Monthly Archives: November 2016

For top Iraqi commander, Mosul offensive is personal battle

JULUKHAN, Iraq: Major General Najm al-Jubbouri, a top commander in the offensive against Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Mosul, peered through binoculars at flames after his men shot dead an Islamic State suicide bomber.

It was a small victory for a man whose war against jihadists is deeply personal.

“You are heroes,” he said through a walkie talkie as Iraqi forces cleared another village, hoping to open a new route to the militants’ stronghold of Mosul. “You are heroes”.

Last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked Jubbouri to return home from the United States to help lead the fight against Islamic State, which swept through Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq in 2014 and imposed a reign of terror.

Jubbouri is upbeat as he paces on the rooftop of a house that serves as a makeshift command centre, surveying the battlefield and tightly managing advances.

But he is acutely aware of what Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is capable of.

Last year, he watched an Islamic State video broadcast on social media which showed the drowning of prisoners who are locked inside a steel cage and slowly lowered to their deaths in a pool.

Some of the victims were Jubbouri’s cousins, he said.

“My relatives and citizens suffered a lot from al Qaeda and ISIS. I decided to return back here. In Mosul, ISIS killed a lot from my tribe and from my friends,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Jubbouri left his family behind and his job at the National Defence University in the United States and put on his military fatigues again at home.

Eager to avenge the deaths of his relatives and help stabilize Iraq, Jubbouri is trying to figure out ways to overcome the complex challenges of fighting Islamic State in Mosul, home to about one million people.

Iraqi forces can’t move heavy weapons and tanks through Mosul’s narrow streets, and Islamic State is using civilians as human shields to slow government advances, said Jubbouri, who served in Saddam Hussein’s army for decades.

In the desert just beyond Jubbouri are two army trucks mounted with machineguns, primed to attack any suicide bombers in vehicles who try to approach the makeshift command centre, which is surrounded by bodyguards.

“We want to remove the cancer (of Islamic State) from the body and this is a very difficult mission inside Mosul,” said Jubbouri.

Jubbouri, who moved to the United States in 2008, is acutely aware of the dangers posed by Islamic militants, and the sectarian animosities which have destablised Iraq.

As mayor of Tel Afar from 2005-2008, he cleared out al-Qaeda fighters from the town and promoted reconciliation between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Iraq has been struggling to find a formula for stability since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Even if Islamic State is defeated in Mosul, Iraqi leaders must ensure that the same ethnic and sectarian hostilities which helped Islamic State establish a widespread presence in the country do not creep up again.

The group initially won over Sunni supporters because that sect felt marginalised by the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

Jubbouri called for an end to a governing system which allocates top posts based on sects.

“It won’t be rosy. Many difficulties,” he said. “Some politicians will not like to change because many of them would lose their positions.”

For now, he is focused on the fight against Islamic State. Jubbouri said Iraqi forces had set a six-month timetable for the Mosul campaign. But he is confident of victory by the end of this year, predicting the group will collapse.

So far, Iraqi forces have captured about 60 percent of eastern Mosul, and the western part of Iraq’s second biggest city could prove far more dangerous.

“In beginning, everyday we faced between 60 and 70 car bombs. Now we are facing about two or three,” said Jubbouri, as his forces fired mortar bombs and rockets at an asphalt factory where militants strapped with explosives were positioned.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Leaders pay tribute to Fidel Castro, but critics scathing of 'tyrant'

REUTERS: World leaders paid tribute on Saturday (Nov 26) to Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States, but in death just as in life he divided opinion, and critics labelled him a “tyrant”.

Castro died on Friday aged 90, his younger brother and successor Raul Castro announced on state television.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union which had long acted as an economic and political prop for Cuba, said Castro left a lasting mark on his country and on world history.

“Fidel held his ground and strengthened his country at the time of the harshest American blockade, at the time of massive pressure on him,” Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

“Nevertheless he led out his country from the blockade to the path of self-sustained and independent development.”

In a telegram of condolence to Raul Castro, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the late leader an “inspiring example for many countries”.

“Fidel Castro was a frank and tried and true friend of Russia,” the Kremlin quoted the message as saying.

In Venezuela, a long-time ally of Cuba and staunch opponent of the political stance of the United States, President Nicolas Maduro said Castro had inspired and would continue to inspire his country.

“We will keep on winning and keep fighting. Fidel Castro is an example of the fight for all the people of the world. We will go forward with his legacy,” Maduro told television station Telesur by telephone.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said: “A great has left us. Fidel has died. Long live Cuba! Long live Latin America!”


South African President Jacob Zuma had similar warm words, thanking the Cuban leader for his help and support in the struggle to overthrow apartheid.

