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MPs set for ‘knife-edge’ vote on Johnson’s Brexit deal

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Boris Johnson

London: For the first time in 37 years, the UK Parliament will on Saturday to participate in what is being deemed as a “knife-edge” vote on Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit deal, a last attempt before the October 31 deadline to leave the European Union (EU).

Business in the House of Commons will start at 9.30 a.m. (about 2 p.m. IST) – the first weekend sitting since the invasion of the Falklands in 1982, the BBC reported.

Johnson will make a statement to the House and face questions from MPs, before they move on to a debate about the deal.

The timing of any votes depends on which amendments are chosen by the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, but they were not expected before 2.30 p.m. (around 6.30 p.m. IST).

Johnson’s revised deal with the EU was secured at a Brussels summit on Thursday. It ditches his predecessor Theresa May’s backstop, the measure designed to prevent a return to physical checks on the Irish border.

Instead it will, in effect, draw a new customs border along the Irish Sea.

Ahead of the Commons debate, Johnson on Friday urged MPs to “come together” to back his Brexit deal, insisting there was “no better outcome”.

However, his former allies from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and opposition parties, have already announced their plans to to vote against it.

At least nine Labour MPs were expected to rebel.

On Friday evening, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that his party was “united in opposing” Johnson’s “sell-out Brexit deal”.

He said his party would “come together and reject it”.

Also crucial to Johnson’s hopes of success will be the 21 Tories who had the whip withdrawn for supporting a bill to force the Prime Minister to seek an extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit, the BBC said.

Nicholas Soames, who is one such former Conservative, has indicated he will vote in favour of the deal, adding the other 20 would “by and large vote for it”.

Johnson has repeatedly said Brexit will happen by the end of the month with or without a deal.

However, MPs passed a law in September, known as the Benn Act, which requires the Prime Minister to send a letter to the EU asking for an extension until January 2020 if a deal is not agreed – or if MPs do not back a no-deal Brexit.


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Prince Andrew ‘categorically’ denies sex claim

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Prince Andrew

New Delhi, Nov 17 : Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, has “categorically” denied any sexual contact with an American woman, who alleged that she was forced to have sex with him at the age of 17, a media report said on Sunday.

Answering questions during a BBC interview about his links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II said the alleged incidents “never happened”.

Virginia Giuffre, then called Virginia Roberts, has said that she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew between 2001 — when she was 17 — and 2002 in London, New York and Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands. Giuffre is one of Epstein’s accusers.

Andrew maintained that he was home with his children on one of the alleged occasions.

Andrew, who is the Queen’s third child, has been facing questions for several months over his ties with Epstein, an American financier who, at the age of 66, took his own life while awaiting a trial on sex-trafficking charges.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, Andrew said: “It didn’t happen. I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened. I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.”

He said Giuffre’s account of him “profusely sweating” and “pouring with perspiration” when they danced at the club on the night in 2001 when she says they first had sex was impossible, because he had a medical condition preventing him from perspiring.

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Bangladesh gas line explosion kills at least 7

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Bangladesh Gas Blast

Dhaka, Nov 18 : At least seven people were killed and 10 injured in a gas line explosion near a port in southern Chittagong city of Bangladesh, police said.

The incident occurred in the Pathorghata area of the city, police deputy commissioner Mehedi Hasan told EFE on Sunday.

“At least 17 people were injured in the incident. Seven of them were declared dead in a hospital. There could be some pedestrians among the victims,” he said.

Mehedi said a part of a five-storied building also collapsed after the explosion.

“We are suspecting that the explosion occurred due to a leak in the gas line,” he said.

Alahuddin Mia, a sub-inspector at the police camp of Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said some of the injured were taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Gas line explosion is not uncommon in Bangladesh, where poor maintenance is often blamed for such accidents.

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After win, Gotabaya says he is President of all Sri Lankans

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa Sri Lanka

Colombo, Nov 18 : Amidst clear divisive vote between the majority and the minority, President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday said that he is the President of all Sri Lankans and the leader of not only those elected him but also those voted against him too.

After Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriyya officially announced his election to the country’s top post, Rajapaksa said: “I am well aware that I am bound to serve all Sri Lankans despite their racial or religious barriers. I assure that I would conduct accordingly and I thank my citizens for electing me.”

The newly-elected seventh President of the island nation won the majority Sinahala votes of 6,924,255, or 52.25 per cent, from total valid votes of 13,252,499 cast in the November 16 election.

In a separate Facebook post, Rakapaksa stated: “It’s no overstatement: today we made history together. November 16, 2019 will be remembered as the day when the wounds of the past were healed, and our nation moved forward to embrace the future.”

Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary in the government of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa – who oversaw victory in the 26-year-long war against rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North and East in 2009, noted: “Sri Lankans chose hope over fear, unity over conflict, smile over anger. Our vision for a better tomorrow, won the hearts and the minds of the people.”

“From now on, the path to great achievements lies open in front of us and this was our first step together with many other accomplishments to follow. I promise not to stop, until we reach the heights Sri Lankans aspire to,” he added.

Out of 25 administrative districts, Gotabaya won 16: Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Monaragala, Ratnapura, Badulla, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Gampaha, Kandy, Matale, Polonnaruwa, Colombo, Kegalle and Anuradhapura.

However, he was heavily defeated in Tamil and Muslim-majority Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Tamils in all five administrative districts in the Northern province — Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mulaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, and the majority Muslims in three districts in the Eastern Province — Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara — voted against Rajapaksa with lead of 80 percent in most districts.

In the November 16 election, out of nearly 16 million voters, 13,387,951 or 83.72 per cent were polled but 135,452 were marked as invalid by the Election Commission. Out of 13,252,499 valid votes, Rajapaksa’s main opponent Sajith Premadasa won 5,564,239 votes with 42.99 per cent.

Eight out of nine districts won by Premadasa were from the North and the Eastern provinces.

After being elected as the President, Rajapaksa also stated that he would respect the democratic institutions and adhere to the democratic values.

Election Commission Chairman Deshapriya also urged Rajapaksa to ensure democracy and said that through democracy, only proper election could be conducted.

“Though you were elected by your voters, now you are the President of all Sri Lanka. We hope that you will work to fulfil what you promised in your manifesto,” he noted.

Following the end of the ethnic war against Tamil rebels in May 2009, the United Nations has alleged that there were serious human rights violations that could amount to war crimes but the Rajapaksas have denied the allegations.

Ten years after the end of the war against Tamils, Sri Lanka faced the biggest terror attack in its history on Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) from the local IS suicide bombers. The attacks killed 269 civilians and injured over 400 in three churches and three luxury hotels.

Rajapaksa led the election campaign with national security as the topmost priority and vowed that he would eliminate terrorists and ensure that similar attack would not be repeated.

Conceding defeat before the final result was announced, Premadasa issued a statement congratulating Gotabaya on his victory. He announced that he would step down as Deputy Leader of the ruling United National Party with immediate effect.

“At the conclusion of a hard fought and spirited election campaign, it is my privilege to honour the decision of the people and congratulate Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his election as the seventh President of Sri Lanka,” Premadasa noted.

Premadasa, the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as the President from 1989 until he was assassinated in May 1993 by the LTTE, had pledged to fight for the Muslim and Tamil minorities.

Following Premadasa’s admission of the defeat and resignation from the party, several ministers including Finance Minster Mangala Samaraweera, Sports and Digital Affairs Minister Harin Fernando, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology Minister Ajith P. Perera resigned from their posts.

Sri Lanka’s main Marxist party candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who represented National People’s Party (NPP), emerged third with 418,553 votes and 3.16 per cent while former Army Commander, Lt. General Mahesh Senanayake, who formed a party after he left the army last August, emerged fourth with 49,655 votes.

The swearing-in ceremony of Rajapaksa is to be held in the Buddhist sacred city of Anuradhapura, in the North Central province, 200 km away from capital Colombo.

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