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Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp working again after outages

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(Reuters) – Facebook Inc said it restored services on Sunday after some users could not access its social networking site, photo-sharing network Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp.

However, Facebook did not specify the cause or scope of the outages.

“Earlier today, some people may have experienced trouble connecting to the family of apps. The issue has since been resolved; we’re sorry for any inconvenience,” a Facebook spokesman told Reuters.

The issue comes after Facebook experienced one of its longest outages in March, when some users around the globe could not access Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for more than 24 hours.

On Sunday, Downdetector.com indicated that there were more than 12,000 incidents of people reporting issues with Facebook at its peak.

The outage monitoring website also showed that, at the peak on Sunday, there were more than 3,000 incidents of people reporting issues with WhatsApp and over 7,000 with Instagram.

Downdetector.com’s live outage map showed that the issues were mainly in Europe and Asia.

Reporting by Akshay Balan and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Alexander Smith and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Seeds of discontent: Argentina’s farmers turn cool on their man Macri

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine President Mauricio Macri rode to power in 2015 promising to bolster the farming sector and cut back taxes that had stymied exports. The country’s backbone industry welcomed him with open arms after years of export controls aimed at keeping domestic prices low.

Argentine unions, small firms and activists gather outside Argentina’s Congress to demand changes in President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies, in Buenos Aires, Argentina April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

The powerful sector is now cooling on the center-right president, frustrated by revived export tariffs and sky-high borrowing rates that have bruised smaller farmers, a concern for Macri ahead of national elections later in the year.

Argentina’s farming sector, which brings in more than half of the export dollars in South America’s second-biggest economy, is a key barometer for Macri, who has sold himself as a champion of business and industry, none more so than the country’s huge soy, wheat and corn farms.

“We publicly supported the administration in the last elections (mid-terms in 2017) as we believed they were managing the policies farmers needed,” said Carlos Iannizzotto, president of the Confederación Intercooperativa Agropecuaria, one of the country’s four major farming bodies.

“Today we cannot do the same.”

Reuters spoke to the leaders at all four associations, who collectively make up the influential “Mesa de Enlace” or liaison committee. They cited Macri’s backtracking on cutting taxes on exports and the high cost of credit with interest rates above 60 percent.

The farm lobbies do not directly sway the votes of a huge proportion of voters, analysts and pollsters cautioned, but said that their weakening support was a sharp warning sign for Macri ahead of the October election, which is expected to be closely fought.

Dardo Chiesa, president of a second lobby, the Confederaciones Rurales Argentinas, said farmers had become “disappointed” with Macri’s performance on the economy, with a tumbling peso and inflation running at over 50 percent.

“The first issue in terms of voting this year is the economy, and the reality is that the government’s economic management has not satisfied the sector,” he told Reuters.

‘I WANTED CHANGE’

Everything had started so well.

After Macri’s election in 2015 he eliminated export taxes on corn and wheat and lowered those for soy; he also got rid of limits on corn and wheat exports – gaining cheers from farmers.

However, an acute financial crisis last year forced Macri to take a $56.3 billion lifeline from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in return pledging to balance the country’s deficit – including restarting taxes on exports.

In addition, to deal with inflation and protect the peso currency, the government has hiked interest rates to almost 70 percent, choking off the ability of farmers and other small businesses to obtain funds to expand and buy equipment.

Sales of combine harvesters, tractors and seeding machines plummeted last year, government data showed.

“I voted for Macri because I wanted a change, but Macri has really let us down,” Carlos Boffini, who runs a 400-hectare farm in Colón in the province of Buenos Aires, told Reuters.

“(Macri) spoke about how the export taxes were unfair. Yet here they are again. He was going to get rid of a lot of things and he did not get rid of anything.”

To be sure, not all farmers are turning away from Macri, who is still viewed by many as the most business-friendly candidate.

Daniel Pelegrina, head of Sociedad Rural Argentina, which generally represents larger farming groups, stopped short of giving his direct support for the president but said the government’s policies were roughly in the right direction.

“Argentina needs to be reintegrated and active globally, it needs to have an export-oriented economy,” he said, adding that there is, however, a need to review the high taxes.

