Hong Kong Police Regain Control Of Parliament From Anti-Government Protesters

Police fire tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. 
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Hong Kong police fired tear gas Tuesday to regain control of the city’s parliament after thousands of protesters occupied and ransacked the assembly in an unprecedented display of defiance on the anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.

The financial hub has been rocked by three weeks of huge demonstrations sparked by an unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland, but on Monday that anger reached levels unseen for years.

Masked protesters — mostly young and many wearing yellow hard hats — broke into the legislature after hours of clashes with police.

They ransacked the building, daubing its walls with anti-government graffiti, in an unparalleled challenge to city authorities and Beijing.

In a rare report on the civic action, China’s Xinhua News Agency said the Hong Kong government “strongly condemns and deeply regrets the extremely violent acts committed by some protesters”.

RELATED: Hong Kong Protesters Seize Parliament Chamber, Tie British Colonial Flag

Police had warned of an impending crackdown, and just after midnight officers moved in from several directions, firing tear gas and wielding batons as they charged and sending plumes of smoke drifting across the city.

Huge crowds of democracy activists earlier staged a march calling for Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down and for a reverse of what they see as years of sliding freedoms.

But the atmosphere deteriorated as the day wore on, and a hard-core group of protesters breached parliament after hours of the siege.

Once inside, they tore down portraits of the city’s leaders, hoisted a British colonial-era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the city crest with black paint.

“There are no violent protesters, just tyranny,” read one banner, hoisted above the podium.

“Hong Kong is not China,” read another.

‘We Have No Choice’

Many protesters said they felt compelled to take action because the city’s leaders had ignored public sentiment.

“We have marched, staged sit-ins… but the government has remained unmoved,” Joey, a 26-year-old protester, told AFP as she walked over shattered glass inside the building.

“We have to show the government that we won’t just sit here and do nothing.”

A protester surnamed Cheung, 24 added: “We know that this is breaking the law, but we have no choice”.

The past three weeks of rallies are the sharpest expression of fears over Chinese influence on the territory in decades.

Protesters accuse Beijing of stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of unelected leaders.

But the increasingly hard-line tactics from some protesters have alienated some, with a large counter-rally in support of the police taking place on Sunday.

Although Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, it is still administered separately under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”.

The city enjoys rights and liberties unseen on the autocratic mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is already reneging on that deal.

Activists have organised a march every handover anniversary, calling for greater democratic freedoms — such as the right to elect the city’s leader.

They have mustered large crowds in recent years — including a two-month occupation of parts of the city centre in 2014 — but have failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extradition law, which she has now postponed following the public backlash.

But she has resisted calls to permanently shelve the law or step down.

Champagne Toasts & Flags

Lam — who has kept out of the public eye recently and has record low approval ratings — attended a flag-raising ceremony early Monday, marking the moment the city returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.

Her speech stuck to the conciliatory tone she has used in recent weeks, saying she recognised conflict had broken out.

“It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country’s support for Hong Kong and “its freedoms is unwavering” and urged restraint from protesters in comments echoed by the European Union.

But activists have vowed to keep up their civil disobedience campaign.

“Whatever happens we won’t lose heart,” Jason Chan, a 22-year-old accountant added. “Resistance is not a matter of a day or a week, it is long term.”

AFP

South African Parliament Re-Elects Ramaphosa As President

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the crowd gathered at the Miki Yili Stadium, ahead of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Freedom Day, in Makhanda, Eastern Cape Province on April 27, 2019. Michele Spatari / AFP

 

South African lawmakers on Wednesday re-elected Cyril Ramaphosa as the nation’s president, two weeks after the ruling ANC party returned to power in legislative elections.

Ramaphosa was “duly elected president of the Republic of South Africa,” chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng told parliament after Ramaphosa was the only name nominated by lawmakers in Cape Town.

MPs from the African National Congress, which won 230 out of 400 seats on May 8, choose the head of state in the parliament’s first post-election sitting.

The ANC won the ballot with 57.5 per cent of the vote, its thinnest majority since the end of apartheid.

Ramaphosa will be sworn in on Saturday and is expected to name a deputy president and cabinet at the weekend.

READ ALSO: 26 Killed In Central African Republic – UN

Under South Africa’s 1996 constitution, electors vote for a party, and the party selects individuals who go to the National Assembly, which then chooses the head of state.

