Voting set to begin in race to become UK prime minister

Candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss take part in the BBC Conservative party leadership debate at Victoria Hall in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Britain, July 25, 2022. (REUTERS)
Candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss take part in the BBC Conservative party leadership debate at Victoria Hall in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Britain, July 25, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 01 August 2022

Voting set to begin in race to become UK prime minister

Voting set to begin in race to become UK prime minister
  • The pair faced their first grilling in front of members on Thursday, the first of 12 nationwide events before Johnson’s successor is announced on September 5

LONDON: The bruising race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister steps up a gear on Monday with the mailing out of ballots to Conservative party members.
With voting set to begin to find Boris Johnson’s replacement, bookmakers have Foreign Secretary Truss as heavy favorite ahead of former finance minister Sunak.
The pair have already spent a fractious two weeks on the campaign trail, where they have clashed repeatedly, particularly over their economic plans.
Truss has promised to slash taxes in an attempt to revive Britain’s spluttering economy and ease the burden of spiralling prices.
Sunak, who steered the UK economy through the pandemic, said Truss’s plans were “fantasy economics” that would fuel inflation and heap further strain on public finances struggling to recover from the pandemic.
But trailing in polls with the all-important party members, Sunak last week performed a significant U-turn by announcing a plan to scrap VAT on energy bills.
And on Sunday he promised to cut the basic rate of income tax by 20 percent before the end of the next parliament, which would be December 2029, at the latest.
He promised grassroot Tories over the weekend that he would stop “woke nonsense” and “end the brainwashing” if he becomes prime minister, although added he has “zero interest in fighting a so-called culture war.”
The 42-year-old also unveiled plans to revive the country’s ailing town centers.
“I want to slash the number of empty shops by 2025 and make sure that they are turned into thriving local assets,” he said.
“I will also crack down on anti-social behavior, graffiti and littering — through extended police powers and increased fines.”

The pair faced their first grilling in front of members on Thursday, the first of 12 nationwide events before Johnson’s successor is announced on September 5.
Truss received a boost on Friday when Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, well regarded among party members for his handling of the Ukraine crisis, pledged his support, saying she was the “only candidate who has both the breadth and depth of experience needed.”
Her tax pledges also helped her secure the support of former leadership contender Tom Tugendhat, who holds sway among the party’s centrists.
Despite the high-level endorsements, Truss insisted it remained a “very, very close race.”
Sunak, whose resignation from Johnson’s scandal-hit government played a key role in bringing about the prime minister’s downfall, has admitted that he is the “underdog” in the contest.
The pair’s two televised head-to-head debates have both been combative, and the race has often turned personal.
Wealthy former financier Sunak hit back at caustic attacks from the Truss camp about his expensive tastes in fashion, which purportedly show that he is out of touch with the ordinary public in hard times.
“This is not about what shoes I wear or what suit I’m wearing.
“This is about what I’m going to do for the country,” Sunak told members, earning applause, although he was also accused by one questioner of “stabbing Boris Johnson in the back.”
Sunak’s campaign has also complained of dirty tricks, calling for “full and proper investigations” into the “continued and deliberate leaking of government documents” that have dogged his bis bid.
Truss meanwhile was reminded at the hustings of her opposition to Brexit in 2016, and her student leadership of the Liberal Democrats at the University of Oxford, when she called for the abolition of the monarchy.
“Almost as soon as I made the (monarchy) speech, I regretted it,” she said. “I was a bit of a teenage controversialist.”

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Finnish border closed to Russians with tourist visas

