New Zealand votes to legalize euthanasia but not marijuana

In this Oct. 16, 2020, file photo, cars are driven past a billboard urging voters to vote "No" against euthanasia in Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealanders have voted on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 in favor of legalizing euthanasia in a binding referendum. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)
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Updated 30 October 2020
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New Zealand votes to legalize euthanasia but not marijuana

  • While the vote in favor of euthanasia was emphatic, the "yes" and "no" votes for marijuana legalization was close

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealanders voted to legalize euthanasia in a binding referendum, but preliminary results released Friday showed they likely would not legalize marijuana.
With about 83% of votes counted, New Zealanders emphatically endorsed the euthanasia measure with 65% voting in favor and 34% voting against.
The “No” vote on marijuana was much closer, with 53% voting against legalizing the drug for recreational use and 46% voting in favor. That left open a slight chance the measure could still pass once all special votes were counted next week, although it would require a huge swing.
In past elections, special votes — which include those cast by overseas voters — have tended to be more liberal than general votes, giving proponents of marijuana legalization some hope the measure could still pass.
Proponents of marijuana legalization were frustrated that popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t reveal how she intended to vote ahead the Oct. 17 ballot, saying she wanted to leave the decision to New Zealanders. Ardern said Friday after the results were released that she had voted in favor of both referendums.
Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party, welcomed the preliminary marijuana result.
“This is a victory for common sense. Research shows cannabis causes mental health problems, reduced motivation and educational achievement, and increased road and workplace deaths,” he said. “New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would normalize it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm.”
But liberal lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick, from the Green Party, said they had long assumed the vote would be close and they needed to wait until the specials were counted.
“We have said from the outset that this would always come down to voter turnout. We’ve had record numbers of special votes, so I remain optimistic,” she said. “New Zealand has had a really mature and ever-evolving conversation about drug laws in this country and we’ve come really far in the last three years.”
The euthanasia measure, which would also allow assisted suicide and takes effect in November 2021, would apply to adults who have terminal illnesses, are likely to die within six months, and are enduring “unbearable” suffering. Other countries that allow some form of euthanasia include The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and Colombia.
The marijuana measure would allow people to buy up to 14 grams (0.5 ounce) a day and grow two plants. It was a non-binding vote, so if voters approved it, legislation would have to be passed to implement it. Ardern had promised to respect the outcome and bring forward the legislation, if it was necessary.
Other countries that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana include Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Georgia plus a number of US states.


Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

Updated 11 sec ago
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Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

  • Khan’s PTI was denied its share of 70 reserved seats that were allotted to parties part of PM Sharif-led ruling coalition
  • Supreme Court says the PTI was and is a political party and eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday delivered a landmark verdict saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan was eligible for reserved seats in parliament, mounting pressure on the fragile ruling coalition of premier Shehbaz Sharif.

PTI candidates contested the Feb. 8 general elections as independents after the party was barred from the polls and though these independents won the most seats, 93, the election commission ruled they would not get their share of 70 seats reserved for women and minorities since they are meant for political parties only. The seats were then allotted to other parties, mostly from those in Sharif’s ruling coalition.

In Pakistan, parties are allocated 70 reserved seats — 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims — in proportion to the number of seats won in general elections. This completes the National Assembly’s total 336 seats. A simple majority in Pakistan’s parliament is 169 out of 336 seats.

In March, both the ECP and Peshawar High Court in separate rulings said that the independents were not eligible for the reserved seats, dealing a blow to the embattled PTI’s governing prospects and proving to be a major setback for Khan, who has been in jail since last August. The verdicts were subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court, which has since last month been hearing a set of petitions on the issue.

On Friday, the Supreme Court set aside the Peshawar High Court verdict and said the ECP order declaring the PTI ineligible for reserved seats was “ultra vires of the constitution, without lawful authority and of no legal effect.”

“PTI shall be eligible for women and ministries reserved seats in parliament,” Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa said as he read the verdict in one of the petitions filed by the PTI-backed bloc, calling on the ECP to recalculate the number of reserved seats Khan’s party was entitled to.

PTI’s Syed Shibli Faraz, currently serving as the leader of the opposition in the Senate, said that this was a “historic” day in Pakistani politics.

“Heartiest congratulations firstly to the Pakistani public and their leader Imran Khan,” Faraz told reporters after the court ruling was announced.

Without the 70 reserved seats, the government stands to lose its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, without which it cannot push through constitutional amendments.

