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Business

As insurers face hefty pandemic losses, newcomers see chance to step in

LONDON (Reuters) – Commercial insurers are facing hefty claims from the coronavirus crisis but are also seeing a steep rise in premiums – tempting companies and industry veterans to raise capital, launch new businesses or expand into new lines.

New insurance ventures sprang up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The industry is hoping to replicate that process as premiums increase because of the fallout from pandemic.

Convex, a Bermuda and London-based insurer, for example, is launching cover for one of the areas worst hit by the current crisis – event cancellation.

A lot of firms are reducing the amounts of business they do in certain types of insurance, creating space for new entrants, said Convex deputy chief executive Paul Brand.

John Cavanagh, former head of broker Willis Re and a founder of insurance venture capital firm Beat Capital, is seeking to raise funds in the “low hundreds of millions of pounds” from long-term investors for new insurance projects.

“We think the market is presenting sufficient opportunity for us to go out and raise capital – we might have a good five-year run,” he said.

Cavanagh, who has worked in the industry for 45 years, said 2020 was only the fifth “hard market” he had seen, referring to a market in which premiums are rising sharply, rather than staying steady or falling.

Investors’ appetite for higher returns when central banks are putting in trillions of dollars in stimulus is attracting them to insurance.

Broker Hyperion estimates around $16 billion in capital has already been raised by insurers this year, compared with $9 billion over the same period last year.

While some of it is defensive, designed to replace lost capital as a result of claims, insurers are also banking on rising prices to recoup some coronavirus-related losses.

U.S. property reinsurance rates rose by as much as 30% at during renewals in June and July, Willis Re said.

Lloyd’s of London insurers Beazley BEZG.L, Hiscox (HSX.L) and Lancashire (LRE.L) are among those to raise equity.

Industry veterans Ed Noonan and Jeff Consolino were drafted in to run insurer StarStone U.S. in a restructuring by parent Enstar (ESGR.O) which includes $610 million in investment from SkyKnight Capital, Dragoneer and Aquiline.

Other veterans are working with private equity firms to raise capital for new insurance ventures, finance industry sources said. One banker estimated the amount to be raised by insurance companies old and new at $20-25 billion.

Insurance rates have often have started to rise before a big crisis, which has then accelerated the trend, industry sources said.

For an interactive graphic on index of property catastrophe reinsurances rates (Copy) Index of property catastrophe reinsurances rates , click here

In 2020, steep losses in 2017 and 2018 due to hurricanes and rising litigation awards in recent years had boosted property and casualty insurance rates even before the pandemic struck.

Tatsuhiko Hoshina, the founder and former CEO of Tokio Millennium Re, which launched in 2000, said 2020 was “probably the greatest opportunity” for investors in insurance since the period after the 9/11 attacks.

Insurers who specialize in taking over policies closed to new customers and managing them more efficiently also see opportunities.

Tom Booth, chief executive of legacy insurer Darag, highlighted event cancellation, directors’ and officers’ insurance and business interruption as among the hard-hit sectors which insurers might look to offload.

Insurance hubs Bermuda and London are tipped to attract most of the new businesses. But Brian Schneider, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said new insurers could struggle to get their licenses fast enough to compete with the old hands.

The fact that the pandemic is still unfolding also makes it difficult to judge the losses, with some investors likely awaiting “greater clarity”, said Michael Butt, chairman of Axis Capital.

The influx of new businesses could also soften the hard market, making it challenging for newcomers to survive.

Out of eight insurers launched in 1993 after Hurricane Andrew, six have since been bought by bigger companies.

“These companies need to be fleet-footed. Risk is protean, it changes all the time,” said Michael Millette, managing partner of insurance asset manager Hudson Structured Capital Management.

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World News

Merkel's Christian Democrats aim to fill half key party posts with women by 2025

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s dominant political party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, plans steps to achieve equal representation of women within its regional and national governing bodies by 2025, two party sources said on Wednesday.

Although currently chaired by a woman, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and although it gave Germany its first female Chancellor in Merkel, women make up only a quarter of its members – something the party leadership wants to change.

According to the plan, thrashed out by leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in overnight talks, women must make up 40% of all governing bodies, from the regional level upwards, from 2023 onwards, rising to 50% by 2025.

Other parties, in particular the Greens, running a distant second to the CDU in most national polls, have long had policies in place to ensure women are prominent in the party, including having a woman and a man as co-leaders of the party.

