Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

A woman walks past a polling station as voting for the European Parliament elections got underway, in west Belfast, northern Ireland on May 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2019

Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

  • Most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project
  • The results of the vote are expected on Monday

DUBLIN: Voters in Ireland began casting ballots Friday in European elections that are being overshadowed by neighboring Britain’s failure to leave the bloc nearly three years after the seismic Brexit vote.
After months of political paralysis in London and amid concerns about economic disruption, most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project.
The candidates for the European Parliament have also pledged to dampen the economic shock predicted to radiate into Ireland if and when its closest trading partner leaves the European Union.
Two Irish MEPs will be elected to new seats, created in anticipation of Britain’s 73 lawmakers retiring from their posts.
However, they will be unable to take up their positions until Britain finalizes its split with the EU.
The results of the vote are expected on Monday.
Later on Friday the Czech Republic kicks off its two-day voting process, a day after residents cast their votes in Britain and also in the Netherlands where the Labour party scored a surprise victory to win most seats in the elections.
Other members of the 28-nation EU will vote on Saturday or Sunday.
Ireland is also voting Friday in a referendum to reform its constitutional laws on divorce in the latest drive to modernize the once staunchly Catholic nation.
At present couples must live separately for four out of five years before they may be granted a divorce, a hangover condition from the 1995 referendum which legalized the dissolution of marriage.
If the provision is repealed, the Irish government has signaled it will bring forth legislation shortening the requirement to two out of the previous three years.
The latest vote follows a landslide referendum last May which saw Ireland vote 66 percent in favor of repealing its constitutional ban on abortions.
In October voters also lifted a rarely enforced constitutional ban on blasphemy.
The referendum result is expected to be announced on Saturday.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 26 min 14 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.