Boris Johnson criticized after protesters harass Starmer

Britain’s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 February 2022

Boris Johnson criticized after protesters harass Starmer

  • The row was overshadowing Johnson's attempt to strengthen his government with a shuffle
  • Johnson accused Starmer in the House of Commons of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sexual abuse

LONDON: British leader Boris Johnson refused Tuesday to retract his false claim that a political opponent helped a sex abuser evade justice, as the opposition accused the prime minister of deploying dangerous Trump-style politics.
The row was overshadowing Johnson’s attempt to strengthen his government with a shuffle of some key jobs as he tries to shake off weeks of debilitating scandal.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, was harassed outside Parliament on Monday by protesters against coronavirus restrictions, who could be heard yelling accusations of “protecting pedophiles” — echoing a slur made by Johnson last week.
Johnson accused Starmer in the House of Commons of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sexual abuse when Starmer was the UK’s director of public prosecutions between 2008 and 2013. Savile was a long-time presenter of youth television shows who was exposed after his death in 2011 as a sexual predator who had abused hundreds of children.
A 2013 report found that Starmer hadn’t been involved in decisions about whether Savile should be prosecuted.
Labour lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan said Johnson was prepared to “smear any person or group who stands in his way and benefit only himself.”
“This is straight out of the Trumpian playbook,” she said.
Johnson called the harassment of Starmer “absolutely disgraceful,” but didn’t accept any responsibility.
The prime minister’s spokesman, Max Blain, said Johnson had clarified that he meant Starmer, as head of the prosecution service, was responsible for what went on in the organization.
“He was not suggesting Keir Starmer was individually responsible for the Savile decision,” Blain said.
Technology Minister Chris Philp argued that Johnson wasn’t responsible for the behavior of the protesters, who, he said, “did mention Jimmy Savile. They also mentioned Julian Assange repeatedly, they mentioned COVID, they also mentioned the opposition more generally.”
“I don’t think you can point to what the prime minister said as the cause of that,” Philp said.
Monday’s incident, which saw Starmer driven away in a police car and two arrests, heightened concerns that the atmosphere of British politics has become more toxic.
Two members of Parliament have been killed in recent years. Conservative lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death as he met with constituents in October, in what police have called an act of terrorism. In 2016, Labour legislator Jo Cox was shot and stabbed by a man with far-right views.
Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater — now a Labour lawmaker herself — said that while the protesters were responsible for their actions, “we also have to be clear that things don’t happen in a vacuum.”
“And while ever we have a culture of toxicity and aggression and lies in politics, we have to think about the consequences of that,” she told the BBC.
The Starmer altercation added to discontent among Conservatives with Johnson, whose grip on power has been shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held office parties in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
A total of 16 parties have been investigated by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, with a dozen of them also under investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
Johnson has apologized — without admitting personal wrongdoing — and pledged to fix the problems in his office.
After the resignation of several key aides, he appointed a new chief of staff and communications director, and on Tuesday shuffled several members of his Cabinet in a bid to strengthen control. Notably, he appointed ally Chris Heaton-Harris as the new chief whip — responsible for maintaining discipline among Conservative lawmakers — and made loyal minister Jacob Rees-Mogg minister for “Brexit opportunities and government efficiency.”
Many Conservative legislators are mulling whether to seek a no-confidence vote in the leader who won them a big parliamentary majority just over two years ago.
Under party rules, a no-confidence vote is triggered if 15 percent of party lawmakers — currently 54 people — write letters calling for one. If Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as party leader and prime minister.


Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Updated 01 December 2022

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

  • Border service: ‘An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters’

Air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Thursday following warnings by Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.
“An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters,” country’s border service wrote on Telegram messaging app.


China eases some COVID-19 controls

Updated 01 December 2022

China eases some COVID-19 controls

  • Major cities are easing testing requirements and controls on movement
  • With a heavy police presence, there is no indication of protests

BEIJING: More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to head off protests Thursday while the ruling Communist Party prepared for the high-profile funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.
Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened.
The announcements didn’t mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of anti-virus restrictions that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to mollify public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi resign.
With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests. Notes on social media complained that people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.
“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.
Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize protests while the Communist Party deletes videos and photos from services within China.
On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.
Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced he died Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.
No foreign dignitaries will be invited in line with Chinese tradition, the party announced. It has yet to set a date for the funeral or announce how it might be affected by anti-virus controls.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the disruption of its “zero COVID-19” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But it says it will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly shut down schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.
The protests began Friday after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That prompted questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus for public frustration.
The government says it is making restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has prompted local officials who are threatened with the loss of their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.


UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

Updated 01 December 2022

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”

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Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

Updated 30 November 2022

Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

  • No group has claimed responsibility, though Daesh has been waging violence in Afghanistan
  • Samangan province, where the incident took place, has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks

ISLAMABAD: A bomb blast hit a religious school in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 10 students, a Taliban official said.

The explosion went off at around the time of afternoon prayers at the Al Jihad Madrassa in Aybak, capital of Samangan province, a resident of the city who heard the explosion told The Associated Press. Most of the students at the school are young boys, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for his own safety.

Video distributed by the Taliban to the media showed the blast site, a hall littered with debris, mats and shoes, with dead bodies and bloodstains on the floor. Sirens can be heard in the background and men, some of them armed, move through the hall surveying the explosion’s aftermath.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said a number of students were wounded in the attack. Samangan province has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Afghan affiliate of the Daesh group has been waging a campaign of violence that escalated since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

Daesh has carried out bombings targeting in particular Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority but has also targeted Sunni mosques and madrassas, especially ones connected to the Taliban. The Taliban and the Daesh group both adhere to a hard-line ideology but are bitter rivals.


EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.