Long visit from a kidlet, so late in posting. But major elections in Europe hint at major changes to come, and much more. . .so on with the show!

First, takin’ to the streets with RT:

World protests Monsanto grip on food supply chain

Hundreds of thousands people have united across the world to voice concern over the spread of GMO foods and crops and to raise awareness over the biotech giant Monsanto’s growing grip on the global food supply chain.

It was not only the fear of genetically modified organisms in foods that knows no boundaries. Activists on five continents around the globe, comprising of 52 nations joined the fight under the March against Monsanto umbrella.

Organized worldwide, peaceful family protests spoke out for the need to protect food supply, health, local farms and environment. Activists also sought to promote organic solutions to food production, while “exposing cronyism between big business and the government.”

With anti-GMO rallies having taken place in around 400 cities across the globe it’s still hard to estimate how many people participated in the event. Last year over 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries worldwide marched against the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Next up, the back story to a tragedy from the Guardian:

Sheriff highlights mental-health shortcomings after California rampage

‘There’s a general lack of resources in community treatment’

Bereaved parent blames ‘craven’ politicians and NRA

Police named Elliot Rodger, 22, the British-born son of a film director, as the suspect behind Friday’s murder spree in and around the Isla Vista campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, which left a trail of 10 separate crime scenes and 13 people injured.

On Sunday, Santa Barbara’s county sheriff, Bill Brown, blamed failures in mental-health treatment for the fact that Rodger’s behaviour had worried people around him and precipitated three contacts with police, most recently last month, but had not caused an intervention that might have averted the slaughter.

“I think the fact of the matter is, there’s a general lack of resources in community mental-health treatment generally,” he told CNN on Sunday. “There’s also probably a lack of notification by healthcare professionals in instances when people are expressing suicidal or in certain cases homicidal thoughts or tendencies.”

From the Republic Report, back story to another kind of tragedy:

Top Donor for House Education Chair is For-Profit College Facing Federal and State Fraud Probes

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has no serious opposition in her bid for reelection, yet has received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions. More than half of that money has come from outside North Carolina, much of it from corporate special interests.

The single biggest donor group to Foxx, by almost a factor of two, is Santa Ana, California-based, for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

Corinthian, which operates Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges, has a troubling record. The company faces a major lawsuit from California attorney general Kamala Harris, who has charged that Corinthian has engaged in “false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements.” Corinthian is also under investigation by a group of sixteen state attorneys general (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Pennsylvania) into its recruiting and business practices, and faces a separate probe by Massachusetts’ AG.

Federal investigators also are probing Corinthian. In June 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a subpoena to the company concerning student recruitment, degree completion, job placement, loan defaults and compliance with U.S. Education Department rules.

And the Los Angeles Times defines today’s Obama Democrats:

Past Republican donors rebuffing GOP candidates to back Jerry Brown

With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown expected to romp to reelection this year against little-known rivals, many donors who gave Republican candidates more than $37 million in the last gubernatorial contest are now keeping their hands in their pockets.

But those who are writing checks are largely giving them to … Jerry Brown.

The governor has received nearly $2 million, a Times analysis of campaign reports found, from donors who fueled Meg Whitman’s and Steve Poizner’s Republican gubernatorial bids in 2010. That’s more than three times as much as his current GOP rivals have received from these donors.

From the Guardian, the results those big bucks produce:

Pensions are the spectre hanging over America, and your problem too

Most private-sector workers grew up with no promise of pensions, but the problem of our cities and states haunts us all

You may know that you’ll never collect a penny of either public or private pension income when you retire. That doesn’t mean those scary headlines about pensions – and pension reform – won’t cast a scary shadow across your own life. You may as well start thinking about how you’re going to cope with the fallout today.

Public pension plans themselves today calculate that they have about $1tn of unfunded liabilities – that’s the gap between how much they have on hand in assets today and how much they estimate they’ll need to pay out in benefits to members of the plans. In some cases, that sounds scarier than it is: what is just as important is its “funded ratio”, or the percentage of its liabilities covered by its assets.

The bad news? Morningstar calculates that safe pension plans are increasingly rare: more than half of all states have a funded ratio that falls below 70%, the threshold for being deemed fiscally sound. As recently as 2011, only 21 states failed that test (although that’s bad enough … ) and theoretically the rise in the stock market should have given the value of pension fund portfolios a big boost, making them look a lot healthier.

