Day: September 24, 2022

Storm Fiona ravages Canada’s east coast, causing ‘terrifying’ destruction

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Commodities 11 hours ago (Sep 24, 2022 06:34PM ET)

Storm Fiona ravages Canada's east coast, causing 'terrifying' destruction© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Francis Bruhm, Project Manager for general contractor G&R Kelly, places sandbags around the doors of the Nova Scotia Power building before the arrival of Hurricane Fiona in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada September 23, 2022. REUTERS/Ingrid Bulme

By Eric Martyn and John Morris

STEPHENVILLE, Newfoundland (Reuters) – Powerful storm Fiona ripped into eastern Canada on Saturday with hurricane-force winds, forcing evacuations, knocking down trees and powerlines, and reducing many homes on the coast to “just a pile of rubble in the ocean.”

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the center of the storm, downgraded to Post-Tropical Cyclone Fiona, was now in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and losing some steam. The NHC canceled hurricane and tropical storm warnings for the region.

Port aux Basques, on the southwest tip of Newfoundland with a population of 4,067, bore the brunt of the storm’s rage.

The mayor was forced to declare a state of emergency and evacuated parts of the town that suffered flooding and road washouts.

Several homes and an apartment building were dragged out to sea, Rene Roy, editor-in-chief of Wreckhouse Weekly in Port aux Basques, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“This is hands down the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Roy said, describing many homes as “just a pile of rubble in the ocean right now.”

“There is an apartment building that’s literally gone. There are entire streets that are gone,” he added. Police are investigating whether a woman had been swept to sea, CBC reported.

“We’ve gone through a very difficult morning,” Button said in a Facebook (NASDAQ:) video, adding that the evacuations had been completed. “We’ll get through this. I promise you we will get through it.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met on Saturday morning with members of a government emergency response team, and later told reporters that the armed forces would be deployed to help with the clean up.

“We’re seeing reports of significant damage in the region, and recovery is going to be a big effort,” Trudeau said. “We will be there to support every step of the way.”

Trudeau had delayed his planned Saturday departure for Japan to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but said he now would no longer make the trip. Instead he said he would visit the storm-damaged region as soon as possible.

Federal assistance has already been approved for Nova Scotia, Trudeau said, and more requests are expected.

Fiona, which nearly a week ago battered Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, killed at least eight and knocked out power for virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million people during a sweltering heat wave.

Fiona made landfall between Canso and Guysborough, Nova Scotia, where the Canadian Hurricane Centre said it recorded what may have been the lowest barometric pressure of any storm to hit land in the country’s history.

Ian Hubbard, meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre, told Reuters it appears Fiona lived up to expectations that it would be a “historical” storm.

“It did look like it had the potential to break the all-time record in Canada, and it looks like it did,” he said. “We’re still not out of this yet.”

Storms are not uncommon in the region and typically cross over rapidly, but Fiona is expected to impact a very large area.

While scientists have not yet determined whether climate change influenced Fiona’s strength or behavior, there is strong evidence that these devastating storms are getting worse.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS WITHOUT POWER

Some 69% of customers, or 360,720 were without power in Nova Scotia, and 95%, or more than 82,000, had lost power on Prince Edward Island, utility companies said. Police across the region reported multiple road closures. The region was also experiencing spotty mobile phone service.

Mobile and Wifi provider Rogers (NYSE:) Communications Inc said it was aware of outages caused by Fiona, and that crews would work to restore service “as quickly as possible.”

PEI produces more than a fifth of Canada’s potatoes and the island’s potato farms, which are in harvest season, were likely to be impacted by the storm, Hubbard said.

“This morning we all woke up to some very scary scenes, roads washed down, uprooted trees, mail boxes where they are not supposed to be,” Darlene Compton, deputy premier of PEI, told reporters, saying it had been a “nerve wracking” night.

In Halifax, 11 boats sank at the Shearwater Yacht Club and four were grounded, said Elaine Keene, who has a boat at the club that escaped damage.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said no injuries or fatalities had been reported so far, and officials from both PEI and Nova Scotia said the same.

