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France Vows to End Sales of Gas, Diesel Cars by 2040

France will stop selling gasoline and diesel cars by 2040.

The move, announced by the country’s ecology minister Nicolas Hulot, is part of a plan to meet emissions targets set forth in the Paris climate accord.

“We are announcing an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040,” Hulot said, adding that it would be a “veritable revolution.”

Saying the goal would be “tough” to accomplish, he added that French carmakers such as Peugeot-Citroen and Renault would be able to handle the changes. France is the biggest manufacturer of electric cars sold in Europe.

France is the latest country to focus on electric cars. India has said it wants all cars sold there to be electric by 2030. Norway has said it will stop selling gasoline and diesel cars by 2025, and Germany is aiming to have 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2020.

In 2016, the largest market in the world for electric cars was China, where more than 500,000 were sold.

On Wednesday, Volvo announced it would stop producing cars with conventional engines by 2019.

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), only 3.6 percent of cars sold in Western Europe in 2016 were hybrid or electric.

Hulot said getting conventional cars off the road was important to “public health” as several French cities, including Paris and Lyon have recurring issues with air pollution. Hulot said the move was part of the country’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.

To that end, he announced last month that France would no longer give licenses for oil and gas exploration in France and its overseas territories.

“One of the symbolic acts of the plan is that France, which previously had made the promise to divide its greenhouse gas emissions by four by 2050, has decided to become carbon neutral by 2050 following the U.S. decision,” Hulot said.”The carbon neutral objective will force us to make the necessary investments.”

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris pact saying it would be unfair to American businesses and too expensive for taxpayers.

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Latvian Bank Fined Heavily Over Laundering Scheme in France

A Paris court fined a Latvian bank Thursday for laundering hundreds of millions of euros through a vast scheme allowing French taxpayers to avoid paying their dues.

The court fined Rietumu Banka 80 million euros ($91 million) for facilitating a scam to “democratize” tax evasion among ordinary taxpayers and small businesses in France. It also barred the bank from operating in France for five years.

Investigators suspect Rietumu of helping to launder up to 850 million euros ($964 million) from 2007 to 2012 with the complicity of a French financier, Nadav Bensoussan, and his company, France Offshore.

The court said the defendants organized “large-scale” tax evasion through offshore companies located in tax havens.

Bensoussan, 38, who once promised “tax haven for all,” was sentenced to serve two years in prison and to pay a 3 million-euro ($3.4 million) fine.

Alexandre Pankov, a senior officer of Rietumu, got a suspended four-year prison sentence, and Sergejs Scuka, the bank’s representative in France, a one-year suspended term. Most of the 10 other defendants were given suspended prison sentences.

Rietumu and other defendants were also sentenced to pay a combined 10 million euros ($11.4 million) to the French state in damages.

The defendants and the prosecutor’s office have 10 days to appeal the ruling.

Patrick Klugman, lawyer for Rietumu, dismissed the ruling as “baseless and incomprehensible” and said he’ll consult with his client whether to appeal.

“I think the court followed an intellectually dangerous line of reasoning, particularly in terms of judicial cooperation,” Klugman told The Associated Press. He said Rietumu has always complied with its country’s regulations.

Klugman said the penalty given to Rietumu was “very high.” He said the lack of cooperation that authorities blamed Rietumu for was due to a “cultural barrier.”

In court documents, French investigators noted a lack of cooperation by Rietumu during their five-year investigation, particularly when it came to identifying French customers and their accounts.

During the trial, in March, Prosecutor Ulrika Delaunay-Weiss lamented an “obvious shortcoming” in the European regulations that had allowed an EU bank, in this case Rietumu, to carry out criminal activities in France while being out of reach of French regulators because it was being overseen by Latvian authorities.

In delivering the ruling, Presiding Judge Benedicte de Perthuis said the bank couldn’t ignore the “fraudulent” origin of the funds. “It was part of its business strategy in France,” she said.

While the bank has argued it complied with anti-money laundering regulations in Latvia, Delaunay-Weiss said Rietumu was able to take advantage of flaws in European legislation.

