Turks scramble to find medications after lira plunge hits supply

By Ceyda Caglayan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Some Turks are struggling to buy medicines as the industry warns that stocks are shrinking after an “unsustainable” crash in the lira has pushed up import prices and disrupted supplies.

Industry leaders and pharmacies said the 48 billion lira ($4 billion) sector was facing steep losses on some products, and warned of disruptions in coming months for drugs including those for children, common colds, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Already weak, the Turkish currency has shed as much as 25% since the beginning of last week due to what analysts call reckless interest rate cuts that have caused shortages of some imported products.

Nezih Barut, chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Turkey, told Reuters stocks of some drugs were down to a week, compared to a month usually. Pharmaceutical companies are being forced to curb some suddenly expensive imports due to the currency drop, he added.

“Some pharmaceuticals are not on the market. This is caused by forex rates and also the difficulties we face in accessing raw materials at a global level,” Barut said.

For one mother, the concerns were acute.

“I looked everywhere and could not find more, and pharmacies can’t tell me when they will have it next,” said the nurse in Istanbul seeking medicine for her 16-year-old son with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

“I have to speak with our doctor and change the drug if I cannot find it, but I hope we don’t have to do that,” she said, requesting anonymity. “We were told that it was because of the exchange rate adjustment.”

The latest lira slide exacerbated an existing problem for an industry that imported 24 billion lira ($2 billion) worth of medications last year: the Turkish Pharmacists Association said earlier this month there was already trouble accessing 645 medicines.

The lira has tumbled by 38% against the dollar and 32% against the euro so far this year. Selling accelerated this month when the central bank, under pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan, slashed rates by another 100 basis points to 15%, well below inflation at 20%.

The currency was firmer on Thursday after hitting a record low of 13.45 to the dollar on Tuesday.

But the heavy depreciation only stokes Turkey’s inflation via imports, including drugs.

“Manufacturing or importing pharmaceuticals is unsustainable at current forex rates,” Barut said, adding that his association would ask the government for a minimum 35% price increase for next year because of the exchange rate.

DISRUPTIONS

Pharmacists predicted supply problems until February, when the next annual reference price for drugs is set.

“There will be shortages of many drugs, especially children’s drugs, hormone drugs, blood pressure medications, some diabetes drugs, insulin,” said Ayse Sibel Birinci, a pharmacist in Ankara.

Ahmet Metin Kablama, another pharmacist, said children’s painkillers, fever suppressants, nasal sprays and cough syrups were particularly scarce due to the lira’s fall.

“Since there is a flu epidemic as well as COVID at the moment, patients have difficulties in accessing this type of medicine,” he said.

Officials say the sector’s difficulties are also driven by a reference pricing system in place since 2004.

Under the system, 5 EU countries are taken as references and the lowest price among them is the “reference price” for the medicines in Turkey. For drugs with generic competition, 60% of the reference price is applied, based on a euro exchange rate which is fixed for one year.

Companies say the rate is too low. It was set at about 4.6 to the euro for this year, while a euro was worth 13.4 lira on Thursday.

That means delays for some people.

“I needed to buy a vitamin but I could only get it after waiting a couple of days,” said Elif Kucuk, 43, in the city of Erzurum. “The pharmacist said there wasn’t any in stock.”

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Halilcan Soran and Canan Sevgili; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Giles Elgood)

Russia mourns 51 killed in mining disaster, police make arrests

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Police in Siberia arrested two safety inspectors suspected of criminal negligence on Friday as Russia’s coal mining heartland mourned the deaths of 51 people in one of its worst mine disasters since Soviet times.

Regional governor Sergei Tsivilyov said a methane explosion was the likely cause of Thursday’s accident at the mine near the town of Belovo. The dead included five rescuers sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground, he said.

“There was an explosion at this mine 18 years ago and 13 people died. The whole village went mad. Just imagine how they’re going to bury 46 (miners),” said Inna Piyalkina, whose 55-year-old husband was among the dead.

The Investigative Committee, a body that probes serious crimes, said they would charge and remand in custody two safety inspectors who issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility.

Its move followed the arrest late on Thursday of three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, on suspicion of flouting safety standards.

The local prosecutor’s office said on Friday it was carrying out safety checks at other mines across the region and had already opened 28 cases into violations found at six companies. It did not name them.

‘SENSORS WERE BEEPING’

The mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, is owned by SDS-Ugol, a company that produces 27 million tonnes of coal annually and is part of the privately-owned Siberian Business Union. The SBU did not reply to a request for comment.

Piyalkina said her husband, who had worked in the mine for 33 years, had recently complained of safety problems.

“Methane was over the limit. My husband came home from work every day and said it wouldn’t end well. It was so over the limit that all the sensors were beeping,” she told reporters after visiting the facility on Friday.

She said there had been a fire in a part of the mine on the night of Nov. 14-15.

“No measures were taken. Here’s the result. Just 10 days have gone by and they’re all lying in there,” she said.

In a rare snippet of good news, one of the rescuers who had been assumed dead was suddenly found alive on Friday and rushed to hospital where he was put in intensive care, the Emergency Services said.

