Iran denies British-Iranian aid worker might be released soon

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella in an undated photograph handed out by her family
Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella in an undated photograph handed out by her family. Ratcliffe Family Handout via REUTERS

December 22, 2017

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s justice ministry confirmed on Friday that authorities have opened a new case against British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been sentenced to five years in jail, and denied she might soon be released.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was heading back to Britain with her two-year-old daughter after a family visit.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

British foreign minister Boris Johnson traveled to Iran this month to lobby for her release.

“Iran’s judiciary cannot confirm any of the claims in Western media about this case,” the head of the justice department in Tehran province, Gholamhossein Esmaili, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Friday.

“When a decision is made, it will be announced by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary or through diplomatic channels,” he said.

Tasnim said he specifically denied reports of a swap deal, but did not make clear what reports he was referring to.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, who called on Iran to release his wife before Christmas, told the Guardian and other British media on Thursday that her lawyer said that her case has been marked as being eligible for early release.

The release of dual national prisoners in Iran in recent years has been mainly done through prisoner swaps.

“Besides serving her current sentence, she has also another ongoing case against her in court… We do not know if she would be found guilty or not,” Esmaili said.

His comments mark the first time a justice ministry official has acknowledged that a new case has been brought against Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Her family said in October that the new case carried charges that could bring mean another 16 years in prison.

The new charges included joining and receiving money from organizations working to overthrow the Islamic Republic and attending a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London, the family said.

Iran refuses to recognize dual nationals and denies them access to consular assistance. It has arrested at least 30 dual nationals during the past two years, mostly on spying charges.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Multi-stage cyber attacks net North Korea millions in virtual currencies: researchers

FILE PHOTO: A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand, provided by cyber security firm Symantec
FILE PHOTO: A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand, provided by cyber security firm Symantec, in Mountain View, California, U.S. May 15, 2017. Courtesy of Symantec/Handout via REUTERS

December 19, 2017

By Jeremy Wagstaff and Josh Smith

SINGAPORE/SEOUL (Reuters) – A series of recent cyber attacks has netted North Korean hackers millions of dollars in virtual currencies like bitcoin, with more attacks expected as international sanctions drive the country to seek new sources of cash, researchers say.

North Korea’s government-backed hackers have been blamed for a rising number of cyber attacks, including the so-called WannaCry cyber attack that crippled hospitals, banks and other companies across the globe this year.

Analysts say the explosive growth in the value of bitcoin makes it and other “cryptocurrencies” an attractive target for North Korea, which has become increasingly isolated under international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Bitcoin was trading at over $19,104 per bitcoin at one point on Tuesday, up from less than $1,000 at the beginning of 2017, according to Coinmarketcap.com.

Researchers in South Korea, which hosts some of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchanges and accounts for 15 to 25 percent of world bitcoin trading on any given day, say attacks this year on exchanges like Bithumb, Coinis, and Youbit have the digital fingerprints of hackers from North Korea.

The researchers’ findings have not been independently verified.

North Korea has rejected accusations that it has been involved in hacking.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean affairs, said on Monday the government was considering “countermeasures”, including more sanctions, over the cyber attacks.

Representatives of Bithumb and Coinis declined to comment.

On Monday, a Youbit spokeswoman told Reuters the company had not been targeted by North Korean hackers, and on Tuesday the company announced it had suffered another cyber attack that cost it 17 percent of its assets, forcing the exchange to halt operations and file for bankruptcy.

The hackers behind the second attack were not identified, but one cyber security researcher, who said he was not authorized to speak about the matter as it was being investigated, said there were similarities between the Youbit hack reported on Tuesday and the earlier attack on the company, which has been linked to North Korea.

Another researcher, who worked with Youbit after the first hack in April, said the company has since experienced a consistent string of attacks that used malicious code previously used by North Korea.

INFECTED EMAIL

South Korea’s intelligence service reported that some 7.6 billion won ($7 million) worth of cryptocurrencies were stolen in those previous attacks on multiple exchanges, according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

But that amount could now be worth about 90 billion Korean won ($82 million), Moonbeom Park, a researcher at the Korea Internet and Security Agency, told Reuters.

Malicious code used in attacks over the summer was “virtually identical” to previous attacks connected to North Korea, he said.