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US Company to Forfeit Thousands of Iraqi Artifacts

U.S. federal prosecutors say arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has agreed to turn over thousands of ancient artifacts from the Middle East after the company illegally smuggled them into the country.

In a civil complaint filed Wednesday, the prosecutors said in 2010 Hobby Lobby paid $1.6 million for 5,500 tablets and bricks featuring cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing, as well as other objects.

Those artifacts, and others purchased a year later, were sent to Hobby Lobby retail and corporate locations in shipments that falsely identified the contents as coming from Turkey and Israel.  The shipping labels also said the packages contained “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles.”

Prosecutors said an expert warned the company that acquiring cultural property likely from Iraq brought the risk that the items were looted from archaeological sites.

“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that [Homeland Security Investigations] and its partner U.S. Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless,” said HSI Special Agent-In-Charge Angel Melendez.

In addition to forfeiting the objects, Hobby Lobby also agreed to pay a $3 million fine.

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said the company cooperated with the government and should have “more carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”

“At no time did Hobby Lobby ever purchase items from dealers in Iraq or from anyone who indicated that they acquired items from that country,” Green said in a statement.  “Hobby Lobby condemns such conduct and has always acted with the intent to protect ancient items of cultural and historical importance.”

The company agreed to adopt new practices on buying cultural property, and to submit regular reports to the government about such purchases for 18 months.

Hobby Lobby began assembling a collection of historical Bibles and other artifacts in 2009. 

Green is the founder and chairman of a Bible museum under construction in Washington.

Hobby Lobby also won a prominent U.S. Supreme Court case in 2014 involving a government rule that company health plans were required to cover contraceptives.  Hobby Lobby said such a rule went against the closely held religious beliefs of its ownership, and the court agreed in a narrow decision that under a religious freedom law the company should not be forced to provide the coverage.

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Britain’s Finance Industry Faces ‘Tipping Point’ Over Brexit

Britain will lose its status as Europe’s top financial center unless it keeps borders open to specialist staff, improves infrastructure and expands links with emerging economies, TheCityUK said in a report published Thursday.

The report from Britain’s most powerful financial lobby group said continental Europe might eventually become the preferred destination for banks, insurers and asset managers as they relocate business there to retain access to the EU single market.

Although companies may begin by initially shifting a small number of jobs to Europe, this may accelerate when property leases expire, they carry out business reviews, or the cost of capital becomes uneconomical.

“Shifts out of the U.K. may gradually erode the ‘cluster effect’ of the financial ecosystem, with the threat of a tipping point in the ecosystem being reached,” the group said in an 83-page document outlining how the industry can thrive over the next decade.

Securing a favorable deal for financial services from the Brexit negotiations is one of the biggest challenges for the British government because it is its largest export sector and biggest source of corporate tax.

Britain’s finance industry could lose up to 38 billion pounds ($49 billion) in revenue in a so-called “hard Brexit” that would restrict its access to the EU single market, according to some estimates.

The report said the government must ensure businesses can recruit people to fill skill gaps and must simplify the process of getting a visa.

Brexit has already made it harder to attract people to Britain, and the government is introducing policies making immigration more restrictive and expensive, the report said.

It said the cost of hiring an employee on a five-year visa has risen by 250 percent to 7,000 pounds over the last year and the minimum salary a business may recruit staff for a visa has risen by almost half since 2015.

Aside from Brexit, the report also looks at broader issues that threaten the competitiveness of the city of London as financial services hub, including a need to invest in transport networks and technology.

It calls for government and financial services to work together closely to develop international trade policies and to improve the country’s digital and physical infrastructure, including speeding up travel times between airports and different financial centers around Britain.

One financial services industry veteran who had independent access to the report said it lacked urgency and there was too little on the impact of Britain leaving the EU given that “Brexit is a catastrophe for the city.”

Mark Hoban, a former financial services minister who chaired the report, said that Brexit was only one of several challenges facing financial services.

