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Posts tagged ‘Matteo Renzi’

US, France Warn Russia of ‘New Measures’ Over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande warned Saturday of “new measures” against Russia if it fails to work toward defusing the crisis in Ukraine, the French presidency said.

In a phone call on Saturday, Obama and Hollande insisted on the “need for Russia to withdraw forces sent to Crimea since the end of February and to do everything to allow the deployment of international observers,” it said.
Obama’s conversation with Hollande was one of a half dozen telephone conversations he had with world leaders Saturday about Ukraine, the White House says.

He  also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The new warnings come in the wake of Russia’s insistence that any U.S. sanctions will have a boomerang effect on the United States and that Crimea has the right to self-determination as armed men tried to seize another Ukrainian military base on the peninsula.

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In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Russian-American relations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Sanctions…would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

It was the second tense, high-level exchange between the former Cold War foes in 24 hours over the pro-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after an hour-long call with U.S. President Barack Obama that their positions on the former Soviet republic were still far apart. Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

Putin, who later opened the Paralympic Games in Sochi which have been boycotted by a string of Western dignitaries, said Ukraine’s new, pro-Western authorities had acted illegitimately over the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” he said.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the Ukrainian border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared to the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.

On Friday evening armed men drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defence post in Sevastopol, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene. But no shots were fired and Crimea’s pro-Russian premier said later the standoff was over.

Putin denies the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

The most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War – resulting from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence – escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia.

The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.


Turkey scrambled jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast and a U.S. warship passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus straits on its way to the Black Sea, although the U.S. military said it was a routine deployment.

European Union leaders and Obama said the referendum plan was illegitimate and would violate Ukraine’s constitution.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations”.

Obama ordered visa bans and asset freezes on Thursday against so far unidentified people deemed responsible for threatening European Union leaders Ukraine’s sovereignty. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide said Moscow might refuse to pay off any loans to U.S. banks, the top four of which have around $24 billion in exposure to Russia.

Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute “a threat to international peace and security”, after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the Crimean referendum.

The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel and on a broad new pact governing Russia-EU ties “extremely unconstructive”. It pledged to retaliate.


Senior Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison after Yanukovich’s overthrow, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin and appealed for immediate EU sanctions against Russia, warning that Crimea might otherwise slide into a guerrilla war.

Brussels and Washington rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. The regional director of the International Monetary Fund said talks with Kiev on a loan agreement were going well and praised the new government’s openness to economic reform and transparency.

The European Commission has said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the IMF, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.

Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.

In the past two days it has traded above 9.0 to the dollar for the first time since the Crimea crisis began last week. Local dealers said emergency currency restrictions imposed last week were also supporting the hryvnia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said Ukraine had not paid its $440 million gas bill for February, bringing its arrears to $1.89 billion and hinted it could turn off the taps as it did in 2009, when a halt in Russian deliveries to Ukraine reduced supplies to Europe during a cold snap.

In Moscow, a huge crowd gathered near the Kremlin at a government-sanctioned rally and concert billed as being “in support of the Crimean people”. Pop stars took to the stage and demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Crimea is Russian land”, and “We believe in Putin”.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said no one in the civilised world would recognise the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea.

He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia if Moscow pulls its additional troops out of Crimea and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov ridiculed calls for Russia to join an international “contact group” with Ukraine proposed by the West, saying they “make us smile”.

Demonstrators encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.

Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.

“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”

Unarmed military observers from the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were blocked from entering Crimea for a second day in a row on Friday, the OSCE said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it had sent its assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, to Kiev to conduct a preliminary humans rights assessment.

Ukrainian television has been replaced with Russian state channels in Crimea and the streets largely belong to people who support Moscow’s rule, some of whom have harassed journalists and occasional pro-Kiev protesters.

Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.

“With all these soldiers here, it is like we are living in a zoo,” Tatyana, 41, an ethnic Russian. “Everyone fully understands this is an occupation.”

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By Newsmax Wires

Bersani to face Renzi in runoff vote for Italy left leader.

ROME (Reuters) – Pier Luigi Bersani, head of Italy’s Democratic Party, will face his main rival Matteo Renzi in a runoff next week to pick the center-left candidate to fight to succeed Mario Monti as prime minister following the first round of a primary vote on Sunday.

With almost half the results counted, Bersani led with about 44 percent, ahead of Renzi, the youthful mayor of Florence, who was campaigning as a modernizer, at around 36 percent, according to party officials.

Both candidates have pledged to maintain the budget discipline pursued by Monti’s technocrat government and to respect Italy’s commitments to its European partners but say they will encourage growth and will not blindly pursue austerity policies.

“Pier Luigi Bersani has won the first round,” Renzi, whose result was better than polls had projected, told supporters late on Sunday. He promised a “loyal” contest before the runoff vote on December 2.

“If we don’t succeed, we’ll lend a hand and together we will try to win and finally close the ugly chapter left by the centre-right,” he said.

Nichi Vendola, the openly gay head of the left-wing Left, Ecology, Freedom party was in third place with 15 percent, while the remaining two candidates, Bruno Tabacci and Laura Puppato, trailed far behind.

The outcome of the second round will remove one major element of uncertainty dogging Italian politics ahead of spring elections to choose a successor to Monti’s government, which took over afterSilvio Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister in November, 2011.

Monti has said he will not run in the next election, expected in March, because it would destabilize the right-left coalition that now supports him, though he has left open the possibility of staying on if there is no outright winner.

The center-left alliance is well ahead in opinion polls for the election, although uncertainty over what electoral system will be used in the ballot means it is unclear whether it will be able to form a government without seeking allies from centrist parties.

