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Cambodia’s opposition puts out banners calling for leader’s release

September 25, 2017

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia’s main opposition party on Monday put up banners around the country calling for the release of its detained leader Kem Sokha in a challenge to the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which has accused him of treason.

Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on September 3 and charged with plotting against the state.

Western countries and human rights groups have condemned the arrest and said it raises severe doubt over whether next year’s general election can be fair. In the ballot, Hun Sen could face his greatest electoral test of more than three decades in power.

The party’s banners, which have a picture of Kem Sokha waving from a vehicle during the last election campaign in 2013, called for the leader’s “immediate and unconditional release.”

Hun Sen has said the opposition must drop Kem Sokha and choose a new leader or face a total ban.

“We will put up the banners, not just here, but we will put up banners at our branches in provinces,” said Pol Ham, a deputy leader of the party.

Son Chhay, another senior member of the party, said the crisis was worsening and talks were needed to resolve it.

The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of U.S. experts.

Hun Sen says his rival was getting help from the United States. The U.S. embassy has rejected any suggestion of interference in politics.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the opposition party’s banners amounted to pressure on the court and an attempt to interfere with its work.

“This is unacceptable,” he said.

A court is scheduled to hold a hearing to determine the legality of Kem Sokha’s detention on Tuesday.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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Euro, NZ dollar sideswiped by political uncertainty after elections

September 25, 2017

By Wayne Cole and Hideyuki Sano

SYDNEY/TOKYO (Reuters) – The euro slipped in early Asian trading on Monday after Germany’s election showed surging support for a far-right party that left Chancellor Angela Merkel scrambling to form a governing coalition.

The euro fell as much as 0.5 percent to $1.1896 and last stood at $1.1933, down 0.2 percent, holding above support around $1.1860.

Merkel did win a fourth term in office on Sunday but will have to build an uneasy coalition to form a government after her conservatives haemorrhaged support in the face of a surge by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Despite winning the most votes, Merkel’s bloc slumped to its worst result since 1949 and her current Social Democrat coalition partners said they would go into opposition after tumbling to 20.7 percent in projections, a post-war low.

“Probably the most significant announcement following the election was that the current junior coalition partner, SPD, immediately announced it would go into opposition,” said Peter Schaffrik, global macro strategist at RBC Europe in London.

“With the withdrawal (from a grand coalition) by the SPD, we think the only realistic option left is a coalition of Merkel’s CDU/CSU, the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens – dubbed ‘Jamaica coalition – due to the colours of the three blocks (black/yellow/green),” he said.

But building such a coalition could take months as the three-way tie-up has not been tested at national level.

Political uncertainty also took a toll on the New Zealand dollar after no single party won a majority in an election over the weekend.

The New Zealand currency dropped 0.9 percent to $0.7269.

The ruling National Party won the largest number votes in the election, but neither of the major parties won enough seats to gain a majority in parliament, forcing a round of coalition building that could last days or weeks.

Sterling steadied at $1.3486 after falling on Friday when ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Britain’s credit rating, saying government plans to bring down debt had been knocked off course and Brexit would weigh on the economy.

A few hours after Prime Minister Theresa May set out plans for new ties with the European Union, Moody’s cut the rating to Aa2, underscoring the economic risks that leaving the bloc poses for the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

May failed to give any concrete details for how Britain might retain preferential access to Europe’s single market in her speech.

The yen weakened 0.3 percent to 112.30 yen per dollar, helped by renewed hope of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic stimulus as he is expected to announce a snap election, to be held on October 22.

A weekend survey by the Nikkei business daily showed 44 percent of voters planned to vote for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) versus 8 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party.

“It’s easier for traders to start the week by selling the yen given expected resolution of the parliament and so on. But I would suspect a lot of election related stuff is already priced in and the yen would have limited downside,” said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of foreign exchange at Societe Generale in Tokyo.

Concerns over simmering tensions between North Korea and the United States could resurface any time, likely lifting the yen.

Japan is the world’s largest creditor nation and traders tend to assume Japanese investors would repatriate funds at times of crisis, thus benefiting the yen.

North Korea said on Saturday targeting the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr. Evil President” Donald Trump called Pyongyang’s leader “rocket man”, further escalating rhetoric over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

(Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in TOKYO; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Australia to push through tougher rules for bank executives

September 25, 2017

By Paulina Duran and Colin Packham

Sydney (Reuters) – Australia’s prudential regulator should be given powers as soon as October to cap bank executives’ salaries, delay their bonuses and drive them out of the industry if they were guilty of wrongdoing, Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Monday.

The government is pushing ahead with tougher rules for banks after a series of scandals undermined public confidence in the sector, including alleged breaches of money-laundering laws by Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

While the Australian Bankers Association says the proposed changes are being rushed through with insufficient consultation, Morrison said he was not prepared to wait.