The storm weakened somewhat as it traveled north. By 5 pm in Halifax (2100 GMT), it was over the Gulf of St. Lawrence about 80 miles (130 km) northwest of Port aux Basques, carrying maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 kph), the NHC said.

(Reporting Eric Martyn in Halifax and John Morris in Stephenville; Additional reporting by Ivelisse Rivera in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, and Denny Thomas in Toronto; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)

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Britain’s new vision leaves onlookers with nightmares

Britain's new vision leaves onlookers with nightmares© Reuters. British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng visit Berkeley Modular, in Northfleet, Kent, Britain, September 23, 2022. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/Pool

By Andy Bruce and Lindsay (NYSE:) Dunsmuir

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s new economic agenda represents the biggest gamble for growth in a major Western democracy in at least 40 years, for which the chance of success fell instantly as investors ditched sterling assets.

Prime Minister Liz Truss’s “Growth Plan” is Britain’s second roll of the dice at economic renewal following the 2016 vote for Brexit which, so far at least, has failed to yield returns.

Investors reacted with dismay to the combination of free spending, unfunded tax cuts and huge increases in government borrowing announced by finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday.

His statement marked a step change in British economic policy, harking back to the Thatcherite and Reaganomics doctrines of the 1980s that critics have derided as a return to “trickle down” theory.

The pound crashed below $1.09 for the first time since 1985 and British government bonds suffered the biggest daily fall in decades.

International observers looked on with bewilderment, even if business groups at home saw merit in many of the plans outlined by Kwarteng, who says low growth is the real gamble.

“I’ve rarely seen an economic policy that is as uniformly panned by economic experts and financial markets,” said Harvard professor Jason Furman, former chair of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers during Barack Obama’s presidency.

“It shockingly came in below the low expectations that almost everyone had,” he added.

Willem Buiter, a former Bank of England rate-setter and Citi’s chief global economist until 2018, said Kwarteng’s plans to ramp up borrowing were “totally, totally nuts”.

“From a cyclical perspective it is, I think, a disaster,” Buiter said, adding that he had no objection in principle to tax cuts for firms and households with a better fiscal balance.

“It’s probably the epitome of casino macroeconomics,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, nonresident senior fellow with the Washington- based Peterson Institute for International Economics think tank.

In Germany, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Guntram Wolff said Truss’s plans amounted to a “Singapore-on-Thames” attempt to deregulate Britain’s economy and boost the City of London.

“The economy has more than the City… It is no surprise that pound sterling has lost today,” he said.

SLOWLY, THEN ALL AT ONCE

On Thursday Kwarteng said his plans to grow the economy would “build stronger capacity to alleviate inflationary pressure”.

On Friday, those plans sparked a market meltdown that will only exacerbate inflation in the months, and possibly years ahead – automatically raising the bar for the eventual success of Kwarteng’s plan.

U.S. investment bank Citi said sterling risked a confidence crisis among international investors.

“The risk now is that the UK government has diminished its credibility at one stroke, and you saw that with the market runoffs,” said Dan Hamilton, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank.

The collapse in investor sentiment leaves Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey with a serious problem.

“Fiscal and monetary policy are now at war with each other in the UK,” Furman said.

Hamilton agreed, adding that this tension was not evident in other major economies.

In financial markets, a small number of analysts predict that the BoE will be forced to raise interest rates before its next interest rate meeting.

“I think if you if you were Andrew Bailey and you were looking just at the detail of the market moves, you would already have called an emergency meeting,” said Kirkegaard.

HISTORY LESSONS

Buiter said he could think of few historical parallels for Britain’s new fiscal approach, even if there were superficial similarities with the tax-cutting Thatcher years.

Britain’s Institute for Fiscal Studies compared Kwarteng’s statement to a budget in 1972 that similarly sought to double Britain’s rate of economic growth, but is widely remembered as a disaster for its inflationary effect.

Furman doubted that Truss would be able to implement her plans before running into some economic hard truths, as happened to Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

The U.S. Republican president was forced to U-turn on a major tax-cutting drive as the U.S. Federal Reserve jacked up interest rates.

