Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Pakistan Election: Shahbaz Sharif calls Imran Khan’s recent public meetings ‘a total failure’ — Khan is only a ‘Facebook leader’

July 21, 2018

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif on Friday termed Imran Khan’s recent public meetings ‘a total failure’ and said PML-N workers were fully charged to run the election campaign of their candidates against all odds.

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Shahbaz Sharif

He said Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan was busy levelling baseless allegations and using derogatory language against other parties. People were no more willing to attend Mr Khan’s public meetings, said Mr Shahbaz while addressing a press conference after visiting Bilour House where he offered condolences to the Bilour family over the death of Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour in a recent blast.

PTI will use any strategy to defeat PML-N, win the elections: Imran on ‘electables’, seat adjustments

The PML-N president said his rivals were eating cakes and pastries while his party candidates were being pressured to switch loyalties due to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases. He said PML-N leaders were attending courts as his party was being pushed to the wall while others were running election campaigns.

He alleged that the Punjab government was following instructions of the PTI. It mishandled peaceful PML-N workers on July 13, booked them in terrorism cases for holding rallies to welcome their leader Nawaz Sharif, he said.

The former chief minister of Punjab said Nawaz Sharif knew he would be sent behind bars yet he returned to Pakistan leaving his ailing wife in a serious condition in a London hospital. This proved he did not want to flee as he faced all the cases instituted against him, said Mr Shahbaz, claiming that the entire world also witnessed the ‘mammoth rally’ to welcome the former premier.

He alleged that TV channels under Pakistan Electro­nic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) pressure did not give proper coverage to the rally. While the PML-N supremo was not even allowed to meet his ailing mother, PML-N workers remained peaceful, he said. Yet they were booked in cases, he said, adding that the party wrote a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker prime minister to take notice of the cases but they remained silent spectators.

Mr Shahbaz said in order to ensure free, fair elections, measures must be taken to bring all stakeholders on the same page and stop all tactics for pre-poll rigging.

He said India had developed its institutions yet it was afraid of Pakistan because of its nuclear capability. He said if voted to power again, the PML-N would initiate mega development schemes on the pattern of Malaysia and Turkey to overcome poverty and unemployment.

He said that his party would win the elections and make Pakistan a ‘real’ welfare Islamic state. Paying tribute to the people in general and law enforcers in particular for rendering matchless sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, he pledged that his party would continue the efforts for durable peace and development.

Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan, who had been condemning the PML-N government’s projects, later attempted to replicate them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but failed.

Imran dubbed as Facebook leader

Later addressing a public meeting in connection with his election campaign in NA-3 (Swat-II) constituency, Mr Shahbaz said Mr Khan took Rs300 billion foreign loans but failed to spend it on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s development, adds Our Correspondent from Swat.

Mr Shahbaz said the PTI government embezzled the funds in the name of Billion Trees Tsunami and other projects such as the construction of 350 dams.

The PML-N provincial president Amir Muqam dubbed Mr Khan as ‘Facebook leader’.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018

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Imran Khan near victory in Pakistan election — But has he “rigged” the election?

July 21, 2018

Former cricket star galvanises support for PTI party with pledge to end corruption

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 Imran Khan gives a speech during a political campaign rally outside Lahore. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

On a stage high above a hockey stadium to the north of Lahore, a compere shrieks into the microphone. Supporters of Imran Khan clamber onto rows of chairs. Then the 65-year-old cricket legend steps forward.

With a general election due to be held on Wednesday, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is just a bat swing away from a victory he has pursued relentlessly since relinquishing a glamorous London lifestyle of celebrity and nightclubs more than 20 years ago.

“This is an opportunity to change Pakistan,” he tells an 8,000-strong crowd in the poor suburb of Shahdara, as moths collide with high-powered floodlights. “You will not have it again and again.”

Merchants inside the stadium cash in on Khan’s celebrity with T-shirts, phone covers and flags decorated with the craggily handsome features of the “Captain” who led Pakistan to victory at the 1992 cricket World Cup. But it is his promise to end corruption that has transformed the party he founded in 1996, and which held only one seat in parliament until 2013, into the probable leaders of the next government.

Claiming that $10bn (£7.6bn) is laundered out of Pakistan each year, the populist, socially conservative leader hits out at the “traitors who have made this country poor”.

Khan’s political fortunes have risen steadily in the year since he successfully petitioned Pakistan’s supreme court to disqualify the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on corruption charges. Earlier this month, Sharif was imprisoned on a 10-year sentence: from the stage, a PTI official claims that that a jailer switches on Sharif’s television during Khan’s rallies, forcing him to watch his tormentor-in-chief.

