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Swedish PM resigns, finance minister likely successor

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November 10, 2021

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Swedish centre-left Prime Minister Stefan Lofven formally resigned on Wednesday, opening the way for Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson to become the country’s first woman premier if she can win parliament’s approval.

Lofven, a former welder and union negotiator, has headed a minority coalition with the Green’s since 2014 and said earlier this year that he would step down ahead of the next general election, due in September 2022.

Andersson replaced Lofven as leader of the Social Democrats last week and is likely to be the speaker of parliament’s first choice to form a new government.

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“We have an election in scarcely a year and it is important that we have a quick handover,” Lofven, who had said in August he would hand in his resignation this month, told reporters. “I think voters want this to go smoothly.”

It remains unclear if Andersson has enough support to pass a confirmation vote in parliament, which could happen next week.

She does not need a majority in the 349-seat parliament to back her as prime minister. But she must avoid a majority voting against her.

On Wednesday, the Centre Party agreed not to block Andersson’s candidature in return for easier building regulations and changes to forestry ownership laws.

But Andersson will still need at least passive support from the formerly communist Left Party, whose leader, Nooshi Dadgostar, has demanded a say on policy.

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If Andersson promises that, she risks losing the backing of the Centre Party, which has centre-right roots and wants to exclude the Left from any influence over government.

If parliament rejects Andersson, the speaker is likely to ask Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to try to form a government. He is backed by the populist, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, a party that both the Centre and Left want to keep from influencing policy.

“The Left Party has to realize that there is going to be a new government and the question is which one do they want?” Lofven said.

Lofven will lead a caretaker government until a new prime minister is installed.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Alex Richardson)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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