Furman said Truss might also have no choice but to undo some of her plans if Britain’s debt problems start to spiral because of higher interest rates.

“Sometimes a country’s hand is forced,” he said.

($1 = 0.9111 pound)

Inflation, spending cuts undermine Biden’s hunger policy

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Economic Indicators 11 hours ago (Sep 24, 2022 07:06AM ET)

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Inflation, spending cuts undermine Biden's hunger policy© Reuters. People get free groceries at nourishing hope food pantry in Chicago, Illinois, U.S, August 29, 2022. REUTERS/Eric Cox

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By Christopher Walljasper

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Grace Melt made her first visit to the Nourishing Hope food pantry on Chicago’s North Side in August. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she used food stamps issued by the federal government to buy groceries while out of work for a knee injury.

But this summer, the food stamps couldn’t keep up with the grocery store’s rising prices, sending her in search of a food donation for the first time.

“It’s definitely not enough. It never lasts ’til the end of the month,” she said of the food stamp benefits. “And now they’ve increased prices… So now you have to resort to coming here to a food pantry, to fill in.”

Rising hunger is a problem for U.S. President Joe Biden as he gears up to host the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in more than 50 years and pledges to eliminate hunger in the United States by 2030. Voters may punish his Democratic Party for inflation in November’s mid-term elections in a year the economy has been top of mind for voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The Biden administration increased funding for food stamps nearly a year ago, but at the same time has purchased about half as much food as the Trump administration did in 2020, for food banks, schools and indigenous reservations, according to data obtained from a U.S. Agriculture Department(USDA) source.

Escalating food prices are eroding the reach of food stamps, which average around $231 per person per month in 2022, according to USDA data, sending more people to food banks, that are in turn receiving less food from the government.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food at home climbed to 13.5% year-over-year in August, the largest 12-month increase since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices have been near record highs globally since Russia’s invasion of major grains producer Ukraine.

Hunger rates this summer also rose to levels not seen since early in the pandemic when lockdowns threw supply chains into chaos.

“This is a problem that started to get better in 2021 and then rapidly got worse,” said Vince Hall, Chief Government Relations Officer for Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks. “Most of America’s food banks are seeing the lines grow with each passing week.”

Some advocates argued for spending more on food stamps or cash distribution, which give people more choice than food handouts and also benefit local businesses. A Trump administration food box program was criticized as inefficient and ended by the Biden administration, which also put cash in families’ pockets through expanded child tax credit payments until they expired last December.

Food insufficiency for families with children climbed to 16.21% by July 11, when nearly 1 in 6 families reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the highest since December 2020. Hunger among children had fallen to a pandemic-low of 9.49% in August 2021, due in part to the child tax credit payments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

‘WE JUST MAKE DO’

Hunger eased in 2021 after both the Trump and Biden administrations distributed pandemic-benefit payments for families to purchase groceries, delivered billions of pounds of emergency food boxes and sent out monthly child tax credit payments. [L1N2QG1LZ]

But as pandemic restrictions eased, so did the appetite for congress and some states to fund hunger prevention efforts.

In fiscal year 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $8.38 billion on nearly 4.29 billion pounds of food bound for food pantries, schools and indigenous reservations. But food spending dropped steadily by nearly 42% from 2020 to 2022, poised to reach $3.49 billion, the lowest since 2018. The agency bought just 2.43 billion pounds of food in the last year, according to the data acquired by Reuters.

The USDA endeavored to offset the fall in outright food purchases with additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, adding nearly $31 billion from 2020 to 2022. But that additional aid has been limited by higher food costs, states letting emergency pandemic declarations expire and strict criteria on who qualifies.

James Carvelli, who works in construction, said the Nourishing Hope food pantry keeps him fed when work is slow. He doesn’t qualify for food stamps, and has noticed when the pantry runs low on some items.

“We just make do – They’ve got what they got, and I appreciate it,” he said.

The USDA recently announced it will purchase an additional $943 million in food through 2024, using Commodity Credit Corporation funds, normally set aside for loans and payments to U.S. farmers to offset disasters or low commodity prices. The added funds still leave the USDA poised to spend less on food in the coming years than in 2020 and 2021, despite ongoing need.

