Canada bids to reassure U.S., other allies after intelligence official arrested

Cameron Ortis, director general with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's intelligence unit, is shown in a court sketch from his court hearing in Ottawa, Canada, September 13, 2019. Lauren Foster-MacLeod/Handout via REUTERS

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is working to reassure the United States and other allies after a top police intelligence official was charged with leaking secrets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Cameron Ortis, a director general with the national police force’s intelligence unit, had access to highly sensitive domestic and foreign intelligence, and his arrest last week sparked fears of a possible major security breach.

Ortis was charged on Friday under a 2012 security information law used to prosecute spies.

Security experts say the case could damage Canada’s standing inside the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that also includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

“We are in direct communications with our allies on security, not only the Five Eyes group,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“We are also working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we are taking this situation very seriously.”

Canadian security officials are working urgently to see what if any data might have been leaked, said a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Canada’s allies are working on the assumption that if any secrets were shared, China and Russia are likely to have been the main beneficiaries, said a second source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Canadian officials say China, in particular, has been aggressively seeking to obtain sensitive information.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., citing government documents, said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had tipped off Canada as it probed a separate criminal matter. The FBI discovered in 2018 that someone had contacted the head of Canadian company Phantom Secure offering to sell secrets.

The chief executive of the firm last year pleaded guilty to facilitating international narcotics traffic by supplying drug cartels with encrypted communications devices.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Brenda Lucki is expected to provide a “short update” and answer questions on the case on Tuesday at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

On Monday, Lucki said the leaks could have hurt allied nations’ intelligence operations and promised that “mitigation strategies are being put in place as required.”

(Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Edmund Blair and Bernadette Baum)

Britain won’t run out of toilet paper but fruit could be in short supply after Brexit

By Alistair Smout and Noor Zainab Hussain

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is unlikely to run out of essentials like toilet paper in the event of a no-deal Brexit but some fresh fruit and vegetables could be in short supply and prices might rise, warned supermarket bosses on Thursday.

Retailers John Lewis and Co-Operative Group and the government’s reluctant publication of a report late on Wednesday shed light on what shoppers might expect to find, or not find on supermarket shelves after October 31.

The government has demanded that supermarkets prepare for a potentially chaotic no-deal Brexit by stockpiling food, but supermarket bosses say it is almost impossible to store fresh food for any length of time and people might not find everything they want on the shelves.

Steve Murrells, Chief Executive of the Co-op, said that the firm had secured extra storage space but he expected shortages in some fresh food and subsequent price rises.

“We are very clear on where we think inflation will come through, which will be, in the main, fruit,” he said.

“We would be stockpiling the essential items that you would expect. Water, toilet paper, long life cans.”

Murrells said that fruit like apples, pears, blueberries and strawberries might have to be transported more expensively via air freight from the Southern hemisphere to avoid congested ports.

The availability of vegetables in Britain is also at risk as the European Union provides some 86% of lettuces and 70% of tomatoes, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

“Clearly… in short-life fresh produce that’s imported from Europe, that would be harder, if the flow of stock is interrupted,” Rob Collins, the managing director of John Lewis’ supermarket group Waitrose, told reporters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31, and has said he will not ask for a delay despite lawmakers voting that he seeks one to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The “Operation Yellowhammer” report on the worst-case scenario released by the government pointed to potential problems snarling up cross-Channel trade routes and disrupting supplies of fresh food.

John Lewis Chairman Charlie Mayfield said the assessment chimed with what his department store and supermarket group expected from a no-deal scenario.

“The publication of the Yellowhammer documents gives a bit more insight, but frankly I don’t think it tells us anything particularly new that we didn’t already know,” Mayfield told reporters after warning that the impact of a no-deal Brexit could be “significant”.

Mayfield went on to say that the continuing uncertainty meant that consumer confidence had taken a battering and John Lewis was seeing a reluctance by consumers to make big-ticket purchases in its department stores.

David Potts, Chief Executive of grocer Morrisons, agreed that consumer confidence was weak but the grocer is somewhat shielded from any Brexit chaos as two-thirds of what it sells is British.

