UK government will publish Russia report after election: minister

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government will publish a parliamentary report examining alleged Russian meddling in British politics after the country’s Dec. 12 election, security minister Brandon Lewis said on Sunday.

Opponents have accused the government of sitting on the report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which has been cleared by the security services, because it might contain embarrassing revelations about Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party.

Lewis told Sky News the report could not be published during the so-called “purdah” period which sets rules on government announcements during an election campaign.

“We want to make sure, particularly where national security is involved, we go through that process properly and thoroughly,” he said. “We can’t publish things during the general election … but after the general election that report will be published.”

Last week the government had said the report had not been published because of necessary procedure whereby vetting it would take several weeks.

Britain has accused Russia of meddling or trying to interfere in western elections, accusations denied by Moscow. The ISC was examining allegations of Russian activity aimed at the United Kingdom, including in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, when Johnson was a leading campaigner to leave.

The Sunday Times said the report concluded Russian interference may have had an impact on the Brexit referendum but the effect was “unquantifiable”.

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No more surrender for Brexit Party's Farage in British election

LONDON (Reuters) – Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage on Thursday rejected demands to further help British Prime Minister Boris Johnson by pulling out of contests with the opposition Labour Party, saying his aim was to win enough parliamentary seats to hold Johnson to account.

The Dec. 12 election will define the fate of Brexit: Johnson says he will get Brexit done by the end of January if he wins while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to renegotiate the current exit deal and then hold another referendum.

Both supporters and opponents of the EU divorce say the election is their last real chance to either deliver on the 2016 Brexit referendum or to prevent what some see as Britain’s worst strategic blunder since the 1956 Suez crisis.

In the most significant move of the election to date, Farage agreed on Monday to stand down 317 Brexit Party candidates in Conservative-held seats, a step that could pave the way for a majority in parliament for the Brexit deal Johnson negotiated.

Farage, cast by supporters as the “godfather of Brexit”, has come under intense pressure from some powerful Brexit supporters and the governing Conservative Party to stand down more.

He had until 1600 GMT on Thursday to withdraw more candidates but declined to do so.

Farage said a deal with the Conservatives could have been done but that Johnson’s party did not want the Brexit Party to win seats in parliament. He said Conservative officials had been contacting Brexit Party candidates to offer them jobs or peerages not to stand.

“That I think is the most extraordinary abuse of the whole democratic process,” Farage, 55, told Sky News. “What they want is a Conservative majority not a leave majority. I’ve given him a bye in 317 seats, I’m going to challenge him in the rest.”

One of his candidates did pull out at the last minute from contesting the Dudley North seat in central England, which Labour won by just 22 votes in 2017, saying he had to put country before party.

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“The probability is that this election is going to come up with a very binary outcome,” said Britain’s leading psephologist, John Curtice.

“It is either going to be a Boris majority and we are heading out of the European Union or it is going to be a hung parliament and we are going to have a second referendum.”

‘BREXHAUSTION’

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 51.9 percent, backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million, or 48.1 percent, backed staying. But parliament has been deadlocked since a 2017 election over how, when or even whether to leave.

Britain will lose influence in international affairs and become a “second-rate player” after it leaves the EU, European Council President Donald Tusk said late on Wednesday.

Arron Banks, one of the biggest financiers behind the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, told Reuters on Thursday that Farage should step aside to ensure a Johnson majority.

Farage accused Banks of losing his appetite for what Leave supporters call a “clean Brexit” by supporting Johnson’s deal, much of which was crafted by former prime minister Theresa May.

Farage and his supporters argue that the deal does not constitute a real Brexit, saying it would keep Britain closely tied to the EU.

“He (Banks), I think, has just had enough of Brexit, it’s Brexhaustion and he was happy for some reason to go along with Mrs May’s deal and Boris’ deal,” Farage said.

Banks denied he was suffering from “Brexhaustion”.

“The Brexit Party has been a successful pressure group that doesn’t realize it’s already won. It should now push to help Boris get Brexit done and that only happens with a Boris majority,” Banks said.

“I support a clean break Brexit but Nigel and the Brexit Party haven’t outlined any realistic way to get to that position and for that reason I support a strong leave majority in parliament to get Brexit done.”

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New Bolivian leader seeks quick vote, foes plan disruptions

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivia’s new interim president pledged on Wednesday to hold a new election as soon as possible and condemned “revenge” acts by disgruntled supporters of fallen leader Evo Morales who resigned after protests over a disputed vote.

