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.


Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

Updated 24 min 33 sec ago
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Philippine captain vows to return to sea after Houthi attack

  • Tutor’s captain Christian Domarique: ‘We first need to rest because of the trauma’
  • Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned coal carrier Tutor

MANILA: The Philippine crew of a vessel attacked by Yemen’s Houthi militants was repatriated to the Philippines from Bahrain on Monday, with the ship’s captain vowing to return to the seas after the crew had recovered from the experience.
Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile strike on the Liberia flagged, Greek-owned, coal carrier Tutor near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on June 12. The ship was carrying 22 crew from the Philippines and one is still missing in the flooded engine room.
“We first need to rest because of the trauma,” the Tutor’s Captain Christian Domarique told a press conference at Manila airport. “We will recover for a few months before returning.”
Houthi attacks have struck three vessels crewed by Filipino seafarers since last year, killing two sailors, with 17 still being held captive by militants, government data showed.
A tearful Domarique thanked God, his company, and government agencies for assisting him and his fellow seafarers to get back to the Philippines.
The government has pledged financial and psychological assistance for the 21 crew members.
“The captain has good working years ahead of him so with the crew that is relatively young, they will still have more seafaring years ahead of them,” Hans Leo Cacdac, the Philippines’ migrant workers minister, told a press conference.
The vessel’s owner pledged to continue the search for the missing sailor alongside a salvaging operation to tow the stranded ship, Cacdac said, which on Friday was adrift in the Red Sea.
The Houthis, who have said their attacks are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, have disrupted global shipping, causing delays and costs to cascade through supply chains.
At least 65 countries and major energy and shipping companies — including Shell, BP, Maersk and Cosco — have been affected, according to a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency.


Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden’s reelection team launches $50 million ad campaign targeting Trump before the first debate

  • The costly advertising push comes with Election Day still more than four and a half months away
  • The new ad campaign includes more than $1 million geared toward media reaching Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign said Monday it will spend $50 million through the end of June on a new ad campaign that includes efforts to spotlight Republican Donald Trump’s felony conviction.
The costly advertising push comes with Election Day still more than four and a half months away. But Biden’s campaign says it wants to more clearly define the choice between the two candidates ahead of the first debate between them in Atlanta on June 27.
A central part of Biden’s campaign strategy is highlighting Trump’s far-reaching policy proposals for a second term and firing up disaffected Democrats and independent voters. The campaign producing an ad that leans heavily into Trump’s conviction, and including it in such a large advertising buy, indicates a renewed effort to make Trump’s legal problems an election issue in ways Biden’s team previously resisted.
The new ad campaign includes more than $1 million geared toward media reaching Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters, and an ad highlighting Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts in a New York hush money case. That spot will air on general market television and connected TV on streaming devices and cell phones in battleground states, as well as on national cable.
In addition to Trump’s criminal conviction, the ad, titled “Character Matters,” notes the former president also was found liable for sexual assault and financial fraud in separate proceedings. Trump also faces felony charges in three separate criminal cases, none of which may go to trial before the November election.
“This election is between a convicted criminal who’s only out for himself and a president who’s fighting for your family,” intones the ad’s narrator over images of a Trump mug shot and Biden high-fiving supporters.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night. But Trump has denied any wrongdoing and argued without evidence that Biden or Justice Department officials orchestrated the New York case against him for political reasons. He and his allies also have raised the prospect of prosecuting political opponents in revenge if he returns to the White House.


China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

Updated 17 June 2024
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China says G7 statement ‘full of arrogance, prejudice and lies’

  • Summit statement said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine
  • China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had ‘slandered and attacked China’

BEIJING: China hit back on Monday after G7 leaders warned Beijing to stop sending weapons components to Russia, saying their end-of-summit statement was “full of arrogance, prejudice and lies.”
When Group of Seven leaders met last week in Italy, souring trade relations with Beijing as well as tensions over Ukraine and the South China Sea were a focus of their discussions.
The statement released at the end of the summit said China was sending dual-use materials to Russia which were helping Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Using stronger language than at last year’s summit, the G7 statement also criticized China’s “militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities” in the South China Sea.
On Monday China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the statement had “slandered and attacked China.”
It had “rehashed cliches that have no factual basis, no legal basis, and no moral justification, and are full of arrogance, prejudice and lies,” he said at a regular press briefing.


EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

Updated 17 June 2024
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EU leaders gather to discuss nominees for bloc’s top jobs

  • The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right
  • Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election

BRUSSELS: The 27 leaders of the European Union gather in Brussels on Monday evening to take stock of recent European election results and begin the fraught process of dividing up the bloc’s top jobs, but they will be playing their usual political game with a deck of reshuffled cards.
The June 6-9 elections saw the European Parliament shift to the right and dealt major blows to pro-European governing parties in Paris and Berlin. The Franco-German motor that usually propels EU politics along was weakened, and new dynamics could be on show at the informal dinner.
Under the EU’s complicated division of powers, the presidents and prime ministers get to nominate the next head of the bloc’s powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which is responsible for drawing up EU policy on everything from climate to the colossal shared budget.
Under the EU’s treaties, their choice should take into account the results of the election.
German conservative Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to stay on as president for another five years after a strong showing for her center-right European People’s Party parliamentary group.
In an interview with Germany’s Welt TV on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “it is clear after the results of the elections that everything indicates that there can be a second term in office for Ursula von der Leyen.” He said he believes the top job nominations could be agreed “quickly.”
Von der Leyen, at the helm of the EU since 2019, led a huge drive during the pandemic to secure billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, set up a historic post-pandemic economic recovery fund and, from 2022, drummed up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and extended a hand to Kyiv to join the bloc.
But nothing is guaranteed. Von der Leyen’s presidential style has at times riled her commission colleagues, and she is deeply unpopular in some corners of the EU Parliament, where she will need the support of 361 of the 720 lawmakers to hold on to her job.
The other big posts up for grabs are that of European Council president, held by Belgian centrist Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief, occupied by Josep Borrell of Spain from the center-left. The council president’s job is to broker deals between the 27 member states, while the top diplomat represents the EU on the world stage.
In Brussels, names for the big posts have circulated for months. Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister António Costa is frequently mentioned to become council president. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, well known for her tough line on Russia, has been floated as the bloc’s potential top diplomat.
French President Emmanual Macron said the aim Monday is “to try to have a quick consensus. But perhaps we need to wait until June 27-28,” when the leaders meet again in Brussels for a formal EU summit.
“I don’t want to preempt things,” Macron said on Saturday. “These discussions are happening with 27 of us, so we have advanced, several of us have called each other, and I think it’s possible. I think it’s possible in the days to come, or in the week to come.’’
Von der Leyen’s own path to power in 2019 shows that the tussle over EU top jobs can be unpredictable. Then a German defense minister somewhat tainted by scandal in her ministry, von der Leyen was a relative unknown in Brussels when her name was raised by leaders in closed-door discussions.
Back then, the support of her close ally, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Macron helped her clinch the nomination. Given the current balance of power in Europe, it’s hard to imagine Macron and Scholz pulling a major surprise this time.
Scholz is licking his wounds after his Social Democrats took a drubbing, while Macron is tied up with the snap elections he called last week in a risky bid to see off the far right.
In a secret ballot in 2019, von der Leyen made it over the line with 383 votes, nail bitingly close to the threshold of 374. She was an unpopular nominee because she had not campaigned in elections as a lead candidate and was seen as being imposed on Parliament by the leaders.


Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Updated 17 June 2024
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Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

  • Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits

COPENHAGEN: Denmark is considering ways to limit the passage of old tankers carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, the Nordic country’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday, in a move that could trigger confrontation with Moscow.
Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits that sit as a gateway to the Baltic Sea, so any attempt to halt supplies would send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin’s finances.
Denmark has brought together a group of allied countries evaluating measures targeting the so-called shadow fleet of aging ships transporting the Russian oil, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.