New EU Chief Pledges ‘Strong’ Support For Africa

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a briefing to the press during her visit to the African Union in Addis Ababa, on December 7, 2019. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen assured Africa of the EU’s strong support during a visit to Ethiopia on Saturday, her first trip outside Europe since assuming her post.

The former German defence minister, who took office on December 1, landed in the capital Addis Ababa in the morning and headed to the African Union headquarters for talks with AU chief Moussa Faki Mahamat.

“I hope my presence at the African Union can send a strong political message because the African continent and the African Union matter to the European Union and to the European Commission,” she said after the meeting.

“For us, for the European Union, you are more than just a neighbour.”

Von der Leyen, who has prioritised the fight against climate chang, said the EU and AU could collaborate on the issue.

“You here on the African continent understand climate change better than anyone else,” she said.

She and Faki also discussed migration and security issues.

“Honestly I don’t have all the answers to these challenges but I am convinced that together we can find answers,” she said.

Faki for his part called for greater international mobilisation to counter security threats, including terrorism.

‘We are at your side’

Von der Leyen also met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, congratulating him on winning this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“I think that Ethiopia has given hope to the whole continent,” she said, adding that “I want you to know that we are at your side”.

Abiy thanked her for the EU’s support but said he hoped for more funding to spur economic reforms.

“We’re still demanding more financial support because we are ambitious. As Madam President mentioned, when you are a young prime minister you are also more ambitious and you want to deliver more,” said Abiy, who will receive his Nobel in Oslo on Tuesday.

The EU and Ethiopia also signed agreements worth 170 million euros ($188 million) on Saturday.

Of that sum, 100 million euros will go towards transport and infrastructure in the East African country, 50 million for the health sector, 10 million for job creation and 10 million for elections ahead of landmark polls next year.

Saturday’s agenda also included a sit-down between von der Leyen, the commission’s first woman president, and Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, the first woman to hold that title.

Speaking to journalists after her meetings, von der Leyen said it was “important” for the EU to continue to support Abiy’s ambitious reform agenda.

“They have started but we need a long breath to see the effects that these reforms are bringing along,” she said.

Migration and security

The EU is Africa’s largest trading partner and biggest source of foreign investment and development aid.

But the two blocs have struggled in recent years to find ways to curb the number of African migrants heading north to Europe using perilous sea routes.

Just this week at least 62 migrants died when a boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania.

Both African and European officials are keen to address the root causes of migration like poverty.

The EU has also been a strong supporter of the AU’s peace and security efforts.

Its African Peace Facility, a mechanism established in 2004, has allocated more than 2.7 billion euros for peace and security operations, targeting 14 African-led operations in 18 countries.

Yet European officials have signalled they want to shift away from providing stipends for troops in places such as Somalia, where the EU is a main backer of the regional peacekeeping force known as AMISOM.

The AU has struggled to get member states to impose a 0.2 percent levy on eligible imports so the body can provide more of its own financing — an initiative the EU supports.

So far just 17 African countries have followed through on that commitment.

 

AFP

Why Senate Has Not Constituted Constitutional Review Committee – Lawan

Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator George Thompson Sekibo; Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; President of the Senate, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan; European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen; Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, and Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, during a courtesy visit by the ambassador to the Senate President at the National Assembly, Abuja, on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

 

 

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan on Wednesday explained why the upper legislative chamber has yet to set up a committee on the review of the Nigerian Constitution.

Lawan said the Constitutional Review Committee has not been set up because the Senate has been pre-occupied with other issues like the 2020 budget.

The Senate President spoke while receiving in audience the European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen who paid him a courtesy visit.

He, however, assured the nation that the committee will soon be put in place.

“Very soon, we will constitute our Committee on Constitutional Review. We haven’t done so yet because we have been engaged so much more with other issues.

“We believe that by the time we passed the budget, then our committee on Constitutional Review will be put in place.

“By next year January, the committee will start some work because we already have some references that require some kind of constitutional review,” Lawan said.

READ ALSO: Lawan Urges Service Chiefs To Repel Attacks, Assault By Bandits

The Senate President told his guest that the will and determination to carry out reforms is there.

Lawan expressed appreciation to the support the EU has been extending to Nigeria particularly in the areas of the electoral process and political development and cooperation.

“Our democracy since 1999 has received a lot of support from the EU and this is making a very positive impact.

