Returning to London, Britain’s May faces mammoth task to change minds on Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for a news briefing after meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, Belgium May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Alastair Macdonald and Elizabeth Piper

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May returned on Friday to her mammoth struggle of persuading a deeply divided parliament to back her Brexit deal after an EU summit granted her more time but little to help change minds in London.

After a bruising day in Brussels, May secured a two-week reprieve to try to get the deal she negotiated in November through parliament at a third attempt or face a potentially chaotic departure from the European Union as soon as April 12.

EU leaders were clear that it was now up to the British parliament to decide the fate of Brexit – to leave with a deal in a couple of months, depart without an agreement, come up with a new plan, or possibly remain in the bloc.

While the Brexit deadline may have moved from the originally planned March 29, however, parliament shows no sign of budging.

In fact, incensed by comments from May that pinned the blame for the Brexit chaos on them, many British lawmakers have now hardened their resistance to the deal she will bring back before them next week.

In an appeal to the very same lawmakers she criticized on Wednesday, May said in the early hours of Friday: “Last night I expressed my frustration. I know that MPs (members of parliament) are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do. I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision.”

She needs to change the minds of 75 more lawmakers to get her deal through after it was overwhelmingly rejected twice before.

While EU leaders were keen to heap pressure on the British parliament, some – with the notable exception of France -suggested Britain could still win more time to prepare for a no-deal Brexit if lawmakers fail to approve the divorce deal by April 12.

“HOPE DIES LAST”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar summed up the mood in Brussels when he spoke of overwhelming fatigue with Brexit while also issuing a tongue-in-cheek reminder to Britain that EU and non-EU countries can get along fine.

“There is Brexit fatigue across the European Union, I think there’s Brexit fatigue in the UK as well – people really want certainty,” he told a news conference.

With Brussels keen to shift the onus of responsibility to London, European Council President Donald Tusk said: “The fate of Brexit is in the hands of our British friends. We are, as the EU, prepared for the worst but hope for the best. As you know, hope dies last.”

French President Emmanuel Macron took a potshot at Brexit supporters. “Brexiteer leaders told people leaving would be easy. Bravo.”

Leaders doubted whether May could get her deal through parliament, which like the country itself is deeply split over how, or even if, Britain should leave the EU after a 2016 referendum when 52 percent backed Brexit against 48 percent.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said he believed May had a 50:50 chance of getting the deal through.

Macron told the summit that before coming to Brussels he had thought May had a 10 percent chance of winning the vote. After listening to the prime minister, he said, he had cut his estimate to five percent.

NEW VOTES

Parliament will start next week with another vote on Brexit, which may open the way for lawmakers to be able to vote on alternative options for Britain’s departure.

Stepping up the pressure on May, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said it was time for parliament to take over Brexit from May, and for lawmakers to make their own decisions about Britain’s future.

With parliament deadlocked so far, the lack of certainty is encouraging some Britons to try to influence politicians from the streets or over the Internet.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to march through central London on Saturday calling for a second Brexit referendum, while an online petition demanding May revoke the EU leave notice and stop Brexit altogether has got more than 3 million signatures.

Seven hours of summit brainstorming on Thursday kept a host of options open for the EU leaders, who say they regret Britain’s decision to leave but are eager to move on from what they increasingly see as a distraction.

A first-ever leaders’ dinner debate over the EU’s China policy at the summit got delayed until Friday because of Brexit.

Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister next week. If it does not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the European Union without a treaty.

In the case of a longer extension, the main idea is for one-year, EU officials said. That would give Britain time to hold an election, and possibly a second referendum if it chose to, and avoid an even longer delay that would complicate negotiations for a new long-term EU budget.

(Additional reporting by William James, Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott, Philip Blenkinsop, Richard Lough, Francesco Guarascio, Andreas Rinke; writing by Elizabeth Piper and Alastair Macdonald, Editing by Jon Boyle and Gareth Jones)

U.S., China haggle over toughest issues in trade war talks

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (2ndL), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (Top-L) pose for a photograph with China's Vice Premier Liu He (2ndR), Chinese vice ministers and senior officials before the start of US-China trade talks at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators haggled on Thursday over the details of a set of agreements aimed at ending their trade war, just one week before a Washington-imposed deadline for a deal expires and triggers higher U.S. tariffs.