Senate vice-president and conservative Jeanine Anez, 52, assumed the interim role on Tuesday with a Bible in her hand after Morales took refuge in Mexico following the end of his 14-year socialist rule of the poor Andean nation.

“God bless you and allow us to be free and to hold transparent elections soon,” she tweeted on Wednesday in a message to the country’s youth.

Her arrival at the presidential palace faces an immediate challenge from lawmakers loyal to Morales who hold a majority in parliament and have threatened to hold a rival session to nullify her appointment.

After weeks of violent protests over alleged election rigging and then Morales’ resignation, the highland capital La Paz was calmer on Wednesday, though dozens of his supporters protested outside looking to block access to the palace.

In 48 hours of turmoil at the weekend, mutinous police climbed on stations and joined marches, allies deserted Morales, the Organization of American States (OAS) declared his re-election was manipulated, and the military urged him to quit.

From Mexico, Morales has stayed defiant, accusing opposition leaders of a coup. Supporters, including a teaching union, planned rallies for Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president who was beloved by the poor when he took power in 2006.

“REVENGE CONTINUES”

Opponents say pressure had built to a point of no-return after increasing evidence of tampering with the October vote, and that Morales had gone against the will of the people by seeking a fourth term.

Bolivia’s largest union threatened a widespread strike unless politicians could restore stability, while a coca farmers’ union official and a lawmaker close to Morales called for protests until he returned to finish his mandate in January.

Anez met on Tuesday night with the police and military, urging them to ensure peace.

“What a shame revenge continues,” she tweeted to one lawmaker who said his house had been attacked by supporters of Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS).

She entered the older “Burned Palace” presidential building on Wednesday, which Morales had stopped using considering it a discredited symbol of past power.

Bolivia’s crisis has divided international reaction, with left-wing allies echoing his allegations of a coup, and others cheering his resignation as good for democracy.

Conservative-led Brazil and Britain congratulated Anez.

“We look to all political parties to support efforts to restore calm following recent violence and to organize fresh presidential elections in accordance with the constitution,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

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Hackers launch second cyber attack against UK Labour Party

LONDON (Reuters) – Hackers attacked Britain’s opposition Labour Party for the second time in two days on Tuesday, sources told Reuters, flooding its web services with malicious traffic in an attempt to force them offline just weeks ahead of a national election.

The party said earlier on Tuesday it had “experienced a sophisticated and large-scale cyberattack on Labour digital platforms,” but that the attack was successfully repelled and no data was compromised.

Just hours later, the party’s website and other online services came under a second digital bombardment, according to two people with knowledge of the matter and documents seen by Reuters.

One of the sources said it was unclear if it was the same hackers or a copycat attack but there was currently nothing to link either incident to a foreign state.

A Labour spokesman had no immediate comment on the second attack, which the sources said was ongoing.

Britain’s security agencies have warned that Russia and other countries could use cyberattacks or political messages on social media to attempt to disrupt the Dec. 12 election.

Moscow has repeatedly denied Western allegations of election interference.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency, said the first attack was a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack – a technique used by hackers to take down websites by overwhelming them with traffic.

“DDoS attacks are a common form of attack used by a very wide range of attackers. Mitigation techniques are available and worked in this case,” a NCSC spokesman said.

The nature of such attacks often made it difficult to attribute responsibility to any particular group, he said.

‘VERY NERVOUS’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the first attack was very serious but was successfully repelled by the party’s defence systems when the digital assault began on Monday.

“But if this is a sign of things to come in this election, I feel very nervous about it all,” he said. “Because a cyber attack against a political party in an election is suspicious and something one is very worried about.”

A Labour spokesman said that while the attack on Monday had slowed down some campaign activity, they were restored on Tuesday.

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Britain goes to the polls on Dec. 12 in an election called by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to try to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament more than three years since the country voted to leave the European Union.

A report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee has investigated Russian activity in British politics and reportedly includes charges of spying and interference in polls, including the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2017 national election.

The government, however, has declined to publish it before the upcoming election.

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Spain's Socialists again seek to rule without majority as Ciudadanos collapses

MADRID (Reuters) – The head of Spain’s center-right Ciudadanos party quit on Monday after heavy election losses, potentially making his party more amenable to backing a government led by the Socialists.

Sunday’s election left Spain’s parliament even more fragmented than a previous election in April, with the Socialists winning but still short of a majority, and the far-right Vox surging at the expense of the market-friendly Ciudadanos (Citizens).

Ciudadanos, one of the upstart parties that ended the domination of the Socialists and the conservative People’s Party (PP), winning its first national seats in 2015, shrank to just 10 seats from 57.

It had billed itself as a new-style liberal, centrist party, but its leader Albert Rivera turned it sharply to the right this year and rejected any form of cooperation with the Socialists.

Rivera said on Monday that his strategy had failed, opening the door for a new leader potentially more open to cooperation.

“It’s time to unite Spaniards. The political leaders can divide or look (to)… build bridges,” he said in an emotional resignation speech.

Sunday’s election was Spain’s fourth in four years, and the appearance of new parties has made it ever harder to form a stable government.

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Still, senior Socialist official Jose Luis Abalos said the party would try to do so as quickly as possible “because the country needs it”, expressing hope that it could take office by December.

He said acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez, the head of the party, was starting to call other party leaders on Monday, and that Ciudadanos had expressed its willingness to help.

Sanchez had gambled on a repeat ballot to break the political deadlock after failing to agree what had seemed a natural alliance with the left-wing Unidas Podemos – which gave up seven seats on Sunday to score 35.

However, the outcome – played out against a secessionist crisis in Catalonia – has left Spain’s political landscape even more divided.

‘NO ONE HAS WON’

The Socialists slipped by three seats, their score of 120 far short of the 176 needed for a majority, even assuming support from Podemos.

Despite a 33% gain to 88 seats by the PP, the Socialists quickly ruled out a “grand coalition” with the conservatives.

Senior PP official Teodoro Garcia Egea told Onda Cero radio on Monday that Sanchez had not even asked his party to offer passive support for a Socialist-led government by abstaining in a confidence vote. “Even if he did, we wouldn’t give it to him because we don’t trust him,” he said.

Abalos ruled out another election, however. The rise of Vox, the first far-right party to get more than one lawmaker since General Francisco’s Franco’s Fascist regime ended with his death in 1975, may also focus minds on a deal.

To be confirmed as prime minister in a first-round parliamentary vote, Sanchez would need a remote-seeming absolute majority.

But a second-round vote would require only a qualified majority, meaning it could be achieved with the help of abstentions.

The leader of the far-right Vox, which on Sunday became the third-largest by gaining 28 seats for a total of 52, said it would vote against any government led by the Socialists.

Despite Vox’s surge, the left-right balance in parliament has changed little from the last parliament.

“No one has won,” independent political analyst Miguel-Anxo Murado said. “The best success has been for … Vox, but this win does not give them any power … It’s not enough for the right-wing bloc to form a government.”

The Catalonia crisis also reared its head as some 500 pro-independence protesters blocked an important truck route at the French border.

Organizers said they wanted to “make the Spanish state understand that the only way is to sit down to talk”.

Catalonia handed down long prison sentences last month to nine leaders of a failed independence bid, putting the independence drive at the forefront of voters’ minds there.

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Spain 'cannot wait any longer' to have a government, says PP leader Casado

MADRID (Reuters) – The leader of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, Pablo Casado, on Sunday said the country “cannot wait any longer” to have a government, without spelling out if he would do anything to help a government being put together.

Casado also said Spain would be harder to govern after Sunday’s election result, which delivered a hung parliament.

Casado said his party, which came second in the election, would fulfill what he called “its duty” and was awaiting the next move from Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists, without giving any details.

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Bolivia's Morales agrees to new elections after damning OAS audit

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed on Sunday to hold new presidential elections after a damning report from the Organization of American States (OAS) found serious irregularities in an Oct. 20 vote won by the leftist leader.

Morales’ victory last month sparked widespread protests around the country.

The OAS report, issued earlier on Sunday, said the October vote should be annulled after it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system that meant it could not verify the result.

Morales, speaking at a press conference in La Paz, also said he would replace the country’s electoral body. The department has come under heavy criticism after an unexplained halt to the vote count sparked widespread allegations of fraud and prompted the OAS audit.

Morales, who came to power in 2006 as Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, has defended his election win but had said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.

The weeks-long standoff over the disputed election escalated over the weekend as police forces were seen joining anti-government protests and the military said it would not “confront the people” over the issue.

“The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case,” the preliminary OAS report said.

“The first round of the elections held on October 20 must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again,” the OAS added in a separate statement.

Voting should take place as soon as conditions are in place to guarantee it being able to go ahead, including a newly composed electoral body, the OAS said.