On to Europe, first with financial rumblings from the Associated Press:

ECB ready to act, but how much will it help?

Investors and analysts are nearly certain: The European Central Bank will take action at its next meeting to boost the tepid recovery.

What’s not at all certain is how much good that can do.

Any help is needed. The weak recovery in the 18 countries that use the euro is a source of risk and uncertainty for the rebounding U.S and global economy. The eurozone economy grew only 0.2% in the first quarter, gaining no speed from the quarter before. Worse, inflation is dangerously low at an annual 0.7%, well below the ECB’s goal of just under 2%.

And on with the day’s major European story, elections — first from Deutsche Welle:

EU vote sees boost for right wing in France, Austria and Greece

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party is leading in the European Parliament elections in France, according to early projections. Results from across the 28-member bloc are coming in throughout the the evening.

According to early projections in Austria, the far-right FPÖ saw strong gains at 20 percent, compared to the 7.3 percent they garnered in 2009.

Belgium’s Flemish nationalist N-VA party looked set to make strong gains, partial results indicated, with 30 to 32 percent of the vote. TV exit polls in Denmark say the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party is set to take the biggest share of the Danish vote.

Britain next, with BBC News:

UKIP heading for clear victory in UK European elections

UKIP is course for an emphatic victory in the European elections in the UK – with leader Nigel Farage promising to use it as a springboard for next year’s general election.

Labour’s vote is up significantly on 2009 but it is vying with the Tories for second place.

The Lib Dems have come fifth behind the Green Party in most areas and have lost all but one of their seats.

Only Scotland, London and Northern Ireland have yet to declare.

One outcome, via the Guardian:

Triumphant Ukip draws up hitlist of 20 key seats to storm Commons

Nigel Farage to head ‘ruthless’ drive on Westminster, as Nick Clegg faces Lib Dem revolt over poor poll showing

Nigel Farage’s Ukip is to target at least 20 parliamentary seats at the next general election, using his party’s success in Thursday’s council elections as the launch pad for an all-out assault on the House of Commons, party officials have revealed.

In a move that will further unnerve the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – all of which have suffered from the Ukip surge – senior party officials said the next move would be to identify specific, mainly marginal, seats, where it now has a strong base of councillors. It is imitating the tactics that established the Liberal Democrats as a strong parliamentary force in the 1990s.

The extent of Farage’s ambitions came to light as Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg faced a serious backlash from party malcontents, including at least two parliamentary candidates and several prominent councillors, as activists gathered names on a petition demanding he be replaced immediately by a new leader.

On to Ireland, and more meaningful results from the Guardian:

Sinn Féin tastes electoral success north and south of the Irish border

Gerry Adams’s plan to govern on both sides of border by 100th anniversary of Easter Rising in 2016 moves a step closer

Sinn Féin has secured the single biggest number of first preference votes in Northern Ireland’s local government elections, while across the border in the Republic it won 25% of the vote and its highest number of councillors.

The electoral success brings a step closer Gerry Adams’ strategic plan to be in government on both sides of the Irish border by 2016 – the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It also suggests that his recent arrest in connection with the IRA’s kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville did not seriously damage Sinn Féin’s election campaign. But the overall unionist vote in Northern Ireland also held up, with the Democratic Unionist party winning 130 seats compared with Sinn Féin, which returns to the new council chambers with 105 seats.

Scandinavia next, first with Bloomberg:

Voters Punish Reinfeldt as Protest Groups Gain in Nordic EU Vote

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt emerged as Sweden’s biggest loser in European parliament elections as voters across the Nordic region punished those in power.

Reinfeldt’s Conservatives fell 5.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, becoming only the third biggest party in Sweden, according to a preliminary count from the Election Authority. The Greens jumped to 15.3 percent, while the Social Democrats won 24.4 percent, grabbing the most seats.

“This strengthens the stamp of defeat that has surrounded the government for a while now,” said Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at Gothenburg University. “At the same time, from the Social Democrats’ perspective, one can note that they didn’t even manage to reach their utterly modest target of 25 percent.”

On to Copenhagen with EUbusiness:

Anti-immigrant Danish party wins EU vote: exit poll

The anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party won the election in Denmark for the European Parliament with 23 percent of the votes, according to an exit poll Sunday.

The poll, which was carried out by the firm Epinion on behalf of national broadcaster DR, put the party ahead of the Social Democrats who scored 20.2 percent.

