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Analysis: Argentina’s Fernandez faces political acid test in midterm vote

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November 12, 2021

By Horacio Soria and Juan Bustamante

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s center-left President Alberto Fernandez is set for a political test on Sunday that could split the ruling Peronist party, trigger a cabinet exodus and throw into disarray the left’s campaign two years from a 2023 presidential vote.

The South American country is going to the polls for a midterm legislative ballot, with a dry run primary and polling numbers suggesting voters will punish the government, potentially erasing its decades-old majority in the Senate.

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The fallout could be painful. Analysts are divided about what defeat would mean, but a bruising loss in a primary vote in September sparked a major cabinet reshuffle and a rift between the Peronists’ moderate and militant factions.

“We have a ruling party with a serious chance of losing its quorum in the Senate. This would be a historic state of affairs for Peronism and frankly it hints at what’s to come,” said Shila Vilker, director of consultancy Trespuntozero.

Investors and traders are watching closely.

The major grains producer is locked in crunch talks with the International Monetary Fund over a new deal to roll over some $45 billion in debt it cannot pay, a test for the IMF as well as Argentina’s credentials in global markets.

Those talks have been led so far by more moderate voices within the government, including Economy Minister Martin Guzman and Fernandez himself.

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Nikhil Sanghani, analyst at Capital Economics, said in a note the likely outcome of the vote would be the government taking a moderate turn as it was forced to negotiate with the opposition to get a deal done.

But a “heavy defeat” could tilt things the other way.

“There could be a period of Peronist infighting or policy paralysis for a few months but something will have to give by the middle of next year, when Argentina approaches a potential crunch point on its IMF debt repayments,” he said.

‘CHANGE FOR THE BETTER’

The ruling party could lose its Senate majority and an important lower-house race in the province of Buenos Aires, long a stronghold of the Peronists, Argentina’s most influential political party over the last 70 years.

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María Gagliani, 56, a gatekeeper at a provincial school, lamented the issues facing the Peronists, long seen by voters as the party of big government and social support, but less loved by investors and markets due to a history of interventionism.

“We must help the government’s project to prosper,” she said, adding it was better than the alternative neo-liberal model offered under previous President Mauricio Macri.

“The pandemic made things very difficult, but even so, the economy is beginning to show encouraging signs.”

However, many voters are fed up with rampant inflation running at above 50%, currency controls that have hit business and trade, weak growth, poverty and controversial policies including caps on meat exports earlier this year.

Melina Prato, 29, a lawyer, said she wasn’t truly convinced by any political party but that she would vote for the opposition, which she felt would more likely improve things in the country.

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“I would like things to change for the better, and not for the worse,” she said.

Political analyst Raul Timmerman said a silver lining was an emboldened opposition may be inclined to work with the government, imagining that if it were able to win the presidency in 2023 it would have to deal with the economic fallout.

“They will not want to seize a country in default,” he said.

(Reporting by Horacio Soria and Juan Bustamante; Additional reporting by Jorge Otaola and Agustin Geist; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky)

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Taiwan, Europe must defend democracy together, president says

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November 29, 2021

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan and Europe must work together to defend against authoritarianism and disinformation, President Tsai Ing-wen told visiting lawmakers from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Monday.

Lithuania has faced sustained pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, since allowing the opening of a de facto Taiwanese embassy in its capital.

Beijing has ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty claims and to limit its international participation, though Tsai says Taiwan will not bow to threats and will defend its freedom and democracy.

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Tsai told the lawmakers at the Presidential Office that Taiwan and the Baltic nations – once part of the Soviet Union – share similar experiences of breaking free from authoritarian rule and of fighting for freedom.

“The democracy we enjoy today was hard earned. This is something we all understand most profoundly,” she said.

“Now the world faces challenges posed by the expansion of authoritarianism and threat of disinformation. Taiwan is more than willing to share its experience at combating disinformation with its European friends. We must safeguard our shared values to ensure our free and democratic way of life.”

Matas Maldeikis, leader of the Lithuanian parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group, told Tsai in response their group was in Taipei to express their solidarity with the island.

“Lithuanian government policy towards Taiwan has wide support in our society. Preserving freedom and the rules-based international order is in the vital interests for both Taiwan and Lithuania,” he said.

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There is much opportunity for economic and cultural cooperation, added Maldeikis, whose trip has been condemned by China.

No European Union member state has official ties with Taiwan.

The United States has strongly backed its NATO ally Lithuania in its spat with China.

Lithuania faces problems too with pressure from Russia and Belarus, with migrants on its border with Belarus.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Australia’s reopening plans in doubt after Omicron cases

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November 29, 2021

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will review its plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, after the country reported its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Two people who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa tested positive on Sunday for the newly identified variant as officials ordered 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from nine African countries.

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Morrison said “it is a bit too early” to reinstate two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign travellers, urging people to remain calm as data had not yet fully determined the severity, transmissibility and vaccine resistance of the Omicron strain.

“So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told Nine News.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants. But experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Morrison said the national security committee will meet later on Monday to assess the border reopening relaxations due from Wednesday. A meeting of leaders of all states and territories will be held by Tuesday, he said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked the country’s immunisation advisory group to review the time frame for COVID-19 booster shots. About 87% of Australia’s population above 16 years of age have been fully vaccinated, above the rates seen in the United States, Britain and many countries in Western Europe.

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Health officials in New South Wales said three people who arrived on Sunday from southern Africa had tested positive for COVID-19 and that genomic sequencing was underway to check if they were infected with the Omicron strain.

The new variant has emerged as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, had begun to allow vaccinated citizens entry from overseas without quarantine from Nov. 1, having shut their borders for more than 18 months.

Both cities have tightened their travel rules with all international travellers ordered to quarantine for 72 hours. Other states have not opened their borders to foreign travellers yet due to varying vaccination rates.

Australia has so far recorded about 209,000 coronavirus cases and 1,997 deaths since the pandemic began.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)

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Earthquake hits remote northern Peru, 75 homes destroyed, no deaths reported

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November 29, 2021

By Marco Aquino

(Reuters) – A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the remote Amazon region of northern Peru on Sunday and was felt as far as Lima in the center of the country, destroying 75 homes but with no deaths reported.

The seismological center of the Geophysical Institute of Peru (IGP) said the earthquake had a depth of 131 kilometers (81 miles) and that the epicenter was 98 kilometers from the town of Santa Maria de Nieva in the province of Condorcanqui.

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The quake was felt throughout central and northern Peru. Some residents left their homes as a precaution, according to local radio and television reports.

No damage was reported to the 1,100-kilometer oil pipeline of state-owned Petroperu that crosses the Peruvian Amazon region to the Pacific coast in the north.

The National Institute of Civil Defense (Indeci) said in a statement that 220 homes were affected, 81 uninhabitable and 75 destroyed. Seven places of religious worship and two shopping centers were among damaged facilities, Indeci said, adding that four residents were injured.

President Pedro Castillo said through Twitter that he ordered the immediate deployment of support personnel and took a trip in a military plane to the area.

“We will support those affected and address material damage,” he said.

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Walter Culqui, mayor of the town of Jalca Grande in Chachapoyas province, said several houses had been damaged, leaving three non-serious injuries. Part of the church tower in the area collapsed, he said.

Through social networks, electricity cuts were reported in several locations in jungle areas. Local TV images showed stretches of roads blocked by huge rocks and dirt that had been knocked loose.

The U.S. warning system said there was no tsunami warning after the earthquake.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru, writing by Hugh Bronstein, Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Porter)

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