“The relationship between the EU and the Nigerian government is not like it is with other organizations.

“We also have a relationship at the level of the legislature. We have the EU-ACPU joint parliamentary Assembly. We believe this is one area thru which we can continue to discuss issues that affect us in relation to the EU or what we think we can be doing together,” Lawan said.

Lawan asked of EU for more support in the area of capacity building particularly for the Senate Committees on INEC, National Planning, and Finance.

Earlier, Ambassador Karlsen said EU is for many years a very significant partner of Nigeria and expressed the hope that the current EU leadership will “be able to establish even deeper relationship with Nigeria.”

Johnson Unveils Manifesto For Brexit Britain

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a copy of the manifesto as he speaks during an event to launch the 2019 Conservative Party general election manifesto on November 24, 2019 in Telford, central England. 
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged Sunday to take Britain out of the EU by January 31 then set about reinvigorating public services, as he launched his Conservative Party’s general election manifesto.

Having taken over a minority administration in July and been unable to speed his EU divorce deal through parliament, Johnson is seeking a majority at the December 12 snap election — called in a bid to break the Brexit logjam.

Johnson said his “sensible, moderate, tax-cutting” agenda would help reunite Britain after three years of acrimony following the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union.

“We’re now, as you know, less than three weeks away from the most critical election in modern memory,” said Johnson as he unveiled the manifesto in Telford, west-central England.

“The choice has never been starker.

“Get Brexit done and we can restore confidence and certainty to businesses and families.

“Get Brexit done and we can focus our hearts and our minds on the priorities of the British people.

“It is time to unleash the potential of the whole country and to forge a new Britain.”

READ ALSO: Foreign National Killed As UN Vehicle Hit In Kabul Blast

‘Oven-Ready’ Brexit Deal

Johnson is promising to bring back his Brexit deal to parliament before December 25 if the centre-right Conservatives are returned to power.

“We can then get the whole thing completed in a matter of days if not weeks, and we’re out by January 31,” he said.

The main plank of the Conservative manifesto is the Brexit deal Johnson negotiated with Brussels in October.

He insists the deal will allow Britain to regain control over its laws, money and immigration policy.

Johnson’s chief rival, left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, wants to renegotiate a new, softer Brexit agreement within three months and then put that to a referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU by the end of June. Corbyn himself would stay neutral during the process.

“He used to be indecisive — now he’s not so sure,” Johnson said, in a dig at the veteran socialist.

Britain Elects poll aggregator puts the Conservatives on 42 percent, ahead of the Labour main opposition on 29 percent, the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats on 15 percent, the Brexit Party on six percent and the Greens on three percent.

Despite the poll lead, Johnson has his weak spots, especially given the years of austerity imposed by Conservative governments since 2010.

He promises to end the years of reining in the budget deficit by pumping billions of pounds into public services.

However, the Conservatives are pledging they will not raise the three main taxes — income tax, sales tax and national insurance contributions to state benefits.

Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said the manifesto raised questions about the Conservatives’ commitment to fiscal responsibility.

“The Conservatives have yet to be clear about how they intend to meet their substantial spending commitments without either raising taxes overall, increasing public debt or both,” he said.

‘Carbon-Neutral, Corbyn-Neutral’

Measures unveiled Sunday included 50,000 more nurses to plug the vacancy gap, more money for childcare support, energy efficiency measures, skills retraining and road upgrades.

Hospital car parking charges in England would be axed for certain patients and the National Health Service staff.

Johnson is also committed to increasing the NHS budget by £33.9 billion ($43.5 billion, 39.5 billion euros) by 2023-24, and has promised a programme of building or upgrading 60 hospitals lover the next decade.

He also pledged to make the streets safer by recruiting 20,000 police officers.

On education, the prime minister announced a three-year plan to increase state-school spending in England by £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

On the environment, Johnson promised to get Britain to net-zero carbon emissions within 30 years.

“Let’s go carbon-neutral by 2050 and Corbyn-neutral by Christmas!” he said.

On immigration, he wants to end freedom of movement for EU citizens and introduce an Australian-style points-based system.

The scale of eastern European immigration since 2004 was one of the key factors behind the Brexit referendum vote in 2016.

Corbyn said Johnson had unveiled “a manifesto for billionaires” and was only offering “more cuts, more failure, and years more of Brexit uncertainty”.

