World

Thailand's former Prime Minister and President of the Royal Privy Council Prem Tinsulanonda is seen during an official event in Bangkok
FILE PHOTO: Thailand’s former Prime Minister and President of the Royal Privy Council Prem Tinsulanonda is seen during an official event in Bangkok, Thailand April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

May 26, 2019

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Former Thai prime minister and influential royal adviser General Prem Tinsulanonda died on Sunday morning at age 98 in a Bangkok hospital, a palace official told Reuters.

Prem had served King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his late father King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a chairman of the prestigious Privy Council.

The cause of his death was not yet made public.

He played an important role in organizing the elaborate coronation of the King Maha Vajiralongkorn earlier this month, and also served briefly as the country’s regent shortly after King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away in 2016.

Prem was Thailand’s 16th prime minister, serving three terms from 1980 to 1988. He was also a former army chief.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um, and Panarat Thepgumpanat)

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APEC Summit 2018 in Port Moresby
FIL PHOTO: Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill speaks during the APEC CEO Summit 2018 at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 16 November 2018. Fazry Ismail/Pool via REUTERS

May 26, 2019

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced his resignation on Sunday after weeks of high-level defections from the ruling party.

O’Neill’s opponents said on Friday they had mustered enough support in parliament to oust him over a range of grievances including a gas deal with France’s Total, which critics have questioned.

Political instability is something of a fixture in the resource-rich but poverty-stricken South Pacific nation and O’Neill, who had been leader since 2011, had seen off previous attempts to topple him.

He handed over leadership to Sir Julius Chan, ABC News reported.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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People take pictures of paramilitary officers marching in formation in Tiananmen Square in Beijing
People take pictures of paramilitary officers marching in formation in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

May 26, 2019

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – It’s the most sensitive day of the year for China’s internet, the anniversary of the bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, and with under two weeks to go, China’s robot censors are working overtime.

Censors at Chinese internet companies say tools to detect and block content related to the 1989 crackdown have reached unprecedented levels of accuracy, aided by machine learning and voice and image recognition.

“We sometimes say that the artificial intelligence is a scalpel, and a human is a machete,” said one content screening employee at Beijing Bytedance Co Ltd, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to media.

Two employees at the firm said censorship of the Tiananmen crackdown, along with other highly sensitive issues including Taiwan and Tibet, is now largely automated.

Posts that allude to dates, images and names associated with the protests are automatically rejected.

“When I first began this kind of work four years ago there was opportunity to remove the images of Tiananmen, but now the artificial intelligence is very accurate,” one of the people said.

Four censors, working across Bytedance, Weibo Corp and Baidu Inc apps said they censor between 5,000-10,000 pieces of information a day, or five to seven pieces a minute, most of which they said were pornographic or violent content.

Despite advances in AI censorship, current-day tourist snaps in the square are sometimes unintentionally blocked, one of the censors said.

Bytedance declined to comment, while Weibo and Baidu did not respond to requests for comment.

SENSITIVE PERIOD

The Tiananmen crackdown is a taboo subject in China 30 years after the government sent tanks to quell student-led protests calling for democratic reforms. Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

June 4th itself is marked by a cat-and-mouse game as people use more and more obscure references on social media sites, with obvious allusions blocked immediately. In some years, even the word “today” has been scrubbed.

In 2012, China’s most-watched stock index fell 64.89 points on the anniversary day https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-stocks-tiananmen-idUSBRE8530F720120604, echoing the date of the original event in what analysts said was likely a strange coincidence rather than a deliberate reference.

Still, censors blocked access to the term “Shanghai stock market” and to the index numbers themselves on microblogs, along with other obscure references to sensitive issues.

While companies censorship tools are becoming more refined, analysts, academics and users say heavy-handed policies mean sensitive periods before anniversaries and political events have become catch-alls for a wide range of sensitive content.

In the lead-up to this year’s Tiananmen Square anniversary, censorship on social media has targeted LGBT groups, labor and environment activists and NGOs, they say.

