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Archive for August, 2018

French president pushes for new changes as criticism grows

August 22, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is back from summer vacation and he plans to launch a new push for economic changes as he faces growing criticism at home. The 40-year-old leader holds a Cabinet meeting Wednesday at the Elysee presidential palace.

Macron hopes his break will help give his policies new impetus after a nightmare political scenario in July. His government survived two no-confidence votes last month following a scandal over a top Macron security aide, Alexandre Benalla, identified in a video as acting violently toward a protester while wearing police equipment.

While the centrist leader promised transparency and an exemplary government before his election, the scandal has raised questions about his team’s working methods and actions. Benalla, who initially stayed in his job before a public uproar led to his dismissal, has since faced initial charges, including committing violent acts and impersonating a police officer.

The latest public opinion polls at the end of July have seen Macron’s popularity rate at its lowest level since he was elected in May 2017. Opponents commonly describe Macron as “Jupiter,” the Roman king of gods, or “Napoleon” —in a reference to his authoritarian style and tendency to use special powers to pass some key measures without a parliamentary debate. In addition, critics often portray him as the “president of the rich,” for tax cuts for the wealthy.

Similar comments have been recently revived by his request to build a 34,000-euro ($39,200) swimming pool in the presidential summer residence on the French Riviera. The French leader took 15 days of vacation, reading books and enjoying the view of turquoise waters. He made only a few public appearances.

He invited British Prime Minister Theresa May for dinner, with Brexit discussions on the agenda. He also had phone calls with several world leaders, including President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

An official at the French presidency said Macron’s international agenda in the coming weeks will focus on showing a united European front in Brexit negotiations. Macron seeks to strengthen ties between pro-European governments, seen as opposed to rising populism in the European Union. He’s notably planning to visit Denmark and Finland at the end of the month and meet with Merkel in early September. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

Macron is likely to face a tough task in domestic politics. The government is preparing the country’s budget for next year as the economic growth forecast is lower than previously expected at an estimated 1.8 percent, compared with 2.2 percent last year.

Macron is planning to focus on pursuing further labor changes with a bill focusing on helping small businesses to grow by removing some financial and bureaucratic barriers. Over the past year, the government struggled to pass labor measures and a plan to revamp national railway company SNCF.

The changes have been rejected by unions as weakening workers’ hard-won protections, prompting big protests last autumn and spring, and months-long rolling strikes from railway workers. The government will also detail next month a sweeping overhaul of the costly health care system, including hospital financing. The plan will be closely monitored as the French are attached to preserving the system, widely considered one of the best in the world.

Meanwhile, key constitutional changes were delayed because the Benalla scandal interrupted the debate at parliament in July. The changes were aimed at fulfilling some of Macron’s campaign promises like decreasing the number of lawmakers and accelerating the process to make laws. The government hopes to be able to revive the plan this autumn.

In addition, Macron wants to reorganize the structure of the Elysee Palace and its 820 workers, especially in the fields of security, communication, transportation and logistics. The changes may be sensitive since they would challenge decades-old traditions and ways of working.

Macron’s office stresses that it needs to be modernized to be more reactive and efficient. For example, the military command unit ensuring security inside the Elysee is also in charge of mundane tasks like printing invitation cards, while Macron’s highly trained bodyguards are also responsible for carrying the luggage of the president’s aides during official trips.

UK govt says ‘no-deal’ Brexit would mean red tape, expense

August 23, 2018

LONDON (AP) — Businesses could face red tape at the border, customers could see higher credit card fees, patients could endure delays to medical treatment and there could even be a sperm shortage if Britain leaves the European Union next year without a deal, the U.K. government acknowledged Thursday.

But Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government vowed it would limit the instability that could be triggered by a disorderly Brexit, releasing documents outlining its plans to cope. Even if Britain crashes out of the bloc next year without a trade deal, its plans include unilaterally accepting some EU rules and giving EU financial services firms continued access to the U.K. market.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain was determined to “manage the risks and embrace the opportunities” of Brexit. “We have made clear that if negotiations don’t achieve the optimum outcome, we will continue to be a responsible European neighbor and partner,” he said in a speech Thursday to business leaders in London.

