Category Archives: World

British Prime Minister May to fire the starting gun on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a regional cabinet meeting in Runcorn, Cheshire, as she launched her industrial strategy for post-Brexit Britain with a promise the Government will “step up” and take an active role in backing business, Britain, January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool

LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May will file formal Brexit divorce papers on Wednesday, pitching the United Kingdom into the unknown and triggering years of uncertain negotiations that will test the endurance of the European Union.

Nine months after Britons voted to leave, May will notify EU Council President Donald Tusk in a letter that the UK really is quitting the club it joined in 1973.

The prime minister, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the political turmoil that followed the referendum vote, will then have two years to settle the terms of the divorce before it comes into effect in late March 2019.

“We stand on the threshold of a significant moment for Britain as we begin the negotiations that will lead us toward a new partnership with Europe,” May said on Monday. “We are going to take this opportunity to forge a more global Britain.”

On the eve of Brexit, May, 60, has one of the toughest jobs of any recent British prime minister: holding Britain together in the face of renewed Scottish independence demands, while conducting arduous talks with 27 other EU states on finance, trade, security and a host of other complex issues.

The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain’s $2.6 trillion economy, the world’s fifth biggest, and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centers.

For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, the loss of Britain is the biggest blow yet to 60 years of efforts to forge European unity in the wake of two devastating world wars.

Its leaders say they do not want to punish Britain. But with nationalist, anti-EU parties on the rise across the bloc, they cannot afford to give London generous terms that might encourage other member states to follow its example and break away.


EU officials expect May’s notice of intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to be hand-delivered by British diplomats on Wednesday, when May will also speak to parliament.

The Brexit letter will seek to set a positive tone for the talks and recap 12 key points which May set out as her goals in a speech on Jan. 17.

Within 48 hours of reading the letter, Tusk will send the 27 other states draft negotiating guidelines. He will outline his views in Malta, where from Wednesday he will be attending a congress of center-right leaders. Ambassadors of the 27 will then meet in Brussels to discuss Tusk’s draft.

The course of the Brexit talks is uncertain.

May has promised to seek the greatest possible access to European markets but said Britain will aim to establish its own free trade deals with countries beyond Europe, and impose limits on immigration from the continent.

She has acknowledged that those measures would require withdrawing from the EU ‘single market’ of 500 million people, founded on the principles of free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

Her priorities also include leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and securing “frictionless” trade with the bloc while ending full membership of the customs union that sets external tariffs for goods imported into the bloc.

She wants to negotiate Britain’s divorce and the future trading relationship with the EU within the two-year period, though EU officials say that will be hard.

“It was you, the British, who decided to leave, not us who wanted you to go,” said one senior EU diplomat. “The trading relationship is going to be the most difficult bit to solve – I don’t see how that will be done in that time frame.”

A huge number of questions remain, including whether exporters will keep tariff-free access to the single market and whether British-based banks will still be able to serve continental clients, not to mention immigration and the future rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons living in Europe.

Global banks such as Goldman Sachs are considering moving staff out of Britain due to Brexit, and some major companies and banks could use the Article 50 trigger date to update investors on their plans.


At home, May’s United Kingdom – a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council – is divided and faces strains that could lead to its break-up.

The results of the Brexit referendum called the country’s future into question because England and Wales voted to leave the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

Scottish nationalists have demanded an independence referendum that May has refused, saying the time is not right. In Northern Ireland, rival parties have been unable to end a major political crisis for over two months and Sinn Fein nationalists are demanding a vote on leaving the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

“May’s job is just so difficult – keeping the UK together while Brexiting – that I am not sure anyone would want it,” said a senior non-EU diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“After Brexit, the future of almost everything is completely unclear and that is extremely worrying for the UK, the EU and the West as a whole.” – Reuters

Buhari’s illness ‘slowing down’ economic reforms in recession-hit Nigeria

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has decreased his working hours due to a prolonged illness, officials have claimed. The 74-year-old leader resumed office earlier in March, after spending 51 days on sick leave in the UK.

Buhari returned to Nigeria on 10 March, ending rumours he was too ill to travel back home. It seems however, the leader is still too unwell to resume his usual work pace.