Upgrades to censorship tech have been urged on by new policies introduced by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). The group was set up – and officially led – by President Xi Jinping, whose tenure has been defined by increasingly strict ideological control of the internet.

The CAC did not respond to a request for comment.

Last November, the CAC introduced new rules aimed at quashing dissent online in China, where “falsifying the history of the Communist Party” on the internet is a punishable offence for both platforms and individuals.

The new rules require assessment reports and site visits for any internet platform that could be used to “socially mobilize” or lead to “major changes in public opinion”, including access to real names, network addresses, times of use, chat logs and call logs.

One official who works for CAC told Reuters the recent boost in online censorship is “very likely” linked to the upcoming anniversary.

“There is constant communication with the companies during this time,” said the official, who declined to directly talk about the Tiananmen, instead referring to the “the sensitive period in June”.

Companies, which are largely responsible for their own censorship, receive little in the way of directives from the CAC, but are responsible for creating guidelines in their own “internal ethical and party units”, the official said.

SECRET FACTS

With Xi’s tightening grip on the internet, the flow of information has been centralized under the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department and state media network. Censors and company staff say this reduces the pressure of censoring some events, including major political news, natural disasters and diplomatic visits.

“When it comes to news, the rule is simple… If it is not from state media first, it is not authorized, especially regarding the leaders and political items,” said one Baidu staffer.

“We have a basic list of keywords which include the 1989 details, but (AI) can more easily select those.”

Punishment for failing to properly censor content can be severe.

In the past six weeks, popular services including a Netease Inc news app, Tencent Holdings Ltd’s news app TianTian, and Sina Corp have all been hit with suspensions ranging from days to weeks, according to the CAC, meaning services are made temporarily unavailable on apps stores and online.

For internet users and activists, penalties can range from fines to jail time for spreading information about sensitive events online.

In China, social media accounts are linked to real names and national ID numbers by law, and companies are legally compelled to offer user information to authorities when requested.

“It has become normal to know things and also understand that they can’t be shared,” said one user, Andrew Hu. “They’re secret facts.”

In 2015, Hu spent three days in detention in his home region of Inner Mongolia after posting a comment about air pollution onto an unrelated image that alluded to the Tiananmen crackdown on Twitter-like social media site Weibo.

Hu, who declined to use his full Chinese name to avoid further run-ins with the law, said when police officers came to his parents house while he was on leave from his job in Beijing he was surprised, but not frightened.

“The responsible authorities and the internet users are equally confused,” said Hu. “Even if the enforcement is irregular, they know the simple option is to increase pressure.”

(Reporting by Cate Cadell. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Source: OANN

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wave on the way to the course to play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wave on the way to the course to play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2019. Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via Reuters

May 26, 2019

By Jeff Mason

CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off the second day of a Japan visit on Sunday with a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, engaging in personal diplomacy aimed at smoothing tough discussions over differences on trade.

Trump, dressed in a red pullover, and Abe, wearing a blue blazer and white pants, met on a lawn and smiled for photographers before taking off for their game.

Abe’s office later posted a “selfie” picture on the course with Trump and Abe smiling together. Abe said in the post he hoped to make the Japan-U.S. alliance “even more unshakeable.”

The president’s state visit is meant to showcase the strength of the Japan-U.S. relationship, but tensions over trade have provided a backdrop of uncertainty.

Trump is unhappy with Japan’s large trade surplus and is considering putting high tariffs on its auto exports if a bilateral trade agreement is not reached. The United States and China are engaged in an expensive trade war that has pounded financial markets worldwide.

During remarks to business leaders on Saturday night, Trump ribbed Japan over its trading “edge” while saying progress had been made.

“With this deal, we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to United States exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we’re getting closer,” he said.

“Just last week, U.S. beef exports gained full access to Japan and to the markets in Japan for the first time since the year 2000. We welcome your support in these efforts, and we hope to have several further announcements soon, and some very big ones over the next few months.”

Fox News reported on Sunday that Trump planned to wait until after Japanese elections in July to push for a trade deal, and officials have played down prospects of any major progress on the president’s trip.

