Queen To Miss UK Parliament Opening As PM Eyes Political Revival

Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales reads the Queen’s Speech as he sits by the Imperial State Crown, in the House of Lords chamber, during the State Opening of Parliament, at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on May 10, 2022. (Photo by Ben Stansall / various sources / AFP)

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II will miss Tuesday’s ceremonial opening of Britain’s parliament, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to reinvigorate his faltering government by unveiling its plans for the coming year.

The 96-year-old monarch, who usually presides over the pomp-filled event and reads out her government’s legislative programme from a gilded throne in the House of Lords, will skip the annual showpiece on her doctors’ advice.

Buckingham Palace said late Monday she had made the decision “reluctantly” as she continues to experience “episodic mobility problems”.

It is the latest in a string of cancelled public appearances caused by health problems and old age. Her son and heir to the throne Prince Charles will fulfil the head of state role instead.

The Queen has rarely been seen in public since spending an unscheduled night in hospital last October, and has complained of difficulties standing and working. She also contracted Covid-19 in February.

She has missed only two state openings during her record-breaking 70-year reign, in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward.

Her decision heightened fears that she may not be able to attend celebrations marking her 70th year on the throne next month.

In changes to the Westminster ceremony, Prince Charles, who is 73, will not wear the Queen’s imperial state crown even though he and Prince William will bring it by car, The Times reported.

Symbolically, the throne where the Queen usually sits to deliver her speech will remain empty.

Royal expert Robert Hardman wrote in the Daily Mail that the Queen “remains very much in charge”, while calling this handover a “historic moment”.

The Times wrote that for Charles, this is “the nearest he has come to performing the duties he will one day undertake as king”.

News of the Queen’s absence immediately overshadowed the unveiling of the new parliamentary session.

Reeling from a series of scandals and dire results for his ruling Conservatives in local elections last week, the beleaguered Tory leader is promising 38 bills to get his agenda “back on track”.

They will focus on boosting economic growth and paving the way for more “high-wage, high-skill jobs”, as well as tackling the spiralling cost of living, Johnson’s Downing Street office said.

– ‘Back on track’ –
The upcoming parliamentary session — the current government’s third — is one of Johnson’s last opportunities to deliver on his key policy promises before the next general election due by May 2024.

Johnson won an 80-seat majority in December 2019, vowing to reap rewards from Brexit and tackle decades of growing regional inequality.

Despite securing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU with a comprehensive trade deal, the coronavirus pandemic upended delivery of his domestic agenda.

His government was soon consumed by the pandemic and then sidetracked in recent months by various controversies, including the so-called “Partygate” scandal.

That saw Johnson become the first UK prime minister found to have broken the law while in office, after police ruled he and staff had breached Covid-19 lockdown rules.

He is now hoping his legislative programme can help draw a line under his recent woes, not least the loss of nearly 500 councillors across England, Wales and Scotland last week.

But he faces a daunting challenge as the growing cost-of-living crisis begins to bite, with bleak economic forecasts.

“This Queen’s Speech will get our country back on track, and I will strive… night and day to deliver it,” Johnson will tell MPs.

“We are going to ensure that over the two years we have left in this parliament, we spend every second uniting and levelling up this country.”

– Wide-ranging –
Johnson has pledged another “Brexit freedoms” bill — following a similar legislative unveiling in January — aimed at removing hundreds of EU regulations.

He will cut regulations for small businesses and remove environmental restrictions that can delay or prevent infrastructure projects, reports said.

The Queen’s Speech will also detail reforms to rejuvenate shopping streets nationwide and “restore pride in local areas”, as part of the government’s flagship levelling up agenda.

A public order bill will aim to prevent disruptive protest tactics used by groups such as Extinction Rebellion “causing misery to the hard-working public” by giving police more powers and tools, Downing Street said.

There will also be legislation targeting education, housing, mental health and railways regulation.

A new bill of rights law, which could make it easier for the courts to deport foreigners convicted of criminal offences, could be among the programme’s more divisive elements.

Prince Charles To Represent Queen Elizabeth At UK Parliament Opening

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 19, 2019 Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (R) sits with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as she delivers the Queen’s Speech on The Sovereign’s Throne in the House of Lords chamber, during the State Opening of Parliament in the Houses of Parliament in London.  Leon Neal / POOL / AFP

 

Prince Charles will replace his 96-year-old mother Queen Elizabeth II at Tuesday’s ceremonial opening of the UK parliament, Buckingham Palace said Monday, citing the monarch’s ongoing mobility issues.

