New Westminster bullying and harassment inquiries won't look at specific cases

It was announced on Tuesday that a leading barrister will conduct an independent inquiry into the treatment of MPs’ staff.

Gemma White QC has been appointed to lead the work but – following the recommendation of the House of Commons back in July – she will not investigate specific allegations against individuals or reopen past cases.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords will also establish an independent inquiry into bullying and harassment allegations.

It is also expected not to look at specific cases.

The inquiries will look at those areas not covered by a previous investigation by Dame Laura Cox, whose work was criticised for only looking at the “culture” at Westminster rather than particular accusations.

Dame Cox’s damning report, which focused on parliamentary employees rather than those working for MPs, piled pressure on senior Commons figures including Speaker John Bercow.

She judged it would be “extremely difficult” for the current administration to bring about necessary changes and found a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the mistreatment of staff to thrive.

Mr Bercow has denied bullying allegations directed against him personally.

MPs debated Dame Cox’s recommendations in the House of Commons on Monday night, where parliament was warned to avoid a “Jimmy Savile situation”.

The news that parliament’s two new inquiries won’t look at individual cases or past accusations was greeted with despair by Labour shadow minister Justin Madders.

He tweeted: “When the terms of reference say ‘The inquiry will not reopen past complaints of bullying or harassment or investigate new ones… Nor will it reach conclusions or make recommendations on any individual case’ you realise all the fine words in the chamber last night count for little.”

The FDA union, which represents public service employees, warned MPs not to use the new White inquiry as “an excuse to water down or delay the implementation” of Dame Cox’s recommendations.

The union’s assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge said: “The inquiry should also not be seen as a substitute for properly investigating past cases and staff who give evidence should have that made clear to them to avoid causing confusion.

“Dame Laura recommended lifting arbitrary restrictions on past cases, which would allow staff to bring a complaint about past behaviour and have that investigated and, if upheld, sanctioned.

“This has been agreed by the House of Commons commission and must be implemented as soon as possible.

“We’ve seen MPs attempt to delay and water down proposals to protect staff in the past and this cannot be allowed to happen again. The time for change is now.”

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Papa John's North America comparable sales decline smaller-than-expected

(Reuters) – Papa John’s International Inc (PZZA.O) on Tuesday reported a smaller-than-expected decline in quarterly comparable sales in North America, helped by a new advertisement campaign and rebranding efforts amid an ongoing dust-up with its founder John Schnatter.

Comparable sales in North America, which includes sales at franchise and company-owned restaurants for at least a year, fell 9.8 percent in the third quarter ended Sept. 30. Analysts on average had expected a 10.9 percent fall, according to IBES data by Refinitiv.

Revenue fell 15.7 percent to $364.01 million, missing Wall Street estimates of $393.7 million.

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Madagascar presidential election: What you need to know

World’s fourth-largest island to vote on next head of state amid political crisis, rampant poverty.

    Four former presidents, three former prime ministers, a pastor and even a popular rock singer; when it comes to picking their next head of state, voters in Madagascar are not short of options.

    Far from it. Overall, the names of 36 hopefuls will be on display in the A3-sized ballot papers on Wednesday, when nearly 10 million registered voters will take to the polls to determine who will lead the Indian Ocean nation for the next five years.

    Polling stations will be open from 6am local time (03:00 GMT) until 5pm local time (14:00 GMT).

    But the build-up to the high-stakes vote has been marred by controversy over campaign spending and allegations of corruption, as well as protests against proposals to change the country’s electoral laws.

    Here’s all you need to know about Wednesday’s presidential election.

    Why does the vote matter?

    The world’s fourth-largest island and home to about 25 million people, Madagascar has been beset by frequent political upheaval since becoming independent from France in 1960.

    A disputed 2001 presidential election led to violent clashes that ended with Marc Ravalomanana, then-mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, taking power.

    The outgoing leader was Didier Ratsiraka, a one-time Marxist who had ruled since 1975 and went into exile.

    In in 2009, Ravalomanana was toppled in an army-backed coup by Andry Rajoelina, another Antananarivo mayor.

    But neither of them was allowed to run in the last elections, in 2013, which were won by Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

    Earlier this year, Rajaonarimampianina’s attempt to amend electoral laws sparked months of protests, with political opponents claiming the proposed changes were aimed at barring their candidates from taking part in Wednesday’s poll.