“My mother’s heart swells, because I’m simply so proud if that’s the result,” the party’s charismatic cofounder and former leader Pia Kjaersgaard told DR in reaction to the poll. If proved correct, this result would give the party three of Denmark’s 13 seats in the European Parliament.

Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:

Eurosceptics and SPD celebrate EU vote gains

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc will remain Germany’s biggest party in the EU Parliament, according to exit polls, but lost ground to their rivals. It was a particularly good night for the centre-left and eurosceptic parties.

Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were one of the main losers of the night, with their vote sinking by eight percent on the last EU elections in 2009.

It meant that Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc recorded their worst ever result in an EU election with 35.8 percent – down from 37.9 percent in 2009.

On to Belgium with the Associated Press:

Belgium faces tough coalition talks after vote

Initial results of Belgian national elections show big gains for the regionalist N-VA party in northern Flanders while the PS socialists were the biggest vote getters in southern Wallonia, raising the possibility of complicated coalition talks to form a government

With nearly half the votes counted, the Dutch-speaking N-VA party of Bart De Wever surged to 34 percent of Flemish votes in parliament, a rise of 6 percentage points.

The PS of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has 29 percent in Francophone Wallonia. That’s a drop of 7 percentage points but still enough to remain biggest vote getter in Di Rupo’s region.

France next, first with Reuters:

French far right poised for win as Europe votes on ‘Super Sunday’

The far right anti-EU National Front was forecast to win a European Parliament election in France on Sunday, topping a nationwide ballot for the first time in a stunning advance for opponents of European integration.

Critics of the European Union, riding a wave of anger over austerity and mass unemployment, gained ground elsewhere but in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state, the pro-European center ground held firm, according to exit polls.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s nationalist movement which blames Brussels for everything from immigration to job losses, was set to take about 25 percent of the vote, comfortably ahead of the conservative opposition UMP on about 21 percent.

President Francois Hollande’s Socialists suffered their second electoral humiliation in two months after losing dozens of town halls, trailing far behind in third place with about 14.5 percent, according to projections based on partial results.

More from Bloomberg:

French National Front Victory Needs EU Response, PM Valls Says

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the European Union needs to respond to the “earthquake’ of the National Front’s first-ever victory in nationwide voting in European parliamentary elections.

The anti-euro, anti-immigration party headed by Marine Le Pen won at least 25 percent of the vote, according to estimates by TNS Sofres, Ipsos, and Ifop. Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP Party placed second with about 20 percent, with the ruling Socialist Party coming in a distant third, with between 14 percent and 15 percent, the polls showed.

‘’Europe has disappointed,” Valls said in a televised address late yesterday from Paris. “Europe needs to give hope again. We need a Europe that is stronger, with more solidarity, more fairness.”

Next up, on to Geneva and a non-electoral story from Bloomberg:

Credit Suisse Offers Map to 13 Swiss Banks in U.S. Tax Probes

Thirteen Swiss banks face rising stakes in criminal tax-evasion probes after Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) set a new standard for punishment in the U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion.

Julius Baer Group Ltd., Zuercher Kantonalbank and the Swiss unit of HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) are among those seeking to avoid pleading guilty to helping Americans cheat the Internal Revenue Service — an unprecedented step taken by Credit Suisse on May 19. Their degree of wrongdoing and cooperation with investigators will help decide their fate, said the top U.S. tax prosecutor.

“We will look at the facts and circumstances of each investigation to determine an appropriate penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathryn Keneally said in an interview. “It should be very clear from the Credit Suisse investigation that cooperation, or the lack thereof, is an important factor.”

Then on to Vilnius with BBC News:

Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite wins re-election after run-off

With nearly all votes counted she had won 58% with her Social Democrat rival Zigmantas Balcytis trailing on 42%.

The election was fought amid rising concerns in the region after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Ms Grybauskaite thanked her supporters for granting her a second term. “No president has been elected twice in a row in Lithuania. It will be a historic victory for all of you,” she said.

Budapest next with EUbusiness:

Hungary’s right-wing dominates EU polls

Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party swept to victory in European Parliament elections on Sunday, ahead of the far-right Jobbik party who overtook the Socialists to come second.

Just two months after a convincing victory in national elections, the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbantook an even more commanding win in the EU poll with 51.5 percent of the vote.