“The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament,” the palace said in a statement on the eve of the pomp-filled event.

“At Her Majesty’s request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, The Prince of Wales will read the Queen’s Speech on Her Majesty’s behalf,” it added, referring to her eldest son and heir to the throne, Charles.

The palace added that the Queen’s eldest grandson, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and next in the line of succession, would also attend the elaborate State Opening of Parliament ceremony.

As head of state, the Queen usually presides over the annual event, reading out her government’s legislative programme in an address from a gilded throne in the House of Lords.

But Buckingham Palace had not confirmed her attendance in the run-up to this year’s spectacle, which culminates in the so-called Queen’s Speech at around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) on Tuesday.

The monarch has rarely been seen in public since spending an unscheduled night in the hospital in October last year and has complained of difficulties standing and working, as well as a bout of Covid.

She has missed only two state openings during her record-breaking 70-year reign, in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward.

She has cut back on numerous public appearances in recent months, and last week the palace announced she will not attend this summer’s royal garden parties, usually a regular feature in her yearly diary.

The monarch recently returned to Windsor Castle after a week-long break on her Sandringham estate in Norfolk, eastern England, where she marked her 96th birthday in private on April 21.

A royal tradition since the 18th century has also seen the monarch have a second, official birthday, typically celebrated in warmer weather in June.

This year’s official birthday coincides with her Platinum Jubilee, and four days of public events from June 2 to 5 to mark her record-breaking 70th year on the throne.

AFP

Libya Parliament Names Rival PM In Challenge To Unity Govt

In this file photo taken on October 6, 2021, Libya’s former interior minister Fathi Bashagha speaks during an interview with AFP in the capital Tripoli. Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

 

Libya found itself with two prime ministers Thursday after its parliament named a rival to replace the existing unity government’s chief Abdulhamid Dbeibah, threatening a new power struggle in the war-torn nation.

The House of Representatives, based in Libya’s east, “unanimously approved Fathi Bashagha to head the government,” the parliament’s spokesman Abdullah Bliheg said in a tweet.

The move threatened to deepen the struggle for control between the assembly and the Tripoli-based administration of Dbeibah, while experts warned of potential violence in the capital in western Libya.

It came hours after Libyan media carried unconfirmed reports that Dbeibah’s car was targeted by gunfire overnight, without specifying whether he was inside the vehicle at the time.

The construction tycoon, appointed a year ago as part of United Nations-led peace efforts, has vowed only to hand power to a government that emerges from a democratic vote.

His administration had a mandate to lead the country to elections last December 24, but the polls were cancelled amid bitter divisions over their legal basis and the candidacies of several controversial figures.

READ ALSO: Mali Stands Firm Against Economic Sanctions

Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh, who like Dbeibah and Bashagha had been a presidential candidate, has since spearheaded efforts to replace the unity government.

The assembly had considered seven candidates to lead the administration. But shortly before Thursday’s confirmation vote, Saleh had announced that Bashagha’s only remaining challenger, former interior ministry official Khaled al-Bibass, had withdrawn from the race.

The live television feed cut just before the vote took place.

‘Groundhog Day’ 

Experts warned that Thursday’s vote threatens a repeat of a 2014 schism which saw two parallel governments emerge.

“Libya has two prime ministers. Again. Groundhog Day,” Anas El Gomati of Libyan think tank the Sadeq Institute wrote in a tweet.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Dbeibah had vowed he would “accept no new transitional phase or parallel authority” and declared he would only hand over power to an elected government.

Bashagha and Dbeibah, both from the powerful port city of Misrata, have the support of rival armed groups in the Libyan capital and the surroundings.

“Dbeibah is refusing to step down, so there is potential for some kind of conflict in Tripoli and beyond, and it could get ugly really fast,” Amanda Kadlec, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, told AFP.

“Bashagha and Dbeibah both have deep connections across western Libya, and the militias will move with whomever they see as having power.

“The Tripoli militias might also take a wait-and-see approach,” she added. “Alliance-hopping is part of the playbook in Libya.”

