sexta-feira, 24 de fevereiro de 2017

China says it has no intention of devaluing yuan to favor exports

(FILE) A teller counts US and Chinese currency at a branch of Huaxia Bank in Shenyang, northeast China, 14 January 2011. EPA/MARK
China said Friday it has no intention of devaluing its currency to boost exports, and expressed readiness to coordinate its economic and trade policies with the United States.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused China of manipulating the value of yuan and keeping it artificially low as a means of favoring exports, although Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was more cautious about such claims.

Source: EFE

US officials downplay Trump's anti-immigration comments on Mexico

Photo provided by Mexico's presidency showing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2R) and US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly (R) during a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (C) and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray (L) at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Mexico, Feb. 23, 2017. EFE/MEXICO'S PRESIDENCY
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Thursday downplayed the aggressive comments of President Donald Trump regarding stricter policies on illegal immigration in a tense visit to Mexico City, putting some of the responsibility for the problem on Central America.

"Let me be very, very clear: There will be no - repeat, no - mass deportations. Everything we do in DHS will be done legally and according to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States," Kelly said in a joint statement with Tillerson, along with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

Source: EFE

Odebrecht provided $3 mn to former Peruvian president's campaign, reports say

An undated file photograph showing former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. EFE
Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht provided $3 million to help finance former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's 2011 campaign, media reports said Thursday.

The daily El Comercio and the weekly Caretas reported that former Odebrecht executive Jorge Barata revealed the contributions to Humala's campaign in a statement to investigators last month.

Source: EFE

Brazilian photojournalist wounded in shootout between police and drug users

Bystanders help press photographer Dario Oliveira (C), who was wounded during a clash between military police and drug addicts in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 23, 2017. EFE/SEBASTIAO MOREIRA
A photojournalist was shot and six police officers were wounded during a shootout between law enforcement agents and suspected drug addicts in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, officials said Thursday.

"The situation is under control. The reporter was assisted since he was seriously wounded, but he is stable now. Apparently, he was shot in the leg, hit in the thigh," a police spokesman told EFE.

Source: EFE

China delays key business meeting with new friend Philippines

(FILE) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, 20 October 2016. EPA/NG HAN GUAN/POOL
The Chinese government announced Thursday the postponement of an important joint commerce meeting with the Philippines.

The meeting is key to the rapprochement between the two countries that started with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's visit to Beijing in October.

Source: EFE

Bitcoin hits record high above $1,200 on talk of ETF approval

FILE PHOTO: A Bitcoin (virtual currency) paper wallet with QR codes and a coin are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris, France May 27, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo
Digital currency bitcoin jumped to a record high above $1,200 on Friday, as investors speculated the first bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) to be issued in the United States is set to receive regulatory approval.

Traditional financial players have largely shunned the web-based "crytpocurrency", viewing it as too volatile, complicated and risky, and doubting its inherent value.

But bitcoin, invented in 2008, performed better than any other currency in every year since 2010 apart from 2014, when it was the worst-performing currency, and has added almost a quarter to its value so far this year.

It soared to as high as $1,200 per bitcoin in early Asian trading on Europe's Bitstamp exchange BTC=BTSP, before easing to about $1,190.

That put the total value of all bitcoins in circulation -- or the digital currency's "market cap", as it is known -- at close to $20 billion, around the same size as Iceland's economy.

Some analysts say regulatory approval of a bitcoin ETF would make the currency relatively attractive to the often more cautious institutional investor market. [nL8N1G85HI]

But despite potentially high returns, low correlations with other currencies and assets, falling volatility and increasing liquidity, there is scant evidence so far that most major players are considering investing in the digital currency.

"Bitcoin is just not liquid enough for us to even think about," said Paul Lambert, fund manager and head of currency investment at Insight, in London.

"We manage billions and billions of dollars – we'd need to be able to go into that market and trade in hundreds of millions of dollars at a time, and my sense is it's not like that."

Three ETFs that track the value of bitcoin have been filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for approval.

The SEC will decide by March 11 whether to approve one filed almost four years ago by investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. If approved, it would be the first bitcoin ETF issued and regulated by a U.S. entity.

Source: Reuters

White House may boost recreational marijuana enforcement

People pack a glass bowl with marijuana during Hempfest's 420Fest at the Luxe Nightclub in Seattle, Washington April 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nick Adams
The administration of President Donald Trump may ramp up enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana use, a White House spokesman said on Thursday, setting up potential conflicts in states where the drug is legal.

More than two dozen U.S. states have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes, and the administration of former President Barack Obama mostly looked the other way. But White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the Trump Administration may distinguish between medical and recreational use of the drug.

Spicer's comments came on the same day that a nationwide poll from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, showed 71 percent of registered voters favored allowing states to decide whether marijuana should be legal.

"I do believe you'll see greater enforcement of it," Spicer said at a news conference. "Because again there's a big difference between the medical use ... that's very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into."

Spicer's comments drew criticism from the country's nascent legalized marijuana industry as it was recovering from a scare after Trump's nomination of former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a long time anti-drug campaigner, as attorney general.

"It would be a mistake for the Department of Justice to overthrow the will of the voters and state governments," Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement.

Seventy-five percent of cannabis stocks in an index followed by Arcview Market Research dropped on Thursday after Spicer's remarks, analyst Michael Arrington said in an email.

A spokesman for Sessions, who was confirmed as attorney general earlier in February, declined to comment on marijuana enforcement on Thursday.

But during his confirmation hearings, Sessions said his job was not to enforce only some laws.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but it has been legalized for recreational use in eight states, including Washington, Colorado and California, as well as the District of Columbia. Last year, legal sales reached $7 billion and generated half a billion dollars in sales taxes.

Among registered voters in the Quinnipiac University survey, just 23 percent said the U.S. government should enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it for recreational or medical use, and 71 percent said it should not.

The poll of 1323 registered voters, released on Thursday with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent, also showed support for marijuana legalization among 59 percent of respondents, with 36 percent opposed.

Source: Reuters

OPEC compliance seen growing as laggards Iraq and UAE pledge action

A worker checks the valves at Al-Sheiba oil refinery in Basra, Iraq, January 26, 2016.   REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani/File Photo
OPEC has so far surprised the market by showing record compliance with oil-output curbs and could do so further in coming months as the biggest laggards - the United Arab Emirates and Iraq - pledge to catch up quickly with their targets.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has pledged to curb its production by about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1, the first cut in eight years, to boost prices and get rid of a supply glut.

Compliance with output restrictions has often been problematic in OPEC's history but this time the group has delivered reductions amounting to as much as 90 percent of the target in the first month alone.

That prompted the International Energy Agency (IEA) to call it one of the deepest cuts on record.

Iraq and the UAE have delivered smaller portions of their pledged reductions, based on their own figures and OPEC production estimates by government agencies, consultants and industry media.

Still, officials and industry sources say the UAE will try to move closer to its OPEC target in coming months, improving average compliance during the six-month duration of the supply cut rather than focusing on month-by-month performance.

"The UAE is fully committed to the OPEC cuts and is undertaking the necessary measures that will ensure it is fully compliant over the six-month period with the OPEC agreement," the UAE's OPEC governor, Ahmed Al Kaabi, told Reuters in a statement.

The UAE, among the core Gulf OPEC group that traditionally shows high compliance with output agreements, has focused on expanding its production capacity in the last few years, rather than on limiting output.

It doubled the capacity of its Ruwais refinery last year to more than 800,000 barrels per day to feed rising domestic demand.

Oilfield maintenance could also help to push compliance higher. Abu Dhabi National Oil Co has work planned at fields producing Murban and Das light crude in March and May, people familiar with the matter said.

OPEC's average compliance is put by the IEA at a record 90 percent in January, and based on a Reuters average of production surveys it stands at 88 percent.

Top exporter Saudi Arabia cut production by even more than called for in the OPEC deal, helping to push compliance higher, according to its own figures and those of independent analysts.


The UAE and Iraq's own figures suggest they have further to go than other big OPEC producers to reach targeted output.

According to data the countries reported to OPEC, while both cut production substantially in January, they did so from higher levels than the supply baselines used in the agreement, meaning that technically they are not complying at all.

Iraq had initially been reluctant to limit supply. In negotiations last year on the supply cut, Iraq argued that it should be exempt due to a need for cash to fight Islamic State militants.

