UK’s Rwanda plan rejected by Lords after vote to exempt Afghan soldiers

UK’s Rwanda plan rejected by Lords after vote to exempt Afghan soldiers
The Lords amendment on protections from deportation for former Afghan military personnel was proposed by a former UK defense secretary, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and supported by two former chiefs of the UK’s defense staff. (REUTERS)
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Updated 18 April 2024
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UK’s Rwanda plan rejected by Lords after vote to exempt Afghan soldiers

UK’s Rwanda plan rejected by Lords after vote to exempt Afghan soldiers
  • Peers approve amendment to bill to protect ex-servicemen, families from being deported
  • Bill to return to Commons after Lords also vote to set up committee to monitor safety in Rwanda

LONDON: The UK’s House of Lords rejected the government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda for asylum processing in a vote on Wednesday after it approved two amendments to the legislation.

The upper chamber of Parliament voted in favor of a proposal to exempt Afghans who worked with UK military personnel from being deported to the East African country, and of another that would see a committee established to monitor safety in Rwanda.

The bill will return to the House of Commons early next week, where MPs have previously refused to back amendments made to it by the Lords. 

The government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has made the Rwanda scheme a core part of his pledge to lower illegal migration across the English Channel before the next general election, says the bill in its current form is “the right way forward.”

However, a previous version of the scheme was rejected by the UK Supreme Court in 2023 as unlawful. 

The plan has also drawn cross-party criticism for its expense, worries about its effectiveness, the government’s inability to implement it and for the way it treats people in need of asylum, including former Afghan soldiers, translators and their families, many of whom risked their lives to assist the UK during operations in Afghanistan.

Numerous Afghans have been identified as having been threatened with deportation to Rwanda for entering the UK illegally, with many claiming safe legal routes either don’t work in practice or don’t exist.

The Independent highlighted the cases of a former Afghan Air Force pilot hailed as a “patriot” by former colleagues, who crossed the Channel in a small boat, and of two former Afghan special forces soldiers belonging to units known as “Triples” run by the British Army, who were wrongly denied assistance by the UK Ministry of Defence.

Along with reporting by Lighthouse Reports and Sky News, hundreds of other former Triples soldiers have also been identified hiding in Pakistan, awaiting an MoD review after many were refused entry to the UK.

The Lords amendment on protections from deportation for former Afghan military personnel was proposed by a former UK defense secretary, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and supported by two former chiefs of the UK’s defense staff.

Earlier on Wednesday Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said peers should reject the amendments to “send a clear signal that if you come to the UK illegally, you will not be able to stay.”

But Lord Browne told the Lords: “Now is the time to give these people the sanctuary their bravery has earned.”

He added the government needed to be reminded of “the political consequences of their failure not to give either an assurance that is bankable or to accept this amendment. Because there is little, if any, support in your lordships’ House for their failure to do this and there (is) certainly no majority support in the country to treat these brave people this way.”

Lord Coaker, shadow home affairs spokesperson in the Lords, added: “Why on earth would the government oppose that particular amendment? It’s one of those things that is completely unbelievable.”

On Wednesday, Conservative MP Sir Robert Buckland told the Commons: “There is still a class of people who have served this country, who have been brave and have exposed themselves to danger, who have not yet been dealt with.

“Many of them are in Pakistan, and I think that it would have been helpful to have perhaps seen an amendment in lieu to deal with that point.”


China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week
Updated 27 May 2024
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China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week

China to host Egypt’s El-Sisi, Arab leaders this week
  • Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday

BEIJING: China will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as well as a number of other Arab leaders in Beijing this week, its foreign ministry said Monday.
The leaders will from Tuesday to Saturday “pay state visits to China and attend the opening ceremony of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.
Also among the delegation will be Bahrain’s King Hamad, Tunisian President Kais Saied and the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Deng Li said President Xi Jinping would attend the forum and deliver a keynote address on Thursday.
Xi would also “hold talks with the four heads of state respectively to exchange views on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern,” Deng said.
The forum would aim to deepen “consensus between China and Arab countries,” Deng said, and would be co-chaired by top diplomat Wang Yi and his Mauritanian counterpart.
They would also “issue a common voice between China and Arab countries on the Palestinian issue,” he said.
China has sought to build closer ties with Arab states in recent years, and last year brokered a detente between Tehran and its long-time foe Saudi Arabia.
During a tour of the Middle East in January, top diplomat Wang met El-Sisi in Cairo, saying relations had reached their “best level” in history, according to a foreign ministry readout.
And the meeting with Arab leaders in Beijing comes as China seeks to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel.
Wang’s trip to Egypt saw the two countries release a joint statement on the conflict, expressing support for a “comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.”
China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And Xi has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve the fighting.
Israel’s has has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza since Oct. 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India

Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India
Updated 27 May 2024
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Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India

Millions without power as cyclone Remal pounds Bangladesh and India
  • One person killed in Kolkata after concrete chunks fell on him during storm’s peak, police say
  • Bangladesh moved about 800,000 people from port areas of Mongla, Chittagong since Sunday morning

DHAKA/KOLKATA: Strong winds and heavy rain pounded the coastal regions of Bangladesh and India as severe cyclone Remal made landfall late on Sunday, leaving millions without electricity after power poles fell and some trees were uprooted by gusty winds.

The storm crossed the coastal regions of Bangladesh’s Mongla port and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India’s West Bengal state with wind speed measuring up to 135 kmph (about 84 mph), the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The storm will gradually weaken into a cyclone during the morning on Monday and then move northeast and gradually weaken further, the IMD said in its latest weather update.

The landfall process began around 9 p.m. local time in India on Sunday and continued for about five hours, the regional meteorological office in Kolkata said.

One person was killed in the major metropolitan city of Kolkata when concrete chunks fell on him during the peak of the storm, police said. Roofs of thatched huts were blown away while mud houses were flattened in the coastal areas of both countries as authorities waited to ascertain the full scale of losses.

The low-lying coasts of South Asian neighbors Bangladesh and India have experienced frequent severe storms in recent years as climate change forces a rise in sea surface temperatures. Remal is the year’s first cyclone in the region.

Bangladesh moved about 800,000 people from the port areas of Mongla and Chittagong and nine coastal districts to storm shelters from Sunday morning. As many as 110,000 people were also taken to shelters in India.

Dhaka set up nearly 8,000 cyclone shelters and mobilized 78,000 volunteers ahead of the storm while the Indian navy said it had kept ships, aircraft, divers and medical supplies on standby for deployment if required.

While early warnings and timely evacuations helped both countries avert major casualties from the storm, there was a heavy toll on power infrastructure.

Authorities in Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to many areas in advance to avoid accidents while many coastal towns were left in the dark as fallen trees and broken lines disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.

“We have no electricity since night, my mobile battery will run out anytime. By the grace of Allah, the cyclone was not as violent as we thought,” said Rahat Raja, a resident in the coastal district of Satkhira in Bangladesh.

Reports of at least 356 uprooted electricity poles and damage to scores of transformers were received during the first hour of the landfall process, Arup Biswas, the minister for power in West Bengal government, said.

More than 50 international and domestic flights had to be canceled in Kolkata city as operations were suspended from Sunday noon. Bangladesh also suspended operations at Mongla and Chittagong ports.

“Normal airport operations will resume from 9 am,” said C Pattavi, the director of the Kolkata airport, adding that the airport’s operational areas were clear from waterlogging.

River embankments in the Sundarbans delta, the largest mangrove forest in the world, shared by India and Bangladesh, also suffered heavy damage with high tides breaching protective embankments at many places.

Kolkata, like the state’s coastal belt, was also lashed by heavy rains with water logging in many areas, television footage showed. At least six trees were uprooted, which blocked roads, while there were also reports of wall collapses, police said.

The cyclone also brought heavy rains to Bangladesh capital Dhaka, causing flooding of roads and severely impacting commuters.


