UK MPs slam denial of vote on foreign aid cut

UK MPs slam denial of vote on foreign aid cut
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stands in front of boxes containing UK aid, before helping load them onto a plane at Mogadishu International Airport, Somalia, March 15, 2017. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 June 2021

UK MPs slam denial of vote on foreign aid cut

UK MPs slam denial of vote on foreign aid cut
  • Govt refuses vote on budget decision that former PM warns will have ‘devastating impact’
  • Supporters of aid cut say it is necessary due to economic effect of pandemic

LONDON: Senior political figures in the UK have hit back at the government for refusing to grant MPs a vote on controversial foreign aid cuts that would see Britain reduce its commitment to aid spending from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent.

The cuts will have far-reaching consequences for some of the world’s most impoverished countries, opponents have warned.

MPs including Andrew Mitchell, former shadow secretary of state for international development, and former Prime Minister Theresa May, have slammed the decision to deny the vote.

MPs who opposed the cuts highlighted their concerns ahead of the G7 Summit in the UK this week, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson will likely face scrutiny over the cuts from leaders of other major countries.

Mitchell said in a Parliament debate on Tuesday that the rebel MPs would have “easily defeated” the cuts had they been voted on in the House of Commons. Opponents of the cuts include 16 former ministers and a number of select committee chairs.

“It is precisely because the government fears it would lose a vote that it is not calling one,” Mitchell said. “That is not democracy.”

France has embraced the target of 0.7 percent of national income set by the UN while Germany has moved beyond it, Mitchell added, warning that as a result, Britain “is the only one going backward” out of the G7 countries.

May said she had decided to oppose the cut because of its potential impact on tackling modern slavery in developing countries.

She added that Johnson’s decision would mean an 80 percent reduction in the budget of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which would place more children at risk of sexual exploitation.

“Britain has been the world leader in tackling modern slavery. Now we see organizations having to go cap in hand to other governments to make up for the shortfall caused by the UK government decision,” she said.

“The cut will have a devastating impact on the poorest in the world and damage the UK. I urge the government to reinstate the 0.7 percent. It is what it promised, it will show that we act according to our values, and it will save lives.”

Preet Kaur Gill, shadow international development secretary, told the House of Commons: “We clearly have a government in hiding, a government that has tried over and over again to avoid scrutiny and accountability for the cuts that they have imposed.

“It really is no exaggeration to say the cuts by this government have cost people their lives. It is utterly shameful.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay defended the government, saying: “Decisions such as this are not easy. The situation in short is this: A hugely difficult economic and fiscal situation, which requires in turn difficult actions.”


Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia
Updated 1 min 29 sec ago

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia

Six killed in clashes between Myanmar army and anti-junta militia
  • Fighting has flared across Myanmar since the February coup as people form ‘defense forces’ to battle a brutal military crackdown

YANGON: Four protesters and at least two officers were killed as Myanmar soldiers battled an anti-junta civilian militia with small arms and grenades in the country’s second city Tuesday, authorities and military sources said.
Fighting has flared across Myanmar since the February coup as people form “defense forces” to battle a brutal military crackdown on dissent, but clashes have largely been restricted to rural areas.
Acting on a tip-off, security forces raided a house in Mandalay’s Chan Mya Tharsi township on Tuesday morning, the junta’s information team said in a statement, and were met with small arms fire and grenades.
Two officers were killed during the raid, military sources said, and at least ten were wounded.
Four “terrorists” were killed and eight arrested in possession of homemade mines, hand grenades and small arms, a junta spokesman said in a statement.
“We could hear artillery shooting even though our house is far from that place,” a Mandalay resident said.
Another four members of the self-defense group were killed when the car they were attempting to flee in crashed, the spokesman said, without providing details.
The United States’ embassy in Yangon said on Twitter it was “tracking reports of ongoing fighting in Mandalay... We are disturbed by the military escalation and urgently call for a cessation of violence.”
The mass uprising against the military putsch that toppled the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has been met with a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 870 civilians, according to a local monitoring group.
As well as the rise of local self-defense forces, analysts believe hundreds of anti-coup protesters from Myanmar’s towns and cities have trekked into insurgent-held areas to receive military training.
But part-time fighters know the odds are stacked against them in any confrontation with Myanmar’s military — one of Southeast Asia’s most battle-hardened and brutal.


Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
  • Hong Kong court approves bail for 24 year-old pro-democracy activist who has been jailed for four months.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s High Court on Tuesday approved bail for a pro-democracy activist who is among 47 charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on its freest city last year, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Owen Chow, 24, who has been in jail for nearly four months, was ordered to pay HK$50,000 and follow a list of bail conditions, including not threatening national security, reporting to police every day and surrendering all travel documents, according to RTHK.
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial.
Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely watching proceedings as concerns rise over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a rapid authoritarian turn since the law was imposed in June 2020.
The case offers insight into how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with Hong Kong’s common-law traditions and could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.
In contrast with past practice, the new law puts onus on defendants in the global financial hub to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
Wong and the other charged activists are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.


Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 22 June 2021

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
  • President Rodrigo Duterte is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric
  • The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination and told them to leave the country if they would not cooperate with the efforts to contain the pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, said in televised remarks Monday night that he has become exasperated with people who refuse to get immunized then help spread the coronavirus.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.
A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.
Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.
Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind.
The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.


Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
Updated 22 June 2021

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
  • Abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean woman who starved, assaulted and ultimately killed her domestic worker was sentenced to 30 years in prison Tuesday, with the judge describing the case as “among the worst types of culpable homicide.”
The affluent city-state is home to about 250,000 domestic workers who mostly come from poorer Asian countries, and stories of mistreatment are common.
But the abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, 24, was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home. The domestic worker was stamped on, strangled, choked, battered with brooms and burnt with an iron, according to court documents.
The domestic worker died in July 2016, after her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, repeatedly assaulted her over several hours.
Gaiyathiri, 41, pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges including culpable homicide. Another 87 charges were taken into account in sentencing.
She appeared in court on Tuesday wearing glasses and a black mask, and sat silently with her eyes closed and head bowed as the judge read his decision.
After hearing an additional plea of mitigation submitted by Gaiyathiri in a bid to avoid the life sentence sought by the prosecution, Justice See Kee Oon sentenced her to 30 years in prison starting from the date of her arrest in 2016.
See cited the “abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct” in his sentencing, which he added must signal “societal outrage and abhorrence” at the crime.
But taking into account the defendant’s obsessive compulsive disorder and the depression she developed around the time she gave birth, See said he did not think that life imprisonment was “fair and appropriate.”
The prosecution had sought a reduced charge of culpable homicide rather than murder — punishable with the death penalty in Singapore — after taking into account her mental health.
The maid was employed by Gaiyathiri and her husband, a police officer, in 2015 to help take care of their four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.
But Gaiyathiri physically assaulted the victim almost daily, often several times a day, with her 61-year-old mother sometimes joining in, according to court documents.
The domestic worker, who had been employed by the family for over a year at the time of her death, was only allowed to sleep for five hours a night, and was forced to shower and relieve herself with the door open.
Provided very little food, she lost about 38 percent of her body weight during her employment, and only weighed 24 kilograms at the time of her death.
Gaiyathiri’s lawyer Joseph Chen had asked for a sentence of eight to nine years, arguing that a “combination of stresses” had turned the struggling mother into an abuser.
He argued that a harsh sentence would deter mothers in a similar situation from asking for help — an argument that the prosecution called “disingenuous.”


Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
Updated 22 June 2021

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
  • Carrie Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price

HONG KONG: Foreign governments are “beautifying” acts that endanger national security in Hong Kong when they criticize the recent crackdown on a pro-democracy newspaper, the leader of the semiautonomous Chinese territory said Tuesday.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s comments come as some countries including the US condemn the arrest of editors and executives at Apple Daily and the freezing of its assets as the latest examples of eroding freedoms in the former British colony.
Those arrested at the newspaper have been accused of breaching sweeping security legislation imposed by Beijing last year by colluding with foreign countries to endanger national security.
“Don’t try to underplay the significance of breaching the National Security Law, and don’t try to beautify these acts of endangering national security, which the foreign governments have taken so much to their heart,” Lam said.
Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Hong Kong authorities were using the law to suppress the media and silence dissent. Price said that “exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime.”
“What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists,” Lam said. “It is violating the law as defined in the National Security Law and based on very clear evidence which will bring the case to court.”
In a police operation last week, authorities arrested five Apple Daily editors and executives and froze $2.3 million worth of assets of three companies linked to the paper. Apple Daily has said that if some of its funds are not released by Friday, the paper may cease operations this weekend.
The newspaper and its executives were vocal supporters of the pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong for months in 2019. The protests were sparked by concerns that Hong Kong was losing the freedoms that Beijing promised it could maintain when it was handed from British to Chinese control in 1997.