The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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West Seeks a More Effective Way to Tighten Sanctions on Russia

Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia missed a deadline for making bond payments on Sunday, a move signaling its first default on international debt in more than a century, after Western sanctions thwarted the government’s efforts to pay foreign investors. The lapse adds to efforts to seal Moscow off from global capital markets for years.

About $100 million in dollar- and euro-denominated interest payments failed to reach investors within a 30-day grace period after a missed May 27 deadline. The grace period expired Sunday night.

A formal declaration of default would need to come from bondholders because ratings agencies, which normally declare when borrowers have defaulted, have been barred by sanctions from reporting on Russia. The Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee, a panel of investors that rules on whether to pay out securities linked to defaults, hasn’t been asked to make a decision on these bond payments yet.

But it appeared that the payments had not reached bondholders’ accounts as of Sunday night, as required by the bonds’ contracts. On Monday, Russia’s finance ministry said that it had made the payments in May and that they had been transferred to Euroclear, a Brussels-based clearinghouse, but subsequently blocked from reaching bondholders.

Russia is rejecting the default declaration, on the grounds that it has made efforts to pay. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that the statements about default were “absolutely illegal.”

“The fact that Euroclear withheld this money, did not transfer it to the recipients, it is not our problem,” Mr. Peskov said. “In other words, there are no grounds to call this situation a default.”

The finance ministry added that the actions of foreign financial institutions were beyond its control and that “it seems advisable for investors to contact the relevant financial institutions directly” over the payments.

Euroclear declined to comment.

“We can expect Russia to stick to its alternative narrative: The default isn’t a default, we tried and it isn’t our fault,” said Tim Samples, a legal studies professor at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and an expert on sovereign debt, adding that Russia also hasn’t submitted to jurisdiction in foreign courts. Still, “that has to be a bit humiliating, even for a country that can survive and maintain a war on its hydrocarbon revenues,” he said.

The risk of default emerged in late February after Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed to sever the country from international financial markets. In late May, Russia tried to navigate tightening sanctions that cut off its access to American banks and bondholders by sending the payments to a Moscow-based institution. But ultimately, the funds didn’t make it all the way to bondholders’ accounts because of far-reaching American and European sanctions.

News of Monday’s apparent default showed “just how strong” international sanctions against Russia have been, a senior U.S. administration official said in a background briefing for reporters at the Group of 7 summit in Germany, highlighting the “dramatic” effect on Russia’s economy.

This default is unusual because it’s a result of economic sanctions blocking transactions, not because the Russian government has run out of money. Moscow’s finances remain resilient after months of war, with nearly $600 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves, though about half of that is frozen overseas. And Russia continues to receive a steady influx of cash from sales of oil and gas. Still, a default would be a stain on the country’s reputation that will linger in investors’ memories and probably push up its borrowing costs if it is able to tap international capital markets.

Unlike other major defaults in recent history, such as in Greece and Argentina, this default is expected to have a relatively small impact on international markets and Russia’s budget. For one thing, Russia has already lost access to international investors, traditionally the worst consequence of default.

“The only clear negative outcome of the default is that the external market will be effectively closed for the ministry of finance,” said Sofya Donets, an economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. “But it’s already closed.”

The head of Russia’s central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said this month that there wouldn’t be any immediate consequences of a default because there had already been an outflow of investors and a drop in the value of Russia’s assets. The central bank is more concerned about inflation, most recently at about 17 percent, and supporting the economy through a “large-scale structural transformation” after an exodus of foreign companies and imports.

The Western sanctions alone are expected to block Russia from large parts of international capital markets for a long time. Regardless, Russia has been reluctant to give up its reputation as a reliable borrower, which was hard won after its economic collapse in 1998, when the government defaulted on ruble-denominated bonds amid a currency crisis.

Last month, Russia insisted that it had fulfilled its debt obligations by sending funds to its payment agent in Moscow, the National Settlement Depository. Since then, the depository has fallen under European sanctions, further restricting Russia’s ability to pay bondholders. The finance minister, Anton Siluanov, has accused the West of artificially manufacturing a default and has threatened legal action against U.S. authorities.

This is Russia’s first major default on foreign debt since 1918, soon after the Bolshevik Revolution.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin signed a decree saying that future payments to holders of debt denominated in dollars or euros would be made through Russian financial institutions and that the obligations would be considered met if paid in rubles and converted. Most of the bond contracts don’t allow for payment in rubles.

