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Climate set to dominate G20 summit ahead of U.N. conference

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October 28, 2021

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – If high-stakes climate talks are to succeed next month in Glasgow, the initial signs of progress may emerge this weekend when leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies hold their first face-to-face meeting in two years.

Big obstacles lie in the way. The G20 is divided over questions such as phasing out coal and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), giving diplomats little time to forge an accord before the Oct. 30-31 gathering.

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Many of the leaders coming to Rome, including U.S. President Joe Biden, will fly immediately afterwards to Scotland for the United Nation’s climate summit, known as COP26, which is seen as vital to tackling the threat of rising temperatures.

The COP26 involves almost 200 countries, but the G20 bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, is the dominant force, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, 60% of its population and an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The time has passed for diplomatic niceties. If governments, especially G20 governments, do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week.

In a setback to hopes of a robust G20 response, Biden’s expectations of heading to Europe with a strong domestic deal on climate policy have diminished greatly because of political divisions over a broader spending package.

To the further disappointment of hosts Italy, the leaders of China, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia have declined to attend the meeting, which will be held in a Rome suburb called EUR that was built by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are reported to have pulled out because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, but are expected to follow the discussions via a video link, diplomats said.

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COVID-19 meant last year’s G20 summit was a virtual event and continued fallout from the health emergency will feature prominently in the Rome talks, with Italy keen for major economies to coordinate the global recovery.

Fears over rising energy prices and stretched supply chains are likely to be addressed, as is the need for reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

G20 leaders will also sign off on a minimum global tax rate of 15% for big companies – a deal that was finalised earlier this month and that Italy has hailed as a major achievement of its year-long G20 presidency.

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Italy has likewise said it is proud of a summit it organised in May that resulted in pledges from rich nations for hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for poorer regions, as well as a deal to channel International Monetary Fund emergency reserves to impoverished countries.

“Given the international situation, I think Italy can be satisfied with its G20 presidency. But hopefully further agreements can be reached over decarbonisation,” said Antonio Villafranca, director of studies at the Italian Institute of International Policy Studies.

One area where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi aims to find consensus is a pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 against 2020 levels – another element in the battle to curb greenhouse gases responsible for warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

One of the trickiest negotiations will concern the need for rich nations to honour a 2009 pledge to provide poor ones with $100 billion per year to help them adapt to climate change.

In 2015 they agreed to extend this goal through to 2025 but the target, which some poor countries and climate activists now say is insufficient, has yet to be met.

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The talks will take place in a futurist convention centre called ‘The Cloud’, with social events scheduled at some of the historic sites that dot central Rome, including a gala dinner in the president’s palace.

The interior ministry has said between 5,000 and 6,000 police along with some 500 soldiers will be deployed to ensure security. Airspace will be closed over Rome and border controls will be enhanced to try to keep away potential troublemakers.

(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones in Rome and Michel Rose in Paris; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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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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