Asked to comment, the Agriculture Department pointed to a drastic cut in pandemic funding authorized by Congress that limited the agency’s spending power for food banks and schools, many of which have canceled summer meal programs.

Hall, of Feeding America, lamented the cutting of some additional food assistance measures from the $430 billion Inflation Reduction Act signed into law in August, including investment in child nutrition and a permanent summer EBT program, a benefit designed to fill the gap when school meals are not available.

“There were things in earlier versions of this bill… that were extraordinarily important priorities for fighting hunger, that unfortunately were not in the final version,” he said.

SLIM PICKINGS

This year, the USDA is on track to buy just over half the food it purchased during the height of the pandemic, while donations from grocery stores and food distributors have waned as businesses tighten supply chains and minimize waste.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository, one of the nation’s largest distributors of food to local food pantries, expects this year to get just over a third of the food it received from the USDA during the 2021 fiscal year (July 2020 to June 2021).

While food supplies shrink, inflation is pushing more Americans toward food pantries for the first time. Chicago-area food pantries saw an 18% increase in visitors in July, versus a year earlier, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

In October of 2021, the USDA increased food stamp allotments by updating the Thrifty Food Plan, the agency’s measure of a basket of household grocery items. Food stamp benefits for fiscal year 2022 are on track to reach $114.9 billion, down slightly from 2021 but 36.87% more than in 2020. Food stamps made up less than 2% of U.S. government spending in 2022, according to U.S. Treasury data.

But 18 states that have ended emergency declarations have seen a reduction in SNAP monthly allocation per person, effectively forgoing the additional food stamp funding, according to a Reuters analysis of USDA data.

In August 2022, the agency announced a cost-of-living adjustment beginning Oct. 1, increasing maximum monthly SNAP allotments for a family of four from $835 to $939 a month.

But many who visit food pantries still work or are on social security, disqualifying them from food stamps, like Michael Sukowski, a retired college administration employee whose SNAP benefits were cut due to a monthly pension he receives from the state.

“Social security and a small pension of $153 a month. It doesn’t go very far,” he said. “Half of that goes to paying my rent. Then there’s utilities.”

Nourishing Hope food pantry, which has seen a 40% increase in visitors this year, and other food pantries are now purchasing more food at higher costs. That’s led to inconsistent supplies of staples such as bread, meat and cheese.

“The pickings were slim, so to speak. But I’m grateful I got some stuff,” said Melt as she packed her food items into a pushcart, preparing for a bus ride home.

“Sometimes you have to come to a place like this. Sometimes you have nothing,” she said.

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Russia holds votes in occupied parts of Ukraine; Kyiv says residents coerced

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World 3 hours ago (Sep 24, 2022 02:57PM ET)

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Russia holds votes in occupied parts of Ukraine; Kyiv says residents coerced© Reuters. Members of the local electoral commission gather at a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

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(Refiles to remove extraneous word from headline)

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) – Russia launched referendums on Friday aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, drawing condemnation from Kyiv and Western nations who dismissed the votes as a sham and pledged not to recognise their results.

Ukrainian officials said people were banned from leaving some occupied areas until the four-day vote was over, armed groups were going into homes, and employees were threatened with the sack if they did not participate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a nightly address that the votes would be “unequivocally condemned” by the world, along with the mobilisation Russia began this week, including in Crimea and other areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia.

“These are not just crimes against international law and Ukrainian law, these are crimes against specific people, against a nation,” Zelenskiy said.

The votes on becoming part of Russia were hastily-organised after Ukraine recaptured large swathes of the northeast in a counter-offensive earlier this month.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin also announcing a military draft this week to enlist 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin appears to be trying to regain the upper hand in the grinding conflict since its Feb. 24 invasion.

Zelenskiy also addressed people in parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia, and said they should resist efforts to mobilise them to fight.