But turnout was poor at 29 percent — the second-lowest ever for European polls in the country. Orban’s party will send 12 MEPs to the Strasbourg parliament, taking up over half of Hungary’s 21 seats.

And on to Slovakia with EUobserver:

Slovakia’s EP election turnout set for all-time low of 13%

Slovakia is set to rewrite the record books of EU elections again, with unofficial turnout figures suggesting that just some 13 percent of people cared to vote.

If confirmed, this would surpass both the pessimistic pre-election estimate of 16-21 percent turnout and past results – 19.6 percent in 2009 and 16.9 percent in 2004. The latter was the lowest ever score in the union’s history.

Slovakia’s EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, campaigning for the ruling social democrats (Smer-SD), said politicians need to seriously think about how to tackle the so-called Slovak paradox. People are generally supportive of EU membership and integration, but show an unprecedented lack of interest in the EP vote.

A non-slectoral headline from the Balkans via The Wire:

Historic Floods in the Balkans Give Way to Mudslides, Disease, and Landmines

Over the course of several days earlier this week, three-months-worth of rain hit the Balkan region. On Monday, the Bosnian government reported that one million residents — a quarter of the country’s population — were cut off from clean water, and 100,000 buildings destroyed.

Both Bosnia and Serbia have declared a state of emergency, as have a number of Croatian villages. Serbia’s prime minister said the damage would cost the country hundreds of millions of euros.

Thousands of landslides were triggered by the flooding and the tens of thousands who have been evacuated from the affected regions will likely be forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Next up Spain, and another shakeup from TheLocal.es:

Spain’s major parties lose out in Euro elections

Spain’s two main political parties, the ruling conservative Popular Party in power since 2011 and the Socialist Party, lost major ground in European Parliament elections on Sunday, official results showed.

The Popular Party elected 16 of Spain’s 54 lawmakers, down from 24 in the outgoing assembly while the Socialist Party took 14 seats, down from 23 with smaller parties, mainly on the left, making gains.

Polls had predicted a far more modest decline for the two main parties.

The result was seen as a sign of growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties in Spain as well as of fatigue with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures and economic reforms.

A critical regional result via EUbusiness:

Separatist party wins EU vote in Spain’s Catalonia

A long-standing separatist party, the Republican Left, won the European Parliament elections in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia on Sunday, official results showed.

The party captured 23.67 percent of the vote, beating the conservative Convergence and Union party, the biggest formation in Catalonia’s local parliament, which came in second with 21.86 percent of the vote.

Both parties want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9, flying in the face of fierce opposition from the central government in Madrid.

Italy next and a rare win for the incumbents from ANSA:

Renzi’s PD projected to land big win

Premier Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is set to be Italy’s top party in Sunday’s European elections by a big margin, according to early projections. A projection by SWG marketing for Sky gave the PD 36.8-38.8% of the vote, compared to 23.3-25.3% for comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment, Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) and 15.6-17.6% for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI).

Another projection by IPR marketing for State broadcaster Rai gave the PD a whopping 40.2% of the vote, compared to 23.1% for the M5S and 16% for FI. The PD said that, if the outcome is confirmed, it is an endorsement of the ambitious programme of institutional and economic reforms Renzi has embarked on since unseating his party colleague Enrico Letta in February to become Italy’s youngest premier at 39.

These include a drive to change the Constitution and transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with limited lawmaking powers as part of an overhaul of the country’s slow, costly political machinery.

And from TheLocal.it, more bad news for a former incumbent:

Lebanon agrees to extradite Berlusconi ally

Lebanon is to extradite to Italy an ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wanted by Rome over mafia links, an official and his lawyer told AFP on Saturday.

“Lebanon has agreed to an Italian request to extradite (former) senator Marcello Dell’Utri,” who was arrested in Beirut in mid-April on an Interpol warrant, said lawyer Nasser al-Khalil. Khalil said he will appeal the extradition order.

An official source confirmed the decision and said outgoing President Michel Sleiman signed the extradition agreement with Italy just hours before his mandate ends at midnight Saturday.

After the jump, a Greek upset and furious reaction, the expected Ukrainian result, electoral and economic news from Latin America, Indonesian poverty’s impact on education, the Thai coup continues to unfold, the ongoing Chinese slowdown, major Abenomics questions for Japan, the latest environmental woes, plus added Fukushimapocalypse Now!

