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21 Oct
2017

Czech election taps into popular discontent with EU refugee policy

CZECH REPUBLIC (WNF) - The Czech Republic elects its 200-seat chamber of deputies after months of anti-immigration and anti-European Union campaigning by the main two parties.
Two parties in the governing coalition, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and ANO, led by Andrej Babis, are entering the election as rivals. Former finance minister and billionaire Babis is widely seen as the next prime minister, leading a government likely to take a harder line on immigration and EU relations.

In 2016 Czech President Milos Zeman called for the Czech Republic to hold a referendum on European Union and NATO membership following Britain’s shock vote to leave the EU, according to Reuters. The present government rebuffed the suggestion, but the call might receive a second look by the new government.

The migration issue appears to have blinded Czechs to the economic benefits that EU membership has delivered. The country has experienced rapid economic growth since it joined the bloc in 2004. It also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Union — 3.2 per cent in March.

Only 23 per cent of Czechs think that the country should help refugees, according to a Mar 2017 survey reported by the European Observer. The publication also reports the latest Eurobarometer survey, which shows that only 33 percent of Czechs think that the country’s membership of the EU is a good thing.

Citing security concerns, according to Reuters, the government announced it will halt taking in migrants under the EU relocation scheme. Under a plan agreed in 2015, the European Commission wants EU member states to each admit a quota from a total of 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in the two Mediterranean countries of Italy and Greece. Several EU members have protested the decision and some have refused to take in any people under the scheme. #22208 Published: 06/16/2017

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22 Oct
2017

Argentine legislative election a vote on new president’s policies

ARGENTINA (WNF) - President Mauricio Macri’s centre-right Let’s Change coalition heads into October’s legislative election boosted by better-than-expected results in a recent provincial vote. A victory will be read as a vote for his pro-business economic reforms.
August’s primary vote determined the provincial candidates in the legislative elections.

The reported disarray in the rival alliance, the Peronist-led Front for Victory (PvF), augurs well for Let’s Change. Macri’s coalition also stands to benefit from former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s expected run for a Senate seat in populous Buenos Aires province: her new party splits the opposition camp.

The Guardian newspaper notes that a position in Congress would give her immunity from arrest, though not from trial. Last year, according to the British publication, she was indicted on charges of running a corruption scheme. Fernández dismisses the accusations as politically motivated. A win would also leave her positioned for another presidential run in 2019.

According to regional specialist AS/COA, Macri campaigned on the promise of stabilising the economy while indicating that there would be an initial downturn marked by high inflation. The economy is expected to contract almost 2 per cent before rebounding. In June the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) sounded an encouraging note in its forecast for Argentina, a boost for Macri’s reforms as the country waits for a marked turnaround.

Some of the reported disarray in PvF is explained as its reaction to Macri’s victory in 2015. Reuters notes that his victory delivered a hammer-blow to the Peronist movement that has dominated Argentine politics for much of the past 70 years and which will be ready to pounce on him if his planned reforms to the fragile economy unleash a new crisis. Peronism is a now a fragmented force, according to the news service, but many Argentines tend to turn to it in times of political and economic turmoil. #21976 Updated: 09/13/2017 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE SEP 14 TO REFLECT DEVELOPMENTS

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22 Oct
2017

World’s Baha’is celebrate birth bicentenary of founder of their religion

WORLD (WNF) - Millions of Baha’is around the world celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of their religion. His teachings embrace the unity of mankind and of religion, precepts that do not appear to flourish in two countries central to the faith – Iran and Israel.
Baha’i is banned in Iran, where Baha’u’llah and co-founder Bab, established it in the mid-19th century. Iran’s Baha’is make up the country’s largest non-Muslim minority. Foreign Policy magazine reports that scores of members of the faith sit in Iranian prisons. The charges against seven prominent members include “corruption on earth,” “insulting religious sanctities,” “espionage for Israel,” and “propaganda against the system.”

