Belgian appeal court rejects extradition of convicted Spanish rapper

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A Spanish rapper convicted of praising terrorist groups won a legal battle in a Belgian court on Tuesday against his proposed extradition to Spain.

Valtonyc, whose real name is Josep Miguel Arenas Beltran, was sentenced by a Spanish court to 3-1/2 years in prison in 2017 for praising the violence of Basque separatist group ETA and a now defunct left-wing group in song lyrics.

He was also convicted on other charges including insulting the Spanish monarchy. Spain sought his extradition when he fled to Belgium in 2018 after losing an appeal.

The case has drawn criticism from international organizations, such as Amnesty International, which say Spanish authorities are cracking down on free speech.

A Belgian court ruled in December that Valtonyc should not be extradited because the offences were not crimes under Belgian law, prompting prosecutors to appeal.

The prosecutors in the city of Ghent said on Tuesday that the Belgian court of appeal had rejected their case. They could still appeal again to Belgium’s Supreme Court.

Valtonyc’s Belgian lawyer Simon Bekaert tweeted: “Victory. Court of appeal ruling Ghent”.

Valtonyc retweeted a video of himself speaking to reporters after the ruling, expressing his relief that he would be able to start living again.

“Today was a tough day. I didn’t know what could happen,” he said. “The big fear of an exile is to be forgotten, but this hasn’t happened.”

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Inti Laudauro in Madrid; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Freedom demanded for Ugandan opposition veteran blocked at home

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Allies of veteran Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye visited him on Tuesday to demand his release from house arrest imposed last week after he called for protests against skyrocketing consumer prices.

Besigye, who has failed to dislodge long-ruling President Yoweri Museveni in four elections, has been blockaded at home by police since he gave a news conference last Thursday urging public action over high inflation.

“It is very illegal. There’s no provision of the law that gazettes Dr. Besigye’s house as a detention place,” said Anna Ebaju Adeke, one of more than a dozen opposition lawmakers who went to his Kampala house on Tuesday.

Besigye says he has been cheated of past elections by vote fraud and still commands a large opposition following.

He accuses the government of failing to help households and wants taxes reduced on essential commodities.

Museveni’s government calls Besigye a troublemaker and blames the surge in prices – especially for fuel, cooking oil and wheat – on the war in Ukraine.

In a Labour Day speech drawing criticism from many Ugandans, Museveni advised people who cannot afford bread to eat the cheaper and locally-grown cassava staple instead.

Police on Monday accused Besigye of planning “unlawful assemblies and processions” which could disrupt traffic and trigger looting. The government has not commented on the case.

“Police cannot turn somebody’s house and farm into a prison,” said another lawmaker Francis Mwijukye, threatening to mobilise supporters to storm the property if police did not go.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Allianz to pay $6 billion over Structured Alpha fraud, fund manager charged

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Germany’s Allianz SE has agreed to pay about $6 billion and a U.S. asset management unit will plead guilty to fraud after a group of its multibillion dollar investment funds collapsed amid market turmoil triggered by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which announced the payout and plea, also said Gregoire Tournant, the former chief investment officer for the Structured Alpha funds, is being indicted for conspiracy, securities fraud, investment advisor fraud and obstruction of justice.

Allianz’s payout includes a $2.33 billion fine, $3.24 billion of restitution and $463 million of forfeiture, according to a plea agreement.

The Justice Department also said Allianz is paying a $675 million civil fine to settle a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe.

Allianz was not immediately available for comment. A lawyer for Tournant could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Structured Alpha funds once had more than $11 billion of assets under management, but lost more than $7 billion when the spread of COVID-19 set off wild stock market swings in February and March 2020.

Investors, who filed more than two dozen lawsuits, accused Allianz of straying from its stated investment strategy of hedging to limit potential losses.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Tom Sims and Alexander Huebner in Munich; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tomasz Janowski)

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth attends opening of London train line

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, whose public engagements have been limited in recent months due to mobility issues, made a surprise appearance on Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the completion of a long-awaited London train line named in her honour.