With seven months until Britain leaves the EU on March 29, negotiations on divorce terms and future trade have bogged down amid infighting within May’s divided government about how close an economic relationship to seek with the EU.

The government insists it’s confident of getting a deal, but is preparing for all outcomes. On Thursday it published the first 25 of more than 70 papers covering “no-deal” planning for sectors including financial services, medicines and nuclear materials. The rest are to be released by the end of September.

The documents urge people and businesses not to be alarmed, and say the government will work to “minimize any disruption to the economy.” The papers say Britain will allow EU financial services firms continued “passporting” rights to operate in the U.K. for up to three years, even if no agreement is reached with the EU — although it can’t guarantee that the bloc will let U.K. companies operate there. That could leave British retirees living in EU countries unable to receive their pensions.

Raab said Britain would take “unilateral action to maintain as much continuity as possible” and insisted that “for the vast majority of consumers in this country, there’s not going to be much change at all.”

He dismissed alarming headlines suggesting the U.K. could run out of sandwich supplies and other staples because of economic barriers between Britain and the EU, its biggest trading partner. “You will still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit,” Raab said.

But the documents reveal the possible scale of disruption to the British economy and daily life that could follow Brexit. Britain will need new regulatory bodies to carry out functions currently done by the EU, and British businesses that now trade freely with the bloc will face new paperwork if there is no deal.

For goods going to and coming in from the EU, “an import declaration will be required, customs checks may be arrived out and any customs duties must be paid,” one document says. And one of the thorniest questions — how to maintain an open border, free of customs posts, between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland — remains unanswered.

“We will provide more information in due course,” is all the documents say. The government said the U.K. will recognize EU standards for testing medicines, so drugs from the bloc won’t need to be re-tested in the U.K. But new drugs and treatments would still need approval from the U.K. medicines regulator before they could be sold in Britain.

Steve Bates, chief executive of the U.K. Bioindustry Association, said that meant British patients “would get access to new therapies later than other countries in Europe.” Brexit could also affect the supply of semen for fertility treatment, the papers say. Almost half of Britain’s donor sperm currently comes from EU member Denmark. If there’s no deal, Britain will be outside the EU’s directive on organs, tissues and cells, and U.K. fertility clinics will need to strike new written agreements with their suppliers.

The papers reveal that British organic farmers won’t be able to export their produce to the EU unless the bloc certifies U.K. standards — a process that can’t start until after Brexit and takes nine months. And the widely recognized organic logo plastered across everything from vegetables to beef belongs to the EU, so U.K. producers will no longer be able to use it.

Cigarette packaging also will have to be redesigned, because the EU holds the copyright on the photos of diseased lungs and other off-putting images emblazoned on the packs. And millions of Britons could find online shopping more expensive. The documents note that in the event of no deal “the cost of card payments between the U.K. and the EU will likely increase” and the EU-imposed ban on firms charging extra for credit-card payments will no longer apply.

Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said the government’s “vague papers” wouldn’t reassure anybody. European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said the bloc was “working constructively to reach a deal.”

But, he said, “it is also clear that the withdrawal of the U.K. is going to lead to disruption, regardless, with a deal or without a deal.” “That’s why everybody, and in particularly economic operators, need to be prepared,” he added.

Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.

Superdry founder gives $1.28 million to anti-Brexit campaign

August 19, 2018

LONDON (AP) — The co-founder of the fashion brand Superdry said Sunday he has donated 1 million pounds ($1.28 million) to a group seeking a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union, as the U.K. government prepares to publish its assessment of the impact of leaving the bloc without an agreement on future relations.

Julian Dunkerton, whose streetwear brand has outlets in 46 countries, wrote in the Sunday Times that he is backing the People’s Vote campaign because he predicts Brexit will be a “disaster” and “we have a genuine chance to turn this around.”

