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Mexico president poised for election win, fired by statist energy drive



Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s drive to strengthen state control of natural resources faces a key test on Sunday at mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress for the rest of his administration.

The leftist Lopez Obrador has upset many of Mexico‘s main trade partners and leading business groups by pushing through legislation to reverse the previous government’s opening of the energy market to more private capital.

Though that has sapped investment, his argument that he is fighting for Mexico’s poor against unscrupulous elites still resonates with voters, making his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) heavily favored to retain the lower house of Congress.

“Mexico’s a rich country, but we’ve allowed other people to come and take our riches from us,” said Cesar Lopez, a 42-year-old MORENA supporter in the northern city of Hermosillo who is firmly behind the president’s energy agenda.

Though voters tend to criticize this government’s record on job creation and fighting crime, they are more skeptical of Mexico’s former rulers, now in opposition. Lopez Obrador has also benefited from the vaccine rollout against COVID-19.

Opinion polls suggest MORENA may lose a few seats in the lower house, which controls the budget. But it should comfortably reach a majority with the help of political allies.

If it beats expectations, the alliance could even get a two-thirds majority allowing Lopez Obrador to pursue constitutional changes to back his statist vision in the second half of his six-year term. That prospect worries some investors.

He is barred from seeking re-election by law.

The president has put taking control of energy policy at the center of his economic agenda, arguing that past governments prioritized private interests at the public’s expense.

That ambition has been cramped by a 2013-14 constitutional energy reform by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto, and many of MORENA’s legislative changes have been frozen by lower courts.

His answer has been: see you at the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court rulings are still pending on Lopez Obrador’s moves to give precedence over private interests to national power utility the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) and its oil and gas counterpart, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Pressuring the court to side with him, he has threatened to change the constitution if it does not.

Such a step could exacerbate disputes with allies by breaching Mexico’s commitments under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal, business groups say.

Lopez Obrador’s taste for using referendums to cancel infrastructure projects he opposes has further unsettled investors.

He has also sparred with mining companies, criticizing how many concessions were granted them by past governments.

Still, Lopez Obrador on Wednesday hinted he did not envisage many major legal changes in what remained of his term, saying the “constitutional reforms are pretty much done.” Only very few remained, he added, without going into detail.


Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018 pledging to improve growth and reduce violent crime. Instead, the economy has shrunk for the past two years – contracting 8.5% in 2020 – and homicides have reached unprecedented levels.

Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it was in Mexico’s interest to create certainty for business and lift the economy.

An important signal towards restoring confidence would be for Mexico to walk back energy policies designed to tilt the playing field in favor of state-run firms, Herrington noted.

“U.S. investors across all industries are watching Mexico’s actions on energy closely because they’re convinced the outcome of the sector’s current challenges will have a major impact on the country’s broader economy and investment climate,” he said.

Lopez Obrador argues that billions of dollars in power industry contracts awarded by predecessors ripped off taxpayers, and he wants companies to agree new terms more favorable to the state.

A few companies are believed to be pursuing international arbitration. But unless firms sell up, analysts expect most to reach some sort of deal with Lopez Obrador – just as natural gas pipeline operators did in 2019 during a similar renegotiation.

Mexico’s economic fortunes in 2021 have been buoyed by U.S. stimulus spending under President Joe Biden, fueling demand for Mexican goods. Some 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States, and exports are at record levels. Mexico’s government says the economy could grow 6.5% this year.

Businesses have flagged concerns about Lopez Obrador’s policies to Washington, but the focus of bilateral relations has been keeping a lid on illegal immigration.

U.S. reliance on Mexico to help stem migrant flows gives Lopez Obrador more latitude to pursue an independent economic agenda, Mexican officials say privately.

The president has wrapped his economic vision in a narrative that business, political and media elites connived to hog Mexico’s riches, fueling poverty, inequality and violence.

Lopez Obrador is right to want to solve those problems, but his rhetoric is stoking serious division, argued Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister.

“This polarization,” he said, “is extremely damaging and worrisome for a country that needs to get its people together to get out of the rut that it’s in.”


(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down



Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government



Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.


“We’ll be back, soon.”


“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”


“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”


“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”


“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”


“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”


“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”


“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”


“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”


“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”


“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”


“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”


“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”


“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’



British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.


Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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