British PM Faces Confidence Vote After Brexit Humiliation

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May as she speaks during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on January 16, 2019, ahead of a debate and vote on a motion of no confidence in the government.  HO / PRU / AFP

 

Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to win a confidence vote on Wednesday despite a crushing defeat over her Brexit deal that triggered warnings of a chaotic “no-deal” divorce.

MPs on Tuesday rejected May’s deal on leaving the European Union, leaving the Brexit process in limbo with just 73 days to go before the official departure date.

May suffered the biggest government defeat in modern British history when the House of Commons rejected by 432 votes to 202 the deal she struck with Brussels last year after 18 months of negotiation.

The EU immediately warned that the vote raises the risk of a hugely disruptive “no deal” Brexit where Britain could sever ties with its biggest trading partner overnight.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged London to “clarify its intentions as soon as possible”, while EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he “regretted profoundly the vote”.

German Chancellor Merkel offered May some hope, saying “we still have time to negotiate but we’re now waiting on what the prime minister proposes.”

Ireland, the only EU member state with a land border with Britain, said it would now intensify preparations for a “disorderly Brexit”, with foreign minister Simon Coveney calling on colleagues to “hold their nerve”.

Bid for election 

May struck a conciliatory tone after the vote, promising cross-party talks to try and salvage a workable Brexit deal before returning with a new plan next Monday.

The prime minister’s own backbenchers rebelled in huge numbers over the divorce deal, but the ringleaders said they would still back her in the confidence vote scheduled for around 1900 GMT.

“We are going to vote with the government… of course the Conservatives are going to support the Conservative government,” leading Brexiteer Steve Baker told the BBC.

The motion was tabled by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to force a general election.

May’s parliamentary allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have led the charge against her Brexit deal, but do not want a Labour government.

 Fundamental change 

Ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, most lawmakers — including May — opposed Brexit, which has caused bitter divisions across the nation.

Nearly three years later, they are still to form a majority consensus around any plan, with MPs criticising May’s deal both for keeping Britain too closely tied to the EU and for not keeping it close.

Former foreign minister and leading Brexit supporter Boris Johnson said Tuesday’s vote gave May a “massive mandate” to renegotiate her deal with the EU.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose small party props up May’s government in the Commons, also called for “fundamental change” to the Brexit deal.

After the defeat, French President Emmanuel Macron said “the pressure” was mainly on Britain to find a solution, but suggested there may be room to “make improvements on one or two things.”

However, Irish minister Coveney told RTE Morning Ireland: “I don’t think the EU is any mood to agree on changes to the withdrawal treaty.”

Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics at King’s College London, told AFP that the EU “will be thinking hard about whether it’s worth offering concessions given the number of MPs the Prime Minister has to win over.”

 High-stakes 

The defeat blows the starting whistle on a no-holds-barred struggle to direct the course of Brexit.

Increasing numbers of pro-European MPs are calling for a second referendum with an option to cancel Brexit.

On Wednesday, 71 Labour MPs signed up to a letter calling for a public vote. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was the “only credible option”.

EU Council president Donald Tusk tweeted after the vote: “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?”

Speculation is also growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Brexit whatever happens, although she denies this.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also played down the suggestions, saying “it would only make sense if there is a path to the goal of a deal.”

On Wednesday morning the pound edged down, but mostly held its ground as investors considered the next likely developments in the saga.

Bank of England chief Mark Carney told a parliamentary committee that he believed sterling’s relative strength reflected “some expectation that the process of the resolution would be extended and that the prospect of no deal may have been diminished.”

British businesses urged politicians to unite.

“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.

AFP

Sri Lanka Reinstates Ousted PM, Begins Uneasy Truce

 

Sri Lanka’s president on Sunday reappointed as prime minister the same man he sacked from the job nearly two months ago, ending a power struggle and immediately setting off an uneasy cohabitation government.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose shock dismissal in late October threw Sri Lanka into an unprecedented constitutional crisis, was sworn in at a closed-door ceremony in the president’s office in Colombo.

In a scathing attack on Wickremesinghe and his United National Party (UNP), President Maithripala Sirisena said he grudgingly gave the job back and intends to check his premier every step of the way.

