London mayoral candidate condemned for ‘dismissing’ Islamophobia

British Conservative Party member and candidate for London mayor Susan Hall reacts outside the Royal Courts of Justice has faced mounting criticism over a series of social media blunders. (AFP)
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Updated 29 March 2024
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London mayoral candidate condemned for ‘dismissing’ Islamophobia

  • Susan Hall describes anti-Muslim tweet as ‘hurty words’ in interview
  • Comments ‘demonstrate hierarchy of racism at play,’ says Muslim Council of Britain

LONDON: The Conservative mayoral candidate for London has faced condemnation after claiming that Islamophobic tweets are just “hurty words,” The Times reported on Friday.

Susan Hall, 69, has faced mounting criticism over a series of social media blunders on X, including supporting a tweet that referred to London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, as “our nipple-height mayor of Londonistan.”

Hall responded to the tweet by Katie Hopkins, a controversial media commentator, with the words “thank you Katie.”

The mayoral candidate, a former Conservative leader of the London Assembly, was asked in an interview whether Muslims may find her response to the tweet jarring.

She said: “Jarring is the fact that poor people are having to pay £12.50 a day that they literally cannot afford. That is real. And that isn’t just hurty words.”

Hall was referring to London’s Ulez charge, an environmental tax on vehicle emissions implemented by Khan.

In response to her comments, the Muslim Council of Britain said: “Just as we would not consider antisemitic comments as ‘hurty words,’ nor should we Islamophobia.

“Susan Hall’s comments only demonstrate the hierarchy of racism at play. With a 300 percent rise in Islamophobic hate crimes, our elected representatives have a duty to ensure they are not part of the problem.

“As someone seeking to be the mayor of our capital, and the votes of the many Muslim Londoners who help make this city great, Susan Hall would do well to recognise rather than dismiss Islamophobia.”

Hall’s mayoral campaign suffered a new blow this week after she deleted an online advert that attacked Khan based on footage filmed in New York City instead of London.

Late last year, she also claimed to have been pickpocketed on the London Underground, despite her wallet later being handed in to authorities without any missing items.

In response to the condemnation, a spokesman for Hall said: “Unlike Sadiq Khan, Susan is listening to Londoners and as mayor she will put more police on the beat, ensure women feel safe, scrap the Ulez expansion and build more affordable family homes.”


NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win

Updated 5 sec ago
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NATO to take over coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine ahead of possible Trump win

  • Stoltenberg asks allies to keep up funding military aid for Ukraine
  • UK to announce about $310 million Ukraine aid in G7 summit

BRUSSELS, Belgium: NATO is set to take over the coordination of arms deliveries to Ukraine from the US, the alliance’s chief said on Wednesday, in a bid to safeguard the military aid mechanism as NATO-skeptic Donald Trump bids for a second term as US president.
“I expect that ministers will approve a plan for NATO to lead the coordination of security assistance and training to Ukraine,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.Hours before, Hungary had given up its resistance to the Ukraine support package NATO aims to agree at its Washington summit in July, comprising a financial pledge and the transfer to NATO of the coordination of arms supplies and training.
During a visit by Stoltenberg to Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country would not block NATO decisions on providing support for Ukraine but had agreed that it would not be involved.
He added he had received assurances from Stoltenberg that Hungary would not have to provide funding for Ukraine or send personnel there.
Hungary has been at odds with other NATO countries over Orban’s continued cultivation of close ties to Russia and refusal to send arms to Ukraine, with Budapest’s foreign minister last month labelling plans to help the war-torn nation a “crazy mission.”
Stoltenberg had proposed that NATO take on coordination of international military aid for Ukraine, giving the alliance a more direct role in the war against Russia’s invasion while stopping well short of committing its own forces.
The move is widely seen as an effort to provide a degree of “Trump-proofing” by putting coordination under a NATO umbrella.
But diplomats acknowledge such a move may have limited effect, as the US is NATO’s dominant power and provides the majority of weaponry to Ukraine. So if Washington wanted to slash Western aid to Kyiv, it would still be able to do so.
Stoltenberg has also asked allies to keep up funding military aid for Ukraine at the same level as they have since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, adding up to some 40 billion euros per year.
On Wednesday, he said he was hopeful allies would find agreement on a financial pledge before the summit to make the support for Ukraine more robust and more predictable.

Britain's Prime Minister leader Rishi Sunak. (Pool/AFP)

UK readies $309.69 million aid

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will announce up to 242 million pounds ($309.69 million) in bilateral assistance to Ukraine in the G7 summit, his office said on Wednesday, to support immediate humanitarian, energy and stabilization needs for Ukraine.
“We must be decisive and creative in our efforts to support Ukraine and end Putin’s illegal war at this critical moment,” Sunak said ahead of the summit.
The Group of Seven nations and the European Union are also considering how to use profits generated by Russian assets immobilized in the West to provide Ukraine with a large up-front loan to secure Kyiv’s financing for 2025.
 


UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

Updated 45 min 41 sec ago
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UK’s Sunak, Starmer face televised grilling by unhappy voters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer were grilled by voters at a televised event on Wednesday, with both challenged over past decisions, pledges and how they would fund policies if they won a July 4 election.

At their last meeting in television studios before the poll, the two men took turns to face an interviewer and then an audience, whose questions and responses underscored the everyday struggles of many in Britain and the mistrust of politicians.

With just over three weeks until an election opinion polls suggest Labour will easily win, Sunak was booed and heckled over doctors’ strikes, migration and his policy to introduce national service for young people.

Starmer was taken to task for what one audience member said was his avoidance of answering questions, and over his previous support of his predecessor, left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn.

