The EU will not let Ukraine run out of equipment – EU’s Borrell

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that the bloc will not let Ukraine without military equipment as the war against Russia continues on its territory.

“The European Union will not let Ukraine run out of equipment,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of the bloc’s defence ministers on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Charlotte Van Campenhout)

EU to make significant contributions to Ukraine, other G7 members might too- Yellen

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is likely to make significant financial contributions to keep Ukraine going, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Tuesday, adding she would look to G7 members like Britain Canada and Japan to step up help too.

G7 finance ministers and central bank governors are to meet on Thursday and Friday in Germany, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine high on their agenda.

Yellen said the United States has made a strong commitment to Ukraine funding and it was clear that the EU was “very serious about wanting to provide the necessary aid as well.”

“We’ll need to look to other partners in the G7 — to Japan, Canada, the UK — to contribute as well, but I do believe that the European Union will make a significant contribution,” she said.

Yellen also said the United States would support the European Union’s efforts to impose an embargo on buying Russian oil and said the ban on purchases phased to start next year, could be combined with tariffs.

“These are two things that could be combined,” Yellen told reporters in Brussels. “It might be possible to combine a phase-out with a price mechanism. But there are a lot of options here. It is critically important that they reduce their dependence on Russian oil,” she said.

(Reporting by David Lawder, writing by Jan Strupczewski)

Argo launches non-commercial driverless vehicles in Miami, Austin

By Tina Bellon

AUSTIN (Reuters) – Self-driving startup Argo AI on Tuesday said it had launched driverless vehicles in Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas, but added the vehicles initially were used for in-house testing, with commercial applications following at an unspecified time.

Argo, which is backed by Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG, has tested its robotaxis on public roads in both cities for several years, but until today included safety drivers behind the wheel.

“Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods,” Argo AI Chief Executive Bryan Salesky said in a statement.

The company allows ride-hail, delivery and logistics companies to integrate its driverless vehicles into their operations.

An Argo AI spokeswoman said ride-hail service Lyft Inc and grocery giant Walmart Inc were running pilot programs integrating the technology.

“Our driverless operations are initially focused on conducting employee rides using our internally-developed ride hailing test app,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ll integrate driverless into commercial operations at the appropriate time.”

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas)

G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

PARIS (Reuters) – The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably … discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Edmund Blair)

U.S. Democrats unveil bill to address baby formula shortage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a bill to provide $28 million to the Food and Drug Administration to help respond to a nationwide shortage of infant formula.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday week the chamber would consider the emergency funding bill this week. The legislation was posted on the House Appropriations Committee’s website.

The supplementary funds for “salaries and expenses” would be available until the end of September 2023 “to address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States and to prevent future shortages,” according to the legislation.

The FDA said on Monday the United States would allow baby formula imports from foreign makers that do not usually sell their products here, in a bid to ease the shortage that has left parents scrambling to feed their babies.

The temporary move could help put more formula in U.S. stores in a few weeks, an FDA official said told a news conference on Monday. Overseas makers will need to satisfy safety and nutritional standards set by the FDA.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Chizu Nomiyama)

EU leaves military training in Mali suspended, stops short of terminating mission

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU will leave its military training mission in Mali suspended, but will not terminate it despite a decision by the military junta in Bamako to pull out of a multinational force in West Africa’s Sahel region, the bloc’s top diplomat said.

“We decided to reaffirm our decision of suspending operational training to form units of the Malian armed forces …, but we are not canceling this mission,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of the bloc’s defence ministers on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Charlotte Van Campenhout, editing by Marine Strauss)

Biden to call out racist ‘terrorism’ behind Buffalo shooting

By Jeff Mason

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) -President Joe Biden laid flowers at a makeshift memorial for victims of Buffalo’s mass shooting on Tuesday and met families of the mostly Black victims killed by a white gunman, as he addresses the United States’ latest burst of race-related violence.

