Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race

Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race
Conservative MP Boris Johnson leaves his home in London on June 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2019

Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race

Johnson builds momentum in UK PM race
  • The winner, who will become Britain's next prime minister, is due to be announced in late July

LONDON: Boris Johnson solidified his front-runner status in the race to become Britain's next prime minister on Tuesday, gaining backing from leading pro-Brexit lawmakers.
But he faced calls from his rivals to abandon his low-profile campaign strategy and start answering questions from journalists and the public.
Ten candidates are running to succeed Theresa May, who stepped down last week as Conservative Party leader.
Johnson, 54, has won the backing of many Brexiteer Conservatives by promising to lead Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.
Brexit-backing ex-party leader Iain Duncan Smith wrote in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph that Johnson "is the most likely to deliver on the requirement to leave the EU" by that date.
Johnson has also been endorsed by some pro-EU Tories who think the flamboyant, tousle-haired ex-foreign secretary has the skills to energize a demoralized party and win back voters angry at the mess politicians have made of Brexit.
In a straw poll among a right-of-center bloc of Tory lawmakers on Monday, Johnson received almost double the votes of his nearest rival.
Most have given television and radio interviews and held public launch events — things Johnson has so far avoided, in an attempt to reduce the chance of gaffes that could derail his campaign. He also has not said whether he will participate in planned televised debates among leadership candidates.
The right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper said in an editorial that "if he wants to win, this bunker mentality is simply not good enough. Even though he's the favorite, he can't just sit back and hope to win by default."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, another contender, said "everybody who puts their name forward to be prime minister should be open to scrutiny, should be accountable."
"I think everybody should participate in the proposed TV debates and I think we have got to ask the question, why not?" he told the BBC.
May resigned as Conservative leader last week after failing three times to secure Parliament's backing for her divorce deal with the EU. She'll remain caretaker prime minister until the party chooses a replacement.
The candidates to succeed her divide between those, including Johnson, who say the U.K. must leave on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, and others willing to delay departure in order to secure a divorce deal that's acceptable both to the EU and to Parliament.
"It is not going to be possible to leave on the 31st of October," said candidate Mark Harper, who said more time would be needed to secure a reworked deal with the EU and get it through Parliament.
But former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom put herself firmly in the hard Brexit camp, saying that "leaving the EU on October 31 is for me a hard, red line."
In votes starting Thursday, the 313 Conservative lawmakers will narrow the field of 10 candidates down to two, who will be put to a vote of about 160,000 party members nationwide.
The winner, who will become Britain's next prime minister, is due to be announced in late July.


Charity rescue ship carrying 373 African migrants docks in Sicily

The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 8 min 25 sec ago

Charity rescue ship carrying 373 African migrants docks in Sicily

The Ocean Viking ship seen from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The Ocean Viking vessel had been waiting in heavy swells to get clearance from authorities
  • Many migrants recounted stories of alleged abuses suffered in Libya

ROME: A charity rescue ship carrying 373 migrants picked up off the Libyan coast has been allowed to dock in the Italian port of Augusta, in Sicily.

The Ocean Viking vessel had been waiting in heavy swells to get clearance from authorities for its passengers to disembark.

The migrants — who included 165 children of which 21 were aged under four — had been plucked from four packed dinghies and were mostly from south Saharan countries in Africa. They had told rescuers they were fleeing from camps in Libya where they feared for their lives.

Many recounted stories of alleged abuses suffered in Libya, with some having already attempted sea crossings to Europe only to be intercepted and transported back to the Libyan camps.

One of those rescued, Kylian, 19, from Mali, told Arab News: “In Libya we were all crammed into one home and we weren’t free to go where we wanted. I was out when bandits came, and I wanted to run to warn the others in the camp. When they fired, I fell to the ground. They thought that I was dead, and they just left me there.”

The man said he was wounded but could not access medical care in the camp. “I thought I was going to die. This happens all the time in Libya. I was finally treated because a friend took me to a Cameroonian woman who was doctor.”

The teenager was speaking on the phone of a volunteer from the maritime humanitarian organization SOS Mediterranee. All the migrants will be transferred to a quarantine ship after being tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Luisa Albera, rescue coordinator on the Ocean Viking, told Arab News: “From the survivors, we have heard gruesome tales of the inhumane treatment they had to endure in Libya.

“The last three days at sea have been extremely hard for those people, as the weather has worsened rapidly. Several babies and small children were on board; they have particularly suffered from seasickness.”

She pointed out that more than 1,200 people had died last year while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

“We are relieved that the 373 people on board our ship managed to reach a safe port, but the international community must do more to save people in the Mediterranean. Too many lives depend on this.

“EU member states must find a sustainable solution and set up a rapid disembarkation mechanism, supporting European coastal states such as Italy and Malta and working to respect international maritime law on our common coasts to the south,” Albera said.

Prior to the Ocean Viking being given permission to dock in Augusta, a heavily pregnant woman was taken from the ship to the Italian island of Lampedusa by an Italian coastguard vessel.

Italy has repeatedly impounded charity vessels for safety violations, a policy that charities claim is often a tactic to keep them from performing rescues.

The Ocean Viking is currently the only charity ship operating off Libya’s coast, although Libyan coastguard ships are also patrolling, assisted by the EU, and have intercepted 300 migrants and returned them to Libya this month.