Maduro: Gas prices to spike in Venezuela to fight smugglers

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says some of the world’s cheapest gasoline that his country’s drivers enjoy will soon be sold at world market prices to combat rampant smuggling.

Maduro said Monday he wants to stop Venezuela’s subsidized fuel from crossing illegally into Colombia and other neighbouring countries. He said the smuggling costs Venezuela billions.

It’s part of Maduro’s plan to overhaul an imploding economy, in which inflation is expected to top 1 million per cent this year.

Filling up a tank of gas in socialist Venezuela today costs less than one U.S. cent.

Maduro says Venezuelans showing their government-issued identification card at the pump will still be able to buy subsidized gasoline. He gave few other details of the planned changes.

Many Venezuelans who oppose Maduro’s government refuse the identification card.

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The Latest: Turkey: US won’t achieve aims through sanctions

ANKARA, Turkey — The Latest on Turkey’s currency crisis (all times local):

12:05 p.m.

Turkey’s foreign minister says the United States won’t achieve aims by exerting pressure and imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Addressing a conference in Ankara gathering Turkish ambassadors, Mevlut Cavusolgu on Monday called on the United States to “remain loyal to ties based on traditional friendship and NATO alliance” with Turkey.

Turkey has been hit by financial turmoil, with the lira plunging over deepening concerns about the government’s economic policies and a diplomatic spat with the United States.

Angered by the continued detention of an American pastor, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on two Cabinet ministers and threatened more. It also doubled tariffs of steel and aluminum imports.

Cavusoglu said: “We support diplomacy and negotiations but it is not possible for us to accept impositions.”

——

11:40 a.m.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry says it will take legal action against hundreds of social media accounts that it says are provoking a drop in the country’s currency, the lira.

The ministry said Monday it initiated legal investigations against 346 social media accounts “which posted content provoking the dollar exchange rate.”

Turkey was hit by a financial shockwave last week as the lira nosedived over concerns about the government’s economic policies and a trade and diplomatic dispute with the United States.

Multiple institutions announced Monday similar warnings against those responsible for the crisis.

The Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s office announced it had begun investigating “those who had taken actions which threatened economic stability.” The Capital Markets Board of Turkey issued a similar warning to those who spread “lies, false or misleading information, news or analysis.”

——

10:00 a.m.

Turkey’s Central Bank has announced a series of measures to help banks manage their liquidity, after the country’s finance chief said the government had readied an “action plan” to ease market concerns that led to a slump in the value of Turkish currency.

The bank released a statement Monday saying it would “provide all the liquidity the banks need.”

The Turkish lira has nosedived over the past week amid concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to deal with the turmoil and a diplomatic spat with the United States.

The currency tumbled to a record low of around 7.20 lira against the dollar late on Sunday after Erdogan warned of drastic measures if businesses withdraw foreign currency from banks.

The lira recovered to 6.61 following the Central Bank’s announcement.

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Harvest time is here and that’s important for farmers and consumers alike

The wheat harvest has begun. It’s an intense time of year. It’s an important time of year. It’s a time when the food that farmers grow gets collected and tallied.

Starting now, and continuing late into the year, farmers will be delivering a vast amount of food to the market, some of it destined to stay in Canada, some of it for export.

The days leading up to the harvest are heavy with rumour, gossip and coffee shop predictions. Following an entire season of watching the weather, fretting over storms, observing and dealing with pests, weeds and disease, the decision to deem a crop ready to harvest is a tough one to make.

Many of us wait for a first mover. Combines are large and merely the sight of one along a gravel road is often enough to fire the proverbial starter pistol on the season.

However and whenever the harvest begins, once it does, Canada is an exciting place to be: communities across the rural grid hold their autumn festivals, farm implements take over the gravel roads and a sense of optimism permeates the air.

On Aug. 6, my father and I walked a few feet into one of our wheat fields to check if it was ready. The kernels looked full and the heads and stems were ripe and dry. We decided we would try.

In the farming world, there are those who drive red combines and those who drive green. Our combine is red. Case and John Deere share in a rivalry I hear jokingly referenced at least three times per week.

