British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4

British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech calling for a general election, outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, on May 22, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4

British PM Rishi Sunak calls national election for July 4
  • Move could prove risky for Sunak as his Conservative party lags behind Labour Party in opinion polls
  • Sunak, who took office less than two years ago, has increasingly become isolated in even his own party

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election for July 4 on Wednesday, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.

Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and announced he was calling the election earlier than expected, a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls.

Almost shouting to be heard above an anthem associated with the Labour Party played by protesters just outside the gates to Downing Street, Sunak listed what he said were his achievements in government, not only as prime minister but also as a former finance minister.

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future,” he said, describing that choice as one between stability with him and the unknown with Labour leader Keir Starmer.

“Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard-earned economic stability at risk.”

In an attack on Labour, he said that Starmer, conversely, always took the “easy way out” and had no plan. “As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them,” he said.

Sunak heads into the election not only far behind the Labour Party in the polls but also somewhat isolated from some in his party, increasingly dependent on a small team of advisers to steer him through what is set to be an ugly campaign.

But he seems to have decided with some economic gains, such as inflation falling and the economy growing at its fastest pace in almost three years, now was the time to take a risk and present his agenda for a new term formally to voters.

The former investment banker and finance minister took office less than two years ago, and since then has struggled to define what he stands for, becoming increasingly frustrated that what he sees as his successes have failed to be appreciated.

ATTACK LINES

Both parties have all but kicked off campaigning for an election, with the attack lines on the economy and on defense already firmly drawn.

Sunak and his government accuse Labour of being poised to increase taxes if in government and that the party would not be a safe pair of hands for Britain in an increasingly dangerous world as it lacks a plan, charges the opposition denies.

Labour accuses the government of 14 years of economic mismanagement, leaving people worse off, with a series of chaotic administrations that have failed to give the stability businesses have craved to spur economic growth.

If Labour win the election, Britain, once known for its political stability, will have had six prime ministers in eight years for the first time since the 1830s.

Labour said before the announcement it was more than ready for an election.

“We are fully ready to go whenever the prime minister calls an election. We have a fully organized and operational campaign ready to go and we think the country is crying out for a general election,” Labour leader Starmer’s spokesperson told reporters.

Starmer kicked off his party’s election campaign last week by pledging to “rebuild Britain,” setting out the first steps he said Labour would take if it forms the next government.

Labour is running about 20 percentage points ahead of Sunak’s Conservatives in the opinion polls but some party officials are concerned their advantage is not as solid as it appears, fearing many voters remain undecided.

Sunak might be aiming to capitalize on that uncertainty and also to wrongfoot Labour, which has still to complete the selection of all its parliamentary candidates, a party veteran said.

Sunak will also hope that some economic gains and the first flights in his centerpiece immigration plan of sending illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda might also boost his party’s fortunes. The earliest possible date for those flights is June 24, 10 days before the election.

While some Conservatives welcomed the move to call an election, not all were happy.

“Death wish 2024,” said one Conservative lawmaker on condition of anonymity.


Malaysia arrests eight over alleged Daesh links: minister

Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
Updated 55 min 45 sec ago
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Malaysia arrests eight over alleged Daesh links: minister

Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
  • The suspects were rounded up over the weekend in various parts of the Muslim-majority country
  • The six men and two women were from diverse backgrounds, including unemployed and educated professionals

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to the Daesh group who were purportedly planning attacks against the king and the premier.
The suspects were rounded up over the weekend in various parts of the Muslim-majority country, minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said in a statement.
He said an initial investigation by the police “has also found that there are threats against His Majesty the (king), the prime minister, prominent figures and top leadership of the Malaysian police force.”
The six men and two women were from diverse backgrounds, including unemployed and educated professionals, added the minister.
In March, a machete-wielding attacker suspected of ties to an Al-Qaeda linked group stormed a police station in the state of Johor and killed two officers.
The attacker, who police said had links to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), had slashed one officer before grabbing a gun and shooting another.
JI has been blamed for a series of deadly bomb attacks in the region including the 2002 bombings in the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Police inspector-general Razarudin Husain in March said that Malaysia would be scaling up security.


Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win

Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win
Updated 24 June 2024
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Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win

Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win
  • Afghanistan seized on a poor Australian field performance to post 148-6 in their innings before bowling 2021 champions out for 127 
  • Cricket Australia has withdrawn from bilateral series because of “deterioration in human rights” for women in Afghanistan

KABUL: Beleaguered Afghans were riding high Monday after a historic weekend T20 World Cup victory over Australia spread a rare mood of euphoria across the country.
“With every ball, every run, every boundary, every wicket, I wasn’t able to hold my emotions,” said university student Zamir Afghan in the capital Kabul.
“It was very early morning, but I was jumping, screaming, I was not able to contain myself,” the 20-year-old told AFP. “I couldn’t stop my tears.”
Afghanistan seized on a poor Australian field performance to post 148-6 in their innings before bowling the 2021 champions out for 127 — their first ever win over Australia.
“Afghanistan as a nation has suffered a lot, such moments are rare for us,” said Afghan.
Whilst cricket is hugely popular in Afghanistan, the match over 11,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) away in Arnos Vale on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, took place around dawn local time.
Though the last ball was bowled around 8:30 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday, many diehard fans had been awake to witness the win.
In eastern Khost city, around 1,000 raucous cricket fans gathered to bask in the glow of fireworks early on Sunday morning in half an hour of revelry swiftly broken up by Taliban security forces.
An uncowed smaller crowd came together again at night, clapping as they lit off more pyrotechnics.
Since the Taliban took over in August 2021 and introduced an austere vision of Islam, scenes of public jubilation have been rare.
“Such moments are special for everyone,” said 18-year-old fruit shop worker Saddam Saleh. “Beating the mighty Australia is not something small.”
The result bolsters Afghanistan’s chances of reaching the semifinals in the competition co-hosted by the USA and West Indies, though they must first face Bangladesh on Tuesday.
“In sports there are always ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but there is a very good chance for Afghanistan to qualify,” said 28-year-old Usman Ahmadzai.
“They even have the potential to be in the final and be champions — we couldn’t wish for more.”
Afghanistan has been isolated since the withdrawal of foreign forces and the collapse of the US-backed government, with diplomats wary of engaging with Taliban rulers.
The isolation has spilled into the world of sport. Cricket Australia has withdrawn from bilateral series because of the “deterioration in human rights” for women and girls in Afghanistan.
“The Afghanistan national team responded to their disrespect on the pitch,” said 32-year-old Shahid, who goes by only one name.
“No one should ever underestimate the greatness of Afghanistan.”


Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat

Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat
Updated 24 June 2024
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Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat

Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat
  • Millions of Indians face water shortages every summer when water demand rises in farms, offices and homes against a limited supply
  • A prolonged heatwave this year has worsened the shortfall, including in Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru

NEW DELHI: A Delhi city minister has started an indefinite hunger strike to demand more drinking water for India’s capital, where taps in some of its poorest neighborhoods are running nearly dry in the middle of searing heat.
“There are 2.8 million people in the city who are aching for just a drop of water,” Delhi Water Minister Atishi said on Monday, the fourth day of her fast.
Millions of Indians face water shortages every summer when water demand rises in farms, offices and homes against a limited supply, but a prolonged heatwave this year has worsened the shortfall, including in Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru.
Delhi relies on the Yamuna River that runs through the capital for most of its water needs but the river slows down during dry summer months, causing shortages that lead to protests and calls for better water conservation.
Atishi blamed the neighboring farming state of Haryana for guzzling up a large share of river water.
Haryana’s government responded that it was Delhi’s mismanagement that was causing water shortages. Experts said a federal-level review of decades-old water sharing pacts was needed to accommodate population growth.
Delhi, a city of 20 million people, is one of the world’s most densely populated capitals, where upscale neighborhoods and manicured lawns are just a few miles away from unplanned working-class areas and slums.
But, in contrast to growing unplanned development over the years, the city’s water allocation from rivers has remained unchanged since 1994, said Depinder Kapur, the director of water program at think tank Center for Science and Environment.
“What was true 10-15 years ago is not true anymore. So, there is a situation of crisis and it’s a distribution issue,” he said.
The Delhi government is working on plans to improve the groundwater table by reviving lakes and storing water overflow from the Yamuna during the seasonal monsoon rains, but officials say the summer shortfall is difficult to tackle by these measures alone.
“Water crisis in Delhi is a year-long crisis because extreme temperatures are not going anywhere,” said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha. “Delhi needs a comprehensive water management plan in which Yamuna can’t be the only major source of water.”


UK PM Sunak says he will act on gambling investigation findings

Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
Updated 24 June 2024
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UK PM Sunak says he will act on gambling investigation findings

Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
  • Sunak’s campaign has failed to take off amid a series of mis-steps, including his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early

