Macron urges the French to value success, rejects ‘president of rich’ tag

2017 10 15T213419Z 1 LYNXMPED9E0NE RTROPTP 0 FRANCE POLITICS 2 - Macron urges the French to value success, rejects ‘president of rich’ tag

2017 10 15T213419Z 1 LYNXMPED9E0NE RTROPTP 0 FRANCE POLITICS 2 - Macron urges the French to value success, rejects ‘president of rich’ tag
French President Emmanuel Macron is seen before his first long live television interview on prime time at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

October 15, 2017

By Michel Rose and Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he was a president of all French, dismissing opponents’ criticisms that his policies favor the rich while urging his countrymen to adopt a more positive attitude toward success.

In his first months in power, Macron has defied street protests to loosen France’s labor laws, moved to scrap the wealth tax and cut housing aid.

His sometimes forthright style has forced him to fend off accusations that he holds the working class in contempt, but Macron said he was a leader who would “keep saying things as they are.”

The 39-year-old, whose election win sidelined France’s mainstream political parties and tore apart the country’s traditional left-right divide, sought to reassure left-wing voters in his first live TV interview since taking office in May.

“We’re taking care of the France where things aren’t going well,” Macron said. “I’m doing what I said I would do during the election campaign.”

Macron angered unions last week with comments he made during a visit to a car parts factory, saying workers protesting over job losses should look for work at a nearby plant rather than “kicking up a bloody mess”.

He said that reforms to overhaul France’s unemployment insurance and professional training systems, which will be discussed in the next few weeks, would help the most in need while encouraging social mobility and merit.

Macron, whose popularity has slumped since his election, said the aim of scrapping the wealth tax was to help to retain talent in France and encourage the wealthy to invest.

“For our society to get better, we need people who succeed. We shouldn’t be jealous of them, we should say: ‘fantastic’,” he said.

But the move has prompted opponents to label the former investment banker “president of the rich”.

SUCCESS

“He’s not president of the rich, he is president of the super rich, those who funded his campaign,” right-winger Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said.

Left-wing daily Liberation said on its Monday front page Macron was “brandishing individual success like a mantra” under the headline: “Succeed, bloody hell!”, in a reference to his comments at the car parts factory.

In the more than hour-long interview at the Elysee palace that focused on his domestic agenda, Macron also said his economic reforms would start bearing fruit within two years.

“Unemployment is currently falling. You’ll see the full effect of the reforms currently carried out by the government in 1-1/2 to two years,” he said

During the campaign, Macron promised to lower France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate to 7 percent by the end of his mandate from near double digits.

On the international front, he said that despite disagreements with U.S. President Donald Trump over Iran and climate change, he would continue to work with the billionaire.

“I constantly talk to the American president, because it’s my duty,” he said. “It’s the right way to do it because he is the head of the top power so it’s necessary to anchor him to this partnership and multilateralism.”

On Iran, he said he would go to Tehran in “due time”, but added:

“We must be more stringent with Iran on its ballistic activity, the missiles it shoots and which are not nuclear and Iran’s action in the region.”

(Reporting by Michel Rose and Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Richard Lough and Jane Merriman)

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Outgoing leader’s protege set to win Kyrgyz presidential election

2017 10 14T205452Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0JR RTROPTP 0 KYRGYZSTAN ELECTION 1 - Outgoing leader’s protege set to win Kyrgyz presidential election

2017 10 14T205452Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0JR RTROPTP 0 KYRGYZSTAN ELECTION 1 - Outgoing leader’s protege set to win Kyrgyz presidential election
Visiting members of a local electoral commission conduct electronic identification of a voter (C) during early voting at the presidential election in the village of Arashan outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

October 15, 2017

By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK (Reuters) – A protege of outgoing pro-Russian leader Almazbek Atambayev looked set for a surprise outright victory in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election on Sunday, despite polls having predicted a close runoff between him and an opposition leader.

According to preliminary data published by the central election commission, former prime minister and Atambayev ally Sooronbai Jeenbekov had secured 54.22 percent of the vote based on a count from 97 percent of the polling stations.

