New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU

New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU
A gathering of jubilant Brexit supporters have outside Parliament Square are celebrating the UK's exit from the EU on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 February 2020

New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU

New era for divided Britain as it leaves EU
  • UK will slip away from bloc an hour before midnight from club it joined in 1973
  • At a stroke, the EU will be deprived of 15 percent of its economy, its biggest military spender and the world’s international financial capital of London

LONDON: Britain on Friday ended almost half a century of European Union membership, making a historic exit after years of bitter arguments to chart its own uncertain path in the world.
There were celebrations and tears across the country as the EU’s often reluctant member became the first to leave an organization set up to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II.
Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags packed London’s Parliament Square to mark the moment of Brexit at 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) — midnight in Brussels.
“We did it!” declared Nigel Farage, the former member of the European Parliament who has campaigned for Brexit for years, before the crowd began singing the national anthem.
It was a largely good-natured gathering, aside from one Brexit supporter who earlier set an EU flag alight.
But Brexit has exposed deep divisions in British society, and many fear the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their nearest neighbors.
Some pro-Europeans, including many of the 3.6 million EU citizens who made their lives in Britain, marked the occasion with solemn candlelit vigils.
Brexit has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a global diplomatic big-hitter and the clout of the City of London financial center.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a figurehead in the seismic 2016 referendum vote for Brexit — acknowledged there might be “bumps in the road ahead.”
But he said Britain could make it a “stunning success.”
As he held a private party in his Downing Street office, a clock projected on the walls outside counted down the minutes until Brexit.
Johnson predicted a “new era of friendly cooperation” with the EU while Britain takes a greater role on the world stage.
“The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he said in a televised address.
EU institutions earlier began removing Britain’s red, white and blue flags in Brussels ahead of a divorce that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called a “sea-change” for the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron described it as a “historic warning sign” that should force the EU and its remaining nations of more than 440 million people to stop and reflect.
Britain’s departure was sealed in an emotional vote in the EU parliament this week that ended with MEPs singing “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song of farewell.
Almost nothing will change straight away, because of an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of the exit deal.
Britons will be able to work in and trade freely with EU nations until December 31, and vice versa, although the UK will no longer be represented in the bloc’s institutions.
But legally, Britain is out.
And while the divorce terms have been agreed, Britain must still strike a deal on future relations with the EU, its largest trading partner.
Both will set out their negotiating positions Monday.
“We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
Getting this far has been a traumatic process.
Britain resisted many EU projects over the years, refusing to join the single currency or the Schengen open travel area, and euroskeptics have long complained about Brussels bureaucracy.
Worries about mass migration added further fuel to the Brexit campaign while for some, the 2016 vote was a chance to punish the government for years of cuts to public spending.
But the result was still a huge shock.
It unleashed political chaos, sparking years of toxic arguments that paralyzed parliament and forced the resignations of prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
Johnson brought an end to the turmoil a decisive election victory in December which gave him the parliamentary majority he needed to ratify his Brexit deal.
But Britons remain as divided as they were nearly four years ago, when 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent voted to remain in the EU.
“Rise and shine... It’s a glorious new Britain” said the Brexit-supporting Daily Express. The i newspaper, in contrast, headlined: “What next?“
In Scotland, where a majority voted to stay in 2016, Brexit has revived calls for independence.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Scotland will return to the heart of Europe as an independent country — #LeaveALightOnForScotland.”
In Northern Ireland — soon to be the new EU frontier — there are fears Brexit could destabilize a hard-won peace after decades of conflict over British rule.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted: “Goodbye & good luck.”
Johnson, a polarizing figure accused of glossing over the complexity of leaving the EU, made no public appearance on Friday and avoided any official celebrations that might exacerbate divisions.
He hosted a special cabinet meeting in the northeastern city of Sunderland, which was the first to declare for Brexit in 2016, while Downing Street was lit up in the colors of the Union Jack flag.
Millions of commemorative 50 pence coins have also been issued.
It was a different story in nearby Parliament Square, where the moment of Brexit was met with cheers, the lighting of flares and balloons let off into the night sky.
“What happens now marks the point of no return. Once we have left, we are never, ever going back,” Farage told the crowd of cheering supporters.
At a “Big Brexit Bash” in Morley, northern England, Raymond Stott described the four years since the referendum as “a right cock-up.”
“I am just glad it’s all over. We will look after ourselves. We don’t need Europe,” said the 66-year-old.
Some British expatriates in southern Spain celebrated in bars but for many pro-Europeans, Friday marks a day they hoped would never come.
“Today is a day of mourning,” said Katrina Graham, 31, an Irish women’s rights activist who lives in Brussels, at a protest in central London.
At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, a flashmob sang the EU anthem “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven’s ninth symphony and waved flags.
From Saturday, Britain will be free to strike trade deals around the world, including with the United States.
Johnson has given himself just 11 months to negotiate a new partnership with the EU, covering everything from trade to security cooperation — despite warnings this is not enough time.
He also discussed with his ministers on Friday an aim to get 80 percent of Britain’s commerce covered by free trade agreements within three years, a spokesman said.
US President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit, and one of his top envoys on Friday hailed an “exciting new era.”
“We will continue building upon our strong, productive, and prosperous relationship with the UK as they enter this next chapter,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Kremlin critic Navalny ends hunger strike, but political prospects darken