Baghdad also pushed to be allowed to cut production from a higher level than estimated by the secondary sources OPEC uses to monitor its output. Eventually, to get a deal, it accepted a cut from a lower baseline.

Iraq's OPEC peers are privately urging Baghdad to make further reductions, sources say, and there are indications compliance may at least not worsen. Partial export figures for February suggest no increase in shipments, and March allocations were reduced sharply.

"Iraq's allocations in March are low due to OPEC cuts, mainly," a source familiar with the matter said. "Iraq respects its commitment."

The table below is based on OPEC production in January as estimated by OPEC secondary sources, OPEC members themselves, news agencies Reuters and Bloomberg and bank Goldman Sachs.

OPEC's six secondary sources are oil-pricing agencies Platts and Argus, ‎the IEA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates and industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly.


compliance compliance compliance

high low high low high low

94 82 100 negative 62 negative

Source: Reuters

One month in, anti-Trump movement shows signs of sustained momentum

U.S. Representative Leonard Lance, who has held more than 40 town hall-style meetings with constituents in his central New Jersey district, has never faced a crowd like he did on Wednesday.

The Republican endured catcalls, chants and caustic questions from more than 1,000 residents at a local college, while hundreds of others outside brandished signs with messages like "Resist Trump."

Parallel scenes have played out across the country this week during the first congressional recess since Donald Trump became president. Republican lawmakers returning home confronted a wave of anger over a spectrum of issues, including immigration, healthcare and Trump's possible ties to Russia.

The raucous meetings are the latest in a relentless series of rallies, marches and protests that shows no signs of abating more than 30 days into the new administration.

The anti-Trump energy has prompted talk of a liberal-style Tea Party movement, in reference to the protests in 2009 that helped reshape the Republican Party and arguably laid the groundwork for Trump's surprise electoral victory last year.

"Some of the lessons to draw from that are persistence, repetition, not taking 'no' for an answer," said Victoria Kaplan, the organizing director for the grassroots progressive group MoveOn.

Since the day after Trump's inauguration, when millions of protesters joined women's marches worldwide, left-wing organizers have sought to harness that anger to fuel a lasting political campaign.

Hundreds of progressive groups have sprung up across the country - some affiliated with national organizations like Indivisible or MoveOn - to help coordinate.

At town halls in New Jersey and Virginia this week, constituents came armed with red "disagree" signs they held aloft to register their disapproval of what they heard from their representatives.

Some U.S. senators, such as Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, have faced weekly protests outside their offices, and a Pennsylvania healthcare network set up a "town hall" this week with an empty suit in place of Toomey, who declined to attend.

More marches are scheduled across the country in the coming months, including several major events in Washington, tied to gay rights, science and a push for Trump to release his tax returns.

The sheer volume of protests - last week, there were three nationwide calls for action within a five-day span - has some political observers wondering how long it can last.

But several experts who study protests said the level of outrage may be increasing, rather than subsiding, after a tumultuous first month in which Trump's words and actions created fresh outrage among liberals almost daily.

"We're not anywhere near reaching a saturation point for protest," said Michael Heaney, the author of "Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11" and a University of Michigan professor. "If anything, it's just getting started."

The key for organizers is to convert large-scale protests into sustained action by building databases of names and encouraging locally based events, experts said.

"You can't just have the diehards," said Dana R. Fisher, a University of Maryland professor who studies collective action. "And then you need to channel them into new types of activism."

When Fisher surveyed participants at the women's march in Washington, she found one-third were attending their first protest - the highest percentage she has ever observed.

"This is unprecedented," she said. "But there's nothing that's not unprecedented about the Trump presidency."

Some Republicans have dismissed the protests as manufactured. Trump on Tuesday tweeted that "so-called angry crowds" in Republicans' districts were "planned out by liberal activists."

But Kaplan of MoveOn said the vast majority of actions were "organic." A weekly conference call the group hosts to discuss the movement has attracted a bigger number of participants each week, with 46,000 people joining the latest discussion.

"We are firing on all cylinders to catch up" with grassroots protests, she said. "That is a demonstration of energy and sustainability."

Experts also said social media has made it far easier to organize mass protests quickly and efficiently.

In what Kaplan said was a sign the protests are having an impact, many Republicans have eschewed town halls this week to avoid confrontations. There were fewer than 100 in-person Republican town halls scheduled for the first two months of the year, compared with more than 200 in the same period in 2015, according to a Vice report.

In Louisiana on Wednesday, residents shouted down Republican Senator Bill Cassidy as he tried to explain his healthcare proposal. Scott Taylor, a freshman Republican representative in Virginia, sparred with hundreds of impassioned constituents on Monday at his own event.

Like Lance, whose district voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump, Taylor is already a midterm target for Democrats. Taylor said in an interview after the town hall that he recognized many of the attendees from the local Democratic Party.

"It's not like they're just some new organic people who just came about and are concerned," Taylor said.

But not everyone was a Democrat. Austin Phillips, a 22-year-old Trump voter, told Taylor at the town hall he was worried about losing healthcare coverage if Obamacare is repealed.

"Trump has talked about wanting to repeal it," Phillips, who is self-employed and purchased insurance through an exchange created by the law, said in a later interview. "If they quickly repeal it with no replacement lined up, then theoretically everybody would lose their insurance."

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2017

Macri invites Spanish businesses to invest in Argentina

Mauricio Macri (2R), is applauded during his visit to Congress in Madrid, Spain, on Feb. 22, 2017. EFE/Javier Lizon
The President of Argentina on Wednesday called for Spanish businesses to deepen their participation in his country, while speaking to the Spanish Congress during a state visit.

Mauricio Macri spoke of the strong ties between the two countries and said a new stage was beginning in which growth would be promoted.

"Together we will find better opportunities," he said during the solemn act, adding that both countries had a leading role in restarting the negotiations between Mercosur _ a South American economic bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela _ and the European Union.

A ratified deal between the blocs has been perpetually delayed for years.

Macri said Argentina wanted to live more calmly and develop values like dialogue and tolerance, as well as be a part of the world, which he expected would bring years of growth.

He said he was there to highlight the long history of affection that Argentina had for Spain.

"Our past unites us, but also our future," he said.

The President of the Spanish Congress, Ana Pastor, insisted that the two nations were connected by special ties and said Argentina had in Spain a defender in negotiations with the EU.

"In Argentina, Spain has a sister nation, a land of welcome and the home of so many compatriots," she said, referring to the many Spanish migrants in the Latin American country.

Macri was received in Congress by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Ana Pastor, and President of the Senate Pio Garcia Escudero.

This was the first day of his state visit to Spain, which began with an official reception by King Felipe VI and Queen Leticia, with whom he is to dine Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, the Argentinian leader is scheduled to meet with Rajoy and visit the contemporary art fair in Madrid (ARCO 2017), before meeting with Peruvian-Spanish Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Source: EFE

Denmark extends detention of Korean Rasputin's daughter

(FILE) Choi Soon-sil (C), who is at the center of a corruption scandal, arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, 17 January 2017. EPA/KIM MIN-HEE / POOL
A Danish court Wednesday extended by four weeks the detention of the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, mastermind of the massive corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea since October last year.

A court in Aalborg in northwest Denmark accepted the prosecution's petition asking for more time to study Seoul's request for the extradition of Chung Yoo-ra, arrested on Jan. 1 in Aalborg.

Investigators believe Chung, 20, received undue favors in university and high school due to her mother's connection to the president.

Her high school diploma has also been annulled on grounds that her grades and attendance records were fabricated.

Choi, dubbed the "Korean Rasputin" for her proximity to President Park Geun-hye, is accused of meddling in state affairs despite not holding any official position, and of using her influence to extort large sums from Korean companies, among other charges.

The prosecution believes that the Samsung group, the country's largest conglomerate, signed a contract worth around 22 billion won (around $19.3 million) with a Choi-owned company based in Germany, and also funded Chung's equestrian training.

Chung, who justified her stay in Denmark citing horse riding training, has denied the accusations, but admits to having signed documents given to her by Choi on several occasions.

Source: EFE

Russia's Progress MS-05 spacecraft takes off for ISS carrying vital supplies

A photo made available by the press service of the State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS shows a Soyuz-U rocket booster with a Progress MS-05 cargo spacecraft lifting off from the Cosmodrome Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Feb. 22, 2017. EPA/ROSCOSMOS PRESS SERVICE
Russia on Wednesday launched a spacecraft carrying vital supplies to the International Space Station, as evident in photographs made available to epa.

