Monthly Archives: June 2019

Heathrow strike to cause major delays

Air passengers could face delays of up to 12 hours at London’s Heathrow Airport when public sector unions stage a mass strike in Britain on Wednesday, the airport’s operator warned.

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Operator BAA said on Friday the strike could lead to “very long delays of up to 12 hours” for arriving passengers and “mass cancellations of departing aircraft” at Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world.

Passengers are likely to be delayed so long at immigration that they might have to be held on board aircraft, BAA said.

“This in turn would quickly create gridlock at the airport with no available aircraft parking stands, mass cancellations of departing aircraft and diversions outside the UK for arriving aircraft,” BAA added.

The warning came in a letter to airlines which fly into Heathrow from BAA’s Heathrow chief operating officer Normand Boivin.

He said BAA had “reluctantly concluded” that the UK Border Agency would be unable to come up with a contingency plan to guarantee normal operations.

He went on: “We will plan for a normal flight schedule, but we are requesting all carriers to reduce load factors on each international flight arriving into Heathrow on November 30 to 50 percent of normal levels.

“By following this protocol, airlines will reduce the risk of being diverted to an airport outside the UK and reduce the risk of having an outbound flight cancelled.”

Boivin told airlines that Heathrow would do all it could and “may also be obliged to advise arriving passengers… that they should avoid arriving into the UK on November 30 unless absolutely necessary.”

Major airlines have agreed to reduce the number of passengers arriving at Heathrow on Wednesday, the letter said.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways have said the normal charges for rebooking flights will not apply for those who decide not to travel on November 30.

The Border Agency said on Thursday Britain was lining up staff from embassies abroad and civil servants to replace immigration officials at ports and airports who join the strike.

Unions say they expect up to two million people to go on strike in protest at moves by the coalition government to raise the public sector retirement age by up to six years to 66.

Some public sector employees are being asked to pay a 50-percent increase in employee contributions and others will see their final salary pensions replaced by those based on average career earnings.

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Gaddafi vows ‘to keep on fighting’

Libya’s fallen leader Muammar Gaddafi has called for a guerrilla war against rebel forces who have seized control of the country.

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“Prepare yourselves for a gang and guerrilla war, for urban warfare and popular resistance in every town … to defeat the enemy everywhere,” he said in a second message of the day that was aired on Arab satellite television.

“The aim is to kill the enemy wherever he may be, whether he be Libyan or foreign,” Gaddafi, himself a revolutionary who led a 1969

coup against the country’s monarchy, said on the 42nd anniversary of his takeover.

“We will never allow our (oil) wells and our ports to be under their (the West’s) control. Our resistance will expand,” vowed the 69-year-old colonel.

Earlier, in a less calm voice likewise broadcast on the pro-Gaddafi, Arab television Arrai Oruba, which is based in Syria, Gaddafi reiterated he would not surrender and was prepared for “a long battle” even if Libya burns.

He urged his supporters to keep up their resistance to the insurgency, which has forced him into hiding, as a major conference opened in Paris on aiding the rebel National Transitional Council to set up a new administration.

“Even if you cannot hear my voice, continue the resistance … We will not surrender. We are not women and we are going to keep on

fighting,” he said.

“If they want a long battle, let it be long. If Libya burns, who can govern it? So let it burn,” Gaddafi added in the message sent from an undisclosed location.

A senior rebel leader dismissed the statements as a reflection of Gaddafi’s “despair” at the success of the insurgency.

“Gaddafi’s speech is a sign of misery and despair,” Ahmed Darrat, who is overseeing the interior ministry for the rebels until a new government is elected, told AFP in Tripoli.

Gaddafi claimed there were splits between NATO, “the alliance of aggression” whose warplanes have paved the way for the insurgents’

advance, and the rebels, “its agents”.

His messages followed similar defiant words from his son Seif al-Islam on Wednesday night.

Gaddafi boasted that his last bastions in the country, especially his birthplace of Sirte, were impregnable, in his latest audio messages since rebels entered Tripoli on August 20.

“At the end of the day, we will win the battle, the colonisers will go back to their countries and the agents will be finished with,” was the prediction from the fallen strongman.