“President Castro identified with our struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid,” Zuma said in a statement.

French President Francois Hollande mourned the loss of a major figure on the world stage and welcomed the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, while noting concerns over human rights under the Castro regime.

“Fidel Castro was a towering figure of the 20th century. He incarnated the Cuban revolution, in both its hopes and subsequent disillusionments,” Hollande said in a statement.

“France, which condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, had equally challenged the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and France was glad to see the two countries re-establish dialogue and open ties between themselves,” added the Socialist party leader.

Hollande met Fidel Castro in May, 2015 during the first ever visit by a French head of state to Cuba since the Cuban revolution.


In contrast, the reaction from some Cubans living in the United States was scathing and celebratory.

U.S. Congress representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, said in a statement: “A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western Hemisphere.”

In Miami, in the area surrounding the Versailles Restaurant where many exiles who fled the Cuban revolution live, people took to the streets in their cars in the early hours of Saturday morning to celebrate Castro’s death.

The late-breaking news roused some people out of bed, who joined the street party half-dressed in pajamas.

Hundreds of people gathered waving flags, banging pots and pans and carrying umbrellas to shield them from steady rainfall.

“It’s sad that one finds joy in the death of a person — but that person should never have been born,” said Pablo Arencibia, 67, a teacher who fled Cuba 20 years ago.

“Satan is now the one who has to worry,” because “Fidel is heading there and is going to try to get his job,” joked Arecibia, who could barely be heard over the din of honking horns and banging pots.

Thick crowds poured into the streets of Little Havana and Hialeah — the Miami neighborhoods where many Cuban exiles settled — to dance, hug, and exchange comments like “it took so long,” and “now only Raul is missing.”

Some sang the Cuban national anthem. Others shook up bottles of champagne and sprayed the fizz onto the crowd of revelers.

“This is the happiest day of my life, Cubans are finally free,” said Orlidia Montells, an 84-year-old woman.

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Wolff warns of volcano waiting to erupt

ABU DHABI: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the rivalry between team mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is like a volcano ready to erupt ahead of Formula One’s season-ending title showdown this weekend.

The Austrian is, however, confident the drivers can avoid taking each other out of Sunday’s race at Yas Marina.

“It is also clear, and we have to acknowledge it, that now everything is on the line,” Wolff told reporters at the Abu Dhabi circuit.

“Now it’s about losing or winning the drivers’ world championship. They can’t be in love with each other this weekend but they need to play all the tricks to put themselves in a situation to hopefully win the championship.

“You just have to respect that there is a fierce rivalry, the competition is intense and like since 2013 we just have to try to keep it together with up and downs,” Wolff said.

There have been plenty of mind games already with Hamilton saying he would consider himself the true champion, regardless of the outcome, while Rosberg has been adamant that he is just focused on the race.

“It’s normal that here this is like a volcano to erupt with two of them, the two very different personalities. One is going to dig a little deeper, the other one is going to do it in a different way,” Wolff added.

Rosberg is 12 points clear of Hamilton in the standings, meaning that he has only to finish on the podium to take his first title regardless of other results.

A retirement by triple world champion Hamilton during the race, whether it be due to mechanical failure or a collision, would hand the German the title there and then.

Formula One titles have been settled before by a collision between the contenders – think Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost or Michael Schumacher with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve – but Wolff played down that likelihood.

“There are some examples in the past that have been very prominent and very controversial. Lewis’s hero (Senna), and the other way around,” he said.

“I think it is very difficult to construct such a situation and make it work. I don’t think that’s the way Nico operates and it would certainly not look very good. There are so many unknowns at the moment. It’s about reliability and finishing the race for both of them.

“It is about qualifying, who is in the lead and how the race is going to pan out, that I don’t think anyone of them is seriously considering playing that way, because it could come out completely different.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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France's Fillon seen as clear favourite in Sunday's conservatives primary – poll

PARIS: Former French prime minister Francois Fillon is seen winning the conservative presidential primary nomination for next year’s election with 61 percent of the vote against 39 percent for rival Alain Juppe, according to a poll by Opinionway on Friday.

The online poll of 550 registered voters who intend to cast their ballot in Sunday’s primary vote was carried out on Nov. 24 and 25, the pollster said in a statement.

Fillon and Juppe, who is also a former prime minister, were both wrapping up their campaigns with rallies in Paris and Nancy respectively on Friday night.

(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Trinidad and Tobago fire coach after two losses

REUTERS: Trinidad & Tobago have fired manager Stephen Hart after two consecutive losses in the final stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the country’s football association said.

“The Trinidad & Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and Senior National Men’s Team Head Coach Stephen Hart have agreed to part ways with immediate effect,” it said in a statement.

