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South Korea’s Yoon suggests an ‘audacious’ economic plan if North Korea drops its nukes

SEOUL, May 10 (Reuters) – South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, said on Tuesday that North Korea’s weapons programs pose a threat but that he is ready to provide an “audacious” economic plan if the North is committed to denuclearisation.

Yoon gave the remarks in his inauguration speech after being sworn in at a ceremony in Seoul. He won a tight election in March as the standard-bearer of the main conservative People Power Party, less than a year after entering politics following a 26-year career as a prosecutor.

Yoon, 61, will face two major problems as he takes office: a belligerent North Korea testing new weapons and inflation threatening to undermine an economic recovery from two years of COVID-19 gloom.

He has signaled a tougher line on North Korea, warning of a preemptive strike if there is a sign of an imminent attack and vowing to strengthen the South’s deterrent capability. But his speech was seen as focused more on his willingness to reopen stalled denuclearisation talks with Pyongyang. 

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programs are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat,” Yoon said.

“If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearisation, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he added.

Yoon did not elaborate on his plan to re-engage or provide economic incentives to the North. But his national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, told Reuters during the election campaign that the Yoon government would devise a roadmap in early days in which Pyongyang could quickly earn sanctions relief or economic aid in exchange for denuclearisation measures. read more

Yoon could face a security crisis if North Korea carries out its first nuclear test in five years, as U.S. and South Korean officials warned after it broke a 2017 moratorium on long-range missile testing in March. 

‘TROUBLING SPEED OF ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM’

Yoon won the election on a platform of fighting corruption and creating a more level economic playing field amid deepening public frustration with inequality and housing prices, as well as simmering gender and generational rivalry.

South Korea’s inflation hit a more than 13-year high last month as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent commodity prices soaring, boosting expectations of more central bank interest rate rises, which could threaten growth prospects. 

Yoon did not mention inflation, but cited low growth, rising unemployment and wage gaps as key economic challenges, pledging to address those by focusing on developing science, technology and innovation.

He blamed anti-intellectualism for polarised politics and deepening internal strife, saying it has threatened to undercut democracy and the people’s “sense of community and belonging.”

“The political process which has the responsibility to address and resolve these issues has failed due to a crisis in democracy, and one of the main reasons for such failure is the troubling spread of anti-intellectualism,” he said.

“When we choose to see only what we want to see and hear only what we want to hear … this is what shakes our trust in democracy.”

Some 40,000 people attended the ceremony on the front lawn of parliament, including about 300 foreign guests, including Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Douglas Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

After the inauguration, Yoon moved to a new office at a former defence ministry building inside a sprawling compound, where he was greeted by some children living nearby before holding a meeting with aides.

He has moved the presidential office and residence from the traditional Blue House under a $40 million plan, though his predecessor Moon Jae-in criticised it as rushed and a national security risk. read more

A separate event was held at the Blue House, where 74 citizens selected by lottery entered the long enclosed complex, which was opened to the public for the first time in 74 years.

Yoon had called the office a “symbol of absolute power,” and his team said it would be used as a public park and cultural space, and some 20,000-30,000 people have signed up for a daily visit.

Exclusive: Tesla halts most production at Shanghai plant on Tuesday – memo

SHANGHAI, May 10 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has halted most of its production at its Shanghai plant due to problems securing parts for its electric vehicles, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters, the latest in a series of difficulties for the factory.

The plant plans to manufacture less than 200 vehicles on Tuesday, according to the memo, far less than the roughly 1,200 units it has been building each day since shortly after it reopened on April 19 following a 22-day closure.

Two sources familiar with the matter had earlier said supply issues had forced the factory to halt production on Monday.

Shanghai is in its sixth week of an intensifying COVID-19 lockdown that has tested the ability of manufacturers to operate amid hard restrictions on the movement of people and materials.

Tesla had planned as late as last week to increase output to pre-lockdown levels by next week. 

It was not immediately clear when the current supply issues can be resolved, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the production plans are private.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a query for comment.

China Passenger Car Association is scheduled to release April sales for Tesla, China’s second-largest EV maker behind BYD (002594.SZ), on Tuesday.