Biden, joined by his wife, Jill, and a variety of New York political leaders stopped at the memorial set up under a tree to pay their respects near the supermarket where gunfire rang out.

Authorities say Payton Gendron, 18, carried out an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” when he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on Saturday at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. He struck 13 people with gunfire, killing 10.

After visiting the supermarket, the Bidens went behind closed doors at the Delavan Grider Community Center and met the families of the victims.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard the Air Force One flight to Buffalo that Biden would comfort families of the victims and meet with members of law enforcement and first responders to express gratitude for their bravery.

He will make remarks at a local community center at 1 p.m. EDT.

“The president will call this despicable act for what it is – terrorism motivated by a hateful and perverse ideology that tears at the soul of our nation,” she said.

“He will call on all Americans to give hate no safe harbor and to reject the lies of racial animus that radicalize and divide us, that led to the act of racist violence we saw on Saturday that took the lives of 10 Americans,” Jean-Pierre said.

She said Biden will call on Congress to keep “weapons of war off our streets” and keep guns out of the hands of criminals. He will “call on Americans to seek a more perfect union and embrace the diversity that has made us the world’s strongest and most dynamic nation in the history of the world,” she said.

The scene in Buffalo was an all-too-familiar one for Biden, who once again took up the role of consoler-in-chief.

Biden told Americans he ran for president to restore the soul of America, following predecessor Donald Trump’s failure to denounce a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and took office weeks after a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol that included racially motivated groups.

But the Buffalo trip will also showcase how little Biden has achieved on stamping out a rise in white supremacist groups or curbing gun violence, with many Republican lawmakers blocking efforts to advance gun control measures and the country suffering a rash of mass shootings in recent months.

Biden has asked Congress to require new background checks for gun buyers and ban military-style “assault” weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. But Democrats who largely support gun safety measures don’t have enough votes to pass them.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson on Monday said the Biden administration was implementing a “government-wide national strategy to counter domestic terrorism, which President Biden directed his national security team to develop on his first full day in office, recognizing that has evolved into the most urgent terrorism threat the United States faces today.”

A top FBI official told Congress in November that the bureau was conducting around 2,700 investigations related to domestic violent extremism, and the Department of Justice said in January it was creating a new unit to counter domestic terrorism.

Police on Sunday confirmed that they were investigating Gendron’s online postings, which included a 180-page manifesto he was believed to have written outlining the “Great Replacement Theory,” a conspiracy theory that white people were being replaced by minorities in the United States and elsewhere.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Alexandra Alper and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons, Bradley Perrett and Mark Porter)

White House confident NATO can reach deal on Swedish, Finnish membership

By Jeff Mason and Alexandra Alper

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -The Biden administration is confident NATO can reach consensus about bids by Sweden and Finland to join the organization, White house press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday, amid pushback from NATO member Turkey.

The remarks, made to reporters aboard Air Force One, echoed similar statements by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We’re confident … there will be a consensus as it relates to Turkey and Sweden and Finland’s application,” Jean-Pierre said. “We know there’s a lot of support for Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” she said, adding that there were “conversations happening.”

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday that the country would formally apply for NATO membership in the next few days, but its accession process, and that of Finland, hit a snag when NATO member Turkey’s president said he would not approve either bid.

At a news conference, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden and Finland should not bother sending delegations to Ankara to persuade Turkey to support their bids, citing their attitudes toward terrorist organizations.

“How can we trust them?” he said.

Sweden and Finland, which sought membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, need each of NATO’s 30 members to approve their applications. The ratification process had been expected to take up to a year, though Turkey’s objections have thrown that into doubt.

Blinken on Sunday said he had spoken to his Turkish counterpart on Ankara’s concerns regarding Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO and that after Sunday’s meeting of foreign ministers he was confident a consensus could be reached.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Alexandra Alper; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Macron urges rapid Israeli probe into death of Al Jazeera reporter

PARIS (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged Israel to complete swiftly investigations into the death of a Palestinian journalist killed last week during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, the Elysee said.