AFP

EU’s Juncker To Undergo Surgery November 11

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a debate on the future of Europe during a plenary session at the European Parliament on April 17, 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France. FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

 

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, will undergo surgery on November 11 to treat an aneurysm, members of his inner circle told AFP on Thursday.

The 64-year-old former Luxembourg premier had been due to retire on Friday from EU’s executive arm.

But that has been postponed until at least December, because his successor Ursula von der Leyen has failed to win parliamentary approval for her commission.

Juncker “will undergo surgery on November 11 to treat an aneurysm,” his spokeswoman said.

According to AFP’s sources, Juncker is suffering from an aortic aneurysm in his abdomen, or an AAA in medical parlance.

Juncker’s duties will be covered by commission vice president Frans Timmermans and the president expects to be back at work in time to attend the handover to Von der Leyen.

If untreated an AAA can rupture with potentially fatal consequences. It was not immediately clear how serious Juncker’s case was.

In August, Juncker cut short a vacation to undergo urgent surgery to have his gallbladder removed, and he has often shown signs of discomfort at public events.

Juncker has held Brussels’ top job for the past five years, despite recurring problems with back pain, but his commission has been winding down business in recent months.

He is not expected to make any big political decisions in the coming weeks, as the current commission is now just overseeing everyday business while von der Leyen’s team prepares to take over.

Von der Leyen, the former German defence minister, had hoped to make a fresh start from this week. But the European Parliament rejected three of her nominees for commission posts, leaving her in limbo until new ones are put forward and confirmed.

AFP

Gunmen Kill Five Migrant Workers In Kashmir As EU Lawmakers Visit

Indian flag

 

Unidentified gunmen shot dead five migrant labourers in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, police said, in the bloodiest incident since New Delhi moved to strip the region of its autonomy.

The killings in southern Kulgam district, some 70 kilometres (43 miles) south of the main city Srinagar, came as India allowed a group of mostly far-right European Union parliamentarians to visit the region where tensions have soared since New Delhi began a clampdown on August 5.

A police official told AFP an unknown number of gunmen, believed to be rebels, barged into an accommodation rented by the six labourers late Tuesday and shot one of them dead on the spot.

They later took five others out of the residence and shot them with automatic rifles some distance from the building, killing four and wounding one.

“He is critical and undergoing treatment at a hospital,” a local police official said of the wounded labourer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another top police official said the victims were from the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, and that additional government forces were rushed to the area to track the attackers.

No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but police in the past have accused militants of targeting non-locals in a campaign allegedly aimed at driving them from the region.

A non-local truck driver was shot dead on Monday by gunmen while he was ferrying apples in the Himalayan valley’s southern region.

Five truck drivers and businessmen from other Indian states, who were associated with valley’s vital apple trade, have been killed in recent weeks.

New Delhi in August controversially stripped the disputed region of its decades-old semi-autonomous status, which barred non-residents from buying land and taking government jobs.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with most residents demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The region has been in armed rebellion for the past 30 years, with New Delhi accusing Pakistan of training and arming scores of militant groups active in the area.

Before stripping its autonomy, India sent tens of thousands of additional troops to join a 500,000-strong force in the region and imposed a weeks-long security and communication lockdown.

Authorities also ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave and arranged flights to take them elsewhere.

But tens of thousands of labourers who migrate to Kashmir every summer were left on their own.

Many departed due to the curfew, but others stayed, planning to leave as usual at the start of winter.

In the weeks since, landline telephone service and half of the region’s eight million cellphone lines have been restored, but internet remains cut off.

New Delhi, which has barred opposition politicians and a United States senator from visiting the valley since the clampdown, agreed to let nearly 30 EU lawmakers visit Kashmir.

Authorities have claimed that things have gradually returned to normal, but many residents, supported by militants, refuse to go to work, crippling the region that’s home to more than seven million people.

AFP

UK Set For Election As EU Warns No More Brexit Delays

Pro-Brexit activists demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliament in London on October 28, 2019.  ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

 

British MPs looked set Tuesday to vote for a pre-Christmas elections to try to resolve the political deadlock over its exit from the European Union, as the bloc warned there may not be any more Brexit delays.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying for a fourth time to call a snap poll for December, and looks likely to succeed after the main opposition Labour party said it would support him.