The combine is a big machine, something I’m struck by every fall. Its fine controls belie the magnitude of the machine’s mechanics.

We fired it up, drove it to the field and bit into the wheat, harvesting 100 metres or so — enough to get a significant sample. It was too wet. The kernels still contained too much moisture. The wheat value chain doesn’t want wet wheat and it’s not easy to store or dry in the bins. So, we waited.

Two days later, we tried again and the crop was ready.

The difference between a good crop and a poor one is virtually indistinguishable from the road. Farmers routinely drive by their fields and, for the most part, are easily placated by a crop that is free of weeds, clear of disease and standing as it should.

The quality of the wheat, how many bushels per acre it will yield and, ultimately, how profitable it will be are unknowns that hang over a farmer’s head until he or she begins harvesting. The anticipation and excitement is palpable.

As the ultimate symbol for having endured all that an unpredictable growing season has to offer, the harvest holds a special place for farmers. The news, Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia and trade agreements are sidelined, replaced by the physical work of harvesting and the paperwork of establishing (hopefully) profitable contracts to meet cash flow needs.

At the time of this writing, we are more than half done with our wheat crop. By the time you read this, all our wheat will likely be in the bin, safe from nature’s ravages.

Farmers push because they know better than to take ideal conditions for granted. They work long days because it’s rewarding to have made it through another growing season.

But the wheat is merely the beginning. There are more crops to harvest — canola, for example, is around the corner.

If you have the time and/or the inclination, find out when harvest is starting in your area and take a drive. The sights are impressive. It’s the food you eat.

Financial Post

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Turkish central bank tries to contain currency crisis

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s central bank announced a series of measures on Monday to free up cash for banks as the country grapples with a currency crisis sparked by concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s economic policies and a trade and diplomatic dispute with the United States.

The Turkish lira has nosedived over the past week and tumbled another 7 per cent on Monday as the central bank’s measures failed to restore investor confidence.

The currency hit a record low of 7.23 per dollar late on Sunday after Erdogan, in a series of speeches over the week, showed no sign of backing down in the standoff against the United States, a NATO ally.

Erdogan ruled out the possibility of higher interest rates, which economists say are needed to stabilize the currency. And he threatened to seek new alliances and partners and warned of drastic measures if businesses withdraw foreign currency from banks.

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said that in the absence of a decisive rate hike, “it is…hard to look at these announcements as being anything more than temporary calming measures, rather than solutions to the problems at hand.”

The lira recovered some of its losses after Berat Albayrak, the country’s finance chief — and Erdogan’s son-in-law — said late Sunday that the government had readied an “action plan” to ease market concerns, without elaborating. He also said the government had no plans to seize foreign currency deposits or convert deposits to the Turkish lira.

On Monday, the Central Bank said in a statement a series of steps to “provide all the liquidity the banks need.”

The moves are meant to grease the financial system, ease any worries about trouble at banks and keep them providing loans to people and businesses.

In times of high uncertainty, banks tend to shy away from lending to each other. A so-called credit crunch, a lack of daily liquidity, can cause a bank to collapse.

The lira has dropped some 45 per cent this year.

The dispute with the U.S. has centred on the continued detention of an American pastor who is on trial for espionage and terror-related charges. The U.S. has responded by slapping financial sanctions on two ministers and later doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey.

——

AP Business Writer David McHugh contributed from Frankfurt.

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AP Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not

SAN FRANCISCO — Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.


An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used privacy settings that say they will prevent it from doing so.


Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.


For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.


Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History.


Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”


That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.


For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.


The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.


Storing location data in violation of a user’s preferences is wrong, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. A researcher from Mayer’s lab confirmed the AP’s findings on multiple Android devices; the AP conducted its own tests on several iPhones that found the same behaviour.


“If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called �Location History,’ then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off,” Mayer said. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”


Google says it is being perfectly clear.


“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”


To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.


When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account. But leaving “Web & App Activity” on and turning “Location History” off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the “timeline,” its visualization of your daily travels. It does not stop Google’s collection of other location markers.


You can delete these location markers by hand, but it’s a painstaking process since you have to select them individually, unless you want to delete all of your stored activity.


