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Merkel Rides Out Migrant Crisis, Remains Favorite Ahead of German Election

Germans go to the polls Sunday in national elections that will decide whether Angela Merkel remains chancellor for a fourth consecutive term. As Henry Ridgwell reports, many wrote off Merkel’s chances as Germany struggled to cope with the 2015 migrant crisis, but she has weathered the storm, and polls point to a comfortable victory.

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Solar Boom or Bust? Companies Seek Tariffs on Solar Imports

Cheap solar panels imported from China and other countries have led to a boom in the U.S. solar industry, where rooftop and other installations have surged 10-fold since 2011.

But two U.S. solar manufacturers say the flood of imports has led one to bankruptcy and forced the other to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

The International Trade Commission is set to decide Friday whether the imports, primarily from Asia, are causing “serious injury” to the companies. If so, the commission will recommend this fall whether the Trump administration should impose tariffs that could double the price of solar panels from abroad.

President Donald Trump has not cozied up to the solar industry, as he has for coal and other fossil fuels, but he is considered sympathetic to imposing tariffs on solar imports as part of his “America first” philosophy. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.

Both sides of the dispute were making their case ahead of Friday’s meeting.

“Simply put, the U.S. industry cannot survive under current market conditions,” a lawyer for Georgia-based Suniva Inc. wrote in a petition filed with the commission. Suniva brought the case with Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas.

Opposition to tariffs

Governors of four solar-friendly states — Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina — oppose the tariff, warning it could jeopardize the industry. They cited a study showing that a global tariff could cause solar installations to drop by more than 50 percent in two years, a crushing blow as states push for renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change.

“The requested tariff could inflict a devastating blow on our states’ solar industries and lead to unprecedented job loss, at steep cost to our states’ economies,” the two Republicans and two Democrats wrote in a letter Thursday to the trade commission.

A group of former U.S. military officials also urged the Trump administration to reject solar tariffs, noting that the Defense Department is the nation’s largest energy consumer and follows a federal law calling for the Pentagon to procure 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Suniva called the case a matter of fairness. Even with better manufacturing methods, lower costs and “dramatically improved efficiency,” the company has “suffered substantial losses due to global imports,” Suniva said in its petition. The company declared bankruptcy this spring after laying off 190 employees and closing production sites in Georgia and Michigan.

SolarWorld Americas, meanwhile, has trimmed its workforce from 1,300 to 300, with more cuts likely.

“After nearly 30 factories have shut down in the wake of surging imports, the legacy of this pioneering American industry hangs in the balance,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas.

“We believe that the promise of solar — energy sustainability and independence — can be realized only with healthy American manufacturing to supply growing U.S. demand,” Stein said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Trade group speaks out

In a twist, the main trade group for the solar industry opposes tariffs and calls the trade case “an existential threat” to the industry.

“The stakes are exceedingly high. We are talking about 88,000 people in this country who could lose their jobs if these tariffs are put in place,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents an array of solar companies.

A global tariff could cause a sharp price hike that could force the U.S. to lose out on solar installations capable of powering more than 9 million homes over the next five years — more than has been installed to date, Hopper said. States could lose out on billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, she added.

Suniva and SolarWorld have themselves to blame for their struggles — not pressure from overseas, Hopper said.

“Here is the real story of this case: We have two foreign-owned, poorly managed companies using U.S. trade laws to put U.S. manufacturers out of business and causing U.S. employees to lose their jobs,” she said.

Indeed, while Suniva’s U.S. operations are based in Georgia, the company’s majority owner is in China. SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of German solar giant SolarWorld, which declared insolvency last month.

If an injury finding is made, the trade commission would have until mid-November to recommend a remedy to the president, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January.

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У Криму журналіста Семену засудили до 2,5 років умовно

Автора Радіо Свобода і Крим.Реалії Миколу Семену звинуватили в публічних закликах до порушення територіальної цілісності Росії

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Britain Expected to Propose a Two-Year Transition for After Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to propose a two-year transition for the period after Britain’s formal departure from the European Union on March 29, 2019, the so-called Brexit.

May’s office released excerpts from a speech she will deliver Friday in Florence, Italy, emphasizing that both sides share “a profound sense of responsibility’’ to ensure that Brexit goes “smoothly and sensibly.”

On the eve of her speech, May met with Cabinet ministers for more than two hours to finalize Britain’s position.