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Liberia headed for second round vote

Liberia will hold a run-off presidential vote as the incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf failed to win an outright majority in results announced Sunday after nearly all the votes were counted.

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Second place finisher Winston Tubman said he would contest in the second round, even though he accused the National Elections Commission (NEC) of trying to rig the first round results in Sirleaf’s favour, prompting fears of a boycott.

Sirleaf, a 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, took 44 percent of the vote, according to official results from 96.7 percent of the ballots, with Tubman, a former diplomat, at 31 percent. Turnout in the October 11 vote was 71.4 percent.

Concerns about political unrest emerged after nine opposition parties, including Tubman’s Congress for Democratic Change, withdrew their agents from the NEC bureau late Saturday to protest a vote-counting process they rejected as fraudulent.

But on Sunday both Tubman and Sirleaf confirmed they would stand in the next round scheduled for November 8.

“For us there will be a second round”, Musa Bility, campaign director of Sirleaf’s Unity Party, told AFP.

“We will participate in the run-off because we believe that the figures as they have emerged do not allow for anyone to win the first round,” Tubman told the BBC before the final results were announced.

“Therefore the focus must be on the second round and so we are beginning to rally our people.”

In a joint statement Saturday, nine opposition parties, claimed there was “a calculated and deliberate act by NEC to rig these elections in favour of President Johnson Sirleaf and the Unity Party”.

Notorious former warlord Prince Johnson, who finished third with 11.8 percent of the vote, could play a key role as kingmaker in the second round, even though he will not be on the ballot.

“We are going to fully take part in the second round, but we are not going to accept any more acts of fraud,” his campaign manager Merlie Kemru told AFP before the final tally was announced.

The opposition’s fraud claims sparked fears of a return to violence in a country still emerging from 14 years of back-to-back civil wars claiming a quarter of a million lives that finally ended in 2003.

The UN peacekeeping force MINUL, with some 8,000 troops, has stepped up patrols in Monrovia, setting up new barriers and checkpoints in a bid to ward off disturbances amid rising political tensions.

On Saturday, Liberia closed its borders with Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The UN is particularly concerned over the attitude of Liberian mercenaries who fought in Ivory Coast during the conflict that followed elections there last year. They returned home with their weapons.

Resident Martha Kwee said she and her husband were preparing for the worst. “We are here to buy enough food so that when they start their nonsense we will have enough food in our home,” she said at a Monrovia market.

And religious leaders began leading prayers for peace in Monrovia’s churches, temples and mosques.

“We are praying for our nation,” evangelical pastor Joseph Gbedia told AFP. “We are going through a very, very difficult period of our lives.”

An imam, Mamadi Kamara, said: “The solution to our problems is faith and prayer. What the opposition did yesterday is not a good sign for this nation. We all have to pray.”

The election, seen as key to cementing a fragile peace in the country of some four million inhabitants, has won praise from the United Nations and African observers for its peacefulness and high turnout.

Sirleaf was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize just days before the first-round vote for her work in rebuilding the country and promoting women’s rights.

While initially promising to serve only one term after becoming Africa’s first woman president in 2005, the Harvard-educated Sirleaf has asked for more time to continue building the “broken country”.

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Malaysia deal inconsistent with norm: UN

The UN’s refugee agency says a controversial Australia-Malaysia deal signed today is inconsistent with the practice of allowing asylum-seekers to be processed in the country in which they arrive.

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Under the agreement signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will take 800 asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat, in return for Canberra accepting 4,000 processed refugees for resettlement.

“UNHCR’s preference has always been an arrangement which would enable all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory to be processed in Australia,” the High Commissioner for Refugees’ office said in a statement.

“This would be consistent with general practice.”

Nevertheless, the final accord was an improvement from earlier proposals, which allowed children to be included among 800 asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia to have their refugee claims assessed, a provision that was criticised by UNHCR.

UNHCR spokesman Ben Farrell, speaking by telephone from Australia, told AFP that although the final agreement does not specifically ban the return of unaccompanied minors, there were now provisions for the vulnerable to be assessed “on a case by case basis”.

“The governments of Australia and Malaysia recognise the special arrangements needed for vulnerable people,” he said.

