Austria

Austria's Vice Chancellor Strache addresses the media in Vienna
Austria’s Vice Chancellor and head of Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache addresses the media in Vienna, Austria April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

April 23, 2019

VIENNA (Reuters) – The vice-mayor of the Austrian town where Adolf Hitler was born resigned from his post and the far-right Freedom Party on Tuesday after provoking strong criticism with a poem in which he compared migrants with rats.

Christian Schilcher left the Freedom Party (FPO) to avoid damaging the junior partner in a national coalition with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, FPO chief Heinz-Christian Strache told a news conference in Vienna.

Schilcher’s poem in a party newspaper was written under his pseudonym “the city rat” and told from the perspective of a rodent.

“Just as we live down here, so must other rats, who as guests or migrants… share with us the way of life! Or (they must) hurry away quickly,” it says.

One verse adds that if two cultures were mixed it was as if they were destroyed.

“Such misconduct is incompatible with the principles of the Freedom Party,” said Strache, who is vice-chancellor in Austria’s coalition government.

Freedom Party members have repeatedly stumbled over Nazi scandals and made headlines in local media for alleged links with the far-right Identitarian movement.

Schilcher’s resignation was “the only logical consequence” after publishing that “horrible and racist poem”, Kurz told news agency APA.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, editing by Ed Osmond)

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FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Zanganeh arrives for an OPEC meeting in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh arrives for an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo

April 23, 2019

(Reuters) – The United States has made a bad mistake by politicizing oil and using it as a weapon, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a parliamentary session on Tuesday, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

“America has made a bad mistake by politicizing oil and using it as a weapon in the fragile state of the market,” Zanganeh said, according to IRNA.

Oil prices on Tuesday hit their highest level since November after Washington announced all waivers on imports of sanctions-hit Iranian oil would end next week, pressuring importers to stop buying from Tehran and further tightening global supply.

Zanganeh added that the United States will not be able to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.

“With all our power, we will work toward breaking America’s sanctions,” Zanganeh said in parliament, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

The United States on Monday demanded that buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers which allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers, most of them in Asia, to continue importing limited volumes.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; editing by Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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FILE PHOTO: ATP 1000 - Monte Carlo Masters
FILE PHOTO: Tennis – ATP 1000 – Monte Carlo Masters – Monte-Carlo Country Club, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France – April 15, 2019 Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in action during his first round match against Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

April 22, 2019

Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman overcame 53 unforced errors to defeat Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round Monday at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in Barcelona, Spain.

Nishioka struggled with cramps during the 2-hour, 19-minute match. Schwartzman, ranked No. 25 in the world, was playing his third match in Barcelona after having to qualify because he forgot to sign up before the tournament deadline.

Schwartzman will face third-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria in the second round. Thiem is 3-2 in their head-to-head series, but Schwartzman has won the last two meetings — including a three-setter at the Argentina Open in February.

Elsewhere on Monday, Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer outlasted Romania’s Marius Copil 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-5 and will face top seed and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Two other former champions are in the draw, with 2010 winner Fernando Verdasco defeating Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-3 in an all-Spanish battle. Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 2014 Barcelona champ and fourth seed this year, will face Taylor Fritz in the second round after Fritz’s 6-3, 6-4 win against fellow American Reilly Opelka.

Other winners Monday included Mackenzie McDonald, Spain’s Jaume Munar, Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Chile’s Nicolas Jarry and Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics.

Hungarian Open

Italy’s Matteo Berrettini fired 11 aces in a 6-4, 6-4 upset of seventh-seeded Mikhail Kukushkin of Kasakhstan in first-round action in Budapest.

In the second round, Berrettini will face Slovenian Aljaz Bedene, who was down a double break in the first set but rallied for a 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory against Australia’s Bernard Tomic.

Eighth-seeded Radu Albot of Moldova opened with a 7-5, 6-4 win against Sergiy Stakhovsky, breaking the Ukrainian twice in each set and closing it out on his fourth match point in 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Albot will face qualifier Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who dropped five match points in the second set but recovered to beat Italy’s Andreas Seppi 6-2, 6-7 (3), 7-5.

–Field Level Media

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Man walks past a flower installation set up for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in front of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing
A man walks past a flower installation set up for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in front of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China April 18, 2019. Picture taken April 18, 2019. Jia Tianyong/CNS via REUTERS

April 21, 2019

By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – World leaders meeting in Beijing this week for a summit on China’s Belt and Road initiative will agree to project financing that respects global debt goals and promotes green growth, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a key policy of President Xi Jinping and envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

But it has proved controversial in many Western capitals, particularly Washington, which views it as merely a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt through nontransparent projects.

The United States has been particularly critical of Italy’s decision to sign up to the plan last month, the first for a G7 nation.