While supermarkets say they are restricted in what goods they can stockpile, there might be some solace in the fact that they say so far, customers have shown little sign of panic-buying.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by James Davey; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

‘Absolutely not’: PM Johnson denies lying to Queen Elizabeth in Brexit crisis

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the NLV Pharos, a lighthouse tender moored on the river Thames to mark London International Shipping Week in London, Britain September 12, 2019. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrew MacAskill and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday denied lying to Queen Elizabeth over the reasons for suspending the British parliament after a court ruled his decision was unlawful and opponents called for lawmakers to be recalled to discuss Brexit.

Since Johnson won the top job in July, Britain’s Brexit crisis has spun more furiously, leaving investors and allies bewildered by an array of decisions that have pushed the once stable political system to its limits.

Parliament was prorogued – suspended – on Monday until Oct. 14, a move Johnson’s opponents said was designed to thwart their attempts to scrutinize his plans for leaving the European Union and to allow him to push through Brexit on Oct. 31, with or without an exit deal to smooth the way.

Scotland’s highest court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the suspension was not lawful and was intended to stymie lawmakers, prompting opponents to question whether Johnson had lied to Elizabeth who must formally order the prorogation.

“Absolutely not,” Johnson said when asked by a TV reporter if he had misled the queen, who is the world’s longest reigning monarch and is widely respected for more than 67 years of dedicated service during which she has stayed above the fray of politics.

Johnson said the current session of parliament was longer than any since the English Civil war in the 17th century, adding that lawmakers would have plenty of time to again discuss Brexit after an EU summit on Oct. 17-18.

He says parliament was suspended to allow the government to present its legislative program.

With less than 50 days until the United Kingdom is due to leave, the government and parliament are locked in conflict over the future of Brexit, with possible outcomes ranging from leaving without a deal to another referendum.

A “no-deal” Brexit could snarl cross-Channel trade routes, disrupting supplies of medicines and fresh food while protests spread across Britain, according to a worst-case scenario reluctantly released by the government on Wednesday.

The “Operation Yellowhammer” assumptions, prepared six weeks ago just days after Johnson became prime minister, form the basis of government no-deal planning.

Britain is unlikely to run out of essentials like toilet paper in the event of a no-deal Brexit but some fresh fruit and vegetables could be in short supply and prices might rise, supermarket bosses warned on Thursday.

‘SIGNIFICANT GAPS’

Johnson has repeatedly said he will seek to strike a deal at the EU summit to remove the Irish border backstop, an insurance agreement to prevent the return of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit.

Opponents of the backstop in the British parliament worry it would lock the United Kingdom into the EU’s orbit for years to come.

The European Union would respond positively if the British government shifts its position in Brexit talks in the coming weeks, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

But Coveney said that there were “significant gaps” between British proposals and what Ireland and the EU would consider. He said the threat of a no-deal Brexit might help make the British debate “more honest”.

Belfast’s High Court dismissed on Thursday a case arguing that a British exit from the European Union without a withdrawal agreement would contravene Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord.

Johnson said the government is waiting to hear an appeal next week against the Scottish court ruling on the suspension of parliament in the Supreme Court, the United Kingdom’s highest judicial body, and he respected the independence of the judges.

Last week, the High Court of England and Wales rejected a similar challenge by campaigners, saying it was a political not a judicial matter.

“Indeed, as I say, the High Court in England plainly agrees with us, but the Supreme Court will have to decide,” Johnson said. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the ruling, saying it is a matter for the government.

But the publication of the government’s no-deal Brexit scenario prompted calls from Labour and other opposition parties for parliament to be recalled.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Alistair Smout and Michael Holden in London, Amanda Ferguson in Belfast, Conor Humphries in Dublin and Alissa de Carbonnel and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)

Britain will support U.S. in Iran talks if deal can be made: UK defense minister

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will always help the United States along a path to talks with Iran if a deal can be made, British defense minister Ben Wallace said on Friday, although he cautioned that Iran should be judged by its actions rather than words.

“Actions speak louder than words, so I think we’ll take them (Iran) at their actions rather than their words,” Wallace said at a news conference in London with his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper, who earlier said Iran was “inching” towards a place where talks could be held.

“But if there is a deal to be made, we will of course always help the United States along that path, because I think peace and stability in that region is the most important thing,” Wallace added.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali, writing by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)

G7 or G5? Trump and Johnson add unpredictability to French summit

A view shows the beach and Le Bellevue summit venue ahead of the G7 Summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz, France, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By John Irish and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – Brexit Britain’s overtures to U.S. President Donald Trump risk further complicating the search for common ground this weekend at a Group of Seven summit already clouded by transatlantic rifts over trade, Iran and climate change.