Emergency workers, who had been forced to halt their rescue efforts on Thursday due to the risk of an explosion, brought the bodies of three miners and three rescuers to the surface on Friday, the regional governor said.

Four other people, including a second rescue worker, were in intensive care, TASS news agency cited doctors as saying. A total of 50 people were in hospital, it said.

The accident was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

In 2007, the region, known informally as Kuzbass, was the site of the worst mining accident since the collapse of the Soviet Union when an explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Anastasia Lyrchikova, Maria Kiselyova, Gleb Stolyarov; editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)

Asia prices inch down on COVID concerns; fundamentals remain bullish

By Marwa Rashad

LONDON (Reuters) – Asian liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices inched lower this week on concerns over the potential impact of a new coronavirus variant, but were still supported by higher heating demand and tight shipping availability.

The average LNG price for January delivery into Northeast Asia slipped to $36.1 per metric million British thermal units (mmBtu), down $0.6, or 1.6% from the previous week, industry sources said.

Prices remain just $2.4 shy of the record level observed in mid-October. Prices for February delivery were estimated around $35.15 per mmBtu, they added.

“Prices should continue to head higher in the medium term, but the news about a (virus) variant could potentially cause some damage,” a Europe-based trader said.

News of a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa pummelled global stocks and oil markets with the EU and Britain tightening border controls as scientists sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.

“I am not sure anyone expects the decline in prices to last long. Prices have been climbing globally again over the last couple of days as new demand has emerged and some supply has wavered,” said Robert Songer, LNG markets analyst at data intelligence firm ICIS.

“In Europe, concerns over the implementation of Nord Stream 2 continue to drive the agenda and demand is ramping up again in Asia,” he added.

Western and Southern Europe have imported 5.5 million tonnes of LNG this month and are on track to exceed October’s 5.7 million tonnes, Rystad Energy said.

“The mounting congestion at the Panama Canal may be working to Europe’s benefit as US exporters can choose to remain within the Atlantic basin rather than make the arduous journey to Asia via the Cape of Good Hope,” it added.

An earlier-than-expected freeze along the Northern Sea Route in Russia may affect the passage of Yamal LNG carriers to Asia.

Vessels continued to divert away from South America towards Europe, Songer said, adding that ICIS LNG Edge showed that a 165,500 cbm LNG cargo on board the Meridian Spirit tanker has diverted to Belgium’s Zeebrugge, from an originally broadcast destination of Rio De Janeiro.

Pacific LNG freight spot rates hit a record high on Friday, with the cost of chartering a vessel to carry a shipment of the super-chilled fuel from Australia to Japan jumping to $374,500 per day, said Henry Bennett at data intelligence firm Spark Commodities.

Elsewhere, Japan’s biggest power generator JERA has procured 2 million tonnes of LNG on the spot market for delivery between November and March to ensure adequate power supply during the peak winter demand season.

South Korea’s KOGAS has awarded a buy tender for around eight cargoes of LNG over December and January.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Turkish court rules to keep Kavala in jail during trial

By Ali Kucukgocmen

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -A Turkish court ruled on Friday that philanthropist Osman Kavala must stay in prison, extending his four-year detention without conviction in a trial which has further strained difficult relations between Ankara and its Western allies.

The trial has been criticised as politically motivated and symbolic of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan. The government rejects this and says Turkey’s courts are independent.

Last month Erdogan threatened to expel the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, after they echoed a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that Kavala should be freed.

The prospect of further deterioration in Western ties added at the time to pressure on the Turkish lira, which has hit new record lows since September due mostly to interest rate cuts. The currency dipped slightly after Friday’s ruling.

The court ruled by a majority of votes to keep Kavala in jail for the duration of his trial. It set the next hearing for Jan. 17, adding it would evaluate his imprisonment on Dec. 23.

Kavala, who has been attending hearings via video link, did not participate in Friday’s hearing.

His wife, opposition lawmakers, and diplomats from some of the 10 embassies involved in the row were in the packed courtroom in Istanbul. The square outside the courthouse was packed with dozens of riot police and water cannon vehicles.

NO ‘FAIR TRIAL’

Deniz Tolga Aytore, Kavala’s lawyer, said he supported his client’s decision not to join the hearings, saying his right to a fair trial was being violated.

“We are being tried in political parties’ group meetings, and judicial officials are not doing anything about this. Therefore our right to a fair trial is being violated,” he said, referring to parties’ parliamentary groups.

Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to nationwide protests in 2013 focused on Istanbul’s Gezi Park, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges in another case related to a coup attempt in 2016. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Aytore said Kavala’s requests to be freed had been denied over charges related to the 2013 protests, while his arrest was based on espionage charges related to the 2016 coup attempt.

He also listed inconsistencies in the allegations with reports by officials that refute the claims in the indictment.

Kavala, 64, is on trial with 51 others in a combination of three separate cases over the 2013 protests and the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan and his government.

The ECHR called for Kavala’s release in late 2019 over a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence, ruling that his detention served to silence him.

The Council of Europe has said it will begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released. This could eventually lead to Turkey being expelled from the body.

