Argentina election: Macri wins crucial mid-term vote

Argentine President Mauricio Macri greets supporters at the Cambiemos headquarters, in Buenos AiresImage copyrightEPA
Image caption“Things can change,” Mr Macri told his supporters after the vote

Argentina’s centre-right governing coalition has won a sweeping victory in mid-term congressional elections.

The result will strengthen President Mauricio Macri’s position as he seeks to complete his pro-market reforms.

He told supporters that they had shown it was possible to change the history of Argentina.

Former left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner secured a seat in the Senate, giving her immunity from corruption charges.

The vote was seen as a referendum on Mr Macri, who has worked to implement economic reforms he says are crucial to restore the country’s economy.

His Cambiemos (Let’s Change) movement won in 13 of Argentina’s 23 provinces, including the five biggest population areas, official results showed. Despite the gains, he fell short of an overall majority in congress.

“We realised that many things can change, we realised that we could, we were encouraged by change, we overcame fear and resignation and reality accompanied us and is accompanying us,” said Mr Macri, who is expected to run for re-election in 2019.

More than 33 million Argentines were eligible to take part in the vote, which saw a third of seats in the Senate contested, along with half of those in the lower house of congress.

Argentina's former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gives a speech near Buenos Aires

Ms Fernández, who governed the country from 2007 to 2015, came in a distant second in the race in the province of Buenos Aires, the country’s most populous.

Despite not coming first, she secured enough votes to make it into the Senate.

She thanked voters saying her party Citizen’s Unity would remain a firm opposition to Mr Macri’s economic agenda.

The ex-president, who faces corruption charges, still enjoys support among millions of low-income Argentines who benefited from her generous social spending. But critics say her populist policies damaged the economy.

She denies any wrongdoing saying the accusations are politically motivated.

Director James Toback accused of sexual harassment


James Toback

film-maker James Toback has been accused by nearly 40 women of sexual harassment.

The Los Angeles Times said 31 of the women had spoken on the record about their experiences, which span the last 30 years.

Toback has denied the allegations and said he had never met any of the women in question or, if he did, it “was for five minutes and have no recollection”.

The writer and director was nominated for best screenplay for 1991 Bugsy.

The mobster film starred Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. He has also directed Robert Downey Jr in three films, including Black and White and The Pick-Up Artist.

His latest film, The Private Life of a Modern Woman, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month and stars Sienna Miller.

‘Biologically impossible’

The women interviewed by the LA Times have accused Toback, 72, of masturbating in front of them, rubbing himself up against them, asking inappropriate questions of a sexual nature and asking them to perform sexual acts.

One said that after an alleged encounter, she “felt like a prostitute, an utter disappointment to myself, my parents, my friends”, adding: “And I deserved not to tell anyone.”

Toback told the LA Times that for the past 22 years, it had been “biologically impossible” for him to engage in the behaviour described, saying he had diabetes and a heart condition that required medication.

FBI agent reveals life infiltrating extremist groups in America

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FBI Special Agents and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force prepare to arrest a suspect
Image captionThe FBI have ensured Tamer El-Noury’s true identity remains secret (file pic)

An active FBI undercover agent has revealed details of his work infiltrating Islamic extremist groups.

Tamer El-Noury – one of the agent’s many false identities – talked to the BBC about his covert attempts to gain the trust of those planning attacks.

He was instrumental in foiling the plot to derail the New York City to Toronto train route four years ago.

He has published a book about his work, saying he wants Americans to understand his work as a Muslim operative.

“The fact is that these jihadists – these radicals that are popping up – are lost souls,” he told the BBC in an interview. “They latch on to hatred, and an evil that seems to give them purpose.”

“I am a Muslim and I am an American, and I am appalled at what these animals are doing to my country while desecrating my religion,” he said.

‘Chance encounter’

The son of Egyptian immigrants to the US, Mr El-Noury joined the police in New Jersey, where he worked to break up drug distribution networks.

Later, he was recruited by the FBI who realised they were desperately short of Arabic speakers.

Media caption“Tamer El-Noury” spoke to the BBC’s Frank Gardner about his undercover life

One of his undercover operations involved a plan to kill as many people as possible by derailing the New York – Toronto rail route.

