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.”


Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
Updated 21 sec ago

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
  • Diversity of Arab population means opinions about far-right president vary widely
  • While his views on Palestine anger many, some still support his domestic policies

With his approval rating at only 33 percent, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been facing street protests, organized by the opposition, in several cities across the country in recent months.

Demonstrators demanding his impeachment accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic; more than 600,000 people in the country have died of conditions related to COVID-19.

They are also unhappy that he has failed to lead the nation out of a persistent economic crisis that has resulted in rising inflation and an increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, which has risen to 27.4 million.

The various Arab communities in Brazil have been viewing the protests in different ways. Historically one of the most relevant immigrant populations in the country, Arabs immigrants and their descendants account for 12 million, or almost 6 percent, of the 210 million people in Brazil, according to a 2020 study.

While Palestinian advocacy groups have been active in mobilizing the protests against Bolsonaro, more-conservative segments of the Arab community continue to support him. Even among these, however, criticism is growing.

“We have a rather diverse community, which is the result of different waves of immigration,” said pharmacology professor Soraya Smaili, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1950s, and one of the founders of the Institute of Arab Culture, known as Icarabe.

“There was a first influx of Syrians and Lebanese at the end of the 19th century. Other large groups arrived after the Second World War and over the following decades.”

That first wave of Arabs from Syria and Lebanon moved to Brazil during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, and most of them were Christian. The Arabs who have arrived since the 1940s have more diverse origins, and some are Muslim.

Each of these distinct groups have specific relationships with the issues concerning Middle Eastern countries, Smaili said.

“In general, the Arab Brazilians who are distant in time from the Middle Eastern reality tend to feel less insulted by Bolsonaro’s actions concerning the Palestinian issue, for instance,” she explained.

The Brazilian president’s much-publicized strong ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, have a huge influence on how some Arab Brazilians see him.

During the 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although this has yet to happen, his announcement was taken by many Arabs as an insult.

Also in 2018 he said that he would close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, on the grounds that “Palestine is not a country.”

“Especially among geographically concentrated Palestinian communities, like the ones that exist in cities such as Santana do Livramento and Foz do Iguacu, those facts generated great opposition to him,” said Yasser Fayad, a physician and member of the leftist Palestinian liberation movement, Ghassan Kanafani.

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1940s from a region on the border with Palestine, Fayad is Muslim and feels deeply connected with the plight of the Palestinians. This fuels his disapproval of the Bolsonaro administration.

“The Brazilian far right emulates its European and North American counterparts, and thus is anti-Muslim,” he said.

That does not mean, however, that all Muslims in Brazil’s Arab community totally repudiate Bolsonaro, he added.

“Some of them are critical of his stance on Palestine but not of his domestic policies,” Fayad explained.

Reginaldo Nasser, a foreign relations professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, told Arab News that refugees from Syria and other nations who are part of the working class in Brazil comprise one of the most consistently anti-Bolsonaro groups of Arabs.

“They have a political identification with the excluded and the poor,” he said. “Besides, they feel the impact of Bolsonaro’s policies on a daily basis; he makes it hard for them to get into Brazil, to integrate into the society and to get a job.”

Nasser, whose grandparents came from Lebanon, does not believe that Arabs in Brazil really form a single community, given that there is a vast plurality of political ideas and economic interests among them.

“But we certainly can affirm that many in the younger generations are more conscious about the Middle Eastern reality than their parents and grandparents, and that reflects on their political views,” he added.

These political differences between Arab Brazilians created great divides during the most recent presidential campaign. The intense polarization, especially in 2018 and 2019, even caused conflicts with families.

“Most of my extended family supported Bolsonaro’s election,” said Nabil Bonduki, an architecture professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “Some of the ones who opposed him decided to leave the family’s WhatsApp group back then.”

Now, with Bolsonaro’s popularity in decline, many of his supporters simply do not talk about politics any more, according to Bonduki, who has served two terms as a city council member in Sao Paulo for the leftist Workers’ Party.

He said that Arab Brazilians have traditionally had a strong presence in the country’s politics, serving as congressmen, state governors and even president, in the case of Michel Temer, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who was in office from August 2016 until December 2018.

“Although some of them are progressive, the majority has always been more conservative,” Bonduki said.

Bolsonaro’s final opponent in the 2018 election was former Sao Paulo Mayer Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party and the son of a Lebanese immigrant.

There have been no studies of how Arab Brazilians tend to vote. However Brazilians living in Israel mostly voted for Bolsonaro, while the ballots cast in Palestine were mostly in favor of Haddad.

In the opinion of Sheikh Jihad Hammadeh, vice president of the National Union of Islamic Institutions, Arab Brazilians, especially Muslims, are affected by the political atmosphere in the country just like all other social groups.

He said there were fierce political debates in his communities’ WhatsApp groups during and after the presidential election, and that he had to intervene at times to prevent further conflicts.

“We always tell people that they need to be respectful,” said Hammadeh. “Each one of us can have a distinct political opinion. As Muslims, we must respect each other’s views.”


Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
Updated 27 min 42 sec ago

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
  • The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,”

ROME:  Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has called for the EU to draw up “clear and adequately financed” plans for the handling of Mediterranean migration routes.

Speaking to the Italian Senate, he said it was essential that the issue was addressed at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,” starting with the one between Italy and the shores of North Africa.

He said the EU should, “pay attention to the specificity of maritime borders and the effective political stability of Libya and Tunisia.”

A diplomatic adviser to the prime minister’s office told Arab News: “Without a proper stabilization of those two countries, no action can be effective. This is why PM Draghi at the upcoming European Council meeting will call on the EU to play a primary role.”

