Imprisoned PKK Leader Calls For End to Hunger Strikes

Thousands of prisoners in Turkey ended their hunger strikes Sunday that had been mounted to force Turkey to end jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan’s isolation at Imrali Island prison.

Earlier Sunday, Ocalan’s lawyers read a statement from their client calling for an end to the strikes.

“I expect the action to come to an end…” Ocalan said in a statement read by one of his lawyers at a press conference in Istanbul.

An estimated two to three thousand detainees throughout Turkey’s prison system had participated in the strikes.

Twice this month, Turkey allowed the 70-year-old imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to meet with his lawyers after an eight-year hiatus.

PKK had been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Ocalan’s call for an end to the strikes and the resumption of a lawyers’ visits comes ahead of an election in Istanbul.

Analysts say the moves could foreshadow a new peace process, four years after government talks with Ocalan collapsed.

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Israeli President Shocked by German Skullcap Comment

Israel’s president said Sunday he is shocked by a German official’s comment that he wouldn’t advise Jews to wear skullcaps in parts of the country, which is drawing mixed reactions at home.

Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, was quoted Saturday as saying: “I cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany.” He didn’t elaborate on what places and times might be risky.

“The statement of the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner that it would be preferable for Jews not wear a kippa in Germany out of fear for their safety, shocked me deeply,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.

He added that “we will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism – and expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”

Government statistics released earlier this month showed that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in Germany last year, despite an overall drop in politically motivated crimes.

Germany’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, told news agency dpa “it has long been a fact that Jews are potentially exposed to danger in some big cities if they can be recognized as Jews.” He added that he pointed that out two years ago, “so it is to be welcomed if this situation gets more attention at the highest political level.”

Others were sharply critical of Klein’s comment. Michel Friedman, a former deputy leader of Germany’s main Jewish group, said it was an admission of failure and that “the state must ensure that Jews can show themselves everywhere without fear.”

Bavaria’s state interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that wearing a skullcap is part of religious freedom. “Everyone can and should wear his skullcap wherever and whenever he wants,” he said.

Klein himself told dpa that his statement had been “provocative” and he “wanted to initiate a debate about the safety of the Jewish community in our country.”

“Of course I believe that there must not be no-go areas anywhere in Germany for Jews or members of other minorities,” he said.

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Anti-Semitic Attacks on the Rise in Germany

Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner has advised Jews that it may be dangerous in certain parts of the country to wear the kippahs, also known as skullcaps, traditionally worn by Jewish men. He did not specify which areas of the country he was referring to.

“I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany,” Felix Klein told the Funke press group in an interview published Saturday.

Klein’s warning comes amid a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany.

The commissioner said “the lifting of inhibitions and the uncouthness which is on the rise in society” has contributed to the growing number of attacks. “The internet and social media have largely contributed to this, but so have constant attacks against our culture of remembrance.”

Anti-Semitism is “deeply rooted” in German society and “has always been here,” Claudia Vanoni, Germany’s top legal expert on anti-Semitism told AFP, the French news agency. “But I think that recently, it has again become louder, more aggressive and flagrant.”

In an interview with Handelsblatt newspaper, Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the attacks are “shameful for our country.”

Commissioner Klein has blamed the far right for the majority of anti-Semitic attacks. Another contributing factor, he said, is the arrival of a number of Muslim asylum seekers in Germany who may also be influenced by some television stations “which transmit a dreadful image of Israel and Jews.”

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Four More Countries Vote in EU Election

Voters in Slovakia, Malta, Latvia and the Czech Republic are casting ballots Saturday in European Parliament elections.

The stakes for the European Union are especially high in this year’s selections, which are taking place over four days and involve all 28 EU nations.

Many predict nationalists and far-right groups will gain ground, and would try to use a larger presence in the legislature to claw back power from the EU for their national governments.

Moderate parties, on the other hand, want to cement closer ties among countries in the EU, which was created in the wake of World War II to prevent renewed conflict.

Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands have voted, and the Czech Republic started voting Friday and continues Saturday.

Slovakia, Malta and Latvia are holding their European Parliament elections Saturday, and all the other nations vote Sunday.

Official results will be released Sunday night, after all countries have voted.

A Dutch surprise?

Voting in the Netherlands may have already produced a surprise. An Ipsos exit poll forecast a win for the Dutch Labor Party, and predicted that pro-European parties would win most of the Netherlands’ seats in the European Parliament, instead of right-wing populist opponents.

