FILE PHOTO: Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right League Party, speaks as he launches campaigning for the European elections, in Milan, Italy April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo/File Photo
April 19, 2019
ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s League is threatening to bring down the government over a graft scandal involving one of its senior politicians, coalition partner the 5-Star Movement said on Friday.
The accusation was swiftly rejected by League leader Matteo Salvini, but the harsh verbal spat underlined how relations between the two coalition allies have sharply deteriorated in the run-up to next month’s EU parliamentary election.
The coalition was thrown into turmoil on Thursday when Armando Siri, an economic adviser to Salvini, was placed under official investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to promote the interests of renewable energy companies.
Siri, who serves as an undersecretary in the transport ministry, has denied the accusations. But as soon as news of the judicial probe leaked, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is a 5-Star member, stripped him of his government responsibilities until further notice.
The unilateral move angered the League and led to furious recriminations between the two coalition partners, who formed a surprise government alliance last May after an inconclusive national election.
“…Even today the League is threatening to bring down the government … I’m really stunned,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said on Facebook, accusing his government ally of acting irresponsibly.
In comments that looked certain to further inflame tensions, Di Maio said his party had seen Siri in the past trying to introduce measures that were “a bit controversial”.
“We remember them. When they landed on our desk they seemed strange and we stopped them. … Without us, who knows what would have happened,” Di Maio wrote, without giving any details.
Siri made no immediate comment, but Salvini responded with a brief statement. “The League wants to govern well and for a long time in the interests of Italians. Thoughts of a government crisis can only to be found in Di Maio’s head,” he said.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer)
Hackers from Russia were able to gain access to at least one county’s election computer network in Florida ahead of the 2016 election, it was revealed Thursday.
As the Miami Herald pointed out, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the election included a portion about how hackers from the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency in Russia, used a spear phishing email to get into one county. The report did not name which county, and the FBI would not reveal the name of the county when the Florida Department of State asked about it.
“We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government,” the Mueller report reads. Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents “did not independently verify that belief.”
Florida’s Department of State told the Herald in a statement it is confident in its assessment the 2016 election was not compromised.
“The Department maintains that the 2016 elections in Florida were not hacked,” spokesperson Sarah Revell said. “The Florida Voter Registration System was and remains secure, and official results or vote tallies were not changed.”
The Mueller report was released Thursday, with many redacted parts to hide classified and privileged information. President Donald Trump was exonerated from conspiring with the Russians to win the 2016 election, but the report outlined several instances where Russia meddled in it.
Source: NewsMax Politics
FILE PHOTO: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
April 18, 2019
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s supreme court on Thursday backed constitutional changes that allow long-ruling President Yoweri Museveni to extend his time in office.
A 4-3 majority decision affirming the validity of 2017 constitutional amendments was widely expected in the East African country where critics say judicial independence has been eroded under President Museveni’s 33-year rule.
Parliament, which is controlled by the ruling party, voted overwhelmingly in December 2017 to scrap an age limit of 75 years for presidential candidates.
The original legislation would have effectively barred 74-year-old Museveni from standing in the next elections due in 2021.Opponents of Museveni, including lawmakers and individual opposition activists, mounted a legal challenge to the amendment first in the constitutional court which rejected their petition.
That rejection triggered their appeal to the supreme court.”The decision of the constitutional court is upheld. This appeal therefore fails,” ruled Bart Katurebe, the country’s chief justice and a member of the panel. The process to amend the constitution was marred by widespread violence including police dispersing rallies by MPs consulting their constituents on the amendments and beatings and detentions of opposition activists
Some opposition MPs were also at one time forcefully removed from the House’s debating chamber by members of military. The petitioners had cited these incidents and other irregularities as sufficient grounds for nullification of the amendment.
Eldad Mwangusya, of the three justices who ruled in favor of the petition said widespread violence and security personnel interference in MPs’ public consultations made the removal of the age limit unconstitutional.”Members of parliament… were assaulted, thrown onto public vehicles, detained and released without charge all of which amount to inhuman treatment which is in contravention of the constitution,” he said.
In power since 1986, Museveni has been accused by critics of using security forces to stifle opposition through intimidation. Political activists routinely allege arbitrary arrests and beatings.
In February the executive committee of the ruling National Resistance Movement endorsed Museveni as its candidate in the next presidential election due in 2021, potentially extending his rule to 40 years.
One of his opponents in the next polls will likely be singer and lawmaker Bobi Wine – real name is Robert Kyagulanyi – who has rattled officials with his fast-growing support base.Kyagulanyi’s following has ballooned since he joined parliament nearly two years ago, drawn by his criticism of Museveni’s long rule and government excesses through his lyrics.
(Editing by Toby Chopra)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the report by special counsel Robert Mueller has made at least one clear conclusion: Russia has and will continue to meddle in U.S. elections.
Manchin, in a statement released by his office, said he has not had an opportunity to read the report yet, but he maintained Russia’s election interference is obvious.
And he said that “we must work immediately to safeguard our democratic institutions.”
Manchin added: “I look forward to reading the Mueller report and coming to my own conclusion, just like every American should. The last two years has divided our country and I’m glad the Mueller report has been released to the public for the sake of transparency and for our national healing.”
Source: NewsMax Politics
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
April 18, 2019
By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – British voters at the elections for the next European Parliament would strengthen eurosceptic groups, while the center-right would remain the largest grouping in the legislature, an EU survey showed on Thursday.
The projection, commissioned by the European Parliament, showed that the two most eurosceptic groups in the parliament would increase their share of seats to 14.3 percent of the total compared with 13.0 percent in the previous survey from March which did not include British voters.
The survey included national polls published up to April 15.
With Britain’s participation in the elections, which might still be avoided if a Brexit deal is struck before the May 23-26 vote, the nationalist Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) which includes Italy’s far-right League would scoop 8.3 percent of seats in the next legislature, down from 8.7 percent.
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, the other openly eurosceptic grouping which currently includes the United Kingdom Independence Party, would win 6 percent of the seats from 4.3 percent predicted in March when Britain was not expected to take part in the EU elections.
The European Conservatives and Reformists grouping, which includes the PiS party of Polish eurosceptic leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, would obtain 8.8 percent of the seats, up from 7.5 percent in the previous poll which did not include British Conservative voters.
Britain has secured an extension of Brexit to the end of October, meaning British parties have began campaigning for the EU election.
Under the new survey, which assumes the number of seats in the next parliament will remain 751 instead of dropping to 705 after Brexit, the center-right European People’s Party would remain the largest, but its share of seats would fall to 24.0 percent from 26.7 percent forecast in March.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats are expected to remain the largest national party in the next legislature, holding 30 seats, down from 33.
The center-left Socialists and Democrats would be the second biggest grouping with 19.8 percent of the seats, down from 20.1 percent in the previous survey in March which did not include British votes.
Despite the contribution of the British Labour Party, which is estimated to win 20 seats in the next EU legislature, the center-left’s total share of seats would fall due to declines for other national parties, including in Germany and Italy.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)
Sudanese demonstrators rest under the shadow of a tree in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
April 17, 2019
By Khaled Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Deposed ex-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been moved to Khartoum’s grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said on Wednesday, and transitional military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption.
Sudan’s military ousted Bashir after weeks of mass protests that climaxed in a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry compound. Protests are continuing and their leaders say the unrest will not cease until the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hands power to a civilian-led authority ahead of elections.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), leading the revolt, has called for sweeping change to end violent crackdowns on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism and ease an economic crisis that worsened during Bashir’s last years in power.
In initial moves to tackle graft, the TMC ordered the central bank to review financial transfers since April 1 and to seize “suspect” funds, state news agency SUNA said on Wednesday.
SUNA said the TMC also ordered the “suspension of the transfer of ownership of any shares until further notice and for any large or suspect transfers of shares or companies to be reported” to state authorities.
The TMC also decreed that all state entities disclose financial holdings within 72 hours, and warned that officials who failed to comply could be fined and face up to 10 years in prison, SUNA reported.
The decree applies to bank accounts and holdings of foreign currency as well as precious metals and jewelry inside and outside Sudan, according to the TMC.
BASHIR IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
Bashir, 75, had been detained under heavy guard in the presidential residence inside the compound that also houses the Defense Ministry, before being transferred to Kobar prison late on Tuesday, the family sources said. He was being held in solitary confinement at Kobar, a prison source said.
Kobar, just north of central Khartoum adjacent to the Blue Nile river, housed thousands of political prisoners under Bashir’s nearly 30-year rule and is Sudan’s most notorious jail.
At least some political prisoners have been freed since Bashir’s overthrow, including several SPA figures.
Awad Ibn Auf, an Islamist like Bashir, initially headed the TMC before stepping down after one day in the post. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has engaged in impromptu dialogue with protesters in the streets of the capital, now heads the council and has promised to hold elections within two years.
REBELS SUSPEND HOSTILITIES
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a rebel group fighting in the southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, announced it was ceasing all hostilities until July 31 as a “goodwill gesture” following Bashir’s overthrow.
In a statement conveyed to Reuters in Khartoum, the group’s leader Abdelaziz Adam al-Helew said the move was to help facilitate “the immediate and smooth handover of power to civilians” in Sudan.
The SPLM-N had sought to overthrow Bashir and pushed for autonomy for Blue Nile and South Kordofan states and a redistribution of wealth and political powers in the country.
Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron hand after he seized power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.