His main opponent, oil tycoon Omurbek Babanov, trailed well behind with 33.47 percent, according to the same early data.

A close ally of Moscow and host to a Russian military base, Kyrgyzstan helps its former Soviet overlord project power across a region where China and the United States also vie for influence.

In contrast to other Central Asian states, which are mostly run by autocrats, Kyrgyzstan is a boisterous democracy that produces sometimes chaotic changes of leadership.

After its first two presidents were ousted by riots, the country restyled itself as a parliamentary republic where presidential powers are mostly limited to foreign policy and security matters.

But Atambayev strengthened executive powers last year.

Constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term, he backed Jeenbekov, 58, an experienced apparatchik who served as prime minister until August.

In Sunday’s election, observers, citing pre-election polls, saw none of the candidates clearing the 50 percent threshold for outright victory, with Jeenbekov and Babanov then competing in a runoff.

Babanov’s campaign office declined to comment on the preliminary results but said it would do so on Monday.

Babanov’s next move will be closely watched because allegations of electoral fraud were among the main factors behind violent protests which toppled two Kyrgyz presidents in 2005 and 2010.

Atambayev – likely to remain a powerful figure if his preferred candidate Jeenbekov does win – warned on Sunday he would use any violence as an opportunity to “cleanse” the country.

STIFF OPPOSITION

Atambayev and Jeenbekov’s Social Democratic party is the biggest in parliament and dominates the coalition cabinet.

But they faced stiff opposition from Babanov, 47, whose Respublika-Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) party has the second-biggest parliamentary faction and whose poll numbers had suggested he and Jeenbekov would compete in a tight runoff.

Babanov, also a former prime minister, has accused the government of abusing its powers to ensure Jeenbekov’s victory after the authorities charged some of his campaign supporters with plotting a coup and planning to bribe voters.

Babanov has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the charges against his supporters as dirty election tactics.

Atambayev and his cabinet have also accused Kazakhstan, a bigger and wealthier neighbor, of backing Babanov – which both Babanov and the Kazakh government deny.

“What they (the authorities) are doing is outrageous,” Babanov told reporters on Sunday, adding some of his campaign staff and a reporter for a TV station owned by Babanov had been attacked by unidentified men on the day of the vote.

Atambayev on Sunday warned opponents against trying to stage violent protests after the vote.

“In fact, if there is unrest, it’s going to be a good thing, I would like to cleanse (the country of) them all completely,” he told reporters after casting his ballot.

Both Jeenbekov and Babanov have said they consider Russia – where hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant laborers work – a strategic partner.

According to preliminary data, voter turnout was 55.93 percent.

(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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State vote unlikely to give Merkel boost in German coalition talks

2017 10 14T221400Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0KV RTROPTP 0 GERMANY POLITICS MERKEL 1 - State vote unlikely to give Merkel boost in German coalition talks

2017 10 14T221400Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0KV RTROPTP 0 GERMANY POLITICS MERKEL 1 - State vote unlikely to give Merkel boost in German coalition talks
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a Lower Saxony’s Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) regional election campaign rally in Stade, Germany October13, 2017. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

October 15, 2017

By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) – Voters in the German state of Lower Saxony headed to the polls on Sunday in an election likely to hand the Social Democrats (SPD) a narrow victory, and deprive Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives of a boost in looming national coalition talks.

Germans disgruntled with Merkel’s liberal migrant policy abandoned her party in droves in September’s national election. Having recorded the worst conservative result since 1949, she must now try to piece together an awkward alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmentalist Greens.

Those parties will this week begin discussions that could drag into 2018 about entering a marriage of convenience untested at the federal level.

The latest opinion poll put the SPD on 34.5 percent in the northern swing state of Lower Saxony, giving it a 1.5 point lead over Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) who had been 12 points ahead at the start of the campaign in August.

Exit polls are expected at 1600 GMT.

Simon Fink, political scientist at the University of Goettingen, said no one had dared to start coalition negotiations in Berlin ahead of the election in Lower Saxony, which is slightly bigger than the Netherlands and hosts major companies such as carmaker Volkswagen <VOWG_p.DE>.