Overall, the European Parliament’s traditional political powerhouses are expected to come out with the most votes. But the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists & Democrats look set to lose some clout and face their strongest challenge yet from an array of populist, nationalist and far-right parties skeptical of the EU.

Emulating Trump, Brexiteers

Those parties hope to emulate what President Donald Trump did in the 2016 U.S. election and what Brexiteers achieved in the U.K. referendum to leave the EU: to disrupt what they see as an out-of-touch elite and gain power by warning about migrants massing at Europe’s borders ready to rob the continent of its jobs and culture.

The traditional parties warn that this strategy is worryingly reminiscent of prewar tensions, and argue that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security challenges posed by a China and U.S.-dominated new world order.

Voters across Europe are electing 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when Britain eventually leaves the EU. Each EU nation gets a number of seats in the EU parliament based on its population.

The legislature affects Europeans’ daily lives in many ways: cutting smartphone roaming charges, imposing safety and health rules for industries ranging from chemicals and energy to autos and food, supporting farming, and protecting the environment.

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Senate Foreign Relations Chief: North Macedonian NATO Accession Vote Possible by June

This story originated in VOA’s Macedonian Service. 

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers may vote to approve North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO as early as next month, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator James Risch.

“The process is that we need to have a hearing on it in the Foreign Relations Committee, and I have tentatively scheduled that for approximately two weeks from now,” the junior Idaho Republican senator told VOA’s Macedonian Service. “Then, as far as when it will be finalized, it goes to the Senate floor, and we would very much like to have that done in June, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can get that done in June.”

North Macedonia’s long-standing bid to join the military alliance was blocked for more than a decade because of a name dispute with neighboring Greece, which has a province called Macedonia.

North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, changed its name under the Prespa Agreement in June 2018 with Greece, opening the path to NATO and EU membership.

North Macedonia’s accession protocol was signed by all member states in Brussels on Feb. 6. The accession process continues in the capital of each allied nation, where individual protocols are ratified according to national procedures.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has praised the country as a “steadfast security partner,” submitted its NATO accession protocol to the Senate for ratification on April 30.

North Macedonia’s full accession to the alliance would represent a blow to Russia, which opposes NATO expansion and, therefore, the country’s accession.

Asked if North Macedonia’s NATO membership can reduce Russian influence or political meddling within North Macedonia, he said “that’s going to be up to the North Macedonian people themselves.”

“But they’ve already spoken on that,” Risch said. “I think the election itself, regarding accession, was a good, clear indication that they don’t want that Russian influence, that they don’t want that Russian propaganda. So, this taking of what would really be a final step into NATO is a final rejection of Russia and what it stands for and the kind of malign influence they bring.”

Last August, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, sponsored a bipartisan resolution to put the tiny Balkan country on the path to NATO and European Union membership.

Risch also said he anticipates near-unanimous support for North Macedonia’s accession protocol when the bill arrives on the Senate floor.

 

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Turmoil Deepens With May’s Exit in Britain

Theresa May became Britain’s prime minister in 2016 after the country’s vote to leave the European Union prompted the resignation of her predecessor, David Cameron. Now, three years later, May has announced her own resignation,  saying she bitterly regretted failing to deliver a Brexit deal.

“I believe it was right to persevere even when the odds against success seemed high,” she said in a speech given outside her official residence in London. “But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort.”

Her voice cracking, the prime minister struggled to hide her emotions.

“I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold — the second female prime minister, but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.” 

Three attempts

May tried three times to get a parliamentary majority to back the Brexit deal she had negotiated with Brussels. But her Conservative Party had seen enough. The party will choose a new leader after June 7, a process that could take two months or more.

Analyst Fabian Zuleeg of the European Policy Center told VOA via Skype that “the difficulty for any new leader is that the majorities in the House of Commons have not changed.” 

 

More than a dozen Conservative members of Parliament are expected to put their names forward to replace May. Most are demanding a tougher line with Brussels. 

 

“The chances that the EU will substantively reopen the withdrawal agreement are pretty much zero,” he said. “Given how unpopular that deal has proven to be in the U.K., I think the chances of no deal are very high.” 

Many leadership candidates say Britain must walk away with no deal if the EU doesn’t budge from its terms — among them former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, now the front-runner in the race to replace May.

May will still be in office for U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain at the beginning of June. It’s likely to be her final act on the global political stage.

