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Politics

Nicola Sturgeon mocked by Rees-Mogg for ‘modelling herself on Trump’ with latest threat

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It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in Parliament “there is no border between Scotland and England”. Ms Sturgeon said “she couldn’t rule out” quarantining visitors from other parts of the UK to control the number of coronavirus cases in Scotland.

She said in a St Andrews House briefing: “If we did see an ongoing divergence between infection rates and levels in Scotland and other parts of the UK, from a public health perspective, we would require to give consideration about how we mitigate that and guard against infection rates rising in Scotland as a result.”

But the leader of the House of Commons said it may not be a “bricks and mortar” structure in the vein of Hadrian’s Wall or US President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, but Ms Sturgeon wants a “metaphorical wall”.

During Business Questions on Thursday, Mr Rees-Mogg criticised Ms Sturgeon’s “shameful” remarks after SNP Commons business spokesman Tommy Sheppard said the Government is “led by someone who thinks the border does not exist”.

But Mr Rees-Mogg slated the SNP MP and added: “He mentions borders, and I noticed that Nicola Sturgeon wishes to have a wall – perhaps she is modelling herself on other leading political figures – between England and Scotland.

“But, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, there is no border between England and Scotland and it was shameful to call for a border of that type of kind to be erected to stop people travelling freely between constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

“One never thought that Nicola Sturgeon would model herself on American political figures and want to build a wall – at least a metaphorical wall if not actually getting like Hadrian with the bricks and mortar.”

It comes after Scotland’s First Minister criticised the UK Government for failing to consult her ahead of announcing proposed changes to the quarantine regime.

The FM said she wanted to “take a bit of time to consider the public health impact” of the plan and the evidence underpinning it.

With the proposals expected to be set out on Friday, Mr Shapps clashed with a senior member of Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party in the Commons.

Mr Shapps told SNP transport spokesman Gavin Newlands: “I’d appreciate his help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible.

“I’m very keen to get the devolved administrations, including the Scottish Government, on board so we can get this thing announced.”

As many as 75 countries could be exempted from the quarantine restrictions when the list is finally published.

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A Scottish Government spokesman, added: “To allow us to move out of lockdown, it is critical that we keep the transmission of the virus as low as possible, and that includes transmission from high to low-risk areas.

“Scotland has in place enhanced surveillance to identify those risks and has long-established powers, enhanced by recent coronavirus legislation, to manage them.

“We are having to take unprecedented steps to deal with the challenges that the pandemic brings.

“As we hopefully suppress the virus further, we will continue to consider any measures that might be necessary to protect against the risk of imported cases of the virus.”

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Business

Check in but never leave: Taiwan offers fake flights for travel-starved tourists

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown? One Taiwanese airport has the solution – a fake itinerary where you check in, go through passport control and security and even board the aircraft. You just never leave.

Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport on Thursday began offering travelers the chance to do just that, with some 60 people eager to get going, albeit to nowhere.

Around 7,000 people applied to take part, the winners chosen by random. More fake flight experiences will take place in coming weeks.

“I really want to leave the country, but because of the epidemic lots of flights can’t fly,” said Hsiao Chun-wei, 38, who brought her young son.

The passengers got boarding passes, and proceeded through security and immigration before boarding an Airbus A330 of Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines, where flight attendants chatted to them.

“I hope the epidemic ends soon so we can really fly away,” said a 48-year-old woman who gave her family name as Tsai.

The airport is using the event to show off renovations completed while passengers have stayed away, and show people what coronavirus-prevention steps they are taking.

Songshan usually has flights to Tokyo, Seoul and several Chinese cities, and is also an important domestic hub.

Taiwan has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic thanks to early and effective prevention steps, but has largely closed its borders since mid-March. It has advised citizens against overseas travel unless absolutely necessary.

With fewer flights operating, passenger numbers have plummeted 64% in the first five months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to the government.

Still, in one bright spot, internal travel is booming.

Taiwan’s two main domestic carriers – China Airlines unit Mandarin Airlines and Eva Air’s Uni Air – have added extra capacity over the summer to Taiwan’s sun-soaked offshore islands and rugged east coast.

(This story corrects typographical error in first paragraph.)

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World News

The Russian ‘bounty’ story – a simple explainer

President Donald Trump’s latest controversy is a complicated story, involving both the Kremlin and the Taliban. Here are the basics you need to know.

In summary

The controversy centres on allegations that Russia was offering money to the Taliban for killing US troops last year, and that the White House was informed about this intelligence but took no action.

