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Archive for May, 2017

UK’s Labor Party: We will immediately recognize the state of Palestine

May 28, 2017

Britain’s Labor Party announced in its 2017 elections manifesto that if elected in June, the party would immediately recognize the state of Palestine.

A Labor government will immediately recognize the state of Palestine

The manifesto stated that the party was committed to a two-state solution to solve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that “there can be no military solution to this conflict.”

Both Israel and Palestine must “avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve,” the manifesto continued, referencing the need to end the decade-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, the half-century Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and Israel’s continued settlement expansions.

It added that Hamas, the de facto leaders in the besieged Gaza Strip, must also end rocket and “terror attacks,” in order for leaders to enter “meaningful negotiations” and develop a “diplomatic resolution.”

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom’s House of Lords released a statement that strongly criticized the British government’s “very degrading, dismissive attitude” towards international efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and suggested that it take a stronger stance to advance a two-state solution, including recognizing a state of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170528-uks-labour-party-we-will-immediately-recognise-the-state-of-palestine/.

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UK Labor leader links terror to wars as campaign resumes

May 26, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Four days after a suicide bombing plunged Britain into mourning, political campaigning for a general election in two weeks resumed Friday with the main opposition leader linking acts of terrorism at home to foreign wars like the one in Libya.

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn risked being assailed for politicizing the Manchester Arena attack that killed 22 people by claiming that his party would change Britain’s foreign policy if it takes power after the June 8 vote by abandoning the “war on terror.”

“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” Corbyn said in his first speech since Monday night’s atrocity.

National campaigning had been on hold to honor the victims of the arena bombing. Salman Abedi, the bomber who struck the Ariana Grande concert, had strong links to Libya. His parents were born and lived there before moving to Britain in the early 1990s. They eventually returned with several of their six children, and Abedi traveled there to visit his family on occasion.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was attending a summit of the Group of Seven in Sicily, offered a blistering critique of Corbyn’s position when she was asked about it at a news conference. May said that while she was at the summit rallying support for the fight against terrorism, “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault, and he has said that just a few days after one of the worst terror attacks” in the country’s history.

“There can never, ever, be an excuse for terrorism,” she said, adding “the choice people face at the general election has become starker.” While Corbyn could alienate some voters with his comments, he is trying to win back the many Labor supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Blair’s backing of President George W. Bush brought more than 1 million protesters into the streets. When the rationale for war failed to pan out because weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, Blair’s popularity faded badly after a string of election victories.

When home-grown terrorists attacked London subway and bus lines in 2005, some blamed Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. Corbyn’s speech reflects the view that Britain’s actions overseas are at least in part responsible for the increase in extremist attacks.

The Labor Party under Corbyn has consistently trailed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in the polls, but has begun to make gains in the last week. It is unclear how the worst attack in Britain in more than a decade will impact voter sentiment.

Grande, meanwhile, said that she would return to Manchester for a benefit concert to raise money for the victims and their families. The American singer didn’t announce a date for the concert. “Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we did before,” Grande said in a statement .

Grande suspended her Dangerous Woman world tour and canceled several European shows after the bombing. The tour will restart June 7 in Paris. British police investigating the Manchester bombing made two new arrests Friday while continuing to search 12 properties.

A total of nine men are being held on suspicion of offenses violating the Terrorism Act. Their ages ranged from 18 to 44. A 16-year-old boy and a 34-year-old woman who had been arrested were released without charge, police said.

Authorities are chasing possible links between the Abedi and militants in Manchester, elsewhere in Europe, and in North Africa and the Middle East. Britain’s security level has been upgraded to “critical” meaning officials believe another attack may be imminent.

Manchester Police Chief Ian Hopkins said substantial progress has been made but detective work remains. Abedi, a college dropout who had grown up in the Manchester area, was known to security services because of his radical views. His parents came to Britain early in the 1990s.

He reportedly was in contact with family members just before the attack. The names of the people in custody have not been released. No one has yet been charged in the bombing. London police say extra security is being added for major sporting events this weekend including the FA Cup soccer final at Wembley Stadium.