Tunisian migrant Chiheb Esseghaier, one of the key figures in the plot, was befriended by Mr El-Noury in a “chance encounter” arranged by the FBI.

He was eventually recruited by Esseghaier, becoming a part of the plot.

He posed as a wealthy American of Arabic origin who held a deep personal grudge – a persona, he said, he tried to keep close to the truth.

“None of my legends – none of my cover stories – have ever really drifted far from reality,” he said.

“When you’re travelling the world with an ideological extremist individual, and you’re spending days – weeks – along with them, your true colours eventually come out when you get exhausted.”

The long weeks spent with extremists, acting as confidant and close friend, “is the hardest part,” he said.

Cover of American RadicalImage copyrightPENGUIN
Image captionEl-Noury’s book has been carefully vetted by the FBI

“My job is to put my arms around a bad guy. And of course, all these atrocities that we are planning are sickening to me.”

“The only way that I can be good at my job and have it believable is I try to latch on to whatever part is human… how well he speaks to his mother, how well he financially takes care of his siblings.”

During a trip to New York Esseghaier began planning a future attack on Times Square in New York City on New Years’ Eve, to take place after the train derailment, El-Noury told the CBS Sixty Minutes programme.

During the same trip, the pair visited the site of the Twin Towers, where Esseghaier said the US “needed another 9/11”. El-Noury told CBS he “saw red” and almost blew his cover over the remark.

But none of the schemes ever came to fruition – both Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, a Canadian resident of Palestinian descent, were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison in 2015 on the back of El-Noury’s investigation.

Mr El-Noury’s story offers an extraordinary insight into the dark and dangerous world of going undercover as an agent, says the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardener.

The FBI initially insisted on listening in on the telephone interview to ensure its active agent was protected, he said.

The nature of the agent’s work is deceptive – but he said that any accusation of being a traitor was something he considered a badge of honour.

“These traitors, these radicals are the ones desecrating my religion. I am proud to be a patriot, i am proud to be an American Muslim fighting the war on terror.”

Japan PM Shinzo Abe promises to handle North Korea threat

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on as he puts a rosette on the name of a candidate who is expected to win the lower house electionImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionShinzo Abe called the snap election in September, and said the results were a “vote of confidence”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised strong “counter-measures” against North Korea, after winning a decisive victory in Sunday’s election.

Mr Abe had called an early election for a greater mandate to deal with “crises”, including the growing threat from Pyongyang, which has fired missiles over Japan in recent months.

His ruling coalition has retained a two-thirds majority in parliament.

This paves the way for Mr Abe to amend Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution.

The prime minister has previously called for the existence of the country’s armed forces to be formalised, a controversial move which he says is needed to strengthen Japan’s defence but which critics say is a step towards re-militarisation.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, Mr Abe said his coalition’s win was a “vote of confidence” from the public, and based on that “we would dramatically show counter-measures against the North Korea threat”.

He said he would discuss these measures with US President Donald Trump, who is visiting Japan next month, as well as with other world powers such as Russia and China.

He said they would exert “stronger pressure” on North Korea, adding: “I will make sure the Japanese public is safe, and safeguard our nation.”

Mr Abe saw his popularity plummet in recent months while embroiled in political scandals, but enjoyed a sudden recovery after North Korea fired two missiles over the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says Mr Abe’s pledge of tough diplomacy with North Korea is rhetoric that would play well with the Japanese public, but it is unclear what it means in concrete terms.

Tokyo has no diplomatic or economic relations with North Korea, and has poor relations with Pyongyang’s closest ally China, so the most Mr Abe can do is strengthen Japan’s defences and stick closely to the US, our correspondent adds.

A girl casts her father's ballot for a national election at a polling station in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionTurnout on Sunday was estimated at about 53.7%

Mr Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition with the Komeito party has won 313 of the 465 seats in the lower house of Japan’s parliamentary Diet – which gives them the power to table a revision to the constitution.

Mr Abe had previously announced he wanted to revise a clause which renounces war, known as Article 9, to formally recognise Japan’s military, which is known as the “self-defence forces”.