The UN, western powers and even some members of parliament have called for Dbeibah to stay in his role until elections, for which a new date has not yet been set.

Peter Millett, a former UK ambassador to Libya, said the main division now was “between the Libyan people — who want elections — and the political elite, who don’t.”

“The motivation of many MPs is to hang on to jobs and privileges rather than allow for a smooth process leading to elections,” he told AFP.

“This seems like a decision taken to deprive the people of the right to vote by delaying elections even further and causing potential instability in Tripoli.”

AFP

South Africa Parliament Fire Under Control, Suspect Charged

A general view of a building on fire at the South African Parliament precinct in Cape Town on January 2, 2022. A major fire broke out in the South African parliament building in Cape Town on January 2, 2022. Firefighters were present at the building as large flames and a huge column of smoke were seen at around 0530 GMT. Obed Zilwa / AFP

 

A fire that ravaged part of South Africa’s parliament, engulfing the National Assembly and threatening national treasures, has been brought under control, firefighters said on Monday, as police charged a suspect with starting the blaze.

Flames broke out early Sunday in the oldest wing of the Cape Town complex, triggering an inferno that crews battled throughout the day.

“The fire was brought under control during the night,” spokesman Jermaine Carelse said, adding that teams were still extinguishing flames in the historic wood-panelled part of the building where it had begun.

“The most damage is in the National Assembly building,” Carelse said. “That won’t be used for months.”

Earlier, parliament spokesman Moloto Mothapo said the roof of the assembly had collapsed and the fire was “so intense” in that part of the building that firefighters had been forced to withdraw.

“The entire chamber where the members sit… has burned down,” he said.

No casualties were reported.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters at the scene on Sunday that a man had been held and that the building’s sprinkler systems had apparently failed.

 ‘Criminal Case’

Police said on Monday that they had charged a 49-year-old man whom they had detained inside parliament a day earlier.

The man, who is due to appear in court on Tuesday, has been accused of “housebreaking, arson” and damaging state property, The Hawks elite police unit said.

The parliament’s presiding officers were to meet on Monday with Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille to take stock of the devastation.

Jean-Pierre Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, told reporters the entire complex had suffered extensive water and fire damage.

“Nothing” was left of the part of the building’s historic section, which was completed in 1884, he said.

This is where Parliament keeps treasures including around 4,000 heritage and artworks, some dating back to the 17th century.

The collection includes rare books and the original copy of the former Afrikaans national anthem “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (“The Voice of South Africa”), which was already damaged.

It also features a 120-metre-long (390-foot) Keiskamma tapestry, named after a river in the southeast of the country, that traces the history of South Africa from the first indigenous peoples, the San, to the historic democratic elections of 1994.

After ravaging the older wing of the building, the flames spread to newer parts of the complex.

Second Fire In A Year 

Around 70 firefighters were deployed on Sunday, some using a crane to spray water on the blaze. Around 20 remained at the scene on Monday to put out the remaining flames.

Images broadcast on television had earlier shown giant flames leaping from the roof.

The area around the blaze was quickly cordoned off, with the cordon stretching to a square where flowers were still displayed in front of the nearby St. George’s Cathedral, where anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s funeral took place on Saturday.

Cape Town has been home to South Africa’s houses of parliament since 1910, when separate administrations formed a union under British dominion and became a predecessor to the modern South African republic.

The site includes the National Assembly and the upper house National Council of Provinces, while the government is based in Pretoria.

It was in parliament where South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, announced in 1990 plans to dismantle white-minority rule.

The houses of parliament consist of three sections, with the newer additions constructed in the 1920s and 1980s.

In March another fire also broke out in the older wings of parliament, but it was quickly contained.

Cape Town suffered another major fire in April when a blaze on the famed Table Mountain which overlooks the city spread, ravaging part of the University of Cape Town’s library holding a unique collection of African archives.

AFP

UK Police Arrest Man For Allegedly Trespassing In Parliament

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows a chamber rehearsal ahead of the return of MP’s to parliament during the coronavirus lockdown in the House of Commons in London on April 20, 2020. Jessica Taylor /UK Parliament / AFP.

 

British police on Wednesday arrested a man on suspicion of trespass after he allegedly breached security at parliament and prompted a temporary lockdown at the sensitive London landmark.

