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Germany State Vote to Hint at Merkel’s 4th-Term Chances

An election Sunday in Germany’s most populous state is serving as a prelude to September’s national vote. It could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term — or offer her center-left challenger some relief.

The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is Schulz’s home territory, though he isn’t on the ballot, and home to 17.9 million people, nearly a quarter of Germany’s population.

The western state, which includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial region, has been led by the Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966.

Polls show tight race

However, polls ahead of the vote — the last test at the ballot box before Germany’s national election Sept. 24 — now show the Social Democrats neck-and-neck with Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

A defeat for center-left governor Hannelore Kraft would be a major blow for the Social Democrats after poor showings in two previous state elections punctured the party’s euphoria over Schulz’s nomination.

Last weekend, they were beaten by Merkel’s party in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany’s far north.

Merkel’s conservatives in the state, led by challenger Armin Laschet, a liberal-minded deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, have little to lose after a dreadful showing in the state vote five years ago.

Crime and security

They have sought to portray Kraft’s state government as slack on security. They point to burglary statistics, incidents such as the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne in 2015 and questions over regional officials’ handling of sometime resident Anis Amri, the rejected Tunisian asylum-seeker who drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in December, killing 12 people.

They also have assailed what they say is regional authorities’ poor handling of education and infrastructure projects.

Kraft’s coalition partners, the Greens, are polling poorly and chances of their alliance keeping its majority look poor. The pro-business Free Democrats, eyeing a return to the national parliament in September after they were ejected in 2013, look set for a strong performance.

And the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, hopes to enter its 13th state legislature, though its popularity appears to have faded as the migrant influx has receded and the party has been rent by infighting.

The likeliest outcome appears to be a “grand coalition” of the biggest parties led by whoever finishes first.

That would mirror Merkel’s national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.

 

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Mnuchin Says G-7 Nations More Comfortable With New US Economic Approach

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday after meeting with officials from the world’s other industrialized democracies that he thought they were more at ease with Donald Trump’s economic policies.

“People are more comfortable today, now that they’ve had the opportunity to spend time with me and listen to the president and hear our economic message,” Mnuchin said after a two-day meeting in Bari, Italy, with members of the Group of Seven, industrialized nations commonly known as the G-7.

Officials from the G-7 countries hoped to learn more about the U.S. president’s plans, which they feared would revive protectionist policies and result in a global regression on issues such as banking reform and climate change.

After the meeting, officials from Japan and member European countries remained concerned about the economic shift in Washington, particularly after Mnuchin said the U.S. reserved the right to be protectionist if it thought trade was not free or fair.

“All the six others … said explicitly, and some very directly, to the representatives of the U.S. administration that it is absolutely necessary to continue with the same spirit of international cooperation,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.

Don’t ‘backpedal’ on free trade

Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said continued uncertainty about U.S. policy could dampen optimism within the G-7 about the global economy’s gradual recovery from the financial crisis that began nearly a decade ago.

De Galhau echoed the sentiments of Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, who said, “We must not backpedal on free trade, as it has contributed to economic prosperity.”

European officials complained that the U.S. meaning of “fair trade” remained unclear and that the only way to establish fairness was to abide by the multilateral framework developed by the World Trade Organization.

A senior Japanese Finance Ministry official said the most significant question pertained to Trump’s U.S. tax cut proposal that could fuel America’s economic recovery.

Trump has proposed slashing the U.S. corporate income tax rate and offer multinational businesses a steep tax break on overseas profits brought back to the U.S.

The G-7 is composed of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S.

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France’s President-elect Scrambles to Find Candidates for Upcoming Parliamentary Poll

Pro-business, pro-Europe and centrist – Emmanuel Macron was elected president on a promise to change French politics. But just days after his win, France’s president-elect is struggling to find candidates for next month’s parliamentary poll.

“I know the divisions within our nation,” he said in his victory speech, promising he would fight those divisions with all his strength.

But without an established party behind him, the parliamentary elections present a special challenge.

He set up a political movement called En Marche! – Onward! – to get him elected. Now he has to turn it into a political force to be reckoned with.

So far, he has come up with 428 names for 577 seats in the French National Assembly.

More than half of them have never held elected office. Only five percent are outgoing members of parliament.

True to his promise for parity, slightly more than half are women.

The average age is 46 – that is older than the president-elect, who is just 39.

Among the few better-known names is Eric Halphen, the judge who investigated former president Jacques Chirac for corruption.

