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UK lawmakers approve probe into PM Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ | Boris Johnson News

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Lawmakers triggered an investigation into whether Johnson lied to the UK Parliament about breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a blow to his authority when lawmakers ordered a parliamentary investigation into his past denials that he broke coronavirus restrictions by attending illegal gatherings during the pandemic.

Johnson on Thursday faced stinging criticism from his own Conservative party and an influential former ally called on him to quit over what has become known as the “Partygate” scandal, which has caused widespread public anger.

The investigation will look into whether Johnson knowingly misled the Parliament of the United Kingdom – ordinarily a resigning offence if proven. But a bullish Johnson – on a two-day trip to India – insisted he was not going anywhere.

In India, Johnson vowed he would not quit and intended to fight the next general election – still likely at least two years away. “I understand people’s feelings,” he told Sky News.

But he said of stepping aside: “I don’t think that is the right thing to do. What I am determined to do is make sure we continue with our agenda.”

The investigation by Parliament’s privileges committee will begin once London police have finished their own probe and an internal report on the scandal is published in full.

The parliamentary probe piles more pressure on the prime minister, whose grip on power has been shaken by claims he flouted the pandemic rules he imposed on the country, then repeatedly failed to uphold them.

One national survey this week found about two-thirds of the public spoke negatively about Johnson, compared to just 16 percent positively, with the word “liar” the most commonly shared response.

‘Principle under attack’

The move was instigated by the opposition Labour Party and passed after the government abandoned efforts to get Conservative lawmakers to block it. Johnson’s Conservatives have a substantial majority in Parliament, but many lawmakers are uneasy with the prime minister’s behaviour.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the move sought to uphold “the simple principle that honesty, integrity and telling the truth matter in our politics”.

“It is a British principle … guiding members from every political party in this House,” Starmer said. “But it is a principle under attack.”

Johnson was fined 50 pounds ($65) by police last week for attending his own birthday party in his office in June 2020, when people in Britain were barred from meeting up with friends and family, or even visiting dying relatives. Johnson is the first British prime minister ever found to have broken the law while in office.

Further penalties for other events could follow, but police said on Thursday that they will not announce any new fines issued until after local elections on May 5.

Johnson has since apologised but denied he knowingly broke the rules. His shifting defence – initially saying there were no illegal gatherings, then claiming it “did not occur to me” that his birthday event was a party – has drawn derision and outrage from opponents who called for him to quit.

“The truth is simple and it’s this – he lied to avoid getting caught and once he got caught he lied again,” Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford said in the House of Commons.

To mount a challenge to Johnson’s leadership, 54 Conservative lawmakers must write letters expressing no confidence in him. That would lead to a confidence vote and, if he lost, a contest to replace him.



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We need to show Israel the time for accountability has arrived | Opinions

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Israel should not be allowed to whitewash the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh with yet another sham ‘investigation’.

The only possible response to the hasty offer Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid made to the Palestinians to conduct “a joint pathological investigation” into the killing of renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh can be rage.

Such “investigations” conducted by Israel serve not to uncover the truth but to bury it, not to establish accountability but to preserve impunity, not to indict the perpetrators but to protect them.

That the offer for a “joint investigation” into the killing of Abu Akleh came directly from Foreign Minister Lapid – and was later repeated by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – speaks to the magnitude of Israel’s concern about the public relations crisis it is now facing. Such offers for “investigation” and “analysis” are normally left to lower-ranking officials in Israel’s whitewash apparatus.

Indeed, Israel only engages in such high-level whitewash if it believes the killing of a Palestinian can damage the country’s image. Otherwise, it doesn’t even bother with such empty gestures.

B’Tselem tried in good faith to engage Israel’s domestic investigation mechanisms for decades. Over the years, we have made hundreds of applications to relevant authorities for cases of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces to be investigated, but meaningful accountability was never realised. Six years ago, we concluded that what we were dealing with is not merely a dysfunctional investigation mechanism but an organised, systemic whitewash operation. As a result, we made the decision to continue our work on such killings – but without ever engaging in Israel’s so-called “investigations”.