The verdict also bolsters the political position of Khan’s supporters, whose rallying cry has been that the election commission and a pro-military caretaker government that oversaw the polls indulged in electoral fraud to deprive it of a victory. The ECP denies this.

“PTI WAS AND IS A PARTY”

All candidates from Khan’s PTI party were forced to contest the February polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the ECP on the technical grounds that it did not hold intra-party elections, a prerequisite for any party to take part in polls.

After the election, the PTI-backed candidates were forced to join Sunni Ittehad Council, or SIC, party to claim a share of 70 reserved seats as independents are not eligible for the extra seats.

“It is declared that lack of denial of an election symbol does not in any way affect the right of a political party to participate in an election,” said the court order in one of the PTI petitions, which was supported by eight judges and opposed by five of the 13-member full court bench. “The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, PTI, was and is a party.”

The order said that elected members of the PTI could not be declared independents or candidates of the SIC and gave the PTI 15 days to submit its list of candidates entitled for reserved seats to the election commission.

Addressing a press conference, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the government would wait for the detailed judgment to decide on its course of action, but pointed out that the petitions had been filed by the SIC but “relief” had been given by the court to the PTI, which did not file the pleas.

“A lot of confusion and questions has been born from this judgment,” he told reporters. “A situation has been created in which there is little clarity.”

In a statement sent to media, the PTI said that 86 PTI-backed returned candidates in the National Assembly and 107 in the Punjab Assembly, 91 in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and 9 in the Sindh Assembly “are entitled to be counted for the purpose of election to the reserved seats on the basis of proportional representation.” It is expected that the PTI could get up to 23 reserved seats after Friday’s judgment.

PM Sharif formed a weak coalition with other parties after the Feb. 8 general elections produced a hung parliament.

Sharif’s PML-N party’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together made a simple majority in parliament to form a government at the center and also roped in smaller parties in the coalition.


WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

Updated 13 min 8 sec ago
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WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounds warning on declining vaccine coverage
  • Advices that people in highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.

Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.

“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”

More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.

Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.

Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.


China says conducting joint military drills with Russia

Updated 12 July 2024
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China says conducting joint military drills with Russia

  • China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years and tout their friendship as having ‘no limits’

BEIJING: China said Friday it was conducting joint military drills with Russia along its southern coast, after a US-led Western defense alliance met in Washington and Japan warned of a growing threat from Beijing’s strong ties with Moscow.
China’s defense ministry said the two militaries had begun the exercises, called Joint Sea-2024, in “early July” and they would last until the middle of this month.
The drills in the waters and airspace around Zhanjiang, a city in southern Guangdong province, are “to demonstrate the resolve and capabilities of the two sides in jointly addressing maritime security threats and preserving global and regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.
It added that the exercises “will further deepen China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era.”
They were taking place in accordance with Beijing and Moscow’s annual plan for military engagement, according to the ministry.
The announcement came in the same week that NATO leaders convened in Washington to reaffirm support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years and tout their friendship as having “no limits,” and both share hostile relations with NATO.
NATO leaders said in a declaration on Wednesday that China had “become a decisive enabler” of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting Beijing to warn NATO against “provoking confrontation.”
China maintains that it is not a party to the Ukraine conflict but has been criticized by Western leaders for giving political and economic support to Russia, including in the trade of goods with both civilian and military uses.
Chinese forces are also staging drills this week with Belarus, another Russian ally, on NATO’s eastern border.
And Japan said Friday that joint China-Russia activities near its territory pose a “grave concern from the perspective of national security.”


Covid still kills 1,700 a week: WHO

Updated 12 min 7 sec ago
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Covid still kills 1,700 a week: WHO

  • More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.
Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.
“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”
More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.
Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.
Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.


Four people die in attempt to cross the English Channel — French coast guard

Updated 12 July 2024
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Four people die in attempt to cross the English Channel — French coast guard

  • A total of 67 people were aboard the boat off the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France

Boulogne-sur-Mer: Four migrants who tried to reach Britain died in the night from Thursday to Friday after their boat capsized in the Channel, a French coast guard spokesperson said on Friday, confirming earlier media reports.
A total of 67 people were aboard the boat off the coast of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France, the spokesperson said, adding that 63 of them were rescued by an operation involving four ships and one helicopter.
Several thousand people have arrived in Britain this year via small, overloaded boats — usually flimsy inflatable dinghies — that risk being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.