French centrist presidential candidate Emanuel Macron has underlined his determination to turn a page in French political history, as he and far-right Marine Le Pen go to the run-off presidential vote.
According to final voting figures released by the Interior Ministry on Monday, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister, won 23.75 percent of the votes against 21.53 percent for Le Pen.
According to new surveys, Macron is expected to win the runoff by 64 percent to 36.
In a victory speech for his supporters in Paris on Sunday, Macron called on all patriots to rally behind him in the battle against what he called the threat of nationalism. “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics," he said.
Macron stressed that, if elected, he will bring in new faces and talents to transform the French political system that "has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years". "From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place," he added.
The other elected contender for the run-off, Le Pen, launched a diatribe against the policies of Macron during her victory speech, warning that Macron’s deregulation policies would lead to unjust international competition against France's business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists. "The great issue in this election is the rampant globalization that is putting our civilization at risk," she said.
Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged their supporters to rally behind Macron in the second round.
Reactions in Europe
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman hailed Macron's success. "Good that Emmanuel Macron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks,” the spokesman tweeted.
In Brussels, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has reacted positively to Macron’s success, expressing good wishes for him in the second round.
Following the announcement of the initial results, investors reacted positively to what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes.
In Asian markets, the euro soared two percent to $1.09395 when markets opened before slipping back to around $1.0886, the euro's highest level since the election of Donald Trump as the US president on November 10.
Moreover, US stock index futures rose sharply on Sunday as investors expect that Macron’s possible election will reduce the prospect of an anti-establishment market shock.
The final outcome of the French presidential poll is being anxiously monitored around the world as a sign of whether the populist tide that saw Britain vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States is still rising or starting to ebb.
About 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers have been deployed around France to protect voters in the wake of a policeman’s killing on Thursday.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on registered Labour Party voters to break ranks and vote Tory or Liberal Democrat in the upcoming general election, further challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s troubled leadership over the main opposition party.
In an interview with BBC on Sunday, Blair said the issue of getting more members of parliament who could oppose Prime Minister Theresa May’s possible hard Brexit deal was now “bigger than party allegiance.”
“The absolutely central question at this general election is less who is the prime minister on June 9, and more what is the nature of the mandate,” he said.
“Otherwise frankly this is a steamroller election – is it possible that we can return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms.”
Last week, May called for snap general elections to gain a stronger mandate for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. The request was approved by the Tory-dominated parliament, as the House of Commons voted 522 to 13 to pass the motion.The election will be held on June 8, nearly a year after 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU). The current parliament will dissolve on June 3.
Return to politics
Blair, who was elected PM three times as Labour leader, has positioned himself to join forces with Lib Dems against May, indicating a comeback to politics.
“I look at the British political scene at the moment and I actually almost feel motivated to go right back into it,” he told BBC on Sunday.
When asked whether he was encouraging people to vote for Lib Dems as his new party, Blair gave an evasive answer.
“What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment,” he argued. “This is something that’s bigger than party allegiance, in this particular election.”
The former premier, who risks indictment over his role in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, insisted that he “will always vote Labour.”
Blair's comments prompted outrage on social media, with some party members calling for him to be fired for backing rival candidates in breach of the party’s rule-book.
“On 9 June, we will either have a Labour government or a Tory one. If you want Brexit to be used to turn Britain into a low-wage tax haven, vote Tory. If you want a Britain for the many not the few after Brexit, vote Labour. The choice is clear,” said a Corbyn spokesman.
Corbyn, who is struggling to close a wide popularity gap with the ruling Tories, has pledged to turn the page and win the vote.
Germany has in the span of two months rejected the asylum requests of more than half of the Afghan refugees who had traveled 7,000 kilometers in search of a better life in the European country.
Citing Interior Ministry figures, the German Passauer Neue Presse newspaper reported on Sunday that less than 48 percent of the asylum requests by people from Afghanistan had been accepted in the first two months of 2017.
The newspaper said that in January and February, the government rejected 14,403 of the 27,639 Afghan asylum applications processed.
The report came shortly after another German publication said that thousands of former Taliban militants might have entered Germany over the past two years among an influx of more than a million refugees, including tens of thousands of Afghans.
