Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties
Anti-Boris Johnson, anti-Brexit protesters hold placards across the street from the Houses of Parliament on the edge of Parliament Square, in London, on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2022

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties
  • Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians
  • The report by senior official Sue Gray gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings

LONDON: A “humbled” Boris Johnson said he took full responsibility but would not quit after a damning official report on Wednesday detailed a series of illegal lockdown parties at the British leader’s Downing Street office.
Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party over the alcohol-fueled gatherings, after it was revealed that he and officials had broken COVID-19 rules that all but banned people from socialising outside their households.
“I ... am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” Prime Minister Johnson told parliament, saying he would not quit over the scandal.
His foreign minister Liz Truss, seen as a possible successor, said she backed him “100 percent” after his apology.
The report by senior official Sue Gray did not specifically blame Johnson, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings.
He attended some, including a party to celebrate his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 that he was fined over but which Gray said he was unaware of in advance.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership ...must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson, who commissioned the report after revelations of boozy Downing Street events, said he was appalled by some of the behavior it had uncovered.
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but details were withheld until the end of a police inquiry that concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.

DISMAYING BEHAVIOUR AT ‘HEART OF GOVERNMENT’
Her full report included emails and messages that showed many gatherings were planned in advance, with discussions on who would bring alcohol — drinks that “we seem to have got away with,” the then head of Johnson’s Downing Street office, Martin Reynolds, said in one message.
There were warnings from another official that people should not be “waving bottles of wine” before a gathering that coincided with a televised news conference when ministers told the public to follow the COVID rules.
At one June 2020 event, Gray said “excessive alcohol consumption” led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another, the night before the April 2021 funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, individuals partied into the early hours and damaged a swing.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
She cited multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff who had to remove red wine from walls after one event.
For months, evidence of the parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologize, change his office team and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was time for Johnson to quit, saying the report laid bare that the government believed that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else.
“You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker,” Starmer — himself under police investigation for breaking COVID rules, told parliament. He has said he’ll resign if fined.
Johnson’s immediate fate lies in the hands of his Conservative lawmakers who can call for a leadership challenge.
Many had said they would wait for Gray’s full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should go.
“Are you willing day in and day out to defend his behavior publicly?” Tobias Ellwood, a long-time critic of Johnson, implored of his parliamentary colleagues.
Others felt the report was less damning than it could have been. “This is all so banal,” one Conservative said on condition of anonymity.
Johnson had initially denied there had been parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by the Committee of Privileges.
By way of apology for his earlier denials, said he wanted to “correct for the record” that no rules were broken. “Clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left,” Johnson told parliament.


British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
Updated 12 sec ago

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
  • Over 180 teachers for the educational outfit suddenly given permission to come to Britain but still lack clear travel route

LONDON: Over 180 teachers at the British Council risk being stranded in Afghanistan after being given permission by the UK government to apply to come to Britain but still lacking a clear route for traveling to the country, The Guardian reported.

Former colleagues and MPs campaigned for the recovery of the contractors, horrified that they had been left behind as full-time British Council staff were extracted amid fears that they would face punishment from the Taliban for teaching values that do not align with the new Kabul administration.

Of the teachers stuck in Afghanistan, 85 have been classified as being at “very high risk,” while another 90 workers have been listed at “high risk.” Many have reportedly gone into hiding fearing the Taliban’s crackdown.

Joe Seaton, a former British Council employee who worked alongside many of the teachers in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that no evacuation plan has been drawn up for the contractors despite 11 months passing since the fall of the city to the Taliban.

Having originally not been afforded the right to be recovered to Britain, the UK government suddenly announced last month that British Council contractors will now be allowed to apply to come to the UK with their families. A decision was expected in August.

Seaton said: “We are finally making some progress, but there does not yet seem to be any clear arrangements on how to get them out. This is a key question. How long will it take to get them out? Every day is another day in grave danger, and so far, all government efforts at processing former British Council staff have been very slow and clunky. The government needs to massively speed up on processing the individual cases.”

He added that the British Council did not have a full list of contractors who worked with them, which he had provided to the organization: “I have given the British Council lists of the contractors on several occasions as they did not have the information.”