Some European Union officials have said any deepening of economic ties with Ankara, including updating their customs union, is dependent on progress on human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler, Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones)

U.S. bond funds see first weekly outflow in over four months -Lipper

(Reuters) – U.S. bond funds posted a net outflow in the week to Nov. 24 as investors raised bets that the Federal Reserve would become more aggressive in normalizing monetary policy to fight inflation after President Joe Biden nominated Jerome Powell as chairperson for a second term. According to Refinitiv Lipper data, investors sold U.S. bond funds worth a net $158 million, the first outflow since the week to July 14.

Fund flows into U.S. equities bonds and money market funds: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/znpnekwlmvl/Fund%20flows%20into%20U.S.%20equities%20bonds%20and%20money%20market%20funds.jpg

The two-year U.S. Treasury yield, which typically moves in step with interest rate expectations, rose to 0.687% on Tuesday, its highest level since early March 2020.

However, Treasury yields dipped on Friday as concerns about a new COVID-19 variant drove demand for safe-haven assets.

U.S. taxable bond funds faced net selling of $1.08 billion compared with inflows of $3.97 billion in the previous week. Municipal bond funds attracted $598 million in net buying, the smallest in four weeks.

U.S. short/intermediate investment-grade funds witnessed outflows of $781 million but U.S. general domestic taxable fixed income funds and inflation protected funds received $1.83 billion and $1.15 billion in inflows respectively

Flows into U.S. bond funds: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/zgpomkoaxpd/Flows%20into%20U.S.%20bond%20funds.jpg

U.S. equity funds saw net selling for a second straight week worth $4.27 billion.

Investors sold large-cap equity funds of $4.4 billion, however, they purchased small- and mid-cap equity funds of $2.17 billion and $1.84 billion respectively.

U.S. growth and value funds saw outflows amounting to $2.2 billion and $872 million respectively.

Fund flows into U.S. growth and value funds: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/jnvwexmjovw/Fund%20flows%20into%20U.S.%20growth%20and%20value%20funds.jpg

Technology and real estate funds drew inflows of $730 million and $539 million respectively, while financials and health care, each saw more than $0.7 billion in outflows.

Flows into U.S. equity sector funds: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/gdvzydxkepw/Flows%20into%20U.S.%20equity%20sector%20funds.jpg

Meanwhile, U.S. money market funds pulled in $14.98 billion in net buying, the biggest inflow in four weeks.

(Reporting by Gaurav Dogra and Patturaja Murugaboopathy in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

France’s Macron tells UK to ‘get serious’ on Channel migrant crisis

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Kylie MacLellan

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron told Britain on Friday it needed to “get serious” or remain locked out of discussions over how to curb the flow of migrants escaping war and poverty across the Channel.

France cancelled an invitation to British Home Secretary Priti Patel to attend a meeting on the issue in Calais, underlining how fraught its ties with Britain have become, with post-Brexit trading rules and fishing rights https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-fishermen-block-boat-st-malo-brexit-protests-begin-2021-11-26 also at stake.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the British prime minister was taking the issue “extremely seriously” and said he hoped France would reconsider its decision to cancel Patel’s invite.

The row erupted after the death of 27 migrants trying to cross the narrow seaway between the two countries, the worst tragedy on record in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

“I’m surprised when things are not done seriously. We don’t communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers. Come on. Come on,” Macron told a news conference in Rome.

Macron was responding to a letter from Johnson in which the British leader told “Dear Emmanuel” what he reckoned should be done to stop migrants from making the perilous journey.

Johnson urged France in his letter to agree on joint patrols on its shores and consent to taking back the migrants who make it to Britain.

Infuriated by the letter, and not least by the fact that Johnson published it on Twitter https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1463973204456878080/photo/3, the French government cancelled an invitation to Patel to attend a meeting on Sunday to discuss with EU ministers how to tackle immigration.

‘SPIRIT OF PARTNERSHIP’

Johnson does not regret his letter to Macron or publishing it on Twitter, his spokesman said, adding that he wrote it “in the spirit of partnership and cooperation” and posted it online to inform the public of what the government was doing.

Relations between the traditional allies are already strained, including by a recent submarines deal with Australia which replaced one it had with France, and they were already accusing each other of not properly managing immigration.

“We’re fed up with (London’s) double-talk,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, adding that Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin “told his counterpart she was not longer welcome.”

Sunday’s migration meeting will go ahead, without Patel but with ministers from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and European Commission officials.

“The (EU) ministers will work seriously to settle serious issues with serious people,” Macron said. “We will then see how to move forward efficiently with the British, if they decide to get serious.”

When Britain left the EU, it was no longer able to use the bloc’s system for returning migrants to the first member state they entered.

UNHCR spokesman William Saltmarsh urged France and Britain to work together.

“Cooperation between the two countries, but also between the UK and Europe is extremely important,” he said. “It is important that there is a concerted efforts to try to crush the smugglers’ rings, the smugglers have been very adaptive in recent months.”

The number of migrants crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 so far in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to the BBC, citing government data.

Rights groups say that while fighting people-smugglers is vital, France and Britain’s migration policies are also to blame for the deaths, pointing to a lack of legal migration routes.