German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said in its report on Saturday that a large number of counter-terrorism and criminal investigations had been launched in 2016, with a number of Afghan refugees being held in investigatory detention. It added that preliminary court hearings involving several other Afghans were due to start next week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been under fire by some political quarters in the country for allowing in large numbers of refugees, especially after several criminal attacks last year by rejected Afghan asylum seekers.
Berlin reached a deal with the Afghan government in October 2016 to have rejected asylum seekers returned to Afghanistan.
In early February, Merkel, a former advocate of an open-doors refugee policy, called on authorities to accelerate the deportations of the rejected refugees. She has defended the increased deportations of such asylum seekers, saying all other European Union countries are doing the same.
A fifth planeload of Afghans is due to be deported back to Afghanistan on Monday, the German Passauer Neue Presse newspaper said.
The cost of the first four flights was estimated at 1.3 million euros (1.4 million dollars), it said, citing a government response to a query by the Greens Party.
Those costs are covered by the EU’s border protection agency, the Frontex.
Afghan refugees are the second largest group of asylum seekers in Germany after Syrians.
Europe has been experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees over the past couple of years. The asylum seekers have been fleeing conflicts and economic hardships in North Africa and the Middle East.
Rising levels of inflation coupled with lackluster wage growth have led UK consumer confidence to fall, according to a new survey, nearly a year after 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union.
According to the study by research firm Deloitte, overall confidence barometer showed minus seven percent for the first quarter of 2017, down one percent from the minus six percent in the previous quarter.
Deloitte also reported that four of its six measures of consumer optimism had dropped during the same period, with confidence in disposable income hitting a two-year low at minus 17 percent. This is while, inflation missed Bank of England’s target.
“Since last summer’s EU referendum consumer spending has held up well, but with inflation rising and nominal wage growth starting to slow, consumers are beginning to feel a squeeze on their disposable income,” Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said.
“In March, the rate of inflation stood at 2.3 percent, above the Bank of England’s 2 percent target and the highest in more than two years. There are already some signs that these pressures are contributing to a slowdown in consumer activity,” he added.
Deloitte’s consumer tracker also registered a decrease in consumer spending, where spending on discretionary items had dropped by four percentage points to minus four percent.
Ben Perkins, head of consumer research at Deloitte, blamed the trend on less disposable income, which forced consumers “to consider whether to trade down, buy less or borrow more.”
The robustness of the UK’s consumer-led economy in the wake of the EU vote was questioned in March, after retail sales saw their biggest quarterly fall in seven years.
The government of UK Prime Minister Theresa May has been harshly criticized for the way it is handling Brexit.
The immense criticism led May to request early general elections to gain more authority in the EU talks, a motion that was approved by Parliament. The vote will be held on June 8.
The Scottish government has formally asked UK Prime Minister Theresa May to allow it hold a second referendum following the beginning of Britain’s exit process from the European Union. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the request in a letter she wrote to May on Friday, two days after London wrote to Brussels announcing the UK's formal withdrawal from the EU. "I am... writing to begin early discussions between our governments to agree an Order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would enable a referendum to be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament," Sturgeon wrote in the letter. "The people of Scotland must have the right to choose our own future -- in short, to exercise our right of self determination," wrote Sturgeon, leader of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP). Sturgeon tweeted a picture in the day, sitting on a couch at her official residence in Edinburgh and writing the Section 30 letter on a fresh referendum vote for her country. Earlier this week, Scottish lawmakers had voted 69 to 59 in favor of seeking permission for a second referendum on independence to take place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. The Scottish first minister said her mandate for another vote is now "beyond question," and warned it would be "democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable" to attempt to stand in the way. "There appears to be no rational reason for you to stand in the way of the will of the Scottish parliament and I hope you will not do so," she wrote in the letter. This is while May has repeatedly said the referendum request submitted by the government in Edinburgh will be turned down, insisting that now is not the time for another independence referendum and that all efforts should be on securing the best Brexit deal for the whole of Britain after Article 50 is triggered. “Now is not the time to focus on a second independence referendum or to be looking at that second independence referendum, because [now] is the time when we need to pull together as a United Kingdom,” Britain's prime minister recently said in an interview with BBC. Scotland held its first referendum in 2014, when over 55 percent of the people voted against independence. In June last year, nearly 52 percent of Britons opted to leave the bloc during the EU referendum; however, some 62 percent of the Scottish people voted against the Brexit decision.