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead on Wednesday. Her death, and Israeli police violence toward mourners at her funeral two days later, have sparked Palestinian and international outrage.

“The president said that he was moved by the death of Shireen Abu Akleh and reiterated France’s position that a rapid conclusion of the investigation was needed,” the French president’s office said following a telephone call between Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Israel and the Palestinians are conducting separate probes of her death and both remain at loggerheads over the fatal shooting.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of assassinating her and have called for an international response. Israel has denied targeting her, saying she may have been shot accidentally by a soldier or by a Palestinian gunman as they exchanged fire.

The Elysee said that Macron had also expressed concern about Israel’s recent decision to press ahead with more than 4,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank, land that the Palestinians seek for a state.

Most countries consider settlements illegal under international law, a position Israel rejects.

A statement from Bennett’s office following the call made no mention of Abu Akleh or of the settlements.

The Elysee also said Macron and Bennett would coordinate efforts to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both leaders have been involved in so far fruitless diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing peace to Ukraine.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Tassilo Hummel in Paris, Editing by William Maclean and Crispian Balmer)

G7 finance ministers plan 15 billion euros aid for Ukraine

BERLIN (Reuters) -The finance ministers of the Group of Seven economic powers want to put together a 15 billion euro ($15.8 billion) aid package for Ukraine at their meeting in Bonn this week, a senior German government official said on Tuesday.

The package would cover three months, with a short-term financing arrangement mainly in the form of grants, which unlike loans do not have to be repaid, the official said, adding that the aid was needed because Ukraine’s revenues have collapsed.

The United States had already offered to contribute half of the aid in the form of grants worth $7.5 billion, the official said, adding that the G7 ministers wanted to agree a joint communique at their meeting starting on Wednesday.

Earlier, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner was quoted as saying there was also a discussion among Western powers about how Russia could be made to help pay for the massive, longer-term task of rebuilding Ukraine.

“I am politically open to the idea of seizing foreign assets of the Russian Central Bank,” Lindner said in an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt and three other European newspapers.

“In the case of private assets, we have to see what is legally possible,” Lindner added. “We have to respect the rule of law, even if we are dealing with Russian oligarchs.”

Some EU politicians have called for the use of Russian assets frozen by the West, including some $300 billion of Russian central bank reserves, as reconstruction money for Ukraine once the war ends.

But there are reservations about the legality of such a move on both sides of the Atlantic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it would be “outright theft”.

A U.S. Treasury official speaking on condition of anonymity said there were legal, policy precedent-setting and political issues to consider, adding that there was a risk that confiscating frozen assets could impede negotiations to end the war.

The official said Washington was currently more focused on meeting Ukraine’s immediate budget needs over the next three months than on massive reconstruction and asset disposition.

($1 = 0.9496 euro)

(Reporting by Christian Kraemer and David Lawder; writing by Paul Carrel and Mark John; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Saudi king chairs cabinet as ministers call for balanced energy shift

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s king chaired a virtual cabinet meeting on Tuesday for the first time since being discharged from hospital this week, during which the government of one of the world’s biggest oil producers called for a balanced global energy transition.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 86, was briefly shown on state television looking at a big screen, the first such cabinet meeting since the monarch was discharged on Sunday.

The cabinet said it was important to conduct the world’s energy transition in a balanced way to keep markets and the global economy stable, the state news agency SPA reported.

The king was discharged from King Faisal Specialist Hospital after taking time to rest on doctors’ advice following a colonoscopy last week, state media had previously reported.

(This story refiles to correct the day in the first paragraph to Tuesday)

(Reporting by Moataz Mohamed; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Sweden and Finland to hand in NATO applications on Wednesday, Swedish PM says

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden and Finland will on Wednesday hand in their respective applications to NATO to join the organisation, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Tuesday.