Who says what?

US media outlets say there is evidence a Russian military intelligence unit put out the alleged bounties on US soldiers last year – and the president was briefed about the matter. The New York Times also reports that militants are believed to have collected money from Russia as a result of successful attacks, but it’s not clear which troop deaths are under suspicion.

President Trump says he was never briefed and it’s all a hoax.

Russia denies the claims and calls the reports fake news.

The Taliban rejects the allegation it took Russian cash to attack US soldiers.

Should Trump have known about this?

The White House has said there is still debate over how credible these reports are in the intelligence community, but it appears some senior officials knew about these allegations.

Intelligence reports can make it to the president even if they’re unconfirmed – which they often are – and this one was also reportedly shared with allies, including the UK.

Why does it matter now?

It’s destabilising as the US and Taliban are in the midst of negotiating a peace deal to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan.

This episode could also worsen US-Russia relations.

Why would Russia do this?

Experts say the tactic fits with Russia’s goal of weakening America’s global influence. It also wants to back the Taliban as it sees it as a possible bulwark against Islamist fundamentalism.

Want to read more?

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World News

Coronavirus slump threatens Mexican president's crusade on poverty

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – When President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won office with the biggest popular mandate since Mexico’s transition to democracy, he pledged to transform the country from the bottom up, putting the poor first.

Two years on, recession, rows with business and the coronavirus pandemic have jeopardized that ambition. Millions of people have lost their jobs and his response to the crisis has drawn criticism.

Lopez Obrador was elected in July 2018 with 53% of the vote, a far bigger share than the three other men to have run Mexico since one-party rule ended in 2000. He registered approval ratings of 80% after he took office that December.

But that optimism has faded in the face of political polarization, dismay over surging crime and frustration with the leftist’s tendency to pick fights with business.

Now, with fears growing about the economic impact of the pandemic, both critics and some well-wishers warn that without a more pragmatic approach, the 66-year-old Lopez Obrador will struggle to revive investment and tackle chronic poverty.

“And the president, with the best intentions of helping the poor, will end up impoverishing more people,” said Fernando Turner, a businessman and supporter who was Lopez Obrador’s pick for economy minister in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Once coronavirus was factored in, said Turner, it looked increasingly likely Mexico’s economy would be smaller when Lopez Obrador’s term ends in late 2024 than when it started.

“If the cake is smaller, there will be less for the people he wants to help,” he said. “I would ask him to change tack before it’s too late to save his political project.”

Lopez Obrador says his welfare schemes mean that wealth is more fairly distributed now. But Mexico’s overall pool of wealth has fast diminished in the crisis.

The economy shrank by nearly a fifth in April from 2019, and 12 million people have lost their jobs. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Mexico’s economy will contract 10.5% this year.

Lopez Obrador’s political capital is also shriveling. A daily tracking poll of his popularity by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky last week hit 46.0%, its lowest reading yet.

His management of the pandemic, which critics say he downplayed by initially urging people to hug each other and to keep going out, has also upset some erstwhile supporters.

Too often, his attitude has been unbecoming of a president and an affront to families of nearly 28,000 people who have died with coronavirus, said Francisco Verde, a 55-year-old insurance broker who voted for Lopez Obrador with high hopes.

“He started well,” said Verde. “But now he’s awful.”

BEDROCK OF SUPPORT

Lopez Obrador still commands solid support among many voters for his commitment to the poor.

“I think he’s the closest there is to anyone talking about the most unprotected people in society,” said Yolanda Fauvet, a U.S.-Mexican artist in Mexico City who voted for him as the nearest thing Mexico had to Bernie Sanders in the United States.

Lopez Obrador has focused on supporting the 60 million Mexicans – nearly one in two – who live below the poverty line with welfare programs, pensions and public works schemes.

Luis Pioquinto, 43, a security guard from the central state of Tlaxcala, said welfare payments were helping his family. “But that help isn’t enough to cover food and rent,” he added.

Pioquinto also praised Lopez Obrador for, as he saw it, trying to reduce the influence of foreign companies, some of which the president has accused of trying to undermine his government.

Lopez Obrador says he wants businesses to invest and has cast a trip next week to Washington to meet his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, as a matter of economic necessity.

Still, arguing that corruption benefited companies, he has gotten bogged down in disputes over infrastructure contracts agreed under the last administration, casting doubt over billions of dollars worth of investment.

That does not augur well for a recovery, said Turner, a former economy minister for the state of Nuevo Leon.

