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Portuguese president calls snap general election for Jan. 30

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November 4, 2021

By Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called a snap general election for Jan. 30 on Thursday, a week after parliament threw out the minority Socialist government’s 2022 budget bill ending six years of relative political stability.

“In moments like this there is always a solution in democracy, without drama or fears … to give the word back to the people,” Rebelo de Sousa said in a televised address. “It is the only way to allow the Portuguese … to decide what they want for the coming years.”

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The Socialists’ former left-wing allies, the Left Bloc and the Communists, rejected the budget along with all right-wing parties. Rebelo de Sousa said the rejection left the ruling party “alone”.

He said the Portuguese wanted the budget to be approved at a time Portugal is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the situation left him with no other option but to dissolve parliament and call an election.

The election campaign is likely to start shortly after New Year’s Day, he said.

Most Portuguese appeared resigned that an early vote, even if necessary, will only perpetuate political deadlock, bringing more hardship.

An opinion poll by Aximage pollsters released earlier on Thursday showed that 54% of 803 respondents thought a snap election would be “bad for the country”, with 68% believing that no party would win a majority of seats in parliament.

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‘NECESSARY EVIL’

“More or less, we were pretty stable, especially given the pandemic situation,” Lisbon pensioner Leonel Pereira, 66, told Reuters earlier on Thursday. “Only if they kept it that way a little longer … it would be good for us.”

Marta Amaral, 51, of Lisbon called the election “a necessary evil”. “It won’t be good but there’s no other way out,” she said.

An election alone might not solve the political impasse as opinion polls show that no single party or known alliance is likely to achieve a stable majority.

Still, another Lisbon resident, Sonia Oliveira, 44, was hopeful.

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“I hope there will be more coalitions, that they unite more for the good of the people, because we are the ones suffering, nobody else.”

Markets have reacted calmly so far, with Portugal’s 10-year bond yield fluctuating largely in line with their EU peers in the past few days, and dropping to mid-October levels on Thursday.

Support for the centre-left Socialists is little changed from the 36% they won in the last national election in 2019, with the centre-right Social Democrats in second at about 27%.

The only party that stands to clearly benefit from the election is the hard-right Chega that could emerge as the third-strongest force in parliament, but is seen by political analysts as too toxic a potential partner for any other party.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; Additional reporting and writing by Andrei Khalip; editing by Grant McCool)

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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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