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Syrian government troops push on into IS stronghold town


Syrian opposition activists say government troops are pushing deeper into an Islamic State stronghold in the country’s east, the town of Mayadeen.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says clashes with militants intensified in the morning hours on Thursday in the town, as government forces advanced into the western and northern neighborhoods of Mayadeen, which lies on the Euphrates River.

The Observatory says troops were able to cut off the road linking Mayadeen and the town of Boukamal on the border with Iraq.

Opposition activist Mozahem al-Salloum says the fighting is fierce and that it will likely take time to rid Mayadeen of the Islamic State group.

Syrian troops reached Mayadeen on Saturday, after pushing south along the eastern banks of the Euphrates.


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Italy’s government wins confidence votes on contested electoral law


ROME (Reuters) – The Italian government on Wednesday won two confidence votes on a fiercely contested electoral law that is likely to penalise the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in next year’s national election.

The proposed voting system is backed by three of the country’s four largest parties, with the centre-left government looking to rush it onto the statute books ahead of elections, which are due by May 2018.

Five-Star supporters protested in front of parliament as the Chamber of Deputies approved two confidence motions by a wide margin. A third such vote is scheduled for Thursday ahead of a final ballot in the lower house on the disputed bill.

Unlike the current rules, the new system would allow the formation of multi-party coalitions before the ballot, a factor likely to hurt 5-Star, which is topping most opinion polls and refuses to join alliances.

“They want to take away our right to choose,” said Nicola Zuppa, 45, who said he had paid 175 euros ($200) to travel from Padua in northern Italy to take part in the protest, which drew up to 2,000 people in the heart of Rome.

The use of multiple confidence motions allowed the ruling coalition to truncate discussion on the bill and sidestep dozens of planned secret votes on various amendments. The reform still needs the approval of the upper house Senate.

“If you allow the electoral rules to be changed again so that the scum of the country rises to the top yet again, it will be your children who pay the price,” 5-Star’s founder Beppe Grillo wrote on his blog on Wednesday.

5-Star Movement supporters protest in front of Montecitorio government palace in Rome, Italy October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


President Sergio Mattarella, the only figure with the power to dissolve parliament, has called for new voting rules because the current system is very different for the upper and lower houses, meaning it could throw up conflicting majorities.

All previous attempts to harmonise the rules have failed, most recently in June when dissident deputies used a secret vote to upend part of the proposed legislation.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) drafted the latest version, which is supported by right-wing parliamentary rivals Forza Italia (Go Italy!) and the Northern League. Five small parties are also backing the proposed law.

Five-Star estimates that the new rules could cost it up to 50 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and potentially scupper its chances of being the largest group in parliament after the vote.

Mattarella is expected to give the formation that gets the most seats the first crack at forming a government. The PD has denied trying to stymie the 5-Star’s chances.

“No one is preventing (5-Star) from making alliances if they want to,” said Ettore Rosato, the parliamentary party leader of the PD who has put his name to the reform. “If they don’t want to do them, they can continue to be an isolated party.”

Analysts say the new electoral system looks unlikely to throw up a clear parliamentary majority, with opinion polls showing the centre-left, centre-right and 5-Star splitting the vote three ways. Such a result could lead to the creation of a grand coalition that would need to span the political divide.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Toby Chopra


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Argentina’s Fernandez cries foul on government primary vote count


BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s former populist leader Cristina Fernandez criticized President Mauricio Macri’s government at a rally on Wednesday, after it took more than two weeks to release final results in a Senate primary race that gave her a razor-thin win.

Fernandez won the primary in Buenos Aires province, Argentina’s largest. She edged out President Mauricio Macri’s preferred candidate Esteban Bullrich 33.95 percent versus 33.74 percent.

Before announcing the final count late on Tuesday, the government had last published results in the province on Monday Aug. 14 with 95.68 percent of polling stations counted. At that time Bullrich, Macri’s former education minister, had a 0.08 percent lead over Fernandez.

“This is the first time that the person who won the provisional count did not win the definitive count,” Fernandez told thousands of cheering fans in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province.

“The truth has triumphed over lies and manipulation,” she said, accusing Macri’s government of staging a show to celebrate the results after polls closed.

Former Argentine President and candidate for the Senate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gestures next to Jorge Taiana, candidate for the Lower House of Congress, during a rally in La Plata, Argentina August 30, 2017. Unidad Ciudadana/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

National Electoral Director Fernando Alvarez said Fernandez had won by just over 20,000 votes, or 0.2 percentage points, on Tuesday night. He said the count had taken place at a normal pace, though the vote was unusually close.

Former Argentine President and candidate for the Senate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gestures next to Jorge Taiana, candidate for the Lower House of Congress, during a rally in La Plata, Argentina August 30, 2017. Unidad Ciudadana/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Markets were little changed on Wednesday, after the final count was known. Stocks had rallied while the peso strengthened after the Aug. 14 count as fears eased that Fernandez could aim for a presidential comeback in 2019 to reverse Macri’s economic reforms.

Fernandez was president from 2007 to 2015 and was indicted for corruption last year.

Under Argentina’s election system, the winning party in each Senate race gets two of the province’s three seats, with the remaining seat going to the second-place finisher.

A second-place finish in the Oct. 22 election would therefore still grant Fernandez, 64, a seat, which would give her immunity from arrest though not from trial. She has dismissed the corruption accusations as politically motivated.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by David Gregorio

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Father of Philippine Islamist militant leaders dies in government custody


MANILA (Reuters) – The father of the leaders of the pro-Islamic State Maute group that seized control of a southern Philippine town in May died while in government custody, authorities said on Sunday.

Cayamora Maute was taken to a hospital on Sunday afternoon after his blood pressure rose but he died along the way, the Philippines’ prison bureau said.

The May 23 occupation of Marawi City by the Maute group, led by his two sons and which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, triggered a brutal urban battle with military forces that entered its fourth month last week.

It has raised concern that Islamic State, on a back foot in Syria and Iraq, is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could pose a threat to neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore too.

More than 700 people, including 130 soldiers, have been killed since the militants, aided by foreign fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East, seized control of city of 200,000.

Maute had several ailments when he was taken into custody in June, including diabetes and hypertension, Xavier Solda, spokesman at the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology told reporters.

The extent of his involvement in the group is not immediately clear but when he was arrested in June, a military spokesman expressed hope he could persuade his sons to stop fighting and surrender.

“This is an unfortunate incident for his family, but more so to the victims of terrorism in Marawi and their relatives who are awaiting justice and expecting that Cayamora would answer and atone for his involvement in the Marawi rebellion,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduaro Año said in a statement.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, to give him time to crush the rebel movement.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Alison Williams

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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