Volkswagen customer plans to take diesel case to Germany’s highest court

February 19, 2019

By Tassilo Hummel

BERLIN (Reuters) – A German court on Tuesday ruled in favor of Volkswagen in a case brought by a customer seeking compensation for having bought a diesel car affected by emissions cheating, but the plaintiff’s lawyer plans to appeal.

A lower court in Brunswick near Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters denied compensation in the case.

Volkswagen said it welcomed the ruling, but the plaintiff’s lawyer said he would appeal the ruling at the Federal Court of Justice, Germany’s highest court.

The case could become the first against VW to be decided by the Federal Court, potentially setting a precedent for customers affected by the diesel scandal.

VW customers have filed thousands of lawsuits across Germany seeking compensation after buying cars affected by emissions cheating software. So far, VW and affiliated traders have won 22 rulings by lower appeals courts.

The plaintiff in the this case was supported by myRight, a consumer body which has organized a group action against Volkswagen.

“myRight now is in the finals against VW”, said myRight founder Jan-Eike Andresen. The consumer body, which cooperates with U.S. law firm Hausfeld, currently represents 45,000 plaintiffs who want compensation for their diesel vehicles.

Altogether, more than 400,000 German diesel customers have participated in a joint legal action against Volkswagen.

A Federal Court of Justice ruling on the case, legally assessing Volkswagen’s responsibility and potential obligation to pay compensation toward car owners, would bind all other German jurisdictions.

VW has said about 11 million diesel cars worldwide were fitted with software that could cheat emissions tests designed to limit noxious car fumes.

The German carmaker has agreed to pay billions of dollars in the United States to settle claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers. It offered to buy back 500,000 polluting U.S. vehicles.

The company has not reached a similar deal in Europe, where it faces billions of euros in claims from investors and customers.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Arno Schuetze, additional reporting by Jan Schwartz; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

WTO warns of global trade slowdown as indicator hits 9-year low

February 19, 2019

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A quarterly leading indicator of world merchandise trade slumped to its lowest reading in nine years on Tuesday, which should put policymakers on guard for a sharper slowdown if trade tensions continue, the World Trade Organization said on Tuesday.

The WTO’s quarterly outlook indicator, a composite of seven drivers of trade, showed a reading of 96.3, the weakest since March 2010 and down from 98.6 in November. A reading below 100 signals below-trend growth in trade.

“This sustained loss of momentum highlights the urgency of reducing trade tensions, which together with continued political risks and financial volatility could foreshadow a broader economic downturn,” the WTO said in a statement.

The WTO forecast last September that global trade growth would slow to 3.7 percent in 2019 from an estimated 3.9 percent in 2018, but there could be a steeper slowdown or a rebound depending on policy steps, it said.

The quarterly indicator is based on merchandise trade volume in the previous quarter, export orders, international air freight, container port throughput, car production and sales, electronic components and agricultural raw materials.

“Indices for export orders (95.3), international air freight (96.8), automobile production and sales (92.5), electronic components (88.7) and agricultural raw materials (94.3) have shown the strongest deviations from trend, approaching or surpassing previous lows since the financial crisis,” the WTO said.

The index for container port throughput remained relatively buoyant at 100.3, but that may have been influenced by a front-loading of shipments before an anticipated hike in U.S.-China tariffs, the WTO said.

International trade tensions could spike next month if the United States and China escalate their tariff war, a step that could have negative consequences for the world trading system, according to the United Nations trade agency UNCTAD.

A new round of U.S.-China talks will take place in Washington on Tuesday, with follow-up sessions at a higher level later in the week, the White House said on Monday, following a round in Beijing last week.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

Rome’s Ciampino airport partially re-opens after fire alert

February 19, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Rome’s Ciampino airport, used by budget airline Ryanair, partially reopened on Tuesday following a fire alert in the terminal, the company managing the site said.

The airport was closed as a precaution after smoke was seen coming from a basement area, a spokeswoman for Aeroporti di Roma (ADR) said.

A firecrew put out “the beginnings of a fire,” ADR said, adding that the arrivals hall was now operating normally. The departures area was still closed and it was not immediately clear when normal service would be restored.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; editing by John Stonestreet and Crispian Balmer)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

Two hundred families trapped by Islamic State in Syria: U.N. rights chief

February 19, 2019

GENEVA (Reuters) – Some 200 families are trapped in a shrinking area of Syria still controlled by Islamic State, whose forces are stopping some from fleeing, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.