Reuters reported exclusively on Wednesday that the two sides are starting to sketch out an agreement on structural issues, drafting language for six memorandums of understanding on proposed Chinese reforms.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by March 1, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent. Tit-for-tat tariffs between the world’s two largest economic powers have disrupted international trade and slowed the global economy since the trade war started seven months ago.

Negotiators have struggled this week to overcome differences on specific language to address tough U.S. demands for structural changes in China’s economy, two sources familiar with the talks said. The issues include an enforcement mechanism to ensure that China complies with any agreements.

“It’s not surprising that this week has been more challenging,” said an industry source familiar with the talks. “Once you move from putting together outlines to filling out the details, that is where things would naturally become more challenging.”

Chinese officials did not answer questions as they left the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Thursday evening after more than nine hours of talks on Thursday.

The discussions began with a photo opportunity where U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He faced each other silently across a table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Liu at the Oval Office on Friday, the White House said late on Thursday. The two also met at the end of talks during Liu’s last visit to Washington in late January.

Trump, who has embraced an “America First” policy as part of an effort to rebalance global trade, has said the March 1 deadline could be extended if enough progress is made.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters the memorandums would cover forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade.

The two sides remain far apart on demands by Trump’s administration for China to end practices on those issues that led Trump to start levying duties on Chinese imports in the first place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping would need to undertake difficult structural economic reforms to meet U.S. demands. The United States is offering no real concessions in return, other than to remove the tariff barriers Trump has imposed to force change from China.

PEN TO PAPER

One of Trump’s demands that is easier to fix for Beijing is to reduce the trade imbalance between the two nations. The U.S. trade deficit with China reached a record $382 billion through the first 11 months of 2018.

The two sides have reached consensus on how to alleviate the trade imbalances, several Chinese government sources said. Washington and Beijing are looking at a 10-item list for that, including additional Chinese purchases of agricultural produce, energy and goods such as semiconductors.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called China’s pledges to purchase U.S. agricultural produce premature.

“Those proposals are all contingent upon a grand deal,” he said on the sidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual forum in Washington.

“The real issue is structural reforms regarding intellectual property, enforceability of those types of provisions.”

The United States could quickly recover its lost agricultural markets in China if a deal is struck, he said.

Perdue has overseen $12 billion in federal aid to U.S. farmers for losses they have sustained because of the trade war. China had all but halted purchases of U.S. soybeans, which were the single biggest U.S. agricultural export, worth around $12 billion in 2017.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Lawder; Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Chris Prentice in New York and Michael Martina in Beijing; writing by Simon Webb; editing by Paul Simao, Richard Chang and Grant McCool)

Congress negotiators struggle to reach border security deal

FILE PHOTO: Construction on the border wall with Mexico (top) is shown in New Mexico near Sunland Park, New Mexico, U.S. June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time remaining, congressional negotiators on U.S. border security funding have not settled the hot-button issues they hope to resolve, as some liberal Democrats potentially complicated their work by pressing for cuts in homeland security spending.

Congressional aides on Monday said that while constructive negotiations were held by staffers over the past weekend, it is now up to the lawmakers themselves to tackle the thorniest disagreements before a Feb. 15 deadline.

Seventeen Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives are tasked with finding a compromise border security deal with the allocation of Department of Homeland Security funds through Sept. 30.

The toughest unresolved disputes include the type of new physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, if any, as President Donald Trump demands $5.7 billion for a wall that most Democrats and many Republicans oppose as wasteful and ineffective.

Other difficult questions, according to the aides, including whether to increase or cut funds for immigrant detention beds and the numbers of immigration law-enforcement agents and immigration judges.