Chief Superintendent Jon Williams said Friday extra protection measures and extra officers are being deployed throughout the capital because of the increased terrorist threat level. He said fans coming to soccer and rugby matches this weekend should come earlier than usual because of added security screening.

Williams said “covert and discrete tactics” will also be in place to protect the transport network. British police working on the case have resumed intelligence-sharing with U.S. counterparts after a brief halt because of anger over leaks to U.S. media thought by Britain to be coming from U.S. officials.

British officials say that have received assurances from U.S. authorities that confidential material will be protected. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in London Friday that the U.S. accepts responsibility for the leaks.

At the mosque that Abedi attended in Manchester, director of trustees Mohammed el-Khayat told worshipers that police would be told if anyone shows signs of having been radicalized. “The police will be the first to know,” he said before Friday afternoon prayers. He strongly condemned the attack and said radical views will not be tolerated.

Thamir Nasir, who has attended the mosque for nine years, remembered seeing Abedi there, but said he didn’t know him very well. “This does not represent Islam,” Nasir said of the concert bombing. “And it doesn’t represent our community, and for sure doesn’t represent this mosque here….This center is one of the most open — open to the community. So everyone here is shocked. We could not really sleep that night knowing that this happened in Manchester.”

Despite the increased threat level throughout the country, and the addition of extra armed police and soldiers, the country’s top counter-terrorism police officer urged Britons not to hide away indoors during the upcoming holiday weekend, which finds much of the country enjoying fine weather.

“Go out and enjoy,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said.

Rob Harris reported from Manchester. David McHugh contributed from Taormina, Sicily.

English wedding: Pippa Middleton marries as royals look on

May 21, 2017

ENGLEFIELD, England (AP) — Two likely future British kings were there, along with one of the world’s most photographed women, the often-adorable Prince Harry, a multilingual tennis legend and a brash TV reality star.

But all eyes were on Pippa Middleton on Saturday as she walked down the aisle of a 12th-century church wearing a custom hand-embroidered gown with a tiara and long veil to marry hedge fund manager James Matthews.

Reporters, photographers and camera crews invaded the small village of Englefield west of London, home to St. Mark’s Church, and nearby Bucklebury, where a lavish reception was being held Saturday night at the estate of the bride’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton.

Middleton, 33, is not royalty. But the star-studded wedding took on some aspects of a royal wedding, with well-wishers gathering outside the church grounds hoping for a glimpse. She arrived in a vintage Jaguar to enter the church on the arm of her father. Older sister Kate, also known as the Duchess of Cambridge, looked after the page boys and bridesmaids, who were all under five years old and included her own children, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 2.

Prince William and Prince Harry, decked out in formal morning suits, seemed relaxed as they strolled into the church and were greeted by the groom’s well-known brother, Spencer Matthews, a star on the TV show “Made in Chelsea.”

Matthews, 41, smiled broadly and sported elegant formal wear set off by a pale blue vest. The new couple emerged from the church an hour later. The children dropped flower petals in their path before the couple celebrated their union with a kiss. Then it was off for champagne and, later, a short spin in a different Jaguar.

Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine, said the Middletons could take pleasure in the day: Their first daughter, Kate, had married a future king, and their second daughter, Pippa, had married an extremely wealthy, charming and handsome man.

“You can’t do better than that,” she said. Matthew and Pippa briefly dated in 2012 but became serious last year. He proposed during a visit to the enchanting Lake District, setting in motion what is being called the society wedding of the year.

The wedding plan was not without risks — including having such young children in the wedding party. But George and Charlotte — and the rest of the page boys and bridesmaids — did extremely well in public, winning hearts along the way in their custom-made outfits.

Roger Federer and his wife Mirka were among the guests. Pippa had kept the identity of her wedding designer a secret until she stepped out wearing a fitted, dramatic frock by English designer Giles Deacon.