The wife of France’s conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon was charged Tuesday with complicity in the abuse of public funds in a scandal that has engulfed her husband’s campaign.
He has already been charged in the case involving allegedly fictitious jobs as a parliamentary aide for which the Welsh-born Penelope Fillon was paid hundreds of thousands of euros.
The 61-year-old Penelope was also charged over a salary she received from a literary magazine owned by a billionaire friend of her husband’s, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.
She has told police she never stepped foot in the offices of the Revue des Deux Mondes, according to a report in the Journal du Dimanche weekly.
The new blow comes less than four weeks before French voters go to the polls in a two-stage election on April 23 and May 7.
Francois Fillon, whose legal woes have snowballed since “Penelopegate” broke in January, once described his wife as a stalwart companion who “has been with me in political life for 30 years... but always in the shadows.”
Revelations by the satirical and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine turned a harsh media glare on a woman that no one could recall seeing at work in the halls of parliament.
Though a lawmaker employing a family member is not illegal in France, Penelope is accused of doing little for the 680,000 euros (725,000 dollars) she received in salary over a number of years.
Fillon, 63, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a “political assassination.”
Last week, he accused Socialist President Francois Hollande of using the Finance Ministry to collect information on politicians, including his former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, which was then leaked to the press.
‘Man of integrity’
Fillon, who overcame intense pressure to quit the presidential race early this month, was once the clear favorite, but opinion polls now show him failing to get past the first round.
If the election were held today, the May 7 runoff would pit far-right leader Marine Le Pen against centrist Emmanuel Macron, polls show.
The 39-year-old Macron is currently tipped to defeat Le Pen, 48, by a wide margin.
Last week, “Penelopegate” took a new twist when financial prosecutors said they were expanding the fake jobs probe to include suspicions of forgery.
Investigators are looking at whether the Fillons forged documents to try to justify Penelope’s salary, an allegation angrily rejected by her lawyer, Pierre Cornut-Gentille.
“When this case is approached calmly and with respect for the principles of law, I am convinced the innocence of Penelope and Francois Fillon will be recognized,” Cornut-Gentille said in a statement released by the office of the presidential candidate.
Penelope had been charged with “unusual speed,” the lawyer said.
The silver-haired mother of five is now a local councilor in Solesmes, a village of 1,000 people in the Sarthe area where the couple live in the turreted manor house.
Francois Fillon, a staunch Catholic who had campaigned as a man of integrity, has also been charged for failing to declare a 2013 interest-free loan of 50,000 euros from Ladreit to a state transparency watchdog.
But a potentially even more embarrassing revelation emerged this month when the Canard Enchaine reported that Fillon had introduced a Lebanese oil pipeline builder — with whom he signed a 50,000-dollar lobbying contract — to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a business forum in St. Petersburg in 2015.
Britain and France have signed an agreement to jointly develop long range missiles for future use by their navies and air forces.
British Minister for military purchases Harriett Baldwin and her visiting French counterpart Laurent Collet-Billon agreed in London on Tuesday to invest €50 million ( £43 million) each to begin a three-year concept phase for the project.
Dubbed the Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon program, arms manufacturer MBDA would explore options to replace and improve existing naval and air force weapons systems over the next 10 years, according to a statement by the UK ministry of defense.
The concept phase is focused on determining the designs of the future weapons and cutting the risks to a minimum before heading to the next stage in the cooperation, the statement added.
Beside costs, both sides also agreed to freely use one another’s “national technology expertise, trials and test facilities.”
“As demonstrated by having Europe’s largest defense budget, the UK is committed to European security and we will continue to collaborate on joint defense programs across the continent,” Baldwin said.
Collet-Billon also hailed the agreement, calling it “the backbone of our ‘one complex weapon’ initiative.”
Formed by a merger of French Aérospatiale-Matra Missiles, Italian Alenia Marconi Systems and British Matra BAe Dynamics, MBDA already produces Storm Shadow/ SCALP EG long-range cruise missiles for the British and French air forces.
