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July 20, 2016

Angela Eagle drops out of UK labour leadership contest

Angela Eagle drops out of UK labour leadership contest

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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Yesterday, former UK shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle announced her withdrawal from the Labour Party leadership contest after losing to ex-Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Owen Smith in an informal contest for support of MPs (Members of Parliament) in opposition to current leader Jeremy Corbyn in the contest. She says she will support Smith with all her “enthusiasm and might”.

File photo of Angela Eagle, 2009.
Image: UK government.

Ms. Eagle and Mr. Smith agreed whichever got the least nominations from MPs and MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) would drop out of the leadership race.

This comes after MPs’ criticism of Corbyn’s performance in the recent “Brexit” referendum — which passed despite Labour opposition — displayed in a recent vote of no-confidence in Corbyn’s leadership capability, which received a no-confidence majority of over eighty percent.

Owen Smith supports policies such as reintroducing the 50 percent top tax rate, a £200 billion investment plan, and a referendum on any deal on leaving the EU. He has also criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message as lacking substance. He said “it is not enough to just be anti-austerity, we need a concrete plan for prosperity”.



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July 13, 2016

Corbyn to be included on leadership election Ballot

Corbyn to be included on leadership election Ballot

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Tuesday the Labour party governing body, the NEC, decided that current leader Jeremy Corbyn would be on the ballot paper in the party`s leadership election without him needing the support of 51 MPs and MEPs. Speaking outside the meeting Corbyn said that he was “delighted”. In a separate decision the NEC has stated that all those who joined the party after January 2016 will have to pay £25 in order to vote in the leadership election, and today ex-work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has announced that he is standing for the labour party leadership.

NEC decides that Corbyn is to be included on leadership Ballot[]

The NEC came to a decision yesterday concerning the interpritation of the Labour party rules. “Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers”, the contention was over whether Corbyn himself was to be counted as a challenger. Jeremy Corbyn said that he had legal advice saying that he would not need the nominations where as rebel MPs said that they had legal advice to the contrary. The NEC decided by secret ballot that Jeremy was right, voting 18-14 in Corbyn`s favour.

Owen Smith anounces leadership bid[]

Ex-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Owen Smith

Yesterday Owen Smith announced that he is running for the leadership of the Labour party saying that he had “lost faith” in Mr.Corbyn`s ability to lead the party, he says that he can “heal it” and that there are elements from both the left and right wings of the party that want to split the Labour party. He is yet to receive the support of 51 MPs and MEPS that as a challenger he needs to appear on the ballot. He has stated that had he been an mp at the time he would have voted against the Iraq war, unlike leadership rival Angela Eagle who voted in favour and that he supports the renewal of the nuclear submarine program trident, putting himself at odds with incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn.



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Corbyn to be included on UK Labour leadership election Ballot

Corbyn to be included on UK Labour leadership election ballot

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Tuesday, the Labour Party governing body and the National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that current leader Jeremy Corbyn would be included in the party’s leadership election without requiring the support of 51 MPs and MEPs. Speaking outside the meeting, Corbyn said that he was “delighted”. In a separate decision, the NEC has stated that all who joined the party after January 2016 will be required to pay £25 in order to vote in the leadership election. On Wednesday, ex-work and pensions secretary Owen Smith announced his standing for the Labour Party leadership.

NEC decides Corbyn is to be included on leadership Ballot[]

The NEC came to a decision yesterday concerning the interpretation of the Labour party rules. “Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers,” the contention was over whether Corbyn himself was to be counted as a challenger. Jeremy Corbyn stated that he had been provided legal advice regarding the nomination requirement whereas rival MPs said they had received legal advice to the contrary. The NEC decided by secret ballot that Jeremy was correct in his statement, voting 18–14 in Corbyn’s favour.

Owen Smith announces leadership bid[]

Ex-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Owen Smith

On Wednesday, Owen Smith announced his campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party saying that he had “lost faith” in Corbyn’s ability as a leader of the party, saying he can “heal it” and that there are elements from both the left and right wings of the party that favor the split of the Labour Party. He has yet to receive the support of 51 MPs and MEPs in order to appear on the ballot. He expressed that had he been an MP at the time he would have voted against the Iraqi war, unlike leadership rival Angela Eagle who voted in favour, and his support the renewal of the nuclear submarine program trident, putting himself at odds with incumbent leader Corbyn.