“Hide from Russian mobilisation in any way you can. Avoid draft orders. Try to move to the territory of free Ukraine,” he said, urging those who did end up in the Russian armed forces to “sabotage,” “interfere” and pass on intelligence to Ukraine.

By incorporating the four areas, Moscow could portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself – potentially using that to justify even a nuclear response.

Putin and other Russian officials have mentioned nuclear weapons as an option in extremis: a terrifying prospect in a war that has already killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted millions and pummelled the global economy.

Voting in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the east and southeast, representing about 15% of Ukrainian territory, was due to run from Friday to Tuesday.

“Today, the best thing for the people of Kherson would be not to open their doors,” said Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced first deputy council chairman of Kherson region.

In the Donetsk region, the turnout on Friday was 23.6%, Tass cited a local official as saying. Over 20.5% of voters eligible to vote in the Zaporizhzhia region and 15% of those in the Kherson region voted on Friday, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing local electoral officials.

“In our view, that’s enough for the first day of voting,” the head of Kherson’s Russian-installed election commission, Marina Zakharova, was quoted as saying.

Polling stations were also set up in Moscow, for residents of those regions now living in Russia. Flag-waving government supporters attended rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg in favour of the referendums and the war effort.

‘TOTAL VIOLATION’

Serhiy Gaidai, Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, said that in the town of Starobilsk, the population was banned from leaving and people were being forced out of homes to vote.

In the town of Bilovodsk, a company director told employees voting was compulsory and anyone refusing to take part would be fired and their names given to security services, he added.

Reuters could not immediately verify reports of coercion.

Ukraine, Western leaders and the United Nations condemned the votes as an illegitimate precursor to illegal annexation. There are no independent observers, and much of the pre-war population has fled.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in Ottawa, decried the “fake referendums” and said Russia “is now in total violation of the UN Charter, of its principles, of its values, of everything that the UN stands for.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance would step up support for Ukraine in response to the referendums.

“We will never recognise these referenda which appear to be a step toward Russian annexation and we will never recognise purported annexation if it occurs,” added the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies.

Moscow says they offer an opportunity for people in the region to express their view.

Denis Pushilin, head of the Russia-backed separatist Donetsk region, said Kyiv’s “propaganda” about violations was aimed at a Western audience, Tass reported.

CRIMEA PRECEDENT

Russia previously used a referendum as a pretext for annexation in Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, which the international community has not recognised.

Putin maintains Russia is carrying out a “special military operation” to demilitarise Ukraine, rid it of dangerous nationalists and defend Russia from transatlantic alliance NATO.

Ostracised by most European leaders, Putin drew some rare sympathy from long-time friend Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier, who said he had been “pushed” into the invasion to try and put “decent people” in charge of Kyiv.

However, Ukraine and the West say the war is an unprovoked, imperialist bid to reconquer a country that shook off Russian domination with the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

A U.N.-mandated investigation commission said it had found evidence of war crimes including executions, rape, torture and confinement of children in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, after visits to 27 areas and interviews with over 150 victims and witnesses.

Russia denies targeting civilians and says abuse accusations are a smear campaign.

On the battlefield, Ukraine said it had downed four Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones over the sea near the port of Odesa. Ukraine issued a rebuke to Tehran for providing the weapons to Russia and said it would strip Iran’s ambassador of accreditation and slash the number of Iranian diplomats in Kyiv.

At the borders, Russians kept leaving to avoid the military draft. “We don’t support what is happening now. We don’t want to be a part of it,” said Slava, 29, with her partner Evgeniy at a crossing into Finland where traffic has surged.

In one poor rural area, a woman chafed at a call-up – for her dead brother.

(The story refiles to remove extraneous word from headline.)

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Hedge funds dashed to exit energy positions last week – data

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Economy 16 hours ago (Sep 24, 2022 11:20AM ET)

Hedge funds dashed to exit energy positions last week - data© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oil field in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

(This Sept 23 story corrects to remove paragraph 7 to take out quote, no other changes to text)

By Nell Mackenzie

LONDON (Reuters) – Hedge funds around the world fled positions in energy stocks, bonds and futures last week just in time to miss this week’s whipsaw moves in oil, according to data from two banks.