Ramaphosa, 66, is a trade unionist who played a prominent part in the struggle against white minority rule before becoming a successful businessman after the end of apartheid.

He will serve his first full five-year term since taking over last year from Jacob Zuma who was forced out over a series of corruption scandals.

Ramaphosa’s first test as he starts his new term will be his choice of a cabinet — a task beset by rival factions within the ANC.

 Shadow of scandals 

Prospects of a major reshuffle were heightened when Deputy President David Mabuza announced he would defer taking his oath as a lawmaker.

An ANC integrity commission report has alleged Mabuza — the party’s No. 2 — “prejudiced the integrity of the ANC and brought the organisation into disrepute”.

Seen as a pro-Zuma figure, his name has repeatedly come up in media reports into corruption and political killings when he was premier of the eastern Mpumalanga province.

He later became the ANC’s vice president in December 2017 when Ramaphosa was elected party leader.

“Ramaphosa will never be more powerful than he is right now,” political analyst Richard Calland told AFP.

“He has to impose his authority. He can’t dispense all of the Zuma faction… but he has to take them out of key positions so that he can govern decisively.”

Another senior ANC official, outgoing environment minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who has been named in the ongoing judicial inquiry into state corruption, has also pulled out of the swearing-in and will not be an MP.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance’s chief whip in parliament, John Steenhuisen, said the last-minute withdrawal by two senior ANC members was “very clearly a sign that something is afoot in the ANC”.

“It is completely bizarre… the divisions that exist within the governing party are continuing to exist and we are seeing manifestations of the various factions now playing out,” said Steenhuisen.

AFP

Egypt Parliament To Vote On Extending President Sisi’s Rule

his file handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on June 2, 2018 shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi giving a speech during his swearing-in ceremony for a second four-year term in office,/ AFP

 

Egypt’s parliament, packed with loyalists of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is to vote Tuesday on changes to the constitution that could keep the former military chief in power until 2030.

The proposed amendments were initially introduced in February by a parliamentary bloc supportive of Sisi and updated this week after several rounds of parliamentary debates.

It includes changing Article 140 of the constitution to allow the Egyptian president to extend his current four-year term, which ends in 2022, by two years.

A further change would permit Sisi to stand for another six-year term and potentially remain president until 2030.

READ ALSO: African Union Threatens To Suspend Sudan Over Coup

Sisi led the army’s overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader’s rule.

He won his first term as president in 2014 and was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 per cent of the vote, after standing virtually unopposed.

His government has been widely criticised by human rights groups for the repression of political opponents.

But Mohamed Abu-Hamed, one of the members of parliament who pushed for constitutional amendments to keep Sisi in power, is adamant that the changes are a must.

“The constitution in 2014 was written under tough exceptional circumstances,” he told AFP.

He hailed Sisi as a president who “took important political, economic and security measures… (and) must continue with his reforms,” in the face of the unrest gripping neighbouring countries following the toppling of veteran president Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and the escalation of the conflict in Libya.

Keeping Sisi in power, he added, reflects “the will of the people”.

‘Authoritarian rule’ 

Since Sisi overthrew Morsi, Egypt has drawn heavy international criticism for its sweeping crackdown on dissent.

The authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi’s supporters as well as liberal and secular activists, including a popular blogger, actors, singers and journalists.

Last week, Human Rights Watch warned that the amendments, which would also increase the military’s political role and grant Sisi control over the judiciary, would “institutionalise authoritarianism”.

As Sisi visited Washington for talks with President Donald Trump, it urged Congress, to withhold endorsement of the Egyptian president’s bid to extend his rule.

“Congress needs to use its levers to pressure the Egyptian president to reverse course, starting with withdrawing these constitutional amendments set to consolidate authoritarian rule,” said HRW’s Michael Page.

As well as a crackdown on dissent, Sisi has overseen a military campaign against Islamic State group-linked militants based in the Sinai Peninsula

On Tuesday, the 596-seat parliament will also vote on a controversial article which critics fear might allow the military a greater influence in Egyptian political life.

The vote is expected to be swift after the bill passed by an overwhelming majority earlier this year.

If the bill is passed by a majority of two thirds, parliament will then hold a referendum in which Egyptians will vote on the raft of amendments.

Other proposed amendments include a quota for women’s representation of no less than 25 per cent in parliament and forming a second parliamentary chamber.

Human rights groups and opposition parties say the government has intensified its crackdown on dissent with a wave of arrests ahead of the vote.