It came amid heightened security in the UK after lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death while meeting constituents in October and a botched homemade bomb attack last month.

The Metropolitan Police Service was quick to note Wednesday’s arrest in the heart of Westminster was not being treated as “a terrorist incident”.

READ ALSO [‘Drowned In Our Problems’] Taliban Vows Not To Interfere In Other Nations’ Affairs

The force said the man was held at the main gates into parliament at around 3:00 pm (1500 GMT), without providing further details.

“A man was detained and arrested at Carriage Gates inside the Palace of Westminster on suspicion of trespassing on a protected site,” the Met said in a statement.

“Enquiries into the circumstances continue. This is not being treated as a terrorist incident.”

Interior minister Priti Patel in October said the terror threat level to MPs had been raised from “moderate” to “substantial” after Amess’ death, although there was no “credible or specific threat”.

The overall UK terror threat level was raised to “severe” after a blast outside a hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, in November.

Both incidents were linked by police to extremism.

The location of Wednesday’s arrest was the scene of a deadly terror attack in 2017, when a police officer was killed as part of a rampage that began on nearby Westminster Bridge.

Eyewitnesses to the latest incident said officers reacted swiftly to the purported incursion.

“Just saw someone climb into parliament,” Elliot Keck, who identified himself as a parliamentary staffer, said on Twitter alongside a photo of armed officers standing over an individual on the ground.

“Quickly tasered and guns immediately drawn. Impressive performance from the police,” he added.

AFP

South Sudan President Dissolves Parliament

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit attends the 33rd Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, on February 10, 2020. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit attends the 33rd Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, on February 10, 2020. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord.

Kiir’s decision was announced on public television Saturday evening but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working.

The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposition sides during the five-year civil war that left 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.

Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust.

“It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution (will not) also open the way to a lengthy process towards reconstituting the parliament,” Jame David Kolock, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum.

“The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”

In accordance with the 2018 accord, the new assembly will number 550 lawmakers, the majority — 332 — from Kiir’s governing SPLM party. The parliamentarians will not be elected but nominated by the different parties.

The dissolution of parliament came on the eve of a visit to the capital Juba by US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth.

“Of particular concern to the United States is the slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, ongoing violence, and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government on February 22, 2020 after nearly a year of delays.

However few provisions of the truce have been honoured, and analysts have warned of a return to war.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts — often over cattle raiding — continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.

AFP

COVID-19: Ghana Parliament Shuts As Over 150 Staff Get Infected

 

Ghana’s parliament on Tuesday shut down for at least three weeks over a surge in cases of COVID-19 among lawmakers and parliamentary staff.

The Speaker of the House, Alban Bagbin, announced the legislature will be in recess until March 2 to make way for “disinfection and sanitisation of the premises.”

At least 17 members of parliament and 151 supporting staff have been infected with the coronavirus, which had already forced lawmakers to limit their assembly meetings.

“I have, in consultation with leadership, decided that sitting of the House be adjourned for three weeks,” the speaker announced.

The West African country has confirmed a total of 73,003 coronavirus cases resulting in 482 deaths and over 65,000 recoveries.

President Nana Akufo-Addo has banned large social gatherings such as funerals, weddings and parties and the country’s land and sea borders have remained closed to human traffic since March 2020.

UK MPs Resume Brexit Feuding As New Bill Faces First Commons Vote

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (central left) giving a statement on coronavirus on September 10, 2020.

 

Britain’s parliament on Monday finds itself in familiar territory — arguing about Brexit — with threats of rebellion and resignations over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial plan for a new law that will break his EU divorce treaty.

The House of Commons holds its first debate and vote over the bombshell new bill from late afternoon, despite a call from Brussels for it to be withdrawn by the end of the month.

The contentious legislation, unveiled last week, would override the divorce deal the UK struck with the EU last year in several key areas related to Northern Ireland.

It would see London unilaterally regulate UK trade and state aid within the British province, ignoring the EU treaty which gives Brussels a continuing say over Northern Ireland’s trading relationship.

If the law passes in the coming weeks, Brussels has warned it could scupper ongoing trade deal talks and threatened court action, leaving the prospects of an orderly Brexit in tatters.