Over the following two days, nearly $400 million in dollar-denominated debt payments were due from bonds that had 30-day and 15-day grace periods. The finance ministry said it had sent the payments, in rubles, using the new procedure laid out by the presidential decree. But it remains unclear how foreign investors will gain access to the funds.

Overseas investors held about half of Russia’s $40 billion in outstanding foreign-currency debt at the end of last year. As the risk of default grew this year, PIMCO, the investment management firm, saw the value of its Russian bond holdings decline by more than $1 billion, and pension funds and mutual funds with exposure to emerging market debt have also experienced declines.

But exposure to Russian assets is limited in the United States and Europe because sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have discouraged investors who didn’t want the geopolitical risk.

By international standards, Russia doesn’t have that much debt. Its public debt was only about 17 percent of gross domestic product last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, one of just a handful of countries with debt ratios under 25 percent. The United States, whose assets are in demand among global investors and deemed low risk, has a debt ratio of 125 percent of G.D.P.

Russia’s low debt levels are partly a result of “this new geopolitical era” since the annexation of Crimea, Ms. Donets said. “But it’s also a product of the default of 1998,” she added, when “the ministry of finance was burned badly.” Since then, the ministry has not been that active in issuing new foreign-currency debt, she said.

Russia hasn’t relied on borrowing from international investors for its budget. The finance ministry hasn’t issued dollar-denominated debt since 2019, when U.S. sanctions barred American banks from buying the debt directly. It last issued euro-denominated debt in May 2021.

Instead, Russia has depended on its oil and gas exports, and those dollar revenues that went into reserves and grew the national wealth fund.

“Why would you borrow and pay additional rates when you are a country that is accumulating oil funds, accumulating in hard currency, a country which has $600 billion in reserves?” Ms. Donets said.

The war hasn’t changed that calculation. Russia’s current account surplus, a broad measure of trade and investment, has soared as revenues from energy exports jumped, capital controls stopped investments fleeing and sanctions slashed imports. It has helped push the ruble to its highest level in seven years.

If Russia does issue more debt, it will lean on local banks and residents in the short term to buy ruble-denominated bonds.

Russia “will have no access to the capital markets until the war stops and the sanctions are lifted,” said Richard Portes, an economics professor at the London School of Business.

The long-term consequences of a default are unclear because of the unusual nature of the financial breach. But it’s possible to envision a future where Russia is able to sell debt on international markets again, analysts say, if the war ends and Russia’s geopolitical ambitions change. Without Mr. Putin and with hundreds of billions of dollars in international reserves unfrozen, it could return to markets.

“Capital market access can be restored very quickly,” Mr. Portes said. “Once Russia is back in good political graces and sanctions are lifted.”

“If it’s not a political pariah, it won’t be an economic pariah,” he added.

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko, Andrés R. Martínez, Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport.

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Russia slides towards default as payment deadline expires

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The clock on Spasskaya tower showing the time at noon, is pictured next to Moscow?s Kremlin, and St. Basil?s Cathedral, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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  • Grace period runs out on $100 mln interest payment due May 27
  • Some Taiwanese bondholders did not received payment on Monday – sources
  • Russia says it has funds to pay, sanctions are to blame
  • Lapsed U.S. waiver, EU sanctions on NSD scupper Russia payments
  • CDS committee already declared ‘credit event’ occurred

LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) – Russia looked set for its first sovereign default in decades as some bondholders said they had not received overdue interest on Monday following the expiry of a key payment deadline a day earlier.

Russia has struggled to keep up payments on $40 billion of outstanding bonds since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system and rendered its assets untouchable to many investors.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said there are no grounds for Russia to default but it is unable to send money to bondholders because of sanctions, accusing the West of trying to drive it into an artificial default.

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Russia’s efforts to avoid what would be its first major default on international bonds since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago hit a insurmountable roadblock in late May when the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) effectively blocked Moscow from making payments.

“Since March we thought that a Russian default is probably inevitable, and the question was just when,” Dennis Hranitzky, head of sovereign litigation at law firm Quinn Emanuel, told Reuters. “OFAC has intervened to answer that question for us, and the default is now upon us.”