The summit host, President Emmanuel Macron of France, has set the bar low for Biarritz to avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year when Trump threw Canada’s G7 summit into disarray by leaving early, scotching the final communique.

Macron, an ardent europhile and staunch defender of multilateralism, will count on incremental advances in areas where a united front can be presented, with the meeting, which runs from Saturday to Monday, officially focusing on the broad theme of reducing inequality.

On hot-button issues, they will, when necessary, have to agree to disagree.

“We have to adapt formats. There will be no final communique, but coalitions, commitments and follow-ups,” Macron said. “We must assume that, on one subject or another, a member of the club might not sign up.”

The G7 groups the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends. Macron has also invited the leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, in order to widen the debate on inequality.

TOUGH TOPICS

But the tougher discussions lie elsewhere. The Sino-U.S. trade war has spurred fears of a global economic slump; European powers are struggling to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran; and Trump has shown little enthusiasm for France’s push for a universal tax on digital multinationals such as Google and Amazon, and turned his back on efforts in Europe and around the globe to limit carbon emissions to slow climate change.

The crisis in Kashmir and street protests in Hong Kong may also be touched on during the talks in France’s Atlantic coast surfing capital, where some 13,000 police will be drafted in to prevent any violent anti-globalization demonstrations.

“There’s no doubt that we will discuss how trade frictions could affect the global economy,” a Japanese government official said. “But it is difficult to deliver messages to the outside since a communique won’t be issued.”

Strained relations between the United States and its top allies mean that where once they were in agreement, they now seek the lowest common denominator.

“It won’t be productive to push something that someone — whether it’s America or some other country — would not agree to do,” the Japanese official added.

Moreover, Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday, Canada is heading for an election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence on the world stage is waning ahead of her departure, and Britain is probably on the verge of either leaving the EU or a snap election.

POLITICAL NITROGLYCERINE

One unknown is where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will position himself, making his debut on the global stage at a summit that will lay bare new realities as Britain’s influence in Europe collapses and its dependency on the United States grows.

With less than three months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU – with or without a divorce deal, according to Johnson – his government has sought to cozy up to Trump’s White House with a view to future trade deals.

Francois Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the combination of two personalities “not well-known for their self-control” was “political nitroglycerine”.

He said it might be entertaining, “but if it actually gets in the way of more substantive proceedings, that would be another story”.

While Johnson will want to avoid crossing a volatile Trump and putting trade ties at risk, analysts say, he will also be wary of alienating himself from other leaders who have a more multilateral approach to world politics.

One French diplomat who declined to be named said Paris was curious to see how the Trump-Johnson dynamic played out in Biarritz:

“Even with Brexit in the background, we still have the sense that the British reflex when it comes to international crises is to turn to us and the Germans first.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris and Tetsushi Kajimoto in Tokyo; Editing by Richard Lough and Kevin Liffey)

UK faces food, fuel and drug shortages, says contested leaked document

FILE PHOTO: A line of trucks is seen during a trial between disused Manston Airport and the Port of Dover of how road will cope in case of a "no-deal" Brexit, Kent Britain January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Kate Holton and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, according to leaked official documents reported by the Sunday Times whose interpretation was immediately contested by ministers.

Setting out a vision of jammed ports, public protests and widespread disruption, the paper said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst-case scenarios.

But Michael Gove, the minister in charge of coordinating “no-deal” preparations, challenged that interpretation, saying the documents did set out a worst-case scenario and that planning had been accelerated in the last three weeks.

The Times said up to 85% of lorries using the main Channel crossings may not be ready for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improved.

The government also believes a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, will be likely as plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable, the Times said.

“Compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the codename Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier offers a rare glimpse into the covert planning being carried out by the government to avert a catastrophic collapse in the nation’s infrastructure,” the Times reported.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it did not comment on leaked documents. But Gove said it was an old document that did not reflect current preparedness.

“It is the case, as everyone knows, that if we do have a no-deal exit there will inevitably be some disruption, some bumps in the road. That’s why we want a deal,” Gove told reporters.

“But it is also the case that the UK government is far more prepared now than it was in the past, and it’s also important for people to recognize that what’s being described in these documents… is emphatically a worst-case scenario,” Gove added.

