Bitcoin has rebounded from major losses before, and its long-term growth remains impressive. Before the pandemic boom in crypto prices, its value hovered well below $10,000. True believers, who call themselves Bitcoin maximalists, remain adamant that the cryptocurrency will eventually break from its correlation with risk assets.

Michael Saylor, the chief executive of the business-intelligence company MicroStrategy, has spent billions of his firm’s money on Bitcoin, building up a stockpile of more than 125,000 coins. As the price of Bitcoin has cratered, the company’s stock has dropped roughly 75 percent since November.

In an email, Mr. Saylor blamed the crash on “traders and technocrats” who don’t appreciate Bitcoin’s long-term potential to transform the global financial system.

“In the near term, the market will be dominated by those with less appreciation of the virtues of Bitcoin,” he said. “Over the long term, the maximalists will be proven correct, because billions of people need this solution, and awareness is spreading to millions more each month.”

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Fed Confronts Why It May Have Acted Too Slowly on Inflation

Some Federal Reserve officials have begun to acknowledge that they were too slow to respond to rapid inflation last year, a delay that is forcing them to constrain the economy more abruptly now — and one that could hold lessons for the policy path ahead.

Inflation began to accelerate last spring, but Fed policymakers and most private-sector forecasters initially thought price gains would quickly fade. It became clear in early fall that fast inflation was proving to be more lasting — but the Fed pivoted toward rapidly removing policy support only in late November and did not raise rates until March.

Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down.

Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.

8.5 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rate since 1981. Consumer price increases are expected to remain rapid when fresh data are released Wednesday.

And as high prices have lingered, inflation expectations have been creeping up, threatening to change household and business behavior in ways that perpetuate the problem.

Because inflation is eating away at paychecks and making it more difficult for families to afford groceries and cars, it has emerged as a major political issue for President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen over concerns about his handling of the economy. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden called inflation his “top domestic priority” and said his administration was taking steps to contain it. He also sought to push back on Republicans, who have spent months blaming him for stoking inflation, saying their policy ideas were “extreme” and would hurt working families.

biggest increase since 2000, while broadcasting that two more large adjustments could be coming. They are also going to start shrinking their $9 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings next month.

If the Fed continues to rapidly adjust policy this year as it tries to catch up, policymakers risk slamming the brakes on a speeding economy. Such hard stops can hurt, pushing up unemployment and possibly tipping off a recession. Officials typically prefer to apply their policy brakes gradually, increasing the chances that the economy can slow down painlessly.

Still, several Fed officials pointed out that it was easier to say what the Fed should have done in 2021 after the fact — that in the moment, it was difficult to know price increases would last. Inflation initially came mainly from a few big products that were in short supply amid supply chain snarls, like semiconductors and cars. Only later in the year did it become obvious that price pressures were broadening to food, rent and other areas.

“I try to give some grace, and say: In a very uncertain time, with an unprecedented setting, with no real models to guide us, people are going to do the best they can,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in an interview Monday. Mr. Bostic was an early voice suggesting that the Fed should stop buying bonds and think about raising interest rates.

Officials have said it was the acceleration in inflation data in September, followed by rising employment costs, that convinced them that price gains might last and that the central bank needed to act decisively. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, pivoted on policy in late November as those data points added up.

a complicating factor: Mr. Powell was waiting to see if he would be reappointed by the Biden administration, which did not announce its decision to renominate him until mid-November.

“Banking With Interest” podcast episode last week, said reacting to the data was “hard to do until there was clarity as to what the leadership going forward of the Fed was going to be.”

Plus, the Fed had promised to withdraw policy in a certain way, which prevented a rapid reorientation once officials began to fret that inflation might last. Policymakers had pledged to keep interest rates at rock bottom and continue to buy huge sums of bonds until the job market had healed substantially. They had also clearly laid out how they would remove support when the time came: Bond purchases would slow first, then stop, and only then would rates rise.

The point was to convince investors that the Fed would not stop helping the economy too early and to avoid roiling markets, but that so-called forward guidance meant that pulling back support was a drawn-out process.

“Forward guidance, like everything in economics, has benefits and costs,” Richard H. Clarida, who was vice chair of the Fed in 2021 and recently left the central bank, said at a conference last week. “If there’s guidance that the committee feels bound to honor,” he added, it can be complicated for the Fed to move through a sequence of policy moves.