“Everyone was scared that if they did something at the national level or committed themselves to something, then their colleagues in Lower Saxony could end up suffering,” he said.

“JAMAICA” ON THE HORIZON

Merkel’s reverse in September, along with the SPD’s insistence on going into opposition, left her with no viable option other than a “Jamaica” coalition, so named because the three parties’ colours correspond with the black, yellow and green of Jamaica’s flag.

It means the prospective partners will need to overcome yawning differences on issues ranging from immigration to European Union reform, tax and environmental protection.

Cem Ozdemir, co-leader of the Greens, said the three parties had not sought each other out but now had a responsibility to form a coalition that bore the hallmarks of their conservative, liberal and center-left identities.

“If the coalition comes off, it must not be a coalition that only agrees on the lowest common denominator. That won’t work,” he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper, adding that the trio needed a “shared narrative”.

A deal brokered last weekend between Merkel’s CDU and its conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU, to cap the number of immigrants is likely to be hard for the Greens to swallow.

Merkel has acknowledged the difficulties ahead but added that “unusual combinations can of course bring the opportunity to find some solutions to things that had seemed unsolvable until now”.

“So now we need to put our noses to the grindstone,” she said on the campaign trail in Lower Saxony on Thursday.

An SPD-Green coalition has ruled the state for almost four years, but lost its majority when a Greens lawmaker defected to the CDU, triggering a snap election.

The SPD’s incumbent state premier, Stephan Weil, a 58-year-old former judge, fares better in the personal popularity stakes than his CDU rival Bernd Althusmann, a 50-year-old former army officer.

Althusmann had not given up hope on Saturday though, saying voters were making their decisions later and later. “It’s a question of mobilizing voters,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Europe’s migration crisis casts shadow over Austrian election

2017 10 14T221016Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0KL RTROPTP 0 AUSTRIA ELECTION 1 - Europe’s migration crisis casts shadow over Austrian election

2017 10 14T221016Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0KL RTROPTP 0 AUSTRIA ELECTION 1 - Europe’s migration crisis casts shadow over Austrian election
NEOS party top candidate Matthias Strolz attends his final election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

October 15, 2017

By Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that could see 31-year-old conservative Sebastian Kurz become chancellor on a pledge to take a hard line on refugees and prevent a repeat of Europe’s migration crisis.

Foreign Minister Kurz propelled his People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party that had led for a year.

Kurz says he will shut the main migrant routes into Europe, via the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Many voters say Austria was overrun when it opened its borders in 2015 to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) are in coalition with Kurz’s OVP but Kurz ended the alliance when he took over his party in May, forcing Sunday’s snap election. 

Opinion polls show the conservatives ahead with around a third of the vote and a tight race for second between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate nearly won last year’s presidential election.

Immigration has dominated the campaign. Kurz plans to cap benefits for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.

He also says he wants to shake up Austrian politics, which for decades has been dominated by a coalition between his party and the Social Democrats. His opponents say he is merely a new face on a party in power in various coalitions for 30 years.

Leaders of all three top parties warned voters to be skeptical about polling in a bid to improve turnout.

“You should not pay attention to opinion polls. You should instead go by the atmosphere here,” FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache told cheering supporters at a shopping mall in Vienna on Saturday.

The FPO has accused Kurz of copying its ideas and Strache called him an “impersonator.”

The Social Democrats were hit two weeks ago by a smear scandal that forced their chairman to step down.

“You must … go to your neighbors, go into bars, go to your friends and tell them what is at stake,” Kern told a rally in Vienna on Saturday, calling Kurz a candidate of the rich.

He warned of a repeat of the OVP-Freedom Party coalition in the early 2000s that was marked by financial scandals.

The election winner forms a government that will likely require a coalition with one of the two other main parties. With Kurz and Kern at loggerheads the FPO could play kingmaker.

Three smaller parties are polling between 4 percent, which is the threshold for entering parliament, and 6 percent.

