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Posts tagged ‘Land of the British Empire’

Heavy winter weather batters UK, European mainland

February 28, 2018

LONDON (AP) — Persistent snow and freezing conditions from a Siberian cold snap snarled transit Wednesday and caused a handful of deaths across a swathe of Europe from Britain to the Balkans. In the U.K., where the weather system has been dubbed “the beast from the east,” the weather office issued an alert for Scotland warning that heavy snow and strong wind would bring widespread damage, disruption and risk to life late Wednesday and early Thursday.

“People should ask themselves the question ‘is this journey absolutely and utterly essential?’ If not, do not travel,” Scottish Transport Minister Humza Youssef said. The weather caused cancellations at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, and Scottish Premiership soccer matches were canceled Wednesday.

Trains were canceled across the north and east of Britain and as far south as London, where several subway lines experienced severe delays, including the Piccadilly Line that links central London to Heathrow Airport.

Emergency officials said many drivers had to be rescued from stranded vehicles. Hundreds of schools were shut for a second day. The weather also forced hospitals to cancel elective procedures and outpatient care.

France’s national weather agency, Meteo France, put a large part of the country on alert for dangerous levels of snow, ice and violent wind. Urging people to limit their movement, Meteo France said snowfall would continue until Friday.

Several deaths were attributed to the cold snap, including a 75-year-old man who fell through ice in the Netherlands, likely while skating. A 38-year old man was found dead on a frozen river in northern Germany amid continuing subzero temperatures across the country, according to German news agency dpa.

In Denmark, a 54-year-old man who suffered from dementia was found dead in the snow on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, police said. In southern Serbia, another man suffering from dementia was found frozen to death Wednesday after he disappeared from his home two days ago.

An elderly man died of cold when he went out to collect wood near Maribor in Slovenia, authorities there said. Temperatures in the country fell as low as -27 C (-16.6 F). Snowfall of up to 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) blanketed all of Albania, including a rare accumulation in the capital, Tirana. Many schools in the countryside did not have classes on Wednesday.

Snow has blocked many roads and damaged power pylons across Albania, leading to power cuts in many rural areas. In Kosovo, the Education Ministry closed all elementary and high schools Wednesday due to the extreme. Temperatures were expected to drop as low as minus 23 Celsius (minus 9.4 Fahrenheit).

Freezing weather also limited traffic and closed down schools in Croatia, with snow falling even along the Adriatic coast. The cold snap saw a snowman built in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, while snow delayed Formula One testing at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona on Wednesday.


UK judge upholds arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder

February 13, 2018

LONDON (AP) — A judge upheld a British arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying the WikiLeaks founder should have the courage to come to court and face justice after more than five years inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected arguments by Assange’s lawyers that it is no longer in the public interest to arrest him for jumping bail in 2012 and seeking shelter in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. Prosecutors there were investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women, which Assange has denied.

Arbuthnot did not mince words in her ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, saying that by jumping bail Assange had made “a determined attempt to avoid the order of the court.” She said Assange appeared to be “a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.”

“He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor,” the judge said, drawing exclamations of dismay from Assange supporters in the public gallery.

Assange can seek to appeal, though his lawyers did not immediately say whether he would. Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden in the foreseeable future. But the British warrant for violating bail conditions still stands, and Assange faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.

Assange’s lawyers had asked for the U.K warrant to be withdrawn since Sweden no longer wants him extradited, but the judge rejected their request last week. Assange’s attorney had gone on to argue that arresting him is no longer proportionate or in the public interest. Lawyer Mark Summers argued the Australian was justified in seeking refuge in the embassy because he has a legitimate fear that U.S. authorities want to arrest him for WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents.

“I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable,” the judge said. “If the United States initiates extradition proceedings, Mr. Assange would have the ability to raise any bars to the extradition and challenge the proceedings” in a British court, she said.

Arbuthnot dismissed another plank of Assange’s case — a report from a U.N. working group which said the 46-year-old was being arbitrarily detained. “I give little weight to the views of the working group,” the judge said, noting that Assange had “restricted his own freedom for a number of years.”

Assange’s lawyer had argued that the 5½ years Assange has spent inside the embassy were “adequate, if not severe” punishment for his actions, noting that he had health problems including a frozen shoulder and depression.

The judge accepted that Assange had depression and other conditions, but said he was overall in “fairly good physical health.” Arbuthnot also rejected an argument that Assange’s actions had not stalled Sweden’s legal case, because he had offered to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors at the embassy.

Assange’s legal team said emails recently released after a freedom of information request showed that a British state prosecutor had advised Sweden “that it would not be prudent for Sweden to try to interview Mr. Assange in the U.K.”

The judge said she could not tell from the emails she had seen whether the lawyer who sent them had behaved inappropriately. But she said Assange’s “failure to surrender has impeded the course of justice.”

“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” she said. “He should have the courage to do so too.”