UGANDA MAY OFFER ASYLUM TO BASHIR
Uganda will consider offering asylum to Bashir despite his decade-old indictment by the International Criminal Court, Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, told Reuters. But Oryem said Bashir had yet to make any contact with Kampala.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has in the past criticized the ICC, calling it a tool of Western justice against Africans.
Bashir faces ICC arrest warrants over accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations. Fighting in Darfur has subsided over the past three years.
The head of the TMC’s political committee, Omar Zain al-Abideen, said on Friday the council would not extradite Bashir for trial, suggesting he could be tried in Sudan instead.
In The Hague, an International Criminal Court spokesman declined comment “on hypothetical situations”. ICC member states, which include Uganda, are legally obliged to hand over indictees who enter their territory.
Bashir has defied the ICC by visiting several ICC member states. Diplomatic rows broke out when he went to South Africa in 2015 and Jordan in 2017 and both declined to arrest him for extradition to the ICC in the Netherlands.
London-based Amnesty International called for Bashir to be immediately extradited to ICC custody. “His case must not be hurriedly tried in Sudan’s notoriously dysfunctional legal system. Justice must be served,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes.
“Sudan must take urgent steps to rebuild its justice sector but, in the meantime, the only way victims of his alleged crimes will see progress towards justice are if Bashir faces a fair trial at the ICC,” Nyanyuki said in an Amnesty statement.
On Tuesday, TMC chief Burhan fired Sudan’s three highest-ranking public prosecutors after the SPA-led protest movement demanded an overhaul of the judiciary.
On Monday, the African Union urged the TMC to hand power to a transitional civilian-led authority within 15 days or risk Sudan being suspended from the AU.
(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Anthony Deutsch in the Netherlands; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Brexit campaigner and Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage arrives to attend a debate on the outcome of the latest European Summit on Brexit, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
April 17, 2019
LONDON (Reuters) – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will top next month’s election in Britain for the European parliament with 27 percent of the vote, far ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, according to a survey published on Wednesday.
The Brexit Party is five percentage points ahead of Labour’s 22 percent, followed by the Conservatives on 15 percent and then the Green Party on 10 percent, the YouGov survey for The Evening Standard newspaper showed.
Britain had been due to leave the European Union on March 29 but that has been postponed until as late as end-October as parliament has thrice rejected May’s negotiated deal and failed to come up with an alternative which would command a majority.
Voters across the 28-member European Union are due to go to the polls between May 23 and May 26.
YouGov surveyed 1,855 adults across Britain on April 15 and April 16. The results exclude those who said they would not vote, don’t know or refused to respond.
In the last such elections in 2014, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), at the time led by Farage, came first in Britain.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)
A security personnel checks ballot boxes before polls open during elections in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
April 17, 2019
By Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesians voted on Wednesday to pick a new president and parliament after a six-month campaign in the sprawling equatorial archipelago dominated by economic issues but also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam.
The eight-hour vote across a country that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips is both a Herculean logistical feat and testimony to the resilience of democracy two decades after authoritarianism was defeated.
President Joko Widodo, a furniture businessman who entered politics 14 years ago as a small-city mayor, is seeking re-election against former general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in the last election, in 2014.
Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead, but the opposition says the race is much closer and Prabowo, dressed in a white shirt and a traditional Indonesian peci cap, said before voting in Bogor he was optimistic about winning with a big margin.
President Widodo, dressed in a white shirt and accompanied by First Lady Iriana Widodo, voted in the capital.
“I feel relieved,” said Widodo, after casting his ballot and displaying a finger dipped in indelible ink, part of the process of avoiding fraudulent voting.
More than 10,000 people have volunteered to crowd-source election results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.
However, the opposition has already alleged voter list irregularities that could affect millions and has vowed legal or “people power” action if its concerns are ignored.
Widodo’s running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, called a for a peaceful vote “because the presidential election is not a war, but a search for the best leader”, according to Kompas TV.
There was not much obvious security at polling stations in Jakarta, with volunteers helping direct people into voting booths.
The election is being billed as the world’s biggest single-day vote and is certainly one of the most complicated, with voters contending with five paper ballots for president, vice president, and national and regional legislative candidates.
Some voters clearly struggled with the process.
“The ballots with the photos on it were actually confusing. And the other one had a lot of names I didn’t recognize,” said Orlando Yudistira, 19, a first time voter in Jakarta.
Another voter, Siti Suprapti, 85, said she had needed help to open the ballot “but I chose the candidates myself”.
WIDODO WIN PRICED IN
Dozens of volunteers and witnesses from political parties were present at polling stations to ensure transparency.
Several videos appeared online last week apparently showing thousands of voting papers stuffed in bags at a warehouse in neighboring Malaysia, with many apparently already marked.
The country’s election supervisory board has recommended a re-vote for Indonesians in Malaysia and in Australia, where several hundred registered voters were still standing in line after the polls closed there on Saturday. A decision will be taken by the elections commission.
