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After shocking election setback, British PM Theresa May will try to form coalition goverment

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Spectacularly punished by voters who took away her majority in Parliament, a politically wounded Theresa May sought Friday to soldier on as Britain’s prime minister, resisting pressure to resign after the failure of her high-stakes election gamble made the massive challenge of withdrawing Britain from the European Union only more complex and uncertain.

Having called an early election in hopes of getting an increased majority that could have strengthened her hand in Britain’s exit talks with the EU, May instead saw her majority evaporate completely — leaving her fortunes hanging by a thread and dark clouds over the “Brexit” negotiations just 10 days before they are due to start.

Rather than resign, May clung to the hope that her Conservatives might still be able to govern by making deals with another party or group of parties. In a largely symbolic step, she went to see Queen Elizabeth II just after midday Friday to seek the monarch’s approval to form a government.

Unexpectedly faced with the prospect of dealing with now-shaky British leadership, perplexed EU leaders sought to make sense of the drama but also made clear that though Britain might be accorded time to regroup, it should not expect an extension of the two-year deadline for the Brexit talks to end.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted that “negotiations should start when U.K. is ready.” But EU Council President Donald Tusk said: “We know when they must end.” Mostly, the EU mood was one of frustration that the already tough Brexit talks were likely to become only more difficult.

The election shock is “yet another own goal” that will make “already complex negotiations even more complicated,” said the European Parliament’s top Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt.

Parliamentary majority in the balance as Britain votes
With 649 of 650 seats in the House of Commons declared, May’s bruised Conservatives had 318 — short of the 326 they needed for an outright majority and well down from the 330 seats they had before May’s roll of the electoral dice.

May’s best lifeline appeared to be a possible — but also uncertain — deal with a Northern Ireland party that won 10 seats. Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster told British media that contacts will be made over the weekend, but she added that it would be “difficult for [May] to survive” and that “it is too soon to talk about what we’re going to do.”

In May’s camp, recriminations were immediate and stinging.

“This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “Our leader needs to take stock as well.”

This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock.
— Anna Soubry, Conservative lawmaker

The biggest winner was Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Labor’s increase in seats from 229 to 261 — with that one seat still undecided — confounded expectations that his left-wing views made him electorally toxic.

In a buoyant mood, Corbyn piled on pressure for May to resign, saying Friday morning that people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending. He ruled out the potential for deals or pacts with other progressive parties in Parliament.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change.”

Initially blindsided by May’s snap election call, and written off by many pollsters, Labor surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers.

As she was resoundingly reelected to her Maidenhead seat in southern England, May looked tense. Without detailing her next steps, she said: “The country needs a period of stability, and whatever the results are the Conservative Party will ensure we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability.”

The fast-moving events both flummoxed and fascinated voters.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” Peter Morgan, 35, said in London. “I was kind of hoping it would just go the way that the polls suggested it would and we could have a quiet life in Westminster but now it’s going to be a bit of a mess.”

Many predicted that May would soon be gone. Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, called her “a zombie prime minister.”

“Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government, then she, I doubt, will survive in the long term as Conservative Party leader,” former Conservative Treasury chief George Osborne said on ITV.

May wasn’t the only big loser.

In a blow to its hopes for another referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, the pro-independence Scottish National Party lost about 20 of its 54 seats. Its casualties included Alex Salmond, one of the party’s highest-profile lawmakers.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the idea of a new independence referendum “is dead.”

Meanwhile, European leaders grappled with the question: What next? French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the election shock didn’t necessarily mean that Britons have changed their minds about leaving but also predicted that “the tone” of negotiations may be affected.

“These are discussions that will be long and that will be complex. So let’s not kid ourselves,” he said on Europe 1 radio.

EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the EU is prepared to stick to the timetable that calls for negotiations to start in mid-June, but also said: “Without a government, there’s no negotiation.”

May, who went into the election with a reputation for quiet competence, was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.” As the polls suggested a tightening race, pollsters spoke less often of a landslide and raised the possibility that May’s majority would be eroded.