The attacks this year began by targeting the companies themselves, stealing customers’ personal information, including names and email addresses, Park said.

Some of those customers were then targeted with so-called spearphishing emails – infected emails designed to look as if they were from South Korea’s taxation agency, the Korean National Tax Service, he said.

Other researchers said the attackers had impersonated other official bodies.

The emails told the recipient that the agency was about to conduct a tax investigation of the user.

An attached document, however, was a Korean-language file infected with a “Trojan Horse” program that would exploit a vulnerability in the Hanword Korean-language word processing software to allow the hackers to remotely control the user’s computer, Park said.

From there, the attackers would access the user’s bitcoin wallet either on the computer, or on the bitcoin exchange’s server, he said. Other researchers said the exchanges were also attacked using fake email accounts.

Cristiana Brafman Kittner, principal analyst at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, said she could not confirm whether North Korea had actually stolen any virtual currencies, but said hackers linked to it had targeted “multiple exchanges” over the past six to nine months.

“We believe that some of the criminal activity we are observing originating from North Korea is a result of the regime looking for alternative sources of revenue,” she said.

“North Korean cyber threat actors present an immediate risk to the financial services sector worldwide.”

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Hyonhee Shin, Haejin Choi, Dahee Kim, and Cynthia Kim; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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China, UK vow to bolster economic cooperation, speed up stock connect plan

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai attend the UK-China Economic Financial Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai attend the UK-China Economic Financial Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Fred Dufour/Pool

December 16, 2017

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China and Britain have vowed to continue and strengthen cooperation on a wide range of economic, financial and trade issues, including speeding the introduction of a London-Shanghai stock connect program.

In a joint statement on Saturday, coinciding with an official visit to China by British finance minister Philip Hammond, the countries also said they opposed trade protectionism and reaffirmed their support for the World Trade Organisation as a key pillar of the global trade system.

The statement comes as China, in an unusual step, accused the United States and the European Union of breaking promises that they made when China joined the WTO.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing together with Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai, Hammond said the two countries were also discussing a long-awaited London-Shanghai stock connect program, as well as a possible scheme to connect their bond markets.

“We have agreed to accelerate the final preparations for the London-Shanghai stock connect initiative and we’ve agreed to commence feasibility studies for a UK-China bond connect and for mutual recognition of funds between the two jurisdictions,” he said.

Hammond, who also visited a separate forum on Saturday where the London and Shenzhen stock exchanges signed a pact on supporting innovative companies, said he hopes to see more Chinese small firms “make the most of our country’s startup expertise, networks and capital raising capabilities.”

Fang Xinghai, vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission, told the forum that China is looking to increase cooperation with Britain.

“China’s savings are ample and we should create conditions to turn more savings into capital of innovative firms, rather than letting most of the savings stay in the property market,” said Fang. “If we can achieve this, China’s economy will move up to a new level.”

SLOW PROGRESS

Talks on the Shanghai-London stock connect scheme, which would allow investors on one bourse to invest in the other, started two years ago, but progress has been slow partly due to Britain’s unexpected decision to leave the European Union.

Closer ties between China and U.K. capital markets would be welcomed by London, whose future as a global financial hub is clouded by Brexit. It would also be a boon to the London Stock Exchange Group, which is grappling with turmoil including the recent abrupt departure of its CEO, Xavier Rolet.

For China, connecting London and Shanghai’s exchanges would mark another milestone in its deregulation of capital markets. Beijing’s commitment to financial reform has won global recognition, with U.S. index publisher MSCI agreeing to include China A-shares in its global indexes next year.

The London-Shanghai stock connect is modeled after a similar scheme that links Hong Kong and Shanghai, but it faces more technical and regulatory challenges, as Chinese and British investors trade in different time zones.

EXPERT GROUP

Other areas of cooperation highlighted in Saturday’s joint statement include encouraging each country’s banks to increase their presence and activity in the other country, the promotion of China-U.K. cross-border yuan business, an agreement to cooperate on ultra-low-emission vehicles, and support of the yuan as a settlement currency.

China and the U.K. will establish a new joint expert group to exchange views on macroeconomic and fiscal policy, the joint statement said.

