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.


Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
Updated 17 July 2024
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Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
  • Cyprus has in recent months been staging ground for collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to Gaza
  • Aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened

NICOSIA: Cyprus’ defense minister said Wednesday that plans are in motion to build a major naval base on the east Mediterranean island nation’s southern coast capable of hosting large ships from European Union countries and other nations to carry out a variety of missions including humanitarian aid deliveries to the tumultuous Middle East region.
Vasilis Palmas told reporters that Cyprus’ recently elevated geopolitical role as the European Union’s closest member to the Middle East warrants the building of infrastructure that can support policies geared toward the region.
Cyprus has in recent months been the staging ground for the collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to war-ravaged Gaza. The aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened. Last year, Cyprus served as a waystation for third-country nationals evacuated from Sudan.
Palmas said the construction of the base would “contribute decisively” to policy implementation in the region.
He said Greece is contributing technical know-how to the project, while actual construction will be guided by the findings of an expert study that will be completed in the next few days.
The naval base will be built on an existing naval installation some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of the coastal town of Limassol, which in 2011 was the site of a huge explosion of 480 tons of seized Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people, knocked out Cyprus’ main power station and stirred up a political crisis.


190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts
Updated 17 July 2024
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190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

ABU DHABI: The UAE has succeeded in securing the exchange of 190 prisoners of war between Russian and Ukraine, state news agency WAM has reported.

The UAE now secured the release of 1,558 captives with its sixth successful mediation effort between the warring parties, less than one month after the previous exchange process, the report added.

“These efforts reflect the UAE’s commitment to being a reliable mediator supporting diplomacy to resolve the crisis between the two countries,” a statement for the UAE’s foreign ministry said.

The UAE was committed to ‘continuing all efforts and initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, stressing the importance of dialogue, and de-escalation, as the only ways to resolve the conflict, and for mitigating its humanitarian repercussions,’ it added.

The UAE also managed to negotiate the exchange of two prisoners between the United States and the Russian Federation in December 2022.


Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base
Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned the Taliban's deputy head of mission on Wednesday and urged their administration to take action against Afghanistan-based militant groups that Islamabad says attacked a military base this week.
Militants attacked the base in Bannu in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing eight Pakistani security force members.


Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests
Updated 17 July 2024
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Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests
  • Students say seven killed in overnight clashes with police, government supporters
  • They protest reservation of 30 percent of government jobs for families of 1971 war fighters

DHAKA: Bangladesh indefinitely closed all educational institutions on Wednesday following deadly clashes between students and police, as campus protests against job quotas spread across the country.

Students have been demonstrating at campuses since early July against the government’s quota system, in which 30 percent of public service jobs are reserved for the families of those who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

The students demand the system’s reform and more just distribution of the well-paid public service jobs.

The protests turned violent on Sunday, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the cause by suggesting that the demonstrators supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military — an enemy occupying force — during the 1971 war.

Students denounced the comparison and more of them joined the rallies, where they clashed with members of the youth wing of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and security forces.

As violence escalated and turned deadly on Tuesday, the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh announced in separate notifications that all secondary educational institutions, universities and medical colleges across the country would remain closed “until further notice” and “for the safety of the students.”

According to local media reports at least six people, including four students, were killed and 400 injured when the clashes broke out in Dhaka, Chottogram, Rajshahi and Rangpur.

Protesters estimate that the actual numbers are even higher.

“More than 1,000 of our protesters were injured during the clashes. Seven died, including one bystander. Just now, we held funeral prayers in absentia for our fellows who lost their lives,” said Mohammad Nahid Islam, coordinator of the Students Against Discrimination group, which is part of the protests in Dhaka.

“Today, police attacked protesting students at the Dhaka University campus with a stun grenade and tear gas shells. Many of our female students became sick and injured ... We are concerned about our security.”

Despite repeated attempts by Arab News, Bangladesh Police did not respond to requests for comment.


Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams
Updated 17 July 2024
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Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

MANILA: Women have topped this year’s Shariah Bar examinations in the Philippines, with Supreme Court data showing that female examinees not only obtained the best score but also had the highest passing rate.

Shariah, or Islamic law, is partially implemented in the Philippines, applicable only to the Muslim community — about 10 percent of the 120 million of the country’s predominantly Catholic population.

A total of 853 candidates took part in the Shariah Bar exam in April and May, and 183 passed it. More than half of those who passed the exams were women, nine of whom were among the top 10 scorers.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh announced the results on Tuesday, saying that “62.3 percent of the total passers are female. I’m very happy to announce that.”

This year’s exam also saw the “largest number of Shariah Bar examinees we have had in nearly 40 years,” Singh said.

“This is to strengthen and make the Shariah justice system more accessible by encouraging and giving more opportunities to aspiring Shariah councilors.”

Separate from the regular Bar tests for aspiring lawyers, the Shariah Bar exams are the professional licensure examination covering Islamic law for Shariah court councilor candidates.

Established under the 1977 Code of Muslim Personal Laws, the Islamic law courts are under the administrative supervision of the Supreme Court and have jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region as well as other parts of the southern Mindanao island, which have significant Muslim populations.

The courts have application over personal status law, including marriage, as well as financial laws and halal certification.

The Supreme Court said last year that in its goal to “strengthen the Shariah justice system” under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027, it was studying the possibility of expanding the mandate of Islamic courts to cover also criminal and commercial cases.