A government source blamed the leak on an unnamed former minister who wanted to influence negotiations with the EU.

“This document is from when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to get ready to leave and the funds were not available,” said the source, who declined to be named. “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.”

NO TURNING BACK

The United Kingdom is heading toward a constitutional crisis and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

Yet after more than three years of Brexit dominating EU affairs, the bloc has repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said on Twitter he had signed a piece of legislation which set in stone the repeal of the 1972 European Communities act – the laws which made Britain a member of the organization now known as the EU.

Though his move was largely procedural, in line with previously approved laws, Barclay said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back (from Brexit).”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers wrote to Johnson calling for an emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until October 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.

Johnson will this week tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one.

Merkel said during a panel discussion at the Chancellery: “We are prepared for any outcome, we can say that, even if we do not get an agreement. But at all events, I will make an effort to find solutions – up until the last day of negotiations.”

Johnson is coming under pressure from politicians across the political spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to bring down Johnson’s government to delay Brexit.

It is, however, unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the British parliament to prevent a no-deal departure, likely to be the UK’s most significant foreign policy move since World War Two.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and David Holmes)

Iran tanker heads to Greece after release, Iran warns U.S against seizure attempt

FILE PHOTO - Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, sails after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian tanker sailed through the Mediterranean toward Greece on Monday after it was released from detention off Gibraltar, and Tehran said that any at U.S. move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences”.

The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar about 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday. Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Monday that the vessel was heading to Kalamata in Greece and was scheduled to arrive next Sunday at 0000 GMT.

The seizure of the tanker by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar in July 4 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions led to a weeks-long stand-off between Tehran and the West. It also heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf.

Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, lifted the detention order on Thursday but the next day a federal court in Washington issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.

FILE PHOTO - A crew member raises the Iranian flag on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

FILE PHOTO – A crew member raises the Iranian flag on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law. Washington wanted to detain the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organization.

“We are happy this ordeal has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said while visiting Finland.

He also said the U.S. warrant had no legal basis and was politically motivated to “make more escalation”.

Greek authorities had no immediate comment on the situation.

Iran said on Monday any U.S. attempt to seize the tanker would have “heavy consequences”.

Asked whether the United States could renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action, and even the talk of it … would endanger shipping safety in open seas.”

“Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said in remarks broadcast on state television.

Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.

The Adrian Darya 1, which was re-flagged to Iran after being de-listed by Panama on May 29, was fully laden and carrying about 2 million barrels of oil, Refinitiv data showed. The cargo was valued at tens of millions of dollars.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May last year, while the European Union is still part of the accord, which allows Tehran to sell its oil.

Washington wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and has re-imposed U.S. sanctions which place heavy penalties on any breaches even for non-U.S. citizens and companies, including asset freezes and being cut off from the U.S. financial system.

While EU regulations still allow for companies and citizens in the bloc to trade with Iran, falling foul of U.S. sanctions has meant most banks are unwilling to process even authorized transactions such as for food and medicine, finance sources say.

This is likely to be the first major foreign policy challenge for Greece’s new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since he took office in July if the vessel enters Greek territorial waters.

Zarif said Iran could not reveal where the oil would go.

“Because of US sanctions we cannot be very transparent with the destination,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Greek coastguard said they had no formal information the vessel is heading to Kalamata and are monitoring the matter.

TANKER HELD BY IRAN

Separately, a senior Iranian lawmaker said a crisis in Iran’s ties with Britain, which included Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker last month, would not be over until the tanker reached its destination.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on July 19 seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after the Grace 1 was commandeered.

“Until the Iranian oil tanker arrives at its destination the British must help end the crisis,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

“The crisis with Britain is not over. Britain has the primary responsibility for ending the oil tanker crisis,” Falahatpisheh said.

Mousavi said that Tehran was waiting for a court decision on alleged maritime violations by the Stena Impero and he hoped the procedures would be completed as soon as possible.

The head of Iran’s judiciary Ebrahim Raisi also said “Iran should claim damages…to teach a lesson to those who acted against international laws and regulations by seizing the tanker”.

Iran has denied its tanker was ever headed to Syria, a close ally of Tehran.