Progress MS-05 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Wednesday using the Soyuz-U rocket, which undertook its 786th and final flight.

Source: EFE

EU breaks deadlock between Spain, Portugal on nuclear waste disposal plan

A file image from Aug. 6 shows the Almaraz nuclear power plant reflecting on the Tagus river in Almaraz, Spain. EFE/Archivo
Thanks to mediation by the European Commission, Spain and Portugal on Tuesday arrived at an amicable agreement to relaunch discussions on the future construction of a nuclear waste storage site on the Spanish banks of a major river that flows west to empty into the Atlantic by the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.

Spain had planned to build a waste storage facility at the Almaraz nuclear power plant, which uses the Tagus River to cool its reactors, but Portugal objected and took the matter to the European Union.

Source: EFE

Indian sungazers keep up family tradition for four generations leftright 14/14leftright

In the early morning darkness, Devendran P. walks up a hill to a solar observatory in India's southern hill town of Kodaikanal, trudging the same path his father and grandfather walked in a century-old family tradition of studying the sun.

Once inside, he pulls a rope to open shutters in the dome and positions a six-inch telescope used since 1899 to photograph the sun and preserve a daily record of its activity.

"The sun, like stars, has a lifetime of 10 billion years," Devendran told Reuters during a recent visit to the observatory in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu.

"If you want to know about any small changes, you need to have a large amount of data."

The observatory run by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics has a key role in providing a continuous stream of data on the sun and its influence on Earth and surrounding space, said R. Ramesh, a professor at the institute.

"Some of the discoveries made, based on data obtained in the Kodaikanal observatory, are so fundamental to solar physics that they vastly improved techniques used at observatories even today," Ramesh said.

The Evershed effect of gas motion in sunspots, discovered in 1909 by the then director of the observatory, John Evershed, is one such example, he added.

In the observatory library, shelves stretch to the ceiling, packed with volumes of handwritten records and thousands of film plates of the sun. Authorities have launched a project to digitize and preserve the data collected over the past century.

Devendran's grandfather, Parthasarty, joined the observatory in 1900, a year after it relocated from Madras, the state capital, to Kodaikanal, situated more than 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level, offering ideal weather to study the sun.

Like his father and grandfather, Devendran has no formal education in astronomy. His interest was piqued during a visit to the observatory when he was a child.

He became a fulltime sunwatcher in 1986 and says the six-inch (15-cm) telescope has never failed his family.

"It has never required any major overhaul, or change of parts, because we all take care of it," he said.

More than three decades of observation has made him feel close to the sun, despite its distance of more than 149 million kms (93 million miles) from Earth. It's a feeling enhanced by the devout family's worship of the Hindu sun god Surya, he said.

"I feel more religious than other people, as I can see that there is a universal power which is controlling everything," he said.

His 23-year-old son, Rajesh, expects to carry on the family tradition, but with one difference. He has a master's degree in physics.

"I get amazed by what my father does here," said Rajesh. "I think observing the Sun is in my blood."

Source: Reuters

Brazil Senate committee approves Temer pick for Supreme Court

A Senate committee cleared President Michel Temer's nominee for Brazil's Supreme Court on Tuesday despite criticism the choice of his justice minister was aimed at helping shield cabinet members from corruption investigations.

The Constitution and Justice Committee voted 19-7 to accept the appointment of 49-year-old lawyer and law professor Alexandre Moraes to sit on the top court. The full Senate is expected to confirm him Wednesday.

Before becoming minister last year, Moraes was public security secretary in the Sao Paulo state government of the centrist PSDB party, a key ally in Temer's coalition government.

In the 10-hour confirmation hearing, leftist senators slammed his appointment as a move to protect Temer's government from the sprawling Car Wash graft and political kickbacks investigation that has implicated leaders of his PMDB party.

Six members of Temer's cabinet, and the president himself, have been named in plea bargain testimony by defendants in Brazil's biggest corruption scandal and any of the ministers could possibly end up on trial before the Supreme Court.

Moraes, who took leave as minister when he was nominated two weeks ago, vowed to be "absolutely independent and impartial."

But he declined to answer when questioned if he would recuse himself if a case against the Temer involving illegal campaign funds during the 2014 election, in which Temer was impeached leftist Dilma Rousseff's running mate, came to the Supreme Court on appeal.

Moraes denied plagiarizing a Spanish jurist in one of his law books. He also refuted allegations his law firm in Sao Paulo defended a transport company linked to one of Brazil’s largest criminal organizations, the First Command of the Capital gang, known in Brazil by the acronym PCC.

If confirmed, Moraes would take the seat left by Justice Teori Zavascki, who died in a small plane crash last month.

Zavascki handled the cases of politicians involved in the Car Wash probe. But his case load was taken over by another of the 11 justices and Moraes would be in a different chamber.

A source in the PSDB said the party proposed Moraes for justice minister in the Temer cabinet last year with the idea that he should move on to the Supreme Court when a seat opened.

Temer has sought to deepen his alliance with the PSDB to shore up support for reforms he needs to push through Congress to restore fiscal discipline and business confidence in a stagnant economy.

Source: Reuters

Chevron, Angola government in tax, investment talks

FILE PHOTO -  The logo of Chevron (CVX) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
U.S. energy company Chevron is in talks with the Angolan government and state oil firm Sonangol to revise tax terms and any future investment will hinge on those talks, a senior company official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

"Existing tax terms are not very attractive ... We have been working both with Sonangol and with various departments of the government of Angola so that we can make it feasible and we can invest. Our investment will depend on what will result from these negotiations," Chevron Vice-president Jay Johnson was quoted as saying on state radio.

Africa's second largest crude producer and third largest economy has been laid low by depressed prices for oil, which accounts for about 90 percent of government revenue.

Angola's economy contracted 4.3 percent in the third quarter of 2016 after shrinking 7.8 percent in the second quarter, the National Institute of Statistics said this month, a sharp reversal from double-digit growth when oil prices were high.

The economic backdrop could set the stage for tough tax talks as Angola's government needs revenue while large oil companies are trying to turn a profit in a difficult price environment.

Johnson was also quoted as saying that recent output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - of which Angola is a member - had not affected Chevron's production levels in the southern African country.

Source: Reuters

OPEC cuts, weak freight rates help traders profit on Asia crude routes

Oil traders from around the world, including the United States, Britain and Brazil, have tripled their sales to Asia as they take advantage of an emerging supply gap following OPEC-led production cuts announced late last year.

Around 30 supertankers have this month made long-haul trips to ship crude oil from the Americas, the North Sea and the Mediterranean to refineries across Asia, the world's biggest and fastest growing consumer, data extracted from Thomson Reuters Oil Research and Forecasts shows.

The unusual movements follow the decision late last year by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia to cut production by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) during the first half of this year in a bid to rein in global oversupply and prop up prices.

Companies most involved in the long-haul deals include major oil producers such as BP (BP.L) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), private commodity traders Trafigura, Vitol and Mercuria, and Chinese refiner Unipec (600028.SS), trading sources say. Energy and mining giant Glencore (GLEN.L), Azerbaijan's state-oil firm Socar and Brazil's Petrobras (PETR4.SA) have also been involved.

Taking advantage of relatively low freight costs and regional crude oil price differentials - known as arbitrage, or arb - traders can profit from supply shortages in one region and oversupply in another.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1, for example, currently trade at around $54.50 per barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude LCOc1 costs $56.90 - a Brent premium over WTI of $2.40 a barrel, compared with near parity in late November, just before OPEC announced its cuts.

"The OPEC cuts have ... led to an open arb for long-haul cargoes, leading to a rise in long-haul crude imports (which) make up for the decline in OPEC (supplies)," said Tushar Bansal, director of Ivy Global Energy, a Singapore-based consultancy.

The cuts are an OPEC policy reversal after two years of pumping out oil and keeping prices low as the cartel sought to squeeze rival exporters.

"OPEC production cuts... created distortions in the Asian crude market, changing global trade patterns," BMI Research said in a note to clients.


Helping fill the OPEC gap, crude shipments to Asia from the United States, Britain, Brazil, and even war-torn Libya jumped to over 35 million barrels in February, or 1.26 million bpd, from 10.4 million barrels in October, or 336,000 bpd, the data shows.