AFP

Sudan Opposition Leader Calls On President Bashir To Resign

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses parliament in the capital Khartoum on April 1, 2019. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

 

Sudan’s top opposition leader on Friday urged President Omar al-Bashir to end a state of emergency and resign, calling for widespread rallies the next day against Bashir’s 30-year rule.

Sadiq al-Mahdi, former prime minister and chief of Sudan’s main opposition National Umma Party, called on Bashir to dissolve all constitutional institutions and set up a 25-member council to govern Sudan.

“I call on all our people to participate in widespread rallies tomorrow, on April 6, to meet the call of their homeland,” Mahdi told worshippers during the weekly Muslim prayers, according to a statement issued by his party.

“I call on President Bashir to resign, dissolve all consitutional institutions and form a council of 25 people to govern the country,” he said.

Mahdi also told scores of worshippers at a mosque in Omdurman, the twin city of capital Khartoum, that Bashir should end a state of emergency the president imposed in February in a bid to end protests that have rocked the country since December.

Witnesses said worshippers then staged a small demonstration outside the mosque but were quickly dispersed by police who fired teargas.

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that toppled Mahdi’s civilian government.

Mahdi has since spent several periods in exile, but returned to Sudan in December on the same day the protests began.

Angry demonstrators have accused Bashir’s government of mismanaging the country’s economy.

Anger had been mounting for years over soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

It spilt onto the streets on December 19 following a government decision to triple the price of bread, quickly sparking nationwide rallies against Bashir’s rule.

On February 22 Bashir imposed a state of emergency after an initial crackdown on protests failed to quell the demonstrations.

In recent weeks the protests have shrunk in scale and intensity, but organisers have called for nationwide rallies on Saturday.

Protest organisers chose April 6 for nationwide rallies as it was the day of 1985 uprising that toppled the regime of president Jaafar Nimeiri.

The current protest movement was initially led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, but in late January Mahdi threw his support behind it.

Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge faced by Bashir as yet.

The veteran leader has remained defiant however, imposing emergency rule and other tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest related violence so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51 including children and medics.

AFP

 

UK Lawmakers Hold Crucial Vote On Brexit Deal

MP’s waiting for the result of the second meaningful vote on the government’s Brexit deal, in the House of Commons in London on March 12, 2019. PRU / AFP

 

MPs were holding a momentous third vote Friday on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal, which could end a months-long crisis or risk Britain crashing out of the EU in two weeks.

Parliament has twice rejected May’s withdrawal agreement, both times by large margins, but has been unable to agree any alternative — and time is running out.

The pivotal vote is taking place on the day Britain was supposed to leave the European Union until May asked the bloc’s leaders last week for more time.

“This is the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit,” May told parliament as she closed several hours of debate.

“It avoids a long extension which would at least delay and could destroy Brexit.”

But Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would oppose the deal.

“The Labour Party will not play roulette with this country’s future,” he said.

In a last-ditch bid to garner the support of discontented Conservative colleagues, May dramatically promised Wednesday to resign if the deal passed.

She appealed to Brexit supporters to back her, saying that under the postponement plan agreed with Brussels, approval on Friday could see Britain out of the bloc on May 22.

 ‘Painful vote’ 

But if the deal falls again, she must set out a new plan to EU leaders — with the options including a potentially catastrophic “no deal” Brexit as early as April 12, or a lengthy delay.

Her sacrifice swayed some of her critics, including former foreign minister Boris Johnson, a potential leadership contender.

He had objected in particular to the deal’s “backstop” provisions to keep the Irish border free-flowing after Brexit.

“It is very painful to vote for this deal. But I hope we can now work together to remedy its defects, avoid the backstop trap and strive to deliver the Brexit people voted for,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who in November resigned in opposition to the agreement and is also eyeing a leadership bid, said he also would now back it.

“I cannot countenance an even longer extension and I cannot countenance having European elections in May,” he told MPs.

But more than a dozen Conservative lawmakers still publicly oppose May’s deal.

Her Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), also continue to insist its arrangements for the Irish border are unacceptable.

 ‘National emergency’ 

Britain is leaving the EU after 46 years of membership following a divisive 2016 referendum in which voters decided 52 to 48 percent for Brexit.

But MPs are gridlocked on how to implement the result, reflecting the nationwide divisions that persist on the issue.