The CDU will apply a similar rule in composing its slates for elections to the state, national and European parliaments. Local party organisations will also have to report to the centre on their progress in increasing their share of women members.

The plan must still be adopted formally, most probably at the party’s congress in December, the party sources said.

Currently, only a fifth of the CDU’s national parliamentarians are women, compared to a third of the Bundestag’s overall membership. Germany’s share of women legislators is low by Scandinavian standards.

There will be a get-out clause, however: party bodies will not need to fulfill the quota if not enough women apply.

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Business

Asian shares waver with coronavirus, focus turns to corporate earnings

SYDNEY/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian stocks dithered on Wednesday as an increase in coronavirus cases in some parts of the world undermined prospects for a quick economic recovery while oil prices eased on oversupply fears.

European futures weakened with those for Eurostoxx 50 and Germany’s DAX down 0.7% each. London’s FTSE futures slipped 0.85%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched up but was still lower than a 4-1/2-month high reached just on Tuesday.

Chinese shares flickered between green and red through most of the day and were last up 0.9%.

Australian shares ended 1.5% lower on renewed fears about the coronavirus pandemic after a rise in cases in the country’s second biggest city.

New Zealand finished 0.3% lower while South Korea was off 0.2%. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.8%.

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 declined 0.25%.

Overnight, U.S. stocks fell, halting a five-day winning streak by the benchmark S&P 500 index, its longest this year and driven by better-than-expected economic data.

Following the recent rally, the declines looked like a consolidation, with the markets largely in “wait and see mode” ahead of the upcoming earnings session, said NAB economist Tapas Strickland.

Second-quarter earnings season will begin in earnest from next week.

“It will be important to watch the number of U.S. deaths in coming weeks and whether greater questions will be asked about the extent of necessary restrictions,” Strickland said.

California reported more than 10,000 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a record rise for a single day that also surpassed the number of contact tracers recently trained by the state to detect and prevent potential outbreaks.

Coronavirus cases were also on the rise in the Australian state of Victoria, which led to lockdown measures being reimposed in Melbourne, the country’s second-biggest city.

“The second wave of infection will see Victorian economic activity fall sharply and it will continue to lag the rest of Australia,” said NAB economist Kaixin Owyong.

Victoria makes up around a quarter of Australian economic activity, she said.

Citi analysts predicted global equities would hang around current levels in twelve months’ time.

“We expect bullish and bearish forces to cancel each-other out,” they said in a note. “We would not chase markets higher from current levels, but would prefer to wait for the next dip.”

Citi has “overweight” positions on U.S. and Emerging Markets equities.

Most major currencies were trapped in a range.

The U.S. dollar was flat on the Japanese yen at 107.52.

The risk sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars were a shade weaker at $0.6936 and $0.6541, respectively.

The euro was barely changed at $1.1272.

In commodities, gold hovered near a recent 8-1/2 year peak as investors preferred safe-haven assets. Spot gold was last flat after two straight days of gains at 1,794.1 per ounce.

Brent crude futures fell 11 cents, or 0.28%, to $42.96 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures slipped 15 cents, or 0.15%, to $40.47 a barrel.

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Politics

Rishi Sunak unveils new measures to avoid youth unemployment disaster

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In a mini-budget at Westminster, the Chancellor is to announce a £2billion “Kickstart” scheme designed to save hundreds of thousands of youngsters from the scourge of unemployment. He is also expected to trigger an immediate stamp duty holiday for most property sales to rejuvenate the housing market as well as unleashing a “New Deal” surge in construction and green renovation projects. Ahead of today’s Commons statement, the Chancellor insisted that protecting younger workers from unemployment will be his top priority as the economy emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

He said: “Young people bear the brunt of most economic crises, but they are at particular risk this time because they work in the sectors disproportionately hit by the pandemic.

“We also know that youth unemployment has a long-term impact on jobs and wages and we don’t want to see that happen to this generation.

“So we’ve got a bold plan to protect, support and create jobs – a Plan for Jobs.”

Mr Sunak will promise a “young jobs revolution” designed to save the country from the soaring levels of youth unemployment last seen during the 1980s.

Under his £2billion Kickstart Scheme, the Government will pay employers to provide hundreds of thousands of “high quality” six-month work placements for workers aged between 18 and 24.

Youngsters claiming Universal Credit who are currently at risk of long-term unemployment will be eligible for the scheme.

