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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Japan’s Abe becomes longest serving PM as scandal allegations persist

November 20, 2019

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became Japan’s longest-serving premier on Wednesday, a remarkable feat for a leader who once quit in humiliation, but the day was marred by questions about possible election law violations and worries about the economy.

Abe, 65, who served his first term for just one year before quitting in 2007, made a comeback in December 2012, promising a stronger military and a revamped economy while aiming to revise Japan’s post-war, pacifist constitution.

Pointing to such challenges as Japan’s ageing population and constitutional revision – a divisive topic – Abe vowed to push ahead in the last two years of his term as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader, which ends in September 2021.

“I want to tackle policy issues with my heart and soul, with a sense of treading on thin ice and staying on my toes, not forgetting the spirit with which I began,” Abe told reporters.

Abe has won relatively high marks for his diplomacy. His warm ties with U.S. President Donald Trump may have averted worst-case scenarios in trade feuds, although scant progress has been made on a territorial row with Russia and relations with South Korea are frigid.

Wednesday marked Abe’s 2,887th day in office over his two stints as prime minister. That broke the record set by Taro Katsura more than a century ago.

Abe has led his ruling coalition to six national election victories since returning, surviving allegations of cronyism and scandals over falsified data by bureaucrats.

Those victories were aided by a fragmented opposition and unpleasant memories of the rocky 2009-2012 rule by the novice Democratic Party of Japan.

But since a cabinet reshuffle in September, two ministers – both close allies of Abe – have resigned over allegations of election campaign law violations.

Now Abe is under fire over accusations he not only favored supporters with invites to a state-funded cherry blossom viewing party but may have broken campaign laws by subsidizing backers’ attendance at a reception the night before.

Abe has denied wrongdoing. On Wednesday, he said that it was up to the public to assess his accountability but that he would answer more questions in parliament.

A Nov. 16-17 Asahi newspaper poll showed 68% weren’t convinced by his explanations, though support was steady at 44%.

Concerns the economy is headed for recession also cloud Abe’s future. Japan’s exports tumbled at their quickest pace in three years in October amid weakening demand from the United States and China.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Nadal sparks Spanish comeback, Canada into last eight

November 20, 2019

By Martyn Herman

MADRID (Reuters) – Shortly before midnight on Tuesday in Madrid’s La Caja Magica, Rafa Nadal punched the air as chants of “Rafa, Rafa” echoed around the arena and the Davis Cup Finals burst into life.

After generally disappointing attendances so far at the glitzy new version of the 119-year-old competition, a sell-out crowd in the cavernous 12,500-seat stadium roared the world number one to a 6-3 7-6(7) win over Russia’s Karen Khachanov.

While the reaction to Nadal’s victory sounded like Spain had won the old trophy for a sixth time it actually just leveled the Group B tie at 1-1.

The victory would come shortly before 2 a.m. when veteran duo Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers beat Khachanov and Andrey Rublev 6-4 7-6 to clinch a 2-1 win.

With Russia having beaten defending champions Croatia 3-0 on Monday there was some anxiety on the Spain bench when Rublev surged back to beat Wimbledon semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6 6-3 7-6(0) and put them ahead.

That left the 33-year-old Nadal with no margin for error against dangerous world number 17 Khachanov. But if ever there is a man for a crisis it is Nadal.

He had won his last 24 Davis Cup singles rubbers since losing on his debut in 2004 and was not about to stop now — not on home soil with his country depending on him.

Khachanov stretched him to breaking point at times, especially in the second set, but the 19-times Grand Slam champion fought off a set point before claiming victory.

Afterwards he said the new format, with ties consisting of three rubbers rather than the traditional five, made things dangerous for the fancied nations.

“The format makes things very difficult because every mistake puts you in a position that you don’t want to be,” Nadal told reporters, anxiously peering at the television to keep track of his compatriots playing doubles.

“The atmosphere has been amazing. The only negative thing in my opinion is we are just starting the last match at 1 a.m. That makes big trouble for us, for the players and the people who come to the stadium because tomorrow is a work day.”

CANADIAN RESURGENCE

Canada’s tennis resurgence continued as they became the first nation through to the last eight after beating the United States for the first time in 16 attempts.

Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150th in the world, edged youngster Reilly Opelka 7-6(5) 7-6(7) before Denis Shapovalov beat Taylor Fritz. The Canadians’ second 2-1 win, having beaten Italy on Monday, sealed top spot in Group F.

“Right now, Canada is really in the best place it’s been in

tennis history,” Pospisil said.

Canada could face Australia in the last eight after Nick Kyrgios returned from a two-month lay-off to put his team on their way to a 3-0 win over Colombia in Group D.

Australia face Belgium in a group decider on Wednesday.

Top seeds and last year’s runners-up France had a close shave as they beat Japan 2-1 — Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert winning the decisive doubles 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 against Ben McLachlan and Yasutaka Uchiyama.

There were no French fans there to watch it, however.

The Les Bleus supporters club has boycotted the event in protest at radical changes that have largely replaced the 10-month long home and away knockout format with an 18-nation season-ender in a single city, played over seven hectic days.

“Actually, it was pretty special because it was the first time I hear myself singing La Marseillaise,” Herbert joked.

Argentina beat Chile 3-0 in Group C while in Group E Kazakhstan edged the Netherlands 2-1.

The six group winners and two best-placed runners-up progress to the quarter-finals.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

China central bank cuts lending benchmark slightly, as expected

November 20, 2019

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s central bank cut its new benchmark lending rate on Wednesday for the third time since its debut in August, as widely expected, as the authorities move to lower financing costs to the real economy.

The one-year loan prime rate (LPR) <CNYLPR1Y=CFXS> was lowered by five basis points to 4.15% from 4.20% at the previous monthly fixing. The five-year LPR <CNYLPR5Y=CFXS> was also lowered by the same margin to 4.80% from 4.85%.

All 64 respondents in a Reuters snap survey on Tuesday expected a reduction in the one-year LPR. Thirty-seven respondents also expected another cut in the five-year LPR.

The LPR is a lending reference rate set monthly by 18 banks. The People’s Bank of China revamped the mechanism to price LPR in August, loosely pegging it to the medium-term lending facility rate.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou and John Ruwitch; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Options narrow for last Hong Kong campus protesters as arrests take a toll

November 20, 2019

By Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The last band of anti-government protesters trapped inside a besieged Hong Kong university were weighing a narrowing range of options early on Wednesday as police outside appeared ready to simply wait them out.

Reuters witnesses said fewer than 100 protesters remained inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University after more than 1,000 were arrested since late on Monday.

Some simply surrendered, while others were nabbed in escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes onto waiting motorbikes or sneak through sewer pipes.

Police searched for potential escapees overnight with spotlights rather than using the tear gas and rubber bullets that had marked clashes in recent days, heeding calls from Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam for a humane end to a siege that saw the most intense clashes since the protests escalated more than five months ago.

They also tightened barricades in the streets surrounding the university, making them secure enough to be visited late on Tuesday night by the force’s new commissioner, Chris Tang, at the end of his first day on the job.

Tang earlier urged the support of all citizens to end the unrest triggered by fears that China’s central government is stifling the former British colony’s freedoms and extensive autonomy guaranteed in its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

Chinese leaders say they are committed to the “one country, two systems” formula and have accused foreign countries, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

The unrest marks the most serious popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Some protesters emerged as the sun rose above the campus after a night spent sleeping on yoga mats to express a range of feelings, from defiance to uncertainty.

Others mulled hiding in the maze of campus buildings, as they said a teacher had advised them to do.

“I already know where I will hide,” a 19-year-old student, who gave his name only as Paul, said as he emerged in a hoodie, shorts and slippers to ask about breakfast in the canteen.

“I have enough food for at least a week and then will see what happens,” he said.

Two protesters in full body armor, wielding metal rods, were going to get some sleep in the library after their night shift watching police movements outside.

“We need some energy to get ready for the big fight. Now that there’s not many of us left they may want to come in,” said a former student named Marc, 26.

“We know this place, it’s our home and it is a maze. And we have weapons. We’re not going to give up now, it’s too late for that,” he said.

Protesters still have stocks of petrol bombs, bows and arrows and other makeshift weapons after a weekend of fiery clashes.

One protester practiced firing arrows at a campus tower shortly after dawn.