Former British prime minister David Cameron will also be involved in a proposed $1 billion bilateral investment fund, the statement added.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao in BEIJING and Samuel Shen in SHANGHAI, Writing by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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British city Sheffield lifts license suspension on Uber

December 13, 2017

LONDON (Reuters) – The northern English city of Sheffield has lifted a suspension on Uber’s operating license after it provided satisfactory answers to questions about the taxi app’s management, the city council said on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, local officials said Uber’s license had been suspended after it failed to respond to requests. Uber said it had not received the correspondence the council referred to as it had been sent to the wrong address. [nL8N1O75M3]

Local officials in Sheffield will now consider a new license application submitted by the Silicon Valley firm.

“The new application, made by Uber in October, to operate private hire cars in Sheffield is being considered and a decision will be made in early 2018,” the council said in a statement.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Michael Holden)

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Palestinians to snub Pence during visit over Jerusalem move

An Israeli border policeman fires a tear gas grenade towards Palestinians during clashes, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah
An Israeli border policeman fires a tear gas grenade towards Palestinians during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

December 10, 2017

By Mohamed Abdellah and Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during Pence’s visit to the region this month in a snub over the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Saturday.

Violence erupted for a third day in Gaza in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, which overturned decades of U.S. policy towards the Middle East.

Israeli air strikes killed two Palestinian gunmen on Saturday after militants fired rockets from the enclave into Israel on Friday, which had been declared a “day of rage” by Palestinian factions.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem has infuriated the Arab world and upset Western allies, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and risks sparking more violence in the region.

Late on Saturday, Arab foreign ministers urged the United States to abandon its decision and said the move would spur violence throughout the region. The Arab League, in a statement issued after an emergency session in Cairo, called Trump’s announcement a “dangerous violation of international law” which had no legal impact and was void.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to critics in a statement before meetings in Paris on Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron to be followed by a meeting with European foreign ministers in Brussels.

“I hear (from Europe) voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come (after the announcement) and the awful incitement against us,” Netanyahu said.

Israel maintains that all of Jerusalem is its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory, and say the status of the city should be left to be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The Trump administration says it is still committed to Palestinian-Israeli talks, that Israel’s capital would be in Jerusalem under any serious peace plan, and that it has not taken a position on the city’s borders. It says the moribund negotiations can be revived only by ditching outdated policies.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the Palestinians will be looking for a new peace talks broker instead of the United States and would seek a United Nations Security Council resolution over Trump’s decision.

“We will seek a new mediator from our Arab brothers and the international community,” Maliki told reporters in Cairo before the Arab League meeting on Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

A Turkish presidential source said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron will work together to try to persuade the United States to reconsider the move.

A possible meeting with Pence has also been turned down by Egypt’s Coptic Church, MENA state news agency reported.

White House and U.S. State Department officials did not respond to requests for comment. Palestinian officials said Pence had been due to meet Abbas on Dec. 19.

Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is leading efforts to restart negotiations, though his bid has shown little public progress so far.

ROCKETS, AIR STRIKES

Palestinian militants launched at least three rockets towards Israeli towns from Gaza after dark on Friday and Israel said it responded with air strikes that targeted a weapons depot, a military compound and two weapons manufacturing facilities.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, confirmed the two men killed in the pre-dawn strikes belonged to the group, which has urged Palestinians to keep up the confrontation with Israeli forces.

However, Palestinian protests on Saturday were less intense than on the previous two days. About 60 Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers across the Gaza-Israel border and the health ministry said at least 10 were wounded by Israeli fire.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians set fire to tires and threw stones and firebombs at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and, in a few instances, live fire. The Israeli military said one protester was arrested.

In East Jerusalem about 60 people demonstrated near the walled Old City, where paramilitary border police and officers on horseback tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. Thirteen demonstrators were arrested and four officers were lightly injured by stones, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in protest and two Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border. Scores more were wounded there and in the West Bank. Across the Arab and Muslim worlds, thousands more protesters had gathered to express solidarity.

The Turkish presidential source said Erdogan and Macron agreed during a phone call that Trump’s move was worrying for the region and that Turkey and France would make a joint effort to try to reverse the U.S. decision.

Erdogan also spoke to the presidents of Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Azerbaijan on Saturday, the source said. On Wednesday, he called an urgent meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Turkey next week.

A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official said on Saturday that Trump’s move was a “gift to radicalism”.