Finnish border closed to Russians with tourist visas
Updated 6 sec ago

Finnish border closed to Russians with tourist visas

Finnish border closed to Russians with tourist visas
COPENHAGEN: Finland’s border with Russia was closed to Russians with tourist visas Friday, curtailing one of the last easily accessible routes to Europe for Russians trying to flee a military mobilization aimed at bolstering the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
Long queues were reported until midnight at the border crossings. Among the last to enter Finland were two cyclists who arrived a little before 11 p.m., Finnish broadcaster YLE reported from Vaalimaa, one of the main border crossings between the Nordic country and Russia. Finland has the longest border with Russia of all European Union member countries.
With the exception of the one border crossing between Russia and Norway, Finland had provided the last easily accessible land route to Europe for Russian holders of European Schengen-zone visas.
The government justified its decision by saying that continued arrivals of Russian tourists in Finland is endangering the country’s international relations, and cited security concerns related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the “illegal” referendums arranged by Russia in parts of Ukraine and recent sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia under the Baltic Sea.
Russian citizens can still enter Finland for family reasons, study or work. Also, Russian political dissidents may seek to enter for humanitarian purposes.
As of Sept. 1, Finland slashed the number of visas — including for tourism purposes — issued to Russian citizens to one-tenth of the typical number, in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Finnish border guards said they want a fence along the border with Russia, deeming it “necessary due to the changing security environment” in the Nordic country. Such a fence requires the approval of the Finnish Parliament.
The fence would not run the entire 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) length of the border, but shoudl be in “riskier areas, such as border crossings and their nearby areas,” the border guards said.
Norway said Friday it was considering imposing an entry ban for Russians with Schengen visas. The Scandinavian country has a border in the Arctic with Russia which is 198 kilometers (123 miles) long. The sole crossing point is at Storskog.
“We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said.

Gunfire heard in Burkina Faso, sparking mutiny fears

Gunfire heard in Burkina Faso, sparking mutiny fears
Updated 30 September 2022

Gunfire heard in Burkina Faso, sparking mutiny fears

Gunfire heard in Burkina Faso, sparking mutiny fears

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso: Gunfire rang out early Friday in Burkina Faso’s capital and the state broadcaster went off the air, sparking fears of a mutiny nine months after a military coup d’etat overthrew the country’s president.
It was not immediately known where Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba was in the West African country. He had given a speech the day before in Djibo, in the north of Burkina Faso.
Last week, Damiba had traveled to New York where he addressed the UN General Assembly as the country’s coup leader-turned-president.


At least 19 killed, 27 injured in suicide bombing in Afghan capital

At least 19 killed, 27 injured in suicide bombing in Afghan capital
Updated 30 September 2022

At least 19 killed, 27 injured in suicide bombing in Afghan capital

At least 19 killed, 27 injured in suicide bombing in Afghan capital
  • Students were preparing for an exam when a suicide bomber struck an educational center

KABUL: A suicide bombing at a learning center in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least 19 people on Friday morning, police spokesman Khalid Zadran said.
“Students were preparing for an exam when a suicide bomber struck at this educational center. Unfortunately, 19 people have been martyred and 27 others wounded,” Zadran said.
The blast happened in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, a predominantly Shiite Muslim area in western Kabul home to the minority Hazara community, the scene of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly attacks.
“An educational center called ‘Kaj’ has been attacked, which unfortunately has caused deaths and injuries,” interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor tweeted.
“Attacking civilian targets proves the enemy’s inhuman cruelty and lack of moral standards.”
Videos posted online and photos published by local media showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan last year brought an end of the two-decade war and a significant reduction in violence, but security has begun to deteriorate in recent months under the hard-line Islamists.
Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras have faced persecution for decades, with the Taliban accused of abuses against the group when they first ruled from 1996 to 2001 and picking up again after they swept to power last year.
They are also the frequent target of attacks by the Taliban’s enemy the Daesh group. Both consider them heretics.
Countless attacks have devastated the area, with many targeting children, women and schools.
Last year, before the return of the Taliban, at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi.
No group claimed responsibility, but a year earlier Daesh claimed a suicide attack on an educational center in the same area that killed 24, including students.
In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody gun attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the neighborhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.
Just months ago in April two deadly bomb blasts at separate education centers in the area killed six people and wounded at least 20 others.
Education is a flashpoint issue in Afghanistan, with the Taliban blocking many girls from returning to secondary school education, while Daesh also stand against the education of women and girls.


Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry

Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry
Updated 30 September 2022

Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry

Taiwan inducts new amphibious ship in push to bolster indigenous defense industry
  • The 10,600-ton Yu Shan is the latest in Taiwan’s ambitious program to modernize its armed forces