Officials have claimed the leader spends between one and four hours per day at his office. This is sparking fears Buhari might not be able to carry out economic reforms needed in the country, hit by recession.

“Things are slowing down, particularly on the economic front, which is a concern,” one Western diplomat, who was not named, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

A presidential source also confirmed the leader is due to travel back to the UK to undergo further medical treatment in April.

Before leaving the country on 20 January, Buhari appointed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as acting head of state.

Osinbajo has been praised for the leadeship skills he demonstrated during Buhari’s absence, fuelling speculations he could have replaced Buhari if the latter had became incapacitated.

Buhari’s spokespeople have not commented on the claims the president has reduced his working hours. Spokesperson Garba Shehu said on Twitter the president had been working from home “when most civil servants have closed”.

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Zuma recalls Gordhan from international roadshow, rand falls

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma ordered Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to return from an investor roadshow to Britain and the United States on Monday because he “did not give permission for the trip”, a government source said.

Appointed in late 2015 after a predecessor’s sudden sacking, Gordhan was in London for the first leg of a week-long non-deal investor roadshow in Britain and the United States.

Weak economic growth and tensions within the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) have put South Africa’s investment grade credit rating at risk.

The rand fell as much as 1.7 percent following the report, while bonds weakened sharply. Banking shares on the Johannesburg bourse fell more than 2 percent.

“They were told last night or this morning to come back… the presidency did not give permission for the trip,” the government source said.

The president’s office could not be reached for comment.

Africa’s most industrialised economy escaped being downgraded to junk status last year. S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings both rank the sovereign one level above junk, while Moody’s puts it two notches higher.

Moody’s, which put South Africa on negative watch in its latest review, is due to revisit that on April 7, followed by S&P at the beginning of June.

Gordhan’s team on the trip to London, Boston and New York included deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and Treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile, as well as business executives and union leaders.

Tanzanian minister sacked after condemning TV intrusion

Tanzania’s information minister was fired on Thursday after he criticised an ally of President John Magufuli who had stormed into a television station accompanied by armed men.

The sacking comes amid an uproar over the incident at one of Tanzania’s main private broadcasters, seen as yet another example of the government riding roughshod over basic freedoms since Magufuli came to power in October last year.

On Friday, Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Paul Makonda stormed into the offices of the Clouds FM Media Group with six armed men to demand the airing of a muckraking video aimed at undermining a popular local pastor with whom Makonda has a dispute.

The station refused to broadcast the video in which a woman claims to have had an illegitimate child with the pastor.

Information Minister Nape Nnauye visited the station in the wake of the intrusion and launched an immediate probe.

“We are used to seeing such incidents during coups d’etat, when armed men enter studios to proclaim they are overthrowing the state,” he said.

“If it happens in a state which is not undergoing a coup d’etat, where the president is in place, it gives a very bad image. I will advise my bosses to take punitive measures against the regional commissioner,” he said.

Meanwhile, as condemnation poured in from civil society and MPs, Magufuli offered support to his embattled ally.

“I, as president, don’t let anyone tell me what to do. I decide who should be where. So you Makonda, do your job and ignore the rest,” he said.

On Wednesday Deodatus Balile, chairman of the probe team, revealed his findings, saying Makonda had threatened station staff with blackmail and jail if they didn’t air the video.

Then on Thursday, without any explanation, the presidency released a statement announcing the appointment of a new information minister.

Nnauye said he was “just trying to do his job” as he addressed journalists from his car Thursday after police stopped him from holding a press conference in a hotel in the capital.

He said people should not be concerned about him, but about “where Tanzania is headed”.

– Bulldozer –

Magufuli, whose nickname “tingatinga” means “bulldozer” in Swahili, swept to power as a no-nonsense, corruption-busting, man of the people shown sweeping the streets while summarily firing officials suspected of ineptitude or corruption.

But critics see a wide authoritarian streak at the core of his populism, as he acts on impulse regardless of due process or political niceties, while being intolerant to any dissent.

Earlier this month he ordered all the passports seized of foreign workers at an Indian company which had failed to complete a water project on time.

Magufuli has also shut down newspapers, banned opposition rallies, switched off live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions and applied a draconian “cyber crimes” law to jail critics.

“Since the inauguration of President Magufuli, attacks on freedom of the press have increased in a worrying manner,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, Africa head at pressure group Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF.