    Following the demonstrations, the Constitutional Court ordered the 60-year-old to form a government of national unity with a “consensus prime minister” in order to avert a full-blown crisis.

    Sahondra Rabenarivo, a member of locally-based electoral observer organisation Sefaifi, told AFP news agency the “challenge of this year’s election is to consolidate peace”.

    In Madagascar, presidents operate as the head of state, positioned above the country’s prime minister and its bicameral parliament.

    The multitude of candidates hoping to fill the post – only five of which are women –  points to a “weakness of political parties” in the country’s fragile democracy, Rabenarivo said.

    Meanwhile, Madagascar’s considerable diversity means none of the candidates can “pretend to represent and aggregate the interests of the majority of voters”, Adrien Ratsimbaharison, an expert on Malagasy politics, told Al Jazeera.

    “This high number of candidates is due to the fragmentation of the Malagasy society: there are traditionally about 18 or so ethnic groups, and a marked difference between the lifestyle of coastal people (Cotiers) and those of the centre (of Merina and Betsileo ethnic groups),” said Ratsimbaharison.

    “So each candidate is representing some group and some interests, but many of them almost run just to be famous, and some are running so that they can negotiate a ministerial position with the eventual winner,” he added.

    Who are the top contenders?

    Rajaonarimampianina, Ravalomanana and Rajoelina – all former presidents – are widely seen as the frontrunners among an assortment of political leaders, business figures and celebrities.

    A pre-vote poll conducted by the German-headquartered Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) gave Rajoelina 25 percent of votes, Ravalomanana 17 percent and four percent for Rajaonarimampianina.

    The Malagasy government banned publication of the study, citing a threat to “public order”.

    It was later obtained by and reported on by AFP, however.

    Ranked in pole position by the FES study of voter intentions, Rajoelina has drawn impressive numbers to his pre-election rallies.

    Nicknamed the “disc jockey” on account of his past as a party-promoter in Antananarivo, the 44-year-old has proposed to make the eastern port city of Tamatave the “Miami” of Madagascar. He has also vowed to install electronic tracking devices on cattle to curb widespread theft of the animals.

    For his part, Ravalomanana, a 68-year-old self-made agro-business mogul, has promised to equip school children with electronic tablets.

    Rajoelina and Ravalomanana were both prevented from running during the previous election five years ago – Rajoelina for not filing his candidacy papers before the deadline, an electoral court ruled, while Ravalomanana was prevented from entering the country after fleeing into exile following his 2009 removal from power.

    Fellow contender Rajaonarimampianina, a beneficiary of the pair’s ban in 2013, has promised to initiate “a new phase in development” if elected.

    In line with article 46 of Madagascar’s constitution, he resigned 60 days prior to this year’s polls, on September 7.

    How does voting work?

    If none of the three-dozen hopefuls win more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff between the two best performers will be held on December 19.

    The winner will serve a five-year term, beginning in January 2019.

    According to reports, 9.9 million people are eligible to take part in the elections. 

    Preliminary results are expected by November 14 and officials have until two weeks past then to declare the final outcome.

    Have there been any controversies?

    A number of the less-fancied candidates have alleged irregularities in Wednesday’s voters roll and unsuccessfully called for the polls to be delayed.

    Campaign spending has also presented a source of controversy.

    There are no laws capping the financing of candidates’ bids for office, prompting concerns some contenders have disproportionately large election war chests.

    The three frontrunners have crisscrossed the island – which is bigger than Spain, Thailand or Iraq – by helicopter in a bid to reach would-be voters, a strategy not all candidates can afford.

    “While most of the other candidates were barely able to campaign in a few big cities, traveling by cars, these three candidates were spending millions [of dollars] to rent helicopters which allow them to cover all of the regions, including the smallest towns,” said Ratsimbaharison, visiting scholar at the US-based University of South Carolinas Walker Institute of International Studies

    This year is not the first time campaign spending has posed an issue in Madagascar, however.

    According to FES spokesperson Marcus Schneider, the 2013 election was “one of the most expensive in the history of Madagascar”.