In late February, the two sides signed a £146 million deal to upgrade the £790,000 missile, which has a range of approximately 560 kilometers (300 nautical miles).
According to the British defense ministry, France is “the UK’s most important European Ally” and together, the two countries accounted for almost half of all military spending in Europe.
As London prepares to leave the European Union (EU) following last year’s July referendum, British officials have reassured their allies in Paris that nothing can undermine their military alliance.
“This is a day-to-day, intense partnership that has never been affected by whatever French or British-bashing was going on in either country in the last five years,” said Claire Chick, head of military affairs at the London-based Franco-British Council.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered the formal, two-year process of withdrawing Britain from the European Union (EU), likely to be the most complex London has held since World War Two.
Launching the process of Britain’s exit from the EU, popularly known as Brexit, was announced by the prime minister on Wednesday at the UK Parliament, after more than 40 years of membership in the bloc.
On behalf of May, British Ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow hand-delivered a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels to officially notify the EU of Britain's decision to withdraw from the bloc.
The six page letter invoked Article 50 of the EU Treaty, the mechanism for starting Britain’s divorce process.
In her speech to Parliament, which was planned to coincide with the letter's delivery, May urged the country to come together as it embarks on a "momentous journey."
"The Article 50 process is now under way and in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union," she said. "This is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back."
Brussels is expected to deliver its first response to London on Friday, followed by a summit of EU leaders on April 29 to adopt their own guidelines, possibly taking weeks before formal talks start.
The United Kingdom held a referendum last June in which Britons voted by a 52-48 percent margin to leave the EU, the first member state ever to do so.
However, there is a chance that the Brexit negotiations will break down and the UK will be forced to exit the EU without any deal in place.
The EU is determined to preserve its own unity and has said that any Brexit agreement must not encourage other member states to leave the bloc.
Although Britain as whole voted to leave the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the bloc.
The Brexit referendum has prompted nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland to call for a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.
There is broad consensus among economists that Brexit will have a prolonged effect of the British economy and will ultimately diminish output, jobs and wealth to some degree.
Many business leaders are also concerned about May's decision to leave the EU single market, a free trade area of 500 million people, fearing its impact on jobs and economic growth.
The British-born man who killed four people and injured more than 50 others in an attack outside the British Parliament in London last week was known as a potential extremist to UK intelligence agencies in 2010, a report says. Khalid Masood first came to the attention of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, six years ago after returning to the country from Saudi Arabia where he had been teaching English, the Guardian reported on Monday. The Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom on Friday confirmed Masood had visited Saudi Arabia three times, including two stints teaching English there. Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is widely preached and practiced, stands accused of sponsoring terrorist groups such as Daesh. But some time before the deadly attack in London on Wednesday, Masood fell off the radar of intelligence officials, the report said. Earlier, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the attacker had previously been investigated by the intelligence agencies but only as a “peripheral” figure. The 52-year-old taught English in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and again from April 2008 to April 2009 before returning to Luton, Bedfordshire, to teach English. According to The Sunday Times, Britain’s extremist al-Muhajiroun group, led by imprisoned cleric Anjem Choudary, was active in Luton, and that Masood was loosely connected to people under investigation by British agencies. But it is not clear how closely he had been monitored by MI5 and why that surveillance had been halted some time before the attack. It comes as the British police made yet another arrest on Sunday night as part of their investigation into the terror attack. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said, “A new arrest has been made as part of the investigation being carried out by the Met’s counter-terrorism command into the Westminster attack,” which was claimed by the Daesh terrorist group. The Metropolitan Police said on Sunday a 30-year-old man was apprehended in the central English city of Birmingham "on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts." A statement published by the Amaq News Agency, which is seen as the terror group's official press service, has said the assailant was a "soldier” of Daesh.
