Upheaval within UK Conservative Party has slowed action on Islamophobia: Expert

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, flanked by PM Boris Johnson, addresses lawmakers during a session on the budget, House of Commons, London, Britain, Oct. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 July 2023

Upheaval within UK Conservative Party has slowed action on Islamophobia: Expert

  • Prof. Swaran Singh, ex-equality and human rights commissioner, wrote initial report into Islamophobia within party 2 years ago
  • Singh says leadership changes have prevented party from acting on recommendations to tackle disciplinary issues

LONDON: Plans to tackle Islamophobia within the Conservative Party have been hampered by successive political crises and a series of leadership changes in Britain’s governing party.

Prof. Swaran Singh, former UK equality and human rights commissioner, said the Conservatives have been “slow” to implement recommendations from an original inquiry he conducted into Islamophobia within the party.

That inquiry found that rhetoric from senior figures, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had given the impression that the Conservatives were “insensitive” to Muslim communities.

In an update on the party’s progress following the report’s publication, Singh said the Conservatives have a “mixed” record when it comes to training members about Islamophobia, and no official complaints process has been established to handle allegations.

“Politics is a rough business, but there is no reason why the complaints process should be indifferent or abrasive to the experience of individuals involved,” the report said.

Singh said a series of leadership changes — Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have all occupied the position of prime minister since the report was released — has hampered efforts to address his findings, adding: “It just took forever for them to focus on this.

“The two years since the publication of the report have seen considerable political upheaval in the UK. In that time, the Conservative party has had three leaders and seven chairs. This turmoil has impacted on the party’s efforts to implement our recommendations.

“Change took longer than expected, and challenges resulting from the interdependencies between recommendations contributed to delays in implementation.”

Singh said the “biggest problem” for the Conservatives is addressing issues at a local level with the lack of a complaints process or training programs.

However, he welcomed the party’s “wholehearted acceptance” that his recommendations need to be put in place.

In his update, Singh said 212 complaints relating to 137 incidents had been made in the three months to June 2022, including five complaints of bullying or intimidation, three of sexual assault, two of criminal activity, and one of a party member contributing to an “alt-right” website.

Conservative Chairman Greg Hands said: “The party has made significant progress on Prof. Singh’s recommendations with 25 complete and just six ongoing. There is, however, still work to be done and this is a process of continual improvement.”

Spain’s prime minister says Cabinet to recognize a Palestinian state

Updated 2 sec ago

Spain’s prime minister says Cabinet to recognize a Palestinian state

  • EU members Ireland and Spain to recognize Palestinian state as relations between the bloc and Israel nosedives
  • While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so
MADRID: Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the Spanish Cabinet will recognize a Palestinian state at its Tuesday morning meeting as a European Union rift with Israel widens.
Ireland and Norway were also to make official their recognition of a Palestinian state later in the day. While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so.
Sanchez, who announced his country’s decision before parliament last week, has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for recognition and a ceasefire in Gaza.
Relations between the EU and Israel nosedived Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that sanctions should be considered against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Spain that its consulate in Jerusalem will not be allowed to help Palestinians.
At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell threw his weight to support the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group.

India’s space startup calls off maiden rocket launch for fourth time

Updated 8 min 15 sec ago

India’s space startup calls off maiden rocket launch for fourth time

  • Launches of India’s second privately built rocket had been aborted three times before because of technical issues
  • Cosmos’ Agnibaan is customisable, 2-stage launch vehicle that can take up to 300 kg of payload to orbits 700 km in altitude

BENGALURU: India’s Agnikul Cosmos called off a test flight of its first rocket on Tuesday seconds before it was due to launch — the fourth such cancelation in the last three months.
Launches of India’s second privately built rocket, and first using a combination of gas and liquid fuel, had been aborted three times before because of technical issues, including one flight that was canceled about 90 seconds before lift-off.
The launch, scheduled for 5:45 a.m. IST (0015 GMT) on Tuesday, was first delayed less than six minutes before lift-off “due to a technical glitch in the countdown activities,” and officials set a new lift-off time of 9:25 a.m.
Only five seconds before lift-off, however, the launch was put on “temporary hold to check igniter performance,” then was called off altogether.
The mission was expected to last two minutes and test the new “semi-cryogenic” engine and 3D-printed parts. If successful, it would have represented a technological step for India, whose Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has not yet successfully flown a semi-cryogenic engine, which uses a mix of liquid and gas for propellant.
Agnikul Cosmos’ Agnibaan rocket is a customisable, 2-stage launch vehicle that can take up to 300 kg (about 660 lb) of payload to orbits about 700 km in altitude (435 miles), the company said. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy can put up to 63,500 kgs to low Earth orbit.
India’s first privately developed rocket, from the company Skyroot, was flown from ISRO’s launch site in 2022.
Founded in 2017, Agnikul — whose name is derived from the Hindi and Sanskrit word for fire — runs the country’s first private launchpad and mission control center, while ISRO operates all other launchpads.