    “A study by the European Union, which came out in 2016, claimed the campaign budget of the winner in 2013 [Rajaonarimampianina] was $43m, meaning he spent more per-voter than US President Donald Trump did [in the 2016 US election],” Schneider told Al Jazeera.

    What are the key issues?

    Many voters see access to basic services such as water and electricity, as well as finding employment, as their basic priorities.

    Ratsimbaharison cited public safety, job creation and local and foreign investment to kick-start the economy as the three main issues “for the survival of the country”.

    “Nevertheless, most of the voters just want more rice to eat, more public schools and medical facilities,” he noted.

    Despite being the leading global producer of vanilla and a major exporter of Sapphire gems to the international market, more than 76 percent of Malagasys live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, subsisting on less than $2 a day.

    The United Nations Human Development Index – which measures health, education and economic performance – ranks Madagascar 161st out of 189 countries.

    Its agriculture sector, the main source of income for most people, is vulnerable to regular weather-related disasters such as tropical storms, flooding and drought.

    Nearly 50 percent of children under the age of five are affected by malnutrition, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), making Madagascar the fifth worst affected country in the world.

    Meanwhile, fewer than eight percent of the population, about two million people, are active internet users.

    “We hope, [the new president] will be able to recover the country and to defeat its most persistent demons: poverty, corruption, impunity, bad governance,” Ketakandriana Rafitoson, director of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International’s Madagascar branch, told The Associated Press news agency.

    “Unfortunately, this looks bad because those who are likely to win these elections are the specialists and sources of these vices mentioned above … One after another, they have pushed this country into the abyss in which it is today,” Rafitoson said.

    Madagascar was ranked 155th out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s 2017 corruption perceptions index.

    Additional reporting by David Child: @DavidChild90

    Special series

    Madagascar: Return of a President

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    Utah Mayor’s Widow Says Election Day Is ‘Fitting’ for Return of His Remains

    Maj. Brent Taylor, a beloved Utah mayor and National Guard officer who deployed to Afghanistan in January, had often voiced the hope that “everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote,” his wife, Jennie Taylor, recalled on Tuesday morning at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

    Ms. Taylor traveled to the base with her two oldest sons to witness the return of her husband’s remains, carried off a military aircraft by a team of American soldiers in the early morning hours.

    “It seems only fitting that Brent, who in death now represents something so much greater than any of our own individual lives, has come home to U.S. soil in a flag-draped casket on our Election Day,” she said.

    Major Taylor, 39, was killed on Saturday in a suspected insider attack while stationed in Kabul. He was on his fourth war-zone deployment — twice to Iraq, and twice to Afghanistan — and had taken a leave of absence from his post as mayor of North Ogden, Utah, to go.

    The couple had seven children: Lincoln, 11, and Alex, 9, who were with their mother in Delaware on Tuesday, and Megan, 13; Jacob 7; Ellie, 5; Jonathan, 2; and Caroline, 11 months.

    In a letter to Ms. Taylor that was shared on Twitter, an Afghan National Army pilot, Maj. Abdul Rahman Rahmani, credited Major Taylor with changing his views on family and democracy. In the letter, Major Rahmani said he had flown on assignments with Major Taylor and had worked with him to train Afghan forces.

    “Please pass my words to your seven children, whom I consider as brothers and sisters to my own five children, Haha, Taiba, Tawab, Aqsa and What,” the letter reads. “Tell them their father was a loving, caring and compassionate man whose life was not just meaningful, it was inspirational. I gained a great deal of knowledge from him and I am a better person for having met him.”

    The Pentagon said on Monday that Major Taylor was killed and another service member wounded as a result of an “apparent insider attack,” and that the episode was under investigation. Many Americn casualties in Afghanistan in recent years have come in insider attacks.

    Major Taylor’s death has hit hard in North Ogden, the middle-class suburb north of Salt Lake City where he had been mayor since 2013. The family was told that it may take the military as long as 10 days before his body could be handed over to his family. But the city is planning to hold a vigil for him on Saturday just the same, in an amphitheater that Major Taylor had expanded into a community gathering place that staged its first musical over the summer.

    Ms. Taylor repeated her husband’s wish that Americans would head to the polls and vote on Tuesday.

    “And whether the Republicans or the Democrats win,’’ she said, “I hope that we all remember we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

    Fahim Abed contributed reporting.