“Many of them (also) …continue to be subjected to intensified air and ground-based strikes by the U.S.-led Coalition forces and their SDF allies on the ground,” Bachelet said in a statement.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces attacking Islamic State have an obligation under international law to take all precautions to protect civilians who are mixed in with the foreign fighters, her spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

Placards outside Montserrat Monastery expose abuse in Spanish Church

February 19, 2019

By Sabela Ojea

MONTSERRAT, Spain (Reuters) – Tourists and worshippers visiting Catalonia’s imposing mountain-side Montserrat Monastery on a sunny Sunday this month appeared to pay little heed to two men with placards demanding that the local abbot be defrocked for covering up sexual abuse.

But the pair, who say they were sexually abused in their youth, are making themselves heard by society in Spain and elsewhere as they pressure the Catholic Church to come clean on such wrongdoing by clergy.

The Vatican is holding an unprecedented meeting of senior bishops from around the world, experts and heads of male and female religious orders on Feb. 21-24 to discuss how to tackle sexual abuse.

Miguel Hurtado, 36, runs an online petition to Spanish authorities to significantly extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse against minors. The petition on website change.org has received over 520,900 signatures since it launched in 2016.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is facing an early general election in April, said on the petition website that he would study the proposals and act to prevent that kind of crime.

In Spain, historically a fervently Catholic country, activists say thousands of cases had likely been silenced and many could emerge now as the debate opens up.

“For me, the worst part were not the abuses, but the Church covering it up,” Hurtado told Reuters.

He said the abbot of Montserrat, Josep Maria Soler, had for years sought to silence his accusation that monk Andreu Soler sexually molested him 20 years ago when he was a 16-year-old Boy Scout in a group led by the monk.

The monk, who shared the same last name but was not related to the abbot, died in 2008.

Hurtado said his abuser, 50 years his senior, touched his genitals under the pretext of telling him masturbation was wrong, and tried to tongue-kiss him, which left him “petrified, without knowing what to do”.

The monastery said in a statement to the media last month that the abbot had known about Hurtado’s accusations since taking over in 2000 and that it paid 8,600 euros ($9,740) to cover Hurtado’s therapy costs and expenses with lawyers in 2003.

The monastery promised “to act with complete transparency” and asked for “forgiveness for everything where it has not lived up to expectations” adding it had always been guided by a desire to help Hurtado.

The monastery declined to provide any further comment to Reuters on Hurtado’s demands for the abbot to be fired. It also declined a request to interview the abbot.

The abbot told the congregation on Feb. 3, the day of Hurtado’s protest: “We humbly ask the victims for forgiveness, sympathize with their pain and offer them our support. Sexual abuse of minors by the priests are deeply hurtful because they … betray the confidence deposited in them.”

The monk, who “always maintained a different version of what occurred” was transferred in 2000 “out of precaution”, the monastery said.

Since Hurtado went public with his accusations in January, eight people have denounced the same monk for having sexually abused them years ago, according to Spanish media.

‘COMPLICIT SILENCE’

Standing beside Hurtado on Feb. 3 with a sign demanding “Transparency and Responsibility at Montserrat” was Briton Peter Saunders, the founder of the British National Association for People Abused in Childhood. Until 2017, he sat on the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors set up by Pope Francis in 2014.

“The Vatican hopes that we’ll just go away and leave them be, but it isn’t gonna happen,” he said, adding that he doubted the sincerity of the pope’s “zero tolerance” stance toward abusers and cover-ups because he said Francis had sanctioned the reinstatement of various clerics accused of these crimes.

The Church has repeatedly been criticized for its handling of the sexual abuse crisis, which exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities around the world.

Some changes are under way in Spain. On Feb. 12, the regional bishops’ conference that includes Montserrat issued an apology to all victims of abuse. Last November, a senior Spanish bishop, Gil Tamayo, said there is “complicit silence” of the Spanish Church on sex abuse cases.

The government has drafted a bill that would extend the statute of limitations, although not as much as Hurtado proposes. It has not been submitted to parliament.

On Saturday, the Vatican sent what some saw as a warning that it would get tough with bishops who have either committed abuse or covered it up. It expelled former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.