You can see the stored location markers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they’re typically scattered under several different headers, many of which are unrelated to location.


To demonstrate how powerful these other markers can be, the AP created a visual map of the movements of Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar, who carried an Android phone with Location history off, and shared a record of his Google account.


The map includes Acar’s train commute on two trips to New York and visits to The High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem. To protect his privacy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and frequent marker — his home address.


Huge tech companies are under increasing scrutiny over their data practices, following a series of privacy scandals at Facebook and new data-privacy rules recently adopted by the European Union. Last year, the business news site Quartz found that Google was tracking Android users by collecting the addresses of nearby cellphone towers even if all location services were off. Google changed the practice and insisted it never recorded the data anyway.


Critics say Google’s insistence on tracking its users’ locations stems from its drive to boost advertising revenue.


“They build advertising information out of data,” said Peter Lenz, the senior geospatial analyst at Dstillery, a rival advertising technology company. “More data for them presumably means more profit.”


The AP learned of the issue from K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley who studies the commuting patterns of volunteers in order to help urban planners. She noticed that her Android phone prompted her to rate a shopping trip to Kohl’s, even though she had turned Location History off.


“So how did Google Maps know where I was?” she asked in a blog post .


The AP wasn’t able to recreate Shankari’s experience exactly. But its attempts to do so revealed Google’s tracking. The findings disturbed her.


“I am not opposed to background location tracking in principle,” she said. “It just really bothers me that it is not explicitly stated.”


Google offers a more accurate description of how Location History actually works in a place you’d only see if you turn it off — a popup that appears when you “pause” Location History on your Google account webpage . There the company notes that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps.”


Google offers additional information in a popup that appears if you re-activate the “Web & App Activity” setting — an uncommon action for many users, since this setting is on by default. That popup states that, when active, the setting “saves the things you do on Google sites, apps, and services … and associated information, like location.”


Warnings when you’re about to turn Location History off via Android and iPhone device settings are more difficult to interpret. On Android, the popup explains that “places you go with your devices will stop being added to your Location History map.” On the iPhone, it simply reads, “None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History.”


The iPhone text is technically true if potentially misleading. With Location History off, Google Maps and other apps store your whereabouts in a section of your account called “My Activity,” not “Location History.”


Since 2014, Google has let advertisers track the effectiveness of online ads at driving foot traffic , a feature that Google has said relies on user location histories.


The company is pushing further into such location-aware tracking to drive ad revenue, which rose 20 per cent last year to $95.4 billion. At a Google Marketing Live summit in July, Google executives unveiled a new tool called “local campaigns” that dynamically uses ads to boost in-person store visits. It says it can measure how well a campaign drove foot traffic with data pulled from Google users’ location histories.


Google also says location records stored in My Activity are used to target ads. Ad buyers can target ads to specific locations — say, a mile radius around a particular landmark — and typically have to pay more to reach this narrower audience.


While disabling “Web & App Activity” will stop Google from storing location markers, it also prevents Google from storing information generated by searches and other activity. That can limit the effectiveness of the Google Assistant, the company’s digital concierge.


Sean O’Brien, a Yale Privacy Lab researcher with whom the AP shared its findings, said it is “disingenuous” for Google to continuously record these locations even when users disable Location History. “To me, it’s something people should know,” he said.

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Toxics from manufacturing turn up in public water systems

HORSHAM, Pa. — Lauren Woeher wonders if her 16-month-old daughter has been harmed by tap water contaminated with toxic industrial compounds used in products like nonstick cookware, carpets and fast-food wrappers. Henry Betz, at 76, rattles around his house alone at night, thinking about the water his family unknowingly drank for years that was tainted by the same contaminants, and the pancreatic cancers that killed wife Betty Jean and two others in his household.


Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.


“You all made me out to be a liar,” Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminister, told Environmental Protection Agency officials last month.


At “community engagement sessions” like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly — and decisively — to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.


The Trump administration called the contamination “a potential public relations nightmare” earlier this year after federal toxicology studies found that some of the compounds are more hazardous than previously acknowledged.