Elizabeth, wearing a bright yellow hat and coat and using a walking stick, was joined by her youngest son Edward and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as she unveiled a plaque at Paddington Station.

It is the latest public outing for the 96-year-old monarch who, despite missing the opening of parliament for the first time in almost six decades last week due to what Buckingham Palace calls “episodic mobility issues”, twice attended a horse show at her Windsor Castle residence in recent days.

“In a happy development Her Majesty The Queen is attending today’s event to mark the completion of the Elizabeth line,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.

The $24 billion rail project was originally due to be opened in December 2018, but had been repeatedly delayed by issues with safety testing and signalling systems, even before the onset of the pandemic.

Originally named ‘Crossrail’, the Elizabeth line will connect destinations west of London, including Heathrow airport and Reading with Shenfield in the east. It will open to the public on May 24.

Elizabeth has been seen in public on only a few occasions since spending a night in hospital last October for an unspecified illness, after which she was told to rest by her doctors.

She has since carried out nearly all her duties either remotely or in person at her Windsor Castle home and did not attend last week’s state opening of parliament.

Johnson said it was “wonderful” to see the queen open the train line, and she was in “such fine form”.

The prime minister said it was time to think about a new Crossrail line running north-south through London, which was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we should be getting on with that. People say it is all changed, people are working from home. I profoundly disagree,” he said. “Public transport is the thing that gives people opportunity.”

(Reporting by William James, Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Michael Holden)

Finland’s parliament votes yes to NATO

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to apply for membership of the NATO military alliance in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Sauli Niinisto and the government decided officially on Sunday that Finland would apply for membership but the decision was pending parliament’s approval.

Of the 200 lawmakers, 188 voted in favour and eight against the application, Speaker Matti Vanhanen said.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the decision was no reason to celebrate because “there is war in Europe”.

“Finland’s membership in NATO will not change our basic thinking that we will always seek peaceful solutions and we are a peace-loving nation that will first and foremost seek diplomatic solutions to every conflict,” he said during the debate.

Opponents to the application included some lawmakers from the Left Alliance, part of Finland’s five-party coalition, among them Markus Mustajarvi who challenged the decision with a counter proposal resulting in it being put to the vote.

“Our border would become the border between the military alliance and Russia. New tensions would not be a risk only during the application process but rather a new and permanent condition of our foreign and security policy,” he said.

Early on Tuesday, the foreign affairs committee decided to join the state leadership in proposing to parliament that the Nordic country should apply for membership.

“Having heard a very large number of experts and having received the opinions of 10 (parliamentary) committees, the foreign affairs committee agrees with the government that Finland should apply for membership in NATO. This decision is unanimous,” chairman Jussi Halla-aho told reporters.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams)

Wall Street set to open higher as technology, growth stocks rebound

By Amruta Khandekar and Devik Jain

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes were set to open higher on Tuesday, as strong forecasts from Home Depot and United Airlines added to an upbeat global mood driven by hopes of easing crackdown on tech firms and COVID-19 in China.

Big technology and growth companies led the rebound in premarket trading, with Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Nvidia Corp and Tesla Inc up between 1.5% and 2.3%.

Home Depot Inc added 3.9% after raising its full-year sales forecast on firm demand for home improvement tools and building materials.

United Airlines Holdings Inc rose 4% after the carrier lifted its current-quarter revenue forecast, boosting shares of Delta Air, American Airlines and Spirit Airlines.

“If you have exhausted sellers, there is no one else left to sell…the market has really been pummeled,” said Mimi Duff, senior client advisor at investment advisory firm GenTrust.

“So at the very sight of any good news you can get a bounce but really what we are looking for is some consolidation.”

Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales increased solidly in April as consumers bought motor vehicles amid an improvement in supply and frequented restaurants, showing no signs of demand letting up despite high inflation.

