August, 2016

 

Ricardo Blackman´s Caribbean Headlines News 08/31

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

September 1 it is.  The start of the much-talked-about social responsibility levy is on course, even as a local tax specialist calls for its implementation to be postponed.  Minister oif Finance, Chris Sinckler said there is no need for worry after the tax comes into existence tomorrow. “There is absolutely no need for any undue concerns.  The effective date for the start of the tax in September”, Sinckler told the Midweek Nation last nite as Barbadians braced for increases in prices.

Meanwhile, one of the island’s largest private sector groupings is confirming that retail prices will rise above 2 per cent following the implementation of the National Social Responsibility Levy on Thursday, September 1.  However, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) said speculation that prices would skyrocket on the same day and that businesses would seek to profiteer, was far from the truth.

Dateline Kingston, JAMAICA:

The Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) has expressed concern at the devaluation of the local currency, warning it could lead to reduced competitiveness and increased prices for consumers.  “It remains disconcerting that to date, the Jamaican dollar has seen a decline of 5.6 per cent since the start of the year, trading at an average rate of J$127.25 to US$1.00” the JMA said in a statement.  The Jamaican dollar Monday closed at J$127.44 to one US Dollar, up by eight cents, according to the Bank of Jamaica’s daily foreign exchange trading company.


Trump to make dramatic trip to Mexico before immigration speech leftright 5/5leftright

By Steve Holland | WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will meet Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday in a hastily arranged visit to Mexico hours before delivering a highly anticipated speech on how he will tackle illegal immigration.

True to Trump’s flair for the dramatic, the visit will guarantee widespread news coverage for the former reality TV star. It also carries some risks for him, however, since most foreign visits at the presidential level are long-planned and carefully scripted.

Trump announced the trip on Twitter on Tuesday night and it was confirmed in another tweet by the Mexican government. “I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him tomorrow,” Trump said.

The private meeting, which Trump and his advisers began considering last week after Pena Nieto’s invitation, will be Trump’s first official interaction with a foreign leader since he began his presidential campaign more than a year ago.

Such trips can be tricky to navigate. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, suffered a number of gaffes during a trip to London, Israel and Poland four years ago.

Pena Nieto has dismissed Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for a border wall that the New York businessman has pledged to build if elected on Nov. 8. “There is no way that Mexico could pay for a wall like that,” he told CNN on July 10.

Pena Nieto, who has publicly voiced skepticism about Trump, has been enmeshed in a controversy over whether he plagiarized some of his 1991 undergraduate law thesis.

The talks will take place hours before Trump is to give a major speech on Wednesday night as he seeks to straddle a fine line between being tough on illegal immigration but giving moderate voters a reason to give his candidacy a fresh look.

While he has closed the gap in some areas, Trump still trails Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in most opinion polls nationally and in most battleground states with 10 weeks to go until the Nov. 8 election.

Clinton has also been invited to a meeting with Pena Nieto but it is not yet clear if she has accepted, although her spokeswoman took a dim view of Trump’s trip.

“What ultimately matters is what Donald Trump says to voters in Arizona, not Mexico, and whether he remains committed to the splitting up of families and deportation of millions,” spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement.

NO AMNESTY

Trump was to deliver his remarks at 6 p.m. MST (09:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday) in Phoenix, Arizona, a state that has been at the heart of the debate over the porous U.S. border with Mexico.

Aides said he would reaffirm his determination to the border wall to curtail new illegal crossings and to quickly deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes in the United States.

But the central question facing Trump was how he would treat the majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants who have set down roots in their communities and obeyed U.S. laws, an issue that has bedeviled the immigration debate for years.

Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told MSNBC on Tuesday that Trump was active in drafting his speech and was dead set against any proposal that might be seen as providing amnesty to illegal immigrants.

“The point that Mr. Trump has made again and again is that you don’t get amnesty and you don’t get legalization since you broke the law to be here in the first place,” she said. “But then he also respects it’s a complex issue.”

Trump has shown signs of indecision on whether to go ahead with his previous proposal for a “deportation force” to deport the 11 million people, saying there are some “great people” among the immigrant population and that he would like to work with them.

