Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

Update Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’
Bowing to the inevitable as more than 50 ministers quit and lawmakers said he must go, an isolated and powerless Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street to confirm he would resign. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’

Boris Johnson steps down as Conservative leader, says ‘will of party clear’
  • ‘The process of choosing that new leader should begin now. And today I have appointed a cabinet to serve, as I will until a new leader is in place’

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader Thursday amid a mass revolt by top members of his government, marking an end to three tumultuous years in power in which he brazenly bent and sometimes broke the rules of British politics.
Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as Johnson stood in 10 Downing Street and conceded that his party wanted him gone.
“Them’s the breaks,” he said.
The brash, 58-year-old politician who took Britain out of the European Union and steered it through COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine was brought down by one scandal too many — this one involving his appointment of a politician who had been accused of sexual misconduct.
The messiest of prime ministers did not leave cleanly. Johnson stepped down immediately as party leader but said he would remain in office as prime minister until the party chooses his successor. But many in the party want him gone before then, and his government has been shredded by scores of resignations.
Among the possible candidates to succeed him: former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
Johnson had clung to power for two days, defiantly telling lawmakers on Wednesday that he had a “colossal mandate” from voters and intended to get on with the business of government.
But he was forced to concede defeat Thursday morning after one of his closest allies, newly appointed Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi, publicly told him to resign for the good of the country.
“In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate," Johnson said outside his office. “I regret not to have been successful in those arguments, and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself.’’
The timetable for choosing a new prime minister will be announced next week, Johnson said.
“It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore a new prime minister,” he said.
Zahawi, who was promoted earlier this week as Johnson tried to shore up his Cabinet, said he and a group of colleagues had privately expressed their concerns to the prime minister on Wednesday and he decided to go public after Johnson ignored the advice to resign.
“I am heartbroken that he hasn’t listened and that he is now undermining the incredible achievements of this government,” Zahawi said in a letter posted on Twitter. “But the country deserves a government that is not only stable but which acts with integrity.”
Thursday morning’s resignations meant that 50 Cabinet secretaries, ministers and lower-level officials had quit the government over two days, often castigating the prime minister for his lack of integrity.
With more than 20 positions unfilled, the crisis had stalled the business of some parliamentary committees because there were no ministers available to speak on the government’s behalf.
It is a humiliating defeat for Johnson, who not only pulled off Brexit but was credited with rolling out one of the world’s most successful mass vaccination campaigns to combat COVID-19.
But the perpetually rumpled leader known for greeting critics with bombast and bluster was also dogged by criticism that he acted as if the rules did not apply to him.
He managed to remain in power for almost three years, despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules. He was fined by police and survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
Recent disclosures that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a Conservative lawmaker before he promoted him to a senior position in government proved to be one scandal too many.
The crisis began when Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid allegations that he had groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher.
Johnson tried to deflect criticism with shifting explanations about what he knew and when he knew it, but that just highlighted concerns that the prime minister couldn’t be trusted.
Javid and Sunak resigned within minutes of each other Tuesday night, triggering a wave of departures among their Cabinet colleagues and lower-level officials.
Javid captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he said Wednesday in the House of Commons. “I believe that point is now.”
Bernard Jenkin, a senior Conservative Party lawmaker, told the BBC he met with Johnson later in the day and advised him to step down.
“I just said to him, ‘Look, it’s just when you go now, and it’s how you go. You can go with some dignity or you can be forced out like Donald Trump clinging to power and pretending he’s won the election when he’s lost,'" Jenkin said.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens
Updated 12 sec ago

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens
  • Ten ships have already sailed since the first last left week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

ISTANBUL: Two more ships, carrying corn and soybeans, departed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey and Ukraine said, taking the total to ten since the first ship sailed last week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement last month after warnings the halt in grain shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Sacura, which departed from Pivdennyi, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Monday, while the Arizona, which left Chornomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Separately, the Polarnet, which departed on Friday, reached its final destination in northwestern Turkey’s Derince on Monday morning to be unloaded, marking the completion of the first shipment since the exports were re-launched.

So far, around 243,000 tons of corn has been exported from Ukraine on seven ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, according to a Reuters tally of data from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The other ships carried 11,000 tons of soybeans, 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and 45,000 tons of sunflower meal.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, confirmed the two latest ships left on Monday, adding Pivdennyi, the third Ukrainian port included in the deal, was finally up and running as part of the initiative.

Kubrakov had said previously the opening of Pivdennyi would push Ukraine’s total export capacity up to three million tons a month.

In peacetime, Ukraine exported up to six million tons of grain a month from its ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast.