The OAS added that it was statistically “unlikely” that Morales had secured the 10 percentage point margin of victory needed to win outright.

In an outright win that had allowed Morales to avoid a riskier second round run-off, he was declared the winner of the election with a lead of just over 10 points over his rival Carlos Mesa.

The protests erupted afterward, particularly because of a nearly 24-hour halt during the vote count.

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No majority seen in Spanish election, far-right boosted: El Pais poll of polls

MADRID (Reuters) – Neither the left nor the right will win a majority in Spain’s parliamentary election this Sunday, according to a calculation by El Pais newspaper based on dozens of opinion polls.

The closely-watched poll of polls confirmed weeks of surveys that suggested the election will do little to break a long-standing stalemate that has forced voters to the polls for the second time this year and for the fourth time in four years.

Instead, it suggested the emergence of a far more complex political landscape, with a 60% chance of neither the left nor the right reaching the 176 seats needed for a majority in the 350-seat parliament.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), led by Pedro Sanchez, would lead with 117 seats, down from the 123 seats obtained in April’s inconclusive election.

Its main rival, the conservative People’s Party (PP), could reach 92 seats, a significant gain from the 66 seats it won in the previous election.

Far-right party Vox, which secured its first parliamentary seats in the previous election, would see its seats nearly double from 24 to 46, overtaking left-wing Podemos and center-right Ciudadanos to become the third-largest parliamentary group, it showed.

Several recent polls suggest support increased for Vox since the eruption of protests, at times violent, in Catalonia following the sentencing of nine independence leaders to prison terms of up to 13 years last month.

The unrest has seemingly provided a boost to parties on the right, who have called for the central government to take a tougher line on separatists in the northeastern region.

In the past four years, elections in Spain have produced minority or short-lived governments as political leaders struggled to adapt to the emergence of new parties that ended years of dominance by PP and Socialists.

The El Pais poll of polls is based on surveys published until Monday. By law, opinion polls cannot be published any closer to the election date.

It suggests parties will have to be creative and go beyond traditional alliances to try to form a government.

The Socialists and PP would together have enough seats to have a majority. Both parties have, however, publicly ruled out a “grand coalition” pact.

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Argentina's Fernandez names transition team as markets seek relief

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernandez has appointed a small transition team until his government takes over in December, a spokesman said on Tuesday, but there were no economists in the group as financial markets watch for signs of how he will steer South America’s No.2 economy.

The moderate Peronist, who won an election victory on Sunday, has appointed a four-person team of confidante Santiago Cafiero, “Kirchnerist” Eduardo de Pedro, former justice minister Gustavo Beliz and former senator Vilma Ibarra to negotiate the transfer of power with defeated incumbent Mauricio Macri’s team.

The group does not include any economists, leaving up in the air the key question investors are asking, which is who will lead Fernandez’s economic team as the country’s grapples with currency and debt crises.

Fernandez and Macri met on Monday to discuss a transition of power as Fernandez looks set to take Argentina in a new direction to the business-friendly reform agenda espoused by Macri, a staid former magnate with close ties with the United States.

Markets are closely watching for signals from Fernandez about how closely he will work with Macri to smooth what has potential to be a tricky transition until the new government starts on Dec. 10.

“The only way to release market tension is to give a confidence boost with a credible economic team and a preventive plan for negotiations with the IMF,” said Siobhan Morden, managing director of Amherst Pierpont Securities.

Argentine media has reported that Cafiero could be in line to be the Cabinet chief, while Pedro is a potential interior minister.

Argentina’s sovereign dollar bonds came under pressure earlier on Tuesday, with the benchmark international 2028 dollar bond down 1.1 cents to 37.1 cents in the dollar, while the 2023 issue slipped 0.9 cents to 39.36 cents in the dollar, according to Refinitiv data.

Fernandez rode back to power as the electorate voted to ditch the economic liberalization and austerity of conservative Macri, with the economy on the cusp of a complex $100 billion debt restructuring.

The opposition election win is seen with some trepidation by markets, which still recall more interventionist policies under Fernandez’s running mate, ex-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who ran the country between 2007-2015.

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Argentina's Fernandez pledges to 'turn the page' as left wins power

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernandez vowed on Monday to ‘turn the page’ on the IMF-backed policies of incumbent Mauricio Macri, after voters weary of rising poverty and inflation swept the left back to power in Latin America’ No.3 economy.