Kremlin critic Navalny ends hunger strike, but political prospects darken
Updated 31 sec ago

Kremlin critic Navalny ends hunger strike, but political prospects darken

Kremlin critic Navalny ends hunger strike, but political prospects darken
  • Navalny said via Instagram his hunger strike and support he received in Russia and the West brought 'huge progress'
  • Russian court ruling next week could outlaw his political movement on grounds that it’s an extremist group

MOSCOW: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Friday he would start gradually ending a hunger strike after getting medical care, even as the political prospects for him and his movement darkened.
Sounding upbeat and emotional, the 44-year-old opposition politician said in an Instagram post that his hunger strike and the support he had received in Russia and the West had delivered “huge progress.”
The worsening health of Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent, and the authorities’ initial failure to give him the treatment he demanded had triggered a Western diplomatic offensive designed to cajole Moscow to make concessions.
In the Instagram post published by his lawyers, Navalny said he was still demanding to be seen by a doctor of his own choosing, the original trigger for his hunger strike, and that he was losing feeling in parts of his legs and arms.
He said, however, he had twice been seen by civilian doctors and undergone tests. It would take 24 days to unwind the hunger strike which he launched on March 31, he added.
“Considering the progress and all the circumstances, I am beginning to come out of the hunger strike,” he wrote.
Supporters and friends reacted with relief, but sources close to the Kremlin and some activists said his political movement — the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) — was on the verge of receiving a potential body blow from the authorities.
A Russian court is expected to rule next week on a request from a Moscow prosecutor to officially outlaw the FBK and Navalny’s regional headquarters — the backbone of his movement — on the grounds that it is an extremist group.
Such a ruling, if it happens, would give the authorities the legal power to arrest and jail his supporters simply for being activists.
A source close to the Kremlin predicted Navalny’s allies would struggle after the ruling.
“It will be their end as an agent of influence,” said the source. “They will be forced to come up with new ways of communicating with their supporters ... They’ll need time to gain momentum again.”
The same source said the authorities were ready to jail some of Navalny’s allies whom they regarded as the most radical.
“Only a few are likely to go to jail, the real hotheads,” the source said. “The authorities don’t want to look like cannibals.”
Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s closest allies, declined to comment as did other aides.
“The protest movement in Russia will be destroyed and beheaded to a large degree but it won’t disappear,” said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speech writer.”
“The people who don’t like Putin will hardly start to like him after this. On the contrary their anger will grow but their outbursts will be more spontaneous and less organized,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Russia on Wednesday in support of Navalny and more than 1,800 were detained.
Pavel Chikov, a lawyer and rights activist predicted that next week’s ruling may force Navalny supporters to move more of their activities online.
But he said many disgruntled Russians were not Navalny supporters and that some would continue to protest when they felt like it.
“Their habit of taking to the streets will not go away,” Chikov said.
Navalny was jailed for 2-1/2 years in February for parole violations that he and his supporters said were fabricated.
He launched his hunger strike after saying that prison authorities had refused him access to a doctor of his choosing despite his complaints of acute back and leg pain.
Authorities in the IK-2 correctional facility about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow where Navalny is serving out his sentence said they had offered him prison medical care but that he had refused.
His supporters said he had refused it because it was substandard and, in some cases, outdated and dangerous.
Navalny survived a poison attack with a nerve agent last year, which Russia denied carrying out.

