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April 9, 2016

Thousands march in London calling for David Cameron\’s resignation over tax affairs

Thousands march in London calling for David Cameron’s resignation over tax affairs

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Thousands of demonstrators marched in London today over the tax affairs of Prime Minister David Cameron which were revealed as part of the leak of the Panama Papers.

The protest started around 11:00 local time (UTC+1) on Whitehall opposite the police-guarded entrance to Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence. Just after 11:00, protesters blocked traffic on the northbound carriage in Whitehall. At 11:20, the police asked the protesters to move back on to the pavement, stating that they needed to balance the right to protest with the traffic building up. Around 11:29, the protest moved up Whitehall, past Trafalgar Square, along the Strand, passing by Aldwych and up Kingsway towards Holborn where the Conservative Party were holding their Spring Forum in the Grand Connaught Rooms hotel.

The protest was organised after it was revealed that David Cameron has profited from offshore investments held by his father, Ian, that were organised in part by Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm whose communications were recently published.

Anti-David Cameron protest 05.jpg

Protesters outside Downing Street holding signs.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 03.jpg

Protestors shouting outside Downing Street.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 02.jpg

Demonstrators getting ready just before 11:00.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 01.jpg

Demonstrators getting ready just before 11:00.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 04.jpg

Demonstrators rallying outside the gates to Downing Street.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 07.jpg

Protesters holding placards, flags and a pig-shaped piñata outside Downing Street.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 08.jpg

After leaving Whitehall, the protesters moved up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 09.jpg

Protesters crossing Trafalgar Square towards The Strand.
Image: Tom Morris.

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Protesters marching down the Strand.
Image: Tom Morris.

Anti-David Cameron protest 11.jpg

A protester holding a pig-shaped piñata at the bottom of Kingsway.
Image: Tom Morris.

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Police officers discussing the protest outside Downing Street.
Image: Tom Morris.

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The protest caused some disruption for traffic. After the marchers had passed the Strand, many delayed buses filled the eastbound road.
Image: Tom Morris.



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March 22, 2016

Explosions at Brussels airport and subway systems

Explosions at Brussels airport and subway systems

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

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At least 26 people, according to Belgian officials, have been killed and many more have been injured today following attacks on transport infrastructure in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Authorities have stated one of the explosions, at approximately 08:00 (Central European Time, UTC+1) in the check-in area at Brussels Airport, was likely conducted by a suicide bomber. There was a subsequent attack at the Maelbeek/Maalbeek metro station, very close to the offices of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

Locations of the attacks in Brussels.
Image: Rauletemunoz.

Passengers at the metro station were forced to walk along tracks to escape the blast. The Brussels metro system has been shut down.

Jef Versele, a business traveller intending to fly to Rome, witnessed the events at the airport. In remarks to NBC News, he said, “There was dust everywhere, glass everywhere there was chaos. There were people on the floor everywhere. The roofing came down. It was quite a mess. […] A lot of people were in panic. I saw a lot of blood, a lot of people were injured. People were crying, on the floor, covered by parts of the roofing. I saw a lot of leg injuries, a lot of people couldn’t move anymore. There were quite a lot of people injured. In the departure hall — you saw people storming out, it was like run for your life.”

File photograph of Maelbeek/Maalbeek metro station
Image: bsubway.net.

All flights to Brussels Airport have been diverted and the airport has been shut down. Eurostar has stopped the international train service from London and the train company Thalys have shut down their entire network.

Jan Jambon, the Belgian interior minister, said the country’s alert level had been at maximum following the capture in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, who is alleged to have been involved in the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015.

Charles Michel, Belgium’s Prime Minister, described the attacks as “blind, violent and cowardly” and a “dark moment for our country”.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said: “These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence”

The French President, François Hollande, has held a cabinet meeting to discuss security. After the meeting, Hollande said “terrorists struck Brussels but it was Europe that was targeted”. The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said: “we are at war. We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has convened a COBRA meeting to discuss Britain’s response. He said he was “shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels” and pledged Britain would do “everything we can to help”. U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed on the attack during his trip in Cuba. The U.S. Embassy in Brussels has advised U.S. citizens in Belgium to not use public transport and to stay where they are.



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March 5, 2016

Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, arrested as part of corruption investigations

Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, arrested as part of corruption investigations

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

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Official Presidential portrait.
Image: Agência Brasil.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil, was arrested yesterday as part of ongoing investigations into corruption related to Petrobras, the state-run oil company. A raid occurred at 0600 local time (0900 GMT) at a number of locations including President Lula’s house in São Bernardo do Campo, near São Paulo. President Lula was held for questioning for three hours before being released.

The former president is alleged to have been involved in corruption at the state oil company including kickbacks from suppliers including both cash payments and property. The current president, Dilma Rousseff, said Lula’s arrest was “unnecessary”. President Rousseff is currently undergoing impeachment proceedings and is also alleged to also be involved in the Petrobras bribery accusations by investigators conducting Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash).