With only seven months until Britain is due to leave the EU, exit talks have stalled and both sides say the chances of the U.K. crashing out without a deal are rising. That has energized those calling for a new vote on the departure terms, who sense that public opinion in Britain shifting against Brexit.

Pro-Brexit advocates, meanwhile, plan a campaign to ensure the British government goes through with the decision to leave, which was made by voters in a 2016 referendum. Former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage announced Saturday that he would join a cross-country bus tour by the group Leave Means Leave to oppose Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for future ties with the EU, which he branded a “cowardly sell-out.”

May is proposing to stick close to EU regulations in return for free trade in goods. The plan has infuriated Brexit-backers such as Farage and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who say it would leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

Britain and the EU aim to hammer out an agreement on divorce terms and future trade by October — or, at the latest, December — so that it can be approved by all individual EU countries before the U.K. leaves the bloc on March 29.

But talks have bogged down amid infighting within May’s divided Conservative government. Last week Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics put the chances of getting a Brexit deal at 50-50. U.K. businesses have warned that leaving without a deal could cause mayhem for trade and travel, bringing higher food prices, logjams around U.K. ports and disruption to everything from aviation to medical supplies.

The U.K. government says it remains confident of reaching a deal, but is preparing for all outcomes. On Thursday it plans to publish the first in a series of technical reports outlining the effects a no-deal Brexit would have on various sectors and offering advice to businesses and the public on how to prepare.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the planning is “the responsible thing for any government to do, to mitigate the risks and make sure the U.K. is ready to make a success of Brexit.”

UK’s right-wing Farage vows to end Brexit ‘sell-out’

August 18, 2018

LONDON (AP) — In Britain, there is a growing sense of Brexit deja vu. Two years after the country voted to leave the European Union, emotional arguments about membership in the bloc are raging as fiercely as they did during the 2016 referendum.

With seven months until Britain officially leaves the bloc, negotiations faltering, chances are rising of an acrimonious divorce — and the one thing that pro- and anti-EU forces have in common is that they are both unhappy.

Former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage announced Saturday that he was returning to political campaigning in a bid to derail British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for future ties with the EU.

Farage, the right-winger who helped lead the successful “leave” campaign in 2016, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that he would join a cross-country bus tour by the group Leave Means Leave to oppose May’s “cowardly sell-out.”

Referring to U.K. politicians and civil servants, he said “unless challenged, these anti-democrats will succeed in frustrating the result” of the referendum. Negotiations on future relations between the U.K. and the bloc have faltered, largely due to divisions within May’s Conservative government over how close an economic relationship to seek with EU.

Last month the government finally produced a plan, proposing to stick close to EU regulations in return for free trade in goods. That infuriated Brexit-backers such as Farage and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who say it would leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc and unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

Opponents of Brexit say that, even if the EU accepts May’s plan — which appears unlikely — it would still erect barriers between Britain and the EU, its biggest trading partner. Meanwhile, time is running out. Britain and the EU say they aim to hammer out an agreement on divorce terms and future trade by October — or, at the latest, December — so that it can be approved by all individual EU countries before the U.K. leaves the bloc on March 29.

This week Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics put the chances of getting a Brexit deal at 50-50, a figure echoed by other EU leaders. U.K. businesses, however, have warned strongly that leaving without a deal could cause mayhem for trade and travel, bringing higher food prices, logjams around U.K. ports and disruption to everything from aviation to medical supplies.

The U.K. government says it remains confident of reaching a deal, but is preparing for a “no deal” scenario. Anti-Brexit campaigners are urging a second referendum on whether to accept any agreement that is reached. The idea is opposed by the government but supported by a growing number of politicians, trade unions and groups including the British Medical Organization.

Bob Kerslake, a former head of Britain’s civil service, said Saturday that the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal were so serious that Brexit should be put on hold if agreement wasn’t reached.

“If the government can negotiate a good deal, then so be it,” he told the BBC. “But if they can’t and we end up in this position, then we have to reopen the question of whether we go forward with Brexit at all. It is not too late to do that.”