As ever in the tortuous Brexit process that began with the 2016 EU referendum, however, there was a risk of the House of Commons rejecting the plan in a row over extending the franchise to EU citizens and teenagers.

In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk warned against prolonging the turmoil.

Confirming that the three-month Brexit delay approved in principle by EU members on Monday had now been formally adopted, he warned: “It may be the last one.

“Please make the best use of this time.”

 ‘New mandate’ 

Johnson took office in July promising to end more than three years of political wrangling over Britain’s EU exit but a rebellion over his hardline strategy has left him without a Commons majority.

Unable to get MPs’ support for his divorce deal with Brussels, he was forced by law to abandon his “do-or-die” pledge to leave the bloc on October 31.

He is now pressing for an early election in December which he hopes will give him the Commons majority he needs to push through legislation to enact Brexit.

After three failed attempts to pass a normal election motion, which requires the support of two-thirds of MPs, the prime minister on Tuesday took an alternative path.

Johnson introduced a bill to legislate for an election — a method which requires only a simple majority to pass.

“We are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse,” he told MPs.

A newly elected parliament would have a “new mandate to deliver on the will of people and get Brexit done”, he said.

 Radical campaign 

In a major boost, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced his support for a December poll after meeting with his top team on Tuesday morning.

The veteran socialist has been torn between rival camps within his own party over whether to proceed, with some fearing Labour faces electorate defeat.

Corbyn had argued that he would not allow an election until Johnson’s threat to leave the EU without a divorce deal was removed.

The EU’s agreement to delay Brexit meant that “for the next three months, our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met”, he announced.

“We will now launch the most ambitious and radical campaign for real change our country has ever seen.”

After the EU delay, the government halted costly “no-deal” exit preparations and reportedly melted down 50-pence commemorative Brexit coins.

However, the risk of a disorderly exit may still remain, for example if there is no Brexit deal by January and the EU declines to grant a further delay.

 ‘Boris has to win’ 

Johnson is pressing for an election on December 12, but some opposition parties pushing for December 9 — with the decision to be made in votes later Tuesday.

There is a risk that the election plan is derailed, due to a number of amendments tabled to Johnson’s legislation.

One demands EU citizens living in Britain be allowed to vote in the election, while another wants the franchise extended to people aged 16 and 17.

The government opposes both, and Downing Street said that if either passed, it would abandon the entire project.

There have been two general elections in the last four years in Britain, in 2015 and 2017, and the next is not scheduled to happen until 2022.

Johnson is taking a risk in calling an early poll, but he has few other options.

John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow said Johnson is in a strong position to get a majority but an election remains a gamble.

“Boris has to win. A hung parliament and Boris is out,” he said, referring to situation — as is the case now — where no party has a majority in the Commons.

Curtice told AFP that failure to win a Conservative majority would see a Labour-led coalition seek a new Brexit referendum.

 

 

Boris Johnson Revives Push For Early Election

A handout picture released by the UK Parliament Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing during the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons in London on October 23, 2019. 
JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP / UK PARLIAMENT

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday made a fresh push to get lawmakers to back his plan for a pre-Christmas election after a third Brexit delay.

The Conservative leader is trying to lead Britain through a three-year crisis that was meant to end Thursday with the country’s exit from the European Union.

But he was forced to abandon his “do-or-die” pledge to leave the bloc on schedule and begrudgingly accepted another extension from Brussels until the end of January next year.

Britain’s inability to break its half-century bond with the EU has called a halt to costly “no-deal” exit preparations and reportedly seen freshly minted 50-pence commemorative Brexit coins melted down.

Johnson is now trying to secure an early general election in a bid to win a majority that could allow him to push through legislation to enact Brexit.

His third attempt to get parliament to agree to disband early and hold a general election on December 12 ended in failure again on Monday night after he failed to get the required support of two-thirds of MPs.

But he was set to try yet again for the same date on Tuesday using a different parliamentary procedure that would only require a simple majority to get his early polls.

He consulted his cabinet ministers early Tuesday to plot strategy in advance of another gruelling session of the House of Commons that could stretch into the night.

Johnson’s new attempt amends existing laws requiring a two-thirds majority by proposing a simple bill with an election date.

“This house cannot any longer keep this country hostage,” Johnson told lawmakers after they defeated Monday’s election attempt.

Date Debate

Johnson’s election push is piling pressure on the main opposition Labour Party to come out in support.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is being torn by rival camps within his own party and facing poor poll numbers that show the Conservatives in a strong lead.