Israel, founded as a Jewish state, and at odds with other religions over Jerusalem’s holy places, inherited its resident Baha’is. The country hosts the Baha’i headquarters near Acre and the Shrine of the Bab and its gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa. The association with Israel dates to an accident of history. In 1868 Baha’u’llah, his family and a small group of followers were banished from Iran to Acre, then a penal colony under Ottoman rule. Followers come from all over the world to serve for specified times at the headquarters and shrine.

Baha’i is one of the youngest of the world’s major religions. Unusually for a faith, it is a monotheism that embraces all major religions, positing that God enlightened humankind over the ages by sending prophets — Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. The Bab and Baha’u’llah were the latest in the chain. Baha’is revere marriage, family, public service and both science and religion, since both seek truth. #22283 Published: 08/25/2017

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22 Oct
2017

Japan holds snap election as prime minister seeks stronger hand

JAPAN (WNF) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called a snap election amid rising tension over North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms program. He is bidding for a super majority in the now 275-seat lower house for his conservative coalition and for a stronger hand against volatile Pyongyang.
Pyongyang has fired ballistic missiles over Japan twice in the last month and conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test on Sep 3.

A super-majority from the election, moved forward from Dec 2018, would give him a platform for revising the post-war pacifist constitution to clarify the military’s role, a long-held goal. His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) now governs in coalition with the Komeito party, the junior partner.

Abe also seeks to rebalance the social security system. The country’s worries about its aging population puts social security – and how to pay for it – high on the election platform.

His coalition scored a convincing upper house election win in July, but faces a potential upset with the arrival on the scene of the new Party of Hope, which is led by popular Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike. Reuters notes that it has gained momentum as the main opposition Democratic Party said it would step aside to let its candidates run under her conservative, reformist banner.

Changes in the Diet in Jun 2017 might also influence the election results. They redrew Japan’s electoral district boundaries and reduced the current 275 seats to 265. #22326 Published: 10/01/2017

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25 Oct
2017

Thor battles to save home world in new blockbuster

WORLD (WNF) - Thor – Chris Hemsworth without his golden locks – saves his home planet in Thor: Ragnarok. The third Thor movie, it opens in 18 countries over nine days, with Italy first and the United States last.
Hemsworth, the Norse god of Thor (2011) and Thor:The Dark World (2013), told Entertainment Weekly that the loss of the golden locks felt like a rebirth for him “as the actor but also as the character.”

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk, his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the arch villainess Hela, Goddess of Death, from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

Thor: Ragnarok also stars Cate Blanchett (Hela), Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and Karl Urban (Skurge). #22131 Published: 04/06/2017

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26 Oct
2017

Bloodhound supersonic car to run for the first time

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - The Bloodhound supersonic car will undergo slow speed trials on the runway at Newquay airport in Cornwall. The next step will be an attempt to break the land speed record in South Africa, a feat that has been delayed several times.
The record stands at 763 mph (1,228km/h), and Bloodhound's aim is to raise the mark in two stages - by getting first to 800 mph and then to 1,000 mph.

The BBC reports that at the trials in Britain the Bloodhound, driven by Andy Green, will be run at only 200 mph because the 9,000 foot (2,744m) runway is too short to allow Bloodhound’s full thrust.

The South African phase is expected to take place at Hakskeen Pan - a dried-out lakebed in Northern Cape, South Africa – towards the end of 2018.

The timetable for the record attempt depends on the ability of the vehicle’s British engineers to resolve problems in the car that have caused several postponements from 2015. Engineers have been hit by an issue related to the vehicle's rocket, which, in combination with a Eurofighter jet engine, will be absolutely essential to sending the car supersonic.

Green reached 763.035 mph and broke the sound barrier in 1997, driving Thrust SSC on the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, in the United States. Green’s record was the first official land-speed time to exceed the speed of sound. His speed contrasts with the 301 mph record set by British driver Sir Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird on Bonneville Flats, in the U.S. state of Utah, in 1935. #22207 Published: 06/16/2017

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26 Oct
2017

Rare Rolex watch owned by late Paul Newman goes under the hammer

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph watch once owned by late Hollywood superstar Paul Newman goes under the hammer at Phillips in New York. The timepiece, described as a masterpiece, might fetch as much as U.S. $10 million at the auction because of its rarity and link to the auto-racing actor.
The auction follows a world tour for the Rolex to whip up interest. The New York Times, for one, sees little need for the tour as the watch is one of the most sought timepieces for collectors. It had been lost for years, adding to its allure.