The dress had a high neckline and a corseted bodice, with draping to the front and a heart-shaped detail in the back. Deacon said the lace bodice was embroidered with pearl details over a layered organza-and-tulle underskirt.

“It was a privilege to show the craftsmanship that my team produces in London and a real testament to Pippa’s support of British fashion,” he said. Kate, so often the center of attention as she performs her royal duties or poses for the cover of Vogue, gracefully ceded the spotlight to her younger sister. The Duchess of Cambridge wore a long-sleeved, blush pink Alexander McQueen dress.

She focused on making sure the young page boys and bridesmaids behaved, once raising her finger to shush the rambunctious youngsters. Harry did not bring his girlfriend, American actress Meghan Markle, to the crowded church ceremony. She may attend the private reception.

The bride’s parents built an elaborate glass marquee on their estate in Bucklebury for the reception and guests were advised to bring two outfits so they could change after the wedding ceremony. The airspace above both villages was closed to prevent intrusive press crews from flying overhead or launching drones to get video footage.

Middleton was relatively unknown until her figure-hugging bridesmaid gown attracted attention at the 2011 royal wedding of Kate and Prince William. That sparked completely unfounded rumors that she was dating Prince Harry.

She has written a book about entertaining and columns for Vanity Fair while also working at her parents’ lucrative “Party Pieces” business.

Greek, Turkish Cypriots link arms across border for peace

May 27, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Dozens of Greek and Turkish Cypriots have linked arms across a U.N.-controlled buffer zone cutting across ethnically divided Cyprus’ capital of Nicosia to voice their support for a reunification agreement.

Beating drums, blowing whistles and singing traditional Cypriot folk songs, the demonstrators said real peace lies in the hands of ordinary people from both sides of the divide as the Mediterranean island’s reunification talks appear to be faltering.

Protesters said Saturday’s event was to remind politicians not to let ordinary people down. On Friday, a U.N. envoy called off meditation efforts with the island’s Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci after failing to find “common ground” on convening a final summit for an overall reunification deal.

But officials insisted talks haven’t collapsed.

Austrian party picks new leader, early elections likely

May 14, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s junior government coalition partner chose a new leader Sunday and gave him the unprecedented authority he demanded as a condition for leading his party into expected early elections this fall.

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told reporters that senior officials of his People’s Party agreed to let him choose all ministers of any government he would head, as well as to nominate candidates for parliament that would include party outsiders.

Speaking after a closed meeting, Kurz said that the gathering also agreed to contest at least the next elections under a name change. Instead of the People’s Party, Kurz and other candidates would now run under the “List Sebastian Kurz – the new People’s Party.”

“We have decided to start a movement,” Kurz told reporters. “We’re going to rely on proven forces from within the People’s Party, but at the same time we’re going to bring new people on board.” The power grab is significant in a party where provincial governors have historically had an outsize say in running federal affairs, including pushing through ministerial appointments and overriding major policy decisions by the federal leader.

With few exceptions, that has led party heads to resign in frustration in recent decades. The latest, Reinhold Mitterlehner, threw in the towel Wednesday after less than three years as party leader and vice chancellor.

The center-right People’s Party is now a distant third among voters. But Kurz, a telegenic 30-year old, regularly tops political popularity polls. That is due in part for his embrace of a harder line on immigrants and other positions of the right-wing Freedom Party, which leads in voter support. But he avoids that party’s xenophobic polemics, as he walks the line between keeping People’s Party supporters and attracting Freedom Party backers.

Acceptance of Kurz’s demands reflects recognition by the party’s power-brokers that refusal would mean an almost certain slide in voter support. The often cantankerous People’s Party-Social Democratic coalition has shown increased signs of fraying over the past months. Still, Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern had resisted People’s Party calls to move up elections from next year.

But as People’s Party officials gathered Sunday he told state broadcaster ORF: “I assume that there will certainly be an election this fall.”

Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin, and AP video journalist Philipp Jenne in Vienna, contributed to this report.

Sweden drops case but WikiLeaks’ Assange is not in the clear

May 19, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, almost seven years after it began and five years after the WikiLeaks founder sought refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson declared Friday that “this is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants.” But the picture is more complicated than that.