But rising costs weighed on Dow component Walmart Inc, which fell 6.3% after the retail giant cut its annual profit forecast, signaling a bigger hit to margins.

Shares of rival retailers Costco, Target, Dollar Tree fell between 0.5 and 1.8%.

In Europe and Asia, shares jumped as Shanghai achieved the long-awaited milestone of three straight days with no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones, raising hopes that restrictions might be eased. [MKTS/GLOB]

Chinese firms listed on the U.S. indexes also rose on signs that China is looking to ease a regulatory crackdown on the tech sector after Vice-Premier Liu He told executives that relations between the government and market need to be “properly managed”.

A positive first-quarter earnings season has been overshadowed by worries about the Ukraine war, soaring inflation, COVID-19 lockdown in China and aggressive policy tightening by central banks.

The S&P 500 has declined 3% and the Nasdaq 5.5% so far in May, due to losses in growth stocks.

A slew of Federal Reserve policymakers, including Chair Jerome Powell, are scheduled to speak later in the day and their comments would be parsed for clues on the path of future interest rate hikes.

Traders now see a nearly 80% probability of a 50-basis point rate hike in June.

At 8:46 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 419 points, or 1.3%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 62.25 points, or 1.55%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 221.75 points, or 1.81%.

Among other stocks, Advanced Micro Devices gained 3.7% after Piper Sandler upgraded the semiconductor designer’s stock to “overweight”.

Citigroup jumped 5.2% after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway disclosed a nearly $3 billion investment in the U.S. lender.

Take-Two Interactive Software gained 5.4% after the Grand Theft Auto” publisher posted upbeat fourth-quarter profit.

(Reporting by Amruta Khandekar and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

U.S. retail sales increase strongly in April

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales increased solidly in April as consumers bought motor vehicles amid an improvement in supply and frequented restaurants, showing no signs of demand letting up despite high inflation.

Retail sales rose 0.9% last month, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday. Data for March was revised higher to show sales advancing 1.4% instead of 0.7% as previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales accelerating 0.9%, with estimates ranging from as low as 0.2% to as high as 2.0%. Last month’s increase reflects both strong demand and higher prices.

Retail sales are mostly goods, and are not adjusted for inflation, which appears to have peaked in April. Bars and restaurants are the only services category in the report.

According to the Bank of America, aggregate credit and debit card spending increased 13% year-on-year in April. The bank noted that while inflation was leading to higher spending, it was “clear consumer strength goes beyond this.” Consumer price inflation increased 8.3% year-on-year in April.

A tight labor market is generating strong wages and allowing cash-squeezed consumers to take a second job or pick up extra shifts, providing some cushion against inflation. Households also accumulated massive savings during the pandemic, some of which are being deployed to maintain spending.

But with the Federal Reserve adopting an aggressive monetary policy stance to cool demand and bring down inflation, retail sales are expected to slow later this year. The U.S. central bank has increased its policy interest rate by 75 basis points since March. The Fed is expected to hike rates by half a percentage point at each of the next meetings in June and July.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales increased 1.0% in April. Data for March was also revised higher to show these so-called core retail sales increasing 1.1% instead of 0.7% as previously reported.

Core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Last month’s solid rise in core retail sales suggests that consumer spending got off to a strong start in the second quarter, a view that is supported by credit and debit card data from several banks showing increased outlays on travel and entertainment.

Strong consumer spending and robust business investment in equipment helped to underpin domestic demand in the first quarter even as GDP contracted at a 1.4% annualized rate because of a record trade deficit and slightly moderate pace of inventory accumulation relative to the October-December quarter

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Iranian, Saudi foreign ministers to meet in Iraq soon – Fars news agency

DUBAI (Reuters) – The Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers are expected to meet in Iraq soon, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Tuesday.

“Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan will meet in Iraq in the near future,” an Iranian member of parliament told Fars news agency, adding the two would discuss bilateral issues such as the reopening of embassies and regional matters such as the Yemen crisis.”