Even some Brexiteer lawmakers were aghast that Britain would wilfully trash an international treaty, threatening the country’s reputation and potentially endangering Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

Former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair this weekend openly criticised the action, while David Cameron said Monday he had “misgivings” about the approach.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s pro-Brexit former attorney general Geoffrey Cox said it would be “unconscionable” to override an international treaty.

“I think it is wrong that the British government or our parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word,” he told Times Radio.

– ‘Squabbling days’ –

The latest row revives the bitter wrangling over how to implement British voters’ shock decision in 2016 to quit the bloc, which led to parliamentary deadlock and repeated postponements.

The impasse was broken after Johnson sealed a divorce deal with Brussels and used it to win a thumping victory in a December general election which gave his Conservatives an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons.

Brexit took legal effect the next month, but in practice Britain has remained bound by EU rules under a transition period until the end of this year.

With the clock ticking down, no breakthrough is in sight for regulating cross-Channel trade from January, and Northern Ireland is back as a fiendishly complicated obstacle.

Britain claims it needs the new law as an insurance policy in case no trade agreement is struck, but the EU was left blind-sided, as were many in parliament.

The government nonetheless appears determined to ram the UK Internal Market Bill through as quickly as possible, and senior minister Michael Gove believes it can avert a full-scale rebellion.

“I think we have got the support of our own MPs and MPs in other parties as well,” he told BBC television. “But you’re absolutely right we are reaching a crunch moment.”

On Friday evening, the prime minister held a chaotic Zoom call with about 250 Conservative backbenchers which appeared to do little to mollify the malcontents.

Johnson warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn” over Brexit, according to MPs’ accounts to the media afterwards.

Not long after the call, he accused the EU of plotting to break up the UK with a food “blockade” down the Irish Sea, which EU leaders have denied.

– ‘Madman theory’ –

MPs will get their first chance to debate the legislation from mid-afternoon Monday, before voting at around 2100 GMT to continue its passage through parliament.

However, more meaningful votes on attempts to change the draft law will not come until next week.

Commons Justice Committee chairman Bob Neill has filed an amendment to dictate that parliament, not the government, will have the final say on any changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The bill “is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.

It remains to be seen whether Tory rebels can muster the numbers to seriously embarrass the government on Monday or whether they could hold their fire until future votes.

The main opposition Labour party, which opposed Brexit, says it is open to negotiation about the bill but would rather be talking about Covid-19.

“We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not reigniting old rows,” Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

AFP

Lebanon Assembly Ratifies State Of Emergency After Deadly Blast

A picture taken on August 5, 2020, shows a damaged house in the neighbourhood of Ashrafieh of the Lebanese capital Beirut’s eastern suburbs, a day after a devastating blast at the port of Lebanese’s capital, in Israel’s latest gesture towards a country with which it is technically at war.  Janine HAIDAR / AFP.

 

Lebanon’s parliament Thursday approved a two-week state of emergency in Beirut declared after last week’s gigantic explosion that gives the army greater powers to suppress resurgent protests.

Top diplomats jetted in to show solidarity, contribute to the massive ongoing emergency aid effort but also to weigh in on political developments following a blast widely blamed on state corruption.

A top US envoy announced that the FBI would be joining the probe into the colossal blast that killed 171 people, injured thousands and reignited street protests demanding the ouster of the entire political elite.

Dozens of demonstrators shouted as lawmakers arrived at parliament to ratify the emergency measure, but protesters were outnumbered by security forces and failed to block the MPs’ cars.

Lebanese are furious at a political leadership that allowed a large shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate to languish for years in a port warehouse despite repeated safety warnings.

“You have destroyed us! Leave!” demanded one social media post, calling for more street protests.

An AFP investigation found that until the eve of the blast, officials had exchanged warnings over the cargo, but did nothing despite experts’ fears it could cause a major conflagration.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned with his cabinet Monday but still leads a transitional administration.

The state of emergency formally approved by the parliament allows the army to close down assembly points and prohibit gatherings deemed threats to national security.

The move worries Lebanon’s 10-month-old protest movement that had faded amid the coronavirus pandemic and deepening economic hardship, but which has returned to the streets with force since the August 4 disaster.

– FBI joins probe –

Human Rights Watch said it was “very concerned” the state of emergency would serve “as a pretext to crackdown on protests and snuff out the very legitimate grievances of a large segment of the Lebanese population”.