For our first Greek item, the upset finally happened, via Bloomberg:

Greece’s Syriza Wins EU Elections in Warning to Samaras

Greece’s main opposition Syriza party placed first in elections to the European Parliament without winning by a big enough margin to destabilize Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government, projections showed.

“In the short run there is no problem of government stability,” Dimitris Sotiropoulos, associate professor of political science at the University of Athens, said in a phone interview. “While both governing parties have lost several percentage points each, their combined popular support is above the popular support of the main opposition.”

Syriza, short in Greek for Coalition of the Radical Left, got 26.5 percent of the vote yesterday, compared with 23.3 percent for Samaras’s New Democracy, according to an initial projection based on a count of 33.4 percent of ballots posted on the Interior Ministry website. Samaras’s junior coalition partner, Pasok, running as the Elia alliance, took 8.1 percent of the vote, the projection showed.

EnetEnglish.gr declares victory:

Tsipras claims ‘historic’ victory for left, Golden Dawn soars

Syriza wins clear victory, with a lead over 3% on New Democracy in European elections

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras rejects Alexis Tsipras call for early elections, while the rise of Golden Dawn stirs alarm throughout the political system

Main opposition Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is demanding early elections after clinching first place in European Parliament elections that were framed as a referendum on government policy.

But the electoral result also solidified the extreme right Golden Dawn’s nationwide political presence, making the neo-Nazi political force Greece’s third party, with nearly 10 percent of the vote.

Political parties and commentators expressed heightened alarm over the shocking rise of the far right, which will now have three members in the European parliament (MEPs).

Greek Reporter plays Cassandra:

Samaras Fears New Democracy Loss By “Accident”

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the May 25 elections for the European Parliament are not a referendum on his government but said he fears his New Democracy Conservatives could still lose accidentally.

The elections coincide with the second round run-off for Greek municipalities that decide some key races, including the mayors of Athens and Piraeus, but the focus is on whether the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) can win big enough in the Battle for Brussels to bring down the coalition that includes the PASOK Socialists.

“It would be a mistake to allow the European election [results] create instability, because instability can have unchecked consequences,” Samaras said in an interview with Ethnos newspaper.

Kathimerini English holds on:

Kaminis, Boutaris keep mayoral seats

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis appeared to have held on to his seat in local authority elections after his leftist challenger conceded defeat, although the race for Attica governor remained too close to call late on Sunday night while a number of independents beat government-backed candidates in other key seats.

SYRIZA’s candidate for Athens mayor, Gavriil Sakellaridis, congratulated Kaminis late last night after early results, based on 20 percent of ballots, put Kaminis at 51.6 percent compared to 48.3 percent.

Meanwhile SYRIZA’s candidate for Attica governor, Rena Dourou, and government-backed incumbent Yiannis Sgouros were neck and neck late on Sunday with the latter on 50.2 percent and the former on 49.7 percent.

To Vima cites a demand:

Golden Dawn demands the release of its detained Mps

Detained neo-Nazi party leader claims his party scored a major victory over New Democracy and SYRIZA

The detained general secretary of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn Nikos Michaloliakos has claimed to be the “huge victor” in the Sunday elections and argued that his party is the third political power in Greece.

According to Michaloliakos, the overall message of the European elections is for Golden Dawn’s detained MPs to be released. The detained MPs face felony charges of joining and directing a criminal organization.

Michaloliakos added that “aside from its anti-people politics, Samaras’ New Democracy has paid for the lies and despicable conspiracy against us” and argued that SYRIZA “failed to express the rage of the Greek people”.

Greek Reporter goes to collection:

Worrying Increase in Overdue Debts to the Greek State

The number of overdue debts to the Greek state has grown during the first quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, new debts appear at a faster rate than the old ones that are being repaid.

According to a Ministry of Finance notice, in 2013 12.3% of overdue debts were paid, whereas only 9.3% were paid in the first quarter of 2014. A 63% rise in fines for administrative violations has been added to the already expired debt increase, while it appears that new overdue debts accumulate faster than old ones are paid.

According to the Finance Ministry, 91% of overdue debts that have been recorded during the last semester come from income taxes, property taxes, VAT fines and loans. Moreover, a shocking 450% increase of overdue debts in car taxes was recorded, while, at the same time, collection of property tax on the self-employed has not been successful, since it was estimated that only 7.9% of these debt repayments were collected.