The last polling stations close at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) and the first projections are due minutes later. A final count is expected later in the evening, though large numbers of postal ballots could mean final results come on Monday.

(For a graphic on election, click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/AUSTRIA-ELECTION/0100514E2GZ/index.html)

(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Harvey Weinstein expelled from Academy of Motion Pictures

2017 10 14T205231Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0JO RTROPTP 0 PEOPLE HARVEY WEINSTEIN 1 - Harvey Weinstein expelled from Academy of Motion Pictures

2017 10 14T205231Z 1 LYNXMPED9D0JO RTROPTP 0 PEOPLE HARVEY WEINSTEIN 1 - Harvey Weinstein expelled from Academy of Motion Pictures
FILE PHOTO: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, New York February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

October 14, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled producer Harvey Weinstein on Saturday, after allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted a number of women over the past three decades.

The academy said in a statement that its board of governors “voted well in excess of the required two-thirds majority to immediately expel him from the Academy.”

A representative for Weinstein had no immediate comment.

The expulsion from the film industry’s most prestigious organization follows allegations reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker from a number of women that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them in incidents dating back to the 1980s.

Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the allegations. Weinstein, 65, has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

In announcing the decision to expel Weinstein, the academy said it was also telegraphing a broader message.

“We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over,” the academy said.

“What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society,” it said. “The board continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify.”

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy, Ben Klayman and Mary Milliken; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Southern Yemen leader sees independence referendum, parliament body

2017 10 14T075531Z 1 LYNXMPED9D04S RTROPTP 0 YEMEN SECURITY 1 - Southern Yemen leader sees independence referendum, parliament body

2017 10 14T075531Z 1 LYNXMPED9D04S RTROPTP 0 YEMEN SECURITY 1 - Southern Yemen leader sees independence referendum, parliament body
File Photo – Dismissed governor of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, Aidaroos al-Zubaidi (R), waves to supporters of the separatist Southern Movement as they demonstrated against recent decisions by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that sacked senior officials supported by the United Arab Emirates, including al-Zubaidi in Aden, Yemen May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

October 14, 2017

ADEN (Reuters) – A rebel former governor of Aden who is leading a movement for southern Yemen’s secession has said an independence referendum would be announced soon and a parliamentary body set up to administer the territory.

Aidaroos al-Zubaidi, who was sacked as Aden governor by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, set out his secessionist plans to thousands of supporters gathered on Saturday in Yemen’s main southern city to mark 54 years since the October 1963 uprising against the British.

Zubaidi, who has previously declared a council that seeks secession for southern Yemen, said in a television interview late on Friday that an independence referendum would be held soon.

Speaking to supporters on Saturday, Zubaidi said a new 303-member parliamentary body, the National Association, would act like a small parliament to represent Yemenis from all areas of the south.

Zubaidi announced in May a new council formed by senior tribal, military and political figures. The council seeks the secession of southern Yemen and is looking to establish a political leadership under his presidency that would administer the south.

The move threatens more turmoil in the impoverished Arabian Peninsular country where the internationally-recognized government is forced to sit in Aden because Houthi rebels control the capital Sanaa.

The council was born out of a power struggle between the southerners and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that has undermined regional power Saudi Arabia’s efforts to coordinate a military campaign against the Tehran-supported Houthis.

Hadi’s government has rejected the formation of the council, saying it would deepen divisions and play into the hands of the Houthi rebels.

Many southerners feel that officials in the north have exploited their resources and cut them off from jobs and influence.

(Reporting by Muhammed Mukhashaf; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Pakistan’s hostage rescue hailed, but tensions with U.S. remain

2017 10 13T172858Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1HS RTROPTP 0 PAKISTAN AFGHANISTAN KIDNAPPING 1 - Pakistan’s hostage rescue hailed, but tensions with U.S. remain

2017 10 13T172858Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1HS RTROPTP 0 PAKISTAN AFGHANISTAN KIDNAPPING 1 - Pakistan’s hostage rescue hailed, but tensions with U.S. remain
A still image from a video posted by the Taliban on social media on December 19, 2016 shows American Caitlan Coleman (L) speaking next to her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two sons. Courtesy Taliban/Social media via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

October 14, 2017

(This version of the story corrects spelling of Caitlan Coleman’s name)

By Drazen Jorgic and Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The freeing of a hostage U.S.-Canadian family by Pakistan’s army has been hailed by officials as a positive step in mending ties between Washington and Islamabad, but those hoping for a fresh start in their fraught relationship seem likely to be disappointed.