Democrats had been backing legislation providing up to $1.6 billion for additional fencing on some parts of the southwestern border, far below Trump’s request for a wall that he originally envisioned as a 2,000 mile (3,200 km) concrete barrier.

But new fencing money was not included in an initial proposal Democrats sketched out last week, which did, however, call for a $589 million increase in DHS’s budget.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters she agreed with sentiments expressed in a letter circulated by four members of that group, which seeks Department of Homeland Security funding cuts.

Dated Jan. 29, the letter said the Trump administration had “abused their authority and the fidelity of public resources,” with initiatives that included separating immigrant children from their families. One of the signatories was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, part of a new crop of Democrats swept into office this year on a strong liberal platform.

Trump has argued that additional DHS funding was necessary to stop illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants, touting a massive wall as the linchpin.

He has threatened to either let several federal agencies shut down for the second time this year if no deal is reached, or declare a “national emergency” that he says would allow him to build the wall with already-appropriated funds not necessarily related directly to border security.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Trump threatens ‘very long’ U.S. government shutdown

A pedestrian walk past the U.S. Capitol ahead of a possible partial government shut down in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened a “very long” government shutdown just hours ahead of a midnight deadline, calling on the Senate to pass spending legislation that includes his $5 billion demand for border wall funding and seeking to shift blame for a holiday showdown to Democrats.

The Republican-led Senate had already approved funds for the government through Feb. 8 without money for the wall. But Trump pushed Republican allies in the House of Representatives on Thursday to use the short-term funding bill as leverage to force through the border wall money despite Democratic objections.

In a series of ten early-morning tweets on Friday, the president urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up the amended bill from the House. Trump, who last week said he would be “proud” to preside over a shutdown, sought to blame Senate Democrats, whose support is needed to reach the 60 votes needed for passage.

Republicans currently have a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

“If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything,” he tweeted. “He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen.”

Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services.

But funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and Agriculture Department, is set to expire at midnight on Friday. A shutdown would leave a number of federal workers without a paycheck at Christmas.

If the House measure is put to a vote in the Senate, Democrats have pledged to prevent it from getting the votes it needs for passage.

“The bill that’s on the floor of the House, everyone knows it will not pass the Senate,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters late Thursday.

It was not yet clear what would happen in that case. The partial government shutdown could begin, or lawmakers could work to find a solution that Trump finds acceptable.

Trump also called on McConnell to use the so-called “nuclear option” to force a Senate vote on legislation with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes currently needed.

The nuclear option would allow the chamber to approve legislation with a simple majority in an extreme break from Senate tradition that McConnell has so far resisted.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Friday said Trump would stay in Washington rather than go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays as planned, but said she hoped the Senate would not vote down the bill.

“We hope they’ll step up,” she told reporters at the White House.

Trump’s border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Ginger Gibson and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kieran Murray, Sam Holmes and Jeffrey Benkoe)

On eve of signing, North America trade pact still being finalized

FILE PHOTO: The flags of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are seen on a lectern before a joint news conference on the closing of the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City, Mexico March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido//File Photo

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – A day before Canada, the United States and Mexico are due to sign a new trade pact, negotiators are still thrashing out what exactly they will be putting their names to, officials said on Thursday.

The three countries agreed a deal in principle to govern the trillion dollars of mutual trade after a year and a half of contentious talks concluded with a late-night bargain just an hour before a deadline on Sept. 30.

Yet, amid squabbling between the United States and Canada, the details of the deal are still being worked on, less than a day before the scheduled Nov. 30 signing date on the sidelines of the Group of 20 world leaders summit in Buenos Aires.

Two Canadian sources directly familiar with the talks said it was unclear whether the three countries would sign a finalized pact or settle for some sort of less formal deal, leaving contentious details to be worked out later.

“As is always the case … with these agreements, there are always details to be finalized and we are very hard at work doing that,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Canada was on track to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), she said in televised remarks, adding that one of the issues was that the deal still needed to be translated into three languages.

A Mexican source said that “the legal review, translations and collation of documents are being concluded,” but ruled out important changes.