“Have you seen Avenfield House?” Mohammed Asif asks outside the rally. “Those are my flats,” says the 33-year-old Khan supporter, referring to four properties in Park Lane, London, which lie at the heart of Sharif’s corruption case. “They belong to the people of Pakistan.”

Khan supporters at the rally.
 Khan supporters at the rally. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

But Khan is a deeply polarising figure and his poison-tongued campaign inflamed political tensions. After he called supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) “donkeys”, an animal charity reported that PTI aficionados had beaten one of the animals close to death.

Khan implied in a tweet following the deaths of 149 people an Isis-claimed suicide attack on 13 July in the eastern province of Balochistan that the PML-N was behind the attack as a way to distract attention from Sharif’s legal woes. “Beginning to wonder why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increasing tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it a mere coincidence?” he asked.

More damaging to his claims to represent a break with the status quo is the accusation that Khan is taking advantage of the support of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has ruled the country for nearly half of its coup-studded 71-year history. Polls show the two parties neck-a-neck but PML-N leaders appear so downcast as to have practically conceded.

“Sharif is just crying about the election as this is the first time he hasn’t been able to use his own umpire,” Khan said at the Shahdara rally.

In political terms, Khan has plenty of incentive to seek out shortcuts, according to analysts . The PML-N has had a broadly positive record in government over the last five years, in which the party has notably reduced power blackouts. According to political commentator Fasi Zaka, this means “it would not have been his election” without a military-backed campaign against the party in which supportive media channels have been taken off air, politicians have been pressured to defect, and the courts selectively targeted its leaders.

In a recent interview with Dawn newspaper, Khan lamented that “this is not Europe, you cannot just tell people what you stand for and they will vote for you”. This is a lesson he appears to have learned from the election of 2013, when he worked himself into the ground – eventually falling off stage and being hospitalised.

People watch a 2013 television interview with Imran Khan in intensive care after he sustained an injury falling.
 People watch a 2013 television interview with Imran Khan in intensive care after he sustained an injury falling. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Since then, his campaign has evolved from promises of a “New Pakistan” – better schools, better hospitals, an end to pilfering from the state – into something more traditional. Around one third of his party’s candidates are recently recruited “electables”, long-in-the-tooth politicians who bring with them vote banks and, often, corruption scandals. These characters, many believe, will help the PTI crack the crucial province of Punjab, which returns more than half the 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly.

But former allies told the Guardian that many believe that the party has shifted away from its anti-corruption platform. “There are cuckoos in the PTI nest,” Brigadier Samson Sharif, the party’s ex-shadow defence secretary, said. Khan “now has so many albatrosses hanging around his neck … he is a pied piper leading the people nowhere”.

Born in Lahore in 1952, the Oxford-educated cricketer has also undergone what appears to be significant a personal transformation. While he used to party with Mick Jagger, today he defends Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws and criticises “Westoxified” Pakistani liberals.

In 2017, the provincial government his party has run for the past five years in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa granted $3m to the Haqqania madrassa, a fount of Taliban fighters, drawing sighs of “Taliban Khan” from the coffee shops frequented by Islamabad’s liberals. Others note the arc of his marriages: first came Jemima Khan, a glamorous British heiress. Earlier this year Khan secretly wed his spiritual adviser, Bushra Maneka.

Still, the spectre of an electorally poisonous playboy past was revived with the publication this month of a kiss-and-tell memoir by his second wife, Reham Khan, a former news anchor, PDF copies of which were shared far and wide on Pakistani WhatsApp. She alleges he used “six grams” of cocaine a night, has several love-children and sexts women in his party. “She is just a porn star,” says supporter Zulfikar Ali Khan, repeating the argument of PTI insiders that the book’s publication was co-ordinated with the PML-N.

If the book was a ploy, it seems unlikely to pay off. According to Credit Suisse, the PTI stands a 75% chance of forming a coalition government under Khan. Some supporters even celebrate the army’s alleged tilting of the field as proof that the institution is doing its job. “If they are involved, they are in favour of Pakistan,” says Umair Iqbal, 25. “Even if you put down a vote for PML-N,” adds Shehzar, 19, “it will go to PTI. The PML-N has no chance of forming a government as it has no supporting hands.” In reference to the army, he said: “They know how to bowl you out.”

That appears a blessing to Khan for now. But with a looming economic crisis, political instability and an assertive military establishment to handle, Pakistan’s probable next “Captain” will have to zealously guard his own stumps.