He had set a deadline of 2020 to achieve this highly contentious task. But on Monday he appeared to ditch this target, saying it was “not set in a concrete schedule”.

He said he hoped to “form a strong agreement” on the issue among parties in parliament, and “gain trust” from the Japanese public.

Even if an amendment to the constitution is passed and approved by both houses in the Diet – which Mr Abe’s coalition controls – it still needs to be put to a public vote in a referendum.

Mr Abe two years ago successfully managed to push for a re-interpretation of the constitution to allow troops to fight overseas under certain circumstances, which attracted widespread protests.

Our correspondent says Mr Abe’s victory is also in large part due to the chaos of Japan’s opposition parties.

In the lead-up to the snap election, all eyes were on the recently-formed conservative Party of Hope led by the charismatic Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, with some speculating that it would make significant gains.

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo and head of the Party of Hope, delivers a statement to the press as she reacts to Japan's snap elections pre-vote surveys on October 22, 2017 at the Scribe hotel in Paris.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionMs Koike said she took responsibility for the result

But in the end it was overtaken by the centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party which emerged as the biggest opposition party, and which opposes Mr Abe’s plan to amend Article 9.

Ms Koike, who was in Paris for a business trip during the election, told reporters she was personally taking responsibility for the result. Japanese media quoted her as saying her “words and deeds” had caused “displeasure” to voters.

Mr Abe’s election win also raises his chances of securing a third three-year-term as leader of the LDP when the party votes next September.

That would give him the opportunity to become Japan’s longest serving prime minister, having been elected in 2012.

Catalonia Spain: Officials ‘won’t follow orders from Madrid’

Catalan authorities will not follow orders from the Spanish government if Madrid moves to reassert control over the region, a senior official says.

Foreign affairs spokesman Raul Romeva told the BBC the central government was acting against the will of Catalans.

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has announced plans to sack the region’s government and curtail some of the freedoms of its parliament.

The Catalan parliament will meet on Thursday to decide on its response.

The pro-independence leaders could decide to formalise a unilateral declaration of independence, the BBC’s Bethany Bell in Barcelona reports.The Spanish Senate is expected to approve the government’s measures on Friday along with a proposal for fresh regional elections.

How did we get here?

The Catalan government, led by President Carles Puigdemont, has refused to halt an independence drive following an outlawed referendum held earlier this month.

Media captionCatalan president’s message to Europe on Sunday

On Saturday, Mr Rajoy said he was triggering Article 155 of the constitution – an unprecedented move – which allows for direct rule to be imposed in a crisis on any of the country’s autonomous regions.

But Catalan leaders say they will not accept the plan.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Romeva said: “How can the European Union live with that situation [if this happens]? How can the EU democracy survive and how can they be credible if they allow this to happen?

“Because what I can tell you is that the people and the institutions in Catalonia will not let this happen.”

He said the Spanish government needed to recognise that the people of the region had voted for independence.

The Catalan government said that of the 43% who took part in the 1 October referendum, 90% were in favour of independence.

Unionist parties who won about 40% of the vote at the 2015 Catalan elections boycotted the ballot and many anti-independence supporters stayed away, arguing it was not valid.

What happens next?

Apart from stripping Carles Puigdemont of all his powers, the central government will also seek to take control of Catalonia’s local police force and its public broadcaster, TV3, reports suggest.

A woman walks past pieces of Catalan pro-independence graffiti on some doors in BarcelonaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPro-independence posters and graffiti in Barcelona

Mr Rajoy insisted his government’s measures would not mean Catalan self-government itself was being suspended and that they were intended to remove the people who had taken the government outside the framework of the law.

The country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, told Spanish radio Onda Cero (in Spanish): “They [Catalan leaders] haven’t been put in the role by some divine power, they’ve been put in their roles by the constitution and the statute of autonomy.

  • Reality Check: Would Catalonia be a viable country?

“They’re completely not in compliance with the constitution and the statute of autonomy… They may be living in some other reality but the political and legal reality is that they will be removed.”

Once the Senate approves Article 155, Mr Puigdemont will stop receiving a salary and will not be able to carry out his functions or make any valid or obligatory decisions, she added