The Caribbean nation sit joint bottom of the six-team group alongside the United States after losing 2-0 at home to Costa Rica and 3-1 at Honduras.

The top three teams in the CONCACAF region qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia with the fourth-placed side going into a playoff against a team from Asia.

Trinidad & Tobago’s next qualifying match is at home to Panama in March.

The TTFA said Hart’s replacement will be announced “in the shortest possible time”.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)

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32 bodies, 9 human heads found in Mexico mass graves

MEXICO CITY: Authorities have exhumed 32 bodies and nine heads from several clandestine graves in Mexico’s violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero this week, officials said.

The remains were unearthed between Tuesday and Thursday in 17 pits on a hill in the village of Pochahuixco, part of the municipality of Zitlala, a region beset by turf wars between drug cartels.

“The discoveries are terrible,” Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez said.

The remains were taken to the state capital, Chilpancingo, to be identified, Alvarez said in a statement.

The bodies were found in 17 of 20 pits that were dug up by investigators. No other remains were found but soldiers are scouring the region for any other hidden graves.

Authorities had reported earlier the discovery of 19 victims but the body count rose during the day.

Drug cartels have been burying their victims in hidden graves across the country for years, and authorities regularly find human remains.

Guerrero is one of the country’s most violent states and a major opium poppy grower, with the Guerreros Unidos and Los Rojos drug gangs engaged in brutal battles to control criminal operations that also include extortion.

Last weekend at least 24 people were killed in the state. The bodies of nine men, including five that were dismembered, were found on a roadside.

Last week a dozen people were abducted in another part of the state that has been hit by a rash of mass kidnappings for ransom.

Guerrero is also known for the disappearance of 43 students in the city of Iguala in September 2014, a case that drew international outrage and remains unsolved.

The Pacific resort of Acapulco, once a famous destination for Hollywood stars, is now considered the country’s murder capital as the Beltran Leyva gang and the Independent Cartel of Acapulco battle for supremacy.

The Iguala case put a spotlight on the rash of disappearances in Mexico, where some 28,000 people have been reported missing since 2007.

Frustrated by the lack of progress by the authorities, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of the disappeared have led their own searches across the country, learning to detect clandestine graves on their own.

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Barca's win at Celtic cannot hide problems with summer recruits

REUTERS: Barcelona may have again eased into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday but their win at Celtic could still not paper over some of the cracks that have developed in a squad recruited at huge expense.

Despite splurging 122 million euros (US$ 128.84 million) on bolstering their ranks in the summer, Barcelona are still overwhelmingly reliant on the same starting 11 in their biggest games, with their expensive new recruits failing to deliver.

Barca drew a blank against Malaga last Saturday without top scorers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi and vital midfielder Ivan Rakitic, slipping four points behind leaders Real Madrid at the top of La Liga as a consequence.

Luis Enrique’s side were back to full strength on Wednesday, with Suarez and Rakitic producing lively displays while Messi pulled the strings and scored both goals in the 2-0 win at a bitterly cold and atmospheric Celtic Park.

The win, however, only appeared to confirm fears that Barca’s first-choice 11 has barely evolved since Luis Enrique took the club’s reins in 2014.

Nine of the 11 players that started in Glasgow played in their victorious 2015 Champions League final team against Juventus, yet they have struggled whenever the coach has turned to players on the periphery of the first team this season.

The Catalans were beaten 2-1 by promoted Alaves in September after Luis Enrique made seven changes to his team, including resting Suarez and Messi, and they lost 4-3 at Celta Vigo when Messi was injured and Andres Iniesta was rested from the start.

Similarly, Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were unavailable in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester City when Barca collapsed in the second half under the weight of intense pressing and speedy counters.

Each of these results had the local media pointing the finger at the new recruits, none of whom have managed to score after 12 La Liga games and five Champions League outings.

That statistic is most damning for centre forward Paco Alcacer, a 30 million euros (US$ 31.68 million) signing from Valencia who was bought to relieve the pressure on Barca’s dazzling attacking trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

Alcacer has squandered a series of clear scoring opportunities in his eight appearances but was almost anonymous in the stalemate with Malaga, going over half an hour without touching the ball.

His old Valencia team mate Andre Gomes, who cost an estimated 35 million euros, has also had a disappointing start, failing to register a single goal or assist and looking out of sync with his midfield partners.

Lucas Digne has done little to suggest he could unseat Alba at left back following his 16.5 million euros signing from Paris St Germain while goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has only played once since joining from Ajax for 13 million euros.