Botswana’s Ian Khama to step down next year

Botswana’s President Ian Khama will step down next year, the media reported.

The Southern Times newspaper Monday said President Khama, who also leads the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), will be replaced by his deputy President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Seretse Khama Ian Khama – the son of Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first post-independence leader – took over as president in April 2008.

He was the chosen successor of Festus Mogae, who stepped down at the end of his second term, after a decade at the helm.

The younger Khama secured a five-year term in October 2009 after BDP swept to victory in a parliamentary election.

He secured a second term following the August 2014 polls, in which his party won the most seats.

He had became the Botswana vice-president in 1998.

The forthcoming transfer of power will take place during the BDP congress, the Southern Times newspaper reported.

BDP has governed the country since independence in 1966.

According to the the Southern Times, the tradition of the BDP was that the vice-president should automatically succeed the outgoing president.

Two senior BDP officials, former ambassador to Japan Jacob Nkate and Infrastructure minister Nonofo Molefhi, have also reportedly shown interest in the party’s top seat.

According to the Southern Times, Mr Masisi, currently the BDP chairperson, had an advantage over his opponents because he was in control of the party structures.

BDP Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane was quoted as saying his party’s constitution permits any member in good standing to contest for any vacant position.

According to local media, President Khama prefers his younger brother Tshekedi Khama becoming president, claims the ruling party has already denied.

Botswana is one of the Africa’s most stable countries and the continent’s longest continuous multi-party democracy.

The southern African nation was relatively free of corruption and has a good human rights record.

Whereas critics describe President Khama as an authoritarian leader, his supporters say he was decisive and efficient.

His no-nonsense approach has made him popular abroad as he has broken ranks with regional leaders’ timid approach to the democratic abuses by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

President Khama was born in the UK while his father was in exile.

He is a graduate of Sandhurst college in Britain and was the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).

Zambia announces tough measures on churches

LUSAKA. – The Zambian government has announced tough measures to deal with mushrooming churches amid calls to curb “fake churches” and mercenary clergymen.

Godfridah Sumaili, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affair, said no church would be registered without clearance from her ministry.

In a ministerial statement delivered in parliament, the minister said a legal instrument would soon be announced that would compel all churches to be registered under the Registrar of Societies.

According to Sumaili, currently some churches hide under the guise of companies by registering under the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA).

“This scrutiny will be extended to foreign mission. Foreigners who come into the country for missionary work will be subjected to this same scrutiny before travel visas are issued for them to travel to Zambia for their missionary work to avoid fake people,” she said.

The government, she said, was concerned with the mushrooming of churches and fake church leaders who were deceiving people.

There has to be a minimum standard for churches in the country, and the ministry is working with the existing church organisations to empower them so that they can regulate these churches, she added.

The conduct of some churches and clergymen has been a source of concern in Zambia for some time, with stakeholders calling on the government to come up with regulatory measures.

Some churches and their leaders have been accused of taking advantage of the gullibility of people to make quick money on the pretext that they were able to end all their problems.

News headlines of clergymen engaging in illegal and clandestine activities in the name of the church are common in Zambia, where about 87 percent of the people are Christians. Some clergymen were reportedly demanding for money and sexual favours in exchange for miracles to change people’s lives.

Last week, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), one of the church mother bodies, called on the government to protect citizens from unscrupulous individuals pretending to have powers to deal with people’s problems.

The organisation urged the government to come up with measures to control the operation of churches in the country, saying the conduct of some churches was tarnishing the image of the church. – Xinhua.

Trump tastes failure as U.S. House healthcare bill collapses

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on following a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign promise of the president and his allies.

House of Representatives leaders yanked the bill after a rebellion by Republican moderates and the party’s most conservative lawmakers left them short of votes, ensuring that Trump’s first major legislative initiative since taking office on Jan. 20 ended in failure. Democrats were unified against it.

House Republicans had planned a vote on the measure after Trump late on Thursday cut off negotiations with Republicans who had balked at the plan and issued an ultimatum to vote on Friday, win or lose. But desperate lobbying by the White House and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was unable to round up the 216 votes needed for passage.

“We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process,” Trump told reporters at the White House, although he sought to shift the blame to the Democrats even though his party controls the White House, the House and the Senate.