(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)

Sberbank CFO among latest senior resignations at sanctioned Russian lender

(Reuters) – Three board members of Russia’s Sberbank have left their posts, the bank said on Tuesday, the latest in a flurry of senior departures from the state-owned lender since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Chief Financial Officer Alexandra Buriko and fellow Deputy Board Chairman Sergei Maltsev decided to terminate their employment with the bank, Sberbank said in a statement.

“Within the framework of transforming Sberbank’s governance model and updating its strategy, changes have been made to the composition of the board,” Sberbank said.

It also said board member Natalia Alimova had resigned.

The resignations come a day after Sberbank said one of its senior vice presidents had left, following in the footsteps of high-profile board members soon after Russia began what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Reuters, Editing by Louise Heavens)

Putin says it’s impossible for some EU countries to ditch Russian oil now

(Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that it was impossible for some European countries to quickly ditch Russian oil, as the European Union is proposing.

EU members are negotiating a proposed oil embargo on Russia over Ukraine, but talks failed this week because of a veto from Hungary, which is heavily dependent on Russian oil imports.

“Obviously, some EU states, in whose energy balance the share of Russian hydrocarbons is especially high, will not be able to do this for a long time, to ditch our oil,” Putin said.

Speaking at a televised meeting with domestic oil managers and government officials, Putin also said that Western sanctions and a possible embargo on Russian oil had resulted in an increase in global oil prices.

He said that by abandoning Russian energy supplies, Europe risked paying the most expensive energy prices in the world long-term, while the competitiveness of its industry would be undermined.

He also said that Western sanctions had stoked inflation across Europe itself.

Russia is facing an oil production decline unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union because of the Western sanctions, which highly complicate the sale of Russian oil globally.

“There are tectonic changes on the oil market, and making business as it had been done before, in line with the old model, looks unlikely,” Putin said, adding that it was important to set up a complete chain from producer to end-buyer.

He has promised state help for domestic oil producers, including facilitating access to loans and insurance.

(Reporting by Reuters)

“Death was coming” – Bataclan band recalls Paris attack

By Tangi Salaün

PARIS (Reuters) – The U.S. rock band Eagles of Death Metal were midway through their set when Islamist militants sprayed the Bataclan concert hall in Paris with gunfire, cutting down revellers, frontman Jesse Hughes recounted before a French court on Tuesday.

Guitar technician Eden Galindo’s first thought had been that the sound system was exploding, but Hughes said he knew instantly the venue was under attack.

“Being from a desert community in California, I know the sound of gun shots,” Hughes told the trial of Salah Abdeslam, the only suspected surviving member of the squad that killed 130 people at several locations on Nov. 13, 2015.

“I knew that death was coming,” he said.

The assailants burst through the music hall’s main entrance and blasted automatic gunfire into the crowd as the band played.

“We were thinking that it was going to stop but it just kept coming,” Galindo told the court. “After a while they reloaded and a technician told us, ‘next time they stop, we run’.”

The band escaped through a side door but their tour manager was killed.

The attackers took hostages inside the music hall during an hours-long assault that claimed 90 lives and ended after police shot dead one militant and the two others detonated their suicide vests.

Survivors have recounted playing dead for hours, or hiding in cupboards, not knowing if their friends or relatives were still alive. They spoke of the bullets in their bodies and of having to walk over bodies when they finally escaped.

Abdeslam, 32, is the only one among 20 defendants who is directly accused of murder, attempted murder and hostage taking. He has denied the charges and is standing trial before a panel of judges.

He told the court in February he had backed out of detonating his explosive vest during the attack.

Six years on, Hughes said he still got nervous looking into crowds, but that he drew courage from France’s ability to move on.

“Evil did not win,” he said. “You can’t kill rock and roll.”

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Britain sets out new law to fix post-Brexit N.Ireland trade

By Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain set out steps on Tuesday to try to break the deadlock with the European Union on post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, lining up a new law that would effectively override parts of a deal and further inflame ties with Brussels.