“In Sweden and Finland we also agree to go hand in hand through this entire process and we will tomorrow together file the application,” she told a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Swedish capital.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson and Anna Ringstrom, Editing by William Maclean)

Russians line up for final Big Mac ahead of McDonald’s exit

(Reuters) – Russians lined up in a Moscow train station on Tuesday for what may be their last Big Mac from one of the few McDonald’s restaurants still open in the country.

The world’s largest burger chain is rolling down the shutters in Russia after more than 30 years, becoming one of the biggest global brands to leave following Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

McDonald’s exit ends a chapter in the U.S. company’s history that began when it started serving its burgers in Russia as a symbol of American capitalism.

The company had already decided to temporarily close its restaurants in the country in March. They included the iconic Pushkin Square location in central Moscow, which broke global records when opening on Jan. 31, 1990, as more than 30,000 people queued around the block for Big Macs costing 3 roubles.

“McDonald’s operates in few places now,” said 32-year-old Irina, who was queuing at the branch in Moscow’s Leningradsky Station, from where trains head north to St Petersburg. “I miss McDonald’s, so when I go to St Petersburg, I drop by and treat myself to a Big Mac.”


McDonald’s plans to sell 84% of its nearly 850 restaurants in Russia to a local buyer. The future of the remaining restaurants, operated by franchisees, is unclear.

The new owners will not be allowed to use Mcdonald’s name, logo, branding and menu. That left some Russians worried that the quality will suffer.

“I read yesterday that McDonald’s was closing soon and opening under a new name, so I rushed here today to buy my favourite cheeseburger, milkshake and chips,” said Alla, 21. “What if the quality gets worse after the rebranding?”

The franchised restaurants remain open and have seen a pick up in business since McDonald’s closed its outlets.

“In accessible locations in the centre of Moscow and St Petersburg we are seeing elevated demand,” franchisee Rosinter Restaurants said on Tuesday.

McDonald’s will retain its trademark in Russia, which analysts said left the door open for a return. In the meantime, restaurants will start reopening under new ownership and branding in June, a source close to the company said.


In southern Russia and Siberia, some franchised outlets are still trading.

One man from southern Russia drove for two and a half hours to find an open restaurant, he said in an online review posted on Yandex on April 21.

“I came to this McDonald’s especially from Samara, only 250km,” the user wrote. “I remembered the atmosphere and happily dived into it.

“The food and burgers are just as tasty and flavourful,” he said. “Thank you for being relatively close by.”

The burger chain came to symbolise a thawing of Cold War tensions and was a way for millions of Soviet citizens to sample Western food and culture, even though the cost of a burger was several times bigger than the daily budgets of many city dwellers.

In the past few years, McDonald’s has became one of the most affordable, and quick, lunch options in Russia. Based on The Economist magazine’s Big Mac index, which shows purchasing power parity, the rouble was the most undervalued currency in early February 2022.

“Standing in a queue for a while is nothing to be afraid of, if one remembers how long we stood in the 90s, said Ivan Tumanov, 45, who was also waiting in line at Leningradsky Station. “Let’s remind ourselves today of a taste of the West.”

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman)

Qatar looks to bolster Spain’s EU-funded COVID recovery projects, supply more LNG

MADRID (Reuters) – Qatar’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund plans to invest in Spanish projects funded by European Union COVID recovery funds under a deal due to be signed during the Gulf state ruler’s visit to Madrid this week, Spanish government sources said on Tuesday.

The bilateral deal represents the first major agreement between a European nation and a non-EU country aimed at leveraging the reach of the EU’s Next Generation programme, from which Spain will receive €70 billion euros ($73.33 billion).

It is expected to be signed on Wednesday between the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Spain’s investment agency Cofides during Emir Shekih Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’s visit to the Spanish capital, one of the sources said. The investments in sustainability and digitalisation projects are due to be implemented within two to three years, according to that person.

“QIA has a budget that is practically 40% of Spain’s GDP… their investments are very concentrated in Asia and they want to invest more in Europe,” said the source, without providing specific figures.