10,000 Armenians march on anniversary of Ottoman massacre

10,000 Armenians march on anniversary of Ottoman massacre
Updated 55 sec ago

10,000 Armenians march on anniversary of Ottoman massacre

10,000 Armenians march on anniversary of Ottoman massacre
  • Some 10,000 people marched – holding torches and singing patriotic songs – from Yerevan’s Freedom Square to a hilltop genocide memorial that overlooks the capital
  • Biden set to announce the genocide designation on Saturday — a move which would further inflame Washington’s tensions with NATO ally Turkey

YEREVAN: Thousands of Armenians marched Friday in Yerevan to commemorate WWI-era mass killings of their kin by Ottoman forces, the bloodletting which US President Joe Biden is reportedly set to recognize as genocide.
The annual torch-lit march was held on the eve the 106th anniversary of the massacres in which — Armenians say — up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Armenians have long sought to have the killings internationally recognized as genocide — with the support of many other countries, but fiercely rejected by Turkey.
On Friday evening, some 10,000 people marched from Yerevan’s Freedom Square to a hilltop genocide memorial that overlooks the capital, holding torches, and some singing patriotic songs or beating drums.
Activists of the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party — which led the march — burned Turkish and Azerbaijani flags.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have reported that Biden is to announce the genocide designation on Saturday — a move which would further inflame Washington’s tensions with NATO ally Turkey.
“If Biden recognizes the genocide, that will be a huge moral support for our people,” march participant and unemployed 46-year-old Hasmik Martirosyan told AFP.
“I hope that other nations will then find the courage to follow the great country’s suit.”
Turkey denies the killings’ genocidal nature, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
Yerevan has long demanded from Ankara the financial compensation and restoration of property rights for the descendants of those killed in the 1915-1918 massacres, which Armenians call Meds Yeghern — the Great Crime.
Last year, Turkey backed neighbor and ally Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Ankara’s arms supplies helped Azerbaijan’s army win a decisive victory in the six-week war and under a Russia-brokered truce — which was seen in Armenia as a national humiliation — Yerevan ceded to Baku swathes of territories it had controlled for decades.

Long wait for justice continues for descendants of Armenian genocide survivors

The atrocities started with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople in 1915 and continued with a centralized program of deportations, murder, pillage and rape until 1923. (AFP/Getty Images/File Photo)
The atrocities started with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople in 1915 and continued with a centralized program of deportations, murder, pillage and rape until 1923. (AFP/Getty Images/File Photo)
Updated 21 min 19 sec ago

Long wait for justice continues for descendants of Armenian genocide survivors

The atrocities started with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople in 1915 and continued with a centralized program of deportations, murder, pillage and rape until 1923. (AFP/Getty Images/File Photo)
  • Ethnic Armenians watching closely for signs of formal genocide recognition by US President Biden
  • Armenians wonder if Ottoman Turkey’s crimes set a precedent for subsequent mass killings

DUBAI: Armenians mark April 24 each year as a day of sorrow. It was on this date in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire launched the first in a brutal succession of atrocities against the ethnic group living under its dominion, going on to kill more than 1 million and driving many more into exile.

To this day, modern Turkey refuses to acknowledge the crimes committed during the twilight of the ancient regime.

Whether living in the Middle East, North America, Russia or modern-day Armenia, it is likely every Armenian has a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who witnessed the genocide firsthand.

This year, many of them will be watching closely for signs of formal recognition from the US government.

“Virtually every Armenian alive today is a descendant of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide,” said Chris Bohjalian, the New York Times bestselling author of “The Sandcastle Girls.” His sweeping historical love story, published in 2012, draws on his own Armenian heritage and the experiences of his grandparents.

“The Ottoman Empire systematically annihilated 1.5 million of its Armenian citizens, plus 300,000 Assyrians and countless Greeks, and that was after exterminating 250,000 Armenians a generation earlier in the Hamidian massacres. Moreover, Turkey denies the blood on the hands of its Ottoman predecessor,” he told Arab News.

On that spring day in the early months of World War I, Ottoman authorities rounded up and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. In the weeks that followed, thousands of ordinary Armenians were forced from their homes and sent on death marches across the Mesopotamian desert.

“The day means an enormous amount to Armenians because we are grieving our ancestors, the loss of much of our homeland, and our culture in eastern Turkey — and we are grieving it all as an open wound because Turkey has never acknowledged the crime and much of the world doesn’t even know it occurred — or its magnitude, if they know a little bit.”

In fact, Bohjalian wonders whether the Nazi Holocaust, which came a quarter of a century later, would have occurred without the precedent of the Armenian Genocide.

A picture released by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute dated 1915 purportedly shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley, on the Caucasus front during the First World War. (STR/AGMI/AFP)

“It might have. But in ‘Justifying Genocide,’ scholar Stefan Ihrig argues convincingly that the Armenian Genocide made the Holocaust more likely. The most quoted line from my novel ‘The Sandcastle Girls,’ is this: ‘There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans. There are obviously more, but really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?’ So, I believe we still have lessons to learn,” he added.