Ministers have had tense discussions over crucial issues such as the amount Britain must pay to settle its financial commitments to the bloc and the status of EU citizens in Britain, among others.

The tensions exploded into public view last week when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson outlined his own vision for life outside the European Union. He argued for a sharp break with the bloc, a stance that dismays moderates who fear this will wreck Britain’s relations with the world’s biggest trade bloc.

May’s speech comes before the fourth round of negotiations with the EU partners, which cannot move forward until the pending issues are resolved, although Britain wants to begin discussing future links, including trade and security cooperation.

While British media are reporting that May would offer to pay $24 billion during the transition period, the excerpts do not include a figure.

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Syrian Activist, Journalist Daughter Slain in Istanbul

A Syrian opposition activist and her journalist daughter have been found slain in their apartment in Istanbul, the Istanbul police department said Friday.

The bodies of 60-year-old Orouba Barakat and her 22-year-old daughter Halla were found overnight in their apartment in Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood in the Asian side of the city.

Turkish media reports said Orouba Barakat was investigating alleged torture in prisons run by the Syrian government. It said she had lived in Britain, then the United Arab Emirates before coming to Istanbul.

“The hand of tyranny and injustice assassinated my sister Doctor Orouba and her daughter Halla in their apartment in Istanbul,” Orouba’s sister Shaza wrote on Facebook, adding that they were stabbed to death.

“Orouba wrote headlines in the first page and she pursued criminals and exposed them. Her name and her daughter’s name, Hala, now made first page headlines,” Shaza added.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has become home to almost 3 million Syrian refugees, many of them opponents of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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Mercedes-Benz to Invest $1 Billion in US Electric Car Plant 

German carmaker Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to invest $1 billion to start making electric vehicles at its manufacturing plant in the southern U.S. state of Alabama.

The luxury automaker said it will manufacture electric SUVs under Mercedes’ EQ subbrand at the plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in just more than three years. The expansion is expected to create 600 jobs.

Daimler-Benz, which has more than 30 plants worldwide, said the Tuscaloosa plant will become the first in the U.S. to produce electric vehicles, and only the sixth in the world to do so.

Construction is to begin next year on the 92,900-square-meter facility. Daimler also said it will build a new global logistics center and aftersales North American hub in Bibb County, Alabama, about 8 kilometers from the Tuscaloosa plant.

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Next Round of NAFTA Talks Take on Thornier Issues

The United States will present new proposals and begin to weigh into thornier issues of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the third round of negotiations starting in Ottawa Saturday, U.S. chief negotiator John Melle said Thursday.

The stepped-up negotiations come with four more rounds of talks left after Ottawa and a self-imposed year-end deadline to finish the talks before Mexico launches campaigning for its July presidential election.

“With progress made in several issue areas in the first two NAFTA negotiation rounds, USTR (United States Trade Representative) looks to move forward with additional new text proposals in round three of the negotiations,” Melle said in comments emailed to Reuters.

“At this point in the negotiations, more challenging issues will start taking center stage,” he added, without elaborating.

Third round

The first two rounds of talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico focused on consolidating language on chapters covering small- and medium-sized enterprises, competitiveness, digital trade, services and the environment.

Now, negotiators will begin to weigh into more contentious issues such as rules of origin — how much of a product’s components must originate from within North America — labor standards aimed at increasing Mexican wages and mechanisms for resolving trade and investment disputes.

In its negotiating strategy for revising NAFTA ahead of the start of the talks in July, the United States said it would emphasize reducing the U.S. trade deficit as a priority.

It also said it wanted to eliminate an arbitration system for resolving trade disputes, known as Chapter 19, that has largely prohibited the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against Canadian and Mexican firms.

Canada has suggested it will walk away from the talks if Chapter 19 is tossed aside.

Dispute resolution, sunset clause

Politico reported Thursday that the United States was considering dropping a binding mechanism in NAFTA for resolving government-to-government disputes in favor of an advisory system.

The proposal would be a major shift away from a decades-old push by the United States to build an international system of enforceable trade rules, Politico reported.

