Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament

The opposition wants to create parliamentary investigative commissions to probe alleged cases of corruption involving Prime Minister Edi Rama and other top government officials. (AP)
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Updated 21 November 2023
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Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament

  • Democratic lawmakers lit flares and piled chairs on top of each other in the middle of the hall the minute Prime Minister Edi Rama took his seat to vote on next year’s budget

TIRANA, Albania: Albanian opposition lawmakers disrupted the Parliament’s session again on Monday to protest what they say is increasingly authoritarian rule by the governing Socialists.
Democratic lawmakers lit flares and piled chairs on top of each other in the middle of the hall the minute Prime Minister Edi Rama took his seat to vote on next year’s budget. A cordon of bodyguards stopped opposition lawmakers from getting near the seats of the Cabinet.
The left-wing Socialists, who hold 73 seats in the 140-seat Parliament, made a quick vote in principle and closed the session in 5 minutes. A debate on each budget item is expected later this week.
One of the flares sparked a small fire that was extinguished by opposition lawmakers.
The opposition wants to create parliamentary investigative commissions to probe alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.
The Socialists say the opposition’s requests are not in line with constitutional requirements.
Gazmend Bardhi, one of the opposition lawmakers, said they would not allow the Parliament to carry out its normal work.
“Our battle is to show to each citizen that this is not the Parliament representing them,” he said.
But Bledi Cuci, head of the Socialists’ parliamentary grouping, urged Albanians to note that the Parliament was approving the largest budget ever, and twice the size of 2013 when the Socialists came to power.
“In democracy, the opposition speaks with alternatives and not with flares,” he added.
The disturbances first started last month, two days before prosecutors accused Sali Berisha, former prime minister and president for the Democratic Party, of corruption over of a land-buying scheme that’s now under legal investigation in the capital, Tirana.
The prosecutors allege the 79-year-old Berisha granted financial favors to his son-in-law, who was arrested. Berisha has said that they are both innocent, and claims the case is politically motivated and that his opponent, Rama, is behind it.
Bardhi said the opposition would radicalize its protests but did not elaborate.
The opposition has been divided into at least three groupings since 2021 when Berisha and his family members were barred by the United States from entering the country, and later also the United Kingdom, because of alleged involvement in corruption. Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the US on grounds of corruption.
Post-communist Albania has struggled to fight corruption, which has impeded its democratic, economic and social development.


Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

Updated 9 sec ago
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Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

  • Says 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February
  • Russian military bloggers and the British defense ministry had also mentioned downed A-50 planes

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday it had destroyed a record number of Russian planes in February, at a time when ground forces are under increased pressure in the east.

AFP was unable to verify the claims and Russian authorities do not comment.
“Our sky defenders have achieved the greatest results in downing Russian jets since October 2022,” the Ukrainian defense ministry said.
It said 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February.
The tally included three Su-34s downed overnight which were “launching guided missiles at our infantry positions in the east,” ground forces commander Oleksandr Pavliuk said.
Ukraine had said it had shot down another A-50 plane in January.
The claims are hard to verify, but Russian military bloggers had mentioned the destruction of the A-50 aircraft — although they blamed friendly fire.
Russian military bloggers, who have sources in the armed forces, often publish exclusive information, contrary to government sources and Russian state media outlets.
The British defense ministry on Tuesday also mentioned two A-50 downed, noting the incidents “forced Russian decision makers to consider safer operating areas.”
Two years into the invasion, Ukraine has said its priority was to “throw Russia from the skies.”
Ukraine is expecting the delivery of F-16 fighter jets supplied by its Western allies.

 

 


US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

Updated 12 min 50 sec ago
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US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

  • Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to block the sale, saying it would embolden Turkiye for its “misbehavior"
  • Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally

WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Thursday soundly defeated an effort to stop the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Turkiye, which President Joe Biden’s administration approved after Turkiye approved Sweden’s joining the NATO alliance.
As voting continued, the tally was 78 to 13 against a resolution of disapproval of the sale introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul.
Before the vote, Paul criticized Turkiye’s government and said allowing the sale would embolden its “misbehavior.” Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally.
The Biden administration formally informed Congress on Jan. 26 of its intention to proceed with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits to Turkiye, a day after Ankara fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden.
The sale had been held up for months over issues including Turkiye’s refusal to approve Sweden’s accession to the military alliance. Turkiye first asked to make the purchase in October 2021.
The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the law has been in effect for half a century, no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto.
Sweden and Finland applied to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Finnish membership was sealed last year, Sweden’s bid had been held up by Turkiye and Hungary. All NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.


Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

Updated 38 min 11 sec ago
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Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

  • Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital

DHAKA: A fire at a six-story shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital overnight killed at least 43 people and injured dozens of others, the health minister said Friday.
Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said the fire broke out late Thursday in the building in Dhaka’s downtown area. Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people died and at least 22 others were being treated, he said.
Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital, and that many people were trapped by the fire.
The cause of the fire could not immediately be determined.
Sen said at least 33 people, including women and children, were declared dead at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, while at least 10 others died after being taken to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed to douse the fire that broke out at the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, said Fire Service and Civil Defense Director General Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin.
At 75 people, including 42 who were unconscious, were rescued from the building, rescuers said.


At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

Updated 29 February 2024
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At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

  • The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud
  • Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: At least 26 people seeking to reach Europe died after their loaded vessel sank off northern Senegal, the governor of the Saint-Louis region told AFP on Thursday.
Alioune Badara Samb said bodies had been found since Wednesday when the boat got into difficulty in a particularly dangerous part of the northern coast. He added that 21 people had been rescued.
The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud.
Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people.
A number of survivors managed to reach shore and dispersed among locals on the sea banks, making it difficult to say exactly how many people were involved, he said.
Mamady Dianfo, a survivor from Casamance in the south, told AFP more than 300 people were on board when the boat left Senegal a week ago.
Another survivor, Alpha Balde, estimated there were more than 200 passengers.
Dianfo said the vessel reached Morocco further north up the coast but the captain then said he was lost and could no longer continue the journey.
“We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.
President Macky Sall on Thursday expressed his “deep sadness” following the “tragic capsizing” in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
He added that the relevant authorities had been deployed to offer support and assistance.
Senegal’s coast is an increasingly common departure point for Africans fleeing poverty and unemployment and heading to the Canary Islands, their port of entry into Europe.
European Union border agency Frontex says Senegal and Morocco are the most common countries of origin for migrants arriving on the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic.
Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or went missing trying to reach Spain last year, the vast majority were lost on the treacherous Atlantic route, according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.


Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Updated 29 February 2024
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Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

  • FM Alexander Schallenberg said the Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty

BEIRUT: Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.

Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra on Wednesday night, National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, an Israeli drone strike hit a truck near the western Syrian town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border on Thursday, killing a Hezbollah member, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and a Hezbollah official said.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it would not discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.