Officials say differences sometimes emerge as lawyers seek to nail down language agreed upon by negotiators.

One of the Canadian sources said Freeland might be hedging her bets until she was sure that a sometimes unpredictable U.S. administration would definitely sign.

But the source, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the situation, said it was nonetheless unusual that details were still being worked out so late.

“This is normally the time when people are focused on … (finalizing) the celebratory news release” said the source.

Canadian officials have complained the United States was trying to change elements of the pact that the sides had agreed on, sources have said.

Dairy remains a sticking point, sources familiar with the matter said this week, noting the United States was demanding detailed information about Canada’s protected dairy market.

Canada’s politically influential dairy lobby on Wednesday said the USMCA would “grant the U.S. oversight into the administration of the Canadian dairy system” and urged the government not to sign.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Susan Thomas and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump threatens U.S. government shutdown over border wall

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would allow the federal government to shut down if Democrats do not fund his border wall and back immigration law changes, betting that maintaining a hard line will work in Republicans’ favor in November congressional elections.

However, a disruption in federal government operations could backfire on Trump if voters blame Republicans, who control Congress, for the interruption in services.

“I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!” Trump said on Twitter.

Americans are divided along party lines on immigration, and 81 percent of Republicans approved Trump’s handling of the issue, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month.

The Republican president has threatened a shutdown several times since taking office in 2017 in a bid to get immigration priorities in congressional spending bills, especially funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border. Trump has asked for $25 billion to build the wall.

“I don’t think it would be helpful, so let’s try to avoid it,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Congress must agree on a spending measure to fund the government by a Sept. 30 deadline.

Although Republicans control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, disagreements between moderates and conservatives in the party have impeded a speedy legislative fix.

Standoffs over spending levels and immigration led to a three-day government shutdown, mostly over a weekend, in January and an hours-long shutdown in February.

The House in June rejected an immigration bill favored by conservative Republicans.

The Republican president has made tougher immigration laws a centerpiece of his administration, from the first ill-fated travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations to the current battle raging over the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A federal judge on Friday urged the U.S. government to focus on finding deported immigrant parents whose children remain in the United States.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. moving some detained migrant parents closer to their children

FILE PHOTO: Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration, are being housed in tents next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S., June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Yeganeh Torbati and Tom Hals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government is moving some migrant parents to detention sites closer to the young children they were separated from while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in an attempt to meet a court-imposed deadline to reunify families, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on Thursday.

U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego last month ordered the government to stop separating children from immigrant parents entering the United States illegally and set deadlines for the government to reunite families.

The judge’s order followed a political firestorm over U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and beefed up efforts to deter illegal U.S. entry.

Sabraw set a deadline for children under 5 years old to be reunited with their parents by July 10, and for all children to be reunited by July 26. He also set a deadline of Friday for parents to be in phone contact with their children.

Azar said that based on a comprehensive audit by HHS and immigration authorities, there were now fewer than 3,000 children in HHS care who may have been separated from parents taken into custody for crossing the border illegally or for other reasons, such as concern over safety of the child.

Of that group, approximately 100 children are under the age of 5, he said.

To speed the reunification process, the Department of Homeland Security is relocating parents of children under 5 years old to detention facilities close to their children “so that we can as expeditiously as possible reunite the children with their parents to meet the court’s deadline,” Azar said.

No children have yet been reunified with parents in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that will soon happen to meet the court deadline, Azar said.

He added, however, that deadlines imposed by the court will require a “truncated vetting process” and that the government will likely “seek additional time to ensure that we can do the job that we believe is necessary to protect the children in our care.”

Government personnel are currently collecting cheek swab DNA samples from parents and children in order to verify family relationships, said Jonathan White, deputy director for children’s programs at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the HHS office that takes care of the children.

White described the DNA process as faster than verifying relationships through documents such as birth certificates.

“We have to protect children from people who would prey on them, and that is what we are doing,” he said. “These DNA results are being used solely for that purpose and no other.”