Israel’s investigation mechanism is clearly a charade. Even if an investigation into the killing of a Palestinian at the hands of Israeli forces is opened, it almost never conclude with someone being charged. The entire mechanism is a charade because its flaws are, in fact, its essential features – the ones that enable it to deliver impunity. To begin with, the army is tasked with investigating itself. Soldiers are typically interviewed without being challenged, almost no effort is made to collect external evidence, and “investigations” are drawn out for years. On top of all this, even the sham described above is directed only at low-ranking soldiers – those who make the policies that enable soldiers to pull the trigger on Palestinians never face any scrutiny.  All this, despite in many cases fatalities being caused not because of any deviations from the policies of the Israeli military but the criminal policies themselves.

Take, for example, the cases of Israeli snipers shooting at unarmed Palestinians at the Gaza fence during the Great March of Return demonstrations. Israel conducted “investigations” into certain specific cases of shooting by snipers. But no one investigated – and no one in Israel will – the rules of engagement themselves.

Israel’s military advocate general – the very same person in charge of Israel’s military investigations – is tasked with giving the green light for such policies. Thus, obviously, nobody is being held to account for giving snipers those flagrantly illegal orders.

Israel needs impunity to maintain its apartheid regime.  It cannot maintain control over a subjugated population without state violence.  Thus it is essential for the regime to provide itself with blanket impunity – while performing what looks like investigations, to appease international expectations.

Impunity paves the way for more killings. Don’t fall for Israel’s propaganda, its promises to “investigate”. Israel will not hold itself to account, just like its apartheid regime won’t dismantle itself. International stakeholders who do not call this out simply cast themselves as a cog in Israel’s whitewashing machine. The grotesque US pressure on Palestinians to accept a “joint” investigation and the statement by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides vaguely “encouraging” an investigation, only demonstrates the extent to which the Biden administration continues to serve as such a cog.

Shireen Abu Akleh once said while it “might not be easy to change reality”, she could at least bring “the voice of the people to the world”. To keep that voice alive, to honour her legacy and to demand justice, please: Say no to Israeli propaganda, view reality with clarity, and demonstrate to Israel that the time of accountability has finally – even if belatedly – arrived.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.





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Who is MBZ, the UAE’s new president? | Politics News

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United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), who was formally elected president on Saturday, has led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam in the region.

Working behind the scenes for years as de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed, 61, transformed the UAE military into a high-tech force, which coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence internationally.

Mohammed began wielding power in a period when his half-brother President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died on Friday, suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014.

MBZ, as he is known, was driven by a “certain fatalistic line of thinking” that Gulf Arab rulers could no longer rely on their main supporter the United States, according to former US envoy to the UAE Barbara Leaf, especially after Washington abandoned Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 Arab Spring.

From his power base in the capital Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed issued a “calm and cold” warning to then President Barack Obama not to back uprisings that could spread and endanger Gulf dynastic rule, according to Obama’s memoir, which described MBZ as the “savviest” Gulf leader.

A US State Department official serving in the Biden administration, which has had fraught ties with the UAE in recent months, described him as a strategist who brings historical perspective to discussions.

“He will talk not only about the present, but go back years, decades, in some cases, speaking to trends over time,” the official said.

MBZ backed the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, and championed Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he rose to power in a 2017 palace coup, touting him as a man Washington could deal with and the only one able to open up the kingdom.

Encouraged by warm ties with the then US President Donald Trump, the two Gulf hawks lobbied for Washington’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran, boycotted neighbouring Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a costly war to try to break the grip of Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.

The UAE also waded into conflicts from Somalia to Libya and Sudan before upending decades of Arab consensus by forging ties with Israel in 2020, along with Bahrain, in US-brokered deals known as the Abraham Accords that drew Palestinian ire.

The accords were driven by shared concerns over Iran but also perceived benefits to the UAE economy and fatigue with a Palestinian leadership “that doesn’t listen”, said one diplomat.