Christopher Waller, a governor at the Fed, noted the central bank wasn’t just sitting still. Markets began to adjust as the Fed sped up its plans to remove policy support throughout the fall, which is making money more expensive to borrow and starting to slow down economic conditions. Mortgage rates, one window into how Fed policy is playing out into the economy, began to move up notably in January 2021 and are now at the highest level since the 2008 housing crisis.

Mr. Waller also pointed out that it was hard to get the Fed’s large policy-setting committee into agreement rapidly.

“Policy is set by a large committee of up to 12 voting members and a total of 19 participants in our discussions,” he said during a speech last week. “This process may lead to more gradual changes in policy as members have to compromise in order to reach a consensus.”

Loretta Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview on Tuesday that different people on the committee “looked at the same data with different lenses, and that’s just the nature of the beast.”

But the Fed seems to be learning lessons from its 2021 experience.

Policymakers are avoiding giving clear guidance about what will come next for policy: Officials have said they want to quickly get rates up to the point that they start to weigh on the economy, then go from there. While Mr. Powell said the Fed was thinking about half-point increases at its next two meetings, he gave no clear guidance about what would follow.

“It’s a very difficult environment to try to give forward guidance, 60, 90 days in advance — there are just so many things that can happen in the economy and around the world,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. “So we’re leaving ourselves room to look at the data and make a decision as we get there.”

The war in Ukraine is the latest surprise that is changing the outlook for the economy and inflation in ways that are hard to predict, Mr. Bostic from Atlanta said.

“I have been humbled, chastened — whatever — to think that I know the range of possible things that can happen in the future,” he said. “I’ve really tried to back off of leaning into one kind of story or path.”

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UK to provide 1.3 billion pounds of further military support to Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a news briefing, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT/File Photo

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LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) – Britain said it would provide a further 1.3 billion pounds ($1.60 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine, making the pledge ahead of a planned video call on Sunday by Group of Seven leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Prime Minister Johnson has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s efforts to resist Russian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. Johnson’s government has sent anti-tank missiles, air defence systems and other weapons to Ukraine.

The new pledge almost doubles Britain’s previous spending commitments on Ukraine and the government said this is the highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it did not give details of this calculation.

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“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe,” Johnson said in a statement. Last week he became the first Western leader to address Ukraine’s parliament since the start of the invasion.

The leaders of the G7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – will hold their virtual meeting with Zelenskiy on Sunday, the day before Russia marks its Victory Day holiday, which marks the end of World War Two in Europe. read more

Britain said the extra spending on Ukraine will come from a reserve used by the government for emergencies.

The government also said Johnson will host a meeting of leading defence companies later this month to discuss increasing production in response to increased demand created by the war in Ukraine.

While Britain has provided significant military aid, it has so far accepted relatively few of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled their country. The British government said on Saturday that so far it had issued more than 86,000 visas to Ukrainians, of whom about 27,000 had reached Britain.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill
Editing by Frances Kerry

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Fervour in Philippines as election campaign reaches climax

  • Winner gets 6-year term as president
  • Marcos leading all polls this year
  • Fierce rivalry between Robredo, Marcos

MANILA, May 7 (Reuters) – Crowds of hundreds of thousands massed in the Philippines on Saturday where the leading presidential candidates made a last-ditch bid to sway undecided voters with patriotic, upbeat messages after a divisive election race.

Fireworks lit up the sky as singers, celebrities and social media stars took to stages across the capital Manila ahead of the election on Monday, which pits Vice President Leni Robredo against frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the notorious late dictator who ruled the Philippines for 20 years. read more

If opinion surveys are accurate, Robredo, 57, will need a late surge, or low turnout to win the presidency, with Marcos, a former congressman and senator, leading her by over 30 percentage points, having topped every poll this year. read more

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The two embody a political chasm that has existed more than four decades, with Robredo’s roots in the movement that led a 1986 “people power” uprising that toppled the elder Marcos, and Marcos Jr on the cusp of an almost unthinkable return for the once disgraced first family.

Marcos cast his campaign as a chance to bridge that divide.

“We will reach the day that when we join forces, when we again face the world and shout to our friends and wave our flag, we will be proud to say we are Filipinos,” Marcos told a roaring red-shirted crowd that waved national flags.

Opponents of Marcos say the presidency is the endgame in a years-long effort to change historical narratives of authoritarianism and plunder that have dogged his family, which despite its fall from grace remains one of the wealthiest and most influential in Philippine politics.

Marcos Jr has been criticised for his lack of a policy platform and for dodging debates and media appearances, a strategy that has minimised scrutiny and allowed him to generate support on social media among voters born long after his father’s rule.

