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A year after Brexit vote, more people view EU favorably

June 15, 2017

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — A wide-ranging survey shows that public approval of the European Union has rebounded strongly compared with a year ago but that many people nonetheless think their own national governments — and not the EU — should have the say over trade and immigration.

The poll results from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center show that majorities in nine of 10 EU member countries surveyed now hold a favorable view of the 28-country economic and political bloc. The research center says the upswing is the latest shift in an up-and-down cycle over the past decade. The more favorable view comes as Europe enjoys a broadening economic recovery and falling unemployment.

Results show 74 percent approval in Poland, 68 percent in Germany, 67 percent in Hungary, and 65 percent in Sweden. There were sharp swings from last year, with approval of the EU up 18 percentage points in Germany, 15 points in Spain, 13 points in the Netherlands, and 10 points in the U.K.

The overall median breakdown across the countries was 63 percent favorable, 34 percent unfavorable. Last year the median figures were 51 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable. The only dissenter was Greece, which has been subjected to severe budget austerity measures imposed by fellow EU states, at 33 percent favorable. Yet even there, when asked if they wanted to leave the European Union, 54 percent said they would rather stay, to 35 percent who favored leaving.

Italy was the other country surveyed where leaving the EU was supported by a substantial minority of 35 percent. Italy has shown weak economic growth since joining the euro currency in 1999 and remains burdened with high government debt, excessive bureaucracy and red tape, and poor prospects of permanent jobs for young people leaving school.

In the U.K., where a year ago voters chose narrowly to leave the EU, 54 percent had a positive view of the EU compared with 40 percent who had a negative view. Asked if leaving was a good or a bad thing for the U.K., people in Britain were broadly divided. Slightly more — 48 percent — said leaving was a bad thing, while 44 percent said leaving was a good thing.

In the June 2016 referendum, 52 percent of voters supported leaving the EU to 48 percent for remaining. On Monday, the country will officially start talks to leave the bloc. The EU is an economic and political union that is now the world’s largest single market, where products can move freely across borders without tariffs. People can travel from one country to another without border controls and it has become easier for people to live, work, study or retire in another member country.

The Pew Research Center compiled responses from 9,935 people in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom from March 2 to April 17, 2017. Margins of error ranged from 3.7 percent plus or minus to 5.2 percent plus or minus. The questions were asked face to face in several countries and by calling mobile and landline numbers in others.

The results pre-date last week’s parliamentary election in Britain, which resulted in a setback for pro-Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives. They lost their majority and must form a coalition with the small Democratic Unionist Party based in Northern Ireland.

The numbers indicated many people wanted national governments, not the EU, to determine immigration and trade policy. Yet 66 percent wanted their own governments to decide who could come in from other EU countries, while 27 favored the EU making decisions. In 2015, 1.4 million people migrated from one EU state to another.

UK’s Theresa May holds talks to seal government alliance

June 13, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with a Northern Ireland-based party Tuesday to see if they can create an alliance to push through the Conservative Party’s agenda after a disastrous snap election left her short of a majority in Parliament.

May desperately needs the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 seats to pass legislation. The Conservatives are considering an arrangement in which the Northern Ireland party backs May on the budget and her confidence motions.

The talks with the DUP follow her apology to Conservative rank-and-file lawmakers in a meeting Monday which signaled she would be more open to consultation, particularly with business leaders demanding answers about the details on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

“I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who will get us out of it,” she said at the closed-door session. May is under pressure to take on a more cross-party approach to Brexit talks. The Evening Standard, edited by ex-Treasury chief George Osborne, reported that Cabinet ministers have initiated talks with opposition Labour lawmakers to come up with a “softer,” less hard-line divorce from the EU.

Pressed on the reports, Environment Secretary Michael Gove declined to deny it. He told Sky News that the reality of the election results meant that May and her government would need to reach out past party lines.

“The parliamentary arithmetic is such that we are going to have to work with everyone,” he said. The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, is likely to demand a high price for her support. She will almost certainly ask for greater investment in Northern Ireland as part of the deal, as well as guarantees on support for pension plans and for winter fuel allowances for older people.

Though Foster supported Brexit, she also might demand that May pursue a cushioned exit from the EU, given her party’s wish that a soft border remain between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member.