He was pressed in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last week on whether he was open to any steps that might accommodate law-abiding people who had built strong family ties in the United States.

“There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump said in his response. “We want people – we have some great people in this country.”

FINE LINE

Suggestions of a softening by Trump and his campaign advisers prompted conservative allies like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to caution him against rolling back on a central pledge that helped him defeat 16 rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

A move by Trump to moderate his stance on immigration could help him attract more support among swing voters in his uphill drive to win in November, but some of his conservative backers could be disenchanted.

“It’s vitally important that he not disappoint his supporters because they are the people who are with you through thick and thin and when you start to thin your base in hopes of adding other people to your base, it just never works,” said Republican strategist Barry Bennett, a Trump supporter.

Trump has already laid out parts of his immigration policy and they resemble some past Republican attempts at immigration reform, like using an E-verify system to ensure that employers hire properly documented workers, and swift deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes.

He has also vowed to stop some major cities’ practice of providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants and to stop immigrants from overstaying their visas.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Caren Bohan, Jonathan Oatis and Paul Tait)


Rousseff’s fate has been decided: Senate will make it formal on Wednesday

The Brazilian Senate heard for the last time on Tuesday the arguments of the defense and prosecution in the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff, and now prepares to issue its decision on the case.

(Merco Press) – In the final arguments, neither prosecution nor defense introduced anything new, but rather repeated allegations and rebuttals laid down throughout the trial, an approach that appeared unconvincing to some senators, most of whom said they have already made up their minds, and, according to surveys published in the local press, they decidedly favor Rousseff’s impeachment.

First to speak was prosecutor Janaina Paschoal, who considered fully proved all charges against the president and demanded that the Senate impeach her. “Fraud has been proved,” Paschoal said. “The senators cannot vote without taking into account that reality.”

Rousseff, who has been suspended since May 12, is accused of bypassing Congress to alter budgets by decree and taking too long to reimburse state-controlled banks for funds used to pay for government programs, a delay that her opponents say amounted to taking out illegal loans from those institutions.

The president points out that those budget maneuvers were common practice under previous administrations and has slammed the impeachment drive as an attempted coup.

The defense attorney, former Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo, insisted that “a coup will have been executed” if Rousseff is impeached and blamed “a political and economic elite.”

In a heated address, Cardozo maintained that the accusations “are so technical, so sophisticated and so confused that the vast majority of Brazilians don’t understand what they’re accusing her of.”

According to her attorney, “she was accused” because she was reelected in 2014 “challenging the interests of those powerful people who wanted to take Brazil in a different direction” and because “she promoted investigations into corruption.”

The attorney wound up his defense on an emotional note: “I pray to God that if she is sentenced, someday a justice minister will beg her pardon. Beg her, if she is still alive, or her grandchildren, if she has died. But let it be done, so that History honors this woman.”

After the last arguments of defense and prosecution, it was the turn of the 81 senators, who may each speak for 10 minutes. This part will take some 14 hours and will not finish until after early Wednesday.

As established by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, who is presiding over the session, there will then be a recess until Wednesday midday, when the decision will be handed down.

In this final hearing, two senators in favor of sentencing Rousseff, and another two opposing her impeachment, will each have five minutes to present their arguments, after which the vote will be taken by means of an electronic system.

Removing Rousseff from the presidency will take a two-thirds majority of 54 votes.

The result will be known immediately and, once proclaimed by Lewandowski, Rousseff will either be out of power or, if absolved, will regain the presidency and will relegate the interim president, Michel Temer, to the vice presidency.

In his time as interim president, Temer – himself under investigation for corruption – has pushed privatizations and sales of state assets, ideas that are strongly opposed by the majority of those who voted to give Rousseff a second four-year term in October 2014.


Oil prices rise on U.S. weather fears, OPEC speculation

By Ahmad Ghaddar | LONDON (Reuters) – Oil futures rose on Tuesday supported by production suspensions in the U.S. Gulf due to an expected tropical storm and speculation that producers meeting in Algeria next month will act to prop up prices.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were trading at $49.53 per barrel at 1142 GMT, up 27 cents from the previous close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 was up 36 cents at $47.34 a barrel.