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July 11, 2016

Theresa May to become UK Prime Minister as opposition begins leadership election

Theresa May to become UK Prime Minister as opposition begins leadership election

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Monday, July 11, 2016

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Today the Conservative Party, the current governing party of the United Kingdom (UK), announced Theresa May would become the new party leader following the decision by her leadership rival Andrea Leadsom to withdraw from the contest. This announcement was made on the same day it was confirmed a leadership contest has been formally triggered within the UK Labour Party, the official opposition, after Angela Eagle gathered the needed support to challenge Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party.

Theresa May to become leader of the Conservative Party[]

File photo of Theresa May, 2015.
Image: UK Home Office.

Following the withdrawal of Mrs Leadsom from the Conservative Party leadership election, Party official George Brady said he was expecting to appoint Mrs May as the new party leader. Mrs May, the current home secretary, would succeed David Cameron in this role, and it is expected she will also succeed him as Prime Minister.

Mrs Leadsom described a leadership election as “highly undesirable” for the country as she announced her decision to withdraw. She also said she felt she had insufficient support to win a leadership election.

Mr Cameron originally announced his intention to resign following the UK EU referendum, and has now said he intends to offer his resignation following Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Labour Party to hold leadership election[]

The Labour Party confirmed a leadership election had been officially triggered. Mrs Eagle has announced her candidacy, and it is understood she has the level of support from Labour Members of Parliament to add her name to the ballot.

Mrs Eagle was one of many members of Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet to resign following the EU Referendum. She today said Mr Corbyn “is unable to provide the leadership” needed as she launched her leadership bid.

It is unclear if Mr Corbyn’s name will be automatically be added to the ballot as the current incumbent. A decision by the party’s executive committee is reportedly to be made tomorrow to decide on the matter.



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April 6, 2014

UK culture minister Maria Miller called to resign following alleged threat to Telegraph newspaper

UK culture minister Maria Miller called to resign following alleged threat to Telegraph newspaper

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

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Maria Miller in 2012
Image: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Calls for the ouster of British government minister Maria Miller have been increasing following a claim by the Daily Telegraph newspaper that Miller’s special adviser used the threat of press regulation to try and prevent publication of a story about Miller’s expenses. A poll published today by a number of newspapers shows a majority of the public unhappy with Miller’s behaviour and saying she should be removed.

The issue stems initially from a report in the Daily Telegraph regarding Miller’s expenses claims to help pay a mortgage on a house in south London that Miller shares with her parents. The newspaper claimed that she had claimed £90,000 to pay the mortgage on the house. Miller’s expenses have been the subject of investigation by a parliamentary commissioner and then by the House of Commons Committee on Standards. The commissioner determined she should repay £45,000 of this expense, but the Committee determined she ought to only repay £5,800. Following the decision of the Committee, the Daily Telegraph reported Miller’s special adviser Joanna Hindley had said in a telephone call with the newspaper, “I should just flag up as well, while you’re on it that when she doorstepped him, she got Maria’s father, who’s just had a [removed] and come out of [removed]. And Maria [has] obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about.”

The Telegraph alleges that this was intended as a form of intimidation: that Hindley dropped in mention of press regulation and the Leveson Report as a way to attempt to get the newspaper to drop the story. A leader column in the Telegraph stated Hindley’s remarks were “an indictment of the influence that press regulation by statute could have over free speech”. Therese Coffey, a Conservative MP (Member of Parliament), has defended Hindley’s statements to the Telegraph, as specifically referring to the “doorstepping” of Maria Miller’s elderly parents, specifically her father who had been returning from hospital. Coffey said of the audio published by the Telegraph: “I heard an adviser to the culture secretary suggesting that it’s inappropriate to be doorstepping elderly parents of somebody who has just come out of hospital.”

Heather Brooke, a campaigner who has been involved in the release and publication of MPs’ expenses and the scandal that followed, said the alleged doorstepping was “a public interest piece of reporting”, noting that the journalist from the Telegraph had to visit the property to work out who was living there. Brooke said it was “disingenuous to use this argument of privacy”.

Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher also claimed that Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s director of communications, also attempted to suppress the story: “When you get the Prime Minister’s spokesman making a similar phone call to you a couple of days later, you add all three calls up and you can only conclude that they are trying to harass you and stop you from publishing the story.”

Oliver has denied the story. “It is utterly false to suggest that I threatened Tony Gallagher over Leveson in any way. The conversation I had with him was about the inappropriate doorstepping of an old man”, he told the BBC.

Miller has the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron: on Friday, Cameron told reporters to “leave it there” on questions of Miller’s expenses. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, suggested Miller could be targeted by a “witch-hunt” due to her role in press regulation following the Leveson inquiry, as well as her job in fronting the government’s gay marriage bill.