BITTER RIVALRY

Monday will be a rematch of the 2016 vice presidential election which Marcos looked set to win, before losing by just 200,000 votes to Robredo. He alleged cheating and fought hard to overturn the result, which the Supreme Court upheld. read more

“This fight is not about one person or candidate. I am just a vehicle of the love that engulfs Filipinos,” Robredo told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally that turned swathes of the city’s business district pink, her campaign colour.

If the election reflects the opinion polls, Marcos, 64, could be the first Philippines president to be elected with a majority vote since the end of his father’s rule.

“I am so happy because he’s close to taking office as the next president. I am sure of that, as long as there’s no cheating,” said Marcos supporter Emma Montes, 43, a household helper, after attending Marcos’ rally.

About 65 million Filipinos are eligible to cast ballots on Monday to decide on the successor to President Rodrigo Duterte after six years in power, plus thousands of other posts, from lawmakers and governors to city mayors and councillors.

Christian Dave Palero, 22, a call centre agent dressed in a pink jacket, said he still believed Robredo had a chance to triumph.

“We’re exhausted but we’re happy and fulfilled,” he said. “We are confident Leni can win.”

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Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Lisa Marie David; Additional Reporting by Jay Ereno, Adrian Portugal and Eloisa Lopez; Editing by Martin Petty

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North Korea fires likely submarine-launched ballistic missile, South Korea says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets troops who have taken part in the military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) April 29, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS

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  • Submarine launch an escalation before key diplomatic events
  • N.Korea may conduct nuclear test as soon as this month-officials
  • S.Korea to seek deterrence against North’s nuclear threat-aide

SEOUL/TOKYO, May 7 (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on Saturday, South Korea said, an escalation just before the inauguration of a South Korean president who has vowed to take a hard line against the North and the visit of the U.S. president.

South Korean military said North Korea fired what is believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the sea off its east coast around 0507 GMT on Saturday from near Sinpo, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test-firing SLBMs.

Japan also said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea’s recent development in nuclear missile-related technology and repeated launches of ballistic missiles threatened the region and the international community.

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“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that Japan will continue to “strengthen defence capabilities drastically” to protect its citizens from such security threats, in close cooperation with the United States, South Korea and other allies.

The launch comes three days before Tuesday’s inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol as South Korea’s president, and ahead of his May 21 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won said North Korea may conduct a nuclear test between the inauguration and the Biden visit, Yonhap news agency reported.

Kishi said it is possible for North Korea to complete nuclear test preparations as early as this month, and take further provocative acts.

This was also in line with a U.S. assessment that Pyongyang was preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month. read more

“This is aiming at the (South’s) new administration beginning next week, and applying preemptive pressure to take control of the situation before the U.S.-South Korea summit,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“It also creates tension to strengthen the regime’s internal coherence in the face of circumstances such as prevention of COVID-19 spreading.”

The United States condemned the launch as a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and the world. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

YOON TO SEEK DETERRENCE

Intelligence chief Park told Yonhap that Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri site is designed to test smaller nuclear devices, without elaborating.

Analysts and South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North appears to be restoring Tunnel No. 3 at the east coast site, which was used for underground nuclear blasts before it was closed in 2018 amid denuclearisation talks with Washington and Seoul. read more

Japan and South Korea estimated Saturday’s missile had flown as high as 50-60 km (30-40 miles) and as far as 600 km (370 miles).

The Yoon administration will muster its capabilities as soon as possible for fundamental measures against North Korean provocations and practical deterrence against nuclear missile threats, Yoon’s nominee for national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan said, after Pyongyang vowed to develop its nuclear forces “at the fastest possible speed”. read more

“Instead of accepting invitations to dialogue, the Kim regime appears to be preparing a tactical nuclear warhead test. The timing will depend most on when the underground tunnels and modified device technology are ready,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“A seventh nuclear test would be the first since September 2017 and raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, increasing dangers of miscalculation and miscommunication between the Kim regime and the incoming Yoon administration.”

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to speed up development of his country’s nuclear arsenal. He presided over a huge military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as what appeared to be SLBMs being carried on trucks and launch vehicles. read more

In October, North Korea test-fired a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine, a move that analysts said could be aimed at more quickly fielding an operational missile submarine. read more

Yoon, in an interview with Voice of America released on Saturday, said that a meeting with Kim Jong Un is not off the table but would need to have concrete results.