Oil and gas operators in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico have shut output equal to 168,334 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and 190 million cubic feet per day of natural gas as a precaution against a tropical storm, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said on Monday.

Oil prices have also been taking direction from speculation that a meeting next month in Algeria of major producers, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, could yield a production deal to support prices.

“Prices are still finding support from the expectations of an agreement on production caps being reached at the late-September meeting,” Commerzbank said in a note.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told Reuters last week he does not believe an intervention in oil markets is necessary since the “market is moving in the right direction”.

Iraq – which exported more crude this month from its southern ports than in July – will continue ramping up output, its oil minister said on Saturday.

A Nigerian militant group has said it has ended attacks on the nation’s oil and gas industry that have reduced the OPEC member’s output by 700,000 barrels a day to 1.56 million bpd.

But the prospect of a recovery in oil production from Libya happening any time soon was tempered after the head of the country’s National Oil Corp. said budgetary delays from the new government were undermining oil production.

“Oil prices are caught between concerns about oversupply and a strong dollar on the one hand and the prospect of further jawboning from OPEC members that some form of production freeze could be on the cards,” CMC Markets senior analyst Michael Hewson said.

The huge global oil oversupply that has weighed on prices for the past two years may not clear until the second half of 2017, Shell’s (RDSa.L) chief energy adviser Wim Thomas told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; editing by Adrian Croft and David Clarke)


EU demands Apple pay Ireland up to 13 billion euros in tax

By Foo Yun Chee | BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU antitrust regulators ordered Apple (AAPL.O) on Tuesday to pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in taxes plus interest to the Irish government after ruling that a special scheme to route profits through Ireland was illegal state aid.

The massive sum, 40 times bigger than the previous known demand by the European Commission to a company in such a case, could be reduced, the EU executive said in a statement, if other countries sought more tax themselves from the U.S. tech giant.

Apple, which with Ireland said it will appeal the decision, paid tax rates on European profits on sales of its iPhone and other devices and services of between just 0.005 percent in 2014 and 1 percent in 2003, the Commission said.

“Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years,” said Competition Commission Margrethe Vestager, whose crackdown on mainly U.S. multinationals has angered Washington which accuses Brussels of protectionism.

Online retailer Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and hamburger group McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) face probes over taxes in Luxembourg, while coffee chain Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) has been ordered to pay up to 30 million euros ($33 million) to the Dutch state.

A bill of 300 million euros this year for Swedish engineer Atlas Copco AB (ATCOa.ST) to pay Belgian tax is the current known record. Other companies ordered to pay back taxes in Belgium, many of them European, have not disclosed figures.

For Apple, whose earnings of $18 billion last year were the biggest ever reported by a corporation, finding several billion dollars should not be an insurmountable problem. The 13 billion euros represents about 6 percent of the firm’s cash pile.

As of June, Apple reported it had cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities of $231.5 billion, of which 92.8 percent, or $214.9 billion, were held in foreign subsidiaries. It paid $2.67 billion in taxes during its latest quarter at an effective tax rate of 25.5 percent, leaving it with net income of $7.8 billion according to company filings.

The European Commission in 2014 accused Ireland of dodging international tax rules by letting Apple shelter profits worth tens of billions of dollars from tax collectors in return for maintaining jobs. Apple and Ireland rejected the accusation.

“I disagree profoundly with the Commission,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a statement. “The decision leaves me with no choice but to seek cabinet approval to appeal.

“This is necessary to defend the integrity of our tax system; to provide tax certainty to business; and to challenge the encroachment of EU state aid rules into the sovereign member state competence of taxation.”

Ireland also said the disputed tax system used in the Apple case no longer applied and that the decision had no effect on Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate or on any other company with operations in the country.

Apple said in a statement it was confident of winning an appeal.

“The European Commission has launched an effort to rewrite Apple’s history in Europe, ignore Ireland’s tax laws and upend the international tax system in the process. The Commission’s case is not about how much Apple pays in taxes, it’s about which government collects the money. It will have a profound and harmful effect on investment and job creation in Europe.”