The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding they would be inspected on Tuesday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine for what it calls its “special military operation,” the two countries together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

The Razoni, which was the first ship to depart, was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but is currently at anchor off Turkey’s southern coast, according to Refinitiv ship tracker data.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Sunday the Fulmar S, the first foreign-flagged bulk ship to reach the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk since the conflict, was ready for loading.

A second ship traveling to Ukraine, the Osprey S, was inspected in Istanbul on Sunday and was nearing Ukraine on Monday morning, Refinitiv data also showed.


Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
Updated 33 min 25 sec ago

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
  • The agreement also includes participation in a national, inclusive dialogue

DUBAI: Chad’s military government and some rebel groups signed a pledge Monday in Qatar ahead of planned national reconciliation talks, though the deal did not include the country’s main opposition group.

Under the terms of the deal in Doha, those who signed have agreed to a cease-fire ahead of the Aug. 20 talks planned in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Chad’s junta also agreed to “not take any military or police operations against the signing groups” in neighboring countries.

However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the main rebel group in the country, did not sign the pledge. The shadowy group, known by its French acronym FACT, is blamed for the 2021 killing of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country since 1990.

That immediately called into question whether the deal would be enough to ensure the success of the talks as a planned 18-month transition from military rule to democracy winds down.

FACT did not immediately comment publicly on its decision not to sign the pledge.

We hope “other groups will join the march of reconciliation and peace, with a view to achieving the aspirations and dreams of the Chadian people,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told those gathered for the signing ceremony. “The initial peace agreement we are celebrating today will be an important turning point toward stability and prosperity for the Chadian people.”

“It is no secret that the negotiations faced many challenges which were addressed through your estimated efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed added.

Those challenges include some 20 rebel groups walking out of the talks in July, accusing the military government under Deby’s 38-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, of “harassments, intimidation, threats and disinformation” amid the negotiations.

Rebels have called for Deby to declare he would not run in any coming elections, though the military junta has insisted that can only be decided in the national dialogue talks. The pledge signed Monday in Qatar do not include any prohibition on Deby running in any coming vote.

Chad had grown frustrated by the 30 years of rule by Deby’s father, leading to years of rebel uprisings in the former French colony that borders Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Unrest in those surrounding countries have seen Chadian rebel forces hide across the border.


Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
Updated 08 August 2022

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
  • Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people
  • A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder

SAVANNAH: Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.
When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three face were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.
In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Arbery’s family has insisted the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people. A woman testified to hearing an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said: “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.


Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
Updated 08 August 2022

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
  • Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app
  • Under the new system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will cut mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals from one week to three days from Friday, Chief Executive John Lee announced in an easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have severely curbed travel.
Once a global logistics and transportation hub, Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world for more than two years under its strict adherence to China’s zero-COVID policy.
Under some of the world’s tightest pandemic rules, Hong Kong had required overseas and Taiwan arrivals to undergo seven days of mandatory quarantine and repeated testing while confined to a room in a designated hotel, a restriction that residents and the business community complained had deterred them from traveling.
Lee, Hong Kong’s ex-security chief turned city leader, announced Monday that the quarantine period for arrivals would be shortened to three days’ hotel quarantine plus four days of health monitoring at home or a hotel of their choice.
“We hope to maintain livelihood activities and Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and to give the society the best development momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
He denied the easing signalled any departure from China’s policy.
“Staying in touch with the outside world and working to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland are no contradiction,” he said.
Alongside the new quarantine arrangements, Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app.
Under the system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine.
Overseas arrivals will be given a yellow code and will not be allowed in places such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas during their four days of self monitoring.


China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
Updated 08 August 2022

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
  • Confirms fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses

TAIPEI: China’s military announced fresh military drills on Monday in the seas and airspace around Taiwan — a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises to protest against last week’s visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations — confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington.

The duration and precise location of the latest drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.

Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure. “Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.

It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said.

Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.

Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones had simulated attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately.”

China’s defense ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.

“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the US side on its own initiative, and the US side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.

“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.

China called off formal talks involving theater-level commands, defense policy co-ordination and military maritime consultations on Friday as Pelosi left the region.

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials condemned the move, describing it as an irresponsible over-reaction.

China’s cutting of some of its few communication links with the US military raises the risk of an accidental escalation over Taiwan at a critical moment, according to security analysts and diplomats.

One US official noted that Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials amid the tensions last week, but that they did not see this as a formal severing of ties with senior figures, such as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Asked directly about those reports, defense ministry spokesman Wu said, “China’s relevant counter-measures are a necessary warning to the provocations of the United States and Taiwan, and a legitimate defense of national sovereignty and security.”