Luis Enrique has frequently praised 22-year-old midfielder Denis Suarez, his cheapest recruit at 3.5m euros from Villarreal, while France centre-back Samuel Umtiti has looked a good fit though injuries have limited him to nine appearances.

After the failure to beat Malaga, Luis Enrique tried to play down the significance of the absence of Messi and Suarez with the observation: “We have lost games without Messi and Suarez and lost games when they have played. Squads win titles.”

Yet with Barca already having dropped seven points in just six home games, the coach’s costly attempts to construct a robust squad and reduce the reliance on his elite players cannot be said to have gone to plan.

(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ian Chadband)

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Turkish army blames Syria for deadly air strike

ANKARA: The Turkish army blamed the Syrian regime for an air strike on Thursday (Nov 24) in northern Syria that killed three soldiers, the first time it has accused Damascus of killing its soldiers since launching its three-month military incursion.

The incident came on the first anniversary of the shooting down of a Russian military jet over the Syrian border by the Turkish air force.

That led to a seven-month crisis in relations between Turkey and Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has provided military support to Damascus.

The army said the strike took place at 3.30am (0030 GMT) without indicating where in Syria, although local media said it took place in the Al Bab region.

“In the air strike assessed to have been by Syrian regime forces, three of our heroic soldiers were killed and 10 soldiers wounded, one seriously,” the armed forces said in a statement on its website.

Turkish media reported earlier that the attack was by Islamic State (IS) militants.

The prime ministry slapped a broadcasting ban on coverage of the strike an hour after the military’s statement, Turkey’s broadcast watchdog said on its website.

The injured soldiers were taken to hospitals in Turkey’s southeastern cities of Kilis and Gaziantep close to the Syrian border, the official news agency Anadolu said.

The Turkish military launched an operation – dubbed “Euphrates Shield” – with tanks and air power in August to support Syrian opposition fighters seeking to retake territory from IS in northern Syria.

The Ankara-backed rebels comprise several brigades rather than one organised force, according to experts.


Hundreds of Turkish soldiers are taking part in the operation, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week was pushing forward with its aim of taking Al Bab from IS.

“We reached Al Bab right now and besieged it from the west,” the president said in a speech on Tuesday.

The operation has also targeted Syrian Kurdish militia, whom Turkey views as linked to its outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has staged an insurgency in Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is proscribed as a terror group by Washington and Brussels but not by the United Nations.

“That won’t do. After that (Al Bab), we will go towards Manbij” to remove elements from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Forces (YPG) militia, Erdogan said.

Kurdish-led forces recaptured Manbij from IS in August but Ankara has called for them to leave what Turkey emphasises is an Arab majority town.

Erdogan has repeatedly vowed to stop Syrian Kurdish forces from creating an autonomous Kurdish “canton” on Turkey’s southern border, describing it as a “terror corridor”.

Since the offensive began, the rebels captured the IS stronghold of Jarabulus, cleared IS from Al Rai and retook the symbolically important town of Dabiq without much resistance.

The latest deaths raise to at least 15 the number of Turkish soldiers killed since Turkey began its operation in northern Syria.

Most were killed by IS but one soldier died in an attack blamed on the YPG militia.


However, amid the rapprochement with Russia, Turkey has largely been muted as Assad’s forces backed by Moscow press an offensive to recapture the whole city of Aleppo, which is divided between the government and rebels.

The government last week resumed its drive to retake the east of the city, where more than 250,000 civilians have been trapped under siege for months, with dwindling food and fuel supplies.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said dozens of civilians had tried to flee overnight but were forced back by gunfire.

Save the Children called for an internationally monitored ceasefire to allow aid into east Aleppo and the evacuation of sick and wounded civilians.

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Football: Barcelona, Man City into Champions League last 16

PARIS: Lionel Messi fired Barcelona into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday (Nov 23) after a 2-0 win at Celtic as they were joined in the knockout rounds by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

The Argentine star returned from illness to score both goals at Celtic Park – the second from the penalty spot – to send the five-time European champions through as winners of Group C.

City recovered from a goal down in Germany to earn a 1-1 draw at Borussia Moenchengladbach as both sides finished with 10 men.

Raffael grabbed the opening goal for Gladbach on 23 minutes, but David Silva poked in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross just prior to the break before Lars Stindl and Fernandinho saw red in the second half.

“We controlled the game but it wasn’t enough to win. We’re just happy that we’re through to the last 16,” said Belgian international De Bruyne.

French champions Paris Saint-Germain seized control of their own destiny in Group A with a 2-2 draw away to Arsenal.

Edinson Cavani turned in Blaise Matuidi’s cross at the far post to hand PSG an 18th-minute lead at the Emirates Stadium.