Duncan Smith told the BBC‘s Andrew Marr Show: “I am enormously fond of her. She has done a very good job in a very difficult set of circumstances with the Leveson inquiry that has stirred up a lot of media antipathy to her. And also the gay marriage stuff — there are a lot of Conservatives out there who, perhaps, were not necessarily in support of it all and so feel rather bitter about that. I have known her to be a reasonable and honest person.”

Labour politicians have responded to the affair with strong criticism of Miller, but no call yet to resign. Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, said: “The latest revelations and the release of a recording raise further serious questions for Maria Miller and David Cameron. They urgently need to make clear what they knew about these calls and what action they took about them.”



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September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.

Interviewees

  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.

China

File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.


Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.

Iran

Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.

Russia

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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September 8, 2013

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Politics and conflicts
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Image: Scott Lucas.
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The United States President Barack Obama announced last Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Looking for more-qualified input, Wikinews interviewed: professor Scott Lucas, an expert in American Studies, from the UK’s University of Birmingham; the President of the International American Council on the Middle East, Majid Rafizadeh; and, professor Eyal Zisser, a Syrian expert, from Tel Aviv University.

Discussing the risks involved with US military intervention in Syria, Wikinews posed a range of questions to these experts on the region’s political climate.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Is it possible for the US to take military action to deter further use of chemical weapons without getting dragged into the civil war?

  • Prof. Scott Lucas: The US is already involved in the civil war — the question is to what extent.
The US has given political support to the opposition and insurgency since late 2011, and from summer 2012, it has pursued covert support to the opposition fighters.
However, the Obama Administration has been hesitant about overt support for insurgents throughout the conflict, and that has affected co-ordination of covert efforts. In June, the Administration finally said it would provide overt military assistance, but then pulled back and failed to deliver any public aid.
Had it not been for the August, 21 chemical weapons attack, that position would have persisted.
  • Majid Rafizadeh: It depends on the scope of the military operation. If United States conducts limited military operation, as the adminstration argues, and if US only targets some of the Syrian government’s military installments, it is less likely that United States will be drawn into the Syria’s civil war. It would be a political suicide for Syria, Iran or Hezbollah to respond.
On the other hand, if Assad observes that the balance of power is tilting against him inside the country, he might use chemical weapons in the future despite US limited strikes.
  • Prof. Eyal Zisser: Yes, it[sic] the attack is limited. And If the Americans only use missiles. They can cause severe damage, but leave Assad in his palace, and not being dragged into the civil war.

The United States President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Image: Pete Souza.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Will military intervention from the US affect long term relations between the United States and Russia?

  • SL: Of course, significant military intervention by Washington will affect relations between the US and Russia, but the long-term effect cannot be predicted.
It is dependent on Russia’s reaction — so far, Moscow has been able to pressure the US into caution, but a decision for intervention by the US might call Russia’s bluff, so to speak, and force some caution by the Russians. Already, Moscow has said it will not join a fight against any US military action.
And, of course, the long-term relationship is dependent on the political and military success of any US intervention.
  • MR: Military intervention, in the classic sense of putting troops on the ground, will definitely affect US-Russian long term political relationships. It might heighten the diplomatic tensions. However, the limited military operation is less likely [to] change US-Russian long term economic, geopolitical, and political relationships.
  • EZ: No. They need each other in many other places of the world. Russia knows that the US is a super power and will not be interested in a real conflict with Washington.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has affected their relations with the United States?

  • SL: No — had the Obama Administration been united and decisive for intervention, there might have been some effect. But the Obama Administration’s divisions mean its first priority is getting some coherence in Washington, rather than blaming London.
  • MR: I don’t think so. I believe that [the] UK has been [the] staunchest ally of the United States for decades. One instance of opposing parliamentary vote will not have impact on US-UK relations.
  • EZ: Maybe. But Britain is not an important power any more, so the affect will be only in the symbolic field.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could back Syrian intervention if there was conclusive proof of regime guilt. What sort of evidence would be needed and can this level of assurance be given?