Pakistan and the United States have for years been – at best – uneasy allies in the war against the Taliban and other Islamist extremists.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the raid that rescued American Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three young children showed that Pakistan had started to “respect the United States again” in response to his administration’s tough-talking tactics.

But the two countries still have conflicting interests – and the Trump administration’s vow to apply more diplomatic pressure on Pakistan is unlikely to work, given Islamabad’s growing alliance with regional heavyweight China, say analysts.

“This is a small occurrence between Pakistan and the U.S., and it should not be confused with the big issues that separate Pakistan and the U.S.,” said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.

On Friday, five years after they were kidnapped in Afghanistan, Coleman and Boyle flew home with the three children born while they were captives of the Haqqani network, a feared Taliban sub-group that Washington particularly accuses Pakistan of failing to do enough to fight.

Some saw the timing as a goodwill gesture ahead of upcoming visits by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this hostage release was announced when you have a parade of top Trump administration officials in Islamabad to deliver strongly worded warnings to Pakistan,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

He added that no one should take the good news as a definite sign that Pakistan would drastically change its behavior towards militants such at the Haqqanis.

“Going after hostages is not the same thing as going after the terrorists holding them,” he said.

The United States has repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to eliminate militant havens on its territory.

COOPERATION, AND MISTRUST

For now, officials on both sides are talking up the cooperation on display in Wednesday’s rescue operation, when Pakistani troops acting on a U.S. intelligence tip-off swooped on a vehicle carrying the hostages.

But tensions remain.

Pakistan is still angry at the unilateral U.S. operations on its soil to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 and last year’s drone strike that killed Taliban supreme leader Akhtar Mansour.

United States officials, for their part, suspect both bin Laden and Mansour were able to live in Pakistan with the tacit support of at least some elements of the powerful military.

Washington also argues that the Taliban – which has been fighting to re-establish its hardline Islamist regime in Kabul since a 2001 U.S.-backed military intervention – would not have been able to gain so much ground against Afghan government forces in recent years without safe havens in Pakistan.

Trump’s administration in August warned aid to Pakistan might be cut and Washington might downgrade its status as a major non-NATO ally, in order to pressure it to do more to help bring about an end to America’s longest-running war.

Pakistani officials bristle at U.S. claims Islamabad is not doing enough to tackle Islamist militants, particularly the Haqqanis, saying they have cooperated for years and launched military operations to push out militants from its soil.

Pakistan also says few appreciate that 17,000 Pakistanis have died fighting militants or in bombings and other attacks since 2001.

REGIONAL RIVALS

Pakistan is less vulnerable to threats of U.S. aid cuts because Islamabad has been deepening its relationship in recent years with China, which is financing some $57 billion in infrastructure projects, said Gul.

Critics say the Pakistani military nurtures the Taliban and other Islamist factions because they are seen as potentially useful to Pakistan’s core confrontation with old rival India.

The Trump administration’s recent talk of a “regional strategy” for Afghanistan that would include a bigger role for India has deeply upset Pakistan’s establishment, said Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based commentator and former Pakistan Foreign Ministry adviser.

“It seems like for the U.S., and President Trump has said so, that India is going to be a big part of the future of Afghanistan, and for Pakistan that’s not on the table,” Zaidi said.

As a nuclear power, Pakistan could also be offended further at Trump’s implication that it has bowed to his administration’s pressure.