A military official said the now formalised state of emergency would place all security forces under the command of the army, which would oversee the “post-explosion phase”.

The official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the issue, stressed that it would not lead to “a crackdown” on civil freedoms.

“We support the right to peaceful protest, even during a state of emergency,” he said.

The massive explosion has renewed calls from Lebanon’s international partners for overdue reforms to the political system and to shore up the deeply indebted economy.

Top US envoy David Hale, who arrived in Beirut Thursday for a three-day visit, announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would join the probe in the blast.

“The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators, at the invitation of the Lebanese, in order to help answer questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led up to this explosion,” he told reporters during a tour of a damaged area near the port.

Calls had been growing in Lebanon for an international and independent investigation, an option President Michel Aoun has so far ruled out.

French and other foreign investigators had already been working at the blast site but their findings are centralised by the Lebanese state’s top security echelon.

– Political deadlock –

Hale is due to meet some of the country’s top officials on Friday, as is French Defence Florence Parly, who also arrived on Thursday.

Both of them made a point of showing that the aid their countries is offering is being delivered directly to non-government groups on the ground, largely bypassing Lebanon’s toxic political echelons.

Aoun and his allies from the Shiite movement Hezbollah have made it clear they saw the international solidarity generated by the port disaster as an opportunity to shake off their quasi-pariah status on the diplomatic scene.

Officials did not appear to be making rapid progress toward naming a new cabinet, a process which could take months.

The president’s office had yet to schedule parliamentary consultations to name a new premier.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri called on authorities “to speed up the process of forming a cabinet” that can spearhead reforms.

The international community is pushing for a cabinet comprised of independents who could win the support of protesters, as well as representatives of top political parties to deter them from obstructing the government’s work, a Western diplomatic source told AFP.

But feedback so far from Lebanon’s top political players “has not been encouraging” with many of them dismissing pressure from the street “as not very strong,” the source said.

AFP

Taiwan Lawmakers Throw Punches, Water Balloons In Parliament Crisis

Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Lu Ming-che (L) fights with ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wu Ping-jui (C) as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020. Sam Yeh / AFP
Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Lu Ming-che (L) fights with ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wu Ping-jui (C) as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020. Sam Yeh / AFP

 

Taiwanese lawmakers threw punches and water balloons inside the legislature on Friday, the third parliamentary brawl in a fortnight, over the nomination of the head of a top government watchdog.

A legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was caught on camera punching an opposition party member during a vote on nominee Chen Chu.

Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers later threw water balloons at the speakers’ podium, forcing their DPP colleagues to don plastic raincoats and hold up cardboard shields.

The parliament in Taipei was once notorious for mass brawls, and has been the scene of frequent protests.

Scuffles broke out over reform policies and pension cuts when President Tsai Ing-wen first took office four years ago.

Such confrontations had since subsided, but in the last fortnight they have returned with abandon over the decision to nominate Chen, 70, to head the Control Yuan, an investigatory agency that monitors the other branches of government.

Legislators from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) scuffle as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020.
Legislators from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) scuffle as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020.

 

The KMT is opposed to her appointment, which requires approval from the DPP-dominated parliament.

The party also claimed that 24 out of 27 people nominated for membership of the Control Yuan have close ties with the DPP in the “worst ever” nomination list for the agency.

“We demand a new review and we demand the nominations be withdrawn,” KMT chairman Johnny Chiang told supporters gathered outside the Control Yuan building, also in the capital.

Chen is a long-time human rights advocate and was jailed for six years when Taiwan was a dictatorship under the KMT.

Despite the morning’s melee, voting went ahead and Chen’s nomination was approved.

She has said she will quit the DPP after her nomination is approved, to maintain the impartiality of the position, and accused the opposition of smearing her with unfounded accusations.

 

AFP

Spain Lawmakers Extend COVID-19 State Of Emergency

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) delivers a speech during a session to debate the extension of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Lower Chamber of the Spanish parliament in Madrid on May 6, 2020. J. J. GUILLEN / POOL / AFP
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) delivers a speech during a session to debate the extension of a national lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Lower Chamber of the Spanish parliament in Madrid on May 6, 2020. J. J. GUILLEN / POOL / AFP

 

Spain’s parliament on Wednesday voted to extend the country’s state of emergency, allowing stringent coronavirus lockdown measures to remain in place for at least two more weeks.