For OPEC, which typically meets around 70 percent of Asia's oil demand, that means a 5 percent loss of market share since October.

"Under current oil market conditions, OPEC risks losing market share with further production cuts," said Carole Nakhle, director of advisory firm Crystol Energy in London.

Although OPEC's relationship with customers in Asia tends to be good, refiners in North Asia's consumer hubs of Japan, China, and South Korea say they will readily turn to other suppliers in order to meet their needs.

Loading schedules show U.S. crude exports to Asia increased to more than 3.5 million barrels this month - including a first U.S. oil cargo delivery to India - from below 1 million in October. UK shipments have jumped to more than 10.5 million barrels from just 1.6 million.

Shipments to Asia from Brazil have hit a record 16.7 million barrels in February, up from 6.9 million in October, and Libya, an OPEC-member exempted from the cuts, doubled its Asia shipments to 2 million barrels last month.

Shipping schedules show the trend continuing into March.

BMI said the OPEC cuts, especially of medium and sour crude grades, were "providing opportunities for (similar)... Mediterranean crudes to flow into the Asian market," which include Libyan oil.


One of the first major long-haul shipments to Asia in this round of arbitrage trading was by BP, which late last year used more than half a dozen tankers to ship almost 3 million barrels of U.S. crude as far as 30,000 km (18,641 miles) to Australia, Thailand and Japan.

In similar deals, Unipec and Trafigura have shipped U.S. oil from the Gulf of Mexico to China. Shippers of North Sea crude to Asia have included Vitol, Mercuria, Trafigura, Glencore, Shell, Unipec and Socar. The main exporter from Brazil has been state-owned Petrobras, shipping data shows, with traders saying its crude has replaced oil from OPEC-member Angola.

Oystein Berentsen, managing director for crude oil trader Strong Petroleum in Singapore, said arbitrage for North Sea and U.S. oil to Asia has been possible due to the OPEC-led cuts, and these routes "may continue depending on freight and price spreads."

Benchmark Middle-East to Japan freight rates for supertankers (VLCC) .BAWC are at 71 points on a so-called Worldscale rate based on 100, compared to a long-term average rate of around 76 over the last 10 years.

"The whole reason arb opportunities are there is because of weak freight," said Matt Stanley, a fuel broker at Freight Investor Services in Dubai.

It's not clear how long this arb window will remain open.

Strong Petroleum's Berentsen said that despite the OPEC cuts "there is still oversupply, but the market will probably balance in the third quarter. Then we'll see if the arb still works."

For a graphic on oil exports to Asia, click here

Source: Reuters

Oil slips but close to multi-week highs

A woman pumps gas at a station in Falls Church, Virginia December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Global oil prices slipped on Wednesday as the U.S. dollar [.DXY], in which payments for crude are made, rose but they traded broadly at multi-week highs after OPEC signaled optimism over its deal with other producers to curb output.

The U.S. West Texas Intermediate April crude contract CLc1, the new front-month future, was down 34 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $53.99 a barrel at 0940 GMT (4:50 a.m. ET).

Brent crude LCOc1 was down 44 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $56.83, having touched its highest since Feb. 2 at $56.20 in the previous session.

Nevertheless, an agreement by major oil producers under the OPEC umbrella, which came into place at the start of this year, lent a floor to oil prices.

Mohammad Barkindo, secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, told a conference on Tuesday that January data showed conformity from member countries in the output cut at above 90 percent.

Adding to the bullish sentiment, hedge funds raised their combined net long position in the three main derivative contracts linked to Brent and WTI by 51 million barrels last week, holding a net long position equivalent to a record 903 million barrels of oil.

The combined net long position has a notional valuation of more than $49 billion.

"While net length in Nymex crude has grown more or less uninterrupted since the OPEC cut decision toward the end of last year, its share of total open interest in the contract has now reached the highest level since July 2014, back when WTI was trading in triple digits.

Both OPEC's Barkindo and Goldman Sachs, according to a new research note to clients, expect global inventories to fall, which would boost prices.

Goldman Sachs, however, noted that a rebound in U.S. drilling activity had exceeded even its own above-consensus expectations.

"While the reduction in supplies out of core OPEC in the Gulf and Russia has exceeded our and consensus expectations, the market is starting to doubt that this will be sufficient to translate into large oil inventory draws by 2Q17," it said in a research note.

In the meantime, crude oil inventory data from the United States will potentially guide the markets for the rest of the week.

"The DoE data tomorrow will be where we get our next impetus," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, referring to the U.S. Department of Energy's official weekly numbers on stockpiles.

The data is set to be released on Thursday, a day later than normal, following a U.S. public holiday on Monday.

Last week's numbers showed U.S. output helped boost crude and gasoline inventories to record highs, amid faltering demand growth for the motor fuel. [EIA/S]

That has kept a lid on prices after they climbed following the agreement by OPEC and other producers to cut output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd).

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 20 de fevereiro de 2017

Egypt's court sentences 10 to death for Port Said stadium massacre

Relatives of victims killed in a riot following a football match in Port Said in Feb. 2012, react outside the courthouse in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 20, 2017. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI
Egypt's court of cassation issued on Monday the death penalty against 10 defendants over charges of murder and violence in the Port Said stadium massacre, which took place in Feb. 2012 and left more than 70 soccer fans dead.

The relatives of the victims gathered at the gates of the court, located in central Cairo, waiting for the final verdict while holding photos of those who died in the notorious massacre at Port Said.

The clashes took place during a game between Port Said-based al-Masry soccer club and Cairo-based al-Ahly, of which supporters were attacked, resulting in the death of 74 people and the wounding of 200 others.

The Port Said criminal court in June 2015 sentenced to death 11 people, one of them in absentia, in a retrial.

A total of 73 people have been tried on charges of violence and murder, 21 were acquitted while senior political or sports officials received sentences of a few years in jail.

Source: EFE

Mike Pence faces calls to clarify US stance on EU during visit to Brussels

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and European Council President Donald Tusk give a brief joint news conference following their meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 20, 2017.EPA/VIRGINIA MAYO
The United States vice president met several European Union senior officials in Brussels on Monday in a diplomatic bid to soothe concerns over US President Donald Trump's apparently dismissive attitude towards the bloc.

During his visit to the EU's seat of power, Mike Pence met with European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

"Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union," said Pence during a joint press conference with Tusk.

He continued: "whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and, above all, the same purpose; to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law."

Pence reiterated his country's pledge to fight terror on a cooperative basis as well as its continued policy to hold Russia accountable for its actions in the Ukraine conflict_ a growing concern for some EU leaders who see Trump's approach to Moscow as soft.

Tusk said he had pressed Pence to clarify the US commitment to both the unity of the EU and the function of the trans-Atlantic Alliance.

Trump raised eyebrows in the international defense community when he described NATO as an "obsolete" organization and Tusk used the press conference on Monday to firmly reject this notion.

He went on to say the unity of the EU and the strength of NATO were cornerstones of the Western world and must, therefore, be protected.

Tusk said Pence had agreed with him on this point during their closed-door meeting but added that now "both Europeans and Americans must simply practice what they preach."

Several of the president's remarks have also sparked alarm among EU political officials, including his apparent support for Brexit and his recent suggestions that other EU member states may yet follow suit.

During his press conference with Pence, Juncker said: "I don't think that the moment has come to divide the US and the European Union."

The Luxembourgish politician said "global stability is heavily dependent on the good relations between the United States of America and the European Union. I think the US needs a strong, united EU on all possible issues."

In response, Pence said the US would continue to build on the cooperation and partnership it has with the EU.

Global stability, and more particularly the cooperative fight against international terror, was the principle theme of Pence's talks earlier with EU foreign policy representative Federica Mogherini.

In a statement following her meeting with the vice president, Mogherini said she "reaffirmed a strong willingness of the EU to continue building a strong EU-US partnership on the basis of clear values and interests."

They discussed at depth the mutual priorities such as the security threats posed by instability and conflict in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, and Afghanistan, among others.

Mogherini later took to Twitter where she described the encounter as an "Excellent meeting, good basis for our cooperation."