China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan

China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan
Updated 27 May 2024
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China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan

China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan
  • Li Qiang met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in three-way talks
  • The three nations are trying to manage rising distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and tensions over Taiwan

SEOUL, South Korea: Chinese Premier Li Qiang praised what he called a restart in relations with Japan and South Korea as he met their leaders for the first three-way talks in four years on Monday in Seoul, striving to revive trade and security dialogues hampered by global tensions.

Li, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will adopt a joint statement on six areas including the economy and trade, science and technology, people-to-people exchanges and health and the aging population, Seoul officials said.
They may also agree to resume three-party free trade agreement negotiations, which have been stalled since 2019, according to Japanese media reports.
At the summit, Li called for the comprehensive resumption of trilateral cooperation with an open attitude and transparent measures, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
He said relations between the three nations had not changed despite profound global transformations.
“Our meeting today, first in more than four years, is both a restart and a new beginning,” Li said, according to a post on X by China’s foreign ministry.
China and US-allied South Korea and Japan are trying to manage rising distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and tensions over democratically ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Yoon and Kishida have charted a closer course with each other and to Washington, embarking on unprecedented three-way cooperation with the United States on military and other measures.
Monday’s summit comes a day after the leaders met separately for bilateral talks with each other.
In those meetings, Li and Yoon agreed to a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume free trade talks, while Kishida and the Chinese premier discussed Taiwan and agreed to hold a new round of bilateral high-level economic dialogue.
Yoon also asked China to play a constructive role with its partners in North Korea, which is expanding its nuclear weapons and missile arsenal in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has notified Japan of its plan to launch a rocket carrying a space satellite between May 27 and June 4, the Japan Coast Guard said on Monday.
Officials from the United States, Japan, and South Korea held phone talks in response to the notice and demanded that North Korea cancel the launch because it would use ballistic missile technology in violation of the UN resolutions, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Trade relations
The trade relationship between China, South Korea and Japan has evolved over the past decade to become increasingly competitive.
Those ties have been further tested by US calls for its allies to shift their supply chains for key products, such as semiconductors, away from China.
Officials and diplomats from South Korea and Japan have set a low bar for the summit, saying it is uncertain whether there will be major announcements but that just gathering will help the three countries revive and reinvigorate their strained relations.
The three leaders are also due to attend a forum with top business executives.
South Korea, Japan and China held 16 rounds of official negotiations over a three-way FTA after they first kicked off in 2012.
At their last negotiation in November 2019, the three countries agreed on liberalization at a level higher than the Regional Comprehensive Economic partnership (RCEP), of which they are all members, encompassing areas from trade of goods and services to investment, customs, competition and e-commerce.


At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South

At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South
Updated 27 May 2024
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At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South

At least 15 dead after severe weather carves path of ruin across multiple states in the US South
  • Half of the deaths and nearly 100 injuries were reported in north Texas, where a powerful tornado struck communities on Saturday night
  • Video footage showed wide swaths of homes in shambles, with vehicles smashed and trees uprooted or stripped of limbs and foliage

VALLEY VIEW, Texas (AP) — Powerful storms killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where dozens sought shelter in a restroom during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S.

The storms inflicted their worst damage in a region spanning from north of Dallas to the northwest corner of Arkansas, and the system threatened to bring more violent weather to other parts of the Midwest later in the day. By Monday, forecasters said, the greatest risk would shift to the east, covering a broad swath of the country from Alabama to near New York City.

Seven deaths were reported in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, where a tornado Saturday night plowed through a rural area near a mobile home park, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Sunday. The dead included two children, ages 2 and 5. Three family members were found dead in one home, according to the county sheriff.

Storms also killed two people and destroyed houses in Oklahoma, where the injured included guests at an outdoor wedding, five people in Arkansas and one person in Kentucky. Tens of thousands of residents were without power across the region.

In Texas, about 100 people were injured and more than 200 homes and structures destroyed, said Abbott, sitting in front of a ravaged truck stop near the small agricultural community of Valley View. The area was among the hardest-hit, with winds reaching an estimated 135 mph (217 kph), officials said.