“REVERSE ENGINEERING”

When it opened the Apple investigation in 2014, the Commission told the Irish government that tax rulings it agreed in 1991 and 2007 with the company amounted to state aid and might have broken EU laws.

The Commission said the rulings were “reverse engineered” to ensure Apple had a minimal Irish bill and that minutes of meetings between Apple representatives and Irish tax officials showed the company’s tax treatment had been “motivated by employment considerations.”

Apple employs 5,500, or about a quarter of its Europe-based staff, in the Irish city of Cork, where it is the largest private sector employer. It has said it paid Ireland’s 12.5 percent rate on all the income that it generates in the country.

Ireland’s low corporate tax rate has been a cornerstone of economic policy for 20 years, drawing investors from multinational companies whose staff account for almost one in 10 workers in Ireland.

Some opposition Irish lawmakers have urged Dublin to collect whatever tax the Commission orders it to. But the main opposition party Fianna Fail, whose support the minority administration relies on to pass laws, said it would support an appeal based on reassurances it had been given by the government.

The U.S. Treasury Department published a white paper last week that said the EU executive’s tax investigations departed from international taxation norms and would have an outsized impact on U.S. companies. The Commission said it treated all companies equally.

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Robin Emmott, Philip Blenkinsop, Robert-Jan Bartunek and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop)


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 08/30

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Agreed, not approved.  That’s the current status of the proposed Hyatt Hotel on Bay Street, St. Michael, according to Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler.  “As far as I know, an application went in, the application is being processed, and as such time that process is completed, no body can say it is all go.” He said yesterday, following the launch of the newest Burger King branch in Warrens, St. Michael.

A ministerial statement on the beleaguered Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences should be coming soon from Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler.  The minister gave this assurance to members of the media at yesterday’s launch of the new Burger King Branch in Warrens, St. Michael.

Another Jamaican national is threatening to take Barbados to the Caribbean Court of Justice over the alleged treatment at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA).  Sonya King is claiming inhumane treatment meted out to her by Immigration officers over the weekend after arriving from Trinidad for a short vacation.

Dateline Nassau, THE BAHAMAS:

Bahamas Minister of Tourism, Obie Wichcombe said the increasing number of warnings on the Zika virus  coming from the Caribbean region, could create a negative perception of Caribbean countries, if the number of people infected with the virus continues to rise.

Dateline Roseau, DOMINICA:

Cabral Douglas, son of former Prime Minister of Dominica, Rosie Douglas, has officially filed legal proceedings at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) against the government of  Dominica over the cancellation of a concert caused by what is described in court documents as the “unlawful arrest, detention and deportation of Jamaican artiste Tommy Lee Sparta and his entourage without cause.”


Migrant arrivals to Greek islands jump to highest in weeks leftright 2/2leftright

(Reuters) – More than 460 migrants and refugees arrived on Greek islands from Turkey on Tuesday, the highest in several weeks, despite a European Union deal with Ankara agreed in March to close off that route.

Greek authorities recorded 462 new arrivals between Monday and Tuesday morning, up from 149 the previous day. Most entered through the Aegean islands of Lesbos and Kos.

The numbers are small compared to the number of those trying to reach Italy from Africa — some 6,500 migrants were saved off the Libyan coast on Monday, the Italian coast guard said — and far fewer than the thousands a day arriving in Greece last summer.

Daily arrivals fluctuate, ranging from a couple of hundred migrants and refugees a day to just tens, but indicate a steady inflow five months after the deal with Turkey was agreed. Under the accord, those who cross to Greece without documents from March 20 will be sent back to Turkey unless they apply for asylum and their claim is accepted.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said it recorded a rise in arrivals toward the end of August but it was too early to say if there had been a change in trends.

“So far it doesn’t look like that but we are following the situation very closely,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

According to UNHCR, an average 100 people a day arrived on Greek islands from Turkey in August, up from 60 in July. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 2,808 people arrived in Greece through August 28, the largest monthly number since April.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the number of arrivals had been climbing in recent weeks and there were also signs of more migrants and refugees leaving Turkey for Bulgaria.

So far under the deal, just 482 people have been deported to Turkey but none had applied for asylum, Greece says. No rejected asylum seekers have been sent back.

