Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Anti-Boris Johnson, anti-Brexit protesters hold placards across the street from the Houses of Parliament on the edge of Parliament Square, in London, on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2022

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

  • Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians
  • The report by senior official Sue Gray gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings

LONDON: A “humbled” Boris Johnson said he took full responsibility but would not quit after a damning official report on Wednesday detailed a series of illegal lockdown parties at the British leader’s Downing Street office.
Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party over the alcohol-fueled gatherings, after it was revealed that he and officials had broken COVID-19 rules that all but banned people from socialising outside their households.
“I ... am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” Prime Minister Johnson told parliament, saying he would not quit over the scandal.
His foreign minister Liz Truss, seen as a possible successor, said she backed him “100 percent” after his apology.
The report by senior official Sue Gray did not specifically blame Johnson, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings.
He attended some, including a party to celebrate his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 that he was fined over but which Gray said he was unaware of in advance.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership ...must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson, who commissioned the report after revelations of boozy Downing Street events, said he was appalled by some of the behavior it had uncovered.
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but details were withheld until the end of a police inquiry that concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.

DISMAYING BEHAVIOUR AT ‘HEART OF GOVERNMENT’
Her full report included emails and messages that showed many gatherings were planned in advance, with discussions on who would bring alcohol — drinks that “we seem to have got away with,” the then head of Johnson’s Downing Street office, Martin Reynolds, said in one message.
There were warnings from another official that people should not be “waving bottles of wine” before a gathering that coincided with a televised news conference when ministers told the public to follow the COVID rules.
At one June 2020 event, Gray said “excessive alcohol consumption” led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another, the night before the April 2021 funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, individuals partied into the early hours and damaged a swing.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
She cited multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff who had to remove red wine from walls after one event.
For months, evidence of the parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologize, change his office team and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was time for Johnson to quit, saying the report laid bare that the government believed that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else.
“You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker,” Starmer — himself under police investigation for breaking COVID rules, told parliament. He has said he’ll resign if fined.
Johnson’s immediate fate lies in the hands of his Conservative lawmakers who can call for a leadership challenge.
Many had said they would wait for Gray’s full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should go.
“Are you willing day in and day out to defend his behavior publicly?” Tobias Ellwood, a long-time critic of Johnson, implored of his parliamentary colleagues.
Others felt the report was less damning than it could have been. “This is all so banal,” one Conservative said on condition of anonymity.
Johnson had initially denied there had been parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by the Committee of Privileges.
By way of apology for his earlier denials, said he wanted to “correct for the record” that no rules were broken. “Clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left,” Johnson told parliament.


West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

Updated 19 sec ago

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

  • ECOWAS had imposed sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso after their rulers plunged them into authoritian rule

ACCRA, Ghana: West African leaders attending a regional summit Sunday lifted sanctions against three neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule.
The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, although those countries remain suspended from the regional bloc, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.
The three nations’ suspension from ECOWAS will remain in effect until elections are held, he told reporters, adding that regional leaders urge development partners to resume assistance to them.
In lifting the sanctions, leaders attending the summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, accepted a transition road map by Malian authorities who proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024.
ECOWAS sanctioned Mali severely in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.
The military leaders in Guinea and Burkina Faso have also proposed varying transition periods eventually leading to polls. It remains unclear when elections will be held there.
The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.
Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January coup. Burkina Faso authorities said Saturday that Kabore, who has been under house arrest, is now a free man.
The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.
Some leaders who spoke at Accra’s one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.
“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”
In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Brou.
In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country’s northern Seno province last month.


Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

Updated 04 July 2022

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

  • Police claimed the victim had earlier fired at them when they were chasing him over a traffic violation
  • Akron mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community

AKRON, Ohio: A Black man was unarmed when Akron police chased him on foot and killed him in a hail of gunfire, but officers believed he had shot at them earlier from a vehicle and feared he was preparing to fire again, authorities said Sunday at a news conference.
Akron police released video of the shooting of Jayland Walker, 25, who was killed June 27 in a pursuit that had started with an attempted traffic stop. The mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community.
It’s not clear how many shots were fired by the eight officers involved in the shooting, but Walker sustained more than 60 wounds. An attorney for Walker’s family said officers kept firing even after he was on the ground.
Officers attempted to stop Walker’s car early in the morning for unspecified traffic and equipment violations, but less than a minute into a pursuit, the sound of a shot was heard from the car, and a transportation department camera captured what appeared to be a muzzle flash coming from the vehicle, Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett said. That changed the nature of the case from “a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue,” he said.
Police body camera videos of the nighttime confrontation show the minutes that followed. Several shouting officers with guns drawn approach the slowing car on foot, as it rolls up over a curb and onto a sidewalk. A person wearing a ski mask exits the passenger door and runs toward a parking lot. Police chase him for about 10 seconds before officers fire from multiple directions, in a burst of shots that lasts 6 or 7 seconds.
At least one officer had tried first to use a stun gun, but that was unsuccessful, police said.
Mylett said Walker’s actions are hard to distinguish on the video in real time, but a still photo seems to show him “going down to his waist area” and another appears to show him turning toward an officer. He said a third picture “captures a forward motion of his arm.”
The officers were separated at the scene afterward, and each one indicated a belief that Walker had been moving into a firing position, Mylett said.
The footage released by police ends with the officers’ gunfire and doesn’t show what happened in the moments after.
Mylett said an officer firing at someone has to be “ready to explain why they did what they did, they need to be able to articulate what specific threats they were facing ... and they need to be held to account.” But he said he is withholding judgment on their actions until they give their statements, and he said the union president has told him that all are “fully cooperating” with the investigation.
Police said more than 60 wounds were found on Walker’s body but further investigation is needed to determine exactly how many rounds the officers fired and how many times Walker was hit. Officers provided aid, and one can be heard saying he still had a pulse, but he was pronounced dead, Mylett said.
A handgun, a loaded magazine and an apparent wedding ring were found on the seat of the car. A casing consistent with the weapon was later found in the area where officers believed a shot had come from the vehicle.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost vowed a “complete, fair and expert investigation” and cautioned that “body-worn camera footage is just one view of the whole picture.”
The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, which is standard practice in such cases.
Demonstrators marched peacefully through the city and gathered in front of the Akron justice center after the video was released. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement that Walker’s death wasn’t self-defense, but “was murder. Point blank.”
Walker’s family is calling for accountability but also for peace, their lawyers said. One of the attorneys, Bobby DiCello, called the burst of police gunfire excessive and unreasonable, and said police handcuffed Walker before trying to provide first aid.
“How it got to this with a pursuit is beyond me,” DiCello said.
He said Walker’s family doesn’t know why he fled from police. Walker was grieving the recent death of his fiancee, but his family had no indication of concern beyond that, and he wasn’t a criminal, DiCello said.
“I hope we remember that as Jayland ran across that parking lot, he was unarmed,” DiCello said.
He said he doesn’t know whether the gold ring found near the gun in the car belonged to Walker.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 03 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • Sanna Irshad Mattoo was to travel for a book launch, photography exhibition
  • The photojournalist is one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason. 

In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020. 

"Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said. 

She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally. 

There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities. 

Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team. 

She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. 

Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019. 


Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

Updated 03 July 2022

Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

  • Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan

QUETTA: A passenger bus plunged into a ravine in southwestern Pakistan on Sunday killing 20 people, a government official said.
The road crash also injured another 13 people aboard the bus that was traveling from garrison city of Rawalpindi to Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, said Ijaz Jaffar, deputy commissioner of Sherani district.
The ravine is some 350 kilometers north of Quetta.
Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan.
The province is home to several Chinese projects under an investment plan in which Beijing is seeking road and sea trade linkages with the world. 


Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

Updated 03 July 2022

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

  • At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy
  • Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine

At least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said, after reports of several blasts in the city.
At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.
Gladkov said earlier the “incident” was being investigated, adding, “Presumably, the air defense system worked.”
At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy, Gladkov said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the reports.
Belgorod, a city of nearly 400,000 some 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, is the administrative center of the Belgorod region.
Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of carrying out the strikes.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for previous attacks but has described the incidents as payback and “karma” for Russia’s invasion.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.