“The result of what happened yesterday, we can say it was because of smugglers, but it’s the responsibility of these deadly migration policies above all, we see this every day,” Marwa Mezdour, who coordinates a migrant association in Calais, said at a vigil in tribute to those who drowned.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Lough, Ingrid Melander in Paris, Kylie MacLellan in London, Ardee Napolitano in Calais, Stephanie Nebehhay in Geneva; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Gareth Jones)

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) -Italy and France signed a treaty on Friday to strengthen bilateral ties and reinforce their coordination within Europe, at a time when EU diplomacy is being tested by the departure of Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron put their names to the new pact in Rome’s Quirinale Palace. Afterwards, twin formations of planes trailing smoke in the colours of the two nations, sped through a stormy sky.

“The treaty … marks an historic moment in relations between our two countries. France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties,” Draghi told reporters.

The signing ceremony came days after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive French leaders.

The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate, and both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged United States.

Macron said the Quirinale Treaty, named for the Roman residence of the Italian president, did not challenge French relations with Germany, but was complementary and aimed at boosting all of Europe.

Amongst the goals laid out in the 15-page document was a pledge to reinforce military connections, even at an industrial level, and work in tandem to enhance Europe’s defence capabilities.

“The objective we are following … is to have a stronger and more sovereign Europe … A Europe that knows how to protect its borders and defend itself,” Macron said.

RENAISSANCE

The treaty was originally envisaged in 2017, but negotiations ground to a halt in 2018 when a populist government took office in Rome and clashed repeatedly with Macron over immigration.

There has been a renaissance this year following the appointment of Draghi to lead an Italian unity government, and the two men have met repeatedly in recent months, working closely on areas that were previous flashpoints, such as efforts to end years of conflict in Libya.

The Quirinale Treaty, loosely modelled on a 1963 Franco-German pact, will lead to Paris and Rome seeking common ground ahead of EU summits, just as France already coordinates key European policy moves with Germany.

Draghi said the two nations would launch “new forms of cooperation” in energy, technology, research and innovation. He added that at least once every quarter, an Italian minister would attend a French cabinet meeting, and vice versa.

France and Italy also committed to working together in the space sector, and would facilitate “reciprocal investment” and define “common strategies in international markets”.

French companies have invested heavily in Italy in recent years, but Italian politicians have accused Paris of being less forthcoming when Italian businesses seek cross-border deals.

Earlier this year, state-owned shipmaker Fincantieri’s bid to take over its French peer Chantiers de l’Atlantique collapsed, thwarted by EU competition issues.

Italian officials suspected Paris actively sought to undermine the deal behind the scenes.

(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome and Elizabeth Pineau and Ingrid Melander in Paris; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

India set to resume overseas flights, tightens screening for new COVID-19 variant

By Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India said on Friday it will resume international passenger flights from mid-December with COVID-19 linked curbs for “at risk” countries, and ordered tightened screening at borders as fears over a new coronavirus variant spread globally.

The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had “serious public health implications”, and asked states to adopt rigorous screening and testing for all passengers from South Africa and other “at risk” countries.

“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to states late on Thursday.

But India’s civil aviation ministry said it had decided to let airlines resume scheduled international flights from Dec. 15, lifting a nearly two-year-old ban imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The resumption of flights would be based on the coronavirus risk levels of individual countries, according to a formal government order.

Some countries in Europe and Asia have rushed to tighten border controls and restrict travel nL1N2SH089 because of the new variant.

India’s foreign ministry said there was no immediate information on steps the government was taking.

“This is a developing incident,” foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told a news conference.

The federal health ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for further comment.

On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/uk-flags-concern-over-newly-identified-coronavirus-variant-2021-11-25 said the new variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based and could make existing vaccines less effective.

Britain has banned flights from six African countries, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.

India, the world’s second-worst affected country by COVID-19, posted the smallest rise in new cases https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-logs-slimmest-rise-covid-19-cases-543-days-despite-festivals-2021-11-23 in one-and-a-half years this week, due to increased vaccinations and antibodies in a large section of its population from previous infections.

Its total cases of coronavirus reached 34.56 million on Friday. India’s daily caseload has halved since September and it reported 10,549 new cases on Friday.

Earlier this month, India identified 10 countries “at risk” including Europe, China, South Africa, and New Zealand, among others, and has opened its borders to 99 countries overall.

Indian shares fell more than 2% on Friday, in line with declines in markets across Asia as investors fled risky assets panicking over the potential impact of the new variant.

(Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Giles Elgood and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Amazon’s Black Friday greeted by climate activists, strikes in Europe

By Henry Nicholls and James Davey

TILBURY, England (Reuters) -Climate activists targeted 15 Amazon depots across Europe on “Black Friday” and the world’s biggest e-commerce company also faced protests by workers and delivery drivers in Germany, France and Italy.

Amazon, based in Seattle, is facing criticism from climate activists who say excessive consumption harms the environment while an alliance of trade unions say the company does not pay workers enough nor enough tax to governments.