Lopez Obrador took office pledging to lift growth to 4% per year and reduce violence. Instead, Mexico entered recession in 2019 and homicides hit record levels. This year they are higher still.

Time and again, the president has cast Mexico’s problems as the legacy of past governments. Some have heard it too often.

“It’s time he showed us what he can do,” said Carmen Maya, 41, a Mexico City supermarket supervisor who voted for Lopez Obrador. “We wouldn’t have given him the chance if everything was going to be about what happened in the past.”

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Business

Wirecard HQ raided by police as fraud probe gathers pace

Police and prosecutors have raided the headquarters of beleaguered payments firm Wirecard as part of a fraud investigation relating to its £1.7bn accounting black hole.

Officials from Munich carried out searches at four other properties in connection with the company’s activities, according to prosecutors.

They told Reuters they were investigating three other members of the board, in addition to former chief executive Markus Braun who resigned last month after the missing money was disclosed to the market.

A spokeswoman, the news agency reported, identified the three as Alexander von Knoop, Jan Marsalek and Susanne Steidl.

Mr Marsalek is a former director.

They are yet to comment on the developments and there is no detail on any specific allegations.

Wirecard filed for insolvency last month – the first member of Germany’s prestigious DAX share index to do so – but has continued to trade since.

The scandal has resonated across Europe.

It prompted the UK’s City watchdog to secure a freeze on Wirecard’s UK arm, Wirecard Card Solutions, which was said to have prevented thousands of customers from using their payment cards.

The precautionary restriction was introduced on Monday to protect the interests of consumers but lifted the following day.

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World News

Hong Kong: Police make first arrests under controversial new security law

Police in Hong Kong have made their first arrests under a controversial new security law imposed by China’s central government.

A man was detained for carrying a flag that called for independence, while a woman was also held for carrying a sign bearing the same message with a British flag.

Police had made multiple warnings to a crowd in the Causeway Bay shopping district – telling them that they might be in violation of the law.

Overall, at least 30 people have been arrested on various charges – from unlawful assembly to the violation of the national security law.

The law makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs.

Any person taking part in pro-independence activities, such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags, is in violation of the law – irrespective of whether violence is used.

Critics say it effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered for an annual rally marking the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China in 1997.

Riot police are using pepper spray to detain people, while shops and one metro train station are closed. Water cannon has also been fired.

Crowds spilling out into the streets chanted “resist till the end” and “Hong Kong independence”.

One 35-year-old man, who gave his name as Seth, said: “I’m scared of going to jail but for justice I have to come out today, I have to stand up.”

Joshua Wong, a pro-free speech activist, tweeted he was on the streets to protest the new law. “We shall never surrender – now is not the time to give up,” he said.

Protesters also resurrected a tactic from last year’s protests – shouting “one, two, one, two” to coordinate steps as they fled from police to prevent a stampede.

One officer meanwhile yelled at reporters for filming, telling them to “turn around and leave” and “film yourself instead”.

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Business

Geely's Volvo announces its biggest ever recall over seat belt cable

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Volvo Cars said on Wednesday it was recalling nearly 2.2 million cars built between 2006 and 2019 to address a potential issue with cables attached to their front seat belts in the automaker’s biggest ever recall.

Volvo said it would contact owners of the affected models, such as the V60, V70 and XC60, asking them to contact their Volvo retailer to have their cars repaired free of charge.

The carmaker, owned by China’s Geely, said it had not received any reports of accidents or injuries connected to the flaw and that the move was preventative to avoid any possible issues in the future.

“The issue is related to a steel cable connected to the front seat belts,” it said. “The cable may, under certain rare circumstances and user behaviours, over time suffer from fatigue. This could eventually cause damage to the cable, resulting in reduced seat belt restraint function.”

A Volvo spokesman said the company would not comment on the cost of the recall.

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Business

Colorado companies ride a rising tide of oil prices higher

The biggest quarterly jump in oil prices in three decades helped shares of several Colorado companies double and even triple in value during the second quarter from depressed levels.

Buoyed by support from the Federal Reserve and the reopening of the economy, most Colorado shares joined the larger U.S. markets, rising sharply in late March, April, May and June after cratering in February and March.

But the move in domestic oil prices from single-digit levels in April to just shy of $40 a barrel on Tuesday gave energy companies an extra push.

The Bloomberg Colorado index, a price-weighted basket of 59 stocks headquartered in the state, rose by nearly a third during the second quarter, which beat out the 17.8% rise in the Dow Jones industrial average, the 19.95% gain in the S&P 500 and even the 30.6% gain in the Nasdaq composite.