Even so, the winner of the primary will be in pole position to take over Monti’s efforts to control strained public finances and tackle a deep recession.

While the slick and dynamic Renzi, 37, is much more popular across the general population, the 61 year-old Bersani’s core support among traditional PD party voters proved decisive.

“It’s been a magnificent day. I’m extremely happy,” Bersani said as his lead in the vote became clear.

The unified front contrasts with deep divisions in the center-right over whether to stick with Monti’s unpopular economic policies. Support for Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party (PDL) has crumbled to less than half of what it recorded in the last election in 2008.

Berlusconi, who has changed his mind several times over whether or not to run in the election, added to the chaos facing the PDL when he said on Saturday he was again thinking about standing, throwing plans to hold a center-right primary into doubt.


About 4 million party and non-party voters took part in the center-left vote, with queues forming at several outdoor polling booths in cities across Italy.

Democratic Party (PD) officials said the strong turnout at the poll, which was not restricted to party members, ensured the next center-left leader would be chosen in a fair and democratic way.

“With this level of participation and with very clear rules, there is full and complete legitimacy,” said PD deputy leader Enrico Letta, a Bersani supporter. “The candidate for premier who emerges from this election will be extremely strong.”

While the PD has supported Monti’s government in parliament, neither Bersani nor Renzi think the former European Commissioner should return as prime minister after the vote.

Business leaders have expressed strong support for a second term for Monti, who has implemented a tough program of spending cuts, tax hikes and labor reform to cut the massive public debt and restore economic competitiveness.

Monti, who has said repeatedly he would be ready to serve a second term if needed, kept up a diplomatic silence about his future on Sunday, saying only that he would consider what contribution he could best make.

Protests on Saturday by tens of thousands of students and workers from across the political spectrum highlighted the levels of discontent among Italians grappling with the slump and rising unemployment in the euro zone’s third biggest economy.

Further complicating the national political picture is the dramatic rise of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which is now second in opinion polls, and that around half of Italians say they are either undecided or will abstain.

(Additional reporting by Silvia Ognibene in Florence and James Mackenzie, Editing by Myra MacDonald and Paul Simao)


By Catherine Hornby | Reuters

Berlusconi returns to politics, attacks Monti government.


ROME (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has returned to the political frontline after months in the shadows, vowing to abolish a key tax on homes in remarks likely to stoke investors’ jitters about Italy’s future after an election next spring.

But the 75-year-old media magnate is keeping Italy guessing about whether he will stand for prime minister at the head of his center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party in the election.

Berlusconi, one of the country’s richest men, attacked the policies of his successor, unelected technocrat Mario Monti, in his first interview to Italian media since being forced from power last November, when Italy tottered on the edge of a Greek-style debt crisis.

Berlusconi said in the interview with his family’s il Giornale daily that the PDL would abolish a deeply unpopular tax on homes worth 20 billion euros a year, which is a major plank in Monti’s tough austerity program to cut Italy’s huge debt.

The former European Commissioner has restored Italy’s credentials since he took over from the scandal-plagued Berlusconi at a time when a loss of confidence had pushed the country’s borrowing costs to untenable levels.

Berlusconi, who has remained out of the limelight for months, said the tax on the owner of every house in Italy must be repealed in the same way his government abolished a previous levy in 2008. Avoiding property taxes has been a constant theme for Berlusconi who dominated Italian politics for 17 years until his fall last November.

“The home is a pillar on which every family has the right to base its security for the future,” he said in the interview conducted on a cruise down the Adriatic coast over the weekend for Giornale readers, and published on Monday.

Berlusconi, whose party has slumped in popularity since he left power, said he wanted to see which electoral law would be used before deciding whether to stand in a poll which must be held by next April.

He failed to turn up on Friday for a Rome rally at which many supporters hoped he would throw his hat in the ring. Senior party officials have repeatedly predicted he will be their candidate.


Uncertainty over how to change the voting system – so bad it is universally called the “pigsty law” – is at the center of Italy’s instability ahead of the elections, with the parties in turmoil and under threat from populist movements.

An opinion poll published by the Corriere della Sera daily on Sunday showed two-thirds of Italians, suffering in a deep recession and fed up with traditional parties, were undecided how to vote or intended to abstain or cast a protest ballot.

Only 36 percent intended to vote for a mainstream party.

The uncertainty has unsettled investors who are worried that a new political government could tear up Monti’s unpopular reforms and plunge the euro zone’s third largest economy back into crisis.

Berlusconi attacked Genoese comic Beppe Grillo, whose anti-establishment Five Star Movement is snapping at the heels of the weakened PDL, saying his support would evaporate when the public realized he was incapable of governing even a small city.

“Grillo is an extraordinary comic actor….And what is he doing now? He is doing exactly the same trade as before.”

In remarks that may be aimed at sowing confusion in the center left Democrat Party, Berlusconi praised young Florence major Matteo Renzi who is challenging party leader Pier Luigi Bersani in electoral primaries expected in November.

Berlusconi said Renzi, on the rightwing of the party, was pursuing exactly the same policies as the PDL and would transform the PD from a communist into a social democrat group.

A new IPR poll published on Monday showed that whereas Monti’s popularity had increased by three percent to over 50 percent – way above the political leaders – the rating for his ministers and overall government had fallen by about the same amount.

Many business leaders are pushing for Monti to come back as prime minister after the election, even though he says he is not available. One party, the centrist UDC, is campaigning on this proposal.

A suggested alternative for the foundering politicians is to have one of Monti’s technocrat ministers stand for prime minister, but the popularity of the leading candidate, Industry Minister Corrado Passera, fell by two points to 46 percent in the poll.

(Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Jon Boyle)


By Barry Moody | Reuters

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