Newman’s 1968 model was a gift from Joanne Woodward, his wife of 50 years, when the actor became consumed with auto racing. The back was engraved, “Drive Carefully, Me.”

As recently as three years ago, the watch site Hodinkee listed it as one of the 12 Greatest Missing Watches, alongside Pablo Picasso’s Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Calendar, John Lennon’s Patek Philippe 2499 and Fidel Castro’s Rolex GMT-Master. #22304 Published: 09/10/2017

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27 Oct
2017

Brazil auctions valuable pre-salt fields in aftermath of Petrobras scandal

BRAZIL (WNF) - The National Agency for Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Biofuels (ANP) holds two auctions for its valuable pre-salt fields, continuing the scandal-driven rush to divest by Brazil’s state-owned energy giant, Petrobras.
These vast hydrocarbon formations, trapped under thick layers of salt beneath the ocean floor, were considered among the world’s most important oil discoveries last decade and remain Brazil’s most prized energy assets, according to regional publication AS/COA. Pre-salt fields are licensed under a distinct contract structure, and this will be only the second and third time that they will be put to public bid.

The divestment follows auction rounds in May and September in 2017, and precedes new rounds in 2018 and 2019.

Brasilia is positioning energy as a key industry to mend the country’s finances, a need hastened by the so-called Car Wash Scandal. Petrobras has been rocked by allegations that former directors conspired with contractors and politicians to extract the equivalent of some US $2 billion from the company in kickbacks and illicit political donations over the past decade, according to Britain’s Financial Times.

Time Magazine reports that no fewer than 20 different political parties have had members implicated in the scandal. More than 200 people have been charged with crimes, and two former Brazilian presidents, the heads of both houses of Brazil’s congress, more than 90 lawmakers and one third of President Michel Temer’s cabinet are implicated.

More broadly, according to the Americas Society in May 2017, Brasilia is positioning energy as a key industry to reignite Brazil’s lackluster economy. #22193 Published: 06/02/2017

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27 Oct
2017

1967 Abortion Act under threat after Britain’s snap election

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - The 50th anniversary of Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act invites a determined attempt by the Conservatives’ new coalition partner to push a key part of its agenda. The recent snap election brought the fervent anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into government.
Northern Ireland’s DUP agreed to prop up Theresa May’s Tory government after it fell short of a majority, giving the country’s anti-abortion lobby a powerful new ally in attempts to make the law more restrictive.

Abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland. Reuters reports that a ruling that Northern Ireland's abortion laws breach human rights in certain cases was overturned by a Belfast court in June, on the same day Britain pledged to fund terminations for Northern Irish women who travel to England.

Abortion is legal in England up to 24 weeks under the Act. However, if there is a substantial risk to the woman’s life or fetal abnormalities, there is no time limit. #22290 Published: 08/25/2017

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27 Oct
2017

Women’s Convention aims to boost Women’s March resistance movement

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The organizers of the Women’s March on Jan 21, 2017, convene in Detroit to build on the resistance movement that spawned the massive event. An estimated 2.6 million people marched in Washington DC and elsewhere on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The Women’s Convention will bring together the thousands of the women who organized the linked demonstrations, which were also held in cities outside the United States.

“The weekend will consist of workshops and speaking forums to teach attendees how to take the Jan 21 protest and turn it into a movement,” according to spokesman Bob Bland.

One focus will be on recruiting Women’s March allies to contest the congressional, gubernatorial and local elections of Nov 2018.

“Women need to band together again -- the way we did on Jan 21 -- and then craft a policy agenda and continue building not just in the streets but also building political power in the halls of Congress and in our local communities,” Bland told the Huffington Post in June.

Since January, the Women’s March leaders have organized a series of actions. They include the “Day Without a Woman” and protests against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the failed Republican health care bill.

The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August brought new urgency to the need for women to accelerate their organizing efforts, according to Bland. The rally claimed the life of counter-protester Heather Heyer. #22299 Published: 09/10/2017

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