“Radicals and extremists will use that to fan the language of hate,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said at the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Ammar Awad and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Murad Sezer in Istanbul, Mostafa Hashem and Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Stephen Kalin in Manama and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Peter Graff, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

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Russian ex-minister Ulyukayev tells court he is victim of ‘monstrous setup’

Russian former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who was charged with accepting a bribe, is escorted by bailiffs after a court hearing in Moscow
Russian former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who was charged with accepting a bribe, is escorted by bailiffs after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

December 7, 2017

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Former Russian economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev, accused of taking a $2 million bribe from Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, told a court on Thursday he was the victim of “a monstrous and cruel provocation.”

Russian prosecutors earlier this month sought a sentence of 10 years in jail for Ulyukayev, who denies the charges.

A Moscow court is due to deliver a verdict in the case on Dec. 15.

(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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Syrian, Russian jets bomb residential areas in eastern Ghouta: witnesses, monitor

People are seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria
People are seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

December 4, 2017

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – Jets believed to be Syrian and Russian struck heavily crowded residential areas in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens in the third week of a stepped-up assault, residents, aid workers and a war monitor said on Monday.

Civil defense workers said at least 17 were killed in the town of Hamoriya in an aerial strike on a marketplace and nearby residential area after over nearly 30 strikes in the past 24 hours that struck several towns in the densely populated rural area east of Damascus known as the Eastern Ghouta.

Four other civilians were killed in the town of Arbin, while the rest came from strikes on Misraba and Harasta, the civil defense workers said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said the casualties on Sunday were the biggest daily death toll since the stepped-up strikes began 20 days ago. The monitor said nearly 200 civilians were killed in strikes and shelling, including many women and children, during that period.

The Eastern Ghouta has been besieged by army troops since 2013 in an attempt to force the rebel enclave to submission.

The government has in recent months tightened the siege in what residents and aid workers have said is a deliberate use of starvation as a weapon of war, a charge the government denies.

The United Nations says about 400,00 civilians besieged in the region face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries by the Syrian government were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.

Eastern Ghouta is the last remaining large swathe of rebel-held area around Damascus that has not reached an evacuation deal to surrender weapons in return for allowing fighters to go to other rebel-held areas farther north.

“They are targeting civilians … a jet hit us there, no rebels or checkpoints,” Sadeq Ibrahim, a trader, said by phone in Hamoriya.

“May God take his revenge on the regime and Russia,” said Abdullah Khalil, another resident, who said he lost members of his family in the air strike on Arbin and was searching for survivors among the rubble.

The intensified bombardment of Eastern Ghouta follows a rebel attack last month on an army complex in the heart of the region that the army had used to bomb nearby rebel-held areas.

Residents said, however, that the failure of the army to dislodge rebels from the complex had prompted what they believe were retaliatory indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the Eastern Ghouta.

Government advances since last year have forced people to flee deeper into its increasingly overcrowded towns. The loss of farmland is increasing pressure on scarce food supplies.

The Eastern Ghouta is part of several de-escalation zones that Russia has brokered with rebels across Syria that has freed the army to redeploy in areas where it can regain ground.

Rebels accuse the Syrian government and Russia of violating the zones and say they were meant as a charade to divert attention from the heavy daily bombing of civilian areas. The Syrian government and Russia deny their jets bomb civilians and insist they only strike militant hideouts.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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‘You’re right: We’re a threat,’ British Labour leader Corbyn warns Morgan Stanley

FILE PHOTO: Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party speaks at the Conferederation of British Industry's annual conference in London
FILE PHOTO: Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party speaks at the Conferederation of British Industry’s annual conference in London, Britain, November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner/File Photo

December 1, 2017

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Morgan Stanley <MS.N> that bankers are right to regard him as a threat because he wants to transform what he cast as a rigged economy that profited speculators at the expense of ordinary people.

Morgan Stanley last month warned that political uncertainty in Britain was a bigger threat than Brexit for some domestic investors given the risk of Corbyn winning power and radically changing Britain’s free-market economy.

“Bankers like Morgan Stanley should not run our country but they think they do,” Corbyn, a 68-year-old socialist, said in a video posted on Twitter.

“So when they say we’re a threat, they’re right: We’re a threat to a damaging and failed system that is rigged for the few,” he said.

London, which vies with New York for the title of the world’s financial capital, dominates the $5.1-trillion-a-day global foreign exchange market and is home to more banks than any other financial center.

