May, Macron face lawmakers angry over Syria strikes

A video grab from the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May responding to questions concerning British participation in the air strikes on Syria. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2018
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May, Macron face lawmakers angry over Syria strikes

  • Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for new legislation to stop governments launching military action without lawmakers’ backing in most circumstances.
  • National Front leader Marine Le Pen accused Macron of failing to show any evidence on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime to justify the strikes.

London: British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday faced anger from lawmakers for conducting air strikes with the United States in Syria in both leaders’ first major military actions since coming to power.
May said lawmakers were right to hold her to account for her actions, after the premier proceeded with the strikes without prior parliamentary approval.
“But it is my responsibility as prime minster to make these decisions. And I will make them,” May, 61, said of the intervention.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for new legislation to stop governments launching military action without lawmakers’ backing in most circumstances.
“The prime minister is accountable to this parliament, not to the whims of the US president,” he told a packed chamber.
Following Washington’s military lead remains a sensitive subject in Britain, where memories of participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 are still raw.
May, in office since July 2016, rejected the notion that she took orders from US President Donald Trump, saying her decision was based on Britain’s national interest.
“We have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so. We have done it because we believed it was the right thing to do,” she said.
But a poll showed scant public support for the move.
The poll by Survation for the Mail on Sunday showed 36 percent in favor of Britain’s participation in the air strikes, 40 percent against and the remainder undecided.
Of the survey’s 2,060 respondents, 54 percent also agreed with the statement that May “should have held a parliamentary debate and vote before intervening militarily in Syria.”
May’s speech was followed by a heated debate during which some MPs called on Britain to welcome more Syrian refugees — rejected by May — and continue the diplomatic push to end the seven-year conflict.
Outside the Houses of Parliament, the Stop the War coalition once chaired by Corbyn was due to hold a demonstration.
The group said the strikes “will have done nothing to end the war” and “risked dramatically widening” the conflict.
In France, Macron has faced similar criticism for attacking Syria without consulting the legislature.
He defended the move as well as his constitutional powers in a TV interview on Sunday.
“This mandate is given democratically to the president by the people in the presidential election,” said Macron, who became France’s youngest president in May 2017.
Macron, 40, has been criticized from both right and left.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen has accused Macron of failing to show any evidence on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime to justify the strikes.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the hard-left France Unbowed party, has also condemned the strikes, while the leader of the center-right Republicans party, Laurent Wauquiez, said he “did not believe in punitive strikes.”
But at a press conference in Paris on Monday, Macron said France had acted with “international legitimacy.”
He argued that the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN since under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.


World 'won't rest' on Rohingya crisis, UK's Hunt tells Suu Kyi

Updated 34 min 8 sec ago
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World 'won't rest' on Rohingya crisis, UK's Hunt tells Suu Kyi

  • The Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they joined about 300,000 already in cramped refugee camps, carrying accounts of extrajudicial killings, extreme sexual violence and arson.
  • Suu Kyi, a former pro-democracy icon, has seen a sharp fall from grace internationally due to her failure to address the Rohingya crisis.

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt on Thursday called for justice on the Rohingya crisis after his visit to Myanmar's Rakhine state, telling embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi the world "won't let it rest".
Hunt's rallying cry for accountability comes at the end of a busy two-day visit during which he visited Rakhine -- the epicentre of a brutal military campaign that drove out more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims -- and met with Suu Kyi.
"Burma needs to know the international community won't let it rest," said Hunt using Myanmar's former name.
Myanmar has set up an "independent" commission to address the army's crackdown against the Rohingya, rejecting the UN probe and calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate.
"If we don't see that process happening, we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure there is justice... the world is watching," Hunt said after the meeting, which he said was "lively" and "frank".
The British foreign minister's visit came the same week UN investigators released a damning and meticulous report detailing why six Myanmar generals should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they joined about 300,000 already in cramped refugee camps, carrying accounts of extrajudicial killings, extreme sexual violence and arson.
The evidence warrants the charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, UN investigators said.
Hunt also brought up with Suu Kyi his "concerns" on the jailing of two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced earlier this month to seven years each under the state secrets act.
The pair had uncovered the extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men in the Rakhine village of Inn Din -- something the army has since acknowledged.
Suu Kyi, who endured a total of 15 years of house arrest under the previous junta-led regime, said last week Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's sentencing upheld the rule of law.
"She said she would look into it," Hunt said Thursday.
Before the meeting, the foreign minister was led on a three-hour, tightly-managed tour of Rakhine via helicopter, which included the Taung Pyo Letwe returnee reception centre, opened to receive the refugees even though virtually no Rohingya have come back.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement last year to repatriate the Muslim minority but it has stalled as they fear returning to Rakhine without their safety and rights guaranteed.
In each of the three other locations Hunt was shepherded to, he found a pre-selected group of locals waiting to speak to him. At Pan Taw Pyin village, the final stop, he walked off to try to speak with nearby residents about their experiences despite the heavy security presence.
The military has consistently denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting that its campaign was justified to root out militants, and Myanmar's ambassador to the UN on Tuesday slammed the UN probe as "one-sided" and "flawed".
Suu Kyi, a former pro-democracy icon, has seen a sharp fall from grace internationally due to her failure to address the Rohingya crisis.
Her supporters say her hands are tied by a still powerful military, which controls a quarter of parliament's seats and three ministries.
UN investigators say her government's "acts and omissions" contributed to the "atrocity crimes" in the crisis.
Hunt will head to New York next week for the UN General Assembly, where he will chair a foreign ministers' meeting Monday on Myanmar.
Suu Kyi will not be travelling to New York for the UN top meeting.