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    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to make official visit to Singapore next week

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang makes a five-day official visit to Singapore next week, where he will attend the 33rd Asean Summit and related meetings, capping off a year of engagement between both countries.

    Announcing the visit at a regular press briefing on Tuesday (Nov 6), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Mr Li will hold talks with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and call on President Halimah Yacob.

    PM Lee will host an official dinner for Mr Li.

    The Chinese leader, who arrives in Singapore next Monday, will also be delivering the 44th Singapore Lecture organised by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Business China on Tuesday.

    During Mr Li’s visit, both countries are expected to ink an upgraded free trade deal, the negotiations of which were recently concluded.

    At the briefing on Tuesday, Ms Hua described China and Singapore as “good neighbours”, pointing out that Mr Li’s upcoming visit is the first by a Chinese premier in 11 years.

    She noted that both sides have established an “all-round cooperative partnership that progresses with the times”, and have carried out fruitful cooperation under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

    Mr Li’s visit, she added, is to “further enhance China and Singapore’s traditional friendship, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, and promote the development of bilateral relations in the new era”.

    Both Mr Li and PM Lee will review the successful experiences in the development of bilateral relations and plan for further future cooperation.

    On the regional front, she said China’s cooperation with Japan and South Korea has regained momentum, and that negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an Asean-led free trade pact, are accelerating.

    The three countries are among 16 nations, including Singapore, negotiating the RCEP.

    Mr Li’s visit to Singapore will play an important role in not only promoting China-Asean relations, but also cooperation in the East Asia region, said Ms Hua.

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    Ex-Guard, 94, Is Tried in Juvenile Court for Crimes at Nazi Camp

    BERLIN — A 94-year-old man who served as a guard in Hitler’s SS clutched his cane as a bailiff wheeled him into a courtroom on Tuesday for the start of his trial on charges of assisting in the murder of hundreds of the 60,000 people who perished at the Stutthof concentration camp.

    Johann Rehbogen was still a teenager when he began work as a guard at the camp, where he was stationed between June 1942 and September 1944. Because he was under the age of 21 at the time the alleged crimes were committed, the case is being tried before a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence he could face is 10 years in prison.

    The indictment lists the deaths of more than 100 Polish prisoners and at least 77 Soviet P.O.W.s, as well as “an unknown number — at least several hundred — Jewish prisoners” killed in the gas chambers or by other means during his tenure at Stutthof, located on the Baltic Sea coast near what is now the city of Gdansk in Poland.

    More than 140 mostly Jewish women and children were killed by injection of gas or phenol “straight to the heart of the individual prisoner,” while “an unknown number of prisoners died by various methods, including freezing in winter 1943-44,” according to the indictment.

    “The defendant knew of the various methods of killing, he worked to make them all made possible,” said Andreas Brendel, a prosecutor for Nazi crimes in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who read the charges to the court in Münster.

    Seventeen survivors and their families, many of whom live in the United States, Israel and Canada, have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs.

    Judy Meisel was 12 when she arrived at Stutthof. At 89, she can still remember standing naked, beside her mother, in line for the gas chamber. At the last minute, a guard indicated she could go back to the barracks. “Run, Judy, run!” her mother called to her in Yiddish. Ms. Meisel did and never saw her mother again.

    “Stutthof was organized mass murder by the SS, made possible through the help of the guards,” she said in a written statement read to the court through her lawyer.

    “He must take responsibility for what he did in Stutthof, take responsibility for participating in these unimaginable crimes against humanity,” she said. “For helping to murder my beloved mother who I missed for the rest of my life.”

    No pleas are entered in Germany, but Mr. Rehbogen said through his lawyers that he would address the court at some point in the course of the trial, which is scheduled to last into January. Because of his age, trial sessions are limited to a maximum of two hours a day for no more than two nonconsecutive days a week.

    For decades, the German justice system insisted that evidence of direct involvement in a Nazi-era crime was needed to charge a perpetrator, allowing countless low-ranking Nazis to live out their lives in peace.

    That changed after 2011, when a Munich court found John Demjanjuk guilty of accessory to murder for having served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. The court found there was no way he could have been oblivious to the killing taking place around him.

