UK’s Prince William to meet Netanyahu, Abbas on landmark Middle East trip

Prince William will be making the trip to the Middle East alone as his wife Kate will remain in Britain to look after their third child Prince Louis who was born in April. (Getty Images)
Updated 11 June 2018
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UK’s Prince William to meet Netanyahu, Abbas on landmark Middle East trip

  • William is the first senior British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
  • William will begin the trip in Jordan, where his wife lived for two years as a young child.

LONDON: Britain’s Prince William will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he makes a landmark trip to the region later this month, his office said on Monday.
William, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and second-in-line to the British throne, is the first senior British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
While the trip is at the behest of the British government, the prince’s Communications Secretary Jason Knauf said such a visit had been discussed for years.
“Now is the appropriate time and the Duke of Cambridge is the right person to make this visit,” Knauf told reporters, referring to William by his official title.
He said the prince was looking forward to building “a real and enduring relationship with the people of the region.”
“The non-political nature of his royal highness’s role — in common with all royal visits overseas — allows a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region,” Knauf said.
Britain regards Israel as a close and important ally but the visit comes at a time when the two countries have been at odds over a number of major issues recently.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told Netanyahu ahead of a meeting in London last week that Britain was concerned at Palestinian deaths in clashes in the Gaza Strip.
More than 120 Palestinians have been killed since protests at the Gaza border began on March 30, including 60 people killed in one day in May.
Israel has also lauded US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, both moves with which Britain disagrees.
Knauf said William would meet Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence before seeing Abbas at his office in Ramallah the following day. Both leaders have previously welcomed the visit.
He will be making the trip alone as his wife Kate will remain in Britain to look after their third child Prince Louis who was born in April. However, he will be accompanied by his senior adviser, David Manning, a former British ambassador to Israel.
During the four-day tour, the prince will also go with Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and will also view Jerusalem’s Old City from the Mount of Olives.
He will also visit the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, and pay his respects at the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice, which is located in the Garden of Gethsemane which his father Prince Charles and grandfather Prince Philip have both visited before during private trips.
William will begin the trip in Jordan, where his wife lived for two years as a young child, paying a visit to the archaeological site of Jerash where Kate was pictured in family photos released at the time of their 2011 marriage.


Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

Updated 24 September 2018
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Maldives strongman Yameen seeks second term amid rigging fears

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Polling booths in the Maldives closed Sunday after voting hours were extended in a controversial election marred by police raids on the opposition and allegations of rigging in favor of strongman President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen, who is expected to retain power, has imprisoned or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Critics say he is returning the honeymoon island nation to authoritarian rule.

The process is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations. The European Union and US, meanwhile, have threatened sanctions if the vote is not free and fair.

Many voters across the Indian Ocean archipelago said they stood in line for over five hours to cast their ballot, while expatriate Maldivians voted in neighboring Sri Lanka and India.

The elections commission said balloting was extended by three hours until 7 p.m. (1400 GMT) because of technical glitches suffered by tablet computers containing electoral rolls, and officials had to use manual systems to verify voters’ identities.

An election official said the deadline was also extended due to heavy voter turnout, and anyone in the queue by 7 p.m. would be able to cast their ballot.

“Eight hours & counting. Waiting to exercise my democratic right! Let’s do this, Insha Allah!” former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

Maumoon, who is also the estranged niece of Yameen and daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, cast her vote at a booth in the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called “illegal activities.” There were no arrests.

Yameen’s challenger, the relatively unknown Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, also cast his vote.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but who now lives in exile, urged the international community to reject the results of a flawed election.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago — famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons — were eligible to vote in an election from which independent international monitors have been barred.

Only a handful of foreign media have been allowed in.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign was heavily tilted in favor of 59-year-old Yameen.

Local observers said the balloting itself went off peacefully and most of the delays were due to technical issues. Results are expected by early Monday.

The government has used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom have been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

Yameen told supporters on the eve of the election he had overcome “huge obstacles” since controversially winning power in a contested run-off in 2013, but had handled the challenges “with resilience.” 

The crackdown attracted international censure and fears the Maldives was slipping back into one-man rule just a decade after transitioning to democracy.

The US State Department this month said it would “consider appropriate measures” should the election fail to be free and fair.

The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve.

India, long influential in Maldives affairs — it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt — also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

However in recent years Yameen has drifted closer to China, India’s chief regional rival, taking hundreds of millions of dollars for major infrastructure projects.