Britain’s Boris Johnson battles to stay as PM amid revolt

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Britain’s Boris Johnson battles to stay as PM amid revolt

  • Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party
  • He insists he won’t step down and rules out an election

LONDON: Britain's Boris Johnson defied pressure from senior ministers and a mounting rebellion within his party to quit on Wednesday, vowing to stay on as prime minister and fight off any attempts to oust him.
By Wednesday evening, 39 ministers and their Tory MP aides had quit over the prior 24 hours, mostly from more junior positions outside the cabinet.
A cabinet delegation had awaited his return to Downing Street from a lengthy grilling by a parliamentary committee to tell him his time was up.
It was said to include hard-line interior minister Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi, who has barely been 24 hours in his new job of finance minister.
One encouraged him to make a dignified exit by setting his own timetable rather than face a confidence vote.
But despite the clamour for him to resign, Johnson was continuing to focus on the important issues, a government source said after his meeting with members of his top cabinet team. A senior Conservative said the prime minister was digging in.
"I am not going to step down and the last thing this country needs, frankly, is an election," he told a parliamentary committee earlier, saying he had a mandate from the 2019 national election, which he won with a large majority.
Johnson also refused to say if he would try to stay in the job even if he lost a confidence vote from his own lawmakers. That could come next week if they agree to change the party's rules, which only allow one such challenge a year. He narrowly won a similar vote last month.
Late Wednesday, Johnson  fired one of his top cabinet allies, fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove, as he mounted a fightback against the cabinet revolt, a Johnson aide said.
"He sacked Michael Gove," Johnson's parliamentary private secretary James Duddridge told Sky News, adding: "The prime minister is in buoyant mood and will fight on."
A senior Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity said: "The prime minister is deluded if he feels he can cling on in the face of collapsed parliamentary support. He is embarrassing the Conservative Party and showing contempt for the electorate."
But culture minister Nadine Dories said she was behind Johnson and, when asked if others also still backed him, she replied: "Yes, definitely."
The dramatic resignations on Tuesday of his health and finance ministers triggered a growing swell of other ministerial departures, while many Conservative lawmakers openly said they wanted him gone, questioning his fitness to govern and his integrity.
At parliamentary questions on Wednesday some Conservatives struggled not to laugh when others poked fun at him and he took a pummelling from a committee of senior politicians over his past behaviour, his motivation and some of the scandals that have come to define much of his tenure.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Britain's exit from the European Union and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Since then, some Conservatives have enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.
That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration's combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.
Despite even one-time supporters saying the current crisis could only end with his resignation, Johnson vowed to fight on and his spokesperson said he was confident of winning another confidence motion.
"The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you've been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going," Johnson told parliament. "And that's what I'm going to do."
All might change next week when the 1922 Committee that sets the rules for the Conservative parliamentary party holds an election to its executive that could usher in a rule change to allow a second confidence vote on his leadership.
Johnson has tried to reassert his authority by quickly appointing Nadhim Zahawi - a rising Conservative star widely praised for the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines - as finance minister. But Zahawi was among the group of ministers in Downing Street who were to tell him to go.
Earlier in parliament, senior ministers struggled to contain their laughter as the opposition Labour leader poked fun at his cabinet for being in the "charge of the lightweight brigade".
"At some point, we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that point is now," said Sajid Javid, in his resignation speech as health minister, with Johnson listening stony-faced.
His leadership has been mired in scandals over the last few months. He was fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws, while a damning report laid bare breaches of those rules by Downing Street officials, and a committee is investigating whether he then lied to parliament about it.
There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defence of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.
The latest scandal saw Johnson apologising for appointing a lawmaker to a role involved in party welfare and discipline, after being briefed that the politician had been the subject of complaints about sexual misconduct.
With no immediate way of forcing Johnson from office, one Conservative lawmaker likened his determination to cling on to the attempts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 U.S. election result.
"We could end up in a Trumpian standoff," the lawmaker said. "This could end up causing enormous embarrassment and damage to the party."
(With Reuters and AFP)

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

Updated 6 sec ago

UN speeches end with silence from Myanmar, Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS: For the second straight year, Afghanistan and Myanmar were silent at the UN General Assembly’s leaders’ meeting, which ended Monday with no representative of either government stepping forward to talk as the United Nations tries to resolve who should represent them.
At the annual high-level meeting of leaders, there was no speech from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who now control the nation after a US withdrawal last year, and no words from Myanmar, where a military junta toppled the civilian government last year and detained its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
For Afghanistan, it mirrored last year’s assembly when the Taliban — in its second chapter of ruling the nation — tried to figure out how to interact with the United Nations.
Last month, the UN special envoy on Myanmar said she wouldn’t visit the Southeast Asia nation again unless its military government allows her to meet with Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, including a three-year term with hard labor imposed last week for alleged election fraud.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 from Suu Kyi’s elected government, plunging the country into what some UN experts have described as civil war. Critics say the charges subsequently brought against Suu Kyi and top figures in her Cabinet were fabricated to keep them out of politics.
In December, the UN delayed actions on both Afghanistan’s and Myanmar’s bid for seats. UN diplomats said then that the decision to delay the requests by Myanmar’s junta and the Taliban had wide support because of the actions of the two countries’ new rulers.
Myanmar and Afghanistan didn’t go entirely unmentioned Monday. Bharat Raj Paudyal, foreign secretary of Nepal, brought up both of them.
“Afghanistan has remained on the precipice of uncertainty and violence,” he noted, and asked all parties in Myanmar to “respect the will of the people to elect their representatives.”

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

Updated 26 September 2022

Putin grants Russian citizenship to US whistleblower Snowden

  • Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013
  • Documents revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA

Vladimir Putin on Monday granted Russian citizenship to former US. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, nine years after he exposed the scale of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the NSA, where he worked.