Russia has denounced as a "provocation" the recent anti-corruption protests organized by opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the country’s capital, Moscow, and several other cities. "Essentially what we saw yesterday in several places -- probably especially in Moscow -- is a provocation and a lie," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday. Peskov claimed that young demonstrators, who had taken to the streets a day earlier to protest against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, had been "promised financial rewards in the event of their detention by law enforcement agencies" during the protests. Sunday’s demonstrations were held in more than 80 towns and cities across Russia. Navalny called for the demonstrations after publishing a detailed report earlier this month accusing the Russian prime minister of controlling a property empire through a shadowy network of non-profit organizations. Police detained at least 1,000 people, including Navalny, in Moscow and some 500 people in other cities across the country during the protests, which had been declared as unauthorized by Russian officials. Navalny, a lawyer turned critic and activist, who has announced his intention to run for president in next year's election, has been rallying supporters in major Russian cities in recent weeks. Also on Monday, a district court in Moscow sentenced the Russian opposition leader to 15 days behind bars for disobeying a police officer during the demonstrations. The court also fined Navalny 20,000 roubles ($352.20) for his role in organizing the protests.
Dozens of Muslim women have gathered on Westminster Bridge in London to express solidarity with the victims of Wednesday’s deadly attack outside the British Parliament. The women stood in silence with heads bowed for five minutes on Sunday remembering the victims who lost their lives in the assault, which was claimed by the Daesh terrorist group. At least four people were killed and 50 others were injured in the attack on Wednesday after British-born Khalid Masood plowed a car into pedestrians and fatally stabbed police officer Keith Palmer, an incident that has been declared a terrorist incident. The attacker was later killed by police. The event was organized by Women’s March on London at the scene of the terror attack near the Parliament. People from a range of backgrounds joined the Muslim women, lined up along the bridge, linking hands and bowing their heads. Attendee Kerena Sheath told The Guardian newspaper the vigil was an act of remembrance. "That man wanted to divide us, so by joining hands we are literally doing the opposite of what he wanted," she said. "This is London and you are not going to change us." Meanwhile, the British police have arrested the 12th suspect, who is a 30-year-old man, as part of investigations into the attack. Nine of the suspects were released without further action. The Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom on Friday confirmed Masood had visited the kingdom three times. Earlier, The Sun newspaper reported that the London attack suspect was a former English teacher working at the institution controlling Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation. Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is widely preached and practiced, stands accused of sponsoring terrorist groups such as Daesh. A statement published by the Amaq News Agency, which is seen as the terror group's official press service, has said the assailant was a "soldier” of Daesh.
Bulgaria’s veteran political bruiser Boyko Borisov was due Monday to begin tough talks to form a lasting government and become prime minister for the third time. On Sunday, Borisov’s pro-European Union (EU), center-right GERB Party came first in snap elections in the EU’s poorest country with 33 percent of the vote, according to projections from polling firms. The burly Borisov, a former firefighter and bodyguard, saw off a stiff challenge from the Socialist Party (BSP), seen as closer to Moscow, which garnered 28 percent. “I hope we can ensure the rapid formation of a government that responds to the wishes of the people and to the grave international situation,” Borisov said late Sunday. But whether the 57-year-old can form an administration — and one that stays the course and is effective, unlike his previous two attempts — remains to be seen. Bulgaria, where the average monthly salary is just 500 euros (540 dollars) and corruption is rife even after 10 years in the EU, has now seen three elections in four years. In the first half of next year, Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the midst of Britain’s negotiations with Brussels on the terms of its exit from the bloc. Borisov, once a bodyguard for Bulgaria’s last communist leader and its ex-king, has long dominated national politics, serving as prime minister from 2009 to 2013 and again from 2014 to 2017. But both times Borisov quit early, first in 2013 after mass protests and then last November after his candidate for the presidency was defeated by an air force commander backed by the BSP. And his reform efforts, in particular in meeting Brussels’ demands to tackle corruption and organized crime, failed to get off the ground both times. The scourge of graft loomed over the poll, with prosecutors launching multiple electoral fraud probes and television channels alleging sales of votes for as little as 15 euros. In the campaign, Borisov ruled out a tie-up with the centrist Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MDL) Party representing Bulgaria’s Turkish minority, which came third or fourth with around 9.5 percent of the vote. Potential partners include the United Patriots, also on some 9.5 percent, and Veselin Mareshki, a charismatic businessman who likes being called the Bulgarian Donald Trump. It was unclear however whether Mareshki’s party, Volya (“Will”) cleared the four-percent hurdle needed to gain seats in parliament. Official results were due from Monday.
A large group of people have gathered in Britain's capital London to mark the second anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless invasion of Yemen, calling for an end to the deadly war. The kingdom’s unprovoked war against its impoverished southern neighbor, which began on March 26, 2015, has killed and injured over 30,000 Yemeni civilians, according to official reports. Over the course of the war, British and American military forces have supported the Saudi war machine through major arms deals. They have also admitted to training Saudi pilots and providing them with intelligence on their targets in Yemen. On Sunday, groups of protesters met at Marble Arch, near London’s Hyde Park, and condemned the ongoing weapons deals between Saudis and their Western allies. Carrying signs that read, “End Yemen Siege” and “Hands Off Yemen,” the protesters then marched outside the BBC offices to protest the mainstream media’s way of reporting the conflict. “The message is the illegal blockade must be lifted to save millions of lives, because according to the UNICEF figures obtained, every 10 minute a child under the age of five is dying in Yemen—approximately 52,000 children per annum-- that is clearly a genocide” Kim Shariff, director of Human Rights for Yemen, told Press TV. According to the UN, the war and the ongoing air and sea blockade by the Saudi regime has put a third of Yemen’s 22 provinces on the brink of famine, leaving more than half of the country’s population hungry. Amien Afet, the deputy mayor of Sana’a, said last week that Saudi Arabia has been using all kinds of internationally-banned munitions, including cluster bombs, in its military campaign. London has admitted to providing the kingdom with hundreds of cluster bombs over the past years. Additionally, British arms manufacturers like BAE Systems have continued to provide Riyadh with cutting-edge military technology during the war. The UK High Court is set to review the country’s weapons deals with Saudi Arabia, after activists accused the government of Prime Minister Theresa May of complicity in Riyadh’s war crimes. “It is a very sad situation for our government in the UK to continue supplying weapons to the regimes that are committing these crimes against Yemen, knowing full well that these crimes are being committed every day,” Shariff said.
The British police have made yet another arrest as part of their investigation into the recent terror attack near the Parliament in London. The Metropolitan Police said on Sunday a 30-year-old man was apprehended in the central English city of Birmingham "on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts." The police said the man is in custody under the Terrorism Act (TACT). In a statement, the police said they arrested a total of 12 people in connection with the attack but nine were released with no further action. At least four people were killed and 50 others were injured in the attack on Wednesday after the assailant plowed a car into pedestrians and stabbed a police officer near the British Parliament in London, an incident that has been declared a terrorist incident. The attacker was also shot dead by the police. Earlier, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the intelligence services must have access to encrypted social messaging services. The perpetrator of the attack in Westminster, British-born Khalid Masood, is believed to have used messaging app WhatsApp on the same day. However, rights groups said accessing social media messages amounts to spying and intrusion of people’s privacy. The Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom on Friday confirmed Masood had visited the kingdom three times. Earlier, Britain’s The Sun newspaper reported that the London attack suspect was a former English teacher working at the institution controlling Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses German authorities of fascism because they tolerate swastikas being drawn on mosques in the country. During a ceremony held in Istanbul in Sunday, Erdogan slammed German authorities for not taking action against neo-Nazi groups, who have started to paint swastikas on mosques throughout the country. He also noted that German authorities have been indifferent towards the NSU (Nationalist Socialist Underground) case in which the group was accused of murdering eight Turkish nationals and a Greek citizen in a bombing attack in a Turkish neighborhood and a series of robberies between 2000 and 2006. Erdogan also censured the German government for banning the defense contractor Rheinmetall from selling some of its products to Turkey. He noted that Berlin refrains from selling arms to its NATO ally Turkey, but sells arms to terrorist groups. "They call Turkey's president a 'dictator', but when we call them fascist with good reason, the German authorities get offended." Turkey summons Swiss ambassador Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has summoned Switzerland's ambassador in Ankara over a demonstration held in Bern, which it claims was organized by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the EU, and the US regard a terrorist organization. On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a protest in the Swiss capital, calling for a ‘No” vote in Turkey’s upcoming April 16 constitutional reform referendum. Turkey is set hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments, including giving executive powers to the president, currently a ceremonial post, and abolishing the office of the prime minister. Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner was informed that Ankara expects Switzerland to bring the people responsible for the demonstration to justice and to take measures to stop such protests being held in the future. Following the Saturday protest, Turkey summoned the Swiss charge d'affaires as Haffner was not present. In his Sunday speech, Erdogan also slammed EU countries for backing a ‘No’ vote in the referendum. "Switzerland took it a step further. Their leftist parties and the terrorists ... have come together and carried out a march. In the Swiss parliament, they hang my picture with a gun to my head. The Swiss parliament remains silent in the face of this," the Turkish president said. Swiss prosecutors announced later on Monday that they were investigating whether the protest sign calling for Erdogan's killing violated laws against inciting violence. People demonstrating in Bern on Saturday against plans to extend Erdogan's powers held up a sign reading "Kill Erdogan with his own weapons" and pictured a pistol aimed at his head. Turkey accuses several EU nations of permitting ‘No’ supporters to campaign in their countries, but blocking rallies organized by ‘Yes’ supporters. Germany and the Netherlands have banned several of such rallies, citing security grounds.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party won a regional election Sunday by a wide margin, dealing an early blow to center-left hopes of ending her more than decade-long reign. In the Saarland state vote held six months before a general election, Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) won 40 percent against 30 percent for the Social Democrats (SPD), according to early results reported by public broadcaster ZDF. Broadcaster ARD estimated a slightly bigger lead for the CDU of 41 percent against 29.5 for the SPD. The vote was held in the tiny state of Saarland on the French border, which has a population of only one million, but was seen as a bellwether ahead of the September 24 general election in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term. The SPD have made strong gains in national opinion surveys since Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, took over in January, and is now polling neck-and-neck nationally with Merkel's CDU. But the "Schulz effect" did not translate into the strong results the SPD had hoped for in Saarland, a former coal mining region, which held the first of three German state polls scheduled in the run-up to the national election.
UK spy agencies should be able to access encrypted content in online messaging applications to prevent terrorist attacks, says British Home Secretary Amber Rudd, warning that terrorists are hiding behind some of the most popular apps. According to reports, Khalid Masood, the man behind the recent terror attack in London, had communicated with unknown parties through WhatsApp messenger two minutes before his assault that killed 4 people and wounded 50 others. In an interview with BBC on Sunday, Rudd said it was “completely unacceptable” that terrorists have found a “place to hide” using these applications. “It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide,” she said. “We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” the secretary added. Rudd said tech companies in charge of applications like the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which use end-to-end encryption, have a “responsibility” to hand over user messages upon government’s request. “We have to have a situation where we can have our security services get into the terrorists’ communications. That’s absolutely the case,” she argued. “These people have families, have children as well – they should be on our side,” Rudd further said of app developers, calling on Facebook, Google and Telegram owners to step up cooperation. Echoing Rudd’s comments was Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said in a Sunday Times article that internet companies should come up with software that detect and remove extreme material. Corbyn warns against ‘unaccountable’ access In reaction to the remarks by Rudd and Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raised concern over giving too much access to spying agencies. “I’ve been concerned about giving too much unaccountable power to anybody in our society, so could the security services go to court and make an application? I would have thought they probably could,” said the opposition leader, urging a balance between the “right to know” and “the right to privacy.” Lib Dems did not like the idea either, with home affairs spokesman Brian Paddick saying that the government would play into the hands of terrorists by “implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties.”