The government imposed a nation-wide lockdown nearly eight weeks ago to curb the outbreak, which has killed more than 25,000 people and infected over 220,000 in the country — one of the hardest hit in the world.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that abruptly ending the strict lockdown would be “unforgivable”, ahead of a parliamentary vote Wednesday to further extend the state of emergency.

“Ignoring the risk posed by the epidemic and lifting the state of emergency very quickly would be absolutely wrong, a total, unforgivable error,” he said.

Despite efforts by his right-wing opponents to block the move, parliament approved the extension by 178 votes in favour to 75 votes against, with 97 abstentions.

It was the fourth time the measure had been approved, meaning the restrictions will now remain in place until May 23 as Spain slowly moves through a staged rollback of the lockdown.

A state of emergency was first declared on March 14 in Spain, allowing the government to roll out confinement measures for its nearly 47 million citizens.

The country has only recently started ease some restrictions, allowing children outdoors and adults to leave the house to exercise.

Some small businesses have also been permitted to receive customers with a prior appointment.

“We have limited freedom of movement and the freedom to gather, that is certain. But we’ve done it to save lives,” Sanchez said.

He insisted it was “the only way to guarantee a gradual and prudent transition” out of the lockdown.

The latest daily toll on Wednesday showed a slight increase in deaths, rising to 244 after three days when it stayed below 200 — a far cry from the 950 deaths of April 2 when the epidemic peaked.

“We are progressing very well,” said Fernando Simon, head of the health ministry’s emergencies department.

“It would be very sad if through leaving the lockdown faster than recommended we lost everything we’ve worked for.”

Earlier this week, Spain’s main opposition Popular Party said it would not support any extension of the state of emergency.

But thanks to backing from the centre-right Ciudadanos and the Basque PNV, the government got enough support to push through the measure.

Last week, the government unveiled plans for a four-phase transition out of the lockdown that is to be completed by the end of June, with the country already engaged in the first preparatory stage.

 

AFP

If You Lost Your Income To COVID-19, We Will Give You $2,000 – Justin Trudeau

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on COVID-19 situation in Canada from his residence March 23, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. Credit: AFP
In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on COVID-19 situation in Canada from his residence on March 23, 2020, in Ottawa, Canada. AFP

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will give $2,000 to any worker who loses their income as a result of the novel Coronavirus. 

In a broadcast on the COVID-19 issue and the Canadian government’s response, Trudeau said the administration is doing everything it can to support its citizens.

He noted that the funds became very necessary because, at a time like this, individuals should be focused on what matters most which is their health and the health of those they love.

“That’s exactly why we’re announcing the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit today,” Trudeau said.

The Canadian Prime Minister stated that if one loses their income as a result of COVID-19, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will give them $2,000 a month for up to 4 months.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Atiku Asks FG To Pay Each Household N10,000

He added that “If you’ve lost your job – whether you worked full time, on contract, or were self-employed – you qualify for the benefit.

“If you lost income because you’re sick or quarantined, if you’re looking after someone who’s sick, or if you’re home taking care of the kids – you qualify. And if you’re still employed but not receiving income because of COVID-19 – you qualify too. We won’t leave anyone behind”.

Canada lawmakers recently passed the coronavirus aid package after an all-night session

The lawmakers on Wednesday morning approved a more than Can$100 billion aid package to help individuals and businesses through the pandemic, after all-night negotiations on what emergency powers to grant the minority government.

Following approval by the House of Commons, they were adopted by the Senate.

The measures include Can$52 billion ($37 billion) in direct support for families and businesses, instead of Can$27 as previously announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Can$55 billion in tax deferrals.

The total aid package of Can$107 billion will allow for a new emergency fund that will dispense Can$2,000 per month for four months to Canadian workers who find themselves without an income due to the new coronavirus.

Nearly one million have been laid off following temporary closure orders given to many businesses in an effort to slow the virus’s spread.

The government expects to enact the emergency measure from April 6, according to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

He said he was pleased with obtaining “unanimous consent with the other parties to move forward” with the response plan.

To respect “social distancing” measures during the pandemic, only 32 members of Parliament, proportionally representing each party instead of the full 338, had gathered in Ottawa for a vote Tuesday on the emergency measures.