On to the Ukraine, and strike up a chorus of Candyman with Reuters:

‘Chocolate King’ Poroshenko declares victory in Ukraine presidential poll

Billionaire Petro Poroshenko claimed Ukraine’s presidency on Sunday after exit polls gave him an absolute majority in a first round of voting and, vowing to end a conflict with pro-Russian rebels, he pledged to align his country with Europe.

Exit polls gave Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate with long experience in government, more than 55 percent of the vote, well ahead of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place with just over 12 percent. If confirmed by results on Monday, there will be no need for a runoff vote on June 15.

Ukrainians, weary of six months of political turmoil, hope their new president will be able to pull their country of 45 million people back from the brink of bankruptcy, dismemberment and civil war that prevented voting in parts of the Russian-speaking east of the country.

More from EUobserver:

Ukraine’s new leader vows to reunite country, build EU ties

Ukraine’s new leader has said reuniting the country and building closer EU ties are his two main tasks, after stomping to victory with more than 55 percent.

Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year old businessman, told a packed press briefing at the Mystetskyi Arsenal, an arts complex in Kiev, on Sunday (25 May) evening: “Exit polls held by the most trustworthy institutions say the elections ended in the first round and the country has a new President.”

“The elections, which were clearly free, clearly fair, clearly demonstrate that Ukrainians are ready to build a new future.”

“The invasion of Crimea destroyed the post-Cold-War security system. This is not a bilateral topic,” he said. “I’m sure that we can talk to Russia, with the help of the US.”

Latin America and a slowdown from the Argentina Independent:

Argentina faces first slump since 2001

The economy had grown steadily since recovering from a 2001-2003 debt crisis and it expanded three percent last year but it stumbled in the fourth quarter and could slid into a recession at the start of this year. That is now expected to drag on for most or all of 2014.

Industrial activity dropped 4.2 percent in April compared to the same month last year, according to the government’s INDEC statistics bureau.The decline was largely due to a 20 percent drop in the vehicle sector as more than 15,000 workers have been suspended due to lower sales on the domestic market and fewer exports to Brazil, the main buyer of Argentina’s production.

A devaluation of the peso currency and a hike in interest rates in January worsened a new weakness in consumer spending, a pillar of the economy that had helped it withstand external shocks like the 2009 financial crisis.The measures have hit spending and prompted economists to revise downward their forecasts for 2014.

The Christian Science Monitor covers another election:

Colombia’s presidential election gets nasty – and detracts from big choices ahead

For the first time, a peace deal to end Colombia’s 50-year conflict appears within reach. But instead of debating the challenges that lie ahead, the campaign is all about ‘vicious’ political attacks.

For the first time in Colombia’s tumultuous history, a peace deal to end 50 years of conflict appears within reach. But instead of debating difficult political challenges that lie ahead – such as how to incorporate former rebel fighters into civilian life – the campaign has devolved into personal attacks and allegations of criminal activity between top candidates President Juan Manuel Santos and Oscar Iván Zuluaga.

When the presidential race kicked off, President Santos had a comfortable lead. But as his main rival, Mr. Zuluaga of the rightwing Centro Democrático party, closed in, campaign tactics became increasingly more aggressive.

Santos’s political strategist was accused of accepting millions of dollars from drug lords in a scheme to help them avoid extradition to the US, and Santos himself faces allegations he used some of that money to fund his 2010 presidential campaign. Zuluaga, meanwhile, was accused of working with someone who illegally tapped into military data and emails related to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace negotiations, feeding the information back to Zuluaga’s campaign.

An update from the Guardian:

Colombia presidential vote is neck and neck

Tightest election for two decades pits rightwinger Oscar Iván Zuluaga against President Juan Manuel Santos with focus on how to end Farc insurgency

The vote has largely become a plebiscite on President Juan Manuel Santos’ strategy of negotiating the disarmament of the (Farc) Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end the bloodshed that has killed around 200,000.

Rightwinger Oscar Iván Zuluaga dismissed the talks as pandering to terrorists and suggested he would scrap them in favour of US-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.

Santos and Zuluaga are polling neck-and-neck following a race marred by accusations of electronic espionage and drug-linked campaign funding. Neither is predicted to win enough votes to avoid a run-off on 15 June.