Mike Pence was due to meet the head of NATO while in Brussels, an organization to which he pledged the US' "unwavering support" during a speech over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

Source: EFE

Malaysia summons North Korean envoy over Kim Jong-nam probe comments

North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol (R) speaks to media outside the North Korean embassy during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 February 2017.  EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL
Malaysian authorities summoned the North Korean ambassador in Kuala Lumpur Monday and asked him to explain his criticism of the probe into the recent death of Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean leader's half brother.

In a statement, the Malaysian foreign ministry said its deputy secretary general for bilateral affairs, Nushirwan Zainal Abidin, met North Korea's Kang Chol and added the Malaysian envoy to Pyongyang was also recalled for consultations.

Source: EFE

Space X rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral

A Falcon 9 rocket operated by Space X lifts off from Cape Canaveral carrying a load of supplies to the International Space Station on Feb. 19, 2017. EFE
A rocket operated by Space X lifted off Sunday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center midway up Florida's eastern coast after a first launch attempt was cancelled the day before so that the craft's guidance system could be reviewed.

The Falcon 9 rocket was launched at 9:39 am from the historic 39A launch pad at the Cape Canaveral complex, carrying an unmanned Dragon capsule transporting more than two tons of supplies for astronauts on board the International Space Station.

Source: EFE

Gaza court sentences 6 Palestinians to death for espionage

A file photograph dated Aug. 21, 2016, showing Palestinian fighters from the Ezz Al-Din Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, marching during a military parade marking the second anniversary of the 50-day war with Israel in Gaza in the summer of 2014, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. EFE/EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
A military court in Palestine's Gaza Strip, under the control of Islamist movement Hamas, sentenced six Palestinians to death Sunday for allegedly collaborating with Israel.

The Hamas-appointed attorney general in Gaza said in a brief statement that the sentences were issued by the strip's high court, as well as other military courts, indicating that three of the verdicts were final.

Source: EFE

After OPEC cuts heavy oil, China teapot refiners pull U.S. supply to Asia

Crude oil storage tanks are seen from above at the Cushing oil hub, in Cushing, Oklahoma, March 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo
Chinese independent, or teapot, refiners are bringing in rare cargoes of North American heavy crude in a new long-distance flow that traders say has only been made possible by OPEC's output cuts and ample supplies in Canada and the United States.

In April, at least 1 million barrels of the heavy crude Mars, pumped from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, are expected to land in China's Shandong province and 1 million barrels of a second unidentified heavy grade will arrive in China, trade and shipping sources said last week. This follows the arrival in January of 600,000 barrels of U.S. Gulf Blend, a heavy crude made up of a blend of various U.S. and Canadian grades loaded onto ships on the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to the sources and shipping data.

Heavy crude is typically more dense and viscous than other oil grades. Refiners with facilities that can process these grades value heavy crude because its lower cost results in higher margins from producing fuels from these grades.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) output cuts have targeted heavy crude, with linchpin producer Saudi Arabia and Venezuela reducing their exports of heavy crude. That has increased the price of Middle East heavy crudes for Asian delivery, making it economical for traders to ship crude from Russia, the Atlantic Basin and the United States to Asia.

"The OPEC cuts started from medium and heavy grades and Venezuela (a key supplier to China) is exporting less," said a Singapore-based crude oil trader.

The tightening heavy crude supplies are occurring at a time when demand for these types has increased after refiners upgraded their plants, the trader said. Heavy crude typically yields a higher percentage of residue fuels when first processed at a refinery and that residue is then reformulated into higher-value fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel in so-called cracking units.

Since late last year, China, the world's second-largest oil consumer, has stepped up imports from North America, one of the few regions where oil production is growing.

Asia's strong pull for heavy sour crude from the Americas led Mars to hit its highest level in a year relative to North American price benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) as traders forecast increased export demand from Asia.

The Ligurian Sea, a Suezmax tanker, loaded 600,000 barrels of U.S. Gulf Coast Blend from Port Arthur in Texas. The tanker then went around South Africa to arrive at Lanshan port in Shandong in early January after a 55-day journey, shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon showed.

The cargo contained Canadian Access Western Blend, a heavy sour grade with an API gravity of about 22 degrees and nearly 4 percent sulfur, said two trade sources who track oil flows.

Chinese agent Sinoenergy sold the bulk of the cargo to Shandong Tianhong Chemical and the rest went to Shandong Haiyou Petrochemical Group, they said.

The Mars cargo may go to Chinese independent refiner Shandong Wonfull Petrochemical Group, who are close to buying the heavy-sour grade for the first time for April delivery, said a source with knowledge of the proposed deal. The source declined to be named due to company policy.

Wonfull will likely buy the cargo from Swiss trader Trafigura [TRAFG.UL], an active seller of U.S. crude in Asia, said a second trader who closely tracks oil deals in Shangdong.

Castleton Commodities International (CCI) also plans to ship 1 million barrels of an unknown heavy crude grade from the United States to China onboard the Suezmax tanker Erviken which is scheduled to load on Feb. 20, according to one trader, a source in the shipping industry and shipping data.

Sinoenergy, Trafigura, Wonfull, CCI and Haiyou declined to comment. Tianhong could not be reached for comment.

China's largest refiner Sinopec imported heavy crude from the U.S. Gulf late last year, a source with knowledge of the matter said, confirming an earlier Reuters story.

Source: Reuters

China steel mills caught on the hop by North Korea coal ban

China's steel mills and traders were scrambling to find alternative supplies of coking coal for steel making on Monday after Beijing slapped a surprise ban on coal imports from its isolated northern neighbor.

Chinese prices of steel, coking coal and coke all rallied, as traders and analysts said mills will likely be forced to buy more expensive domestic material or seek alternatives further afield from Russia or Australia, driving up costs.

While North Korea accounts for only a small portion of China's total coal imports, it is the main foreign supplier of high-quality thermal coal, called anthracite, which is used to make coke, a key ingredient in steelmaking.

"This news really took us by surprise. We are looking at a couple of alternative plans," said a steel mill purchasing manager, based in the northern province of Liaoning.

These included buying anthracite from Shanxi province or buying more coke from local providers, but both were more costly, said the manager, whose firm uses about 10,000 tonnes of North Korean anthracite each month.

Business with North Korea had become increasingly difficult under years of sanctions and the once-bustling trade handling coal from the north had shrunk to just a few private merchants.

Still few mills or traders anticipated the complete suspension of imports, which came a week after Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first direct challenge to the international community since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

China bought 22.48 million tonnes of anthracite from North Korea in 2016, 85 percent of its total imports.


Steel mills often blend anthracite with coking coal to make coke, a fuel used in blast furnaces, rather than using only more expensive coking coal.

China's most-active futures contract for rebar, a steel product used in construction, rose 2.6 percent by 0640 GMT on Monday, while coke and coking coal added 2.6 percent and 2.4 percent respectively.

Shares in Chinese anthracite producer Yangquan Coal Industry rose 2.8 percent.

"Rebar jumped on anticipation that the ban on North Korean anthracite could lead to higher costs for steel mills that will struggle to find cheaper alternatives in the domestic market," said Zhang Min, a coal analyst based in Zibo, Shandong with Sublime Information Group.

A coke producer said he expected to ban to lead to a rebound in coke prices, which had fallen since late December due to good supply and reduced demand for the Lunar New Year.

"I am not planning to take any new orders from new clients right now, because we believe coke powder prices will rebound sharply this week on the news," said the manager of a domestic coke plant, based in Shandong province.

Some mills could seek other imports, but producers such as Australia, Russia and Vietnam didn't produce enough to pick up the slack and shipping it would cost significantly more than from North Korea, traders said.

Source: Reuters

Pound finds forward gear ahead of Lords Brexit debate

FILE PHOTO:  British Pound coins are seen in this picture illustration taken January 18, 2017.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
The pound rose against most major currencies on Monday, snapping a three-day fall versus the euro, at the start of another week likely to be dominated by questions about how Britain will leave the EU and the impact of Brexit on the economy.

The upper house of parliament, known as the House of Lords, was set to begin debating the bill which will pave the way for the formal start of talks on how Britain will leave the European Union, the triggering of Article 50.

Opposition party and crossbench Lords' members are seeking amendments to force the government to give more regular updates on the divorce talks and secure guarantees for the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

The pound was enjoying its best day since the start of month, up 0.5 percent against the dollar at $1.2475 and at 85.16 pence per euro. It was also up by similar or more against the yen and Swiss franc.