In an apparent nod to these concerns, the communique reiterates promises reached at the last summit in 2017 for sustainable financing – but adds a line on debt, which was not included the last time.

“We support collaboration among national and international financial institutions to provide diversified and sustainable financial supports for projects,” the draft communique reads.

“We encourage local currency financing, mutual establishment of financial institutions, and a greater role of development finance in line with respective national priorities, laws, regulations and international commitments, and the agreed principles by the UNGA on debt sustainability,” it added, referring to the United Nations General Assembly.

The word “green” appears in the draft seven times. It was not mentioned once in the summit communique from two years ago.

“We underline the importance of promoting green development,” the draft reads. “We encourage the development of green finance including the issuance of green bonds as well as development of green technology.”

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday that the Belt and Road project is not a “geopolitical tool” or a debt crisis for participating nations, but Beijing welcomes constructive suggestions on how to address concerns over the initiative.

A total of 37 foreign leaders are due to attend the April 25-27 summit, though the United States is only sending lower-level representatives, reflecting its unease over the scheme.

The number of foreign leaders at the April 25-27 summit is up from 29 last time, mainly from China’s closest allies like Pakistan and Russia but also Italy, Switzerland and Austria.

China has repeatedly said Belt and Road is for the benefit of the whole world, and that it is committed to upholding globally accepted norms in ensuring projects are transparent and win-win for all parties.

“We emphasize the importance of the rule of law and equal opportunities for all,” the draft reads.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Source: OANN

Man walks past a flower installation set up for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in front of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing
A man walks past a flower installation set up for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in front of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China April 18, 2019. Picture taken April 18, 2019. Jia Tianyong/CNS via REUTERS

April 19, 2019

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Belt and Road project is not a “geopolitical tool” or a debt crisis for participating nations, but Beijing welcomes constructive suggestions on how to address concerns over the initiative, the government’s top diplomat said on Friday.

Beijing will host a Belt and Road summit next week which 37 foreign leaders will attend, including some of China’s closest allies, though the United States which has been critical of the project is only sending low level representatives.

The Belt and Road Initiative, as it is formally called, is a key initiative of President Xi Jinping, and envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

But it has proved controversial in many Western capitals, particularly Washington, which views it as merely a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt through nontransparent projects.

The United States has been particularly critical of Italy’s decision to sign up to the plan last month, during Xi’s visit to Rome, the first for a G7 nation.

Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi, the government’s top diplomat, told reporters that the Belt and Road scheme had brought real benefits to participating countries.

“This partnership relationship is not a geopolitical tool, but a platform for cooperation,” he said.

“You can’t put hats like ‘debt crises’ onto the head of the Belt and Road, and this is not something any participating country would recognize,” Wang added.

“Of course, there is a development process for the Belt and Road. You can’t get there in one step, and it’s unavoidable it will cause some worries during its development. So we welcome all sides to come up with constructive suggestions,” he said.

CLOSE ALLIES COMING

The number of foreign leaders at the April 25-27 summit is up from 29 last time, mainly from China’s closest allies like Pakistan and Russia but also Italy, Switzerland and Austria.

The United States will not send high-level officials, a U.S. State Department spokesman said earlier this month, citing concerns about financing practices for the initiative.

Wang said there would be Americans at the summit, made up of diplomats, state-level officials, executives and academics, though he did not give details.

“We welcome any country that is interested to take part. When the United States participates, or whether it participates, is up to them to decide,” he added.

While the United States and China are currently working to end a bitter trade war, they have numerous other areas of disagreement, including human rights and U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan.

China on Monday condemned as “slanderous” criticism U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made of Beijing’s policies in South America last week.

“The United States has no plans to send high-level officials from Washington to the Belt and Road Forum,” a U.S. Embassy in Beijing spokesman said.

“We call upon all countries to ensure that their economic diplomacy initiatives adhere to internationally-accepted norms and standards, promote sustainable, inclusive development, and advance good governance and strong economic institutions.”

At the first Belt and Road summit two years ago, the United States submitted a diplomatic note to China complaining about North Korea’s participation, though since then Washington and Pyongyang have sought to re-set ties, including with two summits between their leaders.

Wang said North Korea would also take part in this year’s summit, but gave no further details.

“I think this is normal as it’s an economic cooperation initiative. All countries have the freedom to attend, but I think they don’t have the right to prevent any other country from participating. This is an open, inclusive platform.”

More than 150 countries are sending delegations, and there will be some 5,000 guests, Wang said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry)

Source: OANN

Austrian finance minister Schelling talks during a Reuters interview in Alpbach
FILE PHOTO: Austrian finance minister Hans-Joerg Schelling talks during a Reuters interview in Alpbach, Austria August 30, 2017. Picture taken August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

April 18, 2019

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s former-finance minister Hans Joerg Schelling has been nominated to serve as a member of the supervisory board at OMV, the oil and gas group said on Thursday.