The ruling leaves the long legal impasse intact. Apart from the bail-jumping charge — for which the maximum sentence is one year in prison — Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. grand jury indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents, and that American authorities will seek his extradition.

Assange’s lawyers say he is willing to face legal proceedings in Britain, but only if he receives a guarantee that he will not be sent to the U.S. to face prosecution. That is not an assurance Britain is likely to give.

Outside the courtroom, Assange lawyer Gareth Peirce gave little indication of what might come next in the twisting legal saga. “The history of the case from start to finish is extraordinary,” she said. “Each aspect of it becomes puzzling and troubling as it is scrutinized.”

Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.

UN chief appoints Briton as Yemen envoy

February 16, 2018

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed former British diplomat Martin Griffiths as his new envoy charged with trying to broker peace in Yemen, the UN announced on Friday.

Guterres notified the UN Security Council of his intention to appoint Griffiths earlier this week and the 15-member council approved his choice on Thursday evening.

“Mr Griffiths brings extensive experience in conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and humanitarian affairs,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

Griffiths, currently executive director of the European Institute of Peace, replaces Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who the UN said would step down after three years in the job when his current contract finishes this month.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Yemen, which relies heavily on imports for food, is on the brink of famine and nearly 1 million people have been infected with cholera.

Source: Middle East Monitor.



UK lawmakers agree to leave Parliament for years of repairs

January 31, 2018

LONDON (AP) — This is not a metaphor: Britain’s Parliament is a mess. The 19th-century building is crumbling, leaky, infested with vermin and riddled with asbestos. After years of dithering, lawmakers voted Wednesday to move out of the building to allow several years of major repairs. The plan will cost billions, but experts say the alternative could be catastrophic.

“This debate arguably should have taken place about 40 years ago,” House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told lawmakers, adding that the building “is in dire need of repair.” Legislators voted to back a call for lawmakers and staff to leave the building by the mid-2020s — a plan known as a “full decant” of Parliament. It’s estimated the repairs will take six years and cost about 3.5 billion pounds ($5 billion).

The decision came after warnings about the risks of delaying. “It might be an exaggeration to say that Parliament is a death trap,” Conservative lawmaker Damian Green said. “But it’s not a wild exaggeration.”

Experts have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the state of the neo-Gothic Parliament building, one of London’s most famous landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Reports have sounded alarm bells about leaky roofs, temperamental steam heating, antiquated plumbing, crumbling stonework and ventilation shafts clogged with old pipes, wires and asbestos.

Wednesday’s vote backed a 2016 report commissioned by parliamentary authorities which said the building is at risk of a flood or fire that could leave it uninhabitable. The issue still has to be considered by the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper chamber.

Caroline Shenton, former director of the parliamentary archives and author of “The Day Parliament Burned Down,” said that without major repair work, Britain could lose “the most iconic, famous building in the country.”

“It could just simply be a utilities failure that brings the whole thing to a halt — the electricity goes, the water stops working, the loos stop flushing,” she said. “But something more catastrophic could happen.”

David Leakey, who retired last year as Parliament’s head of security, has said that without major work Parliament could be “another Grenfell Tower” — the London high-rise that burned down last year, killing 70 people.

Despite the warnings, lawmakers had put off making a decision for several years. Some worried the public will resent the expense. Traditionalists are reluctant to leave the historic Commons and Lords chambers, the subsidized bars and restaurants and the riverside terrace with its magnificent view across the Thames.

Some modernizers think a permanent move to a new building — perhaps even one outside London — would make politicians less out of touch with the people they serve. Scottish National Party lawmaker Pete Wishart urged his colleagues to “make this beautiful building a tourist attraction … and let’s design and create a Parliament for the 21st century.”

Shenton said she hoped today’s lawmakers would remember history. The current Parliament building, designed by architect Charles Barry, was built after fire destroyed its predecessor in 1834. Shenton said authorities had debated what to do about their aging building for years before the 1834 blaze.

“Nobody could make a decision,” she said. “In the end, the decision was made for them.”


From anteaters to zebras: London Zoo counts its creatures

February 07, 2018

LONDON (AP) — Gibbons Jimmy and Yoda, Max the Eurasian eagle owl and Bhanu the lion have stood up to be counted as London Zoo conducts its annual audit of creatures big and small. Zookeepers tallied 19,289 animals in the annual count of every mammal, bird, reptile, fish, amphibian and insect at the famous zoo.

The penguins, at least, made it easy Wednesday, lining up flipper to flipper. Some concessions are made. Ants, for example, are counted en masse. This year’s event was delayed after a fire just before Christmas that killed four meerkats and an aardvark.

But Mark Haben of the Zoological Society of London says the count “brought everyone together and really allowed us all to support each other, and really focus on our animal breeding for this year.”


France to loan Britain famed 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry

January 17, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French officials plan to loan the historic Bayeux Tapestry to Britain, allowing the 11th-century artwork depicting the conquest of England to leave France for the first time in centuries.