But many bankers, CEOs and investors were spooked by the shock 2016 vote for Brexit and have been dismayed by the political crises which followed, including Prime Minister Theresa May’s botched gamble on a June snap election.

May lost her party its majority in parliament in that election while Corbyn’s unexpectedly strong result in the vote has convinced many of Labour’s opponents that Corbyn is a potential prime minister if May’s government falls.

SPECULATORS AND GAMBLERS?

Kept in power with the support of a small Northern Irish political party, May has just over a year to negotiate Britain’s divorce from the EU that will shape Britain’s prosperity and global influence for generations to come.

“From a UK investor perspective, we believe that the domestic political situation is at least as significant as Brexit,” Morgan Stanley analysts said in a Nov. 26 note to clients.

In the note, Morgan Stanley said there was a high likelihood of another national election in late 2018 – just months before Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

The bank’s analysts said a Labour victory could mark the biggest shift in British politics since the late 1970s when Margaret Thatcher won victory and started to privatize chunks of the economy.

“It is certainly plausible that the Labour Party could ultimately moderate some of its more radical policy ideas; the alternative could be the most significant political shift in the UK since the end of the 1970s,” Morgan Stanley said in the note.

Corbyn has cast bankers as the villains behind the 2008 financial crisis and promised to increase taxes on the banks and investment funds which trade out of London, the only financial capital to rival New York.

Corbyn said banks like Morgan Stanley were speculators.

“These are the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008 and then we had to bail them out,” Corbyn said. “Their greed plunged the world into crisis and we are still paying the price.”

Corbyn’s manifesto promising renationalization, higher public spending and tax rises for the rich won him 40 percent of the votes cast while May’s Conservatives won 42 percent.

(Editing by James Davey, Editing by William Maclean)

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Irish Deputy PM under pressure from party to resign-sources

Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar speaks at the FemFest conference in Dublin
Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar speaks at the FemFest conference in Dublin, Ireland, November 25, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

November 28, 2017

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald was under intense pressure from her own party to resign on Tuesday to avoid a snap election that is hours away from being triggered, members of the governing party told Reuters.

Ireland was on the verge of an election after the opposition party propping up the minority government said the deputy prime minister’s refusal to quit would force the country to the polls in December.

The crisis has cast a shadow over a key Brexit summit next month where Ireland will play a major role, telling EU leaders whether it believes sufficient progress has been made on the future of the border between EU-member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

The front pages of the Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent newspapers quoted unnamed lawmakers and ministers from Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party as saying Fitzgerald had to resign.

One minister, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity as senior ministers were due to meet on Tuesday morning, said Fitzgerald was coming under serious pressure from within the party to resign and would have to go. Another lawmaker agreed.

Fianna Fail, whose backing Varadkar requires from the opposition benches to keep his government functioning, has said it will move a motion of no confidence in Fitzgerald at 2000 GMT on Tuesday unless she quits, a position that hardened on Monday.

Fitzgerald resisted calls to go on Monday from the majority of opposition parties after pressure mounted on her following the release of fresh documents about her disputed handling of a police whistleblower who alleged corruption in the force.

A spokesman for Varadkar said late on Monday that the government still stood behind her.

“I think the Fine Gael leadership is in a state of delusion. The Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) needs to go, if she doesn’t go, then the Taoiseach (prime minister) needs to relieve her of her duties. The judgement of Leo Varadkar is very much in question here,” Mary Lou McDonald, leader of the left wing opposition party Sinn Fein told national broadcaster RTE. 

(editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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South Africa to outline ‘decisive’ policy in 2018 after ratings cut

A view shows the Standard & Poor's building in New York's financial district
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Standard & Poor’s building in New York’s financial district February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

November 25, 2017

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa will use its annual budget next year to outline “decisive” policy to strengthen its fiscal framework, the finance ministry said on Saturday after S&P Global Ratings cut its local currency debt to “junk” status.

“The 2018 Budget will outline decisive and specific policy measures to strengthen the fiscal framework,” the finance ministry said in a statement, without giving more detail.

S&P announced the downgrade on Friday, citing a further deterioration in the country’s economic outlook and public finances, and Moody’s placed South Africa on review for a downgrade.

(Reporting by TJ Strydom; editing by Alexander Smith)

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