or the right. Baudet ruled out any cooperation.
“This means drinking a lot of coffee and making even more phone calls” Rutte told supporters.
“So I’m counting on it that the country will remain well manageable with this result.”
Parliamentary elections are due by March 2021.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Kim Coghill)
A nurse weighs Afaf Hussein, 10, who is malnourished, at the malnutrition treatment ward of al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
March 21, 2019
HAJJAH PROVINCE, Yemen (Reuters) – As Yeman’s war grinds into its fifth year with peace efforts stalling, ten-year-old Afaf’s father sees little hope he will be able to give his starving daughter the food or healthcare she needs.
Across Yemen’s remote mountain villages, the country’s war-induced economic crisis has left parents like Hussein Abdu destitute, hungry and watching their children waste away from malnutrition and unclean water.
“Before the war we managed to get food because prices were acceptable and there was work,” 40-year-old Abdu said from al-Jaraib, a small agricultural village in the hills of Hajjah province in northwest Yemen.
“Now they have increased significantly and we rely on yoghurt and bread for nutrition.”
Four years of conflict have pushed Yemen, which was already one of the poorest Arab states, to the brink of famine. War has cut transport routes for aid, fuel and food, reduced imports and caused severe inflation. Households have lost their incomes because public sector wages are not being paid and conflict has forced people from their homes and jobs.
The United Nations says about 80 percent of the population needs some form of humanitarian assistance and two-thirds of all districts in the country are in a “pre-famine” state.
Afaf, who now weighs around 11 kg (24 lb) and is described by her doctor as “skin and bones”, has been left acutely malnourished by a limited diet during her growing years and suffering from hepatitis, likely caused by infected water. She left school two years ago because she got too weak.
“The meaning of being full is not what it was before the war … If I see some scraps of food are left, I get up so that the children will not be hungry. I can bear the hunger, but they can’t,” said Abdu, who lost one of his two wives, Afaf’s mother, earlier this year to tuberculosis.
With no other source of income to support his second wife and six children, he herds other people’s sheep and takes payment in milk products.
Recognizing the seriousness of Afaf’s condition, Abdu scraped together what resources he could to take his daughter on a long journey to health centers in the regional town of Aslam and then the capital Sanaa.
But the treatment these centers could offer was limited. Yemen’s healthcare system has collapsed and clinics supported by international donors are under severe strain.
After being diagnosed with hepatitis, severe malnutrition, water retention and a wheat allergy, Afaf was given a couple of weeks of care and sent back home in a crowded taxi with two weeks of intravenous medication and a special diet.
“If Afaf returns to her house, the problems will inevitably increase,” said Makiah al-Aslami, a nurse and head of the acute malnutrition clinic in Aslam where Afaf received some of her treatment. “The water and the dwelling will have an effect on her health within two days.”
In water-scarce Yemen, with many parts of the country needing pumps to bring water to the surface, water prices have increased dramatically under years of fuel shortages.
In al-Jaraib, well water is available for free. Those who can afford to buy water from tankers which fill up from a pond 7 km (4 miles) from the village.
Abdu said Afaf is to eat only fruit and vegetables and no wheat products.
“By God, if I had anything at all I would have bought her vegetables and fruit but I have nothing,” Abdu said, adding that if his dire situation continues he wont be able to afford her diet or to transport to her one-month check up.
Back in her hillside village of brick and mud structures, where Abdu entertains his and neighboring children by wheeling them around in a wheelbarrow, a fragile Afaf placidly helps her family prepare a simple meal of rice, tomato and bread.
As the children dig into the food with their hands, Afaf alone puts a spoon into a tin of peas provided for her recovery.
Plagued by decades of instability, Yemen’s most recent conflict began in late 2014 when Houthi forces drove the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-backed alliance of Yemeni and Arab forces then intervened in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government.
The Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which says it is a revolution against corruption, controls Sanaa and most population centers.
The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is under increased Western pressure to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and sparked what the United Nations says is the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
In December, the warring sides reached a deal at U.N.-led peace talks for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal from the main port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea.
The truce has largely held but the withdrawal has stalled due to mistrust among the parties, risking U.N. efforts to hold further talks to agree a framework for political negotiations to end the war. Violence and displacement also continue in other parts of Yemen not subject to the truce.
In Abdu’s local market, around 6 km from al-Jaraib village in Houthi-controlled Hajjah province, men sell fruit, vegetables, grains and bags of ice hacked off a large block.
“A 5 kg bag of rice cost 1,500 Yemen rials ($2.6 at market exchange rates and $3.4 at central bank rates) before the war, and now costs 3,500 rials,” 45 year-old farmer Ali Ahmad al-Aslami said.
“A 20 kg bag of wheat used to be 6,000 and is now 9,000 rials. All prices have changed, even vegetables. A kilo of tomatoes, which was 100 rials, now costs 500.”
For a photo essay on hunger in Yemen, click on https://reut.rs/2Y7lBtz
(Reporting by Reuters team in Sanaa and Hajjah Province, YemenWriting by Lisa Barrington)
Graves of Ukrainian Army members Yuriy Holub, 22, (L) and Nazar Paselsky, 21, who were killed in the east, are seen at a 18th century Lychakiv cemetery in Lviv, Ukraine March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
March 21, 2019
By Natalia Zinets
LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – At a cemetery in western Ukraine, a tall, gray-haired man lights candles and kisses the gravestone of his 35-year-old brother Taras, whose death, he said, changed his mind about who should win this month’s presidential election.