“Given that people understand that respect for America is a big deal for Trump and a big deal for the American people, it shouldn’t be so hard to understand why Pakistan … also wants to be respected,” said Zaidi.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Mattis says U.S. working to ensure situation around Kirkuk does not escalate

2017 10 13T201444Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1Q9 RTROPTP 0 MIDEAST CRISIS KURDS REFERENDUM KIRKUK 1 - Mattis says U.S. working to ensure situation around Kirkuk does not escalate

2017 10 13T201444Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1Q9 RTROPTP 0 MIDEAST CRISIS KURDS REFERENDUM KIRKUK 1 - Mattis says U.S. working to ensure situation around Kirkuk does not escalate
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters ride in a vehicule in the Southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

October 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that tensions between Kurdish and Iraqi authorities around Kirkuk had the full attention of the United States and was working to ensure it does not escalate.

“We have got to work on this, the Secretary of State has the lead, but my forces are integrated among these forces and they are working too, to make certain we keep any potential for conflict off the table,” Mattis told reporters.

When asked what message he had for Iraqi and Kurdish authorities: “Everybody stay focused on defeating ISIS, we can’t turn on each other right now. We don’t want this to go to a shooting situation.”

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Female ride-hailing apps grow in Brazil on safety concerns

2017 10 13T151824Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1B8 RTROPTP 0 BRAZIL TECH TRANSPORTATION 1 - Female ride-hailing apps grow in Brazil on safety concerns

2017 10 13T151824Z 1 LYNXMPED9C1B8 RTROPTP 0 BRAZIL TECH TRANSPORTATION 1 - Female ride-hailing apps grow in Brazil on safety concerns
Taxi driver Priscila Galante drives her car in a main street in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 10, 2017. Picture taken October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

October 13, 2017

By Taís Haupt

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Ride-hailing startups that cater solely to women are catching on in Brazil, reflecting safety concerns in one of the biggest markets for Uber Technologies Inc and other incumbents, which have invested heavily in security features.

One of the new mobile apps, FemiTaxi, has expanded into six Brazilian cities and is eyeing other Latin American markets. Competing app LadyDriver, which launched in Sao Paulo in March, will start operations in Rio de Janeiro in October.

Ride-hailing apps for female drivers and passengers are not unique to Brazil. All-women ride hailing app See Jane Go launched in California in 2016, and rival Safr launched in Boston this year.

Yet their rapid growth in cities such as Sao Paulo, Uber’s biggest market by rides, underscores rising concerns about public safety in Brazil and efforts to shield women from the discomfort and danger of a culture steeped in machismo.

Reports of sexually charged crimes such as attempted rape rose by double digits in Sao Paulo state in August from a year earlier, and high-profile cases of sexual assault on public buses have drawn attention to the issue.

Metros in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Recife rolled out female-only train cars in the past year, taking up an idea pioneered by Rio more than a decade ago.

“I think the problem of sexual harassment in public transport always existed, but it wasn’t discussed,” said Gabriela Correa, founder and CEO of LadyDriver. “Now woman are standing up, taking initiatives like our own to seek safety.”

Uber, along with peers such as Spain’s Cabify and local rival 99, which is backed by China’s Didi Chuxing and Japan’s SoftBank Group, have also stepped up efforts to improve safety for drivers and passengers this year.

Press representatives for all three apps said they were working to guarantee safe and comfortable experiences for users.

Uber [UBER.UL], which reported more than 500 million rides in Brazil in the past three years, said it runs background checks on drivers, bans users who behave inappropriately and allows riders to share their location in real-time with friends and family.

More than 5,000 people work for Uber’s support center in Brazil, offering a 24-hour hotline for drivers and passengers, after an investment of 200 million reais ($63 million) announced in January.

A surge in violence against Uber drivers in Brazil last year forced executives to rethink the use of cash payments and admit they had underestimated security risks here.

Cabify also said it has a 24-hour help line and runs rigorous background checks on its drivers.

Embracing demand for female drivers registered in a passenger survey, 99 said it began offering a women-only option on its app late last year, which is second only to air conditioning among preferences set by users.

Lady Driver, which has over 100,000 users and 8,000 drivers in Sao Paulo, will expand to Rio in October, Correa said.