HAS ASSANGE BEEN EXONERATED?

No. The investigation began after two women accused Assange of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Stockholm — allegations he denies. Sweden asked Britain to extradite Assange for questioning, and in June 2012 he sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid arrest.

After that, the investigation stalled. Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out in 2015, leaving only the rape allegation. Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions announced Friday that she was dropping the rape case because there is no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden “in the foreseeable future” and it is “no longer proportionate” to maintain the European arrest warrant.

She told a news conference in Stockholm that the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020. Ny said the case was not being dropped because Assange has been found innocent.

“We don’t make any statement of guilty or not,” she said.

IS ASSANGE FREE TO LEAVE THE ECUADOREAN EMBASSY?

Sweden has revoked a European Arrest Warrant for Assange, so British police are no longer seeking him for extradition. But there is also a warrant issued by a British court after he skipped bail in June 2012.

London’s Metropolitan Police force says that it “is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” The maximum sentence for that offense is a year in prison.

Assange said Friday that “my legal staff have contacted the U.K. authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”

Ecuador, which has granted Assange asylum, says it will step up diplomatic efforts to gain him safe passage to the Latin American country.

ARE THERE OTHER CHARGES AGAINST ASSANGE?

That’s unclear. Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified American documents, which has infuriated U.S. officials. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that Assange’s arrest is a priority.

Both U.S. and British officials have declined to comment on whether there is a warrant for Assange’s arrest.

Assange told reporters Friday he would be happy to discuss his case with the U.S. Department of Justice.

DOES SWEDEN’S ACTION MAKE ASSANGE SAFER?

Some legal experts say it makes his position less secure. Until Friday, Britain was bound to honor Sweden’s extradition request before any warrant from the United States. That is no longer the case.

Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: “Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any U.S. extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden.”

Assange could fight any U.S. extradition request in the British courts, a process that could take years.

WHITHER WIKILEAKS?

WikiLeaks’ release of classified material has continued unabated during Assange’s five years in the Ecuadorean embassy. On Friday, the group released what it said were new details of CIA cyberespionage tools.

South Sudan soldiers face trial for deadly hotel rampage

May 30, 2017

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudanese soldiers accused of a horrific attack on foreign aid workers during the country’s civil war are facing trial almost a year later, with the possibility of a death sentence.

Twelve of the 20 soldiers accused of rape, torture, killing and looting during the attack on the Terrain hotel compound were in court Tuesday. The assault came during fresh fighting in the capital, Juba, in July.

An investigation by The Associated Press last year showed that dozens of soldiers broke into the compound and terrorized residents and staff while the nearby United Nations peacekeeping mission did not respond to pleas for help. Five foreigners reported being gang-raped, and one local journalist was shot in the head and killed as others were forced to watch.

The U.N. secretary-general later fired the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission over its response to the attacks on the hotel compound and elsewhere. The trial is a test of South Sudan’s ability to hold its soldiers accountable. It is expected to last several weeks, with the next court date scheduled for June 6.

If convicted of rape, the soldiers could face up to 14 years in prison. If convicted of murder, they could be sentenced to death. It was not immediately clear how the soldiers would plead. The prosecution said it “absolutely” has the necessary evidence to convict the accused, citing testimony from witnesses and victims including an American man who was shot in the leg.

“We expect the same as from any normal trial,” said Michael Woodward, the British former manager of the Terrain and the only witness to testify Tuesday. “We want justice for the victims, compensation for what was looted and we want this to serve as an example for people who commit similar crimes.”

South Sudan’s military marked the start of the trial by announcing it is committed to “human rights, the rule of law and the transparency of the legal system.” The start of the trial comes shortly after a new U.N report that exposed potential war crimes by the army in soldiers’ targeting and killing of dozens of South Sudanese civilians. The international community has repeatedly expressed concern about impunity for widespread abuses in the civil war, which is well into its fourth year and has left tens of thousands dead.

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