While a formal default would be largely symbolic given Russia cannot borrow internationally at the moment and doesn’t need to thanks to plentiful oil and gas export revenues, the stigma would probably raise its borrowing costs in future.

The payments in question are $100 million in interest on two bonds, one denominated in U.S. dollars and another in euros , Russia was due to pay on May 27. The payments had a grace period of 30 days, which expired on Sunday.

Russia’s finance ministry said it made the payments to its onshore National Settlement Depository (NSD) in euros and dollars, adding it has fulfilled obligations.

Some Taiwanese holders of the bonds had not received payments on Monday, sources told Reuters. read more

For many bondholders, not receiving the money owed in time into their accounts constitutes a default.

With no exact deadline specified in the prospectus, lawyers say Russia might have until the end of the following business day to pay the bondholders.

SMALL PRINT

The legal situation surrounding the bonds looks complex.

Russia’s bonds have been issued with an unusual variety of terms, and an increasing level of ambiguities for those sold more recently, when Moscow was already facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a poisoning incident in Britain in 2018.

Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, chair in banking and finance law at Queen Mary University in London, said clarity was needed on what constituted a discharge for Russia on its obligation, or the difference between receiving and recovering payments.

“All these issues are subject to interpretation by a court of law, but Russia has not waived any of its sovereign immunity and has not submitted to the jurisdiction of any court in any of the two prospectuses,” Olivares-Caminal told Reuters.

In some ways, Russia is in default already.

A committee on derivatives has ruled a “credit event” had occurred on some of its securities, which triggered a payout on some of Russia’s credit default swaps – instruments used by investors to insure exposure to debt against default. This was triggered by Russia failing to make a $1.9 million payment in accrued interest on a payment that had been due in early April. read more

Until the Ukraine invasion, a sovereign default had seemed unthinkable, with Russia being rated investment grade up to shortly before that point. A default would also be unusual as Moscow has the funds to service its debt.

The OFAC had issued a temporary waiver, known as a general licence 9A, in early March to allow Moscow to keep paying investors. It let it expire on May 25 as Washington tightened sanctions on Russia, effectively cutting off payments to U.S. investors and entities.

The lapsed OFAC licence is not the only obstacle Russia faces as in early June the European Union imposed sanctions on the NSD, Russia’s appointed agent for its Eurobonds. read more

Moscow has scrambled in recent days to find ways of dealing with upcoming payments and avoid a default.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last Wednesday to launch temporary procedures and give the government 10 days to choose banks to handle payments under a new scheme, suggesting Russia will consider its debt obligations fulfilled when it pays bondholders in roubles.

“Russia saying it’s complying with obligations under the terms of the bond is not the whole story,” Zia Ullah, partner and head of corporate crime and investigations at law firm Eversheds Sutherland told Reuters.

“If you as an investor are not satisfied, for instance, if you know the money is stuck in an escrow account, which effectively would be the practical impact of what Russia is saying, the answer would be, until you discharge the obligation, you have not satisfied the conditions of the bond.”

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Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Additional reporting by Emily Chan in Taipeh and Sujata Rao in London; Editing by David Holmes, Emelia Sithole-Matarise & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Exclusive: Copper giant Codelco sees ‘very firm’ copper price ahead despite recent drop, chairman says

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Maximo Pacheco, Chile’s then-Energy Minister, speaks at the Chilean congress in Valparaiso, Chile May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

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SANTIAGO, June 26 (Reuters) – Chilean state-owned copper miner Codelco, the world’s top producer of the red metal, sees a firm copper price ahead despite a recent sharp fall, chairman of the board Máximo Pacheco told Reuters in an interview in Santiago.

The comments come as copper prices posted their biggest weekly fall in a year as investors worried that efforts by central banks to stem inflation will stifle global economic growth and reduce demand for metals. read more

“We may be in temporary short-term turbulence, but what is important here are the fundamentals, the supply-demand balance looks very favorable to those of us who have copper reserves,” Pacheco said.

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“In a world where copper is the conductor par excellence and where there aren’t many new deposits either, the price of copper looks very firm because the future looks very electric.”

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange was 0.5% lower at $8,367 a tonne on Friday after touching $8,122.50, down 25% from a peak in March and the lowest level since February 2021. Other industrial metals also tumbled.

