Kremlin sees no prospects for better U.S. ties after elections

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it saw no prospects for an improvement in relations between Russia and the United States following the U.S. midterm elections in which the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives.

The House victory will give the Democrats the opportunity to block President Donald Trump’s agenda and open his administration to intense scrutiny, and congressional sources say the Democrats will try to harden U.S. policy towards Moscow.

Trump’s fellow Republicans expanded their majority of the U.S. Senate in the Tuesday vote.

“We can say with a large amount of confidence that of course no bright prospects for normalizing Russian-American relations can be seen on the horizon,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Peskov said it was up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump to continue dialogue.

The two leaders will meet briefly in Paris next week, Peskov said on Tuesday, and could have a longer meeting at the summit of the Group of 20 nations in Argentina at the end of the month.

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Oil rises to $73 on report of Russia, Saudi output cut talks

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil rebounded to $73 a barrel on Wednesday after falling to its lowest since August, supported by a report that Russia and Saudi Arabia are discussing oil output cuts in 2019.

Russia’s TASS news agency, citing an unnamed source, reported that the two countries, the biggest producers in an OPEC-led alliance that has been limiting supply since 2017, have started bilateral talks on the issue.

“I think this is a little bit of verbal intervention, trying to get some speculative length back into the market,” said analyst Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix. “The global supply and demand balance does not look very tight next year.”

Brent crude LCOc1, the global benchmark, rose $1.04 to $73.17 a barrel by 1057 GMT. The contract hit $71.18 on Tuesday, its lowest since Aug. 16. U.S. crude CLc1 rose 68 cents to $62.89.

While Iranian oil exports are expected to fall because of U.S. sanctions that took effect on Monday, reports from OPEC and other forecasters have indicated that the global market could see a 2019 supply surplus as demand slows.

A ministerial committee of some Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries members and allies, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, is due to meet on Sunday in Abu Dhabi to discuss the market and outlook for 2019.

Any return to limiting supply would follow a June decision by the OPEC-led group to relax output curbs in place since 2017, after pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to cool prices and make up for losses from Iran.

Supply from countries such as Saudi Arabia has risen sharply since June. In addition, having initially talked of cutting Iranian oil shipments to zero, Washington gave waivers to eight customers, raising the prospect of more Iranian oil in the market than expected.

Earlier in the session on Wednesday, oil traded lower as rising U.S. inventories and sanction waivers allowing Iran to keep exporting crude reinforced an outlook for ample supplies.

“The market continues to shift from worrying about tightening supplies to acknowledging upside supply risks and weakening demand growth,” analysts at JBC Energy wrote in a report.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said on Tuesday U.S. crude stocks rose by 7.8 million barrels last week, more than analysts had forecast. The government’s official supply report is due at 1530 GMT.

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Runaway mining train in Australia travels 90km without driver

SYDNEY (AFP) – A huge runaway train laden with iron ore had to be derailed remotely after speeding through the Australian outback for almost an hour.

The 268-wagon train started on its solo journey when the driver got down from his cab to carry out an inspection, and was soon hurtling along at up to 110kmh.

Mining giant BHP, which owns the four-locomotive train, decided to derail before it reached the town of Port Hedland near its Western Australia Pilbara site, and flicked the points.

The train crashed off the rails, damaging around 1,500m of tracks, but hurting no one.

Aerial images published by The West Australian showed a trail of twisted wreckage after Monday’s incident, with some wagons covered by their loads.

Australia is one of the world’s major sources of iron ore.

BHP said on Wednesday (Nov 7) more than 130 people were working to recover the train and fix the track – a key access route for the enormous mining facility – with partial rail operations expected to start up again in about a week.

The mine sites were still running and reserves would be used to maintain port operations, “however they are not expected to cover the entire period of interruption”, a BHP spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We will be liaising with our customers in relation to our contractual commitments over this period,” she added.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was investigating the incident. There was no indication of what had caused the train to move without its driver.