Why NATO Matters

July 20, 2018

President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, has opened another round of debate on the purpose and future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Since assuming office, Trump has moved away from his earlier position that NATO is obsolete, preferring instead to highlight the disparity between U.S. defense expenditures (3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product) and those of other signatories to the treaty, especially Germany (1.2 percent). Indeed, Trump rightly views the commitments of NATO powers to increase defense spending as one of the ways he has strengthened the alliance.

Some of his supporters, however, continue to wonder why America is part of NATO at all. They point to NATO’s newest and 29th member state, Montenegro, and ask why American soldiers should be committed to the defense of its capital Podgorica. This is the latest version of the “Why die for Danzig” argument that originated among the French left in the run up to the Second World War: What reason is there, these critics say, to agree to defend the borders of small and faraway countries engaged in quarrels between people of whom we know nothing?

But to ask the question this way is to misunderstand the nature of deterrence. We join alliances such as NATO and we welcome countries like Montenegro—and Poland—into those alliances so that we will not have to perish for Podgorica.

Deterrence relies on the perception of strength. The tougher one’s adversaries perceive you to be, the higher the probable cost of aggression, the less likely foes or competitors or whatever will move against you. The principle of collective security manifested in NATO is nothing more than bolstering this perception of strength through greater numbers: As membership and resources scale upward, so does the price of hostile activity.

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Would NATO invoke Article Five for the second time (the first was after 9/11) if Russia moved into Estonia or Latvia or Melania Trump’s native Slovenia? The honest answer is we don’t know. But here’s the thing: Russia doesn’t know either. And that uncertainty is precisely the mechanism by which Russia is deterred. It’s risky, tenuous, and occasionally messy. And it has kept the peace.

The alternative did not. America’s lack of forward presence in Europe in the interwar years no doubt contributed to German rearmament and expansionism. So did the fact that the League of Nations—just like the U.N. and E.U. today—had no real military capability. It is worth remembering that many of the French who had no issue with the German annexation of Danzig ended up dying anyway, for among the lessons of history is that belligerent powers never stop with the small countries. They keep advancing until they run into a wall.

Nor is there any question that Putin’s Russia is a belligerent power. Ask yourself: Why do these central, eastern, and southeastern European nations want to belong to NATO? It’s not because they particularly enjoy the alliance’s swanky new headquarters. It’s because they have been under Russian domination before and, if they are not careful, will be again. They notice that Vladimir Putin has so far limited his invasions to non-NATO members Georgia and Ukraine. He meddles with NATO powers, trolls them, harasses them, and threatens them. He walks up to the line, for sure. But he dares not cross it.

OK, comes the reply, but why should Americans care who dominates Romania? I am happy to cite the nobility of freedom, democracy, and national sovereignty, but I recognize that these concepts will be dismissed as idealistic abstractions. So I offer instead this cold-hearted and realistic principle: As the late professor Harold Rood was fond of saying, you either run the show or the show runs you.

American retreat from NATO or Europe would, like we have seen in the Middle East, create a vacuum for an alternative power to revise political, economic, and security arrangements according to its will and in its favor. It would be the very definition of idealism to suggest that those arrangements would be friendly to or consonant with American interests. If you think America is getting a bad deal now, wait until Russia is shaping European trade policy. Only the Ladas will be tariff free.

The counterargument is that other powers will rise to balance against Russia. But the voices most skeptical of NATO and happiest with American withdrawal from Europe are also the most critical of the only power with the capacity to face down the bear. That power is Germany. Is this an outcome we really wish for? I seem to be the sole conservative left who is more than happy with Germany not spending too much money on soldiers, tanks, and artillery. There’s not a really happy track record there.

Germany is already extending its reach and dominating Europe through the E.U. Do we want to give Merkel, or whoever follows her, NATO as well? What would that look like? “Better take these migrants, Italy, or the Bundeswehr will have to make sure you do,” are words no one should want to hear.

I’ve heard the laments in recent days that debate over NATO has been closed. Where have these people been? We have been debating the future of NATO and its expansion since the foundation of the alliance in 1949 and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. And that debate has been decided, again and again, by American voters, in NATO’s favor: first as a means to deter Soviet aggression, then as a way to expand and consolidate democratic gains, and for the last decade as a check against revanchist Russia. True, the two most recent presidents have been wary of NATO—Trump more loudly than his predecessor. But both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have come to assert, however grudgingly and haltingly, its value.

And for good reason. This is an alliance that furthers American interests in the service of American ideals. It’s worth preserving because the choice is not between NATO and peace. The choice is between NATO and war.


Hong Kong police seek landmark ban on pro-independence party

July 17, 2018

Police in Hong Kong sought to ban a political party which promotes independence for the city Tuesday citing it as a potential national security threat as Beijing ups pressure on challenges to its territorial sovereignty.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland including freedom of expression but concern is growing those rights are under serious threat from an assertive China under President Xi Jinping.

It is the first time such a ban has been sought since Britain handed sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 and is the latest move to stifle any calls for independence, which have infuriated Chinese authorities.

Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee said Tuesday he was considering the request made by police to ban the Hong Kong National Party, one of the leading groups calling for the city’s independence from China.

“In Hong Kong we have freedom of association, but that right is not without restriction,” Lee told reporters.

© AFP/File | Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland but concern is growing those rights are under threat from an assertive China under President Xi Jinping

Questioned how the Hong Kong National Party was damaging national security, Lee said he could not comment on the details.

However, he added that under Hong Kong law, national security meant “safeguarding of the territorial integrity and the independence of the People’s Republic of China”.

Under the city’s societies ordinance, groups can be banned in the interests of national security and public safety.

Asked repeatedly by reporters whether the request was politically motivated, Lee said “any person or any society in Hong Kong must act within the law” and that any request for a ban was based on facts and evidence.

Lee said he would give the party 21 days to make representations as to why it should not be prohibited.

Hong Kong National Party leader Andy Chan told AFP police went to his home on Tuesday and handed him documents citing the requested ban, asking him to respond to the security secretary within the time limit.

“They just handed down the documents and left,” he told AFP.

Chan said the documents included records of his speeches and Facebook history, adding that he thought the requested ban may be linked to a recent trip he made to Taiwan where he spoke about Hong Kong civil and political rights at a public forum.

China sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its own territory to be brought back into the fold.

Activists calling for Hong Kong’s independence from China emerged after mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 failed to win reforms.

But there have been increasing attempts to muzzle any talk on the topic, with pro-independence activists including Chan blocked from standing for office and others disqualified from the legislature.

Leading independence activist Edward Leung was jailed for six years in June on rioting charges after clashes with police in 2016.



The Trump Doctrine — coherent, radical and wrong

July 16, 2018
The US president’s worldview puts economics ahead of ideals and values

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Heads of state and government at last week’s Nato summit in Brussels, including Angela Merkel of Germany, left, Charles Michel, prime minister of Belgium, Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, President Donald Trump, and Britain’s Theresa May © Getty

By Gideon Rachman 

Since the end of the second world war, there has been a remarkable consensus within the US establishment about foreign policy. Republicans and Democrats alike have supported a global network of American-led alliances and security guarantees.

Leading figures in both parties — from John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan through to the Bushes and Clintons — agreed that it was in US interests to promote free-trade and democracy around the world.

Donald Trump has taken an axe to this Washington consensus. The US president’s departure from the established principles of American foreign policy is so radical that many of his critics dismiss his ideas as simply the product of a disordered mind. But that is a mistake. There is an emerging Trump doctrine that makes internal sense. There are four broad principles underpinning this approach.

Economics first: from his inaugural address, in which he decried the “carnage” and “rusted-out factories” of the US Midwest, Mr Trump has defined making America “great again” in economic terms. To this end, he has focused on countries that he believes have excessive trade surpluses with the US.

This emphasis on trade and economics blurs the distinction between allies and adversaries — many of the nations that have a large trade surplus with America are also important security partners including Japan and Germany. That is why Mr Trump described the EU as a foe this week. His economics-first viewpoint leads him to question the value of the US’s traditional security alliances, since he sees these as essentially a subsidy to economic adversaries.

Nations not institutions: most previous US presidents have expressed frustration from time to time with international institutions, such as the UN, the World Trade Organization and the G7.

But Mr Trump has raised these objections to another level. He regards international institutions as bastions of “political correctness” on issues such as climate change. He would much prefer to deal with other nations on a one-to-one basis, where America’s size advantage can be made to tell. Multilateral institutions, where the US can be out-voted, are best avoided. The “rules-based international order”, carefully nurtured by previous presidents, is being deliberately undermined by the Trump administration.

Culture not values: all postwar American presidents, even the ultra-realist Richard Nixon, have believed that their role was to uphold certain universal values. It has been easy for US critics to point out inconsistencies, and occasional hypocrisy, in America’s promotion of democracy and human rights. But the rhetorical commitment was a central part of the US approach.

Mr Trump, by contrast, has shown very little interest in democracy promotion or human rights. His conception of the west is based not on shared values, but on culture or, even, race. This leads to his preoccupation with controlling immigration, which he believes is the real threat to the west. He reiterated this view on his current trip to Europe, arguing that immigration is “very bad for Europe, it’s changing the culture”.

Spheres of interest: Mr Trump is not a believer in universal values and rules. So it is much easier for him to accept the idea that the world could (or should) be divided up into informal “spheres of influence” in which great powers such as the US, Russia and China dominate their respective regions. The US president has never explicitly endorsed this idea. But he has hinted at it, in his suggestion that Crimea is naturally part of Russia — and in his frequent questioning of the value of America’s global alliances.

Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for dealing with strongman leaders, such as Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, may also incline him to try to settle disputes in the manner of a chief executive who divides up a market with a rival company. The question of what values the Chinese or Russians are attempting to spread in their regions is not of interest to Mr Trump.

The US foreign-policy establishment is understandably appalled by this radical departure from hallowed principles that have been upheld for decades. But there is a case for taking a fresh look at a foreign policy that was forged after 1945, under very different circumstances. Back then the cold war was raging and American economic supremacy was unquestioned.

The problem is that Mr Trump’s policies are not just radical. They are also dangerous and morally suspect. America needs allies. Undermining the US-led alliance system and promoting “spheres of influence” encourages the expansion of Chinese and Russian influence.

Even if the Trump administration’s only concern is US economic interests, that is not a good idea. Previous generations of US policymakers understood that security and economic concerns are closely entwined — not antithetical. Mr Trump also has a very simplistic view of US economic interests, in which the only thing that seems to matter is a trade surplus.

And finally, there is the moral aspect. Many people will mourn the passing of an America that aspired to be a force for good. During the cold war and its aftermath, it mattered that the world’s dominant power was a country that believed in promoting political and economic freedom. The whole world will pay a price, if that is no longer true.

David Davis urges Theresa May to ditch Chequers plan for Brexit — Even after PM says ‘It’s my way or the highway’?

July 15, 2018

Former Brexit secretary says ‘halfway house’ puts UK democracy at stake

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David Davis’s reasons for quitting will worry Brexit-supporting Tories © Reuters

By Jim Pickard, Chief Political Correspondent

David Davis has urged Theresa May to ditch her Chequers plan for Brexit, warning that it would be “profoundly dangerous” to leave the EU but continue to be a rule-taker from Brussels.

In his most direct challenge to the prime minister to since quitting as Brexit secretary just six days ago, Mr Davis writes in the Financial Times that Mrs May’s “halfway house” plans jeopardise the opportunities offered by departing the EU.

The proposals agreed by the cabinet earlier this month at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, would raise questions over whether the UK was still a “functioning democracy”, he argued: “British democracy is now at stake.”

The criticism will put Downing Street on the back foot yet again, just days after Donald Trump, the US president, attempted to roll back comments that Mrs May’s plan could “kill” prospects for a US-UK trade deal.

Mr Davis insisted the US president had been correct to make the warning given that the UK was planning a “common rule book” with the EU.

“Under this plan . . . Britain would have to obey EU regulations, follow EU rules on how all goods are made and on a huge range of interconnected areas such as competition and state aid,” he said. “As Donald Trump aptly pointed out, it would ‘kill’ the prospect of a US-UK deal.”

The former cabinet minister urged the prime minister to change her attitude and allow optimism to triumph over fear. He is expected to step up his criticism of Number 10 in further interventions on Sunday.

Mrs May meanwhile warned that if colleagues failed to “keep our eyes on the prize” Britain could end up with “no Brexit at all”.

In an editorial in the Mail on Sunday she insisted that her “Brexit deal for Britain” would restore the UK’s national sovereignty, end free movement, put an end to payments to Brussels and allow the creation of new trade deals with other countries.

“This is the scale of the opportunity before us and my message to the country this weekend is simple: we need to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Mrs May said it was time to be “practical and pragmatic” in order to maintain friction-free movement of goods and to prevent a hard border with Ireland.

Mrs May has endured a torrid week which began with the resignations of Mr Davis and Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary, on Sunday night and Monday afternoon respectively. On Thursday she published her Brexit white paper— an opening position ahead of final negotiations with Brussels — which was met with criticism by the most hardline Tory Eurosceptics.

Mr Davis has signalled that he will lend his support to the European Reform Group, Eurosceptics led by Jacob Rees-Mogg who will this week vote against the government on four amendments to the flagship trade bill. He is expected to back one ERG amendment that seeks to legislate to prevent a customs border in the Irish Sea.

The white paper envisaged a deal with the EU whereby Britain would keep regulatory alignment with Brussels on goods while having more flexibility on service industries.