The two leaders are also likely to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Trump said on Sunday he was not concerned about recent missile launches from North Korea and was confident that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would keep his promises.

After their golf game, Abe and Trump will attend a sumo tournament.

“I’ve always found that fascinating,” Trump said about Japan’s national sport during a meeting with Abe in Washington last month. “So, in fact, we’re having a trophy made in this country. We’re going to give the trophy to the winner of the championship.”

That trophy, now finished, weighs 60-70 pounds and is being called the “President’s Cup,” according to a White House official.

Trump will be the first U.S. president to attend such a tournament, according to another U.S. official, and the first to present a cup in the ring.

He is attending the final day of a 15-day tournament.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Source: OANN

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wave on the way to the course to play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wave on the way to the course to play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2019. Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via Reuters

May 26, 2019

By Jeff Mason

CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off the second day of a Japan visit on Sunday with a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, engaging in personal diplomacy aimed at smoothing tough discussions over differences on trade.

Trump, dressed in a red pullover, and Abe, wearing a blue blazer and white pants, met on a lawn and smiled for photographers before taking off for their game.

Abe’s office later posted a “selfie” picture on the course with Trump and Abe smiling together. Abe said in the post he hoped to make the Japan-U.S. alliance “even more unshakeable.”

The president’s state visit is meant to showcase the strength of the Japan-U.S. relationship, but tensions over trade have provided a backdrop of uncertainty.

Trump is unhappy with Japan’s large trade surplus and is considering putting high tariffs on its auto exports if a bilateral trade agreement is not reached. The United States and China are engaged in an expensive trade war that has pounded financial markets worldwide.

During remarks to business leaders on Saturday night, Trump ribbed Japan over its trading “edge” while saying progress had been made.

“With this deal, we hope to address the trade imbalance, remove barriers to United States exports, and ensure fairness and reciprocity in our relationship. And we’re getting closer,” he said.

“Just last week, U.S. beef exports gained full access to Japan and to the markets in Japan for the first time since the year 2000. We welcome your support in these efforts, and we hope to have several further announcements soon, and some very big ones over the next few months.”

Fox News reported on Sunday that Trump planned to wait until after Japanese elections in July to push for a trade deal, and officials have played down prospects of any major progress on the president’s trip.

The two leaders are also likely to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Trump said on Sunday he was not concerned about recent missile launches from North Korea and was confident that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would keep his promises.

After their golf game, Abe and Trump will attend a sumo tournament.

“I’ve always found that fascinating,” Trump said about Japan’s national sport during a meeting with Abe in Washington last month. “So, in fact, we’re having a trophy made in this country. We’re going to give the trophy to the winner of the championship.”

That trophy, now finished, weighs 60-70 pounds and is being called the “President’s Cup,” according to a White House official.

Trump will be the first U.S. president to attend such a tournament, according to another U.S. official, and the first to present a cup in the ring.

He is attending the final day of a 15-day tournament.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives for his visit to the Tibet Institute Rikon in Rikon
FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives for his visit to the Tibet Institute Rikon in Rikon, Switzerland September 21, 2018. REUTERS/ Arnd Wiegmann

May 26, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – China should hold talks with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad told Chinese officials during a trip to the Himalayan region where he criticized Beijing for interfering in religious freedom.

Branstad visited Tibet last week, the first such trip by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, amid escalating trade and diplomatic tension between the two countries.

His visit followed the passing of a U.S. law in December that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, legislation that was denounced by China.

Branstad met Chinese government officials and Tibetan religious and cultural figures, and “raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access” to Tibet, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in an emailed statement on Saturday.

“He encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences,” an embassy spokeswoman said.

“He also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to organize and practise their religion,” she said.

Beijing sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist ever since.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in early 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and Beijing still brands him a dangerous separatist. China says its leaders have the right to approve his successor, as a legacy from China’s emperors.

But the 83-year-old Nobel peace laureate monk, who lives in exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, has said that his incarnation could be found in India after he dies, and that any other successor named by China would not be respected.