The Treasury will fund 100 percent of the National Minimum Wage for workers on the scheme for 25 hours a week. Employers will be able to top up the wages further.

Mr Sunak believes the six-month placements will give youngsters the chance to learn skills and gain vital experience to improve their chances of going on to find long-term jobs.

Treasury data suggests younger workers are far more likely to have been “furloughed” during the lockdown than their older counterparts.

At the same time, the number of people aged under 25 claiming jobless benefits has increased by a quarter since the lockdown began in March.

Ministers also fear that many youngsters leaving full-time education this summer will face an extremely difficult jobs market.

Mr Sunak will also announce a £111million investment to triple the number of traineeships in the current financial year and a further £17million to triple the number of work academy placements in 2020-21.

His three-point Plan for Jobs will include measures designed to protect existing jobs, support firms through the coming months and create new jobs for the future.

Other key measures to be announced tomorrow include a £5billion package of infrastructure spending on roads, hospitals and schools to trigger a construction boom.

And a further £3billion package designed to make Britain’s economy “greener” will also be unveiled. It will include grants of up to £5,000 to make hundreds of thousands of homes more environmentally friendly.

Homeowners will be able to spend the cash on loft, wall and floor insulation, eco-friendly boilers, heat pumps, double or triple-glazed windows, low-energy lighting and energy-efficient doors.

The Green Homes Grant scheme is designed to provide extra work for plumbers, builders and other tradesmen to get the economy motoring.

Treasury officials have also been studying at a temporary six-month increase in the stamp duty threshold from the current level of £125,000 to an amount between £300,000 and £500,000 to stimulate the housing market, seen as a key driver of economic growth.

At Treasury questions in the Commons yesterday, the Chancellor insisted he was “proud” of the measures the Government has taken to support the economy through the lockdown.

He said: “I am proud of what this Government have put in place and the speed at which we have done so.

“The jobs of nine million people have been protected through our furlough scheme; 2.7 million self-employed people have had their income supported; and millions of companies have received access to loans, grants, tax deferrals.

“In sum, this represents £130 billion of support—one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages available of any country anywhere in the world.”

He added: “The Government has taken unprecedented steps to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs, support viable businesses to stay afloat and protect the incomes of the most vulnerable.

“We are now carefully and safely reopening our economy.”

The Federation of Small Businesses last night called for a “jobs first” mini-budget after a survey showed one in ten small firms are cutting jobs as the economy emerges from the lockdown.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the federation, said: “The Chancellor needs to take a jobs first approach. Bringing down employment costs and increasing opportunities will be central to recovering from this recession.

“After the financial crash, nine in ten people who left unemployment to re-join the workforce did so through a small business or self-employment, so it’s clear where support should be targeted.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to match the ambitions of Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, to rise to the youth unemployment challenge. To the extent that the ‘Kickstart’ programme is based on the Future Jobs Fund model, it should help many young people to access work.

“However, the Government is yet to rise to the scale of the unemployment crisis. The urgent priority right now is to prevent additional unnecessary unemployment in the first place by abandoning the Government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the removal of the Job Retention and Self-Employed schemes. In addition, older people who become unemployed, and those living in particularly hard-hit areas, will also need tailored support.

“The Government also urgently needs to get test, track and isolate right, as ultimately the biggest drag on our economy has been the slow public health response, which threatens additional localised lockdowns and which has reduced consumer confidence.”

Claire Walker, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The Kickstart Scheme will help firms create and support thousands of opportunities for young people, maintaining their access to the job market and driving the UK’s economic recovery.

“The Chancellor has responded to our calls to prioritise work experience and job opportunities for those entering the world of work at a particularly challenging time. The Chamber network stands ready to work with the Government on the detail of the scheme to ensure it is successfully delivered on the ground.

“This announcement must form part of a wider plan to boost business confidence and protect livelihoods as we restart, rebuild and renew the UK economy.”

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World News

Demonstrators storm Serbian parliament over coronavirus lockdown

Demonstrators demand President Aleksandar Vucic resign after he issued lockdown order due to surge in COVID-19 cases.

A group of opposition supporters stormed the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday night in a protest against a lockdown planned for the capital this weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday evening that stricter measures including the lockdown of Belgrade over the weekend would be introduced because of the rising number of coronavirus infections.

Opponents blame the increase on the government and say people should not have to pay the price for another lockdown.

After Vucic’s statement, several thousand people began gathering in front of the parliament in Belgrade’s central square.

About two hours before midnight local time, a small group of protesters pushed past a police cordon, broke through a door and entered the parliament building. But police later pushed them back.

The crowd demanded Vucic’s resignation and shouted: “Serbia has risen.”

Protesters also clashed with police in front of the state TV building. The broadcaster is accused by the opposition of being biased towards the government.

A number of police vehicles were set on fire.

Overwhelmed hospitals

Serbian police director Vladimir Rebic told state television that a number of demonstrators had been detained and police officers injured, but did not specify how many. He said smaller protests were also held in other Serbian cities.

“I appeal to the citizens … to help ease the tensions,” Rebic said. “I’m certain police will respond adequately and prevent any form of hooligan behaviour.”

A Reuters cameraman said the police threw tear gas, pushing the crowd away from the parliament building. Police reinforcements later arrived.

“People gathered spontaneously. Discontent can be felt in the air,” Radomir Lazovic of the Do Not Let Belgrade Drown opposition group told N1 television.

Serbia, a country of seven million people, has reported 16,168 coronavirus infections and 330 deaths. But the numbers are spiking and 299 cases and 13 deaths were reported on Tuesday alone.

Epidemiologists and doctors warned that hospitals were running at full capacity and that medical workers were tired.

In early March, Serbia introduced a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

But in late May, the Balkan country was among the first to open up and set elections for June 21. During the campaign, Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organised rallies at which people did not wear masks.

Top party officials, including the president’s adviser, were infected after celebrating their election victory in a small room while not wearing face masks.

Opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election, criticise Vucic for using the lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule.

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World News

U.S. envoy plays down expectations for North Korea meet, but ready to talk

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Wednesday rejected reports that he was seeking to meet North Korean officials during a visit to South Korea this week but reiterated that Washington is open to resuming talks.

The U.S. point man for North Korea, Biegun was in Seoul for meetings with South Korean officials, overshadowed by North Korea’s insistence that it has no intention of returning to denuclearisation negotiations as long as the United States clings to “hostile policies”.

Biegun met South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha briefly before holding longer meetings with Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon.

Talks covered a range of issues, including responses to the novel coronavirus and negotiations over the sharing of the costs of the U.S. military deployment in South Korea, but North Korea dominated the agenda, South Korean officials said.

Biegun’s visit had sparked speculation about a last-ditch effort to revive the North Korea talks ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, but he played down expectations for new meetings.

“Let me absolutely be clear, we did not request a visit,” Biegun said after meeting Lee. “This visit this week is to meet with our close friends and allies, the South Koreans.”

But Biegun said he was ready to resume talks at any time the North Koreans designate.

“We look forward to continuing our work for a peaceful outcome of the Korean peninsula, I believe this is very much possible,” he said, noting that U.S. President Donald Trump had given his full support.

Biegun reiterated that the United States was willing to be flexible and reach a “balanced agreement” with North Korea, should it decide to return to talks, Lee said.

Biegun is also likely to meet Suh Hoon, Moon’s new national security adviser who, as spy chief, was instrumental in facilitating summits between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a South Korean official said.

Talks with North Korea have since stalled, and its officials say they have no intention of sitting down with the United States.

Biegun said he does not focus on such statements, but instead was guided by the “vision” outlined by Trump and Kim at their meetings.

The two met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes for a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear programme. But their second summit, in 2019 in Vietnam, and subsequent working-level negotiations fell apart.

NORTH KOREA NOT ENGAGING

Trump said on Tuesday he was open to another meeting with Kim and thought it might be helpful, Voice of America reported, citing a transcript of an interview Trump gave to Gray Television, due to be aired on Sunday.

Kim has been maintaining a low profile in recent months, making far fewer public appearances than usual, according to analysts who monitor his movements.

On Wednesday, North Korean state media reported Kim had marked the anniversary of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung, by visiting his mausoleum at Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

Biegun has previously played down the likelihood of another summit between Trump and Kim, saying the coronavirus made that unlikely before the election.

North Korea’s strident rejection of new talks means Biegun’s visit is more likely to focus on coordination between the two allies, rather than seizing some opening for diplomacy, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.

“I don’t see signals from North Korea that they are looking for engagement,” he said.

U.S.-South Korean coordination was critical now, said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“The allies should get on the same page about upcoming defence drills, how their working group can support inter-Korean projects while enforcing existing sanctions, and how to jointly respond if Pyongyang escalates or tests more weapons,” she said.