Hurtado, who is scheduled to meet the Vatican summit’s organizing committee on Wednesday along with 11 other victims, says the Montserrat abbot should have reported his case to the police while the statute of limitations still allowed it, instead of paying what he said was “money for my silence”.

He said he returned the money in 2015, except for 1,400 euros paid in lawyer’s fees, after learning that the abbey published a book praising his abuser in 2007.

The monastery confirmed he returned the money, which it said was donated to charity. It said the abbot had apologized for the book to Hurtado and had promised to remove it from the monastery’s catalog.

Under Spanish law, victims of molestation cases that do not involve rape have five years after they have turned 18 to seek justice. More serious cases can be reported 15-20 years past the age of 18. Hurtado hopes to lift the initial threshold after which the statute of limitations kicks in to 50 from 18 years.

Such an extension would apply to cases similar to that of Teresa Conde, 52 and a philosophy teacher from Salamanca, who says she was raped by a priest 30 years her senior when she was 14. The abuse continued for almost three years.

“The rapist went unpunished then and those who covered up go unpunished now,” says Conde, who opened up to her family about the rapes when she was 42 after a lifetime of psychological trauma. She says she only started really living when the priest died three years ago.

Father Daniel Garcia, a leading clergyman at the time in the area where Conde went to school, corroborated her story to Reuters based on a conversation he had with the priest 10 years ago.

Click on https://reut.rs/2X8v1oc for a related photo essay.

(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

EU parliament committee backs start of trade tariff talks with United States

February 19, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU lawmakers voted on Tuesday narrowly in favor of the European Union starting negotiations with the United States on a deal to lower tariffs on industrial goods.

The European Parliament’s international trade committee voted by 21 to 17 on a resolution encouraging the 28 EU countries to back negotiating mandates put forward by the European Commission.

The resolution, which will go to a vote by the full chamber in March, is not binding, but has a bearing on possible talks with the United States, given that the parliament would have to approve any deal agreed.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by John Stonestreet)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

Ireland urges people not to stockpile medicines ahead of Brexit

February 19, 2019

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s deputy prime minister on Tuesday called on people not to stockpile medicine before Britain quits the European Union, saying the country had at least eight weeks of supply and was moving to source medicines from other EU countries.

Despite its large pharmaceutical industry, Ireland relies on Britain for many medicines. Some of them may not be approved for use in the EU if Britain leaves on March 29 without a deal, Simon Coveney told RTE radio.

Ireland has eight to 12 weeks’ supply of virtually all medicines in Ireland, Coveney said.

“There aren’t any medicines that are on any kind of risk list in terms of not being supplied after the end of March, but we will continue to monitor that very closely to make sure there is no delay in supply,” he said.

“Pharmacists and people in general should not be stockpiling medicines because actually stockpiling in itself sometimes causes problems with supply,” he added.

Britain has told its residents the same thing. Stockpiling “risks shortages … if everyone does what they are supposed to, we are confident the supply of medicines will continue uninterrupted,” said Stephen Hammond, the health minister responsible for Brexit.

Coveney was speaking before a meeting of the Irish cabinet to approve legislation preparing for the possibility Britain will be forced to leave the EU with no agreement on the terms of its departure, even though the Irish government has said repeatedly that it does not expect this outcome.

“While we have a huge amount of contingency planning in place … I wouldn’t like to give the impression that we could easily manage a no-deal Brexit,” Coveney said. “It would put huge strain on the Irish economy.”

Britain is supposed to leave the EU on March 29, but it still has no deal in place on the terms. Last week, the British parliament defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest effort to gain approval for her Brexit strategy.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries, editing by Larry King)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

UK wage growth matches decade high, jobs creation strong as Brexit nears

February 19, 2019

LONDON, (Reuters) – British workers’ pay growth held at its fastest pace in a decade in late 2018 and job creation remained strong, official figures showed on Tuesday, suggesting the labour market was staying buoyant ahead of Brexit.

Total earnings, including bonuses, rose by an annual 3.4 percent in the three months to December, remaining at its fastest pace since mid-2008, the Office for National Statistics said.

The increase was a touch below a forecast for a pick-up to 3.5 percent in a Reuters poll of economists.

Average weekly earnings excluding bonuses also rose by 3.4 percent on the year, in line with the poll forecast.