Mr Davis, in his opinion piece in the FT, warns that without control over goods London will lack the “crucial leverage” to open up the export of British services to the rest of the world: “The chance to become a credible trading partner will be compromised and we will be unable to strike free trade deals.”

This was not an arcane technicality, he wrote: “It would mean that the UK is simply not running its own economy. How laws are made is also a central indicator of whether we have a functioning democracy. If parliament determines laws, we have one; otherwise, we do not.”

Eurosceptics including Mr Davis believe that Brussels regulations favour incumbent firms, stifling smaller, innovative entrants.

“If the government follows its present course, it will stifle innovation and stymie economic growth,” he wrote. “It would be profoundly dangerous to leave the EU but remain subject to regulations made by institutions in which we have no say, as a forthcoming paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs argues.”

Mr Davis argued that Britain should have the freedom to choose which sectors could benefit from regulatory divergence from the EU. “We must be a credible trading partner for the US and the TPP countries, such as Australia and Japan. We will not be credible if we cannot make changes to the regulations affecting swaths of the economy.”


Hong Kong human rights groups mark one year since Liu Xiaobo death — China blocks planned memorials

July 13, 2018

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Hong Kong activists tied black ribbons to the fences of the Chinese government’s office in the city Friday to mark one year since the death in custody of Nobel dissident Liu Xiaobo.

A veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Liu died from liver cancer while serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion” on the mainland.

Dozens of pro-democracy campaigners gathered outside China’s liaison office in the semi-autonomous city, ahead of a larger public memorial event due to take place in the evening.

The commemorations come three days after Liu’s widow, Liu Xia, arrived in Germany, ending eight years under de facto house arrest in Beijing.

Activists attached a picture of Liu Xiaobo to the wall outside the liaison office and tied black ribbons to the fence there.

The group also called for the release of prominent Chinese democracy activist Qin Yongmin, who was jailed for 13 years on the mainland Wednesday for “subversion of state power”.

They also called for the release of lawyers arrested in the “709 crackdown” of 2015, which marked the largest ever clampdown on the legal profession in China.

“(The Chinese government) released Liu Xia on Tuesday, then jailed Qin Yongmin on Wednesday,” said veteran democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung, known as “Long Hair”.

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Leung Kwok-hung

“So to release Liu Xia was an act to hoodwink the public and pretend to show mercy,” he told reporters.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki called for freedom of speech and elections in China, as campaigned for by Liu Xiaobo.

He said China’s release of Liu Xia was a bid to woo European allies in the face of a trade war with the United States.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was blasted by democracy campaigners after she described the freeing of Liu Xia as an “act of humanitarianism”.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo grilled her over that statement in a heated exchange in the legislature Thursday, asking Lam whether she was a “Beijing groveller”.

Liu Xiaobo was arrested in late 2008 after co-authoring Charter 08, a widely circulated online petition that called for political reform in the Communist-ruled nation.

The bold manifesto, which was signed by more than 10,000 people after it went online, called for the protection of basic human rights and the reform of China’s one-party system.

Liu Xia had faced no charges but endured heavy restrictions on her movements and was kept under constant surveillance since 2010 when her husband won the Nobel Peace Prize, infuriating Chinese authorities.



China cracks down on Liu Xiaobo memorials ahead of death anniversary

Beijing, Jul 12 (efe-epa).- As China’s crackdown on public memorials for dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died last year in police custody, continued on Thursday, his widow Liu Xia, who was released from home detention recently, was in Germany, where she would be free to publicly remember her husband.

Liu Xia, was allowed to travel to Berlin on Tuesday by the Chinese government after she spent eight years under house arrest without being formally charged with any crime.

“Liu Xia’s in good spirits, but physically weak,” Liao Yiwu, a Chinese writer living in exile in Germany, tweeted, adding that the poet could visit the Gethsemane Church in Berlin on Friday to attend a ceremony to mark her husband’s death anniversary.

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A  woman rearranges photos of late Chinese dissident and Nobel Price recipient Liu Xiaobo (R) and his wife Liu Xia (R) in a booth set up by supporters in Hong Kong, China, Jul. 10, 2018. EPA-EFE/FILE/JEROME FAVRE

In China, however, the government continued to crack down on public memorials for the Nobel Peace Laureate.

Hu Jia, an activist and a close friend of the family, who was forced to leave Beijing along with other dissidents so they could not organize a memorial for Liu, told EFE that Jul. 13 would be a “complicated” day in China.

China has consistently cracked down on any celebration of Liu’s memory as he stands as a symbol of the pro-democracy struggle in the country.

The Chinese government had refused to free him even after he was diagnosed with a late-stage cancer leading to a global outcry.

Hu, who has been kept under surveillance at a hotel in the city of Chongli, said he would have liked to travel to Dalian, the northeastern city where Liu’s ashes were scattered at sea.

Liu Xiaobo participated in the Tiananmen square protests of 1989, urging democratic reforms in the country and was jailed for the first time afterwards.

In 2009 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion, after helping write a political manifesto calling for democratic reform.

In May 2017, after Liu had served most of his sentence, authorities announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

He was moved to hospital shortly thereafter, where he died.

Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon said that Liu Xiaobo continued to be an inspiration for other dissidents in China, who idolize his ideas of human rights and democracy.

By Jessica Martorell


Hong Kong Free Press

Liu Xia will not attend a memorial in Berlin for her late husband Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo on Friday, because her brother is still in China, a friend of hers has said.

Liu Xia arrived in Germany on Tuesday after eight years of de facto house arrest, despite never being charged with any crime. Her brother Liu Hui remains in China on bail over an 11-year jail sentence on fraud charges in 2013 – a case which was widely seen as political persecution.

Liao Tianqi, a friend and the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, met Liu Xia in Berlin for two hours on Thursday, before speaking to the press.

Liao Tianqi Liu Xia

From left: Liao Tianqi and Liu Xia. Photo: Apple Daily/Liao Tianqi.

Liao said Liu was happy but she was still physically weak. She said Liu thanked Hong Kong people and Hong Kong media for the attention they gave to her and her husband over the years.

Memorial at Berlin church

However, Liao said Liu will not be able to attend a memorial for Liu Xiaobo at the Gethsemane church in Berlin on Friday, the anniversary of his death. The church was an important refuge for East German dissidents. Former German president Joachim Gauck will attend the event.

Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese poet who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. He was jailed for 11 years a year earlier for inciting “subversion of state power,” after he penned Charter ’08 – a manifesto urging democratic reform. He died a year ago after battling liver cancer while on medical parole, making him the first Nobel laureate to die in custody since 1938.

Liao said Liu Xia will conduct a “spirit conversation” with Liu Xiaobo quietly on Friday.

Liu Hui Liu Xia

Liu Hui and Liu Xia. Photo: rfi.

Liao made reference to Liu Hui: “If necessary, the Chinese government can put him in prison anytime. I believe he is the closest person to Liu Xia, so she has a lot of consideration about this.”

“If she attends, there will be some bad consequences that she does not want to see,” Liao said. “She said she was very sorry, but she cannot. Because this was not a decision that she could make. She cannot attend.”

Liao also said Liu Xia will not meet with the press in the short term, and will not go to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her late husband.

According to Liao, Liu Xia said she hoped to go to Spain because she loved Spanish red wines.

Delayed departure

Liao said she heard from the German Foreign Ministry in March that Liu Xia could leave the country. She said Liu was very happy and started to pack at that time.

Liu Xia Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xia kissing a sculpture of Liu Xiaobo. Photo: Apple Daily/Liao Tianqi.

However, Liao said she could not reach Liu in April, and found out later that Liu received news that she was banned from leaving. A recording of Liu Xia made at the end of April, in which she said “it is easier to die than live,” was then made public in May.

Liao said the situation changed when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited China in May and spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the matter. Merkel was under pressure from several groups.

Liao said that, a day before Liu was allowed to leave, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was visiting Merkel in Berlin and both sides signed a US$30 billion commercial agreement amid a China-US trade war. At the same time, Merkel herself was caught up in internal differences with her political partners over refugee policies.

“To me, Liu Xia was a big gift [for Merkel]. It may be a small thing [for China], but I know it was very important to Mrs Merkel,” Liao said.

“It was obviously not the case that the Chinese government showed a humanitarian gesture on the Liu Xia issue,” she added.

Liao said the public must also keep in mind that 64-year-old Chinese political campaigner Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in jail on Wednesday. He may die in jail.

Photos posted by another friend of Liu Xia, Liao Yiwu, showed that – on Thursday – Liu met Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel laureate in Literature, and Peter Sillem, a representative for Liu Xia’s photographic art.

Liu Hui told RTHK that he was happy to see his sister’s smile. He said Liu Xia met with several friends on Thursday and visited a supermarket. She told him that “maybe Berlin is what heaven should look like.”