In a statement to parliament, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said planned legislation would ease the movement of goods, apply Britain’s tax regime in Northern Ireland and hand London more say over the laws governing the province.

She repeatedly told lawmakers the legislation would not break international law and would only be brought in over the coming weeks, keen to underline a desire to press on with talks with Brussels to try to find a negotiated solution.

But despite EU warnings over taking unilateral action, the new law would change parts of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, agreed with the bloc as part of a Brexit deal.

European negotiator Maros Sefcovic said Brussels would respond with all measures at its disposal if London took unilateral action, describing it as not acceptable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to the protocol in 2019 to allow Britain to leave the EU’s single market and customs union without controls being re-imposed on the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, vital to the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that ended three decades of violence.

By striking such a deal, he effectively agreed to a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Britain now says the so-called protocol is unworkable, and months of talks with the EU have failed to find any solutions.

“I am announcing our intention to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make changes to the protocol,” Truss told parliament to jeers from the opposition.

“Our preference remains a negotiated solution with the EU and in parallel with the legislation being introduced, we remain open to further talks,” she said, adding that Britain did not want to scrap the protocol, just to deliver on its “objectives”.

The move to outline the legislation, which foresees a “green channel” for those goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland and no further, was approved by Johnson’s cabinet team.

On Monday, Johnson said the government needed an “insurance” option to be able to unilaterally override some post-Brexit trade rules because the protocol, as is, was threatening a hard-won peace in the British-ruled province.

‘NOT BEEN PLEASANT’

Stephen Doughty, foreign policy chief for the opposition Labour Party, agreed there were problems with the protocol but said Britain needed “calm heads and responsible leadership”.

“It is deeply troubling for the foreign secretary to be proposing a bill to apparently break the treaty that the government itself signed just two years ago, that will not resolve issues in Northern Ireland in the long term, and rather it will undermine trust,” he said.

The EU has repeatedly said any trade difficulties must be resolved within the parameters of the protocol.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said last week the EU would launch legal action and possibly impose countermeasures if London took unilateral action.

The EU’s financial services commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, Ireland’s representative on the EU’s executive, again repeated that unilateral action would not be helpful.

“Political will is required, I hope today we will see some semblance of that, not some very hard unilateral action,” she told Irish broadcaster RTE.

Britain has postponed bringing in many of the checks foreseen by the protocol, which has snarled some foodstuffs in red tape at a time when food and energy prices are rising, fuelling recession concerns.

It also has past form in using shock tactics to try to force talks with the EU.

In 2020, British officials used the threat of an Internal Market Bill to “shake things up”, but the most controversial parts of it were dropped when agreement was reached with the EU.

Archie Norman, chairman of retailer Marks & Spencer and a former Conservative Party lawmaker, said the British government’s proposals were a “triumph of common sense”.

The outcome of regional elections in Northern Ireland increased pressure on Johnson to introduce changes to the protocol after unionists refused to join a new administration unless there were changes to the trading rules.

Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the largest pro-British grouping the Democratic Unionist Party, welcomed Truss’s commitment to action but he reserved judgment on whether his party would as yet return to the power-sharing administration.

“We hope to see progress on a bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks, not months,” Donaldson told parliament. “We want to see the Irish Sea border removed.”

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper; Additional reporting Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Andrew MacAskill, William James, Muvija M and James Davey in London; by Editing by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)

Biden to meet Sweden, Finland leaders at White House -statement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications, the White House said in a statement.

Biden, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland President Sauli Niinistö will also discuss “European security, as well as strengthening our close partnerships across a range of global issues and support for Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

United Airlines expects Boeing 777s to return to service next week

CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines said on Tuesday its Boeing 777 planes equipped with Pratt & Whitney (PW) engines are expected to return to service next week.

Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued the final paperwork for the wide-body jets, which were grounded after a United flight to Honolulu suffered an engine failure and made an emergency landing in February 2021 in Denver.