Pacheco, a former energy minister appointed earlier this year, said the annual production goal would be maintained at 1.7 million tonnes while he was in charge, including for this year. He said costs needed to be kept in check

“In this industry we compete with costs and that is why we need to be competitive,” he said.

Chile’s government said this week it would allow Codelco, which gives all its profits to the state, to retain 30% of its profits from last year to help finance an ambitious $40 billion investment plan until the end of the decade.

“We have this portfolio of very large projects and the Chilean state decided to change the dividend policy precisely to be able to finance those strategic projects not only with depreciation and debt but also with reinvestment,” he said.

The executive said the injection of resources would allow the firm’s debt to remain “relatively stable,” currently at some $18 billion, though it would still look for opportunities to go to debt markets to improve its maturity curve.

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Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Sandra Maler

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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Russia’s Blockade of Ukraine Is ‘War Crime,’ Top E.U. Official Says

LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.

The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.

Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.

arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.

The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.

considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.

NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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Infighting Overshadows Big Plans at The Washington Post

When Sally Buzbee joined The Washington Post a year ago this month, she took over a newsroom that had nearly doubled to more than 1,000 journalists under the ownership of Jeff Bezos, who bought it in 2013. Its coverage regularly won Pulitzer Prizes.

The newspaper has continued growing in the months since. It has opened breaking news hubs in Seoul and London to become more of a 24-hour global operation. It expanded coverage of technology, climate and personal health. Its reporting won the Pulitzer Prize for public service this year.

But Ms. Buzbee is now on the defensive, yet to completely win over the newsroom and facing internal strife that has eclipsed some of her bold plans.

tweeted in unison last week in support of the newspaper’s direction.

joined The Post last June, becoming the first female executive editor in its 145-year history. She had spent her career at The Associated Press, most recently serving as executive editor. She replaced Martin Baron, who remade the newsroom over eight years to much acclaim, including 10 Pulitzer Prizes.

said was too vague and unevenly enforced. Mr. Baron faced similar tensions under his tenure, including a clash with a star reporter, Wesley Lowery. Mr. Baron threatened to fire Mr. Lowery for violations of The Post’s social media policy, including expressing political views and criticizing competitors, according to a copy of a disciplinary letter.

tweeted: “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”

Mr. Weigel quickly deleted his tweet and apologized. Several days later, with several staff members fighting about his actions online, Ms. Buzbee suspended him for a month. In emails, she implored Post journalists to be collegial. After an employee replied to everyone in support of Ms. Sonmez, The Post cut off the ability for staff members to reply-all in a newsroom-wide email, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

But Ms. Sonmez never stopped tweeting. She said the newspaper unevenly punished journalists for what they wrote on Twitter, and critiqued her co-workers publicly. (Ms. Sonmez previously sued The Post for discrimination after she was barred from covering stories related to sexual assault after she publicly identified herself as a victim of assault. A judge dismissed the case in March.)

termination letter sent by The Post accused her of “insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

Less than an hour later, Ms. Buzbee met with the features department to quell another social media flare-up.

Taylor Lorenz, a technology reporter lured to The Post from The New York Times this year, had tweeted that a miscommunication with her editor led to an inaccurate line in an article. The tweets were discussed and agreed on by Ms. Lorenz and multiple editors before she posted, said three people with knowledge of the discussions. The tweets prompted an outcry from critics on Twitter who accused her of passing the buck.

Before the corrections, Ms. Buzbee had offered the well-respected editor, David Malitz, a promotion to run the features department, according to one person with knowledge of the offer. He had agreed to take it. But several days later, Ms. Buzbee pulled the offer.

In the meeting with the features group, Ms. Buzbee fielded angry questions about Mr. Malitz’s treatment. She said he was “in no way reprimanded or punished for any errors,” according to a copy of notes taken at the meeting, but would not say what was behind her decision. She said she couldn’t talk about personnel issues.

It was at that meeting that Ms. Sullivan, The Post’s media columnist, accused Ms. Buzbee of damaging Mr. Malitz’s career, and other staff members said she hadn’t earned their trust. Some told Ms. Buzbee that their doubts stemmed from rarely hearing from her until that meeting.

Ms. Lorenz has been moved from the features staff to the technology team, according to three people with knowledge of the move. Mr. Barr has been asked to review her articles before publication, two of the people said.