“The challenges facing financial services are much more than just about Brexit. It is about emerging financial centers and also, to a degree, about unmet needs in the U.K. as well,” Hoban told Reuters. “There is a very clear appetite to tackle these issues at various levels of government.”

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City Plan Aims for Flood-free Growth in Argentina’s Santa Fe

Bolstering flood defenses and moving families away from risky areas are high on the agenda for Argentina’s Santa Fe as the river port city looks to grow its economy and improve its infrastructure under a new urban plan.

The inland city of around 400,000 in Argentina’s Pampas region also aims to cut violent crime, boost social inclusion and kick-start projects including a new airport, as it tries to create jobs and become better connected, said Santa Fe’s chief resilience officer, Andrea Valsagna.

Like many Latin American cities, as Santa Fe has expanded, new residents have settled in low-lying areas, she noted.

“The challenge is to organize the growth of the city in a way that reduces the risk of floods,” said Valsagna by telephone from Santa Fe in northeast Argentina.

The new resilience strategy will help position the city to “deal with the problems climate change is generating in the region,” she said, adding that heavy rains and flooding are likely to increase.

Santa Fe lies near the junction of two major waterways — the Parana and Salado rivers — and suffered serious floods in 2003 and 2007, which forced mass evacuations.

The city now has early warning systems in place, and relies on costly infrastructure made up of 40 miles (64 km) of defenses and pumps that help minimize flood risk from the rivers.

The new strategy — released under the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, a global network of cities working to tackle modern-day shocks and stresses — said Santa Fe had taken steps to reduce its vulnerability, but work was needed to bolster flood defenses, drainage systems and other critical infrastructure.

Santa Fe is one of Argentina’s oldest cities, with over 70 percent of its territory made up of rivers, lakes and marshes.

An effort to relocate nearly 4,000 people living in 1,500 homes situated in flood-prone areas and curb informal settlement must consider how to integrate communities, and provide education and job opportunities, said Valsagna.

“The problem of families in low-lying or informal settlements is multi-dimensional, and you can’t just think about the housing problem,” she said of the city which suffers from a shortage of accommodation.

“It’s very difficult to generate alternatives for many of these families — they have a history in these places … they have their links with work, schools, health,” she said.

Crime and waste

Major infrastructure projects, such as the proposed new airport for the regional capital and relocation of its river port, would broaden opportunities for economic growth and jobs, besides improving transport links, said Valsagna.

Santa Fe is expected to funnel 10 percent of its municipal budget into ways of making the city more resilient. City authorities are also talking to regional development banks, the private sector and the national government about funding the port and the airport, she said.

Reducing crime is another big challenge for Santa Fe, where homicides reached 22 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014. Young men from poor, underserved neighborhoods are most at risk, while police corruption and a weak justice system compound the issue.

Valsagna said a new observatory would analyze crime in the city, which is seeking ways to bring more jobs and services to inhabitants of its poorest areas.

Other goals are to improve drainage and waste services in the city where more than 600 families, including children, make a living out of informal rubbish collection and are exposed to health risks and poor sanitation, said the report.

Santa Fe wants to halve their number within the next five years by offering alternative sources of income.

Santa Fe Mayor Jose Manuel Corral noted in the report that cities around the world are facing complex challenges.

“We believe that a resilience approach will allow us to tackle this complexity, putting the focus on the capacity of communities to face crises, prepare themselves for acute impacts but also to deal with and overcome chronic stresses,” he wrote.

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IMF: Global Economic Recovery ‘On Track,’ But Nations Must Work Together

The global economic recovery “remains on track,” according to the International Monetary Fund, but other experts say advanced economies are in for a period of slow growth.

The IMF study is published as leaders from the G-20, the world’s major economies, are gathering in Hamburg, Germany to discuss growth, trade and other issues. The global lender urges nations to “work together” on economic issues because “there is no time for standing still.”

The study’s authors say the U.S. economy hit a “soft patch” earlier this year, while some European and Asian economies grew a bit faster than expected, with an upturn in manufacturing and trade.  