Funds dropped their long and short positions in energy stocks, bonds and futures in the week ending Sept. 16 “more than any other time in recent months”, and more than any other sector of the economy in the last 20 days, according to notes by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:) and JP Morgan respectively.

It could be a sign that hedge funds, which often discover trading ideas from market trends, are finding it too tough to bring in the kind of paydays they received from the surge in oil prices earlier this year.

The move in positions in energy came just before oil jumped nearly 3% on Wednesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an escalation of the war in Ukraine and then slid almost 4% on news that and gas supplies had risen in the United States.

And on Friday, oil prices hit their lowest since January as recession fears gripped world markets. is still up about 12% in the year to date.

Hedge funds that trade with systematically programmed algorithms did not necessarily short the market but rather, vacated their positions because of a lack of any trend in the prices of oil, gas and other energy products, said David Gorton, the founder and chief investment officer of DG Partners, with $2.85 billion under management.

“Our commodities exposure is the lowest it’s been in years. In June, markets reversed hard and commodities have been chopping down and sideways ever since. For a trend follower that’s a nightmare and why the model got out,” said Gorton.

DG Partners is up 5.2% so far this month and 37% for the year, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The momentum that fueled a stable upward rise in oil prices has changed, said another manager who oversees more than $100 billion and for compliance reasons wished to remain anonymous.

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Iran will act decisively after biggest protests in years, president says

Iran will act decisively after biggest protests in years, president says© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic’s “morality police”, in Tehran, Iran September 21, 2022. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday.

At least 41 people have been killed in the week-long unrest, state television said on Saturday. It said that toll was based on its own count and official figures were yet to be released. Protests have erupted in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

State media quoted Raisi on Saturday as saying Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity.”

Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The president “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events … a riot,” state media reported.

The protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention in Tehran by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.

Her death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women, and an economy reeling from sanctions.

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest.

In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini’s photograph and chanting “death to the dictator,” referring to Khamenei.

State television in Iran, which has accused armed exiled Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had fired artillery on bases of Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

‘DEADLY RESPONSE’

At least three times this week, mobile Internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.

On Saturday NetBlocks said Microsoft (NASDAQ:)’s Skype video calling app was now restricted, the latest such measure after platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn were targeted.

In an effort to help sustain internet connection, the United States is making exceptions to its sanctions regime on Iran – a move which Tehran said on Saturday was in line with Washington’s hostile stance.

Rights group Amnesty International said protesters face a “spiralling deadly response from security forces” and called for an independent United Nations investigation.

On the night of Sept. 21, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including three children, it said.

“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” Amnesty said.

State television showed footage purporting to show calm had returned to many parts of the capital Tehran late on Friday.

“But in some western and northern areas of Tehran and certain provinces rioters destroyed public property,” it said, carrying footage of protesters setting fire to garbage bins and a car, marching, and throwing rocks.

The activist Twitter (NYSE:) account 1500tasvir carried videos of protests in Tehran’s western district of Sattarkhan showing protesters gathered at a square chanting “don’t be afraid we all in this together” late on Saturday with a motorcycle apparently belonging to riot police burning in the background.

A video posted on social media showed a demonstration in the northern city of Babol with youths trying to take off portraits of Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, at the gate of a university while bystanders cheered them on and shouted “death to the dictator.”

Videos posted on social media showed continued protests in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, late on Saturday, despite a heavy police presence. Reuters could not verify the videos.

Pfizer CEO tests positive for COVID for a second time

Stock Markets 10 hours ago (Sep 24, 2022 05:20PM ET)

Pfizer CEO tests positive for COVID for a second time© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer attends a discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) -Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m feeling well and symptom free,” Bourla said in a statement.

Bourla, 60, back in August had contacted COVID and had started a course of the company’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid.

Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is used to treat high-risk people, such as older patients.

Bourla has received four doses of the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer (NYSE:) and its German partner BioNTech.

The chief executive said he has not yet taken the new bivalent booster.

Developed by Moderna (NASDAQ:) and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech, the new so-called bivalent shots aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which make up 84.8% and 1.8%, respectively, of all circulating variants in the United States, based on latest data.