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World News

China converts Hong Kong hotel into new national security office

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China opened its new national security office in Hong Kong on Wednesday, turning a hotel near a city-centre park that has been one of the most popular venues for pro-democracy protests into its new headquarters.

The office, in the bustling shopping and commercial district of Causeway Bay, near Victoria Park, will oversee the Hong Kong government’s enforcement of the sweeping national security legislation that China imposed on the city last week.

The law empowers the office to take enforcement action beyond existing city laws in the most serious cases. The legislation allows agents to take suspects across the border for trials in Communist Party-controlled courts and specifies special privileges for its agents, including that Hong Kong authorities cannot inspect their vehicles.

The newly appointed chief of the office, Zheng Yanxiong, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Luo Huining, the head of China’s Liaison Office in the city – Beijing’s top representative office – attended the opening ceremony at the former Metropark Hotel, which was popular with tourists for its harbour views.

Luo said the office was “the gatekeeper of national security” and people who loved China and Hong Kong welcomed it.

“Those with ulterior motives and who are anti-China and seek to destabilize Hong Kong have not only stigmatized the office, but also smeared the legal system and rule of law in the Chinese mainland in an attempt to stir up unnecessary worries and fears among Hong Kong residents,” Luo said.

Security was tight around the hotel, with tall barriers raised and numerous police on duty nearby.

‘LEGITIMATE RIGHTS’

The law has pushed China’s freest city onto a more authoritarian path and drawn condemnation from some Western governments, lawyers and rights groups.

It punishes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Police have arrested at least 10 people, including a 15-year-old, under it for suspected threats to China’s national security.

Critics fear it will crush coveted freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city, while supporters say it will bring stability after a year of sometimes violent protests that plunged the former British colony into its biggest crisis in decades.

Zheng said the office would enforce the law strictly “without infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of any individual or organisation”.

A Communist Party cadre prominent during a 2011 clampdown on land rights protesters in a south China village, 57-year-old Zheng most recently served as secretary general of the Communist Party committee of Guangdong province, bordering Hong Kong.

Leaked footage during the 2011 dispute showed him berating villagers and calling foreign media “rotten”.

Zheng has never held a post outside Guangdong and has extensive experience in propaganda, having worked at the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily in its southern regional bureau for four years. He was vice minister in charge of propaganda for Guangdong from 2013 to 2018.

But in a reflection of the widespread unease over the legislation, major U.S. internet companies including Facebook (FB.O), Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Zoom have announced they have suspended the processing of requests for user data from the Hong Kong authorities while they study it.

Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, which only operates outside China, said on Tuesday it would exit the Hong Kong market within days. Its departure means Hong Kong users, like those in mainland China, will be cut off.

The United States has begun removing Hong Kong’s special status in U.S. law as Washington no longer deems the global financial hub sufficiently autonomous from mainland China.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s top advisers weighed proposals to undermine the Hong Kong currency’s peg to the U.S. dollar, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter, although the idea did not appear to gain traction.

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Donald Trump shock secrets REVEALED: Niece spills on man she calls ‘world’s most dangerous

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Mr Trump’s niece has stated that she wrote her new book to help topple her uncle’s presidency. The book, titled Too Much and Never enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, is released on July 14. The President has been subject of many highly-critical books, most recently from former national security adviser John Bolton. But Ms Trump’s book is the closest to home.

Ms Trump said to news site Axios that President Trump “shredded norms, endangered alliances, and trod upon the vulnerable”.

She added: “It wasn’t enough for me to volunteer at an organisation helping Syrian refugees, I had to take Donald down.”

Due to high demand and national interest, the book’s release has been pushed forward.

Mary, a psychologist, paints a damning picture of her uncle throughout the book, using her own memories and conversations with family members

Ms Trump alleges in her book that President Trump’s father emotionally abused him.

Ms Trump said: “By limiting Donald’s access to his own feelings and rendering many of them unacceptable, Fred perverted his son’s perception of the world and damaged his ability to live in it.

“Nothing is ever enough.

“This is far beyond garden-variety narcissism; Donald is not simply weak, his ego is a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment because he knows deep down that he is nothing of what he claims to be.”

In another embarrassing chapter for the president, Mary also alleges that Donald Trump paid “a smart kid” to take his exams in high school.

She said: “Donald, who never lacked for funds, paid his buddy well.”

The book suggests President Trump’s high score helped him enrol at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business college.