Protesters from both sides of the divide massed under clear blue skies in Westminster on Friday, with flags, banners and Scottish pipe bands creating a colourful scene.

Around 1,000 ardent Leave supporters on a two-week, 270-mile (435-kilometre) march from northeast England were also set to arrive outside parliament.

“There is a democratic mandate to leave on the 29th of March,” marcher Kate Abley, a 53-year-old former teacher, told AFP as the group neared their final destination.

Outside the British parliament, the political chaos has led business leaders and trade unions to warn of a “national emergency”.

May admits her agreement, reached last November during more than 18 months of negotiations, is a compromise but insists it is the best available.

It covers citizens’ rights, Britain’s financial settlement, plans for the Irish border and a transition period to the end of 2020.

 ‘Completely blind’ 

MPs were not originally due to sit on Friday but the government called an emergency session.

Lacking DUP support, May will have to rely on opposition Labour votes to get her deal through, but leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to vote against her.

The government has decided to put only one part of the Brexit package to MPs Friday, separating out the withdrawal terms from an accompanying political declaration on future ties.

Another vote on the political declaration, which is not legally binding, will be required for Brexit to happen.

The government said Friday that would happen “within the next few days”.

AFP

British MPs Take Control Of Brexit Amid Calls For May’s Resignation

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May/ AFP

 

Britain’s parliament on Wednesday holds a series of votes to seek an alternative Brexit solution as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Theresa May to resign if she wants her own unpopular plan approved.

Three years after Britons voted to break the country’s near half-century bond with the European Union, this week was supposed to see the endgame — but no clear end is in sight.

Parliament has already twice rejected the deal forged by the EU and May — who personally favoured staying in the bloc before becoming head of a government tasked with steering Britain out of it.

READ ALSO: 500 Evacuated As Fire Hits Hotel In Singapore, No Injuries

But House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said on Wednesday “there’s a real possibility” that May will try again to get her deal passed on Thursday or Friday.

The price of failure could be high.

May is still desperately short of votes and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.

EU leaders have given Britain a new extended deadline of April 12 to get May’s deal ratified or find a new way out.

Failure to do either could result in a no-deal divorce that could disrupt trade on both sides of the Channel and send the British pound plunging.

Alternatively, Britain could seek an even longer extension, putting it in the bizarre situation of having to take part in European Parliament elections nearly two months after it was supposed to have left.

 16 proposals 

The UK parliament decided to break the deadlock by giving itself the right to choose from a variety of alternatives to May’s plan.

It will vote at 1900 GMT on options that range from holding a second referendum to recalling the EU withdrawal notice and maintaining ties with the bloc.

May’s own deal is not one of the 16 proposals submitted for debate to parliament speaker John Bercow. He will announce the ones that will be on the agenda at around 1530 GMT.

Time has been set aside on Monday for MPs to try and whittle down the most popular options to a final plan.

“It is very unlikely that today’s votes will reveal a majority for anything,” said Oliver Letwin, a Conservative MP who is spearheading the initiative.

 ‘Better than not leaving’ 

May will hope that none of the alternatives get majority support and that her own agreement ends up looking like the best option.

Her government is banking on rebels who oppose the EU getting frightened by the prospect of Brexit being either overturned or watered down.

She has already won the backing of Jacob Rees-Mogg — the ultra-conservative who heads the European Research Group (ERG) wing of her party that twice voted against the deal.

“I think we’ve got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all,” he told BBC radio on Wednesday.

“Half a loaf is better than no bread.”

But the Northern Irish coalition partners on whom May relies for support in parliament made clear that they would rather see Brexit extended by a year than vote for her plan.

Other holdouts are making their votes contingent on May’s promise to step down after Brexit, so another leader would negotiate the next stage of the process.

“If the prime minister announces a timetable of departure, I think that’s going to swing a lot of people behind her deal, we could get it over the line,” said Conservative MP Nigel Evans.

May is due to meet with an influential group of Conservative party members in parliament at 1700 GMT.

 Rethink Brexit? 

European leaders are watching the entire process with concern.

European Council President Donald Tusk urged EU lawmakers on Wednesday to remain open to a long postponement while Britain rethinks its stance.

“I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would, of course, mean the UK’s participation in the European Parliament elections,” Tusk said.

He also pointed to the nearly six million signatures on an online petition in the past week asking the government to cancel Brexit.

