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UK’s Johnson says can’t rule out trade action in French fishing row

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October 30, 2021

(Corrects spelling of Colosseum in paragraph 4)

By Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose

ROME (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he could not rule out triggering trade dispute action against France next week in a post-Brexit row over fishing that has further strained relations and could ultimately disrupt the flow of goods.

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Johnson, who is hosting the U.N. climate summit next week, again said he did not want the spat over fish to derail a meeting of the world’s 20 biggest economies, seen as a stepping stone to secure more commitments for COP26 in Glasgow https://www.reuters.com/business/cop.

After an earlier British-hosted G7 meeting became overshadowed by a disagreement with the European Union over post-Brexit problems with the movement of sausages and other goods to Northern Ireland, Johnson was keen to defuse the row.

“If there is a breach of the treaty or we think there is a breach of the treaty then we will do what is necessary to protect British interests,” Johnson told Sky News in the Colosseum in Rome, where he is attending a G20 meeting.

Asked if he would rule out triggering dispute resolution measures in the so-called Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) next week, Johnson said: “No of course not, I don’t rule that out.”

“But what I think everybody wants to see (is) cooperation between the European allies and Emmanuel Macron and I share a common perspective which is that climate change is a disaster for humanity.”

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Relations with France have become increasingly strained since Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016, with London’s security pact with the United States and Australia doing little to build trust with Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron has questioned Britain’s “credibility”.

Fishing, which dogged Brexit talks for years, while not economically crucial to either country, holds huge political importance to both, and the row, if not resolved, could trigger the beginning of dispute measures in the Brexit trade deal.

Any TCA proceedings would likely involve convening an arbitration panel to decide on the dispute, and could result in a demand for compensation or suspension of obligations under the free trade deal.

FIST BUMP

A letter sent by French Prime Minister Jean Castex to the EU calling on the bloc to demonstrate there is “more damage to leaving the EU than to remaining there”, as widely reported in the British media, has also soured relations.

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In Rome, Johnson and Macron exchanged a mock-combative fist bump but did not appear to speak to one another as the leaders took a “family photo”. They are due to see each other for a brief meeting on Sunday.

“We’ve seen the French government make a number of comments in recent days, we don’t think those are appropriate,” Johnson’s spokesman said. “We have been seeking to work with the French government to issue more fishing licenses, we stand ready to continue that work.”

With an election in April in which Macron is expected to seek a new term, some British officials believe the French president is seeking to look tough to appeal to his electorate.

Some Europeans diplomats see Johnson’s government as likewise taking a firm stance to please Brexit supporters.

The issue escalated this week when a British scallop dredger was escorted to a French port after French officials said it did not have the correct documentation.

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Both sides have since threatened to take further action, but a French diplomatic source told Reuters Macron shared Johnson’s aim of easing tensions.

“The president is in favour of calming things down, but at the same time he can’t pretend the British are not reneging on the commitments they’ve made,” the source said.

“Brexit was a sovereign choice, we respect that. It’s taken years to negotiate. The deal was signed, it must be applied now. When you sign a piece of paper, you must be true to it.”

(Corrects spelling of Colosseum in paragraph 4)

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Michael Holden in London and Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams and Helen Popper)

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Gambians vote for president using marbles in key test for stability

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December 4, 2021

By Pap Saine and Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) -Gambians cast their votes for president on Saturday using a unique voting system – marbles dropped into each candidate’s ballot drum – to decide a tightly fought election that is seen as a test of stability and democratic progress.

It is Gambia’s first democratic election since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.

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Jammeh, who was defeated by an opposition coalition that backed current President Adama Barrow, fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after refusing to accept defeat https://reut.rs/31oknjP.

Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and property developer, cast his vote in a crowded polling station in the capital, Banjul, accompanied by his two wives.

“I’m happy to see a large turnout from Gambian voters,” he said after voting, adding that he was confident of victory.

Barrow is facing five rivals including his former political mentor, Ousainou Darboe, 73, seen as his main challenger.

Darboe called for calm after the vote, urging his supporters in the tourism-dependent nation not to respond to any provocation.

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“Remember, we are in the tourism season, the slightest disturbance in this country will drive away all the tourists,” he said.

Nearly 1 million people from a population of 2.5 million are registered to vote in Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country. Turnout is expected to be high, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has said.

“I want to see a better Gambia, a far better Gambia than the previous years,” said civil servant Bubacarr Kanteh, 39, outside the polling station.

Before the polls opened, officials carried the voting drums outside to show the queues of voters that they were empty.

Gambians are comfortable with using glass marbles to vote, said Mamadou A. Barry, an official at the IEC.

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The system, which was introduced in the 1960s to avoid spoilt ballots in a nation with a high illiteracy rate, is “transparent and fair”, Barry said.

Results are expected by Sunday under the simple majority system.

Other candidates https://reut.rs/3EqrXsH include Essa Mbye Faal, who served as chief counsel of Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that chronicled the abuses of Jammeh’s rule, and Mama Kandeh, who came third in 2016 and is backed by Jammeh.

As campaigning wrapped up on Thursday, hundreds of jubilant Barrow supporters gathered in downtown Banjul for a final rally, hoping another Barrow term would secure stability as Gambia seeks to put 22 years of Jammeh rule behind it.

Critics, however, say Barrow has broken his promises, pointing to how he backtracked on a pledge to serve only three years after winning in 2016. Barrow has argued the constitution requires him to serve out a full five-year term.

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(Reporting by Pap Saine and Bate FelixWriting by Bate Felix and Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Sandra Maler and David Clarke)

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Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

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December 4, 2021

UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) – Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.

Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.

It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.

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The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Germany’s Social Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 4, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD), which narrowly won a federal election in September, voted on Saturday to back a coalition agreement with the Greens and Free Democrats that should allow the three-way alliance to take over next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the ideologically disparate Greens, the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Greens and the FDP also need the approval of their members for the deal that the three parties agreed last month. They hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’ respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’s biggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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