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Tuesday evening news briefing: Why Meghan Markle missed Sandringham summit

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If you want to receive twice-daily briefings like this by email, sign up to the Front Page newsletter here. For two-minute audio updates, try The Briefing – on podcasts, smart speakers and WhatsApp. Duchess of Sussex 'unnecessary' for royal showdown The Duchess of Sussex did not join the royal summit with the Queen and senior royals by phone and instead relied on her husband to put their case for a new independent life. There has been speculation about whether the duchess, who is in Canada with baby son Archie, was able to participate in Monday's discussions convened by the Queen at Sandringham. A source explained the absence of the duchess, who is reportedly the driving force behind the Sussexes' wish to step back. Johnson officially denies Sturgeon second referendum Boris Johnson has officially rejected Nicola Sturgeon's demand for a second independence referendum, arguing she should respect her promise the last vote was a "once in a generation event". In a brief, six-paragraph response, the Prime Minister said he would "continue to uphold the democratic decision" of the Scottish people to remain in the UK. He said he cannot agree to a transfer of rights leading to further independence referendums after Ms Sturgeon asked for such powers to be permanently devolved. Her response to his letter did not hold back. And it seems the campaign for Big Ben to ring out on Brexit night is not dead yet. The Prime Minister announced the Government will run a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the bell to ring at 11pm on January 31 to celebrate the UK's exit from the EU. Mr Johnson said people should be able to "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong" by contributing to the £500,000 cost of a one-off chime. Nigel Farage has also got in on the act. Link between blue light and sleep issues questioned There are many chapters and verses in the gospel of good sleep, from chamomile tea to a firm mattress. Arguably, though, the golden rule of our modern preoccupation with good sleep is a simple one: no blue light before bed. This has meant putting our phones, tablets, laptops, TVs and games consoles away in the hours leading up to bedtime. However, it might not be as straightforward as that. A recent study on mice from the University of Manchester found that comparing exposure to different colours of light threw up some interesting findings. Read on for details. News digest Problem gambling | Betting with credit cards to be banned this year Screen time | Young children more likely to have speech difficulties Pasty problems | Greggs forced to close only branch in Cornwall  Iran nuclear deal | UK and allies trigger dispute process on violations Asian grooming gangs | Detective's claims on why girls were abused Video: Huge sinkhole swallows bus in China, killing six An enormous sinkhole swallowed a bus and pedestrians in northwest China, sparking an explosion, killing six people and leaving four more missing, state media said today. Footage showed people at a bus stop running from the collapsing road as the vehicle – jutting into the air – sank into the ground. It also triggered an explosion inside the hole. Comment Charles Moore | Time to demolish shanty town outside Parliament William Hague | Cummings should beware Whitehall reorganisation Tom Harris | Here's Labour's only chance of survival in Scotland Simon Heffer | Betjeman was mediocre but wrote one brilliant poem Julie Burchill | Moving in with husband nearly ended our marriage World news: The one story you must read today… Irish election | Ireland will go to the polls on February 8 after the prime minister called a snap general election. Leo Varadkar ended weeks of speculation about the timing of the election when he formally requested the president dissolve the current parliament. Mr Varadkar had said he preferred a summer election but power has been ebbing away from the minority government over the past few weeks. Read on for details. Editor's choice Death, lies and corruption | Hansie Cronje's brother lifts lid on shameful episode in cricket 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport review | Fairytale debut for revamped model Demand for data | Now Big Brother is watching how you type or hold your phone Business and money briefing BHS pensions | Former BHS owner Dominic Chappell has been ordered to pay £9.5m towards the now defunct retailer's pension scheme after he failed to convince a court he should not contribute. Read on for details. Flybe crisis | PM says airline key for 'connectivity' as duty cut explored Millennial investor | How to invest for 'free' – and why you shouldn't On top of markets | Live stocks and shares updates 24 hours a day Sport briefing The records Liverpool can break | Liverpool's 61 points from a possible 63 is the best ever start to a league season by any team in Europe's big five domestic leagues and they look certain to end their 30-year wait for a league title. Here are the records the side is on the cusp of breaking. Man Utd | Solskjaer insists club 'in good place' despite falling revenues Liam Plunkett exclusive | The hurt of being ditched by England Michael Vaughan | How it felt to play in match fixed by Hansie Cronje Tonight's TV   How to Steal Pigs and Influence People, Channel 4, 10.00pm | Fancy becoming a vegan activist and using social media to help rid the world of animal products? Tom Costello’s film might make you think again. Read on for more. And finally… Oscars history beckons | Only four years ago, British actress Cynthia Erivo was in two minds about going to the US after landing her big break in a Broadway musical. Erivo is now thankful that she boarded the plane. Her Broadway role as Celie in The Color Purple launched her Hollywood career and set her on the path to two Oscar nominations. And if she wins the Oscar she will make history as the youngest performer to join the 'EGOT' club. Read on for details.