Taras, a medical volunteer, was killed in 2015 rescuing wounded soldiers near Debaltseve during the government’s five-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine against Kremlin-backed rebels, his brother Ihor Konchevych said.
He died for a free and independent Ukraine, something their grandfathers could only dream of in the Soviet era, he said, and President Petro Poroshenko is the best candidate to keep it on that path, even though he has not ended the war as he promised.
“In 2014, I did not vote for him,” said Ihor, a dermatologist whose teenage nephew and niece are now fatherless. “Now (I will) for one reason: he is pro-Ukraine, Russia does not support him.”
Such support could help Poroshenko, who has consistently trailed in opinion polls, scrape into the second round and potentially win a second term.
It suggests that at least in western Ukraine, where Poroshenko’s polling remains relatively robust, his opposition to Russia and championing of the army, the church and closer ties with Europe and the United States is getting through.
It also suggests some people are willing to swallow whatever disappointment they might feel about his failure to end the war, lift living standards or thoroughly tackle corruption, because they see him as better than the alternatives.
At stake in the election is the leadership of a country on the front line of the West’s confrontation with Russia, five years after the Maidan street protests ousted Poroshenko’s Russia-friendly predecessor Viktor Yanukovich and the Russian annexation of Crimea.
It is a country still fighting a conflict in the eastern Donbass region that has killed 13,000 people despite a notional ceasefire, a shrunken state propped up by Western aid and sanctions against Moscow.
The election has boiled down to a three-horse race between the confectionary magnate Poroshenko, comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, with Poroshenko second and Zelenskiy extending his lead thanks to his fresh face and strong anti-corruption message.
HEARTLAND OF MAIDAN
It is perhaps not surprising that Poroshenko’s pro-Western messages resonate in Lviv, a picturesque city of cobblestone streets and central European charm that was under the Austrian empire until the First World War and is geographically closer to European Union countries than to Kiev.
The region was a driving force behind successive revolutions, including the 2014 protests in Maidan: according to Reuters’ calculations, around 50 of the more than 100 protesters killed during the Maidan protests were from the west, 19 of them from the Lviv region alone.
The city is heavily Ukrainian-speaking compared to the Russian-speaking eastern regions. A survey by pollster SOCIS suggests voters in the west care more about the war and less about, for example, rising utility tariffs than the average Ukrainian.
The brother of Lesya Senyk, a 51-year-old kindergarten director, was one of those killed on Maidan, a protest sparked by Yanukovich’s decision to renege on signing a political and trade agreement with the EU after pressure from Moscow.
Her brother’s sacrifice, she said, means Ukraine has become a proper state with a stronger army and aspirations to join the European Union.
Senyk did not vote for Poroshenko in 2014 but she will now. “I do not know who else could have saved the state in those difficult times, after the Maidan and during the war,” she said. “Maybe he’s not perfect. But we are not saints.”
NO COUNTRY FOR CLOWNS
Poroshenko won an emphatic victory in the 2014 election but his popularity has fallen sharply.
He can boast success: he secured visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU. There have been reforms and the government has stayed in an International Monetary Fund bailout program: a reassurance to investors.
Poroshenko successfully lobbied for Ukraine to establish a national Orthodox church, independent from Russia. While he did not win the war, he did not lose it, and ramped up defense spending to 5 percent of gross domestic product from 3 percent under Yanukovich. A Poroshenko win is the worst-case scenario for Russia, which is a plus in some voters’ eyes.
But he has been forced to apologize for his pledge to win the war within weeks, and that is not enough for some.
The parents of 22-year-old Yuriy Holub, who was killed in eastern Ukraine in 2014, will not vote for him.
“He promised, promised,” said Holub’s father Hryhoriy, who is blind. “Why did you promise if you were not confident that you can fulfill your promise? If he were an honest man he would quit of his own accord.”
His wife Hanna, who holds pictures of her son close to her face due to her own failing sight, also said Poroshenko had let them down. “First he said everything would be over in two weeks … But such heavy shelling happened and our child was killed,” she said in a trembling voice. “There is no trust now.”
Their son is buried in Lviv’s 18th century Lychakiv cemetery, along with about 70 others killed in the east.
Nazar Paselsky lies buried in a grave near Holub. Paselsky was killed by shelling, aged 21, in the Luhansk region in August 2014. His mother Hanna and father Mykola adopted a boy after Nazar’s death. Photos of Nazar, his diploma and his bravery award are on display on top of their cabinet.
Hanna voted for Poroshenko last time “because he promised that everything will be over in three days. I wanted my child to come back home alive.” Now she does not trust any candidate to guarantee a future for her adopted one-year-old, but thinks she might end up voting for Poroshenko in the second round.
Twelve years younger than Poroshenko, Zelenskiy has tapped into disillusionment about Ukraine’s progress since Maidan and the desire for new faces in politics.
But some people, like Hryhoriy Zhalovaga, whose son Anatoliy died on Maidan, said a strong army was what was needed, not an entertainer with no political experience. Quoting another student during a commemoration ceremony for Maidan victims at the school his son attended, he said: “Those who will vote for Zelenskiy, what do they want, a country of clowns?”
Lviv-based analyst Oleg Gryniv said such views mean Poroshenko will probably carry a majority in the western areas like Galicia, which contains Lviv, citing the example of Ukraine’s first post-Soviet President Leonid Kravchuk.
“When he traveled through the eastern regions, they asked him about the price of socks, whether gas prices would be lowered,” he said. “And when he arrived in Galicia, there was only one question – whether the state would be kept intact.”
(Additional reporting Sergiy Karazy; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)