Schelling, a member of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, served as finance minister in the previous government until December 2017. Last year, he agreed to work as an adviser for the Russian-lead Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, of which OMV is a financing partner.

Austria holds 31.5 percent in the country’s largest listed company via state holding OeBAG and Abu Dhabi state investor Mubadala is a second core shareholder with 24.9 percent.

Nine of OMV’s 15 supervisory board mandates must be reassigned at the annual shareholder meeting on May 14. Eight contracts expire and the current board chair, former Siemens chief executive Peter Loescher has also decided to step down.

OeBAG boss Thomas Schmid and the chief executives of Vienna Insurance, Elisabeth Stadler, and Lenzing, Stefan Doboczky, are also nominated as new candidates for the supervisory board, OMV said on its website.

As a finance minister, Schelling supported OMV in its negotiations on an asset swap with Gazprom and in 2016 took part in the ceremony, in which OMV agreed to exchange a stake in its Norwegian business for a stake in the Russian group’s Achimov oil and gas exploration blocks.

The deal was abandoned last year due to opposition from Norway. OMV said at the time that it would buy the Siberian assets instead of swapping them.

There is still no deal and OMV CEO Rainer Seele has said he expects the price negotiations to drag on until summer after he had initially guided for an agreement in early 2019.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

April 18, 2019

By Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new Trump administration report on international compliance with arms control accords provoked a dispute with U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials concerned that the document politicizes and slants assessments about Iran, five sources with knowledge of the matter said.

U.S. President Donald Trump is intensifying a drive to contain Iran’s power in the Middle East, which has raised fears that his administration wants to topple the Tehran government or lay the groundwork to justify military action.

The administration says it is trying to halt Iranian “malign behavior” in its support for Islamist militants in the region and denies seeking the overthrow of the Islamic republic’s government.

The clash among U.S. officials emerged on Tuesday when the State Department posted on its website, and then removed, an unclassified version of an annual report to Congress assessing compliance with arms control agreements that the sources saw as skewed Iran.

The report’s publication follows the administration’s formal designation on Monday of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary and foreign espionage unit, as a foreign terrorist organization.

Washington also has piled on tough economic sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The administration also is waging a propaganda campaign, including over social media, aimed at fueling popular anger against Iran’s government.

Several sources said the report, which reappeared without explanation on Wednesday, made them wonder if the administration was painting Iran in the darkest light possible, much as the George W. Bush administration used bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A State Department spokeswoman defended the judgment on Iran, saying in an email that it was “informed by careful assessment of all relevant information.”

The report was published to meet a mandatory April 15 deadline by which it had to go to Congress, the department said. A more comprehensive unclassified version will be provided after the completion of a review of what information in the classified report can be made public, the spokeswoman said.

The department did not address the internal dispute over the report or concerns of politicization.

The unclassified “Adherence to and compliance with arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreements and commitments” report omitted assessments of Russian compliance with landmark accords such as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the New START arms control treaty.

The State Department spokeswoman said that the U.S. position that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty “is clear.”

The report also failed to include detailed assessments published in previous years of whether Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Syria and other nations complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Instead, the report replaced those assessments with a five paragraph section entitled “country concerns.”

The section made no mention of judgments by U.S. intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran ended a nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has complied with the 2015 deal that imposed restrictions on its civilian nuclear program.

Instead, it said Iran’s retention of a nuclear archive disclosed last year by Israel raised questions about whether Tehran might have plans to resume a nuclear weapons program.

It added that any such effort would violate the NPT, as would any Iranian retention of undeclared nuclear material, though it offered no evidence that Iran had done either.

“It’s piling inference upon inference here to try to create a scary picture,” said a congressional aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue, as did the other sources. The aide added that by stripping out much of the report’s normal content, the documents largely had become about Iran.

“There is significant concern that the entire sort of purpose … was to help build a case for military intervention in Iran in a way that seems very familiar,” the source said, referring to the Bush administration’s use of erroneous intelligence before the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago that ousted President Saddam Hussein.

The 12-page report, down from last year’s 45-page document, reflected a disagreement between Assistant Secretary of State Yleem Poblete, whose office is charged with its drafting, and her boss, Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson, three of the sources said.

Two sources said Poblete had sought to include information such as news stories and opinion pieces in the report, which traditionally is based on legal analyses of U.S. intelligence reports.

The State Department did not comment on Poblete’s role.

“And it had other obvious errors,” said a former U.S. official familiar with matter. A draft of the unclassified version had included classified information, the official said. “It’s been described to me as just a big food fight within the department over an initially inadequate draft.”

