British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech calling for a general election, outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, on May 22, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4

  • Move could prove risky for Sunak as his Conservative party lags behind Labour Party in opinion polls
  • Sunak, who took office less than two years ago, has increasingly become isolated in even his own party

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election for July 4 on Wednesday, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.

Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and announced he was calling the election earlier than expected, a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls.

Almost shouting to be heard above an anthem associated with the Labour Party played by protesters just outside the gates to Downing Street, Sunak listed what he said were his achievements in government, not only as prime minister but also as a former finance minister.

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future,” he said, describing that choice as one between stability with him and the unknown with Labour leader Keir Starmer.

“Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard-earned economic stability at risk.”

In an attack on Labour, he said that Starmer, conversely, always took the “easy way out” and had no plan. “As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them,” he said.

Sunak heads into the election not only far behind the Labour Party in the polls but also somewhat isolated from some in his party, increasingly dependent on a small team of advisers to steer him through what is set to be an ugly campaign.

But he seems to have decided with some economic gains, such as inflation falling and the economy growing at its fastest pace in almost three years, now was the time to take a risk and present his agenda for a new term formally to voters.

The former investment banker and finance minister took office less than two years ago, and since then has struggled to define what he stands for, becoming increasingly frustrated that what he sees as his successes have failed to be appreciated.

ATTACK LINES

Both parties have all but kicked off campaigning for an election, with the attack lines on the economy and on defense already firmly drawn.

Sunak and his government accuse Labour of being poised to increase taxes if in government and that the party would not be a safe pair of hands for Britain in an increasingly dangerous world as it lacks a plan, charges the opposition denies.

Labour accuses the government of 14 years of economic mismanagement, leaving people worse off, with a series of chaotic administrations that have failed to give the stability businesses have craved to spur economic growth.

If Labour win the election, Britain, once known for its political stability, will have had six prime ministers in eight years for the first time since the 1830s.

Labour said before the announcement it was more than ready for an election.

“We are fully ready to go whenever the prime minister calls an election. We have a fully organized and operational campaign ready to go and we think the country is crying out for a general election,” Labour leader Starmer’s spokesperson told reporters.

Starmer kicked off his party’s election campaign last week by pledging to “rebuild Britain,” setting out the first steps he said Labour would take if it forms the next government.

Labour is running about 20 percentage points ahead of Sunak’s Conservatives in the opinion polls but some party officials are concerned their advantage is not as solid as it appears, fearing many voters remain undecided.

Sunak might be aiming to capitalize on that uncertainty and also to wrongfoot Labour, which has still to complete the selection of all its parliamentary candidates, a party veteran said.

Sunak will also hope that some economic gains and the first flights in his centerpiece immigration plan of sending illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda might also boost his party’s fortunes. The earliest possible date for those flights is June 24, 10 days before the election.

While some Conservatives welcomed the move to call an election, not all were happy.

“Death wish 2024,” said one Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 14 min 36 sec ago
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.


Bangladesh moves to raise awareness of snake bites as cases surge

Updated 26 min 45 sec ago
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Bangladesh moves to raise awareness of snake bites as cases surge

  • Around 7,000 Bangladeshis died from snake bites in 2022, government survey shows 
  • Snake infestations are on the rise globally due to impacts of climate change

DHAKA: Bangladesh is working to raise nationwide awareness about snake bites amid rising cases of such incidents across the country, an official said on Sunday.

The World Health Organization estimates that 5.4 million people worldwide are bitten by snakes each year, with over half by venomous snakes and causing around 100,000 deaths. Snake bites in South Asia contribute to nearly 70 percent of the death toll.

Bangladesh recorded around 7,000 deaths out of 400,000 snake bite incidents that occurred in 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health.

“The incidents of snake bites are a concerning issue for us, as people are getting frightened over it. And it’s true that snake biting incidents have increased in the country,” Dr. Mohammad Nurul Islam, a program manager at the ministry’s directorate general of health services, told Arab News.

Though officials have yet to compile current data on snake bites, hospitals across Bangladesh have reported an increase in people being bitten by snakes.

The rising number of snakes can be attributed to an ongoing breeding season, which began in April and is expected to end in September, Islam said, adding that the snakes are also moving with water hyacinth floating plants amid the rainy season.

“Besides, as an impact of climate change different types of snakes’ infestations will increase and it’s part of a global trend,” he added.

Many incidents of snake bites, some of which involved the Russel’s viper — a species commonly found in South Asia — have become a major topic on Bangladeshi social media in recent weeks.

With their drab coloring, Russell’s vipers can be hard to spot in the dense undergrowth of agricultural fields, but it does not bite unless attacked and is “very lazy in nature,” Islam said. People working outdoors must therefore remain alert and take precautions to remain safe from the species’ bite.

But as Bangladeshis are “receiving a lot of misleading information” through social media, authorities are hoping to tackle the growing misinformation through official awareness campaigns.

“We are working on providing treatment as well as removing fear from people’s minds by delivering the right information,” he said.

As most victims survive if treated quickly with anti-venom, health officials are instructing people to go to the hospital immediately after a snake bite.

“It should be done without any delay. Here, people shouldn’t waste time with the local quack doctors,” Islam said. “All our government hospitals and medical colleges across the country are equipped with enough antivenom to deal with the snake-bitten patients. It’s being provided to patients at free of cost also.”


Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv kills two: rescuers

KYIV: A Russian strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv killed two people and injured more than 50, rescuers said on Sunday, revising down a previous death toll.
Russia has stepped up attacks in the northeastern Kharkiv region after launching a new offensive there last month, seeking to break a largely static front line as the invasion grinds through its third year.
A five-story residential building was damaged when guided bombs hit Kharkiv city on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, with the state emergency service announcing the completion of rescue work by Sunday morning.
“As a result of this aerial bomb strike, 2 people have been killed and 53 others were injured, including 3 children,” it wrote on Telegram.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday had announced three deaths and condemned Russia’s “calculated terror.”
An engineer wounded in a Russian strike on an energy facility in the southern Zaporizhzhia region died in hospital, regional governor Ivan Fedorov said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, one person was killed and three wounded after Ukrainian drones attacked the Russian town of Graivoron in the Belgorod region, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Sunday on the Telegram messaging app.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 23 June 2024
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.