On Tuesday, Ms. Buzbee met with dozens of editors in person and over videoconference, fielding questions about the recent upheaval. One editor relayed the concerns from employees who were wary of becoming editors at The Post after recent events.

Ms. Buzbee said in the meeting that she was optimistic about the future of the newspaper. She also told editors that it was their collective responsibility to protect the staff, the readers and the newspaper’s credibility.

On Wednesday evening, newsroom employees were emailed a draft of updated social media guidelines and told that senior editors would hold “listening sessions” this week to get feedback on the revisions.

The draft says that no employee is required to post or engage on social media platforms; journalists must not harm the integrity or reputation of the newsroom; and journalists are “allowed and encouraged to bring their full identity and lived experiences to their social accounts.”

The draft guidelines also note that The Post considers it a priority to protect its journalists from online harassment and attacks.

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Europe’s central banks jack up interest rates to fight inflation surge

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  • SNB unexpectedly hikes by half a percent
  • Bank of England raises rates by 25 bps
  • Hungary unexpectedly lifts one-week deposit rate
  • Inflation painfully high and not yet peaking

BERN/LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) – Central banks across Europe raised interest rates on Thursday, some by amounts that shocked markets, and hinted at even higher borrowing costs to come to tame soaring inflation that is eroding savings and squeezing corporate profits.

Fuelled initially by soaring oil prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflation has broadened out to everything from food to services with double digit readings in parts of the continent.

Such levels have not been seen in some places since the aftermath of the oil crisis of the 1970s.

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The Swiss National Bank and the National Bank of Hungary both caught markets off guard with big upward steps, just hours after their U.S. counterpart the Federal Reserve lifted rates by the most in almost three decades. read more

The Bank of England meanwhile lifted borrowing costs by the quarter point markets had expected. read more

The moves come just a day after the European Central Bank agreed plans in an emergency meeting to contain borrowing costs in the bloc’s south so it could forge ahead with rates rises in both July and September. read more

“We are in a new era for central banks, where lowering inflation is their only objective, even at the expense of financial stability and growth,” George Lagarias, Chief Economist at Mazars Wealth Management said.

The day’s biggest moves came in Switzerland where the SNB raised its policy rate to -0.25% from the -0.75%, a step so large, not a single economist polled by Reuters had predicted it.

The first SNB hike since 2007 is unlikely to be the last, however, and the bank could be out of negative territory this year, some economists said.

“The new inflation forecast shows that further increases in the policy rate may be necessary in the foreseeable future,” SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan told a news conference.

The Swiss franc jumped almost 1.8% against the euro on the decision and was headed for the biggest daily rise since January 2015 when the SNB unhooked the franc from its euro peg.

TIGHTROPE

In London, the Bank of England was more cautious but said it was ready to act “forcefully” to stamp out dangers posed by an inflation rate heading above 11%. read more

It was the fifth time that the BoE has raised borrowing costs since December and the British benchmark rate is now at its highest since January 2009.

Three of nine rate setters however voted for a bigger, 50 basis point increase, suggesting that the bank will be under pressure to keep raising rates, even as economic growth slows sharply.

“Central bankers are teetering along a tightrope, with the biggest concern that raising rates too quickly could tip economies into recession,” Maike Currie, Investment Director for Personal Investing at Fidelity International said.

“Monetary policy tightening is a very blunt tool to manage a very precarious situation.”

Despite the hike, sterling fell sharply as some in the market had bet on a bigger move given the Fed’s 75 basis points hike the previous evening. The weaker currency, however, means higher imported inflation and further pressure to raise rates. read more

The pound was last at $1.2085 against the dollar, down three quarters of a percent on the day.

In Budapest meanwhile, the Hungarian central bank unexpectedly raised its one-week deposit rate by 50 basis points to 7.25% at a weekly tender, also to tame stubbornly rising inflation now running in double-digits.

Barnabas Virag, the bank’s deputy governor said the increase far was from the last and the bank would continue its rate hike cycle with “predictable and decisive” steps until it sees signs that inflation is peaking, probably in the autumn.

The hike also comes as the nation’s currency has lost close to 7% of its value this year, increasing inflation further via higher import prices.