“There’s no reason to avoid meeting” Kim, Yoon said. “However, if we are not be able to show any results, or results are just for show and does not have actual outcomes in denuclearisation… it’s not going to help the relationship between the two Koreas progress.”

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Reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis

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Ukraine says all women, children now evacuated from Mariupol steel mill

  • Women, children and elderly evacuated, deputy PM says
  • Not clear if other civilians remain
  • Russian forces try to storm Azovstal, Ukraine military says
  • CIA director says Putin ‘doubling down’ on conflict
  • WHO documents 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine

KYIV, May 7 (Reuters) – All women, children and elderly civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, after a week-long effort rescued hundreds of people during an ongoing Russian assault at the plant.

“This part of the Mariupol humanitarian operation is over,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

The Soviet-era steel mill, the last holdout in Mariupol for Ukrainian forces, has become a symbol of resistance to the Russian effort to capture swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine in the 10-week-old war.

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Under heavy bombardment, fighters and civilians have been trapped for weeks in deep bunkers and tunnels criss-crossing the site, with little food, water or medicine.

Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery tried again on Saturday to storm Azovstal, seeking to dislodge the last Ukrainian defenders in the strategic port city on the Azov Sea, Ukraine’s military command said.

Weeks of Russian bombardment have left Mariupol in ruins. The steel mill has been largely destroyed. During pauses in fighting, evacuations of civilians began last weekend, brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address that more than 300 civilians had been rescued from the plant. Authorities would now focus on evacuating the wounded and medics, and helping residents elsewhere in Mariupol and surrounding settlements to safety, he said.

Russian-backed separatists have also reported a total of 176 civilians evacuated from the plant. It was not clear if civilian men were still there.

Ukrainian fighters in the plant have vowed not to surrender. It was unclear how many remained, and Ukrainian officials fear Russian forces want to wipe them out by Monday, when Moscow commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. read more

In Washington, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said Russian President Vladimir Putin is convinced “doubling down” on the conflict will improve the outcome for Russia.

“He’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns said at a Financial Times event.

Putin declared victory in Mariupol on April 21, ordered the plant sealed off and called for Ukrainian forces inside to disarm. Russia later resumed its assault. read more

Moscow calls its actions since Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

In Kyiv on Saturday, the World Health Organization said it had documented 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine, the latest allegations of war crimes by Russian forces. Russia has denied attacking civilian targets. read more

Mariupol, which lies between the Crimean Peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014 and parts of eastern Ukraine taken by Russia-backed separatists that year, is key to linking the two Russian-held territories and blocking Ukrainian exports.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine aimed to establish full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and maintain the land corridor between these territories and Crimea.

Ukrainian armed forces fighting in the two eastern regions controlled by Russian-speaking separatists said in a Facebook post they fought off nine enemy attacks on Saturday, destroying 19 tanks and 24 other armoured vehicles as well as downing a helicopter.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russia dropped a bomb on a school in the village of Bilohorivka, where about 90 people were sheltering. Around 30 have been rescued so far, he said on Facebook.

The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the alleged bombing.

Zelenskiy in his address expressed outrage over Russian shelling overnight that destroyed a museum dedicated to the 18th century philosopher and poet Hryhoriy Skovoroda in the village of Skovorodynivka near Kharkiv. read more

Other Russian attacks near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, blew up three road bridges to slow counter-offensive actions, the Ukrainian military’s general staff said.

Russia’s defence ministry said it destroyed a large stockpile of military equipment from the United States and European countries near the Bohodukhiv railway station in the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces hit 18 Ukrainian military facilities overnight, including three ammunition depots in Dachne, near the southern port city of Odesa, the ministry said.

Reuters could not independently verify either side’s statements about battlefield events.

Russia’s lower house of parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin accused Washington of coordinating military operations in Ukraine, which he said amounted to direct U.S. involvement in military action against Russia. read more

U.S. officials have said the United States has provided intelligence to Ukraine to help counter the Russian assault, but have denied this intelligence includes precise targeting data.

Washington and European members of the transatlantic NATO alliance have supplied Kyiv with heavy weapons, but say they will not take part in the fighting.

A senior Russian commander said last month Russia planned to take full control of southern Ukraine to improve Russian access to Transdniestria, a breakaway region of Moldova.