From the Argentina Independent, a rare giveback:

Paraguay: Congress Approves Return of Land to Indigenous Community

The Chamber of Deputies in Paraguay has approved the return of around 14,400 hectares of ancestral land to the Sawhoyamaxa indigenous community.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate last month and will allow the State to expropriate the private land, must be signed by President Horacio Cartes to come into force.

The Sawhoyamaxa community, of the Exnet ethnicity, was expelled from the land, around 270km northwest of the capital Asunción in the Gran Chaco region, over 20 years ago. In 1991, the community began legal proceedings to reclaim their territory while living in basic settlements on the side of a highway.

The land is currently owned by German rancher Heribert Roedel, who has resisted efforts to negotiate a settlement.

On to Asia and the poverty trap from the Jakarta Globe:

Govt Neglect Means Poor Must Self-Educate in Indonesia

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment rankings, which looked at student aptitude in 65 countries, placed Indonesia 64th, ahead of only Peru.

In the UK-based Pearson rankings, which looked at 40 countries in 2013, Indonesia came in dead last.

The Indonesian government spent Rp 331.8 trillion ($34.9 billion) on education in its 2013 state budget, an increase of 6.7 percent from the Rp 310.8 trillion allocated in 2012, making the sector the top recipient of state budgetary money for 2013. But the resources are yet to have any significant impact on communities as far-flung as Loohali.

And now it’s Thailand, as the coup unfolds, first with Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Junta ultimatum for defiant Thai anti-coup protesters

Thailand’s ruling junta warned protesters it would not tolerate any further rallies against its coup after tense standoffs on Sunday between soldiers and angry crowds in the capital Bangkok.

Dozens of demonstrators faced off against lines of armed soldiers before and after more than one thousand protesters marched through the city, the largest show of dissent since the army seized power on Thursday following months of political turmoil.

The army said demonstrators would be held for one or two days, but could be jailed for up to two years if they kept taking to the streets. “We will give them a last chance today, but if they continue to rally we will use measures to deal with them,” Lieutenant General Apirat Kongsompong told a press conference.

Xinhua gives its blessings:

Thai coup leader to receive royal command

Thai coup leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha is expected to receive a royal command which will appoint him the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Monday, local media reported Sunday.

The ceremony is scheduled to be held at 10:49 a.m. local time on Monday at the army headquarters Ratchadamnoen Avenue, reported Bangkok Post.

Prayuth will deliver a speech via television over the issues including the proclamation of an interim constitution and the setting up of the national legislative council.

Nikkei Asian Review readies a figurehead:

Thai junta preparing to appoint interim civilian premier

The National Council for Peace and Order, the military junta that recently took control of Thailand, solidified plans Sunday to install a civilian interim prime minister, paving the way to return power to the people in a bid to fend off criticism.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej will appoint Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha by royal command to lead the council Monday, according to Thai military sources. Prayuth will then appear on TV to announce the junta’s next steps, including promulgating an interim constitution.

The general, who holds the powers of prime minister, will work on appointing an interim premier to take his place. Former Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula and Bank of Thailand Gov. Prasarn Trairatvorakul have apparently been mentioned as candidates. Retired military personnel may be added to the list if the selection process bogs down.

China next, and another sign of slowdown from Global Times:

Regulator cuts profit growth target for SOEs by half to 5%

China’s State assets regulator has cut the annual profit growth target for State-owned enterprises (SOEs) by half this year, media reported Sunday, a sign underlining the pressure from a slowing economy on what are usually the most profitable enterprises in China.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) has slashed the annual profit growth target of SOEs administered by the central government to 5 percent year-on-year in 2014 from 10 percent in 2013, the Economic Observer reported Sunday, citing an unidentified source from SASAC.

The source also said the 5 percent target is the bottom line and SASAC hopes the central  SOEs could strive to achieve a 6 percent growth in profit in 2014, according to the report.

Parsing words, also with the Global Times:

China’s housing market going through natural adjustment

The slowdown of China’s housing market has prompted prophets to predict doom in the industry and even for the country’s macro-economy. But analysts argue the market is going through natural and necessary adjustment, which is good for the economy.

The pessimistic market outlook keeps spreading as news stories about failures and bankruptcies of several real estate companies emerge.

Statistics provide proof that the overheated market is cooling. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, only 44 among the 70 major cities tracked by the government saw housing price rises in May, the lowest since January 2013.

In the first quarter of the year, leading real estate companies saw a month-on-month decline in land purchase volume.

