London police chief rebukes PM’s criticism of handling of Palestine protests

The chief of London’s Metropolitan Police on Tuesday hit back at criticism from the British prime minister over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests in the city since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. (AFP)
The chief of London’s Metropolitan Police on Tuesday hit back at criticism from the British prime minister over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests in the city since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2024
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London police chief rebukes PM’s criticism of handling of Palestine protests

London police chief rebukes PM’s criticism of handling of Palestine protests
  • Force ‘operating in a very challenging political environment,’ Mark Rowley says
  • ‘We have to police the law as it is, not as others would wish it to be’

LONDON: The chief of London’s Metropolitan Police on Tuesday hit back at criticism from the British prime minister over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests in the city since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Rishi Sunak on Friday made a speech about the rise of extremism in the UK, in which he accused the Met of managing, not policing, the demonstrations.

“This week I have met with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them,” the prime minister said.

“And I say this to the police, we will back you when you take action.”

Numerous protests have been held in London and other UK cities following Israel’s military response to the Hamas attack, in which 1,200 people were killed. More than 30,000 civilians have since been killed in Gaza.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, during a session with the London Policing Board on Tuesday, said Sunak’s comments were inaccurate, adding that while most protests were peaceful, his officers often felt undermined and some had faced death threats.

“We’re always operating in a very challenging political environment where tensions remain high and hate crime is still a long way above pre-Oct. 7 levels,” Rowley said.

“Policing is used to being criticized. But where it isn’t justified, I do worry about the impact it has on our officers and staff, and on public confidence as we strive to operate without fear or favor.

“So, despite warm words, officers do not feel supported. And that is degrading their confidence and willingness to act in a whole range of situations. Not only protest.”

Rowley said the cost of policing the protests since October had reached £30 million ($38.1 million) and he urged Sunak’s government to bear some if not all of the cost, adding that resources had been pulled away from fighting other crime as a result.

The commissioner highlighted how criticism of the police’s handling of the protests from the left and right wings of British politics had made his officers’ jobs harder. He made reference to former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s “two-tier policing” accusations of the Met’s clamping down harder on far-right protesters than on anti-war demonstrators.

“At the moment, one side of the debate seems to say that we are guilty of two-tier policing and the other side says that we are oppressive and clamping down on the right to freedom of speech,” he said.

“In this context of polarized public debate, I do think sometimes that we’re the first people who are able to be labeled simultaneously woke and fascists.

“To suggest that we are not, where the law permits, as the law allows, policing robustly, is inaccurate. At each of the major protests where the majority have been peaceful, we’ve seen wrongdoing and we’ve acted.

“We have to police the law as it is, not as others would wish it to be.”


Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai
Updated 6 sec ago
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Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

NEW DELHI: A-list actors in India called on voters to cast their ballots on Monday, as the country’s massive general election reaches Bollywood capital Mumbai, entering its fifth phase. 

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India, as the world’s largest electoral exercise began on April 19 in a seven-phase election spread out over over six weeks, with ballots set to be counted on June 4. 

Voter numbers have slumped compared to previous polls, with the first four phases of the election held on April 19, April 26, May 7 and May 13 seeing a turnout of 66.95 percent, 66.7 percent, 65.7 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively. 

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, located in Maharashtra state, Bollywood stars were among the voters queuing since early morning to cast their ballots on Monday, as millions vote in the fifth phase of the election, where 49 seats are up for grabs across six states and two federally administered territories. 

“I came here at 7 o’clock in the morning when the polling booth opened,” actor Akshay Kumar told reporters after casting his vote. 

“I want my India to be developed and strong. I voted, keeping that in mind. (Indians) should vote according to what they think is best for them.” 

Actor Rajkummar Rao said that voting was a “big responsibility” for the nation. 

“It’s very, very important. If, through us, people can get influenced, it’s the best we can do to make people aware of the importance of voting. It’s our moral responsibility toward the nation. I appeal to all of you to come out and vote,” he said. 

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan had also urged Indians to use their right to vote over the weekend, taking to X — where he has more than 44 million followers — to make the public call. 

“As responsible Indian citizens we must exercise our right to vote this Monday in Maharashtra. Let’s carry out our duty as Indians and vote keeping our country’s best interests in mind,” Khan said. 

This election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014. 