"The Article 50 debate in the Lords could be more interesting than expected. It does seem that there is a bit more of a push for amendments," said Societe Generale FX strategist Alvin Tan. The regularity of such updates would be the most interesting element for currency markets, he added.

Former prime minister Tony Blair last week urged Britons to "rise up" and block or soften Brexit, but it may now be out of their hands -- many Europeans just want them to get on and get out.

While officially the door remains open for Britain to stay, many on the continent would not welcome a U-turn now. "This bus has left," one senior EU diplomat told Reuters.

Sterling volatility contracts, which give traders the options to bet on large swings in the pound, have fallen in recent weeks, suggesting markets expect no immediate drama when Britain does formally trigger Article 50.

The pound has been drifting lower versus the dollar since mid-January when British prime minister Theresa May sketched out her first real Brexit plan.

But it has climbed 4 percent against the euro as the shared currency has faced its own strains from political uncertainty in France and the Netherlands and Greece and Italy.

UK economic data is showing signs of stumbling. Asking prices for UK homes saw the smallest February rise since 2009, data from online property site Rightmove showed on Monday, dovetailing with weak consumer confidence numbers last week..

Business industry data is due at 1100 GMT that should show whether the weaker pound is still benefiting exporters.

On Tuesday, the head of the Bank of England will be grilled by a parliamentary select committee, while on Wednesday the UK's official statistics office will publish a revised reading of fourth quarter GDP figures.

Source: Reuters

NZ court rules Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom can be extradited to U.S. for alleged fraud

Image result for NZ court rules Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom can be extradited to U.S. for alleged fraud
A New Zealand court ruled on Monday that internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom could be extradited to the United States to face charges relating to his Megaupload website, which was shutdown in 2012 following an FBI-ordered raid on his Auckland mansion.

The Auckland High Court upheld the decision by a lower court in 2015 on 13 counts, including allegations of conspiracy to commit racketeering, copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud, although it described that decision as "flawed" in several areas.

Dotcom's lawyer Ron Mansfield said in a statement the decision was "extremely disappointing" and that Dotcom would appeal to New Zealand's Court of Appeal.

U.S. authorities say Dotcom and three co-accused Megaupload executives cost film studios and record companies more than $500 million and generated more than $175 million by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material.

High Court judge Murray Gilbert said that there was no crime for copyright in New Zealand law that would justify extradition but that the Megaupload-founder could be sent to the United States to face allegations of fraud.

Dotcom's co-accused, Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato were also found eligible for extradition.

"I'm no longer getting extradited for copyright. We won on that. I'm now getting extradited for a law that doesn't even apply," Dotcom said in a series of comments on Twitter.

Lawyers for Dotcom argued during the appeals hearing in September that there was not enough evidence to show he conspired to commit a crime.

German-born Dotcom, who has New Zealand residency, became well known for his lavish lifestyle as much as his computer skills.

He used to post photographs of himself with cars having vanity plates such as "GOD" and "GUILTY", shooting an assault rifle and flying around the world in his private jet.

Dozens of black-clad police raided Dotcom's mansion in 2012, breaking him out of a safe room and confiscating millions of dollars in cash and property, including a fleet of luxury cars, computers and art work.

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 17 de fevereiro de 2017

Arctic sea ice levels at their lowest in 38 years

A file handout picture made available by NASA on May 29, 2016 shows an aerial view of the fjord of Violin Glacier, with Nord Glacier (top-L, rear), in the east-central region of Greenland. EPA/NASA/MARIA JOSE VINAS
The extension of surface-level sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at its lowest in 38 years, announced the World Meteorological Organization on Friday.

In the Arctic, there were 260,000 fewer square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of ice than in the previous year, an area larger than the United Kingdom.

Source: EFE

Seoul to use border loudspeakers to announce Kim Jong-nam's death

(FILE) A file picture released on 11 August 2015 by the Defense Ministry shows South Korean soldiers installing loudspeakers at a unidentified site on the western front-line bordering North Korea. EPA/YONHAP/DEFENSCE MINISTRY
South Korea will use loudspeakers installed along its border with the North to announce the news of the alleged assassination of the older half-brother of the leader of the North Korean regime, the South Korean army announced Thursday.
The measure is aimed at informing the North Korean people and soldiers of the alleged assassination, spokesperson of South Korea's joint chiefs of staff, Noh Jae-chon, said at a press conference, according to media reports.
Source: EFE

Venezuelan reporters call for reversal of measure banning CNN's feed

Venezuelan press associations gather to ask for the "immediate" reversal of the measure banning CNN en Español, before the headquarters of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 16, 2017. EFE/MIGUEL GUTIERREZ
Venezuelan press associations along with dozens of people gathered Thursday before the headquarters of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) and asked for the "immediate" reversal of the measure banning CNN en Español from cable television in the South American country.

National Press Workers Union (SNTP) chief Marco Ruiz told reporters at the Conatel HQ that they were also there to ask that the investigation of the US channel "be done in accord with what is established by law."

Source: EFE

Spanish King's brother-in-law sentenced to prison, sister fined in fraud case

Composite photo of two file photos taken from a internal TV of Spain's King Felipe VI's sister Princess Cristina de Borbon (R), dated Mar. 3, 2016, and her husband Inaki Urdangarin, dated Mar. 2, 2016, testifying before court during a session of the trial in the so-called Noos corruption case, in Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain.  EFE/Cati Cladera
The brother-in-law of Spain's king has been sentenced on Friday to six years and three months in prison over a corruption and fraud case that also involved his wife Princess Cristina.

A court in Palma de Mallorca fined the princess 265,088 euros ($282,252) but did not hand down a jail term for her involvement in the fraud, as she was exonerated from charges that she collaborated with her husband's tax evasion.

Former Olympic sportsman Iñaki Urdangarin, who married the sister of King Felipe VI in a lavish society wedding in 1997, was found guilty of participating in a plot to unlawfully derive financial benefit from public funds that were obtained and channeled through supposedly non-profit entities.

The court's three judges unanimously decided on a prison sentence of six years and three months for the former handball star, who was convicted on charges of obstruction of justice, embezzlement, fraud, influence peddling and two counts of tax evasion.

In addition, Urdangarin was fined 512,000 euros.

Spain's anti-corruption prosecutor had asked for a sentence of 26 years and six months' imprisonment for Urdangarin.

Meanwhile, Urdangarin's former business associate, Diego Torres, was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and fined 1,723,843.10 euros.

Torres was found guilty of, among other crimes, defrauding the treasury by illegally transferring hidden income through an international web of shell companies based in the United Kingdom and Belize.

His wife, Ana Maria Tejeiro, was exonerated of all tax crimes but was fined 344,934 euros as a beneficiary of her husband's illicit enrichment.

On the other hand, the former regional president of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for his role in the fraud scheme.

The Balearic government, under the control of the conservative Popular Party, had funneled public funds into Urdangarin and Torres' "non-profit" the so-called Nóos Institute to the tune of 2.3 million euros.

Urdangarin used his prominent position as the husband of the Duchess of Palma and a member of the Royal Family to secure public contracts from his acquaintances in various public bodies.

Nóos received more than three million euros from the regional government of Valencia and an annual contract worth 120,000 euros from Madrid's failed bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

King Felipe and his wife, Queen Letizia, were inaugurating an exhibit at Madrid's Thyssen museum when the verdict became known.

A spokesman for the Royal Office reacted to the news by re-affirming its "absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary power."

Princess Cristina's attorney, Miquel Roca, said the verdict was satisfactory as she was exonerated from the tax evasion charges, but said she was "dismayed" by Urdangarin's prison sentence because she "continues to believe in his innocence."

Source: EFE

Humanoid robot to host a program in Japan

The interactive humanoid robot 'Androidol U' is presented at a press event in Tokyo, Japan, 15 February 2017. EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON
A humanoid robot which was presented on Wednesday in Tokyo will be the new host of a live television program in Japan, as part of a recent social experiment, aiming to prove that a robot can develop and grow through communication with human beings.

"Androidol U" measures 1.6 meters (around 5 feet 2 inches), weighs approximately the same as a human being and responds automatically to people who talk to it through a video portal Niconico.

During the presentation, the robot came on stage in a ball chair and read some of the comments made by people.

