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NATO deputy chief ‘confident’ of finding consensus on Finland, Sweden membership

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends the final news conference during the G7 foreign ministers’ summit in Weissenhaeuser Strand, Germany, May 14, 2022. Marcus Brandt/Pool via REUTERS

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By Sabine Siebold and John Irish

BERLIN (Reuters) -NATO is confident that it can overcome objections by Turkey and quickly admit Finland and Sweden, its deputy chief said on Sunday, as the alliance prepares for a historic enlargement in the Nordic region prompted by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Foreign ministers from NATO’s 30 member states are holding two days of talks this weekend in Berlin that are focused on the two Nordic countries’ membership bids. Their formal application to join NATO is expected within days.

However on Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu unexpectedly raised objections, saying it was “unacceptable and outrageous” that the prospective new NATO members gave support to the outlawed Kurdish militant group PKK.

It was not immediately clear whether discussions between Cavusoglu and several NATO foreign ministers as well as their Finnish and Swedish counterparts later in the evening had yielded any progress in resolving the dispute.

As talks resumed on Sunday, NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana said he was confident Ankara’s concerns could be addressed.

“Turkey is an important ally and expressed concerns that are addressed between friends and allies,” Geoana told reporters.

“I am confident if these countries decide to seek membership in NATO we will be able to welcome them, to find all conditions for consensus to be met,” he added.

SPEEDY RATIFICATION

Many allies at the Berlin meeting backed Finland and Sweden, stressing the need for swift ratification of their membership bids, which typically take up to a year.

“Germany has prepared everything to do a quick ratification process,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters, adding that ministers had agreed at a dinner on Saturday that the momentum should not be lost.

“We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear,” she said.

She was referring to the ratification period during which the Nordic countries would not yet be protected by NATO’s Article 5, which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly echoed Baerbock’s comments, saying she hoped it could be done “within weeks”.

The allies, who were joined on Sunday by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, discussed the issue of interim security guarantees for Sweden and Finland, whose plans have drawn threats of retaliation from Moscow.

Russia regards NATO expansion as a threat to its own security and cited Ukraine’s ambition to join the alliance as a reason for launching what it calls a “special military operation” in its southern neighbour.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was due to join Sunday’s talks to brief the allies on the situation on the ground and NATO support for Kyiv.

The ministers will also look at a first draft of NATO’s new strategic concept, its basic military doctrine, which is set to be agreed at a leaders summit in Madrid at the end of June.

“We agreed we must continue to help Ukraine win and push Russia out,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin must face a sustained defeat in Ukraine, Russia must be contained and such aggression must never happen again.”

World

Trump’s sway faces biggest midterm test in Georgia’s Republican races

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© Reuters. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp waves to the crowd following a rally ahead of the state’s Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

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By Alexandra Ulmer

ATLANTA (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s campaign to play kingmaker in this year’s midterm elections faced its biggest test yet in Georgia on Tuesday as Republican voters decide whether to heed his demands to oust Governor Brian Kemp.

Trump has backed former U.S. Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge against Kemp, who angered the former president by refusing to try to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

While opinion polls show Kemp holding a wide lead over Perdue, another Trump-endorsed candidate, former football star Herschel Walker, is favored to snag the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate — though some party leaders are worried he could prove to be a flawed general election candidate.

Trump’s obsession over his loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden has extended to other Republican statewide races, including for secretary of state, the state’s top election official.

Incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who rejected Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to alter the outcome, faces U.S. Representative Jody Hice, who earned Trump’s endorsement and has echoed his fraud claims, in a race that polls suggest is tight.

Trump has made more than 190 endorsements since leaving office, mostly for incumbent Republicans who face no serious primary opposition.

He has amassed a mixed record in competitive contests; most recently, his nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, the television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, is in a race still too close to call a week after voting.

Republicans are favored to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 8, though analysts say Democrats have a better chance of holding onto control of the Senate.

The loss of either chamber would bring Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch distracting and potentially politically damaging investigations.

