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FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri reacts after the announcement of the new government at the presidential palace in Baabda
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri reacts, after the announcement of the new government at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

May 26, 2019

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese draft state budget for 2019 is the start of a “long road” and shows Lebanon is determined to tackle public sector waste, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said, after his unity cabinet wrapped up marathon talks on the plan.

The budget finalised by the government on Friday cuts the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018. It is seen as a critical test of Lebanon’s will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.

“The 2019 budget is not the end. This budget is the beginning of a long road that we decided to take in order to lead the Lebanese economy to safety,” Hariri said in a speech at a Ramadan iftar meal on Saturday.

Lebanon’s bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens.

The government, which groups nearly all of Lebanon’s main political parties, met 19 times to agree on the budget. Hariri said the budget for 2020 would not take that much time “because now we know what we want to do”.

“The 2019 budget is the beginning of the process of what we want to do in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks sent by his office. 

The cabinet is due to meet on Monday at the presidential palace to formally seal the process before the budget is referred to parliament.

The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.

Hariri said the budget was a message to the Lebanese, financial markets and friendly foreign states that Lebanon was determined to “address the weakness, imbalance and squander in the public sector”.

Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses. State pensions will also be taxed.

A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments.

The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at a 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.

Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his wife Aniko Levai cast their ballots during the European Parliament Elections in Budapest
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his wife Aniko Levai cast their ballots during the European Parliament Elections in Budapest, Hungary, May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

May 26, 2019

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The European parliamentary election will hopefully strengthen anti-immigration political forces across Europe, Hungarian right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters after he cast his vote on Sunday.

“I hope that there will be a shift in the European public arena in favor of those political parties who would like to stop migration,” said Orban, dressed in a dark suit and an orange tie, the color of his Fidesz party.

Responding to a question, Orban declined to say whether he would join Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s new party alliance after the election.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Australian Prime Minister Morrison speaks to the media as he arrives at the Horizon Church in Sutherland
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media as he arrives at the Horizon Church in Sutherland in Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019. AAP Image/Joel Carrett/via REUTERS

May 26, 2019

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison named his new cabinet on Sunday, with most positions staying the same, saying the government had “a significant agenda” to deliver and it was time to get back to business.

“I have high expectations of my ministry and clear goals for each of their roles,” he said in an emailed statement.

Incoming Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who served in the Army Reserves for almost three decades and rose to the rank of brigadier, replaces Christopher Pyne who has retired.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne retains her position as does Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Attorney General Christian Porter.

A priority of the re-elected Liberal National coalition is to deliver tax cuts by July 1, a cornerstone of its election campaign, as the central bank has called for stimulus to aid a slowing economy.

Morrison entered this month’s election at the head of a minority government after a series of defections, unable to pursue its legislative agenda without the support of independent lawmakers and minor parties.

A surprise victory, however, secured the coalition an outright majority, removing the legislative uncertainty.

Official counting has not yet finished with three seats still in doubt, but the Electoral Commission said Morrison’s coalition leads in an outright majority of 78 seats in parliament which has 151 elected lawmakers.

The opposition Labor party is expected to win 67 seats and there are six crossbenchers made up of minor parties and independents.

Morrison also created a national agency for Indigenous Australians which would report directly to new Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, the first Aboriginal cabinet minister.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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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.)

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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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The Best FIFA Football Awards
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – The Best FIFA Football Awards – Royal Festival Hall, London, Britain – September 24, 2018 Marta after winning the Best Women’s Player award Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

May 26, 2019

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil striker Marta is a doubt for their women’s World Cup opener against Jamaica next month after the country’s soccer confederation (CBF) said on Saturday she had picked up a hamstring injury in training.

Marta, named Women’s Player of the Year a record six times, picked up the injury at Brazil’s camp in Portugal and while the CBF did not clarify how serious the injury was coach Vadao told a Globo website she could miss their June 9 opener.

“Our worry is just about the first game,” he said, “and whether she has time to recover or not.

“She feels fine. We’ll wait a couple of days for the medical department to give me a more concrete appraisal.”

The absence of Marta, who has scored a record 15 women’s World Cup goals, would make Brazil’s life even more difficult at the June 7 to July 7 tournament in France, where they also meet Australia and Italy in the group phase.

The finalists in 2007 come into the tournament having lost their last nine matches, their worst ever run.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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