With Friday’s legislative collapse, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – remains in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it.

The healthcare failure called into question not only Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through Congress, but the Republican Party’s capacity to govern effectively.

Neither Trump nor Ryan indicated any plans to try to tackle healthcare legislation again anytime soon. Trump said he would turn his attention to getting “big tax cuts” through Congress, another tricky proposition.

Republican supporters said the legislation would achieve their goal of rolling back the government’s “nanny state” role in healthcare. The White House made undoing Obamacare its top priority when Trump took office two months ago.

But the White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan that satisfied the clashing interests of moderates and conservatives, despite Trump’s vaunted image as a deal maker.

Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, Ryan, who championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House. Ryan said he recommended that it be withdrawn from the House floor because he did not have the votes to pass it, and Trump agreed.

“We were just probably anywhere from 10 to 15 votes short,” Trump said. “With no Democrat support we couldn’t quite get there.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the bill failed “because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises.”

Democrats said the bill would take away medical insurance from millions of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system in disarray.

And some moderate Republicans opposed the bill because of worries that millions of America would be hurt.

“There were things in this bill that I didn’t particularly like,” Trump added, without specifying what those were, but expressed confidence in Ryan’s leadership.

“Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today, because we’ll end up with a truly great healthcare bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes,” said Trump, who had posted multiple tweets throughout March proclaiming that “Obamacare is imploding” and repeatedly saying that Republicans were coming together to pass the bill.

Friday’s events cast doubt on whether Ryan can get major legislation approved by fractious Republican lawmakers.

“I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” Ryan said at a news conference, adding that his fellow Republicans are experiencing what he called “growing pains” transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party.

“Obamacare’s the law of the land,” Ryan added. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”


Members of the Freedom Caucus, the House’s most conservative members, were instrumental in the bill’s failure, opposing it among other reasons because they considered parts too similar to Obamacare.

Trump said he was disappointed and “a little surprised” with the Freedom Caucus opposition.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said under the Republican legislation 14 million people would lose medical coverage by next year and more than 24 million would be uninsured in 2026.

News that the bill had been pulled before a final vote was greeted initially with a small sigh of relief by U.S. equity investors, who earlier in the week had been fretful that an outright defeat would damage Trump’s other priorities, such as tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Benchmark U.S. stock market indexes ended the session mixed after rallying back from session lows following the news. The S&P 500 Index ended fractionally lower, the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped about 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose about 0.2 percent.

Shares of hospital operators finished sharply higher, with the S&P healthcare facilities index up 2.7 percent, while the S&P 500 healthcare sector edged down 0.03 percent. The dollar strengthened modestly on the news, and U.S. Treasury bond yields edged up from session lows.

Trump said he would be “totally open” to working with Democrats on healthcare “when they all become civilized.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said working to lower prescription drug prices was one area of possible cooperation with Republicans.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said before the bill was pulled that voting it down would be “neutering Trump” while empowering his opponents.

“You don’t cut the balls off a bull and then expect that he can go out and get the job done,” Rohrabacher told Reuters. “This will emasculate Trump and we can’t do that. … If we bring this down now, Trump will have lost all of his leverage to pass whatever bill it is, whether it’s the tax bill or whatever reforms that he wants.”

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, when asked why his fellow Republicans were so united over the past seven years to dump Obamacare only to fall apart when they actually do something about it, said, “Sometimes you’re playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the real game.”

Obamacare boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. About 20 million Americans gained insurance coverage through the law.

The House plan would have rescinded a range of taxes created by Obamacare, ended a penalty on people who refuse to obtain health insurance, and ended Obamacare’s income-based subsidies to help people buy insurance while creating less-generous age-based tax credits

It also would have ended Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid state-federal insurance program for the poor, cut future federal Medicaid funding and let states impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

House leaders agreed to a series of last-minute changes to try to win over disgruntled conservatives, including ending the Obamacare requirement that insurers cover certain “essential benefits” such as maternity care, mental health services and prescription drug coverage.