After Lula’s release, he described his arrest and detention as “judicial authoritarianism”. He told reporters: “If they wanted to hear from me, they only had to call and I would have gone, because I owe nothing to anyone and fear nothing […] They preferred to show power, arrogance, to make a show.”



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Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, detained as part of corruption investigations

Former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, detained as part of corruption investigations

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Official Presidential portrait.
Image: Agência Brasil.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil, was detained yesterday as part of ongoing investigations into corruption related to Petrobras, the state-run oil company. A raid occurred at 0600 local time (0900 UTC) at a number of locations including President Lula’s house in São Bernardo do Campo, near São Paulo. President Lula was held for questioning for three hours before being released.

The former president is alleged to have been involved in corruption at the state oil company including kickbacks from suppliers including both cash payments and property. The current president, Dilma Rousseff, said Lula’s detention was “unnecessary”. President Rousseff is currently under threat of impeachment and is alleged by her opponents to also be involved in the Petrobras bribery accusations under investigation by Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash).

After Lula’s release, he described his detention as “judicial authoritarianism”. He told reporters: “If they wanted to hear from me, they only had to call and I would have gone, because I owe nothing to anyone and fear nothing […] They preferred to show power, arrogance, to make a show.”



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December 31, 2015

UK\’s Financial Conduct Authority drop inquiry into culture of banking

UK’s Financial Conduct Authority drop inquiry into culture of banking

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

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The Financial Conduct Authority, one of Britain‘s banking sector regulators, indicated it has decided to drop an inquiry into banking culture, including practices and payment of banking staff. The inquiry was intended to review “whether culture change programmes in retail and wholesale banks are driving the right behaviour, in particular focusing on remuneration, appraisal and promotion decisions of middle management, as well as how concerns are reported and acted on”.

A spokesman for the Financial Conduct Authority stated: “A focus on the culture in financial services firms remains a priority for the FCA[…] There is currently extensive ongoing work in this area within firms and externally. We have decided that the best way to support these efforts is to engage individually with firms to encourage their delivery of cultural change as well as supporting the other initiatives outside the FCA.”

The Shadow Chancellor, Labour‘s John McDonnell, said shutting down the inquiry would be a “dangerous and costly mistake” and said: “This will be a huge blow to customers and taxpayers who are all still paying the price for the failed culture in the banking sector that’s been widely attributed to be among the main causes of the crash and the scandals over Libor and price-fixing”.

Members of the Treasury Select Committee have also been critical of the cancellation of the review. On Twitter, Labour MP John Mann stated the “FCA surrender to big banks today is entirely from pressure from Treasury and Osborne”. Conservative MP Mark Garnier, told the BBC: “There has always been this great argument that perhaps the Treasury is having more influence over the regulator than perhaps it ought to and certainly, if I was looking for a Machiavellian plot behind what’s happened here and the tone of the regulator, then I suppose I would start looking at the Treasury.”

Richard Lloyd from the consumer group Which? expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the report: “It’s disappointing that the regulator has decided against publishing this report on the culture of banking. Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, so despite signs of improvement, the FCA must not take their eye off the ball and should continue to clean up the industry”

The FCA has had no leader since Martin Wheatley resigned in July following an expression of no confidence by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.



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August 15, 2015

Scottish Labour elect Kezia Dugdale new leader

Scottish Labour elect Kezia Dugdale new leader

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

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Kezia Dugdale MSP, new leader of Scottish Labour.
Image: Scottish Labour.

Kezia Dugdale MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) has been elected as the new leader for Scottish Labour, it was announced today in Stirling. Dugdale replaces former MP Jim Murphy who resigned in June following Labour losing 40 of its 41 Scottish seats in the UK general elections. Dugdale received 72.1% of the vote, beating out Ken Macintosh who got 27.9% of the vote. Alex Rowley MSP was elected deputy leader.

Dugdale — the youngest Scottish Labour leader at age 33, and the third woman to take the role — said she will now work “night and day” to try and restore Labour’s position in Scottish politics. In a statement to voters, she tried to appeal to Labour’s lost supporters: “Take another look at the Scottish Labour party. I am not so presumptuous to ask instantly for your vote. But at the recent election 700,000 of you stuck with us but many chose someone else. All I ask is that you take a fresh look at the Scottish Labour party under my leadership.”

Harriet Harman, who is acting leader while the leadership elections for the national party are underway, welcomed Dugdale’s election: “I would like to congratulate Kezia Dugdale on being elected as the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and Alex Rowley on being elected as Deputy Leader. They will be leading the historic task of rebuilding our Party in Scotland, reconnecting Labour with the people of Scotland and re-energising the links between our party in Scotland, Wales and England, and I know they will lead the party in Scotland forward with energy and commitment to Labour values and principles and will have the full support of the whole of the Labour Party.”