Indeed, the parallel is often drawn between the Armenian Genocide and the many other mass displacements and wholesale slaughters that followed over the course of the 20th century.

Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, in Riyadh, told Arab News: “(Former German leader Adolf) Hitler is famous for having used the term, ‘who remembers the Armenian nation?’ when he embarked on his own murderous deeds.

“One supposes that the other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments practiced, even if the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty.

“Contentious does not even begin to explain the hurt that Armenians feel, for denial translates into a second genocide — albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to the dark chapters of their history and come to terms with it. But it seems that we are not there yet,” he said.

Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War I but disputes the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute a genocide.


* 1.5m - Highest estimate of Armenian deaths by massacre, starvation or exhaustion.

Kechichian’s own paternal grandmother was among the victims. “Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once, and she was always missed. We spoke about her all the time and my late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Almost every Armenian family has a similar story to tell.

“But we are believers and pray for the souls of those lost. We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so that they too can find peace. Denial is ugly and unbecoming and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time,” Kechichian said.

For Armen Sahakyan, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America — Western Region, the genocide never really ended.

“It continues to this very day in Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing attempts to attack, empty, and ultimately erase the presence of Armenians in their ancient homeland,” he told Arab News, referring to last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh war.

“The Armenian Genocide is Turkey’s ‘original sin,’ setting the stage for over a century of human rights violations and repression against all dissidents of the Turkish state and undermining its own democratic future.”

According to Sahakyan, without a truthful, just, and comprehensive resolution of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey stands no chance of becoming a reliable ally of the West and “will continue its destructive domestic as well as foreign policy throughout the wider Mediterranean.”

US President Joe Biden has indicated he will officially recognize the displacement and slaughter of the Armenian people in 1915 as a genocide — a move that would mark a significant break with past administrations, ever cautious not to offend their nominal NATO ally, Turkey.

US President Joe Biden has indicated he will officially recognize the displacement and slaughter of the Armenian people in 1915 as a genocide. (AFP/File Photo)

Always quick on the draw, the Turkish government has given warning that the US “needs to respect international law.”

Speaking recently to broadcaster Haberturk, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said: “Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties. If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”

Bohjalian said recognition from Washington would mean a great deal. “It would thrill me. But will we ever see justice? We may see the word ‘genocide’ used by a US president on April 24 this year, but will we ever get back Van? Ararat? Shusha? Not in my lifetime. Nevertheless, I hope with all my heart that Biden uses the word ‘genocide.’”

Sahakyan noted that such a recognition from the White House — following on the heels of 2019’s Congressional resolutions — would be the culmination of a century of tireless work by the Armenian-American community and friends of Armenia.

“It must inform US policy, at every level, including in supporting Armenia — a blockaded, landlocked, partitioned, genocide-survivor state — against continued attempts by Ankara and Baku to complete this crime.

Armenian orphans being deported from Turkey in around 1920. (Shutterstock/File Photo)

“The US recognition of the Armenian Genocide would also be a tribute to America’s own heroic role in saving hundreds of thousands of survivors of the genocide through the Near East Relief,” he said.

Even a century on, the genocide remains a landmark event in modern history and one that besmirches the character of Turkey even today, said Peter Balakian, author of “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response” — another New York Times bestseller.

He told Arab News: “Turkey has shown no apology, let alone restitution and reparation. Other nations have demanded that Turkey deal with the Armenian Genocide aftermath, but it seems that this will only happen when Turkey can develop a true democracy in which its government can foster a culture of self-criticism and minority and human rights.”

For Balakian, recognition is the first step, no matter how long it takes. “We have waited for some semblance of justice for over a century,” he added.


Twitter: @CalineMalek

No oxygen, hospitals overwhelmed as India faces pandemic hell

A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 April 2021

No oxygen, hospitals overwhelmed as India faces pandemic hell

A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
  • India reports world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus cases for second day on Friday as oxygen supplies run out
  • In the latest tragedy to hit India’s health care system, 13 coronavirus patients died in a hospital fire on the outskirts of Mumbai on Friday 

NEW DELHI: On a day when intensive care patients died when a fire broke out at a coronavirus hospital on the outskirts of Mumbai, dozens of others choked to death as India’s health care system was overwhelmed, facing a critical shortage of oxygen amid a devastating surge in infections.

India has reported 333,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, for a second day recording the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus.

Daily coronavirus deaths jumped to 2,263, while officials across northern and western India, including the capital, New Delhi, warned that most health facilities were full and running out of oxygen.