“I know the banks don’t want many of the elements of this legislation but I’m not about to give them three months to make the case as to why they shouldn’t be in there,” Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“They are going in, I’m not mucking around.”

Australia’s biggest banks have gone through a tumultuous period peppered with allegations of misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging.

The country’s biggest lender by market capitalization, Commonwealth Bank, is facing billions of dollars in fines over allegations of systemic breaches of money-laundering and terror-financing laws.

Policy-makers have sought to reassure the public they are holding the banks to account, and on Friday unveiled new powers over executive pay to be handed to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority in October.

The banking scandals have fueled calls for a broad judicial inquiry into Australia’s banking system, which could recommend greater regulation or even criminal charges.

But the Treasurer said on Monday that a so-called Royal Commission was not necessary, although it has the strong backing of the public and the opposition Labor Party.

(Reporting by Paulina Duran in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Colin Packham.; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Walt Disney threatens to pull ESPN, ABC from Optimum

September 25, 2017

By Jarrett Renshaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co has threatened to pull its programming from the fourth largest U.S. cable distributor, Altice USA, if the two parties cannot reach a deal before the end of the month, the cable company said on Sunday.

New York-based Altice, which is owned by a European conglomerate and is better known as Optimum, said Disney had asked it for “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new fees to be able to continue carrying ESPN and ABC, even as ratings suffer.

The two parties have been working on a new contract to replace the one that expires at the end of the month, and Walt Disney has warned customers that its channels will go dark on Oct. 1 if a new deal is not worked out, according to media reports.

“We are always working hard to negotiate carriage agreements that reflect the best interest of all our customers. We want to carry ESPN and its sister networks, including ABC and Disney, at a reasonable rate and have already offered an increase in retransmission fees and sports programming costs,” Altice said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Sunday.

The majority of Altice’s customers live in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and parts of Pennsylvania.

Walt Disney could not be reached for comment on Sunday. The company has said that it had an obligation to warn customers about the loss of programming and disagreed with Altice’s characterization of the fee increase, according to media reports.

Disputes between cable companies and media groups over the cost of carrying channels are common, but the dispute marks the first time a cable company has pushed back at increased fees for ESPN, the most popular sports network.

Altice said the request for “exorbitant fee increases” came even as viewership had been declining and that Disney now wanted to force customers who do not receive ESPN to pay for it anyway.

High fees are to blame for rising cable bills, Altice said, adding that ESPN was already the most expensive basic cable channel in history.

ESPN carries live sports, such as “Monday Night Football,” and is believed to be less exposed to the cord-cutting culture that has left cable providers losing customers.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Trump slaps travel restrictions on North Korea, Venezuela in expanded ban

September 25, 2017

By Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Sunday slapped new travel restrictions on citizens from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad, expanding the list of countries covered by his original travel bans that have been derided by critics and challenged in court.

Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were left on the list of affected countries in a new proclamation issued by the president. Restrictions on citizens from Sudan were lifted.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet,” Trump said in a tweet shortly after the proclamation was released.

Iraqi citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions but will face enhanced scrutiny or vetting.

The current ban, enacted in March, was set to expire on Sunday evening.

The new restrictions, slated to take effect on Oct. 18, resulted from a review after Trump’s original travel bans sparked international outrage and legal challenges.

The addition of North Korea and Venezuela broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list.

“North Korea does not cooperate with the United States government in any respect and fails to satisfy all information-sharing requirements,” the proclamation said.

An administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, acknowledged that the number of North Koreans now traveling to the United States was very low.

Trump received a set of policy recommendations on Friday from acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and was briefed on the matter by other administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a White House aide said. 

Earlier on Sunday, Trump told reporters about the ban: “The tougher, the better.”

Rather than a total ban on entry to the United States, the proposed restrictions would differ by nation, based on cooperation with American security mandates, the threat the United States believes each country presents and other variables, officials said.

After the Sept. 15 bombing attack on a London train, Trump wrote on Twitter that the new ban “should be far larger, tougher and more specific – but stupidly, that would not be politically correct.”

The expiring ban blocked entry into the United States by people from the six countries for 90 days and locked out most aspiring refugees for 120 days to give Trump’s administration time to conduct a worldwide review of U.S. vetting procedures for foreign visitors.

Critics have accused the Republican president of discriminating against Muslims in violation of constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and equal protection under the law, breaking existing U.S. immigration law and stoking religious hatred.

Some federal courts blocked the ban, but the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to take effect in June with some restrictions.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Oct. 10 on whether the current ban discriminates against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution, as lower courts previously ruled.

(Additional reporting by James Oliphant, Yeganeh Torbati, and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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