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ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 29: The Vice President of the Council and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini attends the television show 'L'aria che tira'.

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ROME, ITALY – NOVEMBER 29: The Vice President of the Council and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini attends the television show ‘L’aria che tira’.

Using Italy’s gold reserves to plug budget holes could be an interesting idea, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Monday after a media report said the government was considering such a move.

Earlier, La Stampa newspaper said that the government was considering using part of the country’s gold reserves, which are held by the Bank of Italy, to rein in its budget deficit this year and avoid a planned VAT increase in 2020.

“It’s not an issue that I am following, but it could be an interesting idea,” Salvini, who is also the League party’s leader, told reporters in Rome when asked about the possibility of tapping gold reserves.

Previous attempts by Italian governments to tax the gold reserves or to sell part of them to help balance the public accounts were stopped by European authorities because they would have undermined the Bank of Italy’s independence or broken public financing rules.

The talk of using the central bank-managed gold reserves comes after the leaders of the ruling coalition, formed by the far-right League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, promised at the weekend to replace top officials at the Bank of Italy who they said must pay for failing to prevent bank failures.

Italian Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio, who is also a member of the League, said on Monday he had never heard anyone in the government speak about the idea of using gold reserves to plug budget shortfalls.

“I’ve never heard talk in cabinet meetings or any other political settings about getting our hands on the Bank of Italy’s gold,” Centinaio said in an interview with Radio Capital.

Italy is the world’s third-largest holder of gold reserves, behind the United States and Germany, with 2,451.8 tonnes as of last year, according to the World Gold Council.

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New Zealand and France press Big Tech to curb online terrorist content



New Zealand and France have unveiled an alliance designed to press governments and tech firms to unite against online extremism.

Taking place in Paris on May 15, a meeting co-chaired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron will ask world leaders and tech CEOs to agree to a pledge dubbed the “Christchurch Call,” which aims to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Specific details on what the pledge will involve are yet to be announced, but Ardern is due to meet with community leaders on May 14 to discuss its content. In a press release on Wednesday, the New Zealand leader said the two countries were “calling on the leaders of tech companies to join with us and help achieve our goal of eliminating violent extremism online.”

Google has confirmed to CNBC via email that it will take part in the meeting on May 15, with a spokesperson adding that the company had a zero-tolerance stance on terrorist content.

“We are committed to leading the way in developing new technologies and standards for identifying and removing terrorist content,” they said. “We are working with government agencies, law enforcement and across industry, including as a founding member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to keep this type of content off our platforms. We will continue to engage on this crucial issue.”

A spokesperson for Twitter told CNBC in an emailed statement that the firm was continuously investing in technology to prevent extremist accounts and propaganda being hosted on its platform.

“Our work will never be complete, as the threats we face constantly evolve,” they said. “We share a common goal with governments all around the world, including in New Zealand, to find real, lasting solutions to building a safer internet and welcome the opportunity to work together with our peers toward a global solution.”

The meeting will be held alongside the “Tech for Humanity” assembly of G-7 digital ministers, as well as the “Tech for Good” summit, both hosted by the French government.

New Zealand’s initiative comes in wake of the March terrorist attacks in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, where a gunman used Facebook to livestream a shooting in two mosques that killed 50 people.

Tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter came under fire at the time for failing to remove footage of the attack from their platforms.

“We all need to act, and that includes social media providers taking more responsibility for the content that is on their platforms,” New Zealand’s Ardern said.

“It’s critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism,” she added. “This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies.”

Since the Christchurch shooting, controversial laws aimed at tackling extremist social media content have been passed or proposed in Australia, the U.K. and the EU.

A spokesperson for Facebook was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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Scotland will prepare for an independence referendum before May 2021



Scotland should hold an independence referendum before the current Scottish parliamentary term ends in May 2021 and will prepare legislation for this to happen, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.

“A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament,” Sturgeon told Holyrood, Scotland’s devolved parliament.

She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019.

The permission of Britain’s sovereign parliament at this stage was not needed, she said, but would be eventually be necessary “to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum.”

Sturgeon is under pressure from her nationalist movement to provide a clear way forward in the quest for an independent Scotland.

But Britain is mired in political chaos due to Brexit and it is still unclear whether, when or even if Britain will leave the European Union.

Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum.

Differences over Brexit have strained the United Kingdom. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU in a 2016 referendum, while Wales and England vote to leave.

Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.

But Sturgeon argued that leaving the world’s largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland’s economic well-being.

“We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe,” she said.

“We need a more solid foundation on which to build our future as a country.”

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Saudi Arabia to lead a trillion dollar MENA investment splurge



The energy sector in the Middle East and North Africa will amass almost $1 trillion in investment over the next five years, as countries build out energy capabilities and pivot to renewables, according to new research.

The Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp), a multilateral development bank with around $7 billion in total assets, provides an annual estimate for both planned and committed investments for 2019 to 2023.

“We are seeing growth in the total amount of investments going into the energy sector,” Apicorp CEO Ahmed Attiga told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday.

The group says planned investments account for the majority of the spending at $613 billion while committed investments cover the remainder.

Oil remains key, but gas is rising

The power sector accounts for the largest share of total investments at $348 billion. Of that, there are $90 billion worth of projects currently under execution.

“The power sector is really showing tremendous growth, and this is a direct outcome of the countries of the region diversifying their energy mix and also trying to rely on renewables as a major source of energy,” Attiga said.

“Most of the countries of the region are determined now to implement an energy transition regardless of the volatility of oil prices,” he added.

The report said the case for switching from oil to gas and renewables remains strong in countries with sizeable gas reserves, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, or where the share of liquids in power generation remains significant.

Total investments in the gas sector will amount to $186 billion over the five years, it said, which includes $87 billion of committed investment. Despite that, the oil sector (upstream, midstream and refining) is still a key investment driver at $304 billion, of which committed investments account for a little under 50% or $138 billion.

Saudi Arabia takes regional center stage

Saudi Arabia has the largest committed and planned investments in the medium term, worth more than $140 billion, as it looks to make renewable and possibly nuclear energy a bigger component of its supply mix.

Iraq is second behind Saudi Arabia for committed and planned investments, followed by Iran, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Emirates is the only country in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) with committed investments up year-on-year, with upstream oil investments set to reach $20 billion.

Except for Lebanon, all net-importers in the region experienced year-on-year growth in their five-year investment outlook, with Jordan, Iraq and Tunisia witnessing the largest percentage increase.

Paying for energy investments

Despite the growing figures, the report said the rate of transition from planned to committed investments has been poor, due to renewed uncertainty about growth and oil prices.

That means non-government lead investments are rising, particularly in countries with weaker fiscal reserves or a higher share of power sector projects. “We are seeing the trend considerably increasing,” said Attiga.

“It’s no longer the governments that’s shouldering the bulk of these investments, but rather an increase in the role of the private sector, and we think this is a very good development,” he added.

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