Then, attacks in Manchester and London that killed a total of 30 people brought the campaign to a halt — twice, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism. Corbyn accused the Conservatives of undermining Britain’s security by cutting the number of police on the streets.

Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

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Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli Capital Amid Negative Reactions

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President Donald Trump says the U.S. is officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and beginning the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, a development that is drawing a negative reaction from much of the world.

“Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world,” Trump said in a speech Wednesday. “Over the past seven decades, the Israeli People have built a country where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and beliefs.”

He stressed that the U.S. “remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both “Israel and the Palestinians.” “I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement,” Trump said.

Arab and Muslim states are warning that the controversial decision could enflame tensions in the region and destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

Palestinians are calling for three “Days of Rage” to protest President Trump’s plan.

Pope Francis expressed “profound concern” about the move, while Turkey called for a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to coordinate a response. Iran called the move “wrong, illegitimate, provocative and very dangerous.”

The Trump administration has staunchly defended the move, saying the president is merely recognizing what it calls a historic and modern reality. The move would also make good on a campaign promise which was backed by some of his evangelical Christian and Jewish supporters.

​Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the U.S. still thinks there is “a very good opportunity for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking in Brussels, Tillerson said Trump “is very committed to the Middle East peace process. He has a team he put into place. That team has been working very diligently.” The top U.S. diplomat urged people to “listen carefully to the entirety” of Trump’s speech.

The officials say the president will order the State Department to start making plans to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. They say the process will take years to find a site, secure funding, and construct a new building. Until then, Trump will sign the usual waiver postponing the relocation.

Trump telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and at least three other regional leaders Tuesday to explain his move. A White House statement said Trump had reaffirmed his commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the importance of supporting those talks.

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the embassy must be relocated to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months stating that moving the embassy would threaten U.S. national security. Every president since Clinton has signed the waiver, including Trump.

“The United States does lease an area of land in West Jerusalem for a dollar a year,” Randolph-Macon College history professor Michael Fischbach told VOA. “One thing would be, there’s a massive amount not only of construction that would have to occur, but then moving people and facilities from Tel Aviv.”

Dennis Ross was the U.S. point man on the Middle East peace process under three presidents and worked with Israelis and Palestinians to reach the 1995 Interim Agreement. He said Tuesday Trump appears to be leaving a lot of room for both Israelis and Arabs to maneuver in the newly changed environment.

“It’s very important for the president to create a lot of ‘handles’ or ‘hooks’ for our friends to say, fundamentally, this does not change the ability of Palestinians, the Arabs who tend to see Jerusalem not just (as) a Palestinian issue but a regional issue, that their position, their concern, their claim still has to be part of the negotiation process and that hasn’t been pre-empted,” Ross said. “That seems to me to be the key to this.”

Some officials in Washington have expressed concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and American interests in the region.

The U.S. Consulate General is restricting American government workers and their families from personal travel Wednesday in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, amid widespread calls for demonstrations.

U.S. embassies worldwide also have been ordered to increase security.

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US funds for Somalia could be diverted to Shabaab, watchdog warns

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The State Department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that US funding for the Somali government is not diverted to Al-Shabaab terror group, the department’s watchdog unit warned on Monday.

“The bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying, assessing and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programmes in countries where terrorist organisations, such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, operate,” the State Department’s Office of Inspector General said.

In a 34-page report assessing the bureau’s foreign assistance management, a team of inspectors cited the example of $66 million paid as cash stipends to members of the Somali National Army during the past seven years.

AL-SHABAAB

Inadequate oversight of that assistance could enable Al-Shabaab to siphon off some of that money intended for 6,509 Somali government soldiers, the report suggested.

In addition, inspectors found that the Africa Bureau continued paying the soldiers’ stipends while failing to comply with a US law that prohibits State Department assistance to foreign military units that have not been screened for human rights violations.

That lapsed compliance with the so-called Leahy Law spanned several months in 2014 and again in a period spanning 2016 and 2017, the report said.

VETTING

“Furnishing security assistance without conducting Leahy vetting raises the risk that funds could be provided to individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights or are otherwise ineligible for assistance,” the report stated.

The law in question — named for its primary author, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy — requires the US State Department and Pentagon to determine whether potential aid recipients carry out extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rapes.

The State Department’s own worldwide report on human rights found in 2016 that Somali government forces abused civilians. Somali authorities “generally did not investigate abuse by police, army or militia members,” the 2016 evaluation added. “A culture of impunity was widespread.”

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New York truck attack: Investigators scour driver’s background

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New York – Investigators worked through the night to determine what led a truck driver to plow down people on a riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great” in Arabic as his deadly route of terror ended with a crash, authorities said.

Eight people were killed and 11 seriously injured in a Halloween afternoon attack that the mayor called “a particularly cowardly act of terror”.

The driver – identified by officials as an immigrant from Uzbekistan – was in critical condition but expected to survive after a police officer shot him in the abdomen. A roughly 3km stretch of highway in downtown Manhattan was shut down for the investigation.

Authorities also converged on a New Jersey home and a van in a parking lot at a New Jersey Home Depot store. Authorities were scrutinising a note found inside the attacker’s rented truck, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Police and the FBI urged members of the public to give them any photos or video that could help. The attack echoed a strategy that the Islamic State (ISIS) group has been suggesting to its followers. While police didn’t specifically blame any group for the strike, President Donald Trump railed against ISIS and declared “enough!” and “NOT IN THE U.S.A.!”

The victims reflected a city that is a melting pot and a magnet for visitors: One of the dead was from Belgium. Five were from Argentina and were celebrating the 30th anniversary of a school graduation, according to officials in those countries. The injured included students and staffers on a school bus that the driver rammed.

“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

‘He did not seem like a terrorist’

Officials who were not authorised to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity identified the slight, bearded attacker as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the US legally in 2010. He has a Florida driver’s licence but may have been staying in New Jersey, they said.

Records show Saipov was a commercial truck driver who formed a pair of businesses in Ohio. He had also driven for Uber, the ride-hailing company said. An Ohio marriage licence shows that a truck driver with one of Saipov’s addresses and his name, spelled slightly differently, married a fellow Uzbek in 2013.

During his time in Fort Myers, Florida, several years ago, Saipov was “a very good person”, an acquaintance, Kobiljon Matkarov, told The New York Times.

“He liked the US. He seemed very lucky, and all the time, he was happy and talking like everything is OK. He did not seem like a terrorist, but I did not know him from the inside,” Matkarov said. He said Saipov later moved to New Jersey and began driving for Uber. San Francisco-based Uber said he started over six months ago.

Police said the attacker rented the truck at about 14:00 at a New Jersey Home Depot and then went into New York City, entering the bike path about an hour later and speeding toward the World Trade Center, the site of the deadliest terror attack in US history.

He barrelled along the bike path in the truck for the equivalent of about 14 blocks, or around eight-tenths of a mile, before slamming into a small yellow school bus.

“A person hopped out of the car with two guns and started yelling and screaming,” said a 12-year-old student who had just left a nearby school. “They were yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’.”

‘I saw a lot of blood’

The student, whose mother asked that his name be withheld, said he ran back into the school, where students cried and huddled in a corner.

Video shot by bystanders showed Saipov walking through traffic wielding what looked like two handguns, but which police later said were a paintball gun and a pellet gun. A police officer shot Saipov when he wouldn’t drop the weapons, police said.

The mayhem set off panic in the neighbourhood and left the pavement strewn with mangled bicycles and bodies that were soon covered with sheets.

“I saw a lot of blood over there. A lot of people on the ground,” said Chen Yi, an Uber driver.

The note inside the truck was handwritten in a foreign language, according to one of the two law enforcement officials who spoke about the document. Both said its contents were being investigated but supported the belief the act was terrorism.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called Tuesday’s carnage a “lone wolf” attack and said there was no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot.

New York and other cities around the globe have been on high alert against attacks by extremists in vehicles. England, France and Germany have seen deadly vehicle attacks in the past year or so.

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