Another auto association said last week it estimated overall auto sales in China dropped 48% in April as zero-COVID lockdowns shut factories, limited traffic to showrooms and put the brakes on spending.

Aptiv (APTV.N), Tesla’s main supplier of wire harnesses, stopped shipping from a Shanghai plant that supplies Tesla and General Motors Co (GM.N) after COVID-19 infections were found among its workers, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Tesla’s Shanghai plant, also known as the Gigafactory 3, produces the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover for the China market and for export.

Tesla partially resumed production at the Shanghai plant on April 19 following a 22-day closure caused by the city’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Tesla had been aiming to increase output at its Shanghai plant to 2,600 cars a day from May 16, Reuters reported previously. 

Shanghai authorities have tightened a city-wide lockdown imposed more than a month ago on the commercial hub with a population of 25 million, a move that could extend curbs on movement through the month

Ecuador’s latest prison riot leaves at least 43 dead

QUITO, May 9 (Reuters) – Dozens of inmates were killed during a riot early on Monday as rival gangs clashed in a jail in the Ecuadorean city of Santo Domingo, the government said, the latest episode of prison violence that has rocked the South American country.

One hundred and eight prisoners remain at large and 112 have been recaptured, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo told reporters. Authorities said the riot broke out after a gang leader was transferred to Santo Domingo’s Bellavista prison following a court order, which may have caused unrest among prisoners.

Both the interior ministry and the attorney general’s office reported that 43 prisoners had died. Most of them had been stabbed to death, Carrillo said.

The riot was the latest incident of violence in Ecuadorean prisons, which the government attributes to fights between gangs over control of territory and drug trafficking routes.

Last year, 316 prisoners died during riots in various prisons across Ecuador.

Authorities in Ecuador recapture escaped inmates after prison riot
Authorities in Ecuador recapture escaped inmates after prison riot

Police officers stand guard outside the Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas prison after Ecuadorean authorities reported that they managed to put out a riot and recapture several inmates that had escaped, in Santo Domingo, Ecuador May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Alarcon

Read More

Bellavista prison has now been brought back under control, police commander Fausto Salinas said, adding that a security fence was built around the jail’s perimeter after prisoners escaped.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said the system is blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as poor conditions for inmates.

The country’s prisons house 35,000 people and are overcrowded at about 15% beyond maximum capacity.

read more

Conservative President Guillermo Lasso has promised to reduce prison violence through a gang pacification process, early release for prisoners and political and social reforms.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Matthew Lewis

In government reset, UK’s Johnson looks to Queen’s speech to win back voters

LONDON, May 9 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to reset his government on Tuesday by setting out plans aimed at winning back traditional supporters in southern England who abandoned his governing Conservatives at local elections.

Queen Elizabeth on Monday pulled out of the ceremony that marks a new parliament, and instead her son Charles is due to read out the laws which the government wants the House of Commons to approve and will pinpoint Johnson’s priorities for the coming session in 2022-2023. L2N2X11UW

Johnson’s government has already set out a few areas it wants to focus on, returning to his so-called “leveling up” agenda to tackle regional inequality that he believes scored highly with voters in a 2019 election that handed him a large majority.

Ministers will set out 38 bills, including measures to reform Britain’s education system, revitalize its high streets, clamp down on “guerrilla protests” and make the City more attractive to global investors post-Brexit.

“This Queen’s Speech will get our country back on track, and I will strive – and this government will strive – night and day to deliver it,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Because in spite of everything we have been through, we are going to ensure that over the two years we have left in this parliament, we spend every second uniting and leveling up this country, exactly as we said we would.”

Buckingham Palace on Monday said that Queen Elizabeth was experiencing “episodic mobility problems” and had reluctantly decided she could not attend. 

Instead, her heir, Prince Charles, will read the Queen’s Speech, with his son Prince William also in attendance.

SHIFTING FOCUS

Johnson and his government are keen to return the focus on what they call the “real issues” and turn the page on scandals after months of reports of COVID-19 lockdown-busting gatherings at the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence.

After Johnson and his finance minister, Rishi Sunak, were both handed fines for one such gathering, Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, upped the pressure when he pledged to resign if police found he had broken the rules.