Spain wants to increase Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports from Qatar in order to guarantee the gas supply, the source said. The Mediterranean nation has spare LNG terminal capacity and the most LNG regasification plants in Europe and aims to position itself as a gas supply hub for EU nations seeking to reduce their energy dependence on Russia.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended supply and demand worldwide, LNG from Qatar – currently the world’s biggest exporter – accounted for 11% of Spain’s gas imports. Since then Algerian, Nigerian, Russian and American exports have taken a bigger role, according to Spain’s oil and gas agency CORES.

Spain’s main gas company Naturgy currently has two contracts with Qatargas, a subsidiary of Qatar Energy, to receive a total of 1.5 million tonnes per year up until 2024 and 2025 respectively. A company source told Reuters it had no plans to extend those contracts.

Repsol, Spain’s other leading gas company, declined to comment on a possible deal to buy Qatari gas.

Qatar currently exports 77 million tonnes of LNG per year but aims to reach 126 million tonnes by 2027.

The Spanish government source declined to say how much of the increased capacity could be destined for Spain, and acknowledged that Spain’s hub ambitions were constrained by its lack of re-export capacity towards the north.

“For now, our export capacity is low but it is in our interest to guarantee gas supply”, he said.

The Qatari Emir landed in Madrid on Tuesday and met the King and Queen of Spain. Other agreements with Spanish companies are expected to be announced during his visit, including potentially with Spanish utility Iberdrola, of which Qatar’s sovereign fund is the main shareholder.

($1 = 0.9546 euros)

(Reporting by Belén Carreño and Isla Binnie, additional reporting Andrew Mills from Doha; editing by Aislinn Laing and Tomasz Janowski)

U.S. FDA clears Pfizer’s COVID booster shot for young children

(Reuters) -The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of a booster shot of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, the regulator said on Tuesday.

The authorization makes everyone in the United States aged five and above eligible for booster doses of the vaccine, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still needs to sign off on the shots.

“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the Omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement.

Califf said the authorization would help provide continued protection against COVID-19 in that age group. Data has shown that vaccine effectiveness starts to wane over time.

The U.S. government has been urging Americans to get boosters, and for the unvaccinated who are at much higher risk of severe COVID-19 and death to be inoculated.

But it is unclear how much many parents of children aged 5 to 11 will opt for a third dose. Just 28.8% of children in that age group are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Children below the age of five are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Roughly 66% of the U.S. population, or 220.6 million people, have received the full vaccination schedule so far, according to federal data. Of those, 102.3 million people have received one booster dose, and 11.7 million have received a second booster.

The CDC has scheduled a meeting of outside advisers to discuss vaccine boosters on Thursday. The agency’s director has the final say on the administration of vaccines.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Arun Koyyur)

Mexican president slams U.S. embargo on Cuba as ‘genocidal policy’

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba was “genocidal policy,” raising the stakes in a standoff with Washington over its treatment of the Communist-ruled Caribbean island.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has repeatedly called for the United States to end the embargo, said earlier in May that he would not attend the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas next month unless all countries in the region were invited.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Lopez Obrador said the United States “looked bad” in how it was treating Cuba, and urged Washington to end the embargo.

“It’s a genocidal policy,” Lopez Obrador said.

Still, he welcomed moves by the U.S. government on Monday that will ease some Trump-era restrictions on the island and increase processing of U.S. visas for Cubans.

Lopez Obrador on Wednesday is due to meet with a U.S. delegation for the Summit of the Americas in which he plans to explain why Mexico wants all countries in the region to attend.

(Reporting by Kylie MadryEditing by Dave Graham)

Russia says it’s not planning to block YouTube or cut itself off from internet

(Reuters) -Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.

Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.

With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.

“We are not planning to close YouTube,” Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”

Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.

Alphabet’s Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

Meta was found guilty of “extremist activity” in March, a ruling the company objected to, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said he would not rule out the return of Instagram, provided Meta complies with Russian laws on content and local offices.