The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Parisa Hafezi, Lisa Barrington, Anna Ringstrom in Helsinki Jonathan Saul in London, George Georgiopoulos in Athens and Harshith Aranya in Bengaluru; Editing by Angus MacSwan/William Maclean)

Novichok appeared in blood test of second UK police officer in 2018

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand on duty outside Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury, Britain, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – British police who investigated a 2018 Novichok poisoning that was blamed on Russia said traces of the deadly nerve agent have since been found in a blood sample taken from a second officer at the time.

Police said the officer received medical treatment and returned to duties shortly after they responded to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former Russian double agent and his daughter who were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

The attack triggered a sequence of events which ended with one person dead and a deep strain on the West’s relations with Russia. Another officer, Nick Bailey, fell seriously ill at the time before eventually recovering.

Both Skripals have made a slow recovery.

The police said the poisoning of the second officer had not originally appeared in tests at the time but showed up when the sample was tested by a different method. They said officers were continuing to review the case.

Britain has blamed the attack on two agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence who visited the city. Russia has denied any involvement.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Hong Kong airport grinds to halt as China likens protests to terrorism

Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Greg Torode and Vimvam Tong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s airport canceled all flights on Monday, blaming demonstrators for the disruptions, while China said the anti-government protests that have roiled the city through two summer months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.

The airport authority said it was working with airlines to resume flights from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, but the developments raise the stakes after a weekend of skirmishes during which both activists and police toughened their stances.

Some Hong Kong legal experts say official descriptions of some protesters’ actions as terrorism could lead to the use of extensive anti-terror laws and powers against them.

China’s People’s Armed Police also assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for exercises, the state-backed Global Times newspaper said.

People in the Asian financial hub responded by taking to the streets again, picketing a police station and returning in their hundreds to a metro station where police had hit activists with batons, to protest against the heavy-handed tactics.

The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.

“Hong Kong has come to a critical juncture,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.

“Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging.”

The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to the mainland but have widened to highlight other grievances, winning broad support.

The precise trigger for the airport’s closure was not clear, since protesters occupying the arrivals hall for four days have been peaceful.

“This is about our freedom,” said one of the thousands of protesters who remained there, a 24-year-old wearing a mask, who gave his name only as Yu. “Why should we leave?”

GROUNDED

Hong Kong is the world’s busiest air cargo port and the 8th busiest by passenger traffic, says the Airports Council International (ACI), a global association. It has been filled with anti-government protesters for four days.

The mostly young black-clad protesters have chanted slogans such as “No rioters, only tyranny!” and “Liberate Hong Kong!” while approaching travelers with flyers describing their demands and explaining the unrest.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.

The activists at the airport have been polite and passengers mostly unperturbed. “I was expecting something, given all the news,” one arrival, Gurinda Singh, told Reuters.

“I’m just pleased my plane arrived and the protests here seem peaceful.”

Some activists moved to the departure area and caused disruptions, police told a news conference as the cancellations were announced.

Police declined to say if they would move to clear the demonstrators. There was no visible police presence in either the departure or arrivals area.

“Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” the city’s airport authority said in a statement, without elaborating.

About 190 flights were hit, Chinese aviation data firm VariFlight said, though planes already en route to Hong Kong were allowed to land.

RESTIVE WEEKEND

Demonstrators threw up barricades across the city at the weekend, as police fired tear gas into crowded underground train stations as well as rubber bullets and pepper pellets at close range.

In response, protesters have sought to channel a Bruce Lee maxim: “Be water,” employing a flash-mob strategy to frustrate authorities and stretch their resources.

Still, scores of protesters were arrested, sometimes after being beaten with batons and bloodied by police. One young female medic was hospitalized after being hit by a pellet round in the right eye.

Hundreds of people returned on Monday to the scene of some of the clashes to protest against the use of force.

“We are completely disappointed with Hong Kong police,” said Terry Ng, 30, a social worker protesting outside Wan Chai police station. “The weight of their shots caused a young girl to lose one eye. Do they still have a conscience?”

Authorities have called the citywide demonstrations illegal and dangerous, while highlighting their impact on the already-faltering economy and residents’ activities.

Beijing says criminals and agitators are stirring violence, but its use of the word “terrorism” on Monday was its starkest warning yet, possibly paving the way for a national-security response to the crisis.

China has used the threat of terrorism to justify tough measures in its regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, which have been criticized by rights groups and Western governments. It warned them off on Monday as well.

“Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong and Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

China has also put pressure on big companies, such as Cathay Pacific Airways, whose shares tumbled to a 10-year low on Monday, after it was told to suspend staff engaged in illegal protests.

Police, who have arrested more than 600 people since the unrest began more than two months ago, demonstrated a water cannon.

(Reporting by Greg Torode, Vimvam Tong, Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Noah Sin, Brenda Goh, Twinnie Siu, James Pomfret, Farah Master, Felix Tam, Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)

Britain faces food shortages in no-deal Brexit scenario, industry body says

FILE PHOTO: Fruit and vegetables sit in cold storage at the New Covent Garden wholesale market in London, Britain, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

By Kate Holton and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will experience shortages of some fresh foods for weeks or even months if a disorderly no-deal Brexit leaves perishable produce rotting in lorries at ports, Britain’s food and drink lobby warned on Wednesday.

Retailers such as Tesco have warned that leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 without a transition deal would be problematic as so much fresh produce is imported and warehouses are stocked full ahead of Christmas.

The industry – which employs 450,000 people in the United Kingdom – views Brexit as the biggest challenge since World War Two, dwarfing previous crises such as the horsemeat scandal of 2013 and the mad cow disease outbreaks of the 1980s and 1990s.

“We’re not going to starve but there will be shortages of fresh food and some specialist ingredients. It’s going to be a little bit unpredictable,” the Food and Drink Federation’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Rycroft told Reuters.

“Given that food very often is perishable and has a short shelf life, we expect that there will be some selective shortages of food in the weeks and months following no-deal Brexit,” Rycroft said. “There will be some shortages and price rises.”

Part of the problem is that Brexit could change everything – or, possibly, nothing.

Ahead of the original Brexit deadline of March 29, supermarkets and retailers spent millions of pounds preparing for Brexit and working with suppliers to increase stocks of dried goods including pasta, bottled water and toilet paper.

After three years of Brexit discussion, it is still unclear on what terms the United Kingdom will leave the European Union with options ranging from a last-minute exit deal or delay to an acrimonious divorce that would knot the sinews of trade.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly warned the European Union that unless it agrees to do a fresh divorce deal then he will lead the country out of the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal.

BREXIT AT HALLOWEEN

As winter approaches, the United Kingdom becomes more dependent on imported food so a Halloween no-deal Brexit is potentially more disruptive.

Britain imports around 60 percent of its food by the beginning of November – just the time that delays caused by a no-deal Brexit could be clogging up ports and motorways, Rycroft said.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, which have a short shelf-life of only a few days, cannot be stored for long so any checks at Calais could lead to significant disruption at Dover, Britain’s biggest port.

Rycroft said they estimated that the cost of preparing for a no-deal exit, including reserving warehouse space, using alternative distributors and losing orders in congested ports, would cost the industry up to 100 million pounds ($121 million) a week.

“A lot of money will be spent,” Rycroft said, referring to how the industry prepared for two previous Brexit deadlines in March and April.

“Having marched the industry up the hill twice and down again, we’re now mobilizing and actually 31st of October looks a more realistic prospect than a no-deal Brexit than either of the two previous ones.”

A spokeswoman for the government said it was working to support the industry. “The UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October and our top priority is supporting consumers and businesses in their preparations for Brexit.”

The UK food and drink industry accounts for 19% of the manufacturing sector by turnover and employs over 450,000 people in Britain across 7,000 businesses including Associated British Foods Plc, Nestle and PepsiCo.

Some of the bigger companies have tested different ports to avoid the main route of Dover-Calais while pharmaceutical companies have reserved air freight capacity to fly in supplies if needed.

The trade body has urged the government to waive some competition rules to allow retailers and suppliers to be able to work together to provide the most effective coverage for the country in such a situation.

Rycroft said the industry had repeatedly asked the government to provide a guarantee that companies would not be fined for engaging in anti-competitive behavior.

Brexit supporters say there may be short-term disruption from a no-deal exit but that the UK will thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed experiment in integration that has led to Europe falling behind China and the United States.

Rolls-Royce <RR.L> said on Tuesday it was ready to cope with the fallout from a disorderly Brexit after the aero-engine maker spent around 100 million pounds to increase inventory among other preparations.

($1 = 0.8235 pounds)

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; Editing by Alison Williams)