For the first half of the year, the Bloomberg Colorado index is down 4.9%, while the Dow is off 9.5%, the S&P 500 is off 4.04%. The big winners remain technology stocks, with the Nasdaq up 12.1%.

Although the reopening of the economy was behind some of the rebound in the second quarter, the bigger driver appears to be the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented purchases of government, mortgage and corporate debt.

Abundant fiscal stimulus domestically and oil production cuts globally also helped. A rebound in oil prices made shares of several Colorado petroleum companies top performers during the quarter. They included QEP Resources, up 285.6%; Antero Resources, up 256.3% Ovintiv, up 253.7%; Centennial Resources, up 238.4%; SM Energy up 207.4%, and DCP Midstream, up 177.6%.

But not every energy company reversed course.  Hallador Energy shares were the state’s worst performer during the second quarter, dropping nearly 31%. Other big losers in the up quarter included Advanced Emissions Solutions, off 26.2%; Pure Cycle, down 17.6%; Brickell Biotech, down 16% and Echostar Corp., down 12.5%.

The online travel booking company Liberty TripAdvisor’s A shares, the ones most commonly traded, rebounded 18.3% during the quarter, but remain down 71% this year, not surprising given the ongoing limitations on leisure travel due to the outbreak.

But the company’s B shares, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, went haywire. They went from $4.75 on April 14 to $59 by April 16. By June 14, they were back down to $20 a share, only to triple six days later to $63 a share.

The moves were so extreme that the company’s executives issued a statement saying they had no role in the volatility.

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World News

As India reopens, one state outnumbers China in coronavirus cases

Maharashtra crosses a grim milestone as Indian government reopens more public spaces after a 10-week lockdown.

As India begins to reopen more public spaces after a 10-week lockdown, its western state of Maharashtra has crossed a grim milestone by having more coronavirus cases than China.

India’s health ministry on Monday said Maharashtra – the country’s most industrialised state – now has a total of 85,975 coronavirus cases, including more than 3,000 deaths.

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As of Monday, China had 84,191 cases of the virus with 4,638 deaths so far, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

Maharashtra’s capital and India’s financial hub, Mumbai, home to more than 18 million people, is the worst-hit Indian city with 48,549 cases – a fifth of India’s infections – and 1,636 deaths.

Mumbai: Heavy traffic jam seen on Western Expressway Highway. #Maharashtra pic.twitter.com/43ov1KKUgI

The state of Maharashtra crossed the grim milestone as India reported its highest single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 9983 new infections taking the tally to 256,611.

Only the United States, Brazil, Russia and the United Kingdom have more cases than India.

More than 200 people died because of the COVID-19 disease in the last 24 hours in the world’s second most populous nation.

Pressure on hospitals

India’s total death toll at 7,135 is much lower than reported in other badly hit countries, but the epidemic is only expected to peak locally in July, according to health experts.

Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam said New Delhi and Mumbai, the two cities with “the best medical infrastructure” in India, are struggling in dealing with the pandemic.

“The Delhi chief minister on Sunday said people from outside Delhi will not be allowed to use the hospitals in the city. But medical associations say hospitals can’t turn emergency patients away,” she said.

Reporting from New Delhi, Puranam also said India was not conducting enough coronavirus tests.

“Every other day we see the highest single-day rise in cases and deaths but still India is not testing enough while deaths could also be under-reported,” she said.

“Only 22 percent of India’s deaths are registered by the government.”

India reopens more public spaces

Despite the record spike in infections, malls, mosques and temples reopened in several cities across India on Monday.

The government has risked lifting some restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.

In the capital, New Delhi, shopping centres, restaurants, temples and mosques were allowed to reopen for the first time since March 25.

“A lot of guidelines are in place, like temperature checks, sanitation tunnels which people walk through, limited numbers and markings all over the floor to ensure social distancing,” Puranam reported.

The response was tentative, however, and only a trickle of people returned to some places of worship.

The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque – one of the biggest in India – planned to allow the faithful in just three times a day instead of the usual five.

Mumbai was more cautious. Roadside shops were allowed to reopen but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered. A few offices opened.

In Mumbai’s sprawling suburbs, there were long queues at bus stops as the commuter trains that are its lifeline have not yet opened.

Major hit to economy

The Indian government is braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.

Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than 5 percent this year, after average growth of about 7 percent over the past decade.