Analysts say Maharashtra will likely be a swing state as it sends the second-highest number of representatives to the lower house of parliament after Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers. It may affect the BJP’s initial strong projections in the polls. 

“There are many social issues that are going to be crucial in the state. For instance there is an agrarian distress, the issue of  reservation for the local Maratha community, the general issues like price rise and unemployment that are going against the  establishment,” said Shailendra R Kharat, political science professor at Pune University. 

Though the BJP swept 42 seats in the state in the 2019 elections, Kharat said he expects the ruling party alliance to get only 30 at most. 

Ashok Wankhede, a political analyst based in Maharashtra, said the BJP has not been able “to carry the trust” of the people.

“Maharashtra is the state where the BJP-led alliance is losing the most. This is going to be a major swing state,” he told Arab News. 

“To talk about 400 seats is a war cry. The fight in this election is open and it’s not going to be easy for the BJP to form the government. The last four phases of the election have not been very promising for the BJP.”


Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
Updated 22 min 27 sec ago
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Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
  • Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened
  • Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday sentenced a man to 25 years in jail for planning to set fire to a Siberian military enlistment office in 2022, the year Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.
Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened.
Russia saw a wave of arson attacks on army offices however after the Kremlin announced an unpopular military mobilization drive in September 2022.
A military court in Novosibirsk handed down the sentence. Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion, a branch of the Ukrainian military branded a terror organization in Russia.
Baburin “created a plan to set the military commissariat in Novosibirsk on fire,” prosecutors said.
They said he recruited somebody to throw a Molotov cocktail at the army office but the unnamed person instead reported him to the FSB security service.
Baburin was acting on Ukrainian orders and that he had “established contact” with members of the Azov battalion, prosecutors said.
TASS news agency published footage of Baburin in court, wearing a tracksuit and smiling inside a glass cage for defendants.
“I did not set anything on fire,” Baburin said in court, according to the independent Dozhd TV channel.
He accused the FSB of trying to “gain points” during Moscow’s Ukraine campaign and of “investigating absurd crimes.”
Baburin, who was arrested in September 2022, was found guilty of a string of offenses, including “terrorism” and “treason.”
His lawyer Vasily Dubkov argued in court this month that “nobody was harmed,” according to a transcript of a statement delivered in court and published by the Perviy Otdel rights group.
“Baburin does not look like a spy giving out state secrets and did not have or hand out state secrets,” Dubkov said.
Separately, a military court in Saint Petersburg on Monday sentenced a cadet to eight years in prison for attempting to set railway infrastructure on fire last year.
The court said Timur Kursanov was undergoing military service at an army institute and had taken orders from an unnamed person online who wanted to “involve him in arson acts in exchange for money aimed at destroying transport infrastructure.”
The court said he was arrested during a failed attempt to set fire to a railway intersection in Saint Petersburg in May last year.


Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
Updated 38 min 22 sec ago
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Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
  • The disaster killed six construction workers and snarled traffic into Baltimore Harbor
  • Several tugboats are escorting the Dali on its 2.5-mile path to the marine terminal

BALTIMORE: The container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was refloated Monday and has begun slowly moving back to port.
The Dali has remained at the collapse site since it lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns on March 26, killing six construction workers and snarling traffic into Baltimore Harbor.
The ship appeared to start moving shortly after 6 a.m. as crews started to maneuver it out of the wreckage. It started and stopped a few times before slowly backing away from the collapse site.
Officials said it would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and crashed into the bridge. Pieces of the bridge’s steel trusses protruded from its bow, which remained covered in concrete from the collapsed roadway.
Officials have said they plan to unload the ship’s containers and complete some short-term repairs while it’s docked in Baltimore.
Monday morning’s high tide had been expected to bring the best conditions for crews to refloat and start moving the ship, according to a statement from the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.
Several tugboats were escorting the Dali on its path to the marine terminal. The work is expected to last at least 21 hours.
Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge.
The Dali experienced four electrical blackouts within about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore for Sri Lanka and hitting the bridge, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.


Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
Updated 45 min 22 sec ago
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Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
  • Philippines has blamed Chinese fishermen for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard
  • There was no immediate response from China

MANILA: The Philippines blamed Chinese fishermen on Monday for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard in the South China Sea and urged an international inquiry into the amount of environmental damage in the area.
The Philippine coast guard presented surveillance photographs of Chinese fishermen harvesting large numbers of giant clams for a number of years in a lagoon at Scarborough Shoal, but said signs of such activities stopped in March 2019.
Parts of the surrounding coral appeared to be badly scarred, in what the coast guard said was apparently a futile search by the Chinese for more clams. The lagoon is a prominent fishing area which Filipinos call Bajo de Masinloc and the Chinese calll Huangyan Dao off the northwestern Philippines.
“Those were the last remaining giant clams that we saw in Bajo de Masinloc,” Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said at a news conference.
“We are alarmed and worried about the situation that’s happening there,” National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said. He said China should allow an independent inquiry by experts from the United Nations and environmental groups.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Beijing has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over much of the busy South China Sea. The territorial disputes involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Indonesian navy has also been involved in skirmishes with the Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels in the Natuna waters in the margins of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has adopted a policy of publicizing China’s increasingly assertive actions in the contested waters to gain international support, and the news conference was its latest effort to condemn China’s stewardship of Scarborough Shoal.
China effectively seized the shoal in 2012 after a standoff that ended when Philippine government ships withdrew based on what Manila said was a deal brokered by American officials to ease the dangerous confrontation. China reneged on its promise to remove its ships and has since surrounded the shoal with coast guard and suspected militia ships, according to Philippine officials.
Since then, the Chinese coast guard has had a series of skirmishes with Philippine patrol ships and fishing boats, which have been prevented from entering the lagoon, ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops. Three weeks ago, Chinese ships fired powerful water cannons that damaged Philippine coast guard and fisheries vessels.
“They’re preventing us from getting into the lagoon,” Malaya said. “We can ask third-party environmental groups or even the United Nations to do a fact-finding mission to determine the environmental situation.”
The Philippines has brought its territorial disputes with China to international arbitration and largely won. The 2016 ruling invalidated China’s expansive claims to much of the South China Sea, a key global trade route, on historical grounds and cited Chinese government actions that resulted in environmental damage in the offshore region.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling and continues to defy it.
The territorial hostilities have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the US, which has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its long-time treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.


UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds
Updated 55 min 1 sec ago
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UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

UK’s infected blood scandal could and should have been avoided, inquiry finds

LONDON: Britain’s infected blood scandal that has killed 3,000 people and left thousands more suffering with hepatitis or HIV was no accident, a public inquiry found on Monday, blaming a catalogue of failures by government and doctors.
Inquiry chair Brian Langstaff said more than 30,000 people received infected blood and blood products in the 1970s and 1980s from Britain’s state-funded National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.
The use of infected blood, despite the known risks, has resulted in thousands of victims in the United States, France, Canada and other countries, in part after US prisoners and other high-risk groups were paid to provide blood.
In Britain around 1,250 people with bleeding disorders were infected with HIV, including about 380 children, the inquiry found.
Three quarters of them died.
“This disaster was not an accident,” Langstaff said. “The infections happened because those in authority — doctors, the blood services and successive governments — did not put patient safety first.”
He said proper compensation must now be paid.
The government, which in 2015 said it was “something that never should have happened”, agreed in 2022 to pay an interim 100,000 pounds ($126,990) to those affected.
The infected blood and blood products, some of which were imported from the United States, were used for transfusions, which were not always clinically needed, and as treatments for bleeding disorders like haemophilia.
Haemophiliacs received Factor 8 concentrates, often imported from the United States or Austria, which carried a higher risk of causing hepatitis.
Some of the concentrates were infected with HIV in the 1980s, the inquiry said, but authorities failed to switch to safer alternatives and they decided in July 1983, a year after risks were apparent, not to suspend their importation.
Systemic failures resulted in between 80 and 100 people becoming infected with HIV by transfusion, it said, and about 26,800 were infected with Hepatitis C, often from receiving blood after childbirth or an operation.
Both groups were failed by doctors’ complacency about Hepatitis C and being slow to respond to the risks of AIDS, it said, compounded by an absence of meaningful apology or redress.
He said patients were exposed to risks despite it being well known that blood could cause severe infection, in the case of hepatitis since the end of World War Two.
Treatment practices that could have reduced the risks were not adopted, he said, noting blood was collected from prisoners, who had a higher prevalence of hepatitis, until 1984.
Some of the victims were further betrayed by being used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent, he said.
“It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK,” Langstaff said.
The British inquiry, which started in 2018, does not have the power to recommend prosecutions. ($1 = 0.7875 pounds)