“I’ve not had the new bivalent booster yet, as I was following CDC guidelines to wait three months since my previous COVID case which was back in mid-August,” Bourla added.

In August, the FDA authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s updated booster shots that target the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.

A federal health agency said this week that over 25 million doses of the so-called bivalent shots had been sent out. That consisted of mostly the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as production of the Moderna vaccine ramps up.

Complaints about Russia’s chaotic mobilisation grow louder

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Complaints about Russia's chaotic mobilisation grow louder© Reuters. A Russian law enforcement officer detains a person during a rally, after opposition activists called for street protests against the mobilisation of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia September 24, 2022. REUTERS/REUTERS PHOT

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By Kevin Liffey

LONDON (Reuters) -The strongly pro-Kremlin editor of Russia’s state-run RT news channel expressed anger on Saturday that enlistment officers were sending call-up papers to the wrong men, as frustration about a military mobilisation grew.

Wednesday’s announcement of Russia’s first public mobilisation since World War Two, to shore up its faltering Ukraine war, has triggered a rush for the border, the arrests of over 1,000 protesters, and unease in the wider population.

It is also attracting criticism from the Kremlin’s own official supporters, something almost unheard of in Russia since the invasion began.

“It has been announced that privates can be recruited up to the age of 35. Summonses are going to 40-year-olds,” the RT editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, railed on her Telegram channel.

“They’re infuriating people, as if on purpose, as if out of spite. As if they’d been sent by Kyiv.”

In another rare sign of turmoil, the defence ministry said that the deputy minister in charge of logistics, General Dmitry Bulgakov, had been replaced “for transfer to another role” with Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, a long-time army official.

Mizintsev, under UK, European Union and Australian sanctions, has been referred to by the EU as the “Butcher of Mariupol” for his role in orchestrating a siege of the Ukrainian port early in the war that killed thousands of civilians.

Russia appears set to formally annex a swathe of Ukrainian territory next week, according to Russia’s main news agencies. This follows so-called referendums in four occupied regions of Ukraine that began on Friday. Kyiv and the West have denounced the votes as a sham and said outcomes in favour of annexation are pre-determined.

MORE THAN 740 ARRESTS

For the mobilisation effort, officials have said 300,000 troops are needed, with priority given to people with recent military experience and vital skills. The Kremlin denies reports by two foreign-based Russian news outlets that the real target is more than 1 million.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy – who has repeatedly urged Russians not to fight – said pro-Moscow authorities knew they were sending people to their deaths.

“Running away from this criminal mobilization is better than being maimed and then having to answer in court for having taken part in an aggressive war,” he said in Russian in a video address on Saturday.

Russia officially counts millions of former conscripts as reservists – most of the male population of fighting age – and Wednesday’s decree announcing the “partial mobilisation” gave no criteria for who would be called up.

Reports have surfaced of men with no military experience or past draft age receiving call-up papers, adding to outrage that has revived dormant – and banned – anti-war demonstrations.

More than 1,300 protesters were arrested in 38 towns on Wednesday, and on Saturday evening more than 740 were detained in over 30 towns and cities from St. Petersburg to Siberia, according to the independent monitoring group OVD-Info.

Reuters images from St. Petersburg showed police in helmets and riot gear pinning protesters to the ground and kicking one of them before carrying them into vans.

Earlier, the head of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, announced he had written to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu with a request to “urgently resolve” problems.

His Telegram posting criticised the way exemptions were being applied and listed cases of inappropriate enlistment including nurses and midwives with no military experience.

“Some (recruiters) hand over the call-up papers at 2 a.m., as if they think we’re all draft dodgers,” he said.

‘CANNON FODDER’

On Friday, the defence ministry listed some sectors in which employers could nominate staff for exemptions.

There has been a particular outcry among ethnic minorities in remote, poor areas in Siberia, where Russia’s professional armed forces have long recruited disproportionately.

Since Wednesday, people have queued for hours to cross into Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Georgia, scared Russia might close its borders, although the Kremlin says reports of an exodus are exaggerated.

