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Abe sweeps to resounding victory in Japan vote

The new centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party fared slightly better than expected but still trailed far behind Abe with 58 seats.

Shinzo Abe, Japan's PM and President of the LDP, center, raises his arm during an election campaign rally in Tokyo.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swept to a resounding victory in a snap election today, winning a mandate to harden his already hawkish stance on North Korea and re-energise the world’s number-three economy.

Abe’s conservative coalition was on track to win 311 seats in the 465-seat parliament, according to a projection published by private broadcaster TBS, putting the blue-blooded nationalist on course to become Japan’s longest-serving leader.

The comfortable election win is likely to stiffen Abe’s resolve to tackle North Korea’s nuclear threat, as the key US regional ally seeks to exert maximum pressure on Pyongyang after it fired two missiles over Japan in the space of a month.

Abe was heading for a “landslide win”, the top-selling Yomiuri daily said on its website, as the premier’s gamble to hold a snap election appeared to be paying off.

But it was unclear in the immediate aftermath of the vote whether Abe’s coalition would retain its two-thirds “supermajority,” requiring 310 seats, as some media had it falling just short.

A “supermajority” would allow Abe to propose changes to pacifist Japan’s US-imposed constitution that forces it to renounce war and effectively limits its military to a self- defence role.

Millions of Japanese braved torrential rain and driving winds to vote as a typhoon bears down on the country, with many heeding warnings to cast their ballots early.

“I support Abe’s stance not to give in to North Korea’s pressure,” said Yoshihisa Iemori as he cast his ballot in a rainswept Tokyo.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) benefited from a weak and splintered opposition, with the two main parties facing him created only a matter of weeks ago.

Support for the Party of Hope founded by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike fizzled after an initial blaze of publicity and it was on track to win around 50 seats, the TBS projection suggested.

Speaking from Paris where she was attending an event in her capacity as leader of the world’s biggest city, a sullen- faced Koike told public broadcaster NHK she feared a “very severe result”.

“As the person who launched the party, I will take my responsibility.”

The new centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party fared slightly better than expected but still trailed far behind Abe with 58 seats.

“The LDP’s victory is simply because the opposition couldn’t form a united front,” political scientist Mikitaka Masuyama from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, told AFP.

The short 12-day campaign was dominated by the economy and the global crisis over North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and has traded barbs with US President Donald Trump.

Nationalist Abe stuck to a hardline stance throughout, stressing that Japan “would not waver” in the face of an increasingly belligerent regime in Pyongyang.

Despite the sabre-rattling from North Korea, many voters said reviving the once-mighty Japanese economy was the top priority, with Abe’s trademark “Abenomics” growth policy failing to trickle down to the general public.

The three-pronged combination of ultra-loose monetary policy, huge government spending and structural reform has catapulted the stock market to a 21-year high but failed to stoke inflation and growth has remained sluggish.

“Neither pensions nor wages are getting better… I don’t feel the economy is recovering at all,” said 67-year-old pensioner Hideki Kawasaki.

Although voters turned out in their millions to back Abe, support for the 63-year-old is lukewarm and surveys showed his decision to call a snap election a year earlier than expected was unpopular.

Voter Etsuko Nakajima, 84, told AFP: “I totally oppose the current government. Morals collapsed. I’m afraid this country will be broken.”

“I think if the LDP takes power, Japan will be in danger.

He does not do politics for the people,” added the pensioner.

Koike briefly promised to shake up Japan’s sleepy political scene with her new party but she declined to run herself for a seat, sparking confusion over who would be prime minister if she won.

In the end the 65-year-old former TV presenter was not even in Japan on election day.

“I thought that I would vote for the Party of Hope if it’s strong enough to beat the Abe administration. But the party has been in confusion … I’m quite disappointed,” said 80-year-old pensioner Kumiko Fujimori.

The campaign was marked by a near-constant drizzle in large parts of the country and rallies frequently took place under shelter and a sea of umbrellas.

