New Zealand disarms police as terror threat level lowered

The man accused of shooting dead 50 Muslim worshippers in a Christchurch mosque sat impassively April 5 as a New Zealand judge ordered him to undergo tests to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial for murder. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019
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New Zealand disarms police as terror threat level lowered

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “there is no current specific threat”
  • Frontline New Zealand police have historically not carried firearms and many people were shocked to see them heavily armed after the Christchurch mosque attacks

WELLINGTON: New Zealand police on Wednesday ended the routine arming of frontline officers as the terrorism threat level was lowered a month after the Christchurch mosques massacre.
Police and security agencies reduced the threat level from high to medium, meaning authorities judge that another attack, violent criminal behavior, or violent protest remains “feasible” rather than “very likely.”
The level is still higher than it was before the March 15 attacks, when the threat was deemed to be “low.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “there is no current specific threat,” but the security agencies believed the medium level “accurately reflects our current status.”
Frontline New Zealand police have historically not carried firearms and many people were shocked to see them heavily armed after 50 Muslims were gunned down while at Friday prayers.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said with the easing of the security threat level, the police had reassessed their position on arming frontline staff and the carrying of weapons would now be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The decision was made after “significant consultation” with mosques and Islamic Centers in relation to ongoing security, although Bush said he would not release details.
“There was never any intention for the routine carriage of firearms to continue indefinitely,” Bush said.
“Generally this means frontline staff will transition back to our normal approach regarding carriage and access to firearms.
The police also released a timeline of the mosque attacks, showing it took 18 minutes from the time of the first emergency call to the apprehension of the alleged shooter.
A 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, a self-avowed white supremacist, faces 50 murder charges and 39 of attempted murder over the attack.


EU votes as populists seek historic breakthrough

Updated 25 May 2019
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EU votes as populists seek historic breakthrough

  • Polling has shown for months that populists and the anti-immigration far right could make big gains in the vote
  • Polls were open in Malta, Slovakia and Latvia, with most of the bloc’s 28 member states — including big players Germany, France and Italy — to vote on Sunday

BRUSSELS: Voters were called out for a third day in EU parliamentary elections on Saturday as populists hoped to win a major breakthrough and disrupt European politics for the next five years.
Polls were open in Malta, Slovakia and Latvia, with most of the bloc’s 28 member states — including big players Germany, France and Italy — to vote on Sunday.
More than 400 million people are eligible to elect 751 members of the European Parliament with the first official results to be announced late Sunday once voting in all EU countries is over.
Polling has shown for months that populists and the anti-immigration far right could make big gains in the vote, which will also help determine who replaces Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission as well as other top jobs.
An exit poll after voting in the Netherlands on Thursday however showed a surprise victory for pro-EU socialists, giving hope to establishment forces elsewhere in the bloc that the populist tide could be limited.
“To all our friends across Europe still campaigning, this one is for you too!” said Dutchman Frans Timmermans, the lead socialist candidate and one of the main contenders to replace Juncker.
Europhiles also had reason to cheer from an exit poll in Ireland that suggested Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, which is committed to closer EU integration, was in the lead.
Turnout is a major concern in the EU elections, with voters in Slovakia historically the least interested, having just 13 percent show up for the last polls five years ago.
Analysts said Slovakia would most likely send one far right MEP to Strasbourg, where Czech voters — who were voting for a second day on Saturday — seemed set to hand victory to the ruling ANO, polls suggested.
Britain voted on Thursday, a day before Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation following a months-long Brexit crisis, though the result will not be revealed until Sunday.
The Brexit Party, which was only set up this year by veteran euroskeptic MEP Nigel Farage, is expected to score a resounding win in the UK vote.
Britain was never supposed to have participated in the EU vote but May was forced to do so after delaying Brexit beyond the original date of March 29 because the UK parliament refused to approve the divorce deal.

On the far right, Matteo Salvini of Italy’s anti-immigrant League and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally (RN) want their Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group to become the third largest in Brussels. The League has topped opinion polls in Italy.
Le Pen is seeking to strike a big blow to Emmanuel Macron’s French presidency by overtaking his pro-European party Republic on the Move (LREM) and denying the young leader’s ambition to shake up the EU.
Polls give her RN party a slight edge, with around 25 percent support against Macron’s 22.5 percent.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of this week’s European Parliament elections,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group.
“Besides determining the composition of the next Parliament, the results will also be critical in shaping the future character and profile of the European Union,” he said.
The establishment is expected to remain strong in several countries, with voters from Spain to the former Soviet Baltic states showing solid backing for the EU.
In Germany, surveys put Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party — a heavyweight in the EU-wide center-right EPP group — in first place, with the Greens second.