Corbyn has argued that he cannot back an election until Johnson promises not to take Britain out of the EU without a new trade deal when the post-Brexit transition period ends in December 2020.

Britain would be following EU rules until that time.

“This is a prime minister who cannot be trusted,” Corbyn said Monday.

But some Labour members voted for an early election and others are signalling a general acceptance that one is probably inevitable by this stage.

The main arguments have now boiled down to the actual date of the polls. The last election to be held in December was in 1923.

Johnson insists on December 12. A rival plan proposed by the pro-European Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) proposes December 9.

The second option is also preferred by Labour as it edges toward backing an early poll.

Some in the party say the later date reduces the number of more liberal students voting because it comes after they finish their semesters and return home for the winter break.

Labour’s trade spokesman Barry Gardiner told BBC radio “the first thing” for Johnson to do to get his party’s backing was “to ensure that students are not going to be disenfranchised by an election on December 12”.

The debate appears to be one of principle.

The SNP’s parliamentary leader Ian Blackford urged Labour to not “be the handmaidens to the prime minister’s Brexit” and to fight for the earlier date.

Johnson is mainly concerned about amendments that could be attached to his bill.

One proposed option would extend voting rights to EU citizens — a group that strongly opposed Brexit.

Another would lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

UK Parties Argue Over Election As EU Mulls Brexit Extension

Pro-Brexit activists demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliament in London on October 28, 2019.  ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

 

Britain appeared to move a step closer Sunday to holding an early election in December, after two opposition parties backed the idea — but only if EU leaders delay Brexit until January.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats broke ranks with the main opposition Labour party to offer Prime Minister Boris Johnson the snap poll he wants, only on their terms.

But his government dismissed it as a “gimmick”, while the plan depends on how long European Union leaders will delay Brexit — and they are watching to see what happens in London.

Britain is due to end its 46 years of EU membership on Thursday, but Johnson was forced by law to request a three-month delay after MPs last weekend refused to approve his exit deal, the latest twist in the tumultuous divorce process.

Exasperated EU leaders have agreed to a postponement but disagree over the length, with a decision due on Monday or Tuesday.

At the same time, Johnson will ask British lawmakers to back an early election. He wants a December 12 vote, hoping MPs will approve his divorce deal first.

But his minority Conservative government needs the support of opposition MPs, and they have previously twice refused.

The Labour party dislikes his Brexit deal and says it will not back an election until the risk of Britain leaving the EU with no deal at all is removed.

But in a new twist, the SNP and the Lib Dems — which both strongly oppose Brexit and between them have 54 MPs in the 650-seat House of Commons — have offered another way.

They propose that MPs give up on Johnson’s Brexit deal and move to a December 9 vote — as long as EU leaders agree to delay Brexit until January 31.

‘See what the EU says’ 

Members of Johnson’s government dismissed the SNP-Lib Dem idea as a “gimmick” and a “stunt”.

“If the SNP and Lib Dems want an election then they have a chance to vote for one as quickly as tomorrow when the government’s motion is voted on,” Culture Minister Nicky Morgan told Sky News.

Senior Labour MP Diane Abbott said her party would wait to hear from Brussels.

“We are waiting to see what the EU says. Make no mistake… the Labour party is up for an election,” she told BBC television.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, tweeted that the SNP-Lib Dem proposal was “sensible”.

And France, which has so far objected to a three-month Brexit delay, said Sunday that an election would be a reason for a postponement.

“If they want to hold elections, we must give them the time to do that,” European Affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin told French media.

 Holding Britain ‘hostage’ 

Johnson has proposed an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which requires the support of two-thirds of MPs — 434 out of 650.

The SNP and Lib Dems propose instead passing a bill with the single purpose of holding a December 9 vote, which could pass with a simple majority.

“The SNP is prepared to back a bill that seeks to bring forward an early general election on Monday December 9 once an extension to the Brexit deadline to January 31, 2020 has been secured,” SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said.

However, to even be debated the legislation requires government support or an emergency motion backed by a majority of MPs to make time in the parliamentary timetable.

Johnson, a leading Brexit figure in the 2016 EU referendum, is currently ahead in opinion polls.

But experts say the referendum upset traditional political allegiances, and voter volatility makes an election result hard to predict.