There is also a woman who used to be a bullfighter, a video game tycoon, and a mathematics genius.

Pursuit of majority

Political analyst Jean-Yves Camus says that is not the best recipe for success.

“If he only appeals to the start-uppers, the young, educated people, the winners of globalization, those in the professions, and so on, he will not remain for five years.”

Many of these new candidates are from the left or center-left, but few from right of center.

That could be a problem for Macron and his movement, as the defeated conservative party, The Republicans, is fielding candidates with a view to taking the majority in the National Assembly.

Camus argues that a seriously weakened Socialist Party, after its defeat in the first round of the presidential election, also is bad for Macron.

“If the Socialist Party totally collapses, I mean there is a possibility that it will not even exist as the socialist party in a few months; this will be very bad for Macron. Because he needs to have people on his right-hand side, and people on his left-hand side.”

First, though, Macron has to name a new government – and then he has just one month to convince the French to give him a parliamentary majority, or at least to ensure the majority is not opposed to his policies and plans.

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Pope Canonizes 2 Fatima Child Shepherds

Pope Francis has elevated into sainthood two Portuguese shepherd children who had visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago in a Portuguese town that has since become one of the world’s most significant Catholic pilgrimage sites.

In the farm town of Fatima, an estimated half million people watched in front of the shrine’s basilica, where the children are buried, as Frances proclaimed them saints at the start of a mass.

“We declare the blissful Francisco and Jacinta Marto saints,” the pontiff said.

Francisco and Jacinta, 9 and 7 years old, and their 10-year-old cousin, Lucia Dos Santos, said that starting on May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared before them a half-dozen times within a 5 month period as they grazed their sheep.

The children said the Virgin Mary gave them three messages, the so-called secrets of Fatima.

 

The church believes the first two secrets, revealed during World War I, included a vision of ell, which some believers saw as a prediction of World War II, and a warning that Russia would “spread her errors to the world.”

The Vatican did not disclose the third secret until 2000. The Vatican said it predicted the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II on May 13, the same day of the first reported appearance of Virgin Mary.

Pope Benedict later updated the interpretation of the third prophesy, saying it could include the suffering of the church following sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Vatican.

Efforts are underway to make Dos Santos, who became a nun and died in 2005 at age 97, a saint as well.

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У КМДА анонсували аудіоекскурсію по Києву голосом Кличка

Міський голова Києва Віталій Кличко запише авторську екскурсію по столиці, повідомила прес-служба КМДА.

У Київській міській державній адміністрації презентували 13 травня безкоштовний туристичний путівник Kyiv city guide, що містить 9 аудіоекскурсій столицею на українській та англійській мовах. За даними відомства, кожна з екскурсій триває від 40 хвилин до 2 годин.

«Щороку кількість екскурсій ставатиме більшою. Точно буде понад 20. Але вже за пару місяців з’явиться найлегендарніша – екскурсія від міського голови Віталія Кличка. Він обере свій улюблений маршрут і озвучить екскурсію трьома мовами – українською, німецькою та англійською», – повідомив заступник голови КМДА Олексій Резніков.

Як повідомлялося раніше, протягом двох тижнів проведення «Євробачення» КМДА очікує до 20 тисяч гостей, експерти з туризму оцінюють добові витрати туриста на час «Євробачення» в Києві у 100 євро. 

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Russia Seeks Investment, Trade Links on China’s New ‘Silk Road’

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is heading to China Sunday to join leaders of 27 other nations at the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) summit in Beijing.

The massive China-led project aims to revive the ancient Silk Road and maritime trade routes by expanding investment in infrastructure linking Asia, Africa and Europe.

While China plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in the ambitious vision, few details have been made clear on how the project will proceed.

Russia wants investment

A lack of specifics and long-term prospects for the project has led some observers to conclude China’s new Silk Road so far is about politics and symbolism. But analysts in Moscow say Russia is mainly in it for the money.

“First, Russia’s economy desires foreign investments and it hopes to get some funds through OBOR,” said Petr Topychkanov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Second, Russia wants to bring new drive to the dying Eurasian Economic Union by connecting it with OBOR. Third, Russia wants to compensate the vanished economic agenda of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) with the Chinese-led OBOR. Fourth, Russia wants to make European countries more nervous with the prospects of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation.”

China in the last few years has invested more than $300 billion in projects in One Belt, One Road countries, and Chinese officials say more than 50 agreements will be signed at next week’s meetings in Beijing.