PFAS have been in production since the 1940s, and there are about 3,500 different types. Dumped into water, the air or soil, some forms of the compounds are expected to remain intact for thousands of years; one public-health expert dubbed them “forever chemicals.”


EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority.


So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.


In 2016, the EPA set advisory limits — without any direct enforcement — for two kinds of PFAS that had recently been phased out of production in the United States. But manufacturers are still producing, and releasing into the air and water, newer versions of the compounds.


Earlier this year, federal toxicologists decided that even the EPA’s 2016 advisory levels for the two phased-out versions of the compound were several times too high for safety.


EPA says it will prepare a national management plan for the compounds by the end of the year. But Peter Grevatt, director of the agency’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, told The Associated Press that there’s no deadline for a decision on possible regulatory actions.


Reviews of the data, and studies to gather more, are ongoing.


Even as the Trump administration says it advocates for clean air and water, it is ceding more regulation to the states and putting a hold on some regulations seen as burdensome to business.


In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained PFAS.


“I know that you can’t bring back three people that I lost,” Betz, a retired airman, told the federal officials at the Horsham meeting. “But they’re gone.”


State lawmakers complained of “a lack of urgency and incompetency” on the part of EPA.


“It absolutely disgusts me that the federal government would put PR concerns ahead of public health concerns,” Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens declared.


After the meeting, Woeher questioned why it took so long to tell the public about the dangers of the compounds.


“They knew they had seeped into the water, and they didn’t tell anybody about it until it was revealed and they had to,” she said.


Speaking at her home with her toddler nearby, she asked, “Is this something that, you know, I have to worry? It’s in her.”


While contamination of drinking water around military bases and factories gets most of the attention, the EPA says 80 per cent of human exposure comes from consumer products in the home.


The chemical industry says it believes the versions of the nonstick, stain-resistant compounds in use now are safe, in part because they don’t stay in the body as long as older versions.


“As an industry today … we’re very forthcoming meeting any kind of regulatory requirement to disclose any kind of adverse data,” said Jessica Bowman, a senior director at the American Chemistry Council trade group.


Independent academics and government regulators say they don’t fully share the industry’s expressed confidence about the safety of PFAS versions now in use.


While EPA considers its next step, states are taking action to tackle PFAS contamination on their own.


In Delaware, National Guard troops handed out water after high levels of PFAS were found in a town’s water supply. Michigan last month ordered residents of two towns to stop drinking or cooking with their water, after PFAS was found at 20 times the EPA’s 2016 advisory level. In New Jersey, officials urged fishermen to eat some kinds of fish no more than once a year because of PFAS contamination.


Washington became the first state to ban any firefighting foam with the compound.


Given the findings on the compounds, alarm bells “should be ringing four out of five” at the EPA, Kerrigan Clough, a former deputy regional EPA administrator, said in an interview with the AP as he waited for a test for PFAS in the water at his Michigan lake home, which is near a military base that used firefighting foam.


“If the risk appears to be high, and you’ve got it every place, then you’ve got a different level” of danger and urgency, Clough said. “It’s a serious problem.”


Problems with PFAS surfaced partly as a result of a 1999 lawsuit by a farmer who filmed his cattle staggering, frothing and dying in a field near a DuPont disposal site in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for PFAS then used in Teflon.


In 2005, under President George W. Bush, the EPA and DuPont settled an EPA complaint that the chemical company knew at least by the mid-1980s that the early PFAS compound posed a substantial risk to human health.


The EPA in the past “didn’t have much of a hammer to come down on a bad existing chemical,” said Lynn Goldman, the agency’s assistant administrator over toxic substances in the 1990s, now dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.


But Congress has boosted the agency’s authority to regulate problematic chemicals since then. That includes toughening up the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and regulatory mandates for the EPA itself in 2016.


For PFAS, that should include addressing the new versions of the compounds coming into production, not just tackling old forms that companies already agreed to take offline, Goldman said.


“Otherwise it’s the game of whack-a-mole,” she said. “That’s not what you want to do when you’re protecting the public health.”


——


Associated Press video journalist Joseph B. Frederick contributed to this report.