KEMP POISED FOR VICTORY

Opinion polls show Georgia incumbent Kemp well above the 50% threshold required to win the nomination outright and avoid a run-off against Perdue, who has repeated Trump’s falsehoods about losing Georgia due to widespread voter fraud.

In a radio interview on Monday, Perdue criticized Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is expected to face off against Kemp in a rematch of the 2018 election, after she decried Georgia’s high incarceration and maternal mortality rates.

“She ain’t from here. Let her go back where she came from if she doesn’t like it here,” he said. Abrams, who is Black, was born in Wisconsin and moved to Georgia with her family as a child.

Kemp’s surging campaign has drawn support from some high-profile Republicans who have themselves been targets for Trump’s ire, including Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence.

“Elections are about the future. There are those who want to make this election about the past,” Pence said at an election-eve rally for Kemp in Kennesaw on Monday night.

Echoing other Kemp supporters, retired tech sales executive Brian Seifried, 52, said in an interview in Atlanta that he liked Kemp’s pro-business policies, his hard line on immigration and his move to enact a sweeping set of voting restrictions after the 2020 election.

“President Trump’s endorsement did not have any sway over what I think is best for Georgia,” Seifried said.

Four other states – Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and Minnesota – were also holding primary elections on Tuesday.

In Alabama, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, who lost Trump’s endorsement after saying it was time to move on from the 2020 election, is among those battling for a Senate seat. Trump-era White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders is favored to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arkansas.

In Texas, a Democrat-on-Democrat congressional runoff election pits Henry Cuellar, the only House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Herschel Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia and in the National Football League, has held a comfortable lead in opinion polls and would face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in November.

FACTBOX-Seven races to watch in Georgia, Alabama midterm primaries, Texas run-offsFACTBOX-Power of Trump’s endorsements faces test in 12 U.S. midterm primariesTexas AG Paxton squares off against Bush in Republican run-off

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Tedros re-elected as head of World Health Organization

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the 75th World Health Assembly at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization’s (WHO) members re-elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director General by a strong majority for another five years, the president of the World Health Assembly said on Tuesday.

The vote by secret ballot, announced by Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh from Djibouti at a major annual meeting, was seen as a formality since Tedros was the only candidate running.

Ministers and delegates took turns to shake hands and hug Tedros, a former health minister from Ethiopia, who has steered the UN agency through a turbulent period dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The president had to use a gavel several times to interrupt the applause.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach tweeted on Tuesday: “Just re-elected as ⁦Director General of #WHO: @DrTedros⁩. 155/160 votes, spectacular result. Congratulations, fully deserved. Germany recently overtook the United States as the UN health agency’s top donor.

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U.S. Senate candidate sues over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania midterms primary

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick speaks to reporters after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki/File Photo

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(Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick (NYSE:MKC) has filed a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court to compel counties to count undated mail-in ballots in his primary race against TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom he trails by less than 1,000 votes.

The race between McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, and Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, for the Republican party nomination is close enough to trigger an automatic recount under Pennsylvania state law.

While McCormick is slightly behind Oz after the May 17 vote, he is well ahead of his opponent in absentee ballots, according to polling firm Edison Research. McCormick has received 45,794 mail-in votes, compared with Oz, who has 32,944.

In a statement, McCormick’s campaign said it sued on Monday in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court “to compel the counties to follow the Republican-leaning (Third Circuit Court) order from last week stating that undated ballots returned on time be counted.”

The statement added that the ballots “are postmarked upon arrival to county boards of elections and, therefore, already dated and proven to be timely.”

It was not clear how many mail-in ballots lack a handwritten date, and whether counting them could help McCormick or make a recount less likely. State election officials expect to know this week whether a recount will be needed.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections, said it agreed that undated ballots must be counted in the May 17 race, but advised they be “segregated” and “appropriately logged pending litigation.”

“A determination on whether the segregated tabulations will be used in certifying elections has not yet been made, given the ongoing litigation,” it said.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that they “absolutely object to the counting of mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania law and our courts have been very clear that undated ballots are not to be counted.”

In a statement on Twitter, Oz called McCormick’s lawsuit “a tactic that could have long-term harmful consequences for elections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

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