“The hopes and dreams of Texas families and small businesses have literally been crushed by storm after storm,” said Abbott, whose state has seen successive bouts of severe weather, including storms that killed eight people in Houston.

Hugo Parra, who lives in Farmers Branch, north of Dallas, said he rode out the storm with 40 to 50 people in the bathroom of the truck stop. The storm sheared the roof and walls off the building, mangling metal beams and leaving battered cars in the parking lot.

“A firefighter came to check on us and he said, ‘You’re very lucky,’” Parra said. “The best way to describe this is the wind tried to rip us out of the bathrooms.”

Multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in Denton County, also north of Dallas.

No more deaths are expected and nobody was reported missing in Texas, said Abbott, though responders were doing one more round of searches just in case.

At least five people were killed in Arkansas. One was a 26-year-old woman who was found dead outside a destroyed home in Olvey, a small community in Boone County, according to Daniel Bolen of the county’s emergency management office. One person died in Benton County, and two more bodies were found in Marion County, officials said.

In Oklahoma, two people died in Mayes County, east of Tulsa, officials said.

In Kentucky, a man was killed Sunday in Louisville when a tree fell on him, police said. Louisville Mayor Craig Greenburg confirmed it was a storm-related death on social media.

Vehicles in a body shop are seen amid debris the morning after a tornado rolled through Valley View, Texas, on May 26, 2024. (AP Photo)

The destruction continued a grim month of deadly severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. The deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Meteorologists and authorities issued urgent warnings to seek cover as the storms marched across the region late Saturday and into Sunday. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, posted on X.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months.

Brooks recommended that travelers passing through threatened areas over the Memorial Day weekend have a plan for a weather emergency.

Travelers who have already chosen where to get food and other essentials “probably ought to be thinking about what could I do if there’s a dangerous situation to save my life,” Brooks said.


Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president

Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president
Updated 27 May 2024
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Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president

Twelve Moldovan parties clinch pro-Europe pact, but not all back president
  • Sunday’s accord was signed by Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), which holds a majority in parliament in one of Europe’s poorest countries, lying between Ukraine and Romania

CHISINAU: Twelve parties in Moldova clinched a pact on Sunday committing them to act in favor of European Union membership for the ex-Soviet state as the campaign for an October referendum on European integration heats up.
But not all the parties support pro-European President Maia Sandu, who is running for re-election in a poll taking place alongside the referendum. Some of them intend to put up a joint candidate to run against her.
The Oct. 20 referendum pits Sandu and pro-European forces against a group of disparate pro-Russian parties which are already holding rallies with the slogan “No to the EU.”
Sunday’s accord was signed by Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), which holds a majority in parliament in one of Europe’s poorest countries, lying between Ukraine and Romania.
But the pact’s initiators, four parties jointly dubbed “Together,” accuse Sandu of “privatizing” European integration by relying solely on her PAS party.
The group, which polls show could secure enough votes to win seats in parliament, call on Sandu to dismiss her government and bring other pro-European parties into the administration.
With pro-Russian parties running an organized “no” drive in the referendum campaign, analysts say the key is to muster support for EU integration in the plebiscite without devoting too much attention to Sandu’s chances of re-election.
“Voters must remember that on October 20, defeat in the referendum will mean defeat for Moldova, casting it into the past,” Vitalii Andrievschii, Director of the Institute for Effective Policy, told Reuters.
“The referendum on EU membership and the presidential election are different things. Maia Sandu should not be viewed in association with the referendum.”
Sandu says Russia and corruption are the biggest threats to Moldova and she places EU membership at the center of her policies.
Openly opposed to a “yes” vote is the pro-Russian “Victory” bloc headed by fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor, sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the 2014 disappearance of $1 billion from the Moldovan banking system.
The opposition Socialists and Communists, also friendly to Moscow, say they support European integration but oppose the referendum as a means to secure the president’s re-election. But they show no inclination to cooperate with the “Victory” bloc.