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Writing by Balazs Koranyi in Frankfurt; Additional reporting by William Schomberg in London, Krisztina Than in Budapest, Mike Shields and Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich; Editing by Toby Chopra

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Russian gas flows to Europe fall, hindering bid to refill stores

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  • Nord Stream 1 pipeline capacity down to 40%
  • Europe’s gas price jumps up to 30% after disruption news
  • Gazprom blames cuts on equipment delays from Canada
  • Freeport LNG terminal in U.S. offline until September

LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) – Russian gas supply to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline fell further on Thursday and Moscow said more delays in repairs could lead to suspending all flows, putting a brake on Europe’s race to refill its gas inventories.

The faltering flows came as the leaders of Germany, Italy and France visited Ukraine, which is pressing for swifter weapons deliveries to battle invading Russian forces and wants support for Kyiv’s bid to join the European Union. read more

Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom said it was reducing gas supply for a second time in as many days via Nord Stream 1, which runs under the Baltic to Germany. The latest move cuts supply to just 40% of the pipeline’s capacity.

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Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said reductions in supply were not premeditated and related to maintenance issues, a reference to earlier comments saying Russia was unable to secure the return of equipment sent to Canada for repairs. read more

Germany said Russia’s excuse was technically “unfounded” and was instead aimed at driving up gas prices. Italy said Moscow might be use the issue to exert political pressure. read more

Dutch wholesale gas prices , the European benchmark, jumped around 30% on Thursday afternoon.

Russia’s ambassador to the European Union told state news agency RIA Novosti flows via the pipeline could be completely suspended because of problems in repairing turbines in Canada.

Alexey Miller, the chief executive of Gazprom, the state-controlled company with a monopoly on Russian gas exports by pipeline, said Western sanctions made it impossible to secure the return of equipment from Canada for the pipeline’s Portovaya compressor station. read more

EUROPE RACES TO REFILL STORAGE

Nord Stream 1 has capacity to pump about 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year to the European Union, which last year imported about 140 bcm of gas from Russia via pipelines.

Germany, like other European countries, is racing to refill its gas storage facilities so they are 80% full by October and 90% by November before winter arrives. Stores are 52% full now.

Cutting flows through Nord Stream 1 would make that job harder, the head of the Germany energy regulator said.

“We could perhaps get through the summer as the heating season is over. But it is imperative that we fill the storage facilities to get through the winter,” Klaus Mueller told Thursday’s edition of Rheinische Post daily.

Uniper (UN01.DE), Germany’s biggest importer of Russian gas, said supplies were down a quarter on agreed volumes but it could fill missing volumes from other sources. Power producer RWE (RWEG.DE) said it had seen restrictions in the past two days.

Slovakia’s state-owned gas importer SPP said it expected Thursday’s Russian gas deliveries to be reduced by about 30%, while Czech power utility CEZ (CEZP.PR) said it had seen a similar fall but was filling the gap from other sources.

The European Union aims to ensure gas storage facilities across the 27-nation bloc are 80% full by November. read more

The latest reduction in supply could mean northwest European storage only 88% full by the end of October – 1 bcm less than planned – instead of 90%, analysts at Goldman Sachs said.

DRAWING UP CONTINGENCY PLANS

Germany is not alone in facing falling supplies.

Austria’s OMV (OMVV.VI) said Gazprom informed it of reduced deliveries, France’s Engie (ENGIE.PA) said flows had down but clients were not affected, while Italy’s Eni (ENI.MI) said it would receive 65% of the volumes it had requested from Gazprom.

The Italian government said all possible measures were in place to deal with the situation if gas supply cuts from Russia continued in coming days. Other European countries have also drawn up contingency plans.

Adding to the challenge, Nord Stream 1 will shut completely during the pipeline’s annual maintenance on July 11-21.

Norway, Europe’s second biggest exporter behind Russia, has been pushing up production to help the European Union towards it target of ending reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027.

Britain’s Centrica (CNA.L) signed a deal with Norway’s Equinor (EQNR.OL) for extra gas supplies to the United Kingdom for the next three winters. Britain does not rely on Russian gas and can also export to Europe via pipelines.

European states have also boosted liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports but Europe has limited LNG import capacity and the already tight LNG market has faced additional challenges with disruptions to U.S. LNG production. read more

A fire last week at a U.S. LNG export plant in Texas, operated by Freeport LNG, means the plant will be offline until September and will operate only partially from then until the end of 2022.

The facility, which accounts for about 20% of U.S. LNG exports, has been a major supplier to European buyers.