“Late last night, the FAA issued the final paperwork on our Pratt Whitney powered 777s,” Nocella told a Bank of America conference. “We expect to start flying the aircraft in ad hoc probably within the next week.”

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Editing by Louise Heavens)

N. Ireland’s DUP give cautious welcome to UK’s post-Brexit trade plan

LONDON (Reuters) – The leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, Jeffrey Donaldson, said that he would take a “graduated and cautious approach” on UK’s planned legislation to override parts of the Brexit deal.

“We hope to see progress on a bill in order to deal with these matters in days and weeks, not months. And as the legislation progresses, we will take a graduated and cautious approach,” Donaldson told parliament on Tuesday.

He initially welcomed the planned legislation, describing it as “decisive action”.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, writing by Muvija M; editing by William James)

German’s Scholz confident Turkey will back Finland, Sweden joining NATO

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday he was confident that Turkey would support Finland and Sweden in their bid to join the NATO defence alliance, adding Germany would push for a swift accession.

The EU is already committed to support Finland and Sweden, said Scholz at a news conference with Liechtenstein’s prime minister, adding that Germany would strengthen its military contacts with the two Nordic countries, which have been neutral.

Turkey surprised its NATO allies last week by saying it would not view the applications of Sweden and Finland positively.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Miranda Murray)

Uganda announces withdrawal of troops from east Congo

KAMPALA (Reuters) -Uganda will pull troops from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in two weeks, the military said on Tuesday, after a joint operation against Islamist insurgents since late last year.

President Yoweri Museveni’s government sent hundreds of soldiers into east Congo in December to join the Congolese military in an assault on the bases of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

“Operation Shujaa will officially cease in about 2 weeks according to our original agreement,” tweeted Uganda’s land forces commander Muhoozi Kainerugaba, using the code name Shujaa which is Swahili for “hero”.

“It was supposed to last for 6 months. Unless I get further instructions from our Commander-in-Chief or CDF (chief of defence forces), I will withdraw all our troops from DRC in 2 weeks,” added Kainerugaba, who is also Museveni’s son.

Uganda’s deployment of at least 1,700 soldiers constituted the largest foreign intervention in Congo in over a decade, apart from a United Nations peacekeeping operation.

The ADF began as an uprising in Uganda but has been based in Congo since the late 1990s. It pledged allegiance to Islamic State in mid-2019 and is accused of killing hundreds of villagers in frequent raids over the past two years.

There was no reason given for the planned Ugandan withdrawal or update on the status of the operation against the ADF.

Uganda blamed the group for a triple suicide bombing in its capital Kampala on Nov. 16, which killed seven people, including the bombers.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Cawthorne)

Factbox-Companies sell their businesses in Russia

(Reuters) -Some Western companies have agreed to sell their Russian assets or hand them over to local managers as they scramble to comply with sanctions over the Ukraine conflict and deal with threats from the Kremlin that foreign-owned assets may be seized.

The moves, part of a broader corporate exodus from the country, are likely to stir concerns that Russian firms and institutions are snapping up prized assets for a bargain.

Below is a list of firms by sector that have secured deals to sell their businesses in Russia:

AUTOMAKERS

INCHCAPE

The British car distributor said it had agreed to sell its Russian business to local management. The sale will result in an exceptional non-cash loss before tax of about 240 million pounds ($299 million).

RENAULT The French carmaker said on May 16 it will sell its majority stake in Russia’s biggest carmaker, Avtovaz, to the Russian Central Research and Development Automobile and Engine Institute (Nami), with a six-year option to buy back the stake.

Renault also said that 100% of the shares in Renault Russia will go to the city of Moscow.

Russia had said on April 27 that Renault would transfer its 67.69% stake in Avtovaz to the institute for the symbolic sum of one rouble.

BANKS

PPF

The Czech investment group has agreed to sell its Russian banking assets to a group of investors, PPF said on May 17.

