Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

Bowing to the inevitable as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, an isolated and powerless Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street to confirm he would resign. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

  • ‘The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place’

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader Thursday amid a mass revolt by top members of his government, marking an end to three tumultuous years in power in which he brazenly bent and sometimes broke the rules of British politics.
Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as Johnson stood in 10 Downing Street and conceded that his party wanted him gone.
“Them’s the breaks,” he said.
The brash, 58-year-old politician who took Britain out of the European Union and steered it through COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine was brought down by one scandal too many — this one involving his appointment of a politician who had been accused of sexual misconduct.
The messiest of prime ministers did not leave cleanly. Johnson stepped down immediately as party leader but said he would remain in office as prime minister until the party chooses his successor. But many in the party want him gone before then, and his government has been shredded by scores of resignations.
Among the possible candidates to succeed him: former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Johnson had clung to power for two days, defiantly telling lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to get on with the business of government.
But he was forced to concede defeat Thursday morning after one of his closest allies, newly appointed Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi, publicly told him to resign for the good of the country.
“In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate," Johnson said outside his office. “I regret not to have been successful in those arguments, and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’’
The timetable for choosing a new prime minister will be announced next week, Johnson said.
“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” he said.
Zahawi, who was promoted earlier this week as Johnson tried to shore up his Cabinet, said he and a group of colleagues had privately expressed their concerns to the prime minister on Wednesday and he decided to go public after Johnson ignored the advice to resign.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government,” Zahawi said in a letter posted on Twitter. “But the country deserves a government that is not only stable but which acts with integrity.”
Thursday morning’s resignations meant that 50 Cabinet secretaries, ministers and lower-level officials had quit the government over two days, often castigating the prime minister for his lack of integrity.
With more than 20 positions unfilled, the crisis had stalled the business of some parliamentary committees because there were no ministers available to speak on the government’s behalf.
It is a humiliating defeat for Johnson, who not only pulled off Brexit but was credited with rolling out one of the world’s most successful mass vaccination campaigns to combat COVID-19.
But the perpetually rumpled leader known for greeting critics with bombast and bluster was also dogged by criticism that he acted as if the rules did not apply to him.
He managed to remain in power for almost three years, despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules. He was fined by police and survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
Recent disclosures that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a Conservative lawmaker before he promoted him to a senior position in government proved to be one scandal too many.
The crisis began when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid allegations that he had groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher.
Johnson tried to deflect criticism with shifting explanations about what he knew and when he knew it, but that just highlighted concerns that the prime minister couldn’t be trusted.
Javid and Sunak resigned within minutes of each other Tuesday night, triggering a wave of departures among their Cabinet colleagues and lower-level officials.
Javid captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he said Wednesday in the House of Commons. “I believe that point is now.”
Bernard Jenkin, a senior Conservative Party lawmaker, told the BBC he met with Johnson later in the day and advised him to step down.
“I just said to him, ‘Look, it’s just when you go now, and it’s how you go. You can go with some dignity or you can be forced out like Donald Trump clinging to power and pretending he’s won the election when he’s lost,'" Jenkin said.


Greece accuses Turkey of forcing stranded migrants over border

Updated 10 sec ago

Greece accuses Turkey of forcing stranded migrants over border

  • The migrants were trapped on an islet in the Evros river at the border between the two countries
  • Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the group were now being provided medical treatment in Greece
ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday accused Turkey of forcibly pushing a group of stranded migrants onto a small Greek island and leaving behind the body of a five-year-old child who died.
The incident follows years of tensions between the neighbors over migration issues, with each side blaming the other of avoiding their responsibilities.
The migrants were trapped on an islet in the Evros river at the border between the two countries.
In a statement issued while visiting the area, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the group were now being provided medical treatment in Greece.
He said the 35 Syrians and three Palestinians had originally arrived on the Turkish side of the river.
“The Turkish authorities forced them to cross illegally into Greece,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It appears from statements that a 5-year-old child died on Turkish soil,” he added. Greek officials would work with the Red Cross to ensure her body was recovered for a proper burial.
Greek police suggested the group had not been found earlier as the migrants, who included a pregnant woman, were “some four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the point initially declared, which was outside Greek territory.”
The pregnant woman has been transferred to hospital.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR had previously expressed concern for the group and called for them to be cared for.
Greek police said they had informed Turkish border authorities about the case “twice” in recent days.
Tensions have simmered between Greece and Turkey over the issue of migrants, with both sides accusing the other of “pushbacks” on the border.
Earlier this year, Turkey said 12 migrants had frozen to death after being stripped of their clothes and moved on by Greek border guards.