Pro-Russian separatists in Moldova said Transdniestria was hit four times by suspected drones overnight near the Ukrainian border. read more

Ukraine has repeatedly denied any blame for the incidents, saying it believes Russia is staging the attacks to provoke war. Moscow, too, has denied blame. read more

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Reuters bureaus; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by William Maclean, Frank Jack Daniel and Simon Lewis
Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio

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Syrians in Berlin seek release of loved ones after presidential amnesty

  • Protesters unsure what Assad’s amnesty will mean
  • Rights groups fear only small number will be freed
  • Families desperate for news of loved ones missing for years

BERLIN/DAMASCUS, May 7 (Reuters) – For ten years, Rojin Derki hoped her brother Mohammad was still alive and would one day be released from a Syrian government prison after his arrest in 2012.

Yet when a presidential decree last week gave a general amnesty for prisoners, she had mixed feelings.

“It’s an ugly feeling because you don’t know if he is alive, if he will be released, or if he will remember us,” Derki said, holding a photo of her brother at a sit-in on Saturday in Berlin by dozens of Syrians for political detainees.

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“When my mother learned about the decree she said ‘even if he doesn’t recognise me, at least I will do’,” said Derki, whose brother supported an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The April 30 amnesty appears to be the first for those detained under a sweeping 2012 counter-terrorism decree, which rights groups say allowed authorities to round up opposition activists and aid workers.

It has given hope for thousands of Syrian families to see loved ones free again after years of detention. But rights groups say the decree will only give freedom to a small fraction of the political prisoners the government detains.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which has been documenting the war from outside Syria, said around 200 people have been released so far since the decree, with the total unlikely to exceed 1,800.

“The government has 132,000 Syrian citizens (detained for political reasons), according to SNHR data, of which there are 87,000 forcibly disappeared, meaning they are not included in amnesty decrees,” SNHR head Fadel Abdul Ghany said.

CONFUSION

Derki, with other Syrians, laid down framed photos of their detained family members in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

They were unhappy at the decree’s lack of clarity.

“Like me, all families here are angry. We don’t know what this amnesty means,” said Yasmin Shabaji, who has not heard news of her detained brother and father in almost a decade.

Ammar Bilal, a member of the legislation department at Syria’s ministry of justice, said it was not possible to determine the number of people the amnesty would cover, adding that the pardon was more comprehensive than previous ones because it included people tried in absentia.

Syria’s Justice Ministry said all detainees covered by the amnesty would be released successively in coming days, without providing further details.

For Derki, the decree was another way for the Syrian leader to show his power. “He did this to say to Syrians: ‘I am still here and your sons are still held by me.'”

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Grim search in blown-out Havana hotel, death toll at 26 

HAVANA, May 7 (Reuters) – Cuban rescue workers on Saturday picked through rubble for bodies and possible survivors after a Havana boutique hotel was devastated by what authorities said was a gas explosion, leaving at least 26 dead.

The blast at the Hotel Saratoga, just a block from the iconic capitol building in a renovated area of downtown Havana, seriously damaged two adjoining upscale apartment buildings and inflicted lighter damage to 17 structures within a two-block radius. Debris fell on pedestrians in the heavily traveled area and glass and debris went flying at a nearby grammar school.

Local authorities said 50 adults and 14 children were injured. Four of the dead were children, they said, providing few details. One of the dead was a Spanish tourist.

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Authorities and local media said rescuers were working to get to a passage way to the basement in hopes there were survivors. They said it was slow going as engineers had to check the stability of what remained of the building.

The hotel, housed in a more than century-old building, had been closed and only workers were inside at the time of the explosion, state-run TV said.

Residents of the adjoining apartment building often rented out to tourists.

The neoclassical-style hotel was remodeled by a British company after the fall of the Soviet Union and for many years was considered the place to stay by visiting government officials and celebrities.

Recently, it had lost some of its shine with the opening of new hotels in Havana, but was still a five-star venue just a minute away from various historic sites such as the renovated, century-old Marti Theater, which sustained moderate damage.

“Well, its just more bad news. There was Trump, Biden, the pandemic, shortages, and I could go on and on,” Michael Serano, a nurse who doubles as a handyman,” said, shrugging his shoulders and looking to the sky.

The Cuban tourism industry was largely shuttered for the last two years and is in the process of reopening now that locally developed vaccines appear to have tamed the new coronavirus, though arrivals remain at around 30% of pre-pandemic levels.