Neither Johnson nor Sunak have stepped down, and Downing Street is still awaiting the results of a police investigation into other gatherings.

Last week’s local elections, which saw voters punish the Conservatives over their “partygate” and a cost-of-living crisis, has prompted some to urge Johnson to turn his focus on issues that worry traditional voters in southern England.

But with his critics falling short of the numbers needed to try to oust the prime minister, Johnson is hoping he can get his government back on track before the next election, keenly aware that he must try to tackle a growing cost-of-living crisis.

The Bank of England said last week Britain risks a double-whammy of a recession and inflation above 10%. 

“We will get the country through the aftershocks of COVID, just as we got through COVID, with every ounce of ingenuity and compassion and hard work,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech sent from his office.

“By urgently pressing on with our mission to create the high wage, high skilled jobs that will drive economic growth across our whole United Kingdom. That is the long-term, sustainable solution to ease the burden on families and businesses.”

Philippine’s election win returns Marcos to power and polarisation

MANILA, May 10 (Reuters) – The Philippines woke to a new but familiar political dawn on Tuesday, after an election triumph by Ferdinand Marcos Jr paved the way for a once-unimaginable return to the country’s highest office for its most notorious political dynasty.

Marcos, better known as “Bongbong”, trounced bitter rival Leni Robredo to become the first candidate in recent history to win a Philippines presidential election majority, marking a stunning comeback by the son and namesake of an ousted dictator that has been decades in the making.

Marcos fled into exile in Hawaii with his family during a 1986 “people power” uprising that ended his father’s autocratic 20-year rule, and has served in congress and the senate since his return to the Philippines in 1991.

Marcos’s runaway victory in Monday’s election now looks certain with 96% of the eligible ballots counted in an unofficial tally, showing he has more than 30 million votes, double that of Robredo.

An official result is expected around the end of the month.

“There are thousands of you out there, volunteers, parallel groups, political leaders that have cast their lot with us because of our belief in our message of unity,” Marcos said in a statement streamed on Facebook, standing beside a national flag.

Though Marcos, 64, campaigned on a platform of unity, political analysts say his presidency is unlikely to foster that, despite the margin of victory.

Philippine stocks (.PSI) fell about 3% on Tuesday, tracking weaker global equities, but with analysts also citing concerns about a Marcos win, particularly its fiscal implications if he follows through on pledges to subsidize food and fuel.

The peso currency, meanwhile, rose 0.3% against the dollar.

Many among the millions of Robredo voters are angered by what they see as a brazen attempt by the disgraced former first family to use its mastery of social media to reinvent historical narratives of its time in power.

Thousands of opponents of Marcos senior suffered persecution during a brutal 1972-1981 era of martial law, and the family name became synonymous with plunder, cronyism, and extravagant living, with billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing.

The Marcos family has denied wrongdoing and many of its supporters, bloggers, and social media influencers say historical accounts are distorted.

STUDENTS STAGE PROTEST

Around 400 people, mostly students, staged a protest outside the election commission on Tuesday against Marcos and citing election irregularities.

The election commission, which said the poll was relatively peaceful, is due on Tuesday to rule on petitions seeking to overturn its dismissal of complaints trying to bar Marcos from the presidential race.

Human rights group Karapatan called on Filipinos to reject the new Marcos presidency, which it said was built on lies and disinformation “to deodorize the Marcoses’ detestable image”.

Marcos, who shied away from debates and interviews during the campaign, recently praised his father as a genius and a statesman but has also been irked by questions about the martial law era.

As the vote count showed the extent of Marcos’s win, Robredo told her supporters to continue their fight for truth until the next election.

“It took time to build the structures of lies. We have time and opportunity to fight and dismantle these,” she said.

Marcos gave few clues on the campaign trail about what his policy agenda would look like but is widely expected to closely follow outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who targeted big infrastructure works, close ties with China, and strong growth. Duterte’s tough leadership style won him big support.

Washington needed to engage with Manila rather than criticize “the democratic headwinds buffeting the Philippines”, said Greg Poling, a Southeast Asia analyst from the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“This is not the end of Philippine democracy, though it may accelerate its decay,” said Poling.