Cyclone kills 16 in India, Bangladesh and cuts power to millions

Updated 28 min 52 sec ago

Cyclone kills 16 in India, Bangladesh and cuts power to millions

  • Cyclone Remal is first of frequent storms expected to pound low-lying coasts of South Asian neighbors this year
  • More than 8.4 million people, including 3.2 million children, at high health, nutrition, sanitation, safety risk

SATKHIRA, Bangladesh: Strong gales and heavy rain triggered by the first major cyclone of the year lashed the coastlines of India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least 16 people and cutting power to millions.
The winds had not stopped as night fell, with water rising in many places and overwhelming drainage systems, Bangladeshi climate expert Liakath Ali said.
“Many people are stranded — it will be another long night ahead with millions not having electricity or shelter,” he said in a statement. “And people having no idea of how damaged their homes, land and livestock are.”
Cyclone Remal is the first of the frequent storms expected to pound the low-lying coasts of the South Asian neighbors this year as climate change drives up surface temperatures at sea.
Packing speeds of up to 135 kph, it crossed the area around Bangladesh’s southern port of Mongla and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India’s West Bengal late on Sunday, weather officials said, making landfall at about 9 p.m.
More than 8.4 million people, including 3.2 million children, are at high health, nutrition, sanitation and safety risk, said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.
At least 10 people were killed in Bangladesh, disaster management chief Mijanur Rahman told Reuters, adding some victims died en route to shelters or when their homes or walls collapsed, or drowned during the storm.
“People are usually very reluctant to leave their livestock and homes to go to cyclone shelters,” he said. “They wait until the last minute when it is often too late.”
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Mohibbur Rahman said the cyclone destroyed nearly 35,000 homes across 19 districts. An additional 115,000 homes were partially damaged.
“Many areas remain waterlogged, and fish enclosures and trees have been devastated. As more information becomes available, the full scope of the impact will be clearer.”


In India’s West Bengal state, four people were electrocuted, authorities said, taking the death toll in the state to six.
Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to some areas in advance to avoid accidents, while in many coastal towns fallen trees and snapped electricity lines further disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.
Nearly 3 million people in Bangladesh were without electricity, officials added. West Bengal authorities said at least 1,200 power poles were uprooted, while 300 mud huts had been razed.
Bangladeshi State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid said in a Facebook post that Remal has caused extensive damage nationwide, urging people to be patient as repairs were under way.
“Our crews began repairing the lines as soon as the wind speed subsided,” he said.
The cyclone also disrupted around 10,000 telecom towers, leaving millions without mobile service.
The rain and high tides damaged some embankments and flooded coastal areas in the Sundarbans, home to some of the world’s largest mangrove forests, which are shared by India and Bangladesh.
Flooded roads disrupted travel in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Rain also flooded many streets in the Indian city of Kolkata, with reports of wall collapses and at least 52 fallen trees.
Kolkata resumed flights after more than 50 were canceled from Sunday. Suburban train services were also restored.
Both nations moved nearly a million people to storm shelters, about 800,000 in Bangladesh and roughly 110,000 in India, authorities said.

Zuma’s party guns for ANC stronghold in South Africa vote

Updated 55 min 30 sec ago

Zuma’s party guns for ANC stronghold in South Africa vote

  • The emergence of uMkhonto we Sizwe, has increased tension in Kwazulu-Natal, a key election battleground already infamous for political violence