Tactical thinker

While diplomats and analysts see the alliance with Riyadh and Washington as a pillar of UAE strategy, MBZ has not hesitated to move independently when interests or economic reasons dictate.

The Ukraine crisis exposed strains with Washington when the UAE abstained from a UN Security Council vote condemning Russia’s invasion. As an OPEC producer, along with oil titan Riyadh, the UAE also rebuffed Western calls to pump more.

Abu Dhabi has ignored other US concerns by arming and backing Libya’s Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognised government and engaging with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

With Riyadh, the biggest divergence came when the UAE largely withdrew from Yemen as the unpopular war, in which more than 100 Emiratis died, got mired in military deadlock.

When Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir reneged on a promise to abandon Islamist allies, Abu Dhabi orchestrated the 2019 coup against him.

Although he says he was attracted to their ideology in his youth, MBZ has framed the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the gravest threats to stability in the Middle East.

Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE accuses the Brotherhood of betrayal after it sheltered members persecuted in Egypt in the 1960s, only to see them work for change in their host countries.

“I am an Arab, I am a Muslim, and I pray. And in the 1970s and early 1980s I was one of them. I believe these guys have an agenda,” MBZ said in a 2007 meeting with US officials, according to Wikileaks.

Educated in the UK

Educated in the UAE and the military officers’ college at Sandhurst in the UK, Sheikh Mohammed’s mistrust of the group heightened after 2001, when two of his countrymen were among the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks on the United States.

“He looked around and saw that many of the younger generation in the region were very attracted to Osama bin Laden’s anti-Western mantra,” another diplomat said. “As he once said to me: ‘If they can do it to you, they can do it to us.’”

Despite years of enmity, MBZ chose to engage with Iran and Turkey as COVID-19 and rising economic competition with Saudi Arabia turned focus to development, pushing the UAE towards further liberalisation while keeping a lid on political dissent.

Seen as a moderniser at home and a charismatic people’s man by many diplomats, MBZ doggedly promoted the previously low-profile Abu Dhabi, which holds the UAE’s oil wealth, by spurring development in energy, infrastructure and technology.

As deputy supreme commander of armed forces he was credited with turning the UAE military into one of the most effective in the Arab world, according to experts who say he instituted military service to instil nationalism rather than entitlement among an affluent population.

“He doesn’t beat around the bush … he wants to know what isn’t working well, not just what’s working,” said a source with access to Sheikh Mohammed.



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Sheikh Mohamed bin Al Zayed elected UAE president | News

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Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the state-run WAM news agency says.

The UAE’s long-time de facto ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected as president on Saturday a day after the death of its former leader.

Sheikh Mohamed was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the state-run WAM news agency said, after years of calling the shots from behind the scenes while his half-brother President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was sidelined by poor health.

The rulers of the United Arab Emirates’ seven sheikhdoms made the decision at a meeting. It comes after Sheikh Khalifa died on Friday.

WAM described the vote as unanimous among the rulers of the country’s sheikhdoms, which also includes the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai.

“We congratulate him and we pledge allegiance to him, and our people pledge allegiance to him,” Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said on Twitter after the vote. “The whole country is led by him to take it on the paths of glory and honour, God willing.”

Emirati influence

Widely known as MBZ, Sheikh Mohamed is one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders. A graduate of Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he commands one of the best-equipped armies in the Gulf region.

Working behind the scenes for years as de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed, 61, transformed the UAE military into a high-tech force, which coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence internationally.

Mohammed began wielding power in a period when his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014.

The speed of Saturday’s announcement appeared designed to show unity and reassure the world of the stability of this crucial oil-and-gas producing nation that hosts Western military forces.

Abu Dhabi, which holds most of the Gulf state’s oil wealth, has held the presidency since the founding of the UAE federation by Sheikh Khalifa’s father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 1971.

The UAE as a whole is observing a three-day mourning period that will see businesses shut across the country and performances halted in Sheikh Khalifa’s honour. Electronic billboards all showed the late sheikh’s image in Dubai on Friday night as flags flew at half-staff.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]



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