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan: Taiwan’s navy took delivery on Friday of a new, domestically made amphibious warfare ship that can be used to land troops and bolster supply lines to vulnerable islands, part of President Tsai Ing-wen’s defense self-sufficiency push.
The 10,600-ton Yu Shan, named after Taiwan’s tallest mountain, is the latest development in Tsai’s ambitious program to modernize the armed forces amid increased pressure from China, which claims the island as its own.
Speaking at the delivery ceremony in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, Tsai said the ship was a testament to Taiwan’s efforts to boost production of its own warships and achieve the goal of “national defense autonomy.”
“When it comes to China’s military threats, only by strengthening our self-defense capabilities can there be true peace,” she said. “It is our constant policy and determination to implement national defense autonomy so that the military has the best equipment to defend the country.”
China carried out war games near Taiwan last month to show its anger at a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Chinese military activity has continued though at a much-reduced tempo.
Built by state-backed CSBC Corporation Taiwan, the ship is armed with a cannon for use against air and surface targets, anti-aircraft missiles and rapid-fire Phalanx close-in anti-aircraft and anti-missile guns.
CSBC Chairman Cheng Wen-lung said as well as being an amphibious warfare vessel, with space for landing craft and helicopters, it will assume the “main transport role” for the South China Sea and offshore Taiwanese islands that lie close to the Chinese coast, long considered easy targets for China in the event of war.
Though the United States is Taiwan’s most important international arms supplier, Tsai has bolstered the domestic arms industry to try to make Taiwan as self-sufficient as possible.
Although Taiwan’s air force has benefited from big-ticket items such as new and upgraded F-16s, the navy is another of Tsai’s focuses, with submarines in production and a launch in 2020 of the first of a fleet of highly maneuverable stealth corvettes.


Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine
Updated 30 September 2022

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to host a Kremlin ceremony on Friday annexing four regions of Ukraine, while his Ukrainian counterpart said Putin would have to be stopped for Russia to avoid the most damaging consequences of the war.
There was a warning too from United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who said the planned annexations were a “dangerous escalation” and jeopardize prospects for peace.
Putin has doubled down on the invasion he ordered in February despite suffering a major reversal on the battlefield this month and discontent in Russia over a widely criticized “partial mobilization” of thousands more men to fight in Ukraine. Russia calls the war in Ukraine a “special operation.”
“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Thursday evening address.
“It can still be stopped. But to stop it we have to stop that person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your lives, citizens of Russia,” said Zelensky, who earlier spoke of Ukraine delivering a “very harsh” reaction to Russian recognition of so-called referendum results.
Moscow plans annexation of eastern and southern provinces after what Ukraine and Western countries said were sham votes staged at gunpoint in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The territory Russia controls amounts to more than 90,000 square km, or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area — equal to the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Putin took the intermediary step of signing decrees on Thursday paving the way for occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia. The decrees were made public by the Kremlin.
Zelensky promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where “fundamental decisions” will be taken, an official said.

CEREMONY
On the eve of the planned ceremony in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace and a concert in Red Square, Putin said that “all mistakes” made in a call-up announced last week should be corrected, his first public acknowledgment that it had not gone smoothly.
Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid a draft that was billed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialities but has often appeared oblivious to individuals’ service record, health, student status or even age.
Russia says the referendums, ostensibly asking people in the four regions whether they wanted to be part of Russia, were genuine and showed public support.
At Friday’s event, Putin will give a speech, meet leaders of the self-styled Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) as well as the Russian-installed leaders of the parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that Russian forces occupy.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Putin would attend the Red Square concert, as he did a similar event in 2014 after Russia proclaimed it had annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A stage has been set up on the Moscow square with giant video screens and billboards proclaiming the four areas part of Russia.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexation ... would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” United Nations Secretary General Guterres told reporters.
US President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory, denouncing the referendums. “The results were manufactured in Moscow,” Biden said at a conference of Pacific Island leaders on Thursday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

NUCLEAR UMBRELLA
Russian government officials have said that the four regions will fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they have been formally incorporated into Russia. Putin has said he could use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory if necessary.
Washington and the European Union are set to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the annexation plan, and even some of Russia’s close traditional allies, such as Serbia and Kazakhstan, say they will not recognize the move.
What Russia is billing as a celebration comes after Moscow has faced its worst setbacks of the seven-month-old war, with its forces routed in Ukraine’s northeast Kharkiv region.
Heavy fighting continues in the four disputed regions, particularly Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Our situation (in Luhansk region) is more difficult than in the Kharkiv region. There is no effect of surprise here,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday. “They (the Armed Forces of Ukraine) are advancing. And I hope we will receive very positive news in the near future.”
Some military experts say Kyiv is poised to deliver another major defeat, gradually encircling the town of Lyman, Russia’s main remaining bastion in the northern part of Donetsk province.
“The most difficult area for us remains (Lyman). Allied forces are holding their ground. And given that reinforcements will be coming, I believe we will make a breakthrough there,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Telegram.