That has pushed the number of migrants and refugees on Greece’s islands to 12,120 from 5,538 in March. Most are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, living in overcrowded camps.

More than 163,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea this year, UNHCR says. In 2015, it was the main gateway into Europe for over 1 million people fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

This summer has seen a sharp rise in mostly African migrants and refugees trying to reach Italy from the north African coast.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)


Mercosur members who disagree and don’t accept consensus “can walk out”…

Paraguay said Mercosur will continue to function and is waiting for a reply from Uruguay to confirm a collegiate presidency of the block, until Argentina takes the helm at the end of the year. If not, “Mercosur members are well aware that the the same way they decided to belong to the group, they can walk away…”

(Merco Press) – Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina have repeatedly rejected Venezuela’s self proclaimed presidency of Mercosur, while Uruguay believes the government of President Nicolas Maduro is entitled to hold the pro termpore rotating chair.

“At the time we told Uruguay there was no hurry on devolving the Mercosur presidency since those mandates are not so rigid and would have helped to avoid the current situation”, said Paraguay foreign minister Eladio Loizaga, in reference to the fact that Uruguay on 29 July devolved the presidency at the strict end of its six/month mandate, which following alphabetical order fell upon Venezuela, and triggered the current controversy.

The Paraguayan minister made the statement during an interview with a Montevideo radio station, and a few hours later Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez following a Monday cabinet meeting was asked about Venezuela’s status and he was overwhelming, “Venezuela holds the Mercosur chair”.

Loizaga added that none of the other founding members of Mercosur will be attending any meeting convened by Venezuela, since they do not accept the Venezuelan presidency of the group, not only because the Maduro regime does not have the necessary democratic credentials but also has not complied with its 2012 commitments when it was admitted to the group as full member, or with the chair transfer procedure.

Loizaga revealed that the foreign ministers of founding members will be meeting shortly to address the issue of the collegiate transitory presidency, based on the results of the coordinators round of talks held in Montevideo. “Anyhow there is a ruling which allows Mercosur to keep functioning without a formal presidency”. This includes another round of trade talks with the European Union.

The minister said he respects the Uruguayan government position, but recalled that Mercosur decisions are on consensus, and said that all members of the group have the possibility of walking out if they don’t share consensus, but “I’m not suggesting this for Uruguay, since these are sovereign decisions”.

Finally Loizaga indicated that he will be receiving a delegation from Parlasur, (Mercosur parliament) which pretends to mediate in the controversy. The delegation is headed by Argentina’s ex foreign minister Jorge Taiana and representatives from the other four Mercosur members and is expected sometime between 7/9 September.

“Yes, I will receive them in Asunción, I will explain to them our position and I’m hopeful that Taiana comes along” underlined Loizaga.


Rousseff claims impeachment is a new type of coup; street protests in her support

Brazil’s suspended president, Dilma Rousseff, took the stand on Monday at her impeachment trial in the Senate, delivering a last-ditch defense to prevent her final removal from office. “Don’t expect from me the obliging silence of cowards,” Ms. Rousseff, 68, said in a withering attack on her opponents at the start of her testimony.

(Merco Press) – She argued that she was innocent of the charges against her — that she manipulated the federal budget to mask the extent of Brazil’s economic problems — and described herself as the victim of a conspiracy to oust her.

Reflecting the rising sense of divisiveness in the country, protests against Rousseff’s ouster emerged in various cities as she took the stand. Demonstrators shut down parts of Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulo’s main thoroughfares, as Ms. Rousseff was grilled by senators on Monday night.

The vote on whether to convict Ms. Rousseff, who was suspended from office in May, is expected as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. Her opponents need two-thirds of the 81-member Senate, or 54 votes, to convict her.

If she loses the vote, as is widely expected, Michel Temer, the interim president and former vice president, will be president until the end of the current term in 2018.

Ms. Rousseff compared her plight to those of other Brazilian presidents hounded by their opponents, including João Goulart, a leftist toppled in a military coup in 1964 that opened the way for a 21-year dictatorship.

In her testimony, she also compared the impeachment effort to the suffering she endured in her youth, when agents from the dictatorship arrested her for her involvement in an urban guerrilla group. She was tortured while she was imprisoned in the early 1970s.