In a reversal last month, after family separations at the border triggered a groundswell of opposition, Trump ordered that detained migrant families be kept together if possible.

In the past, families detained while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were often released from custody to pursue their immigration cases while living freely in the United States, but the Trump administration has made clear that it intends to end what it derides as “catch and release” immigration policies.

A 1997 court ruling known as the Flores settlement has been interpreted to prevent detention of children for more than 20 days, which is one reason the administration gave for its policy of separating families when it decided to keep parents in custody.

Last month, the administration asked a federal court to modify the agreement so that it could detain children longer. It filed court papers last week saying it believed it had the right, under the current settlement, to hold children longer in order to enable family reunification and prevent future separations.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which filed a lawsuit challenging the family separations, questioned the government’s contention it might need more time to safely reunite families.

“When the government wants to marshal its resources to separate families, it has shown that it can do it quickly and efficiently, but when told to reunite families, it somehow finds it too difficult and cumbersome to accomplish,” he said.

Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, said her organization, which provides legal assistance to unaccompanied minors, was unaware of any comprehensive government plan for uniting families.

One test will be if the government can meet Friday’s deadline to get parents in touch with their children by phone, she said.

“If they fail to meet that deadline, I think it calls into serious question whether they will be able to meet the reunification deadlines in the coming weeks,” Young said.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Tom Hals; Editing by Tom Brown and Sue Horton)

Congress struggles to meet deadline for government funding bill

People walk by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress, facing a Friday midnight deadline, toiled on Monday to finish writing a $1.2 trillion bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, as several thorny issues lingered, including funding President Donald Trump’s border wall.

A range of other hot-button initiatives was also slowing the unveiling of legislation that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had aimed to make public late on Monday.

Republican lawmakers exiting a private meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan said, for example, that there still was no decision on whether a couple of narrow, gun control-related measures could be inserted into the massive spending bill.

A Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has given impetus to a bill that would improve background checks for gun sales and another that would spend money to help schools defend themselves against gun violence but without putting new limits on weapons sales.

Republican Representative Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, noted there was Republican opposition to the gun measures unless other steps such as expanding gun owners’ rights to carry concealed weapons across state lines were also enacted.

Simpson and other lawmakers said they did not know the fate of a move to include around $1.6 billion in funding for the border wall with Mexico, which is opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans.

“Everything that was significant is a work in progress. There is nothing defined” yet, said Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

Talks were expected to go late into the night.

Lawmakers were hoping to pass the “omnibus” spending bill before the start on Saturday of a two-week spring break. Doing so would put an end for six months to the possibility of any more government shutdowns by funding federal agencies for the rest of this fiscal year.

The federal government was forced to close over a weekend in January because of a similar budget battle.

POLARIZING MEASURES BEING SHELVED

With government funding running out at week’s end, several contentious items were tentatively being killed off to help speed passage of a bill that will significantly increase U.S. defense spending as well as many non-defense programs.

Several Republican lawmakers said a move had failed to renew federal subsidies to health insurers, which would help make “Obamacare” more affordable for low-income people.

Attempts to bolster the Affordable Care Act appeared to have collapsed after Republicans insisted on language that would have placed abortion prohibitions on those insurance plans and Democrats refused to go along.

“The speaker (Ryan) just said it wasn’t in there,” Meadows told reporters.

Trump discontinued the subsidy payments last year.

Trump also has threatened to veto the bill if it contains federal payments for constructing a New York-New Jersey railroad tunnel project known as the Gateway Program. Lawmakers said congressional leaders were still arguing over that money.

Three Republican House members told reporters that a separate initiative to impose an internet sales tax also appeared to be doomed.

Simpson, asked whether there were worries that the House and Senate would be unable to approve the spending bill before existing agency funds run out, said: “There’s always worries about that.”

Republican leaders were hoping to hold the House debate and votes on Wednesday, giving the Senate a couple more days to do the same before the Friday deadline. But the House timetable might have to be delayed a day, some aides and lawmakers said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney)