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Trick or treat? EU offers UK a Brexit delay until Halloween

EU gives PM May ‘flexible’ Brexit recess to Oct. 31 BRUSSELS: European Union leaders gave Theresa May a new Brexit deadline of Oct. 31, four months longer than the prime minister asked for, in a move the EU summit chair said would let Britain resolve its domestic deadlock on the issue.“EU27/UK have agreed a flexible…

Trick or treat? EU offers UK a Brexit delay until Halloween

EU gives PM May ‘flexible’ Brexit recess to Oct. 31

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders gave Theresa May a new Brexit deadline of Oct. 31, four months longer than the prime minister asked for, in a move the EU summit chair said would let Britain resolve its domestic deadlock on the issue.“EU27/UK have agreed a flexible extension until 31 October,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted after eight hours of talks that went into the early hours of Thursday.“This means (an) additional six months for the UK to find the best possible solution,” Tusk added on the eve of what would otherwise have been the day Britain crashed out of the bloc with no deal to smooth the departure for businesses and citizens.Britain, he stressed, could still leave earlier if May secures parliamentary backing for her Brexit treaty, or it could amend what it wants from a future trade pact. “Until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to… cancel Brexit altogether,” Tusk added.The agreement gives May more than the three months to June 30 that she asked for to build a parliamentary majority behind the withdrawal treaty she negotiated with the EU last year.But she insisted Britain could still secure a deal and leave before Britons would have to vote in a May 23-26 election to the European Parliament — a condition for the country to remain a member of the bloc beyond June 1 under the EU’s accord.Many leaders had wanted a much longer extension, to the end of the year or even next March, but French President Emmanuel Macron mounted stiff resistance throughout the evening, eventually forcing the compromise.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after holding a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on April 11, 2019 following an extraordinary European Union leaders summit to discuss Brexit. (REUTERS/Susana Vera)

Macron questioned May’s ability to persuade parliament to her treaty, EU officials said, and said that a tighter deadline would focus British minds. Others argued that an even longer extension could spook May’s pro-Brexit critics into backing her deal for fear Brexit might stall.Leaving at midnight on Oct. 31 — Halloween, as social media commentators were quick to note — would correspond with the end of the mandate of the present EU executive Commission.Leaders would assess the situation again when they meet for a regular summit on June 20-21. Britain could have left by then if May succeeds in building a coalition for her deal with the Labour opposition — though there is no sign of agreement yet.In order to continue as an EU member beyond June, May has agreed to organize British elections to the European Parliament, though it is still unclear if that vote will go ahead and how far it might turn into a virtual second referendum on EU membership that some hope could mean Britain canceling Brexit.The other 27 had all but ruled out pitching Britain, and parts of the EU economy, into chaos on Friday. But a drive by Macron to keep London on a tight leash saw the emergency summit bogged down in late-night wrangling as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others argued the merits of a longer lag.As at a summit last month, which put back Brexit for two weeks, several EU diplomats said May failed to persuade her peers that she could definitely break the paralysis of repeated failures to ratify the treaty within the coming months.French officials said the EU faced “blackmail” by hard-line pro-Brexit potential successors to May, such as Boris Johnson. They might try to sabotage decision-making, they said.

Laughter with MerkelHowever, Merkel has urged the bloc to do all it can to avoid such disruption. She said before leaving Berlin that she favored a delay of “several months” for May, who has pledged to quit if hardcore Brexit supporters in her own Conservative Party drop objections to her “soft Brexit” and help ratify the deal.Keen to ease tension, Merkel had broken the ice as talks began by showing May a photomontage on a tablet of both wearing similar jackets when addressing their parliaments earlier in the day. It provoked mutual laughter as other leaders joined in.As talks wore on beyond midnight, with May patiently waiting elsewhere in the building for word on her nation’s fate, Macron rallied support for his concerns about a long extension.May said on arrival that she did not want a long delay: “I want us to be able to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way as soon as possible,” she told reporters.Her EU peers, however, are skeptical about her ability to break the deadlock soon. They are exasperated with May’s handling of a tortuous and costly divorce that is a distraction from ensuring the bloc can hold its own against global economic challenges.Across from the summit venue, the EU executive celebrated its part in funding a global project that produced the first picture of a black hole, prompting no shortage of ironic comments on social media about the juxtaposition.Blogger Eliot Higgins tweeted: “We’re now more certain about what black holes look like than what Brexit looks like.” 

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UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election…

UN counterterrorism chief makes controversial trip to Xinjiang

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.

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Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election…

Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.

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Mediterranean countries ramp up efforts to find missing migrants

THE HAGUE: Mediterranean countries say they have taken a key step toward finding out the fate of thousands of migrants — many fleeing Syria’s war — who have gone missing while trying to reach Europe.At a meeting of the International Commission for Missing Persons in The Hague this week, Cyprus, Greece and Malta pledged to…

Mediterranean countries ramp up efforts to find missing migrants

THE HAGUE: Mediterranean countries say they have taken a key step toward finding out the fate of thousands of migrants — many fleeing Syria’s war — who have gone missing while trying to reach Europe.At a meeting of the International Commission for Missing Persons in The Hague this week, Cyprus, Greece and Malta pledged to coordinate and beef up their efforts to trace nearly 18,500 migrants who have disappeared since 2014 while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.Italy — which has taken a hard line on migrants under its populist government and interior minister Matteo Salvini — did not sign up to that new joint statement due to what the ICMP described as internal government issuesThe four countries are the main point of entry to Europe for many of the migrants fleeing the war in Syria and other regions.Finding out what happened to those missing — whether they are eventually found alive or whether they have been confirmed dead and their remains found — provides crucial closure for families.“We are starting a process that is extremely important,” Queen Noor of Jordan, one of the ICMP’s longest-serving commissioners, told AFP in an interview.“Helping the families and communities that have lost their members in conflict can create a path to truth, justice and reconciliation — and where possible, accountability,” said the Jordanian royal.Born out of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and set up in 1996 in Sarajevo by then US president Bill Clinton, the ICMP uses increasingly sophisticated DNA technology to trace missing persons.It has already succeeded in identifying around 70 percent of the 40,000 people who went missing in the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s, including around 90 percent of the nearly 8,000 killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.But it is now turning its attention to one of the biggest human catastrophes of recent times — the migration crisis that has hit the Middle East, North Africa and Europe since 2014.The plan to better locate and identify missing migrants fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa was launched in Rome last year.But this week’s meeting of the southern European states was key to pushing the process forward.Top ICMP representatives nevertheless called for more to be done to help find the missing migrants, particularly those from Syria’s war where the fate is of an estimated 85,000 people is not known.“What we are implicitly saying to states is that they have a responsibility to deal with this, but that it is also in their interest to deal with it,” former Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders told AFP.The ICMP also wants to obtain permission from Syria’s neighbors to start mapping the thousands of refugees fleeing the bitter eight-year war — in a move that could one day help identify war crimes, Queen Noor said.Collecting and having access to data about these refugees will make it easier in future to identify “where crimes may have occurred, where mass graves exist — and where families and relatives may be,” she said.But the longer-term aim is to bring millions of displaced people back to their homes.“I can see in a future that is hopefully not too far off that we can set in motion steps that will provide greater hope for many of the migrants and refugees to Europe.”“To give them hope that they can return home,” she said.

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