Shadaev also poured cold water on suggestions that Russia may seek to isolate itself further from global internet infrastructure, something it disconnected itself from during tests last summer.

“We do not want to close ourselves off from anyone,” Shadaev said. “On the contrary, we think that Russia should remain a part of the global network.”

(Reporting by Reuters)

Sri Lanka parliament blocks move to condemn president, lawmakers arrested over violence

By Uditha Jayasinghe and Alasdair Pal

COLOMBO (Reuters) -Sri Lanka’s parliament on Tuesday voted against fast-tracking an opposition move to condemn President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the prime minister warned that the country was in a precarious economic situation and down to its last day of petrol supplies.

Lawmakers voted 119 to 68 against fast-tracking the largely symbolic motion through parliament, which reconvened for the first time since violence flared last week and the prime minister quit. It is likely to be debated later in the week.

If the motion eventually passes, it could increase the pressure on the president to resign, following his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa who stood down as prime minister in response to the economic crisis that has triggered violent protests.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the new prime minister, said in a televised address on Monday that the island nation had to face “unpleasant and terrifying facts”.

“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day. The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives,” he said.

Foreign reserves had come close to zero from $7.5 billion in November 2019, he added, with the country requiring $75 million in the next few days to keep the economy running. Essential medicines had run out.

Power cuts could extend to as much as 15 hours a day because of the lack of fuel, which is mostly imported.

Wickremesinghe said he planned to ask for foreign assistance, privatise SriLankan Airlines and seek parliamentary approval to increase Treasury bill issuance to 4 trillion rupees ($11.27 billion) from 3 trillion.

“For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed,” he said.


More than a month of predominantly peaceful protests against the government’s handling of the economy turned deadly last week when supporters of former the former prime minister stormed an anti-government protest site in the commercial capital, Colombo.

Days of subsequent clashes between protesters, government supporters and police left nine dead and more than 300 injured.

Mahinda Rajapaksa then resigned, leaving Gotabaya, his younger brother, to rule on as president.

Police said on Tuesday they had arrested two lawmakers from the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna in connection with last week’s violence.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, unparalleled since its independence in 1948, has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksas.

The chronic foreign exchange shortage has led to rampant inflation and shortages of medicine, fuel and other essentials, bringing thousands out on the streets in protest in the Indian Ocean nation, where China and India are battling for influence.

Wickremesinghe’s four cabinet appointments to date have all been from the Rajapaksas’ party, to the dismay of protesters, who want to exile the family from the nation’s politics.

He is yet to announce key portfolios including the crucial post of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for financial help.

Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry had held preliminary talks with the multilateral lender, but he quit along with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.

($1 = 355.0000 Sri Lankan rupees)

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alison Williams)

Motor vehicles boost U.S. business inventories in March

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. business inventories increased slightly more than expected in March, lifted by a jump in motor vehicle stocks, government data showed on Tuesday.

Business inventories rose 2.0% after increasing 1.8% in February, the Commerce Department said. Inventories are a key component of gross domestic product. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast inventories rising 1.9%.

Inventories surged 14.7% on a year-on-year basis in March. Retail inventories increased 2.3% in March, instead of 2.0% as estimated in an advance report published last month. That followed a 1.6% increase in February.

Motor vehicle inventories rose 1.6% instead of 1.2% as estimated last month. They increased 1.4% in February. Retail inventories excluding autos, which go into the calculation of GDP, shot up 2.5%, rather than 2.3% as estimated last month.

Inventory investment slowed in the first quarter from the October-December period’s robust pace. That, together with a record trade deficit, weighed on gross domestic product, resulting in the economy contracting at a 1.4% annualized rate in the first quarter.

Wholesale inventories increased 2.3% in March. Stocks at manufacturers gained 1.3%.

Business sales rose 1.8% in March after climbing 1.2% in February. At March’s sales pace, it would take 1.27 months for businesses to clear shelves, unchanged from February.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani)