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Engulfed in corruption row, UK’s Johnson says he takes issue seriously

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November 8, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fighting accusations his government is mired in corruption, said on Monday it took the issue very seriously and members of parliament should be held to account for unethical behaviour.

Johnson has been engulfed for days in a row centred on his botched handling of the suspension of a ruling Conservative Party lawmaker, Owen Paterson, who was found to have breached rules on paid lobbying. It was the latest incident in a series of scandals to hit his Conservative government.

He suggested on Monday the process of investigating lawmakers needed to be changed.

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“What we’ve got to make sure is that we take all this very, very seriously and that we get it right,” Johnson said, speaking about the issue of lawmakers holding additional jobs and of the process by which they can be investigated.

“What we do need to do is look also at the process. We are going to make every effort to get it right and we are going to hold MPs (members of parliament) to account.”

Johnson last week pushed parliament to protect Paterson by hastily voting to change the rules, only to backtrack. Paterson has since quit parliament.

The Paterson issue is one of several scandals on ethical standards, or the lack of them, dogging Johnson and his team, including the questionable funding of his own luxury holidays and the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment.

The government has said both were within the rules, but the assurances have not quelled criticism.

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Johnson’s actions have been called “corrupt” and “contemptible” by opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, who on Sunday said the prime minister was “in the sewer with his troops”.

Former Conservative prime minister John Major accused the government of being “politically corrupt”.

A significant minority of Conservative lawmakers rebelled over the Paterson affair and some publicly expressed dismay.

The Commons is due to debate the row later on Monday but Johnson will not take part, instead dispatching minister Steve Barclay to defend his and his government’s actions.

“Unfortunately I can’t be there because I have a longstanding engagement up here,” Johnson said in a televised clip for media during a visit to a hospital in northern England.

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Adding to the embarrassment, the Sunday Times reported that wealthy donors who had given 3 million pounds ($4 million) to the Conservative Party had then got seats in parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan defended the Lords appointments system on Monday, saying that a “rich mix” was desirable in the unelected chamber.

($1 = 0.7414 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Kylie MacLellan and Guy Faulconbridge, writing by Estelle Shirbon)

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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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