Asked by reporters at the United Nations on Saturday why so many Russians were leaving, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to the right of freedom of movement.

The governor of Buryatia, a region which adjoins Mongolia and is home to an ethnic Mongol minority, acknowledged some had wrongly received papers and said those without military experience or who had medical exemptions would be exempt.

On Saturday, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia until 2017 and now head of the World Mongol Federation, promised those fleeing the draft, especially three Russian Mongol groups, a warm welcome, and bluntly called on Putin to end the war.

“The Buryat Mongols, Tuva Mongols, and Kalmyk Mongols have … been used as nothing more than cannon fodder,” he said in a video, wearing a ribbon in Ukrainian yellow-and-blue.

“Today you are fleeing brutality, cruelty, and likely death. Tomorrow you will start freeing your country from dictatorship.”

The mobilisation, and the hasty organisation of the votes in occupied territories, came soon after a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region this month – Moscow’s sharpest reverse of the war.

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Zelenskiy says he is shocked by Israel’s failure to give Ukraine weapons

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Zelenskiy says he is shocked by Israel's failure to give Ukraine weapons© Reuters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses Ukrainians about the prisoners of war (POWs) swap, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 22, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via RE

(Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was “in shock” at Israel’s failure to give Kyiv anti-missile systems to help counter Russian attacks, according to an interview made public on Saturday.

Zelenskiy has been asking for the weapons since shortly after the war started in February. He has mentioned Israel’s Iron Dome system, often used to intercept rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

“I don’t know what happened to Israel. I’m honestly, frankly – I am in shock, because I don’t understand why they couldn’t give us air defences,” he said.

Zelenskiy made the remarks in an interview with French reporters on Wednesday. His office released a recording of the interview on Saturday.

Zelenskiy’s comments were stronger than those he made in March, when he chided Israel for its reluctance to send weapons. At the time, Israel was non-committal, saying it would help Ukraine as much as it could.

Israel, which has condemned the Russian invasion, is wary of straining ties with Moscow, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria where Israeli forces frequently attack pro-Iranian militia.

“I understand – they have a difficult situation, regarding the situation with Syria and Russia,” Zelenskiy said, adding that he was not making accusations.

“I am stating the facts. My conversations with the Israeli leadership have done nothing to help Ukraine.”

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N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of U.S. VP Harris visit

N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of U.S. VP Harris visit© Reuters.

By Jihoon Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and U.S. forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyan Province just before 7 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 miles) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach 5.

“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

After the launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and the U.S. Forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera discussed the situation and reaffirmed their readiness to respond to any threat or provocation from North Korea, it added.

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss response measures and condemned the launch as an apparent violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and an unjustifiable act of provocation.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who arrived in Seoul late on Saturday from a trip to Britain, the United States and Canada, was briefed on the launch, the presidential office said.

Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached maximum altitude at 50 km and may have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of problems with shipping or air traffic.

Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defences by manoeuvring during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.

“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.

“North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.

The U.S. Indo-pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming U.S. commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan.

“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

JOINT DRILLS

The launch comes after the arrival of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korea to participate in joint drills with South Korean forces for four days from Sept. 26 to 29, and ahead of a planned visit to Seoul this week by Harris.

It was the first time the North carried out such a launch after firing eight short-range ballistic missiles in one day in early June, which led the United States to call for more sanctions for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects U.N. resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self defence and space exploration, and has criticized previous joint drills by the United States and South Korea as proof of their hostile policies.

The drills have also been criticised by Russia and China, which have called on all sides not to take steps that raise tensions in the region, and have called for an easing of sanctions.

After North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests this year, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time since 2017, the United States and South Korea said they would boost joint drills and military displays of power to deter Pyongyang.

“Defense exercises are not going to prevent North Korean missile tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international affairs professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

But U.S.-South Korea security cooperation helps to deter a North Korean attack and counter Pyongyang’s coercion, and the allies should not let provocations stop them from conducting military training and exchanges needed to maintain the alliance, he added.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday that North Korea may also be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), citing the South’s military.

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