Tibetan tradition holds that the soul of a senior Buddhist monk is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death.

China’s Foreign Ministry said last week that the government welcomed Branstad’s visit, but that China hoped the ambassador would not take any “prejudices” with him on the trip.

In December, China criticized the United States for passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which seeks to promote access to Tibet for U.S. diplomats and other officials, journalists and other citizens by denying U.S. entry for Chinese officials deemed responsible for restricting access to Tibet.

The U.S. government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration along the streets of Khartoum
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration along the streets of Khartoum, Sudan May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

May 26, 2019

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A coalition of Sudanese protest and opposition groups on Friday called for two days of strikes in private and public enterprises next week as part of pressure on military rulers to hand over power to civilians.

The announcement, issued in a statement posted on social media, comes after talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and an alliance of protest groups on the composition of a sovereign body to lead the country during a three-year transition to democracy.

Talks were adjourned in the early hours of Tuesday, with no date set for resumption, but sources said contacts were continuing at a low level trying to reach a compromise.

Last month, Sudan’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir following months of protests against his three decades in power. The military has promised to hand over power to an elected government after a transitional period.

Sudan, one of Africa’s largest countries, is important for efforts to bring stability to an important area stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya.

In a statement distributed on social media, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) called for a strike starting at private and public enterprises that will include various professional sectors starting on Tuesday.

“The strike will continue for two days, and involved gathering at the protest squares in the national and state capitals,” the statement said.

The transitional military council has called for establishing a civilian government of technocrats. It has also said it was ready to share power with civilians in a transitional sovereign body but has been demanding overall control of the body.

A representative of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the DFCF said both sides were looking at proposals to break the impasse, including a rotating presidency, and for decisions to be made by a two-third majority rather than a simple majority, adding that a deal could be reached before next Tuesday.

In remarks published on Wednesday, the deputy head of the transitional council told an Egyptian newspaper that the military wanted to hand power to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.

But Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is widely known as Hemedti and leads the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), said the military were impatient for a solution.

(Reporting by Hesham Hajali in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by David Gregorio)

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U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visit Japan
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Japanese business leaders event in Tokyo, Japan May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

May 25, 2019

By Jeff Mason

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed concerns about recent missile launches from North Korea and said he was confident that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would keep promises that he had made.

“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me,” he said on Twitter.

Trump is currently in Japan on a state visit.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by G Crosse)

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A man casts his vote during European Parliament election in Riga
A man casts his vote during European Parliament election in Riga, Latvia, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

May 25, 2019

By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europeans vote on Sunday in an election expected to further dent traditional pro-EU parties and bolster the nationalist fringe in the European Parliament, putting a potential brake on collective action in economic and foreign policy.

Right-wing populists top opinion polls in two of the big four member states – Italy and supposedly exiting Britain – and could also win in a third, France, rattling a pro-Union campaign championed by centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

However, exit polls in some countries that have already voted have given pro-EU parties some comfort. The Dutch Labour party, all but written off, looks to have finished first, helped by the visibility of having the EU socialists’ lead candidate, current EU deputy chief executive Frans Timmermans.

In the Netherlands, pro-Union parties scored 70%, up three points on the last European Parliament vote in 2014, and left the upstart anti-immigration party of Thierry Baudet fourth on 11%.

The Dutch also turned out in bigger numbers, albeit at just 41%, reinforcing hopes in Brussels of reversing a 40-year trend of declining turnout that critics cite as a “democratic deficit” that undermines the legitimacy of European Union lawmaking.

An exit poll after Friday’s vote in deeply pro-EU Ireland pointed to an expected “Green Wave”. Across the bloc, concerns about climate change and the environment may bolster the pro-EU Greens group and could mean tighter regulations for industry and for the terms the EU may set for partners seeking trade accords.

Britain also voted on Thursday and a new party focused on getting out of the EU was forecast by pre-vote opinion polls to come top, but there has been no exit poll data. Attention there has focused on the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. Results will be out late on Sunday, when all countries have voted.

