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‘The fight goes on’: Argentina’s Peronists seek positives in rubble of defeat

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November 15, 2021

By Walter Bianchi

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s Peronists licked their wounds on Monday after a damaging midterm election defeat, where the conservative opposition gained in key congressional battles across the country and erased the ruling coalition’s Senate majority.

The opposition Juntos coalition, badly defeated in presidential elections in 2019, hammered the ruling Frente de Todos party by almost 20 points nationwide in the battle for the Senate, where a third of seats were up for grabs.

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In the lower house, it won by a slightly smaller but still important margin of around eight percentage points, winning a close battle in the important province of Buenos Aires, the most populous region of the country and a Peronist stronghold.

“The people made themselves heard,” said Beatriz Arguello, a housewife in her seventies in the capital city. “Now we hope for some change.”

Argentine center-left President Alberto Fernandez said after the vote that he would listen to the people and pledged a new stage for the country. He called for the opposition to find consensus with the government.

That will be key after the Peronists lost their majority in the Senate, which they had held since 1983, meaning Fernandez and his more radical vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, will need to reach across the aisle.

Local newspapers reacted to the defeat by splashing front pages with comments such as “hard electoral defeat” and “devastating diagnosis.” The more party-allied Pagina 12 looked for positives: “Defeat, but the fight goes on.”

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Markets reacted mutely with sovereign bond prices up slightly. Analysts generally see the result as positive if it forces the government to work more closely with the opposition, favored by investors.

Voters, meanwhile, called on the government and opposition to get to work solving the country’s many problems with inflation above 50% annually, the peso currency at record lows against the dollar and over four out of 10 people in poverty.

“It is a result that was expected. It is time for all politicians to get to work to get this country out of the hole it’s in,” said Heactor Lopez, 60, a small-business owner.

Opposition leaders cheered. Former President Mauricio Macri said the conservatives needed to build on the win, while party grandee Patricia Bullrich heralded the “great choice” by voters.

“The best thing: we managed to get the quorum from Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the Senate!” she said on Twitter.

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Government supporters pointed to an improvement versus the primary vote in September and a narrower defeat in Buenos Aires province, lost by just over one percentage point.

“They ended the day by asking please stop counting votes because the difference was getting smaller and smaller,” said 35-year-old Jimena Cueva, who held out hope the ruling coalition could bounce back to win the presidential vote in 2023.

Shila Vilker, head of consultancy Trespuntozero, said the government had already “paid” a large part of the cost of defeat after the open primary vote, which led to a major cabinet reshuffle, though the loss of the Senate majority would hurt.

“I’d say it’s a dignified defeat for the government, and a dignified non-catastrophic defeat gives it some air to continue,” she said.

(Reporting by Walter Bianchi, Juan Bustamante, Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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