The fire that broke out at the ICU of the COVID-19 hospital in the Virar area of the Palghar district killed 13 patients in what was the second major hospital incident in the western state of Maharashtra within a week. On Wednesday, an oxygen leakage at a hospital in Nasik district claimed the lives of 24 patients who were on ventilators.

“Such accidents show the pressure under which these hospitals are working and also the laxity in enforcing quality regulations in hospitals,” Mumbai-based researcher and Indian Journal of Medical Ethics editor, Dr. Amar Jesani, told Arab News.

“The situation is extremely grim across the country. People are not able to find a bed, oxygen. It seems a significant number of deaths are taking place due to the non-availability of critical care,” he said.


India put oxygen tankers on special express trains as major hospitals in New Delhi begged on social media on Friday for more supplies to save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe. Click here for more.

TV channels showed footage of people with empty oxygen cylinders lining up outside refilling facilities across the country, hoping to save critically ill relatives.

While the situation in Maharashtra is the worst, with more than 67,000 new COVID-19 cases and 600 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, New Delhi is also under increasing pressure as it reported 24,000 new COVID-19 cases and a record of 306 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, warned in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday that there was a “huge shortage of oxygen” at hospitals in India’s capital territory.

At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the oldest medical facilities in New Delhi, 25 people have died, the hospital’s medical director, Satendra Katoch, said.

“Low oxygen concentration likely contributed to the deaths of critical patients,” he said. “Critical patients need high pressure, stable oxygen supply.”

As the hospital’s statement that another 60 patients were at risk resulted in panic, oxygen was supplied later in the day.

The developments came as Modi held meetings on Friday with experts, chief ministers of states and oxygen manufacturers to address the crisis, which his government has been accused of mishandling.

The main opposition Congress party said that the government’s response was characterized by “shortage, shortcoming and short-sightedness.

“The priorities of the prime minister and home minister reflect that they have entirely become inefficient, incompetent and indifferent toward the COVID-19 crisis,” Congress spokesperson, Abhishekmanu Singhvi, told a press conference.

Dr. Jesani also said there had been no preparedness in dealing with the pandemic.

“The government had one year to strengthen its public health systems, appoint more doctors and nurses, strengthen primary health care centers in districts, but none of those things were done,” he said.

“The government did not prepare the nation to face the crisis.”

As India’s second wave of infections has been blamed on a new virus variant, Jesani added that scientists had not been engaged in the pandemic response.

“The government identified a new variant of the virus in October itself and they did not take it seriously,” he said. “The government from the beginning is not listening to science. It has its own agenda.”

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang
Updated 23 April 2021

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang
  • So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain
  • The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next

LONDON: Beijing on Friday criticised British MPs after they approved a symbolic parliamentary motion declaring that Uyghur Muslims in China were “suffering crimes against humanity and genocide,” calling the accusations a “big lie.”

Although the motion, approved late Thursday, is non-binding and does not require the government to act, it is a further indication of the hardening stance of Britain's parliament towards China over the treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

The Chinese government responded by saying that “the so-called genocide in Xinjiang is a big lie concocted by international anti-China forces.

“The Chinese government and the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang firmly oppose and strongly condemn such allegations,” Zhao Lijian, spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told AFP in a statement.

“UK's own problems are already enough,” he added. “These British MPs should mind their own business and do more for their own constituents.”

The motion was brought by Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, one of five MPs sanctioned by Beijing for criticising it over the treatment of the Uyghurs.

The British government has said it is “committed to taking robust action in respect of Xinjiang,” but has stopped short of invoking the term “genocide,” arguing only UK courts can make that legal definition.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has also been sanctioned by China, called it a “historic moment.”

“Even though the government maintains that only a court can determine genocide, parliament has chosen to disregard that and vote itself.

“This puts the UK parliament in line with Holland, Canada and the US.”

British junior foreign minister Nigel Adams in February said that a BBC report into the treatment of the Uyghurs revealed “clearly evil acts.”

In a lengthy investigation based on witness testimonies, the BBC reported allegations of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of women detainees by police and guards in the western region.

Ghani said that colleagues had been “reluctant to use the word genocide” but added “there is a misunderstanding that genocide is just one act -- mass killing. That is false.”

Instead, genocide concerns intent to “destroy in whole or in part” a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, she said, arguing that the definition was applicable to China.

“While we must never misuse the term genocide, we must not fail to use it when it's warranted.”

Up to one million Uyghur Muslims are estimated by rights groups to have been detained in internment camps.

The EU, US, Canada and Britain have all imposed sanctions on Chinese officials allegedly involved in rights abuses.

The US has described the situation as genocide and banned all cotton from Xinjiang. Australia's parliament is considering a similar move.