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May asks MPs to hold their nerve on Brexit talks

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Theresa May

London, Feb 12 (IANS) British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged lawmakers to stand firm as Brexit negotiations with the European Union ostensibly enter the final stages with the government’s ambitious plan to secure last-minute legal changes to the withdrawal agreement.

Speaking in the House of Commons, May said she had a “mandate” to seek changes to the backstop as MPs had voted for it. “We now need some time to complete that process”, she added.

With negotiations over possible changes to the Irish border backstop at a key stage, Parliament needed to hold its nerve, the Prime Minister said, adding that a Brexit motion to be debated on Thursday would reiterate those intentions, the Guardian reported.

If no agreement is reached by February 26, then MPs will get more non-binding votes on Brexit options the following day. The final vote on whether the UK leaves the EU on March 29 with a deal would be pushed back into March.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “recklessly running down the clock” in an effort to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal and asked when MPs would get a final, “meaningful” vote.

“We were promised a meaningful vote on a deal in December, it didn’t happen. We were told to prepare for a further meaningful vote this week after the Prime Minister again promised to secure significant and legally binding changes to the backstop and that hasn’t happened.

“Now the Prime Minister comes before the House with more excuses and more delays,” he said.

May’s comments followed last week talks in Brussels where she sought legally binding changes to the backstop, as outlined in an amendment to a Brexit motion passed in the Commons at the end of last month.

But European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had maintained the EU’s position that they will not reopen the withdrawal agreement.

Despite that, May signalled no changes to her plans, just an extended deadline. “So our work continues,” she said.

One of the core pillars of the withdrawal bill is the so-called Irish backstop. This is a safeguard to ensure that after Brexit there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But the terms and conditions of the measure were rejected by hardline Tory MPs, who felt it could keep the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, and the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish group propping up May’s government, who said its constituents were opposed to any possibility that the UK territory could be subject to EU regulations while the rest of the UK was not.

May herself backed the amendment to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop.

The last-ditch attempt to secure tangible legal changes to the document has raised fears among remain supporters and some opposition parties that a no-deal Brexit could become more likely.

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Stop blaming China, Pakistan: Chinese media to India

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Masood Azhar-wefronews

Beijing, Feb 18: India must self-introspect its anti-terrorism policy rather than blaming Pakistan for the Pulwama suicide bombing and China for blocking efforts to list Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist without proof, said a Chinese state-run newspaper.

The Pakistan-backed JeM took responsibility for the February 14 terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district that killed 49 CRPF personnel.

A comment piece in the Global Times accused India of failing to provide “solid evidence” against Azhar and said China rightly practised caution against listing him as a terrorist.

The article, authored by Yu Jincui, advised New Delhi to resort to “quiet diplomacy instead of extensively directing aggressive rhetoric to better address” the Azhar issue.

“Without solid evidence, India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorist attacks by JeM and other militant groups and China of providing uncritical support for Pakistan,” the article stated.

“Instead of simply blaming other countries, especially Pakistan and China, shouldn’t the Indian government make more self-introspection on its anti-terrorism policy and dwell more on how to better administer (Jammu and) Kashmir?

“As for the issue of listing Azhar, Beijing has reiterated its stand several times that New Delhi should provide solid facts and proofs for banning Azhar,” it said.

According to the Times’ piece, China had reason to cautiously handle the issue as “observers worry that blacklisting Azhar could be used by India to increase its military pressure on Pakistan, thus risking exacerbating tensions between the two countries”.

The article denied that by not getting Azhar listed as a global terrorist by the UN, China was supporting terrorism against India.

“India in recent years has aggressively blamed China for allying with Pakistan in shielding terrorists. It disregards the fact that as a victim of terrorism itself, China has pledged to support the international community’s anti-terrorism efforts and stands ready to work with India and all other countries to fight terrorism.”

However, the article added that some Chinese scholars want China to take India’s concerns more into account on the JeM chief.

“Should New Delhi resort to quiet diplomacy instead of extensively directing aggressive rhetoric to pressure Beijing, the Azhar issue could have been better addressed,” the comment piece stated.

“A tough stance by the BJP government may help the ruling party win more support. But this will risk anti-terrorism cooperation being sabotaged for the political interests of parties in India,” it said.

IANS

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India blaming us without probe: Pakistan

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Dr Mohammad Faisal

Islamabad, Feb 17 (IANS) Pakistan on Sunday told foreign envoys here that India was blaming it for a horrific suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir even without any investigation.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said this to diplomats from Africa and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states.

The Dawn newspaper quoted Janjua as saying that there was “a familiar pattern of India blaming Pakistan instantly after such incidents without any investigation”, Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal tweeted.

The Pakistan Foreign Office said a “deliberate anti-Pakistan frenzy is being spurred in India” and warned that “baseless Indian allegations and aggressive rhetoric are counterproductive and a threat to regional peace”.

Islamabad’s statement came three days after the Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Pulwama district that killed 49 troopers.

Pakistan said it had rejected India’s allegations of its complicity because they were “made within a short time from the attack and without carrying out any investigations.

“These knee-jerk and preconceived accusations were nevertheless consistent with well-rehearsed tactics from the Indian playbook after such incidents in the past,” the Foreign Office statement added.

“Bluster, belligerence and pursuit of expedient standards to suit internal political interests is both delusional and counterproductive.

“India must come out of the denial mode, end state repression against Kashmiri youth, address widespread alienation in (Jammu and Kashmir) and pursue the path of dialogue,” the statement said.

The Foreign Office also raised questions over India’s acceptance of a video released by the attacker claiming to have ties to the JeM, saying New Delhi had double standards.

“India needs to introspect and respond to questions about its security and intelligence lapses that led to this attack,” it said. “India owes an explanation on reports of (suicide bomber) Adil Ahmed Dar’s arrest and custody since 2017.”

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Middle East

Counter-terrorism, energy security to top Indian agenda during Saudi Crown Prince visit

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New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Counter-terrorism, including Pakistans role in sponsoring terrorism against India, and energy security are likely to be on top of Indias agenda for discussion during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmans visit starting on Tuesday.

India is expected to take up with the Saudi Crown Prince Pakistan’s role in the Pulwama terror attack that killed at least 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Jammu and Kashmir, informed sources said.

India has already started diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefing envoys of around two dozen nations including those of P-5 and South Asian nations about Pakistan’s footprint in the Pulwama attack.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to New Delhi Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saty has said that Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India presents a “historic opportunity” to expand collaboration in all sectors.

Moammed bin Salman is on a three-nation diplomatic tour to Pakistan, India and China.

He will be on a two-day visit to India staring February 19 and will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. He is visiting Pakistan before coming to India.

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