Ms. Rousseff said the impeachment proceedings amounted to a new type of coup, evoking the rupturing of Brazilian democracy in the 1960s.

Responding to that assertion, Senator Ana Amelia Lemos, an opponent of Ms. Rousseff’s, expressed respect for the leader’s personal history. But Ms. Lemos also insisted that Ms. Rousseff had broken the law by manipulating the budget to conceal mounting economic problems.

“We’re not here to judge your biography, but rather the actions practiced in your government,” Ms. Lemos said.

Ms. Rousseff contended that she had done nothing illegal.

“If the political contract with the people is broken, then any contract can be broken,” Ms. Rousseff said, arguing that her ouster would heighten the risks of investing in a country where presidents can be toppled with ease.

Of the four Brazilian presidents elected to office since democracy was reestablished in the 1980s, she is the second to face impeachment. In 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello resigned before the Senate could convict him on corruption charges.

Collor de Mello resurrected his political career and is among the senators trying Ms. Rousseff, despite being under investigation over claims of pocketing huge bribes in the graft scandal around the national oil company, Petrobras.

Rousseff alluded to the fact that she remains rare among major Brazilian political figures: She has not been accused of illegally enriching herself, in contrast to a wild array of legislators seeking her ouster. “This process,” she said, “has been marked from start to finish by a blatant misappropriation of power.”


Guterres remains frontrunner for UN top job; Malcorra drops to fifth position

Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres is still the frontrunner to become the next secretary-general of the United Nations following a third straw poll held Monday, diplomats said. Guterres, who served as UN refugee chief for 10 years, received 11 votes of encouragement, three “discourage” votes and one “no opinion” during the informal vote by the 15-member Security Council.

(Merco Press) – It is the third time that the 67-year-old has taken the number one spot in the contest to succeed Ban Ki-moon, who steps down on December 31 after 10 years as the world’s top diplomat.

During the first round, Guterres took the lead with 12 “encourage” votes and three “no opinion,” but he picked up two “discourage” votes in the second straw poll, along with 11 encouragements and two “no opinion.”

While Guterres’s ranking dropped slightly in the third straw poll, diplomats said he still held a strong lead in the race to take the helm of the world body.

“He remains well ahead of the pack,” a Security Council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak made a surprise showing as the runner-up, climbing up the rankings with nine encouragements, five discourage votes and one “no opinion.” He took the sixth position in the last round.

The 15 ambassadors including those from the powerful five — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — met behind closed doors to rate the candidates with ballots marked “encourage,” “discourage” or “no opinion.”

The Security Council is trying to come up with a shortlist of candidates before putting forward a nominee, possibly in October, to be endorsed by the General Assembly.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and Serbia’s ex-foreign minister Vuk Jeremic tied for the third spot, with seven encouragements and five “discourage” votes, plus three “no opinion.”

Bokova became the leading woman in the race, just ahead of Argentina’s Susana Malcorra, who picked up seven encouragements, seven “discourage votes and one ”no opinion.“

Lower down the rankings, New Zealand’s ex-prime minister and current UN Development Program chief Helen Clark took the number six spot, just below Macedonia’s ex-foreign minister Srgjan Kerim.

Clark picked up six encouragements, eight ”discourage“ votes and one ”no opinion,“ compared to six encouragements, seven ”discourage“ votes and two ”no opinion“ for Kerim.

Slovenia’s former president Danilo Turk, who had made a strong showing as the runner up in the first round, dropped to the bottom tier, with five encouragements, six ”discourage“ votes and four ”no opinion“.

The last spots went to former UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres and ex-foreign minister Natalia Gherman of Moldova, who both picked up two encouragements, 12 ”discourage” votes and one no opinion.

The results of the straw poll were not publicly announced, but the council president communicated them to the candidates to give them an indication of the level of support in the council. As with the two first straw polls, the results were quickly leaked to the media.

Council members are facing calls to pick the first woman after eight men in the job, and to give preference to a candidate from eastern Europe, the only region that has yet to be represented in the post. Of the 10 candidates now still in the running, six are from eastern Europe. Five are women.