“I still believe that I should not have made Ranil Wickremesinghe the prime minister, but I bow to the wishes of the majority in parliament,” Sirisena said. “But, I don’t know how far we will succeed in fulfilling the wishes of our people.”

Sirisena came to power in January 2015 with the help of Wickremesinghe’s UNP, but in the past three years they have drifted apart with clashes coming to a head when he was sacked in October.

The 69-year-old Wickremesinghe refused to step aside since being dumped and replaced by controversial strongman Mahinda Rajapakse — leaving the country with two men claiming the premiership and no functioning government.

The ousted premier had long asserted his dismissal was illegal, a view supported by Sri Lanka’s parliament which six times voted against Rajapakse’s claim to rule during tumultuous sessions that erupted into brawls.

The acrimony between the two leaders was underlined on Sunday when Sirisena berated Wickremesinghe and his supporters at length following the swearing-in, according to a 45-minute video released by the presidential secretariat.

Shutdown Fears 

After the frosty reception, which Sirisena closed to the press, the reinstated premier thanked parliament and “all those who campaigned to restore democracy”.

“The first priority is to restore normality,” he said in a brief address to the nation.

“The work we initiated had been brought to a standstill.”

There was no immediate reaction from Rajapakse, who stood down Saturday. But Namal Rajapakse, his son and also a legislator, publicly extended his congratulations to Wickremesinghe.

India, which like the United States and others in the global community urged the warring factions to resolve their differences and refused to recognise Rajapakse’s government, welcomed an end to the power struggle.

“This is a reflection of the maturity demonstrated by all political forces, and also of the resilience of Sri Lankan democracy and its institutions,” India’s foreign ministry spokesman said Sunday.

Wickremesinghe said he will form a cabinet in the coming days.

The country has been heading for a government shutdown as parliament failed to approve spending for 2019, and credit rating agencies downgraded its debt amid fears of a sovereign default.

Bitter end 

Sirisena’s resistance became untenable after the country’s highest court last week ruled that he acted outside the constitution when he dissolved parliament on November 9 and called early elections.

Some factions within Sri Lanka’s parliament have pushed for Sirisena to be investigated — and possibly impeached — for orchestrating what they say was a coup.

Rajapakse, who Sirisena appointed in a sudden, late-night oath-taking ceremony, pressed ahead forming a purported government and naming a cabinet even as parliament cut off state funds to his office.

The Supreme Court confirmed Rajapakse could not exercise the powers of a prime minister until he proved his legitimacy — which without enough support in parliament was impossible.

On Saturday Rajapakse — who presided over the bloody end to Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 — backed down, signalling the standoff had come to a bitter close.

However, the strongman, whose past administrations were accused of gross rights abuses and whose family still holds considerable sway in Sri Lanka, promised to make a comeback at local elections next year.

AFP

Policeman Found Dead In French PM’s Garden

 

A French police officer was found dead on Monday on the grounds of the prime minister’s official residence in Paris in a death officials said was being treated as a suicide.

The 45-year-old Garde Republicaine gendarme, part of the armed force’s policing branch, was found next to his service weapon in the gardens of the Hotel de Matignon, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office and residence.

Philippe, who was on a visit to New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the Pacific, was informed of the “tragic” incident and sent his condolences to the family, his office said in a statement.

It said both the Paris prosecutor’s office and the gendarmerie would carry out an investigation into the officer’s death.

In August, gendarmes attached to Matignon had complained about their “worsening working conditions” in an anonymous letter sent to their superiors, which was seen by AFP.

Their letter came as police generally have been protesting increasingly difficult missions with insufficient numbers and equipment.

Last month around 200 officers demonstrated in Paris, accusing authorities of failing to improve their conditions.

Last year 51 policemen killed themselves in France, according to police union figures, and 24 more have committed suicide so far this year.

Additionally, some 20 gendarmes have committed suicide this year, according to media reports.

One killed himself on September 18, and another on Sunday.

AFP

Bangladesh Jails Ex-PM Over Corruption

Bangladesh on the map

 

A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced former prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia to another seven years in prison on corruption charges that her supporters say are politically motivated.