Cambodian security forces overstep neutrality rules in election campaign, rights group says

July 12, 2018

Cambodia’s security forces are “actively campaigning” for the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of a general election on July 29, in violation of a law requiring political neutrality, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

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A supporter of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) uses a mobile phone to photograph a portrait of CPP president Hun Sen during an election campaign in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years, wants to ensure victory after two close elections in 2013 and 2017 with a crackdown on his critics, spurring many rights groups and the main opposition to call the vote a sham.

He is widely expected to win the election after the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last year, leaving no significant competitor for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

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Hun Sen. AFP photo

“Basic democratic principles require the political neutrality of the military and police for elections to be free, fair, and credible,” said Brad Adam, Asia director of the New York-based group.

“Nothing about this election is democratic, so it is hardly a surprise that the CPP is using senior commanders as ruling party campaigners,” Adams added in a statement.

Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the CPP, dismissed HRW’s concerns, saying members of the security forces could campaign legally, so long as they limited participation to their days off, did not carry weapons or wear official uniforms.

“Brad Adam has had anger and grudge against the CPP for a long time,” Sok Eysan said.

Last weekend, Hun Sen launched a three-week election campaign with rallies across the capital Phnom Penh, as did other, smaller parties.

But there was no sign of the main opposition CNRP, many of whose leaders have fled Cambodia over the past year fearing a crackdown by Hun Sen and his allies.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested in September for alleged treason, an accusation he denied. The CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November at the government’s request.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez


China Allows Liu Xia, the widow of late Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo, to leave for Berlin

July 10, 2018

Liu Xia, the widow of late Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo, has left Beijing on a flight to Berlin, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

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FILE PHOTO – Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, talks to the media in Beijing February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo

The Chinese-language report said Liu Xia was aboard a Finnair flight that departed from Beijing at 11 a.m. (0300 GMT). It gave no further details of her travel plans.

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Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer in July 2017 in Chinese custody, having been jailed in 2009 for inciting subversion.

Liu Xia had been under house arrest since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and Beijing has been under pressure to allow her to leave China.


Reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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Liu Xia, center, the widow of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, holds a portrait of him during his funeral.

Syrians ‘will never be safe under Assad’ — opposition

July 9, 2018

“We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation.”

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition.”

Syrian government soldiers burn an opposition flag at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 7, 2018. (AFP / Youssef Karwashan)

Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime, opposition leaders told Arab News on Sunday, as thousands returned to their homes after a cease-fire deal in the southern region of Daraa.

The regime offensive to retake Daraa from insurgents, which began on June 19, displaced about 330,000 people. Many headed to the border with Jordan, which refused to allow refugees to cross. Fighting ended on Friday under a Russian-mediated surrender deal.

© AFP | A Jordanian soldier keeps watch along the border with Syria on July 2, 2018

Anders Pedersen, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jordan, said on Sunday that only 150 to 200 Syrians remained near a key crossing point into Jordan, and “as far as we understand they are almost exclusively men.”

The cease-fire covered most of southern Syria but intense shelling and airstrikes on Sunday targeted the opposition-held village of Um Al-Mayadeen, just north of the Naseeb border crossing. Regime troops later captured the village after a battle with opposition fighters.

© AFP | With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs

“Despite the return of refugees to their homes, Syrians will never feel safe under the Assad regime’s rule and brutality,” Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.

“At the same time, this is not a victory for the regime since it is participating in name only. After the Russians and the Iranian militias finished their work, you would see Syrian regime officers coming in front of television cameras. This is what happens.”

Aleppo's Great  Umayyad Mosque, pictured on July 22, 2017.

Although the main opposition groups in the eastern parts of Daraa province have agreed to hand over their weapons as part of the surrender, some have vowed to continue fighting, mostly in western parts of Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region on the front with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“Those who have lost their families — and those parents whose children have been murdered by the regime — will not accept Assad and his regime’s existence, survival and power,” Bahia Mardini, a Syrian opposition activist and founder of Syrian House, which helps Syrians in the UK, told Arab News.

“Despite the lack of international desire for military action, as long as the regime clings on to power, I expect that military action will continue.”

“As long as there is terrorism and dictatorship, there will remain a Syrian opposition who seek democracy and human rights for the Syrian people. They will continue to find new mechanisms to work and succeed despite the difficulties.

“As long as there is a case for democracy there will be a Syrian opposition. We want justice, human rights, freedom and democracy and we will not give up until it is a reality for the next generation,” she said.

“An internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

“Military cells will remain in Syria, some of them dormant, and despite the international silence, they will renew their military action if there is no democratic process that satisfies the rebellious people and all the parties. That is why an internationally backed democratic solution is so desperately important.”

Arab News

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“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” Assad has said.