Tourist bus crashes in Bulgaria; 16 reported killed

August 25, 2018

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarian authorities say a tourist bus has flipped over on a highway near Sofia, the capital, killing at least 16 people and leaving 26 others injured. Police said a bus carrying tourists on a weekend trip to a nearby resort overturned and then fell down a side road 20 meters (66 feet) below the highway. The accident happened at 5:10 p.m. Saturday about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Sofia.

Ambulances rushed to the scene and took the injured to Sofia hospitals. Doctors said some of them were in critical condition. Health Minister Kiril Ananiev gave an initial death toll of 15, but doctors from Sofia’s emergency hospital said another bus victim died Saturday night.

The major of Bozhurishte, north of Sofia, told reporters that all the passengers were from his village. The government declared Monday a national day of mourning for the victims.

Brussels highlights sun-splashed summer with flower carpet

August 16, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — Brussels is highlighting its sun-splashed summer with a Mexican-themed carpet of over half a million flowers on its historic Grand-Place. The UNESCO World Heritage site on Thursday opened up the cobblestones of its market square for a giant display of flowers depicting scenes and symbols from Guanajuato, a Mexican region with an exceptionally rich culture and flower tradition.

The city lays down such a flower carpet every two years but the extreme heat of this summer posed special challenges. Brussels Culture alderwoman Karine Lalieux says that beyond the traditional use of Belgian begonias, dahlias also were used “as this year was very, very hot.”

The carpet, measuring 75 by 24 meters (246 by 79 feet), will be on view until Sunday.

Belorussian leader Lukashenko fires Cabinet as economy sinks

August 19, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko has fired his Cabinet, emphasizing the need to strengthen the economy to preserve the nation’s post-Soviet independence. Lukashenko said he fired Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov’s Cabinet for failing to execute his orders and for paying too little attention to the country’s social needs. He appointed banker Sergei Rumas to succeed Kobyakov.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for 24 years, maintaining rigid Soviet-style controls over the economy and showing little tolerance for dissent or independent media. He said Saturday that Belarus won’t turn into a “vassal” of its giant neighbor, Russia, even though he underlined the importance of close ties with Moscow.

Belarus has long depended on cheap energy and other subsidies from Russia, which is facing its own economic woes and warned that it would scale down assistance to its ally. Lukashenko criticized Russia for failing to honor its agreements with Belarus.

“We will never become a vassal to anyone,” he said, warning against any attempts to encroach on Belarus’ independence. “We will remain independent for as long as our economy develops as needed,” the Belorussian leader said, adding that “we won’t be able to maintain our independence if we ruin the economy.”

Observers noted that the Belorussian leader was facing pressure to reform the economy as Russia’s assistance dries up. “It doesn’t mean that the country is going to have full-fledged free-market reforms, but some movement is possible,” independent Minsk-based analyst Alexander Klaskovsky said. “Lukashenko hasn’t turned into a reformer, but he realizes that Moscow is turning off the taps and he needs to raise money himself and turn to the West.”

War hero and presidential candidate John McCain dies at 81

August 26, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain, who faced down his captors in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp with jut-jawed defiance and later turned his rebellious streak into a 35-year political career that took him to Congress and the Republican presidential nomination, died Saturday after battling brain cancer for more than a year. He was 81.

McCain, with his irascible grin and fighter-pilot moxie, was a fearless and outspoken voice on policy and politics to the end, unswerving in his defense of democratic values and unflinching in his criticism of his fellow Republican, President Donald Trump. He was elected to the Senate from Arizona six times but twice thwarted in seeking the presidency.

An upstart presidential bid in 2000 didn’t last long. Eight years later, he fought back from the brink of defeat to win the GOP nomination, only to be overpowered by Democrat Barack Obama. McCain chose a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate in that race, and turned Sarah Palin into a national political figure.

After losing to Obama in an electoral landslide, McCain returned to the Senate determined not to be defined by a failed presidential campaign in which his reputation as a maverick had faded. In the politics of the moment and in national political debate over the decades, McCain energetically advanced his ideas and punched back hard at critics — Trump not least among them.