"U" has the appearance of a young Japanese woman; with medium-length hair and bangs, a white top, jeans and high heels. Make-up, painted nails and long eyelashes complete the human look.

In Japan, such robots are often seen in display windows, in theatre plays or even movies, including "Sayonara" (Goodbye in Japanese).

Japanese scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, considered the father of android robots and known for creating a robotic copy of himself, said that in coming years robots will provide assistance in public spaces, malls, stations and schools, and even teach as professors.

"U" is the first of these new robots; the weekly interactive program will increase its vocabulary and contribute to improving its artificial intelligence.

Communication with users helps to minimize the robot's limitations; as the robot gathers more data, it develops more, according to Ishiguro, who is also a professor at Osaka University and the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory.

The project has been developed by Ishiguro himself, in collaboration with telecommunications company Dwango - Niconico's owner - and departmental store giant Parco.

Ishiguro, who wants the robots to gradually help human beings to communicate with each other, described the program as an interesting way to know what the people really think of "U".

The exact start date of the program is still unknown, and the project's officials have also so far dismissed the robot being available for sale.

Source: EFE

Dwarf planet Ceres boasts organic compounds, raising prospect of life

NASA's Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere in this image on October 17, 2016. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS
A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday.

The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years.

"I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further." Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is located about three times farther from the sun than Earth. The composition of Ceres is thought to reflect the material present in parts of the solar system when it was forming some 4-1/2 billion years ago.

"The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life," Russell said.

"Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics," like Earth, Russell added.

The organic material was found near a 31-mile-wide (50-km-wide) crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere. Although the exact molecular compounds in the organics could not be identified, they matched tar-like minerals, such as kerite or asphaltite, the scientists wrote.

"Because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself," planetary scientist Michael Kuppers of the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid wrote in an related essay in the journal Science.

Based on the location and type of organics found on Ceres, scientists ruled out the possibility they were deposited by a crashing asteroid or comet.

Lead researcher Maria Cristina De Sanctis of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and colleagues suspect the material formed inside Ceres through hydrothermal activity, though how the organics reached the surface remains a mystery.

Source: Reuters

Samsung chief Lee arrested as South Korean corruption probe deepens

Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee was arrested on Friday over his alleged role in a corruption scandal rocking the highest levels of power in South Korea, dealing a fresh blow to the technology giant and standard-bearer for Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The special prosecutor's office accuses Lee of bribing a close friend of President Park Geun-hye to gain government favors related to leadership succession at the conglomerate. It said on Friday it will indict him on charges including bribery, embezzlement, hiding assets overseas and perjury.

The 48-year-old Lee, scion of the country's richest family, was taken into custody at the Seoul Detention Centre early on Friday after waiting there overnight for the decision. He was being held in a single cell with a TV and desk, a jail official said.

Lee is a suspect in an influence-peddling scandal that led parliament to impeach Park in December, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court would make her the country's first democratically elected leader forced from office.

Samsung and Lee have denied wrongdoing in the case.

Prosecutors have up to 10 days to indict Lee, Samsung's third-generation leader, although they can seek an extension. After indictment, a court would be required to make its first ruling within three months.

Prosecutors plan to question Lee again on Saturday.

No decision had been made on whether Lee's arrest would be contested or whether bail would be sought, a spokeswoman for Samsung Group [SARG.UL] said.

"We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings," the Samsung Group said in a brief statement after Lee's arrest.

The same court had rejected a request last month to arrest Lee, but prosecutors this week brought additional accusations against him.

"We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest," a judge said in his ruling.

The judge rejected the prosecution's request to also arrest Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) president Park Sang-jin.

hares in Samsung Electronics ended Friday down 0.42 percent in a flat wider market .KS11.

Ratings agencies did not expect any impact on the flagship firm's credit ratings, and said Lee's arrest would accelerate improvements in management transparency and corporate governance.


While Lee's detention is not expected to hamper day-to-day operations at Samsung firms, which are run by professional managers, experts said it could hinder strategic decision-making at South Korea's biggest conglomerate, or chaebol.

Samsung is going through a restructuring to clear a succession path for Lee to assume control after his father was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

Decisions that could be complicated by Lee's arrest include deliberations over whether to reorganize the group under a holding company structure, as well as its plan to abandon its future strategy office, a central decision-making body that came in for criticism during the scandal.

Staff moves have also been in limbo. Samsung, which employs around half a million people, has yet to announce annual personnel promotions and changes, which it typically does in December.

One employee at Samsung Electronics’ chip division said colleagues were unsettled that prosecutors had singled out Samsung. "The mood is that people are worried," the person said.

However, another Samsung Electronics employee described the situation as business as usual. "It wouldn't make sense for a company of that size to not function properly just because the owner is away."

Both employees declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

Lee's incarceration comes as Samsung Electronics tries to get past last year's disastrous roll-out of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which were prone to fires. It is under pressure for the upcoming launch of its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, to be a success.


Major business groups criticized the decision, worried about the impact on Samsung and the country.

"A management vacuum at Samsung, a global company representing the Republic of Korea, will increase uncertainty and undermine global confidence, posing a big burden on the already struggling economy," the Korea Employers Federation said.

Lee's arrest gives a boost to prosecutors who have zeroed in on Samsung to build their case against President Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil, who is in detention and faces charges of abuse of power and attempted fraud.

Both Park and Choi have denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have focused on Samsung's relationship with Park, 65, accusing the group of paying bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.74 million) to organizations linked to Choi to secure government backing for the controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung units, a deal that was seen as key to smoothing Lee's succession.

The prosecution office on Friday accused Lee of bribery not only in seeking to smooth the merger but in the broader process of his succession. A prosecution spokesman did not elaborate.

If parliament's impeachment of Park is upheld, an election would be held in two months. In the meantime, she remains in office but stripped of her powers.

Her would-be successors praised the decision to arrest Lee.

"We hope it marks a beginning to end our society's evil practice of cozy ties between government and corporations and move towards a fair country," said Kim Kyoung-soo, a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, a member of the liberal opposition Democratic Party who is leading opinion polls in the presidential race.

Source: Reuters

Outraged Brazilian farmers in no mood for Carnival samba

The peace and love that generally abound during Rio de Janeiro's Carnival festivities is threatened this year by a spat pitting a well-known parade troupe against Brazil's powerful farmers because of development in the Amazon rainforest.

Imperatriz Leopoldinense, one of the samba schools that march in the glitzy Carnival processions that kick off Feb. 24, plans to honor the Amazon and its native tribes with a parade featuring six giant floats and 2,800 dancers, musicians and other costumed celebrants.

Part of the show, "The Clamor that Comes from the Forest," highlights the longstanding tension between development and conservation in Brazil, particularly with regard to the world's largest rainforest and the industrial agriculture that at times helps destroy it.

Marching to song lyrics lamenting the "bleeding heart of Brazil" and the "riches that greed destroys," participants will don vests with skulls and crossbones and pretend to spray pesticide. Others will wield toy chainsaws and bundles of felled timber.

To a farming sector that bristles at any suggestion it destroys the environment, the imagery seems anything but celebratory -- especially at a time when agriculture, responsible for as much as a quarter of Brazil's economy, is one of the few vibrant activities in a country hobbled by recession.

"It's gross and unfair," says Marcelo Eduardo Luders, president of Ibrafe, an association of Brazilian bean growers. "Millions of people will see this and could think twice about buying our exports."

Such is the ire that Ronaldo Caiado, a conservative senator from the farm-belt state of Goias, proposed Congress study "the defamation of a sector that should be praised."

Fabelia Oliveira, a television presenter for a program about Brazilian agriculture, suggested that if native tribes wanted to be left alone they should go without modern medicines.

"They'll have to die of malaria and tetanus and during childbirth," she said, outraging indigenous communities and native rights activists.

In an interview, Oliveira said she was being argumentative and meant that modern and ancient cultures must learn to live together. "Rural workers are closer to nature than the urban Carioca types who criticize them," she said, using the local term for residents of Rio.

For Imperatriz, the controversy was a shock, particularly because last year it feted "sertaneja" music and the farm culture from which it sprang.

"This is not about offending farmers," says Cahê Rodrigues, the designer responsible for the parade. "This is about the threats that native people and the environment face."


It's not the first time a Carnival parade has sparked controversy.