Seaton, who speaks to the contractors stuck in Afghanistan on a near-daily basis via WhatsApp, told The Guardian that, following the government’s decision, they were “optimistic, but worried this might be another false dawn.”

The Home Office decision in June ruled that British Council contractors, staff at GardaWorld and former Chevening Scholars could come to Britain with their families so long as the total number of refugees applying in this category to the Foreign Office did not exceed 1,500. Problems with housing have mired the government’s attempts to process Afghan refugees, with the average Afghan family significantly larger than the space afforded by a typical British house.

They have been told to make applications online, but the Home Office Minister for Afghan Resettlement conceded that this would be difficult in many parts of the country.

The British Council said: “We have a full and comprehensive list of our former colleagues and have shared that list with relevant government departments.

We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former colleagues’ relocation applications.”


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
Updated 04 July 2022

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.


Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
Updated 04 July 2022

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
  • Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday
  • Activists: Death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates

KUALA LUMPUR: Anti-death penalty activists in Malaysia urged Singapore’s government on Monday to halt the execution of a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker this week, the second in less than three months.
Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday, activists said. The execution of another Malaysian in late April sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be mentally disabled.
The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network delivered a statement to Singapore’s embassy urging that Kalwant’s execution be suspended to allow him an opportunity to file for clemency.
It said Kalwant, who was 23 when he was arrested in 2013, had been threatened with violence and forced to make drug deliveries to Singapore to repay a football gambling debt, and that factor was not adequately considered during his trial.
It said the death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates.
“The government of Singapore’s persistence in maintaining and utilizing the death penalty has only led to global condemnation and tarnishes Singapore’s image as a developed nation governed by the rule of law,” it added.
The hanging in April of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be intellectually disabled with an IQ of 69. Another Malaysian drug trafficker who was to be hanged in April was given a reprieve pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
A Singapore activist, Kokila Annamalai, said convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Norasharee Gous is to be hanged on Thursday, the same day as Kalwant. She said they are the seventh and eighth executions scheduled this year. So far, two people including Nagaenthran have been hanged while four other executions were delayed by last-minute legal challenges, she said.


12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
Updated 04 July 2022

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

BEIJING: Twelve bodies have been found following a shipwreck in the South China Sea over the weekend that left the crew of 30 missing, Chinese authorities said Monday.
“As of 3:30 p.m. on July 4, rescue forces found and recovered 12 bodies, suspected to be of victims who drowned, in an area around 50 nautical miles southwest of the site where the vessel sank,” said the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center in a notice.


Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
Updated 04 July 2022

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN: Danish police said Monday that the suspect in a weekend shooting at a Copenhagen mall that left three dead, including two teenagers, was known to mental health services.
“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment,” Copenhagen police chief Soren Thomassen told a press conference.
Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn’t motivated by gender or something else,” Thomassen said.
The police chief could not yet comment on a motive, but said there seemed to have been preparation ahead of the attack and that the 22-year-old suspect was not aided by anyone else.
“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish teenage girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
Police confirmed that the suspected shooter was present at the mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally.”
They added that they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

An ambulance and armed police are seen during the evacuation of people at the Fields shopping center in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 3, 2022 after Danish media reported a shooting. (AFP)

In some of the images, the young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work.”
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight, AFP noted.
The shooting occurred Sunday afternoon at the busy Fields shopping mall, located between the city center and Copenhagen airport.
According to police, the shooter was armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and while the guns were not believed to be illegal, the suspect did not have a license for them.
Witnesses quoted by the Danish media described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach.
“He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn’t running,” one witness told public broadcaster DR.
Other eyewitnesses told Danish media they had seen more than 100 people rush toward the mall’s exit as the first shots were fired.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen denounce the “cruel attack” in a statement late Sunday.

People embrace outside Fields shopping center, after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site, in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 3, 2022. (Reuters) 

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said.
The shooting came just over a week after a gunman opened fire near a gay bar in Oslo in neighboring Norway, killing two people and wounding 21 others.
In February of 2015, two people were killed and five injured in Copenhagen in a series of Islamist-motivated shootings.