Derek Mackay from the Scottish National Party said a change of leadership won’t fix “the deep, deep problems which the Labour Party in Scotland now faces”.

During the election campaign, Dugdale criticised the length of time it was taking to select a new national party leader, both for UK Labour and for the Scottish party, and expressed concern UK candidate Jeremy Corbyn would not be electable as Prime Minister, telling The Guardian: “I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines. […] Here’s a guy that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?”

This week, she said on BBC Good Morning Scotland: “That is hardly the most critical thing that anybody has said about his campaign. I am excited about his campaign and many people across the country are.”

Deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives Jackson Carlaw described her change of tune on Corbyn’s leadership bid as a “spectacular flip-flop”: “Only last week she was attacking Mr Corbyn by warning that a Labour party led by him would be ‘carping from the sidelines’. Now she says that they ‘share the same views’. What appears to have changed her mind is the dawning realisation that Mr Corbyn is heading for a landslide victory and she needs to get on board if she’s going to win her own election campaign.”



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March 27, 2015

UK Supreme Court require government to release Prince Charles \’black spider\’ letters

UK Supreme Court require government to release Prince Charles ‘black spider’ letters

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Friday, March 27, 2015

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Prince Charles
Image: Dan Marsh.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom have concluded yesterday that the government must release a series of 27 letters sent by Prince Charles to government ministers and that attempts to prevent their publication under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have been unlawful.

The letters were sent to ministers of the previous Labour government in the years of 2004 and 2005 and contain advocacy that has been described as “particularly frank”. The Guardian newspaper have been attempting to have these letters released using freedom of information legislation for ten years.

Dominic Grieve
Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In 2012, the Attorney General Dominic Grieve blocked the publication of the letters despite a ruling from the information tribunal that the release of the letters is in the public interest. Grieve’s statement at the time argued Prince Charles’ correspondence was “of very considerable practical benefit” to his “preparations for kingship” as “such correspondence and dialogue will assist him in fulfilling his duties”. Grieve went on to argue correspondence of this nature “must be under conditions of confidentiality” otherwise both the Prince and government ministers “will feel seriously inhibited from exchanging views candidly and frankly”. The statement from Grieve asserts “The Prince of Wales is party-political neutral” and “it is highly important that he is not considered by the public to favour one political party or another”, but that if the letters were released there would be the risk he would be “viewed by others as disagreeing with government policy” and “such perception would be seriously damaging to his role as future Monarch, because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the Throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is King.”

Lord Neuberger, who gave the opinion of the majority of the court.
Image: National Assembly for Wales.

Lord Neuberger, in giving the majority decision of the court, stated the Attorney General could not veto the release “merely because he, a member of the executive, considering the same facts and arguments, takes a different view from that taken by the tribunal or court”. Neuberger said the legislation’s veto power did not go so far as to “enable a member of the executive to over-ride a judicial decision” and that the Attorney General “proceeded on the basis of findings which differed radically from those made by the upper tribunal without real or adequate explanation.”

Appeal judges had subsequently ruled this veto on the part of the Attorney General to be unlawful, and the further appeal by the government to the Supreme Court has been unsuccessful. The government is required to release the documents within 30 days, although it is possible some of the contents may be redacted.

A spokeswoman for the Prince of Wales stated the ruling is “a matter for the Government” but that the Prince is “disappointed the principle of privacy has not been upheld.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision was “disappointing”: “This is about the principle that senior members of the Royal Family are able to express their views to government confidentially. I think most people would agree this is fair enough.”

A spokeswoman for Cameron elaborated: “The prime minister has been very clear this morning it is a deeply disappointing judgment. He doesn’t agree with it. He thinks what’s at stake here is an important principle about the ability of senior members of the royal family to express their views to government confidentially. He thinks that’s a principle that we should uphold. So while we have taken steps in this parliament to strengthen the ability to do that through the FOI act, if there needs to be more done to make that clear, then the prime minister is clear those steps should happen in the next parliament.”

The legislation was already amended in 2010 to make it so that correspondence and other matters related to the Royal family are exempt from further freedom of information requests. Graham Smith, from Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, argues there needs to be greater transparency over the Royal Family’s affairs: “The court has defended democratic principles over the interests of the royal family and that needs to be enshrined in law. David Cameron’s response is worrying because he says he wants to tighten up the veto.”

The Labour MP Paul Flynn raised the possibility the ruling might have consequences for Charles’ suitability to be King: “If there are serious questions about the suitability of Prince Charles as a monarch there could be a question in the public mind about whether to skip a generation. The attorney general already said the main justification for keeping the letters secret was they would hinder Charles’s ability to be a successful monarch.”



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February 16, 2015

Islamic State execute 21 Coptic Christians held in Libya

Islamic State execute 21 Coptic Christians held in Libya

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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A video purporting to show the execution of 21 Coptic Christians by supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been released yesterday. The video shows them being beheaded in a location apparently near Tripoli in Libya.

The captives, all shown being executed in orange jumpsuits in the video, were picked up in Sirte, a coastal town in Libya, during December and January. The video asserts the Christians were targeted by ISIL because of their religion.

The Coptic Orthodox Church stated they were “confident” justice would be done on those who executed their followers. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated: “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals”.

Al-Azhar University, a Cairo-based centre for Islamic learning, described the killing of Christians “barbaric” and stated the actions have “nothing to do with any religion or human values”.



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January 7, 2015

FBI investigating explosion near NAACP office in Colorado Springs

FBI investigating explosion near NAACP office in Colorado Springs

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

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An explosion that took place in a barber shop next door to the Colorado Springs, Colorado office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) yesterday is currently being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Officials said the explosive device was placed next to a can of gasoline but the gasoline did not ignite after the device detonated.

The FBI are seeking a balding white male, aged about 40 years old, as a “person of interest” connected to the case. The FBI statement continued: “He may be driving a 2000 or older model dirty, white pick-up truck with paneling, a dark colored bed liner, open tailgate, and a missing or covered license plate”.

FBI Special Agent Amy Sanders said: “The investigation is ongoing and it is not known at this time if the NAACP or a business in the vicinity was the intended target”.

Gene Southerland, owner of Mr. G’s Hair Design Studios, said: “I was cutting somebody’s hair and I heard the explosion […] It was such a loud explosion that some plastic containers fell off the shelf.” Southerland continued: “Some neighbors came out and said they saw a Caucasian gentleman get into a white truck […] It was such a beautiful day and everything, sunny. And in broad daylight, you hear this explosion. It’s frightening”.

Henry Allen Jr, the president of the Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP, told reporters: “We’ll move on. This won’t deter us from doing the job we want to do in the community.” The NAACP national office put out a statement stating that the group “looks forward to a full and thorough investigation into this matter by federal agents and local law enforcement”.

US Congressman Doug Lamborn told Colorado Springs newspaper The Gazette by email: “I’m thankful that none of the volunteers or employees of the Colorado Springs NAACP were injured in today’s apparent bombing […] I hope that the FBI investigation is able to swiftly apprehend the people responsible for this act of violence and intimidation.”



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November 28, 2014

Finland passes law allowing same-sex marriage

Finland passes law allowing same-sex marriage

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Friday, November 28, 2014

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Prime Minister Alexander Stubb welcomed the vote.
Image: Frankie Fouganthin.

The Parliament of Finland has voted 105 to 92 today to approve a citizen’s initiative to legalise same-sex marriage. The law now makes marriage gender-neutral and extends adoption rights and the right to use the same surname to same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb supported the change to the law. Before the vote, he wrote: “Finland should strive to become a society where discrimination does not exist, human rights are respected and two adults can marry regardless of their sexual orientation.” Following the vote, Stubb said he was “sincerely happy that marriage equality, gender equality and human rights prevailed in this issue.”

Stubb also noted the citizen’s initiative process that led to the law being considered by Parliament is “important” and “a demonstration of civic activism.”

Timo Soini from the nationalist opposition Finns Party commented: “For me marriage will remain a union between a man and a woman. I will not change my position. […] This will be the first time we make it normal for children to be removed from their biological roots.” Soini suggested that if his party were to form the next government, it is unlikely they would make same-sex marriage a priority. “I would say that in government formation talks we would focus on the Finnish economy and employment. These kinds of issues would hardly be on the table,” said Soini.

Mika Niikko from the Finns Party said, “This is a question of the future of our children and the whole society, and such changes should not be made without thorough evaluation of their impact.”

Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen from the Christian Democrats Party said the vote represented a “deep question of principle” and “in the future a large group of Finns will continue to consider marriage to be a bond between a man and a woman, and that they will not consider relationships between people of the same gender to be marriages.”

In contrast, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland welcomed the change: “I know how much this day means to the rainbow community, their loved ones and many others. I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them.”

Archbishop Mäkinen had previously stated: “If the initiative is passed, no one’s marriage will lose any of its value, nor will the position of a single child be endangered. If the initiative is not passed, the recognition of and improvements in the status of sexual minorities will not stop here. Changes in attitudes have taken place and continue to take place.” The future treatment of weddings by the Evangelical Lutheran Church has not yet been determined.

Outside of the Parliament, supporters of same-sex marriage and opponents both turned up to demonstrate, although the former outnumbered the latter. Finland now becomes the 12th country in Europe to allow same-sex marriages, although the law is not going to take effect immediately. The country has had a registered partnerships law for same-sex couples since 2002.



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