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Bulgarians vote in third election this year in bid to break deadlock

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November 14, 2021

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarians vote on Sunday in their third parliamentary election this year, with opinion polls pointing to another inconclusive result that could hamper efforts to tackle high energy prices, a jump in COVID-19 cases and widespread corruption.

Another failure to break a prolonged political impasse and forge a functioning cabinet in the European Union’s poorest member state could also potentially slow plans for the country to adopt the euro by 2024.

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An election for the largely ceremonial post of president will also be held on Sunday. Polls show incumbent Rumen Radev, 58, is poised to win re-election for a second five-year term after a likely run-off vote on Nov. 21.

Bulgaria has been gripped by political uncertainty since April, when an election ended the decade-long rule of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his centre-right GERB party following massive anti-graft protests against him last year.

Policy differences and rivalry prevented his opponents, the so-called parties of change, from forging a ruling coalition after the April election and another ballot in July.

GERB has seized on the deadlock, rising energy costs and a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the EU’s least vaccinated country – helping it bolster support among party loyalists.

The latest polls give the party backing of 24%, putting it on track to be the biggest in parliament.

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But Borissov, 62, a burly former bodyguard of late Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, is unlikely to find allies to forge a coalition, analysts say.

A new centrist party pledging “zero corruption”, set up by two Harvard-educated former interim ministers, is seen as having the biggest chance of steering talks for a new administration with two other anti-graft factions and the Socialists.

Called “We Continue the Change”, the new party appears tied with the Socialists for second position, both with support of about 15-16%.

“For the time being, a government around the so-called parties of change, and the Socialists, looks more likely,” said analyst Dobromir Zhivkov at the Market Links pollster.

Ivailo Mihailov, a 52-year-old engineer, said he hoped Sunday’s election would yield a ruling coalition to address high-level graft in the country – ranked the most corrupt EU member state by Transparency International.

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“The judicial system is the biggest problem or rather the lack of justice,” he said. “Until we have a politician and leading businessman actually sentenced, nothing good will happen.”

Thousands of Bulgarians joined street protests in mid-2020, accusing Borissov of cosying up with the chief prosecutor to benefit local oligarchs and businesses close to his GERB party.

Borissov denies any wrongdoing.

Polls open at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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