KWAXIMBA, South Africa: In a village nestled in the mountains of South Africa’s hotly-contested Kwazulu-Natal province, former President Jacob Zuma’s new party has campaigned relentlessly to win voters away from his old one, the ruling ANC.
On Monday, rival tents pitched by the two parties outside a local school serving as a polling station blasted party songs welcoming early voters they hoped to sway.
Most South Africans will vote on Wednesday but some, including the elderly and the infirm, were allowed to cast their ballots on Monday in what is expected to be the tightest election in decades.
The emergence of Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), has increased tension in Kwazulu-Natal, a key election battleground already infamous for political violence.
KwaXimba, a rural area dotted by thatched “rondavel” huts outside the eastern city of Durban, has been ruled by the African National Congress (ANC) since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
But many here revere Zuma, an ethnic Zulu, who was born in the province.
“We’ve needed change for a long time in our lives,” said Thokozani Mthembu, the MK’s local coordinator in KwaXimba.
Some opinion polls suggest that MK could win the most votes in Kwazulu-Natal. This would almost certainly condemn the ANC to its worst electoral result in three decades.
It could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time and be forced to form a coalition government.
Voting proceeded smoothly in KwaXimba during the day, but in a tense atmosphere.
Mthembu claims that after Zuma, 82, held a rally with hundreds of supporters in KwaXimba in January, the party received threats of violence from ANC supporters. Some voters were also wrongly told that the MK would take away social grants and free housing, he said.
The ANC denies all wrongdoing.
“From the day we started our campaign, we’ve had one goal, which is to win the election without threatening other parties,” Sihle Gwala, a local ANC leader, told AFP.
Earlier this month, police warned against “spreading statements that have a potential of inciting violence or create a state of panic in the communities” after a voice note circulated claiming that 11 people were killed in a politically-related shooting.
Many in KwaXimba have turned to the MK, lamenting continuous water and electricity shortages, which some blame on the ANC’s poor management.
Down the road from the school, chickens clucked in 66-year-old Nicolas Ndlovu’s yard, as he walked outside, waiting for election officials to reach his home and allow him to cast his early ballot.
Having fought for the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle and supported the party all his life, he said he now hoped to see it end up in opposition, so that “maybe they can work harder and earn the power back.”
His village’s streets, where cows roam under the sun, are plastered by campaign posters of the rival parties.
ANC volunteer Jabulile Nduna said the rift between Zuma and her party has caused divisions within her own family.
“I sat (down) my siblings and told them, ‘at the end of the day we have one mother and one father’... whether the MK wins or the ANC wins, we have to remain a family,” said the 43-year-old mother of three, as she walked on a gravel road near a voting station.
During a campaign visit to KwaXimba last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned voters about new parties trying to “nibble the edges” of ANC support, saying they would fail to win power.
But some like Nkazimula Makhanya are not heeding the call.
At 26 he has no job and few prospects of getting one, with youth unemployment at 45 percent.
“The old man, as old as he is, he still values our input, and he still allows us to be winners,” he said, referring to Zuma.

Parts of Bangladesh and India affected as storm floods villages, cuts power to millions

Updated 28 May 2024

Parts of Bangladesh and India affected as storm floods villages, cuts power to millions

  • About 3.7 million people along Bangladesh’s coast were affected, disaster ministry says
  • Bangladesh, a delta nation of nearly 170 million people, has a history of violent storms

DHAKA, Bangladesh: The weakening tropical storm Remal flooded dozens of coastal villages and left nearly 30 million people without power Monday in southern Bangladesh and eastern India. At least 10 people died in Bangladesh.
About 3.7 million people along the coast were affected, said Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management and relief, Mohibbur Rahman. More than 35,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 115,000 were damaged. Nearly 800,000 people were evacuated from vulnerable areas on Sunday.
Bangladesh, a delta nation of nearly 170 million people, has a history of violent storms. Disaster preparedness programs have upgraded the capacity to tackle natural disasters, resulting in fewer casualties. Changing climate patterns have increased storms’ intensity, making preparations more urgent.
Remal weakened after making landfall in Bangladesh’s Patuakhali district early Monday, with sustained winds of 111 kilometers (69 miles) per hour. India’s Meteorological Department said it was likely to weaken throughout the day, but warned of heavy showers over Assam and other northeastern states for the next two days.
India’s Kolkata airport reopened after being shut Sunday. Bangladesh shut the airport in the country’s second largest city, Chattogram, and canceled all domestic flights to and from the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Loading and unloading at Chittagong seaport was halted.
Strong rain and winds battered the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. Many roads were submerged. Authorities ordered all government officials to stay at their stations until the situation improved.
Aid agencies said they deployed thousands of volunteers in Rohingya refugee camps and other affected areas to provide emergency support. Bangladesh has sprawling camps housing more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar.
In India’s West Bengal state, thatched roofs on houses were blown away and electric poles and trees were uprooted in some coastal districts. Heavy downpours inundated streets and homes in low-lying areas of Kolkata. All schools in the region were closed until further notice.