But the Gunners hit back on the stroke of half-time as Alexis Sanchez was brought down by Grzegorz Krychowiak and Olivier Giroud rolled home the resulting spot-kick.

Arsenal looked to be in pole position to finish top of the group when an attempted clearance from Marquinhos ricocheted off an unfortunate Marco Verratti and squirmed past Alphonse Areola for a fluke own goal.

But Lucas ensured Unai Emery’s side departed with a point as his header from Hatem Ben Arfa’s corner flicked off Alex Iwobi and flashed past David Ospina 13 minutes from the end.

“We had good spells in the game but we could not dominate. Tonight my concern is that we were 2-1 up and allowed them to come back at us. It’s difficult to understand how easy we gave away a goal at a corner,” said Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger.

Both PSG and Arsenal have 11 points with one match to play, but the French outfit own the head-to-head edge on away goals after the reverse fixture at the Parc des Princes in September finished 1-1.


Bayern Munich crashed to a shock 3-2 defeat in Rostov and could face a daunting draw in the next round after Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven guaranteed Diego Simeone’s men first place in Group D.

Douglas Costa rifled Bayern ahead on 35 minutes in Russia, but Rostov equalised through Sardar Azmoun on the stroke of half-time before going ahead courtesy of a Dmitri Poloz penalty.

Juan Bernat swiftly levelled for the Germans, but Ecuador international Christian Noboa fired competition debutants Rostov to a first group stage victory with the winner on 67 minutes.

In Madrid, French duo Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann netted second-half goals as Atletico – runners-up twice in the past three seasons – registered their fifth win in as many matches.

Besiktas launched a remarkable second-half recovery as they fought back from three goals down against Benfica to draw 3-3 in Istanbul.

Benfica, champions of Europe in 1961 and 1962, appeared to be sailing through to the last 16 after cruising 3-0 ahead inside barely half an hour through goals from Goncalo Guedes, Nelson Semedo and Ljubomir Fejsa.

But the Turks pulled one back on the hour courtesy of Cenk Tosun before two goals in the final seven minutes from Ricardo Quaresma and Vincent Aboubakar revived their qualification hopes.

Napoli were held 0-0 at home by Dynamo Kiev and must take at least a point from their trip to Benfica in a fortnight, while Besiktas will punch their ticket to the knockout stages if they win in Ukraine.

Group A:

At London
Arsenal (ENG) 2 Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 2

At Sofia
Ludogorets (BUL) 0 Basel (SUI) 0

Group B:

At Istanbul, Turkey
Besiktas 3 Benfica 3

At Naples, Italy
Napoli (ITA) 0 Dynamo Kiev (UKR) 0

Group C:
At Glasgow
Celtic (SCO) 0 Barcelona (ESP) 2

At Moenchengladbach, Germany
Borussia Moenchengladbach (GER) 1 Manchester City (ENG) 1

Group D:

At Rostov, Russia
Rostov (RUS) 3 Bayern Munich (GER) 2

At Madrid, Spain
Atletico Madrid (ESP) 2 PSV Eindhoven (NED) 0

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Four workers dead in Cuba bridge collapse -Canada miner Sherritt

TORONTO: Four workers at a Sherritt International Corp joint venture in Cuba died on Tuesday, when a municipal bridge they were repairing collapsed, the Canadian miner said on Wednesday.

Sherritt, which owns 50 percent of the Moa nickel operation with General Nickel Company SA of Cuba, said the bridge had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October and workers have been repairing the structure since late last month. The bridge provides access to the Moa mine and plant, which are operating at reduced rates, the company said.

The impact on production will depend on how quickly a secondary access route to the mine operation can be put into place, Sherritt said. The Toronto-based company expects to announce more information in coming days.

The bridge crosses a shallow river and is the main access from the local town and port of Moa to the mine site and a acid leach plant. An investigation into the accident is under way, Sherritt said, adding that the last reported fatality at Moa was a decade ago.

Sherritt was not immediately available for comment.

In a recent interview, the company said that Moa would return to profit next year if prices for the metal remained at current levels.

Chief Executive David Pathe said prices, which have risen some 20 percent this year from multi-year lows, could even improve given global nickel supplies were expected to swing into a deficit.

Pathe expected little if any profit from Sherritt’s Cuban nickel business in 2016 but forecast US$ 50 million to US$ 70 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) from its Cuban oil and power ventures.

Nickel is essential in the production of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys. Beyond its Cuba venture, Sherritt has a stake in a large Madagascar nickel mine.

The Canadian company has been operating in Cuba for more than two decades.

(Reporting by Susan Taylor; Editing by Grant McCool and Steve Orlofsky)

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