“We will work with (them) to ensure the letter and spirit of the agreement are taken into account,” Farrell said.

The agreement, part of Canberra’s push to develop a regional solution to people smuggling, is designed to deter boatpeople from making the dangerous sea journey to Australia.

The plan has also sparked concern because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, nor has it ratified the UN Convention against Torture.

Amnesty International has warned that asylum seekers sent to Malaysia could face lengthy waits to determine their status, as well as inhumane detention conditions, and even caning.

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Monti nominated to form new Italian government

Former European commissioner Mario Monti was nominated Sunday to replace Silvio Berlusconi as head of a new cabinet charged with battling an unprecedented crisis in the eurozone’s third largest economy.

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“Italy must again be and must be increasingly an element of strength, not weakness in a European Union that we helped found and in which we should be protagonists,” the 68-year-old economics professor told reporters.

After receiving the nomination from President Giorgio Napolitano, he said he would work “to get out quickly of a situation which has elements of an emergency but which Italy can overcome with a united effort”.

Monti received the mandate to form a government on Sunday after hours of political talks but its exact composition is set to be unveiled in the coming days before a confidence vote in parliament formally gives it power.

Silver-haired Monti received endorsements from Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party and the main opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

“We have agreed to the nomination of Professor Monti,” PDL leader Angelino Alfano told reporters after the talks. PD head Pier Luigi Bersani said he supported “an emergency, transition government of technocratic character”.

Napolitano has raced against time to have the beginnings of a new government in place by the time financial markets open on Monday, when Italy will face its first bond auction test since Berlusconi’s exit amid high borrowing costs.

A defiant Berlusconi meanwhile said he would “redouble” his efforts in parliament “from tomorrow”. “I will not give up until we have succeeded in modernising Italy,” he said in a video message broadcast on Italian television.

Hundreds of supporters rallied in front of Berlusconi’s residence in Rome, a day after thousands of people partied in the streets of the Italian capital booing the scandal-tainted premier and cheering his resignation.

In his first comments since stepping down, Berlusconi wrote a letter to a small conservative party saying he wanted to work on a “path to government” and issuing scathing comments about the parliamentary revolt that toppled him.

Berlusconi, 75, said he was “proud of what we have managed to do in these three and a half years marked by an international crisis without precedents”, condemning the “petty blackmail and opportunism” of recent days in parliament.

Berlusconi is still a deputy for the People of Freedom party. He was forced to resign on Saturday by a parliamentary revolt and a wave of market panic.

His resignation triggered an explosion of joy with people uncorking bottles of champagne and dancing in the streets but analysts warn Italy faces the daunting task of implementing painful austerity and long-delayed reforms.

Fears of a prolonged political and financial crisis have pushed up Italy’s borrowing costs to record levels, setting off alarm bells around Europe and there were few international leaders wishing Berlusconi well on Sunday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke to Berlusconi to thank him for a “great personal contribution” to bilateral ties after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would miss the man he called “one of the last of the Mohicans”.

A larger-than-life billionaire in power for 10 of the past 17 years, Berlusconi looked visibly shocked as he quit power on a momentous night and said he was “deeply embittered” at the scenes of jubilation.

Italian newspapers bade goodbye to Berlusconi, hailing “the end of an era”.

The departure “marks the end of a carnival reign”, said Curzio Maltese, a columnist for the left-leaning La Repubblica daily. The anti-Berlusconi daily Il Fatto Quotidiano said it was “the end of a nightmare”.

International leaders including US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have pushed hard for Italy to move quickly now to form a new government and adopt economic reforms.

The European Union, which together with the International Monetary Fund is now auditing Italy’s accounts, said it would continue to monitor Italy’s reforms and that the country may need to pass extra austerity measures in order to meet its economic targets.

Reports of Monti’s impending nomination helped ease market jitters but the toxic mix of a 1.9 trillion euro ($2.6 trillion) debt, an extremely low growth rate and high bond rates is keeping everyone on their toes.

The IMF and the European Financial Stability Facility have both reportedly offered financial help.

Some economists however have warned that, unlike fellow eurozone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal, Italy may be “too big to bail”.

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