“They may not feel sufficiently represented by UK Parliament but they must feel represented by you,” he told European Parliament members in a tweet.

AFP

Parliament Support ‘Not Sufficient’ For Third Brexit Vote – May

May On Last-Gasp Mission To Save Brexit Plan
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement inside 10 Downing Street in London on March 20, 2019, following her request to EU leaders to extend Brexit until June 30. Jonathan Brady / POOL / AFP

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday said there was “still not sufficient support” in parliament for her to bring her Brexit deal back to parliament for a third vote.

“As things stand there is still not sufficient support in the House to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote,” May told parliament, voicing hope that this could change later in the week.

“I continue to have discussions with colleagues from across the House to build support so we can bring the vote forward this week,” she said.

READ ALSO: British PM May To Meet Ministers Amid Reported Moves To Oust Her

May said the government would provide time to allow MPs to debate and vote on Brexit alternatives to find a plan that could command a majority in parliament.

But she warned it would be an “unwelcome precedent to set, which would overturn the balance of our democratic institutions.

“I am sceptical about such a process of indicative votes,” she added.

“When we have tried this kind of thing in the past, it has produced contradictory outcomes or no outcomes at all.”

AFP

Sudan Cuts State Of Emergency To Six Months Over Protests

Sudanese protesters chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman / AFP

 

Sudan’s parliament on Monday approved a nationwide state of emergency of six months instead of one year as ordered by President Omar al-Bashir to quell protests against his iron-fisted rule.

Bashir declared a year-long state of emergency from February 22 after an initial crackdown failed to suppress the demonstrations that have rocked his administration for nearly three months.

“A six-month state of emergency has been approved by a majority,” the speaker of parliament Ibrahim Ahmed Omer said after lawmakers voted on the presidential decree.

READ ALSO: Crashed Ethiopian Airlines Black Box Recovered

Deadly protests erupted on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.

The demonstrations quickly escalated into nationwide rallies against Bashir’s administration, with analysts calling it the biggest challenge to his rule stretching back three decades.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch has given a death toll of at least 51 including medics and children.

Monday’s vote by lawmakers backed a recommendation from a parliamentary committee to shorten the state of emergency to six months.

Activists and rights groups have slammed the measure as curbing freedoms in the country.

“The parliament didn’t want to reject Bashir’s decree, so it came out with a compromise by keeping the state of emergency for six months,” said prominent Sudanese human rights defender Nabil Adib.

“But to me, it’s not about six months or one year. The measure violates human rights that are permitted in the Sudanese constitution.”

Sudan’s Minister of Justice Mohamed Ahmed Salim defended the state of emergency in parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by lawmakers from the ruling National Congress Party.

“What we have is a soft state of emergency and still people are complaining,” he said.

 Protesters jailed 

Bashir has also issued a slew of tough measures to end the protests, banning unauthorised rallies and setting up special emergency courts to investigate offences.

He has also given sweeping powers to security forces to carry out raids and searches.

Scores of protesters have appeared before the emergency courts already and several have been jailed, while nine women have received sentences of 20 lashes each for joining rallies.

On Sunday, a top opposition leader was sentenced to a week in jail as she tried to participate in a march on parliament to challenge the state of emergency.

Mariam al-Mahdi, the deputy chief of the main opposition Umma Party, said she will spend a total of three weeks in jail after refusing to pay a fine of 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($42).

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that toppled the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi, chief of the Umma Party and father of Mariam.

Although the protests erupted after the rise in bread prices, anger had been mounting across the country for years amid a growing economic crisis.

Bashir, 75, has defied protesters’ calls for him to step down but has dissolved the federal and provincial governments.

The president also handed over his powers as chief of the ruling National Congress Party to his deputy, Ahmed Harun.

Bashir has appointed 16 army officers and two security officers from the feared National Intelligence and Security Service as governors of the country’s 18 provinces, a move criticised by the United States and others as “return to military rule.”

AFP

Egyptian Parliament Votes To Extend El-Sisi Presidency

his file handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on June 2, 2018 shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi giving a speech during his swearing in ceremony for a second four-year term in office,/ AFP

 

Egypt’s parliament on Thursday gave preliminary approval to constitutional changes that would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power after his second term ends in 2022.

A total of 485 lawmakers out of 596 “endorsed in principle the constitutional amendments after three consecutive sessions that lasted more than 10 hours,” a statement on parliament’s website said.