Want China Times cashes out:

Overseas realty investments by Chinese firms will double in 2014

Growing numbers of Chinese realty firms are foraying into overseas markets but experts warn they will encounter multiple challenges, in the fields of politics, exchange rates, and talent, for their initiatives.

Many of the overseas ventures are worth billions of yuan. Total overseas investments by Chinese realty firms have already approached 100 billion yuan (US$16 billion) in the first three months this year, higher than the 2013 total, with the outbound bandwagon accommodating not only realty giants, such as Vanke, Wanda, Greenland, and Country Garden, but also many small and medium-scale enterprises. They have set their eyes on the UK, Australia, and the US in particular.

International realty consulting firms, such as Colliers and Jones Lang LaSalle, predict that China’s overseas realty investments will double the 2013 level in 2014, although most of the projects are still at their preliminary stages.

Shanghai Daily seizes an opportunity:

Windows 8′s barrier opens door to domestic OS

WITH Windows 8 now banned from being installed on Chinese government computers, domestic operating system (OS) developers are itching for a niche in the world’s biggest PC market.

The country’s relatively large OS developers, including China Standard Software Co and NFS China among others, have fresh opportunities, but their products face long and tough tests.

Windows 8 was banned from all desktops, laptops and tablet PCs purchased by central state organs last week. The announcement made by the Central Government Procurement Center did not make clear whether other Windows products were prohibited as well.

Japan next, and a fundamental question from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Does Abe have right tools to penetrate bedrock rules?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces the crucial test over whether he can drill through so-called bedrock regulations.

The government plans to incorporate deregulation measures in such fields as agriculture, medical treatment and employment in its new growth strategy to be released in June.

With the new strategy, Abe hopes to tackle the bedrock regulations—which have long been upheld by various organizations to protect their vested interests—and advance Abenomics to boost the nation’s economy.

Next, Fukushimapocalypse Now!

The Asahi Shimbun turns a blind eye:

Abe administration ignored massive public opposition to nuclear power

More than 90 percent of respondents during a public comment period on the Abe administration’s basic energy policy were opposed to nuclear power generation, according to an Asahi Shimbun estimate released on May 25.

The Asahi Shimbun made the determination by tallying how many of 2,109 of about 19,000 comments sent to the government from December to January were in opposition.

Failing to take into account that overwhelming public sentiment, the Cabinet approved in April the basic energy policy, which described nuclear power generation as an “important base load electricity source.” The base load electricity source means that nuclear power will continue to be relied on to meet a percentage of the electricity demand, regardless of the season or time of day.

The Asahi Shimbun again, keeping mum:

Government shows no intention of disclosing Fukushima disaster interviews

Successive Cabinets have refused to release details of firsthand accounts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, despite an understanding by a government investigation committee that the information from 772 interviewees could be made public.

The media and other third parties have been denied access to the testimonies about Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident. The government is still showing reluctance even after The Asahi Shimbun started reporting excerpts from interviews involving Masao Yoshida, who was the manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant when it was hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

When pressed on the issue, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said May 23 the government could only release the records if it receives permission from the interviewees.

Next up, other environmental news, starting with the Big Melt from the Canadian Press:

Athabasca Glacier could disappear within generation, says manager

Athabasca Glacier largest of 6 ice sheets forming part of Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park

What’s believed to be the most-visited glacier in North America is losing more than five metres of ice every year and is in danger of completely disappearing within a generation, says a Parks Canada manager.

The Athabasca Glacier is the largest of six ice sheets that form part of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. It is a popular destination for tourists from around the world who climb aboard huge snow coaches to get an up-close look.

While it receives about seven metres of snowfall annually, the glacier has been slowly shrinking for about 150 years.

And for our final headline, the Big Burn from the Guardian:

Alaska battles huge wildfire while Arizona struggles to contain blaze

Conflagration covers more than 193 square miles

Smoke from controlled burning over Sedona and Flagstaff

A wildfire in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula has grown to cover more than 193 square miles, but was only 20% contained as of Sunday morning, fire officials said.

The Funny River Fire threatens about 150 cabins, vacation homes and year-round residences in three communities. Authorities have told people in those areas to be ready to leave but had not issued an evacuation order.

In Arizona, a wildfire burning in rugged terrain in a northern canyon grew significantly because of fires intentionally set by crews to rob the blaze of its natural forest fuels, officials said Saturday.

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