Canada and Mexico have dismissed a proposal by the Trump administration to add a five-year sunset provision to NAFTA.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week such a provision was needed because forecasts for U.S. export and job growth when NAFTA took effect in 1994 were “wildly optimistic” and failed to live up to expectations.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told Reuters Sept. 15 that the sunset clause was unnecessary because the pact’s members can trigger a renegotiation or leave it at any time.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked NAFTA and threatened to tear up the agreement, Mexico has pushed to secure more access to the European Union, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Polls show support for NAFTA

A Reuters poll of economists Thursday found that Mexico and Canada will survive current talks with the United States on trade relatively unscathed.

Meanwhile, a separate poll by IPSOS published Thursday showed broad-based support among Americans, Canadians and Mexicans for NAFTA.

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Rohingya Crisis Dents Myanmar Hopes of Western Investment Boom

When officials from Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon toured six European countries in June, they were hoping to drum up investment in transport, energy and education.

Instead, they were bombarded with questions about the country’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have long complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority in the oil-rich, ethnically divided, western state of Rakhine.

“In each of every country, that issue was always brought up,” Hlaing Maw Oo, secretary of Yangon City Development Committee, told Reuters after the 16-day trip.

The situation in Rakhine has worsened dramatically since then, with more than 400,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh to escape a military counterinsurgency offensive the United Nations has described as “ethnic cleansing.”

Western trade and investment in Myanmar is small, but there were hopes that a series of reforms this year would pry open an economy stunted by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement under military rule.

With most sanctions now lifted, an expected flood of Western money was seen as a key dividend from the transition to civilian rule under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Regional diplomats saw it balancing China’s growing influence over its neighbor.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has been beset by international criticism for saying little about human rights abuses against the Rohingya, and lawyers, consultants and lobbyists say the European and U.S. companies that had been circling are now wary of the reputational risks of investing in the country.

Louis Yeung, managing principal of Yangon-based investment firm Faircap Partners, said one of his business partners — a listed, U.S.-based food and beverage company — decided to hold off its plan to enter the Myanmar market for three to five years, citing factors including slower-than-expected reforms and the Rohingya crisis.

“Their conclusion is that it wasn’t the right time for them,” he said. “They want to see more traction from the government and Rakhine is not helpful.”

On hold

The pressure has been growing in recent months, even on existing investors, with rights group AFD International calling on foreign firms to stop investing in Myanmar.

A small group of investors in U.S. oil major Chevron filed an unsuccessful motion at its annual general meeting urging it to pull out of its production-sharing contract with a state-run firm to explore for oil and gas, while Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor, which runs a mobile network in Myanmar, issued a statement calling for human rights protection.

Chevron declined to comment on its investment in Myanmar, while Telenor did not respond to several requests for comment.

Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade, said last week his delegation postponed a visit to Myanmar indefinitely, saying the human rights situation “does not allow a fruitful discussion on a potential EU-Myanmar investment agreement.”

Khin Aung Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, told Reuters that global firms planning to hold conferences in Myanmar were now considering other locations.

“People were just starting to see Myanmar as a ‘good news’ story,” said Dane Chamorro, head of South East Asia at Control Risks, a global risk consultancy.

“Now you can imagine a boardroom in which someone mentions Myanmar and someone else says ‘hold on, I’ve just seen something on Myanmar on TV: villages burned down, refugees, etc.'”

In an interview published in Nikkei Asia Review on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged it was “natural” for foreign investors to be concerned, but repeated her view that economic development was the key to solving poor Rakhine’s long-standing problems.

“So, investments would actually help make the situation better,” she said.

In China’s orbit

Myanmar’s $70 billion economy should be a strong investment proposition for Western firms. It boasts large oil and gas reserves and natural resources such as rubies, jade and timber.

Wages are low and its youthful population of more than 50 million is eager for retail and manufacturing jobs.

In April, Myanmar passed a long-awaited investment law, simplifying procedures and granting foreign investors equal treatment to the locals. A game-changing law allowing foreigners to buy stakes in local firms is expected later this year.

“The investment conditions were improving,” said Dustin Daugherty, ASEAN lead for business intelligence at Dezan Shira & Associates, a consultancy for foreign investors in Asia.

Myanmar’s economy may not suffer much, however, if Western firms shun the country — or even if their governments were to reimpose some sanctions, although that appears unlikely for now.

Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to deepen relations with China at a time when Beijing is keen to push projects that fit with its Belt and Road initiative, which aims to stimulate trade by investment in infrastructure throughout Asia and beyond.

Myanmar trades with China as much as it does with its next four biggest partners: Singapore, Thailand, Japan and India.