Zia, long a rival to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is already behind bars after being handed a five-year term in February on separate embezzlement charges.

That verdict triggered clashes between police and thousands of supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which Zia still leads from prison.

In her latest trial, Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzman found the 73-year-old guilty of abuse of power and misusing 31.5 million taka ($375,000) destined for a charitable fund.

This fresh conviction is expected to further impede her chances of challenging Hasina, who has been accused of stifling her opponents, in a general election slated for December.

There was no immediate reaction from Zia’s BNP, but her lawyers have consistently described the trial as “political vengeance”.

Zia, once an ally to Hasina, boycotted the 2014 general election which saw her opponent returned to power.

Zia entered politics in the mid-1980s after her husband, a former military dictator, was assassinated in an abortive coup.

She faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption that her lawyers insist are baseless.

Zia says the charges are designed to keep her family out of politics.

In recent months, her health has deteriorated inside Dhaka Central prison where she is the sole prisoner in incarceration.

She was absent from the court Monday as she was being treated in hospital for various ailments.

A special room inside the prison was converted into a makeshift court in an effort to fast-track her trial.

Her lawyers protested the move, described it as unconstitutional.

Her family suffered another political blow this month when her eldest son and heir apparent to the opposition movement, Tarique Rahman, was jailed for life in absentia.

He lives in exile in London.

Rahman was found guilty of playing key role in a 2004 grenade attack on the political rally of Hasina, which killed at least 20 people and injured the then opposition leader.

AFP

Malaysia Ex-PM, Allies Charged In Latest Graft Cases

Former Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak is escorted by police to the courthouse in Kuala Lumpur on October 25, 2018. Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak and two of his allies will face corruption charges on October 25, as authorities target a growing list of figures linked to the scandal-plagued old regime.photo: MOHD RASFAN / AFP

 

Malaysia’s toppled leader, an ex-finance ministry official and a former spy chief were charged with misusing public funds on Thursday, the latest corruption cases against figures from the scandal-plagued old regime.

Former prime minister Najib Razak has now been hit with 38 charges since losing power, most related to allegations that he and his cronies plundered vast sums from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The scandal played a major part in prompting voters to oust his coalition at elections in May after six decades in power and elect a reformist alliance headed by Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib was jointly charged in a Kuala Lumpur court with Mohamad Irwan Serigar Abdullah — former treasury secretary-general, a key finance ministry position — with misusing 6.6 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) of public money.

They were charged with six counts of criminal breach of trust over offenses that allegedly took place between December 2016 and December 2017.

They denied all the charges. Four of those related to 1MDB’s dealings with Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund IPIC, the anti-corruption agency said.

The others were overpayments related to two Chinese-backed infrastructure projects — a major rail link and the construction of gas pipelines, Najib’s lawyer Shafee Abdullah said.

He insisted Najib had simply been making payments to avoid defaulting on debts, which would have been disastrous for the economy.

“My conscience is clear,” Najib insisted after being charged, “the decisions taken were taken for the interests of the nation.”

The Chinese-financed projects have been suspended by Mahathir’s government, which suspects the deals were dubious and aimed at raising cash quickly to pay 1MDB debts.

The fund slid into a massive debt hole as huge sums of money were allegedly stolen and used to buy everything from a super-yacht to a high-end real estate and pricey artworks.

The US Department of Justice, which is seeking to seize assets allegedly bought with looted 1MDB money in America, alleges that a total of $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

Hasanah Abdul Hamid, the former head of a shadowy spy agency which worked directly under Najib, was charged with one count of criminal breach of trust. She is accused of pocketing $12.1 million of public money in the run-up to May’s election.

She denies the accusation. Her lawyer Shaharudin Ali insisted her case was not linked to 1MDB, state news agency Bernama reported.

Najib and his two allies are free on bail.

The former prime minister’s luxury-loving wife, Rosmah Mansor, and the new leader of his party and long-time lieutenant, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, have also been arrested and charged with corruption in recent weeks

AFP

UK PM Ready To Extend Post-Brexit Transition

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May photo: Ben STANSALL / AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed on Thursday she was considering extending the transition period after Brexit for a few months to give time to agree to a new trade deal with the European Union.

