UK lawmakers approve probe into PM Boris Johnson’s alleged lies

Opposition parties have accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying to the House of Commons over lockdown parties in Downing Street. (AFP)
Opposition parties have accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying to the House of Commons over lockdown parties in Downing Street. (AFP)
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Updated 21 April 2022

UK lawmakers approve probe into PM Boris Johnson’s alleged lies

Opposition parties have accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lying to the House of Commons over lockdown parties in Downing Street. (AFP)
  • Opposition parties accuse prime minister of lying to the House of Commons over lockdown parties in Downing Street
  • Johnson was not present for the decision on a scandal that has rocked his leadership of the country and the Conservative Party

LONDON: British lawmakers on Thursday ordered a parliamentary investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson for allegedly lying about whether he broke coronavirus restrictions by attending illegal gatherings during the pandemic.
The move, approved by cries of “aye” and without a formal vote in the House of Commons, means Parliament’s Committee of Privileges will investigate whether Johnson knowingly misled Parliament — historically a resigning offense if proven.
The probe piles more pressure on a Conservative prime minister whose grip on power has been shaken by claims he flouted the pandemic rules he imposed on the country, then repeatedly failed to own up to it.
The move was instigated by the opposition Labour Party and passed after the government abandoned efforts to get Conservative lawmakers to block it. Johnson’s Conservatives have a substantial majority in Parliament, but many lawmakers were uneasy with the prime minister’s behavior.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the move sought to uphold “the simple principle that honesty, integrity and telling the truth matter in our politics.”
“It is a British principle ... guiding members from every political party in this House,” Starmer said. “But it is a principle under attack.”
Johnson was not present for the decision on a scandal that has rocked his leadership of the country and the Conservative Party. He was more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away in India, insisting he wanted to “get on with the job” of leading the country.
Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($66) by police last week for attending his own birthday party in his office in June 2020, when people in Britain were barred from meeting up with friends and family, or even visiting dying relatives. Johnson is the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.
He has apologized, but denied he knowingly broke the rules. Johnson’s shifting defense — initially saying there were no illegal gatherings, then claiming it “did not occur to me” that the birthday event was a party — has drawn derision and outrage from opponents, who have called for him to quit.
“The truth is simple and it’s this – he lied to avoid getting caught, and once he got caught, he lied again," Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford said in the House of Commons.
Usually lawmakers are forbidden from accusing one another of lying, but Blackford was not reprimanded by the Speaker.
A growing number of Conservatives are uncomfortable about defending a leader who broke rules he imposed on the country. A few have called openly for Johnson to go, and the number is growing. Others are waiting to see whether public anger translates into Conservative losses at local elections on May 5.
“It is utterly depressing to be asked to defend the indefensible,” said Conservative legislator William Wragg. "Each time part of us withers.”
Lawmaker Steve Baker, until now a prominent supporter, said that Johnson “should be long gone” for violating the “letter and spirit” of the rules.”
“I’ll certainly vote for this motion,” he said. “But really, the prime minister should just know the gig’s up.”
The Committee of Privileges probe will not start until twin police and civil-service investigations into “partygate” have concluded.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating 16 events, including “bring your own booze” office parties and “wine time Fridays” in Johnson’s 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings. Police are probing a dozen of the events and so far have handed out at least 50 fines, including ones to Johnson, his wife Carrie and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak. Johnson could still face more police fines.
Johnson and his allies argue that it would be reckless for the country to change leaders now amid the war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living squeeze sparked by soaring prices for energy and food.
As he flew to India for a two-day visit focused on boosting economic ties, Johnson again denied knowingly misleading Parliament and insisted he would lead the Conservatives into the next national election, due by 2024.
“I have absolutely nothing, frankly, to hide,” Johnson told Sky News during his visit to the western Indian state of Gujarat. “I want to get on with the job that I was elected to do.”


9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
Updated 30 sec ago

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
  • Strike on occupied territory is major escalation
  • Kyiv officially silent but military say ‘it was us’

KYIV: Ukraine’s air force said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly string of explosions at an air base in Crimea, amid speculation of a Ukrainian attack that would be a significant escalation in the war.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday’s blasts, or that an attack even took place. But Ukrainian officials mocked Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation made no sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

“Officially Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike,” military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

If Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014.

Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize the peninsula as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians out of all occupied territories.
After the blasts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation.”

The explosions, which killed one person and injured 14, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the coastline near by. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the brickwork of some buildings.
One visitor, Natalia Lipovaya, said: “The earth was gone from under my feet … I was so scared.” Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. "Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.
The base on the Black Sea peninsula is at least 200 kilometers from the closest Ukrainian position and beyond the range of missiles supplied by the West for use in HIMARS launchers.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for longer-range missiles for HIMARS that can strike targets up to 300 kilometers away. The explosions raised speculation that it had finally obtained them.
Zhdanov said Ukrainian forces could also have struck the air base with Neptune or Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said simultaneous blasts in two places at the base probably ruled out an accidental fire, but not sabotage or a missile attack. “The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage since such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems,” it said.