“Black Friday epitomises an obsession with overconsumption that is not consistent with a liveable planet,” the Extinction Rebellion group said after blocking 13 Amazon depots across the United Kingdom.

“Amazon and companies like it have capitalised on our desire for convenience and stoked rampant consumerism at the expense of the natural world,” it said.

Reuters reporters at an Amazon depot at Tilbury docks in eastern England said protesters had blocked the entrance, meaning no vehicles could enter or exit. The group also said it had blocked Amazon depots in Germany and the Netherlands.

Banners read: “Black Friday exploits people and planet” and “Infinite growth, finite planet”.

Extinction Rebellion said Amazon’s “crimes” included activities which emitted more carbon dioxide than a medium sized country, helping fossil fuel companies.

“We have a large network of sites across the UK and are working to minimise any potential disruption to customers,” said a spokesperson for Amazon, which brought the traditional U.S. Black Friday discount day to Britain in 2010.

Amazon also said it takes its responsibilities “very seriously”.

“That includes our commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement – providing excellent pay and benefits in a safe and modern work environment, and supporting the tens of thousands of British small businesses who sell on our store.”

“We know there is always more to do,” it said.

Trade unions across Europe’s biggest economies also called out warehouse workers and delivery drivers to strike against what they said were Amazon’s unfairly low wages and tax payments.

In Germany, the company’s biggest market after the United States, the Verdi union said around 2,500 employees went on strike at Amazon shipping centres in Rheinberg, Koblenz and Graben.

In France, one of the country’s top labour unions, CGT, called for Amazon workers in the country to go on strike.. The union coalition also reported a strike in Italy.

“The coalition demands Amazon pays its workers fairly and respects their right to join unions, pays its fair share of taxes and commits to real environmental sustainability,” the “Make Amazon Pay” coalition said in a statement.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Paul Sandle and James Davey; additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Matthias Inverardi in Berlin and Mathieu Rosemain and Silvia Aloisi in Paris; editing by Kirsten Donovan)

EU moves to halt air travel from places with new COVID variant

By Sabine Siebold and Marine Strauss

(Reuters) – The European Union might halt air travel from places where a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa had spread, the bloc’s executive said ahead of a meeting later on Friday of the 27 member states’ envoys to decide the matter.

Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to the new variant, with the EU and Britain among those tightening border controls as scientists sought to find out if the mutation was vaccine-resistant.

“The Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” said the executive’s head, Ursula von der Leyen.

A spokesman for the Brussels-based European Commission added that such a ban might be extended to other places where the variant has already been detected. These include Hong Kong and Israel.

“We need to act very fast, we need to be vigilant and we need to take all measures that are appropriate at this stage to prevent this virus from entering in Europe,” said the spokesman.

“It’s good that the member states are acting rapidly … We want to have fast and coordinated and consistent measures in place because we want to avoid that there are loopholes through which the variant finds its way to Europe.”

Britain banned flights from southern African countries after scientists said the new variant had a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which were concerning because they could evade immune response and be more transmissible.

First identified this week, the new variant spooked financial markets and stocks as it is seen as a risk to global economic recovery from two years of the pandemic.

(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Edmund Blair)

Thailand probes Amnesty International after ultra-royalist complaint

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand is investigating whether Amnesty International has broken any laws, its prime minister said on Friday, after ultra-royalists called for the human rights group to be expelled for its support of activists facing prosecution.

An ultra-royalist group sent a letter to the government on Thursday saying Amnesty’s campaigns to bring an end to criminal charges against protesters calling for reforms of the monarchy had undermined national security.

More than 1,600 activists are now facing security-related charges, including at least 160 people charged under Thailand’s strict laws against insulting the monarchy, which carry a potential prison term of up to 15 years.

Traditionalist Thais consider the monarchy sacrosanct and view insults to King Maha Vajiralongkorn as a threat to the fabric of society. Youth-led protests which started last year have challenged the decades-old taboos against any criticism of the king.

Asked about the royalists’ request at a news conference, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, said: “We are checking whether there are any violations to the law and this involves the police and the interior ministry.”

“If there are wrongdoings, then it (Amnesty’s licence) will be revoked,” he added.

Amnesty said in a statement that it has been in Thailand for several decades and will continue to work on preventing, monitoring and holding states, corporations and others accountable for human rights abuses under international law.

“We will continue to do this independently and impartially on the basis of facts,” said Amnesty, which is among several human rights groups that have been vocal about the Thai government’s prosecution of political activists.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by John Geddie, William Maclean)

Russia hails mine tragedy ‘miracle’ as rescuer thought dead is found alive

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian rescue worker presumed dead after descending into a Siberian mine to assist trapped miners was found alive on Friday in what the authorities called a miracle after one of Russia’s most deadly mining accidents since the Soviet era.

At least 51 people were killed in what authorities said was probably a methane explosion and in the subsequent rescue effort on Thursday at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the coal-producing region of Kemerovo.

Six rescue workers sent down to bring out dozens trapped underground were among the dead, the authorities had announced.

But on Friday morning, Acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan said one of the six rescuers had been found alive and was being treated in hospital.