FemiTaxi now has more than 20,000 rides per month and 1,000 drivers. Founder Charles-Henry Calfat said he plans to expand into two more Brazilian cities in coming months, then Mexico and Argentina early next year.

(Reporting by Taís Haupt; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Brad Haynes and Susan Thomas)

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BASF to harvest seeds, herbicide businesses from Bayer for $7 billion

2017 10 13T054425Z 1 LYNXMPED9C09H RTROPTP 0 PETROCHEMICALS COMPANIES 1 - BASF to harvest seeds, herbicide businesses from Bayer for $7 billion

2017 10 13T054425Z 1 LYNXMPED9C09H RTROPTP 0 PETROCHEMICALS COMPANIES 1 - BASF to harvest seeds, herbicide businesses from Bayer for $7 billion
FILE PHOTO: A truck drives past a warehouse of German chemical company BASF in Ludwigshafen, April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

October 13, 2017

By Maria Sheahan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – BASF has agreed to buy seed and herbicide businesses from Bayer for 5.9 billion euros ($7 billion) in cash, as Bayer tries to convince competition authorities to approve its planned acquisition of Monsanto.

BASF, the world’s third-largest maker of crop chemicals, has so far avoided seed assets and instead pursued research into plant characteristics such as drought tolerance, which it sells or licenses out to seed developers.

But Bayer’s $66 billion deal to buy U.S. seeds group Monsanto, announced in September 2016, has created opportunities for rivals to snatch up assets that need to be sold to satisfy competition authorities.

Bayer had offered to sell assets worth around $2.5 billion. The European Commission said in August that the divestments offered by Bayer so far did not go far enough and started an in-depth investigation of the deal.

Bayer has to sell the LibertyLink-branded seeds and Liberty herbicide businesses because they compete with Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and Roundup Ready seeds.

LibertyLink seeds, used by soy, cotton and canola growers, are one alternative to Roundup Ready seeds for farmers suffering from weeds that have developed resistance to the Roundup herbicide, also known as glyphosate.

The spread of Roundup-resistant weeds in North America has been a major driver behind Liberty sales.

“BASF’s decision to acquire seeds assets represents something of a change to its prior view on its needs to respond to recent industry consolidation in agriculture,” Morgan Stanley analysts said.

“Nonetheless, the proposed assets for acquisition are high margin and high growth and represent a sensible bolt-on addition,” they added.

The sale to BASF values the assets at around 15 times 2016 operating profit (EBITDA) of 385 million euros, which Bankhaus Lampe analyst Volker Braun said was “reasonable” considering the assets had to be sold anyway.

BASF will finance the acquisition through a combination of cash on hand, commercial paper and bonds. It expects the acquisition to add to its earnings by 2020.

Shares in Bayer rose 1.3 percent to the top of Germany’s blue-chip DAX index by 0845 GMT, while BASF fell 0.7 percent.

REGULATORY SCRUTINY

The businesses Bayer is selling to BASF generated 2016 sales of 1.3 billion euros.

While the Commission could block the deal, it has approved others, such as Dow’s tie-up with DuPont and ChemChina’s takeover of Syngenta – although only after securing big concessions.

Bayer said it continued to work with the authorities to close the Monsanto deal by early 2018.

As part of the asset sale to BASF, which is conditional upon the Monsanto acquisition going through, more than 1,800 staff, primarily in the United States, Germany, Brazil, Canada and Belgium, will transfer to BASF.

BASF has committed to maintaining all permanent positions, under similar conditions, for at least three years after the deal closes, Bayer said.

As part of the deal, BASF will acquire Bayer’s manufacturing sites for glufosinate-ammonium production and formulation in Germany, the United States, and Canada, seed breeding facilities in the Americas and Europe as well as trait research facilities in the United States and Europe.

Bayer said it would use the proceeds of the sale to partially refinance the planned acquisition of Monsanto. It would provide an update on expected synergies from the acquisition by the time the deal closes.

BofA Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse acted as financial advisors to Bayer. Its legal advisors are Sullivan & Cromwell, Dentons, Cohen & Grigsby and Redeker, Sellner & Dahs.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Keith Weir)

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