“A further idea that has emerged, and it is an idea at this stage, is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months,” she told reporters as she arrived for the second day of EU summit talks in Brussels.

AFP

19 Sentenced To Death In Bangladesh Over Attack On PM

Bangladesh on the map

 

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death over a 2004 grenade attack on the current prime minister, although a top opposition leader escaped with a life sentence.

The attack in Dhaka on a rally by Sheikh Hasina, at the time in the opposition and now prime minister left her injured and killed 20 people.

Tarique Rahman, son of then-premier and Hasina’s ally-turned-archrival Khaleda Zia, was among 49 people on trial, with Rahman charged with criminal conspiracy and multiple counts of murder.

Rahman, 50, was tried in absentia after he fled the country for London in 2008.

He now leads the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from exile after Zia was jailed in February for five years for corruption.

“We thank God for the verdict,” prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain told reporters amid tight security.

“We hoped that Tarique Rahman would get the death sentence,” he said, adding the court observed that Rahman played a key role in the attack.

Hossain said two former ministers including a powerful ex-home minister and two former heads of the country’s powerful intelligence agencies were among others handed the death sentence.

A total of 15 Islamist extremists from the banned Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), whose leader was executed in April last year, were also sentenced to death for planning and carrying out the attack.

Prosecutors said former BNP minister Abdus Salam Pintu colluded with HuJI and handed over grenades for the attack.

Hasina was addressing the rally when the grenades exploded and suffered severe injuries in one ear. Among the dead was the wife of a former president.

Four years later, Hasina stormed back to power after leading a secular coalition to a landslide victory in elections in December 2008.

Three Islamist extremists were also charged over the attack and later executed in a separate trial.

Death row 

Death sentences are common in Bangladesh, with hundreds of people on death row. All executions are by hanging, a legacy of the British colonial era.

At least nine top Islamist extremists, five leaders of the country’s largest Islamist party and a senior opposition leader have been hanged since 2007.

Home Minister Asaduzzman Khan said he was satisfied with the verdict, saying they got justice.

Rahman’s lawyer Sanaullah Mia said the charges against his client were politically motivated.

He questioned the timing of the verdict, saying it was aimed at keeping Rahman out of elections expected for December.

“There was no evidence or witness against him. No witness could say that conspiracy was hatched at Hawa Bhaban,” he told AFP, referring to a former BNP office used by Rahman.

BNP spokesman Fakhrul Islam Alamgir rejected the verdict, saying it was “a naked display of political vengeance”.

Police spokesman Sohel Rana said security was tightened in courts and across the South Asian nation to avert any violence following the verdict.

“Police are fully prepared to prevent any violence centering on the verdict,” he told AFP earlier.

Zia was transferred to hospital last weekend from the 19th-century Dhaka Central Jail, where she is the only prisoner.

She has been on trial in a special room of the prison on additional graft charges that her supporters say are politically motivated.

The 73-year-old was already suffering from health issues including arthritis, diabetes and knee replacements when she was sentenced in February.

Her party boycotted the 2014 election in which Hasina returned to power but is expected to contest the election due in December.

AFP

Wife Of Ex-Malaysian Pm Arrested By Anti-Graft Agency

(FILES) This file photo of  Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia’s former prime minister, was arrested on October 3, 2018, by the country’s anti-graft agency over a multi-billion-dollar scandal.
Mohd RASFAN / AFP

Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia’s former prime minister, was arrested Wednesday by the country’s anti-graft agency over a multi-billion-dollar scandal.

“Rosmah has been arrested,” her lawyer K. Kumaraendran told AFP after she was questioned at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. Her husband Najib Razak has been hit with a string of charges including corruption and money laundering.

AFP

Japan’s Abe Re-Elected As Prime Minister

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions during a budget committee session of the upper house in Tokyo on March 19, 2018. KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won re-election as leader of his ruling party Thursday, setting him on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier and realise his dream of reforming the constitution.

The 63-year-old conservative secured 553 votes from lawmakers and party members against 254 won by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba in a two-horse race for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.

AFP

Sudanese President Bashir Dissolves Cabinet, Appoints New PM

President Omar Al-Bashir

 

President Omar Al-Bashir on Sunday dissolved the Sudanese government and named a new prime minister, Motazz Moussa.