Even the idea of an alliance is complicated, however. Some involved in the Irish peace process are alarmed because the 1998 Good Friday peace accords call for the British government to be neutral in the politics of Northern Ireland.

Foster’s rivals in Northern Ireland, such Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, have objected, describing any partnership between the Conservatives and the DUP as “a coalition of chaos.” “Any deal which undercuts in any way the process here or the Good Friday Agreement is one which has to be opposed,” he said.

The stakes for May are high as lawmakers return for their first day of business on Tuesday. Without a so-called “confidence and supply” deal with the DUP, her party risks losing the vote next week on the Queen’s Speech, which lays out the agenda for the government.

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn is pushing for this outcome, and has repeatedly said he was ready to try to form a government.

UK leader May strikes tentative deal with N Ireland party

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a deal in principle with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party on Saturday to prop up the Conservative government, stripped of its majority in a disastrous election.

The result has demolished May’s political authority, and she has also lost her two top aides, sacrificed in a bid to save their leader from being toppled by a furious Conservative Party. The moves buy May a temporary reprieve. But the ballot-box humiliation has seriously — and possibly mortally — wounded her leadership just as Britain is about to begin complex exit talks with the European Union.

May’s office said Saturday that the Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 seats in Parliament, had agreed to a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the government. That means the DUP will back the government on key votes, but it’s not a coalition government or a broader pact.

Downing St. said the Cabinet will discuss the agreement on Monday. The announcement came after May lost Downing St. chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who resigned Saturday. They formed part of May’s small inner circle and were blamed by many Conservatives for the party’s lackluster campaign and unpopular election platform, which alienated older voters with its plan to take away a winter fuel allowance and make them pay more for long-term care.

In a resignation statement on the Conservative Home website, Timothy conceded that the campaign had failed to communicate “Theresa’s positive plan for the future,” and missed signs of surging support for the opposition Labour Party.

Some senior Tories had made the removal of Hill and Timothy a condition for continuing to support May, who has vowed to remain prime minister. May’s party won 318 seats, 12 fewer than it had before May called a snap election, and eight short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. The main opposition Labor Party surpassed expectations by winning 262.

May announced later that Gavin Barwell — a former housing minister who lost his seat in Thursday’s election — would be her new chief of staff. May said Barwell would help her “reflect on the election and why it did not deliver the result I hoped for.”

Conservative legislator Nigel Evans said the departure of the two aides was “a start,” but there needed to be changes to the way the government functioned in the wake of the campaign. He said the Conservative election manifesto — which Hill and Timothy were key in drafting — was “a full assault on the core Tory voters, who are senior citizens.”

“It was a disaster,” he said. “Our manifesto was full of fear and the Labor Party’s manifesto was full of promises.” Martin Selmayr, senior aide to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to the resignations by tweeting the word “bauernopfer” — German for the sacrifice of a pawn in chess.

May called the early election when her party was comfortably ahead in the polls, in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain’s hand in exit talks with the EU. Instead, the result has sown confusion and division in British ranks, just days before negotiations are due to start on June 19.

May wanted to win explicit backing for her stance on Brexit, which involves leaving the EU’s single market and imposing restrictions on immigration while trying to negotiate free trade deal with the bloc. Some say her failure means the government must now take a more flexible approach to the divorce.

The Times of London said in an editorial that “the election appears to have been, among other things, a rejection of the vague but harshly worded prospectus for Brexit for which Mrs. May sought a mandate.”

It added that “the logic leading to Mrs. May’s departure from Downing St. is remorseless.” The Downing St. resignations came as May worked to fill jobs in her minority government and replace ministers who lost their seats on Thursday. Her weakened position in the party rules out big changes, and May’s office has said that the most senior Cabinet members — including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd — will keep their jobs, but she is expected to shuffle the lower ranks of ministers.

The arrangement with the DUP will make governing easier, but it makes some Conservatives uneasy. The DUP is a socially conservative pro-British Protestant group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and once appointed an environment minister who believes human-driven climate change is a myth.

The DUP was founded in the 1970s by the late firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, and in the 1980s was a key player in the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign, which unsuccessfully fought against the legalization of gay sex.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said she had asked May for assurances that there would be no attack on gay rights after a deal with the DUP. Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. in which same-sex marriage is illegal.