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China Sentences Canadian to Death on Drugs Charges

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(BEIJING) — China has sentenced a third Canadian citizen to death on drug charges amid a steep decline in relations between the two countries.

The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong’s penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.

Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

The brief court statement gave no details but local media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country’s manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools and began making the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu’s home in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district.

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms (266 pounds) of the drug from Xu’s home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain killer that has become popular among club goers in China and elsewhere.

Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise as a global technology power.

In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.

Soon after, China handed a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial, and in April 2019, gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.

China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said there was no connection between Xu’s sentencing and current China-Canada relations.

“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang said at a daily briefing Thursday. “This case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”

Like many Asian nations, China deals out stiff penalties for manufacturing and selling illegal drugs, including the death penalty. In December 2009, Pakistani-British businessman Akmal Shaikh was executed after being convicted of smuggling heroin, despite allegations he was mentally disturbed.

“Death sentences for drug-related crimes that are extremely dangerous will help deter and prevent such crimes,” Wang said. “China’s judicial authorities handle cases involving criminals of different nationalities in accordance with law.”





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Hezbollah Will Not Escape Blame for Beirut

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(Bloomberg Opinion) — As if the Lebanese haven’t suffered enough. For months, they have been caught between an economic meltdown, crumbling public services and a surging pandemic. Now they must count the dead and survey the extensive damage to their capital after two giant explosions on Tuesday.The blasts, especially the second, were so huge they were reportedly heard and felt in Cyprus. At least 100 people are reported to have been killed — that number will almost certainly rise — and thousands injured. A large expanse of the port and its immediate neighborhood lies in smoking ruin; miles away, streets are full of shattered glass.Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government says the explosions were caused when careless welding ignited about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible material used as fertilizer and for bomb-making. By comparison, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The 2015 disaster in the Chinese city of Tianjin was caused by the explosion of 800 tons of ammonium nitrate.The equivalent of 1,100 Oklahoma City-size bombs could indeed account for the devastation and the reddish mushroom cloud that plumed gaudily over the Beirut port. But it doesn’t mean Lebanese will simply accept that the explosion was an unavoidable, force majeure event.Assuming the official account holds up, the disaster again exposes the rot that is destroying the country — an especially corrosive mix of corruption, ineptitude and malign intentions.The ammonium nitrate was apparently seized in 2013 from a Moldovan-flagged ship traveling from Georgia to Mozambique. But someone — who, we don’t yet know — brought it into Beirut; instead of returning, auctioning or disposing of it, the port management inexcusably allowed it to be stored there for years.There are no prizes for guessing who in Lebanon might be interested in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand. The U.S. Treasury and Israel both believe Hezbollah controls many of Beirut’s port facilities.Diab, whose government is entirely dependent on political support from Hezbollah and its Maronite Christian allies, has vowed to hold those responsible to account. More than likely, some minor officials will be fingered for permitting improper storage of highly dangerous material.Iran-backed Hezbollah, with its large and well-armed militia as well as its political hold on the prime minister, has nothing to fear from the state. But it will not escape public opprobrium: Most Lebanese will assume the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia, for use in Syria and against Israel.Why the chemicals exploded is another matter, rich with possibilities of conjecture. In the court of public opinion, the usual suspects will be rounded up from the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Hezbollah on one side and Israel on the other. President Donald Trump, who can be relied upon to make everything worse, speculated it was a deliberate attack. This will be picked up and amplified by conspiracy theorists in the Middle East.But suspicions of Hezbollah’s culpability will intensify on Friday when a United Nations special tribunal for Lebanon that has been looking into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to issue verdicts in cases against four Hezbollah cadres being tried in absentia. The men are in hiding, and have not been seen in years; even if they are found guilty, no one expects them to be handed over. Hariri, remember, was killed in a massive blast.A guilty verdict would increase domestic pressure on Hezbollah, its allies and the government. When Lebanese have finished mourning their dead, anger will return — the kind that fueled the massive street demonstrations that brought down Diab’s predecessor last October.Even without the Beirut blasts, the timing of the verdict would have been awkward for Diab, who is struggling to negotiate an economic bailout with the International Monetary Fund: Among the hurdles is Hezbollah’s resistance to the necessary reforms.  Hezbollah finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the principal backer of the government presiding over a thoroughgoing collapse of the Lebanese state and society. It will not easily shake off blame for the Beirut blast, or for the Hariri assassination. Even in this country that has suffered so much and for so long, the latest of Lebanon’s tragedies will not soon be forgotten, nor its perpetrators forgiven.(Corrects the number of Oklahoma City-size bombs that would equal the size of the Beirut explosion in the fourth paragraph.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Survivors Mark 75th Anniversary of World’s First Atomic Attack