PPF’s consumer lender, the Home Credit and Finance Bank, and its subsidiaries will be acquired by investors led by Ivan Tyryshkin, PPF said, without giving the price or other details of the transaction.

SOCIETE GENERALE The French bank expects to close the sale of its Rosbank unit to Russia’s Interros Capital “in the coming weeks,” it said on May 5.

It announced the sale on April 11, adding it would write off 3.1 billion euros ($3.6 billion), comprising a 2 billion-euro hit on Rosbank’s book value and the rest linked to the reversal of rouble conversion reserves.

ELECTRICAL COMPONENTS & EQUIPMENT

SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC

The French electrical equipment maker will sell its operations in Russia and Belarus to local management, the company said on April 27, as it signed a letter of intent with the designated buyers.

It will write off up to 300 million euros ($314 million) of net book value and make a non-cash reversal of currency translation estimated at 120 million euros.

ENERGY

SHELL

The British energy and petrochemical giant will sell its Russian retail and lubricants business to Russia’s Lukoil, the companies said on May 12. The deal includes 411 retail stations and the Torzhok lubricants blending plant. Shell would not comment on the value of the deal.

FOOD & BEVERAGES

AB INBEV

The Dutch brewer said on April 22 it would sell its non-controlling stake in its Russian joint venture AB InBev Efes. The divestiture will result in a $1.1 billion impairment charge in the first quarter. The joint venture has 11 breweries in Russia and three in Ukraine.

ATRIA

The Finnish food processing company said on May 16 it sold its fast food business in Russia, Sibylla Rus, to Russian meat producer Cherkizovo for about 8 million euros ($8.4 million).

FAZER

The Finnish bakery and food service company said on April 29 it had agreed to sell its Russian unit to Moscow’s Kolomenskij Bakery and Confectionery Holding. Fazer did not disclose the value of the transaction.

MCDONALD’S CORP

The American fast food giant said on May 16 it had initiated a process to sell its business in Russia after 30 years of operating its restaurants in the country. McDonald’s expects to record a mostly non-cash charge of about $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

PAULIG

The privately owned Finnish food and drink company said on May 5 it had sold its operations in Russia to private Indian investor Vikas Soi, after being mentioned by Russian authorities as an example of a foreign company that could be nationalised.

It said the divesture includes the Paulig Rus LLC unit and Paulig’s operations, as well as its coffee roastery in Tver, but not the Paulig brand, which will be phased out in Russia over the coming months.

RAISIO

The Finnish food processing company said on April 29 it had agreed to sell its consumer business in Russia to Copacker Agro Ltd for about 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million). As a result of the sale, Raisio said it would recognise an estimated impairment loss of 2.9 million euros in its Q1 earnings before interest and taxes.

VALIO

The Finnish dairy producer has sold its Russian business to GK Velkom, the company said on April 26, following an earlier threat by Russian authorities to nationalise its business there. Valio said the transaction would take effect immediately but gave no financial value for it.

MINING

AMUR MINERALS CORP

The London-listed Russian mining company announced on May 9 it proposed to sell its main Kun-Manie project for $105 million and agreed to assign to buyer benefit of all loans owed by Kun-Manie to Amur in consideration for $30 million.

KINROSS

Kinross Gold Corp is selling its Russian assets to the Highland Gold Mining group of companies for a total of $680 million in cash, the Canadian gold miner said on April 5, nearly a month after suspending its operations in the country.

OTHERS

AUTHENTIC BRANDS GROUP

Turkish shoe retailer FLO Magazacilik is in talks to buy more than 100 stores owned by fitness brand Reebok in Russia, which is part of the Authentic Brands Group, FLO Chairman Mehmet Ziylan said on May 16. Ziylan added a deal had not been finalised.

BRUNEL INTERNATIONAL

The Dutch employment services company is in the process of selling activities in Russia to local management, it said on April 29, adding its net investment in the country at end-March was 14 million euros ($14.7 million).