“Let me share some happy news,” Chupriyan said in footage broadcast by state media. “One rescuer, Alexander Zakovryashin, was found. He’s our medic. He was saving people. It’s some kind of miracle.”

Zakovryashin, 51, was conscious when he was found and managed to surface and call for help, the RIA news agency reported. He is now in intensive care at a local hospital where he is being treated for hypothermia, dehydration, and poisoning, among other conditions, the TASS news agency reported.

Zakovryashin and the five who died in the rescue effort will be given state awards, Chupriyan said.

Investigators say miners suffocated when a ventilation shaft became filled with gas, while state television reported prosecutors believed there had been a methane explosion.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Germany’s energy plan to have limited impact on EU carbon prices, analysts say

LONDON (Reuters) – Germany’s new energy transition plan is unlikely to have a big impact on prices in Europe’s carbon market, analysts said on Friday, despite plans to introduce a minimum carbon price domestically.

The incoming German coalition government on Wednesday announced plans to ideally bring forward Germany’s coal exit to 2030, from a previous target of 2038, and said it could introduce a minimum domestic carbon price of 60 euros/tonne if a floor price cannot be implemented at an EU wide level.

The benchmark EU carbon allowance (EUA) price rocketed to a record high above 75 euros a tonne on Thursday, which some market participants attributed to bullish sentiment surrounding the German announcement.

However, Florian Rothenberg, EU power and carbon markets analyst at ICIS, said he thought the rally was overdone, with Germany’s push to set a minimum price in the wider EU carbon market likely to fail as previous attempts by countries such as France have done.

“I cannot see a floor price being adopted at an EU level. Countries, especially those already saying their energy prices are too high, would oppose,” he said.

Germany’s coal-fired power plants are big buyers of permits in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) but early closures are also unlikely impact EU carbon prices, analysts said.

There is already a mechanism in the ETS to remove surplus permits to prevent oversupply, called the market stability reserve (MSR), and Germany has also indicated it would cancel extra allowances arising from the phase-out.

“Overall, we expect the price impact of an earlier coal phase-out to be negligible. As MSR and cancellation will shield the EU ETS from potential bearish price impact,” analysts at Refinitiv said.

The benchmark December 2021 contract was trading at 73.26 euros a tonne at 1200 GMT on Friday.

(Reporting By Susanna Twidale; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Carbonised: Kyrgyz government hands out cheap coal amid energy crunch

BISHKEK (Reuters) – Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japparov told the COP26 global climate summit this month that his Central Asian nation would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – but right now his government is urging citizens to burn more coal.

Thousands of people queue up every day to buy coal at reduced prices, an arrangement agreed by the cabinet amid an electric power crunch and ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election.

This bodes ill for air quality in the capital Bishkek, which last winter already briefly claimed the dubious title as the world’s most polluted city.

But the former Soviet republic has little choice in the matter – almost half of its electric power is generated by hydroelectric plants, the biggest of which has suffered this year from low water levels due to drought across the region.

Unable to import power from neighbours who face deficits themselves for various reasons including a cryptocurrency mining boom, Kyrgyzstan has urged citizens to heat their homes with coal rather than electric boilers and heaters, and offered them discounted supplies.

‘WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO, FREEZE?’

Like many other Bishkek residents, housewife Chinara, 51, has queued up to buy coal at 3,000 soms ($35) per tonne, a major discount from the market price of about 5,500 soms.

“In a cold winter, we burn about 5-6 tonnes,” she said. “It is expensive for us to buy coal at 5,500 soms. Therefore, I stand in line for three-four hours. And what are we supposed to do, freeze?”

According to environmental engineer Kanykei Kadyrova at the Movegreen NGO, the combined emissions of city power plants and households burning coal are the main factor behind the heavy smog that chokes Bishkek at all times.

The country of 6.7 million hopes to solve its energy woes in the future by building more hydroelectric power plants. But operating them causes headache too as increased water flows during winter, when consumption peaks, lead to floods downstream, in neighbouring Kazakhstan.

(Reporting by Aigerim Turgunbaeva; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Britain says new COVID-19 variant is the most significant yet found

By Alistair Smout and Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain said on Friday that a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa was of huge concern, and considered by scientists to be the most significant one yet found as it could make vaccines less effective.

The UK Health Security Agency said that the variant – called B.1.1.529 – had a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, and Britain has banned flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries.

“There are no detected cases of this variant in the UK at this time. But this new variant is of huge international concern,” health minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

“We are concerned that this new variant may pose a substantial risk to public health. The variant has an unusually large number of mutations.”

Javid paid tribute to South African scientists for their openness and transparency. South Africa has said that Britain’s decision to halt flights from the country seemed rushed.

Javid emphasised that there was much that was not yet known about the variant, but early indications suggested it might render vaccines less effective and be more transmissible, and he was concerned about a surge in cases in South Africa.

“One of the lessons of this pandemic has been the we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” Javid said.

Earlier, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended a temporary ban on flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“As scientists have described, (this is) the most significant variant they’ve encountered to date in their research,” Shapps told Sky News.

Flights will be halted until Sunday, when entry will be banned to all except British and Irish nationals and those with residency rights, who will have to quarantine in hotels.