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AP Interview: Malaysia’s Mahathir aims to scrap China deals

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s prime minister said Monday he will seek to cancel multibillion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects that were signed by his predecessor as his government works to dig itself out of debt, and he blasted Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims as “grossly unjust.”


Mahathir Mohamad made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press days before the 93-year-old leader heads to Beijing for his first visit there since returning to power in an electoral upset three months ago.


Mahathir said he wants to maintain good relations with China and welcomes its investment, so long as the projects benefit Malaysia.


But he took his toughest stance yet on Chinese-backed energy pipelines and a rail project along peninsular Malaysia’s eastern coast that were struck by his predecessor, Najib Razak. The former premier faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund. He denies wrongdoing.


“We don’t think we need those two projects. We don’t think they are viable. So if we can, we would like to just drop the projects,” he said from his office in the administrative centre of Putrajaya.


During his time in power, Najib drew Malaysia closer to China, which sees the multiethnic Southeast Asian country as a key part of its ambitious One Belt, One Road global trade initiative. The former prime minister reached deals for the 688-kilometre (430-mile) East Coast Rail Link and the two gas pipelines in 2016.


Malaysia’s new government has already suspended work on the projects, being built by Chinese state-backed companies, and called for drastic cuts in their ballooning cost, which it estimates at more than $22 billion. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.


If scrapping the projects altogether isn’t doable, Malaysia will need to at least put them on hold until the future, Mahathir said.


Mahathir also urged China to respect the free movement of ships throughout the South China Sea. China and multiple Southeast Asian nations including Malaysia have competing claims on islands and reefs in the sea — along with the rich fishing grounds and potential fossil fuel deposits around them.


China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several man-made islands equipped them with runways, hangers, radar and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the U.S., which routinely deploys aircraft carriers, other warships and planes to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.


“We are all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here,” Mahathir said. “It is a warning to everyone. Don’t create tension unnecessarily.”


Mahathir was scathing in his criticism of Myanmar, a country whose inclusion into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations he had pushed for in 1997 despite concerns over human rights abuses and protests by the U.S.


“It is grossly unjust to do what they have done, killing people, mass murder, that’s not the way civilized nations behave,” he said.


The previous government of predominantly Muslim Malaysia strongly supported the Rohingya, a persecuted minority in Myanmar who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh after a crackdown last year that some have called ethnic cleansing. Malaysia has said the displacement of Rohingya is no longer a domestic issue for Myanmar, in a rare departure from ASEAN’s non-interference policy in each other’s affairs.


Mahathir added that he was “very disappointed” in Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to halt the oppression.


“Obviously she appears to be with the government of the day on how they treat the Rohingyas. It’s a question of justice and human rights. You can’t do that,” he said.


He stopped short of committing Malaysia to taking in more Rohingya refugees, however, saying the 7 million legal and undocumented foreigners Malaysia already hosts are “far too many.”


Mahathir is a larger-than-life figure in Malaysia, with his influence dominating the multiethnic country’s politics from the Cold War into a new millennium.


His first turn as prime minister stretched for 22 years, coming to an end only in 2003. He rose to prominence by controversially championing the county’s indigenous Malays, whom he saw as disadvantaged compared to the country’s Chinese minority, and he oversaw the rapid development of his young country while concentrating power under his increasingly autocratic rule.


Mahathir long seemed to relish his role as an antagonist to the West. He frequently criticized the U.S. and its close allies — often with colorful and at times offensive language — while promoting what he saw as Asian values and interests.


A longtime champion of Palestinian causes, he doubled down Monday when asked about his record of comments seen as anti-Semitic, saying that “we should be able to criticize everybody” while assailing laws denying the scale of the Holocaust.


“Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” he said.


Mahathir’s criticism of Western leaders has extended to President Donald Trump, whom he described as an “erratic man” during an AP interview last year. His return to office hasn’t tempered his opinion.


“So far he has not indicated that I should change my views,” he said of Trump on Monday. “He changes his mind within 24 hours. I mean it is difficult to deal with any person whose mind is not made up.”


Still, Malaysia would continue to welcome American investment, particularly in high-tech sectors, he said, as he promised tax breaks and other incentives.


——


Associated Press writer Eileen Ng contributed to this report.

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