Downing Street is wary of a backlash among voters angry that Johnson missed his repeated promises to leave the EU on October 31.

But it could mitigate the damage by persuading MPs to ratify the divorce deal before an election — or at least showing that they tried.

“Parliament cannot hold the country hostage any longer,” Johnson said in a statement late Saturday.

AFP

EU Envoys Agree On Three-Month Brexit Delay

 

European Union members agreed on Monday to postpone Brexit for up to three months, stepping in with a decision less than 90 hours before Britain was due to crash out with no divorce deal.

The next deadline for departure will be January 31 next year — although the other 27 capitals would allow an earlier date if London ratifies a withdrawal agreement before then.

“The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK’s request for a Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020,” said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which represents member states.

“The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure,” he said, after ambassadors met in Brussels to approve the extension.

According to a copy of the agreement seen by AFP, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson convinces the UK parliament to approve an amicable divorce accord before next year, Brexit could be on November 30 or December 31.

But in the meantime London must nominate a senior official to serve on the next European Commission and must agree that the withdrawal agreement it struck last month will not now be renegotiated, according to the EU text.

A European source said the next step would be for London to formally accept the extension, after which Tusk will ask the EU capitals to sign off on it. “We hope for this to be concluded by Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.

 ‘Efficient’ meeting 

Leaving the ambassador’s gathering, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said it had been a “short and efficient and constructive meeting,” adding: “I’m very happy that a decision has been taken.”

A delay could have been agreed last week, but Paris was reluctant, concerned it would do nothing to boost the chances of Britain deciding how to handle the end of its five-decade relationship with the EU.

Johnson had been pushing for a definitive break on October 31 after finally striking a withdrawal deal with fellow EU leaders at an October 17 summit.

But he has yet to persuade sceptical British MPs to ratify the accord, raising the spectre of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit and severe economic disruption in the United Kingdom.

In the meantime, he is trying to break the logjam — and strengthen his tenuous grip on office — by demanding an early election to secure a parliamentary majority.

But the British opposition has been reluctant to deliver the two-thirds vote needed to approve a snap poll until the threat of a disorderly Brexit is off the table.

Divorce terms 

The expected decision to postpone Brexit beyond the end of the month would do this, but Paris wanted EU capitals to wait until the UK election timetable was clear.

On Monday, however, European diplomats told AFP they would wait no longer and would make a decision without further delay after Britain agreed it would not try to change the withdrawal deal.

“The conditions of the extension have been specified and reinforced, notably on the fact the deal is not renegotiable,” a French diplomatic source told AFP in Paris.

Later Monday, Johnson was to ask the House of Commons to vote on a snap election, which he wants to hold on December 12 — after MPs have had time to ratify his Brexit deal.

However he faces defeat on that move, as with his two previous election calls.

He needs the support of two-thirds of the 650 MPs, but does not have even a simple majority.

The Labour party dislikes Johnson’s Brexit deal and says it will not back an election until his threat of leaving the EU with no deal at all is removed.

More than three years after Britons voted 52-48 percent for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, the country and parliament remain divided.

Johnson, a leader of the “Leave” campaign, took office in July this year vowing to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31.

But MPs rebelled against his threat to sever 46 years of ties without a deal and passed a law requiring him to seek a delay if they refused to accept his divorce terms.

AFP

Zimbabweans March Against US, EU Sanctions

 

Zimbabweans staged a mass government-orchestrated protest on Friday against sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union during the despotic rule of late ex-leader Robert Mugabe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been battling to re-engage with the West since Mugabe was ousted by the military in November 2017.

His administration organised the demonstration in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, demanding the lifting of sanctions that have weighed down the country for more than two decades.

Thousands of people gathered for the event — which was declared a national holiday — waving posters and banners as they marched towards the national sports stadium.

Some rode on top of buses, chanting slogans.

“Sanctions are a crime against humanity,” read one banner.

“ZIDERA must go,” said another, referring to sanctions imposed by the United States in 2001, at the height of land reforms that saw hundreds of white-owned farms violently seized.

Tensions escalated further when the Mugabe regime kicked out European Union observers and cracked down on opposition party members ahead of a presidential vote in 2002.

The sanctions were aimed at high-ranking officials and government institutions, including travel bans on Mugabe and his inner circle.

US President Donald Trump extended the penalties in March to more than 100 individuals and entities, Mnangagwa included.

