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U.K. Government Defends Top Adviser Under Fire for Traveling While He Suspected He Had COVID-19

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(London) — The British government dug in Saturday to defend Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, for traveling more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ house during a nationwide lockdown at a time when he suspected he had the coronavirus.

Opponents demanded Cummings’ resignation after The Guardian and Mirror newspapers revealed he had driven from London to the property in Durham, northeast England, with his wife and son at the end of March. A lockdown that began March 23 stipulated that people should remain at their primary residence, leaving only for essential local errands and exercise, and not visit relatives. Anyone with symptoms was advised told to completely isolate themselves.

Johnson’s office said in a statement that Cummings made the trip because his wife was showing coronavirus symptoms, he correctly thought he was likely to also get sick, and relatives had offered to help look after the couple’s 4-year-old son. It said Cummings stayed in a house “near to but separate from” his extended family.

“The prime minister gives Mr. Cummings his full support,” said a visibly uncomfortable Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who was peppered with questions about Cummings’ trip during the government’s daily coronavirus news conference.

Shapps said Cummings had followed lockdown rules by “staying in place with his family, which is the right thing to do.”

“This wasn’t visiting a holiday home or going to visit someone,” he said. “This was going to stay put for 14 days, to remain in isolation.”

The two newspapers later reported that Cummings was spotted again in the Durham area on April 19, after he had recovered from the virus and returned to work in London.

Critics of the government expressed outrage that Cummings had broken stringent rules that for two months have prevented Britons from visiting elderly relatives, comforting dying friends or even attending the funerals of loved ones.

The main opposition Labour Party wrote to the head of the civil service to call for an official investigation.

“The British people have made important and painful sacrifices to support the national effort, including being away from family in times of need,” Labour lawmaker Rachel Reeves wrote in the letter. “It is therefore vital that the government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else.”

Durham Police said that officers went to a house on March 31 and “explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.” Police did not mention Cummings by name.

Asked about the trip by reporters outside his house in London on Saturday, Cummings said “I behaved reasonably and legally.”

“It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.” said Cummings, who also berated the journalists for failing to keep 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) apart in line with social distancing rules.

Cummings is a self-styled political disruptor who has expressed contempt for the civil service and much of the media. He was one of the architects of the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and later was appointed Johnson’s top aide.

He is one of a slew of senior British government figures to contract COVID-19, including the prime minister, who spent three nights in intensive care at a London hospital.

Britain’s official death toll among people with the coronavirus stands at 36,675 after 282 more deaths were reported Saturday. That is the second-highest confirmed total in the world after the United States.

Several senior government ministers defended Cummings’s actions. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.” Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was sick for a week with the coronavirus, said “it was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill.”

Cummings, 48, is one of several senior U.K. officials who have been accused of flouting the lockdown rules that they advocated for the rest of the country.

Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson stepped down as government scientific adviser earlier this month after a newspaper disclosed that his girlfriend had crossed London to stay with him during the lockdown. In April, Catherine Calderwood resigned as Scotland’s chief medical officer after twice traveling from Edinburgh to her second home.





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Embattled at Home, Trump Finds Himself Isolated Abroad, Too