Beija Flor, another big samba school, was accused of supporting Brazil's military dictatorship in 1975 with an ode to federal tax programs. In 2012, another school finished last in the parade competition because judges deemed its song, a tribute to a sponsoring yogurt manufacturer, as too commercial.

"These contrasts, these controversies, are part of Carnival," says Haroldo Costa, a cultural historian in Rio. "They reflect society here."

Agriculture is nothing if not prevalent in Brazil.

One of the globe's top producer's of food, Brazil's growers have become the world's leading exporters of soybeans, beef, coffee and sugar. The sector generated over $400 billion in 2016.

Some of its growth indeed came from deforested lands.

But the rate of deforestation, despite recent upticks, is less than a fifth of what it was in 2004, when forest the size of Belgium was cleared. Deforestation continues, but most new agricultural production in Brazil comes from technological gains.

Carnival itself, broadcast to millions of viewers in Brazil and abroad, is big business.

Rio's municipal government expects more than a million visitors and says the week of parades, tourism and related activities should generate almost $1 billion.

Groups such as Imperatriz, one in a league of 12 top samba schools, in recent years have enjoyed corporate sponsorships. But the recession this year means it, and most others, will rely mostly on about $2 million each from television rights, parade tickets, music sales and a city subsidy.

That pays for the glitter, styrofoam, feathers and elbow grease workers are now using to prepare the spectacle. At the giant Rio warehouse where they are assembling parade floats, welders last week finished a fanged monster with horn-like ribs that symbolizes "avarice."

"I don't mind the controversy," says Cris Machado, a seamstress who oversees a team of 16 people sewing costumes. "You can't solve problems unless you talk about them."

Rodrigues, the designer, in December traveled to the Xingu, an Amazon region named after a river whose shores are home to several tribes, including the Kayapo, whose culture inspired the theme. Raoni, a well-known Kayapo elder, even agreed to parade.

"I wanted to make sure I got their clothing, their culture, just right," says Rodrigues, explaining that he did not want to make a caricature of the natives.

Instead, farmers say, Imperatriz made a caricature of them.

"Indians, farmers, it doesn't matter who you are talking about," says Luders, of the bean association. "There may be a few bad actors, but most of us try to do what's right."

Source: Reuters

Brazil pushes on with plan to open farmland sales to foreigners

Brazil says it is pushing ahead with plans to change the law and let foreigners buy farmland, in a move widely backed by investors and opposed by land rights campaigners.

"We will announce the changes in the next 30 days," Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said on Wednesday night in an interview with GloboNews television.

Agribusiness is one of the fastest growing sectors of Brazil's economy and Meirelles said its continued success requires more investment.

He did not say what kind of legal changes would follow to allow foreign investors to buy farmland in Latin America's largest country or detail any other specifics about the shift.

Investors had been pushing for the changes. Currently foreigners cannot buy farmland outright so they take a minority stake with local firms in order to gain exposure to a sector.

"Before 2010, we were buying land freely with foreign capital," an official with a Rio de Janeiro-based investment fund told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The government enacted the prohibition in 2010 amid concern that funds from Asia and the Middle East were buying too much land, the investor said ahead of Meirelles' announcement.

It's unclear how much capital will flow in once the changes take effect, said Philippe de Laperouse, director of global agriculture for the U.S. advisory firm Highquest Partners.

But investors who want stable, long-term returns such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds are likely to enter the sector, de Laperouse said.


Mired in a deep recession, agriculture has been one of Brazil's few economic bright spots.

The country is the world's largest producer of coffee, sugar, soy and orange juice, and is already one of the world's top farm exporters. Ministers say there is room for growth, too.

Supporters of the changes say foreigners will bring much-needed capital into the farming sector and note that Brazil - as the world's fifth largest country - has ample land to sell.

Critics argue that foreign farm sales will increase land speculation, hurt environmental protection efforts and force local farmers and indigenous people off territory they have lived on for generations.

When it comes to respect for property rights, Brazil ranks 64 out of 128 countries, according to the International Property Rights Index, a tracking group based in Washington, D.C.

Brazil does not have a single, unified land registry and the problem of fraud or unlawful registration of property - known locally as "grilagem" - is widespread in some areas, local prosecutors and analysts said.

"There are a lot of shady dealings going on with land," said Gabriel Ondetti, professor of political science at Missouri State University in the United States.

"It may be the case that foreigners are less able to distinguish between legal and illegal pieces of land," Ondetti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Even if they (investors) want to do things legally they could get involved with properties that are fraudulently registered."

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 15 de fevereiro de 2017

Trump keeps Obama's LGBTQ non-discrimination policy

File photo showing then US President Barak Obama (C) congratulated after signing an Executive Order to protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination during a ceremony in the the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 21 July 2014. EPA/SHAWN THEW
US President Donald Trump will keep an executive order issued by his predecessor, Barack Obama, banning private companies doing business with the federal government from discriminating against homosexual, bisexual and transgender employees, the White House said Tuesday.

Trump "is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community," the White House said in a statement. "President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election."

"The President is proud to have been the first ever Republican Party nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression," the White House said.

The statement refuted rumors that Trump intended to scrap Obama's 2014 executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace.

The executive order explicitly prohibits discrimination against transsexual employees.

At the time the order was issued, according to the White House, more than four in 10 homosexual and bisexual people had experienced workplace discrimination because of their sexual orientation, and 90 percent of transsexuals had suffered from harassment or abuse because of their gender identity.

Source: EFE

Chinese parents scour marriage market for children amid rising singles trend

A woman walks by advertisements for singles searching for a partner at the People's Park in central Shanghái, one of China's most popular marriage markets in China, on 13 February 2017. EFE/Paula Escalada Medrano
In a country where technology rules the lives of the new generation, there still survives an ancient tradition, in which parents with single children look for a perfect partner for their kids.

Hao, born in 1978 and living in New Zealand, measures 1.77 meters (5 feet 8 inches) and weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds). He has a good salary, properties and was awarded a prize for being a good scholar. Interested girls can contact his mother by telephone.

Source: EFE

France's Hollande calls for specific measures against campaign cyberattacks

French President Francois Hollande addresses a meeting focussing on the integration of youth into the labour market 'garantie jeune', in Aubervilliers, north of Paris, France, 14 February 2017. EPA/STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/POOL
France's president on Wednesday called for specific security measures to be set in place to protect the country's upcoming presidential election campaign from cyberattacks.

François Hollande ordered his ministers in the Defense and National Security councils to prepare a plan to counter any outside influence that could affect the integrity of the campaign.

Source: EFE

US ethics office urges White House to discipline Trump advisor

(FILE) Kellyanne Conway (2-L), senior advisor to US President Donald Trump, greets Carolyn Welsh (2-R, back to camera), sheriff from Chester County, Pennsylvania, as she arrives to a county sheriff listening session with US President Donald J. Trump (unseen), in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 07 February 2017. EPA/ANDREW HARRER / POOL
The United States Office of Government Ethics on Tuesday urged the White House to discipline presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway for advertising on television the clothing brand belonging to President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump.

"There is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted," the director of the organization, Walter Shaub, wrote in a letter to the White House.

Two weeks ago, luxury department store chain Nordstrom withdrew Ivanka's line of clothing from its stores over a drop in sales in recent months, a move interpreted by the president as a personal attack.

During an interview with Fox News, Conway gave a "free commercial" for the Ivanka Trump brand, according the advisor herself.

"Go buy Ivanka's stuff. It's a wonderful line. I own some of it," Conway said.

Conway's comments substantially sparked a controversy in the country, and the chairman of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republican Jason Chaffetz, and the highest-ranking Democrat of the body, Elijah Cummings, have requested the OGE review the case.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Conway was "counseled" following her statements to Fox News, but no concrete measures have been enforced.

Source: EFE

Mexican scientists discover new species of dinosaur

Undated photo provided on Feb. 13, 2017 by the National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT) showing a skull replica of a new species of dinosaur discovered in the desert of the northern state of Coahuila, Mexico. EFE/CONACYT
Mexican scientists discovered a new species of dinosaur after a decade of research in the desert of the northern state of Coahuila, the National Science and Technology Council (Concyt) announced Monday.

The discovery of the new species was led by paleontologist Hector Rivera Sylva and biologist Jose Ruben Guzman Gutierrez, both scientists of the Coahuila Desert Museum (MUDE), the institution said in a statement.

Source: EFE