“We cannot speculate on the outcome of the investigation however we are working with the appropriate authorities and our focus remains on the safe recovery of our operations,” the BHP spokesman said.

BHP’s shares closed 0.48 per cent lower to A$33.39 in Sydney on Wednesday as reports in Britain said the Anglo-Australian firm was facing a £5 billion lawsuit over the deadly Samarco dam failure in Brazil in 2015.

BHP is also facing an Australian class action involving investors pursuing the miner for losses relating to the collapse.

Nineteen people were killed and a wave of toxic waste was unleashed when a dam burst at the mine in one of Brazil’s worst environmental disasters.

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Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn pushed out over £75m pay row

The UK’s largest housebuilder said he would go “by mutual agreement” on 31 December and be replaced on an interim basis by the group’s managing director David Jenkinson pending the appointment of a permanent successor.

The company’s statement said of Mr Fairburn’s departure: “The board believes that the distraction around his remuneration from the 2012 LTIP (long-term incentive) scheme continues to have a negative impact on the reputation of the business and consequently on Jeff’s ability to continue in his role.”

Almost half of Persimmon’s investors voted against its pay report at the AGM in April.

The decision to cut him loose risked a further backlash as it emerged that because he had been asked to leave, the firm could not prevent the payment of the payouts due to him under the share option scheme.

Persimmon said Mr Fairburn had agreed to cut his 12-month notice period and would not receive any further salary or benefits after 31 December.

Shares – down 14% in the year to date – were 0.3% lower in early deals.

Mr Fairburn – and other executives – first agreed to cut their awards in February after widespread outrage over the sums which critics said were inflated by government housing market stimulus in the form of the Help to Buy.

He had been due to receive £100m but gave up £25m.

Mr Fairburn said: “I had hoped that revealing my plans to create a charitable trust and to waive a proportion of the award would enable the company to put the issue of the 2012 LTIP behind it.

“However, this has not been the case and so it is clearly now in the best interests of Persimmon that I should step down.”

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Kemp and Abrams at Standoff in Georgia Governor’s Race

ATLANTA — Democrats and Republicans entered another bitter phase of the Georgia governor’s race early Wednesday — a standoff — with no announced winner and county elections officials scrambling to tally absentee ballots.

Unofficial returns gave Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee and Georgia’s secretary of state, a lead of about 95,000 votes over Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate, with 99 percent of the state’s precincts reporting at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

But news organizations, defying pressure from Republicans, did not immediately project Mr. Kemp as the winner, and Ms. Abrams would not concede. A runoff remained a possibility, and threatened to intensify the political turmoil that has gripped Georgia.

“I want to say this: If I wasn’t your first choice, or if you made no choice at all, you’re going to have a chance to do a do-over,” Ms. Abrams said at the Atlanta hotel where her supporters had gathered to watch election returns.

Republican officials argued that Ms. Abrams had no viable path to a victory that would make her the first black woman elected as governor in any state. Throughout the night in Athens, Ga., Mr. Kemp’s allies stood on the stage and confidently predicted that he, not Ms. Abrams, would move into the Governor’s Mansion in January.

“There are votes left to count, but we have a very strong lead,” Mr. Kemp said when he spoke at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday. “Folks, make no mistake: The math is on our side to win this election.”

Although Mr. Kemp stopped just short of declaring victory, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, John Watson, left no doubt in his own assessment. “We have the votes, and the next governor of Georgia is going to be Brian Kemp,” he said.

But with tens of thousands of absentee ballots outstanding and officials still counting votes that were cast on Election Day, especially in the Atlanta-area counties where Ms. Abrams held an edge, Democrats insisted that their nominee could make up the deficit.

Her best hope seemed to be to whittle down Mr. Kemp’s lead and keep his vote total just shy of a majority, forcing a Dec. 4 runoff. A Libertarian candidate, Ted Metz, was drawing nearly 1 percent of the vote early Wednesday.