Leaders attending the summit include the other two founding members of the struggling Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“Russian interest in the OBOR project in general is attracting additional Chinese investment into the Russian infrastructure and industry sectors,” said Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “Russia is also trying to achieve a high level of coordination between the Chinese OBOR policy and the Russian policy concerning the Eurasian Economic Union.”

Russia established the EAEU in 2015 with the aim of integrating economies of former Soviet states. However, critics say the Kremlin uses the group for geopolitics and influence, and other members have shown little interest in deepening economic ties.

Russia looking east?

Western sanctions against Russia over its military involvement in Ukraine have led some Russian officials and analysts to say Moscow will pivot to the east for its political and economic future.

“China did provide significant loans for the Russian state-owned companies currently under the Western sanctions, helping them a lot,” Kashin said.

Russia-China trade is recovering from a 2014-2015 slump and was up 26 percent in the first quarter of 2017, to nearly $25 billion. China’s exports to Russia rose 22 percent while China’s imports from Russia were up 30 percent in the first four months of this year.

“China is Russia’s most important individual trading partner. Its share is growing, and it is already a significant source of investment, loans and technology. However, it will take China a long time to overtake the EU in these roles,” Kashin added.

There has been no dramatic pivot by Russia away from the West and toward the East, but there is a gradual trend for trade in that direction.

“The share of the APEC countries, not just China, but Japan and Korea as well, in Russian trade has been growing at the expense of the EU for a long time,” Kashin said. “The process did speed up after the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, but not dramatically. Turn to the East is inevitable since the European market for Russian commodities will likely have long-term negative growth, because of EU economic stagnation and industrial decline.

“However, building the necessary infrastructure and negotiating the trade deals with the Asian countries will take Russia years,” economic researcher Kashin added. “The historical dependence on the single European market will be overcome, probably at some point in the late 2020s to early 2030s.”

Developing relationship

Russia-China relations are developing steadily but are sometimes exaggerated by Russian officials for propaganda purposes.

“The leaders of Russia and China came to a point where they clearly realized the possibilities and limits of bilateral relations,” Topychkanov said. “Despite comments from some experts about the possibility of any kind of union between Russia and China — let it be political, economic, or military — there is no chance for such a union.

“Even the bilateral trust between both countries isn’t limitless,” the Carnegie associate added. “In short, Russia and China value the visibility of friendship between them, but they can’t transform it in deep-rooted strategic relationships and long-term, mutually beneficial economic cooperation.”

China’s New Silk Road initiative has attracted more interest as the United States under President Donald Trump has looked inward and pulled out of global trade deals.

But Russia does not see OBOR as a future substitute or even competitor for trade pacts like the formerly U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I doubt, that Russian officials think about OBOR and Russia in the context of global trade,” Topychkanov said. “For Moscow this remains to be the issue of both bilateral cooperation with China and regional economic networks.”

Olga Pavlova​ contributed to this report.

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«Укрзалізниця» запровадила 13 додаткових потягів на літо

«Укрзалізниця» призначила 13 додаткових потягів з кінця травня до середини вересня. За інформацією прес-служби відомства, йдеться про маршрути з Києва, Львова, Дніпра та Харкова до Бердянська, Генічеська, Одеси і Херсона.

Більшість зі згаданих потягів курсуватимуть через день.

Окрім того, «Укрзалізниця» повідомила про зміну розкладу постійних потягів на літній період.. Зокрема, потяг №63/64 Дніпро – Одеса курсуватиме щоденно з 24 травня по 29 вересня замість через день, №136/135 Одеса – Чернівці – щоденно з 1 червня по 30 вересня замість через день. Поїзд №148/147 Одеса – Київ з 25 травня по 30 вересня курсуватиме щоденно, а не тричі на тиждень.

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Companies Affected by Global Cyber Attack

A global cyber attack on Friday affected British hospitals, government agencies and companies in 99 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets, security software maker Avast said.

Hacking tools widely believed by researchers to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency that were leaked online last month appear to have been leveraged to launch the attacks.

Around 1,000 computers at the Russian Interior Ministry were affected by the cyber attack, a spokeswoman for the ministry told Interfax.

Some of the companies affected:

FedEx Corp

Telefonica SA

Portugal Telecom

Telefonica Argentina

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Azerbaijani Court Orders Block on RFE/RL Website

A court in Azerbaijan has ruled in favor of blocking several independent websites, including that of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service.

The Sabail district court in Baku ruled Friday that the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technology’s request for the blockage of access to the websites must be met. 

