Senior Labour official admits Gaza has cost party votes in local elections

A demonstrator holds a placard referencing Labour Party leader Keir Starmer as people protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. (Reuters/File Photo)
A demonstrator holds a placard referencing Labour Party leader Keir Starmer as people protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 03 May 2024
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Senior Labour official admits Gaza has cost party votes in local elections

Senior Labour official admits Gaza has cost party votes in local elections
  • Pat McFadden says leadership’s stance on conflict has been ‘a factor in some places’
  • Prof. John Curtice says Labour has performed ‘quite badly’ among Muslim voters

LONDON: A senior Labour official has suggested the party’s stance on Gaza might have affected its performance in local elections in the UK.

A series of votes took place this week nationwide to elect new mayors in multiple major cities, as well as council members and police and crime commissioners.

Labour was expected to perform strongly, but Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, told Sky News that Gaza had been “a factor in some places,” adding that with “so many innocent people being killed I’m not surprised people have strong feelings about that.”

Party sources suggested turnout in key areas was lower than anticipated, with many Muslim voters choosing not to vote, including in one key election in the West Midlands where lack of support saw Labour lose the local mayoralty to the Conservative incumbent Andy Street.

It comes weeks after former Labour MP George Galloway was elected to represent the formerly safe Labour constituency of Rochdale in Parliament, with Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza a key theme of the campaign.

Galloway has since said his Workers Party of Britain will seek to stand candidates in every constituency at the next UK general election.

An anonymous Labour source in the West Midlands told The Times: “We (would) have beaten him (Andy Street) as a general rule, but the Muslim vote has collapsed to the Galloway-backed independent.”

Another source quoted by the BBC caused controversy and was accused of racism by Conservative sources for saying: “It’s the Middle East, not West Midlands, that will have won Andy Street the mayoralty. Once again Hamas are the real villains.”

In a statement, Labour told ITV: “The Labour Party has strongly condemned this racist quote which has not come from anyone who is speaking on behalf of the party or whose values are welcome in the party.”

Labour lost its 13-year spell controlling the local council in Oldham, having seen its majority reduced in recent weeks ahead of the elections following defections by councilors opposed to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza.

However, Arooj Shah, Labour’s council chief in Oldham, disputed that Gaza was the main issue, telling The Independent: “I don’t think that’s a fair statement to make, given that the issue of Gaza has been over the last year, but what we’ve seen in Oldham is a lot longer than that. We have had 13 years of austerity and that’s been really, really difficult.”

Elsewhere, Green Party candidates also claimed former Labour seats in Newcastle and Bolton.

Nick Peel, Labour’s council leader for Bolton, told The Independent: “As a direct result of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Palestine, many South Asian voters have not supported Labour or Conservative.”

Chris Hopkins, political research director for market research company Savanta, told The Independent that Labour could lose more council seats in areas with significant Muslim populations, such as Bradford and Burnley, over the Gaza issue as results continued to be announced.

Leading pollster Prof. John Curtice told the paper that “Labour has actually done quite badly” in areas of the country with large Muslim communities, and warned that the trend could harm the party ahead of the next general election.

Starmer told the BBC: “I’m concerned wherever we lose votes and we intend to win back any votes we have lost.

“But there’s no denying that across the country, whether it’s Hartlepool in the north or Rushmoor in the south, or Redditch, a bellwether seat, we are winning votes across the country. And that, I think, reflects a changed Labour Party with a positive case to take to the country.”


Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar

Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar
Updated 4 sec ago
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Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar

Thousands of Rohingya feared trapped in fighting in western Myanmar
  • Residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, told to leave ahead of a planned offensive by the Arakan Army against Myanmar ruling junta forces

Tens of thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya are feared to be caught in fighting in western Myanmar, as a powerful armed ethnic group bears down on junta positions in a coastal town on the country’s border with Bangladesh.
The Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting for autonomy for Myanmar’s Rakhine region, said late on Sunday that residents of Maungdaw town, inhabited primarily by the Rohingya, should leave by 9 p.m. ahead of a planned offensive on the settlement.
The AA’s attack on Maungdaw is the latest in a months-long rebel onslaught against the Myanmar junta, which took power in a February 2021 coup, and now finds itself in an increasingly weakened position across large parts of the country.
“We are going to attack the remaining posts” of junta, the AA said in a statement, asking residents to stay clear of military positions in Maungdaw for their own safety.
A junta spokesman did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Around 70,000 Rohingya who are currently in Maungdaw are trapped as the fighting draws closer, said Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy human rights minister in Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government.
“They have no where to run to,” he told Reuters.
Thousands of Rohingya fled toward neighboring Bangladesh last month, seeking safety from the escalating conflict, although the neighboring country is reluctant to accept more refugees.
Their movement was triggered by battles in and around the town of Buthidaung, around 25 km (15 miles) away to the east of Maungdaw, that was captured by the AA after intense fighting during which the rebel group was accused of targeting the Rohingya community.
The AA denies the allegations.
Rohingya have faced persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades. Nearly a million of them live in refugee camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.


Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity

Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity
Updated 7 min 44 sec ago
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Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity

Norway gives $103 million to Ukraine to secure electricity
  • Norwegian PM says the fund will go toward repairs in the Kharkiv area
  • Kharkiv has been hit particularly hard by Russian attacks recently

OSLO: Norway said Sunday that it would provide 1.1 billion kroner ($103 million) to Ukraine to help repair its energy infrastructure and secure the country’s electricity supply before next winter.
“Russia is carrying out massive, systematic attacks to paralyze the power grid, but Ukrainians are working day and night to maintain essential electricity supplies for the population,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in a statement.
According to new estimates, more than 50 percent of Ukraine’s power production capacity has been destroyed, the government said.
“We are in close dialogue with Ukraine on how it can use these funds most effectively. The Ukrainians themselves have the best insight into what is needed,” Store said, adding that it was important to begin infrastructure repairs before the onset of winter.
Norway said it had already been decided that 120 million kroner would go toward repairs in the Kharkiv area, which has been hit particularly hard by Russian attacks recently.
Solar panels will be installed at seven maternity units and operating theaters in the Kharkiv area, Store said in the statement, which was issued as he attended a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland.
In 2022, Norway provided 2.1 billion kroner in funding to the Ukrainian energy sector, and 1.9 billion kroner last year.
The Scandinavian country has pledged 75 billion kroner in military and civilian aid to Ukraine for the five-year period 2023-2027, with funding allocated each year in line with Ukraine’s needs.
 


Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing

Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing
Updated 17 June 2024
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Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing

Philippine ship, Chinese vessel collide in South China Sea: Beijing
  • China's coast guard says “Philippine replenishment ship ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side”
  • China has been trying to force a Philippine troops stationed in one of the disputed reefs by blocking supply missions

BEIJING: A Philippine ship and a Chinese vessel collided near the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea on Monday, Beijing’s Coast Guard said.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
China deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarised artificial islands. Chinese and Philippine vessels have had a series of confrontations in disputed areas.
On Saturday, new Chinese coast guard rules took effect under which it can detain foreigners for alleged trespassing in the disputed sea.
Beijing’s coast guard said in a statement Monday that a “Philippine replenishment ship ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side.”
It “approached the... Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision,” the statement said.
Beijing accused the ship of having “illegally broken into the sea near Ren’ai Reef in China’s Nansha Islands,” using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.
“The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law,” it added.
Manila has accused the Chinese coast guard of “barbaric and inhumane behavior” against Philippine vessels, and President Ferdinand Marcos has called the new rules a “very worrisome” escalation.
China has defended its new coast guard rules. A foreign ministry spokesman said last month that they were intended to “better uphold order at sea.”
China Coast Guard vessels have used water cannon against Philippine boats multiple times in the contested waters.
There have also been collisions that injured Filipino troops.
The Group of Seven bloc on Friday criticized what it called “dangerous” incursions by China in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a vital waterway, where Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in some parts.
Most recently, however, confrontations between China and the Philippines have raised fears of a wider conflict over the sea that could involve the United States and other allies.
Trillions of dollars in ship-borne trade passes through the South China Sea annually, and huge unexploited oil and gas deposits are believed to lie under its seabed, though estimates vary greatly.
 


Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message

Biden pushes Gaza ceasefire deal in Eid message
  • The US has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used his Eid Al-Adha message to Muslims to advocate a US-backed ceasefire deal in Gaza, saying Sunday it was the best way to help civilians suffering the “horrors of war between Hamas and Israel.”
“Too many innocent people have been killed, including thousands of children. Families have fled their homes and seen their communities destroyed. Their pain is immense,” Biden said in a statement.
“I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war,” he added.
The United States has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept the ceasefire deal greenlighted by Security Council members last week, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.
Eid Al-Adha, which marks the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, saw a rare day of relative calm in Gaza after Israel announced a “tactical pause” in fighting near Rafah to facilitate aid deliveries.
The president highlighted American efforts to “advocate for the rights of other Muslim communities” facing persecution, including the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in China.
He said “we’re also working to bring a peaceful resolution to the horrific conflict in Sudan,” which has been gripped by fighting between the country’s army and a rival paramilitary group since April 2023.
On the domestic front, Biden’s message Sunday also promised a crackdown on Islamophobia in a direct appeal to American Muslims, a key voting demographic in the Democrat’s reelection bid against Republican rival Donald Trump.
“My Administration is creating a national strategy to counter Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination, which affect not only Muslims, but also Arab, Sikh, and South Asian Americans,” Biden said.
 


Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
Updated 17 June 2024
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Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers

Nuclear arms more prominent amid geopolitical tensions: researchers
  • The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel

STOCKHOLM: The role of atomic weapons has become more prominent and nuclear states are modernizing arsenals as geopolitical relations deteriorate, researchers said Monday, urging world leaders to “step back and reflect.”
Diplomatic efforts to control nuclear arms also suffered major setbacks amid strained international relations over the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its annual yearbook.
“We have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since the Cold War,” Wilfred Wan, director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, said in a statement.
The research institute noted that in February 2023 Russia announced it was suspending participation in the 2010 New START treaty — “the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty limiting Russian and US strategic nuclear forces.”
SIPRI also noted that Russia carried out tactical nuclear weapon drills close to the Ukrainian border in May.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped his nuclear rhetoric since the Ukraine conflict began, warning in his address to the nation in February there was a “real” risk of nuclear war.
In addition, an informal agreement between the United States and Iran reached in June 2023 was upended after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, SIPRI said.

According to SIPRI, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states also “continued to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2023.”
The nine countries are the United States, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
In January, of the estimated 12,121 nuclear warheads around the world about 9,585 were in stockpiles for potential use, according to SIPRI.
Around 2,100 were kept in a state of “high operational alert” on ballistic missiles.
Nearly all of these warheads belong to Russia and the United States — which together possess almost 90 percent of all nuclear weapons — but China was for the first time believed to have some warheads on high operational alert.
“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI director Dan Smith said.
He added that this trend would likely continue and “probably accelerate” in the coming years, describing it as “extremely concerning.”
Researchers also stressed the “continuing deterioration of global security over the past year,” as the impact from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza could be seen in “almost every aspect” of issues relating to armaments and international security.
“We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history,” Smith said, urging the world’s great powers to “step back and reflect. Preferably together.”