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Lebanon holds first general elections in 9 years

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Tens of thousands of Lebanese began casting their ballots Sunday in the first parliamentary elections in nine years, with people lining up early in the morning to take part in a vote that is being fiercely contested between rival groups backed by regional powers.

The voting is unlikely to change the existing balance of power among the major groups in Lebanon, but many hope new contenders from civil society groups can challenge the decades-old sectarian political system.

Thousands of army and police forces deployed near polling stations and on major intersections across the country to ensure security. Electoral campaigns have been tense as each group has mobilized its supporters, with fist fights and shootings occurring in several areas in recent weeks.

The main race is between a Western and Saudi-backed coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, part of a region-wide struggle for power between Riyadh and Tehran.

“This shows Lebanon’s democracy and the importance of democracy. This is a democratic wedding, and as we said from the start, congratulations to whoever wins tonight,” said Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who is running on Hariri’s list, after casting his ballot in Beirut.

As Hariri entered a public school to vote, a woman in a wheelchair complained that polling stations were not equipped for disabled voters.

“We are human beings. It is not fair that we have to be carried like bags of potatoes,” the woman, Silvana Lakkis, said. The prime minister promised to address the problem in the next elections.

“When we see what is happening in countries around us and Lebanon is holding democratic elections, this shows that Lebanon is fine,” Hariri said after waiting in line around 20 minutes to cast his ballot. “Order is nice,” he quipped.

The vote is the first since Syria’s war broke out in 2011, sending a flood of around million refugees to neighboring Lebanon and adding to the country’s economic woes.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad’s forces, a move that has been criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians, who see the group as dragging the country into regional conflicts.

Leading Hezbollah legislator Ali Ammar defended his group’s involvement in Syria, saying it protected Lebanon from the “evil powers” of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

In Hezbollah strongholds in southern Beirut, there was a steady flow of voters Sunday. Outside polling stations, Hezbollah supporters displayed a replica of the voting ballot on a big board and explained to voters which among the color-coded lists is theirs, and how they can vote for it. They wore yellow shirts with the slogan “We protect and build” written on them.

“We love the resistance,” said Amira Sidani, an 85-year-old woman, after casting her ballot.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them. In the past, the winning list took all the seats in the electoral district.

At midday, after casting his ballot in southern Beirut, President Michel Aoun described the process as “successful.” Wary of voters’ apathy toward a vote unlikely to change much, he urged people to turn out in large numbers.

Mohammed Ali, 30, riding his scooter to the beach, said he’s not voting because there are no choices. He says his family members will vote for whoever pays them, but he’s not interested in the money.

The legislature’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria’s war. Lebanese who support opposing sides in the war have clashed on a number of occasions, and Sunni extremists have carried out several bombings.

There are about 3.6 million eligible voters, and early results are expected after polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT). Some 586 candidates, including 86 women, are running for the 128-seat parliament, which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

Hezbollah and its allies are likely to add more seats, while Hariri is likely to lose several. Some of his Sunni supporters see him as being too soft on Hezbollah, and the billionaire businessman has also faced criticism after laying off scores of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Still, Hariri will most likely be named to form a national unity Cabinet after the vote. The rival sides are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which includes Hezbollah.

The vote comes a week after Lebanese living oversees voted in 39 countries around the world. It was the first time Lebanon’s large expatriate community was allowed to take part in the vote. That, along with the new electoral law, has injected some unpredictability to the process.

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‘Roaring 20s’ after the pandemic? Big banks warn be careful what you wish for

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GameStop jumps more than 100% even as hedge funds cover short bets, scrutiny of rally intensifies

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Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Shares of GameStop surged again Wednesday, continuing the streak of wild swings for the stock as several high-profile short sellers said they had backed away from their positions.

The name traded at roughly $342 per share when it was briefly halted at about 11:19 a.m. ET, up almost 131% from Tuesday’s close and giving the company a market cap of about $24 billion. The stock traded as high as $380 per share in premarket trading.

The latest move higher comes as some of the high-profile short sellers of GameStop, including Melvin Capital and Citron, announced that they covered most or all of their positions.

The stock lost some of its premarket gains after the short sellers made their announcements, but the shares rebounded to new highs shortly before the market open.

GameStop’s nearly vertical surge over the past week has come as retail traders, many of whom have documented their moves on the social media site Reddit, have piled into the stock and call options. The spiking share price has helped to create a stock squeeze, where shorts and options dealers are forced to buy shares of a rising stock to cover their positions, resulting in a feedback loop that drives the stock even higher.

The name appeared to get a boost in extended trading on Tuesday after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted out the link to the Reddit board where much of the discussion has taken place.

The video game retailer, which had a market cap of less than $4 billion at the end of last week, was the most traded stock on the market by value Tuesday, according to Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid.

GameStop’s rapid rise has drawn comparisons to speculative trading during the tech bubble of the late 1990s and led many Wall Street veterans to warn investors about the potential for significant losses.

Hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who reported holding 1.7 million shares of the stock at the end of September, said in a now-deleted tweet that the rise was “unnatural, insane, and dangerous.” Burry also told Bloomberg News that he did not have a current long or short position in the stock.

William Galvin, Massachusetts’ top securities regulator, told Barron’s that the trading in GameStop could be “systemically wrong.”

Bank of America raised its price target on the stock to just $10 per share on Wednesday, saying in a note to clients that the increased share price could help GameStop’s turnaround plans but presented a risk for investors.

“While it is difficult to know how much very high short interest and retail ownership … could continue to put upward pressure on shares, we think fundamentals will again factor into valuation,” the note said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment to CNBC.

— CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this story.

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PepsiCo CEO, top UN officials discuss future of food systems

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[The stream is slated to start at 11:15 ET. Please refresh the page if you do not see a player above at that time.]

More than 1 billion tons of food is wasted every year. And agriculture is still a major driving force of climate change.

With world leaders looking to ensure the post-coronavirus recovery is one that’s sustainable and inclusive, the need to improve farming and food systems has never been more urgent.

To discuss the key issues at stake, CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick speaks with a panel of experts at the virtual Davos Agenda, including:

  • Dongyu Qu, director-general of the the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization
  • Wiebe Draijer, chairman of the managing board at Rabobank
  • Ramon Laguarta, CEO of PepsiCo
  • Carlos Alvarado Quesada, president of Costa Rica
  • Agnes Kalibata, special envoy for the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit
  • Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations

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