Virgin Atlantic, which currently operates a London Heathrow to Johannesburg service, said flights were cancelled until Sunday and its schedule next week was under review.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Costas Pitas and Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg and Alex Richardson)

Britain’s National Grid to review ‘some very high-cost’ days in power supply

(Reuters) – National Grid said on Friday it would undertake a review of the supply-demand balance in the energy market that could affect consumers, after the power operator faced “some very high-cost days” in the recent weeks.

Britain’s National Grid is responsible for overseeing the country’s energy supply and making sure supply and demand are evenly balanced.

“Our review will seek to ensure that, at a time when households’ budgets are under strain, consumers can continue to have confidence in the market,” National Grid’s Electricity System Operator said in a statement.

It will undertake the review with external consultants, National Grid said.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Ethiopia PM at frontline with army in Afar region – state-affiliated TV

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is on the frontline with the army fighting rebellious Tigrayan forces in the northeastern Afar region, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported on Friday.

Abiy was wearing military fatigues and speaking to the television station in the Afaan Oromo and Amharic languages, according to the broadcast. Reuters could not independently verify exactly where it was filmed.

“What you see over there is a mountain that was captured by the enemy until yesterday. Now we have been able to fully capture it,” Abiy said, wearing a hat and sunglasses.

“The morale of the army is very exciting,” he said, promising to capture the town of Chifra, on the border between Tigray and Afar, “today”.

“We won’t flinch backward till we bury the enemy and ensure Ethiopia’s freedom. What we need to see is an Ethiopia that stands by itself, and we will die for it,” Abiy said.

Abiy announced late on Monday night that he was going to the frontlines to direct the fight against rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray and their allies.

The Tigrayan forces have threatened to push into the capital Addis Ababa or to try to cut a corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia with the region’s largest port.

U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman said this week that the Tigrayan forces had been able to make progress south towards the capital but that the military had beaten back several attempts to cut the transport corridor on the eastern front.

The spread of the year-old conflict into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions mean that 9.4 million need food aid as a direct result of ongoing conflict, the U.N.’s World Food Program announced on Friday. More than 80% of those in need are behind the battlelines, it added.

“Corridors into Tigray had been closed due to the recent Tigrayan offences on Afar and Amhara, as well as severe disruptions in clearances from Federal Government. Since mid-July, less than a third of the supplies required … have entered the region,” the organisation said.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams, Alex Richardson and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Cryptocurrencies tumble as coronavirus variant shakes markets

By Tom Wilson

LONDON (Reuters) -Bitcoin tumbled over 9% on Friday, dragging smaller tokens down, after the discovery of a new, potentially vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant saw investors dump riskier assets for the perceived safety of bonds, the yen and the dollar.

Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, fell as much as 9.2% to $53,551, its lowest since Oct. 10. The second largest cryptocurrency ether fell over 13% to its lowest in a month as investors ditched cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin, whose 13-year life has been peppered by bouts of extreme volatility, was on track for its biggest one-day drop since Sept. 20. It has slumped by more than a fifth since hitting a record high of almost $70,000 earlier this month.

Scientists said the coronavirus variant, detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, has an unusual combination of mutations and may be able to evade immune responses or make it more transmissible.

“The spread of (the variant), especially to other countries, could wither investor appetite further,” said Yuya Hasegawa at Tokyo-based exchange Bitbank. “BTC’s upside will likely be limited and the market should brace for further loss.”

Bitcoin hit an all-time high of $69,000 earlier this month as more large investors embraced cryptocurrencies, with many drawn to its purported inflation-resistant qualities.

Others have piled into the digital token on the promise of quick gains, a draw that has been heightened by record low or negative interest rates. Yet bitcoin’s volatility has lingered, drawing questions over its suitability as a stable store of value.

Ether was last at $3,924. It is down almost 20% from its record high hit on Nov. 10.

(Reporting by Tom Wilson; editing by Carolyn Cohn, Kim Coghill, William Maclean)

Pope to help 50 migrants in Cyprus relocate to Italy after trip to region

By Philip Pullella and Michele Kambas

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants from Cyprus be relocated to Italy to mark his trip to the Mediterranean island next week, a Vatican source said on Friday.

The 50 will be relocated after the trip, which begins on Thursday, but most likely not before Christmas because of logistical reasons, the source added.

In Cyprus, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said the Vatican had expressed an intention to re-settle a number of migrants from the island to Rome but gave no details.

“This is a tangible expression of solidarity by the Head of the Roman Catholic Church to people in need, affirming that the Vatican recognises the problem that the Republic of Cyprus faces today because of the increased migratory flows and the need for a fair distribution among EU member states,” he said.

The east Mediterranean island, which is the closest European Union country to the volatile Middle East, says it has been inundated with arrivals in recent years.

So far this year, migrant arrivals have risen 38% compared with the whole of 2020, it says.

Many arrive through a porous “green line”- the legacy of a 1974 ceasefire after a Turkish invasion following a brief Greek-backed coup – which bisects the island into a Turkish Cypriot north and internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.