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Factobox: Who Wants to Be Britain’s Next Prime Minister?

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday she would quit, triggering a contest next month that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a cleaner break with the European Union.

Below are Conservatives who have either said they plan to put themselves forward or are widely expected to run for the leadership.

Planning to run

BORIS JOHNSON, 54

The face of the official campaign to leave the European Union, Johnson resigned as foreign minister in July in protest at May’s handling of the exit negotiations.

Johnson set out his pitch to the membership in a speech at the party’s annual conference in October – some members queued for hours to get a seat. He called on the party to return to its traditional values of low tax and strong policing.

Last week the BBC reported he had told The British Insurance Brokers’ Association: “Of course I’m going to go for it.”

On Brexit, Johnson used a newspaper column in April to argue for a “standstill arrangement — a managed no deal — that would give us time to negotiate an FTA (Free Trade Arrangement) and to solve the issues raised in Northern Ireland.”

He is the bookmakers’ favorite to succeed May.

ESTHER MCVEY, 51

The pro-Brexit former television presenter, who resigned as work and pensions minister in November in protest at May’s exit deal with the EU, has said she plans to run.

McVey told Talkradio: “I have always said quite clearly that if I got enough support from my colleagues, yes I would (run). Now people have come forward and I have got that support, so I will be going forward.”

RORY STEWART, 46

A former diplomat who once walked 6,000 miles across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal, Stewart was promoted to International Development Secretary this month.

Educated at the exclusive Eton College, Stewart was first elected to parliament in 2010 and backed remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum. He opposes a ‘no deal’ exit and has been a vocal advocate of May’s deal with Brussels.

“I do want to bring this country together … I accept Brexit, I am a Brexiteer, but I want to reach out to ‘Remain’ voters as well,” he told the BBC.

Expected to run

MICHAEL GOVE, 51

Gove, one of the highest-profile Brexit campaigners during the 2016 referendum, has had to rebuild his cabinet career after falling early to May in the contest to replace David Cameron, who resigned the day after losing the referendum.

Seen as one of the most effective members of cabinet in bringing forward new policies, the high-energy environment minister has become a surprise ally to May and has backed her Brexit strategy.

Gove teamed up with Johnson during the 2016 Brexit campaign only to pull his support for Johnson’s subsequent leadership bid at the last moment and run himself.

He has not yet said whether he plans to run.

JEREMY HUNT, 52

Hunt replaced Johnson as foreign minister in July and has urged the Conservative membership to set aside their differences over Brexit and unite against a common foe — the EU.

Hunt voted to remain in the EU in the referendum. He served six years as Britain’s health minister, a role that has made him unpopular with many voters who work in or rely on the state-run, financially stretched National Health Service.

Asked at a lunch with journalists in parliament if he planned to run for leader, he said: “Wait and see.”

On Brexit, he said: “I would always prefer to leave with a deal because I think there will be disruption without a deal … it would potentially be very significant and that is something I think anyone sensible would wish to avoid.”

But added: “If there was a binary choice between no deal or no Brexit, I would choose no deal because I think the democratic risk of no Brexit ultimately is higher than the economic risk of no deal.”

ANDREA LEADSOM, 56

A pro-Brexit campaigner, Leadsom made it to the last two in the 2016 contest to replace Cameron. She withdrew after abacklash to an interview in which she said being a mother gave her more of a stake in the future of the country than her rival Theresa May.

Leadsom quit as Leader of the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying she did not believe the government’s approach would deliver on the Brexit referendum result. She has previously told broadcaster ITV she was “seriously considering standing” to replace May.

On Brexit, she said the deal May had negotiated did not deliver a “truly sovereign United Kingdom,” and that she opposed a second Brexit vote.

DOMINIC RAAB, 45

Raab quit as May’s Brexit minister last year in protest at her draft exit agreement saying it did not match the promises the Conservative Party made in the 2017 election. Raab served only five months as head of the Brexit department.

He had held junior ministerial roles since being elected in 2010. Raab, a black belt in karate, campaigned for Brexit.

Asked if he would like to be prime minister, he said: “Never say never.”

On Brexit, he has advocated another attempt to renegotiate the customs and border plans relating to Northern Ireland, but has also said that he would be prepared to countenance leaving the bloc without a deal.

SAJID JAVID, 49

Javid, a former banker and a champion of free markets, has served a number of cabinet roles and scores consistently well in polls of party members. A second-generation immigrant of Pakistani heritage, he has a portrait of late Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher on his office wall.

Javid voted ‘Remain’ in the 2016 referendum but was previously considered to be eurosceptic. He has not said whether he plans to run but is considered to have been setting out his stall in speeches and media interviews.

DAVID DAVIS, 70

Davis, a leading eurosceptic, was appointed Brexit ministerto lead negotiations with the EU in July 2016 but resigned two years later in protest at May’s plans for a long-term relationship with the bloc.

He ran for the party’s leadership in 2005 but lost to Cameron.

PENNY MORDAUNT, 46

Mordaunt is one of the last remaining pro-Brexit members of May’s cabinet. She became Britain’s first female defence secretary this month.

A Royal Navy reservist, Mordaunt was previously international development minister. Many had expected her to join the wave of resignations that followed the publication of May’s draft withdrawal deal.

AMBER RUDD, 55

Rudd resigned as interior minister last year after facing outrage over her department’s treatment of some long-term Caribbean residents wrongly labelled illegal immigrants.

She backed ‘Remain’ in 2016 and has opposed a ‘no deal’ exit, meaning she could win support from pro-EU Conservative lawmakers. But she struggled to retain her seat at the 2017 election and has one of the smallest majorities in parliament.

MATT HANCOCK, 40

Health minister Hancock, a former economist at the Bank of England, supported ‘Remain’ in 2016. First elected to parliament in 2010, he has held several ministerial roles.

JUSTINE GREENING, 50

The former education minister told ITV she would consider running. Greening supports a second Brexit referendum. Many thought she might join several of her colleagues in quitting the party to form a pro-EU group in parliament earlier this year.

LIZ TRUSS, 43

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Truss has held several roles in government including environment minister and justice minister. She backed ‘Remain’ in 2016 but has said she has since changed her mind on Brexit.

GRAHAM BRADY, 51

Brady is chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative lawmakers. “It would take an awful lot of people to persuade me.

I’m not sure many people are straining at the leash to take on what is an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he told BBC Radio.

KIT MALTHOUSE, 52

A former deputy mayor of London, Malthouse became a Member of Parliament in 2015. He is a junior housing minister and helped author the so-called Malthouse Compromise plan to replace the unpopular Irish backstop in Britain’s EU exit deal with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border.

The Sun newspaper reported he was setting up a campaign team.

JAMES CLEVERLY, 49

Cleverly was appointed a junior Brexit minister last month, having previously been deputy chair of the Conservative Party.

He had a career in publishing before being elected to parliament in 2015.

The Sun reported he was planning to run for leader.

 

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Theresa May: A Prime Minister Defined and Defeated by Brexit

Theresa May became prime minister in 2016 with one overriding goal: to lead Britain out of the European Union. 

Three years on, the U.K. is still in the EU, and May’s time in 10 Downing St. is ending. She announced Friday that she will step down as Conservative leader on June 7, remaining as caretaker prime minister during a party leadership contest to choose her successor.

She will be remembered as the latest in a long line of Conservative leaders destroyed by the party’s divisions over Europe, and as a prime minister who failed in her primary mission. But history may also see her as a leader who faced a devilishly difficult situation with stubborn determination.

The daughter of a rural Anglican vicar, May attended Oxford University and worked in financial services before being elected to Parliament in 1997.

She was quiet and diligent, but also ambitious. One university friend later recalled that May hoped to be Britain’s first female prime minister, and “was quite irritated when Margaret Thatcher got there first.”

She was not a natural political campaigner; her stiff public appearances as prime minister landed her the nickname “The Maybot.” Her only touches of flamboyance are a fondness for bold outfits and accessories like brightly patterned kitten-heel shoes.

But she soon established a reputation for solid competence and a knack for vanquishing flashier rivals.

May served for six years in the notoriously thankless job of home secretary, responsible for borders, immigration and law and order. In 2016, she beat flashier and better-known politicians, including Brexit-backer Boris Johnson — now the favorite to succeed her — to become Britain’s second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher.

May was the surprise winner of a Conservative leadership contest triggered when Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down after voters rejected his advice to remain in the EU, instead voting 52% to 48% to leave.

In her first speech as prime minister in July 2016, May sketched out plans for an ambitious policy agenda. She spoke of giving the poor a helping hand and lifting barriers to social mobility.

But Brexit soon crowded out almost all other policies. 