Al-Bashir said the move is aimed at fixing a crisis-hit economy battered in recent months by shortages of bread, fuel and hard currency.

Motazz Moussa replaces Bakri Hassan Saleh, who was appointed in 2017 as the country’s first prime minister since Bashir came to power in 1989.

Moussa had been serving as minister of irrigation and electricity before the government was dissolved.

Saleh, who had been serving as both prime minister and vice president before the shake-up, will stay on in the newly created post of first vice president, while Osman Yusuf Kubur was appointed second vice president.

The announcement came just after Bashir called an emergency meeting of ruling party officials in the presidential palace on the back of growing economic concerns over price rises and shortages.

No other ministerial appointments were announced, but the number of ministries in the new government will be slashed to 21 from 31, a move intended to cut down on spending, National Congress Party Deputy Chairman Faisal Hassan told a news conference.

The ministers of foreign affairs, defence and presidential affairs will remain in their posts when the new government is formed, Hassan said.

 

Belarus PM Sacked Over Corruption Scandal

Belarus PM, Andrei Kobyakov

 

Belarus’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday sacked his prime minister and other key members of government following a corruption scandal that saw top officials arrested. 

Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov will be replaced by former development bank head Sergei Rumas, the president’s press office said in a statement.

Several vice-premiers, as well as the ministers for economy and industry, will also lose their posts.

“I won’t name names, but in our government, we had the following situation — one programme would be announced and then another programme would be carried out,” Lukashenko said in comments released by his press office.

“I’ve never allowed this and I never will! What we have promised the people — with a government formed precisely with this programme in mind — we must follow this programme,” he added.

Over the summer a corruption scandal rocked the health service of the ex-Soviet nation.

Authorities arrested dozens of top health officials, medics and drug company representatives on suspicion of siphoning off millions of dollars in state funding.

Even the head of the security services in the country dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” called for an overhaul of the system in the wake of the arrests.

Other smaller instances of corruption and administrative failures have hit local and national governments in recent months.

Independent economist and director of the Scientific Research Mises Center, Yaroslav Romanchuk welcomed the government shake-up.

“It is good to replace these people, pillars of the old socialist economy,” he told AFP, adding that the new team were not “bogged down in corruption”.

“Sergei Rumas knows what the economy and finance are about, he’s an intelligent economist…we can hope for the start of economic reforms, as long as Lukashenko gives the mandate to carry them out,” Romanchuk said.

Political analyst Valeriy Karbalevich said: “Lukashenko has discovered the government wasn’t afraid of him, it clearly wasn’t carrying out his orders”.

The president “hopes the new people will be too scared to steal or sabotage his directives,” he added.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, wedged between Russia and Poland, with an iron fist since 1994.

AFP

Pakistan Returns Ex-PM Sharif To Jail

Former Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif

 

Pakistan’s jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was moved back to prison from the hospital on Tuesday evening after doctors signalled an improvement in his health, a minister said.

Sharif was shifted to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences(PIMS) in Islamabad two days ago after he reportedly fell sick inside the prison.

Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were jailed on July 13 after a court sentenced them to 10 and seven years respectively over properties in Britain which emerged in the wake of Panama Papers revelations.

“The former Prime Minister is being shifted back to Adiala jail after doctors so advised,” Shaukat Javed, the caretaker home minister for Punjab province, told AFP.

He said Shari wanted to go back to jail in Rawalpindi because he was unable to carry out his daily walk, adding that the former PM had been taken to hospital “against his will”.

Sharif, who claims he is being targeted by the country’s powerful security establishment, is fighting for his political life after his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party lost an election last Wednesday to rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by former cricket hero Imran Khan.

His brother Shahbaz, who heads the party now, has rejected election results along with other parties who have demanded fresh elections and announced they would protest against alleged election rigging.

Khan’s victory represents an end to decades of rotating leadership between the PML-N and the Bhutto dynasty’s Pakistan Peoples Party that was punctuated by periods of military rule.

The powerful army, which is often accused of meddling in political affairs, ruled the country for roughly half its history.

AFP