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BRUSSELS — With U.S. cities burning and the coronavirus still raging, killing more people than in any other country, President Donald Trump also has growing problems overseas. He has never before been so isolated and ignored, even mocked.In Europe, after years of snubs and U.S. unilateralism, America's traditional allies have stopped looking to him for leadership, no longer trust that this president will offer them much and are turning their backs on him.That was evidenced most obviously this week by the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, not to attend the Group of 7 meeting that Trump wanted so badly in Washington this month to show that the virus was behind him and the world was returning to normal.Merkel cited the lingering threat of the virus, but a senior German official who spoke on the condition of anonymity made clear that she had other reasons to decline: She believed that proper diplomatic preparations had not been made; she did not want to be part of an anti-China display; she opposed Trump's idea of inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin; she did not want to be seen as interfering in U.S. domestic politics.And she was shocked by Trump's sudden, unilateral decision to pull out of the World Health Organization.The divide between Trump and European allies was widening even before U.S. cities were convulsed by rioting. But the chaos on American streets, viewed from abroad, has only reinforced a sense that the conflicts that Trump seems to sow have caught up with him.As Trump threatens to call in the military against his own citizens, he has become a president that some of America's closest allies prefer to keep at arms' length, unsure of what he will do next and unwilling to be dragged into his campaign for reelection."Leaders in allied nations now think that criticizing Trump is to their advantage," said Marietje Schaake, a former Dutch European legislator, especially now with the unrest in U.S. cities and demonstrations supporting those protests in many European cities, including Amsterdam.Even the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, felt bold enough Tuesday to say that Europe is ''shocked and appalled" by the police killing of George Floyd. He condemned an ''abuse of power" and "an excessive use of force" and urged the United States to act "in full respect of the law and human rights."On Monday, as if to underline the U.S. president's isolation, it was to the Russian president, Putin, that Trump placed a call, in which the two men discussed the virus, trade and "progress toward convening the G-7," the White House said.Trump invited Putin to the meeting, according to the Kremlin. But if it happens at all, there are doubts that Putin would accept being invited solely as a guest, having been kicked out of the club for his annexation of Crimea and support for insurrection in eastern Ukraine.Trump also called President Jair Bolsonaro, the hard-right leader of Brazil, on Monday."It all shows just how out of touch Trump is with allies," said Julianne Smith, a former Obama official now with the German Marshall Fund in Washington. "This is a man isolated at home and abroad. He is trying to find friends in other places, knowing that relations with traditional allies are bad. But there are serious strains even with the authoritarians he admires, like Xi Jinping and even Putin."Trump "continues to believe allies can be abused and mistreated and that he can order them around and at the same time count on them," Smith said. "He doesn't understand that while the U.S. is powerful, it doesn't always call the shots."Merkel's refusal to come to Washington "says a lot about how fed up multiple leaders are around the world, who have seen how little return they've gotten on the investments they made into a relationship with Trump," she said.With the virus and the riots, she added, "now there is a sense of America's weaknesses being exposed, and a feeling that the emperor has no clothes."The threads unraveled quickly. As late as Thursday, European and U.S. officials say, Trump's plans for a Group of 7 summit meeting in Washington were being negotiated with member countries and looked likely to go ahead. Then, Friday, Trump suddenly announced that he was pulling the United States out of the WHO, more than two weeks before his own stated deadline for the decision.As so often in the past, on issues like unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate accord or the Open Skies treaty or the sudden ban on air travel from Europe, Trump ignored the views of allies or did not consult them at all.The WHO decision was a surprise to allies, and Merkel quickly said that she would not attend the proposed summit meeting.Since then, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada have come out publicly against bringing Russia back into the Group of 7."For the British and Canadians to say no publicly is highly unusual," given their closeness to the United States, said Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister. "They might disagree in private, but I would have thought they'd be the last to take issue publicly with him on something he cares about."As for Merkel, he said, given the lack of preparation, "the Germans suspected it was just a photo op with Trump in the White House."Despite allied concerns, the Group of 7 matters, and plans for the meeting were going ahead given a general desire to come up with strong positions on Hong Kong and to try to influence Washington's policies on the virus, said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.But after the WHO announcement, Merkel decided that "if you're going unilateral, I'm not going to be there to support you," Wright said. "The allies all think he's all over the place and they'll try to avoid him."Ulrich Speck, a German analyst, said that "Merkel has given up any pretensions that she as a German chancellor has to work with an American president no matter who it is." Merkel is a multilateralist in her soul, Speck said, "and she's been hurt by him often, they don't get along and they disagree on many policies," including open confrontation with China.Merkel remains committed to European engagement with Beijing. With Germany taking over the European Union presidency next month, she is trying to strike a European investment deal with China and wants to preserve an EU-China summit scheduled for Leipzig in the autumn."The G-7 is a Trump show, with no negotiation," Speck added. "The old G-7 is gone. For Trump it's not multilateral in spirit but unilateral, just a meeting to serve one purpose — his reelection."President Emmanuel Macron of France has a more traditional French view, especially toward building an improved relationship with Russia, despite Crimea, given its proximity to the European Union, said Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations."In France toward Trump is a mix of sadness and anger," Gomart said. "Our main ally refused to exercise leadership during the corona crisis and is every day more provocative toward its allies and is creating divisions that are very actively exploited by China."After nearly four years, Trump has no diplomatic accomplishments, Gomart said, listing failures on North Korea, the Middle East, a deterioration of relations with China and no improvement of relations with Russia. Instead, Macron believes that Trump has damaged European security through his unilateral abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal as well as nearly every arms control agreement with Russia."Macron, to his credit, has at least tried with Trump," said William Drozdiak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has just published a book on Macron, based on a series of interviews with him, called "The Last President of Europe." But he is not trying so hard now.To have "an American leader rejecting all these international institutions and agreements is outrageous for Europeans like Merkel and Macron who have multilateralism in their DNA," he said.Merkel has traditionally avoided trips to the United States after April in presidential election years, Drozdiak noted."She knows that any event," he said, "Trump will spin as if the others are implicitly endorsing him, and that's the last thing she wants to do."She was so uncomfortable, Drozdiak said, that she told. Macron, "Be my guest, be the interlocutor, I don't want to be in the room with the guy."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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Thousands in London Chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ While Joining Worldwide George Floyd Protests

