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Archive for the ‘Land of the British Empire’ Category

Dubai ruler, princess in London court over welfare of kids

July 30, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A dispute between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over the welfare of their two young children will play out over the next two days in a London courtroom amid reports the princess has fled the Gulf emirate.

The case beginning Tuesday in Britain’s High Court pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. The princess is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in Dubai’s ruling family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned.

Dubai’s ruler, estranged wife headed for court clash in UK

July 04, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A legal battle between the powerful, poetry-writing ruler of Dubai and his wealthy estranged wife is leading toward a showdown in a London courtroom later this month. The family division court case scheduled on July 30 pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and an accomplished Olympic equestrian on friendly terms with horse aficionado Queen Elizabeth II.

The hearing is expected to focus on who will have custody of their two young children now that the princess has left Dubai. She is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens, a private street lined with some of the world’s most expensive homes and cars.

When The Associated Press asked via intercom for an interview with Princess Haya or one of her representatives, a man emerged to say there would be no comments made on her behalf. He didn’t indicate whether she was in the residence.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in his extended family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned on and off for several years and had been abused. Her friends say she was forcibly returned after commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India when she tried to flee the Emirates.

The sheikh, who is the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates in addition to being the ruler of Dubai, is among the most influential figures in the Middle East. He also composes poetry, a long tradition among Gulf Arabs, and it was his own words that sparked the initial rumors that Haya had fled Dubai.

The talk started after a verified Emirati Instagram account followed by the Dubai ruler’s son posted a poem last week attributed to Sheikh Mohammed. The poem, titled “You Lived and You Died,” is about disloyalty, leading to speculation it is about Princess Haya.

“You betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed,” the poem says. “Your time of lying is over and it doesn’t matter what we were nor what you are.” The harsh words caused reverberations and speculation throughout royal circles in the Middle East and beyond.

The princess, 45, and Sheikh Mohammed, 69, were married in 2004 and have a daughter, 11, and son, 7, together. Both were educated at elite English universities and they share a love for horses. Media reports indicate she took the children with her when she left Dubai. Under Islamic law, a woman can at least nominally retain custody of her children in a divorce. Nonetheless, decisions about schooling, travel and lifestyles of the children often remain with the father in the Middle East. Given the Dubai ruler’s power, it is unlikely Princess Haya would have had a say in her children’s ability to leave the UAE had she not reportedly fled with them.

Haya’s half-brother is Jordan’s current monarch, King Abdullah, who was pictured at her side when she wed Dubai’s ruler, reportedly becoming his sixth wife. She is a former Olympic athlete who competed in equestrian show jumping in the 2000 Sydney Games, a taboo-breaking feat for women from traditional Muslim countries. Her love of sports and horse riding began early — she was just 13 when she became the first female to represent Jordan internationally in equestrian show jumping.

Haya has long stood out from other wives of Gulf Arab rulers not only because of her Jordanian royal background and Olympic ambitions, but because she was seen and photographed in public. Most rulers’ wives in the Gulf are never photographed and their faces and names aren’t known to the public. But Princess Haya wasn’t only visible at humanitarian events, often seated front row in Dubai by her husband’s side, but was a stylish fixture in glossy magazines and at prestigious equestrian events in the U.K,, like the Royal Ascot and Epsom Derby.

In a 2009 Daily Mail interview, the princess said she deliberately postponed marriage until she could meet a man “who doesn’t feel he has to mold me.” She was quoted as saying, “You have to accept that you’re in control of yourself but not your destiny.”

The government of Dubai hasn’t commented on the media reports about Princess Haya fleeing with her children to Europe.

UK F-35 fighters fly missions from Cyprus over Syria, Iraq

June 25, 2019

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Britain’s most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, has flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of ongoing operations against remnants of the Islamic State group, the U.K.’s defense secretary said.

Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement released Tuesday that that the jets’ first operational mission from a British air base in Cyprus was made following a highly successful training period.

“Their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the U.K.,” Mordaunt said. Six F-35B aircraft from 617 Squadron flown by three British Royal Navy and three Royal Air Force pilots, arrived at RAF Akrotiri on May 21 for a six-week deployment as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.

British military officials had said there were no plans for the aircraft to conduct combat missions during their stay at RAF Akrotiri. But it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut as part of Operation Shader — the U.K.’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State group — because of their “exceptional performance.”

Officials said the aircraft didn’t fire any weapons when flying alongside Typhoon jets during the missions over Syria and Iraq. The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The 617 Squadron jets will be deployed this autumn aboard Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, for a battery of operational tests. The tests will be carried out off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for the aircrafts’ first carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.

The U.K. now owns 17 F-35B aircraft with plans to procure a total 138 jets. According to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Website, British industry will build 15% of the more than 3,000 jets that are planned to be built. British officials say the program has already generated orders worth $12.9 billion and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.