It did not say how many MPs voted against but Haitham al-Hariri, a member of a small opposition group, said 16 MPs opposed the proposals.

The amendments will now be submitted to parliament’s legislative commission which must draft them into legislation and return them to parliament within 60 days for a final vote.

READ ALSO: Egypt’s President Al-Sisi To Chair African Union

If the vote is passed by a majority of two thirds, parliament will then hold a referendum in line with the conditions of the 2014 constitution.

Backers of Sisi, a former army chief who was re-elected president in March 2018 with over 97 percent of the vote, have been pressing parliament to repeal an article in the constitution limiting presidents to two consecutive four-year terms.

The key amendment endorsed Wednesday calls for extending the president’s term in office from four years to six, parliament said on its website.

But critics of this amendment have cried foul.

“We are placing absolute powers in the hands of one person… at a time when the people were expecting us to give them ‘bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity’,” lawmaker Ahmed Tantawi said on Wednesday in a rare criticism of the government, using the slogan of the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran president Hosni Mubarak.

Eleven non-governmental rights groups have also said they reject the amendments, namely the one that would extend Sisi’s presidency and another that would empower the army “to defend the constitution”.

The “proposed amendments threaten stability and sanction (the) lifelong presidency” of Sisi, they warned in a joint statement released Wednesday by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

“These amendments… exercise unprecedented unilateral authority; while granting custodianship over Egypt’s constitution and democracy to the military establishment, despite the military’s utter disrespect for both since Sisi’s ascension to power,” it said.

Signatories included the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights and the Adalah Center for Rights and Freedoms.

Sisi led the army’s overthrow of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 following mass protests against the Islamist leader’s rule.

Sisi won his first term as president the following year.

His government has been widely criticised by rights groups over the repression of dissidents.

As well as a crackdown on dissent, Sisi has overseen a military campaign against Islamic State group-linked militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

AFP

Frenchman Arrested In Myanmar For Flying Drone Over Parliament

File Photo

 

A French tourist has been arrested for flying a drone near Myanmar’s parliament in the capital Naypyidaw, the French embassy and local police confirmed Monday, under a law that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.

The man, named by police as 27-year-old Arthur Desclaux, tried to fly a drone over the government building, which is illegal in Myanmar.

Three journalists and their driver were jailed in 2017 for the same offence.

Local media published photos of the French detainee, including his passport details, and his drone.

“(He) was arrested late afternoon on Thursday 7 February for having flown a drone over the parliament,” the embassy said, adding that the man was still in detention in Naypyidaw.

READ ALSO: Myanmar Reuters Journalists Lose Appeal Against 7-Year Sentence

His family had been informed of his arrest and embassy staff were trying to secure his release, it added.

He has been charged under section 8 of the export and import law, police officer Min Tin told AFP.

Desclaux faces “up to three years imprisonment” if found guilty, said Min Tin.

It remains unclear why he was flying the drone.

Journalists Lau Hon Meng from Singapore and Mok Choy Lin from Malaysia were making a documentary for Turkish state broadcaster TRT when they were detained in October 2017 along with Myanmar reporter Aung Naing Soe and driver Hla Tin.

Expecting to receive a fine, they confessed to flying the drone over parliament but were instead sentenced to two months in prison under Myanmar’s aircraft act.

AFP

UK Parliament Rejects Brexit Deal In Historic Vote

File photo/ PRU

 

Britain’s parliament on Tuesday resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, triggering a no-confidence vote in her government and plunging its plans to leave the EU into further chaos.

MPs voted 432 to 202 against May’s plan for taking Britain out of the European Union, the biggest parliamentary defeat for a government in modern British political history.

With a deal that took nearly two years to craft in tatters and her government’s future hanging in the balance, EU leaders sounded a note of exasperation, urging Britain to come out and say what it actually wants.

“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” EU president Donald Tusk tweeted.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, warned of a heightened risk of a “no deal” Brexit — an outcome that could disrupt trade, slow down the UK economy, and wreak havoc on the financial markets.

The government of Ireland — the only EU member state with a land border with Britain — said it would now intensify preparations to cope with a “disorderly Brexit”.

And German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, representing the EU’s most dominant economy and leading political voice, called the vote “a bitter day for Europe”.

‘Catastrophic’ defeat 

Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of the government, creating a contradiction that has been tearing apart Britain ever since a June 2016 referendum began its divorce from the other 27 EU states.