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(LONDON) — Thousands of people demonstrated in London on Wednesday against police violence and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has set off days of unrest in the United States.

Chanting “Black lives matter,” thousands gathered in Hyde Park, central London’s biggest open space and a traditional protest venue. Many of them passed through barriers at the park and marched through the streets, blocking traffic. There were no signs of violence, although some sprayed graffiti on walls.

Some protesters converged on Parliament and the nearby office of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing St. Others headed south of the River Thames.

“Star Wars” actor John Boyega, who was born in Britain to Nigerian parents and grew up in south London’s Peckham neighborhood, pleaded tearfully for demonstrators to stay peaceful.

“Because they want us to mess up, they want us to be disorganized, but not today,” he said.

Boyega recalled the case of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man from southeast London who was stabbed to death in 1993 as he waited for a bus. The case against his attackers collapsed in 1996, and a government report cited institutional racism on the part of the London police force as a key factor in its failure to thoroughly investigate the killing.

“Black lives have always mattered,” Boyega said. “We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless and now is the time. I ain’t waiting.”

Police appeared to keep a low profile during the demonstration and the ensuing marches.

Earlier, the U.K.’s most senior police officer said she was “appalled” by Floyd’s death and “horrified” by the subsequent violence in U.S. cities. Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes.

“I do want to reassure people in London … that we will continue with our tradition of policing, using minimum force necessary, working as closely as we possibly can with our communities,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told the London Assembly police and crime committee.

“Met officers and staff are highly professional, they’re very well trained, they’re very restrained and they’re also very, very highly scrutinized, something we don’t flinch from at all,” Dick said.

While the London protesters expressed solidarity with Americans protesting Floyd’s death, many also pointed to issues closer to home. “Racism is a pandemic,” said one placard at the London demonstration.

Other protests are taking place around the world, including in Cape Town, South Africa, and in Reykjavík, Iceland.

In Cape Town, about 20 people gathered at the gates of the parliament complex and held up signs with the slogans of “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice 4 George Floyd and Collins Khosa.”

Khosa is died a month ago after being confronted by soldiers and police in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. Family members say he died hours after he was choked and beaten.

A South African army investigation cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing, but lawyers for Khosa’s family say they will challenge those findings.

The London demonstrators appeared to ignore coronavirus social distancing guidelines in the U.K., where people have been told to stay 2 meters (6 feet) apart.

Some of them carried placards saying “Justice for Belly Mujinga,” a 47-year-old railway station worker who died of coronavirus in April, weeks after an incident in which she said she was coughed and spat upon by a customer who claimed to be infected.

Her death has come to symbolize the high toll the virus has taken on ethnic minority Britons and front-line workers — and, for some, social injustice. Police did not bring charges against the man accused of confronting Mujinga, saying an investigation had shown he did not infect her and there was no evidence to substantiate a criminal offense.

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed divisions and inequalities within the U.K. A government-commissioned report Tuesday confirmed that ethnic minorities in Britain experienced a higher death rate from the coronavirus than whites.

Figures from London’s Metropolitan Police also show that black and ethnic minority Londoners were more likely than their white counterparts to be fined or arrested for breaking lockdown rules barring gatherings or nonessential travel.

Metropolitan Police figures show that black people received 26% of the 973 fines handed out by police between March 27 and May 14, and accounted for 31% of arrests. They make up about 12% of London’s population. People from Asian, black, mixed and other backgrounds received more than half of the fines and arrests, but account for about 40% of the city’s population.

The police force said the reasons for the discrepancy were “complex.” But Owen West, a former police chief superintendent, said racism was a potential factor.

“The U.K. police service has massive issues with discrimination … and I really do think now is the time to confront it,” he told the BBC.





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‘Dangerous:’ Around the World, Police Chokeholds Are Being Scrutinized

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LE PECQ, France — Three days after George Floyd died with a Minneapolis police officer choking off his air, another black man writhed on the tarmac of a street in Paris as a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.

Immobilization techniques where officers apply pressure with their knees on prone suspects are used in policing around the world and have long drawn criticism. One reason why Floyd’s death is sparking anger and touching nerves globally is that such techniques have been blamed for asphyxiations and other deaths in police custody beyond American shores, often involving non-white suspects.

“We cannot say that the American situation is foreign to us,” said French lawmaker Francois Ruffin, who has pushed for a ban on the police use of face-down holds that are implicated in multiple deaths in France, a parliamentary effort put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.

The muscular arrest on May 28 in Paris of a black man who was momentarily immobilized face-up with an officer’s knee and upper shin pressing down on his jaw, neck and upper chest is among those that have drawn angry comparisons with the killing of Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

The Paris arrest was filmed by bystanders and widely shared and viewed online. Police said the man was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and without a license and that he resisted arrest and insulted officers. His case was turned over to prosecutors.

In Hong Kong, where police behavior is a hot-button issue after months of anti-government protests, the city’s force says it is investigating the death of a man who was immobilized face-down during his arrest in May by officers who were filmed kneeling on his shoulder, back and neck.

Police rules and procedures on chokeholds and restraints vary internationally.

In Belgium, police instructor Stany Durieux says he reprimands trainees, docking them points, “every time I see a knee applied to the spinal column.”

“It is also forbidden to lean on a suspect completely, as this can crush his rib cage and suffocate him,” he said.

Condemned by police and experts in the United States, Floyd’s death also drew criticism from officers abroad who disassociated themselves from the behavior of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He was charged with third-degree murder after he was filmed pushing down with his knee on Floyd’s neck until Floyd stopped crying out that he couldn’t breathe and eventually stopped moving.

In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway.”

In Germany, officers are allowed to briefly exert pressure on the side of a suspect’s head but not on the neck, says Germany‘s GdP police union.

In the U.K., the College of Policing says prone suspects should be placed on their side or in a sitting, kneeling or standing position “as soon as practicable.” Guidance on the website of London’s police force discourages the use of neck restraints, saying “any form of pressure to the neck area can be highly dangerous.”

Even within countries, procedures can vary.

The thick Patrol Guide, hundreds of pages long, for the New York Police Department says in bold capitals that officers “SHALL NOT” use chokeholds and should “avoid actions which may result in chest compression, such as sitting, kneeling, or standing on a subject’s chest or back, thereby reducing the subject’s ability to breathe.”

But the so-called “sleeper hold,” where pressure is applied to the neck with an arm, blocking blood flow, was allowed for police in San Diego before Floyd’s death triggered a shift. Police Chief David Nisleit said he would this week order an end to the tactic.

Gendarmes in France are discouraged from pressing down on the chests and vital organs of prone suspects and are no longer taught to apply pressure to the neck, said Col. Laurent De La Follye de Joux, head of training for the force.

“You don’t need to be a doctor to understand that it is dangerous,” he said.

But instructions for the National Police, the other main law and order force in France, appear to give its officers more leeway. Issued in 2015, they say pressure on a prone suspect’s chest “should be as short as possible.”

Christophe Rouget, a police union official who briefed lawmakers for their deliberations in March about the proposal to ban suffocating techniques, said if officers don’t draw pistols or use stun-guns then immobilizing people face-down is the safest option, stopping suspects from kicking out at arresting officers.

“We don’t have 5,000 options,” he said. “These techniques are used by all the police in the world because they represent the least amount of danger. The only thing is that they have to be well used. In the United States, we saw that it wasn’t well used, with pressure applied in the wrong place and for too long.”

He added that the “real problem” in France is that officers don’t get enough follow-up training after being taught restraints in police school.

“You need to repeat them often to do them well,” he said.





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