N. Ireland parties revive power-sharing talks after UK vote

Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, right, emerges from Stormont House with Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader and MP Colum Eastwood. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2019

N. Ireland parties revive power-sharing talks after UK vote

  • The United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union has given the parties new impetus to find common ground
  • The Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels would see Northern Ireland diverge from mainland Britain and retain some EU rules

BELFAST: Northern Ireland’s squabbling parties met Monday in the hope of reviving their power-sharing regional government after three years, with the UK election having cleared the path to Brexit.

The politically and socially volatile province has been without an administration since January 2017.

The power-sharing executive between the pro-British, conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and left-wing Irish republicans Sinn Fein crumbled in a breakdown of trust following a misspending scandal.

But the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union has given the parties new impetus to find common ground.

Thursday’s general election returned a majority Conservative government, paving the way for the UK to leave the EU on January 31.

Brexit’s implications for Northern Ireland and the border with the Irish Republic, an EU member state, have been the most contentious part of the departure process.

The Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels would see Northern Ireland diverge from mainland Britain and retain some EU rules, subject to four-yearly approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“The election has changed things very dramatically,” Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald told BBC radio.

The UK election in 2017 stripped then-prime minister Theresa May of her majority in the British parliament, forcing her into an alliance with the DUP.

The DUP kingmakers wielded an outsized influence in London during the intense Brexit negotiations.

But the party lost that role in Thursday’s election which Prime Minister Boris Johnson a thumping majority.

“I hope now that their attention can come back home and that we can together lift what needs to be lifted,” said McDonald.

“The fact that the British government is identifying the restoration of government in the North as a key priority, I hope they’re true to that.”

Some analysts agreed that Thursday’s election outcome could alter the power dynamic in the negotiations on forming a new executive at Stormont in Belfast.

“The new arithmetic at Westminster will give the DUP much greater incentive to reach a deal with Sinn Fein,” Queen’s University Belfast politics lecturer Jamie Pow told AFP.

“If it wants to remain relevant, it will need to show voters that it can deliver.”

Northern Ireland returns 18 MPs to the 650-member British parliament and the DUP fell back from 10 seats to eight on Thursday, losing their Westminster frontman Nigel Dodds, the party’s deputy leader.

Sinn Fein won seven seats but does not take them up as it does not recognize the British parliament’s jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

But both main parties reduced their overall vote share as more moderate movements gained ground — an apparent response to frustrations over stalling Stormont talks.

The deadlock between the two main parties may begin to loosen as they grow wary of sustaining losses in a looming Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary has promised to call fresh regional elections if the executive is not restored by January 13.

Northern Ireland has been run by civil servants for three years, in the absence of an executive.

“I hope that change is in the air,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told BBC radio.

“I will come to the table in a way that allows us to bring forward a deal that is that is balanced, that is proportional, that represents the fact that there are divided communities in Northern Ireland and that all of those communities must have a place.”


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.