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

Updated 16 August 2022

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

  • She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina: First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday.
She had been vacationing with President Joe Biden in South Carolina when she began experiencing symptoms on Monday. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.
Joe Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said, but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He recovered from a rebound case of the virus on Aug.7.


Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Bus falls in gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir, kills six border policemen

  • Police said 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured
  • The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force

SRINAGAR: A bus carrying personnel from India’s high-altitude border police rolled off a mountainous road and fell into a gorge in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, killing at least six officers, police said.

Kashmir police said on Twitter the injured were being flown to an army hospital in the Himalayan region’s main city of Srinagar, some 90 km (55 miles) from the accident site in Anantnag district.

A police officer told Reuters that 35 people survived the crash but some were badly injured.

The bus was carrying members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force, a federal force specializing in high-altitude operations, mainly on the Indo-China border.

Pictures from the site showed mangled remains of the bus by a fast-flowing river.


Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Updated 16 August 2022

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

  • Minister for higher education said they are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight
  • Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban are skeptical of modern education

KABUL: Afghan university students will have to attend more compulsory Islamic studies classes, education officials said Tuesday while giving little sign that secondary schools for girls would reopen.
Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban, which swept back into power a year ago, are skeptical of modern education.
“We are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight,” said Abdul Baqi Haqqani, minister for higher education, including Islamic history, politics and governance.
The number of compulsory religious classes will increase from one to three a week in government universities.
He told a news conference that the Taliban would not order any subjects to be dropped from the current curriculum.
However, some universities have altered studies on music and sculpture — highly sensitive issues under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law — while an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite, including professors, has seen many subjects discontinued.
Officials have for months insisted that schools will reopen for girls, swaying between technical and financial issues as reasons for the continued closures.
Abdulkhaliq Sadiq, a senior official at the education ministry, on Tuesday said families in rural areas were still not convinced of the need to send girls to secondary school.
Under the Taliban’s last regime between 1996 and 2001, both primary and secondary schools for girls never reopened.
“We are trying to come up with a sound policy in coordination with our leaders... so that those in rural areas are also convinced,” he said.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Although young women are still permitted to attend university, many have dropped out because of the cost or because their families are afraid for them to be out in public in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, without a secondary school certificate, teenage girls will not be able to sit future university entrance exams.
The international community has made the right to education a key condition for formally recognizing the Taliban government.
Despite being in power for a year, no country has so far recognized the government.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

Updated 16 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims, including two Pakistanis, in New Mexico

  • Police charged Afghan Muhammad Syed with two  murders, linked four killings to personal grudges
  • Son Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: Police believe the son of the prime suspect in the killings of four Muslim men may have played a role in the murders, which have shaken the Muslim community in New Mexico's largest city.

Cellphone data shows Shaheen Syed, 21, was in the same "general area" of Albuquerque as his father at the time of the Aug. 5 killing of 25-year-old trucking entrepreneur Naeem Hussain, according to a filing by federal prosecutors for a Monday detention hearing during which Syed was denied bail.

Syed's attorney John Anderson said the allegations were "exceedingly thin and speculative."

Police last week charged Shaheen Syed's father, Muhammad Syed, 51, with two of the murders and linked the four killings to personal grudges, possibly fueled by intra-Muslim sectarian hatred. Shaheen Syed was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.

"Law enforcement officers also have recently discovered evidence that appears to tie the defendant, Shaheen Syed, to these killings," the filing said.

Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Naeem Hussain leaving an Aug. 5 funeral service for two of the murdered Muslim men, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data. He then followed Hussain to the area of a parking lot where he was shot dead.

"Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant (Shaheen Syed) would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting," the filing said.

Prosecutors did not provide evidence on the other shootings.

Imtiaz Hussain said he believed at least two people were involved in the Aug. 1 murder of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

A pistol and rifle were used to shoot Afzaal Hussain, a city planning director, 15 times in around 15 to 20 seconds, according to police records and Imtiaz.

“For one suspect it is difficult to use two weapons in that short an interval,“ said Imtiaz Hussain.

The victims Naeem Hussain and Afzaal Hussain were not related.

Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee, has been charged with killing Afzaal Hussain, who was from Pakistan, and cafe manager Aftab Hussein, 41, who had ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A fourth man, supermarket owner Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi.