Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament

Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament
The opposition wants to create parliamentary investigative commissions to probe alleged cases of corruption involving Prime Minister Edi Rama and other top government officials. (AP)
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Updated 21 November 2023
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Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament

Albania’s opposition disrupts a budget vote with flares and piled-up chairs in Parliament
  • Democratic lawmakers lit flares and piled chairs on top of each other in the middle of the hall the minute Prime Minister Edi Rama took his seat to vote on next year’s budget

TIRANA, Albania: Albanian opposition lawmakers disrupted the Parliament’s session again on Monday to protest what they say is increasingly authoritarian rule by the governing Socialists.
Democratic lawmakers lit flares and piled chairs on top of each other in the middle of the hall the minute Prime Minister Edi Rama took his seat to vote on next year’s budget. A cordon of bodyguards stopped opposition lawmakers from getting near the seats of the Cabinet.
The left-wing Socialists, who hold 73 seats in the 140-seat Parliament, made a quick vote in principle and closed the session in 5 minutes. A debate on each budget item is expected later this week.
One of the flares sparked a small fire that was extinguished by opposition lawmakers.
The opposition wants to create parliamentary investigative commissions to probe alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.
The Socialists say the opposition’s requests are not in line with constitutional requirements.
Gazmend Bardhi, one of the opposition lawmakers, said they would not allow the Parliament to carry out its normal work.
“Our battle is to show to each citizen that this is not the Parliament representing them,” he said.
But Bledi Cuci, head of the Socialists’ parliamentary grouping, urged Albanians to note that the Parliament was approving the largest budget ever, and twice the size of 2013 when the Socialists came to power.
“In democracy, the opposition speaks with alternatives and not with flares,” he added.
The disturbances first started last month, two days before prosecutors accused Sali Berisha, former prime minister and president for the Democratic Party, of corruption over of a land-buying scheme that’s now under legal investigation in the capital, Tirana.
The prosecutors allege the 79-year-old Berisha granted financial favors to his son-in-law, who was arrested. Berisha has said that they are both innocent, and claims the case is politically motivated and that his opponent, Rama, is behind it.
Bardhi said the opposition would radicalize its protests but did not elaborate.
The opposition has been divided into at least three groupings since 2021 when Berisha and his family members were barred by the United States from entering the country, and later also the United Kingdom, because of alleged involvement in corruption. Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the US on grounds of corruption.
Post-communist Albania has struggled to fight corruption, which has impeded its democratic, economic and social development.


In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

A migrant prays at an abandoned warehouse turned migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP)
A migrant prays at an abandoned warehouse turned migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP)
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In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

A migrant prays at an abandoned warehouse turned migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP)
  • Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America

TIJUANA, Mexico: From Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, citizens of distant, Muslim countries wait for US asylum at a shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana -- more used to seeing migrants from Latin America than the Middle East.
At the Assabil Inn, Mexico's first shelter catering for US-bound Muslim migrants, the backstories of the guests are as varied as the assortment of languages they speak.
"Almost everybody follows the same faith. So it feels like you're among your brothers and sisters," Maitham Alojaili, a 26-year-old who fled civil war-wrecked Sudan, told AFP before joining Friday prayers at the facility's mosque.
"People get kidnapped. Anything could happen. Sometimes, when you leave home, there's a very high chance that you don't come back," Alojaili said of the circumstances that compelled him to leave everything behind in search of a better life far away.
Data released this week by Mexico's National Migration Institute said some 1.39 million people from 177 countries have traveled through the country so far this year, trying to reach the United States without entry papers.
The figure represents almost the whole world -- the United Nations has 193 member states.
The majority came from Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Haiti.

Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America.
For many, it includes a journey on foot through the dangerous Darien Gap, a dense jungle on the Colombia-Panama border replete with dangerous animals, criminals and human traffickers.
Yusseph Rahnali, a 31-year-old Algerian, told AFP he opted for the United States "because they accept everybody."
Europe is not an option, he said, because of visa requirements. Instead, he flew visa-free to Ecuador before crossing seven other countries to Mexico where he awaits news on the US asylum process.
Migration is at the heart of the campaign for the US presidential election in November.
Seeking re-election, incumbent Joe Biden signed a decree this month shutting down the border to asylum seekers after certain daily limits are reached.
On Tuesday, in an attempt to balance the crackdown criticized by the left and human rights groups, he announced a new potential citizenship path for immigrants married to US nationals -- which was in turn slammed by conservatives.