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White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews has savaged Mary Trump’s claims about her uncle on Tuesday.

Matthews said: “Mary Trump and her book’s publisher may claim to be acting in the public interest, but this book is clearly in the author’s own financial self-interest.

“President Trump has been in office for over three years working on behalf of the American people – why speak out now?

“The President describes the relationship he had with his father as warm and said his father was very good to him.

“He said his father was loving and not at all hard on him as a child.

“Also, the absurd SAT allegation is completely false.

Explaining why she spoke out against her uncle, Mary said to CNN: “Donald, following the lead of my grandfather and with the complicity, silence and inaction of his siblings, destroyed my father.

“I can’t let him destroy my country.”

A source told the Daily Beast that President Trump has considered suing his niece over the book.

Mary Trump signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2001, which states she cannot publish anything about the President.

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U.S., South Korean officials discuss N.Korea strategy as Pyongyang rejects talks

SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. point man for North Korea met with South Korean officials in Seoul on Wednesday for talks, overshadowed by Pyongyang’s insistence that it has no intention of returning to denuclearisation negotiations any time soon.

Stephen Biegun, who led working-level negotiations with the North Koreans and now has broader responsibility as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, met briefly with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha before holding longer meetings with Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon.

Talks covered a range of issues, including coronavirus responses and ongoing negotiations over military cost-sharing, but North Korea dominated the agenda, Seoul officials said.

In a brief conversation, Kang told Biegun he had come at an important time for political developments and also after South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently reshuffled some of his senior North Korea policy aides.

After meeting with Cho, Biegun said the United States is fully engaged in seeking peace on the Korean peninsula, would continue to cooperate closely with South Korea, and is “looking forward” to making progress on the issue this year.

Biegun is likely to meet with Suh Hoon, Moon’s new national security advisor who, as spy chief, was instrumental in facilitating summits between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a Seoul official said.

Talks with Pyongyang have since stalled, and North Korean officials say the country has no intention to sit down with the United States.

Trump said on Tuesday he is open to another meeting with Kim and thinks it might be helpful, Voice of America reported, citing a transcript of an interview Trump gave to Atlanta, Georgia-based Gray Television, due to be aired on Sunday.

Kim has been maintaining a low profile in recent months, making far fewer public appearances than usual, according to analysts who monitor his movements.

On Wednesday, North Korean state media reported Kim had marked the anniversary of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung, by visiting his mausoleum at Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

NORTH KOREA NOT ENGAGING

Moon’s call for a new Trump-Kim summit and Biegun’s visit had sparked speculation of a last-ditch effort to try to revive North Korea talks ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

But Biegun has previously played down the likelihood of another in-person summit between Trump and Kim, saying the coronavirus pandemic made arranging such an event unlikely before the election.

Upon arrival in South Korea on Tuesday, Biegun and the entire U.S. delegation, as well as the American military air crew who piloted their aircraft, underwent tests for COVID-19 at the U.S. military base in South Korea where they landed.

After the tests came back negative, the delegation continued on to Seoul.

Besides the coronavirus challenges, North Korea’s strident rejections of new talks also means Biegun’s visit is more likely to focus on coordination between the two allies, rather than seizing some opening for diplomacy, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.

“I don’t see signals from North Korea that they are looking for engagement,” he said.

Coordination between the two long-time allies is critical now, said Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based independent non-profit organisation.

“The allies should get on the same page about upcoming defence drills, how their working group can support inter-Korean projects while enforcing existing sanctions, and how to jointly respond if Pyongyang escalates or tests more weapons,” she said.

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Five people killed during first six days of July in Denver

Five people were killed in Denver during the first six days of July, including a 19-year-old who died after being shot and a 40-year-old woman who was stabbed to death.

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner on Tuesday identified five homicide victims:

July 1 — Daniel Epperson, 29, was transported from East 29th Avenue and North Downing Street to Denver Health where he was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound.

July 2 — Booker Jackson III, 32, was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds 4:38 a.m. in the 800 block of South Knox Court.

July 4 — Ariana Wolk, 40, was found dead at 5:48 a.m. in the 1500 block of Oneida Street. She died of sharp force injuries.

July 5 — Yaun Yae Long, 21 was taken by ambulance from the 4600 block of N. Peoria Street to UCHealth where he was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound.

July 6 — Tayvion Washington, 19, was pronounced dead at Denver Health after being shot in the 2900 block of Poplar Street. He died from multiple gunshot wounds.

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