EU, UK leaders to meet as post-Brexit talks stall

June 02, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top executive and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet this month for talks that could give new momentum to the stalled post-Brexit negotiations. As a fourth round of talks between teams of negotiators resumed Tuesday with little hope for a breakthrough on a future trade deal, the bloc’s executive arm said a meeting is planned between EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson by the end of June.

Daniel Ferrie, the commission spokesperson for EU-U.K. negotiations, said the date and the format of the encounter has yet to be determined. The U.K. left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, but it remains inside the EU’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of the year. That so-called transition period can be extended by two years although a deal to do so has to be made by July 1, according to the legal documents accompanying Brexit.

Johnson has repeatedly said he will not extend the transition period beyond Dec. 31. Ahead of this week’s round of talks, Britain accused the EU of making unbalanced demands, while EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned in an interview with the Sunday Times that there would not be an “agreement at any cost.”

The three previous rounds of discussions have failed to produce much headway, notably around fishing rights. The U.K. wants a fisheries deal to be a standalone agreement whereby the two sides negotiate access and quotas. The EU, for its part, has sought to link fisheries to other trade issues.

Another major roadblock is the so-called level playing field. The EU is concerned that Britain may diverge on rules and regulations to gain a competitive advantage and wants to make sure that EU standards will be kept by London in return for a high degree of access to the single market.

“The U.K. has been taking a step back – two steps back, three steps back – from the original commitments,” Barnier said. “The U.K. negotiators need to be fully in line with what the Prime Minister signed up to with us. Because 27 heads of state and government and the European Parliament do not have a short memory.”

Despite the apparent stalemate, Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, insisted progress could be made. “We hope this latest round is constructive and we hope that it will keep the process on track ahead of the high-level meeting later this month,” he said.

Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

UK: Hong Kong law a ‘clear violation’ of China’s obligations

June 02, 2020

LONDON (AP) — China’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong is a “clear violation” of Beijing’s international obligations, Britain’s foreign secretary said Tuesday. In a statement to the House of Commons, Dominic Raab said “we strongly oppose such an authoritarian law being imposed by China in breach of international law.”

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, under a “One Country, Two Systems” agreement that guarantees the city a high degree of autonomy. China’s largely ceremonial parliament voted last week to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and develop and enact national security legislation on its own for the semi-autonomous territory. Critics, including governments in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, are worried that the laws would erode liberties such as free speech and opposition political activities.

“It would up-end China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ paradigm,” Raab said. “And it would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made specifically to the United Kingdom under the Joint Declaration.”

“We are not seeking to intervene in China’s internal affairs,” he added. “Only to hold China to its international commitments, just as China expects of the United Kingdom.” Raab also pledged to “stand by” Hong Kong and uphold Britain’s historic responsibilities to the territory.

“Even at this stage I sincerely hope China will reconsider its approach,” he said. “But if not, the U.K. will not just look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong.” Britain’s government announced last week that if China follows through with the proposed security law, British officials would open pathways to British citizenship for those Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) passports. The current six-month visa limit would be extended to 12 months for those passport holders, Raab said.

Beijing’s resolve to push through the laws against secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong appears to have been hardened by the months of often-violent anti-government protests in the city last year, and a determination to prevent them from reigniting this summer.

UK lawmakers queue to vote as Parliament adjusts to COVID-19

June 02, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government faced a rebellion from some of its own legislators on Tuesday after it summoned Members of Parliament back to London and scrapped a remote-voting system used during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Like millions of other Britons, the country’s 650 lawmakers have largely been working from home during the outbreak. As normal life gradually resumes, the government decreed it was time they came back to the office.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the government’s leader of the House, said lawmakers should be setting an example by showing up in person as the country gets back to work. “We need to have a proper full-blooded democracy … and that’s what we are getting,” he told lawmakers.

But some legislators said ending the “virtual Parliament” before the outbreak was over would turn those who must stay home because of age, illness or family issues into second-class lawmakers. “I feel both discriminated against and disenfranchised,” said opposition Labour Party lawmaker Margaret Hodge, who like many over-70s, is considered especially vulnerable to the virus and has been urged to stay at home.

“We should be holding the government to account. We can’t if we don’t have the right to vote,” she said. After Britain went into lockdown in late March, Parliament adopted a historic “hybrid” way of working. Only 50 lawmakers at a time were allowed into the House of Commons, while screens were erected around the chamber so others could join debates over Zoom. Votes were held electronically for the first time in centuries of parliamentary history.

But when the House resumed work Tuesday after an 11-day spring recess, the government called time on the brief experiment with virtual voting. With its 80-strong majority in the chamber, the government passed a motion decreeing that henceforth, all votes will have to be held in person.

In the coronavirus era, that’s an unwieldy process. House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle ruled that the traditional method of voting, in which lawmakers crowd into separate “yes” or “no” lobbies, was unsafe because it would be be impossible to maintain social distancing.