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(HIROSHIMA, Japan) — The dwindling witnesses to the world’s first atomic bombing marked its 75th anniversary Thursday, with Hiroshima’s mayor and others noting as hypocritical the Japanese government’s refusal to sign a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged world leaders to more seriously commit to nuclear disarmament, pointing out Japan’s failures.

“I ask the Japanese government to heed the appeal of the (bombing survivors) to sign, ratify and become a party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Matsui said in his peace declaration. “As the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, Japan must persuade the global public to unite with the spirit of Hiroshima.”

His speech highlights what survivors feel is the hypocrisy of Japan’s government, which hosts 50,000 American troops and is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Tokyo has not signed the nuclear weapons ban treaty adopted in 2017, despite its non-nuclear pledge, a failure to act that atomic bombing survivors and pacifist groups call insincere.

The U.S. dropped its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. The U.S. dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered Aug. 15, ending World War II and its nearly half-century of aggression in Asia.

Survivors, their relatives and other participants marked the 8:15 a.m. blast anniversary with a minute of silence.

Thursday’s peace ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The fewer than 1,000 attendees was one-tenth of those attending in past years.

Some survivors and their relatives prayed at the park’s cenotaph before the ceremony. The registry of the atomic bombing victims is stored at the cenotaph, whose inscription reads “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the mistake.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his speech at the ceremony, said Japan is committed to nuclear weapons ban but a nuclear free world cannot be achieved overnight and that it has to start from dialogue between opposite sides.

“Japan’s position is to serve as a bridge between different sides and patiently promote their dialogue and actions to achieve a world without nuclear weapons,” Abe said. Nuclear policies are divided amid a harsh security environment, so it is necessary to create common ground first, he said.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said there is nothing in between.

”The only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons,” he said in his video message from New York for the occasion.

“Seventy-five years is far too long not to have learned that the possession of nuclear weapons diminishes, rather than reinforces, security,” he said. “Today, a world without nuclear weapons seems to be slipping further from our grasp.”

An aging group of survivors, known as hibakusha, feel a growing urgency to tell their stories, in hopes of reaching a younger generation. Many peace events, including their talks, leading up to the anniversary had been cancelled due to the coronavirus, but some survivors have teamed with young students or pacifist groups to speak at online events, sometimes connecting with international audiences.

On the 75th anniversary, elderly survivors, whose average age now exceeds 83, lamented the slow progress of nuclear disarmament.

They expressed anger over what they said was the Japanese government’s reluctance to help and listen to those who suffered from the atomic bombing.

“Abe’s words and actions don’t seem to match,” said Manabu Iwasa, 47, who came to the park to pray for his father, a survivor who died at age 87 in March. “Japan apparently sides with the U.S. and make more effort toward nuclear weapons ban,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but there is not much we individuals can do.”

Keiko Ogura, 84, who survived the atomic bombing at age 8, wants non-nuclear states to pressure Japan into signing the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. “Many survivors are offended by the prime minister of this country who does not sign the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty,” said Ogura.

She and other members of her group of English interpreters are providing a virtual tour of the park from the cenotaph, reaching out to audiences from around the world.

Survivors also urged world leaders, especially those from nuclear weapons states, to visit Hiroshima and see the reality of the atomic bombing.





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