Britain’s strong labour market has defied a slowdown in the economy since the 2016 Brexit vote.

The number of people in work rose by 167,000 in the three months to December, stronger than the poll’s forecast of 140,000. It was the biggest increase since the first quarter of 2018.

With Britain due to leave the European Union in just over a month’s time, and still no clarity on whether it will have a transition deal to smooth the shock, many companies have cut investment in equipment, potentially making them more likely to hire workers.

However, Honda’s announcement that it will close a plant with the loss of 3,500 jobs and Nissan’s decision not to build a new model of car in Britain have raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on big manufacturers.

With unemployment at its lowest rate since 1975 – 4.0 percent in the three months to December – employers have begun raising pay for staff more quickly.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a human resources professional body, said on Monday private-sector employers planned to increase basic pay rates this year by the most since the survey started in 2012.

The Bank of England has said it will need to raise interest rates gradually to offset inflation pressures from rising pay.

Earlier this month, it forecast wage growth would slow to 3.0 percent by the end of 2019 – as the economy felt the drag of Brexit uncertainty and a slowing global growth – before picking up again.

However, the pace of wage rises remains slower than the 4 percent increases seen before the financial crisis.

When adjusted for inflation, total earnings rose by 1.3 percent, the fastest increase since late 2016, the ONS said.

(Reporting William Schomberg and David Milliken)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

For Yazidi survivors of Islamic State killings, the nightmares go on

February 19, 2019

By Ayat Basma and Kawa Omar

SINJAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Ever since Islamic State visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping.

For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the jihadist group.

For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land.

“They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two three times…There is nothing left,” the father of eight told Reuters.

More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal.

Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on.

She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. “My sons built that house. I can’t go back without them…Their school books are still there, their clothes,” she said.

‘THEY WANT TO BE BURIED’

As U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the Islamist group in Syria and Iraq, U.N. data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick.

“Life is bad. There is no aid,” he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album.

“Every day that I see this mass grave I get ten more gray hairs,” he said.

The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say.

“I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won’t remove their remains.” They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds.

When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot towards Sinjar mountain. More than four years later, some 2,500 families – including Hassan and five of her daughters – still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way towards the summit.

The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs.

But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future.

GRATEFUL FOR THE SUN

Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture.

She doesn’t know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn’t learnt the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13.

There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn’t remember when her children last ate fruit. “Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun,” she said.

During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night “they are afraid of their own shadow”, and she herself has nightmares.

“Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child,” she said.

Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside.

“There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages,” Khalaf, 40, said referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants.

“We have no choice but to stay here…They are stronger than us.”

(Reporting by Ayat Basma; editing by John Stonestreet)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment

Honda to close only British factory, says move not Brexit related

February 19, 2019

By Naomi Tajitsu

TOKYO (Reuters) – Honda Motor <7267.T> announced on Tuesday it would shut its sole British plant by 2021, a decision the Japanese automaker said was not related to Brexit but which Britain deemed deeply disappointing.

Honda, which said the decision was based on changes in the global auto market, will also stop making its popular Civic sedan at its plant in Turkey from 2021, although it plans to continue its operations in that country, Chief Executive Takahiro Hachigo told a news conference in Tokyo.

The closure of the Swindon factory in southern England is expected to result in 3,500 job losses and marks a big symbolic blow to British manufacturing amid the tumult of Brexit. The plant closure will be one of several by automakers reassessing their presence in the UK and Europe.

Hachigo’s comments that the decision was not related to Brexit are unlikely to take the sting out of the job losses for the British public, or politicians.

“It is deeply disappointing that this decision has been taken now,” UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said.

“This is a devastating decision for Swindon and the UK,” he said. “This is a commercial decision based on unprecedented changes in the global market.”

For Honda, declining demand for diesel vehicles, tougher emissions regulations and uncertainty over Britain’s expected departure from the European Union next month have clouded its manufacturing prospects in the region.

Two weeks ago bigger Japanese rival Nissan <7201.T> canceled plans to build its X-Trail sport utility vehicle in Britain.

Last month, Britain’s biggest automaker Jaguar Land Rover, and Ford Motor Co <F.N> separately announced sweeping job cuts in Europe.

(Reporting by Chang Ran-Kim and Naomi Tajitsu in Tokyo; Editing by David Dolan and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Posted in One America News | Leave a comment