A second former U.S. official said he believed that the report was being used to advance the Trump administration’s views on Iran rather than to reflect information gathered by intelligence agencies and assessments of that information by State Department experts.

“This ‘trends’ section is adding a political tinge or politicizing the report,” said the fourth source on condition of anonymity, saying the administration seemed to be using a once objective report “to back up subjective assertions.”

While saying they did not know why the report had been so abbreviated, removed and then restored from the website, analysts asked if there was an effort underway to demonize Iran.

“The worst case of course would be that we are observing signs of a politicization of intelligence for the purpose of serving what the top of the administration would like to accomplish,” said nuclear expert Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

“We have seen … that in the past with the (Iraq) war,” he said. “This is a potential warning sign about that.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

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Austrian National Bank (OeNB) headquarters is pictured in Vienna
FILE PHOTO: Austrian National Bank Oesterreichische National Bank (OeNB) headquarters is pictured in Vienna, Austria March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

April 15, 2019

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s central bank on Monday accused the right-wing government of seeking to undermine its financial independence as part of plans to strip it of its role as a banking supervisor.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government, which includes the far-right Freedom Party, announced plans last year to reform banking supervision in Austria, which is currently split between the Financial Market Authority and the central bank.

It says the plan, which will shift 180 jobs to the FMA from the Austrian National Bank (ONB) and do away with one of the two FMA co-chiefs’ jobs, will make for a more streamlined structure and save money.

The central bank, however, said the plan would make banking supervision more complicated and expensive.

“It is to be feared that supervision costs in Austria will increase as a result of these new, complicated structures, taking into account in particular the creation of three new sections in the Finance Ministry,” the ONB said in a statement.

It was responding to a government announcement earlier on Monday that draft legislation for the planned shake-up had been sent for legal review ahead of its submission to parliament before the summer.

“In order to at least partially offset these additional costs, the draft law provides for 95 percent of the central bank’s profits to be paid to the federal government instead of 90 percent currently,” the central bank said.

“That reduces the ONB’s ability to generate reserves and should therefore be seen as an encroachment on the ONB’s financial independence,” it added.

The Finance Ministry said in its earlier statement that its plan would generate 10 million euros ($11.3 million) in annual savings from 2020, the year it is due to take effect.

“We are following European best practice and what is common in many European countries,” a Finance Ministry spokesman said in response to the central bank’s remarks on its financial independence, adding that a payout rate of 95 percent or more existed in countries including the Netherlands.

The central bank, whose Governor Ewald Nowotny is close to the opposition Social Democrats, also denounced the decision to do away with the post of FMA co-chair Helmut Ettl, who was also appointed with the Social Democrats’ support.

The Finance Ministry spokesman said the decision was a structural one aimed at efficiency rather than a personal one.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Source: OANN

Czech President Zeman gestures in Vienna
Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

April 15, 2019

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman will appoint Karel Havlicek, the head of a small business association and deputy chief of the government’s science and research council, as new industry minister on April 30, a spokesman said on Monday.

The president will also appoint lawyer Vladimir Kremlik as new transport minister, replacing Dan Tok who resigned after serving more than four years, a record tenure for the transport post.

Havlicek’s main tasks will be regulating the telecoms market and preparing a project to boost the European Union country’s nuclear power capacity.

Both ministries are controlled by Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO party, which leads the coalition government.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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FILE PHOTO: A drilling rig of Austria's oil and gas group OMV is seen near Maustrenk
FILE PHOTO: A drilling rig of Austria’s oil and gas group OMV is seen at their exploratory drilling site near Maustrenk, Austria October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

April 15, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oil prices edged lower on Monday after international benchmark Brent hit a fresh five-month high in the previous session, but concerns over global supplies provided a floor to losses.

Brent crude oil futures were at $71.40 a barrel at 0015 GMT, down 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their last close. Brent closed up 1 percent on Friday when prices hit a high of $71.87 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 12.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $63.60 per barrel, down 29 cents, or 0.5 percent, from their last settlement. WTI rose 0.5 percent on Friday.

The head of Libya’s National Oil Corp warned on Friday that renewed fighting could wipe out crude production in the country.

“Supply side issues remained a concern for the market. Libyan rebel leader Khalifa Haftar moved forces closer to Tripoli,” ANZ Bank said in a research note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies meet in June to decide whether to continue withholding supply. OPEC, Russia and other producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, are reducing output by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 for six months.

OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, is considered keen to keep cutting, but sources within the group said it could raise output from July if disruptions continue elsewhere.

Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying on Saturday that Russia and OPEC may decide to boost production to fight for market share with the United States but this would push oil prices as low as $40 per barrel.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)

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