Moments after Tuesday’s outcome, which was met with huge cheers by hundreds of anti-Brexit campaigners who watched the vote on big screens, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, calling her defeat “catastrophic”.

The vote is expected on Wednesday at 1900 GMT.

May sought to strike a conciliatory tone, telling MPs they had the right to challenge her leadership and promising to hold more talks to salvage a workable solution by the rapidly approaching March 29 Brexit deadline.

She promised to hold discussions with MPs from across parliament to identify ideas “that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House”.

“If these meetings yield such ideas, the government will then explore them with the European Union.”

Downing Street said May will then return to parliament with a new Brexit proposal on Monday.

 ‘Political poker’ 

With their nation again in turmoil, noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London.

“It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU.

A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square, dotted with statues of past UK leaders, into a sea of EU flags.

Economists said the scale of May’s defeat — on the upper end of most predictions — now also put pressure on Brussels to make more meaningful compromises.

The pound surged higher against the dollar and euro after the vote, seemingly buoyed by May’s promise to seek a compromise with her opponents.

“Markets project beliefs and the underlying belief is that nobody’s going to be committing economic suicide,” BK Asset Management’s Boris Schlossberg said.

But businesses voiced alarm about the outcome, which does nothing to resolve the uncertainty that has been dampening the UK investment climate for months.

“Financial stability must not be jeopardised in a game of high-stakes political poker,” warned Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, the body governing the British capital’s massive financial district.

 ‘Warm words not enough’ 

May made it her mission to carry out the wishes of voters after she became prime minister a month after the referendum, putting aside her own initial misgivings and stating repeatedly that “Brexit means Brexit”.

But her deal raised concern that Britain could end up locked in an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Criticism of the deal was focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership — a tortuous process that could take several years.

Arlene Foster, head of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party upon which May relies for her parliamentary majority, said May needed to win binding concessions from Brussels to secure her vote.

“Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words, will not be enough,” said Foster.

“The prime minister must now go back to the European Union and seek fundamental change to the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Britain’s divorce from the EU after almost half a century of membership.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

AFP

Sri Lanka Court Extends Ban On President Sacking Parliament

 Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala/AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s highest court Friday banned President Maithripala Sirisena from sacking the legislature until it decides on the legality of his move last month to call snap elections.

The Supreme Court concluded hearing 10 petitions against Sirisena’s move as part of a bitter power struggle with his erstwhile prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but reserved judgment for an unspecified date.

The courts reopen on Monday.

Sirisena plunged the country into crisis on October 26 when he fired Wickremesinghe and appointed the contentious Mahinda Rajapakse in his place.

He then dissolved parliament on November 9 and called elections nearly two years ahead of schedule on January 5.

Four days after he sacked parliament through a special decree, the Supreme Court issued an interim ruling suspending Sirisena’s action and restoring parliament, which almost immediately passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapakse.

“The court issued a fresh order extending the ban on the president until the case is concluded,” a court official told reporters after the unusually long hearing on Friday marking four days of legal arguments.

Security was stepped up outside the Supreme Court amid expectations of a final ruling on Friday evening.

The court’s seven-judge bench is expected to deliver a ruling on the constitutionality of Sirisena’s move as early as Monday.

Sacked premier Wickremesinghe’s party and their allies, who command a majority in the 225-member assembly, have suggested they could begin impeachment proceedings against Sirisena depending on the ruling.

Wickremesinghe’s party loyalists believe the court decision will go in their favour, a view held by many independent lawyers.

Problems for Sirisena were compounded on Monday when the Court of Appeal suspended the entire cabinet and asked Rajapakse to explain on what authority he was holding office.

With parliamentary proceedings degenerating into brawls, the United States, the European Union and other powers have raised concerns over the crisis in the strategically important island nation of 21 million people.

Only China has recognised the appointment of Rajapakse, who during his decade as president until 2015 relied heavily on Beijing for diplomatic and financial support.

As president from 2005 until 2015, he ended Sri Lanka’s four-decade civil war in 2009 by crushing the rebel Tamil Tigers.

But 40,000 ethnic Tamils were allegedly massacred in the process.

Rajapakse and his family are also alleged to have profited from his time in power through corrupt deals.

During an earlier stint as prime minister from 2001 until 2004, Wickremesinghe is credited with pulling Sri Lanka out of its first ever recession, in part with reforms that have endeared him to the West.

AFP