42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
Updated 44 min 26 sec ago

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
  • Drones artillery used in attack, one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency

BAMAKO, Mali: Forty-two Malian soldiers died in a sophisticated weekend attack by suspected jihadists using drones artillery, authorities said Wednesday, the latest violent incident to rock the troubled Sahel country.
The toll is one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency, which has spread from the north of the country to the center and south and into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A document naming the dead was authenticated to AFP by several senior military officials, while the government later confirmed the toll in a statement that said 22 soldiers were injured and 37 “terrorists” were neutralized.
The attack occurred on Sunday in the town of Tessit, in the troubled “three-border” region where the frontiers of the three nations converge.
On Monday, the army had said 17 soldiers and four civilians had died. Relatives of the victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that some of the civilians had been elected officials.
Monday’s statement pointed the finger of blame at the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), saying its members had deployed “drone and artillery support and (used) explosives and an explosives-laden vehicle.”
The last time Mali’s armed forces sustained such losses was in a string of attacks in the same region in late 2019 and early 2020.
Hundreds of soldiers were killed in assaults on nearly a dozen bases, typically carried out by highly mobile fighters on motorbikes.
The raids prompted the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe forces to fall back from forward bases and hunker down in better-defended locations.
In January 2020, France and its Sahel allies agreed on a push against the ISGS at a summit in Pau, southwestern France.
Several of its leaders were targeted and killed, including its founder, Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, but local people say the group has continued to recruit and carry out its operations.

Tessit is one of the hotspots in the three-border area.
The ISGS is fighting for control of the strategic, gold-rich area against an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
In March 2021, 33 soldiers were killed in an ISGS-claimed ambush as units were being rotated, and in February this year, around 40 civilians — suspected by the ISGS of being in league with Al-Qaeda — were massacred.
Mobile phone connections to the area have been frequently cut over the last few years and physical access is hard, especially during the mid-year rainy season.
Thousands have fled Tessit to the nearest large town, Gao, which is located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north.
Across the Sahel, the jihadist campaign has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than two million to flee their homes.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also occurred in Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin to the south, amplifying fears of a jihadist push toward the Gulf of Guinea.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
  • Social media full of praise for family duo from Kerala
  • They applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from the Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, have studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38.  

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared to clear the tests, they were surprised when the news broke, going viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts under news headlines praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said that her coaching center told her the achievement will help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”


UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
Updated 10 August 2022

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
  • The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year
  • Afghan teacher: ‘I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long’

LONDON: An Afghan teacher has been told by a UK government department that his personal details were passed to a member of the public in Afghanistan “in error.”

The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year.

The data breach has been acknowledged by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and is the first known leak under the government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which prioritizes those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and vulnerable people, including members of minority groups.

Those wishing to apply for transfer to the UK through the scheme must complete an “expression of interest” form. The family’s personal details from this form were leaked to another Afghan citizen, putting them at risk of being found by the Taliban.

The ACRS team alerted the man to the leak, saying: “In accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation, I am writing to inform you that some of your personal data has, in error, been forwarded on to another member of the public who had submitted an expression of interest for the ACRS … which contained personal data, including your name and background details.

“We have reviewed our processes in light of this event and taken steps to avoid it happening again.”

The man said: “What is really upsetting and unsettling is the fact that instead of being the source of comfort and sanctuary, the British government has regrettably become the source of unimaginable pain and danger for us. These errors could be lethal.

“I am so frustrated with the blunders and non-responsiveness from the government during such a difficult year. Now I am lost for words that this has happened. I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long. We are extremely shocked … It is so distressing for us all.”

The FCDO and the UK Home Office have joint responsibility for processing ACRS applications.

The government says it aims to resettle more than 5,000 people through the scheme in the first year, once the window for expression of interest forms closes on August 15.

Anyone resettled through the scheme will receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and under existing rules be able to apply for British citizenship after five years.

The ACRS runs separately to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which offers relocation to those who worked directly for the British government, including interpreters and security guards.

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Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
Updated 10 August 2022

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
  • Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares
  • France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record

HOSTENS, France: Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) and were continuing to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings and WAIT FOR THE INVITATION TO LEAVE which will be notified to you by the gendarmerie, officials or volunteers going door-to-door,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook after authorities decided to evacuate part of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers before taking flight.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening — within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads, and parts of a highway, were closed.

HEATWAVES
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures to some places.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.