 ‘Immeasurable impact’ 

On Friday, the president and his wife Auxilia paraded through the streets of Harare, escorted by a brass band playing religious and political songs.

“We know very well that the sanctions are neither smart nor targeted,” he said in an address to the crowds at the stadium.

“Their impact on our daily lives is immeasurable and the consequences are dire.”

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters that Zimbabwe had been “ostracised” by investors.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been in tatters since Mugabe brought in a series of misguided policies that brought a once-thriving agricultural industry to its knees.

Hyperinflation has rendered most goods unaffordable and basics such as fuel and medicine are scarce.

The downturn only worsened under Mnangagwa, who has pledged to revive the economy and attract investment.

But the cash-strapped government still found resources to bus hundreds of people in from rural areas to take part in Friday’s protest.

Public universities were also asked to send 500 students per faculty to march.

At the stadium, participants were each handed a box of chicken and chips.

‘Hinder progress’ 

Zimbabwe’s southern African neighbours also voiced their support and called for the sanctions to be lifted.

“Mnangagwa has made significant efforts… to revamp the economy of Zimbabwe,” Zambian President Edgar Lungu said in a statement on Thursday.

“The continuous restrictive sanctions hinder the country from making significant progress.”

A handful of anti-sanctions marches were also organised in South Africa, where thousands of Zimbabweans have sought better living prospects.

“We do this because the sanctions on Zimbabwe affect the region and South Africa in particular,” said Jacob Khawe, a regional representative of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party.

“Zimbabweans have been converted into homeless people by these sanctions. They run all over the world trying to find survival,” Khawe told  reporters at a protest outside the US embassy on Friday.

Both the US and the EU have defended their stance.

“The biggest sanctions on Zimbabwe are the limitations it puts on itself,” tweeted the US ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols. “That should be the focus of the government.”

The EU embassy said it had only imposed an arms embargo, a travel and asset freeze against Mugabe and his wife, and a ban on doing business with Zimbabwean defence companies.

The US embassy also blasted Zimbabwe’s government for corruption and alleged embezzlement.

“Not the way to build confidence in Zim & attract foreign business & investment,” it said on Twitter.

Mnangagwa has come under fire since January, when at least 17 people were killed and scores wounded after the army brutally broke up a protest against rising fuel prices.

The army also used force to control a demonstration by unarmed civilians protesting a delay in the announcement of vote results last year. Six people died and dozens were injured.

Amnesty International and several other rights groups have accused Mnangagwa of human rights abuses.

EU Ambassadors Consider Brexit Delay

 

EU ambassadors met Friday to discuss for how long to delay Brexit as Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggled to end Britain’s deep political crisis by pushing for an early elections.

British MPs are reluctant to agree to Johnson’s poll demand unless they can be certain Brexit has been postponed beyond October 31 and the UK has been spared a no-deal divorce from the European Union.

But some EU members, principally France, oppose granting an extension until January 31 next year unless Britain can show it is organising a vote than could clarify its position.

Diplomats from the 27 non-British members began a meeting in Brussels but officials warned a decision might not come before Monday, when British MPs may give their election verdict.

“It’s one thing to say we’d like to have elections, it’s another to say they have been organised,” France’s minister for European affairs Amelie de Montchalin said Thursday.

“We’re not doing political fiction, we need facts in order to make decisions,” she said. “We’d need to know why we’re giving them time. We know that time alone just bogs you down.”

When the ambassadors last met on Wednesday, Germany and Ireland backed postponing Britain’s departure from the bloc until January 31, France sought a shorter delay and other members were on the fence.

On Thursday, Johnson demanded an election on December 12 that he hopes will give him a majority to ratify the Brexit withdrawal agreement he struck with EU leaders last week.

But he would need a two-thirds majority in the current parliament in order to approve an early poll, and the British opposition is split, with some preferring a second referendum on Brexit itself.

AFP

Tusk Recommends EU Leaders Back Brexit Extension

European Council President Donald Tusk speaks during a debate on the results of October EU summit at the European Parliament on October 22, 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

 

The president of the European Council Donald Tusk said Tuesday that he will recommend to EU leaders that they postpone Brexit beyond the current October 31 deadline.

“Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension,” he tweeted.

“For this I will propose a written procedure,” he said, which means that the 27 other member state leaders would not have to convene an emergency summit.