These experts also warn that weak productivity growth, uneven distribution of economic gains, and aging workforces, limit growth, particularly in advanced economies.  

A separate study by Fitch Ratings says advanced economies are likely to grow at a rate below 2 percent over the next several years. 

Fitch writes that while the U.S. average growth rate over many years is “just below 3 percent,” the outlook is just 1.8 percent. The study’s authors blame the aging of the workforce for the slow pace of expansion. 

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Trump, Merkel on G-20 Collision Course Over Climate, Trade

As police step up patrols and protesters set up camp in Hamburg, Germany, no one is expecting an easy weekend when U.S. President Donald Trump joins other heads of the world’s 20 leading economies.

Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are on a collision course on issues of climate and trade, but counterterrorism efforts, recent North Korean missile tests and Chinese steel dumping could bring them together.

Merkel pledges to work toward consensus on wider issues, but foresees no miracles in her relations with the U.S. administration.

“I do not think we will have unified positions on all issues at the end, but it is sensible and honest to talk to each other on all issues of international diplomacy,” Merkel told reporters ahead of the summit.

WATCH: Preview of G-20 meeting

President Trump said he has “bold” plans to impose steep tariffs or quotas on steel imports, the latest and perhaps most serious of threats to protect U.S. industry, and part of his America First strategy, one that has G-20 partners feeling nervous.

“What he is doing is he is throwing all kinds of cards up in the air — NAFTA, critique of climate change — because he actually wants a bit of a zero base policy,” said Tim Evans, a political economist at Middlesex University. “I think at the end of the day he probably, of course, wants free trade in the win-win sense, but what he is trying to expose is perhaps some of the hypocrisy of countries like China who talk the talk of openness but do not always deliver. So there is going to be a real clash of the titans at this summit.”

Shock talk brings results

After threatening to not stand by NATO allies unless they pay their share of defense, members pledged to boost their contributions. Trump said he would rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and now he has a deal with Mexico on sugar exports.

The U.S. leader’s target now is China and its cheap steel exports that are blamed for killing jobs not only in the United States, but in Britain and other G-20 states, including Germany.

Chinese officials are closely watching the direction of U.S. policy and have called on Washington to exercise caution.

Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord has stoked the anger of demonstrators in Hamburg as well as concern among Merkel and some other G-20 leaders, but analysts say the threat of cheap Chinese steel imports could be a common cause, and take precedence.

“Many of the G-20 members are experiencing exactly the same kinds of economic forces and constraints the U.S. is facing,” Shanker Singham, director of economic policy and prosperity studies at the Legatum Institute in London, told VOA. “So for example, in the U.K., the steel mills in Port Talbot and Redcar were closed because of, really, overcapacity of supply by the China steel sector. That is not very much different from what has been going on in Ohio and Pennsylvania. So I think this actually has the opportunity or a chance to get a lot of support.”

Wait-and-see approach

G-20 leaders, while nervous, are waiting to see what Trump actually does before taking any action, and all indications are that they are not rushing to adopt protectionist measures.

Global Trade Alert, a group that monitors protectionism, this week reported a drop in the number of such measures adopted by G-20 members in the last several months compared with the same period last year.

“The Trump administration has said a lot about ‘America First’ and fair trade and so forth, but they haven’t actually done that much so far,” said Singham. “G-20 members will be looking at ‘What do you really mean by this policy?’ in order to determine what their response to that policy will be.”

None of the major issues is likely to be resolved, but analysts say more clarity may emerge, given who the players are.

“The landscape that we see looming in Hamburg is one of showmanship,” said Evans. ”We have a lot of unpredictability because we have a lot of very charismatic, very outspoken leaders — people like [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan from Turkey, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi from India, Vladimir Putin from Russia and of course President Trump. These people know how to play to global audiences.”

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Tesla Says its Model 3 Car will Go on Sale on Friday

Electric car maker Tesla says its much-ballyhooed Model 3 car for the masses will go on sale on Friday.

CEO Elon Musk made the announcement Monday on Twitter.