The mayor of the Normandy town of Bayeux, Patrick Gomont, said Wednesday that the loan is about five years away because restoration work is required to ensure the fragile 70-meter (230-foot) cloth isn’t damaged in transit. It currently resides in a museum in the town.

The Times of London newspaper reported that French President Emmanuel Macron will announce the loan of the artwork on Thursday when he meets British Prime Minister Theresa May for talks on Brexit, security and border issues.

The tapestry is a both a treasured work of medieval art and a valuable historical document that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. It last left Normandy during World War II, when it was moved to Paris.

Conservative British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, who heads Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the loan was a “fantastic gesture of goodwill” by France. Levi Roach, a medieval historian at the University of Exeter, said the tapestry was a symbol of the “close yet fraught” relationship between Britain in France. Its loan is especially resonant as Britain prepares to leave the European Union and strike up new relationships with its European neighbors.

“It is very significant that the Bayeux Tapestry is going to be coming to the United Kingdom and that people are going to be able to see this,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons. May’s spokesman would not comment on whether Britain planned to loan France anything in return.

The venue where the tapestry will be displayed in Britain hasn’t been announced. The director of the British Museum said he would be “honored and delighted” to put it on show. “This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the U.K.,” museum director Hartwig Fischer said.

The tapestry depicts the invasion from the victorious French standpoint, but many historians believe it was stitched in England.


UK and French leaders reach border deal, disagree on Brexit

January 19, 2018

CAMBERLEY, England (AP) — The leaders of Britain and France met Thursday against a military backdrop to pledge closer cooperation on defense, security and borders after Britain leaves the European Union.

But President Emmanuel Macron also delivered a firm message: the U.K. cannot keep coveted access to the EU for its financial sector after Brexit unless it continues to play by the bloc’s rules once it leaves.

“The choice is on the British side, not on my side,” Macron said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. “If you want access to the single market — including the financial services —- be my guest,” he said. “But it means that you need to contribute to the budget and acknowledge European jurisdiction.”

The future of Britain’s financial sector — which employs more than 1 million people — is a key issue as Britain and the EU hammer out details of their relationship after Brexit. EU officials warn the U.K. it can’t hang on to the benefits of membership without accepting its responsibilities, including free movement of people.

May said Britain would be leaving the single market, but wanted a free-trade deal with the bloc covering both goods and services. She said London “will continue to be a major global financial center” after Brexit.

The visit, Macron’s first to Britain since he won the French presidency in May 2017, was aimed at strengthening security and intelligence ties between nations that are both neighbors and historic rivals, and building goodwill as Britain negotiates its exit from the EU.

The venue — the Sandhurst military academy southwest of London — was selected as a signal that the relationship between western Europe’s two biggest military powers won’t be weakened once the U.K. leaves the EU in March 2019.

May treated the French leader to a pub lunch of crab and duck breast, followed by a serving of British military pomp. Macron was greeted at Sandhurst troops from the Coldstream Guards in gray coats and bearskin hats.

Amid a sudden hailstorm, Macron and May inspected the honor guard before taking a salute from soldiers on horseback. Senior ministers from the two countries attended the one-day meeting, and signed agreements on everything from space exploration to tackling online extremism.

In a significant gesture, May offered millions to ease French annoyance over a 2003 deal that placed British border controls in the northern French port of Calais. The town has become a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain, and the accord puts the burden of blocking their entry to the U.K. on France.

Alongside a new treaty aimed at better management of their joint border, Britain agreed to pay 44.5 million pounds ($62 million) for fences, security cameras and other measures in Calais and nearby English Channel ports. France also wants Britain to take in more migrants from Calais, especially unaccompanied children.

May pointedly declined to give a number of migrants that Britain would take when asked by journalists at a joint press conference. Instead she stressed the need to clamp down on people smugglers and take other measures to stop migrants from getting to Calais.

Macron said the treaty would mean “smarter and more efficient management of the border” and a faster, more humane processing system for migrants. The U.K. also said it will send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters and dozens of personnel to join France’s military mission against Islamic militants in Africa’s Sahel region. France has led efforts to fight al-Qaida and IS-linked jihadi groups in the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

The leaders of the five main U.K. and French spy agencies also met for the first time, as the two countries seek to increase intelligence-sharing. France and Britain have both faced a string of violent attacks by extremists inspired or directed by the Islamic State group.

In a boost to Macron, Britain is throwing its backing behind the European Intervention Initiative, a multinational European military force that the French president has proposed. He also wants a common European defense budget and security doctrine.

In return, France will send troops to join a U.K.-led NATO battle group in Estonia in 2019, aimed at countering an increasingly assertive Russia. Macron also came with the news that France will loan Britain the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century panorama depicting the Norman conquest of England. It will go on display at an unspecified British venue in 2022.

Macron said that despite Brexit, “we are facing common challenges and sharing the same destiny.” “We are somehow making a new tapestry together,” he said.

Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this story.


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