IF NOT MACRI, THEN WHO?

Macri is facing a split field in the elections that start in October before a potential run-off if there is no clear winner.

Likely rivals include ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose populist and interventionist policies made her deeply unpopular with farmers. More moderate members of the Peronist opposition include former economy minister Roberto Lavagna and former congressman Sergio Massa.

Carlos Achetone, president of the Federación Agraria Argentina (FAA), the last of the four main agricultural bodies, said many farmers were looking beyond Macri if there was a “third alternative with substance.”

Analysts and farmers, however, said if the election ended up being between Macri and Fernandez – as many polls expect if she runs – then farmers would have little choice about how to vote.

“There is a consensus of not returning to populism. Argentina cannot return to populism,” said Chiesa, referring to Fernandez’s administration which had introduced export quotas on grains and meat to keep domestic prices low for consumers.

Farmer Boffini agreed, adding the sector’s general dislike of the former leader could well be Macri’s saving grace.

“Do you know what Macri’s advantage is? It’s that we don’t like Cristina and so if Cristina shows up and there are no other options, we will simply vote for Macri so that Cristina does not get in,” he said.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath in Buenos Aires; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Tesla investigates video of parked Model S exploding in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc said it has sent a team to investigate a video on Chinese social media which showed a parked Tesla Model S car exploding, the latest in a string of fire incidents involving Tesla’s cars.

FILE PHOTO: A Tesla logo is seen on a wheel rim during the media day for the Shanghai auto show in Shanghai, China April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The video, time stamped Sunday evening and widely shared on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, shows the parked EV emit smoke and burst into flames seconds later. A video purportedly of the aftermath showed a line of three cars completely destroyed.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the origins of the videos, which Weibo users said were taken in Shanghai.

The cause of the explosion could not be immediately ascertained from the videos.

“We immediately sent a team onsite and we’re supporting local authorities to establish the facts. From what we know now, no one was harmed,” Tesla said in a statement on Monday.

It declined comment further when contacted by Reuters.

There have been at least 14 instances of Tesla cars catching fire since 2013, with the majority occurring after a crash.

The automaker has said its EVs are about 10 times less likely to experience a fire than petrol-powered cars, based on its fleet of over 500,000 vehicles which have driven more than 10 billion miles. It did not specify whether the statistic referred to normal use or involving accidents.

REPUTATION

The latest incident comes as Tesla tries to push sales in China, where its prices were impacted by tit-for-tat tariffs imposed during Sino-U.S. trade tensions last year.

The automaker currently imports all the cars it sells in China, but is building a factory in Shanghai that will initially make its Model 3 and help reduce the impact of a trade war.

In March, Tesla was also on the receiving end of a labeling mix-up at Shanghai customs that led to a temporary suspension of clearance for a batch of Model 3 cars.

Analysts said the latest fire incident would likely increase attention on the safety of EVs but was unlikely to have a significant impact on Tesla’s sales or reputation in China while the cause was being investigated.

“Tesla had fire incidents before, but they didn’t have a big impact on its reputation in China,” said analyst Alan Kang at LMC Automotive.

“Since its consumer base is not particularly conservative, and China is pushing the electric vehicle market, if this incident is just accidental, it will not have a big impact on Tesla,” he said.

“Tesla self-ignites” was one of the most popular hashtags on Weibo on Monday, racking up over 20 million clicks. Some users urged the automaker to quickly find the cause, whereas others speculated over the impact to the value of Tesla cars currently on the road. Still more found humour in the situation.

“One lesson I learnt from the Shanghai self-exploding Tesla: Don’t park your car next to a Tesla,” said one commentator.

In a separate, unrelated incident, Tesla’s rival in China, Nio, said in a social media post that an ES8 electric sport utility vehicle caught fire on Monday in a Nio service center in the central city of Xian while under repair.

“Nio has launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire,” Nio said, adding no one was harmed due to the incident.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Yilei Sun; Editing by Christopher Cushing an Himani Sarkar

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U.S. prepares to end Iran oil waivers; Asian buyers to be hardest hit

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WASHINGTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States is expected to announce on Monday that buyers of Iranian oil need to end imports soon or face sanctions, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, triggering a 3 percent jump in crude prices to their highest for 2019 so far.

FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

Officials in Asia opposed the expected move, pointing to tight market conditions and high fuel prices that were harming industry.

The source confirmed a report by the Washington Post that the administration will terminate the sanctions waivers it granted to some importers of Iranian oil late last year.

Benchmark Brent crude oil futures rose by as much as 3.2 percent to $74.31 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 1, in early trading on Monday in reaction to expectations of tightening supply. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures climbed as much as 3 percent to $65.87 a barrel, its highest since Oct. 30.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to end the waivers to exert “maximum economic pressure” on Iran by cutting off its oil exports and reducing its main revenue source to zero.

In November, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on exports of Iranian oil after President Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers.

Washington, however, granted waivers to Iran’s eight main buyers – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece – that allowed them limited purchases for six months.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce “that, as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate,” the Post’s columnist Josh Rogin said in his report, citing two State Department officials that he did not name.

On April 17, Frank Fannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, repeated the administration’s position that “our goal is to get to zero Iranian exports as quickly as possible.”

Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said “a severe loss in (Iranian) volumes will put pressure on the supply side, given the political uncertainty currently blighting other oil exporters, such as Venezuela and Libya.”

Oil markets have tightened this year because of supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

As a result, Brent prices have risen by more than a third since January, and WTI by more than 40 percent.

Analysts said they expected the Trump administration to push OPEC and its de-facto leader Saudi Arabia to stop withholding supply to calm market fears of oil shortages.

“If there is a time for the U.S. to be able to take a hard line it is now, with the Saudis having over 2 million barrels (per day) of spare capacity,” said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo.

Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone last week, and the White House said he used the call to discuss ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.”

ASIA HIT HARDEST

An end to the exemptions would hit Asian buyers hardest. Iran’s biggest oil customers are China and India, who have both been lobbying for extensions to sanction waivers.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Monday that it opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran and that China’s bilateral cooperation with Iran was in accordance with the law.

He did not say whether China would heed the U.S. call to cut Iran oil imports to zero.

Dong Xiucheng, director of energy policy research at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, said “Chinese companies may reduce imports from Iran to show some level of compliances” but added “it is impossible for China to cut off Iranian oil completely, simply because it does not conform to China’s long-term diplomatic policy.”

In India, refiners have started a search for alternative supplies.

The government, however, declined to comment officially.

“We are engaged with the U.S. administration on this matter and once the U.S. side makes a comment on this matter, then we will come up with a comment,” said a source at India’s foreign affairs ministry who declined to be named.

“I expect India to fall in line with the sanctions,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of Indian energy consultancy Trifecta.

South Korea, a close U.S. ally, is a major buyer of Iranian condensate, an ultra-light form of crude oil that its refining industry relies on to produce petrochemicals.

Government officials there declined to comment, but Kim Jae-kyung of the Korean Energy Economics Institute said the end of the sanction waivers “will be a problem if South Korea can’t bring in cheap Iranian condensate (for) South Korean petrochemical makers.”

Japan is another close U.S. ally in Asia that is also a traditionally significant buyer of Iranian oil.

The government also declined to comment ahead of an official U.S. announcement, but Takayuki Nogami, chief economist at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), said the end of the sanction waivers “is not a good policy for Trump.”

Nogami said he expected oil prices to rise further because of the U.S. sanctions and OPEC-led supply cuts.

Prior to the re-imposition of sanctions, Iran was the fourth-largest producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at almost 3 million barrels per day (bpd), but April exports have shrunk to well below 1 million bpd, according to ship tracking and analyst data in Refinitiv.

(GRAPHIC: Iran crude oil & condensate shipping departures – tmsnrt.rs/2IBQF06)

Reporting by Susan Cornwell in WASHINGTON and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayahi in TOKYO, and Jane Chung in SEOUL, Meng Meng in SHANGHAI, Nidhi Verma in NEW DELHI, Koustav Samanta and Chen Aizhu in SINGAPORE; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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