To vote on the government’s motion, lawmakers therefore had to stand in a kilometer-long (half-mile-long) queue that snaked along corridors, through a vaulted hall and around a courtyard. One by one and 2 meters apart (6 1/2 feet), they trooped into the Commons chamber to register their votes — a process that took 45 minutes in all.

Some critics dubbed the unwieldy method a “conga-line Parliament”; others compared it to children filing into class on the first day of school. The government’s opponents argue that it’s too early and too risky to return to Parliament.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 39,000 confirmed deaths. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is gradually easing the nationwide lockdown, but authorities warn that progress is fragile, and too swift a relaxation could trigger a second wave of infections.

Rees-Mogg said Parliament was now “a COVID-secure workplace,” with hand sanitizer dispensers and floor markings to help enforce social distancing. But Parliamentary authorities have major concerns. With its crammed chamber and warren of corridors, Parliament was fertile soil for the virus when the outbreak began. Multiple staff and lawmakers fell ill, including Johnson, who ended up in intensive care.

“Asking people to travel from all corners of the U.K. to go to the global hotspot that is London … is gambling with the virus,” said Scottish National Party lawmaker Angus MacNeil, whose Hebridean island constituency is almost as far from London as it’s possible to get in the U.K.

The Commons’ move to end its digital experiment came as Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, put the finishing touches to a system that will allow its members, whose average age is 70, to vote with their phones.

Faced with mounting opposition, the government offered a partial compromise. Rees-Mogg said that lawmakers who have to stay home for health reasons would be able to ask questions and participate in debates remotely — but not vote.

Conservative lawmaker Robert Halfon, who has cerebral palsy, said the authorities were being “harsh and unbending.” “The MPs who genuinely cannot come in, our democratic rights are being snipped away and we’re being turned into parliamentary eunuchs,” he said.

Halfon likened the government’s attitude to that of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro “that COVID is just the sniffles and, if you can’t come in, tough luck, we don’t care. And that to me is entirely wrong.”

Veterans help UK children keep calm, cope with virus stress

May 29, 2020

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Hula hoops, camouflage mats and tires aren’t typical supplies needed during the coronavirus pandemic. But they’re useful props as British army veteran Mike Hamilton prepares to lead children in a military-style game designed to boost their resilience and mental health at a time of atypical stress.

Hamilton, who served with bomb disposal teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, is working with 10 children in a schoolyard in Manchester, England. The mission: Picking up the virus — a small ball — with wooden blocks, racing to a trash can and dropping the ball inside before pretending to wash their hands.

It’s one of many games devised by Hamilton, the founder of a company called Commando Joe’s that sends former soldiers to U.K. schools to guide exercises in teamwork, dealing with adversity and staying calm under pressure. The firm, which is partly funded by the government, works with hundreds of schools. Hamilton says that since the pandemic began, he has received many calls from teachers looking for lessons to help their overwhelmed students cope.

“Schools are wanting programs to focus on character, mental health and well-being and probably getting the children used to having a routine again,” he said. “We’ve got lots of tactics to help build up positivity in a time of stress — that’s part of our training.”

In Britain, schools never completely closed during the virus lockdown. Some remained open for students whose parents still had to work outside home in key professions, as well as for children under social care.

The familiar routine may be reassuring, but it’s an unsettling time for many of these children. Playgrounds and classrooms typically bustling with hundreds of kids are now hushed and quiet. Sienna-Leigh Murphy attends school while her mother goes to work as a nurse. Her parents are separated.

“I feel happy because she looks after people and makes sure they don’t die or anything,” Sienna-Leigh said. “I do miss playing with my friends and going to places that are really fun with my friends like the park or something. And I really miss my dad.”

Sophie Murfin, executive headteacher at the Wise Owl Trust, which includes three schools in Manchester, says the key was giving the children a friendly and positive environment. “It’s about ensuring the children’s worries are alleviated by giving them different activities to complete in a fun and engaging way,” Murfin said.

Childline, a helpline run by Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said thousands of youngsters have reached out to speak to counselors about the coronavirus. The charity said children have called about parents losing their jobs, worrying about their family’s health and struggling to look after younger siblings while their parents are ill.

Many children stuck at home while schools are closed and most public activities are prohibited are affected by isolation, experts warn. “When asked what they would do to manage stress, a quarter of those children who ever feel stressed said that they would normally go outside. Now, this option is only very limited,” Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield wrote last month.

Children who don’t have access to smartphones and laptops for video calls with friends and family members are more isolated than ever, she added. For his part, Hamilton says he hopes his exercises help kids understand “it’s OK not to be OK.” Eight-year-old Sonny Turner, who took part in the “catch the virus” game, said it gave him a confidence boost.

“It makes me feel confident about not feeling coronavirus is going to get me,” Turner said.

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