    Mr. Demjanjuk, who disputed the accusation, died before his challenge to the ruling could be heard. But in 2015, the country’s highest criminal court upheld the conviction of Oskar Gröning, a former Auschwitz guard who was found guilty on the same argument of association, solidifying the legal precedent.

    Mr. Brendel said investigators from his office studied hundreds of testimonies, as well as documents from other Nazi trials. They also flew to interview survivors, like Ms. Meisel, a resident of Minneapolis.

    “Given the structure of the camp, we believe that the guards knew what was happening,” Mr. Brendel said. “The killings, especially the gassing and burning of corpses, could not be covered up.”

    Established in 1941 as a labor camp, Stutthof later became a concentration camp. In 1944, a gas chamber was set up.

    Ms. Meisel’s grandson, Benjamin Cohen, 34, attended Tuesday’s trial as part of a documentary he is making about her life.

    “To have her statement read in court today and have her story heard by everyone in that courtroom was so monumental for her and for our family,” Mr. Cohen said. “It puts into perspective how important it is to acknowledge these crimes and never stop telling these stories.”

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    Illycaffe has no plans to sell minority stake: chairman

    MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s premium coffee maker illycaffe is not considering selling a minority stake in the family-owned company to financial investors, Chairman Andrea Illy told Reuters.

    The group is not working on any extraordinary operations, the chairman said, denying recent media reports.

    “Illycaffe is not in negotiations and is not working on any financial operations beyond ordinary management,” Andrea Illy said in a written statement.

    Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported last week that the Illy family was considering selling a minority stake in both its coffee- and non-coffee business to investors to raise funds to cope with tougher competition.

    “(The company) is not considering letting in minority financial investors,” Illy said.

    In recent months the coffee sector has seen several deals including Nestle’s NESN.N agreement to sell Starbucks’ packaged coffee and pods through its powerful distribution network around the world, including Italy.

    Family-owned Illy group includes illycaffe, which is headed by Andrea Illy, and several smaller non-coffee brands, which are managed by Andrea’s brother Riccardo.

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    Democrat O'Rourke takes on big challenge: turning Texas

    EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – In one of the biggest challenges for his party in Tuesday’s elections, Beto O’Rourke hoped to oust Republican Ted Cruz and become the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from the deeply conservative state of Texas in three decades.

    The 46-year-old former punk rocker and three-term U.S. congressman captured the national spotlight and smashed an 18-year-old fundraising record – raising $61.8 million during his campaign, almost twice his rival’s $35.1 million – but significantly trailed Cruz in opinion polls for most of the year. Recent polls showed the race tightening, although Cruz still led.

    Their paths to Senate candidacy shared a common root. O’Rourke declared his candidacy in an environment of rising liberal anger following Republican President Donald Trump’s rise to power. Cruz, 47, was first elected to the Senate in 2010 on a wave of fury in the conservative Tea Party movement over Democratic then-President Barack Obama.

    The Senate seat is seen as one of Democrats’ few opportunities to pick up one of the two seats they need to gain a majority in the chamber in Tuesday’s elections. Democrats are viewed as having a good chance of taking over the U.S. House of Representatives; if the party also controlled the Senate it could further block Trump’s agenda, notably his ability to appoint more judges to lifetime positions on the Supreme Court.

    O’Rourke, of El Paso, has embraced the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, supporting universal healthcare and expressing openness to calls to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).

    Cruz, of Houston, feuded with Trump during his unsuccessful 2016 White House run but has since embraced the president’s agenda, backing his tough immigration policies as well as his push for import tariffs aimed at lowering the U.S. trade deficit in goods. Cruz has tried to paint O’Rourke as out of step with the priorities of conservative-leaning Texans.

    “There is no race in the country with a starker divide than this U.S. Senate race here in the state of Texas,” Cruz told a cheering crowd at an October campaign rally in Plano.

    O’Rourke has tried to position himself as a more independent voice, saying in a September debate he would be “a senator who will work with the president where we can and stand up to him where we must.”

    “We want all of us, Republicans and Democrats, Independents alike to come together and do something great for this country. That’s what I’ve heard from the people of Texas over the last 22 months,” O’Rourke said on Tuesday after casting his vote in El Paso, Texas.