The scion of a decorated military family, McCain embraced his role as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, pushing for aggressive U.S. military intervention overseas and eager to contribute to “defeating the forces of radical Islam that want to destroy America.”

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, McCain said simply: “That I made a major contribution to the defense of the nation.” One dramatic vote he cast in the twilight of his career in 2017 will not soon be forgotten, either: As the decisive “no” on Senate GOP legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, McCain became the unlikely savior of Obama’s trademark legislative achievement.

Taking a long look back in his valedictory memoir, “The Restless Wave,” McCain wrote of the world he inhabited: “I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. … I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.”

Throughout his long tenure in Congress, McCain played his role with trademark verve, at one hearing dismissing a protester by calling out, “Get out of here, you low-life scum.” But it was just as notable when he held his sharp tongue, in service of a party or political gain.

Most remarkably, he stuck by Trump as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee even when Trump questioned his status as a war hero by saying: “I like people who weren’t captured.” McCain declared the comment offensive to veterans, but urged the men “put it behind us and move forward.”

His breaking point with Trump was the release a month before the election of a lewd audio in which Trump said he could kiss and grab women. McCain withdrew his support and said he’d write in “some good conservative Republican who’s qualified to be president.”

By the time McCain cast his vote against the GOP health bill, six months into Trump’s presidency, the two men were openly at odds. Trump railed against McCain publicly over the vote, and McCain remarked that he no longer listened to what Trump had to say because “there’s no point in it.”

By then, McCain had disclosed his brain cancer diagnosis and returned to Arizona to seek treatment. His vote to kill the GOP’s years-long Obamacare repeal drive — an issue McCain himself had campaigned on — came not long after the diagnosis, a surprising capstone to his legislative career.

In his final months, McCain did not go quietly, frequently jabbing at Trump and his policies from the remove of his Hidden Valley family retreat in Arizona. He opposed the president’s nominee for CIA director because of her past role in overseeing torture, scolded Trump for alienating U.S. allies at an international summit, labeled the administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy “an affront to the decency of the American people” and denounced the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki as a “tragic mistake” in which the president put on “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

On Aug. 13, Trump signed into law a $716 billion defense policy bill named in honor of the senator. Trump signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act in a ceremony at a military base in New York — without one mention of McCain.

John Sidney McCain III was born in 1936 in the Panana Canal zone, where his father was stationed in the military. He followed his father and grandfather, the Navy’s first father-and-son set of four-star admirals, to the Naval Academy, where he enrolled in what he described a “four-year course of insubordination and rebellion.” His family yawned at the performance. A predilection for what McCain described as “quick tempers, adventurous spirits, and love for the country’s uniform” was encoded in his family DNA.

On October 1967, McCain was on his 23rd bombing round over North Vietnam when he was shot out of the sky and taken prisoner. Year upon year of solitary confinement, deprivation, beatings and other acts of torture left McCain so despairing that at one point he weakly attempted suicide. But he also later wrote that his captors had spared him the worst of the abuse inflicted on POWs because his father was a famous admiral. “I knew that my father’s identity was directly related to my survival,” he wrote in one of his books.

When McCain’s Vietnamese captors offered him early release as a propaganda ploy, McCain refused to play along, insisting that those captured first should be the first set free. In his darkest hour in Vietnam, McCain’s will had been broken and he signed a confession that said, “I am a black criminal and I have performed deeds of an air pirate.”

Even then, though, McCain refused to make an audio recording of his confession and used stilted written language to signal he had signed it under duress. And, to the end of his captivity, he continued to exasperate his captors with his defiance.

Throughout, McCain played to the bleachers, shouting obscenities at guards to bolster the spirits of fellow captives. Appointed by the POWs to act as camp entertainment officer, chaplain and communications chief, McCain imparted comic relief, literary tutorials, news of the day, even religious sustenance.