EDINBURGH: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he would act on any findings of wrongdoing from an internal investigation into a damaging betting scandal that could punish him further at a July 4 election he is expected to lose.
His Conservative Party trails the opposition Labour Party by around 20 points in UK polls and Sunak’s campaign has failed to take off amid a series of mis-steps, including his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.
The campaign has been further damaged by revelations that several party officials and candidates are being investigated for allegedly betting on the date of the election before it was announced.
Sunak has said he was “incredibly angry” to hear of the allegations, which are being investigated by the Gambling Commission, and told reporters he was not aware of any other candidates being investigated.
“We have been in parallel conducting our own internal inquiries, and will of course act on any relevant findings or information,” Sunak told broadcasters after a campaign event in Edinburgh.
Labour leader Keir Starmer criticized Sunak’s handling of events, saying it showed weakness.
“Rishi Sunak needs to show some leadership,” he told reporters. “If these were my candidates... they’d be gone.”
Independence on the backburner
In Scotland, Labour hope to capitalize on the struggles of both the Conservatives and the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), who are on their third leader in little over a year.
The SNP have dominated the Westminster parliament’s Scottish seats since 2015, garnering support of pro-independence voters in the wake of a 2014 referendum where Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom by 55 percent to 45 percent.
But a police probe into the SNP’s finances, Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden resignation as leader last year and the implosion of her successor Humza Yousaf’s administration in the devolved Scottish government this year have put that dominance in question.
Labour has also regained momentum in its former Scottish heartlands and polls show it level with or even ahead of the SNP for the first time in a decade.
The SNP manifesto says that if it wins a majority of Scottish seats, it will begin negotiations on independence, though both Sunak and Starmer have ruled out such talks.
At the launch of the Scottish Conservative manifesto, Sunak aimed his speech almost entirely at the SNP and their attempts to pursue a second independence vote.
The Conservatives are trying to hang on to their six Scottish seats, where the SNP are their main rivals.
“The fourth of July is Scotland’s chance... to put independence on the backburner for a generation,” Sunak said.
“But that can only happen if the SNP are routed. If they do not just lose some seats, but the SNP lose big.”
He also criticized the SNP and Labour’s approach to the energy sector, saying the Conservatives were the only way to protect North Sea oil.
The Conservatives lag behind in third place in Scotland, and could be on course for a historic defeat across the UK as a whole. Research by Ipsos Scotland found Sunak has a net negative approval rating of -64 points.
“We see Westminster politicians take campaign trips north of the border to dismiss the very idea that Scotland can have real, genuine influence at Westminster,” SNP leader John Swinney said in extracts of a speech he is due to give on Monday.
“Scotland’s voice is still ignored and our democratic choices are still disrespected.”


Philippines says latest South China Sea clash a ‘deliberate act’ by Beijing

Philippines says latest South China Sea clash a ‘deliberate act’ by Beijing
Updated 24 June 2024
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Philippines says latest South China Sea clash a ‘deliberate act’ by Beijing

Philippines says latest South China Sea clash a ‘deliberate act’ by Beijing
  • A Filipino navy officer lost his finger in the most recent clash with Chinese forces in South China Sea
  • Philippines and China have had a series of escalating confrontations in disputed, resource-rich waterway

The Philippines said on Monday that its encounter with China last week in the disputed South China Sea, where a Filipino navy officer lost a finger, was a “deliberate act” by Beijing.

Manila said that China disrupted a resupply mission on the contested waters with an “aggressive and illegal use of force” on June 17, with the military releasing videos that showed members of the China Coast Guard using machetes, axes and hammers on Philippine Navy personnel and boats.

The international community, including the US and Japan, has voiced its support for Manila in the latest incident amid a string of maritime confrontations in the South China Sea.

“We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said in a press conference, using the local name for the Second Thomas Shoal that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The latest statement came a day after Teodoro and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited troops of the Western Command in Palawan, a province that oversees the resource-rich, disputed waters.

“We would also like to categorically say that our policy on the West Philippine Sea has not changed. As declared by the president in numerous instances, we will not give up an inch, not even a millimeter, of our territory to any foreign power,” Teodoro said, using the local name of the Philippine part of the South China Sea.

“We will continue to defend our territory and exercise sovereign rights thereon as we see fit. We reiterate that we seek neither permission nor consent from anyone in performing our sworn duties in the West Philippine Sea.”

The Philippines will also “continue to find peaceful solutions” to the issue, he added.

In Palawan, Marcos awarded medals to navy personnel who faced last week’s assault by Chinese forces. He said that the Philippines was “not in the business of instigating wars” and would always aim to settle disputes peacefully.

“Our calm and peaceful disposition should not be mistaken for acquiescence … history itself can tell that we have never, never in the history of the Philippines, yielded to any foreign power,” Marcos said on Sunday.

The Philippines and China, along with several other countries, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Beijing has increased military activity in the area over the past few years, with the China Coast Guard regularly encroaching on the Philippine part of the waters, despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing China’s expansive claims.

Stephen Cutler, a security expert and former FBI legal attache to Manila, said that the latest confrontation showcased the Philippines’ ability to defend itself.

“It demonstrates that the Philippines can and should stand up for itself, even in the face of strong aggravation … I see the Philippines growing in ability and willingness to actually stand for its territorial rights. That’s good,” Cutler told Arab News.

“The Ayungin incident shows how quickly things can get very chaotic, very rapidly … the latest incident is significant since it shows a willingness by both sides to be more belligerent and physical. That’s a step up in level from both sides.”