Click on the links below for related graphics:

Graphic on Obamacare and Republican healthcare bill (

Graphic on poll on Americans’ views of the Republican healthcare bill (

Egypt’s former leader Mubarak walks free for first time in six years – lawyer

CAIRO (Reuters) – Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president overthrown in 2011 and the first leader to face trial after the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region, walked free on Friday for the first time in six years, his lawyer said.

He left the Maadi Military Hospital where he had been detained, heading to his home in Heliopolis.

A top appeals court cleared Mubarak earlier this month on charges of killing protesters in the 2011 uprising that ended his 30 year rule.

Trump dealt setback on healthcare plan as House puts off vote

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday failed to close the deal with Republican lawmakers on how to dismantle Obamacare, forcing the House of Representatives to delay a vote on a healthcare bill that was supposed to be his first legislative win.

The day had been designed as a big symbolic win for conservatives. Trump and House Republican leaders planned the vote on the seventh anniversary of former Democratic President Barack Obama signing his namesake healthcare law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, which became a prime target for Republicans.

Some Republican conservatives felt the new Trump-backed healthcare plan, formally called the American Health Care Act, did not go far enough, while some moderates worried the legislation would hurt their constituents, so the bill was postponed indefinitely as negotiations continued into the evening.

The White House has insisted there is no “Plan B” if the bill fails.

“I am desperately trying to get to ‘yes’ and I think the president knows that. I told him that personally,” said North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, the chairman of a group of conservatives known as the Freedom Caucus, which has been critical of the bill.

“We’re going to get to the finish line,” Meadows told reporters.

Trump, who has been working the phones all week and bringing lawmakers into the Oval Office to talk, met with the Freedom Caucus on Thursday morning, and was set to later meet with moderate Republicans, known as the ‘Tuesday Group.’

As the healthcare drama unfolded on Capitol Hill, Trump took a break from the negotiations to talk about the issue and hang out with some truckers, climbing into the cab of one long-haul transport truck parked on the back driveway of the White House, and blowing the horn a few times.

He told reporters the vote would be close but remained optimistic. “I think we’re doing well. We’ll find out in about three hours,” he said, just as reports began to surface that the vote had been postponed.

Even if the bill does eventually get approval from the House, the legislation faces a potentially tough fight in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House and Senate had hoped to deliver a new healthcare bill to Trump by April 8, when Congress is scheduled to begin a two-week spring break.

Robert Mugabe calls for union of African states

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has appealed for greater economic integration among African countries with the aim of setting up a union of African states, according to local media.

In January 2015, African leaders nominated Mugabe – the continent’s oldest head of state, now 93 – as chairman of the African Union in 2015. He drew applause when he told fellow leaders that the continent’s wealth belongs to Africa and not to “imperialists and colonialists“.

Speaking at that African Economic Platform summit in Mauritius on 20 March, the veteran leader said it was important for a united Africa to speak with one voice, according to the state-owned Herald newspaper.

In his call for more integrated African economy by promoting fair trade among African nations and existing regional blocs, Mugabe said member states “should build ourselves as was promised as entities, regional entities that will merge one day and form more than just the African Union as it is but a much more united African Union, call it if you want, Union of African States, with perhaps an authority called Government of African Union States and those other authorities being subordinate to that authority”.

In 2015 Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, proposed that African states introduce free movement of persons, goods, services and capital across the continent, based on a European Union-style of co-operation.

He added: “When will that day come? We hope it will come in the lives of our children.”

During his speech, Mugabe described numerous challenges facing the continent, including tension between neighbouring states and regional instability.

“Terrorism and inter-party fights still worry us. Our brother from Rwanda gave us quite a beautiful description of some of the things they are trying to do, to further the interests of the people but next to them is Burundi. Burundi versus Rwanda, and it’s a situation that is yet to be really prominently remedied so that the two countries can in future live on brotherly terms,” Mugabe is quoted as saying.

These comments come seven months after representatives of the East African Community reiterated concerns over the worsening diplomatic relations between neighbours Burundi and Rwanda, which began deteriorating after Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza accused Rwanda of recruiting, training and arming Burundian rebels to fight with the aim of removing him from power. Rwanda denies the allegations.

Mugabe then went on to describe the worrying security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “As I speak now, you have United Nations soldiers in the Congo and even as they are there, you will be having attacks in the eastern side of Congo and everyone wonders whether the Congo, DRC will be stable.” – IBTimes

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