But this did not dampen the enthusiasm of hundreds of doughty, sash-wearing parliamentary hopefuls, who have driven around in minibuses pleading for votes via loudspeaker and bowing deeply to every potential voter.

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World

Iran warns OPEC against raising oil output

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OPEC

Tehran, July 17 Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said Monday that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would suffer if its members do not adhere to their commitment regarding the oil output.

The decision made at the 174th OPEC Conference did not grant the member states the right to exceed their production level above the allocated quota, or the right to redistribute the production cut quota among the members, said Zanganeh in a letter to OPEC President Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, Xinhua reported.

However, according to the OPEC’s latest monthly report, some member countries’ production level in June 2018 was far above the agreed production level allocated to them, Zanganeh said.

This is a violation of their commitment, he said, adding that “we are concerned that this violation may continue in the remaining months and in contradiction with the agreement adopted at the OPEC conference.”

The US State Department announced in June that the United States had been pushing its allies to stop oil imports from Iran by November 4.

US President Donald Trump asked Saudi Arabia to increase its oil exports to compensate for the shortage in the market demand in case Iran’s crude exports drop.

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World

Lava bomb hits Hawaii tour boat, 23 injured

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Lava Bomb Kilauea volcano
Kilauea is one of the world's most active volcanos and one of five on the island.

Honolulu, July 17: At least 23 people were injured when a lava bomb hit a tour boat in Hawaii, according to fire officials.

The lava bomb or a flying chunk of molten rock, punctured the boat’s roof on Monday after which it returned to Wailoa Harbour, CNN quoted the Hawaii County Fire Department as saying.

Of the injured, one woman in her 20s was in serious condition with a fractured femur.

It was unclear exactly where or when the incident occurred. But from where lava from the Kilauea volcano is hitting the ocean to the harbour is about an hour’s boat ride, depending on waves.

Kilauea erupted in early May, sending a smouldering flow of lava into residential areas on the Big Island.

Kilauea was still erupting lava as of Sunday, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Meanwhile, the lava has also created a tiny new island off the coast of Hawaii.

The island is part of the lava flow that extends underwater away from the coastline, according to the USGS.

If the lava flow stays active, the island will probably connect to the coastline. If not, it might erode away because of wave action.

The agency said the island is just a few metres offshore, and about 20 to 30 feet in diameter.

IANS

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World

US challenges five WTO members for imposing retaliatory trade tariffs

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Washington, July 17: The US on Monday launched a dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO) challenging five WTO member countries for applying trade tariffs in retaliation for US President Trump’s recent actions on the aluminum and steel trade.

According to a US Department of Commerce statement, the US has launched separate disputes at the WTO against China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey, challenging the alleged “illegal” tariffs each of these WTO members imposed in response to President Trump’s actions on trade in aluminum and steel in order to protect US “national security” interests, Efe reported.

“The actions taken by the President are wholly legitimate and fully justified as a matter of US law and international trade rules,” said the statement quoting US secretary of Commerce, Robert Lighthizer.

In recent months, Donald Trump has increased tensions among traditional US partners and allied trading blocs such as the EU, Canada, and Mexico, with a focus on trade issues.

Last June, the US administration decided to terminate its steel and aluminum tariff waivers on imports from the EU, Canada, and Mexico. Said action was responded with similar retaliatory moves by these WTO members.

Washington’s move on Monday coincided with another formal challenge issued hours before by Beijing against the US, after President Trump decided to impose, earlier this year, $ 200 Billion in additional tariffs on a list of Chinese products.

These new US trade tariffs will be more comprehensive than those already in effect, to the tune of $ 34 Billion, that drove China to issue on July 6 a WTO complaint.

“The US will take all necessary actions to protect our interests, and we urge our trading partners to work constructively with us on the problems created by massive and persistent excess capacity in the steel and aluminum sectors,” US Secretary of Commerce Lighthizer concluded.

IANS

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