The car is to start around $35,000 and with a $7,500 federal electric car tax credit, could cost $27,500. Tesla says the five-seat car will be able to go 215 miles (133 kilometers) on a single charge and will be sporty, accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds.


Musk had said that production was on track to start in July, but Tesla has often faced delays in getting vehicles to market. The Palo Alto, California-based company aims to make 5,000 Model 3 sedans per week by the end of this year and 10,000 per week in 2018.


Tesla hasn’t said how many people have put down $1,000 refundable deposits for the Model 3, but Musk has said people who put down a deposit now won’t get a car until the end of 2018, suggesting it could be close to 500,000.


Whether Tesla can meet its production goals is an open question. Its last new vehicle, the Model X SUV, was delayed nearly 18 months. Musk says the Model 3 is much simpler to make, but 14-year-old Tesla has no experience producing and selling vehicles in high volumes. Tesla made just 84,000 cars last year. Bigger rivals like General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota routinely sell around 10 million vehicles per year.


Even if the Model 3 is on time, servicing all those vehicles will still be a challenge. Model S and Model X owners are already worried about having to share Tesla’s company-owned charging stations with an influx of new cars. And while Tesla is promising to increase its network of stores and service centers by 30 percent this year, it began 2017 with just 250 service centers worldwide. That leaves many potential owners miles from a service center.


Musk has said a new fleet of mobile service trucks will be deployed to help customers who are far from service centers. Tesla also plans to double its global high-speed charging points to 10,000 by the end of this year and increase them by another 50 percent-100 percent in 2018.


Until recently, Tesla owned the market for fully-electric vehicles that can go 200 miles (324 kilometers) or more on a charge. But that’s changing. GM beat Tesla to the mass market with the Chevrolet Bolt, a $36,000 car that goes 238 miles (about 200 kilometers) per charge. Audi plans to introduce an electric SUV with 300 miles (486 kilometers) of range next year; Ford will have one by 2020. Volkswagen plans more than 30 electric vehicle models by 2025.


Automotive competitors like Mercedes and Volvo – not to mention tech companies like Google and Uber – can also match Tesla’s efforts to develop self-driving vehicles. And they have deeper pockets. Tesla has had only two profitable quarters in its seven years as a public company.

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Vegetarian Beef Farmer Moves Herd to Greener Pastures

For committed vegetarian Jay Wilde, taking over his father’s central England beef farm in 2011 gave rise to a significant ethical dilemma: how could he continue running his family business, while adhering to his principles?

This year, Wilde took an unusual decision to resolve that conflict: he donated his Derbyshire farm’s herd of 63 cattle, which would have fetched £45,000 pounds ($58,250) if sold for meat, to an animal sanctuary.

“It just seemed difficult to look after the animals for two to three years and get to really know them, and then send them to slaughter. It felt as if you were betraying them”, Wilde told the BBC.

Wilde believes that his cows have emotions and can sense when they’re going to be killed. After donating the herd, Wilde said that he plans to refocus his farm on growing organic vegetables and field crops without any animal inputs.

The herd now resides at the Hillside Animal Sanctuary near Frettenham, where they will live out the remainder of their lives, effectively as pets.

While Wilde accepted that his new farm may be less profitable, his principal desire was for his animals to be happy.

“I hope that when they arrive at the refuge the cows will run down the ramp of the truck into the field and think ‘wow! We’ve come on holiday'”, he said.

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Qatar, Isolated by Neighbors, Plans Gas Output Boost

The politically isolated Gulf nation of Qatar says it plans to boost production of liquefied natural gas by 30 percent over the coming years.

State-run Qatar Petroleum made the announcement in the capital, Doha on Tuesday, a day after Qatar handed over its response to a list of demands by Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia that have cut ties with their tiny neighbor.

QP President and CEO Saad Sherida al-Kaabi said the production increase stems from a decision to double anticipated output from a new gas project on the southern portion of its vast underwater North Field.

The increase will over time give Qatar the capacity to produce 100 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year, up from 77 million.