An unexpected win for the challenger could trigger a brief sell-off in financial markets that have priced in a Widodo victory, analysts say.
“Should Prabowo win, this would literally be the end of opinion polling in Indonesia … and a major, major upset,” said Marcus Mietzner, associate professor at Australian National University. “The question is what the margin of victory will be,” he said, predicting Widodo’s re-election.
A win for Widodo with 52-55 percent of the vote would be the “sweet spot” said a senior government official close to the president, adding that this would spur him to continue and even accelerate economic reforms.
“GAME OF THRONES”
Social media users compared the presidential race to the HBO series “Game of Thrones” – with one online meme showing Widodo sitting on its coveted Iron Throne.
Widodo touted his record on deregulation and improving infrastructure, calling it a first step to tackling inequality and poverty in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
A moderate Muslim from central Java, Widodo had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia. He picked Islamic cleric Amin, 76, as his running mate.
Prabowo, a former special forces commander who has links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate, business entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno, say they will boost the economy by slashing taxes and cut food prices.
Political analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar said the “instrumentalisation” of religion had become much more visible in Indonesian politics in recent years with both candidates trying to appeal to conservative Islamic groups.
More than 192 million people are eligible to cast ballots in national and regional legislative elections being contested by more than 245,000 candidates.
“Moving from authoritarianism to democracy is a very difficult process but Indonesia has developed a good track record for holding free, fair and peaceful elections,” said Ben Bland, an analyst at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT on Tuesday) in the east and will close at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) in the west.
Unofficial “quick counts”, based on samples from polling stations, will be released hours after voting ends. The winning presidential candidate could be known by late on Wednesday.
Official results will be announced in May. Any disputes can be taken to the Constitutional Court where a nine-judge panel will have 14 days to rule on them.
(Graphic: President Joko Widodo’s achievements – https://tmsnrt.rs/2CRgHYC)
(Additional reporting by Maikel Jefriando, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Tabita Diela, Kanupriya Kapoor, Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Tommy Ardiansyah in Bogor; Writing by John Chalmers and Ed Davies; Editing by Michael Perry)
FILE PHOTO: Afghan women line up at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
April 16, 2019
By Abdul Qadir Sediqi
KABUL (Reuters) – Women will be included for the first time in the Taliban delegation to peace talks in Qatar this month, the movement’s main spokesman said on Monday, ahead of the latest round of meetings aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
For a group notorious for its strictly conservative attitude to women’s rights, the move represents a step towards addressing demands that women be included in the talks, intended to lay the foundations for a future peace settlement.
The April 19-21 meeting in Doha will be between the Taliban and a delegation comprising prominent Afghans, including opposition politicians and civil society activists. It follows similar talks between the two sides in Moscow in February.
“There will be women among Taliban delegation members in the Doha, Qatar meeting,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, said by telephone.
He did not name the women, but added, “These women have no family relationship with the senior members of the Taliban, they are normal Afghans, from inside and outside the country, who have been supporters and part of the struggle of the Islamic Emirate”.
In a tweet, he specified that the women would only join the discussions with Afghan civil society and political representatives, not in the main negotiations with American officials, led by U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The Taliban have maintained their rejection of formal talks with the government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime controlled by the United States.
While Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country, especially in rural areas, there have been major advances in women’s rights since the U.S-led campaign of 2001 that toppled the Taliban government. Many women fear that if the group regains some power, many of these gains could be erased.
The movement gained worldwide notoriety when it came to power in the 1990s by forcing women to wear full facial covering and imposing severe restrictions including banning girls from school and forbidding women from working outside the home.
However, Taliban spokesmen say the group has changed and it encourages girls’ education and other women’s rights within an Islamic Sharia system.
Civil society groups, the Western-backed government and Afghanistan’s international partners have pressed for women to take part in the talks and news of the Taliban delegation was welcomed. Fawzia Koofi, a former member of parliament who took part in the meetings in Moscow, said the presence of women in the Taliban team was a “good step”.
“Only women can feel the pain and miseries that Afghan women have suffered. The presence of women among the Taliban negotiators shows that the Taliban’s ideology has changed.”
Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been pressing for women to play a role in the peace talks said the process should be inclusive.
Future international support for Afghanistan could be affected by whether women’s rights were properly respected in any settlement, she said.
“There are certain levers that we have, that the Taliban are interested in,” she told reporters in Kabul, where she was visiting as part of a Congressional delegation. “There is going to be an interest in economic support after the conflict ends.”
“I think if the Taliban has any interest in getting international support … it would be in their interest to recognize the importance of including women and including human rights as part of any settlement that happens.”
(This story corrects paragraph 3 to make clear April 19-21 talks are between the Taliban and a delegation of prominent Afghans, not with U.S. officials. Corrects name in paragraph 13 to Jeanne (not Jean).)
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)