UK’s Labour claim big early win over PM Sunak’s Conservatives

Voters cast their ballots on Thursday for more than 2,000 seats on local authorities across England. (AFP)
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Updated 03 May 2024
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UK’s Labour claim big early win over PM Sunak’s Conservatives

  • Voters cast their ballots on Thursday for more than 2,000 seats on local authorities across England
  • Blackpool South was the only parliamentary seat up for grabs after the incumbent, elected in 2019 as a Conservative candidate, quit over a lobbying scandal

LONDON: Britain’s opposition Labour Party won a parliamentary seat in northern England on Friday, inflicting a heavy loss on the governing Conservatives at the start of what could be a bruising set of results for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The thumping victory set the tone for what will be a closely watched two days of results ahead of a full national election this year, which polling shows could put Labour Leader Keir Starmer in power and end 14 years of Conservative government.
Voters cast their ballots on Thursday for more than 2,000 seats on local authorities across England and a handful of high-profile mayoral elections, including in the capital, London.
Blackpool South was the only parliamentary seat up for grabs after the incumbent, elected in 2019 as a Conservative candidate, quit over a lobbying scandal.
Labour candidate Chris Webb won the Blackpool election with 10,825 votes. The Conservative candidate came in second with 3,218.
The defeat in Blackpool and early signs of losses at the council level will boost Labour’s hopes for a sweeping victory over Sunak’s Conservatives in the national election.
“This seismic win in Blackpool South is the most important result today,” Starmer said.
“This is the one contest where voters had the chance to send a message to Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives directly, and that message is an overwhelming vote for change.”
Sunak’s Conservatives are about 20 percentage points behind Labour in most opinion polls for a national election, which Sunak intends to call in the second half of the year.
The first 500 of the more than 2,600 local council results showed Labour making gains at the expense of the Conservatives — in line with finance minister Jeremy Hunt’s pre-vote prediction of significant losses for the governing party.
Although local elections do not always reflect how people will vote in a national contest, a heavy defeat could trigger fresh anger in the Conservative Party over Sunak’s leadership and the prospect of losing power.
The extent of that unrest could hinge on the results of two mayoral elections in which the Conservatives hope to show they can still hold ground in central and northeast England.
The Tees Valley mayoral result is due on Friday, while the West Midlands mayor is to be announced on Saturday. The result in London, where current Labour mayor Sadiq Khan is expected to win another term is also due on Saturday.


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024
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Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

Updated 20 July 2024
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More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”
 


Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Updated 10 sec ago
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Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.
 


Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Updated 20 July 2024
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Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.


Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

Updated 20 July 2024
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Trump to hold first campaign rally after assassination attempt

  • Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention

GRAND RAPIDS:Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally on Saturday since he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt one week ago and fresh from his nominating convention where his takeover of the Republican Party was cemented.
Trump will appear in Grand Rapids, in the battleground state of Michigan, along with his new vice presidential pick, Ohio US Senator J.D. Vance. It will be their first campaign event together as the now official Republican presidential ticket.
Republican Party officials said during Trump’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this week that his brush with death last Saturday had changed him, and that when he made his acceptance speech on Thursday night he would call for national unity.
While Trump began the address with a call for unity and national healing, much of his speech was his well-known list of grievances and attacks on opponents.
It is unclear what type of a speech Trump will deliver on Saturday, but his diehard supporters typically flock to such events to hear Trump’s more traditional inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump and Vance will take the stage in Grand Rapids with the Republican Party unified behind them after this week’s nominating convention. In contrast, the Democrats are in turmoil and it is no longer certain that President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee facing Trump in the Nov. 5 election.
Biden is facing mounting calls from many elected officials in his own party to step aside as the party’s White House candidate and to end his re-election bid, after his poor debate performance against Trump last month.
Biden is trailing in opinion polls and is behind in every swing state against Trump. Many Democrats fear he may have virtually no path to victory and that the party needs a new presidential candidate to take on Trump.
The rally in Grand Rapids will be in an indoor arena, unlike the event in Butler, Pennsylvania last weekend, which was outdoors. At that event, the gunman was able to scale the roof of a building outside the Secret Service perimeter before opening fire on Trump, clipping his ear, killing a rally-goer and wounding several others.
The US Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting Trump, declined to comment on security for the Grand Rapids event. An investigation is under way into the security failures at the Butler rally.
“The Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used for our protective operations,” the agency said in a statement.
Trump gave a detailed account of his narrow brush with death in his convention speech on Thursday, telling the audience that he was only talking to them “by the grace of Almighty God.”