Bud Day, a former cellmate and Medal of Honor winner, said McCain’s POW experience “took some great iron and turned him into steel.” McCain returned home from his years as a POW on crutches and never regained full mobility in his arms and leg.

He once said he’d “never known a prisoner of war who felt he could fully explain the experience to anyone who had not shared it.” Still he described the time as formative and “a bit of a turning point in me appreciating the value of serving a cause greater than your self-interest.”

But it did not tame his wild side, and his first marriage, to Carol Shepp, was a casualty of what he called “my greatest moral failing.” The marriage to Shepp, who had been in a crippling car accident while McCain was imprisoned, ended amiably. McCain admitted the breakup was caused by “my own selfishness and immaturity.”

One month after his divorce, McCain in 1981 married Cindy Hensley, the daughter of a wealthy beer distributor in Arizona. In one day, McCain signed his Navy discharge papers and flew west with his new wife to a new life. By 1982, he’d been elected to the House and four years later to an open Senate seat. He and Cindy had four children, to add to three from his first marriage. Their youngest was adopted from Bangladesh.

McCain cultivated a conservative voting record and a reputation as a tightwad with taxpayer dollars. But just months into his Senate career, he made what he called “the worst mistake” of his life. He participated in two meetings with bank regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a friend, campaign contributor and savings and loan financier later convicted of securities fraud.

As the industry collapsed, McCain was tagged as one of the Keating Five — senators who, to varying degrees, were accused of trying to get regulators to ease up on Keating. McCain was cited by the Senate Ethics Committee for “poor judgment.”

To have his honor questioned, he said, was in some ways worse than the torture he endured in Vietnam. In the 1990s, McCain shouldered another wrenching issue, the long effort to account for American soldiers still missing from the war and to normalize relations with Vietnam.

“People don’t remember how ugly the POW-MIA issue was,” former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, a fellow Vietnam veteran, later recalled in crediting McCain for standing up to significant opposition. “I heard people scream in his face, holding him responsible for the deaths of POWs.”

Over three decades in the Senate, McCain became a standard-bearer for reforming campaign donations. He denounced pork-barrel spending for legislators’ pet projects and cultivated a reputation as a deficit hawk and an independent voice. His experience as a POW made him a leading voice against the use of torture. He achieved his biggest legislative successes when making alliances with Democrats.

But faced with a tough GOP challenge for his Senate seat in 2010, McCain disowned chapters in his past and turned to the right on a number of hot-button issues, including gays in the military and climate change. And when the Supreme Court in 2010 overturned the campaign finance restrictions that he’d work so hard to enact, McCain seemed resigned.

“It is what it is,” he said. After surviving that election, though, McCain took on conservatives in his party over the federal debt and Democrats over foreign policy. McCain never softened on his opposition to the U.S. use of torture, even in the recalibrations of the post-9/11 world. When the Senate in 2014 released a report on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at secret overseas facilities after the 9/11 attacks, McCain said the issue wasn’t “about our enemies. It’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

During his final years in the Senate, McCain was perhaps the loudest advocate for U.S. military involvement overseas – in Iraq, Syria, Libya and more. That often made him a critic of first Obama and then Trump, and placed him further out of step with the growing isolationism within the GOP.

In October 2017, McCain unleashed some his most blistering criticism of Trump’s “America first” foreign policy approach — without mentioning the president by name — in describing a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

Few politicians matched McCain’s success as an author. His 1999 release “Faith Of My Fathers” was a million seller that was highly praised and helped launch his run for president in 2000. His most recent bestseller and planned farewell, “The Restless Wave,” came out in May 2018.

Zimbabwe opposition rejects ruling and ‘false’ inauguration

August 25, 2018

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader said Saturday he respectfully rejects the court ruling upholding President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s narrow election win and he called the inauguration set for Sunday “false.”

Nelson Chamisa spoke a day after the Constitutional Court unanimously rejected the opposition’s claims of vote-rigging and said it did not bring “sufficient and credible evidence.” Chamisa said “we have the right to peaceful protest” and that other routes will be pursued now that the legal one has reached an end. “Change is coming,” he said. “Political doors are going to be opened very soon.” He gave no details.