WAY AHEAD UNCLEAR

The challenges facing the European project include unprecedented transatlantic slights from a U.S. president who fetes Europe’s populists, border rows among its own members over migrants and an economy hobbled by public debt and challenged by the rise of China.

But parties seeking collective action on shared issues such as trade, security, migration or climate change should still dominate, albeit with a smaller overall majority.

Europeans are preparing to remember events that shaped the Union. It is 75 years since Americans landed in France to defeat Nazi Germany and since Russian forces let the Germans crush a Polish bid for freedom, and 30 since Germans smashed the Berlin Wall to reunite east and west Europe. But memories of wars, hot and cold, have not sufficed to build faith in a united future.

Mainstream parties pushing closer integration of the euro currency zone’s economy are struggling to capture the imagination of a public jaded by political elites.

Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy may pip the Christian Democrats of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc’s power broker, to become the biggest single party in the 751-seat chamber.

Right-wing ruling parties in Poland and Hungary, defying Brussels over curbs to judicial and media independence, will also return eurosceptic lawmakers on Sunday.

The results should be clear by late on Sunday, with exit polls in Germany at 1600 GMT and France at 1800 GMT setting the tone before the final end of voting, in Italy at 2100 GMT, sees the Parliament publish its own seat forecast.

The result will usher in weeks of bargaining among parties to form a stable majority in the Parliament, and among national leaders to choose successors to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other top EU officials.

Many expect a clash as early as Tuesday, when leaders meeting in Brussels are likely to snub Parliament’s demands that one of the newly elected lawmakers should run the EU executive.

(EU election graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2HvZs1M)

(Reporting by Alastair MacDonald; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS

May 25, 2019

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday against legislative steps that could grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and limit the power of the country’s Supreme Court.

The demonstration in Tel Aviv was attended by nearly all opposition parties, a rare show of unity for Israel’s splintered political system. Police did not say how many people attended. A Reuters photographer estimated about 20,000 were present, while organizers put the figure at 80,000.

In office for the past decade, Netanyahu won a fifth term in April despite an announcement by Israel’s attorney general in February that he intended to charge him with fraud and bribery. The prime minister is a suspect in three graft cases.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations a political witch-hunt. The right-wing leader has said that with a renewed public mandate to govern he has no plans to resign, even if charged.

Although the prime minister is under no legal obligation to step down if charged, Netanyahu loyalists in his Likud party have pledged to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution for him while he is in office.

Expecting legal challenges, they also have been advocating legislation that would annul any Supreme Court ruling rescinding immunity.

Since the election, Netanyahu has not said whether he would seek immunity.

On May 13, Netanyahu said on Twitter that his policy had always been to preserve a strong and independent Supreme Court, but that changes were needed in order to restore balance between Israel’s executive, legislative and judiciary branches.

The opposition has described any attempt to shield Netanyahu or put limitations on Israel’s highest court as threats to Israeli democracy.

Yair Lapid, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, the centrist Blue and White, said on Saturday at the demonstration that Netanyahu was trying to crush the Supreme Court in order to keep out of prison. “He’s destroying the country,” Lapid said. “We won’t let him.”

Netanyahu is trying to form a new coalition with right-wing, ultranationalist and religious parties that would give him control of 65 of the 120 seats in parliament, which has already been sworn in.

Most of the parties expected to join his coalition have expressed support for granting immunity to Netanyahu and limiting the powers of the Supreme Court, branded by some rightists as too liberal and interventionist.

However, Netanyahu has only until Wednesday to produce a government and he has not yet secured a deal with any party. Negotiations came to an impasse this week when the factions failed to agree on a new conscription law for Israel’s military.

According to Israeli law, if Netanyahu fails to form a government by May 29 the president can ask another member of the Knesset legislature to try.

No political party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s Knesset, making coalition governments the norm. Coalition talks have often been protracted with deals signed at the very last minute.

Netanyahu is due to attend a pre-trial hearing over the graft charges with the attorney general, set for October.

(Additional reporting by Rahaf Ruby and Ammar Awad; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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