The university on the Kowloon peninsula is the last of five that protesters had occupied to use as bases from which to disrupt the city over the past 10 days, blocking the central Cross-Harbour Tunnel outside and other arteries.

“It’s still incredible we defended it for such a long time,” said a 21-year-old student named Ricky. “Since the police have taken control, many started to feel afraid and left and now many of us feel desperate and unhappy because we lost some support.”

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Paul Tait)

Blazers’ Anthony to start; Lillard (back) sidelined

November 20, 2019

Forward Carmelo Anthony officially joined the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, while star guard Damian Lillard sat out with back spasms.

“Carmelo is an established star in this league that will provide a respected presence in our locker room and a skill set at a position of need on the floor,” said Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.

The Trail Blazers activated Anthony prior to Tuesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coach Terry Stotts told reporters Anthony would start at power forward and play about 20 minutes.

“If he was ready to start, he was going to start,” Stotts said.

Lillard was scratched due to the back soreness he has dealt with for close to a week. Lillard is just 10-for-46 shooting over the past three games.

It wasn’t immediately known whether Lillard will miss more than one game. He is averaging 28.6 points and 7.1 assists in 14 games.

According to reports, Anthony’s one-year, non-guaranteed contract is worth up to $2.15 million.

The 10-time All-Star has not played a game in the NBA since Nov. 8, 2018 with the Houston Rockets. Houston traded him to Chicago on Jan. 22 and the Bulls waived him on Feb. 1.

Anthony, 35, holds career NBA averages of 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.02 steals in 1,064 games (1,056 starts) over 16 seasons with Denver, New York, Oklahoma City and Houston.

The Blazers granted Anthony’s request to return to the league in uniform number 00 and he is expected to provide offense for Portland.

–Field Level Media

Dollar, yen supported as caution prevails on mixed trade signals

November 20, 2019

By Tom Westbrook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar and the safe-haven yen found support on Wednesday as a lack of clarity on U.S.-China trade talks kept investors cautious ahead of the release of minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting.

Moves were slight as jaded traders again weighed mixed messages on trade, with more upbeat reports offset by U.S. President Donald Trump delivering yet another warning of more tariffs if talks fail.

After falling overnight, the greenback rose a little on the Australian dollar <AUD=D3> to $0.6824 and on the New Zealand dollar <NZD=D3> to $0.6426.

It was marginally higher against the euro <EUR=> at $1.1077 and against a basket of currencies <.DXY> the dollar last traded a little stronger at 97.862.

The yen <JPY=>, regarded as a safe-haven by virtue of Japan’s status as the world’s biggest creditor, touched 108.37 per dollar, its highest since Friday.

“It’s a very slightly risk-averse day,” said Westpac FX analyst Imre Spiezer. “There’s a slightly cautious tone and mixed messages from the trade war negotiations.”

The United States and China have been locked in tit-for-tat tariff hikes that have dented the global economy.

Hopes for progress on the dispute had risen overnight when Bloomberg reported that negotiations, which failed in May, would be considered a baseline in deciding what U.S. tariffs on China would be rolled back.

However, speaking at a cabinet meeting at the White House overnight, Trump noted that China was “moving along,” but any deal would need to be one he liked.

“If we don’t make a deal with China, I’ll just raise the tariffs even higher,” he told a room filled with senior U.S. officials.

The U.S. Senate’s unanimous passage of a bill aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong amid a crackdown on demonstrations was also seen likely to raise tensions between the negotiating parties.

The Chinese yuan – the currency most sensitive to the trade dispute – dropped to a two-week low of 7.0335 per dollar in offshore trade <CNH=> early in the Asian day.

Traders and analysts also widely expect China will cut its new benchmark lending rate when it is fixed at 0130 GMT.

Elsewhere, the British pound <GBP=> fell slightly overnight after an inconclusive election debate between Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who leads in the polls, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It was steady at $1.2919 in Asian trade.

The release of the Fed minutes from October are the next major scheduled event for markets, with investors looking for insight into the reasoning for last month’s rate cut.

“In particular, clues for whether October was a ‘hawkish cut,’ with a high bar for any further easing, or a ‘dovish pause’ with a bias for more easing…will be sought,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy for Mizuho Banlk in Singapore.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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