RFE/RL said it would appeal the ruling, which it called “another blatant attempt” at silencing its reporting in the country. 

In addition to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, the ruling affects opposition newspaper Azadliq, Meydan TV and two other Internet TV programs.

The ministry has limited access to the sites since March 27 on the instructions of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which claimed they “pose a threat” to Azerbaijan’s national security.

It accused them of “posting content deemed to promote violence, hatred or extremism, violate privacy or constitute slander.”

Moves to block the websites came after RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family and his inner circle.

The investigative reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

“Today’s ruling is another blatant attempt by Azerbaijani authorities to try to silence our reporting in Azerbaijan,” RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said. “It misrepresents RFE/RL’s work in Azerbaijan and violates Azerbaijan’s international commitments to respect media freedom. We will appeal it.”

Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic since shortly before the death of his long-ruling father, Heidar Aliyev, in 2003.

He has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.

The hearing into the lawsuit started on April 27.

Samad Rahimli, a lawyer for the Azadliq newspaper, told reporters after the ruling that the lawsuit itself contradicts Azerbaijan’s constitution and the country’s international obligations.

Baku-based media expert Alasgar Mammadli said the decision amounted to “censorship.”

“It is a wrong step that leads to the absolute suppression of freedom of expression and imposes control over the internet in Azerbaijan,” Mammadli said.

Mammadli added that the ruling might also lead to the prosecutions of individuals cooperating with the five media outlets.

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France’s Macron Woos Conservative Moderates as Row Simmers with Ally

Centrist French President elect Emmanuel Macron sought to woo conservative members of parliament to his cause on Friday and head off a row with an ally as he bids for victory in elections for parliament next month.

Macron, until last year economy minister in the outgoing Socialist administration, blew apart the traditional political boundaries of French politics on May 7 when he won the presidency under the banner of his own one-year-old Republic on the Move (REM) party.

His main task now is to try to secure enough seats for REM in the June parliamentary election to give him a majority to push through a set of business-friendly economic reforms.

On Thursday, he named 428 people — around half of whom had never held elected office before — to stand for REM in France’s 577 constituencies.

Among the names were also 24 defecting MPs from the outgoing Socialists and on Friday the party reached out to moderate conservatives to join the cause.

“There is a group among The Republicans (France’s conservatives) … saying ‘we want to be useful to the country, but we do not want to ‘Macronise’ ourselves,’ Macron’s head of candidate selection Arnaud Leroy said on BFM TV, naming a number of leading figures among The Republicans.

“We, being responsible people, are open to discussions. I am not closing any doors,” he said.

Juppe says no deal with Macron

In a sign of how sensitive the reconstructing of the French political landscape is, Alain Juppe, a moderate conservative ex-prime minister, swiftly denied on Twitter reports that he had struck a government deal with Macron.

“There is obviously no Juppe/Macron deal!!!!” Juppe said on his Twitter account.

RTL radio had minutes earlier reported that there was such a deal and that conservative Edouard Philippe, a lawmaker and mayor of Le Havre, would become prime minister.

Philippe and Richard Ferrand, secretary general of Macron’s REM party, have been touted over the past few days by French media as possible prime ministers.

An early promise

Macron has already made room in the parliament he wants to see for former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls. His team promised on Thursday not to put up a candidate against a man who represents a wing of the party whose political views are close to Macron’s.

REM has made clear the way is open for more deals of this kind with other leading Socialists from the party’s right wing and with left-leaning lawmakers among The Republicans.

In seats held by people who are potential allies it is holding back from putting forward a REM candidate, for the time being.

Macron, an ex-banker who was elected on May 7 with 65 percent of a run-off vote to beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen, will take over power this Sunday from Socialist President Francois Hollande at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace.

Recycling operation?

Thursday’s publication of Macron’s partial candidate list produced the first sign of tension within his camp since he was elected.

Gaspard Gantzer, communications adviser to outgoing President Francois Hollande, declined a nomination on Friday after constituents of the region he was due to represent criticized the move, Ferrand said late on Friday.

Francois Bayrou, a centrist who gave up his presidential bid to join Macron, told L’Obs magazine that the list contained only 35 names from his Modem party, whereas he and Macron had agreed it should have 120.

“We got him elected,” Bayrou told L’Obs. “This (candidate list) is a Socialist recycling operation.”

Ferrand responded to Bayrou’s complaint. “There was no set agreement,” he said on BFM TV, adding that there was still room for manoeuver given there are more constituencies to be assigned.