“We believe — we do not know — this is headed for a runoff,” Ms. Abrams’s campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said. “So it’s going to still be a long night. This is not ending soon, and we’re unlikely to have anything definitive to say until the morning.”

A runoff would extend one of the nation’s most contentious governor’s races and deepen public debate over Mr. Kemp’s decision to remain the secretary of state, a post that allowed him to both oversee and compete in the election.

Democrats have been demanding Mr. Kemp’s resignation for weeks and have sharply criticized his record on voting issues in the state. Mr. Kemp, who has called accusations that he encouraged voter suppression a “farce,” oversaw legal purges of voter rolls and embraced a rigorous “exact match” approach to processing voter registrations.

The debate over Mr. Kemp’s work as secretary of state sharpened on Sunday, when his office announced that it had opened an inquiry into the Democratic Party of Georgia for what state officials said was an attempted hack of the voter registration system. Mr. Kemp’s office provided little information about its allegations, which sparked an inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Democrats assailed the announcement as a political stunt.

The inquiry was but the latest twist in the most expensive governor’s race in state history, a contest that pitted Mr. Kemp’s hard-line conservative values, particularly on immigration, against Ms. Abrams’s more liberal platform, which was built around ideas like Medicaid expansion.

Polls showed the contest to be among the nation’s most competitive governor’s races, and about 2.1 million people voted early.

Both candidates relied on enormous campaign treasuries — each raised at least $20 million — and extensive get-out-the-vote efforts. President Trump, whose support helped Mr. Kemp to capture the Republican nomination in July, traveled to the state on Sunday to campaign with Mr. Kemp, and former President Barack Obama recently visited Atlanta for a rally with Ms. Abrams.

But Democrats, confident as they were in how the state’s shifting demographics would work to their benefit, knew they faced a challenge: Georgia has not elected a Democratic governor since 1998.

By Wednesday morning, it appeared that Ms. Abrams had come far closer to winning than other recent Democratic candidates. It just was not clear whether even that would be enough.

Richard Fausset reported from Atlanta, and Alan Blinder from Athens, Ga.

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Northern Irish DUP: We're not afraid of UK election if Brexit deal falls short

LONDON (Reuters) – The Northern Irish party that British Prime Minister Theresa May depends upon for a majority in parliament are not afraid of a general election should they object to her Brexit deal, a senior lawmaker for the party said on Wednesday.

“If we think a Brexit deal is not good for the United Kingdom, we will say so,” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lawmaker Jeffrey Donaldson said on BBC radio. “We want the deal to be in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.”

“Let’s see what the deal is. We’re not afraid of a general election.”

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Cameroon child hostages released by kidnappers

All 78 children, abducted in the country’s Anglophone region, released but principal and a teacher are still being held.

    All 78 children and a driver kidnapped in west Cameroon were released on Wednesday, but the school principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men, a priest conducting negotiations said.

    The group was abducted in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region, on Monday.

    “Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said. 

    He had earlier put the number of children taken at 79 but later said one of their numbers was, in fact, a teacher, who remained with the kidnappers.

    A video purportedly of the kidnapped children was released on social media by “Amba boys”, a reference to the state of Ambazonia that armed separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions, The Associated Press news agency reported.

    In the video, the kidnappers force several students to give their names and the names of their parents. The children say they were kidnapped by the Amba boys, and they do not know where they are being held.

    Fonki and the Cameroonian military have accused anglophone separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.

    In an inauguration speech following last month’s election to extend his 36-year rule, President Paul Biya told the separatists to lay down their arms or face the full force of the law, offering no concessions to them.

    Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority, although they had never kidnapped children before.

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    Goldman Sachs CEO: I feel horrible ex-bankers broke law in 1MDB case

    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon said on Wednesday he felt “horrible” that two former employees “blatantly broke the law” in their dealings with Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

    U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against the two former Goldman bankers and a Malaysian financier linked to the alleged theft of billions of dollars from the fund.