Draghi pointed out that during the summer, Italy had continued to meet its international rescue obligations in protecting migrants at sea. “We did it with humanity and in order to defend European values of solidarity and hospitality.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year, said the country’s Ministry of Interior, almost double the number arriving over the same period last year.

Referring to the refugees, particularly those coming from Afghanistan, Draghi said that “Europe should do more. It should follow the model of the so-called humanitarian corridors.”

Addressing the Italian senators, Draghi added: “I intend to propose that the commission must update the heads of state and government in each European Council on the degree of implementation and advancement of commitments undertaken.

“Only in this way will we be able to answer to our parliaments, and above all our citizens, on the progress made at European level, and of what still remains to be done.”


Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
Updated 33 min 40 sec ago

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
  • Man who killed MP David Amess had previously been discharged from Britain’s deradicalization program, Prevent
  • Government recently missed a deadline for a review of the program

LONDON: Britain’s counter-radicalization program is facing renewed scrutiny after it emerged that the man who murdered an MP late last week had received extensive support from the Prevent program before having his case closed.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that Ali Harbi Ali, who stabbed MP David Amess to death last Friday, was first referred to the deradicalization intervention scheme Prevent in 2014 over concerns that he was being drawn toward a radical Islamist ideology.

Ali was later sent on to a more intensive deradicalization program, Channel, designed to intervene against individuals viewed as most vulnerable to terrorist ideology and recruitment.

He voluntarily accepted a referral to the scheme and completed its processes.

This involved having his vulnerability assessed and accepting support, a source told the Guardian. The source said: “He went through the process and was discharged. He was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”

Seven years later, Ali murdered Amess, and the attack has been confirmed as a terrorism-related incident.

The Amess attack, and some that came before it, have prompted questions over the effectiveness of the Prevent program once an at-risk individual is enrolled in the deradicalization course.

The program was already under review when Ali killed Amess, following a wave of attacks in the mid to late 2010s that saw dozens of people die to terrorism across Britain — including many children in the Manchester arena bombing, and another MP, Jo Cox, who was shot dead in her constituency. Some attackers had been referred to Prevent and completed its courses.

The government missed the deadline for that review, meant to be Sep. 30, 2021, in the weeks leading up to Amess’ killing.

The results of the review will be published more than three years after it was undertaken. Not only was the review designed to ensure that people vulnerable to terrorist ideology were safeguarded effectively, but also to address criticisms that Muslims were unfairly targeted at higher rates than the wider population.

Out of 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2020, more than half were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Around a quarter of referrals were due to concerns over Islamist radicalization, and 22 percent related to right-wing radicalization.

The largest age group was children and young people aged 20 and under, including 1,559 children under the age of 15.

In the wake of Amess’ killing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would ensure Prevent is “fit for purpose.” 

“Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that, we have to learn, we obviously constantly have to learn, not just from incidences that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs,” said Patel.


Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
Updated 20 October 2021

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
  • Around 154 officers had been identified for ‘possible criminal liability’ over police operations
  • Three policemen were sentenced in 2018 to prison for killing a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep

MANILA: The Philippine government’s review of dozens of deadly drug war operations has cast doubt on police claims they acted in “self-defense,” a top official said Wednesday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced this month that around 154 officers had been identified for “possible criminal liability” over police operations carried out during President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
Most of the 52 cases reviewed by the Justice Department and made public Wednesday were drug war operations that ended in the fatal shooting of the suspect.
“Most... indicate circumstances that do not support the police officers’ claim of self-defense,” Guevarra said in a text message.
“That is why we have endorsed these cases to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for a proper case build-up.”
Most of the officers involved in the cases had been recommended for demotion or temporary suspension by the police internal affairs service.
In one incident, the suspect was shot 15 times after allegedly firing at police, who received a 31-day suspension from duty.
Guevarra last year told the United Nations Human Rights Council that an inter-agency review of 5,655 deadly anti-drug operations was under way.
His announcement came after the UN human rights office released a damning report on the drug war.
Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Philippines, said the reviewed cases showed the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”
Duterte was elected in 2016 on a promise to get rid of the Philippines’ drug problem, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.
At least 6,191 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to the latest official data.
Rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed in the crackdown.
International Criminal Court judges authorized in September a full-blown investigation into the anti-narcotics campaign, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
Guevarra told AFP the Justice Department’s actions were not “to impress or influence the ICC, but because it is the right and just thing to do.”
“Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will also look into the files of the thousands of other cases where no liability was found (by police internal affairs),” he said.
While defending the drug war, police chief General Guillermo Eleazar on Wednesday urged victims to “cooperate in holding policemen who committed abuses accountable for their action.”
Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte said this month he would prepare his defense against an ICC probe, after previously insisting he would not cooperate.


Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
Updated 20 October 2021

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
  • Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center
  • Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike

ADDIS ABABA: An air strike hit the capital of Tigray region in northern Ethiopia on Wednesday morning, regionally controlled television said, reporting the second attack on the city of Mekelle this week.
Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center.
It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke, but it was not immediately possible for Reuters to geolocate the photographs. The TV station said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 a.m. (0724 GMT).
Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike. It was not immediately possible to reach the spokesperson for the TPLF.
The two sides have been fighting a war for almost a year that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million.
A humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike was in an area of the city called 05 Kebelle — an area near the a cement factory on the city’s outskirts.
The strike hit around 10:30 a.m., the source said.
The report of a strike comes two days after two air strikes hit the city. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching the strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.
The news follows intensified fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ethiopian-offensive-two-northern-regions-intensifies-tigrayan-forces-say-2021-10-13 in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.