Last month’s peaceful election was seen as a chance for Zimbabwe to move on from Robert Mugabe’s repressive 37-year-rule. Now Chamisa alleges “a new persecution” after a deadly crackdown on the opposition.

The 40-year-old opposition leader again said he won the election and that the southern African nation needs fundamental reforms that cannot be resolved by five more years of “vacant leadership.” The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe enforcer who has tried to restyle himself as a reformer, appealed for calm after the court ruling and in a Twitter post told Chamisa “my door is open and my arms are outstretched.”

Chamisa responded with skepticism, saying the opposition had reached out to Mnangagwa for dialogue earlier but the president did not respond. Zimbabwe’s electoral commission had declared Mnangagwa the winner of the July 30 balloting with 50.8 percent of the vote. It later revised it to 50.6 percent, citing an “error” but arguing it was not significant enough to invalidate the win. It said Chamisa received 44.3 percent.

Chamisa’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change party late Friday issued an angry statement saying in the coming days it would announce a “vigorous program of action in response to this electoral theft of the century.”

Chamisa on Saturday, however, said he didn’t know where that statement came from. He said the party’s national council will meet next week on the way forward, and he did not directly respond to questions about the possibility of a government of national unity.

Mnangagwa, who took power in November after Mugabe stepped down under military pressure, called the election Zimbabwe’s most transparent and credible ever. The government badly needed a credible vote to help end its status as a global pariah, have international sanctions lifted and open the door to investment in an economy that collapsed under Mugabe.

Zimbabweans now await the final reports from dozens of Western observers invited into the country for the first time in nearly two decades. The observers noted few issues on election day but expressed concern over the harassment of the opposition that followed. Six people were killed two days after the vote when the military swept into the capital, Harare, to disperse protests.

Mnangagwa has said an inquiry would look into the deaths after his inauguration. Chamisa indicated that he felt threatened as an opposition leader. “By challenging a dictatorship you are signing a death warrant,” he said. “We are ready for any eventuality.”

Meanwhile, the 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium was being prepared for Sunday’s inauguration, with soldiers drilling and workmen hanging colorful pro-Mnangagwa banners. “Rest assured of a brighter tomorrow,” one banner said.

Chamisa said he would not attend.

Congo rebel on trial at ICC denies involvement in atrocities

August 30, 2018

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A rebel militia leader known as “The Terminator” denied involvement in atrocities in Congo as his three-year trial at the International Criminal Court ended Thursday and judges began considering their verdicts.

“I am a revolutionary but I am not a criminal,” Bosco Ntaganda told the three-judge panel. Ntaganda faces a maximum life sentence if he is convicted. He faces 18 charges including murder, rape, pillage and the use of child soldiers in 2002-2003 during an ethnic conflict in the mineral-rich Ituri region of northeastern Congo.

Prosecutors urged judges to convict him on all charges, while Ntaganda’s attorneys challenged the reliability of many prosecution witnesses and said judges should acquit him. Judges are expected to take months to reach verdicts.

Ntaganda was first indicted in 2006. For years he was a symbol of impunity in Africa, once serving as a general in Congo’s army before turning himself in in 2013 as his power base crumbled. During his trial in The Hague he testified for weeks in his own defense, saying he wanted to put the record straight about his reputation as a ruthless military leader.

“I hope that you now know me better and you now realize that ‘The Terminator’ described by the prosecutor is not me,” he said. Prosecutors called dozens of witnesses, including insiders from within the ranks of Ntaganda’s forces, to support allegations that he was responsible, both in person and as a military commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo rebels, for crimes committed in attacks on villages in Ituri.

On Tuesday the prosecution’s senior trial lawyer, Nicole Samson, told judges that “the overwhelming weight of credible evidence in this case leaves no reasonable doubt that Bosco Ntaganda is guilty of counts one through 18 with which he is charged.”

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