 

Like Cameron, May had campaigned to remain, but in office she became a champion of Brexit. “Brexit means Brexit” became her mantra — a meaningless one, said her detractors, as it emerged that undoing 45 years of ties with the bloc would be a fraught and complex process.

​Attempting to win the support of Conservative Brexiteers suspicious of her past pro-EU leanings, May set out firm red lines in negotiations with the EU: Britain would leave the bloc’s single market and customs union and end the right of EU citizens to live and work in the U.K.

For a time, May’s resolve helped her unite the warring factions of her party, which for decades has been divided over policy toward Europe. 

 

But she then gambled on a snap election in June 2017, in an attempt to bolster her slim majority in Parliament and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations with the EU. 

 

The move backfired. May ran a lackluster campaign on a platform that included plans to cut benefits to pensioners and change the way they pay for long-term care — quickly dubbed a “dementia tax.” The Conservatives lost their majority, and May had to strike a deal with 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power.

The DUP’s support became a complication when the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland emerged as a major issue in Brexit negotiations. The unionist party strongly opposed special measures to ensure the border remained free of customs posts and other barriers, worrying they might weaken the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

May pressed on and in November 2018 struck a divorce agreement with the EU, setting out the terms of Britain’s departure and establishing a transition period of almost two years for the two sides to work out their future relations.

All that remained was for the British and European Parliaments to ratify it. And that is where May’s best-laid plans came undone.

Her careful compromise of an agreement was rejected by both sides of the Brexit debate. Brexiteers felt it gave too much away and left Britain bound to EU rules. Pro-EU lawmakers wanted a softer Brexit that kept close economic ties to the bloc. In January, May’s deal was rejected by 230 votes, the biggest government defeat in British parliamentary history.

Whatever her flaws, May was no quitter. Late last year she likened herself to Geoffrey Boycott, a cricketer who was famous for his dull but effective batting style.

“Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end,” she said.

She tried again to get her Brexit deal approved, losing by 149 votes. A third attempt narrowed the margin of defeat to 48.

She tried talks with the Labour Party about securing a compromise, but managed only to further alienate her own lawmakers with her concessions to the opposition. A promise to let Parliament vote on whether to hold a new EU membership referendum was the final straw.

By this time, a growing number of Conservatives had concluded that May was the problem and would have to leave before Brexit could be sorted out.

But she resisted the pressure, planning instead to try for a fourth time by bringing a withdrawal agreement bill to Parliament for a vote.

In the end, the pressure became irresistible.

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Theresa May Quits, But Brexit Puzzle Remains

Theresa May became the third Conservative leader to fall victim to party divisions over Britain’s membership of the European Union, following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

Facing a party revolt and threats of mass cabinet resignations, May on Friday announced her departure, but will remain as Prime Minister while the Conservatives elect a new leader, and will stay as head of government for U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain next month.

Her exit, though, is unlikely to clarify how and when, and under what terms, Britain will leave the European Union, say party insiders and analysts. 

Her successor will face exactly the same conundrum that thwarted May — bridging the division between those who want to remain in the EU and those who want out.

The irreconcilable division within the Conservative parliamentary party over Brexit reflects the split down the middle in the country at large. And with parliament hung, factions undermining party discipline, and no party commanding an overall majority in the House of Commons, the challenge to find a way out, nearly three years after Britons voted by a slim majority for Brexit, becomes thornier by the day.

“The scope for compromise has drastically narrowed,” warned The Economist magazine Friday. 

Brexiters increasingly want a stark, sharp and total break with the EU and are dismissive of even negotiating a trade deal with Brussels; while their opponents now hope to reverse the 2016 referendum and shape the circumstances for a second plebiscite, which they hope will lead to Britain remaining a member of the bloc. 

How Britain escapes the trap remains unclear and is unlikely to be helped by the results of the European parliamentary elections due to be announced Sunday. The newly formed Brexit Party of Nigel Farage will likely top the poll, but smaller pro-Remain parties will also likely do well — reflecting the overall confounding split in the country. 

Those results may well pull the two main establishment parties — the Conservatives and Labour — further to the extremes in the Brexit debate, polarizing Britain even more and making it harder for May’s successor to navigate a way out of the mess. 

The drift is depressing the value of the pound, deterring foreign investment and prompting despair among business executives, who are unable to make any firm plans.

Possible successors

Boris Johnson, the colorful former foreign minister, is the leading contender to succeed May. An opinion poll published Friday in The Times suggested Johnson is the favorite among Conservative activists to be the next leader. But he’s unpopular among party lawmakers, who disdain his opportunism and showmanship and doubt he has the discipline and consistency to helm a government and put in the everyday work needed.