FLUGGER GROUP

The Danish paint maker said on April 8 it had initiated the sale of its Russian and Belarusian companies, taking a 115 million Danish crowns ($16.2 million) write-down.

IMPERIAL BRANDS

The British tobacco group said on May 17 that the terms of its agreement to exit Russia did not include a clause allowing it to buy back its business there in future.

Imperial Brands had announced the transfer of its Russian business to “investors based in Russia” on April 20, following talks with an unidentified third party in March.

MAERSK

The Danish shipping company has found possible buyers for its 30.75% stake in Global Ports Investments, which operates ports in Russia, it said on May 4.

STORA ENSO

The Finnish forestry firm has completed its exit from Russia with the sale of three corrugated packaging plants to local management, it said on May 16.

At the end of April, Stora said it had agreed to sell its two sawmills and their forest operations in Russia to local management, causing it to record a 130 million euro ($136 million) loss.

YIT

The Finnish builder has signed an agreement with Etalon Group PLC for the sale of its operations in Russia for about 50 million euros ($52 million). As a result of the sale, YIT said it would book an impairment of about 150 million euros in its first quarter income statement.

($1 = 0.8022 pounds)

($1 = 0.9546 euros)

($1 = 7.1002 Danish crowns)

(Compiled by Elena Vardon, Augustin Turpin, Enrico Sciacovelli, Ina Kreuz; Editing by Mark Potter, Jan Harvey, Andrew Heavens and Susan Fenton)

Tunisia military court jails 4 lawmakers from dissolved parliament, lawyer says

TUNIS (Reuters) – A Tunisian military court on Tuesday issued prison sentences to four lawmakers from the country’s dissolved parliament, including Saif Eddine Maklouf, a prominent opponent of President Kais Saied, their lawyer told Reuters.

Makhlouf, head of the conservative Karama Party, and three other party members were charged with assaulting policemen‮ ‬last year. The military court issued 5-month prison sentences for Makhlouf and Nidhal Saoudi and 3-month terms to Mohamed Affas and Meher Zid.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara, Editing by William Maclean)

Imperial sees duty-free cigarette sales recovery as air travel returns

By Richa Naidu

LONDON (Reuters) – Imperial Brands said on Tuesday it was starting to see some recovery of sales of cigarettes in duty-free shops at airports and in popular European holiday destinations as COVID-19 restrictions ease and people begin to travel more.

Tobacco, alcohol and luxury goods makers were hit hard early on in the pandemic when travel was limited, depriving them of a key chunk of sales.

In its 2021 annual report, Imperial said travel recovery remained “difficult to predict due to varying COVID-19 restrictions across Europe”. Now, months later, the maker of Winston cigarettes and Backwoods cigars said it was seeing a recovery in the market.

“Our global duty-free business and our travel retail sales in the holiday destinations in Southern Europe have begun to recover as cross-border travel resumes,” the company said, adding that it had seen a similar recovery in the Middle East.

Globally, duty free sales accounted for roughly 2% of annual revenue prior to the pandemic, it said. Earlier on Tuesday it said it was on track to meet its 2022 goals helped by strong sales of ecigarettes and heated tobacco in Europe, driving its shares to a more than two-year high.

Major tobacco industry rival Philip Morris International also said in April that increased travel supported volume growth in Spain and duty free stores around the world.

Other industries are also benefiting from a return to airport shops.

Drinks group Campari said this month that travel retail had increased by 50.2% while beauty products makers L’Oreal and Estee Lauder also saw a strong recovery in some markets.

“At the beginning of the year, we are seeing a very strong recovery, again, plus 18%, with air traffic resuming gradually,” L’Oreal CEO Nicolas Hieronimus said on an annual general meeting call in April.

To be sure, with restrictions remaining in China, Estee Lauder said “a precipitous decline in Chinese travel in March” held back travel retail sales in Asia.

(Reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)