    An investigation into where 1MDB’s money went became the largest carried out by the Department of Justice under its anti-kleptocracy program, and the scandal was a major reason why Malaysian voters rejected Najib Razak, their prime minister for nearly a decade, in an election earlier this year.

    “It is obviously very distressing to see two former Goldman Sachs employees went so blatantly around our policies and so blatantly broke the law,” Solomon said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Singapore.

    “I feel horrible about the fact that people who worked at Goldman Sachs, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a partner or it’s an entry level employee, would go around our policies and break the law,” Solomon said.

    U.S. prosecutors announced last week that Tim Leissner, former partner for Goldman Sachs in Asia, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million.

    Roger Ng, the other charged former Goldman banker, was arrested in Malaysia and is expected to be extradited.

    Reuters was not immediately able to contact Ng’s lawyer on Wednesday. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment after U.S. prosecutors unveiled the charges last Thursday.

    Goldman has also placed its former co-head of Asia investment banking, Andrea Vella, on leave over his role in the firm’s involvement with the case, pending a review of allegations, according to a person familiar with the decision.

    The Wall Street bank said in a securities filing on Friday that it may also face penalties from dealings with 1MDB.

    Asked if he could provide assurances that neither he, former CEO Lloyd Blankfein or any of the senior management team suspected illegality or compliance breaches in dealings with 1MDB, Solomon said:

    “We take compliance and control in our firm extremely seriously, we always have…We are going to continue to cooperate with the authorities and there’s a process in place and that process will proceed.”

    According to prosecutors, the investment bank generated about $600 million in fees for its work with 1MDB, which included three bond offerings in 2012 and 2013 that raised $6.5 billion. Leissner, Ng and others received large bonuses in connection with that revenue.

    Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told Reuters in June that the government will be looking at the possibility of seeking claims from Goldman Sachs.

    Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia will look into why Goldman was paid around $600 million in fees, an amount that critics say exceeds normal levels.

    Goldman has maintained that the outsized fees related to the additional risks it took on – it bought the un-rated bonds while it sought investors and, in the case of the 2013 deal which raised $2.7 billion, 1MDB wanted the funds in a hurry for a planned investment.

    The new Malaysian government has barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country, and the former premier faces multiple charges of corruption, money laundering and abuse of power, though he has consistently denied any wrongdoing related to 1MDB.

    In another interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim said it would be “inexcusable” if Goldman Sachs was complicit in the scandal.

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    Madagascar votes in presidential elections in bid to end poverty

    President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term and faces strong challenge from two former presidents.

      Millions of voters in Madagascar queued in long lines early on Wednesday to cast their ballots in a presidential election, as the Indian Ocean island struggles to create jobs, fight poverty and end corruption.

      President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term in office and his two main challengers are former heads of state Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina.

      All three have crisscrossed the island in a hunt for votes and each has pledged to accelerate recovery for an economy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts will grow at more than five percent this year, its highest rate in a decade.

      Civil society groups accuse the three wealthy frontrunners of enriching themselves in office, something each denies.

      The groups said a fisheries deal the incumbent signed with Chinese firms in September is opaque and will impoverish local fishermen.

      They also said Ravalomanana failed to tackle corruption during his time in office that ended in 2009, when he was forced out by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organisations like the African Union said was a coup.

      Conservation groups then accused Rajoelina, the man who overthrew him, of profiting from the plunder of natural resources.

      Praying for change

      As queues started forming on Wednesday morning in the capital, Antananarivo, voter Sahondramalala Nirisoa told Reuters news agency she had arrived early because she needed to get to work. 

      “I hope and I pray for a change,” she said. “That is why I came to vote.”

      According to a World Bank report, more than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. 

      There are nearly 10 million registered voters in the country of 25 million people, data from the electoral commission showed.

      Few analysts expect an outright winner from the 36 total who are contesting.

      If the poll needs to go to a second round, it will involve only the two top candidates and take place on December 19.

      Since a peaceful election in 2013, investors and donor governments re-engaged following a four-year freeze that began after Rajoelina came to power.

      The events of 2009 prompted an exodus of foreign investors from a country that is one of the world’s poorest despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals.

      The island was hit by a fresh political crisis in April sparked by a legal amendment by Rajaonarimampianina’s government that would have prevented Ravalomanana from standing for office.

      Rajaonarimampianina approved a new law removing that provision the following month, allowing Ravalomanana to register as a candidate.

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      Taoiseach under fire for 'green jersey' demands in Brexit talks

      TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has come under fire for suggesting the Opposition and media should put on the ‘green jersey’ and unquestioningly support his Brexit strategy.

      Opposition leaders rounded on him after he announced he was open to the introduction of a review mechanism of the Brexit agreement.

      Independent.ie reported on the alarm which surrounded the backtrack on the Brexit backstop that would ensure there will be no border on the island of Ireland.

      But the Taoiseach’s officials have been extremely critical of media coverage and Opposition TDs whenever they perceive their commentary is not supportive of the Government’s stance.

      One senior official even attacked this newspaper, saying “you are the only guys in Ireland” who are criticising the proposal for a review of the Border deal.

      “The only way we can get a Brexit deal is to allow the negotiations to go on in confidence,” he added.

      However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Taoiseach is displaying an “intolerance of genuine criticism” of his Brexit plans.

      “The prevalence of megaphone diplomacy and the over-hyping of the December agreement of last year has not helped,” he told Independent.ie.

      Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin also said the Government has been “overly sensitive” to criticism on Brexit.

      “Fine Gael wants Opposition parties to pull on the green jersey, but its view of that is unquestioning support for its position,” he said.

      In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Taoiseach of “losing his nerve” and “blinking” at a crucial final phase in the marathon Brexit talks.

      It came as British Prime Minister Theresa May was accused of secretly lining up a Brexit deal behind the backs of her cabinet after a leaked memo revealed detailed plans for selling the agreement to the public.

      A three-week strategy leading up to a parliamentary vote includes daily “themed” announcements, a major speech by Mrs May and a televised interview.

      The document, which was seen by the BBC and appears to have been written in the past week, proposes a vote on the deal on November 27.

      This has added to suspicions from British ministers that Mrs May, desperate for a deal before Christmas, was rushing into an agreement with Brussels.

      Meanwhile, there is confusion over how a review of the so-called ‘backstop’ would even work, if it was included in the final Brexit deal.

      The Taoiseach’s spokesperson suggested a review of the agreement on the Irish Border was already included in the Brexit agreement signed off by the EU and Britain last March.

      He said the agreement included a provision that would allow for the replacement of the backstop with another deal as along as it did not result in a hard Border.

      The spokesperson also suggested a review could be carried out by the joint committee that oversees the implementation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

      This body includes representatives from the EU and Britain, but not specifically Irish representatives.

      The draft withdrawal agreement also includes a provision for the establishment of a sub-committee which could review the final agreement on the Border.

      But the Taoiseach was forced to defend his decision to suggest a review clause on the Border backstop.

      Mr Varadkar insisted he had not weakened Ireland’s negotiating position by agreeing to a review mechanism during a conversation with Mrs May.

      Mr Varadkar said he would only agree to a review if the deal on the Border did not have an expiry date and could not be ended at the behest of the British government alone.

      EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier also poured cold wateron a potential deal on the Border.

      “We are not yet there. We have a lot more work to do,” Mr Barnier said.

      He reinforced the EU position that a Border deal could not include an expiry date.

      Speaking to his own Cabinet ministers in Government Buildings, the Taoiseach said the EU was making progress but he was not sure they could “see the landing zone yet”.

      • Read more here: The great Brexit Border backtrack

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