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‘No notes’ Davis riles anti-Brexit camp in negotiations

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Did David Davis forget his notes? Or does he just have no ideas?

Pictures from Monday’s start of negotiations in Brussels that showed Britain’s Brexit minister facing his EU counterpart without notes or paperwork prompted jibes from critics who say a divided government is woefully unprepared for the process.

British media and Twitter commentators pounced on images taken as Davis and his team sat down opposite the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier; all three EU officials had thick piles of papers in front of them, while Davis, his lead negotiator and Britain’s EU ambassador had none.

As Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May tried to silence ministers who have briefed the media on splits in her cabinet what the terms for Britain’s divorce from the EU should be, newspaper critics on the left let rip.

“David Davis has vowed to ‘get down to business’ and hit the ‘substance’ of Brexit talks as a new round kicks off today,” wrote the Daily Mirror. “But there’s just one little problem.

UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis gives a statement at the start of a first full round of talks on Britain’s divorce terms from the European Union, in Brussels, Belgium July 17, 2017.Yves Herman

“The Tory Brexit Secretary has been pictured sitting down for negotiations in Brussels… without any notes.”

Barnier, a former French cabinet minister who was flanked at the table by his German deputy Sabine Weyand and French strategy chief Stephanie Riso, has urged the British to give more detail on what they want, more than a year after they voted for Brexit.

“Perhaps they have amazing memories, or perhaps they’ve hidden the paperwork under the desk,” wrote Britain’s left-leaning Guardian. “Alternatively, this could be an indication that all those EU complaints about the UK government not knowing what it wants from the talks are not entirely unfounded.”

Oliver Robbins, the top civil servant in Davis’s ministry, did have a slim, black notebook and pen on the table. And envoy to the EU Tim Barrow placed a briefcase on the floor as he sat.

But even the pro-government Daily Mail found the image striking. “OK,” it wrote, “so who forgot the paperwork?”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Mark Heinrich

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Cambodia

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PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged the United States and European Union on Friday to freeze the assets of Cambodian leaders abroad in response to his government’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society.

Hun Sen, the strongman who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has taken a strident anti-Western line ahead of a 2018 election and has dismissed donor criticism of the dissolution of the main opposition party.

The United States and European Union have suspended funding for next year’s election and Washington has put visa curbs on some Cambodian leaders. There is no current proposal for asset freezes by either the United States or European Union, but some lawmakers have floated the idea.

“I encourage the European Union and United States to freeze the wealth of Cambodian leaders abroad,” Hun Sen told a group of athletes in Phnom Penh, the capital.

Hun Sen said he has no money abroad and any actions by the EU and the U.S. would not hurt him.

The U.S. embassy made no comment. EU Ambassador George Edgar said on Friday there had been no decision on further measures by the bloc.

The Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last month at the request of the government, on the grounds it was plotting to seize power.

Hun Sen accused Kem Sokha, the leader of the CNRP of a U.S.-backed anti-government plot. The opposition leader and the United States denied that.

China, Cambodia’s largest aid donor, has leant its support to Hun Sen, saying it respects Cambodia’s right to defend its national security.

Reporting by Prak Chan; Editing by Clarence FernandezThul

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Beijing evictions leave migrant workers in limbo as winter deepens

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Winter is bringing a frigid existence and an uncertain future for migrant workers in Beijing deprived of electricity and heating as they resist a month-long campaign to evict them from the city’s urban villages.

A deadly fire in a hamlet of ramshackle dwellings on the capital’s southern fringes last month prompted a fire safety blitz by the authorities, forcing thousands of the workers out of homes and businesses.

But not everyone has left, and a handful of holdouts are preparing for tough times as temperatures plunge below freezing.

“There’s no electricity when we’re coming home. We can’t see where we’re going,” said Feng, a migrant worker hailing from the southwestern province of Sichuan, pointing to a pile of blankets.

Feng, who was willing to reveal only his surname, had been renting a room in a shared apartment block built and run by migrants in Picun, a village in northeast Beijing, until the authorities cut off their power and ordered everyone to leave.

“I sold my house in the northeast, there is nothing to go back to,” said another worker, Wang Liping, who said she paid 200,000 yuan ($30,000) to buy part of the apartment block where migrants like Feng rent rooms for a few hundred yuan each month.

“I’d rather freeze to death than leave here,” added Wang, who is refusing to leave despite efforts to remove her.

The evictions have sparked unusually direct criticism from China’s intellectuals, students and journalists, who say the government is unfairly targeting the vulnerable underclass.

“Originally it was just a fire, but they used the fire as an excuse to force people young and old onto the streets in the middle of the coldest days of winter,” independent political commentator Zhang Lifan told Reuters.

But the city could not do without migrants, Cai Qi, the city’s Communist Party chief and a close ally of President Xi Jinping, said during a visit to the migrants this week, in a bid to allay the fears.

The capital’s need for cheap labor has attracted thousands of workers, even though they are denied official residency permits because of government curbs on internal migration.

Migrant enclaves have grown into full-fledged communities today, from clusters of shanty towns. Picun, one of the most developed, has its own literature society and houses numerous aspiring artists and musicians.

One young couple living by torchlight in their block said they were considering going to Tangshan, a steel-producing hub in their home province of Hebei, but after 10 years of living in Beijing, they would miss the lifestyle.

“To be honest, if it wasn’t for all the migrants, Beijing wouldn’t be any better than any other city,” the woman, who is surnamed Xiang, told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Martin Pollard and Joyce Zhou; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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