UK PM Sunak ‘angry’ after party figures ensnared in election betting scandal

London’s Metropolitan Police said it was told by the Gambling Commission that a close protection officer was being investigated over the alleged bets. (REUTERS)
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Updated 21 June 2024
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UK PM Sunak ‘angry’ after party figures ensnared in election betting scandal

  • Political bets are allowed in the UK, including on the date of elections, but using insider knowledge to do so is against the law

LONDON: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday he was “incredibly angry” after more Conservative Party figures were put under investigation over alleged bets placed on the UK general election date.
Facing questions on the growing scandal from an audience of voters on live television, the beleaguered leader said any election candidates or officials found to have broken rules would be kicked out of the party.
His comments came hours after the Conservatives’ campaign director stepped aside following reports that he and his wife, a Tory candidate in the July 4 election, were under investigation by betting regulators.
Last week, another would-be MP, Craig Williams, who was a Sunak ministerial aide, was also being probed for staking £100 ($127) on the date before it was called.
London police said Wednesday that one of the prime minister’s police security detail had been arrested for allegedly placing a bet on the date.
“I was incredibly angry... to learn of these allegations,” Sunak said of the cases involving his party officials.
“If anyone is found to have broken the rules, not only should they face the full consequences of the law, I will make sure that they are booted out of the Conservative Party,” he added.
The Conservatives confirmed earlier that campaign director Tony Lee had started “a leave of absence” and that the Gambling Commission was looking into “a number of individuals.”
The regulator did not name individuals but the BBC reported that Lee and his election candidate wife Laura Saunders were under investigation.
Her lawyers said she would “be co-operating with the Gambling Commission” and claimed the report infringed her privacy rights.
The commission had already said it was looking at the claims regarding Williams.
Political bets are allowed in the UK, including on the date of elections, but using insider knowledge to do so is against the law.
The inquiries heap further misery on Sunak, whose party has trailed Labour by about 20 points in the polls for nearly two years, making it odds on to be dumped out of office after 14 years.
Labour’s campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden wrote to Sunak arguing the claims showed “a pattern of behavior” by the Tories focused on making “a quick profit.”
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, tipped to become prime minister, has urged Sunak to withdraw support for those allegedly involved.
“It’s astonishing that we’re in this place... Rishi Sunak just needs to take action. He needs to account for exactly who knew what,” he said.
But at Thursday’s debate, Sunak insisted it was “right” that the probes were conducted “thoroughly” and “confidentially” before anyone is sanctioned.
“The integrity of that process should be respected,” he said.
Sunak announced the date of the election on May 22, in a rain-soaked statement outside Downing Street, taking his own party by surprise as he still had six months to call a vote.
Critics lambasted him for not using an umbrella and the campaign has hardly shifted the dial in his favor since, even with indications the British economy has turned a corner.
This week, he was ignored by a flock of sheep as he tried to feed them in southwest England while his personal ratings suffered after he left early from a D-Day 80th anniversary commemoration event.
Two polls published on Wednesday predicted a record win for Labour, eclipsing even the landslide victory for Labour’s Tony Blair in 1997.
Pollsters YouGov said the Conservatives could slump to their “lowest seat tally in the party’s almost 200-year history.”
Sunak could even become the first sitting prime minister to lose his own seat, according to a Savanta survey.
London police said a member of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, was held on Monday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office, then released on bail.
The allegations against Williams came to light last week. He is alleged to have placed a bet on a July date for the election three days before Sunak called the vote.


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

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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.”
 


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.”


Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

Updated 20 July 2024
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Senegal detains boat carrying 200 migrants

DAKAR: Senegal’s army said Saturday that it had intercepted a boat carrying over 200 migrants trying to reach Europe, after nearly 90 died when attempting the dangerous Atlantic crossing earlier this month.
The boat intercepted by the patrol boat in fishing waters near Lompoul in northwest Senegal on Friday was carrying 202 people, including five women and a minor, the army posted on X.
In early July, a boat carrying around 170 people who set off from Senegal capsized off the coast of Mauritania, killing nearly 90 people.
The disaster prompted Senegal’s President Ousmane Sonko to urge people not to risk the Atlantic Ocean’s currents in overcrowded vessels that often are not seaworthy.
But the route is increasingly used as authorities step up surveillance in the Mediterranean.
“I once again make a plea to the young: your solution is not to be found in boats,” Sonko told a crowd of youths in Saint-Louis.
“The future of the world is in Africa... the only continent that still has the significant scope for progress and growth.”
According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 5,000 people died trying to reach Spain by sea in the first five months of this year, representing the highest daily average toll since it began keeping records in 2007.


Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

Updated 20 July 2024
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Two killed in overnight strikes on Ukraine

KYIV: At least two people were killed and four wounded in a Russian airstrike overnight on Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, the regional prosecutor said Saturday.
“Around 3:15 in the morning the enemy launched a missile attack on the town of Barvinkove, in Izium district,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
It listed the dead as two men aged 48 and 69 and said around 50 buildings were damaged in the strike, apparently by three Russian Iskander missiles.
Another strike hit an agricultural business in the village of Oleksiivka, it said, though there were no reported casualties.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been urging his nation’s allies to step up air defense support to be able to intercept Russian missiles and drones raining down daily on the country over nearly 30 months of conflict.
The death toll in a Russian strike Friday on a playground in the southern city of Mykolaiv rose to four, including one child, with 24 injured, its mayor Oleksander Senkevitch posted on Telegram.