“It’s an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received (them),” said Davidson, who is engaged to be married to her female partner. DUP Leader Arlene Foster recently denied the party was homophobic.

“I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality. That’s not a matter for me,” she said. “When it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.” A deal between the government and the DUP could also unsettle the precarious balance between Northern Ireland’s British loyalist and Irish nationalist parties.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, riding a wave of acclaim for his party’s unexpectedly strong showing, called on May to resign. Newspaper headlines saw her as just clinging on. “May fights to remain PM,” said the front page of the Daily Telegraph, while the Times of London said: “May stares into the abyss.”

But she seems secure for the immediate future, because senior Conservatives don’t want to plunge the party into a damaging leadership contest. “I don’t think throwing us into a leadership battle at this moment in time, when we are about to launch into these difficult negotiations, would be in the best interests of the country,” Evans said.

Wounded May soldiers on as election shock complicates Brexit

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — In a political drama both brutal and surreal, British Prime Minister Theresa May tried Friday to carry on with the business of governing as usual, while her Conservative Party reeled from losing its parliamentary majority and her opponents demanded she resign.

An election that May called to strengthen her hand as Britain leaves the European Union ended with her political authority obliterated, her days in office likely numbered and the path to Brexit more muddied than ever.

Meanwhile the supposed loser, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, savored a surprisingly strong result and basked in the adulation of an energized, youthful base. British newspapers summed it up in a word: Mayhem.

The Conservatives built their election campaign around May’s ostensible strengths as a “strong and stable” leader, and the outcome is a personal slap in the face. But May soldiered on Friday, re-appointing senior ministers to her Cabinet and holding talks with a small Northern Irish party about shoring up her minority government.

“I obviously wanted a different result last night,” a grim-faced May acknowledged, promising she would “reflect on what happened.” With results in from all 650 House of Commons seats after Thursday’s vote, 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.

Labor had 262, up from 229, and the Scottish National Party 35, a loss of about 20 seats that complicates the party’s plans to push for independence. The final result was announced almost 24 hours after polls closed. After three recounts, Labor took the wealthy London constituency of Kensington from the Conservatives by just 20 votes.

Speaking outside 10 Downing St., May scarcely acknowledged the election’s disastrous outcome, promising to form “a government that can provide certainty.” She said the government would start Brexit negotiations with the EU as scheduled in 10 days’ time.

“This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks … and deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union,” she said after visiting Buckingham Palace to inform Queen Elizabeth II that she would try to form a new government.

This is the first time since the 1990s that Britain has a minority government, in which the governing party cannot get measures though Parliament without outside support. May said she was in talks with the Democratic Unionists — a socially conservative, pro-British Protestant party in Northern Ireland — on an agreement to “work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.”

Cutting a deal with the DUP, which won 10 seats, may not be straightforward. The party’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage places it at odds with modernizing Conservatives. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson — a rising star in the party — tweeted a link to a speech she made in support of gay marriage, drawing on her own experiences as a lesbian Christian.

May’s snap election call was the second time that a Conservative gamble on the issue of Britain’s relations with Europe backfired. Her predecessor, David Cameron, first asked British voters to decide in 2016 whether to leave the EU. When voters stunned him and Europe by voting to leave, he resigned, leaving May to deal with the mess.

The latest 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. Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said it’s not even clear whether May will now lead those negotiations.

“She might start off doing that but the Conservatives might well replace her mid-stream,” he said. “That’s going to make it difficult for the EU 27 because they’re going to want to know who they’re talking to and what their policy is.”

In the Conservative Party, recriminations were immediate and stinging. Many analysts said it was unlikely May could remain leader for long now that her authority has been eroded. Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, called her “a zombie prime minister.”

“Honestly, it feels almost like she is almost not aware of what has happened in the last 24 hours,” Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen told LBC radio. Allen said she couldn’t see May hanging on for “more than six months.”

The election’s biggest winner was Corbyn, who confounded expectations that his left-wing views made him electorally toxic. A buoyant Corbyn piled on pressure for May to resign, saying people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change,” he said. Initially blind-sided 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 with the promise to abolish tuition fees, the hope of better jobs and a chance to own property.