“There is risk of further delay, in our view,” analysts at investment bank Jefferies said, adding that regulators need to approve the restart while two investigations were ongoing into the cause of the LNG leak at the plant.

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Reporting by Reuters, Giuseppe Fonte in Rome, Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich in Vienna, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Madelaine Chambers in Berlin, Nina Chestney in London; Writing by Nina Chestney; Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Damaged, UK’s Boris Johnson scrapes win in party confidence vote

  • Large Conservative Party rebellion deals blow to PM
  • Johnson says it is ‘decisive result’
  • COVID-19 ‘Partygate’ sours mood

LONDON, June 6 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a confidence vote on Monday but a large rebellion in his Conservative Party over the so-called “partygate” scandal dealt a blow to his authority and leaves him with a struggle to win back support.

Johnson, who scored a sweeping election victory in 2019, has been under increasing pressure after he and staff held alcohol-fuelled parties in his Downing Street office and residence when Britain was under lockdowns to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote was a blow to Johnson, with 41% of his lawmakers casting ballots against his leadership after months of scandals and gaffes that has raised questions over his authority to govern Britain and knocked his standing among the public.

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But Johnson, a master of political comebacks, instead described the vote as a “decisive result” meaning that “as a government we can move on and focus on the stuff that I think really matters to people”.

“We can focus on what we’re doing to help people with the cost of living, what we’re doing to clear the COVID backlogs, what we’re doing to make streets and communities safer by putting more police out,” said Johnson, who for weeks has tried to move the national conversation away from “partygate”. read more

It is a change of fortune for Johnson and underlines the depth of anger against him. He was met with a chorus of jeers and boos, and some muted cheers, at events to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in recent days.

Several lawmakers said the vote, which saw 211 lawmakers cast ballots in favour of Johnson against 148, was worse than expected for a prime minister, once seemingly unassailable after winning the Conservatives’ largest majority in more than three decades.

“Boris Johnson will be relieved at this vote. But he will also understand that the next priority is to rebuild the cohesion of the party,” David Jones, a former minister, told Reuters. “I am sure he will be equal to the challenge.”

Others were less optimistic, with one Conservative lawmaker saying on condition of anonymity: “It is clearly much worse than most people were expecting. But it is too early to say what will happens now.”

Roger Gale, a long-time critic of Johnson, urged the prime minister “to go back to Downing Street tonight and consider very carefully where he goes from here”.

12-MONTH REPRIEVE

By winning the confidence vote, Johnson has secured a reprieve for 12 months when lawmakers cannot bring another challenge. But his predecessor Theresa May scored better in her 2018 confidence vote only to resign six months later. read more

Dozens of Conservative lawmakers have voiced concern over whether Johnson, 57, has lost his authority to govern Britain, which is facing the risk of recession, rising fuel and food prices and strike-inflicted travel chaos in the capital London.

But his Cabinet rallied around him and highlighted what they said were the successes of the government: a quick rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and Britain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Johnson vs May: confidence votes compared

A majority of the Conservatives’ lawmakers – at least 180 – would have had to vote against Johnson for him to be removed.

Earlier, a spokesperson for Johnson’s Downing Street office said the vote would “allow the government to draw a line and move on” and that the prime minister welcomed the opportunity to make his case to lawmakers. read more

Johnson, a former London mayor, rose to power at Westminster as the face of the Brexit campaign in a 2016 referendum, and won the 2019 election with the slogan to “get Brexit done”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, told Sky News that completing Britain’s departure from the European Union would be “significantly at risk without his drive and energy”.

Johnson has locked horns with Brussels over Northern Ireland, raising the prospect of more barriers for British trade and alarming leaders in Ireland, Europe and the United States about risks to the province’s 1998 peace deal.

But it was the months of stories of what went on in Downing Street, including fights and alcohol-induced vomiting, when many people were prevented from saying goodbye to loved ones at funerals, that did the real damage.

The move led to lawmakers from different wings of the party revealing that they had turned against their leader. One former ally accused the prime minister of insulting both the electorate and the party by staying in power.

“You have presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street in relation to COVID,” Jesse Norman, a former junior minister, said before the vote.

Johnson’s anti-corruption chief John Penrose also quit.

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Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill; Additional reporting by David Milliken, William James, Alistair Smout, Farouq Suleiman and Helena Williams; Editing by William Schomberg and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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