    In an October debate, O’Rourke used a taunt from Trump’s presidential campaign, calling his rival “Lyin’ Ted.”

    Trump, however, abandoned that nickname, calling Cruz “Beautiful Ted” at an Oct. 22 rally in Houston.

    The Democrat also dared to challenge one common orthodoxy in the state, calling for reform of gun laws, including stricter background checks and a ban on assault-style rifles. Cruz criticized O’Rourke for that in a state where guns have long been part of the culture.

    Alvaro Mangual, a 40-year-old pharmaceutical sales associate who lives in Houston and is originally from Puerto Rico, said he voted for O’Rourke despite being a registered Republican. He cited immigration as a key issue for this election.

    “Being an immigrant, I want things eased up,” said Mangual. “My wife is from Mexico. The ordeal her family went through with immigration was too much.”

    Some political analysts have suggested that O’Rourke’s fundraising success may have drawn donations away from Democratic incumbent senators in other states.

    Some 10 such incumbents are up for re-election on Tuesday in states that Trump carried in 2016, and the party can ill afford for any of them to lose if it wants a chance of gaining a Senate majority.

    National attention and strong fundraising is no guarantee of success for a Texas Democrat. Former state Senator Wendy Davis leveraged her fame from an ultimately unsuccessful filibuster against a restrictive abortion law into a high-profile 2014 gubernatorial race – which she lost to Republican Greg Abbott.

    Texas last elected a Democratic U.S. senator in 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won his fourth six-year term in office. Bentsen stepped down in 1993 to become Treasury secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Five months later, the Democrat appointed by then-Governor Ann Richards to succeed Bentsen was voted out in a special election.

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    Oil prices drop over 1 percent on Iran sanctions waivers

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Tuesday, with U.S. crude futures sliding to an eight-month low, a day after Washington granted sanction waivers to top buyers of Iranian oil and as Iran said it had so far been able to sell as much oil as it needs to sell.

    Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell $1.04 to settle at $72.13 a barrel, a 1.42 percent loss. The global benchmark hit a session low of $71.18 a barrel, lowest since Aug. 16.

    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell 89 cents, or 1.41 percent, to settle at $62.21 a barrel. The session low was $61.31 a barrel, the weakest since March 16.

    Iran said it had so far been able to sell as much oil as it needs and urged European countries opposed to U.S. sanctions to do more to shield Iran.

    The United States on Monday restored sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transport sectors and threatened more action. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington aimed to bring Iranian oil exports to zero, but 180-day exemptions were granted to eight importers: China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey.

    This group takes as much as three-quarters of Iran’s seaborne oil exports, trade data shows, meaning the Islamic Republic will still be allowed to export some oil for now.

    Industry estimates suggest Iran’s oil exports have fallen 40 to 60 percent since Trump said in May he would reimpose sanctions. However, exemptions could allow exports to rise again after November.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the country, a top importer of Iranian oil, would not abide by the sanctions, which he said were aimed at “unbalancing the world.”

    “While the Iranian sanctions should still be viewed as a latent bullish consideration capable of limiting much additional price slippage, it would appear that the Iranian factor alone will not be capable of spurring higher prices without major assistance from a renewed strengthening in the equities, sustainable weakening in the U.S. dollar or a significant cut back in OPEC production,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, said in a note.

    Concerns about oil demand weighed on prices. The trade dispute between the United States and China threatens growth in the world’s two biggest economies and currency weakness is pressuring economies in Asia.

    On the supply side, U.S. crude oil production is expected to average 12.06 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, passing the 12 million bpd milestone sooner than expected on surging domestic shale output, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Tuesday.

    Market participants awaited industry data on U.S. crude stockpiles due to be released at 4:30 p.m. EST. Official government data will be released Wednesday.

    Output is rising from the world’s top three producers. Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia combined produced more than 33 million bpd for the first time in October, enough to meet more than a third of the world’s almost 100 million bpd of crude oil consumption.

    Top crude exporter Saudi Arabia has cut the December price for its Arab Light grade for Asian customers.

    Hedge fund managers were net sellers of petroleum-linked futures and options last week.

    Morgan Stanley on Tuesday lowered its price forecast for Brent, saying the global benchmark will stay at $77.5 per barrel to mid-2019.

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