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Lula launches presidential bid, says to defend Brazil’s democracy

SAO PAULO, May 7 (Reuters) – Former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched his presidential bid on Saturday calling on Brazilians to unite behind him to defend Brazil’s democracy from the authoritarian government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Without mentioning Bolsonaro by name, Lula told supporters at a rally that his adversary was unable to govern and lied constantly to the nation to hide his incompetence.

“The most serious moment the country is going through forces us to overcome our differences and build an alternative path to the incompetence and authoritarianism that govern us,” he said.

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“We want to join democrats of all political positions, classes, races and religious beliefs … to defeat the totalitarian threat, the hatred, violence and discrimination hanging over our country,” he said to a cheering crowd.

The rally was called a “pre-launch” to comply with Brazilian election law that says official campaigning for the October election starts in August.

Recent opinion polls show Lula maintaining a comfortable advantage over his rival if the election were held today, though Bolsonaro has gained ground by boosting welfare spending and traveling around the country.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned Brazil’s electronic voting system, raising fears he might not admit defeat.

Lula said he has forged a widening alliance of seven left-of-center parties so far, and has picked centrist former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin for his running mate to draw moderate voters not happy with Bolsonaro’s administration.

Lula stressed his achievements during his two terms from 2003-2010 when Brazil grew fast due to a commodities super-boom, allowing his government to raise millions from poverty.

“Brazil has returned to the somber past we thought we had overcome,” he said, mentioning the rise of hunger among poor Brazilians.

Alckmin addressed the rally remotely by video after testing positive for COVID-19.

Lula, a 76-year-old widower, said he was in love with his girlfriend Rosangela da Silva. They plan to marry on May 18.

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Sinn Fein calls for united Ireland debate after historic election win

  • Sinn Fein wins most seats for first time
  • Calls for debate on Irish unification
  • Scotland’s Sturgeon hails ‘historic result’
  • Government formation could take months

BELFAST, May 7 (Reuters) – Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), hailed its first victory in a Northern Ireland Assembly election as a “defining moment” for the British-controlled region and called for a debate on a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein was ahead of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) by 27 to 24 seats with two left to declare, making it the first Irish nationalist party to become the largest in the devolved assembly.

“Today represents a very significant moment of change. It’s a defining moment in our politics and for our people,” said the head of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, whose party secured 29% of first-preference votes to the DUP’s 21.3%.

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She said there should now be an “honest debate” around the party’s goal of unifying the territory with the Republic of Ireland.

The victory will not change the region’s status, as the referendum required to leave the United Kingdom is at the discretion of the British government and likely years away.

But the symbolic importance is huge, ending a century of domination by pro-British parties, supported predominantly by the region’s Protestant population.

The DUP, a leading proponent of Britain’s exit from the European Union, saw support undermined in part due to its role in post-Brexit talks between London and Brussels that resulted in trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

‘HISTORIC RESULT’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also leading a campaign to secede from the United Kingdom, was among the first to congratulate Sinn Fein in a Twitter post that hailed a “truly historic result.”

While the largest party has the right to put forward a candidate for First Minister of Northern Ireland’s compulsory power-sharing government, disagreements with the DUP mean such an appointment could be months away.

Asked by a journalist if she expected to become the region’s first Irish nationalist First Minister, O’Neill said: “The people have spoken.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would not join the government unless the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s trade with the rest of the UK following its exit from the European Union was totally overhauled.

The DUP’s campaign focused on a promise to scrap what it calls a border in the Irish Sea.

Donaldson said he would see what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says on the topic in a speech next week before deciding his next move. read more

The British government’s minister for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis in a statement called on the parties to form an executive as soon as possible.

ALL-IRELAND ASPIRATIONS

Sinn Fein was long shunned by the political establishment on both sides of the Irish border for its links to Irish Republican Army violence during three decades of fighting over Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom that ended with a 1998 peace deal.

Since then it has reinvented itself to become the most popular party in the Republic of Ireland, where it has carved out a successful base by campaigning on everyday issues such as the cost of living and healthcare.

It followed a similar path in the Northern Irish elections, where it focused on economic concerns rather than Irish unity to appeal to middle-ground voters.

The election follows demographic trends that have long indicated that pro-British Protestant parties would eventually be eclipsed by predominantly Catholic Irish nationalist parties who favour uniting the north with the Republic of Ireland.

All unionist candidates combined secured slightly more votes than all nationalists in Thursday’s election.

The cross-community Alliance Party scored its strongest ever result with 17 seats as it bids to establish itself as a third pillar of the political system.

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Writing by Conor Humphries; editing by Clelia Oziel and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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