In Tijuana, 29-year-old Afghan journalist Fanah Ahmadi told AFP he traveled to Brazil on a humanitarian visa, then through "nine or ten other countries" to get to Mexico.
"There are many difficulties on the way but I am still grateful that... today, I am here," said Ahmadi of the Assabil Inn, where migrants receive food and shelter, "and we are near the border as well."
The Inn, opened in 2022, can house up to 200 people and allows Muslims to pray and eat halal. A stay can last from one week to seven months.
"Muslims have their home here in Tijuana," said founder Sonia Garcia, a Mexican who converted to Islam through marriage.
In 2023, a record 2.4 million people crossed the US-Mexico border without travel documents, according to US figures.
The flow hit a high of 10,000 people per day in December, which has since been reduced as both countries have cracked down.
For purposes of statistics, migrants from Muslim countries are grouped by US officials into a category labeled "other," due to their small number compared to those from Latin America, India or Russia.
Trump, as US president, banned migrants from Muslim countries in a measure that has since been overturned.
On the campaign trail he has ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric, saying migrants were "poisoning the blood" of the United States.
 

 


UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast
Updated 19 June 2024
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UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast
  • Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons
  • Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England

LONDON: Three opinion polls on Wednesday predicted a record defeat for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives at a July 4 election, forecasting the Labour Party would comfortably win a large majority after 14 years in opposition.
Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons, the most in its history. Savanta predicted 516 seats for Labour and More in Common gave it 406.
YouGov had the Conservatives on 108 and the Liberal Democrats on 67, while Savanta predicted the Conservatives would take 53 parliamentary seats and the Liberal Democrats 50. More in Common forecast 155 and 49 seats respectively.
Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, said its projection put Labour on course “for a historic majority.”
The three polls were so-called multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) surveys, an approach that uses voters’ age, gender, education and other variables to predict results in every British voting district. Pollsters used the method to successfully predict the 2017 British election result.
They are largely in line with previous surveys predicting a Labour victory, but show the scale of the Conservatives’ defeat could be even worse than previously thought.
YouGov’s forecast of 108 seats for the Conservatives was around 32 lower than its previous poll two weeks earlier.
Both Savanta and YouGov predicted that the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher could be left with the lowest number of seats in its near 200-year history contesting elections.
Sunak, who in a final throw of the dice last week pledged to cut 17 billion pounds of taxes for working people if re-elected,
has failed to turn the polls around so far in a campaign littered with missteps.
His task has been made harder by the surprise mid-campaign return to frontline politics by prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, a right-wing populist, whose Reform UK party threatens to split the right-of-center vote.
Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system, meaning Reform could pick up millions of votes across the country without winning any individual seats.
YouGov predicted Reform would win five seats and Savanta none. More in Common did not give a figure for Reform.
The Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England, once considered a safe Conservative constituency, with the contest currently too close to call.
Sunak has acknowledged that people are frustrated with him and his party after more than a decade in power, dominated at times by political turmoil and scandal.
All three surveys projected several senior government ministers, including finance minister Jeremy Hunt, were on course to lose their seats.
Most opinion polls currently place Keir Starmer’s Labour about 20 percentage points ahead of the governing Conservatives in the national vote share.
Other polls in recent days have also presented a grim picture for Sunak, with one pollster predicting “electoral extinction” for the Conservatives.


Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’
Updated 19 June 2024
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Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’
  • Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, called on other political leaders to ‘step up’ to address divisions
  • Britain needs ‘leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further,’ she says