Argentina’s electorate voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to ditch the economic liberalization and austerity of conservative Macri, which has left the commodities-rich nation teetering on the brink of a $100 billion debt restructuring, and turned instead towards the Peronist left.

The two leaders held brief talks on Monday about a transition of power, with Fernandez vowing to take the country of over 44 million people in a vastly new direction to the business-friendly reform agenda espoused by his predecessor, a staid former magnate with close ties with the United States.

“We began to turn the page today. This page (of Macri) will be forgotten and we will start writing another story on December 10 when we arrive with Cristina in government,” Fernandez said after his election win, referring to his divisive running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

The return of the Peronists, and populist ex-president Fernandez de Kirchner, has startled some in Argentina and beyond, concerned that reforms to open Argentina more to global markets could be undone.

Markets on Monday were mixed, still uncertain how to respond to the result with many questions unclear.

Argentina’s central bank moved swiftly in the early hours of Monday to tighten capital controls during the transition and the peso closed 0.65% stronger. In the parallel black market, the local currency was more volatile, having fallen as low as 77 to the dollar, while Argentine over-the-counter bonds dipped 1.6% on average.

How Macri and Fernandez work together over the next few weeks will be key. With talks looming with creditors over $100 billion in debts, reserves are dwindling, inflation is sky-high and rising poverty is sparking anger.

“I’m worried because I already went through Cristina’s government and it was very hard for farmers,” said Sergio Storti, 58, a grains and cattle farmer in the bread basket province of Buenos Aires.

Markets are watching closely to see where Fernandez, a dark horse candidate who was a relative unknown until earlier this year, stands on key policies that could impact the peso, which crashed in August after he secured a landslide win in a primary vote.

In a bid to soothe markets, Fernandez and Macri signaled with their meeting on Monday that they would work together during the transition until the new government takes over in December.

Treasury Minister Hernan Lacunza told reporters the two leaders had shared a “good dialogue” and there would more meetings between the two teams in coming days.

“(There is) total willingness from this outgoing government to work together in the transition,” he said. Macri later said in a tweet that he and his team would be available to work with Fernandez to ensure a “democratic transition”.

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REGIONAL SHIFT

Fernandez’s victory shifts the political balance in Latin America, with two of the region’s top three economies – Mexico and Argentina – now helmed by leftist leaders, even as right-wing governments in Chile and Ecuador come under pressure to roll back market reforms.

In the wake of his win, Fernandez signaled that he would pursue close ties with leftist leaders in Mexico and Bolivia.

The election of Fernandez, who Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has called a “red bandit,” sets the stage for a run-in between South America’s two biggest economies that could derail their Mercosur trade bloc.

Bolsonaro told reporters during a visit to Abu Dhabi that Argentine voters had made a mistake and he had no intention of congratulating Fernandez for his win.

Fernandez faces a major challenge to revive Argentina’s economy, mired in recession for much of the last year, while fending off a rising mountain of debt payments amid concerns the country may be forced into a damaging default.

Investors will be on the lookout for signs about Fernandez’s economic policies, the make-up of his economic team and the role of Fernandez de Kirchner, who was president from 2007 to 2015.

Ratings agency Moody’s said on Monday the country was facing “substantial credit challenges” with limited funds, while the new head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, tweeted the Fund looked forward to engaging with Fernandez’s administration.

The IMF extended a $57 billion credit facility to Argentina in 2018 to help the country meet its debt obligations. Some private investors are now concerned the Fund may drive a hard bargain if Argentina is forced into a restructuring.

On the streets, though, Fernandez supporters cheered the change in direction on Monday, pointing to economic malaise under Macri, which has hit people’s wallets across the social spectrum as domestic production and consumption has waned.

“The truth is that I am happy with the change, we did not want to keep going with the same government and hopefully things change a bit now for everyone because it was bad,” said Ramora Perez, 61, in Buenos Aires.

While Macri had looked to drive reforms to lower the fiscal deficit and lure foreign investment, those plans were scuppered in 2018 by a sharp downturn, while the collapse of the peso fired up inflation and pushed up interest rates to world-high levels.

That has caused a spike in issues such as poverty – now at above 35% – as well as hunger and homelessness, factors that are also exacerbating a rise in cases of tuberculosis.

Luis Alberto Coria, 19, a worker in the capital blamed the government for “bad economic policies.”

“This greatly affected working people and the middle class, practically destroyed it,” he said while sitting in a plaza in the city. “It is cause and consequence. The results that Macri has been dealt are well deserved.”

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