Despite restrictions being eased last month, India’s manufacturing sector is struggling to restart because of an exodus of migrant workers prompted by the virus lockdown.

Big cities – once an attractive destination for workers from poor, rural regions – have been hit by reverse migration as millions of labourers have fled to their village homes.

“Business owners say they are very apprehensive about the reopening as the number of cases continues to rise,” said Puranam.

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Business

Coronavirus strikes down global M&A as companies keep their distance

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Global M&A activity tumbled to its lowest level in more than a decade in the second quarter, according to data provider Refinitiv, as companies gave up on expansion plans to focus on protecting their balance sheets and employees in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Chief executives were reluctant to explore transformative deals without more certainty about the financial outlook of their companies, deal advisers said. Instead, they seized on favorable financing conditions to raise capital by selling stock and borrowing cheaply, driving equity and debt issuance to record highs.

“It was the quarter for capital market activity. Companies are making sure their balance sheets are strong and durable for what comes next,” said Michael Carr, global M&A co-head at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Global M&A totaled $485.3 billion in the second quarter, down 55% from a year ago and its lowest since the third quarter of 2009, according to Refinitiv. This was based on 8,272 deals, the lowest quarterly number since the third quarter of 2004.

Most of the decline was driven by the United States, where M&A plunged 85% from year-earlier levels to $94.3 billion as U.S. coronavirus cases surged. It marked the first time since the third quarter of 2009 that United States has not led the rankings.

Europe and Asia saw more modest declines of less than 10%, to $182 billion and $150 billion respectively.

Dealmakers said the economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic had curtailed the ability of many companies to initiate and successfully complete M&A negotiations.

“The main challenge to get deals done is that buyers have to be prepared to pay a full price while the current business performance is still well below pre-COVID-19 level,” said JPMorgan Chase & Co global co-head of M&A Dirk Albersmeier.

The biggest deals of the quarter came from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Liberty Global and Telefonica agreed last month to merge their British businesses, Virgin Media and O2, in a $38 billion deal that will create a powerhouse in mobile and broadband.

National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia’s biggest lender, said last week it would buy smaller lender Samba Financial Group for as much as $15.6 billion.

“Many of the deals you see now are between companies that already knew each other or were talking before the pandemic,” said Andrew Bednar, co-president of investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners LP.

European food-ordering firm Just Eat Takeaway.com NV this month agreed to buy U.S. peer Grubhub Inc in a $7.3 billion all-stock deal – one of only a few cross-border deals inked in the quarter.

“Doing cross-border deals requires a level of confidence and optimism that has taken a knock this year, especially when it comes to transactions across continents,” said Nick O’Donnell, a partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP.

Even as some deals were announced, others that had been signed but were not yet completed, unraveled.

Simon Property Group Inc, the biggest U.S. mall operator, said this month it was ending its $3.6 billion deal to buy Taubman Centers Inc, citing the beating the retail sector has taken during the coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, private equity firm Sycamore Partners ended its $525 million deal to acquire lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret from L Brands Inc, while Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp dropped its agreement to fund a $3 billion tender offer for additional shares in co-working company WeWork.

“It does require more courage to do a deal in this environment. You need a CEO with a lot of credibility with investors, and they need to be doing something very strategic,” said JPMorgan global M&A co-head Anu Aiyengar.

GRADUAL RETURN OF APPETITE

Some dealmakers say they are seeing a gradual pick-up in M&A activity as companies adapt to a post-coronavirus reality.

“Right now we are seeing significant pick-up in client dialogue, just in the past three to four weeks,” said Goldman Sachs global M&A co-head Dusty Philip.

“Many of our clients are starting to think big and outside of the box, asking themselves what has changed and how do I adjust my strategic priorities to reflect the pandemic we have all been living through.”

Companies and their advisers are also getting accustomed to negotiating and carrying out due diligence digitally.

“Nearly all of the management presentations and expert sessions – from a diligence standpoint – are being done by video conference. That is true for most board meetings. We are also seeing companies employ drones and (camera crews) filming in place of site visits for due diligence,” said Bank of America head of global M&A Patrick Ramsey.

While many companies are struggling to regain their footing, some have taken advantage of advances in technological innovation and are poised to emerge from the downturn stronger and with an appetite to pursue acquisitions, dealmakers said.

“The companies that survive the crisis will largely be those with balance sheet and cash flow strength which position them to be industry consolidators,” said Cary Kochman, global co-head of M&A at Citigroup Inc.

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