Conservative lawmakers initially pick via a series of knockout votes two candidates to present to the broader party membership, which makes the final decision. “The race really is Boris’s to lose,” according to Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator magazine.

Other candidates include the current foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, the interior minister, Sajid Javid, and hardline Brexiters Dominic Rabb and Andrea Leadsom, whose resignation midweek as a minister triggered the chain of events for May’s decision to quit. Another possible dark horse is Michael Gove, the environment minister. 

The election process will take nearly two months to conclude.

‘Fight to the death’

The political struggle ahead both within the ruling Conservatives and across the country is likely to be even more brutal than the last two years. “Brexit will become a fight to the death,” predicted commentator Philip Collins. “All along, there have only been three options: to leave without a deal, to leave with a deal and to remain via a second referendum. The country, though, has been held to ransom by purists.”

He added: “Brexit will become a straight contest between one group of extremists who kid themselves that leaving the EU without an agreement is worth the collateral damage, and another group of extremists who put their fingers in their ears so they cannot hear the banal truth that thwarting the 2016 referendum result comes at a severe political cost.”

The political damage is mounting. Both of Britain’s main two parties are cracking under the strain and face existential threats, the Conservatives most obviously. The Brexit Party is splitting the right-wing vote. 

Pollsters say that Farage’s new party, if it continues to surge, could take between 60 to 113 seats off the Conservatives in a general election. That would deny the Conservatives any chance to form a new government, if an election is called in the next few months, a high likelihood. Labour, too, under the leadership of the far-left Jeremy Corbyn is seeing voters defect to the Liberal Democrats and small parties. 

The continuing political uncertainty in London, with more disarray likely in the coming months, is exasperating EU leaders and the national leaders of the 27 other member states. Johnson has said if elected leader, he will seek to renegotiate May’s contentious Brexit deal, itself the result of nearly two years of ill-tempered haggling with Brussels.

But EU leaders have made it clear they’re unprepared to restart talks on the deal. 

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Mass Cleanup of Italian Beaches Planned for Weekend

Every year, 8 million tons of waste suffocate beaches and sea beds, says Italy’s environment league, Legambiente. Its Beach Litter report issued this week revealed that more than 80 percent of the waste found on 93 beaches was plastic. 

 

A mass cleanup is planned next weekend, involving thousands of volunteers on 250 beaches and coastal sites. Legambiente, which organized the effort, also urged the government to approve the Salvamare (Save Our Seas) bill that would allow fishermen to bring to shore any plastic that ends up in their nets, without having to pay for disposal costs.

Greenpeace Italy sounded its alarm this week when a young sperm whale washed ashore on a Sicilian beach with plastic in its stomach. Giorgia Monti, campaign manager for Greenpeace, said five sperm whales had beached in the last five months in Italy. She could not confirm whether plastic was the cause of the death of the last whale found, but said it was very likely.

“The sea is sending us a cry of alarm, a desperate SOS,” Monti said.

Later this month, Greenpeace is launching an effort to monitor plastic pollution levels at sea, with a focus on the west coast of Italy. 

 

To stem the tide of plastic waste, initiatives have been spearheaded across Italy. Among new technology to combat pollution in many Italian ports are filters called sea-bins, which are active 24 hours and able to capture more than 1.5 kilograms of plastic daily. 

 

While campaigners say much more needs to be done, some tourist resorts have banned the use of non-recyclable plastic and fine violators. 

 

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Britain’s May Urged to Quit

Even by the highly colorful standards of Britain’s great big Brexit mess, what looks like Prime Minister Theresa May’s final days in office are turning into a psychodrama without much precedence in modern British political history.

With lawmakers in her ruling party in open revolt, ministers resigning, and more threatening to do so, joining a long list of dozens who’ve quit in the past two years, a teary-eyed May seemed determined Thursday to try to eke out some more time in Downing Street.

She was accused by a former Conservative party leader of having shut herself in with the “sofa against the door.”

May refused to meet a trio of top ministers Wednesday, who were going to tell her either to resign or at the very least to drop the contentious Brexit withdrawal agreement she negotiated with Brussels, and which she’s trying to get parliament to approve next month for a fourth time following three previous heavy defeats.

Earlier this week, she re-introduced the deal, but added the possibility of Britain holding a second Brexit referendum to confirm that a majority still wants to leave the European Union. That was too much for Brexit hardliners in her party.

Her refusal to contemplate a customs union with the EU has enraged those in her party, as well as opposition politicians, who want to remain either in the bloc or closely tied to it. She is caught in a vice, as has been the case since last November when she finalized negotiations with the EU.

The resignation Wednesday of a senior cabinet member, Andrea Leadsom, a keen Brexiter, has triggered what looks like the final chapter for May.

Clinging to power

Conservative lawmakers were lining up for TV interviews Thursday to tell her by way of the broadcasters to quit, and preferably before polling stations close in European parliamentary elections. The ruling Conservatives look destined to suffer a drubbing in the polls — and possibly their worst electoral performance in their storied history.

But the pleas fell on deaf ears.

Britain has seen other prime ministers desperately cling to power when the writing was on the wall. Margaret Thatcher in 1990 sought to see off a challenge to her leadership but eventually gave in when her cabinet made clear it was time for her to go. The denouement took two weeks.

In 2010, Labour’s Gordon Brown squatted in Downing Street after leading his party to its worst general election result in decades, but eventually gave up after several tortured days.

Theresa May has clung to power since December, when she saw off narrowly a confidence vote by her rebellious lawmakers. Now it would appear, say party insiders, she’s run out of road. Even loyalists were urging her to go — if for no other reason than personal dignity.

“Her deal is dead but she is stubbornly playing for time,” said Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader.

For weeks now May has said she would be going soon and has repeatedly promised to announce a timetable for her departure. But she has not done so, preferring instead try to bend an unenthusiastic parliament to her will. She is convinced, her critics said, that her brinkmanship would be rewarded.

In more normal times in Britain a prime minister in such a political hole would have quit much earlier. But these are anything but normal times.

Deep divisions

Brexit has rancorously divided the country and fractured political parties into quarrelsome unyielding factions. It also has upended a political rulebook better suited for more stable times. Long-established procedures and conventions have increasingly been cast aside as May, cabinet ministers and lawmakers, both Brexiters and those who are pro-EU, have battled desperately about how to part company with the bloc.

May’s tenure at Downing Street has witnessed a series of startling setbacks. She gambled in 2017 by calling a snap election, hoping to secure a larger majority for the Conservatives only to see Labour dash her hopes, leaving her heading a precariously positioned minority government.

She has drawn emphatic “red lines” with EU negotiators only to be forced to cave when confronted with firm resistance from Brussels or outrage from hardline Brexiters or Europhiles in her own party. And as the Brexit drama has unfolded, both she and the country have been drawn deeper into a political labyrinth.

Why has she persisted as prime minister? She certainly has stamina, despite battling diabetes 1. Grant Shapps, a former Conservative Party chairman who once tried to organize a coup against her, once noted she seems to thrive on danger and can operate when “it is fairly high on the scale.” He added: “she operates at the upper end of that scale almost every day of her life and, remarkably, walks out at the other end.”

Like Germany’s equally dogged leader Angela Merkel, May is the daughter of a clergyman, and she remains a devout church-goer. May has said that her Christian faith “is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things.” She has spoken glowingly of her father’s devotion and dutifulness to parishioners.

One of her favorite hymns is on the subject of Crucifixion, Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” a canticle that embraces sacrifice and duty and rejects pride. Even her political foes have acknowledged her conscientiousness, but also say that has morphed into destructive stubbornness.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, commentator Sherelle Jacobs, argued May was determined to leave Downing Street with a legacy of success, saying that the clergyman’s daughter is “maddened by the scale of her failures.” She added: “The irony is that the more Mrs. May stubbornly fights for survival, the worse her record becomes.”

Few believe she can survive for much longer, and her foes are counting not the days but the hours.

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Dutch, UK First to Vote in 4 Days of European Elections

Dutch and U.K. polls opened Thursday in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.

A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.

The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.

French President Emmanuel Macron says the challenge is “not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades.

In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by 10 other nationalist leaders, including include far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally party and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.

On Thursday morning, U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and added that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”

Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. The Dutch make up 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.

Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night. 

The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU’s open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum. 

Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini, although in a debate Wednesday night he called Salvini a “hero of Europe” for his crackdown on migration.

“The immigration we get here from Africa and the Mideast is completely contrary to our culture, our values, our way of life, tolerance, love of women and so on,” Baudet said. “That has to stop and it will not happen at the European level.”

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