None of that top five participated in previous sanctions.

Trade with the United States is only about $400 million and U.S. investment is just 0.5 percent of the total. Europe accounts for around a 10th of investment, while China and Hong Kong make up more than a third, and Singapore and Thailand another third.

Than Aung Kyaw, Deputy Director General of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, told Reuters that European investors might have “second thoughts,” but he expected Asian investors to stay put.

China is already in talks to sell electricity to energy-hungry Myanmar and pushing for preferential access to a strategic port on the Bay of Bengal. In April, the two countries reached an agreement on an oil pipeline that pumps oil across Myanmar to southwest China.

“It is going to feed Aung San Suu Kyi straight into the hands of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping,” said John Blaxland, director at the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center.

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Catalan Leader Presses On With Banned Vote on Split From Spain

The Catalan regional leader on Thursday said he would press on with an Oct. 1 referendum on a split from Spain, flouting a court ban, as tens of thousands gathered for a second day on the streets of Barcelona demanding the right to vote.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said he had contingency plans in place to ensure the vote would go ahead, directly defying Madrid and pushing the country closer to political crisis.

Spain’s Constitutional Court banned the vote earlier this month after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible. Most opposition parties are also against the vote.

“All the power of the Spanish state is set up to prevent Catalans voting,” Puigdemont said in a televised address.

“We will do it because we have contingency plans in place to ensure it happens, but above all because it has the support of the immense majority of the population, who are sick of the arrogance and abuse of the People’s Party government.”

‘Step back for democracy’

On Thursday, tens of thousands gathered outside the seat of Catalonia’s top court in Barcelona, singing and banging drums, to protest the arrests of senior officials in police raids on regional government offices on Wednesday.

“This is a step back for democracy,” said one of them, 62-year-old pensioner Enric Farro. “This is the kind of thing that happened years ago — it shouldn’t be happening now.”

State police arrested Catalonia’s junior economy minister, Josep Maria Jove, on Wednesday in an unprecedented raid of regional government offices.

Spontaneous protest

Acting on court orders, police have also raided printers, newspaper offices and private delivery companies in a search for campaign literature, instruction manuals for manning voting stations and ballot boxes.

Polls show about 40 percent of Catalans support independence for the wealthy northeastern region and a majority want a referendum on the issue. Puigdemont has said there is no minimum turnout for the vote and he will declare independence within 48 hours of a “yes” result.

A central government’s spokesman said protests in Catalonia were organized by a small group and did not represent the general feeling of the people.

“In those demonstrations, you see the people who go, but you don’t see the people who don’t go, who are way more and are at home because they don’t like what’s happening,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo said.

Mendez de Vigo also said an offer for dialogue from Madrid remained on the table. Repeated attempts to open negotiations between the two camps over issues such as taxes and infrastructure investment have failed over the past five years.

Rajoy said on Wednesday the government’s actions in Catalonia were the result of legal rulings and were to ensure the rule of law. The prime minister called on Catalan leaders to cancel the vote.

Hundreds of National Police and Guardia Civil reinforcements have been brought into Barcelona and are being billeted in two ferries rented by the Spanish government and moored in the harbor. But the central government must tread a fine line in enforcing the law in the region without seeming heavy-handed.

Hardline tactics a concern

The stand-off between Catalonia and the central government resonates beyond Spain. The country’s EU partners publicly support Rajoy but worry that his hardline tactics might backfire.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who heads the pro-independence devolved government, said she hoped the Catalan and Spanish governments could hold talks to resolve the situation.

In a referendum in 2014, Scots voted to remain within the United Kingdom.


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Лідер «Океану Ельзи» Вакарчук прочитає лекції у Стенфорді

Святослав Вакарчук, співак української групи «Океан Ельзи» проведе семестр у Стенфордський університеті у США. Він читатиме лекції і братиме участь у низці заходів Центру демократії, розвитку і верховенства закону.

«Стенфордський центр з питань демократії, розвитку та утвердження верховенства права (CDDRL) із вітає Святослава Вакарчука як запрошеного наукового співробітника з осіннього семестру», – мовиться у повідомленні центру, опублікованому 21 вересня.

Крім музики, зазначають у центрі, Вакарчук займається і громадськими справами. Він засновник благодійного фонду «Люди майбутнього» і співзасновник Центру економічної стратегії. Співак також має науковий ступінь у теоретичній фізиці.