Of 10,868 arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021, more than 9,000 had arrived through that route. Many of its asylum seekers are from war-torn Syria, but increasingly in recent years arrivals have spiked from sub-Saharan Africa.

Francis is due to visit Cyprus on Dec. 2-4 before spending two days in Greece, including a day trip including the Greek island of Lesbos that hosts many foreign migrants.

Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos in 2016 and returned with a dozen Syrian refugees.

Moria camp was destroyed by a fire last year and replaced with another camp called Mavrovouni.

(Reporting by Michelle Kambas in Cyprus; Editing by Louise Heavens)

Analysis-Less said the better? Bank of England considers communication reset

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England is rethinking how it signals what its next monetary policy steps are likely to be, after a bruising misunderstanding this month when it dashed market expectations of an interest rate rise.

New chief economist Huw Pill has said he intends to ‘train’ central bank watchers to improve understanding of the BoE, while Governor Andrew Bailey suggested saying less may be the answer.

Economists say they don’t want to be spoon-fed signals about when the BoE will raise rates – but they do need a clear sense of the relative importance it places on different data, especially with inflation recently hitting a 10-year high.

“There has been a considerable degree of confusion over what the bank has been signalling or not signalling,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec. “Less confusion would be better for everybody.”

The BoE is widely expected to be the first of the world’s major central banks to raise interest rates, as Britain faces widespread supply-chain difficulties and a buoyant job market as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But on Nov. 4 the BoE kept its key interest rate on hold at 0.1%, sharply at odds with wider financial market pricing that saw a nearly 100% chance of a rise to 0.25%, although in line with a narrow majority of economists in a Reuters poll.

The market reaction was immediate and extreme. Sterling suffered its biggest daily fall against the dollar in more than 18 months, and two-year bond yields dropped more than on the day of the shock result of the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

No BoE policymaker had said explicitly that rates would rise in November, but financial markets had viewed comments from Bailey and Pill as implying they would.

Bailey said nL1N2RD07B on Oct. 17 that he was signalling to markets that the BoE would have to act if it saw a threat to medium-term inflation expectations, while Pill described nL8N2R32GM November as a “finely balanced” meeting for a rate rise.

In the event, both opted to wait for more data on the impact of the end of the government’s job-protecting furlough programme, and the Monetary Policy Committee voted 7-2 to leave rates unchanged.

Pill, a former chief European economist at Goldman Sachs, said last week that recent events had shown a lack of common understanding between the BoE, markets and media.

“What I’d like to do, which is a little bit patronising maybe to say, but which I’ll say anyway … is that we’re trying to train people to think the right way through policy,” he told an economics conference.

“Some volatility in that environment is inevitable. But what I hope is that we take a bit of that cost upfront, and I think we have,” he added.

Bailey said he might scale back guidance, adding that fully explaining the BoE’s world view – and its implications for interest rates – risked misunderstandings while economic data and the BoE’s own assessments were fluid.

“There is an alternative view, which is we should go meeting by meeting and not give any guidance,” he told lawmakers on Tuesday. “That is very well trodden ground by the MPC and I could imagine us going back to that.”

Jonathan Haskel, an external MPC member, said this week that it was better to communicate the medium-term outlook for policy than the “minute-by-minute, month-by-month outlook for rates”.

CHRISTMAS CRUNCH?

If the BoE is trying to teach market participants that no interest rate decision is a certainty, that message has struggled to get through.

At the start of the week, markets still priced a near 100% chance of rates rising to 0.25% on Dec. 16, after the MPC’s next meeting, though on Friday that dropped below 60%, largely due to news of a possible new COVID-19 variant.

Craig Inches, head of rates and cash at Royal London Asset Management, predicted more market turmoil if rates do not rise as expected, especially in thin and choppy year-end trade.

“It’s a bit of a stress point which the BoE should be aware of,” he said.

From his perspective, uncertainty about Britain’s job market and COVID-19 would justify delaying a rate rise until February.

Last month the BoE ended policymakers’ off-record briefings nL1N2R91SU to big financial firms, which previously were seen as a tool to better understand markets and reinforce policy messages but faced criticism for their lack of transparency.

The BoE is far from the only central bank to have been misread by markets.

In 2013 the U.S. Federal Reserve set off a so-called ‘taper tantrum’ that raised borrowing costs globally when it started to trim stimulus. And early in the pandemic in 2020, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde rowed back on her comments that she did not aim to manage bond yield spreads.

Both central banks learned from the experience and refined their communication, economists say.

Few economists seek a return to the rigid forward guidance pioneered at the BoE in 2013 by Bailey’s predecessor, Mark Carney. That aimed to allay concerns the BoE would hurt the economy’s recovery but it had to be revised frequently due to a steady drop in the unemployment rate which it was pinned to.

But excessive vagueness would bring its own problems, especially as the BoE’s own economic forecasts use market interest rate expectations as a key input, Investec’s Shaw said.

“Markets should be free to make up their own minds without being spoon-fed. But at the other extreme, I think it would be wrong for a central bank not to give markets a good impression of what it was thinking, and perhaps a steer towards its intentions too,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by William Schomberg and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)