Several dozen people were detained in protests across Russia on Sunday, after the opposition urged people to take to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on his website that more than 80 towns and cities across Russia would hold protests on Sunday and that authorities had not sanctioned the majority of the rallies. The Kremlin said on Friday that plans to hold a protest in the center of Moscow were an illegal provocation. Authorities in most cities, including Moscow, refused to authorize the rallies. By midday (0900 GMT) there was a heavy police presence in the capital along the planned route of the protest, scheduled for 2:00 pm. Navalny called the demonstrations after publishing a detailed report this month accusing Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a shadowy network of non-profit organizations. The report has been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube but Medvedev has so far given no reaction to it. The Kremlin critic, who has announced his intention to run for president in next year's elections, has been rallying supporters in major Russian cities in recent weeks. In the far eastern city of Vladivostok, a Reuters’ reporter saw the detention of at least 30 protesters at an unsanctioned rally drawing hundreds of young people to a square near the city's railway station. The detentions started after protesters unfurled banners reading "Corruption steals our future" and "The prime minister should answer". The protesters then marched to a local police station to demand that police free those who had been detained. Hundreds also rallied in the city of Yekaterinburg in the industrial Urals region. Witnesses said at least four people holding banners were detained on the city's Labour Square, where opposition protesters, nationalists and supporters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party gathered. Police said 500 to 700 people had gathered on Labour Square but did not confirm that there had been any detentions. "Corruption affects every person. The fight against corruption can unite all people irrespective of their convictions," 20-year-old student Ivan told Reuters, asking that his last name not be published. The Russian constitution allows public gatherings but recent laws have criminalized protests unauthorized by city authorities, who frequently refuse to grant permission for rallies by Kremlin critics. Local media estimated about 1,500 people turned out in each of the Siberian cities of Krasnoyarsk and Omsk. In most places authorities had not authorized the rallies, and some of those who turned up to protest were detained by police. Authorities had also pressured students not to attend, and some cities even scheduled exams on a Sunday, according to reports.
Official statistics show the number of potential human trafficking victims identified in the UK has surged by nearly 80 percent in a year, triggering concerns about modern slavery. The latest available data from the National Crime Agency (NCA) goes back to 2015, with 306 cases of trafficking reported by local councils and over ten-fold that number by other sources. Some cities saw a very clear surge in the number of reported human trafficking victims and greater Manchester experienced a 197 percent increase. Authorities say labor exploitation is the most common fate of trafficking victims in Britain. In spite of the significant increase in the reported cases of abuse, there are still up to 13,000 victims of human trafficking in the UK. The figures have alarmed Local Government Association (LGA), a group that represents 370 local councils, calling the situation modern-day slavery and warning it is a rising threat and a major concern. LGA has urged the British public to be more aware of human trafficking in order to prevent criminal gangs from exploiting vulnerable foreign workers. “Modern-day slavery is a rising threat to our communities, and because of its hidden nature, is a major concern,” Simon Blackburn, the head of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said. Blackburn encouraged people to look out for “tell-tale signs,” such as large numbers of people staying in homes and people being taken to and from the address in vans or minibuses early in the morning and returning late at night. “Tip-offs from communities can help councils work with partners to better tackle slavery and exploitation. A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living wretched lives at the hands of heartless gang-masters,” Blackburn added. The NCA report states that there were victims from 102 different countries, though Albanian, Vietnamese, and Nigerian nationals were the most common. People from Sudan make up the fastest growing category of modern slavery victims. The main obstacle in dealing with human trafficking is the apparent “hidden nature” of the crime, the report said. There have been several high profile stories that made headlines over the past recent years in Britain, stories that portray migrants in a negative light. Many of them are desperate and in search of a better life from countries that many argue Britain has destroyed or destabilized through war and foreign policy. One of the most recent cases of modern slavery was revealed last month, in which 16 women were released from a trafficking ring operating in Glasgow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says Washington’s latest anti-Moscow sanctions undermine the fight against global terrorism. Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharovasaid on Saturday that Moscow was “bewildered and disappointed” over the new sanctions targeting eight Russian companies, which the US State Department claims are involved with “proliferation” activity with North Korea, Iran, and Syria. On Friday, the US State Department announced that sanctions had been placed against 30 foreign companies, from Russia, China, North Korea and the United Arab Emirates, and the citizens of 10 countries accused of engaging in nuclear proliferation activity. “This step runs counter to the statements we hear from Washington that emphasize the fight against terrorism, in particular in Syria, where it has gained a foothold. On the contrary, it is completely at odds with such declarations and undermines the prospects of setting up comprehensive multilateral cooperation to destroy Daesh and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to all countries, including the US,” Zakharovasaid. She added that Washington was yielding to the wishes of those who have made the destruction of Russia-US ties their main priority. “These people have long been searching for enemies in the place where they don’t really exist. Such an approach does not obviously meet the security interests of the US." The United States claims that Iran's missile tests violate Resolution 2231 that endorsed the Iran nuclear agreement. Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China -- plus Germany started implementing the nuclear agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on January 16, 2016. Tehran insists its missile tests do not breach any UN resolution because they are solely for defense purposes and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.