  • SL: This is not a scientific question — we already have extensive evidence establishing the near-certainty of major regime attacks with chemical weapons on 7 towns on August 21.
Putin’s statement was a political move: it ostensibly re-confirmed the Russian opposition to US intervention while giving Moscow a way to step back if the UN inspectors return a damning report.
  • MR: It is difficult, if not impossible, to provide Moscow with the evidence that they are looking for. In order to provide that specific information several criterions should be met. First of all, the soil of the location where the alleged chemical weapons are used, should immediately be examined after the incident. The Syrian government has not allowed immediate access to these places and usually reports come out days after. Second, and more fundamentally, a concrete and observable evidence is needed for Russia showing that Assad’s government has used it as opposed to the rebels.
  • EZ: No the Russians are not after the truth but after their interests even if Assad admits that he used such weapon the Russians will be against any intervention.

Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would US military intervention on Syria be a violation of International law?

  • SL: This is a grey area, especially as there will not be an endorsement by the United Nations Security Council. Supporters of the action say it can be justified under the recent doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but that is more a political rather than legal judgement.
  • MR: Legally speaking, it is [in] violation of [the] United Nations Charter. According to [the] UN Charter, use of force is permitted only in case of self-defense or UNSC’s [United Nations Security Council] approval. Neither of these two cases apply for US use of military force against Syria. However, this does not mean that our current international law is devoid of any shortcomings. The International system has some shortcomings because of the structure of the UNSC, where one member can veto a resolution and block actions.
  • EZ: Technically — yes because they did not get an approval from the UN.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does the United States seem to be wanting to engage in regime change in Syria as opposed to preventing further chemical attacks?

  • SL: No, the Obama Administration has been uncertain about — and many of its members opposed to — regime change, and that is still the situation. The military, in particular, is opposed to significant, long-term intervention because of its concerns over a fragmented, diverse opposition and what happens if Assad falls.
  • MR: If there was an efficient alternative to Assad, US would have seen the regime change to its political benefits and interests. However, United States does not seem to have articulated any precise agenda towards Syria yet. The policy is more ” Wait and See” policy; observing and reacting as things unfold in Syria and the region.
  • EZ: No Obama does not want it, he finds himself being dragged into a war he has no interest in.
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July 16, 2013

House of Lords approve same-sex marriage bill at third reading

House of Lords approve same-sex marriage bill at third reading

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

LGBT
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Members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus outside Parliament to celebrate the passage at Third Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
Image: Tom Morris.

A religious protester outside Parliament.
Image: Tom Morris.

Ice cream and cake being handed out at the demonstration celebrating passage.
Image: Tom Morris.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom’s House of Lords passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at Third Reading, the last major step in changing the law to allow marriages between same-sex partners in England and Wales. The bill is to become law this week and same-sex marriage ceremonies are likely to start in 2014.

During the brief debate in the Lords, Peers supporting the law wore pink carnations. Lord Alli, who is openly gay, said because of passing the law “my life and many others will be better today than it was yesterday”. The Lords discussed an amendment to review how to deal with survivor pension benefits due to the same-sex partners of those in civil partnerships. Other amendments the Lords have discussed include a review on whether to allow humanists to conduct weddings, and a review on whether to allow opposite-sex partners to enter into civil partnerships.

A handful of opponents of the Bill spoke during the debate including Lord Cormack, who said: “Those who support the Bill have won; there is no doubt about that. It would be churlish and ridiculous to pretend otherwise and I, for one, would never do so.” Lord Framlingham criticised “the Government’s complete rejection of any meaningful amendments” and said the Bill “is built entirely on pretence. It pretends that there is no difference between a man and a woman. From this deceit have sprung all the problems we have been wrestling with — problems we have failed to resolve and which will bedevil generations to come.”

In summing up the debate, Baroness Stowell said: “I believe that we have brought forward a Bill that is a force for good and that the change it brings about is right and reflects the change in society. However, there is no question whatever that anybody who disagrees with it should in any way feel that their views have not been properly taken into account during our debates.”

A group of supporters of the Bill held a celebration outside Parliament yesterday during the debate and carrying on into the evening. A small number of opponents of the Bill turned up to protest. The celebrations included musical performances by the London Gay Big Band and the London Gay Men’s Chorus, and Ben & Jerry’s provided free ice cream and cake.

A planned demonstration by Christian Concern was cancelled to “conserve energy” as “there will not be a vote at the third reading of the same sex marriage bill on Monday and what happens on that day in the House of Lords will be a mere formality”.



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May 22, 2013

Same-sex marriage passes third reading in House of Commons

Same-sex marriage passes third reading in House of Commons

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Maria Miller: “Let us make equal marriage possible because it’s the right thing to do, and then let us move on.”
Image: Department for Work and Pensions.

The UK House of Commons voted yesterday to approve the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at third reading, with 366 MPs supporting and 161 MPs opposing. The Bill proceeds today to the House of Lords. The legislation continues to draw strong criticism from right wing Conservative MPs and has caused political trouble for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Opponents of the Bill led by Tim Loughton MP submitted an amendment to allow opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, which were introduced in 2004 as an alternative to marriage for same sex couples. The government warned that Loughton’s amendment was an attempt to wreck the passage of the Bill. Sir George Young, the Conservative chief whip, asked Labour whips to oppose the amendment despite the Labour Party previously supporting the amendment.

A Labour Party source quoted in The Guardian said they “had an eleventh hour appeal from the government that they did not have the numbers to defeat the Tim Loughton amendment” and that Labour leader Ed Miliband considered it an “overriding priority […] to ensure that the bill gets on to the statute book. Ed and Yvette Cooper will therefore be voting against the Tim Loughton amendment. We expect a large number of MPs to join Ed and Yvette. Since there was a genuine threat to the bill Ed decided the best thing to do was to act in this way.”

A rival amendment put forward by the Labour Party would bring in a review of whether civil partnerships ought to be extended to opposite sex couples but would not delay the implementation of marriage for same sex couples. This amendment was approved 391 to 57 by the Commons.

Opponents of the Bill including David Burrowes and Peter Bone are hoping the House of Lords will reject the law: Burrowes stated Lords would have the right to reject the bill as “there was no clear manifesto commitment, no coalition agreement, no green paper — just a sham consultation”. The Conservative Party’s 2010 “contract for equalities” reads, “We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

Norman Tebbit in 2008.
Image: James Robertson.

In an interview with The Big Issue, former cabinet minister and Conservative peer Norman Tebbit expressed concern about the possibility that a law legalising gay marriage would cause confusion regarding royal succession: “When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?”

Tebbit also argued the new law “would lift my worries about inheritance tax because maybe I’d be allowed to marry my son. Why not? Why shouldn’t a mother marry her daughter? Why shouldn’t two elderly sisters living together marry each other?”

During the debate, Gerald Howarth referred to Conservative MP Margot James as representative of an “aggressive homosexual community”: “I warn you, and MPs on all sides of the house, that I fear that the playing field has not been levelled. I believe that the pendulum is now swinging so far the other way and there are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further”. Howarth’s comments sparked a trending topic on the social networking site Twitter.

David Cameron has been on the political defensive since rumours circulated that Conservative Party co-chairman Lord Feldman referred to Conservative activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. Conservative Grassroots chairman Miles Windsor remarked, “This week has begun a civil war in conservatism, it may rumble on for years — but as things stand, Nigel Farage is winning it at a stride.”

Maria Miller, the government minister responsible for equality, tweeted after the vote on the third reading: “Just won Third Reading vote of Equal Marriage Bill – After all the hard work, its moment to be proud of. It’s the Right Thing”. Labour MP Diane Abbott said: “I did not think I would live to see the day this reached third reading.”

On BBC Radio 4, David Cameron welcomed the passage of the bill: “I think we should think about it like this — that there will be young boys in schools today who are gay, who are worried about being bullied, who are worried about what society thinks of them, who can see that the highest Parliament in the land has said that their love is worth the same as anybody else’s love and that we believe in equality. I think they will stand that bit taller today and I’m proud of the fact that that has happened.”



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March 27, 2013

David Miliband to resign as MP for job at non-profit

David Miliband to resign as MP for job at non-profit

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

United Kingdom
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File photo of David Miliband in 2007.
Image: Shelley and Alan Heckman.

David Miliband, former UK Foreign secretary, announced today he is standing down as an MP to take the job of President and Chief Executive of the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit aid organisation based in New York City. The former Cabinet minister stood for election as leader of the Labour Party, losing out to his brother, Ed Miliband.

In a letter to Alan Donnelly, chair of the South Shields Constituency Labour Party, David Miliband lists the reasons for his stepping back from the limelight of British politics: “After the leadership election, I felt I could be most helpful to the party on the front line, in South Shields and around the country, rather than on the front bench in Parliament. I felt this gave Ed the space and at the same time the support he needed to lead the party without distraction.”

David Miliband expanded the reasons in an interview with the BBC, saying it had been hard “to accept that I can best help the Labour Party by not just giving the space between the front bench and the back bench to Ed, but the space between the front bench and 3,000 miles away”.

Ed Miliband praised his brother, saying British politics would be “a poorer place” without David: “Having spoken to him a lot over the past few months, I know how long and hard he thought about this before deciding to take up the offer. I also know how enthusiastic he is about the potential this job provides.”



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