A poll taken after the event in the northern English town of Grimsby said 64 percent believed Starmer had won the event on Sky News.

Starmer told the audience that he would start implementing his policies from ‘day one’ if he won the election but shied away from answering whether he was being honest when in 2019 he said his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, should become prime minister.

“I want to get the place when I can roll up my sleeves and work with you ... to say the government is on your side,” Starmer said to applause. “That will be a massive difference to the last 14 years.”

SUNAK BOOED

Sunak was challenged over some of his policies, which audience members said had yet to solve their inability to get dentist appointments, reduce waiting lists in the National Health Service or stop the arrival of migrants in small boats.

“I know we’ve been through a tough time, of course we have... its been tough for all of you here tonight, all of you watching, but I do believe we have turned a corner and we’ve got a clear plan for the future,” he said.

“I am going to keep fighting hard until the last day of this election.”

The event came a day after Sunak unveiled 17 billion pounds of tax cuts in his governing party’s manifesto, trying to convince voters’ that he had a plan to make them better off while Labour’s policies are vague and ill-thought through.

He said again on Wednesday that a vote for Starmer was akin to writing him a blank cheque, repeating the contested accusation that a Labour government would increase taxes by more than 2,000 pounds. Starmer denied that was the case.

On Thursday, Labour will be try to set the story straight with its own manifesto, a document which sets out the policies the party will pursue in government, an agenda Starmer said would put wealth creation and economic growth at its heart.

Labour has repeatedly said it will stick to strict spending rules — a line Labour, traditionally seen as the party of tax and spend, has adopted not only to try to show it has changed since being led by Corbyn but also to challenge Conservative attacks that it will increase taxes.

But it was Corbyn who came back to haunt Starmer on Wednesday, when he was asked whether he believed what he said when in 2019 he said the veteran leftist would make a good prime minister and when he made 10 left-wing pledges to become Labour leader a year later, several of which he has since dropped.

“Have I changed my position on those pledges, yes I have,” said Starmer. “I think this party should always put the country first.”


US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

Updated 13 June 2024
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US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday again accused Russia of taking Ukrainian children, some of whom were put up for adoption, after fresh media accounts detailed alleged abductions.

“This is despicable and appalling. These Ukrainian children belong with their families inside Ukraine,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

“Russia is waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military — but against the Ukrainian people.”

An investigation by the Financial Times, published Wednesday, identified and located four Ukrainian children allegedly transferred to Russia, then offered for adoption on the website usynovite.

The children are aged between 8 and 15 years old.

According to the report, the name of one child was changed to Russian and no mention is made on the site of their Ukrainian origins.

Ukraine is demanding the return of nearly 20,000 minors it says have been illegally taken by Russia since the start of Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, over the allegations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told AFP last month that he planned to make the return of children a top priority at this weekend’s summit in Switzerland on ending the war.


US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

Updated 13 June 2024
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US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Russia, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow, as part of its effort to undercut the Russian military machine waging war on Ukraine.

Among the steps, the US Treasury said it was raising “the risk of secondary sanctions for foreign financial institutions that deal with Russia’s war economy,” effectively threatening them with losing access to the US financial system.

It also said it was moving to restrict the Russian military industrial base’s ability to exploit certain US software and information technology services and, with the State Department, targeting more than 300 individuals and entities in Russia and beyond, including in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it was targeting shell companies in Hong Kong for diverting semiconductors to Russia, taking steps that would affect nearly $100 million of high-priority items for Moscow including such chips.

It will also expand its lists of items Russia cannot import from other nations to cover not just US-origin products but US-branded goods, meaning those made with US intellectual property or technology, a senior Commerce official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

US-made chips and other technology have been found in a wide array of Russian equipment, from drones to radios, missiles and armored vehicles, recovered from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials say.

After seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in 2022, triggering a host of new US economic sanctions on Moscow.

While many analysts do not expect US and other nations’ sanctions to materially change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus, they believe they will both make it harder for Moscow to wage war and, over time, weaken Russia’s economy.

“Today’s actions strike at their remaining avenues for international materials and equipment, including their reliance on critical supplies from third countries,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The Treasury also said it was imposing sanctions on key parts of Russia’s financial infrastructure, including the Moscow Exchange (MOEX), which operates Russia’s largest public markets for equity, fixed income, foreign exchange and other products.

MOEX and its related subsidiaries have facilitated sanctions evasion by obscuring the identities of parties engaged in such transactions, a senior Treasury official told reporters. By sanctioning them, the official said, the US would force greater transparency on cross-border transactions, making it harder to evade sanctions.

MOEX, in a statement rushed out within an hour of the US moves on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, said the new sanctions had forced an immediate suspension of trading in dollars and euros on its leading financial marketplace.

The news came as President Joe Biden departed for a summit in southern Italy with leaders from other Group of Seven democracies: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

One of the G7 leaders’ priorities is boosting support for Ukraine, now in the third year of resisting Russia’s invasion, and disarming the Russian war machine.

Peter Harrell, who served as White House senior director for international economics in 2021 and 2022, described the latest sanctions as a “paradigm shift,” partly because they expose foreign banks to the risk of being cut off from the US financial system if they deal with key large Russian banks.

The Treasury accomplished this by increasing to 4,500 the universe of Russian companies and individuals who could trigger such sanctions from about 1,200, the senior Treasury official told reporters.

“For the first time, the US is shifting toward something that begins to look like ... an effort to set up a global financial embargo on Russia,” Harrell said.


Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

PARIS: Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday, urging Tehran to free three other French citizens “without delay.”

“Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron posted on X, thanking Oman in particular for helping to secure “this happy outcome.”