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Israeli negotiators seek to break Netanyahu-Gantz deadlock

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Negotiators for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz met Tuesday to discuss possibilities for a unity government that both men say they should lead after last week’s deadlocked election.

The chief negotiators for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White gathered to follow up on a meeting between their two leaders and Israel’s president late on Monday.

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That encounter was their first formal meeting since the September 17 election ended with Gantz winning the most seats, but with neither having a clear path to a majority coalition.

The two men are due to meet again with President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday.

Rivlin, who must choose who will form the next government, has leaned heavily on the two parties to work out a unity coalition between them, and on Monday night urged them to find a path to do so.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they want a unity government but are at odds over who will lead it, not to mention further details on the make-up of such a coalition.

A rotation arrangement has been floated, but the question of who would be premier first remains a major stumbling block.

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The timing is especially important for Netanyahu, who is facing possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead, pending a hearing set for early October.

A prime minister does not have to step down if indicted — only if convicted with all appeals exhausted — while other ministers can be forced to do so when charged.

Gantz notes that his party is the largest and he should be in the lead.

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“The public has chosen change and we have no intention of relinquishing our lead, our principles or our natural partners in this path,” Gantz said in a statement late Monday.

– ‘What I promised’ –

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Netanyahu has highlighted the fact that he has more support from smaller parties in parliament and pledged not to abandon them in a coalition deal.

“I am committed to what I promised you,” he said after Monday night’s meeting, addressing right-wing and religious parties allied to his Likud.

The September 17 election saw Blue and White win 33 seats compared to Likud’s 31 out of parliament’s 120.

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It was the second election since April after polls that month also finished inconclusively.

The standoff has raised the possibility of yet another election — a prospect Rivlin has vowed to do all he can to prevent.

“The public does not want another election. They came out and voted, and now it is your turn,” he told Netanyahu and Gantz on Monday night.

“The responsibility for establishing a government falls on you, and the people expect you to find a solution and to prevent further elections, even if it comes at a personal and even ideological cost.”

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Gantz, an ex-military chief who mounted his challenge to the prime minister with no prior political experience, will face a formidable negotiating foe in Netanyahu.

He is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the post for a total of more than 13 years, and has repeatedly outmanoeuvred rivals with his sharp political skills.

Rivlin is expected to designate a candidate to try to form a government sometime after he receives final official election results on Wednesday.

The timing of his announcement may depend on the progress of negotiations between the Likud and Blue and White.

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The person chosen would then have 28 days to do so, with a possible two-week extension.

If all attempts fail, Rivlin can then assign the task to someone else.


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Google tightens political ads policy in effort to stop abuse

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Google on Wednesday updated how it handles political ads as online platforms remain under pressure to avoid being used to spread misleading information intended to influence voters.

The internet company said its rules already ban any advertiser, including those with political messages, from lying in ads. But it is making its policy more clear and adding examples of how that prohibits content such as doctored or manipulated images or video.

"It's against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim -- whether it's a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died," Google ads product management vice president Scott Spencer said in an online post.

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Pope Francis begins Asia tour with visit to Buddhist temple

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Pope Francis will visit one of Thailand's famed gilded temples Thursday to meet the supreme Buddhist patriarch, on the first full day of his Asian tour aimed at promoting religious harmony.

The 82-year-old pontiff is on his first visit to Buddhist majority Thailand, where he will spend four days before setting off to Japan.

His packed schedule a day after touching down in Bangkok includes a meeting with the king and the prime minister before leading an evening mass expected to draw tens of thousands of people from across Thailand, where just over 0.5 percent of the population is Catholic.

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Hong Kong campus stalemate persists while US congress passes bill of support for democracy protesters

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Hardline Hong Kong protesters held their ground on Thursday in a university besieged for days by police as the US passed a bill lauding the city's pro-democracy movement, setting up a likely clash between Washington and Beijing.

Beijing did not immediately respond to the passage in Washington of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which voices strong support for the "democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people."

But China had already threatened retaliation if the bill is signed into law by President Donald Trump, and state-run media warned Thursday the legislation would not prevent Beijing from intervening forcefully to stop the "mess" gripping the financial hub.

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