LONDON: A Muslim community leader has accused Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of “attacking and undermining Muslim communities” in a bid to win votes during the July 4 general election, according to the Independent on Wednesday.
Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, said Farage’s comments last month were “worrying,” and called on other political leaders to “step up” to address divisions.
When questioned about Conservative plans to bring in national service for 18-year-olds, the Reform UK leader said there are “a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values, in fact loathe much of what we stand for.”
Farage confirmed during his interview on Sky News that he was referring to Muslims.
Describing his comments as “disgraceful,” Atta said the claims are “nothing new,” a reference to remarks Farage has made in the past.
After the Westminster terror attack in 2017, Farage told a US TV network: “I’m sorry to say that we have now a fifth column living inside these European countries.”
Referring to his “fifth column” remark, Atta said: “He obviously keeps on attacking and undermining Muslim communities in any way that he can find in order to be able to attract more votes and spread more polarization among communities.
“It’s actually quite worrying for us to see that, especially at a time when our country needs leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further.”
Atta added that now is the time for “leadership that is calling out hatred and division, that is promoting integrity, that is addressing really what brings our communities together in a challenging time across the world.
“I think it’s a time that we need to see better leadership step up.”
Tell Mama has published its Manifesto Against Hate, with key proposals for the next government, including the appointment of a “hate crime czar” to prioritize and oversee initiatives; more ministerial engagement with local communities “to foster inclusivity and reduce social divisions”; and boards to be established at local, regional, and national levels to promote dialogue and collaboration between Muslim and Jewish communities.
Atta said that following the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent Israel-Gaza conflict, the relationship between the two communities suffered “quite a fracture,” which will take years to repair.
“Communities on all sides have just forgotten about the basic elements of understanding, empathy and listening. There has been a lot of abuse online toward both Muslim and Jewish communities, but also offline,” she added.
Atta said there has been considerable “anger within Muslim communities on the approach the UK has had on the Israel-Gaza war.”
Regarding next month’s elections, she said some Muslims feel that engagement with a new government, “whoever that government is, is key in order to be able to lobby and change the dynamics of how we speak about the war, but equally how we address the issues that are arising (in communities in the UK) off the back of the war in Israel and Gaza.”


White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Updated 19 June 2024
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White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
  • Israeli leader’s claim Washington has been withholding weapons a ‘public stunt,’ officials say

LONDON: The White House canceled a meeting with Israel regarding Iran after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the US of withholding weapons on Tuesday, according to an Axios report.

In a video released on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed he had told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it was “inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”

He implied the holdup was slowing Israel’s offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

President Joe Biden’s top advisers, angered by Netanyahu’s public statement, made a public statement of their own by canceling the US-Israel meeting scheduled for Thursday, Axios reported.

“This decision makes it clear that there are consequences for pulling such stunts,” a US official told the news outlet.

Another said the meeting had been postponed, not scrapped altogether.

Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs to Israel since May over concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza.

However, Blinken said on Tuesday that the 2,000-pound bombs are the only ammunitions under review. He told reporters that “everything else is moving as it normally would.”


Europe must host Gaza children, Greek foreign minister says

Palestinians gather on Wednesday to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
Palestinians gather on Wednesday to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2024
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Europe must host Gaza children, Greek foreign minister says

Palestinians gather on Wednesday to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)
  • The psychological impact of the war on the youngsters is ‘tremendous,’ Gerapetritis says

ATHENS: Europe has a duty to host children hurt and traumatized by war in Gaza for as long as the conflict continues, Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis said.

Gerapetritis is seeking partners in what he hopes would be a project to temporarily bring the children to the EU. He said he discussed the idea with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa this week.
“We need to face this tragedy very clearly,” Gerapetritis said.
“Europe should be open to injured people from (Gaza) but also to children who are now facing famine or other sorts of dangers.”

FASTFACT

Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis believes Greece’s historical ties with the Arab world give it credibility to act as a peace broker.

Greece was elected as a member of the UN Security Council for 2025-2026 earlier this month. Gerapetritis believes Greece’s historical ties with the Arab world give it credibility to act as a peace broker.
The 56-year old, who has held the post for a year, did not say how many people could be hosted by Greece or the EU but said the issue was under discussion with Palestinian authorities.
Gerapetritis stressed that the initiative was not linked to regular migration, which has become politically sensitive in Europe and strongly opposed by a resurgent right.
“This is an obvious call for humanitarian assistance. We’re not talking here about economic migrants or other types of irregular migration,” he said, days after far-right parties surged in European parliamentary elections.
Greece condemned the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel but has called for a halt to Israel’s ground and air assault on Gaza that Palestinian authorities say has killed more than 35,000 people and flattened whole cities.
The World Health Organization says many in Gaza face famine-like conditions, and more than 8,000 children under five years old are suffering from acute malnutrition.
In addition, the psychological impact of the war on children is “tremendous,” said Gerapetritis.
Gerapetritis said he talked to Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers this week about ways to seal peace and reconstruct Gaza.
“We shouldn’t wait ... for the war to stop to start discussing it,” he said.
“It is going to be a giant project, and we have to develop it as early as possible,” he said.
A Gaza ceasefire would also help reduce attacks on ships by Houthis in the Red Sea, which has affected Greece’s shipping sector.
“I am relatively optimistic that alongside the ceasefire that we’re hoping to achieve very shortly, the situation also in the Red Sea will become much better,” Gerapetritis said.