US authorities have for years wanted him returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

There was no immediate reaction from Snowden, whose name appeared without Kremlin comment in a Putin decree conferring citizenship on a list of 72 foreign-born individuals.

The news prompted some Russians to jokingly ask whether Snowden would be called up for military service, five days after Putin announced Russia's first public mobilization since World War Two to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

"Will Snowden be drafted?" Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state media outlet RT and a vocal Putin supporter, wrote with dark humour on her Telegram channel.

Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told RIA news agency that his client could not be called up because he had not previously served in the Russian army.

He said that Snowden's wife Lindsay Mills, who gave birth to a son in 2020, would also apply for citizenship.

Russia granted Snowden permanent residency rights in 2020, paving the way for him to obtain Russian citizenship.

That year a US appeals court found the program Snowden had exposed was unlawful and that the US intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden, who keeps a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak US secrets but was not a traitor.

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

Updated 26 September 2022

Biden to host Macron for state visit at White House Dec 1

  • State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency
  • Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said ‘we deeply value our relationship with France’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on December 1 for the first full-scale state visit of his administration, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The visit will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and France, our oldest ally,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House.
State visits, which feature more pomp and ceremony than the frequent bilateral meetings hosted by US presidents for foreign leaders, have not taken place so far during Biden’s presidency, which Jean-Pierre attributed to Covid pandemic restrictions.
Asked why France had been chosen for the honor ahead of other US allies, Jean-Pierre said “we deeply value our relationship with France.”
The link between the two countries is “founded on shared democratic values, economic ties, and defense and security cooperation,” she said.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a major crisis last year when Australia abruptly announced it was ditching a contract to buy conventional French submarines in favor of a US nuclear-powered submarine deal.


After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

Updated 26 September 2022

After floods, thousands displaced in southern Pakistan to move to ‘tent-city’

  • Nearly 1.5 million people are displaced in southern Sindh province
  • Makeshift facility in Karachi will comprise about 1,300 tents, official says

KARACHI: Thousands of people in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh will be moved to a “tent city” in the provincial capital Karachi this week, officials said on Monday, in the aftermath of catastrophic floods that had submerged a third of the country and killed over 1,600 people.

Torrential rains and melting glaciers in the mountains of Pakistan’s north triggered floods that have swept away homes, key infrastructure, livestock and crops, affecting 33 million of Pakistan’s 220 million people since mid-June.

With nearly 1.5 million people displaced in Sindh province, the local government has been using public schools as temporary shelters. In Karachi, thousands of people have taken refuge in 30 schools in the city.

Local officials are preparing to move the victims to a makeshift facility located in the suburbs of Malir, an administrative district in the eastern part of Karachi, with the relocation set to begin this week.

“About 7,000 people living in our relief camps would be shifted and the schools will be vacated,” said Raja Tariq Chandio, deputy commissioner of Karachi’s East District, where the schools currently used as shelters are located.

The temporary settlement will comprise about 1,300 tents, and K-Electric, the city’s sole power distributor, will set up a power transmission line to provide electricity to the camp, Malir’s Deputy Commissioner Irfan Salam told Arab News.

“In the tent city, flood victims will have safe drinking water and cooked meals. It has 20 washrooms and a hospital with men and women doctors and paramedics,” Salam said.

“It will take at least 10 days for K-Electric to set up the power transmission line,” he added. “Within two days, people will be moved to the tent city.”

A charity organization will be providing meals for the displaced people relocated to Malir, he added, while children will get to attend classes organized by the Sindh Education Foundation.

The deadly floods in Pakistan inundated around 15,000 schools across Sindh alone, where classes have yet to resume. Millions of students in the province are at risk of being permanently out of school, Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah said earlier this month, as the government lacked resources to rebuild the damaged facilities.

Officials said there are plans to restart classes in Karachi after displaced residents are moved to Malir, when the buildings currently used as temporary shelters can again be used for lessons.

“We are happy that classes are going to resume soon,” Javed Shah, a teacher at the Government Boys Primary School, told Arab News. “We will bring the schools to order to resume classes.”

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

Updated 26 September 2022

Bangladesh still searching for missing passengers after deadly boat accident

  • Government launches probe as about 30 not found, 35 dead
  • Small vessel packed with Hindu devotees, women and children

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities continued their search on Monday for missing passengers after an overloaded boat sank in the country’s northern district and killed at least 35 people in the worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year.

The small boat, packed with mostly Hindu devotees, and women and children, sank in the Karatoya river on Sunday. Some passengers were returning from a popular temple in the northern Panchagarh district on the occasion of the Durga Puja celebrations.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 35 people as of Monday afternoon, comprising 17 women, 11 children, and seven men, Panchagarh district administrator Mohammad Jahurul Islam told Arab News.

“Until Monday afternoon we have found 35 dead bodies,” Islam said. “Still, 20 to 30 people are missing. However, we found some missing people alive today as they were rescued by the locals on Sunday and took shelter in the homes of nearby relatives.”

A committee has been formed to investigate the incident and is expected to file a report within three days, he added.

“This sort of boat capsize is very rare in this region, because these small rivers are mostly calm in nature,” Islam said.

Officials suspect the fatal incident had occurred due to overcrowding.

“It seems that the boat had capsized due to overload(ing),” Shahjahan Ali, who led the search and rescue operations, told Arab News.

“We are conducting the operations in a 15-kilometer radius in the surrounding areas of the river. Now our operations are ongoing in some special areas where few of the bodies might have been floating around. Tomorrow we will also continue the search,” he added.

Bangladesh sees hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents, due to lax safety standards despite extensive inland waterways in the low-lying country.

At least 34 people died in April 2021 after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.