“The young have a bad deal,” said Ben Page, chief executive of pollster Ipsos MORI. “They didn’t want to leave the EU. It appears clear they were determined this time to make a difference and vote.” Page said Corbyn, a lifelong left-wing activist who has spent decades speaking to crowds, was underestimated as a campaigner. While he was demonized by conservative newspapers, on Facebook Corbyn was trending.

Voter turnout in the election was up from 66 percent in 2015 to almost 69 percent, and half a million more young people registered to vote than before the last election. “I felt passionate about voting to make sure Theresa May knew that young people like me would never support her or a Conservative government,” said 23-year-old student Janet Walsh, who voted Labor. “I blame her party for destroying Britain by pushing for Brexit and austerity, two things that will ultimately be bad for my generation. This was the first time I voted.”

From the start, an election called by May when polls gave her a commanding lead did not go to plan. She 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.”

Then, attacks in Manchester and London killed a total of 30 people and twice brought the campaign to a halt. They sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism.

It’s unclear what role the attacks and their aftermath played in the election result. But the uncertain outcome is more evidence that after the populist surges that produced Brexit and President Donald Trump — and the centrist fightbacks led by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron — politics remains volatile and unpredictable.

For many British voters, the feeling after the country’s third major vote in as many years was weariness. “We’re in another mess again, and probably we’re going to have to have another election, and it’s all such a waste of time at the end of the day,” said 85-year-old Londoner Patricia Nastri.

Associated Press writers Paisley Dodds, Sylvia Hui, Gregory Katz, Jo Kearney, Sophie Berman and Niko Price in London and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this story

May’s UK election gamble backfires as Tories lose majority

June 09, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble in calling an early election backfired spectacularly as her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament, throwing British politics into chaos.

UK media, citing sources they did not identify, reported early Friday that May has no intention of resigning despite calls for her to step down. The shock result could send Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union — due to start June 19 — into disarray. The pound lost more than 2 cents against the dollar.

With 636 of 650 seats in the House of Commons declared, the Conservatives had 310 to the Labor Party’s 258. Even if the Conservatives won all the remaining seats, the party would fall short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. Before the election the Conservatives had 330 seats and Labor 229.

May called the snap election in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain’s hand in exit talks with the European Union with a “strong and stable government.” Instead, the result means the Conservatives will need to rely on support from smaller parties to govern, with more instability and the chance of yet another early election.

“This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “And our leader needs to take stock as well.” Left-wing Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was among those calling on May to resign, said 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.” The results confounded those who said Corbyn was electorally toxic. 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 re-elected to her Maidenhead seat in southern England, May looked tense and did not spell out what she planned to do. “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,” she said.

Many predicted she would soon be gone. “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.

British media later reported Friday that May had no intention to resign. The result was bad news for the Scottish National Party, which lost about 20 of its 54 seats. Among the casualties was Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland and one of the party’s highest-profile lawmakers.

The losses complicate the SNP’s plans to push for a new referendum on Scottish independence as Britain prepares to leave the EU. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the idea of a new independence referendum “is dead. That’s what we have seen tonight.”

May had hoped the election would focus on Brexit, but that never happened, as both the Conservatives and Labor said they would respect voters’ wishes and go through with the divorce. Despite the surprise election result, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he doesn’t believe voters have changed their minds about leaving.

But speaking Friday on Europe 1 radio, he said “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. “I’m not sure that we should read, from the results of this vote, that Britons’ sovereign decision on Brexit has been cast into doubt in any way.”

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 said it would take a few hours at least to see how the results of the election play out in forming a government.

“Without a government, there’s no negotiation,” he said Friday morning by phone on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. 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 that killed 30 people in Manchester and London twice brought the campaign to a halt, 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.

Voters were left flustered by the fast-moving events. “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.”

Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said Britain had seen an election “in which the personal authority of a party leader has disappeared in an unprecedented way.”

“If she had got the majority she wanted, she would have been a supreme political colossus,” he said. “She did not get that and she’s a hugely diminished figure. She’s a zombie prime minister.”

Gregory Katz, Sophie Berman and Niko Price contributed to this story.

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/.

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.

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